The Latino household extends its presence to all four corners of the lot. Nowhere else in the Latino vernacular home is Mexican use of space so illuminated and celebrated than in the enclosed front yard or plaza. As Mexican immigrants settled into their new homes, the American front yards became a space for cultural identity.
Mexicans bring a new interpretation to the American front yard (“la yarda”) because many homes in Mexico don’t have them. Depending on the practical needs of the owners, the use and design of the front yards vary from elaborate courtyard gardens reminiscent of Mexico to working spaces. One Mexican resident said, “In Mexico I never had such a piece of land like this.” La yarda thus reflects Mexican cultural values applied to American suburban form.
The personalization of la yarda by the residents, along with the enclosing fences, has greatly changed the appearance of the front yards and the street. In Latino neighborhoods, enclosed front yards are now so dominant that they have altered the general physical characteristics of the neighborhoods and the residents’ behavior patterns. The continuous green, park-like setting that symbolized the American suburban front yard has been cut into individual slices in East Los Angeles. These “slices” readily allow for individuality and sociability and create diversity.
In many middle-class American neighborhoods, the appearance of the front yard is the standard for acceptance. In Latino neighborhoods, acceptance is not based on appearance of the front yard but on physical and social contact with neighbors. In contrast with anonymous lawns, Latino front yards are personal vignettes of the owners’ lives.
- Urban Landscapes: Front & Center, Jose Cardenas, September, 1999.