150 Years Later: ‘Original’ Story of Cinco de Mayo Comes to LA Plaza

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Often wrongly called the Mexican Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in Mexico 150 years ago. But for decades people have been stumped as to why it is celebrated in the US—especially since the French eventually captured Puebla, and Mexico’s Independence Day is actually in September.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: 150 Años Después: Celebración ‘Autentica’ de Cinco de Mayo Llega a LA Plaza

Some argue that the Cinco de Mayo celebrations of today have become over-commercialized, and in recent years, some proud socially conscious Latinos have objected to it being reduced to a drinking holiday.

Nonetheless, the celebration has endured.

This weekend, a new exhibit opening at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles will shed some light on the significance and origins of the Cinco de Mayo celebration in California and Latino history.

Described as the “authentic version” of the Cinco de Mayo tradition, the “one-of-a-kind” event at LA Plaza includes a gallery exhibit of items from the time period, archive photos, newspaper clippings and a complete timeline chronicalling the historic events, and will also include dramatic recreations to tell the history of the Battle of Puebla to Californians.

The victory in Puebla was more than a battle in Mexico, explains Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, Ph.d, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine, UCLA.

In a way, it was California’s “Alamo,” and its celebration helped change the course of the American Civil War, Hayes-Bautista told EGP.

The exhibit, “Cinco de Mayo: Latinos in California Respond to the Civil War,” inspired by Hayes-Bautista’s newest book, “Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition,” showcases the experience of Latinos — los Hispanos — in California, shortly after its annexation to the United States.

Since the 1920s, Cinco de Mayo has been portrayed as a “David and Goliath” story, said LA Plaza Chief Curator Cindi Dale.

The new exhibit provides a new perspective on the Cinco de Mayo celebration from this side of the border and could inspire Mexican-Americans and Chicanos to “take it back,” Dale told EGP, during a preview of the exhibit.

The exhibit is not just about the Battle of Puebla, says Hayes-Bautista.

“You know at Puebla they do a lot of military history about which units were where, how many bullet holes were on a wall afterward. We are doing a social history, what was the impact of that news here? Why did it move Latinos so much the way that it did?” he said.

Hayes-Bautista’s book begins with the adoption of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo. It tells the story of how in one night the life of a boy living not far from what is now the Olvera Street area of Los Angeles, changes dramatically: Francisco Ramirez went to bed a Mexican citizen, and wakes up the next day as an American citizen.

Californios like Ramirez, as mestizos, saw their rights threatened as the color line hardened, so they supported the North in the Civil War to abolish slavery, Hayes-Bautista said.

Just two weeks before the Battle of Puebla, the Confederacy’s army was making gains in the war and their progress was not thwarted until a year and a half later, Hayes-Bautista said.

“So in retrospect, as people got further and further from the Battle of Puebla, the more it reminded them there is hope…” he said.

See David Hayes-Bautista’s history of Cinco de Mayo as an American tradition here (published in EGP in 2009): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

At that time, the army of Freedom and Democracy for Californios was seen as both the Union in the US and the Mexican Army, according to Hayes-Bautista. Cavalry members from bilingual California included English and Spanish-speaking soldiers. California-based political action groups, known as Juntas Patrioticas, had dues-paying members who helped finance the Union Army, encouraged voter registration, and used Cinco de Mayo as a rallying point to bolster troop morale. They purposely made the day a celebration to be observed every year, he said.

The victory in Puebla by the Mexican army was a victory against slavery and elitism, something the Union army was unable to do for almost another two years, he said.

“So it had a huge impact, it raised the morale, it gave them the sense that maybe freedom and democracy could finally win this battle,” he said. “Until that time the news had been horrible, and it continued to be horrible for a year and a half afterward.”

Much of the history played out right here in Los Angeles, he said. For a time, Union army veterans and their families carried on the Cinco de Mayo celebration. But three generations later, Latinos had lost their personal experience with the meaning of Cinco de Mayo, Hayes-Bautista said.

The exclusion of the role of California’s Latinos from the history of the American Civil War in California is what led to the celebration’s current confused state, he said.

