East LA – Boyle Heights

After a refreshing and relaxing day off we were straight back into the action today most of which was spent in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. We set off for East LA from Santa Monica after singing – badly – happy birthday to Matt J who is 21 today…bless.

Arriving in Boyle Heights

Boyle Heights – depending on who you ask – is between 80% and 95% Latino and as such is the area of the city that tends to receive the most immigrants, some of whom will get work in the neighbouring garment manufacturing businesses.

Our morning was spent visiting the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC). They are a community organisation not unlike WLCAC in their objectives but based in this very different community. Their primary purpose is to build capacity in the local community by building and maintaining affordable accommodation, helping people buy homes and avoid foreclosure, assisting individuals and businesses with their tax returns and financial management, training individuals in the community to become leaders, and helping children with their school work in afterschool clubs. This multifaceted approach certainly seems to be working and they are building many new housing units.

Lupe and Jose talk to us about ELACC’s mission

We met at ELACC’s latest development the Sol y Luna Apartments and were given a presentation of the organisation’s objectives, history and outlook by Lupe Legaspi, Director of Programs at ELACC and José Fernández their Tenant Services Manager. There was some fascinating material on how the organisation is trying to help the local community resist gentrification by holding land and property (not unlike WLCAC) but also by setting up lending circles to bypass banks and by helping those threatened with foreclosure on their properties (a tactic by predatory lenders in the district is to lend to buyers who they know will not be able to pay back their mortgages a after reaping interest payments from them to take possession of the property). The students asked a number of great questions and I think learnt a great deal about the politics of urban planning and grass roots community organising.

And there is real pressure to develop the area from eager but not overly wealthy gentrifiers unable to afford the converted lofts and warehouses in the neighbouring downtown and taking advantage of the accessibility afforded by the recently opened metro system. ELACC then stands literally at the front line of the battle against gentrification and have ensured that in its covenants, its buildings in the area will be affordable accommodation in perpetuity, thereby maintaining the social diversity of the community.

El Mercadito

We took a drive along 1st Street and stopped for a long lunch at El Mercadito. This is an important shopping and recreational space for the local community and until only a few years ago it was very difficult to get by using English alone. The students were asked to explore the market and then take lunch at either one of the restaurants or on the third floor where they ate whilst being entertained by a mariachi band.

Eating to the sound of live Mariachi music at El Mercadito

After lunch we took a short driving tour of the local neighbourhood to get a sense of how the standard LA housing stock (single story stuccoed bungalows) has been adapted by the Latino community to suit their lifestyles (basically an increase in enclosed outdoor spaces).

Giant Robot in Sawtelle



On the way home we dropped into Sawtelle, a Japanese neighbourhood quite near the hotel. Here the students were encouraged to eat cream cakes – but only one did – and have a look around some of the shops which have hybrid objects reflecting an interesting trans-Pacific cultural mix.





Group shot outside Sol y Luna Apartments to mark Matt J’s (lying at the front) birthday

The navigators today had a tough job to do. George in the lead van was very capable and also able to give us a lesson in Spanish whilst map reading. Hannah S was mostly concerned with recounting their Venice Beach experience from yesterday. Beth was a very capable co-pilot and kept Martin on straight and narrow, even spotting parking spaces for him. In the afternoon Courtney, despite being nervous about it, was also an exceptional navigator, guiding us seamlessly to Sawtelle. Amy in the second van, sadly, forgot her glasses. Kitty in Martin’s van was brilliant and got Martin out of trouble after he lost the convoy.

Posted in LA
2 comments on “East LA – Boyle Heights
  1. Adelaide says:

    Another interesting and though provoking day on the trip! Each location we visit allows us to delve deeper into the complexity of LA culture(s) and enables us to reflect and be more critical of what we’ve seen before. This was certainly the case with our visit to ELACC, who were hugely informative about the East LA community struggles and triumphs, but honest about the reality of living in such a discriminating environment. One thing has been consistent in our narratives however, and that is the importance of Community!
    On another note, our day off (yesterday) thoroughly honed our map reading skills- no internet+ no google maps= adventure! Thank you Simon for the maps on day 1.

  2. Maddie Oldfield says:

    Boyle Heights was another informative day, and it was really interesting to hear that they are facing similar problems to WLCAC despite different members of the community they’re trying to help. Their work in the community is commendable and they have helped the community no end in their battle to home ownership and they’re indeed a fantastic grassroots organisation. The Mexican market certainly was an experience with totally different sights and smells to anything we’ve yet experienced in LA. Driving back it was really interesting to see Simon was telling the truth about the importance of outdoor social space in the Latino homes, manifesting itself as large open porches behind gates. Another informative day!!!

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