East LA, the cradle of Mexican American culture, seeks greater independence | Top news

EAST LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) – East Los Angeles is home to Mexican American success stories, from boxer Oscar De La Hoya to rock stars Los Lobos to over-calculating students portrayed in the 1988 film ‘Stand and Deliver’ .

Yet for all its fame and vibrancy, the almost entirely Latino community of 120,000 suffers from an identity, if not a political, crisis. The 7.4 square mile (19 square kilometer) area is not its own city or part of the city of Los Angeles, but rather an unincorporated area of ​​Los Angeles County.

Now, a group of community leaders hope to exert more local control by creating a special district.

As it stands, the only elected local government representative representing East LA is County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes nearly 2 million people from dozens of cities, unincorporated areas and neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

A special district would give East LA its own elected council to set priorities on solving community problems. Provided East LA can persuade county officials to hand over some powers, it would also have more say in how local tax revenues are spent.

“I consider East Los Angeles to be the neglected son-in-law of Los Angeles. And that’s largely because of its unincorporated status. There’s no local control and there’s no form of community self-determination,” said Eric Avila, a professor of Chicano studies at UCLA who is not affiliated with the special district campaign.

Over the decades, several attempts to become a city failed, so developers chose a less ambitious option. A special district still requires years of planning and possibly voter approval within the proposed boundaries.

The project is still in its infancy, so no discernible opposition has arisen. Solis declined to be interviewed.

“A lot of people outside of East LA are making decisions for us and that needs to stop,” said Tony DeMarco, president of the Whittier Boulevard Merchants Association and a leading advocate for a special ward.

The most recent attempt to create a city fell apart in 2012 after a body known as the Local Agencies Training Commission discovered that as a city, East Los Angeles would have large budget deficits. Critics of the study understand that it took place in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and that new companies have come in since.

As a special district, East LA would have more say in determining enforcement priorities for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but it would not form its own police department.

For example, proponents of greater indoor rule want to limit the havoc that ensues when “lowriders” – classic cars modified to hang close to the asphalt and also to soar to heights and unlikely angles – ride on Whittier Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through East LA

Merchants complain that cruisers spend little money in town, get stuck in traffic, get into fights, and drink in public.

To a large extent, the special neighborhood campaign was born out of local pride.

“If East LA had a flag, I would fly it,” said Alex Villalobos, 38, lifelong resident, Special Ward supporter and chief marketing officer for consulting firm Barrio Planners.

East LA has also seen its share of heartbreak. Journalist and civil rights activist Ruben Salazar was killed in East LA in 1970, shot in the head with a tear gas projectile by an LA County Sheriff’s Deputy during a Chicano anti-war protest in Vietnam.

The term Chicano, born of the civil rights era and coinciding with Cesar Chavez’s movement to organize Latino farmworkers in the 1960s and 1970s, has fallen out of favor.

Whatever the nomenclature, many Mexican Americans in East LA have a complicated identity, much like the community itself.

“We have an American lineage and we have a Mexican lineage. We can’t live without one or the other,” said Froilan Godiles, an immigrant who owns a party supply business in East LA. “We don’t consider ourselves Latinos. We’re Mexican. We’re from East Los Angeles. We’re North American.”

From food and fashion to music and language, Mexican American culture is proudly on display in a region that was part of Mexico until 1848.

“We like to show our flavor, our skin. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but we like it. We’re proud of our roots,” Godiles said.

Four major highways that cut through the community were built in the 1960s, tearing up neighborhoods, forcing relocations and lowering property values, making East LA more affordable for working-class immigrants, said Avila, a professor of studies. chicano. This solidified East LA as a Mexican American enclave in the 1970s.

Its appeal remains strong. Immigrant entrepreneurs say the widespread use of Spanish and familiarity with Mexican customs make it an ideal place to start a business. Some store owners barely speak English, serving Mexican American customers of several generations.

Lowrider drivers are also drawn to a place where Mexican Americans carved out a distinct place in Southern California car culture after World War II. Today they cruise under East LA’s iconic landmark, a horse arch on Whittier Boulevard completed in 1986.

As East LA native Ernie Serna, 57, described the allure: “It’s like a Jew going to Jerusalem.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Donna Bryson and Lisa Shumaker)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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