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The Trees of Chico Avenue

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In Partnership with the South El Monte Arts Posse

"East of East" is a series of original essays about people, things, and places in South El Monte and El Monte. The material traces the arrival and departures of ethnic groups, the rise and decline of political movements, the creation of youth cultures, and the use and manipulation of the built environment. These essays challenge us to think about the place of SEM/EM in the history of Los Angeles, California, and Mexico.

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The following images document trees found along Chico Avenue in the industrial suburb of South El Monte on a Tuesday afternoon in February 2014. The resulting illustrative transect reveals the widely varied landscape found along the approximately mile-long street, and situates Chico Avenue as a kind of microcosm of the city's complex character and history. Serving as an entry point to the Whittier Narrows Recreational Area at one end, the street, lined by light industrial manufacturers and multi-family housing, also provides access to the Garvey Avenue corridor.

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These images are also part of an ongoing exploration that examines how the characteristics of a tree reveal the character of its surrounding environment and community, including its demographics, values, and aspirations. More simply, though, it asks, What does it mean to be a tree? And, in this case, What does it mean to be a tree on Chico Avenue? in South El Monte? And, perhaps more provocatively, what would these trees have become if they had grown elsewhere?

The trees in these images sit in a landscape void of humans, but littered with signs of humanity. They are at times taut, other times mangled, and often dusty. Their twists and coloring reveal a caretaker's penchant for the quirky, a business owner's negligence, and a city's attempt to preserve what may remain of a historical ecosystem.

What these observations say about Chico Avenue and the City of South El Monte is left for the viewer to conclude.

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Photos: Jennifer Renteria

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