In my library, I have what I call 'the premier bookshelf.' There I keep the books that I credit for providing the inspiration to earn a Ph.D. in History and pursue an academic career. These were the books I discovered in college or graduate school, books that ignited my curiosity, sparked an intellectual passion, and/or exemplified the kind of history I wanted to write. So there you can find my classics like The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson, The Country and The City by Raymond Williams, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois, Southern California Country by Carey McWilliams, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.  You will also find books by Stuart Hall, David Harvey, T.J. Clark, Carl Schorske, Michael Rogin, George Lipsitz, Robin Kelley, Lawrence Levine, David Roediger, Dolores Hayden, and even Reyner Banham, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown.

And then there's City of Quartz . . .

I was just starting graduate school in Berkeley's History department when Verso published this book. I was beginning research on a dissertation about Los Angeles after World War II and the political culture of white suburbia. I think I had just finished a draft of a chapter on the history of building Dodger Stadium and the swindle by which the city of Los Angeles canceled official plans for public housing on a parcel of land that was then gifted to a private businessman, Walter O'Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. My focus was on the Mexican American community that was displaced in that process and dispossessed of their land. I wrote this draft as a native southern Californian (4-5 generations), from a working-class Mexican American community much like that that was bulldozed in the Chavez Ravine. This was the first draft of the first chapter for my dissertation and when my advisor, the great cultural historian Lawrence Levine, read the piece. He said, 'Your writing is very angry.  We're all angry about injustice, but your writing shouldn't sound so angry.' This was my first lesson in how the historical profession puts a premium on nuance, balance, and that "noble dream" (as Peter Novick titled it) of objectivity.

Around the same time, a buzz had been growing about Mike Davis and City of Quartz and another professor of mine, Martin Jay, mentioned this book to me, knowing of my interest in Los Angeles. Jay was a European intellectual historian who taught the greatest hits of western Marxism. If this book could bring a middlebrow city like Los Angeles to his highbrow attention, then I thought I should read it. 

Now here was an angry book. In City of Quartz, Davis went off on real estate developers, footloose industrialists, white suburban NIMBYs, Catholic cardinals, and most of all, cops. No one was spared Davis's searing ire, not even the city's creative class: the artists, writers and architects who labored in the service of capital. There was Frank Gehry, just reaching the heights of starchitecture, designing new divisions between the haves and have-nots. In the late nineteenth century, there were writers like Helen Hunt Jackson and Charles Fletcher Lummis, advertising hacks who wrote the myths that inflated land values through tourism and real estate. There were technocrats like William Mulholland, abetting the conspiracies of the LA oligarchy, mercenaries like Reyner Banham and David Hockney, glorifying the city's mess of cheap and disposable architecture, and "whiggish" historians like Kevin Starr, lionizing LA's movers and shakers. This was my favorite part of the book, where Davis implicates cultural production in the city's history of class struggle. With an unflinching eye towards the gross extremes of inequality and injustice, Mike Davis penned a new master narrative of modern Los Angeles, laying bare the city's foundation in the most ruthless forms of capitalism.

I remember wondering at the time if his dissertation advisors at UCLA told him that his work was too angry. They did, I believe, but Davis had the guts to press forward with his unusual interdisciplinary monograph, the ivory tower be damned. His instincts were spot on. Verso Press, the voice of the Anglophone left since 1970, published his dissertation and Davis won a Macarthur 'genius grant' for City of Quartzor maybe for its timing. City of Quartz arrived on the eve of the worst episode of urban unrest in the city's history. The 1992 Rodney King Uprising stunned the nation and world. In Los Angeles, it spurred yet another round of civic head-scratchinghow could it happen here?!among white politicians and suburban homeowners who could not or chose not to remember the violent upheaval that ensued in Watts, 1965. Such ignorance is built by design into many privileged suburban enclaves of Los Angeles, but City of Quartz provided a timely and tangible reminder of the unjust outcomes of capitalism and globalization.

After the brilliant distraction of this book, I returned to my dissertation, mindful of my advisor's admonition about angry writing, but also inspired by Mike Davis's rage against the machine. It has taken me years, if not decades, to find my scholarly voice, but writing this tribute provides an opportunity to reflect on how influential Davis's writings have been upon my own work as a scholar and a teacher. When I'm writing about Los Angeles, it's sometimes as if I have Davis's voice in my head. Although we have never met in person, his voice reminds me to look past the city's false allure to see the extremes of wealth and poverty, to stay focused on the inequalities that define the landscape and the diverse communities that struggle for their right to the city and the incredible odds they face. 

