Monte, A-Z Biographies: A Response to the WPA
If we all agree that a lie is a lie, is that enough to replace it with the truth? If the people who started this lie are no longer here, why does it linger? Where does it get its strength? What do we need to defeat it?
For at least the last one-hundred years, the city of El Monte has proudly claimed to be the “End of the Santa Fe Trail” and centered its entire history around this founding myth. With this lie, El Monte officials sought to connect El Monte to Westward Expansion after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, firmly lodge the city within the U.S. nation-state, and cut off anything or anyone that came before (or after) the first American families in El Monte in the 19th century.
For the Los Angles Public Libraries’ exhibit Something in Common—and as part of our on-going work—the South El Monte Arts Posse took close look at how this lie was supported and bolstered during the Great Depression of the 1930. As Mexicans were being coerced or forced out of the country, President Roosevelt’s Workers Progress Administration worked with El Monte City to produce El Monte: From the Pioneer days History and Biographical Sketches and built a community center and library, which would eventually become the El Monte Historical Society.
To help defeat this lie we’ve invited scholars to use our SEMAP book and archive to begin writing a new book of biographies. Here, you’ll find an introduction that situates and explains how the federal government used the WPA to foster El Monte’s pioneer narrative and myth and the values, goals, and ethos that guides our work. We also invited artists and community members to write, draw, and paint over the WPA-produced poem “To our Pioneers,” which opens El Monte: From the Pioneer days History and Biographical Sketches. Lastly, with input from community members and Tongva Elder Gloria Arellanes, Daniel González produced a seal for the people of El Monte who identity with its radical past. This, along with other responses to the pioneer narrative will be on display at the Los Angeles Public Library from May 7th to November, 2022.