The exhibit at LA Plaza is a chance to tell that history to a new generation of Latinos, Angelenos, and Californians, he said.

Like LA Plaza’s current exhibit, LA Starts Here, the Cinco de Mayo exhibit includes a timeline depicting important events. This timeline however shows US and Mexican events side-by-side.

Celebrate “Original” Cinco de Mayo at LA Plaza – May 5th & May 6th
The two day free event will include tours of the exhibit, live musical entertainment, activities for the family and much more. Some of the highlights include:

—Author David Hayes-Bautista, Ph.d will sign copies of his book, Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition, at Saturday’s event at LA Plaza de Culturas y Artes.
—Coloring book on the origins of Cinco de Mayo in the US will also be available during the family-friendly event.
—A re-creation of an early Cinco de Mayo celebration that is true to the Civil War era, including Latino cavalry soldiers, and music of the times, but no mariachis.
—Special performance by Mexican rock legend Alex Lora of El Tri, at 8pm on Saturday.

Music and entertainment will take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 5th; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 6th.

A stage will be set up in front of the Pico House on Olvera Street, Main Street (from Arcadia to Cesar Chavez) will be closed for the celebration. LA Plaza is always free to the public, the exhibits are open from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The event is presented by LA Plaza, the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at David Geffen School of Medicine, and the Unión de Poblanos en El Exterior (UPEX).

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes is located at 501 North Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information call (213) 542-6200 or visit http://lapca.org/content/150-year-anniversary-cinco-de-mayo.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo This Weekend

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

There will be no shortage of things to do for families in Los Angeles County this Cinco de Mayo weekend, from re-enactments of the famous battle in Puebla Mexico, to traditional Mexican dancing, music, arts and crafts, parades, classic car shows and of course, eating great food.

EGP has put together a guide to many of the celebrations around town. Be sure to take in one of more of the local events, especially those right in your own neighborhood.

Mariachi Music at Chet Holifield Library in Montebello
Today, Thursday, May 3, 5pm-6pm
Enjoy an evening of mariachi music in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The library is located at 1060 S. Greenwood Ave., Montebello, 90640. For more information, call (323) 728-0421.

Cinco de Mayo at the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market
Friday, May 4, 3-8:30pm; Sunday, May 6, 3-8:30pm
Mariachi Plaza will be filled with authentic arts & crafts, food and entertainment this week, with performances by Grupo La Profecia, Grupo Hijos de Mago, Rigo from Japon, Don Julio El Santanero, Maricela La Reyna De La Cumbia, Jerry La Voz del Recuerdo, Bazurto y su Pachanga, Romantico de Jalisco, Danza Azteca. For more information, call Tonie Juarez at (951) 224-4164.

Cinco de Mayo at Bell Gardens Neighborhood Youth Center
Friday, May 4, 4pm-8pm
There will be dancing, games, food, piñatas and much more at the Bell Gardens Cinco de Mayo Celebration taking place at the Neighborhood Youth Center: 5856 Ludell Street, Bell Gardens, 90201. Entrance is $2 a person. For more information call (562) 806-7667 or email rveloz@bellgardens.org.

Olvera Street – El Pueblo Historic Monument
Saturday, May 5, 10am-7pm; Sunday, May 6, 11am-5pm
Olvera Street will be a hub of free Cinco de Mayo festivities this weekend with mariachis, folklorico dancers, piñatas, and a line up of entertainment. Enjoy the great restaurants and vendors at the Mexican Marketplace. Olvera Street is located at 845 N. Alameda St., LA 90012.

LA Plaza de Culturas y Artes Festivities
Saturday, May 5, Noon-9pm; Sunday, May 6, 11am-6pm
Head over to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and learn the real story behind Cinco De Mayo, with a theatrical reenactment, special musical guests, folklorico dancers, special exhibits & workshops, speakers, entertainment, crafts and other special programming throughout the weekend. The museum is located at 501 N. Main St. LA 90012. Take Metro to Union Station and avoid the traffic and save on parking. For more information and a complete schedule of events, go to http://www.lapca.org/.

