Category Archives: South El Monte

Mid Valley News: S. El Monte Meets Philly at Columbia University

A few weeks ago JT and Huewayne spoke about their work with youth in Philly and South El Monte at Columbia University. We wrote a short piece for the Mid Valley News so we could get copies to the High School Students. There is something really awesome about the physicality of print media. If you are in South El Monte/El Monte be sure to pick up a copy! ALSO Jt and Huewayne will be mailing us huge prints (11 by 17 and 32 by 40) of photos taken by youth in Philly and South El Monte. Can’t wait to share them with the High School students.

Click Here for Mid Valley Piece.


Black Arts Collective and South El Monte High to Participate in Columbia’s History in Action

Last Fall JT Roane and Huewayne Watson, of the Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia and Real Revolution, spent two weeks living and making work in South El Monte. Taking advantage of El Monte’s Centennial celebration, they worked with over 100 youth at South El Monte High School to collaboratively construct alternative historical narratives. Huewayne  introduced students to the language of cimarrones and maroons to help them develop a critical vocabulary from which to conceptualize alternative histories in alternative spaces. Students shared a number of stories relayed from grandparents, parents, and neighbors about all pasts that would likely never find home in an academic textbook for high school students. JT and Huewayne used these stories to construct and tell a counter history of the place from the perspectives of students of color who live in El Monte and South El Monte, one that differs significantly from El Monte’s official museum which suggests that the place should be narrated exclusively in the voice of “pioneers” and their descendants.  The following day they invited the same high school students to participate in an after school photo shoot/ dance party/ hike in a river bed that is part of the waterways where legendary Mexican “bandito” Joaquin Murrieta is believed to have hidden from white vigilantes.


They will be showing photographs from this project-including photographs taken by South El Monte High School-at  Columbia University’s conference History in Action: Historical Thinking in Public Life, to take place March 8th and 9th. Exhibit will be at Friday, 6:15, at French House, the building in front of Philosophy hall. The conference will bring together graduate students, professors, and non-academic professionals with university training “to take stock of the place of historical thinking in public life and assess the roles and responsibilities of the historian today.” Schedule looks great, if you are in NYC go check it out. Schedule here.

SEMAP’s First Artist Residency (Nov 11-21)

SEMAP’s 10 day non-LA based artist residency, one of three residencies SEMAP hopes to offer, will support the work of emerging non-LA based artists who work outside the “centers” of art, explore topics/subjects not often examined by mainstream institutions, and engage questions related to space. While this residency is for non-LA based artists, its ultimate goal is to produce a reciprocal understanding of place: art projects will speak to, work in, and engage space in El Monte/South El Monte and the artists’ hometown. Residency is currently by invitation only.

We’re really excited to have James T. Roane and Huewayne Watson, of the Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia, as our first artists in residence. “Where Are the Bodies,” their contribution to the on-going vacant lot series Activate Vacant, will examine the displacement of black and brown bodies, particularly thinking through El Monte and Philly’s distinct, but similar geographies and histories. We’ll be posting more about “Where Are the Bodies,” and the Black Arts Collective this coming week so stay tuned. And holler if you see us roaming the streets and vacant lots of S. El Monte.

P.S. check out their tumblr for a nice visual narrative of their time in Cali

Backaryd Art in the SGV

It carefully hangs from the barbed ends of a chain link fence, the neighbor’s red wooden fence serving as its foreground. The admission price is free, but you have to walk under the green lime tree and through the clothesline to get to it.

It is an unlikely place to find art, which seems fitting for its equally odd trajectory. It was originally bought at a local swap meet or tianguis in Oaxaca, Mexico. After years of wearing it around the SGV and greater Los Angeles, it’s owner, a South El Monte resident, accidently forgot it in the trunk of her car. The t-shirt became the victim of a leaky bottle of car oil and was eventually thrown in the family garage, as if banished to the future life of a rag cloth; to be used for cleaning bathrooms, washing cars, or kitchen tables. Noticing la Virgen, her father saved it from its likely doom, carefully hanging it in their backyard. And there it lies, an old t-shirt, that became part backyard art, part altar to la Virgen de Guadalupe, one of the most important cultural and religious icons in Mexican communities such as South El Monte and El Monte.

