SGV Connect 96 Transcript : Memories of El Monte

Transcript of SGV Connect, June 30 2022

Damien: Welcome to SGV Connect, I’m Damien Newton here with Chris Greenspon. This is our second podcast this June, so we’re getting back into that two podcasts a month groove. This time, we only have an interview by Chris Greenspon. So Chris, what are we doing today?

Chris: This Sunday was 626 Day and the soft opening for Memories of El Monte’s new space that they hope to be opening as a soup kitchen next January. It was a fun party, good kickback on the back lot. There were a tom of home grown SGV music acts including some bigger names and of course local vendors, tacos…you know the drill.

Anyway, the last time we caught up with them was last year with Kris 1.0 . They were just getting talking with their E-Colonial community space. I thought this would be a good chance to check in with them and see how they’ve grown.

Damien: I can’t wait to hear it, but first…let me remind everyone that SGV Connect is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and into the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit at http://foothilltransit.org. Foothill Transit, Going Good Places.

And a second reminder that July 4th weekend is coming up and Foothill Transit, Metro and just about every transit organization is going to be on a weekend schedule. So check that schedule before you leave the house at http://foothilltransit.org to make sure you’re not stranding yourself.

Chris: On June 26, 2022 Memories of El Monte welcomed people to their new space a block or so from their old one. It’s going to be a soup kitchen, but for now it’s an empty room. So people mostly just hung out and partied on the back lot.

Background voice : What’s up you all? San Gabriel Valley in the house or what? It’s 626 Day, I don’t know if you all know that!

Chris: Today at the 626 Fest,Memories of El Monte provided free entertainment, free haircuts, and space for local vendors to sell. 

Collective members Alma Zarate and Aron Montenegro took SGV Connect inside the empty room for a quick break between their event duties and talks about the group’s progress over the last year since we spoke to them. But first, here’s a little background. 

Okay, Alma, welcome to SGV Connect. We’re here at the soon to be new memories of El Monte space about a block from the old one right here on Garvey Avenue in El Monte there’s the 626 Festival going on outside with a lot of DJs rappers and all kinds of other community members.

Alma: Yes, community members, the purpose of our space is to really bring the community together, offer services that might not be available to the community and offer them for free. That’s our main purpose to serve the community.

Chris: So what got you guys started?

Alma: I think there’s a heavy need for community movement within El Monte. We know what El Monte is. We have a lot of individuals that are in need, a lot of families that are surviving paycheck to paycheck. And sometimes something as simple as what we offer today, a free haircut, goes a long way for our community members. 

And that’s what we saw today, we saw our community members showing up to get those free haircuts, to get the supplies. We had books, art supplies, clothes. The community members need it. Sometimes it is just being able to save that extra dollar in this community, right? 

And we’re hoping to bring that into this new space as well in a very different way. And Aron can definitely speak on what this new space is going to do to contribute to the community.

Chris: The group regularly provides food distributions for families in need in South El Monte . That idea will soon expand though into their new soup kitchen. Here’s founding member Aron Montenegro. 

How is food distribution been going with Memories of El Monte?

Aron: We do every other Friday in the Clingerman Apartments. And it’s going beautifully. We have senoras from that community, who organizes it, who bring out the tables, who set up the food who do the distributions and who benefit from from it themselves. 

So it’s really it’s a really grassroots organic, and we receive support from other organizations that have the resources to allow us to do what we can.

Chris: There’s going to be a soup kitchen here. Can you tell me more about that mission and what memories of El Monte is looking to accomplish?

Aron: For sure. So it’s a hybrid format, and which, you know, it’s going to be a soup kitchen in any and everyone can eat for free, you know, we can feel that it’s a basic, you know, right for everyone. Right? 

We don’t believe in the rising cost of food and housing. These should be basic needs that should be met. So that’s what we try to do on our end. 

Everyone will be getting soup primarily at first. We’re gonna have set hours where they can come and enjoy a nice meal. And then the hybrid format is going to include a cafe, in which we’ll be serving sweet and savory items along with coffee and teas. We’re looking to have a bar…we’ll have some Mimosas, Margaritas and maybe Multiladas .