If I had to describe the difference between my thinking and Davis's, I would say that we both write with Marx's famous words in mind about men making their own history, but not under circumstances of their own choosing, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. But in my work, I like to focus on the 'making history' part, while I see Davis more focused on the existing circumstances. At least that's how I read City of Quartz, which excavates the oppressive forms of capitalism that structure the city's past, present and possible future. Ecology of Fear has a similar emphasis, but in Magical Urbanism and even more so in Set the Night on Fire, Davis recognizes agency from belowthe oppressed masses making history by changing the meaning and experience of Los Angeles through hard work, creative struggle and firebrand activism.  That story animates my work on Los Angeles and the methods of cultural history provide the tools to do just that. In some ways, cultural history offers a way to tell my family's stories - of my grandparents driving to LA to grab a French dip at Phillppe's or swing dance at the Hollywood Palladium; of my grandfather and father going to Dodger Stadium after it opened in 1962; of my mother making yearly trips to Disneyland with her family after 1955; of hearing about 'special' dinners at Clifton's in the 40s and 50s. For me, these stories humanize Los Angeles and remind us that the struggle of working people, working people of color, immigrants, gays and lesbians is also the struggle for dignity, community, pleasure and belonging. That sense of struggle was missing for me in City of Quartz and that recognition encouraged me to keep writing my version of LA history through my deep connection to Southern California's past. I see my family's story everywhere in LA's past and present and I strive to discover the million ways in which people learn to make a city their own, against steep odds, through their own means. 

By now, you can see that writing this tribute is a personal exercise for me. This was not my intention at the outset, but for me, the opportunity to reflect upon Davis's work conjures the story of my family, going way back, and the story of my professional career as well. I still can't get over the fact that he and I were raised in the same working-class peripheries of Los Angeles. I was born in Redlands, CA, a citrus colony of the Inland Empire and a famed tourist attraction in the early twentieth century. My parents and their parents were born there, and most of their parents as well. My grandparents picked oranges, and their children picked and packed oranges. Carey McWilliams wrote about exactly where my family was from, the "Mexican jim-town" called East Highlands, on "the other side of [railroad] tracks" from white Redlands, a town "perfectly designed to insulate [Mexican] workers from [white] employers from every walk of life, from the cradle to the grave . . . " Before I reached my first birthday, my parents moved to El Cajon, CA where my father found a good union job in San Diego's booming construction industry. He became active in his union and taught us the benefits it brought to our family, even when he had to go on strike. I am a first-generation college graduate, a source of great pride for my parents and extended family.

Davis also taught briefly in the UCLA Department of Chicano Studies, which has been my academic home since 1997. He left just before I arrived, but I often think about what it would have been like had he stayed, Maybe he and I and other scholars could have started a new "LA school," one more inclusive, more interdisciplinary, and with a greater diversity of perspectives and experiences than the one that took shape briefly at UCLA in the 1980s. I am also aware that in some ways, Davis would have been a better fit for a department created through political activism. In 1993, student and community activists launched a hunger strike on campus, demanding that UCLA establish an institutional space that reflected the history, identity and experiences of California's largest ethnic group. That spark of intense activism defines Mike Davis, who participated in the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles in 1971. It reflects the legacy of Chicano activism that is the focus of Set the Night on Fire, and unlike me, Davis embodies and extends that legacy through his work. Although he is not of Mexican descent, his activist creds are way more substantial than mine. He is a man of the streets who never seemed at home in the ivory tower.

I am different. Whereas Davis is a child of the Sixties, steeped in a culture of community activism and collective struggle, I am a child of the Eighties, raised in an age that celebrated individual success and achievement. I internalized that ethic somewhat but I never forgot the stories of discrimination and segregation that my family endured in Redlands. I never forgot what unions and public schools did for my Chicano family and how they afforded socio-economic mobility. But in Berkeley in the 1980s, I discovered my truth as a schoolboy, not an activist. I liked the ivory tower, the campus library was my safe space, and it has been my struggle to make my home there. The Chicano activists I knew at Berkeley were not comfortable with the open expression of my newfound gay identity, and I did not feel at one with the white men and women who rallied the LGBT community on campus. This was also during the depths of the AIDS crisis, when I believed sex equaled death (it did from about 14-24). So while I struggled to find my place in the world and stay alive, I kept to myself, did well in school, and pursued the study of urbanism, the built environment, cultural history and Marxist geography. I did not study Mexican or Chicano history, but I felt I knew that from my family and their stories. I was thankful for professors like Leon Litwack, another native southern Californian, the son of Jewish immigrants whose renowned lectures on American history centered the likes of my family and their struggles. 

