As young eyes glistened at hundreds of free toys at the Boyle Heights City Hall, one smile shined just as bright from under a long, white beard. For this holly jolly Santa Claus, this weekend was a special chance to give back.
“Santa loves coming here every year because Boyle Heights is a really special place,” said Joe Diaz, the long-time Boyle Heights resident behind the beard. “I remember coming to this same event when I was a kid, so being able to make kids from my own community smile means the world to me.”
Raised in the Pico-Aliso Housing development along seven brothers, Diaz graduated from Roosevelt High School and has been giving back to the community ever since through youth organizing and mentorship – including the past 20 years working for the Boyle Heights Tech Center.
On Saturday, he took part in the neighborhood’s second annual Tree Lighting, an event incorporated into Council District 14’s yearly toy giveaway that has been a staple in Boyle Heights since Diaz was a child. Families were lined up an hour before the event even started, at 2 pm and hundreds of children were able to pick out their own toy and get a picture with Santa.
Only a day later, on Sunday Diaz joined over three dozen groups (including Boyle Heights Beat) as they took to 1st Street for the sixth annual Christmas Parade in Boyle Heights, organized by the local Community Market. From colorful, twirling folklórico dresses and classic mariachi groups to local school bands and cheer teams, crowds enjoyed a festive spectacle to bring in the season.
Boyle Heights Christmas Parade – Photo Gallery by Jennifer Lopez
Councilmember Kevin de León – who is ignoring wide calls for his resignation and is facing a possible recall election, because of his involvement in the infamous recorded and leaked conversation that included racist comments– was conspicuously absent from Sunday’s parade. De León did appear briefly at the toy giveaway and lit the Boyle Heights holiday tree – as shown on an Instagram post.