Boyle Heights native Leslie from the B is part of the street team at Power 106 FM. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Montoya.

Hoping to further her dance career, a young Leslie Montoya commuted  ten miles every school day to a specialized middle school in the Valley. Since then, she knew she had to represent all the amazingness Boyle Heights has to offer.

Now 22 and soon to be a local college graduate, she’s making inroads in the competitive entertainment industry as a radio personality and part of the Power 106 street team, better known to her followers as Leslie From the B.

Reporter Carmen González had the chance to speak with her and learn about her journey of self-embrace.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Boyle Heights Beat: I first got to ask– where did Leslie from the B come from? 

Leslie From the B: Wow, I’ve been waiting for the day for someone to ask me. People think it’s, “oh, Leslie from the Block” but I’m Leslie from Boyle Heights, you know? But I say the B, because friends are always asking you like, “Oh, where are you at?” I would say “Oh, I’m at the B”. I just don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m at Boyle Heights.”

For a long time, I did not want to be known as Leslie Montoya. I felt like that’s too long, and I don’t like my last name. I want something to be special and authentic, so I became Leslie from the B.  It’s still just as long, but it very much represents who I am and where I’m from. I kind of blessed myself with that name. I just love my neighborhood and I had to throw it in there.

Leslie Montoya in an undated photo as a child dancer at Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Montoya.

BHB: What does Boyle heights mean to you?

LFTB: It’s funny, I have this air freshener in my car that says Boyle Heights. And I love it. I bring that up, because I just love my neighborhood. It just means so much to me. It taught me how to be resilient, it taught me how to be strong. A lot of my friends and my family are here. I just consider Boyle Heights home. My neighbors are cool with me…  they were always so welcoming. Even when I would catch the bus coming from school, there was the churro man, always hooking it up with some churros. 

When I go out of town and I come home, I feel good. I feel relaxed. I can let my guard down a little bit. I learned so much about politics because of my own neighborhood, a lot of my Chicano history began from my neighborhood. It’s crazy. I live and breathe this air. I just love it here. I know, every single corner, every single mural. We’re a community here. It means everything to me. Boyle Heights all day, on the site.

BHB: Was the love for Boyle Heights always there, or did you grow to love it?

LFTB: Growing up as a kid, I lived by State Park. I had so much fun walking to the playground. I loved walking to the bus stop with my grandparents. I loved coming out of school and seeing the elotero man in front of my school. Once I hit high school, I started understanding the streets, I started understanding certain things about the neighborhood. I started growing a certain hate towards it. I had certain personal experiences that made me grow, not really a hate, but almost. 

I started to see things like, “Oh, I can’t do certain things or say certain things in certain areas in the neighborhood.” I don’t know how I feel about that. Then gentrification came and the hood started changing on me. Mom and pop shops and restaurants are closing. Friends even are moving. Everything’s changing on me, that’s how I feel right now. I’m not gonna lie. I’m actually a little distraught, a little insecure about the neighborhood right now.

BHB: At what age did you realize Boyle Heights was an integral part of your identity?

LFTB: I want to say high school. I went to Torres on the east side. That’s when I started auditioning. This is where I started building my identity and it’s when people noticed me and a lot of people asked where I was from. I feel like my personality had a lot to do with where I’m from. My neighborhood is filled with hustlers. There’s beauty in the struggle. I went through a lot of hardships growing up. I experienced a single parent home, low income household, just a lot of hardships. From going on the bus from Boyle Heights all the way to the San Fernando Valley – from 11 to 13 years old. I feel like that chunk of my life kind of made me learn about what life really is because sometimes I wouldn’t have a dollar for the bus, and I would beg the bus driver, “Yo, let me get on the bus.”  [But] every time I step out of the neighborhood and come back, I’m like “damn this is home.” I don’t see myself living anywhere else. 

I learned that Boyle Heights was significant to me, because people would ask me like, “Oh, where are you from?” I’d say, Boyle Heights and I would break it down for them. Life has made me more proud and honored to be from this neighborhood. 

Leslie Montoya, aka Leslie from the B, during a performance of ‘Remembering Boyle Heights, Part 2’ Photograph courtesy of Leslie Montoya.

BHB: How has Chicano/Chicana history influenced you?

LFTB: I’m first generation. I’m in this in between where it’s like, I live in [the United States]. But since I’m Mexican, I’m not accepted as American. And then when I’ve traveled to Mexico, to the motherland, I’m not accepted or I’m looked at differently, or I’m even made fun of, because I’m American. I’m not Mexican enough in Mexico, and I’m not American enough in America, but I’m both. 

I took my first Chicano history class in high school. The first thing I learned [was about] the walkouts, and it touched me. I didn’t go to Roosevelt but I remember being in Euclid [elementary] playing sports and going to Roosevelt to use their field for tournaments. When I took that Chicano Studies class, just seeing how people that look like me, or talk like me, or have the same background as me, were disrespected, were humiliated or degraded. I get emotional just thinking about it. Those people fought so hard, got beat up, went to jail, so that a girl like me can have all these opportunities and so I’m gonna take advantage of that. Represent our people well and not be ashamed of it. I’m getting emotional, but it’s so frustrating because things have changed but we’re still fighting for so many things right now.

Another thing for me that just hits home is, I could have easily fallen into a lot of things but I didn’t because I had the arts. The arts literally saved me, they kept me straight. One thing I’ll never stop doing is being a dancer or being a freaking performer, being an entertainer, because I know I want better not only for myself, but for my future kids and family.