When I finished my PhD, I came to UCLA as an outsider, despite my Californio heritage. Born in the Inland Empire, raised in San Diego, and schooled in Berkeley, I didn't know UCLA and its Chicano-ized student body. I didn't know its ties to East Los Angeles, far from a posh westside campus. And I didn't know a lot about the hunger strike that led to the creation of the department that gave me my first job. I arrived in the tense aftermath of that conflict and though it had cooled somewhat, I inflamed those tensions just by accepting the first hire after the initial round of founding faculty appointments. Some of the original hunger strikers disputed my offer and asked me not to take the job because even though I was from a community, it wasn't their community. I didn't meet their expectations of a Chicano Studies professor.  My response at the time was a big "Whatever," as we said in the 1980s, but I was grateful for their struggle nonetheless. Their dogged activism created a newly funded space within the university, for Chicanos by Chicanos like me I presumefirst-gen, of nothing, with nothing but a strong determination to succeed as a scholar and teacher. In hindsight, I like to think that their success is my success and our success enabled generations of student success. 

Ironically, as I struggled to find my place within the UCLA's brown community, I also struggled to convince a white History department that despite the signs of otherness I present, I was still capable of 'serious scholarship.' That is a more obvious struggle, one that I know Davis knows from his own experience, but my struggle was different. It was not easy belonging to two communities and finding acceptance in neither. I had to sink or swim. For me, this meant striving towards rigorous and objective scholarship, but on my own terms, through the honest lens of my own identity and experience. Reading Davis over the years has helped me to recognize the intrinsic value of that identity and experience and their place in the new narratives of Los Angeles history.

I see the 1993 UCLA Hunger Strike for Chicano Studies as a postscript to the chapters of Set the Night on Fire, about a younger generation of Angelenos inheriting the city's legacy of community activism. When I put that story into my account of LA history, it will look similar, but also different than the stories that animate StNoF. It will be angryangry at UCLA administrators for not recognizing the need for a Chicano Studies department in Los Angeles (of all places!), angry at their efforts to underfund and understaff that department after its creation, angry at UCLA faculty who saw ethnic studies as biased, divisive, and unworthy of study. But speaking from experience, there would be some complexity and nuance. Community-based activism can be exclusive. It can harbor its own internal prejudices and suspicions; it can succumb to groupthink and 'us vs. them' mindsets, and its tests of authenticity can compromise inclusive strategies of empowerment. At UCLA in the mid-90s I found intolerance on both sides of an uneven playing field. 

After twenty-five years in Chicano Studies at UCLA, I see now that my role in helping to build that department has been, I think, an institutional form of activism that makes UCLA more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable. Chicano Studies is the place where my students meet Mike Davis, or at least his ideas, which shape their commitment to community empowerment and social justice. His writing is more crucial than ever. Los Angeles has always been a city of extremes, but today its chasm between the haves and have-nots is at once so urgent and immediate and yet so complex and abstract that it takes the sustained inquiry of critical thinkers like Mike Davis to make sense of it allto locate its origins in the city's founding and to identify examples of resistance. Like Davis, I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles. we were both raised on the city's financial and geographic margins, close and distant, compelled and repelled at the same time. We are both committed to writing history to help to right the wrongs of the past, and to identify historical problems as a way of conceiving future possibilitiesnew ways of imagining, for example, a more just Los Angeles, a more humane landscape, a more prosperous workforce, and a more equitable society. We both appreciate that there is a lot to learn from Los Angeles, far more than its catalog of architectural styles, its shaping by the automobile, and the rise of its film industry.

I'm so grateful for Mike Davis and the power of his pen. Dear Mike: take this essay as a letter of thanks: thank you for setting our minds on fire, thank you for exploding the study of Los Angeles, thank you for igniting some of best discussions I've had in the classroom with diverse and dedicated students, thank you for showing us that scholarship and activism are not mutually exclusive, that understanding structure and agency are equally important, and that anger has a place in scholarship, especially when tempered by the love of people and justice.

Eric Avila holds joint appointments as Professor of History, Chicano Studies, and Urban Planning at UCLA. An urban cultural historian, studying the intersections of racial identity, urban space, and cultural representation in twentieth century America, Eric is the author of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, (University of California Press, 2004) and The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).