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El Monte's Visions for a Healthier Community

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Families paused their Dia de los Muertos browsing and shopping, children hid behind their mothers, both fascinated and afraid, as they witnessed the spectacle taking place. A string of quinceañeras, stoic in their painted black-and-white skull make up, paraded theatrically through the commercial and historic center of El Monte. Their ample, brightly-colored or black dresses -a contemporary twist to the traditional more demure white gown- boldly parted the crowds. This visual treat was part of the 5th annual Dia de los Muertos event that took place on Saturday October 18th in the Valley Mall. Instead of journeying out to East Los Angeles or Placita Olvera, people in the San Gabriel Valley were able to enjoy Dia de los Muertos locally.

Organized by the Nuvein Foundation, an El Monte-based, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting arts and literature in the San Gabriel Valley, the festival mainly consisted of vendors selling Dia de los Muertos-inspired art and clothing, and a stage area that featured performances by poets, mariachis and Aztec dancers.

Dia de los muertos quinceaneras in procession | Photo: Rubi Fregoso
Dia de los muertos quinceaneras in procession | Photo: Rubi Fregoso

El Monte's s Valley Mall is a single narrow street lined by retail fashion shops, furniture stores, taquerias, juice bars and paleterias. And while it is still an active commercial street, serving El Monte's predominant working-class Latino population, its 1940's architecture echoes back to one of El Monte's former lives that some residents still remember as kind of "Golden Age" when Sears, Woolworth's and JC Penny's catered to a mainly white, suburban middle class.

The community has experienced numerous transformations over the last several decades and with its evolving demographic, so have its needs and its vision for the future. At Saturday's Dia de los Muertos event KCET asked residents to share their ideas about how El Monte and South El Monte can become a healthier place to live, work and go to school, as well as their vision for the cities.

Putting pencil to paper, residents and visitors expressed a strong concern about safety, identifying street crime and in one case, racism, as important issues.

Local residents write down their ideas on KCET's kiosk | Photo: Rubi Fregoso
Local residents write down their ideas on KCET's kiosk | Photo: Rubi Fregoso
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Many residents also noted that more green space and well-maintained parks, outdoor activities for youth and families could improve the community's overall health. Teens and parents frequently wrote about a need for more free activities and programs. "More cultural events like this one instead of just once or twice a year," suggested one resident.

In addition, several residents identified "connectedness" or "togetherness" as an important factor in fostering a healthy community.

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Even young children can non-verbally express their vision of a healthier neighborhood

How can El Monte and South El Monte can be a healthier community? Please share your comments with us here.

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