Inspired by the stories told to her by her grandmother, Crystal Jackson has written and directed “PacoimaStories,” the first film to document the history of the small town through the voices of its residents.
As Jackson points out, the history of Pacoima has been absent from history books although the community is significant and dates back to 450 AD, when the Fernandeño Tataviam tribe referred to the land as “Pacoinga Village.”
In the film, Fernandeño Tataviam Tribal leader, Rudy Ortega Jr. describes the painful history of the native people that were wiped out by European conquerors and continued with the Catholic Mission System, and others who evoked their power in the Northeast Valley community.
“It was Charles Maclay, Ortega said who evicted the tribal captain Rogerio Rocha and left him on the side of the road in the dead of winter, so he could claim the city’s natural water rights,” Ortega points out. While the Maclay name remains as a prominent street name and is well noted in the area’s history, this film is among the first to acknowledge history from the tribe’s perspective.
Jackson had complete freedom to produce the film largely because she and her brother didn’t wait for anyone to give her the green light to produce it or fund it.
The CSUN journalism graduate, with her brother as her cameraman, just set out to do it themselves. They shot hundreds of hours of interviews with people who had many a flood of stories to tell and one interesting story led to another.
The challenge really became in having the reality of not being able to use it all. She hopes however, through a companion book and perhaps another segment of the film she will be able to document more.
After all, many agree, it is sorely needed.
Most people from Pacoima say that the community has suffered from being viewed with far too much stigma and negative presumption. As her film unveils, the people and stories she features from Pacoima are what she considers to be “American stories” that are about struggle, sacrifice and the human spirit that has overcome adversity.
Jackson’s family has lived in Pacoima since 1935.
“Pacoima was the unofficial minority section of the Valley since the 1930s. People of color, at one point, were only allowed to purchase homes in the zip code 91331, due to racial covenants that segregated the land,” Jackson found.
“Pacoima became the ‘American Dream’ for some and the American nightmare for others. Two communities, African American and Mexican American, were conflicted at times but joined forces in times of discord to fight their challenges,” she shared.
The film features a notable cast of “Pacoimians,” including:
— Congressman Tony Cardenas, who discusses growing up Pacoima;
— USC Football All-American Anthony Davis, talking about his years at San Fernando High School;
— Comedian Gilbert Esquivel, who shares his struggles to get out of gang life and;
— Dr. Yvonne Chan, founding President of the Vaughn International Studies Academy in Pacoima.
“PacoimaStories” also features interviews from original community residents (now in their 90’s), along with R&B Singer Howard Huntsberry (lead singer of “Klique”), who played the role of Jackie Wilson in the Pacoima native Ritchie Valens movie “La Bamba.” People that knew Ritchie Valens also tell stories about the legendary singer and his impact on the community. Witnesses to the plane crash over Pacoima Junior High in 1957 share the horror of that tragic disaster.
The film not only traces the earliest history of Pacoima and the community’s growth, it doesn’t sugarcoat the town’s struggles through the 80s and 90s when drugs, gangs and guns hijacked the community.
Most importantly, Jackson points out how educators have fought to retake their town by forging a new educational model for their children, and redefining the community.
“There is so much history in this small town. I can’t wait for everyone to see it,” Jackson said. “From the house parties, football games and cruising Hansen Dam, there is so much we uncover in this film.
“Growing up hearing my grandmother’s stories and being part of the Pacoima experience, has had a tremendous impact on my life. I’ve wanted to produce this documentary for years. It is an American story and it needs to be told,” Jackson said.
The first screening “PacoimaStories: Land of Dreams”will be held for the community this Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Vaughn G3 Performing Arts Theater, located at 11200 Herrick Ave., in Pacoima. For ticket information, go to: www.pacoimastories.com.