August 2, 2012 Issue

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East Los Angeles Children Celebrate Olympic Games

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Photo courtesy of Centro de Niños

Centro de Niños in East Los Angeles is hosting its own version of the Olympic games this summer, starting with their own opening ceremonies held last Friday, the same day as the opening ceremonies for the official games in London. According to program director Raema Avalos, the large number of Latino participants in this year’s 30th Olympic Games in London inspired the Center to host its very first homemade version of the games, complete with cardboard double decker buses and a mini Big Ben. Seventy-four East Los Angeles area children lit the ceremonial cauldron with torches of painted toilet paper rolls and flames of colored tissue paper during Centro’s opening ceremony, and some have already participated in events such as gymnastics (rhythmic dancing to music), and shot put (throwing tennis balls in old socks).

710 Freeway Project a ‘Big Moment’ for Southeast, East L.A.

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What started out ten years ago as an 18-lane behemoth to serve freight truck traffic between East Los Angeles and the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles is slightly tamer these days as communities all along the route come together to take a final look at proposed improvements for a lengthy stretch of the I-710 Freeway.

Now reduced to a maximum of fourteen lanes and billed as a project to improve air quality and alleviate traffic congestion, the planned upgrade to an 18-mile stretch of the 710 Freeway will be the subject of three public hearings this week including one in the East Los Angeles area that will offer the public opportunities to give input.

Past involvement by community groups and individuals concerned about air quality impacts “has driven this project to become more of a sustainable, lower-emission producing project,” said Michael Cano, Transportation Deputy for Metro Board Chair Michael Antonovich.

The public’s comments at this week’s hearings will be recorded by a court reporter and included in the final report given to the Metro board, the governing body tasked with making the final decisions on the project. The community has the opportunity to demand mitigations to any problems in the project proposal, or take some options off the table “that are most damaging to the community,” Cano said.

This is a “big moment” for people in East Los Angeles to voice any concerns and “ask critical questions,” said Isella Ramirez, Co-Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, EYCEJ, an organization that has focused on the project’s impact on air quality in local communities.

The East Los Angeles communities are “particularly impacted” by the proposed project, Ramirez says. Nearby communities that could be affected include East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Bell, Cudahy, Maywood, Huntington Park, South Gate and Vernon.

Community members and officials say the likely preferred project plan is to add two truck-only lanes in both directions. Locally, communities could be dealing with the impacts of losing or gaining freeway on and off ramps, or the displacement of homes through widened freeways and redesigned configurations. In Commerce, a proposed on-ramp on Washington Blvd could mean relocating more than a hundred residents in the Ayers neighborhood, a plan that some businesses welcome. Caltrans, a lead agency on the project, has promised relocation benefits to anyone losing their homes.

Local cities and elected officials, as well as members of the community, are also finding the 10,000-page draft environmental impact report, which contains numerous technical studies, daunting to get through. Joe Aguilar, a councilman in the City of Commerce where an Aug. 9 public hearing will be held, called the report released last month “mind-boggling.” The community was given just 60 days to provide input, and the deadline is Aug. 29.

Recognizing this, Caltrans gave several cities, including Commerce and Bell Gardens, funding to hire consultants to review the report, and has indicated they may allow extensions on a case-by-case basis.

For organizations like EYCEJ, which has monitored hundreds of planning meetings over the years, this project is a “potentially exciting” opportunity to implement the zero-emission features they fought to incorporate into the proposals. But plans to place freeway off-ramps on streets lined with parks and schools, such as in Maywood, could mar that excitement.

“A goal of ours to make sure this I-710 freeway expansion project is really an improvement project that benefits the community,” said Ramirez.

Meetings will be held on Aug. 7, from 6-9pm, at Progress Park, 15500 Downey Ave, Paramount, California; Aug. 8, 6-9pm, at Silverado Park Community Center, 1545 W. 31st Street, Long Beach; and Aug. 9, 4-8pm at Rosewood Park, 5600 Harbor St., Commerce.

The report can be found at this link: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710corridor/

‘4 Generations’: Son Mexicano in California

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Members of the East Los Angeles senior dance troupe Los Hilos de Plata will be among the “4 Generations” of performers that will be celebrated August 10th at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. This performance showcases  ”4 generations” of Mexican American actors, dancers and musicians from Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

”It will be such a beautiful sight to see our oldest dancer, 94-year-old Grace Regalado dancing next to our youngest dancer, 8-year-old, Mariana,” said Virginia Diediker, co-founder of Ballet Folklorico Ollin. “That generational scene of beauty will be repeated over and over again with the young and older musicians, dancers and actors on stage throughout the show,” she said.

