Monday’s annual Memorial Day commemoration at Cinco Puntos will mark the 75th anniversary of a monument erected at the iconic intersection where Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles meet to honor Mexican American soldiers who died in World War II.
For years, a 24-hour vigil by current and former members of the armed forces has preceded an official Memorial Day ceremony, attended by veterans and area elected officials. This year there will also be a public meeting and protest by a local group that opposes the planned construction of a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Lorena and Indiana Streets with César Chávez Avenue – and what it perceives as a threat to the 75-year-old monument’s original intent.
Sofía Quiñones, a member of the East LA/Boyle Heights Coalition that is organizing the protest, said that the roundabout at Cinco Puntos is unnecessary and that the data about traffic accidents at the intersection being used to support the project is outdated. She also said there are no current environmental impact studies about the more than 20-year-old proposed project, or its potential harm to a neighborhood already suffering the severe effects of pollution.
“We don’t need anything built when we’re already dying,” Quiñones said. “We’re sick and our children have been born with chronic illness because of the environmental degradation we live under.”
The roundabout is also opposed by some local residents and businesses, including the owner of the famous Cinco Puntos tortillería and Mexican food store, who said in a 2001 Los Angeles Times story that the roundabout would severely limit access to his store.
But the group’s bigger concern, as stated in a flier circulated in recent weeks in the neighborhoods surrounding Cinco Puntos, is the use of the term “All Wars Memorial” to designate the World War II monument.
“I think it’s disrespectful of them to try and label it the All War’s Memorial when it’s not,” said Quiñones, referring to the monument which was financed and erected 75 years ago by a community group called Comité Cívico Cultural Pro Raza.
Dated May 30, 1947, the monument’s inscription in Spanish reads:
“The Mexican colony of Los Angeles dedicates with profound gratitude and respect this monument to the sacred memory of its heroes of Mexican origin who offered their lives in the Second World War in defense of democratic principles.”
The term “All Wars Memorial” has been used to refer to the Cinco Puntos monuments for decades – especially since the addition of new monuments commemorating soldiers of more recent wars to the small triangular patch of land where it stands, South of César Chávez and in front of the tortillería.
“This is a monument dedicated to soldiers,” Quiñones continued. “We do not venerate war. This was for our soldiers. We don’t want our children walking around and seeing this huge monolith dedicated to all wars.”
“No, our people paid for those monuments, we built them and now the city [of Los Angeles] is trying to steal them from us and rename them and we’re saying no, they will not appropriate our culture at a price tag of over $23 million.”
Quiñones said that the group has requested meetings with councilmember Kevin de León, to share its concerns, but that he and other elected officials have ignored their requests, offering instead to set up meetings with staff members.
After Boyle Heights Beat reached out to De León on Saturday, the councilman posted a statement in Spanish on his instagram account, denying that the city intends to remove or rename the Cinco Puntos monuments – which also include markers for Vietnam War veterans and for the 42 Mexican American winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
English subtitles on De León’s Instagram post read:
“The intersection at East Cesar Chavez, Lorena Street and Indiana Street need to be reconstructed to make it safer for residents of Boyle Heights. The current intersection lacks signalization making it unsafe for pedestrians and vehicles to navigate the intersection.
The current project, which has been in the planning phase for several years, will bring signalization and create a safer intersection to reduce accidents and fatalities. This is a $20 million investment for Boyle Heights and for our veterans. As part of the project the city has partnered with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars to determine where best to locate the existing veterans’ monuments within the new design.
All existing monuments are part of the project and will not be renamed as some have suggested. Our residents deserve a more secure intersection and our veterans deserve an improved site to be honored.”
De León’s video includes an artistic rendering of what the intersection would look like with the roundabout, which shows how all of the monuments would be laid out after the reconstruction. At the center of the roundabout, the 1947 monument would stand on its own. In the rendering, it is identified as the “Mexican American All Wars Memorial.”
This article was updated to clarify that the name on the rendering is “Mexican American All Wars Memorial,” not “All Wars Memorial.”