East of East

East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte

A Project of the South El Monte Arts Posse

Interview with Manuel Martinez and Ofelia (Martinez) Silva

Dublin Core


Interview with Manuel Martinez and Ofelia (Martinez) Silva


Oral History with Manuel Martinez and Ofelia Silva


Manuel Martinez and Ofelia Silva, brother and sister who have spent most of their lives in El Monte. They lived in La Mission and have seen events in the LA area from the 1920’s to the present, their lives included World war II, segregation, the Bracero program. They were among the first Mexicans to graduate high school in the city.


Daniel Morales


SEMAP East of East


January, 15 2015

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Daniel Morales


Manuel Martinez and Ofelia Silva


South El Monte

Time Summary

0:30 Introduction. Manuel Martinez introduces himself. He was born in Los Angeles. Parents Leonaides Viveros, and Agapito Martinez. Mother from Michoacán, Father was from Irapato, Guanajuato. Grandfather was teacher, he had sharecroppers. He was acting judge of the area, and came because of the Revolution. Father didn’t know much about his family. Father moved to the US with great-grandfather.
4:30 His father worked in the railroads, and in the fields and many odd jobs in Arizona. Niles Arizona? Ended up in Fontana. He worked in railroads, and his uncle also came (San Bernardino) to work on railroads. Lived in a worker’s camp. Parents met when mother’s father bought land in California right across from the labor camp, where father worked.
7:15 Grandfather owned acre of Land in Fontana, a house. Kaiser Steel moved in the 1940’s and built a plant there during the war.
9:30 father worked for Blue Diamond sand and gravel in Los Angeles, family moved to LA. Moved to El Monte in 1939, Mexican settlement, in La Mission.
10:30 He arrived in 1939, he went to Temple School. Father’s company had gravel pit in Irwindale, and there was a brother-in law in the settlement. And that was the reason they came to El Monte. It was rural, no roads, etc
13:00 father built their own house and al the parts needed to make it run. Whole family lived in four rooms. Wood stove, they heat their own water.
15:30 very high water table, they would swim in the river and swam area. His sister was one of the first to go to the new high school in 1939.
17:31 Description of La Mission. Other barrios. (Las Flores, Hicks Camp, Medina Court, etc). Canta Ranas was also by La Mission. Dirt roads, everyone built their own homes. On how old box cars from railroad camps were turned into homes. The wells flowed freely. They grew crops.
24:00 on resistence to letting daughters go to school and traditional values. He learned to play the piano.
25:00 He had a band and they played music throughout the entire neighborhood and beyond.
28:50 the family would all go north to pick in the fields, orchards. Everyone would live in tents and little houses.
29:45 Mexican and Japanese kids all went to school together. They would teach them apart, obsessively because they didn’t know English and had to be taught separately. The Main school was all white, he was the only latino in the band.
31:20 families would all go and work together in the fields picking as a unit, and it was seen as a source of good income. Many familes were on county aid during the Depression.
32:30 father went to Mexico, originally planned to stay there. Oldest sister born in Mexico. Stayed five years there but things didn’t work out and they came back to the US, they came back to Los Angeles. (in the early 1930’s- reference to repatriation?). On his teacher and Christmas celebrations. The family baled hay in Montebello.
37:00 the neighborhood parties started to get larger and larger, and so people from Los Angeles would come out to El Monte for the parties and on holiday. On how you never left your neighborhood if you left to see a girl. Father and Mother married in 1921.

