Set at the junction of two freeways and along a major railroad route, the working-class town of Baldwin Park likes to call itself "the Hub of the San Gabriel Valley."
But the city, about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles and nearly 80% Latino, today finds itself the hub of an increasingly bitter fight over illegal immigration.
For nearly two months, Save Our State, a Ventura County-based group opposed to illegal immigration, has been demanding that the city remove an inscription on a 20-foot-tall monument at a local Metrolink station.
The group believes that its words -- "it was better before they came" -- are aimed at whites who displaced California's Mexican residents in the 19th century.
A protest by the group last month, the subject of talk radio chatter, dissolved into shouting when a much larger group of counter-protesters showed up, prompting police to call in reinforcements and costing the city more than $30,000, officials say.
It's a cost the city, with a population of roughly 80,000 and an annual budget of $40 million, can ill afford.
Save Our State vows to continue protests, including a rally today, believing the financial drain of dealing with the demonstrations will eventually cause the small city to remove the words the group considers offensive.
"I don't think the city can withstand that financial [burden], if we go back repeatedly," said Save Our State founder Joseph Turner. "We're not going away."
Baldwin Park has responded by hiring a public relations consultant to handle press inquiries, which officials said were jamming the City Hall switchboards, and to research the background of the organizations involved.
It has also asked protesters on both sides to sign "peace contracts" in which they agree not to act violently.
So far, few have signed.
"Baldwin Park has never, ever in its history seen anything like this. The residents want these outsiders out of our city," said Mayor Manuel Lozano, who wants the city to send Save Our State members a bill for the costs of dealing with the protests.
"I feel our city is under siege.... Right now, I just want to get over this," he added.
Baldwin Park has 79 police officers and after the last protest had to call in reinforcements from surrounding cities to help keep the peace. Protesters on both sides hurled obscenities and taunts and at times argued face to face. A 66-year-old woman was hit on the head with a plastic water bottle, sending her to the hospital.
Ironically, Judy Baca, the artist who made the monument, says the protesters have the meaning of the inscription backward.
The words are supposed to memorialize the jeers aimed at Mexican immigrants who began moving into Baldwin Park after World War II, she said.
Baca said the monument, "Danza Indigenas," was designed to honor Native Americans, immigrants and others who helped build Baldwin Park. Other inscriptions on the arch include: "This land was Mexican once, was Indian always and is, and will be again."
The standoff in Baldwin Park comes as anti-illegal immigration groups are becoming active on a number of fronts.
A splinter group of the Minutemen, a citizen patrol that roamed the U.S.-Mexican border in Arizona last spring, plans to do the same thing in California in September.
A clash between a Minutemen member and counter protesters in Garden Grove last month left several people hurt.
In addition to protesting the monument in Baldwin Park, Save Our State last weekend demonstrated in front of a Home Depot in Alhambra, claiming that some of the day laborers seeking work outside the store were illegal immigrants.
Baldwin Park was one of many suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley that boomed after World War II as havens for young families lured by tidy starter homes.
A demographic shift swept the southern part of the valley beginning in the 1970s, as Latinos rapidly became majorities in Baldwin Park as well as neighboring cities, including El Monte and La Puente.
The city has struggled with gang problems and during the 1980s was hit by political upheavals at City Hall. But it has seen something of a revival over the last decade. Today, the Latino influence on Baldwin Park is clear in the Spanish-language signs on some storefronts and the fact that the mayor's cellphone voicemail is in Spanish and English.
Residents said illegal immigration wasn't an issue in the city until Save Our State discovered the statue a few months ago.
"Why come here and attack our community? I really took offense to that," said Dolores M. Holguin, a resident and director of the Valley County Water District.
Turner of Save Our State responded that if the monument were "a private piece in someone's yard, it wouldn't be an issue. If it's in a museum, it wouldn't be an issue."
What bothers him, he said, is that it includes "seditious" language and was paid for by taxpayers, said Turner, 29, a former equities trader who lives in Ventura County with his wife and two children.
Lozano said his city is determined to fight back.