Man Sentenced In Killing of Two Brothers at East L.A. Park

January 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A Bell Gardens man convicted of killing two brothers at a county park in East Los Angeles was sentenced last week to 80 years to life in state prison.

Pedro Vasquez, now 25, was found guilty last Sept. 22 of two counts of second-degree murder for the Nov. 22, 2015, shooting deaths of Antonio Aguilar, 33, and Juan Aguilar, 28, at Ruben Salazar Park.

Prosecutors said Vasquez approached the two men — who were acquaintances — and opened fire on them, striking both of them multiple times, but the motive was unclear.

Vasquez was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in April 2016.

Gone But Not Forgotten: Giving Thanks, One Photo At A Time

August 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels Support Group has been busy putting up photos in a senior center conference room that doubles as a museum filled with artifacts chronicling the center’s history. The small room is now also home to a new memorial the group hopes will help preserve the legacy of giving by volunteers who have passed away.

Most of the old-timers who started the park’s programs are gone now, says Chris Mojica, a long time volunteer at Ruben Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles.

If it were up to him, everyone who uses the center would know the names of the people whose hard work, sacrifice and love helped make Salazar Park a vibrant community center.

Located in the heart of East L.A on Whittier Boulevard, Salazar Park is a place where people can come together and share good times, learn new skills, and even work on ways to influence elected officials by registering voters and sending letters on issues they deem important, the 86-year-old Mojica told EGP.

“It seems like just yesterday our park was called Laguna Park,” recalled Angel Support Group members in an email to EGP. They said most of the people who use the park aren’t aware it was at the center of one of the most important events in the fight for civil rights by Latinos in East Los Angeles, the Chicano Moratorium. Nor do they know its name was changed to honor Ruben Salazar, the journalist killed by Sherriff deputies during the Chicano Moratorium in 1970.

But the park’s legacy is not just about that moment in history, emphasizes Mojica, it’s really about the people who took it upon themselves to make sure services and activities are available to young and old in the Eastside, whether he or she was born in the U.S. or is an immigrant, speaks English, Spanish, or both.

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

If you live in a working class community and don’t have very much money, there aren’t always as many resources available, and those there are aren’t always the best. That’s why Salazar Park is so important to this community, said Ray Guerrero, 71, who has been lobbying the county parks department to include a variety of new amenities when it remodels the recreation center later this year.

It’s due to the generosity of a long list of volunteers that  “we have dancing, Pop Warner football and all kinds of sports,” ESL classes and other activities, the group said.

The Angels Support Groups is under the umbrella of the Friends of Salazar Park, a decades old volunteer organization dedicated to making the County of Los Angeles-run recreational facility a place where families feel comfortable gathering, and seniors feel wanted and respected. The Angels group was formed about a year and a half ago to provide emotional support and comfort to seniors as they face the challenges of growing old.

When someone doesn’t show up for a while, “we call to make sure he or she is okay. When a member of the group gets ill, we visit the person, sometimes at their home, but more often than not at a hospital or nursing home,” said 61-year-old Sylvia Ortiz. Sometimes there are too many people to fit into the van provided by the park to transport the volunteers, Ortiz said, adding, “It feels good to give back, to help others.”

Call it nostalgia or just wanting not to be forgotten, but these days there’s a sense of urgency in their efforts to memorialize their time and work at Salazar Park.

“We’ve lost some of the best friends Salazar Park ever had over the last few years and we just want people to know their names,” Mojica said, sharing with EGP a list of some of those who were around for decades giving of their time, energy and whatever resources they could muster before they passed.

Many on the list are honored with a photo on of the walls of the senior center.

On Tuesday, Guerrero used his cane as a pointer, as one by one they named the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. Ortiz joked that volunteer music instructor Marcelo Vasquez has left room for more photos, but she doesn’t want her picture up there anytime soon.

There’s Gabriela Salazar, or Gaby as most people knew her, a spitfire of a woman who volunteered at the center five days a week for over 30 years, teaching Zumba, organizing field trips, serving Thanksgiving dinner and giving out toys to the area’s many low-income families. Big in heart and full of energy, Gaby was always there.

Richard Romero, Audry Torres, Sergio Murga, Rosa Portillo and Elena Camargo all gave of their time and will be missed, so will former park director Dora Montijo.

Jonathan Sanchez, EGP’s COO and associate publisher who passed away in late December, has also earned a place on the wall at Salazar Park. “He gave us so many beautiful stories and donated money to our senior center,” the group said.

“All these wonderful people who gave so much, not only to our senior center but Salazar Park, have left us, but they are not forgotten,” the group said.

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

We owe them a lot, said Ortiz, who says she plans to follow their good example.

“What they gave came from the goodness in their souls,” added Vasquez.

A plaque on the wall, written in Spanish, recognizes their service and departure from this world:

“Thank you for all you have done for us. Rest in peace.”

Stay Calm, Immigration Attorneys Advise Eastside Residents

December 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Sandra Muñoz has put off getting a green card for decades, always assuming she had plenty of time. But with less than seven weeks until President-elect Donald Trump is sworn-in to office, the East Los Angeles resident is now rushing to learn how to change her status.

