Residents of a housing complex in the eastside of Los Angeles gathered last week to celebrate their history and their future, and to remind people that their home matters.
Wyvernwood Garden Apartment residents’ organization El Comité de la Esperanza (Committee of Hope) held a neighborhood multimedia presentation and procession on Dec. 3 that included discussion and pictures of the community facing large-scale demolition and construction as part of a $2 billion mixed-used development project by the owners.
Using a projector, el Comité de la Esperanza, with the help of Los Angeles Collective Media (LA Co Media) and the Los Angeles Conservancy, showed photos of past events held at Wyvernwood, such as the annual holiday toy give-a-way and Passion of Christ re-enactments. Photos of residents participating in events in the community at large were also shown.
Leonardo Lopez, president of the association, pointed out children in photos who are now adults, drawing cheers as people recognized themselves or relatives in the photos. The local resident dancers’ group, “Danza Comité de la Esperanza,” wearing red hand-made costumes with the image of the Virgin Mary on their backs, performed for the roughly two hundred people in attendance.
After the performance of a “son jaracho” all-women band, the crowd marched to the Costello Recreation Center carrying banners and signs that read, “This Place Matters.”
Members of the International Truck Drivers Association attended in support of the community, where fears of being displaced during the planned construction persist, despite assurances from the property owner that renters in good standing will be relocated to other units within the Wyvernwood community.
At the Costello Recreation Center, residents viewed several videos aimed at preserving their oral histories and telling non-residents, and maybe non-believers, the importance of their community.
While the resident association has a track record for organizing their own community and media events, this particular multi-media presentation is the result of a six month long collaboration with the Los Angeles Conservancy and LA Co Media, according to Karina Muñiz, community outreach coordinator for the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Muñiz says they were awarded a $2,500 grant earlier this year through a new partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The partnership’s goal is to identify historic places that are fabrics of the community and to empower the community to tell their own stories, she told EGP.
The award was used to hire LA Co Media (pronounced “La Comedia” in Spanish and meaning “The Comedy” in English). The group of about eight recently graduated film students and artists helped pull together technological resources and Internet savvy Wyvernwood residents to help them scan and upload photos and diary entries onto a recently created Comité Website.
Diego Robles of LA Co Media says the role of the film and media collective is to be a catalyst for artistic community expression through the empowerment that multimedia allows and to amplify “the voices that are not getting any coverage.”
The collective has a grassroots perspective that avoids making things happen from the top down, like a producer directing a crew, Robles said.
Gumaro Ovando, Comité’s vice president, is very computer savvy and said during their six-months of meetings lots of ideas where bounced around. The collective’s role was to help with know-how and to provide cameras and equipment when needed, he said.
“They realize, ‘fulano de tal (so and so) has a video camera’ but for some reason they never asked to borrow it,” he said. “It’s about moving around resources and offering help—that’s the main thing.”
Robles says as a result of the project, el Comité de la Esperanza now has a more effective way to draw compassion and support from mainstream society.
“God forbid it become another South Central Farmers [where] people join at the last minute to help but it’s too late,” Robles said about the group’s fears of displacement.
La Co Media has several other projects under its belt, including one with Casa Libre-Freedom House, a home for un-accompanied immigrant minors.
Wyvernwood Garden Apartments is a place that matters to the people who live there and if you don’t believe them, take the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s word.
Wyvernwood is the first large-scale garden complex in Los Angeles, it is listed in the California Register of Historic Resources and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, according to The National Trust for Historic Preservation website.
The community is comprised of 153 buildings on 70 acres in Boyle Heights and is part of the Trust’s “This Place Matters” national campaign.
According to Dolores McDonagh, Vice President of Membership Development at the Trust, the organization is excited about Wyvernwood because the Trust is trying to improve outreach to the Latino community. She says in Washington D.C. they’ve been trying to figure out how to best translate “This Place Matters” because Spanish speakers of different countries have translated it differently for them.
Wyvernwood residents chose to translate it to “Este Lugar es Importante,” which in English literally means, “This Place is Important.”
“It’s great because this community went out and did it themselves, that embodies the purpose of the campaign,” McDonagh told EGP.
While LA Co Media videotaped the Dec. 3 event, plans are up in the air for another Wyvernwood, LA Conservancy and La Co Media production in early 2010.
To learn more about Wyvernwood from the Comité de Esperanza visit their website at http://sites.google.com/site/somoswyvernwood/home