by Tom Nguyen
It is often said that one cannot understand the present without knowing the past. East LA Interchange, a documentary by Betsy Kalin about Boyle Heights history, is premiering Sunday, July 26, during a very apt time when the community is responding to issues of gentrification, immigrant rights, violence and housing and economic challenges with community organizing and grass roots activism. The film reminds us community solidarity and political activism in the face of many challenges has always been a part of Boyle Heights history.
The film in particular recalls how the building of the freeway interchanges, the largest and busiest in the nation, drastically affected the community by segregating and displacing many in the historically working class community of color. It’s forgotten history that reminds us the cycle of gentrification and displacement is nothing new. While the current issues may be different, the community leaders and activists who were galvanized in the past are still here today speaking up for the community’s rights and teaching and inspiring a new generation to take ownership in their neighborhoods.
The film also highlights Boyle Heights as one of LA’s oldest and most racially integrated neighborhoods. During a time when racist housing compacts restricted where people of color could live in Los Angeles, Boyle Heights was a community where all could find affordable housing: Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, Japanese, Russians and others were welcome. It’s a history of racial and religious diversity that the film says is still a very relevant and important example for the rest of the country.
Narrated by actor Danny Trejo and featuring interviews with will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, Josefina López of CASA 0101 Theater with original music by Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli, the film premieres Sunday, July 24 at The Regent Theater as part of the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. Tickets can be purchased here.