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Photograph Courtesy of Michelle Vasquez Ruiz

Boyle Heights: Traditions of Innovations

“Boyle Heights – it’s a living poem, that you can feel, that you can touch, that you can hear, that you can dance to. That is Boyle Heights. The place of different flavors and sounds. If we lose that, it loses its soul.” – Nico Avina (Boyle Heights Resident, artist, business    owner)

The story of Boyle Heights has been rooted in the innovation and entrepreneurship of its residents. As a neighborhood that has welcomed newcomers from around the country and the world, Boyle Heights has always reflected the dynamism one sees in immigrant communities. Its energy is complemented by the drive and passion embedded in working-class and poor families that need to generate income for survival.  Much of that energy can be witnessed in its vibrant street culture, in the street-front ethnic businesses that have always dominated the neighborhood, and in the street vendors that have invested in selling their wares directly to customers on the sidewalks.
 

Unfortunately, much of Los Angeles and the United States forget that this tradition of immigrant innovation is what keeps Boyle Heights alive and its families prospering. Instead, advocates for gentrification think that social and economic capital must come into the neighborhood from the outside in order to see businesses succeed in the community. This exhibit celebrates the various traditions of innovations that have come from home-grown entrepreneurs in Boyle Heights in the past and present.  It calls on policymakers and residents to encourage innovation from the very neighborhood itself -- whether it be by encouraging local vendors to have easy access to customers on city streets or enabling local residents to buy and rent space to set up and maintain businesses that serve the needs of

 

To maintain Boyle Heights as an affordable place to live and work for all requires a commitment to the traditions of innovations that this community has traditionally embraced.  We will tell the personal and individual stories of these innovators who have shaped Boyle Heights historically and currently to be a place with soul and creativity.  And we will inspire you to see a future in Boyle Heights that continues to be open to innovation and entrepreneurship among its local population as a way to combat gentrification and renew what has always attracted newcomers to this community.

In a time when countless heavily bankrolled initiatives appear aimed to “disrupt” the technological and financial status quo, it is almost counter-intuitive to declare that the original hub of innovation in Los Angeles has long been a working-class neighborhood, one which has been the home of immigrant communities of the past and present. Yet, Boyle Heights has long been the historic incubator of progress. Los Angeles has long been the home of entrepreneurs, who were prompted by their need to become ingenious, resourceful, and innovative to provide for their family and set roots in the city. For the go-getters who have settled in Boyle Heights, their innovations were rooted in their own cultural traditions combined with their new Angelenos experiences. Their innovations brought forth new socially conscious business practices, cuisines, musical forms, among many other entrepreneurial inventions. Immigrant Angelenos also created novel practices and methods, a sort of entrepreneurial toolkit. Future generations of Boyle Heights continue to learn, adapt, and add their own skills and approaches based on their own particular challenges.

Incubators
for Progress

For the Community and the World

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Food touches all of our senses, we hear it speak as it sizzles and boils. The textures entice us and draw us in, color and size compel us, and the smell plays with our senses before it touches our lips. The satisfying explosion of flavors has the power to connect us to story, memory, and place.  

 

The Boyle Heights community has a wonderfully complex and layered history with food. As a historically multicultural community, Boyle Heights used to be bustling with Jewish delicatessens and bakeries, Japanese noodle and dumpling restaurants, and many options for Mexican foods. Changing demographics and the ongoing process of gentrification continue to reshape the neighborhood and diversity of food options. 
 

A Taste of
Boyle Heights: Perseverance in
the Neighborhood

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Boyle Heights might be a geographically small neighborhood in Los Angeles, but the talent and culture this neighborhood has produced have reached all over the nation and world. From guitars to award-winning plays to quality customizable awards, Boyle Heights residents have demonstrated that this neighborhood is not in need of outside investment. On the contrary, it is Boyle Heights that has given so much to the world. The stories featured in this section demonstrate how local community members invest in the community through workshops and other endeavors and highlight the wide recognition of their talents.

Entreprenurial Streets

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Food touches all of our senses, we hear it speak as it sizzles and boils. The textures entice us and draw us in, color and size compel us, and the smell plays with our senses before it touches our lips. The satisfying explosion of flavors has the power to connect us to story, memory, and place.  

 

The Boyle Heights community has a wonderfully complex and layered history with food. As a historically multicultural community, Boyle Heights used to be bustling with Jewish delicatessens and bakeries, Japanese noodle and dumpling restaurants, and many options for Mexican foods. Changing demographics and the ongoing process of gentrification continue to reshape the neighborhood and diversity of food options. 
 

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.

Boyle Heights Youth: Continuing the Legacy of the Neighborhood

Image Source: Rocio Hernandez, Las Fotos Project, 2021