Stories

Boyle Heights: The Power of Place

A neighborhood is made up of people and places. It is defined through the experiences of those who consider it home. It holds their hopes for the future and the memories of the past. Boyle Heights has been home to people who have come to Los Angeles from different cities, states, and countries, who have different beliefs and traditions, and who speak different languages. Through the stories of past and present neighborhood residents, Boyle Heights: The Power of Place explores how the experiences and memories of many generations of Angelenos intersect in this powerful place.

Japanese Americans have a unique and rich tie to Boyle Heights. Stories about the relationships among Japanese Americans and their Latino, African American, and Jewish neighbors illustrate the devastating nature of incarceration, while also celebrating the human bond among people of various cultural backgrounds within the community. The exhibition includes a collection of letters written to African American Boyle Heights teenager Mollie Wilson by her Nisei girlfriends. The letters describe daily life at the Santa Anita Assembly Center as well as at the concentration camps at Manzanar, Amache, Poston, Gila River, and Heart Mountain. During a recent interview, Ms. Wilson recalled, "I had a lot of emotions, but one was the unfairness. I have always thought, if they can do it to them, they can do it to me too. Thatís always in the back of your mind."

The exhibition features materials -- photographs, artifacts, moving images, and oral histories -- that demonstrate the personal and experiential intersections that tie together the lives of many different people in the neighborhood. One former resident, Leo Frumkin, fondly relays, "To this day, Iíll run across people I havenít seen in 30 or 40 years. Itís just a certain bond Ö itís hard to explain. It was just a large family, a fellowship. I think it was the most wonderful experience anybody could have had in that period of time, and I relish it." Another former resident, Buddy Weber, describes the sense of belonging he felt growing up: "You always felt at home and very comfortable, like you belonged. Thatís the secret of Boyle Heights. We belonged. If I were to say anything about the whole life of which I was proudly a part, it was belonging."

- Boyle Heights: The Power of Place was on exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum from September 8, 2002 Ė February 23, 2002. Visit the project website >>




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