Like many others in her position, Muñoz is worried Trump will make good on his campaign promise to deport millions of immigrants in the country without legal status, so last week she attended an information session at Ruben Salazar Park in hopes of getting advise on how to best protect herself.

The first thing to do is stay calm, advised immigrations lawyers brought in to answer questions and to help with the citizenship process.

“People are very scared, there’s a lot of anxiety,” acknowledged Valerie de Gonzalez, one of the attorneys at the event. “As attorneys, though, we know that any change, good or bad, doesn’t happen overnight.”

Trump’s election has cast a cloud of worry, stress and uncertainty over the undocumented immigrant community. They and their loved ones are living in fear of separation if immigration laws and enforcement tightens under the new Republican president.

Nora Phillips, an attorney with Phillips & Urias, LLP in East Los Angeles has been specializing in immigration law for nearly 10 years, but acknowledges that immigration attorneys do not know what will happen once Trump steps into office but believes there is still hope, especially in California where elected officials have sworn to protect the undocumented.

Immigration attorneys were at Salazar Park last week to answer questions about the citizenship process.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Immigration attorneys were at Salazar Park last week to answer questions about the citizenship process. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Phillips points out that many people who could qualify for legal residency under current immigration laws haven’t applied and urges they waste no time getting the process started.

A person may be eligible for a Green Card – or permanent residency status – through a family member, their job, asylum or other petitions, it was explained at the forum. Parents of a U.S. citizen 21 and over, the spouse of a U.S. citizen and unmarried children under 21 of a U.S. citizen are given the highest priority for visas. Those who don’t qualify under one of those categories can still apply, but must wait until one of the allocated visas from their home country becomes available, which could take years. Still, even when a person is eligible, the process isn’t always smooth and can drag on.

Just ask Martha Galaviz of East Los Angeles who asked attorneys why the green card petition she submitted on behalf of her brother 10 years ago has still not been approved.

Phillips quickly pointed out that every case is different and the length of the process can vary from a few months to decades.

She advises anyone who wants to fix his or her immigration status to at least set up a consultation with an immigration attorney before the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.

“We’re lucky we’re in Los Angeles and not Idaho,” Phillips joked. “We have a lot of immigration lawyers to choose from here.”

Muñoz, however, is not as confident. She told EGP finding an attorney she could trust has been a challenge, especially with all the notarios or notaries trying to pass as immigration consultants, but have been known to scam people unfamiliar with the immigration process.

“If you don’t feel comfortable and can’t ask your attorney questions, get a new attorney,” Phillips told attendees, emphasizing, “Some lawyers don’t deserve your confidence or money.”

One of the biggest scams perpetrated by unlicensed notarios is the promise to provide a work permit but then failing to fill out the proper, required documents. In fact, many people have been duped into filling out applications for asylum, only to land up in court facing deportation, Phillips warned.

But it’s not only those without legal status who are worried.

Many of the people who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) — an executive order issued by President Obama in 2012 that has since granted three-quarters of a million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation — are also feeling uneasy since the election.

As part of the DACA process, applicants were required to provide immigration authorities with information about where they live, work, or go to school, and in some cases, about other relatives who may also be undocumented.

“DACA is the big unknown,” acknowledges Phillips. Because it’s an executive order rather than a law passed by Congress, “Trump can end DACA on his first day if he wants.”

Deportation is an undocumented immigrants’ worst nightmare and Phillips says those who have been deported before or been arrested even for minor offenses are at greatest risk for deportation under a Trump presidency.

Yet, even with a deportation on their record, some undocumented immigrants may still be eligible for legal residency. As Phillips puts it, immigration laws are tough but complicated, and whether a person can stay in the country legally could come down to when the offense on their record took place.

“Rules are different for everyone,” emphasized Phillips, so “don’t compare your case with others.”

Phillips told EGP that frantic calls from potential clients have increased dramatically since the election and their staff has been busy trying to reassure callers that Homeland Security will not be snatching people off the streets.

“We know it’s going to get worse, but some of the things he promises are impossible.”

Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights is a long time community and immigration rights advocate. Resurrection is not far from Salazar Park, and large numbers of Church parishioners are undocumented, leading Moretta to hope the meeting would be packed, but attendance was small.

“This room should be full because, as you know, it affects almost the entire community,” he said in disappointment.

“If it’s not someone in your house, you know of someone who will be affected by this.”


Diversity to Mark Chicano Moratorium Observances

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Commemorations this coming weekend of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium will include a variety of speakers, several of them African American, at a march and rally in East Los Angeles on Saturday.

At a separate event on Sunday, guest speakers will include the parents of two people killed by police this year.

The 46th Annual National Chicano Moratorium commemorates what many have come to call the coming of age of the Chicano civil rights movement. Special attention each year is paid to remembering the death of crusading Chicano Journalist Ruben Salazar by a tear gas canister lobbed into the Silver Dollar Bar by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy during a riot that broke out following what at that time was the largest ever protest by Chicanos – Mexican Americans in Los Angeles.

The two days of activities will kickoff Saturday at 9 a.m. with a march from Atlantic Park (570 S. Atlantic Blvd. East LA) Saturday to Ruben Salazar Park (3864 Whittier Blvd., and Ditman Ave.) where a rally will be held at 12:30 p.m.

