El Monte/South El Monte
As far as cities go, El Monte and South El Monte are not very old -- each founded in 1910 and 1958 respectively. But the history of this place starts several thousands of years ago with the arrival of the first Tongva people, followed by the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries in the 18th century, and westbound weary pioneers a century later. Large influxes of American mid-west migrants and Mexican and Asian immigrants accelerated the shifting demographic throughout much the 20th century.
El Monte and South El Monte, located just a few minutes east of the City of Los Angeles, have experienced freedom and neglect, for better and for worse, from the centralized reach of the city. While South El Monte and El Monte are often referred to as a single entity, they are in fact two separate cities with communities that are closely intertwined, yet distinct. While El Monte was heavily regulated by racialized ordinances that segregated Mexican and Asian residents into barrios or camps, separate from white, home-owning residents, South El Monte was founded as a city where Mexican residents could own property.
The stories of El Monte are embodied by real, imaginary and forgotten landmarks. A dilapidated covered wagon replica at Pioneer Park commemorating the End of Santa Fe Trail wanes like a fading ghost in the public imaginary. The El Monte Legion Stadium remains vibrant in the collective memory despite having been razed to the ground more than four decades ago; the dances where Art Laboe shared the stage with legends such as Ritchie Valens, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Higgins have been immortalized in the song by The Penguins', "Memories of El Monte."
In South El Monte, stories are squeezed between backyards of bungalows and submerged beneath soft riverbank soil. The Whittier Narrows parks in South El Monte provide an oasis for nature aficionados, families and sports lovers. Low rider car shows gather at the Legg Lake parking lot, while young lovers hide away at the Nature Center among curtains of wild grape serenaded by rare songbirds.
Today, as you descend from the hills of Montebello on the eastbound 60 freeway you know you have arrived to a unique place, however briefly. A stretch of dense green foliage of elm and willow seem like an unlikely break in the now suburban landscape; in the evenings, this basin is blanketed in a sudden fog perfumed with the woodsy, moist breath of the Rio Hondo. This is an entryway into the Greater Los Angeles peripheral world that speaks in its own way, to both to Los Angeles' age and regenerative newness.