This show highlights Mexican American/Chicano performing artists, most of whom were born out of the Chicano movement. “Their expression represents traditional Mexican art forms but also represents the Californian folkloristas – artists who are a blend of two cultures,” said Javier Verdin, co-founder of Ballet Folklorico Ollin.

Grace Regalado, 94, (right) dances next to Ballet Folklorica Ollin’s youngest dancer, 8-year-old, Mariana (center). Photo courtesy of Virginia Diediker

California’s Mexican American and Chicano artists have kept Mexican art forms and traditions alive over many decades and popularized them so much so that they have become U.S. traditions and part of the American fabric. This story, “4 Generations: Son Mexicano in California” will be told by Juilliard trained actor, Rene Rivera, as a celebration of history, art and activism.

“Whether it’s the impact of our social struggles or the integration of our music and culture, it is seen and felt every day,” said Verdin. “It’s our influence on U.S. culture that has popularized the song, “La Bamba,” or the holidays, Cinco De Mayo or Dia de Los Muertos, they are all examples of music and holidays now shared and celebrated on both sides of the border and are enriched back and forth.” Verdin explained. “We don’t need to import talent from Mexico to perform traditional Mexican music and dance,” said professor Fermin Herrera: “The talent is here.”

A renowned Mexican harpist, Herrera, of Conjunto Jarocho Hueyapan, has devoted his career to the skill and artistry of jarocho music. Conjunto Hueyapan founded in 1973 is a family ensemble, featuring Herrera, his three brothers, his sister, Maria Isabel, and Fermin’s two sons, Xocoyotzin and Motecuhsomah. In addition to performing, the group has worked tirelessly over the years to document and preserve son mexicano (a particular type of Mexican folk music from the countryside) in general and son jarocho (a traditional musical style of Veracruz, Mexico) in particular.

“He is one of the first people in California who has truly influenced generations about an entire genre of music and he has taught hundreds of students as a professor at CSUN and has performed internationally,” said Diediker. Herrera, along with Ballet Folklorico Ollin, one of the oldest folklorico dance troupes in California, will both be acknowledged at this performance for teaching “4 Generations.”

“I see the show more as a tribute to all the wonderful musicians, dancers and storytellers who are from California and contributed to the preserving and sharing of our culture,” Herrera said. “If they are using me as a symbol of that, well, all I can say is that I pay homage to all of them.”

The work of Ballet Folklorico Ollin and Professor Herrera are examples of groups born out of the Chicano movement who have had a mission to teach anyone who wanted to learn. In that spirit, many artists have thrived and now span “4 Generations.”  Among them, the multi-talented Los Hermanos Herrera, (all UCLA graduates) and the nationally recognized youth groups, Mariachi Masters Apprentice Program and Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando. All these young talented musicians will play onstage alongside those who have been their teachers, including master musicians (Sergio Alonso and Chuy Guzman of Mariachi Los Camperos) for this performance.

In addition to honoring those artists who have paved the way, Diediker said organizers hope the evening will draw attention to the challenges and struggles that exist today, including the fight for educational, cultural, artistic and literary freedom in Arizona.

Ticket prices for the show start at $30 and $12 for full-time students with ID and children 12 and under. Tickets are available at www.FordTheatres.org or (323) 461-3673. For groups of eight or more, please call (323) 769-2147.

Walmart to Open Neighborhood Market in Bell Gardens

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While plans to open a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chinatown spurred much controversy and protest recently, the national retail chain has been working unchallenged on opening a grocery store in a Southeast Los Angles County city.

A former furniture store site in Bell Gardens is now fully under construction and is tentatively scheduled to open sometime in October, according to Walmart Sr. Manager of Community Affairs Rachel Wall.

Walmart is looking to make inroads into the Southeast Los Angeles communities, with plans to open a neighborhood market in Bell Gardens.

The store, leased earlier this year, will be located in the Los Jardines Shopping Center on Eastern Avenue owned by Primestor. Permits from the city for the renovation were requested through the shopping center landlord, Wall told EGP by email. The corporation is opening a temporary hiring center there to begin the search for about 65 employees.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Walmart Abrirá Supermercado en Bell Gardens

The City of Bell Gardens welcomes the Walmart Neighborhood Market, Bell Gardens City Manager Philip Wagner told EGP.

“In addition to providing a new and convenient place to shop, Walmart will provide new jobs and increase sales tax revenue to our community, both desperately needed in this sluggish economy,” he stated. “Walmart will also help strengthen the core of our downtown business district. As Walmart attracts shoppers to their store, small businesses in the area will also benefit from the increase in traffic and additional retail sales.”