Email tips or photos of backyard art to

Blurring Boundaries: A Conversation About Urban Nature with Jennifer Renteria

For Activate Vacant, SEMAP invited artists to transgress space by creating installations in abandoned, un-used, and, often, fenced of lots. Jennifer Renteria, a recent graduate of USC’ School of Architecture, is our third artist. In anticipating her project, we thought we’d let you know a little more about her.

Renteria grew up in the city of Commerce, studied history and fine arts Bowdoin College and recently received her a Master’s in Landspace Architecture. Her research, writing, and projects, which often utilize photography and multimedia, center around informal/alternative economies and the relationship between the urban environment and nature.

Credit: Jennifer Renteria

This past year, she visited and wrote about informal urban economics in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Santiago Chile, and Rio Matanza, Buenos Aires. Yet, Renteria’s most extensive research and writing has focused on El Monte’s very own Starlite Swap Meet. This seems fitting, since her family has had a stand at the Starlight for the last twenty-some years:

Our bicycle business, purchased from another dedicated bicycle vendor, began as a hobby and eventually became the base of my family’s income as my parents’ employment status changed. The entire family, as well as the day laborers, teens, and occasional uncle we have employed over the years, have worked the stand, engaging in the swap meet’s demands alongside the other approximately 200 vendors.

Her essay “The Ephemeral Anatomy of the Swap Meet” combines a deep and personal connection to the Starlite with serious academic research. By being able to navigate and converse with its denizens she found that the Starlite can best be characterized as “paranormal.” This means that “Formal activities – fees and regulations – and informal activities – transient vending and secret sales – are both at play, on top of each other and with each other.” This includes a paying customer who secretly brings in goods to sell, vendors selling goods outside the swap meet, that dude selling raspados from his shoping cart, and a vendor who regularly pays for their space.

Credit: Jennifer Renteria

Renteria suggests that it is exactly this mix of informality/formality, ephemeral/permanence that provides such rich opportunities. She applies James Rojas’ notion of  “enacted environment”—the ability of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles to adopt the built environment, such as parks, streets, sidewalks, to fit their social and entrepreneurial interest and needs—to the Starlite:

This consistency within a seeming transient existence – as marked by the immediateness of the transactions, the exchanges, the relationships, the potential for growth, the ability to mobilize and move ahead into new spaces, relatively easily reshaping one’s business as one goes – is perhaps part of the reason why spaces like the swap meet thrive as they do and have long appealed to folks like my family and the many others who shape them.

Her other body of work has focused on the relationship between the urban environment and nature. Renteria’s Master Thesis (2012) examines the urban environment and nature, with a pedagogical angle. Her study explores the “value of utilizing digital media and transmedia strategies for enriching the urban interpretive user experience of both cultural and natural landscapes and, therefore, increase the scope of environmental educational outlets and tools.”

Below, is a brief interview with Renteria.

What exactly does a Landspace Architect do?

Landscape architects themselves seem to struggle to answer that questions these days. Given how rapidly the profession has evolved in recent years, the profession’s description and limitations have become increasingly blurred. This is especially so because its related training in design, ecology, and the social sciences have become increasingly recognized as a way to approach and address an array of urban development projects and issues. Simply, though, a landscape architect researches, designs, plans, and manages land while largely asking, What is here? What was here? Why is it no longer here? What should be kept? and What can and should be here?

The materials and methods a landscape architect deals with are well influenced by change and/or are developed to respond to change.  To quote Heraclitus, “nothing endures but change” and landscape architects are well aware of this and always, whether they deliberately do so or not, apply this understanding to their work.

You describe the Starlite Swap Meet as a place full of potential. What can artists and art organizations learn from how the Starlite Swap Meet functions?

Perhaps the most relevant things one can learn from how the swap meet works are both the importance of showing up and of remaining persistent despite sometimes adverse conditions (which, in the case of the swap meet, the most obvious obstacles are the sometimes unforgiving weather conditions – yes, even in Los Angeles), specifically when trying to create a community or network around a certain issue or cause. Very little makes it known to outsiders that the swap meet exists, even as one is passing by it at the height of its active days. Yet, those who regularly attend, know that the swap meet’s regular vendors will show up and, when they don’t, something is not in its place. A great big announcement is unnecessary to stake one’s claim of or importance to a community. What seems to be more important is to remain active (however big or small the gesture may be), to remain visible to those who care, and to remain flexible, yet dedicated to whatever cause motivates and drives you, always knowing that things change and that they can change quickly and drastically. “Prepare for the worst, assume the best.”

