Rediscovering San Pedro From the Outside In


HarborNocturneBy James Preston Allen, Publisher

From Joseph Wambaugh’s new police thriller, Harbor Nocturne, about a recovering Croatian longshoreman who falls in love with an illegal Mexican stripper to the San Pedro Squeeze Accordion Festival at the Grand Performances this summer in downtown Los Angeles–everybody seems to be “rediscovering San Pedro.”

Of course, the flagship of this rediscovery expedition seems to be the lauded arrival of the USS Iowa. However, the big-town media has learned how to say “Pee-dro” not “Pay-dro” as some non-Spanish often attempt to pronounce it in Spanish. Thanks to both Wambaugh and the public relations arm at the Port of Los Angeles that would prefer that everyone knows that the battleship is not owned by POLA.

In any case, our being discovered by the rest of Los Angeles, if not the world, feels a bit like the American Indians watching Juan Cabrillo land at the Bay of Smokes.  The foreigners have arrived to give us civilization and religion only this time bringing hard cash– not beads– for the struggling downtown waterfront arts district businesses. The funny thing is much of this redefining of Pedro is being driven from outside perspectives. Most of the Grand Performances which will pay tribute to the cultures of the San Pedro Harbor Area are performed by artists not born or living here, as if we don’t have artists of our own.

The prime case in point is the Accordion Festival which we discovered “celebrates the culture” but not one of them actually lives or was born here. What, we don’t have a single accordion player? This only reinforces the concept of San Pedro as being one of the colonies of the “great cultural” paradigm of Los Angeles and not an originator of anything significant– paternalism at its finest. What Grand Performances  (not to be confused with the Grand Vision foundation of San Pedro) is doing is attempting to co-opt our cultural image, making it and us more bland and palatable to an audience that perceives anything outside of the Hollywood-Westside and downtown axis as being less than relevant.

So, yes, we get a mention on the weather forecast by Jackie Johnson in her tight skirts saying, “and it’s 70 degrees in San Peedro today,” but in the real world of cultural interests it’s something like anthropology, “Let’s see how the natives dance around the bonfire.” Even Wambaugh only gets skin deep in his portrayal of the Harbor communities relying mostly on second hand intell from Los Angeles Police Department friends and dinner at a traditional Catholic Croatian home. Well, at least he did get the place names right but blew past a whole lot more layers of the onion that, like many parts of the extended empire of Los Angeles, have rich cultural layers that are not easily explained in a TV sound bite.


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