Rally speakers and entertainment will include: Kwazi Nkrumah of the Martin Luther King Jr Coalition; Allegra Casimir Taylor, daughter of a Black Panther Party political prisoner, incarcerated for 51 years before being murdered in prison last year; Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinnell who will discuss her father’s case and the ongoing events since his murder; Wayne Arroyo, longtime American Indian Movement (AIM) activist speaking about ongoing protests in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline; Kiko Salazar speaking on long time Chicano political prisoner Ramsey Muniz; Gina Felix Goldman, actress and niece of the late Mexican movie star Maria Felix, will represent the Bring Hollywood Home Foundation on racism in Hollywood; Roberto Tijerina, internet radio talk show host from UC Riverside; David Rico, Commander of the National Brown Berets de Aztlan and Krisna Velasco of the Ritchie Valens Foundation who is producing a documentary on the life or Ruben Salazar, among several others.

Jan B. Tucker of the California League of Latinos And Chicanos (CALLAC) will speak on immigration and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

On Sunday, Aug. 29, community activists will hold a “Liberation Day Program for Chicano Moratorium” from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Saint Mary’s Church Hall: 407 South Chicago St., L.A. 90033.

The event will include a short film and Vietnam veteran Ray Andrade and former LAUSD Board Member Victoria Castro speaking on the history of the Chicano Moratorium on Aug. 29, 1970.

Also speaking are Estela Rodriguez, mother of Edwin Rodriguez who was killed by ELA Sheriffs on Feb.14 and Juan Mendez, the father of Jose Mendez who was killed by an LAPD officer on Feb. 6 of this year.

East L.A. Seniors Work Together to Fight Depression, Loneliness

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The setting was casual, from the coffee and Mexican bread on the table, to the prayer recited in both English and Spanish to get the meeting started.

The men and women, most of them elderly, Latino and low-income, had gathered July 7 at the Ruben Salazar Park Senior Center in East Los Angeles to share their life experiences. It was the first official meeting of the “Angels Support Group,” a volunteer effort to help seniors dealing with depression, loneliness and isolation. It’s a form of group therapy among friends, is how one person described the meeting.

Lea este artículo en Español: Personas Mayores del Este de Los Ángeles Luchan Contra la Depresión y la Soledad

Shy at first, one by one, speaking mostly in Spanish, they shared their personal stories of pain.

Participants were told they could talk about anything and for many that meant digging into long time feelings of grief. For others, it was a chance to help someone by sharing ways to cope and move past the pain.

“My daughter died 11 years ago and I still cry over her death,” said Rosa Perez.

For years, I cried over my mother’s death, then one day she appeared to me in a dream and told me not to suffer anymore, shared Manuela Tlatenchi. “Tears don’t allow the dead to rest in peace,” she reflected.

“I felt depressed until I started volunteering and giving back to my community,” said Marcelo Vazquez, a volunteer instructor at the park.

Chris Mojica just celebrated his 85th birthday. He’s a long time senior center volunteer and co-leader of the Angels Support Group and says he personally knows of at least 20 seniors who died at home alone.

“They are elders who have family, but at the same time they [are all alone] because they don’t visit each other,” he said. The seniors “feel really sad and they stay home waiting to die,” he lamented.

According to the California Department of Aging (CDA), California has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. Los Angeles County’s elder population is nearly 1,190,000, according to the CDA. Of those, about 718,000 are minorities and 188,000 live alone.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

By 2020, it’s estimated that 14% of the country’s seniors (60 and older) will live in California.
Seeking mental health services or grief counseling is rare for elderly Latinos.

The idea for the senior support group came from talking to so many older people at the center who seemed depressed or were very sick, said Mojica.

Depression is a problem that needs to be addressed with love and compassion, adds Ray Guerrero, another long time volunteer and group co-leader. “Laughing out loud is great therapy,” he pointed out.

The group plans to meet Thursday mornings at Salazar Park. About 20 people attended the first gathering last week. As part of the “group therapy,” seniors are encouraged to get out more and take part in recreational activities with other members. It doesn’t matter if they choose to take a knitting class, work in one of the gardens outside the senior center, learn to play guitar or just socialize with their fellow elders, because the goal is just to keep the seniors busy.

An important component of the new group is keeping track of one another when away from the center. They’ve formed a phone tree of sorts, and members are encouraged to call other members regularly to see how they are doing. The group will also visit or send cards to seniors who wind up in the hospital or a convalescent home.

A $5 monthly donation—not required but suggested—will help pay for outings to museums, the zoo and the movies.

Seniors form circle of prayer at first meeting of Angels Support Group at Salazar Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Seniors form circle of prayer at first meeting of Angels Support Group at Salazar Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Every month the group will celebrate the birthdays taking place that month, said Mojica, adding that they rely on volunteers and donations to make things happen.

As with many new groups, the Angels Support Group must still overcome a number of management issues, such as keeping track of donations and planning field trips.

Our plans are big, but the need is bigger than what we can do on our own, said 71-year-old Guerrero. “We have the ideas, but we don’t have the strength” or know how to carry some of the ideas through, Guerrero said. “We need help from [younger] volunteers and we need donations from people and from our (elected) representatives,” he added.

Participants at the first Angels Support Group meeting said they are excited about the new venture and hope more people will start attending.