Another thing is I was born in California, I was born in Los Angeles, and this land, this is Tonga land, this is indigenous land. I’m just very passionate about the Chicano movement, because it has to do with me. I can’t relate to other parts of history, but I can relate a ton, 100% to my Chicano history because it’s experiences that I felt. It shouldn’t just be Chicano history, it has to be US history. I’m Chicana and I’m proud to be Chicana because I’m Mexican and I’m also American, and both of them are my history. And I’m going to embrace both. 

BHB: Boyle Heights is always proud of its college students – how has your journey in higher education been like?

LFTB: I don’t shy away from talking about this. I actually got accepted and I went to Cal State Northridge for my first year of college. [It] did not go the way I planned it, I eventually got kicked out, I got disqualified. It was rough. Just a lot of emotions, but it was all on me. I had no responsibility and I didn’t make it a priority. I [messed] up and I had to suffer the consequences. I basically had to start all over. This is the moment where I was like, “Okay, do I want to be comfortable? Or do I want to be challenged in a good way?” So instead of going to ELAC to start all over, I went to Santa Monica College. I knew that if I went to ELAC, I was going to run into somebody from the hood. The first thing I’m gonna do is the same thing, I’m gonna kick it, I’m gonna hang out and instead of going home to do my homework, I’m gonna put everybody else or everything else before me. I went to Santa Monica College for two years. It was a lot of work. It was definitely a challenge. I graduated within those two years. I got my associates degree to transfer in communications and in 2021 I transferred to Cal State LA. After five long years of putting in work and grinding, and not giving up on my higher education, I can finally say, I’m going to graduate this year in May.

BHB: What do you say to people who may judge others for belonging to neighborhoods like Boyle Heights?

LFTB: F*** them. Besides that, I mean, honestly, we’re not the problem. You’re the problem. I’ve been working in the entertainment industry, I’ve been an intern in various places such as SAG/AFTRA, Verb Talent Agency, I’m currently working at a record label BMG as an intern. Most of the time I’m the only brown girl in the room. I remember in the beginning, I felt this imposter syndrome. Then I started doing more internships and I started going to more workshops. I started realizing like, “Yo, I have so much to offer. 

I did this one internship, and they needed help with a show in Mexico City. Who better to talk about that than me, because my parents are from Mexico City. They would have struggled communicating with the press, because they didn’t have anyone speaking Spanish in that building but me, the little 19 year old brown girl from Boyle Heights. I have so much to offer. I feel like that’s what people need to realize is that they need to stop judging people by their appearances. People need to stop judging a book by its cover. It’s so cliche, but it’s so true. 

My mom, she says this all the time, “No pises una cucaracha porque un día puede ser tu jefe.” It’s true. People looked at me like, “What do you want to work in? Entertainment? Okay, girl keep dreaming.” Look at me now. I’m in f…ing entertainment. I have contacts for days. Some of them are white people, Some of them are people of color that I’ve met along the way, that have been my mentors or have contributed to my career journey. We just have so much to offer when you’re from these low income neighborhoods, when you’re from these ghettos, these hoods in America. You have so much to offer, your experiences made you the person that you are. You belong in that building, you’re in there for a f…ing reason. 

BHB: When on the mic, you need to exude so much confidence to keep the crowd hyped. How do you deal with those inevitable hard days? 

LFTB: Man, that is the story of my life lately. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had some pretty rough experiences where I don’t even want to do an event. I want to cancel. I don’t even want to show up on the radio. I just don’t want to go. But you literally have to put your feelings in a box. Just forget about everything that you went through. You literally have to fake the funk sometimes. It’s not the audience’s fault that you’re having a bad day. The audience came to whatever event it is to enjoy themselves. I’ve hosted concerts, weddings, I’m on the radio, you know, I’ve done community events. It doesn’t matter how big or small the audience is, you cannot let them feel or hear that you’re having a bad day. I’ve done this on hard days, where I’ll literally cry about it right before the event, wipe my tears, touch on my makeup, boom, face it. 

The craziest thing about it all, is that as soon as that event is over, I feel a thousand times better. I’m so big on energy. When I see people smiling, I’m gonna have a good day. 

I’ve had days where I’ve cried literally before events, and I show up and I kill it. I kill it because I just love seeing the crowd entertain, I just love seeing people, or just even the music that’s being played or like, the fact that I’ll get a compliment or a little kid coming up to me and smiling. That’s something that money can’t buy, stuff that in that moment just makes you feel a thousand times better, makes you forget about all your problems. That’s kind of how I confront hard days. It’s easier said than done. 

BHB: What is a piece of advice you would tell your younger self?

LFTB: I would say stay in your lane. Stay in your lane, because I remember just growing up wanting to be everywhere or getting easily influenced. And it’s like, no, stay in your lane. I would say: “ask yourself, What do you want? What do you like? Who shouldn’t be a friend?” Be honest with yourself about that. Stop trying to pretend to be somebody.”

BHB: What’s next for Leslie from the B? 

LFTB: She’s gonna graduate so stay tuned for that. I mean for sure gonna be on the radio. Definitely hope to have my own show outside of working with Dj Felli Fel [on Power 106] and show producer DejahBoo, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Definitely want to do something on my own, maybe a podcast, maybe I’m on the radio, who knows but definitely going to be entertaining the world. I definitely want to do more festivals. I want to work with artists. I don’t know, maybe I might be on a TV show. I don’t know, maybe I might come out in the movie. I want to do it all. Just stay tuned, follow me @lesliefromtheB. Just want to brand myself a little bit more and just grow, just keep growing. Just keep an eye out for me. That’s what I’ll tell you.

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Carmen González

Carmen González is a former Boyle Heights Beat reporter, a 2019 graduate of Felícitas and Gonzalo Méndez High School and a student at Cal State Long Beach. González is a fellow with the CalMatters...

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