Touring Teachers Learn About East L.A. History

They saw the sites and heard from historians, educators and artists.

By Marvelia Alpizar, Exclusive to EGP

When you ask tourists what they want to see when visiting Los Angeles, it’s likely the first sites that come to mind are the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills, Disneyland and other well-known attractions. Two weeks ago, however, teachers from around the country and from abroad had the opportunity to explore and learn a little about the history and development of a place in Los Angeles that is not mentioned in tourist brochures: unincorporated East Los Angeles.

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The teachers were part of the Small Schools Network— an organization of educators from different academic areas working with students from diverse ethnic communities—which emphasizes that education is the most effective means to combat “prejudice with compassion, indifference with participation, and myth and misinformation with knowledge.”

Ofelia Esparza shared anecdotes about her work at the former Self Help Graphics & Art headquarters. (EGP photo by Marvelia Alpizar)

The Eastside Heritage Consortium and the Survey of Important Places in East LA (SIP-ELA), as part of an effort to eliminate the negative images of gang violence and blight that have long plagued the area, sponsored the tour.

The tour started off at Animo Jackie Robinson High School, where teachers watched videos on events related to the history of East Los Angeles, particularly during the vibrant and tumultuous 1960’s and 70s. They also listened to a presentation by filmmaker and educator Manuel Huerta, and Laura Dominguez, a historic preservation student at USC, who spoke about the sites included in the tour that they called “a heritage trail of ELA.”

“A tour like this has never been done in East L.A”, said Huerta. “There is a lot of history of activism and resistance that is particular to East L.A. There is also a huge artistic movement that has to do with music, muralism.”

The visit included places such as Laguna Park, which was renamed Ruben Salazar Park in honor of the Latino journalist who was killed by a Sheriff’s tear gas projectile while covering the Chicano Moratorium, an anti-war and civil rights protest on August 29, 1970.

Painter Paul Botello explains the meaning behind his mural “Wall that talks, sings and shouts.” (EGP photo by Marvelia Alpizar)

There, they observed a mural painted by Paul Botello, titled “Wall that talks, sings and shouts,” and listened to the explanation of it’s meaning by the artist.

“This mural in particular was inspired by the culture of my community,” said Botello. “I wanted to be able to educate people and share a positive image of a community that sometimes doesn’t have a positive image,” he said of his colorful artwork.

Other sites visited were the Maravilla Handball Court, the oldest court of its type in the County of Los Angeles that still stands, and the former headquarters of Self Help Graphics where Ofelia Esparza delighted audiences with anecdotes about her artwork and the history of the site.

“I’ve been here, but a long time ago, when I was a child,” said Rita Cortez, a religion teacher at Notre Dame High school in San Jose, CA. “I didn’t know anything about the history we have discovered. I think it’s important to the people because it gives them a sense of pride and identity.”

During the trip participants were able to see places such as the Anthony Quinn Library, built in the same place once occupied by the Academy Award winning actor’s home and the historic Golden Gate Theatre. They also visited the Whittier Boulevard Arch, a frequent site in movies and the entrance to a shopping district that years ago was the place for car cruising, and the Eddie Heredia Boxing Club, the gym where former boxing champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Oscar De La Hoya trained as a teenager.

“By doing academic projects, such projects also become agents of change, that is, by promoting life stories, cultural stories, we are doing social work while being part of the community, which is the most important thing,” said Dr. Yves Solis Nicot, academic coordinator of the Prepa Ibero, in Mexico City. “I think that this is also a learning experience we take with us, because it is a way to explain to a teenager in Mexico that it is no longer just important to send money [back to Mexico from the US], but that there is also a cultural link to be maintained that is as important as sending money back.”

The journey that lasted over two hours ended with a visit to the Mercado de Los Angeles, also known as “The Mercadito.” A mix of restaurants, stores and entertainers, the location gave the touring teachers an opportunity to enjoy the taste of Mexican food, as well as a little of the culture and traditions of Mexico still observed in Los Angeles.