“Not everybody feels comfortable with the group and they don’t [yet] feel the need to be part of it,” explained Guerrero. “But it is always good to laugh and talk to other people because we tend to feel alone sometimes,” he noted.

“I could be fishing now, I could be doing something else, but I’d rather be here and help the group,” said Guerrero with a smile. “I like this center.”


Twitter @jackiereporter

Comunidad Arremete Contra el Condado debido al Crimen y Servicios de Parque

March 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Han pasado casi cuarenta y seis años desde que un parque en Whittier Boulevard en el Este de Los Ángeles se convirtió en el centro del movimiento chicano y la demanda de derechos civiles y la igualdad de servicios que fueron negados por mucho tiempo.

Durante una reunión comunitaria organizada la semana pasada por la Oficina de la Supervisora Hilda Solís en el parque Rubén Salazar, estaba claro que para algunos residentes locales y usuarios la ira por la falta de servicios y la desconfianza ante el departamento del alguacil del condado de Los Ángeles aun persiste.

Read this article in English: East L.A. Park Users Lambast County on Crime, Park Service

Renombrado en honor del periodista muerto por una granada de gas lacrimógeno que aventó un alguacil en la secuela violenta de la Moratoria Nacional Chicana de 1970, el parque Salazar es en muchos sentidos un símbolo de poder Latino. Es el lugar donde los recuerdos de la injusticia son profundos y el activismo político y cultural tiene una larga historia. Es un lugar donde las luchas que vienen de la clase trabajadora son tan intensas en una zona donde las pandillas se remontan por generaciones, igual que el miedo y la desconfianza ante el departamento del alguacil.

A través de los años, el parque ha pasado por muchos cambios para mejorar, desde la programación hasta la infraestructura. La inscripción en las actividades recreativas había incrementado y la violencia entre pandillas estaba bajando. Cientos de niños, adolescentes, adultos y personas mayores participan en las actividades organizadas en el parque todos los días.

Aunque para algunos, eso está cambiando.

La reunión del 17 de marzo fue parte de una serie de reuniones que Solís está llevando a cabo a través del primer distrito para acercar el gobierno del condado a los residentes y viceversa. Representantes de los departamentos de obras públicas, transporte, reducción de graffiti, libertad condicional, parques y recreación y el departamento del alguacil estuvieron presentes para explicar lo que hacen y cómo obtener servicios si es necesario.

Lo que obtuvieron a cambio fueron quejas de residentes frustrados con sólo dos cosas en su mente: el aumento en la violencia de las pandillas en y alrededor del parque y la necesidad de programas de recreación más asequibles.

Residentes del Este de LA se quejaron que empleados del condado y oficiales del alguacil no le prestan suficiente atención a la comunidad. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Residentes del Este de LA se quejaron que empleados del condado y oficiales del alguacil no le prestan suficiente atención a la comunidad. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El representante de campo del Este de Los Ángeles, Joseph Martínez, actuando como moderador, trató de mantener la reunión en movimiento para dar a todos los panelistas la oportunidad de hablar y responder preguntas, pero el público varias veces regresó la discusión de nuevo a la delincuencia, el manejo del parque y el “alto costo” de las clases para familias con más de un niño en el mismo programa.

Orador tras orador se quejó de que los funcionarios del parque y del condado ya no los escuchan ni les prestan atención a sus necesidades.

Antes de la reunión, Chris Mojica, un voluntario senior activo de toda la vida y miembro de los Amigos del Parque Salazar, le dijo a EGP que estaba decepcionado que Solís no ha ido personalmente a reunirse con las personas mayores del parque para ver lo que está pasando. “Ella ha estado en su cargo durante casi dos años y todavía no ha encontrado tiempo para venir, eso está mal”, dijo. “¿Qué se necesita?”

Varios asistentes dijeron que no se sienten seguros puesto que las pandillas están tomando el control del parque de nuevo.

A finales del año pasado, dos hermanos fueron asesinados en plena luz del día, mientras jugaban basquetbol. El sábado pasado, sólo dos días después de la reunión, un hombre latino presuntamente trató de secuestrar a una niña en el parque, pero fue perseguido por la mamá de la niña. El sospechoso esta prófugo.

“¿Por qué el alguacil no esta patrullando la zona [alrededor del parque] más a menudo?”, Preguntó María Ruiz en español. “Algunos de nosotros tenemos miedo de venir aquí”, dijo otra residente.

El teniente John P. Anderson esta asignado a la estación del alguacil del Este de Los Ángeles, que patrulla el parque y la zona circundante. Dijo que siente mucho que los residentes se sienten inseguros y los instó a llamar al 911 cuando vean algo sospechoso.

“Necesitamos que nos llamen, incluso si usted llama al 911 van a [redirigir la llamada] a la estación Este de Los Ángeles”, explicó.

En respuesta al aumento en la violencia de pandillas, Anderson dijo que el departamento ha desplegado más patrullas en la zona.

Sin embargo, aunque muchos hablaban de la necesidad de una mayor presencia de la policía, los sentimientos de antaño de desconfianza también fueron evidentes. Algunos en el público pidieron garantías de que los oficiales no “van a dispararle a sus vecinos”.

