By Mauricio Islas
Eloisa Venable grew up in a circus family from Sonora, Mexico, and travelled extensively through Latin America, but her life changed drastically when she was 20 years old and had to move to the United States.
Now a 72-year-old resident of the Linda Vista Senior Apartments – a property next to the former Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights – she claims that her home of the past seven years has been the best place she has ever lived. For her, the narrative of Boyle Heights being a “terrible place” is wrong because she has never felt threatened.
In the interview, she said she’s very comfortable in Boyle Heights because of the many Mexican restaurants and the convenient Hollenbeck Park across the street. She loves how similar it is to Mexico because of the amount of Hispanic people living in the Boyle Heights area.
This interview from March was edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview here:
Boyle Heights Beat: So how was your life like growing up in Sonora?
Eloísa Venable: Oh beautiful! I was very happy.
BHB: That’s nice. What would you do, what were your favorite things to do to pass time?
EV: Well my family belongs to the circus, so we used to travel all over Mexico and perform in the Circus, and that’s what I used to do.
BHB: El Circo Atayde Hermanos?
EV: Atayde and Unión.
BHB: What would you do at the circus, what was your act?
EV: My act was working with the animals, with the elephants, with the tigers, horses… that’s what I used to do.
BHB: There were a lot of animals at the circus.
EV: Yeah, very lot of animals.
BHB: I heard you were a trapeze artist.
“[Moving to the U.S.] changed my life totally, but I didn’t care because my mission was to save my son, so I really don’t care about whatever I left behind, so I concentrate on my son.”
BHB: Can you tell me about that?
EV: Well, in the circus, especially when you’re born in the circus, you have to perform everything, you have to learn to do everything, because you never know when they’re going to need you, if somebody got hurt or something, so we have to do it. So, I used to do almost everything in the circus: trapeze, trampoline, horses, animals… you name it, I used to do it.
BHB: You did all of that as a child, right?
EV: Yep, I got to this country when I was 20 years old.
BHB: So, I heard you moved to this country because your second child got sick?
EV: Yes. I was traveling with the circus, I was in South America. He was born in Panamá, but he was sick, so I stayed there for about three months and then I come to Mexico to check him in children’s hospital, and they told me they don’t have no hope for him, so that’s the reason I come to this country to save my child.
BHB: So, your child was born in Panamá, you took him to Mexico and from Mexico you came to the United States.
BHB: Wow, so you traveled a lot.
EV: I traveled all the time.
BHB: So, did you take him to a regular hospital or did you take him to a special doctor to get treated?
EV: So, right here I took him to the children’s hospital, right here were the General Hospital is, inside there was a children’s hospital, and they treat him for five years and after five years he got well, so my worry stops right there.
BHB: That was a long time. So how are your kids now. Are they well?
EV: Oh yes, they are well. My son in May 27 he’s going to turn 46.
BHB: Do you only have one son?
EV: No, I have a daughter. My daughter is 53. My son is 46
BHB: Do you have any grandchildren?
EV: I have two. My son had a daughter and my daughter had a son, so I have two grandkids.
BHB: Nice. So, traveling from Mexico to the United States, not everybody could relate to that, that’s very daunting. Can you tell me how it affected you or changed your life?
EV: Well, course it changed my life totally, but I didn’t care because my mission was to save my son, so I really don’t care about whatever I left behind, so I concentrate on my son. And my daughter, she stayed in Mexico with my mother and after two years I went for her. When my son feels better I went to get her.
“I love Boyle Heights. I’ve been living all over the place in Los Angeles, but for the first time in my life I feel safe. And it’s amazing, because everybody talks bad about here.”
BHB: For my understanding, you’re a caretaker for elderly people?
EV: Oh yes, I worked that for 35 years.
BHB: How did you hear about the job or what was it like, when you first started?
EV: Well, I went to an agency in Downey and then they looked for a job for me and then I worked for them like three years and then I worked for myself.
BHB: So, you’re self-employed?
EV: Yeah, and then I took care of my mother, then take care of my husband too. They were sick too.
BHB: Oh no. If you feel comfortable, can you tell me about the elderly that you moved into Linda Vista with?
EV: Yes. I used to take care of an old lady. […] The reason I worked for her, she used to live in Cudahy and she used to own two houses, so she rent the one in the front and lived in the one in the back house. But she sold the place but the lady who bought the house told her she could stay there until she died, but as soon as she got the house she kicked her out, so we were looking for place to live and that time I saw the papers and it said Linda Vista, and that’s the reason I got here. I’ve been here for seven years. My lady died when she was 103 years old.
BHB: Wow. 103. So you weren’t living in Boyle Heights before that then, right?
EV: No, I’ve been living [here] for seven years.
BHB: So, you mentioned that Linda Vista, it’s been the best place you ever lived. Would that be because it’s in Boyle Heights or do you just like the workers, the building?
