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.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Maestros Conocen la Historia del Este de Los Ángeles
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
An earlier version of this story misspelled Molly Shen’s name.
March 1, 2012 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.