My family immigrated to the United States when I was seven years old. I don’t remember much from the trip other than I fell asleep in Mexico and I woke up in Boyle Heights. I still remember that cold November night, walking up what seemed like a mountain of stairs, only to find a box of toys belonging to my cousin at the top.

We lived on the corner of Cummings Street and Pennsylvania Avenue long enough for me to enroll at Second Street Elementary School.

Depending where you are and who you ask, Boyle Heights is considered the Ellis Island of the West Coast and depending where you are and who you ask, that’s the best thing or the worst thing that has ever happened to this neighborhood.

While Boyle Heights was the first neighborhood I ever lived in after coming to the U.S., it wasn’t the last. My parents followed economic opportunities wherever the getting was good. We moved around a lot when I was growing up. From South Central to Inglewood, Long Beach, Pico Union and Watts, finally landing back in Boyle Heights my senior year of high school at Roosevelt. Yet, through all that moving around, every other Sunday would be spent riding the bus from wherever we lived at the time to visit our aunt in Boyle Heights. She sold tamales in front of the now defunct Big Buy, back in the day. A lot of folks in the neighborhood knew her and her tamales because they were the best in town. Even after she retired from the tamal game and passed it down to my mom, people still asked about her and to sent her warm regards.

Erick Huerta will lead his fifth walking tour of Boyle Heights on Dec. 27. Photos: Andy Rodríguez.
Erick Huerta will lead his fifth walking tour of Boyle Heights on Dec. 27. Photos: Andy Rodríguez.

For me, Boyle Heights has and always will feel like home. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting individuals who have seen the neighborhood change from dirt roads to paved roads, from riding the trolley to riding the Gold Line, from being a multicultural enclave to a predominantly Latino/a neighborhood. Every conversation I’ve had with elders and community members has led me to doing more research about the neighborhood, how it has changed, and why it has changed.

That’s how I first came across the Boyle Heights Historical Society and their amazing blog. They are a constant source of information and have helped me in learning not only the neighborhood history, but in being able to put together my own walking tour. However, that was never my intention.

The idea of a walking tour happened two years ago when a friend casually asked me if I’d be willing to give his class a tour of the neighborhood. I was inebriated at the time and didn’t think twice about it. Between the abundant resources available and my blogging on the neighborhood for the last couple of years on LAEastside, I was confident in being able to give a tour that is built on the past, but also inclusive of contemporary issues that have left permanent marks in the neighborhood.

I’ll be giving this tour for the fifth time this Sunday, December 27, and it will be the best one yet. Given the current spotlight the neighborhood has been put under, I’m able to give my unique perspective on issues of gentrification, housing, neighborhood identity, and some gossip here and there because of my active involvement in neighborhood politics, both as an individual and as a member of groups/organizations working within the community.

There’s a kind of irony in a Mexican immigrant giving a tour of a neighborhood that was once known as being the most diverse in the country. I wasn’t born in Boyle Heights and I was partially raised here, but I have put in my time in learning its history, getting to know the people that make this neighborhood a treasure. Boyle Heights is changing, but what better way to see where it is going than by understanding its past.

The free walking tour will meet at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 27 in front of Self-Help Graphics. Details on the event’s Facebook page.

Erick Huerta is a Los Angeles based journalist, blogger and community activist. To join his walking tour, contact him through Twitter: @ElRandomHero

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