Ernie Gutierrez has spent a lifetime navigating the politics of El Monte. In this three-part interview he talks about segregation, the school system, problems of discrimination that Mexicans have faced through the generations in the city. He speaks about the history of the area as well as the present, and his work in the 1960’s and 70’s as an activist against the school district, in the Chicano movement, and in city politics, on city council and as mayor. He talks about his own life, growing up in Hicks Camp, his family’s background in Mexico, and his lifelong interest in education and city politics.
Interview Part I:
0:00 On the Segregation of Public Schools in El Monte. Before 1917 the schools were not segregated. After World War I, GI’s wanted rights, went to Washington and destroyed the parties. The Third party in politics was the KKK back then. On the KKK and increasing segregation in the 1920s. Mexicans perceived as only workers.
4:00 on the Perception of Mexicans only as workers. Self-reinforcing, as its then made into reality. Other groups left the fields. Their condition is naturalized, seen as normal. While some families leave the fields, others don’t. On Mexican discrimination against other Mexicans.
5:00 On how the majority go to the same bad schools. On the Southerners who moved to El Monte and wanted to name it Lexington. And differences between him and his brother Frank.
8:00 on Education and educational efforts. On a program in the 1970s where teachers were allowed to check if students had no-papers, and turn in people, and names found their way to INS. This was racial profiling. In 1974 the privacy act prevented that behavior, but they still did it. Many teachers and administrators did not raise objections, as schools got funds to participate. All the school districts were involved, and the funds were not used to educational purposes. On how the program was exposed.
15:00 On organizations he started and worked for- Mutalistas. They organization worked towards supporting Mexicans and ending maltreatment. Students were overly punished. Students were suspended for all sorts of reasons. Cops would round up truants, and students would have record for every little reason.
18:50 Police concentrated on those they thought were gang members. The cops in EL Monte and across the state have had to pay a lot in settlements, cases, etc to quiet families of wrongful deaths and abuses. Samuel Paz is a lawyer who has made a fortune on this. Police routinely use lethal force when they don’t have to, a person running away for example. African Americans and Chicanos today are saying that our people count.
24:00 several minutes on his daughter- private conversation.
28:10 Continued on the program where they tracked non-citizen students. His organization took the school board to the Superior Court. They enjoined the cases. The judge ruled against the schools, and the program ended.
30:00 When he got involved in politics. Growing up in Hick Camp. The conditions of the camp growing up, asking Hicks about the road conditions, and people did not ask questions. Grew up listening to stories about Mexican History from his father. And stories about how his father was treated as an agricultural worker.
34:00 Father was citrus picker in the San Gabriel Valley. La Verne was segregated. His schools were all segregated. The Japanese were also segregated. Fr Cofield’s efforts to help the kids in the community. Story of a veteran with a mixed race family, but the white kids wet to one school, and siblings went to segregated school. On the campaign to desegregate- forcing El Monte to desegregate.
39:00 On Saul Castro- Chicano movement. Blow outs of East LA.
41:00 on injustice in the school students. On Mexican students seen only as menial labor. On how kids would pick berries in their youth, working. He worked on Truck Farm crops. He started working at 12. His father owned a store, Siglo 20 Coop, part of a larger mutualist efforts.
44:00 On the Repatriation efforts, and deportations. Father was mason and had strong sense of rights. All five brothers served in the Army.
45:00 On the Berry strike of 1933. Starting in Hicks Camp. On the Co-op. On how the land belonged to Hicks. On mutalistas for funeral services. The Communist Party Unions of the 1930s. Mexican’s joined.
52:00 on Cesar Chavez protests. But that there were unions before that and strike activities in the 1930’s. AFL, CIO. They took food to Delano in 1966, meeting Dolores Huerta. He was teacher at Columbia School at the time. On his experience working with the UFW. On what the principles meant to him. On the pressure and thing people would tell him.
1:00 On his brothers not necessarily supporting his positions. During Vietnam war it seemed unpatriotic. People who were agricultural workers did not trust him. Going to visit other activists across the country. Including Colorado, New Mexico.
1:02 On the film, Salt of the Earth. On Lalo Rios, and other Chicano films. On his brothers going to Texas. His parents worked as assistant nany and the Smelter at El Paso- and then Kansas City, and got married in EL Paso. Other relatives lived in a box car in Kansas, there they cooked food for the workers.
1:05 Parents, mother’s family are from Juanacatlán Jalisco. Father was from Leon Guanajuato. Father worked on farm grandfather Ricardo, would take donkeys to get oranges and sell them in Leon. Mother left with grandmother and uncle to US, in El Paso. Mother came to Lordsburg California (La Verne) because they had relatives in the area. Grandfather died, and father was small, so he hauled dirt, so someone (relatives) told him to go to the US- Chicago, and he was also against the Catholic Church, because of their treatment of the poor. Shortly after 1910 (in the 10s), during the revolution.
1:10 On South El Monte. After WWII GI’s wanted to be part of El Monte, but they were rejected. The city was segregated, incident with bar sign. El Monte Theatre (at Valley and Tyler), incident. On an integrated pool Hall. The Swany River Dance Hall, which was the only integrated Dance Hall, and going dancing during high school.
1:14 On the El Monte Legion Stadium dance hall. Benny’s Barn, also a dance hall. The Tumblewheat, Valley, and another theatre. His brother was a GI and refused to go to segregated theatres.
1:17 On the jobs Mexicans took in El Monte in that time. Alex Castro was one of the first non-laboring workers, worked for Dupont- paint dye. One were truck drivers at the age of 14-15, he started driving at age of 13. He Mainly worked in his father’s store- at the corner of Hickson and Main Street.
1:20 On his father’s store. Had subscriptions to several newspapers. He was a mason and knew many stories. They were not friends of the Catholic Church before Fr Cofield, but he brought them back.
1:24 They send siblings to another school but that was segregated as well. Family tried various times to leave segregated systems. Palamares school.
1:25 on His father’s background. Worked in Kansas Railroad (Santa Fe), and the El Paso smelter. Juarez as the nicer city back then. Father had family in Chicago. If his father did not like job he would tell someone, or leave- he left. On the Mexican Revolution and the effect it had on migration. On Mexico, and the reasons people left Mexico.
1:30 going back to Mexico to visit.
1:31 parents went to California to meet grandmother, who was already there.
1:32 On migrating to the US. On problems today- Deportation of undocumented servicemen. On his own service in the military.
1:35 On Japanese Interment, and the end of the community in SGV. The Relationship between the Japanese community and the Mexican community. There was some intermarriage. On meeting a Japanese-Mexican man, and finding mixed families.
1:39 On going to Rosemead High School. Mostly Mexicans, Italians, and other ethnics groups. And then went into Army.
1:42 On becoming a teacher in 1960, aught sixth grade. Worked for LAUSD for adult teacher, till fired. His students blew out a class- protested. Offered job at UCLA, high potential program Then became high school teacher.
1:43 On meeting Olga and getting married. Met at East LA college.
Interview Part II: Missing. On City Politics.
Interview Part III:
0:20 On what he would like to see in the future for El Monte. On increasing city identify and pride. On suggestions to make the city more beautiful. That the city has to have trust.
7:40 On current urban redevelopment plans, the building of Walmart, etc.
12:30 On the school district, its organization.
16:00 general thoughts on leadership, on the Mexican President Pena Nieto.
18:00 On Race relations today. Some forms of discrimination, but against the undocumented its worse.
20:00 on general situation among Chicanos today. On vaccinations. On demographic future of Latinos.