AS A THIRD GENERATION Angeleno, I rarely stop to reflect that each of my grandparents met and married in Los Angeles. All four hailed from Mexico (two from the same town in Jalisco), and fled the first great revolution of the twentieth century — a conflict that spanned the better part of a decade. Growing up, the Mexican Revolution seemed like a distant, if colorful backdrop to my family history — a common enough story for a Chicana kid in L.A.
I had no understanding of what a cataclysmic event the revolution was in the history of Mexico, the development of Los Angeles, and burgeoning U.S. imperialism. What I did understand as a child was that my family, and many people like them, literally built the city. My grandfather worked as a laborer on the Coliseum and later on the railroad in South Gate, another grandfather joined the painters’ union after World War II. My Tía Lola worked in a cannery on Terminal Island, Aunt Rachel worked in the Farmer John’s slaughterhouse in Vernon, and my dad worked on the docks.
There has always been something rich, powerful, and deeply meaningful about this inter-generational history of labor. On the one hand, it is about a sense of belonging: this is my place in the world and it is where I fit in — it is where my personal and family stories are written into a larger historical narrative. The landscape — the sprawling visual of L.A. — is familiar and beloved (even if sometimes less than beautiful). But there is a visceral feeling that goes beyond a sense of belonging: simply put, as Mexicans and workers, we built this city. Therefore we are entitled to the fruits of our labor; we deserve credit and recognition for our contributions; we have a stake in the future of Los Angeles and the right to claim “the good life,” however we may define that. These were ideas that I internalized very early on. The activism that gives voice to these notions, on the other hand, wasn’t so easily identified.
My commitment to Los Angeles and to social justice led me to become an activist studying race and class struggles in L.A. It was during the course of one of my research projects (Black, Brown, Yellow and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles, UC Press, 2006), that I began collecting actual locations of resistance. One day I stumbled across a reference to the Flores Magón brothers, Ricardo and Enrique. Apparently, they published the revolutionary newspaper, Regneración just east of downtown Los Angeles in a nondescript concrete building (a site I spent considerable time just trying to find). The Regneración offices were part of a transnational network of activists who sought to overthrow the Mexican President, Porfirio Díaz, from outside the country. Their efforts were, in part, responsible for the Mexican Revolution. This “discovery” of the Flores Magón...read more