EV: Well, I love Boyle Heights. I’ve been living all over the places in Los Angeles, but for the first time in my life I feel safe. And it’s amazing, because everybody talks bad about here. Across the street is a big park, Hollenbeck Park, there’s a lot of people, a lot of homeless, all kinds of people, but I never had any trouble with no one. And everybody lives here has to be 62 and [older]. That’s why I moved here, because it was the only way we can live with my lady and be able to pay the rent, because every place was too high.
BHB: Oh, very expensive now.
EV: Yeah, so this was the only place we found that was a pretty good price and still a pretty good price here. So yeah, I’ve been very happy in Boyle Heights.
“Right here you know everybody talks Spanish. You go to the store and there’s a lot of Spanish people and I guess that’s the reason [I like it].”
BHB: you mentioned that it’s a place where you feel safe, the previous places where you lived at, was it no safe at all?
EV: No, no, no I didn’t say that. I lived in Downey, I used to have a house in Downey, I used to have a house in Bellflower, I used to live in Lakewood with my daughter, but the reason I say that I’m very comfortable here is because I am. And other places, not because they were a bad place or nothing. Everybody including my daughter, she was very sick, she said she didn’t want me to move here because here is a terrible place and everybody talks about Boyle Heights and I say, well I cannot go no place, I have to take care of my lady with me. That’s the reason.
BHB: But you like the building? They treat you nicely there?
EV: Oh yes, and I can go free any place I go here, I go to the market. I never ever see something bad, never. The police pass by all the time and no, it’s been a very good place for me.
BHB: And how about Hollenbeck Park, you said it’s across the street? How often do you go there?
EV: Well now with the pandemia, I hardly go. Since the pandemia I’ve been here in my house because you never know. Before that I used to go to the park to walk or run and feed the ducks and walk around That’s what I used to do before the pandemia, go do exercise, a lot of things in the back.
BHB: So, you were active before the pandemic?
EV: Oh yes.
BHB: Do you have any places that you like specifically in the area like to eat?
EV: Oh yeah, I love to go eat out! Right here, Denny’s, we have Pollo Loco, and we have a lot of Mexican restaurants around here.
BHB: A lot.
EV: Yeah, and they sell stuff on the street, it’s pretty good.
BHB: So, do you think that’s why you like Boyle Heights a lot? Because it reminds you of Mexico? There’s a lot of Hispanic people living in this area.
EV: Yes, because right here you know everybody talks Spanish. You go to the store and there’s a lot of Spanish people and I guess that’s the reason, because over there when I use to live in Downey that was only American people live there. When I used to live in Bellflower the same thing, in Lakewood the same thing, but now there’s more Hispanic people everywhere.
BHB: Immigration has changed a lot. So, I want to wrap it up here, but were you aware that Linda Vista, the hospital, was haunted?
EV: Oh yes. Yeah, we hear a lot of stories. As a matter of fact, a lot of people moved here when I move a lot of people move out because they said they had something, that things were moving in the house, the dishes were thrown on the floor, a lot of things, but I’m never afraid. And across the street where it used to be Linda Vista Hospital now is a house for the elderly too, right here only over here it’s three floors, over there it’s like six floors, and right there everybody say they hear and see a lot of things across the street.
BHB: Have you ever had an experience with a ghost or something like that?
EV: No, nothing. And sometimes I heard that something falls on the kitchen on the floor but I never bothered to go see what it is. No. A lady lives here she moves the same time I move, she’s from El Salvador, and she is very scared so she put a chair in her door and she’s very afraid. Sometimes she calls me “can you come over please” and I say what’s wrong? “Oh, I hear something again, can you please come and help me?” So I go and see, “what happened Yolanda?” “I don’t know, I think someone tried to get in my door, I hear noises.”
BHB: I hear that your English is pretty good, did you learn that when you moved or were you already speaking English in Mexico?
EV: No, when I used to work in the circus that we used to work en las fronteras yes… not the way that I talk right now, but I learned a lot. […]
And you’re not going to believe, my English has been come to me by myself. I never went to school, I never went to school in Mexico ever. Whatever I learn to write and read that was from my mom that she teach us, but here I’ve never been to the school. I know my English is not very good but I try.
BHB: It sounds good. I can have a conversation with you in English, we can understand each other […]
So you would travel a lot then.
EV: Oh, yes, I love to travel. I used to travel all the time.
BHB: I’ve never been on a plane, so I don’t know what it’s like.
EV: Well the first time you try it you’re going to like it.
BHB: I hope so.
EV: Now, I travel in the train, it’s more convenient for me, more relaxed. Now with all the things in the airport, all the stops, I started going on the train.
BHB: I think that kind of wraps our interview. Thank you so much for the time.
EV: Thank you so much, I hope I can help.
This is an abridged version of an interview recorded as part of “Voices/Voces,” a storytelling project that aims to connect youth reporters with Boyle Heights and East LA elders. Voices/Voces was a 2020 finalist in (and partially funded by) the LA2050 Grants Challenge. It is also partially funded by the Snap Foundation.