Mexican American History Through Penny Dreadful City of Angels

Penny Dreadful City of Angels from Backstage Magazine

Mexican American history is often hidden. Penny Dreadful City of Angels shares a piece of Mexican American history in Los Angeles during the 1930’s.

John Logan, producer and screenwriter of Penny Dreadful had this to say about City of Angels, “And so the idea of social displacement of ethnic minorities became what I was interested in writing about. And you can’t tell the story about the history of Los Angeles without dealing with the Mexican American story. And you can’t tell the story about the building of freeways without dealing with the communities that were displaced.”

Mexican-American history, displacement due to the building of freeways, and the 1930’s L.A. scene – this season draws me in and keeps me there!

Likewise, the planning and development of freeways effected Stockton, California. A new book, Competing Voices A Critical History of Stockton, California by Ronald Isetti, discusses this impact. However, not enough on the displacement of the Mexican American community of Barrio Chivo.

Furthermore, our stories aren’t in history books because we don’t share them. We don’t share them our children. If we do, we certainly don’t tell anyone else outside of our family. We don’t write our own stories. We don’t publish our stories. Eventually, our stories are forgotten.

I spent several years serving on the Barrio Chivo Committee learning about the history of this neighborhood. There was a strong oral history among the residents. Yet, sharing this history was so very difficult to record. There seemed to be a guard around these wonderful stories. Read about my family’s story in this previous blog post.

1930 map of Stockton
1930’s map of East Stockton, California. For a period of time, I volunteered with the Barrio Chivo Committee. I was eager to help and learned a lot. A topic discussed was where exactly was Barrio Chivo? After many discussions to determine the outline of the original Barrio Chivo, residents agreed to the borders of Filbert St., Railroad Ave., Highway 99, and Marsh St.
Current map of East Stockton, California
Current map of East Stockton, California which shows where Highway 4, the Crosstown Freeway, was developed through Barrio Chivo. The highway runs through downtown Stockton. It displaced another vibrant community Little Manila.

Afterall, our stories are important, our place in history is important, the history of displacement in particular has affected generations, and we need to tell our own story.

Tips to learn your family’s story

  • First, start at the right time. Dinner time and family gatherings are good times to talk about family history
  • Use general questions: “What was school like growing up?” “What did you do on the weekends?”
  • Use photos to spark memories
  • Then listen patiently. Give time to recall memory and share their story.
  • Record family stories easily on a smartphone
  • Write down their story
  • Now share the stories!

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