“Tongva-Village-Turned-World-City”: Contemporary Indigenous Legacies in Greater L.A.

In recent years, the enduring legacies of the original people of the Los Angeles basin, referred to as the Tongva or Gabrielinos,[1] have become more and more apparent in the landscape of the region. Right behind L.A.’s world-famous Hollywood sign lies Cahuenga (or Kawenga) Peak, the Tongva’s “place in the mountains.” People can hike the Gabrielino Trail in Angeles National Forest, just north of El Monte, and up Tongva Peak[2] in the Verdugo Mountains, north of LA; go to public parks named Tongva Park in Santa Monica[3]; go to a Tongva Memorial Garden at Loyola Marymount University;[4] and see the San Gabriel mountains on a daily basis. These markers of indigenous heritage are important … [Read more...]

Who Were the Monte Boys?

“Law And Order Monte Boys Style” is the title of a chapter in one of the more recent histories of El Monte. Those six words capture the popular stories associated with the men of the nineteenth-century township. Any written history of Los Angeles County has to at least mention the Monte boys. Their involvement with “the repression of crime” is characterized variously as the work of righteous citizens, frontier-savvy former Texas Rangers, or all-too-eager vigilantes. From the 1850s through the 1870s and perhaps beyond, if there were bandits to be caught, murderers to be punished, or horse thieves to be hanged in the county, the men from Monte seemed always to be on the scene. Their … [Read more...]

The El Monte Berry Strike of 1933

In May 1933, Hicks camp was nearing full capacity. More than 1,500 migrant workers were settling down to take part in the berry harvest, which would begin in May and last through August. Hick’s camp was, like the surrounding neighborhoods of Medina Court and Hays Camp, a migrant labor camp set up to house the families who worked on the local fields. Men, women, and children would quickly assemble homes of cardboard and repurposed box-carts on a non-descript tract of land that lacked paved roads or basic plumbing. Hick’s camp was not envisioned as a permanent neighborhood, but became one as people settled down to build a home and establish a local culture. Although by the time of the berry … [Read more...]

Mapping Community Narratives in El Monte and South El Monte

Dear Internet: Those of us who have been working on East of East have had a long two weeks. With a whirlwind of events and interviews we have not always had enough time to step back and think about the work before us. In this concluding entry on the 2015 SEMAP I would like to offer a few thoughts on East of East and those that have made the project possible. History and activism go together. On our last day of SEMAP, we did a collaborative event with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). At this event we collected oral histories, including with Lilian Rey whose EM/SEM Emergency Recourses Association has provided relief for the poor for decades. Local … [Read more...]

¡La Lucha Continua! Gloria Arellanes and the Making of a Chicano Movement in El Monte and Beyond

“So we moved here to El Monte, and I remember all the neighbors were white,” recalled Gloria Arellanes in a 2011 interview conducted by the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.[1] “Eventually white flight came about and they started moving out to the Covina area, San Bernardino area.” This was extremely different from East Los Angeles, where she was born in 1941. Growing up in El Monte was not easy, she explained. Unlike East Los Angeles, where ethnic solidarity and family had sheltered her, in El Monte, discrimination and racism were omnipresent. It was not uncommon for her to hear disparaging comments about Mexicans: “that we were lazy…We’re dirty. In those days…[Y]ou couldn’t … [Read more...]

A Community Erased: Japanese Americans in El Monte and the San Gabriel Valley

A visit to El Monte, California reveals many official signs and markers that harken back to the town’s pioneer past. The local history museum is designed to look like an American West frontier town, complete with wagon wheels and mannequins outfitted in long skirts and bonnets. With its fertile location between the San Gabriel River and Rio Hondo, El Monte is often presented as a dream destination for westbound wagon trains, not to mention the indigenous populations and the Spanish before them. Not surprisingly, as had happened throughout the West Coast, the verdant farmland that made the San Gabriel Valley attractive to white settlers in the late-1800s would prove inviting to later … [Read more...]

10911 Michael Hunt Drive

After my home, Epiphany is the place that looms largest in my South El Monte life. It was where I attended elementary school, walking home with my sisters after school in our saddle shoes and plaid jumpers, me carrying my backpack over just one shoulder so as not to look like a nerd. It was the church where we went to Mass every Sunday and where I received my first Holy Communion and my first Reconciliation in a tiny room with shaggy carpet on the walls.  It was where I went to Confirmation classes for two years during my freshman and sophomore years, before being confirmed by Cardinal Roger Mahoney and choosing an obscure saint’s name because I needed to be different from all the Agnes’s … [Read more...]

Hicks Camp: A Mexican Barrio

“I remember the Queen was beautiful, and the parade came down from Hicks Camp to Medina Court. The Streets were decorated like in Mexico and it was real pretty. Cinco de Mayo they made the fiesta and we had to dance in the street” – Lucy Flores “We didn’t have much, the roads were made of dirt, some homes were made of cardboard, but we were all one family” – Richard Pérez From the 1910s until its demolition in 1972, Hicks Camp was one of the most vibrant barrios, or neighborhoods, of El Monte. Named after the family who owned the land, Hicks Camp (later renamed Hicksville) grew from several dozen people in 1915 to over a thousand in 1930.[1] Never recognized as an official part of El … [Read more...]

Punk and the Seamstress

I started “going punk” in 8th grade at Kranz Jr. High School back in 1990. At first I didn’t know what to make of the music. I was still wearing those polo shirts with a tiger on the breast popular with the cholos, combing my hair back, and listening to Metallica, go figure. The feedback and noise that filled my ears was something new yet subversive. It seemed timeless and relevant. It was definitely not the hair band sound that prevailed on the airwaves or the gangsta rap starting to get popular at the time. Danny, my cousin George’s friend, brought us all together. Danny was a tall lanky kid with a sense of humor, incredible charm, and most importantly, parents who let him throw gigs in … [Read more...]

“The Sky is Black and the Asphalt Blue”: Placing El Monte in the Early LA Punk Scene

The suburban sprawl 30 minutes east of Hollywood called El Monte doesn’t usually get included in the genesis story of the Los Angeles punk scene. During the 1970s, El Monte was still transforming from a semi-agrarian citrus town to a concrete-washed suburb so typical of the San Gabriel Valley. Recently, punk culture has seen a revival of the mythical “East LA Renaissance” scene that took off in 1980 when Willie Herron (ASCO, Los Illegals) and Sister Karen, a radical Chicana nun involved with Self-Help Graphics and Catholic Youth Organization, founded East LA’s first punk venue, The Vex. This revival, specifically among LA’s Chicano and Latino working-class punk youth, has begun pushing the … [Read more...]