East of East

East of East: Mapping Community Narratives

A Project of the South El Monte Arts Posse

Elisa Beltran and Evelyn Gonzales

Interview with Elisa Beltran and Evelyn Gonzales

The Beltran Family has lived in El Monte in 101 years at the same location, on a parcel of land at what are today Orchard and Cypress streets in the Medina Court neighborhood (formerly the Medina Court barrio). The family came in 1914, Elisa’s father in law purchased two acres of land for growing walnuts. The patriarch and his wife died when Elisa’s husband (Eveyln’s father) was 12, and the children (aged 1-18 at the time) survived by selling walnuts, working in the fields all around El Monte, and selling some of the land, but they were still very poor and scraped by, with Elisa’s husband resorting to stealing food on occasion (but as Elisa remembers, they were “hard workers” who “never asked for a handout”.

Elisa’s own upbringing in East LA was similarly challenging; her father left when she was a small child, and her single mother raised three daughters during the Depression, sometimes on only a glass of milk a day (and perhaps some spaghetti from a kindly landlord). Elisa attended a segregated school where speaking Spanish was forbidden and where they Anglicized her name to Alice, but she left at 14 to work in agriculture to help support her family, and after the end of the war (in which her husband fought), she met him in La Puente, was married, and moved to El Monte to the Beltran family property. At this point, El Monte was developing as an industrial area, and a foundry was built across the street from their house. The many returning brothers divided the property, and bought houses from Pasadena that were in the path of the planned 210 freeway and moved them to El Monte (calling them “freeway houses”). Elisa’s husband worked construction and suffered from alcoholism, but she remembers him as a “good provider,” and she raised seven children on homemade, traditional Mexican food and the occasional giant pot of spaghetti, which Evelyn remembers fondly. Her childhood was spent among the many cousins on the family land in various freeway houses, which they called the “Holy Land.” They enjoyed trips to Legion Stadium for roller derby and the El Monte Theater for movies, but mostly spent time at home, and even at school, they moved in an extended-family orbit that Evelyn feels sheltered her from the worst discrimination (though she did notice it by high school).

One of her father’s brothers became a police officer in El Monte and is still alive, with many stories to tell (they recommended reaching out to him). Evelyn graduated from Arroyo HS and worked in factories and many other jobs while raising three children on her own, who have gone on to college, and her mother is proud of her own struggle in a world that they both feel is increasingly difficult to raise children in. Their property remains in Medina Court, as do the “freeway houses,” but it has been substantially reduced, including by the city, which possessed a chunk of the land to build a road to Father Caulfield’s church (they also blame the Father), and yet will not name it after them (on account of no one in their family being a celebrity).

Elisa Beltran and Evelyn Gonzales