During the1960s Highland Park witnessed dramatic changes. In the early part of the decade the neighborhood was still a predominately white, middle class community. But the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the channelization of the Arroyo eventually transformed the physical and social landscape of the area. The original population of the neighborhood became older and their children and grandchildren were leaving it for the new suburbs that had suddenly become accessible thanks to Los Angeles' burgeoning network of freeways. White flight from Highland Park would make affordable homes available to non-white residents from surrounding communities, most notably members of the region's growing Mexican-American population.
The Duardo family came to Highland Park in 1966 and settled on Echo Street, just off of Figueroa Boulevard. Family matriarch Josefina Duardo moved to the neighborhood with her nine children from East Los Angeles after being told by relatives of Highland Park's peaceful and natural setting. Her children remember being one of the first Mexican families in the neighborhood and at their local elementary school, and, as a result, the family has a long view of Highland Park's demographic shift from a majority white community to a Mexican-American working class community.
The challenges the family faced during that transition are exemplary of what other Mexican-American families experienced in their new neighborhood. The Duardos were targets of bias and discrimination by neighbors, school and public officials. But, from the beginning, Josefina Duardo was not a passive victim but an active agent in the creation of a more positive community.
Faced with a lack of access to city services, the Duardos quickly reached out to neighbors, fostering a sense of community and friendship through Josefina's care for the elderly residents on their street. Josefina also became an advocate for educational reform when she realized her children were being underserved by the local schools. She, along with two neighbors, challenged exclusionary school policies targeting children who entered school with English as their second language. Her local and state activism contributed to the passing of the 1976 Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act that mandated "school districts provide language minority students with equal educational opportunities despite their limited proficiency in English and explicitly proclaimed bilingual education as a right of English language learners."
Josefina Duardo's leadership and passion for her community continues to influence her children. Lisa Duardo works to preserve the natural heritage of the Arroyo Seco through Northeast Trees, Oscar Duardo is Director of the Milagro Allegro Garden project and Richard Duardo is a leading artist in the Chicano art community.
Above, Josefina Duardo with her children Oscar and Lisa talk about changes in the area, ethnic prejudice, and homeowners' conflicts with the city's development ambitions.