Si alguien quisiera llamar a la policía ante una situación de violencia doméstica, le da miedo porque no sabe si van a llegar y disparar al cónyuge, dijo una mujer al capitán Steven Biagini de la estación del alguacil de Este de Los Ángeles.

¿Por qué [le] disparan la gente una y otra vez? Tenemos miedo de llamar a la policía porque nos puede matar”, dijo Víctor Alcocer.

Los oficiales están entrenados para el trabajo y no disparan a no ser que se sientan amenazados o sientan que las vidas de otros están en peligro, respondió Biagini .

“Les puedo garantizar que yo no vengo a trabajar pensando que voy a matar a alguien”, dijo a la audiencia. “Estamos aquí para ayudarles, no para dispararles.”

Biagini dijo que en 2015 hubo 12 asesinatos en la comunidad del Este de Los Ángeles, y tres en lo que va de este año; cifras que una mujer presente disputó por ser demasiado bajas. “Yo conté más de 12 en 2015”, dijo.

Hasta la fecha, la mayoría de los disparos han sido de pandilla a pandilla, no al azar, dijo el capitán.

“Estamos representando [al parque], pero ustedes no nos están ayudando”, dijo Acuña. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

“Estamos representando [al parque], pero ustedes no nos están ayudando”, dijo Priscilla Acuña. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Cecilia Cruz, 14, practica karate en el parque y dijo que ha visto a personas teniendo relaciones sexuales, y se ha encontrado agujas usadas en los baños del parque.

“Estoy viendo cosas que yo no debería ver” dijo. “¿Cómo se supone que vamos a alcanzar nuestras metas si el parque no nos está ayudando?”, preguntó.

Armando García, un instructor de baile en el parque desde 1993, dijo que en el pasado tenía hasta 150 jóvenes en sus clases, pero ahora sólo asisten unas siete niñas.

“La gente estaba muy involucrada en el Parque Salazar, pero ahora tiene miedo de venir aquí”, dijo.

Biagini dijo que por desgracia el “ciclo de la violencia y la actividad de pandillas” es generacional y no va a ser arreglado poniendo a miembros de las pandillas en la cárcel. La educación comienza en casa, dijo, enfatizando que las cosas podrían cambiar si los jóvenes se les da acceso a programas alternativos.

Debes tener dinero para estar en esos programas, respondieron varias personas en la audiencia, incluyendo Priscilla Acuña quien creció cerca del parque y ahora quiere involucrar a sus hijos en los programas. Pero Acuña dijo que es demasiado caro para las familias de bajos ingresos que dependen de la programas de parques a bajo costo o sin costo, señalando que se han reducido los descuentos para las familias en el parque.

“Estamos representando [al parque], pero ustedes no nos están ayudando”, dijo Acuña.

Algunos culparon a la supervisora del parque Lizette Andrade por hacer cambios. Afirman que es demasiado caro alquilar un espacio en el parque Salazar o difícil recaudar fondos para sus programas.

La madre de Cruz, Wendy Rivas, dijo que el programa de karate antes costaba $100 por mes para una familia de cuatro o más, pero ahora cada estudiante de 12 años o más tiene que pagar $50 por mes, y los menores de 12 años pagan $40. Las clases se han reducido de 40 estudiantes alrededor de 15, dijo.

Lo que muchas personas no se dan cuenta, sin embargo, es que muchos de los instructores en los parques del condado no son empleados del parque, más bien contratistas o voluntarios que establecen sus propias tarifas independientes. La política del departamento de parques y recreación requiere que instructores independientes firmen un contrato 70/30, que en esencia significa el 30 por ciento de dinero recaudado debe ser pagado al parque para cubrir gastos como la seguridad, el mantenimiento de los baños, la dotación de personal, etc. No pagan costos de alquiler aparte de la porción implementada y cada instructor decide si ofrece becas o descuentos para hermanos, Alba Ibarra con parques y recreación le dijo a EGP en un correo electrónico.

Algunos cargos pueden ser exentos, pero los grupos deben solicitarlos por escrito, dijo Andrade, recordando a uno de los grupos que se quejan, que en varias ocasiones ella les ha pedido por escrito lo que piden.

Ray Guerrero es un voluntario senior activo con Amigos de Parque Salazar y defendió a Andrade, diciendo que ella ha hecho un buen trabajo, pero sugirió que un comité de representantes de los diversos clubes y grupos en el parque podría ayudar a solucionar los problemas del parque.

“… [Ustedes] tienen que ayudarnos a continuar con nuestras actividades porque somos los más pobres aquí y nadie nos ayuda”, dijo Adolfo Arriaga, un voluntario instructor de la danza azteca por 25 años quien también señaló que los trajes tradicionales de danza azteca cuestan cientos de dólares. “No estamos aquí para hacernos ricos, sino para enriquecer nuestra comunidad”.

Martínez, con la oficina de Solís, comenzó a decir a la audiencia que podría empezar a trabajar en nuevos programas juveniles para el centro, pero fue interrumpido rápidamente por Acuña, quien sintió que no los estaban escuchando y perdieron su punto.

“No necesitamos más programas, necesitamos programas más asequibles”.


Twitter @egpnews, @jackiereporter



Two Brothers Killed at Ruben Salazar Park

November 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Two brothers were fatally shot during a shooting on Sunday morning at the Ruben Salazar Park in East Los Angeles, according to the sheriff’s department.

