Contra Gustavo: Another View of Race in Anaheim


Central School 8th Graders on 1905 included students from a variety of backgrounds, all attending school together. Photo courtesy Anaheim Public Library

Gustavo Arellano and I go way back. He covered my first trip to the podium during a City Council meeting, as a terrified housewife, voice quivering.  I was just angry enough at the reverse discrimination of a company playing the race card to get their own way in a neighborhood full of working class apartments to let that anger overcome the fear, and speak out.  Gustavo was a cub reporter just starting out, impressed enough at the one individual standing alone against Council Chambers packed to overflow capacity with angry residents (from other cities) riled up with half truths, that he happened to remember my name the next time we ran into each other.  And then we kept running into each other.  Our good-natured banter masks a mutual respect, we agree to disagree and we like each other when the shouting match is done.  It works for us.  And there is nothing that will set us off faster than history, or the two versions of it that we each hold dear.

Gustavo’s view of Orange County history – specifically Anaheim history – is all fear and hatred and Mexican kids getting beat up just for being Mexican.  My viewpoint is softly filtered through the lens of Mildred Yorba MacArthur’s interviews of early pioneer families of another era, looking through their Grandmothers’ attics, reading her diaries, taking her hand-stitched dresses from cedar chests.  But admittedly that is a white woman’s history, slanted toward the German Colonists here to make wine.  The only Latinos in that history book are named Ontiveros and Yorba, the old Californio families, not Miguel who mows my lawn (and works harder than any middle class white guy I know.)  I love the drawings of Diann Marsh, capturing the old Victorian gingerbread cottages-just before RDA ‘s Project Alpha tore them down.  Don’t get me started.  When I finally got to meet Jim Sleeper my husband confiscated my Sharpie for fear I would have the older, dying-from-cancer historian autograph a breast for tattooing later.  (Yes, I am sorry I didn’t do it, thanks for asking.)  I like my history folksy and whimsical, Gustavo prefers his with a dash of chili pepper.  And together we enjoy the shared meal at the same (antique) table, reveling in each other’s company.  Like I said, it works for us.  It doesn’t work for everyone.

Rose Veyna’s birthday party in 1945 includes friends from all over the neighborhood. Photo courtesy Anaheim Public Library.

The recent blog dust-up over the KKK in Anaheim, and the very different views of what happened, and why, lit some fuses, including the ire of one courtly gentleman who couldn’t hurt a fly – unless the fly is giving Anaheim a bad name, then all bets are off.  He forwarded me this piece for rebuttal to Gustavo, with permission to share.

Now let me say I was not there.  The Anaheim of Danny’s post-war recollection triggers for me only a nostalgic daydream, fuzzy around the edges, not a concrete memory.   The Glamour Shots version of Anaheim.  I was born into mid-60s Anaheim, when one of my earliest childhood memories was the haunting scent of orange blossoms and overhearing the neighborhood adults mention it was the last time we would catch it because the grove across the street was being bulldozed.  Sure enough apartments went up within months. While I do not have first hand memory of Danny’s Anaheim, I believe it happened the way he recalls it.   I had the pleasure of proofing Danny’s recent book, a collection of stories about growing up in Post-War agricultural Anaheim.  You know, back when Walt realized he needed a place for guests to say overnight and talked the Granvilles into building the Disneyland Hotel-with their own money!  This was back before anyone expected government to do it.  Yeah, that long ago.

When I proofed Danny’s book for him, written from memory banks several decades old, I could not find a single factual error. He correctly recalled every detail, right down to who lived in which house, his memory matched up to City records without a mistake. His description of the tiny bungalow he grew up in across from what was then City Park (now Pearson Park) was spot on when I found a photo-sadly taken just before it was torn down to make way for apartments. So I tend to believe him when he tells me what he remembers, and I pass this along to readers to offer what I think is a credible version of one man’s very accurate memory of an Anaheim that never will be again.

La Palma School, built in 1928 as a segregated school for Mexican children was later used as the La Palma Recreation Center. Located at 317 East La Palma, between Patt and Olive Streets. While the school was an example of segregated education, most Anaheim residents did not object to children attending the school of their choice. La Palma school was largely thought of as easily accessible for the children in the Patt Street barrio whose parents worked the agricultural fields. The school was demolished spring of 1970 and replaced with 62-unit apartment building. Photo credit Anaheim Public Library.

Yes things like deed restrictions were written into title in just about any housing tract subdivided in the teens and twenties, dictating the minimum cost of the dwelling that could be built on the lot, minimum setback, and which races of residents may and may not buy, rent, lease, or even reside in the dwelling-servants exempted of course. My career in historic preservation also taught me that the vast majority of homeowners had no idea the restrictions were on their deeds. Naïve? Perhaps, but when was the last time you read your Title docs? Our neighbors looked just like us because that is the way it was, nobody thought much about it, and since nobody raised a stink or tried to sue over it until the age of civil rights marches it wasn’t brought to the attention of most. Folks were not racist so much as inattentive.

Which leaves the truth of what our communities once were somewhere in the middle between Danny’s Anaheim and Gustavo’s. Of the two I prefer Danny’s. Frankly I just plain like the way the guy writes and I am flattered that he would trust me to share his views on a blog where he is likely to get his head taken off by readers. Danny has never blogged before, so be gentle with him. Especially you, Gustavo.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you another view of Anaheim:

A Sticky Subject

One subject I need to touch on briefly about those childhood days is the idea that we Anglos practiced rigidly enforced segregation of the Mexican population. While I admit that discrimination seems to be an extremely important issue in the Orange County of today, it has to have become a “major social problem” after I left Anaheim in 1960.

