Venice gets new monument honoring Mexicans who contributed to Westside rail transit system

There’s no denying that the demographics of Los Angeles have changed over the years. Gentrification has plagued some of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, and people of color continue to be driven from their homes and communities. And with the withdrawal of these communities often comes the erasure of their histories, their cultures and their history.

For this reason, a group of residents of Venice seeks to honor Mexican and Mexican Americans who helped build the main rail transportation system. These railroad workers were better known as will track. Some were born in the United States and others migrated from different parts of Mexico in the late 1800s. Their work and contributions to this country will now be honored and preserved with the installation of a monument in Venice.

“It’s something we need,” said Laura Ceballos, head of the Venice Mexican Traqueros monument committee. “In 2015 when I came back to Venice I noticed gentrification, everything was very different, low income people, black and brown, were mostly driven out.”

The 51-year-old, born and raised in Venice, said she was inspired to advocate for the monument after noticing the change in her city and was also partly inspired by the memo nine-foot-tall Venetian Japanese.Rial Monument on Lincoln Boulevard and Venice.

“I saw how they were preserving all their history, so I was like, hey, you know what? This is something we should be doing because our history is being erased,” she told LA TACO over the phone. “And there’s nothing here that says we were here, we’ve been here, so we want to make sure we make our mark.”

According to Ceballos, the monument to be placed in Windward Circle will be the first monument in Venice depicting Mexican and Mexican American traqueros. Francisco “Frank” Juarez, who is also on the committee, said it was time to “tell our own stories.”

“Venice is become pretentious, and it is important that the people who arrive know that the very people who are the butt of their jokes and their hatred are the very people who have contributed to the development of the nation and who continue to do so until to date,” he said.

For Ceballos and his team, having a physical representation of the traqueros means acknowledging more than the work done by them but also all that followed. Many of the traqueros who came to work in the railroads eventually brought their families and settled in railroad camps located in Santa Monica, Culver City, and Pasadena. And while there is no exact number of how many Mexicans worked in the railroads at the turn of the 20th century, Mexicans were considered the primary immigrant laborer performing track work. Work documented in Jeffrey Marcos Garcilazo’s bookTraqueros: Mexican railroad workers in the United States. »

Photo via Pacific Electric Railroads magazine.
Photo via Pacific Electric Railroads magazine.
Photo via Pacific Electric Railroads magazine.

Ceballos explained how, during this period, the anti-Chinese violence and ultimately the China’s Exclusion Act of 1882 created what it described as a “great demand for weak and cheap labor”, prompting many people to hire Mexicans. Most of them came to the United States to find work or left their home countries due to social unrest.

“It’s very important that we educate the community because our history is rooted in the birth of Los Angeles and California,” she said. “As we all know, this [L.A.] was once part of Mexico; we are part of this American history, it is in the name of our streets in the name of our cities, almost all of them are in Spanish.

To keep their workers longer, the traqueros were reportedly encouraged to support their families in makeshift homes made from old covered wagons. The families that Ceballos said played a vital role in the lives of the traqueros. The women, in particular, are said to be the ones who “kept it going”, apart from some of them working on the railroads, they also often fed the workers.

Jose Preciado, a longtime resident of Venice, remembers stories of his grandfather when he worked as a railroad traquero. He tells the story of his father, Delfino Manuel Preciado, to his children to this day, how he was born in one of Oklahoma’s campsites before ending up in California. His grandfather, named after Jose Manuel Preciado, was from Guanajuato, Mexico, and worked as a track-laying worker. He met his grandmother Ventura at the campsites, and she was one of the women who brought food to the workers.

“Tacos wrapped in a canasta (basket), that’s how he met it, the women were making food, it was easy to make and easy to store, and they were going to hand it out,” said said Preciado, recalling the stories he heard. to grow.

For this reason, the 73-year-old was happy to hear about the bronze monument, including a traquero and his family by his side.

Rendering of the monument. Photo by Laura Cabellos.
    Ventura and Jose Manuel Preciado, Jose Preciado's grandparents who worked and lived in the railroad campsites.
Ventura and Jose Manuel Preciado, Jose Preciado’s grandparents who worked and lived in the railroad campsites. Photo courtesy of José Preciado.

“It was like that, my grandfather and his brother both worked as traqueros in Oklahoma and Santa Monica, and they started their own families there, so I would say that’s a great way to honor the families who came and the families who grew up on these tracks,” Preciado said.

His father and grandfather left him with many stories from that time, such as how workers and their families often relied on each other’s different cultural and natural remedies (remedies) to cure many illnesses. Or how the rumor runs in his family that his grandfather financed the Mexican revolution by sending money to one of his brothers, who would have dated the legendary Pancho Villa and his people.

“My grandfather used to give money to his brother who obviously used it to buy guns and ammunition and stuff like that for the revolution,” Preciado said.

He said he was proud of his grandfather and what he could contribute to the development of the railways. To say that if it weren’t for his trail laying work, he and his siblings probably wouldn’t be here, not just in Los Angeles but here, because his grandfather would never have met his grandfather. mother.

Stories like Preciado’s family are the type of stories Ceballos and the committee want to honor.

The monument has garnered support from the Los Angeles City Council, which voted last year to proceed with the installation of the bronze statue designed by Mexican artist and sculptor Jorge Marin. Ceballos said despite a bit of pushback from “gentrifiers and racists,” the overall community response has been great. And while the statute is expected to be completed by 2024, Ceballos and his team hope to continue sharing their knowledge and findings with their community to learn from other families who may have moved to Los Angeles due to the railroads. .

“I want to emphasize that even though the monument will be on the Westside, the tracks have been laid everywhere, the monument represents all of LA,” she said. “At the end of the day, people want to see things they can relate to, and they want to see themselves reflected in their history books and in their cities.”

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