“It was once in a lifetime chance to see something, a side of this part of Los Angeles that people don’t see,” said Molly Schen, co-director of the Facing History and Ourselves’ Small Schools Network.” I think people are afraid to go to East Los Angeles, but it’s a culturally vibrant place with a history we need to know.”

To get more information about the East L.A. heritage trail tour, contact Manuel Huerta at elaheritagetours@gmail.com

An earlier version of this story misspelled Molly Shen’s name.

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March 1, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

7 Responses to “Touring Teachers Learn About East L.A. History”

  1. Jesse Torres on March 1st, 2012 11:32 am

    This is so great! Happy to see East Los as a destination spot. It is unfortunate that the tour did not include Pan American Bank. As California’s oldest Latino-owned bank (and the second oldest in the United States) as well as the home of the first Latina Treasurer of the United States (founder Romana Acosta Banuelos), it would have been a nice stop along the way and another feather in East L.A.’s hat! Regardless, well done and bienvenidos!

    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    East Los Angeles, CA
    California’s Oldest Latino-Owned Bank

  2. Manuel Huerta on March 2nd, 2012 6:23 pm

    Jesse, thank you very much for your comment. We were asked with very short notice to do this tour for Facing History & Ourselves because of the survey work that we have been doing for well over a year. That said, the tour was limited in time and we were forthcoming with the participants in terms of letting them know that East L.A. has a lot to offer and that we would only be able to show them some of the many sites we have documented. We would love to sit down and talk to you to include Pan American Bank in the future.

    We are also happy that East Los is getting positive attention that is long overdue.

    Manuel Huerta
    SIP-ELA
    Eastside Heritage Consortium

  3. Manuel Huerta on March 2nd, 2012 6:50 pm

    Jesse, thank you very much for your comment. We were asked with very short notice to do this tour for Facing History & Ourselves because of the survey work that we’ve been doing for well over a year. That said, the tour was limited in time and we were forthcoming with the participants by letting them know that East L.A. has a lot to offer and that we would only be able to show them a portion of the many sites we have documented. We would love to sit down and talk to you to include Pan American Bank in the future.

    Like you, we are also happy that East Los is getting positive attention that is long overdue.

    Manuel Huerta SIP-ELA
    Eastside Heritage Consortium

  4. Jesse Torres on March 2nd, 2012 9:27 pm

    Thanks Manuel. We would love to be included in any future tours. Regardless, nice work putting it together so quickly. As a bank we often have auditors and others from the outside (and sometimes out of state) come by for visits. I love nothing more than seeing someone who has clearly been influenced by our reputation leave with an entirely different perspective. Sure we have our issues. But as you know, we are so much more than how we are depicted.

    So again, great job. I’m sure the experience will change some of these visitors forever.

    All the Best,

    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    East Los Angeles, CA
    California’s Oldest Latino-Owned Bank

  5. Jax Esparza Sanders on March 11th, 2012 4:06 pm

    Happy to see my mother Ofelia Esparza included in the tour of East Los Angeles. She’s been an active artist and educator in East Los Angeles all her life. She now has her own shop newly opened in February 2012 on Cesar Chavez and Ford referred to as Old Town Maravilla. The boutique is named Colibri. It’s a wonderful shop of new and novelty items, fashion, art, jewelry and holds workshops. It’s a kind of boutique I didn’t have in East Los Angeles when I was younger. Hope those near and far visit her at Colibri, a second home to her heart in the heart of East Los Angeles.
    Thank you for sharing the tour story. Lovely!
    jaxiejax

  6. Marcia Gilder Orcutt on March 14th, 2012 7:10 am

    Thank you for hightlghting Esat L.A.’s vibrant community. My first teaching job was in the late 60′s in Belevedere Junior High and the students’ art, passion and the problems are still in my memory.

  7. Manuel Huerta on March 15th, 2012 4:42 pm

    Jax,
    Thanks for sharing info on your mother’s new shop. I’ve been to Colibri Boutique and it is great! I highly recommend it. I can’t wait for it to really take off in terms of the workshops that will be held there more and more in the near future.

    Manuel Huerta
    SIP-ELA
    Eastside Heritage Consortium

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