Cypress Park’s Cinco de Mayo Parade, Festival, Classic Car Show
Saturday, May 5, 11am-10pm
Come see comedians and actors including actress Kiki Meléndez, comedian/impersonator Mario Ramirez, and film director Jackie Torres. Actor Richard Yñiguez will serve as the celebrity grand marshal of the Cypress Park Cinco de Mayo parade starting at 11am at Cypress and Pepper avenues. A festival and classic car show will take place at Rio de Los Angeles State Park: 1900 San Fernando Road and Future Street. Music, food, games and more. Admission is free. For more information, call Belen Eller at (323) 277-1133 or email hauntedcasa@aol.com.

Proyecto Jardin Cinco de Mayo Salsa Cook-Off, Community Work Day
Saturday, May 5, 10am-4pm
Start the day off by planting a salsa garden, then take in the best salsa creation contest at 1pm. Cook-off will be followed by a Zumba class with Julissa and Ivy at 3pm. Quesadillas will be served to those who donate. Proyecto Jardin is located at 1718 Bridge St, LA 90033, behind the White Memorial Medical Center between State and Boyle. For more information, call (323) 774-7824 or email irenetothemax@yahoo.com.

Free Cinco de Mayo 5K/10K Run in Montebello
Sunday, May 6, 6am-2pm
This free event to promote an active and healthy lifestyle will include a 5K and 10K race through Montebello streets, and a four-hour festival with music, games, and rides. The event is being supported by radio stations KSSE 107.1, KDLD 103.1 and KLYY 97.5. Entrance into race and festival is free. Minors must have parent or legal guardian consent to enter the race. For more information, visit http://www.elgato1031.com.

City of Commerce Cinco de Mayo Celebration
Saturday, May 6, 11:30am-6pm
Festivities will take place at Rosewood Park where you’ll find food, games, music, baby show, boxing show, garden show and more. The park is located at 5600 Harbor St., Commerce, 90040. For more information, call (323) 722-4805.

Monterey Park’s 30th Annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration
Sunday, May 6th, 1pm-6pm
Festivities at the Barnes Park Amphitheater include folklorico dancers, mariachis and traditional Mexican music. Performances by Mariachi Jalisco, Ballet Folklorico Esperanza, ELAC Latin Jazz Ensemble, Mauricio Herrera, and Mariachi Juvenil Relámpago. The park is located at 350 S. McPherrin Ave., Monterey Park, 91754. For more information, call (626) 307-1388 or visit www.ci.monterey-park.ca.us

Santa Monica’s Cinco de Mayo Festival
Sunday, May 6, Noon-5pm
This year’s event at Virginia Avenue Park will feature a salsa tasting contest, Lotería, fashion contest, festival vendors and live entertainment from salsa band Bombachanté, the mariachi band Alta California de Carlos Villalobos, and folklórico dancers Herencia Mexicana. Performance artist Maria Elena Gaitan will serve as the master of ceremony and provide commentary on the historical significance of Cinco de Mayo. Parking is limited so please take alternative forms of transportation when possible. The park is located at is located at 2200 Virginia Ave, Santa Monica. For more information, call (310) 458-8411.

Occupy L.A. Protesters Take On May Day

May 3, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Dressed in black, covering their faces with bandanas or ski masks, some Occupy protesters, also known as ninety-nine per centers, made an impression at Los Angeles’ annual May Day rallies on Tuesday.

While an earlier rally through downtown was peaceful and festive, Occupy protesters arrived mostly in the late afternoon and gathered near Pershing Square as they were instructed to do on the Occupy May 1st website.

Part of a national movement, the Occupy protesters’ message has centered on economic disparities where one percent of the population holds the vast majority of the wealth in the United States, leaving the rest of the population far behind.

Protesters, some wearing masks to cover their faces, marched through the streets of Los Angeles on Tuesday. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Last fall, protesters camped outside City Hall for two months until they were forcibly removed by LAPD. Compared to Occupy protests in other parts of the country, violence was minimal in Los Angeles.

