I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, who believe Pacoima has a story to tell.
There is a feeling of connection, pride, accomplishment and community — but also despair. I add despair because of the obstacles and challenges encompassing a community marred by gangs and drugs, and was plunged from the rising sunshine into a darkness that has been hard to overcome.
I was born in Pacoima in 1960, and lived in the San Fernando Gardens projects for some of the early years of my life. My family first came to the San Fernando Valley in the 1930’s from Louisiana. It began with my great grandmothers’ sister Lucille followed by my great, great grandmother Rosa, who opened the first Black owned restaurant in the Valley called Lee’s Restaurant on Van Nuys Blvd.
Soon all six of Rosa’s grown children were here, living in Van Nuys and North Hollywood. When my great grandmother and grandfather came, they lived on Cleon Street in North Hollywood. Times were promising, yet also evil and cruel; the family members in both Van Nuys and North Hollywood all seemed to end up in the far northeast corner of the San Fernando Valley, in the town called Pacoima where property was cheap.
Latinos, Japanese, Filipino’s and Native Americans all found they could live in somewhat harmony despite the inherent racism that plagued the Valley. Anglos owned the majority of property in Pacoima and leased land to many families — especially to the Japanese, who were prohibited from owning land before and after WWII.
With veterans getting discharged from the military, and a severe shortage of housing in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, developers decided to further segregate people of color. The new housing tract was named after famed boxer Joe Louis who, according to his family, had nothing to do with any real estate ventures. This began the African American occupation of most of Pacoima from the 50s to the 90s.
My memories of Pacoima sparked a desire to film a documentary about the town.
I remembered walking down Filmore Street with my great-grandmother, heading towards Romans Market which was run by a man named Gomez. On the way we would stop at my great-aunt’s house to say hello, then proceed to see Gomez; he assisted her with money orders and sold her this incredible thick bacon that was to die for.
We would walk back and stop on Herrick to visit more cousins before we made it back home. This was not just a memory but a feeling that I wanted to capture, because I knew my own children would never know what it’s like to live in a village like “Pacoinga.”
My parents lived right around the corner from each other and married right out of high school in 1959. Growing up, I had family on just about every street in the Joe Louis and San Fern manor housing tracts. Family lived on Filmore, Louvre, Weidner, Herrick and Montford streets. That made for some great times and incredible memories.
The 70s were especially fun in Pacoima for me. The Charles White football era in the mid-70s was nothing but memorable. On occasion his predecessor, Anthony Davis, would show up to Tigers games in his Rolls Royce and exquisite attire, and just elevate the excitement. Cruising Hansen Dam, and going to house parties made Pacoima an experience I will cherish and never forget.
It was Black History Month in 2015 that I put together a Pacoima History slideshow, and put it on YouTube in an attempt to capture memories — a little history as well as to see how the community felt. The response was overwhelming. To date, there are nearly 7,000 views, with numerous emails, messages and comments thanking me for putting it together.
This fueled me to make this documentary film. My next step was mobilizing my brothers Lon and Lance, the people I knew who had the skills and experience to help me make this happen.
My experience came from majoring in Journalism at CSUN, and working on radio and television projects with my father when he owned Black Awareness on television in my early 20s. My love for writing was always with me. However, I chose to get married and have children instead of further pursuing my career.
With grown children now, of which only one still lives with me because of Down Syndrome, my passion for both storytelling and history has led me to PacoimaStories.
From the onset this story took a path of its own. Pacoima forces brought people and stories to me that I had no idea existed, and even if I did, I had no idea how I would obtain them. But I began with those people that I knew and then the story began coming to me.
For example, I received an email from an individual named Eileen, who happened to live in the Bay Area as do I. She said her mother knew Ritchie Valens and would be a good person for me to interview. Her family had been in Pacoima longer than mine.
A similar situation came to pass when Carolina Mendoza contacted me about her 90-year-old grandmother, who was born in a garage by Romans Market in 1925. She had amazing photographs, and by the end of our visit we recruited two other family members who had equally fascinating stories.
With the help of the community and my family, including my 76-year-old parents, this project got completed. It was a labor of love versus monetary gain that I believe guided this project.
This project was never about money. It was about Pacoima. It was and is about telling a history that evades history books. It’s about preserving the cultural history of several groups that are at risk of losing this story forever. I am talking about the Native Americans, Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans and the African Americans who have all scattered, to a certain extent, but hold ties to this land that was once called Pacoima Village.
I hope this film gets seen globally. But I will be happy even if it just gets seen by the children of Pacoima, so they understand the history of this small town.
My forever motto is, if we do not tell our own history, who will?