Twenty years ago today, violence and destruction engulfed parts of Los Angeles”” marking one of the most significant events in the city’s recent history.
Although the areas of Boyle Heights and East L.A. were not as affected by the 1992 Riots, the despair that ran through other parts of the city made a lasting impact on community members.
We asked Boyle Heights residents to look back in time and share what they remembered from the L.A. Riots. Read the memories of four people who in some way were marked by the events and say there’s still room for progress.
Although student Jose Montero was too young to remember images from 1992, he’s been scarred by the memories his father shared with him and the impact the riots had on his family.
“I was only 1 years old when the riots hit but I sure felt the economic slump at home as years passed after the riots.
At the time, we were living near Lorena and Whittier Blvd. My father had a huge clothing factory/ warehouse at the intersection of 81st and Broadway in the heart of South Central. He was doing very well for himself and us, his family, of course. Everybody loved my dad; he was the ideal boss, more of a friend than a boss. But all that came tumbling down when the riots occurred. My dad tells me stories of him protecting his business with an AK-47 assault rifle as well as with some of his employees.
My dad’s business didn’t necessarily get burned down to the ground but the economic slump that happened right after the riots is what got him. Nobody wanted to do business anymore. Streets were empty and no money was being invested. Slowly he started losing properties like the factory, apartments in Glendale. He used to own Olmos Bar on Indiana and Whittier Blvd, a house in Ontario, Ca, and a ranch in Moscow, Ca. He lost everything he worked for and for what? Over a court ruling where no one knows for sure what really happened?
And in my eyes I still don’t see much change. Yes, a lot has been rebuilt, but that mentality is embedded in people’s heads–like the Lakers riots. I just hope things change because it really does affect everybody, whether old or young.”
Business owner Alma Diaz, 37, was a recent immigrant from El Salvador when the riots broke. Although she was scared to be in a new country, violent scenes were nothing new to her, having witnessed her own country’s civil war.
“The riots were scary because this happened only two weeks after my arrival to the U.S. from El Salvador. I left El Salvador at 17 because I was pregnant and I was scared of my parents.
[At the time] I was living in the projects in East L.A. The news broadcasts had stories on something that happened down the street or something that happened in Downtown L.A. There were windows breaking, furniture and other things being stolen from stores, fires breaking out everywhere; I would see people going down the street turning cars, stealing beer”¦ it was madness.
Being pregnant, I got a job my second day in the U.S., but the riots didn’t stop me. I came to the U.S. thinking that it would be much better than my country, and that was my mindset. The riots, however, did not affect my life or my family. After 20 years, I think that the violence in this country has remained, but in different ways.”
Abe Flores, advocacy manager at Arts for LA and Boyle Heights Beat contributor, remembers being interviewed by the L.A. Times during the riots. Although his community of Boyle Heights saw little destruction, he worried for the family he had in South Los Angeles.
“I was at home watching [the riots] unfold live on TV. I was in the fifth grade, so I was not completely clueless about what was going on. I knew about Rodney King and the trial. But I was confused as to the reason for the destruction, and pretty worried for our family that lived in Watts- my grandmother, cousins and uncles.
We could not get a hold of my grandmother. When the riots started we gave her a call and she said she was okay. But once things escalated, phone lines were not working.
My family was okay. They stayed inside until everything blew over, but I stopped visiting my grandmother in Watts so frequently. Things on her block deteriorated, families moved out, homes were left vacant and racial tensions between Blacks and Hispanics remained pretty high.
Yes, [I’ve seen change] but not enough. The area still has under resourced schools, not enough opportunities for youth and families to engage in positive activities, and the area does not seem to get the same maintenance other parts of L.A. gets.”
Photographer Rafael Cardenas witnessed the riots first hand, and still remembers the sound of gunshots and destruction. He admits the events were horrifying but was one of many who took part in minor looting during the aftermath.
“During the L.A. Riots I was 21 years old, working and going to school in Koreatown. From the roof top of my 20-floor building, I saw fires burning in all directions. Our boss told us to go home. When I left, I drove through hundreds of people looting down 8th and Vermont.
Two days later, it was quiet. I walked into a burned-down 7-Eleven on 6th Street, I pulled out two 40oz Olde English [malt liquor] from the only fridge that was still standing, I said thank you and left. That was the extent of my looting.”