The Irresistible Draw of Assimilation

A writer looks back on how the San Gabriel Valley has changed, and how it changes those drawn to it

By Alex Espinoza
From: Los Angeles Magazine

sgv_driveby3878I was born in Tijuana, in an unnamed colonia atop a muddy hillside above the city. After my siblings and I received our green cards, we crossed the border with 
our mother into Southern California. I was raised in La Puente, which borders the City of Industry, a place known for its many warehouses and factories. As kids, my friends and I played in empty fields sandwiched between loading docks owned by multi-million-dollar companies. Our fathers disappeared into the cavernous bellies of these plants. They came home exhausted, kicked off their work boots, cracked open beers, and told stories about feuds along the assembly line, about angry machines that ripped off fingers and arms, about chemicals that could melt skin away, about broken spines and permanent hearing loss. We were a community of immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. We arrived seeking shelter from poverty and civil unrest and instead found ourselves confronting a society that had all but abandoned the mythical American dream.

In high school I got a job at the Puente Hills Mall. It was near the more affluent communities of Hacienda Heights, Walnut, and Rowland Heights. These were neighborhoods with stucco houses, wide patios, and well-manicured lawns. One morning after a staff meeting, a fellow employee, Brian, needed a ride home. He was a senior in high school. He was tall and thin with clear blue eyes and bright blond hair. He lived in one of those beautiful gated communities, perched high up on a hill overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. There were trimmed hedges, and topiary swans and flamingos decorated the walkways. There were no bars on the windows of these homes, no graffiti-tagged fences or buildings. And there were certainly no factories. Up until that moment I thought that houses and places like this existed only on television. I didn’t think they were real, but then there they were right in front of me.

After decades away, I recently moved back to the San Gabriel Valley and have spent much of my time getting reacquainted with the streets and neighborhoods I once knew. In La Puente and the City of Industry there are still the same taquerías, still the same-looking men in work shirts, standing in line at the liquor store, cashing their checks and buying lottery tickets. Read Rest of Article Here


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