Newsletter: This Memorial Day, East L.A.’s Mexican American war monument turns 75
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 27. I’m Gustavo Arellano, writing from Orange County.
This Memorial Day, dozens of ceremonies honoring our war dead will take place across Southern California. One of the most historic will happen at Cinco Puntos, the intersection where Indiana and Lorena streets meet Cesar E. Chavez Avenue to mark where Boyle Heights ends and East Los Angeles begins. Here, on two small triangular plazas, stand memorials to Mexican Americans from the area who served in the Armed Forces.
For 75 years here on Memorial Day or near that holiday, the living have remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The oldest monument is a small plaque with the date of its installation: Dec. 7, 1946, just five years after the Pearl Harbor attack. “This ground broken for the erection of a memorial,” it reads, “as an everlasting tribute to those American sons and daughters of Mexican descent who gave all in World War II.”
On May 30 of the following year (the Friday following Memorial Day), a small ceremony was held to inaugurate a 28-foot high marble obelisk on a granite base topped by a 2-foot copper flame. The primary funder was the Latin American Civic and Cultural Committee, a group headed by Zeferino and Julia Ramirez, a father-and-daughter duo who ran a pioneering mortuary and funeral home on the Eastside.
ROTC units from Garfield and Roosevelt high schools “lent an American military touch” that day by “sounding taps and firing salutes to the dead,” according to the Eastside Journal. A plaque on that monument stated the “Mexican colony” of Los Angeles dedicated “with deep gratitude and respect this sacred monument” to the Mexican Americans who died “in the interest of democratic principles.”
Other markers bloomed over the years, as more local Chicanos went on to fight in more American wars. One set in 1959 commemorated those who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Another dedicated to Latinos killed in the Korean War. A concrete slab placed in 1968 reads “Morin Memorial Square” in honor of Raul Morin, a World War II veteran who wrote “Among the Valiant: Mexican Americans in World War II and Korea,” one of the first-ever studies of Latino war veterans. A time capsule was installed to honor Vietnam War veterans.
This modest collection has gone by multiple names over the decades: Plaza de los Heroes (“Hero’s Plaza” in Spanish), the Mexican-American Soldier’s Monument, the War Memorial, the Mexican American Monument, East Los Angeles Veterans Memorial Monument. Nowadays it’s best known as the Mexican American All Wars Memorial, although many locals call it the Cinco Puntos/Five Points Memorial.
With so many names, it’s little surprise that this sacred ground has seen ups and downs.
A Memorial Day parade that would start there first happened in 1955 but ended with the Vietnam War. In 1990, veterans complained to The Times that vandals kept leaving trash and graffiti. In 2012, thieves stole three bronze plaques. Morin’s son, Eddie, clashed with fellow veterans for a decade over a name dispute.
And a roundabout proposed for over 20 years threatens to demolish everything altogether.
Meanwhile, the public thinks of the All Wars Memorial more as a geographic marker. It was the starting point for the 1969 Chicano Moratorium protest against the Vietnam War, and a legendary 1994 march against the xenophobic Proposition 187. And just across the way from the original obelisk is what draws most people here: Los Cinco Puntos tortillería and restaurant.
But all that controversy and oversight will be a distant memory come Sunday, when veterans, active-duty raza and civilians begin a 24-hour vigil. On Monday, a ceremony with elected officials and other dignitaries will honor the Mexican American war dead anew, and remind the world: Eastlos also served.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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California parents demand answers on school security, but there are no ironclad guarantees. In the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre, one thing is certain: Little will change. Los Angeles Times
The last days of a homeless encampment in San Pedro. For now, at least. Los Angeles Times
New L.A. priests: Guillermo Alonso. The official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is highlighting its new class of padres in the lead-up to their June 4 ordination (and shout-out to the article’s author, Steve Lowery, a mentor of mine whom you can blame for giving me the pep talk I needed to level up when I needed to). Angelus News
L.A. is looking to buy 124 apartments in Chinatown. But will every tenant get to stay? For more than two years, tenant advocates have demanded that the Los Angeles City Council purchase an apartment building in Chinatown, saying such a move would spare dozens of families from enormous rent hikes. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
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This Fresno County politician is unopposed but has a nearly $400,000 campaign chest. Lotta money for nothing for Fresno County Supervisor Brian Contreras, who is not the same person as our technology reporter, Brian Contreras, who’s way cooler. Fresno Bee
Advocates alarmed by use of private messaging app by San Diego public officials. News flash to civic do-gooders: Government types are about as transparent as lead. KPBS
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
The DMV said it would investigate Tesla over self-driving claims. Then, crickets. No wonder Elon Musk has the time to twiddle his thumbs on Twitter. Los Angeles Times
California isn’t a liberal sanctuary where Asian Americans are concerned. Somewhere, Denis Kearney is smiling... History News Network
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
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Sweet potato farmers in Livingston cultivate other opportunities to give back to their community. Part of KVPR’s ongoing podcast series “The Other California” about the seemingly infinite small communities across the Central Valley. Valley Public Radio
Let’s talk about Richard Lovett. With the industry in turmoil, people are wondering: Where is the president of Hollywood’s biggest agency? The Ankler
‘Half of Los Angeles is coming’ and Ojai hotels are scrambling. Pro tip: Stick with Ventucky. Los Angeles Times
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Today’s California memory is from Tom Hall:
After having served overseas for eight years as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, I was assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. On June 28, 2004 I stepped off the plane at Palm Springs International Airport. It was 9 p.m. I will never forget the rush of 90F dry desert wind that hit my face, as I emerged from the terminal. That night I sat by a swimming pool gazing at the stars till 2 a.m. The palm fronds danced in the wind, rubbing and clapping a symphony of percussive music. Billions of celestial bodies sparkled in the sky. I realized, in an instant, I was living in Paradise.
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