Spatially, South El Monte is a made up of industrial, residential, and nature (both nature constructed or curated by people and “nature”) zones, often blurring into each other. What possibilities do you see for this type of space?

Greater interconnectedness between these various zones. While one stands in any one of these zones, it is often hard to recognize that any one of the other zones exists and, much less, is accessible. Certainly, these zones at times butt right against each other, as can be easily witnessed at the swap meet, with its surrounding residential and light industrial zones engulfing it. However, there is very little permeability between these zones, so getting from one to the other is difficult. In some ways, they are turning their backs on each other when it seems that they can function better, more holistically, perhaps, by opening up to each other and making better use of each other’s different appeal to their respective users and their consequent impact on the character of South El Monte.

How does your project for Activate Vacant relate to your previous work?

At the core of all my projects – from my work on street vending to my work on urban nature – is an ongoing investigation of how people interpret and shape place, how time influences the way people interact with place, and how place and time shape people. More so, all of these explorations are hyper aware of change, and the blurred line that marks where culture and nature end and begin. Be it in a dense, urban setting or in a more remote, “wild” condition – these questions always remain relevant.

“ay corazon”

The South El Monte Arts Posse is pleased to invite you to check out Carribean Fragoza’s “ay corazon,” self-titled poem-installation that we installed yesterday, Friday July 13, at a vacant lot in South El Monte. This sculptural piece, constructed with plastic grocery bags and copper wire, was mounted onto a tarp-covered fence that faces Santa Anita Avenue near the entrance to the 60 freeway.

Ay Corazon

My project is influenced by graffiti art and shares graffiti’s affinity for transgressing boundaries and trespassing private property. Also similar to graffiti, the goal is to beautify an otherwise blank or blighted space with my own aesthetic vision. However, there are some marked differences. Unlike graffiti, instead of marking one’s own name as a way of claiming or marking territory, I’m interested in marking the name of another, of a loved one as in a public proclamation of affection. In addition, instead of observing the anonymous moniker of a tagger or graffiti writer, the audience is meant to insert the image of their personal sweetheart. Also unlike the often illegible quality of elaborate graffiti scrawlings, “ay corazon”’s typeface is a neat cursive that resembles the tidy handwriting many of us were taught in grade school. In addition, the dark chalkboard green color of the tarp that runs against the length of the fence also lends itself to grade the school association. In short, Ay Corazon is a playful project.


The location of the vacant lot where “ay corazon” is currently installed is one I have long coveted for its expansive flat territory. However, the green tarp that covers the fence obstructs the viewing of any potential projects installed within the fenced space. This presented a specific set of challenges for an Activate Vacant project intended to transform the space of vacant lots. The chalkboard colored tarp offered a solution. In addition, a mounted wire and plastic bag sculpture does not damage the property in any way. Should anyone, the city or proprietors intend to remove the project, they merely have to go through the annoying task of using a pair of wire cutters to manually snip off the fasteners one by one. Or better yet, tediously untwisting every single elaborate wire tie. Admittedly, while I do not wish to have the sculpture removed at all, I do take some bratty pleasure in imagining their irritation in the said task.


“ay corazon” is intended mostly for a commuter audience as they drive or ride the bus up and down Santa Anita Ave, to and from the 60 freeway, on their way to work or school and back again. Santa Anita is a very transitted street, but also a very desolate one with very few pedestrians, especially on the last few blocks before the freeway. The “ay corazon” audience is all the commuters that leave their homes and families every morning and return to them every evening. “ay corazon” is meant to evoke the loved one and whatever emotion the two words arouse in them. For example, if one particular driver is running late to work after a frantic morning of looking for the car keys their husband misplaced, the vision of “ay corazon” might evoke the image of their partner, in which case, on this particular morning, “ay Corazon” is charged with frustration. Ay corazon, like a regaño or scolding. Or “ay corazon” might evoke the name of someone’s long lost love, in which ay corazon is sighed heavily or even sung melancholically as one would in any ranchera song about love and loss. Ay corazon, might be whispered to oneself in delicious memory or yearning anticipation. Within a single day, “ay corazon” may shift its meaning for any person. In effect, ay Corazon is an emotional holograph for the community.

