South El Monte Arts Posse

Founded in 2011 by Carribean Fragoza, SEMAP is a collective of artists, writers, urban planners, educators, scholars, farmers, ecologists, swap meet vendors, and youth dedicated to engaging with the South El Monte and El Monte community through the arts by rethinking our use of space and transforming how we inhabit it. Unlike most arts organization, we do not house SEMAP operations and projects in a building. This is an integral part of our community-building process as it ensures that all our projects are site-specific works of public art. When we exhibit in gallery spaces, we make sure to translate the public and often process-based nature of the projects for gallery audiences, often integrating interactive and participatory elements.

SEMAP believes that the nature and function of space is constructed by the imaginings of the people who take it upon themselves to shape it. Our mission is to shift the relationship between the bodies of SEM/EM residents and transients and the physical spaces they inhabit by using art to foster agency, ownership, and grassroots democracy. We seek to create a sense of ownership of community not based on proprietorship over buildings or land, but based on residents’ connection to place through personal and communal narratives. By building community across varied and diverse groups and interests in SEM/EM we seek to find points of intersection. In doing so, we create opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to imagine possibilities for positive change in their community. Through the arts, SEMAP strives to democratize access to both art practices and place making.

East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in El Monte and South El Monte

El Monte’s encroaching centennial in 2012 encouraged new ways of thinking about its history and new methods of conveying El Monte’s present and past to its residents and the broader public. The South El Monte Arts Posse used this historical date as an opportunity to launch the public history and place-making project, “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte,” which was funded by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. This initial grant and communal labor helped launch what would become a decade-long and award-winning project to excavate, organize, and publicize this history. It would also provide the seeds for a practice and theory of public history, which can be summarized by three central objectives: 1) To build reciprocal relationships between historians (scholars) and the public by placing community members at the center of the historical process: the creation of archives and dissemination and reception of new narratives; 2) to create multiple homes for “primary” and “secondary” sources and provide multiple forms for history to exist in the world and for folks to connect with the past; and 3) to use the archive and historical narratives to alter the physical landscape and to foster within El Monte’s communities of color a collective claim to place. This project has resulted in a 3,000+ digital archive, the book East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, high school curriculum (on-going), new murals, and radical new cartography through walking and bike tours.

Omeka Digital Archive

This site was created by professor Romeo Guzmán’s Claremont Graduate University Archives 311 course as part of the Whiting Foundation’s Public Fellows Program. More specifically, this digital archive is intended to support the upcoming walking and biking tours, collectively titled “A New Cartography for Greater El Monte” and curriculum for Ethnic Studies courses at El Monte Union High School District. Each bike/walking tour is organized as an “exhibit” and within each exhibit you will find “pages” that correlate to stops or physical locations. The tours/exhibits and stops/pages are based on the East of East book and the SEMAP archive and provide an introduction to themes and topics that we will discuss on the tours. Each person who joins us on a walking/bike tour will receive a limited edition map created by an acclaimed Los Angeles artist.

We will publish a new exhibit in anticipation of a new bike ride/walking tour. So come back. We'll have more soon.

The exhibits and pages have a wealth of information and really cool photographs, oral history interviews, government documents, and old newspapers. While we hope that folks will join us on the tours, we also encourage folks who can’t attend to browse the material and learn about Greater El Monte’s past. And of course, if you want to learn more, we hope you will check out East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte from one of the many LA Public Library or purchase a copy.


Since 2011, SEMAP has collaborated with artists, scholars, educators, and organizations and institutions, which includes La Casa del Hijo del Ahuizote, La Historia Society, Mexicali Rose, ActiveSGV, KCET, Tropics of Meta, El Monte Union High School District, Columbia University, Claremont Graduate University. 

On-Going Work

East of East is much about relationships as it is about creating alternative histories and ways to experience place. We're always excited to collaborate and to continue to expanding our oral history interviews and archival material. In short, we look forward to hearing from you.