Walmart Neighborhood Markets are smaller than typical Walmart stores — there are about 200 in existence nationwide — the Bell Gardens’ store will be about 31,000 square feet in size and primarily sell grocery and pharmaceutical items, according to a company press release.

“We’re very proud to offer our wide variety of fresh produce and healthy products to our Bell Gardens customers,” said Bell Gardens Store Manager Keith Holloway in a written statement. “This new, small store format is a convenient option for our customers to access our broad assortment of affordable food choices all at our Every Day Low Prices.”

Walmart’s announcement highlighted the company’s initiative to provide healthier options to consumers; the addition of 65 full- and part-time jobs with competitive wages, an average of $12.79 per hour to full-time, hourly employees in California, and benefits to eligible employees; the Walmart Foundation’s charitable contributions to communities they serve and the “green” elements of their new store.

The Bell Gardens Neighborhood Market will be located just off the I-710 Long Beach Freeway and will also serve the neighboring communities of Bell, South Gate and Huntington Park.

The openings of Walmart stores locally have not been without controversy. Last month, thousands marched against the Walmart Neighborhood Market planned for the Chinatown neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles. Critics say Walmart blocks its workers attempts to unionize, pays low wages, provides inadequate health benefits and creates unfair competition that drives mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Others, however, welcome the stores which they say create much-needed jobs and provide food and other items at a lower price than other retailers in financially strapped low-income communities.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 3, 2012, to add statements from Bell Gardens official and again on Aug. 6 to note that the store will open in October and not Sept. as previously stated by Walmart. The update also clarifies that new jobs will be a combination of part- and full-time positions, and  wages and benefits being offered.

Homeowners’ Rights Bills Help Clear Muddy Foreclosure Waters

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SACRAMENTO – Homeowners facing foreclosure now are protected from confusing and often-unethical bank practices, thanks to a new package of laws known as the “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights.” The package of nine bills passed the Legislature in July and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. It goes into effect on the first of next year.

“Come January 1, there will be more laws of protection for the homeowner,” said Vincent Howard, an Orange County attorney who represents homeowners in foreclosure cases, including in East Los Angeles.

One of those protections now will be a more forceful tool in the hands of owners – they will be able to sue most banks that violate the new law. “It creates additional situations for the lenders and servicers under which they could be sued,” said Howard. “It gives me additional things to look for when a client comes in and asks to sue a bank.”

The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights was sponsored by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and was based on a $25 billion national settlement whereby five major banks (Wells Fargo, Citibank, Ally\GMAC, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America) agreed to provide relief to homeowners who had lost their homes due to faulty and sometimes illegal foreclosure practices by the banks. Harris helped negotiate the settlement. The package of bills was meant to extend terms of that settlement to banks and California homeowners not involved in the national agreement.

“If the top five banks already agreed to something, then why wouldn’t we want [to include] the rest of the banks and the rest of the homeowners not included in that settlement?” said Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), who introduced part of the legislative package that became the Bill of Rights.

Among the bank practices singled out in the national settlement and now made illegal in California are “dual tracking” and “robo-signing.”

“Dual tracking” refers to the practice whereby one unit at a bank works with a homeowner to modify terms of a mortgage while, simultaneously, another unit at the same bank initiates foreclosure proceedings against the same owner. As a result, a homeowner often is forced to deal with several bank representatives who deliver confusing and contradictory information and demands. Although it covers a multitude of sins, “robo-signing” usually refers to bank officials signing foreclosure documents without first having verified the accuracy of information contained in those documents. In some cases, the term also refers to unauthorized bank personnel forging the signatures of legal bank representatives.

The new laws end “dual tracking” by requiring that homeowners have only one point of contact with a bank. They also place an outright ban on “robo-signing.”

“The law makes the rules very clear,” said Eng, whose bill targeted robo-signing.

One of the final sticking points as the bills neared a legislative vote centered on the right of homeowners to sue banks that violate the new laws. Banks feared a plethora of “frivolous lawsuits” that could slow down or halt legitimate foreclosures and proposed limiting or eliminating the ability to sue. According to the Los Angeles Times, a compromise limited the provisions to owners who actually live in a property to be foreclosed, and that property can have no more than four units. In addition, speculators who buy investment property and owners who voluntarily opt for foreclosure are not covered by the new law. Finally, the law exempts banks with fewer than 175 foreclosures a year. According to Eng, the bills were targeted at banks that process many foreclosures. Smaller banks and credit unions almost had no foreclosures, according to Eng, and so were exempt.

