Written by Lucero Benitez, COSS Communications Specialist
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.
Edited by Fresno State History Assistant Professor Dr. Romeo Guzman and part-time lecturer Carribean Fragoza, 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.
It is the first historical account of El Monte/South El Monte and will likely be used in El Monte High Schools to teach Ethnic Studies, California and U.S. history.
The College of Social Sciences asked Guzman about the importance of the book release.
Why did you decide to publish this book?
In 2012, the City of El Monte, located just east of East Los Angeles, celebrated its centennial anniversary as it had most years –by celebrating an all-white-pioneer past and touting itself as “The End of the Santa Fe Trail.” The problem was that both claims were untrue. As a historian and writer, I and South El Monte native Carribean Fragoza, used the centennial celebration as an opportunity to work with community members to build an archive and ultimately re-write the history of El Monte. East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte is the product of eight years of labor and shows that for the last 300 years, people of color have consistently fought against white supremacy.
How is the book release relevant to current events?
The book and East of East project are models for doing public history. Valley Public History Initiative and all its project use the East of East model to build local history. As such, they are part of a newish effort to build histories and stories from the ground-up.
How was this publication possible?
The book is an edited volume and emerges from a public history project. As such it was made possible by scholars, novelists, artists, high school educators, and community members working together. To write these histories we had to first collect stories from El Monte/South El Monte residents. It also received funding from a variety of local, regional, and national agencies.
What do you want people to learn from it?
El Monte/South El Monte offers a new way to understand the history of California from the Indigenous era all the way to the present. It also offers a model for writing histories that center people of color and other marginalized groups.
What did you learn in the process of editing this book?
We knew going into it that El Monte and South El Monte mattered, but we were still very surprised to learn about the area’s deep history of activism, which included muralism and theater. We also did not expect to develop a model for doing public history.
Guzman and Fragoza founded the South El Monte Arts Posse (SEMAP) in 2011. Not long after, in 2013, they linked up with Tropics of Meta (ToM) founding editors, Alex Cummings and Ryan Reft, to see if ToM would like to partner with SEMAP to 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 unfolded.
What followed were years of collaboration with 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.