Mostly made up of young adults, the Occupy crowd set a different tone from years past on Tuesday, as well as from a smaller protest march and rally held earlier in the day led by immigrant rights activists.

A few of the occupiers carried trash cans converted into shields spray-painted with an anarchist symbol, several dozen appeared ready to incite a riot. Many chanted “F— the Police” and boldly put their middle finger in the face or direction of police officers who were out in force, wearing riot gear.

A few skirmishes were reported but only one arrest was made in downtown Los Angeles, however the Los Angeles Police are looking for three suspects allegedly caught on tape assaulting officers.

*LAPD Charlie Beck said Wednesday that they are looking for a protester who hit a female officer in the back of the head with a snare drum during a scuffle with demonstrators. The officer suffered a concussion from the blow that left a dent in her ballistic helmet, according to Officer Wendy Reyes of LAPD Media Relations. Police say the attack was unprovoked.

In another incident, two suspects were caught on tape carrying a wooden sign using it against a line of LAPD officers from behind. Four officers fell forward and one had his helmet knocked off, according to LAPD.

LAPD Central Division officers were on a tactical alert from 6:40 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.

Ten May Day protesters were arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport, during a one-day job action held by airport workers.

Past May Day rallies in downtown have celebrated International Worker’s Day with calls for comprehensive immigration reform, workers’ rights and an end to deportations.

At the first march and rally, organized as Supporters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, marchers carried a banner as wide as the street reading “Legalization Now” in Spanish. Many carried signs reading “Obama: Where is the reform?” and chanted “Obama, listen. We are in the struggle.”

But other issues were also plastered on signs and banners carried by protesters, and delivered by speakers, including gay rights, voting in this year’s Mexican Election, jobs and more.

“We’ve been struggling for civil rights for a long time,” said Suyapa Portillo of the 32 LGBT organizations represented as the “Queer Contingent.” “We are also immigrants, also workers. …We want our president to pay attention to us as immigrants. … A lot of these things would not be possible without coalition building.”

Portillo, also on the board of the Latino Equality Alliance, said marchers included individuals at all phases of immigration, from undocumented workers to full-fledged citizens.

Occupy protesters, on the other hand, focused their banners on ending corporate tax breaks and loopholes, capitalism, and creating a fairer distribution of the country’s resources. They called for lightening the tax burden on middle class and poor Americans.

Before the rallies got tense, 25-year-old Jackie, who declined to give her last name, told EGP that she and her friends, all Occupy protesters, were there in solidarity with the immigrant and worker rights activists.

24-year-old Archie, who also declined to give his name and had his face concealed, said there are numerous reasons to protest.

“If there’s anytime to get out of the house and turn the TV off, it’s today,” he said.

Steve Lewis, 70 and a retired film editor, said it was his first time participating in a May Day rally, but he, his wife and sister-in-law have been supporting the Occupy movement since it began last fall.

“This is just the beginning of the season,” he said, referring to the upcoming presidential election.

His wife, Caroline, said they came out to protest the mortgage crisis and “legal bribery” among other issues.

Ryan Pulliam, a 24-year-old resident of North Hollywood, said he was there in solidarity with immigrant rights protesters, even though he is not “Spanish or Mexican.”
He said the Occupy Movement brought him out for the May Day rally, though he couldn’t convince any of his friends to come with him.

“Before today, I never held up a sign or attended a protest … I’m not poor or anything, but I see what’s wrong and I feel compelled to change it.”

Information from City News Service was used in this report.

* Update: Brian Mendoza, 23, has been arrested and booked for allegedly assaulting the female officer, according to LAPD. He is suspected of hitting her on the head with a drum.

Audit Released As Long-Time Vernon Official Leaves City

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A highly-paid financial advisor and former Vernon city administrator officially ended his relationship with the city on Tuesday, just as the results of an investigation into the city’s benefits compensation practices were released.

Some at the city council meeting on Tuesday applauded when it was announced that Eric Fresch would no longer be serving as a consultant to the city as of May 1, nearly two years after his salary, which topped $1 million a year, and the salaries of other city officials, were thrust into the media spotlight.

