Méndez on De Lara, 'Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California'

Juan D. De Lara
Alina R. Méndez

Juan D. De Lara. Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018. Illustrations. 240 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-520-29739-5; $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-28958-1.

Reviewed by Alina R. Méndez (University of Washington) Published on H-California (July, 2019) Commissioned by Khal Schneider

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=54025

In Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California, Juan D. De Lara examines the rise of the logistics sector in California’s Inland Empire. He argues that the logistics of commodity distribution “represents a major rearticulation of modern capitalism and space” that must be understood within the “connections between the spatial logic of global capital and the local articulations of race” (pp. 1, 13). De Lara questions the hegemonic assumption that logistics was the only viable option left for regional economic survival in the wake of deindustrialization and demonstrates how warehouse workers contest their marginalization in an economic model that represents the largely Latinx Inland Empire as a “blue-collar population” (p. 99).

The book roughly begins in the postindustrial period when large employers such as Kaiser ceased operations and dismantled the plants that had provided inland cities thousands of middle-class jobs. Cognizant that production had moved overseas, city leaders, port boosters, and other local actors adopted a “discourse of crisis” that underscored the loss of jobs and capital (p. 37). According to this logic, private and public spending on ports, roads, and rail lines was crucial in order to remake Southern California into a major logistics hub that would reinsert the region into the global circuits of capital. Armed with projections about the volume of Asian imports that would reach American shores in future years, boosters for the San Pedro and Los Angeles ports made the case that Southern California had to prepare for this increasing economic activity or otherwise lose it to other coastal regions. The expansion of logistics infrastructure, as De Lara shows, was the product of multijurisdictional alliances that “rescal[ed] the spatial politics of growth” (p. 47). Newly expanded ports, highways, and railroads composed one part of the logistics sector. The distribution of commodities also required storage space and warehouse workers. The logistics sector found cheap land and cheap labor in California’s Inland Empire.

In reports about commodity distribution, regional boosters argued that the sector would pay an average annual wage of more than forty-five thousand dollars (p. 98). These reports ignored, or rather, conveniently erased, the fact that the overwhelming majority of logistics jobs provide an annual income far below middle-class wage standards. Large retailers like Walmart rely on third-party logistics companies who employ their labor force through temporary staffing agencies. The labor market uncertainty of temporary labor augments the precarity of warehouse workers who are constantly reminded about their disposability. As De Lara illustrates, many of these third-party logistics companies and the temporary staffing agencies that supply them with cheap labor are well aware that a significant percentage of warehouse workers are undocumented. The deindustrialization of the Inland Empire coincided, moreover, with an increase in the Latinx and Asian American populations as former Los Angeles residents moved inland in search of homeownership or more affordable housing. Arguing that many of the region’s residents could not aspire to “high-end jobs,” logistics boosters like John Husing depicted commodity distribution as the Inland Empire’s best solution for economic development (p. 99).        

The Inland Empire’s concurrent demographic changes and industrial decline augmented xenophobia and the rise of white supremacist groups in the 1980s and 1990s. The arrival of Latinx and Asian American residents led to what De Lara describes as a “conflation among a sense of belonging, power, space, and privilege” in which an older generation of workers from the East Coast and Midwest cast newcomers as illegitimate citizens (p. 122). The real and perceived racial violence that took over cities like Fontana encouraged people of color to make spatial claims and others to develop “regional notions of social justice” that questioned logistics-driven development (p. 78). Some groups, for instance, began to underscore the environmental effects of the logistics sector on the Inland Empire. The diesel emissions of semitrucks flocking to the Inland Empire’s warehouses create a “toxic burden” on the region that puts local residents at greater risk of diesel-related cancer (p. 57). Other groups who viewed logistics as the only solution against unemployment joined boosters and policymakers in the production of what De Lara argues is “a type of moral spatial economy that linked the success of the logistics industry with the economic welfare of the Latinx community” (p. 132).     

Arguing that an examination of the Inland Empire provides “more than a simple case study,” De Lara delivers on his promise to demonstrate how the local and global are mutually constituted (p. 4). The author draws extensively from field notes collected throughout five years of participant observation and from the more than one hundred interviews that he conducted with workers, community members, and policymakers. De Lara supplements these sources with data from public and private surveys and reports and from the proposals of several logistics infrastructure projects. Often interpreting the same data sets that policymakers used to argue for the expansion of logistics infrastructure in Southern California, De Lara demonstrates in more than one instance the omissions and failed logic that allowed these regional actors to claim that commodity distribution would produce middle-class jobs.   

The book contains nine body chapters divided into three sections in addition to a brief introduction and conclusion. As the introduction is a little more than four pages long, chapter 1 (“Space, Power, and Method”) provides a longer discussion of the author’s methodology and scholarly interventions. Chapter 9 (“Latinx Frontiers”) would have benefited from more concrete examples about the organizations mentioned in the text to provide a clearer understanding of the various intersections between organized labor, immigrant rights, and other forms of social justice activism. While the reader may rely on the index to quickly find the full name of the many acronyms that appear throughout the text, a list of abbreviations would have been useful. De Lara does not shy away from quoting other authors throughout the text, which makes his sophisticated theoretical framing and extensive empirical evidence quite clear. Given its key contributions to geography, urban studies, and Latinx studies, this book should also be of much interest to those interested in labor, racial formation, and migration.

Citation: Alina R. Méndez. Review of De Lara, Juan D., Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California. H-California, H-Net Reviews. July, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54025

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