Deputies responded to a “shots fired” call at the park at about 11:10am, according to authorities. Witnesses directed the deputies to the basketball courts where two men were lying on the ground with gunshot wounds to their chests.

On Monday, authorities released the name of one of two brothers; Antonio Aguilar, 33, of Palmdale died at the scene of the shooting, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

Brothers Antonio Aguilar (left) and Juan (aka Johnny) Aguilar were killed on Sunday morning. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Brothers Antonio Aguilar (left) and Juan (aka Johnny) Aguilar were killed on Sunday morning. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The other man, in his 20s, died at a hospital, Winter said. His name was withheld, pending completion of family notification. But the brothers’ sister gave his name as 28-year-old Juan Aguilar, and said he was known as Johnny.

She told reporters that both of her brothers were fathers of children under the age of 5.

Witnesses told deputies that three people were involved in the shooting: a “heavyset male Hispanic, a heavyset female Hispanic and a male Hispanic juvenile,” sheriff’s Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez said.

According to those witnesses, the suspects approached the victims and began a conversation. The man then pulled out a handgun and fired a number of times, Navarro-Suarez said, and the three suspects then ran east toward Ditman Avenue.

A motive for the shooting was unclear, and it was also unknown if the shooting was gang-related, according to Navarro-Suarez.

Anyone with information on the crime was asked to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500.

Qué Hacer Cuando Ocurre una Tragedia Inesperada

March 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

María Leandra Reyes intentó fallidamente contener sus lágrimas al recordar la trágica muerte de su buen amigo Jesús Valderrama y su reciente osadía en la búsqueda de sus familiares.

Valderrama, 62, originario de Chihuahua México, fue asesinado el 10 de marzo alrededor de las 10:20am, cuando un Honda Accord 2003 que viajaba en dirección oeste sobre el Bulevar Whittier cerca de la Avenida Ditman Sur se subió a la acera y lo golpeó mientras tomaba una siesta bajo un árbol afuera del Centro de Personas Mayores Rubén Salazar en el Este de Los Ángeles.

Read this article in English: Stepping In When Tragedy Strikes

Las autoridades identificaron al conductor del vehículo como Ángel Lujano, 18, de Montebello. Dos pasajeras estaban en el auto en el momento del accidente y Lujano fue detenido en el lugar, según la Oficial de la Patrulla de Caminos de California, Doris Peniche. “[Lujano] Puede que haya estado bajo la influencia” de drogas o alcohol, dijo. “El caso está bajo investigación”.

Reyes no estaba en el parque en el momento del accidente y dice que se sorprendió cuando se enteró de la noticia. Habían pasado sólo unas horas desde que se vieron por última vez, recordó.

“Como que [él] tenía una sensación de que algo iba a pasar, porque me dio su celular y me dijo que me quería mucho”, dijo visiblemente afectada.

Chuy—como amigos lo llamaban—era un viejo amigo de la familia y como un padre para Reyes, según le indicó a EGP.

Inmediatamente Reyes se sintió con la obligación de notificar a la familia de Chuy en México sobre su muerte y organizar su entierro, quedando ella misma con muy poco tiempo para llorar la muerte de su amigo.

Pero ¿Por dónde empezar?

El único familiar de Chuy en Los Ángeles era un hermano que esta internado en un hospital de convalecencia. Reyes intentó notificarle sobre la muerte de Chuy pero el hospital no lo recomendó prudente. “La enfermera dijo que la noticia podría matarlo”, dijo Reyes.

El único contacto de emergencia que el hospital tenía en archivo era un número desconectado de otro estado, agregó.

Sin saber a dónde ir, ella se dirigió al Consulado General de México en Los Ángeles en busca de ayuda, donde se encontró con más obstáculos puesto que ella no es pariente del difunto.

Un pequeño altar se encuentra al pie del árbol donde murió atropellado Jesús Valderrama el pasado 10 de marzo. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Un pequeño altar se encuentra al pie del árbol donde murió atropellado Jesús Valderrama el pasado 10 de marzo. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El consulado ofrece una variedad de servicios a los ciudadanos mexicanos que viven en EE.UU., incluyendo la notificación a los familiares sobre una muerte o, en algunos casos ayudan a transportar los restos a México.

“Tratamos de contactar a los miembros de la familia en México y buscamos opciones” para ayudarles cuando ocurren estas tragedias, explicó el portavoz del consulado, Sergio Juárez.

Fue finalmente Reyes, quien encontró la información de un hermano de Chuy en México y le dio la trágica noticia.

Ramón Valderrama llegó a Los Ángeles el viernes pasado y el lunes fue al consulado para pedir ayuda y organizar el funeral de su hermano.

“Vamos a recibir $1,700 [para ayudar] con los servicios funerarios”, Ramón le dijo a EGP por teléfono el martes.

El programa del Consulado de México “Traslado de Restos” tiene convenios con cinco morgues en México y aquí se encargan de preparar el cuerpo –embalsamamiento, ataúd—y el envío a México, que puede costar hasta más de $2,000.

El proceso puede tardar varios días, dijo Juárez, quien también explicó que los cuerpos son enviados, ya sea a la Ciudad de México o a Guadalajara, y de allí conducidos vía terrestre a su destino final.

