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Family’s memories of ‘another community’

Sylvia Ruiz Canterbury finally cut out one of the Burbank centennial advertisements she kept seeing.

The ads reminded her of her family’s history and the stories her father shared with her — stories of struggles in school, of humiliation and prejudice, and of their eventual rise to middle-class status at a time when her father said Latinos, African-Americans and other minorities were not welcome in Burbank.

As the city celebrates its centennial and harkens back to a gilded time of movie studio expansion and a high-powered aerospace manufacturing industry, Ruiz Canterbury, 60, says other less proud moments in time also should be confronted.

“It’s important; well, it’s important to me,” she said. “There was another community here, and there’s no mention; no one is talking about it.”


The “it” the long-time resident refers to is Burbank’s history of prejudice and segregated schools.

Her grandparents were immigrants who came to the area to work in the citrus fields, perhaps as early as the 1900s. Her parents grew up in an all-Mexican neighborhood in the city, but by the time Ruiz Canterbury was ready to buy a home, Burbank would be a much different place.

“[My parents] grew up in a small, segregated neighborhood on Verdugo,” she said. “There was a little prejudice; I’m not going to kid you. But they weren’t bitter. They had a big allegiance to the community of Burbank. My mom never wanted to live anywhere else.”

And, she said, because they stayed in Burbank and toughed it out, she and her son have a comfortable life.


Ruiz Cantebury’s cousin, Laura Strobl, has been compiling the history of four generations of her family, starting her research at the Burbank Historical Society Museum.

“I love the Burbank museum, but there is no information on Hispanic families,” Strobl said.

There is a little about farming, she said, adding that her dream would be to one day provide all her research to the museum.

Ruiz Canterbury said she was surprised to hear her cousin was compiling the family history because history had been on her mind, as well. And July 8, the anniversary of Burbank’s incorporation, was also her father’s birthday. He died in 2004.

“I would like to eliminate the perception that we just arrived,” she said. “We’ve been here a long time, generations, as a matter of fact.”