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In El Monte, Two Sides to the Past -- Close Yet Far

Museums a block apart chronicle the city's history through different perspectives -- one Anglo, the other Mexican American.

August 30, 2004|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

"Many of us got set back," he said. "There had to be at least four generations of Mexican Americans who could have been something and weren't, because the system of education was not geared to prepare our kids."

Gutierrez, 69, grew up in Hick's Camp and remembers it as a difficult place to live because of the extreme poverty.

The small wooden homes were made from the scavenged planks of discarded boxcars and had dirt floors. There were no street lights or sewers, and it was the rare house that had indoor plumbing.

"It was tough," he said. "Most people of the neighborhood never fulfilled their dreams. From that standpoint, they were kind of shortchanged."

El Monte's population is now 72% Latino, and most of the pioneers' descendants have left. It is time to give Mexican American history in El Monte its due, Gutierrez said.

Recently, the board of La Historia proposed to the City Council that the city build a new home for their museum. The building would be just north of the Historical Society site and would wrap around the east side of that museum. There would be no connection between the two.

The city had set the plot aside in hopes that the two museums would be housed in a new facility.

Members of the Historical Society were never consulted on La Historia's proposal and were caught by surprise. La Historia officials said that in the rush to put together their proposal, they weren't able to let their neighbors know.

One council member said La Historia's proposal was underhanded. The City Council rejected the plan, but the damage was done. The relationship between the museums frayed further.

"The ideal thing," said Robert Bautista, 63, vice president of La Historia's museum, "would be to have all of El Monte's history under one roof. That would be the most ideal thing here.

"Unfortunately, we grew up with so many differences."

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