La cremación, sin un entierro, es menos cara, alrededor de $1.000, informó.

La historia de Chuy ilustra la importancia de asegurarse que alguien cercano sepa cómo comunicarse con su familia en caso de una emergencia, o su muerte, ya que sólo un miembro de la familia inmediata –cónyuge, hijos o padres— pueden solicitar la ayuda del consulado mexicano, lo cual requiere comprobante de que los miembros de la familia y los fallecidos son de nacionalidad mexicana, dijo Juárez. Los documentos válidos aceptados incluyen; acta de nacimiento, pasaporte mexicano o identificación militar.

Como se informó anteriormente por EGP, el Consulado de México también puede ayudar a los familiares a obtener una visa humanitaria para viajar a EE.UU. en caso de una emergencia, como una enfermedad grave o muerte.

“[Los familiares] sólo necesitan el pasaporte mexicano y una carta oficial membretada de la morgue con información específica” sobre la persona fallecida en EE.UU., dijo Juárez.

Mientras tanto, Reyes y algunos de los otros amigos de Chuy –muchos de ellos visitantes frecuentes al Centro Salazar—están recolectando donaciones para ayudar a sufragar los gastos del sepelio. Cajas de donación se han colocado en los negocios cercanos, dijo Reyes.

Muchos asistentes regulares al parque estaban allí en el momento del accidente y algunos todavía están muy conmocionados por la tragedia, de acuerdo con funcionarios del parque.

Andre Herndon, oficial de información pública con el departamento de parques y recreación del condado le dijo a EGP que inmediatamente notificaron al Departamento de Salud Mental para proporcionar consejería de crisis a las personas mayores y otras personas afectadas.

“Nuestro personal se puso en contacto con personas que vieron el accidente”, dijo Herndon. Hasta el momento, dos personas han solicitado ayuda.

Debido a que a veces toma semanas para recordar los episodios y otras tensiones emocionales relacionadas con el incidente que se produzca, el asesoramiento estará disponible indefinidamente, dijo Herndon.

Aquellas personas que necesitan ayuda pueden llamar al (800) 854-7771, las 24 horas, siete días a la semana.

Según Reyes, el centro para personas mayores era el lugar favorito de Valderrama para pasar el rato. Él iba a jugar billar y le gustaba relajarse en el pasto afuera del centro, dijo.

“Nunca pensé que Chuy sería asesinado de esta forma”, agregó con tristeza.

Ella siempre le decía a Chuy, “no se duerma en el pasto”, mejor vaya a la casa porque lo pueden balacear”, con tantas pandillas.

Yo creo que “era el plan de Dios que muriera ahí”, finalizó.

Si usted o alguien que conoce necesita ayuda en un caso similar en Los Ángeles, llame al Departamento de Protección del Consulado General de México al (213) 351-6800 ext. 2405 o visite el 2401 West 6th Street, LA 90057.


Twitter @jackieguzman

Car Crashes at Salazar Park – Kills Man as He Naps

March 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

A man was hit and killed Tuesday when a car involved in a crash with another vehicle jumped the curb and struck him as he napped outside the Ruben Salazar Senior Center in unincorporated East Los Angeles.

According to witnesses, at about 12 p.m. Tuesday, a car speeding west on Whittier Boulevard near South Ditman Avenue crashed into another car, hitting it so hard it flew across traffic lanes and into the park where it hit the victim.

The Coroner’s office confirmed the man died but declined to release the man’s identity, pending notification of his next of kin who are believed to be living in Mexico.

Several people who frequent Salazar Senior Center, however, identified the victim as Jesus Valderrama, a regular visitor to the park. They were unsure of his age.

A small memorial was placed by a tree in Salazar Park in East L.A. where ‘Chuy’ was killed Monday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A small memorial was placed by a tree in Salazar Park in East L.A. where ‘Chuy’ was killed Monday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Chuy, as he was known, would nap on the grass nearly every afternoon before going into the Center to play pool and socialize with other seniors, they told EGP.

Javier Solis said he and Valderrama were close friends. He said he was inside the Salazar Senior Center when he heard a loud noise and ran outside to see what had happened.

“He was crushed between the car and a tree,” said Solis, who was passing out copies of a farewell letter he had written in Spanish to his friend to people visiting the growing memorial next to the tree where Chuy was killed.

A photo of the victim of the fatal car accident at Salazar Park was placed in a shrine on Wednesday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A photo of the victim of the fatal car accident at Salazar Park was placed in a shrine on Wednesday. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Solis said he and several people taking a Zumba class rushed over to help Chuy. We tried to lift the car off him, but he looked in “really bad condition,” Solis said Wednesday.

“He was still alive when we removed the car,” said Luis Mejia, another regular at the eastside center. He told EGP a woman tried to perform CPR on the man who was crunched, but did not appear to be bleeding. “Then the paramedics arrived, very quickly,” he said.

According to witnesses, three people were in the car that struck Valderrama.

EGP was unable to verify the name of the victim or whether any arrests were made in connection with the crash. Calls to the East L.A. sheriff detective handling the case were not returned as of press time. 

