It has been a long time since Romeo Guzmán and Carribean Fragoza founded the South El Monte Arts Posse in 2011. And not long after, in 2013, Romeo and Cari linked up with our founding editors, Alex Cummings and Ryan Reft, to see if ToM would like to partner with SEMAP; we would serve as a platform for essays and art from their unprecedented community project about El Monte and South El Monte, two cities in California’s vast and diverse San Gabriel Valley (SGV) where many pivotal historical events and movements have unfolded.
What followed were years of collaboration with literally dozens of contributors and community members, conducting oral histories, staging guerrilla art performances, unearthing lost or ignored archives, and retelling the stories of the SGV. Throughout, we were committed to genuinely participatory, community-engaged scholarship and creative production — and, above all, what we call “burning the wagon.” The frontier myth that celebrated white American colonizers as the protagonists and heroes of El Monte’s journey has obscured, silenced, and marginalized the incredible range of experiences of Asian, indigenous, Latinx, LGBT, and many other communities in making of today’s multiethnic, working-class suburbia — on the edge of greater LA, literally “east of East LA.”
We always hoped that a book would be one outcome of this years-long, collaborative undertaking, alongside a digital archive, artistic performances, and a variety of other partnerships across urban and transnational lines. We just weren’t sure what form the book would take, and who would publish it. We extremely lucked out with Rutgers University Press, which embraced the project for its wonderful Latinidad: Transnational Cultures in the United States series, edited by Matt Garcia.
East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte is an edited collection of thirty-one essays that trace the experience of a California community over three centuries, from eighteenth-century Spanish colonization to twenty-first century globalization. Employing traditional historical scholarship, oral history, creative nonfiction and original art, the book provides a radical new history of El Monte and South El Monte, showing how interdisciplinary and community-engaged scholarship can break new ground in public history. East of East tells stories that have been excluded from dominant historical narratives—stories that long survived only in the popular memory of residents, as well as narratives that have been almost completely buried and all but forgotten. Its cast of characters includes white vigilantes, Mexican anarchists, Japanese farmers, labor organizers, civil rights pioneers, and punk rockers, as well as the ordinary and unnamed youth who generated a vibrant local culture at dances and dive bars.
We could not be more excited about the opportunity to share these stories with our communities, our students, and readers everywhere. We truly believe East of East and the South El Monte Arts Posse can serve as models for a new kind of public history. And we are so grateful to the many, many local people who generously shared their stories, and the writers and artists and activists who gave their time and creativity for what was always an idealistic and unlikely project.
If you’re a teacher, a community member, a lover of urbanism or just great stories, please consider giving East of East a shot. If you teach Ethnic Studies, urban history, oral history, public history, or creative nonfiction, it might be a great fit for your class. Rutgers did an amazing job putting the book together, and at a competitive price. It’s available in cloth, paperback, PDF, and EPUB.