The law also places responsibilities and restrictions on homeowners. As mentioned, they must live in the foreclosed property and cannot withhold mortgage payments. They also are given a finite amount of time to request a loan modification.

Not everyone was enamored with the final product, however. Bankers continue to see it as too broad. “It does increase the liability exposure for banks,” said Beth Mills, the vice president of communications for the California Bankers Association.

So, what happens to homeowners who lose their homes between now and the time the Homeowner Bill of Rights takes effect in January?

“The law is not retroactive,” said Vince Howard, adding that until January 1, “people can only use law that is currently on the books.” Under current law, “dual tracking” and “robo-signing” are not illegal. But, Howard said, homeowners still can sue if they believe a bank employed these practices to foreclose a home.

Homeowners who feel they have a case against a bank first should seek help from a foreclosure counselor certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A list of counselors for California is available on the HUD website at http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/fc/index.cfm. Included on the list are organizations such as the Montebello Housing Development Corp., Clearpoint Financial Solutions of Commerce, East Los Angeles Community Corporation, and Operation HOPE of South Gate. A counselor can help a homeowner find an appropriate attorney. The counseling is free and, according to Harris’ office, the use of a counselor will greatly increase the chance that a homeowner will save his or her home from foreclosure.

The foreclosure process can be rough water for a homeowner, but “the Homeowner Bills of Rights is the lifeboat to get people to the shore safely,” said Eng.

Cruz: Trying to Stay Hot in Dodger Lineup

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EGP photo by Fred Zermeno

Luis Cruz’s bat stays hot as he battles to stay in the competitive Dodger line up. Before Monday’s 7-2 at home loss to the Arizona D-backs, the 28-year-old minor league invitee had hit in 10 straight games, and has 10 RBIs, the same record as Dodger favorite Matt Kemp.

Funeral Services Announced for Actress Lupe Ontiveros

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Actress Lupe Ontiveros, who died of liver cancer last week at the age of 69, will be buried in Whittier on Friday in services open to the public.

A rosary open to the public will be held today, Thursday, from 7 p.m. to 9:30p.m. at St. Hilary’s Church at 5465 Citronell Ave. in Pico Rivera, where Ontiveros lived, a publicist announced.

Lupe Ontiveros

Also open to the public will be a funeral Mass at St. Hilary’s starting at 10 a.m. Friday and the interment ceremony that will immediately follow at Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary at 3888 Workman Mill Rd in Whittier, a statement said.

Ontiveros earned an Emmy nomination for her work in “Desperate Housewives, but her biggest claim to fame was playing the role of Yolanda Saldivar, the leader of Selena Quintanilla-Perez’s fan club who wound up killing the famed singer — who was portrayed in the film “Selena” by Jennifer Lopez.

“I am tremendously saddened by the news of Lupe’s passing,’’ Lopez said in a statement posted on her website. “She was a great actress and working with her in ‘Selena’ was an unforgettable experience. She will truly be missed.”

Ontiveros was a founder of the Latino Theater Company in downtown Los Angeles and was a mentor for countless Latino performers.

“Her iconic roles and larger-than-life personality helped to blaze a trail, specifically for Latina actresses, and nobly represented working-class characters,’’ Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “As a founding member of the downtown Latino Theater Company, her artistic contributions will continue to enrich the lives of Angelenos.”

A native of El Paso, Texas, she is believed to have played maids or domestic servants hundreds of times in film, television and theater productions.

Donations can be made in Ontiveros’s name to the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness and the Los Angeles Theatre Center. For more information, contact Rachel Braver of GLAD at (323) 550-4274 and LATC Artistic Director Jose Luis Valenzuela at (213) 489-0994.

Ontiveros is survived by her husband, three sons and two granddaughters.

Computer, Internet Classes Offer Access to the ‘World’

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Most first time computer users have an overwhelming fear of erasing important data if they click or type something incorrectly. But on July 27, 18 Latino parents and grandparents erased the fear itself by celebrating their graduation from a 10 week, 40 hour computer training course as part of Community Union’s One Million New Internet Users (NIU) project.

The adult students shared computers at the Romana Banuelos Resource Center in the Pan American Bank on East 1st Street in East Los Angeles, as they navigated programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and learned how to access nine different websites including Facebook and Gmail for the first time. Their work culminated in a group portfolio of each student’s final PowerPoint presentation—a segment was displayed at the graduation ceremony held at the center.

“I feel so proud, not because of vanity, but because I now realize that you’re never too old to learn,” Javier Ramos said in Spanish while clutching his graduation certificate.

All of the graduates had little to no understanding of how to use a computer prior to the classes, even though they had owned one for years. Norma Tejeda’s frustration at not being able to access online games for her young grandsons was what motivated her to take the classes.