Martinez Interview Part 2

00.21 Ofelia Silva, sister of Manuel Martinez introduces herself and joins us for the rest of the discussion. Parents married in November 1921. Father was living in 16th street LA, mother in Fontana.
1:10 In 1925 the moved back to Mexico. About two years, Ofelia was born. He was going to make a store, had $2000 to create business. But the business failed because every other family member took loans or goods on credits. They were driven out of business. In Guanajuato, in Avasolo? They came back in 1927 to the US. The house in Mexico was a square.
3:10 she went to school in LA and started high school in El Monte, in El Monte Highschool. She was one of two Mexican girls in the high schools. All the families went to Fresno pick fruit during the summers, so at the beginning to school year there were no other Mexicans in the barrios. Father had local job in gravel quarry, so he didn’t leave. They never went north to pick fruits.
4:20 they lived in Los Angeles when the 1933 Berry Strike happened, before they got to El Monte. The dad had job, and the Great Depression. They were one of the few families that were stable during the depression. Reference to repatriation/county charity program. Their uncles and relatives went to Mexico, the government was supposed to want them. But later their children returned to the US. One of their relatives, Margarita, stayed in the US. Those that came back didn’t stay very long in Mexico.
7:00 during World War II, many families sent their boys to Mexico so they wouldn’t be drafted. Many were killed. Margarita’s husband was awol, he went to jail.
8:25 they moved to La Mission in 1939, but there was prejudice in the city. She was very miserable in high school. The teachers discriminated, and a rope separated the Mexicans and the white people. She hated the segregation of the town, even the Catholic churches (Guadalupe and Epiphany) were segregated. She still has nighmared about it. She remembers a lot of long walks in the mud because it was the only way to get to the bus to school. She was the last one to get a ride home. She didn’t have many friends, teachers didn’t like her, but she graduated high school.
10:30 On how she was the only girl in the Mexican community who went to high school, even against a lot of pressure to dro out from the community. She was hired at Sears. Family memebrs all worked in the fields, and food processing.
12:30 her husband served in the army. They were teenagers when World War II started, so didn’t serve in it, but instead provide account of the homefront.
13:24 She bought warbonds, and she still has war bonds. She just recently turned in 1940’s warbonds, one $100 bond was cashed in for $1000, andother time she got $11,000 for bonds. She still has others.
15:00 New Deal programs, job programs. They got loans and government programs. They were already poor so Depression didn’t change anything.
16:30 On the Japanese Community of El Monte. They were taken away to internment. They left, and didn’t come back. On anti-Japanese feeling in the community.
18:22 on hiding their Mexican food in high school, they were made fun of. And a lot of discrimination.
20:30 on anti-black segregation, and continuing segregation right after the war.
21:45 on Mexican social norms. Ofelia’s life was much more restricted, she was not allowed to go dancing or to the parties the boys went to. She knew her boyfriend only through letters, she didn’t know him very well before they got married.
23:00 on the roles the family members played in the armed forces.
25:00 Manuel, in Korea, he played music for the honor guard. He went on pilgrimage to the Virgin de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
28:00 On the Bracero Program, starts during the war. Fr Cofield starts gatherings during the war, the braceros only know how to dance corridos, while the girls wanted to dance American music. The braceros had their own camps, their own cooks, medicals, etc. the gatherings were in Medina Court. The Baceros worked together with the Meixcans who were living in El Monte. The Martinez family worked in the fields with Braceros.
32:00 on Braceros and Mexicans- the old Mexicans (settled ones) couldn’t stand the new Braceros, wetbacks, etc, called them names. The new migrants were younger, would take their girlfriends, wives, and even their jobs.
34:00 Blue Diamond sand and gravel, they have a place in Irwindale.
34:45 they lived right next to the red car trolly’s to los Angeles. In El Monte there was only one bus out to La Mission. They liked to go to main street in LA.
36:00 Ofelia got a post-war job at sears. And on the original owners of the land.
37:00 Tamaso who owned all the land, no one wanted it. The father bought an acre property for a thousand.
38:00 the factories arrived during the war, a lot after the war. In 1958 South El Monte was created, the factory owners wanted to do this.
39:00 on the end of La Mission. No one owned land there. In 1946 the house was moved. They were told that they had to get out. They no compensation for being kicked out of their neighborhood. The city later used eminent domain to take part of their lawn away to make a park. They all moved by 1947. Expansion of park, the new neighborhood was fairly rural.
42:45 the families went in different directions, abut about four families moved into the block they currently live on in South El Monte.
43:45 on Father Cofield of Guadalupe Church. He was very useful, he married them.
45:00 On their wedding they got a large space, no alcohol.
45:50 on Legion Stadium, and the music and events there. Art Leboe. Manuel’s band played at legion stadium. Talks about the band for a while. They were from Azusa.
47:00 Ofelia was nto allowed to go dancing unless the parents were there, and they went home as soon as she wanted to dance. The mom was very pro-American, while the Dad was very strict and seen as “Mexican” and traditional. Yet he eventually became a citizen, so did mother.
51:00 travel to Fontana, on taking public transit across the entire LA basin.
54:00 on their small home and whole family living in a few small rooms. On belief that Mexicans held that they would go back to Mexico, so they didn’t invest in property.
56:00 on the construction of the highways, and the land the family bought.
57:00 on going to college. PCC rejected them because they said they would not take Mexicans, in the 1940’s. So Ofelia could not go to college.
59:00 Manuel worked in army and then got a job after high school. Worked for Ford Motor Company. He was first Mexican clerk in post-office.
1:03:15 Story of how Manuel met his wife. The dances, that Fr Cofield organized. Lots of Mexicans from the whole area, from LA, form San Gabriel Valley, Azusa, etc all came to El Monte for the dances. Married in 1947. Ofelia met her husband’s twin, so he was drafted, and so she switched to talking to his brother instead, and when he went to war, they worte letters to each other.
1:05 On the world career lives of Manuel in the post Office and Ofelia at Sears. Both places there was a lot of pressure to Americanize. And then created a printing business that succeeded.
1:12:00 Closing thought on gorwing up in La Mission and South El Monte.
1:16:00 Tample School and High school pictures and yearbook. Remembrances of school experience. And Gay’s Lion Farm.
1:21:00 on local doctor in El Monte who treated Mexicans. And on La Historia society and other old timers. A little bit on Pachucos and the Zoot-Zuit riots. Manuel and Ofelia were not friends with them and sought to stay in school. On codes of conduct in the barrios. on Jamestown, another barrio that has not been mentioned before.
1:30:00 on leaving the Catholic Church and change from American to Mexican church
1:36:00 On buying a house by pretending they were Italian, they didn’t sell to Mexicans back then
1:42:00 On Why they call the area “Canta Ranas”
1:49 On the senior band that they still have. Later on family history of working in Arizona, and coming by railroad to California.




Daniel Morales, “Interview with Manuel Martinez and Ofelia (Martinez) Silva,” East of East, accessed June 18, 2021, https://semapeastofeast.com/items/show/2.