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The Importance of Knowing Your History

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MVHS students listen to members of SEMAP and La Historia Society, photo by Luis Sierra Campos
MVHS students listen to members of SEMAP and La Historia Society, photo by Luis Sierra Campos.

Recently students had the opportunity to learn about the South El Monte Arts Posse (SEMAP) and the work they are doing to unearth and document some of the important history of El Monte and South El Monte. SEMAP is a collective of artists, writers, urban planners, educators, and others dedicated to engaging with the South El Monte and El Monte community to rethink our use of space and transforming how we inhabit it. A part of their work is the collection of oral histories and artifacts that shed light on the untold stories of these two communities.

SEMAP visited the Youth Voices students at Mountain View High School (MVHS) and South El Monte High School (SEMHS). Daniel Morales, a doctoral candidate at Columbia, discussed his article on Hicks Camp and recounted the process of locating individuals to share their stories of living and working at the various Camps throughout El Monte. At one point he shared a recording of one of the interviews he had collected. For the majority of the students it was the first time they had heard of the camps and the history of Mexican community who lived in the area during that time.

Nick Juravich shares pictures from South El Monte's application for All American City
Nick Juravich shares pictures from South El Monte's application for All American City.

In the article, "City of Achievement: The Founding of the City of South El Monte," Nick Juravich explores the origins of the place most of the students at South El Monte call home. He shared the article with the students and the process he went through to locate the history, photographs, and documentation that told the history of South El Monte and its success in winning several national awards. As the students begin to explore what their community causes will be, Nick's presentation offered a wonderful frame for the students to see themselves as storytellers of their community. As Nick said, "All the history has not been written." In fact he noted that during his meetings with community members he realized he did not include some important events in his article and wants to go back and expand it.

Carribean Fragoza talks to a participant at the event
Carribean Fragoza talks to a participant at the event.

SEMAP also invited the students to participate in a series of events to collect oral histories and photographs from local residents. The first event took place at the South El Monte Senior Center and focused on the founding of El Monte. Recently SEMAP found a 16 mm film in the archives of the South El Monte City Hall that documented the city's successful campaign to win the title of "All American City." The film was screened after a short presentation by Nick Juravich and SEMAP co-founders, Carribean Fragoza and Romeo Guzman.

Screening of the film, South El Monte All American City
Screening of the film, South El Monte All American City.

The film highlighted the City's push for civic participation and innovation. The screening elicited wonderful stories and ideas from the participants. Several students from SEMHS, as well as their teacher Sara Quezada, attended the event and were able to share some of their Youth Voices projects with the participants.

SEMHS student discusses her Youth Voices project
SEMHS student discusses her Youth Voices project.

The following day, an oral history event was held at La Historia Society Museum, a much smaller venue but one filled with photos and documents detailing the history of the nine barrios of El Monte and South El Monte. Students from MVHS attended and shadowed the historians as they interviewed community members.

SEMAP offered Youth Voices students an opportunity to take a closer look at the history of their community, and see themselves and their families as part of that history.

Participants arrive for the event at La Historia Society Museum, photo by Carribean Fragoza
Participants arrive for the event at La Historia Society Museum, photo by Carribean Fragoza.

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