Boyle Heights: Artistic, Jewish, and musical roots

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A Boyle Heights street sign is seen circa 1980. Photo courtesy of Shades of LA Collection/LA Public Library.

Today’s entire show looks deeply at the Boyle Heights neighborhood of LA. It’s predominantly Latino these days, but through the years, it’s been home to Black Americans, Jewish Americans, and Japanese Americans. 

George Sanchez, USC professor and today’s guest host, wrote the book called “Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy.” 

Sanchez first talks to Josefina López, who grew up in the area and launched the restaurant Casa Fina and theater Casa 0101. She wants people to understand that Boyle Heights isn’t a place of drug deals and drive-bys, but of amazing activism and art.

Also, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe created new homes and communities here. “In Boyle Heights, they built Yiddish schools, they built a Yiddish language press, they used Yiddish to organize workers and political parties. So it was both a source of cultural autonomy and a source of community cohesion,” says Caroline Luce from the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. 

Finally, the 1960s gave rise to the “Eastside sound” — new musical styles created by groups coming out of Boyle Heights and neighboring areas at that time. “The Eastside sound … is rhythm and blues with an edge,” says Rubén Guevara, the lead singer of Ruben and the Jets.