Los Angeles, CA – Vincent Montalvo and Melissa Arechiga have had their hands full in the last five years. They are both active members of their community in the city of Los Angeles, and are activists for the memory of the displaced residents of La Loma, Bishop, and Palo Verde.
“One of the most important things to note here is that the neighborhood is not called Chavez Ravine,” Arechiga tells me. Her great-grandmother was Abrana Arechiga, a central figure in the debacle between the citizens of these neighborhoods, the Dodger corporation, and the city of Los Angeles in the 1950’s. Montalvo’s family also came from the same neighborhood that Melissa was raised in and have seen their ancestors be subject to modern day colonization from the Dodger corporation, the city of Los Angeles, as well as the overall destruction of a community under the guise of stopping communism.
“Buried under the Blue” is the namesake for the non-profit started by Arechiga and Montalvo in 2017, aiming to tell the story behind the construction of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Three neighborhoods were built throughout the course of forty years and by 1940, La Loma, Bishop and Palo Verde were thriving, semi-rural communities made of Mexican immigrants. The city of Los Angeles labeled this area as “blighted” and a slum in order to destroy and steal generational wealth from the Brown people living here. They decided it was time to redevelop the hilly area.
By 1949, a plan to build public housing was put into play in order to address the housing shortage after the end of World War II, with the assistance of funds from the Federal Housing Act of 1949. Some residents were asked to sell their homes by local owners who bought the land, initially being offered cash payments. These were homes residents had built on their own. Some of them sold, but most refused, and some were tricked or scared into selling with underhanded and deceitful tactics.
This resulted in a ten year battle by residents to maintain control of their property, after the land had become public. Many residents were displaced, where videos show police forcibly removing people from their homes, dragged out by their arms and legs. Abrana Arechiga and her daughter Aurora “Lola” Vargas were among the last ones standing. The stage was set for developers to build two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 150 2-story townhouses.
In 1953, at the height of the Red Scare, Norris Poulson was elected mayor of Los Angeles. He deemed the public housing plan “un-American” and had the city buy the land back from the Federal Housing Authority to repurpose it for a public use. During the “baseball referendum,” the city provided incentives to baseball team Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who was looking to sell the team. He moved the team to Los Angeles, and Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. This is the short version of this story, with the detailed version involving backroom deals, corruption in city hall and city officials under FBI investigation. Not only this, Poulson was put in to run against the current mayor to do exactly what he did with the land.
The book “Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between” written by Eric Nusbaum chronicles the stadium’s dark history of displacement.
“That story was very political. Eric is a fan of the corporation. He tries to explain it but falls short,” Arechiga said.
“It tells the story of the communities being taken away and how Dodger Stadium came in. What we are aiming to do is tell the human side of this story. The narrative we always hear is that the immigrants didn’t know anything – the community was broke and it was a bunch of dumb Mexicans who knew nothing about the world. That was the perspective from white people. What they don’t understand is that these communities were sustainable and lived outside of the city. Police were never involved. They handled everything on their own. They owned their property in a time during redlining [covenants and segregation before redlining] when people of color were not allowed to own property. They had their own economy,” Montalvo said.
The Montalvo and Arechiga families are very close, having grown up in the same communities. Montalvo’s mother was the last person to be born in Palo Verde and Arechiga’s great-grandmother is Abrana Arechiga, one of the central figures in the battle for their homes.
“Everything out there about this story is written from an outsider’s perspective. There has never been anything with the foundational narrative of this being what it is, which is an open wound, really. People have said that we are ‘beating a dead horse’ when telling this story, and of course that is what is from the point of view of outsiders and colonizers,” Arechiga said.
Both Montalvo and Arechiga understood the framework of how to spread awareness about their families’ stories. what was needed to build the vehicle of spreading awareness regarding the story being told.
“We had to create a gatekeeper system, where we built our own museum, which is our way of protecting the history. My grandfather told us this story many times – Dodger Stadium being a giant middle finger to us,” Montalvo says.
“No stone will be left unturned. We will tell the story of how women gave birth, how they took care of each other’s health issues. Everything will be shown.” Arechiga adds.
Recently, five activists wore shirts that said “Displacers” in Dodger lettering during a baseball game. Three of them ran onto the field while the other two unfurled a 24-foot banner in the stands that said “#NotChavezRavine” which also bore the names of the communities.
“We would like a formal, public apology from the city of Los Angeles as well as the Dodger corporation. We would like reparations for the families of the homeowners and renters. Three community centers that hold the names of La Loma, Palo Verde and Bishop and not of Chavez Ravine,” Arechiga says.
These are the demands that Buried Under the Blue have for the city. “We also want our artifacts back. There is a school, created by the community – Palo Verde Elementary, buried under the stadium, where the roof was torn off and dirt thrown on top. We want everything inside of there given back,” Arechiga adds.
These artifacts will make a fine addition to the planned three community centers and museum, which is also in its developmental stages. In a time where people of color’s history is being erased, Vincent Montalvo and Melissa Arechiga are writing a new chapter.
My beloved late mother told us about what the city did to these families. We grew up in LA, first on same street as San Antonio Winery, and then in the mostly in working class Atwater district (since gentrified to be known as Atwater Village). Being a Mexican-American family, Mom wanted us to be aware of how racist politics affects real people and real families. It was basically for that reason that dear old Mom NEVER rooted for the Dodgers. She also said that they didn’t very interested in signing latino players in the 60’s either. She was happy to root for the SF Giants which had Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, the Alou brothers. She was actually a big Willie Mays fan though! The closest she ever got toward rooting for a Dodger was during Fernandomania (who didn’t root for him?). Anyways, she’s in heaven now and I hope the Big Dodger In The Sky never asks her about this.