Fresch was on contract, working on a bond deal for the light and power department, and was paid over $600,000 last year. He submitted his resignation letter last November.

While some in the city are glad to see Fresch gone, the city’s independent ethic’s advisor, John Van de Kamp, said his interactions with the former city administrator have been positive. “I have to say in full disclosure [Fresch] has been cooperative and helpful with me and with the council in this reform process. There are other issues that relate to him that I’m not going to touch on, but that simply needs to be said,” Van de Kamp said during his report at Tuesday’s meeting.

On the same day, CalPERS, the administrators of the state’s public pension fund, released its findings following a yearlong audit of how the city provided benefits to its employees between 2002 and 2010. Among the problems cited by CalPERS was the improper classification of certain employees, including Fresch, as safety personnel, a designation typically applied only to police and fire employees that resulted in Fresch receiving increased benefits.

The city also failed to report that former mayor Leonis Malburg had been convicted of perjury, which “could result in the forfeiture of years of service,” according to CalPERS investigators.

Another former official whose benefits could be affected is former city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst, who is receiving $500,000 a year in retirement benefits. He pleaded guilty to embezzling city money last year.

CalPERS also raised a host of other issues related to the city’s failure to show documentation on employee benefits and compensation, and to prove that benefits paid to employees were based on accurate information.

The findings by the CalPERS auditors could impact over 20 current and former employees, some of whom may have been over compensated, according to the CalPERS’ findings.

However at Tuesday’s council meeting, Van de Kamp said the problems cited in the audit report are “ancient history,” adding that “some of these proposals and findings that have been made by PERS are ones that have been picked up [by the city] and it’s very clear that we’re gong to have to have a very good reporting program for PERS on an ongoing basis….”

Meanwhile, City Administrator Mark Whitworth noted that many of the mistakes found in the audit dated back to 2004 and 2005, and said that the audit’s findings could actually result in money coming back to the city.

Whitworth added that representatives of the state Legislature are back in the city this week to continue their audit of city finances and a report from that audit should be released in the “next couple of months.”

EDITORIAL: May Day: A Good Lead Up to Cinco de Mayo

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This year, the annual May Day/International Workers’ Day observances, with their usual protest marches and demonstrations, seem a fitting lead up to Cinco de Mayo, the celebration of the Battle of Puebla, a battle that at the time must have seemed a hopeless undertaking.

After all, what chance did an outnumbered band of poorly armed men have against the best-trained army of Europe?

This week, many Americans, some for the first time — and of all races, ethnicities, working class, working poor, those robbed of their equity in their homes, foreclosed on or devalued, the homeless, the hungry, veterans, and the mentally ill — joined in the May 1st protests taking place across the country, and right here in our own backyard.

They were there to demonstrate their frustration for what they feel is our elected officials’, our government’s backing of corporate and financial industry interests at the cost, and to the detriment of many average citizens.

The protesters who braved the streets of Los Angeles are not alone in their frustration; they represent the view of many, many more who like them feel they no longer have a say, or influence over their government.

While some consider the protesters to be a nuisance or inconvenient, or unfocused about their message, by joining together to exercise their Second Amendment rights, for the most part peacefully, they are sending a loud message that the people have a right to be heard.

Unfortunately, there will always be those whose sole purpose for joining the marches is to create havoc and disrupt others as they exercise their rights. They foolishly think that their small numbers can win a battle against superior numbers of better-armed police.

But unlike the valiant defenders of Puebla, their mission is not noble, so victory will not be theirs. Instead, victory will belong to those who continue to fight for the people trying to escape the tyranny of a few, and achieve equality for all.

The Cinco De Mayo Paradigm

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Mexico and the United States of America experienced a drastic new paradigm in 1860 that cost both countries a million dead.

Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November. Earlier that year Mexican Supreme Court Justice Benito Juarez, a full-blooded Zapotec Indian, had assumed the Mexican Presidency and led his Liberals to victory in a two-year civil war – the War of Reform. The enemy, Conservatives led by General Miguel Miramon, rich land owners and the Catholic Church which owned much of Mexico.

