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California Cultures

Hispanic Americans: Barrios (1930s-1960s)

Questions to Consider

What do these images say about California's Hispanic American neighborhoods in the mid-20th century?

What impact did the Chavez Ravine decision have on how the residents lived?

Overview

Many immigrants lived in segregated urban barrios (neighborhoods), such as East Los Angeles. One photograph shows three men, one with a guitar, in front of a family home in Anaheim. Another shows children playing behind houses in their Boyle Heights barrio, with downtown Los Angeles in the background. The poster for the popular 1950 Mexican movie El Rey del Barrio, ("King of the Barrio"), starring the comedian Tin Tan, shows the hero wearing a zoot suit.

Chavez Ravine

Two photographs show the barrio of Chavez Ravine as it existed in 1950. This cluster of quiet almost rural Mexican American communities was notable for the unity of the residents. Soon, however, the peaceful neighborhood would be gone. New housing laws, racial tensions, fears of communism, and economic and political realities all played a part the forcible removal of residents from their homes and properties in Chavez Ravine in 1951.

Two years earlier, Congress had passed the National Housing Act of 1949 to improve the lives and standard of living for a broad range of Americans. The city of Los Angeles approved 11 housing projects, including one on the site of Chavez Ravine. Homeowners were told they would have first choice of units and receive assistance in finding a place to live while the housing was constructed, and many sold their property to the city housing authority for less than the property was worth.

But later in 1951, the project was canceled, essentially to make way for the new Dodger Stadium. The remaining residents were forcibly removed from their homes and properties in a controversial eminent domain decision. As one photograph shows, even in 1959 the Arechiga family (joined by Mexican American city councilman Edward Roybal) was still camping out near the site of their former home. The stadium was not completed until 1962.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s.

Grade 11:

11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America. (11.8.2)

11.9 Students analyze U.S. foreign policy since World War II. (11.9.7)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Castro Residence in La Fabrica, Anaheim, ca. 1922 Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, 1946 Film Poster for El Rey del Barrio
Photograph of two children walking up a hill in Chavez Ravine, 1950 Bridge in Chavez Ravine's 'Lil' Town', 1950 Chavez Ravine residents confer with Councilman Roybal after eviction, 1959

Note about picture captions

The original captions on some of the historical photographs may include racial terms that were commonplace at the time, but considered to be derogatory today.

Calisphere Related Materials

Lesson Plans

Stealing Home: How Race Relations, Politics, and Baseball Transformed Chavez Ravine

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)