South El Monte Meets Philly at Columbia University
On March 8th and 9th Columbia University’s history department hosted the conference History in Action: Historical Thinking in Public Life. Professors at academic institutions, museum curator, public historians, and even the former chief of staff for Nancy Pelosi evaluated the future training of doctoral students and the role and responsibilities of historians. James T. Roane, doctoral candidate at Columbia, and Huewayne Watson, recent graduate of Columbia’s Institute for Research in African American Studies, contributed to this conversation by advocating for the use of history and art to build community. In their panel and exhibit, History in Action: Black Arts Collective in the Land of Joaquin Murrieta, they spoke about their work in Philadelphia and South El Monte and displayed photographs taken by youth from these two cities.
Last fall, as part of South El Monte Arts Posse’s Artists in Residence program, James T. Roane and Huewayne Watson spent two weeks living and making art in South El Monte. During their time here, they worked with students in the classrooms of Ms. Quezada, Ms. Perez, and Ms. Morales to think about the similarities between the history of African Americans on the east coast and that of Mexicans on the west coast. After providing students with a history of Africans on the east coast and the Caribbean, they invited students to share stories they had learned from their parents, uncles, and neighbors. The students told James and Huewayne about Joaquin Murrieta, Hicks Camp, the gang Las Flores, Art Laboe, and Legion Stadium. Armed with an understanding of their distinct, but similar histories, they went to the riverbed, the supposed hide out of Joaquin Murrieta. At the riverbed they played songs from the days of Legion Stadium, danced and took photographs. In honoring the history of both Legion Stadium and Joaquin Murrieta, the students, teachers, and artists constructed a bridge between African Americans on the east coast and Mexican Americans on the west coast.