70,000 Mexicans died in the two-year civil war. Mexico was in ruins and broke. Lincoln was elected in the USA, ending a decade of Mexican apprehension of American motives. Many Americans desired more Mexican lands a dozen years after taking half of Mexican territory as spoils of winning the Mexican War in 1848.

That takeaway included what is now California, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Southern slave states hungrily eyed all of Northern Mexico in which to expand their slave holdings. Juarez and the Liberals breathed relief in gulps when Lincoln was elected for the new Republicans certainly didn’t want to expand slave territory into Mexico.

The election of Lincoln distracted Southern slavers from Northern Mexico. They started a war against the Union not Mexico. Brilliant politician that he was Juarez saw the Mexican opportunity with a new President who had made his political reputation in Congress roasting a Democrat President that invaded Mexico to steal territory for the White Man’s Manifest Destiny.

Juarez recruited a new lawyer 23-year-old Matias Romero as his personal representative and sent him to meet Lincoln in January of 1861, two months before Lincoln was to be sworn in as President. Here is a note President-elect Lincoln wrote to the young man after they met:

“Mr. Matias Romero. Springfield, Ills.

My dear Sir: Jan. 21. 1861

Allow me to thank you for your polite call, as Charge d’Affaires of Mexico. While, as yet I can do no official act on behalf of the United States, as one of it’s citizens, I tender the expression of my sincere wishes for the happiness, prosperity, and liberty of ourself, your government, and its people.
Your Obt. Servt
A. LINCOLN”

The destinies of these three men and their countries were completely intertwined from the moment Romero shook Lincoln’s hand onward through wars in both countries that would almost merge in 1865.

Lincoln would be the first to die by assassination in 1865, Juarez would die of natural causes in 1872 and Matias Romero would live to 1898 serving his country as Ambassador to the U.S., as an army Colonel, as a builder of railroads, as an author and politician.

Lincoln would face his gigantic crisis – civil war — within days of his inauguration as Southern slave states would rebel and secede from the Union. Juarez faced a foreign invasion of Spanish, British and French troops sent to collect millions in foreign debt canceled by Juarez. They landed in December 1861 and in January 1862.
Almost 600,000 Americans died in the next four years of war; 300,000 Mexicans would die in the next five years of war with France.

1862 was unkind to both men and their armies. Lincoln’s soldiers were defeated over and over in 1862. The Mexicans split the year into triumph and defeat, both at Puebla about 100 miles east of Mexico City.

After the British and Spanish left, the French landed thousands more troops at the port of Vera Cruz and publicly declared their intention to bring “order” to the chaos of Mexico. French “Emperor” Napoleon III thought he was his uncle the real Napoleon. He wasn’t despite having probably the best army in Europe.

Cocky French officers marched their 8,000 mostly French with some African and Arab troops along the same route taken by Cortez’ Spanish conquerers in 1519 and the U.S. Army in 1846. They came upon the city of Puebla on hills above a valley with two old Spanish forts on each side, Forts Loreto and Guadalupe, where Mexican General Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza had ensconced his army. Mexican soldiers, Indian volunteers armed with rifles last used in the Battle of Waterloo almost 50 years before shivered in cold wet fighting holes all night waiting to die.

Zeroed-in Mexican cannon made from church bells slaughtered the French infantry mired in mud from a storm the night before. Indian volunteers ran herds of cattle through the French then attacked helpless French soldiers with machetes. Future President Porfirio Diaz led his cavalry, the finest light cavalry in the 1862-world, repeatedly in bloody attacks on the French flanks wiping out French cavalry.

At the end of the day, almost half of the French army was either dead or wounded; cavalry men were dead or horseless The Mexicans had won a gigantic victory against the most powerful army in Europe.

Mexico was saved for another year. Mexicans would lose the second Battle of Puebla a year later, nonetheless, the French would fail to accomplish Napoleon’s desire to conquer Mexico and turn it into a supply line for the Confederate States of America. Napoleon desperately wanted to derail the United States of America, a democracy Napoleon hated.

