East of East: Mapping Community Narratives

In 2012, the South El Monte Arts Posse used El Monte’s centennial celebration as an opportunity to launch the public history and place-making project, “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte.” Since then, SEMAP has worked with archivists, educators, historians, artists, non-profits, and community members to host discussions, lectures, bike tours, and creative writing workshops with Spanish-speaking migrant women and youth; conducted more than one hundred oral history interviews; digitized city and personal archives; created original art about El Monte and its sister city, South El Monte; partnered with KCET to share this content; worked with local educators to build and create some curriculum. Collectively, we have worked to re-write the history of El Monte and South El Monte. This has resulted in a new digital archive and book.

East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte is an edited collection of thirty-eight essays that trace the experience of a California community over three centuries, from eighteenth-century Spanish colonization to twenty-first century globalization. Employing traditional historical scholarship, oral history, creative nonfiction and original art, the book provides a radical new history of El Monte and South El Monte (EM/SEM), showing how interdisciplinary and community-engaged scholarship can break new ground in public history. East of East tells stories that have been excluded from dominant historical narratives—stories that long survived only in the popular memory of residents, as well as narratives that have been almost completely buried and all but forgotten. Its cast of characters include white vigilantes, Mexican anarchists, Japanese farmers, labor organizers, civil rights pioneers, and punk rockers, as well as the ordinary and unnamed youth who generated a vibrant local culture on hot summer nights at dances and dive bars.  Indeed, El Monte was once best known as the “end of the Santa Fe Trail”—the end point of an iconic American journey west—but this book seeks to overturn that narrative and “burn the wagon.” It shows how El Monte has been home to people other than pioneers, and the site of major events that have transformed the landscape of Southern California over the last three hundred years. A sweeping panorama, East of East links the deep legacy of struggles for justice, freedom, and inclusion to the rapidly diversifying suburbia of the twenty-first century, revealing unknown connections between cultures and ethnic groups and movements at the metropolitan fringe.

Select Press for East of East

“The editors of East of East see deeper truths. Greater El Monte, it turns out, is the setting for a story as rich and tangled as the flora that still covers the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, a patch of parkland that lies, relatively unspoiled, in the watershed the El Montes call home.”
–Héctor Tobar, Los Angeles Review of Books

East of East digs up the dirt of greater El Monte to find what is left of ‘us’ — for the authors and contributors born and raised there, and for the Indigenous, immigrant, multiracial, multicultural and transnational communities brought to vivid life in these pages. It writes ‘us’ back into the narratives that erased us and writes new ones to remind us that white pioneer settlers are just part of the story, not the center of it.” 
– Melissa Hidalgo, KCET.org

“Who owns history? New book reconsiders San Gabriel Valley’s pioneer past,” Greater LA hosted by Steve Chiotakis


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