Twitter @jackieguzman

Lead Blood Testing Extended for Residents Near Exide

February 5, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Since hearing that elevated levels of lead were found in soil at Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles, Reina Rodriguez says she rarely takes her 4-year old son there to play. And while she only lives a few blocks away, the young mother says she never knew that she and her family were eligible for free blood tests for lead, paid for by Exide Technologies in Vernon and administered by Los Angeles County health officials.

The blood-screening program, offered to east and southeast Los Angeles area residents who live near Exide’s battery recycling plant in Vernon, was to end Jan. 31, but County officials said Wednesday they will extend the program until the end of February.

Exide was found by state air pollution and toxic chemical regulators to have exposed as many as 110,000 people in the region to unhealthful, potentially cancerous and neurologically damaging levels of lead and arsenic.

According to county health officials, since testing started in April 2014, only 500 of the estimated 30,000 people eligible have had their blood tested, despite 2,000 requests for the testing form.

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

To date, none of the results have required medical intervention, according to public health officials, who are still analyzing the last tests administered. Those results will be mailed directly to residents.

The administration and value of the testing has been questioned by a number of people concerned about the community’s exposure to toxic chemical emissions from the Exide plant.

Some people have accused the County of not doing enough outreach to the public and of not making the testing more accessible.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia is one of those following the Exide issue closely, and she told EGP she does not trust the screening program. “We all know lead is in our communities, it’s in our soil,” adding that results from the blood test would only distract from the community’s efforts to prove Exide has caused health problems in residents.

Exide agreed to pay for the confidential screenings administered by the County as part of their effort to remediate the fallout from the state regulators’ findings and backlash from community activists and elected officials, many who want the plant shut down permanently.

Nestor Valencia, mayor of nearby Bell, calls the blood screenings a “political stunt” and a “sham” that “would only benefit them [Exide] to say, ‘see nobody has lead in their bodies.’”

Many residents EGP spoke with said they do not believe blood testing is the appropriate way to determine chronic exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead.

According to Joseph R. Landolph Jr., Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, lead only stays in the blood for 30 days before it breaks down.

Although blood testing is the standard form of determining exposure the lead, it actually stays in a person’s bones for up to 20 years, Landolph said. In adults, 90 percent of lead is found in bones, he told EGP.  Because it stays in the bones, pregnant women and those undergoing menopause are prone to reabsorbing the lead, he explained.

“All the [test] would say is that lead is in your blood,” Landolph said.

Once lead is found, the county would have to determine exposure by looking at the individuals surrounding and “assume everything is a contribution in proportion to how much they put out,” he added.

That is why Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights did not get tested. She told EGP the test was “not worth the trouble,” especially since any alleged exposure from Exide may be gone since the plant was closed in March 2014 to make facility improvements.

“It’s too little too late,” she said. “Why don’t they test finger nails that show contamination of arsenic for a period of years?”

Marquez believes the County and Exide do not want to spend the higher cost of arsenic testing, which would ultimately do a better job of show what damage has been done.

However, Landolph, who is a member of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and an expert in arsenic, told EGP arsenic only lives in the blood for 10 hours.

He did say, however, that concentrations from chronic exposure could be found in fingernails and hair. One indication, he said, could be white bands on fingernails.

Exide had not responded to EGP’s request for comment as of press time.

County officials told EGP there are no plans to conduct arsenic testing. They add that such testing would only be appropriate for acute arsenic poisoning not chronic, long-term exposure.

They focused on lead because only elevated levels of lead, not arsenic, were found in the area.

For most residents, the value of the tests is not what kept them from seeking the screenings. Instead, they simply did not know about the free blood testing program.

Lifelong East Los Angeles resident Alice Gallardo, 80, said the testing information was not readily available to the community.

“Nobody came to us,” she said.

She added that the process would have been easier if the county went to local senior centers and parks to inform the public.

“If you didn’t already know about Exide you wouldn’t know about the testing,” agreed Mejia. “How is the average person supposed to know?”

Public health officials are defending their outreach.

In an email, a spokesman for the department of public health’s environmental health division told EGP the County mailed out flyers with instructions on how to get tested to the 30,000 area residents in the impacted area in April 2014 and again a couple months ago.

They also held town halls in Commerce and Maywood in April 2014, and gave progress updates at a couple community meetings held at Resurrection Church.

County officials told EGP public health nurses conducted door-to-door campaigns in the neighborhoods surrounding Exide and conducted outreach with area schools.

Marena Vallejo of Boyle Heights said she found the information about the tests and where to take it “confusing.”

Lucia Sandoval was at Salazar Park earlier this week with her grandson. The park is located a mile from the Exide plant in Vernon.

Speaking in Spanish, she told EGP, “If I didn’t know about it and didn’t get tested” how would he get tested, she said referring to her grandson.

State regulators ordered Exide to pay for the removal of contaminated soil at Salazar Park and to establish a $ 9 million fund for the clean up of other contaminated sites.

Marquez insists the testing program could have been better handled. If the county really wanted to inform the public, they would have held a health fair and offered testing on a weekend to make it easier for the blue-collar community, she said.

In the absence of any significant outreach, extending the testing deadline may not do much to raise the number of people tested, however.

“They [county] didn’t do enough because they didn’t want to do enough for our community,” said Mayor Valencia. “I think because they knew it was a waste of time.”

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