Author Raoul Lowery Contreras books, including “The Cinco de Mayo Paradigm,” are available at amazon.com.

From Our Readers: First Street Murals

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Re: Art and Development On Collision Path In East LA (pub. April 26, 2012)
Having read your article about our plans for a new school on 1st Street, I wanted to clarify some key points:

1) We are preserving the murals. The article seemed to cast some doubt on this, and I want to be clear with the community that that the murals will be carefully removed before construction starts, preserved during construction, and reinstalled once construction is complete.

2) Keeping the building as is cannot work for a school. The state has strict construction guidelines, and reusing a building like this will not meet State requirements.
The Alliance Media Arts and Technology Academy is a great school serving kids in this community, currently in an inadequate facility that is far too small. This location is ideal for our students, and a great way to revitalize this corner.

We believe this is a win-win-win: the kids get a great school; the community gets revitalized with new life; and these beautiful murals get preserved. We look forward to providing a great education in a great building for our community’s students. We, too, value the beauty and history of these murals, as do our parents and students.

Judy I. Burton
President & CEO
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools

Re: First Street Store Murals (pub. April 26, 2012)
East Los Angeles is once again forced to accept a losing proposition with the issue regarding the disposition of the historical First Street Store.

Similar to the debate that surrounded the Golden Gate Theater, the County of Los Angeles must again pit East Los Angeles history against economic development. Regardless of the outcome, there is no way to create a win-win situation.

As a First Street merchant and as a product of East Los Angeles, I have memories of the First Street Store as well as the people it brought to this part of town. But I don’t remember the First Street Store because of its name nor because of the products it sold. I mostly remember the First Street Store because of the murals. While I did not fully understand the meaning of the murals as a kid, I do remember looking at them and using my imagination to create their meaning. I imagined myself in the scenes.

As an adult I traveled extensively across the country. In conversations with others across the country I constantly described East Los Angeles not as depicted by the media, but as a place with beautiful art, each time picturing the murals in my mind.

While I understand the importance of these murals, I also see my neighboring merchants struggling every day to keep their doors open. I see many of them dipping into their savings accounts to keep their business operating. And in some cases I see them close their doors altogether. This economy has brought a lot of suffering to our merchants. And while the development of Cesar Chavez and Whittier Boulevard has brought some hope to merchants on those streets, our business community on First Street has seen little about which to be hopeful. And as East Los Angeles’ only community bank, our success is dependent upon our business community’s success.

As a result I am stuck having to support a position that is less than ideal. I want to see the appropriate resources spent to ensure the safe and secure removal of the murals so that the First Street business community has something to be hopeful about. But I then wish to see those murals returned to their rightful place and used to adorn a new construction. It is essential that these murals be returned and displayed for the entire community to view and future generations to appreciate.

East Los Angeles is a community that has changed very little since the time those murals were created. We are still a young and activist community.

And this is a good thing. These murals are essential to not only link the residents of East Los Angeles to their ancestors, but also to link today’s youth to yesterday’s youth. Through these murals we tell not only of our struggles as indios and Mexicans, but also as Mexican-American residents of East Los Angeles.

Jesse Torres
President & CEO Pan American Bank
East Los Angeles

Group Raises Money for Montebello K9s

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Montebello police officers’ furry partners received a bit of extra help last week from local citizens.

A community group raised $1,500 for the Montebello Police Department’s K9 unit at a recent event held at Alondra Hot Wings.

From noon until 9pm on April 25, purchases made at the restaurant went toward a fund for the police department’s K9 unit. The funds from the annual event – started last year by the Montebello Police K9 Association – will pay for veterinary bills, maintenance, training, and grooming of the K9 dogs.

The funds are especially needed this year because one of the dogs, Ozzy, passed away suddenly on April 11.

He and his handler Cpl. Steve Sharpe were on their way to training when Ozzy began breathing abnormally. Despite being taken straight to the vet, Ozzy’s condition worsened, and he died in his handler’s arms.