“It’s a fear that you’re not going to be able to learn, that you’re somehow limited, but that’s not the case,” Tejeda said in Spanish.

Founded by Larry Ortega 20 years ago, the One Million NIU project is a direct response to a study that revealed over 3 million potential Internet users in California have yet to explore the World Wide Web. Run by a co-founded coalition of various ethnic based non-profits called Community Union, the One Million NIU project aims to get one third of those potential users online through free computer training programs funded by a grant from the Rural and Urban Regional Broadband Consortia Grant Account of the California Advanced Services Fund.

According to Ortega, the project’s success is due to its specialized programming based on a particular ethnic community in a particular region.

“Adult education and community colleges have been offering computer training forever, for free almost, so why haven’t our communities flocked there?” Ortega said. “The reason is because there is a lack of cultural, linguistic understanding in terms of how to roll this out and create value.”

In East Los Angeles, the program is directed at Latino parents and grandparents and capitalizes on their trust in the school system by hosting the classes in local schools’ computer labs after school hours, Ortega explained.

Evelyn Mataromos, an instructor at the Romana Banuelos Resource Center that doubles as the project’s East L.A. headquarters, said more parents can to take advantage of the program since they already travel to the schools to pick up their children.

Using local schools also ties in well with the program’s goal to decrease the growing drop-out rates among Latino and African-American youth by educating their parents and grandparents on the academic and financial opportunities available online, Neri Rivas, vice president of operations told EGP.

“We created this program so that we get parents more involved … you’d be surprised, parents don’t know what are the A through G requirements, don’t know what are the universities or colleges in their areas, so this program opens up those eyes,” Rivas said.

Participants also learned about Internet safety and how to better protect their children and grandchildren from predators and cyber-bullies, something graduate Edith Chevez said is very important in this day and age.

More mothers and grandmothers take advantage of the classes than males in the community, in part because of social norms that make females more attune with their children’s lives and education, according to Rivas and Ortega.

“Mothers, who are the majority of people that attend, have gotten the value part of it, whereas I think that the males in our community don’t have that wrapped around their head so it’s a matter of progression in showing them what they can be able to do better if they had access to this,” Ortega told EGP.

But Ramos said it’s something more.

“We’re afraid of being humiliated or criticized because we don’t know what we’re doing,” said the recent graduate.

Men like Ramos, who not only take the classes but also advocate the program to their co-workers and friends, are helping bring in more males to the eye-opening experience, Ortega said.

The 18 graduates’ journey into the online world continues with a post-course program in which they can learn more about navigating the Internet, and how they can play the role of community advocate by emailing representatives on current issues affecting their community, Rivas said.

Ortega announced that starting this fall the One Million NIU project will begin offering cable Internet service for less than $10 a month and monthly computer rentals for about the same price as part of their on-going commitment to their students.

For most of the graduates, the classes offered them more effective ways to communicate with distant family members online, to protect their loved ones and help them with their education, and to gain digital independence.

Before starting the program, Chevez, an Avon salesperson, constantly relied on her daughter to place her online orders. Now she manages her business all on her own.

“Now I am very independent.” Chevez said. “I have my privacy because now I don’t have to tell anyone what sites I visit or what I browse.”

Parents and grandparents interested in fall classes in their area should call (323) 526-7331 or visit onemillionniu.org.

White Memorial Ranked Among Top Hospitals

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U.S. World and News Report’s annual list of the nation’s best hospitals has ranked the White Memorial Medical Center (WMMC) in Boyle Heights twelfth on its list of the top 32 hospitals in the Los Angeles metro area and 29th among the top 41 highest performing hospitals in California.

The national report ranks 732 hospitals out of the potential 4,800 in the nation.

Also on the list of the 32 best Los Angeles metro area hospitals are the world-class Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, USC Norris Cancer Center Hospital, City of Hope and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“All of these hospitals are the kinds of medical centers that should be on your list when you need the best care,” said Avery Comarow, U.S. News Health ranking editor in a press release. “They are where other hospitals send the toughest cases.”

Along with its ranking recognition, WMMC also scored high performance marks, nearly at the nation best Hospital level, on 10 adult specialties including cardiology and heart surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, and orthopedics. In patient satisfaction surveys, 72 percent of survey takers reported that they would recommend the medical center to friends and family.

“This recognition is due in large part to the caring, commitment and hard work of our White Memorial physicians and employees,” said Beth Zachary, President and CEO of White Memorial Medical Center, in a press release.

“Together, with our modern facilities and advanced technology, we have been able to provide much-needed health care to our community for nearly 100 years.”

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