Several Hispanic Rights militants have made the generalized statement that all Mexicans in agricultural Southern California — citing Anaheim in particular — were never more than crop pickers, caretakers or maids. Some were. That is very true. Not many of our Depression Era parents had had the education needed to work in a bank. Few of us had fathers who went to college and became doctors or lawyers. So the majority of Anglos also were janitors, laborers, street sweepers, or waitresses. My own mother had worked side by side with Mexican mothers in that WPA packinghouse, and my father worked beside their husbands on construction sites every day. Unless one was a merchant, the majority of available jobs in those days were unskilled or semi-skilled. After all, we still lived in a non-technological, mostly blue-collar world!

The Corria familiy plays in Pearson Park. Photo courtesy Anaheim Public Library.

Anaheim did have one small barrio where several Spanish-speaking families lived together — La Fabrica north of La Palma Park. And yes, they were mostly farm workers, but then, they had come from Mexico with little or no education at all. They were really doing the best they could, and much better than they had done in Mexico. Their children; however, went to Horace Mann School the same as me, receiving exactly the same education that was given to me.

I didn’t play with the children who lived in La Fabrica, but not because I had something against Mexican children. La Fabrica was eight blocks north of Cypress Street. I didn’t dare wander eight blocks in any direction when I was that young. Most small children were confined to within a block or two radius of their own homes. I was at least fortunate enough to get to play with any La Fabrica child who was brought to the park.

There were just as many well-known, well-educated, and well-respected Mexican families as there were Anglo families — right from the town’s beginning, even though they might have been included in some official census minority. Anaheim was founded by a minority — German-speaking pioneers — and if you categorized the rest of us by ancestry, we were all members of one minority or another.

When I was a child, the Yorba and Ontiveros families who originally sold the Los Angeles Vineyard Society the Anaheim land were still extremely prominent in northern Orange County. Dozens of local Mexican families like the Hinojosas, the Veynas (who owned a downtown restaurant), the Acostas or the Canos (who owned the famous “Bean Hut” drive-in), lived in the same neighborhoods we did and sent their children to the same schools. We were all in the same classes. The first birthday party I ever attended — during second grade — was for a little Mexican girl who lived on the same block near Horace Mann School as my best Anglo buddy. Many of my closest friends all through school years were Mexican-American: Lopez, Peña, Cruz, Filadelfia, Estrada, Navarette, Acevedo, Olvera. It never crossed my mind that there might be social differences between us.

Dolly Frazie, Tilly Sanchez, and Joyce Lindell enjoy starring roles in a play celebrating Anaheim’s Centennial anniversary in 1957. Census records show all three of the girls lived in working class neighborhoods throughout central Anaheim, all of their neighborhoods reflect multi-cultural families in the nearby homes. They certainly have no problem sharing a stage despite their diverse backgrounds. Photo Credit Courtesy Anaheim Public Library

One recent, very angry Mexican-American author—who wasn’t even born in the 1940s — has gone so far as to accuse Rudy Boysen of being so rabidly anti-Mexican that he created a fenced area in City Park to “corral” Mexican children and forcibly deny them full access to the park. This is obviously a tale he heard from another generation; a tale I would like to see tangible proof of. The same writer shocks his readers with the fact that the largest gathering of the Klu Klux Klan in Southern California took place in Anaheim’s City Park. What he doesn’t bother to add is that the entire populace rose up in rebellion and drove the Klan out of town shortly after that meeting! Hardly unbiased journalism.

I grew up in City Park and played with every child I came across, Mexican, Anglo, Japanese — even one Mission Indian. My friends and I roamed every corner of both parks until 1951. Rudy Boysen died in 1950. If he kept children penned up like cattle, it must have been in some secret underground bunker. It certainly wasn’t in any town park on our watch!

Of course there were instances where someone was discriminated against because of her or his nationality, and I’m sure there are those who remain bitter because such a thing happened to them. Petty people live everywhere, but their pettiness wasn’t limited to Anglo versus Mexican. Some narrow-minded people couldn’t tolerate the Irish. Some Protestants didn’t trust Catholics. Some Catholics wouldn’t let their children play with Protestants.

I can’t speak for the nationality of every friend my parents had, or for the friends of other adults of the time, but I remember how it was for me. To my knowledge no one I knew was ever forced to segregate her or himself from any other child just because of its parents’ nationality. In fact, the president of my high school senior class was American-born Japanese, and a major star of the football team was African American. Both were very popular boys. Our social blending was so innate that when I saw blatant social/racial intolerance for the first time in Army basic training, I was flabbergasted. Generalized discrimination really offends me.

I haven’t lived in Anaheim or Orange County for half a century. I have no vested interest whatsoever in arguing this issue other than the desire to protect the reality of my own childhood by pitting true experiences of Anaheim’s past against obvious distortions that are being used to propagate a racially-biased political agenda.

Reverse discrimination is as equally offensive and destructive as discrimination itself!”

Danny Dunton

About Cynthia Ward

I am a truth-teller. It gets me in trouble. But if you ask me if a dress makes you look fat, I will tell you so, and help select another, before you go on television and realize it for yourself. My real friends are expected to be truthful with me as well. A secret shared will be taken to my grave, but lie to me, and it will end up here…on these pages… especially if you are tasked with the stewardship of public resources. I am a registered Republican who disdains the local GOP power structure, a born-again Christian who supports everyone’s right to spend their lives with the partner of their choosing. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. I am a loyal friend to those who merit that friendship and when crossed I am a bitch with a capital C. I do not fit into a box, nor do I see others through the stereotypes that politics and public affairs so often tries to shoehorn us into. I think for myself, and so do you. Welcome to our shared space in this world.