Doctors say Ozzy succumbed to spontaneous pneumothorax – his lung collapsed

Funds were especially needed this year because one of the unit’s patrol and narcotics detection dogs, Ozzy, pictured, passed away suddenly earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of the Montebello Police Department)

Ozzy began serving over four years ago and was seven years old when he died. During his service, he located 6 dangerous suspects, and caused another 17 suspects to surrender peacefully.

His sharp sense of smell and searching abilities also led to the seizure of 4500 pounds of marijuana, 129 kilos of cocaine, 62 pounds of methamphetamine, and 2 pounds of heroin.

Ozzy’s funeral costs exceed the department’s current budget, according to Gia Pacheco, the civilian association’s board secretary. His handler, Cpl. Sharpe, said he is unsure if the department will be able to purchase a replacement service dog.

The association, formed in 2002 in the midst of a budget crisis, works to bring in donations from businesses and the community to defray the costs of maintaining the K9 unit.

Montebello’s K9 unit normally consists of four dogs and their handlers. The dogs are trained to locate fleeing suspects, or hidden guns and narcotics.

According to Cpl. Al Martinez, who handles Carson, a Labrador whose job is to detect guns, the K9 unit’s medical expenses are especially heavy because of the dog’s active lifestyle.

“The police service dogs go through a lot when they’re in the field, a lot of jumping, a lot of activity, a lot of wear and tear,” said Martinez.

The public can still make tax-deductible donations through the civilian association by calling Pacheco at (323) 726-1082.

County Launches Campaign to Help Hungry Get Access To Food Stamps

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County Tuesday launched a campaign to reduce hunger and increase access to food assistance.

“In this great county of ours, there are still children that are going to sleep hungry at night,” Department of Public Social Services Acting Director Sheryl Spiller said in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors.

The number of American homes without enough food more than tripled in the last four years, and a record high number of individuals in Los Angeles County are getting aid — more than 1 million or roughly 10 percent of the population, she said.

But the county estimates that only about half of those eligible for the county’s food assistance program — CalFresh, formerly called food stamps — are receiving help. The county hopes to reach more of those in need with a month-long series of events and declared May “CalFresh Awareness Month.”

Lower-income communities are also at greater risk for obesity, diabetes and other diseases, so the county has enlisted the help of local supermarkets, farmers’ markets, food banks and school districts to promote healthier food choices and more exercise.

“Hunger is an issue that affects us all, and this collaboration represents an intense effort to serve those most vulnerable in Los Angeles County, particularly during this tough economic time,” Spiller said.

CalFresh benefits vary depending on need, but a family of four making less than $2,422 per month can receive up to $668 of food assistance.

Applications are processed within 30 days and in emergency situations — such as a family making less than $150 per month — households may receive CalFresh benefits within three days. Benefits are transferred via an electronic card that can be used instead of cash at the grocery store.

“One of the highest priorities of the Department of Public Social Services is to reduce hunger,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

More information on CalFresh benefits can be found at http://dpss.lacounty.gov or by calling a health and nutrition hotline at (877) 597-4777. Applications are available at www.dpssbenefits.lacounty.gov.

Controller Wants Big Changes at City Transit Agency

May 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The city Department of Transportation needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of its management structure and improved methods for collecting revenues, according to a report released Monday by the City Controller’s Office.

The 218-page report includes 26 specific recommendations for reorganizing most of the agency’s internal functions, including the management reorganization, simplification of its revenue collection and stepped-up internal controls of the department’s budget. It also recommends improving overtime practices for parking enforcement and traffic control personnel.

Jaime de la Vega, general manager of the department, said he agrees with the recommendations.

“The department thanks the controller for conducting this management review,” he said. “The department concurs and has or will be implementing the recommendations.”

City Controller Wendy Greuel said the improvements are critical for a city as transportation-reliant as Los Angeles.

“We are at a crucial period in the creation of the next generation of Los Angeles’ transportation infrastructure, and we need effective and accountable leadership at the department to keep Los Angeles moving in the right direction,” Greuel said.

Greuel has issued several past audits critical of the Transportation Department. Last year, she released an audit finding that the agency keeps poor records of how many parking meters it has and wastes money on scanning devices to monitor those meters.

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