Martha Ambriz has fond memories of growing up on Grande Vista Street –including an unexpected short visit by the Night Stalker in the mid 1980’s– and is lucky now to own a home in the same block, where she and her husband raised their three children.

Known as the leader of Ballet Folklórico Resurrección and an advocate for youth, Ambriz was recognized in March of 2022 as Boyle Heights Woman of the Month.

The 50-year-old spoke to our reporter Jennifer López about her attachment to the neighborhood, and what drives her to make Boyle Heights a better place for its residents.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Boyle Heights Beat: How long have you been involved with BFR?

Martha Ambriz: I’ve been involved for about 18 years now, but I took the group over on behalf of the church about approximately 12 years ago.

BHB: How did that come about?

MA: My daughter was dancing. She started when she was seven. And then they needed somebody to take over the group to coordinate it. So I became president, just learning aspects from the previous teachers. I learned how to run the program, and I’ve been doing something different than what they were doing. I based it more on helping the community and keeping the kids off the streets and dancing.

BHB: Can you talk a little bit about who BFR is and what their role in the community is?

MA: So BFR stands for Ballet Folklórico Resurrección. We’re based out of Resurrection Church. It was established in 1961. It wasn’t originally a Mexican folklórico group, it was established as a Latin jazz group, which I don’t know too too much about because a lot of documentation has been lost. But as the Mexican community started growing more and more in Boyle Heights, it became a folklórico group.

I know BFR actually opened up It’s a Small World for Disneyland we’re one of the oldest groups, if not the oldest group in all of California. And we basically focus on, first of all, keeping the kids off the streets and dancing, because obviously this community sometimes can be bad for the kids to be in the street. But most importantly, we teach them their Mexican heritage. So we are the official group for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We do a lot of dancing to feature our Mexican roots to the Catholic community.

Ballet Folklórico Resurrección on Instagram.

BHB: Who are the members of BFR and where do they come from?

MA: Members are recruited here locally, we also have dancers that come from other cities nearby, but we do target community kids. We try to keep the cost as low as possible, because as you can imagine, being in a folklórico group can be expensive. However, we do try to fundraise. There is a couple of students that are on there with a scholarship, that don’t pay. Like I said, just so that they’re involved, and they’re off the streets.

A lot of church members from Resurrection church have their children involved. Since I work with Resurrection school, there’s also a lot of students from Resurrection school that are involved, but it’s open to everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, your religion, or where you live. It’s open to anyone.

BHB: How do you and your organization represent Boyle Heights?

MA: I think we carry a big flag for our church, not only because we represent the traditions of Mexico through dance, but we’re also a staple in the community in regards to politics. Monsignor John Morettta, as you may know, is very politically involved in everything that happens in Boyle Heights, so we’re basically his backup. Not only do we perform when there’s protests or when there’s anything going on in the community, but our parents and our students are also involved when it comes to community action, including the Exide fight, including power plants that have been trying to open, including when they were trying to open a jail nearby, our parents, our children are very involved.

Martha Ambriz and her husband Hugo Ambriz at a March, 2022 ceremony at Mariachi Plaza. Photo courtesy of Martha Ambriz.

BHB: Last year you were recognized as Boyle Heights Woman of the Month. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MA: Yes, thanks to Tonie Juarez, who runs the farmers market over in Mariachi Plaza, I was recognized as one of the women because I do a lot of community work. I work at Resurrection School as an after-school coordinator, helping students do their homework, catching up on any type of homework that they may be backed up in, or just teaching them how to read. So I do that, but I also work with the community kids through dance. And then I’m also involved in an organization where we feed the homeless every Tuesday, and I help fundraise for that organization. So Tonie recognized me as one of the women. Tonie nominated me and I was recognized by the council member [Kevin de León, State Senator] Maria Elena Solis as well and [Assemblymember] Miguel Santiago.

BHB: Do you have any core memories of growing up in Boyle Heights?

MA: I have a lot. One of the biggest ones is I remember…  I was actually about eight or nine years old when Fernando Valenzuela was practicing at García Park, and my dad would take us over because we knew he was going to be somebody big at the Dodgers. So I think that’s one of the memories I have. I have about three memories.. Another memory I have is actually behind the Food For Less. I was a sixth grader when Michael Jackson recorded Thriller. So my she let us go, she took us to go see the recordings. So I think that was something amazing. Those are two awesome memories.

I think one of the most intriguing memories I have was actually that Richard Ramírez the Night Stalker when he was around, you know, [there was] so much fear in us. And he actually was in our property here next door, and he left the juice and the newspaper there, so then we had cops all over the place and, you know, being a kid, it was scary but at the same time it was so interesting. To see the police officers do their job but at the same time… it was in the middle of the summer so we had our windows shut, you couldn’t even sleep with your windows open.

BHB: What does Boyle Heights mean to you?

MA: Home, it basically means home. Just because there’s so many sentiments. I was born in the same block [where I live]. So I’ve never moved away. But I really dream about having a community where it’s safe for our kids more than anything. And even though with all these obstacles, you still can walk the streets. You know, I just try to make it safer. And a cleaner place is what I really wish for our community.

BHB: What would you want people to take away from Boyle Heights? What would you want people that are not from here to take away from the community?

MA: I think what the biggest thing I would want them to take away is that it’s a growing migrant city. We’re a stepping stone, I think for a lot of migrants that come. And we help. And I want them to always think of that. That this is the first place they stopped, where they got help. And if they eventually did something, and moved up to a [neighborhood where] there’s less crime or anything like that, to remember to always come back and help. Because I think it’s a great community, I think there’s help here that you can’t get in other communities. It’s a small city within a huge city where people still get to know each other, still know who we are. We’re still very involved. And we’re, at the end of the day, even though there’s a lot of crime, we are the type of people that you can knock on your neighbor’s door and expect help. Because that’s just who you are.

BHB: Is there anything else that you might want to add?

MA: The only thing I would add is that I would encourage for parents to be more involved with their children. Whenever there [is] an extracurricular activity because it’s proven that kids that play sports, that dance, it’s proven that they go on to college, they have brighter futures. I would encourage parents to do that.

I’ve been very involved with my kids’ schools and my kids’ extracurricular activity; two of them dance, one of them plays sports. And thanks be to God. I have a nurse, a future teacher. And then I have my son who’s going to the Navy in two months. Yeah. So like I said, if you’re involved and you care about your children, they will eventually pay you back in a good way.

Jennifer López

Jennifer López is a graduate from the University of California, Riverside. She recently graduated this spring as a Business Economics major. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with family...

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