Photograph by Rocio Hernandez, Las Fotos Project, 2021
Legacy of the Neighborhood
Cesar Chavez Avenue
With 36% of the Boyle Heights population being under 21 and 86% of households speaking primarily Spanish at home, the history of Boyle Heights as well as the trajectory it will embrace is defined by Latinx and bilingual youth. From ensuring that news outlets are accessible and relevant to their Spanish speaking elders, to eternalizing their elders and community through visual art, youth in Boyle Heights beautifully combine their different forms of expression with advocacy. The youth featured in this section, as a collective, challenge who traditionally decides what stories are worth being heard and digitally translated.
Las Fotos Project
Las Fotos Project arose out of the realization that a majority of the resources for youth in Boyle Heights were academically driven. Founded in 2010 by Eric Ibarra with the support of his mother, sister, and volunteers, Las Fotos Project seeks to provide youth, in particular adolescent girls, with a creative outlet through which they can take partake in archiving the unfolding history of Boyle Heights. The organization which would originally meet in public spaces such as parks, libraries, and other non-profits was born out of a “real fondness for family archiving,” which recognizes that “Photography is not just being something that documents a community or documents something that’s going on. It’s an archive. It’s a record of something that has happened and something that’s special. That’s a service we [Las Fotos] want to provide to Boyle Heights.”
While their mission is rooted in a value as intimate as family, their effect is far-reaching and challenges the status quo. Lucia Torres who is the Executive Director at Las Fotos notes that those who have traditionally held onto the privilege of writing about Boyle Heights tend to do so in a negative light because they are “essentially parachuting in, They are coming in and documenting the community not fully understanding, not really fully having experienced the history, or understanding the systemic issues that have placed communities in situations that they’re placed in.” As emphasized in the previous quote, Las Fotos understands that when outsiders document historically marginalized communities without the proper critical skills, more than just the community image is harmed so are community members. Through teaching adolescent girls from Boyle Heights photography, Las Fotos is centering girls of color in the efforts against the violence and erasure imposed on the larger Boyle Heights community. Las Fotos’ students contribution to Boyle Height is profound because besides sharing authentic accounts of joy and beauty that take place in the community they are doing so in a way that is accessible to all-- the visual arts.
At the end of their 12-week program, students at Las Fotos are able to showcase their photography at a gallery in which their family members, mentors, and neighbors are invited to celebrate the students and their curation. Lucia makes the point that “It’s one thing to be able to say, ‘yeah look I took this photograph,’ but it’s another thing to see that photograph blown up in 1ike 18x20, framed up on the wall, and having 200 other people there really looking at it.” Lucia believes that giving the girls the opportunity to share their end product as well as the creative process behind it with others is equally as important as learning how to use a camera. Through their art, the students at Las Fotos Project unlearn and showcase what they consider beautiful. This is exemplified in who the girls choose to take pictures of “We have this portrait that one of our students took of her mom when she was 9 months pregnant. It was a really beautiful side portrait of her mom sitting on a bed with her thick braid. When it came time for the exhibition, she already had the baby and she was able to take a picture of her and her baby side by side next to the portrait of her pregnant. They [parents] get really involved.”
As for the future of Las Fotos Project, Lucia hopes that in the next five years they will be able to own their first physical space in Boyle Heights, where Eric Ibarra originally hoped they would be able to work out of permanently. They also hope that through this space they are able to incorporate community members and elders more through aspects such as an open patio and gallery they are invited to spend time in. Las Fotos Project exemplifies what it means to actively resist more being yet equally violent structures imposed on the historically marginalized communities while prioritizing the personal growth of girls of color.
Boyle Heights Beat
One of the paper’s main reasons for focusing on recruiting young community residents is that mass media outlets historically tend to overportray areas in Los Angeles such as Boyle Heights as “dangerous places”. Antonio Mejias, a former Editor at La Opinion and current Senior Editor at The Beat, states the following:
One of the first things residents told me that the media always comes to town when there’s a killing or shooting or something like that…We know that no one knows the neighborhood as best as someone who lives in the neighborhood…. That kind of coverage is very hard to find [because] most of the people that report on Boyle Heights don’t live in Boyle Heights.
The Beat supports local youth by providing them the opportunity and financial resources to participate in journalism. This commitment to their writers has a profound impact such as South Central resident, Alejandro Medina, who is currently a Junior at Hamilton College in upstate New York and majoring in Literature.
In 2015, Alejandro joined The Beat in hopes of being able to bring real news to his community. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Alejandro Medina feels that his presence at The Beat has allowed him to focus on issues that directly affect him while also learning to better advocate for other LGBTQ+ Latinx folks.
When asked about what Medina is most proud of during his tenure at the Beat, he mentioned the following:
For me, one of the [pieces] that I like the most was one of the first ones which was on LGBTQ students and what they were dealing with in schools. In 2015, the Equal Marriage act passed, but people were still dealing with a lot of issues. People just assume that with that passing, that’s like the end. No more discrimination against LGBTQ people, but in general issues still persist. Speaking to my fellow peers and also students from other schools and kind of hearing their stories. Through that article I was also able to connect with the local LGBTQ Center which is known as Mi Centro in Boyle Heights. Not only was I able to highlight their work, but I also became involved in them. I joined their youth council. I have been a part of them too for about the same time I have been a part of the Boyle Height Beat because of that article. My own parents also became involved and have been continuing to do work and activism around LGBTQ issues. I feel like so much came out of this piece for myself and for my parents and for my whole family in general, while also being able to highlight the struggles of other students and help other students feel more welcomed in spaces like school, I feel like that has been one of the stories to be the most fruitful for me because so much came out of it for me and other people.
As a gay Latinx man, Medina’s positionality allows him to speak on issues that are not readily discussed in the Latinx community. Most importantly, his participation in journalism carries a strong message to other local youth in communities that have always been and continue to be populated by people who come from varying walks of life.
Furthermore, after completing his work as a youth writer, Medina was inclined to return to The Beat and mentor current journalists. For Medina, coming back and working with youth who come from similar backgrounds is critical because he understands the importance of supporting work that centers and values the local community of East Los Angeles.