Yes, ay Corazon, is shamelessly cursi. Unapologetically sappy. But contrary to nearby billboards, its not trying to sell you anything. Ay Corazon simply wants you to reach into your soft squishy heart and find what swims there. At least for a flashing moment before you hop on the dreary freeway.


Activate Vacant requires that artists transform an abandoned space and thus, alter the neighborhood it’s located in. In addition, it also requires that you use discarded objects in the project. I used plastic bags. Lots and lots of used plastic grocery bags from my mother’s kitchen. Sometimes she keeps so many, that they billow and tumble out of her cupboards as if the bags were effectively reproducing themselves. However, these ubiquitous grocery bags make up much of the litter we see pretty much anywhere. My mother seemed happy, even relieved to let me have them. I would add that in the process of constructing the piece, it was also important for me to transform the bags themselves. My thinking was that just because Activate Vacant asks that artists use junk, it doesn’t mean that projects have to look like junk. The soft flimsy properties of the bag also presented challenges and opportunities. It took lots of experimenting with the material and tape and thread and all kinds of wire. Finally, it turned out that braiding the bags gave them a tidy, well-kept look much like that of well-groomed school girl.  While there are certainly some feminist critiques of the braid, or “trenza” among Mexicana and Chicanas as a symbol of oppression and confinement of the female body and identity, I have chosen the braid also as a sweet homage to the domestic practices that are also loving and bond-forming among women (although of course, often also conflictive and complex). I should also point out that “ay corazon” is a product of some serious domestic support and labor, as I could not have made this project without the support of my family, including my partner, in-laws, siblings and my mother who intensively hung out with my 11-month old baby while I braided away.

Carribean Fragoza’s Poem Installation “Ay Corazon” Goes up July 13th

“Ay Corazon” is a self-titled poem-installation. This sculptural piece, constructed with plastic grocery bags and copper wire, will be mounted onto a tarp-covered fence that faces a busy street near the 60 freeway entrance.

The Project

This project is influenced by graffiti art and shares graffiti’s affinity for transgressing boundaries and trespassing private property. Also similar to graffiti, the goal is to beautify an otherwise blank or blighted space with my own personal aesthetic vision. However, there are some marked differences. Unlike graffiti, instead of marking one’s own name as a way of claiming or marking territory, I’m interested in marking the name of another, of a loved one as in a public proclamation of affection. However, instead of observing an anonymous moniker, the audience is meant to insert the image of their personal sweetheart.

Location and Time

“Ay Corazon” will go up tonight at 5:30pm (July 13th) on Santa Anita Avenue off the 60 Freeway near the Mobile Gas Station, directly across from the other huge, empty vacant lot. Look for us, we’ll be there 🙂

Artist: Carribean Fragoza

Carribean is an interdisciplinary writer and visual artist living and working in Los Angeles and in her hometown, South El Monte. She is a graduate of UCLA and CalArts’ MFA Writing Program. She is currently working on several book projects, is founder of  the South El Monte Art Posse. She has published her work in publications such as Palabra Literary Magazine and Emohippus.
Updates: Photos and Artists Statement Coming Soon.
We will be posting artists statement and photos immediately after we install.

Open Call for Artist Proposals: Activate Vacant

Vacant lots are everywhere in our community. Some of them are abandoned car lots, others were intended to be shopping malls but were never built, and some have been empty for so long that it’s hard to tell what was there or what was supposed to be there. Continuing with our goal to think critically about how we use space, we are inviting artists to participate in our vacant lot project titled “Activate Vacant.” It’s a very simple project: utilizing formerly discarded objects from one’s backyard, garage, house, and/or items purchased at yard sales or thrift stores artists will create an installation, sculpture, performance, or playground toy in vacant lots throughout South El Monte and El Monte. The aim is to activate otherwise abandoned objects and spaces. Finished projects can do this by bringing color and creativity to spaces that are considered blight or/and by inviting residents to use their finished projects.

Each vacant lot provides its own particular challenges and opportunities. Click here to check out some of the El Monte/South El Monte vacant lots.

Artists, urban planners, graphic designers, poets, and other creative folk interested in participating should email a short description of a proposed project and resumé to by July 13th.

Projects will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • Creative use of discarded items
  • Mindfulness of local community
  • Carefully consideration of the relationship between vacant lot, people, and objects
  • Feasibility
  • Concept