Monuments should reflect the diversity of a place and its people. People of color, women, and Native Americans have been vital to the creation of Los Angeles. Yet with over 1,000 official cultural and historical landmarks in the City of Los Angeles, only about 100 relate to people of color, women, and Native Americans. This is astonishing, especially because the place was Indian country for about 10,000 years before contact, and Spanish or Mexican territory for hundreds of years before California joined the Union in 1850.
The City Project has mapped and analyzed city monuments in an interactive online web site. The mapping and analyses highlight monuments that help to faithfully, completely, and accurately depict the history and diversity of Los Angeles, including people of color, women, and Native Americans, and that stimulate and provoke a greater understanding of, and dialogue on, diversity, democracy and freedom.
For example, community activists and advocates have identified over 100 links along a virtual Heritage Parkscape to serve as a "family album" to revive the forgotten history of Los Angeles. Heritage Parkscape sites identified to date run from the Great Wall of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley past Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the Los Angeles State Historic Park, and El Pueblo de Los Angeles through South Central Los Angeles. Public art projects including murals, photo exhibits, and installations on the ground and on the Web, school art projects, oral histories, and theater can be part of this living legacy. The Heritage Parkscape is not complete, and will never be complete; it will continue to evolve with Los Angeles. Some sample sites appear below. The Heritage Parkscape PhotoBook can be downloaded here [30MB].
Marginalizing the contributions of people of color, women and Native Americans is not unique to Los Angeles. Only about 5% of national, state and local landmark designations reflect women's history, and an even tinier proportion deal with so-called minority history, according to Dolores Hayden in her book "The Power of Place (1997)."
More recently, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has pushed the National Park Service to identify more sites related to the histories of women and people of color that could be added to the National Register of Historic Places, or be preserved as national parks or historic landmarks. "Less than 3% of all the national landmarks that we have -- the highest designation you can receive as a historic landmark -- are designated for women, Latinos, African Americans or other members of minority groups," according to Secretary Salazar.
In Los Angeles, stakeholders from assorted backgrounds served on a working group to amend the city's cultural heritage ordinance to be more inclusive, but the ordinance has yet to be amended and the group completed its work in 2008-09. The city is currently undertaking a study called Survey LA that appears promising for identifying and designating diverse monuments.
KCET Departures has also done an exemplary job of serving as a "hyper-local web documentary, community engagement tool and digital literacy program about the cultural history of Los Angeles' neighborhoods."
Here are three examples of places the city should designate as official monuments to celebrate diversity, democracy and freedom. The concept is inspired by the mission statement for Manzanar National Monument.
Four Los Angeles police officers beat and arrested Rodney Glen King while 23 others stood by and did nothing. George Holliday captured the beating on videotape and delivered the tape to a local television station. The tape was broadcast around the world, galvanizing international attention on police brutality in Los Angeles. The location of the beating at Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street in the San Fernando Valley should be a designated monument, along with South Normandie and West Florence Avenues near where beatings of Reginald Denny and others took place.
See this map from Curbed L.A. for more important locations related to the L.A. Riots.
Chavez Ravine was a bucolic Latino community through the 1950s, until the City of Los Angeles forcibly evicted the residents with promises of affordable housing. Mrs. Aurora Archega, whose family had resided in Chavez Ravine for 36 years, refused to leave her home, and was carried out by the police, with all of her belongings, on May 9, 1959, in a scene captured in this classic photograph. She was then jailed for 30 days. The City authorized the sale of Chavez Ravine to the Dodgers for a stadium on October 7, 1957.
Zoot Suit Riots
From June 3 to June 13, 1943, servicemen stationed at the Chavez Ravine naval station randomly beat up young Mexican American and Black men throughout Los Angeles. The sailors brutalized their victims and left them lying in the streets; police and sheriffs then arrested victims instead of their attackers. The Zoot Suit Riots were spread over several days and places, but one likely starting point was the North Main Street Bridge on the east side of the L.A. River.
Why celebrate places like these? These sites illustrate the power of place, as Dolores Hayden said: "the power of ordinary urban landscapes to nurture citizens' public memory, to encompass shared time in the form of shared territory. . . And even bitter experiences and fights communities have lost need to be remembered -- so as not to diminish their importance."
I am a civil rights attorney. I have represented people on Death Row, helped free Geronimo Pratt, the former Black Panther leader, from prison after 27 years for a crime he did not commit, prosecuted public corruption and international drug trafficking conspiracies, and litigated international banking cases against Iran.
Fighting for the simple joys of playing in the park and school field for children of color and low income children is the hardest work I have ever done. I will be writing in this space to talk about green justice.