What’s Your ‘I Love the Eastside’ Story?
Campaign hopes to build pride and combat negative views.
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
As Jennifer Maldonado walks down a street in El Sereno, the smell of cinnamon wafting from El Aguila Bakery on Huntington Drive reminds her of her childhood. It brings back memories of her mother taking her to school and stopping along the way to buy hot champurrado and soft vanilla conchas.
“I remember being out the door quick and telling my friend to hurry up so we could stop at Aguila before school,” recalls Maldonado.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, the now twenty-three year old Maldonado says she has a special love for the eastside. It’s where, as a teenager, she learned about Son Jarocho, a regional style of folk music from Veracruz, Mexico, and to play the jarana, a small guitar with 8 strings at the Eastside Café, a local community space in El Sereno.
Memories like these have inspired “I Love the Eastside,” a new campaign to get people to share their stories online about the eastside neighborhoods they call home.
The campaign is the brainchild of InnerCity Struggle (ICS), a nonprofit group about to celebrate its 20th anniversary working with eastside residents.
Since 1994, ICS has been working to create safe, healthy and non-violent communities in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and unincorporated East L.A. The group has paid special attention to bringing about changes at local schools, focusing on reducing the high school dropout rate and getting more students ready for college.
A 2009 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in El Sereno, Maldonado went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of California San Diego. Now, the Health Justice Organizer with ICS says she is proud to be able to share her “I Love the Eastside” story, but adds that going away to college helped shed new light on the place where she grew up.
Lea este artículo en Español: Orgullosamente ‘I Love the Eastside’
It was while living in an upper class neighborhood in La Jolla, CA, that Maldonado says she realized how much El Sereno needs people like her — educated and ready to help bring positive changes to their community. It’s also when she started really questioning why there are so few resources on the eastside. Why didn’t she and her neighbors know about organic food? Why did it take moving out of El Sereno for her to learn about stores like Whole Foods? Is it “because we are a working class? Because we are a predominantly community of color, [or] because our tax dollars are not going to the right places?” she wanted to know. Those questions helped her decide to return and work with the community, her community.
Maldonado’s story is not unique. It’s actually quite similar to what others growing up on the eastside have experienced, as documented by the stories already being posted on ICS’ “I Love the Eastside” web page. However, according to Nancy Meza, strategic communications coordinator with ICS, the view from the outside is too often colored by misinformation and negative stereotypes.
“As eastsiders, there’s a very negative picture of us. We are all dropouts, every one is a gang member or a teen mom,” Meza told EGP. In reality, “outsiders” don’t see “the positive” side of the community. They don’t see the “pride and love” eastsiders have for their community, she said, explaining they hope the story campaign can share a more positive view.
Meza said love and pride is what has kept many people involved in the community. “Even when they have to work and have a lot of things to do, they come to the meetings,” Meza said. “They are the leaders.”
Billboards popping up across the eastside invite people to share or read stories about the culture, traditions and history of the eastside.
People like Margarita Ramirez, 62, deputy director at the Liberty Hill Foundation, who said she couldn’t help but share her story once she heard about the campaign. Born and raised in Boyle Heights, Ramirez remembers how different her neighborhood was during the 1950s and 60s. She remembers that as a child that she was not afraid to play outside on the street and that she was exposed to the Jewish and Japanese cultures of her neighbors.
Boyle Heights was considered the “gateway for immigrants,” Ramirez told EGP, recalling how she enjoyed “peeking at the services at the Jewish synagogues” and learning from her Japanese neighbors how to properly grow plants, as well as learning about Chicano and Mexican-American history.
While she doesn’t considers herself a Chicana, Ramirez told EGP she learned a lot about the Chicano movement and remembers the 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War at what was then Laguna Park, but was renamed Ruben Salazar Park in honor of the LA Times reporter killed by a Sheriff’s tear gas canister when the event turned violent. She was inspired to get politically involved, she said. Now married and the mother of three grown children, Ramirez no longer lives in Boyle Heights, but says her roots will always be in the eastside.
“I love the Boyle Heights community and its food,” Ramirez said, “but mainly because it kept me grounded and inspired.”
Meza said they also hope to use the campaign to honor the organization and its members who have always been there regardless of their personal obligations.
“If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here, and if it wasn’t for the love they have for their community they wouldn’t have been here either,” Meza said.
We hope these stories will encourage other to get involved, she said. Maybe they can’t go to a meeting or a rally, this is another way for them to get involved. So, “show your pride and your love.”
To participate in the ‘I Love the Eastside’ campaign, by sharing your story or making a donation, visit www.ihearteastside.wordpress.com.
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August 7, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.