So we’re just looking for different ways to help sustain our work, but still staying true to our principles of, providing what we can with the resources that we can to our local community.

Chris: And he also really wanted to tell us about the coffee that we’ll be serving. He says that coffee tells us a lot about who Memories of El Monte are. 

Tell me about this bag of coffee. 

Aron: This is organic and it’s a direct trade, that’s something we want to make a difference. It’s not you know, just the whole free trade and organic approaches, but this is direct trade. 

Directly from the farmers, so there is no middle person on this profiting off this. So we work directly with zapatistas, mining communities in southern Mexico in Chiapas, who reclaim their land from the 1994 uprising. In Chiapas in different communities. They grow, they harvest and they package the coffee, and we get it directly from them wholesale. 

We roast it, and we packaged it here, and this is going to be one of our staple items. 

Again, it’s really not to be profit driven, but more of a cooperative approach in which everybody gets an equal share. 

So we pay above market price, because we feel that’s what’s fair. And we include a tip the grower QR code on the bag. The bag itself is, you know, has an art piece created by our friends in Cali aren’t there.

Everything is collaborative, from the packaging of it to the roasting of it. And this is again, going to be one of our staple products that help us sustain ourselves and the work we’re doing under the guise and the principles of zapatistas, have you know, non hierarchical, cooperative type approaches in which you know, basic needs are met.

Chris: In addition to mutual aid and tenant organizing over the last year, Memories of El Monte, has also grown as a radical, safe space. Alma Zaratae, says that focus will continue with the new soup kitchen.

Memories of El Monte centers, queer, trans, black, indigenous people of color. What impact do you feel you’re having in this area with this focus?

Alma: With this focus, especially, I think there is such a welcoming environment. Because not only are we including the most vulnerable and the most, the communities that are most in need, there’s also a welcoming space for every other community. 

And I think that builds those ties together. Because when people who are cisgender, or who don’t necessarily align with LGBTQ values come into our space and see, these are the people that are providing our services, right. These are the people who are assisting us and being able to meet us halfway and seeing, “Hey, there, you don’t want a haircut for free?” 

That is something that we can assist a community member with. And it bridges a gap. I feel more than anything in this community, where we can build community and come into a communication, a conversation, whatever happens in that place with these community members who are coming into our space. We are in LGBTQ plus space. And I think the community members that are joining us are more receptive to the LGBTQ plus space, and are open to it, and are able to express their queerness and everything in between.

Chris: So before forming Memories of El Monte, where did you see decolonial, or radical consciousness in El Monte?

Alma: In El Monte? Ooh, I don’t think that radical consciousness is existed in El Monte before this. 

And that’s why I feel so passionately about being involved. Because to say, ‘Hey, we got a free haircut for you.’ The city is not providing that and to the few people or the great amount of people that we’re able to provide groceries, haircuts, PPE supplies to, that is our objective, you know, the people who are left out of these community conversations who are already living in a situation where they are faced against odds.

We want to be able to meet them halfway and provide those services for them. So I don’t think I’ve seen this movement before. And this Memories of El Monte space, as we transition even, is built for that, to provide for the communities that need it the most.

Chris: Have you read the book East of East?

Alma:  I have seen excerpts of East of East, I think it’s a very important text, especially as it relates to the history, but the lived experiences of the people that are inhabiting El Monte right now are just as important. 

And I think that the food scarcity, the job scarcity, everything that’s going on right now is just as important as these texts. We need to meet our community halfway and provide what we can provide right at the end of the day. It is just…it is not enough, but it is something to provide for the struggles that we’re facing as a community right now.

Chris: There have been some like minded grassroots groups in the areas past.  The book I mentioned, East of East, documents, some of them. But M  emories of El Monte is the first to come along in quite awhile. 

Their 626 Fests is a different kind of event for the two towns. 

So community vending is nothing new in the SGV. 

Is there any difference you want to highlight between an event like this and any other farmers market or city sanctioned block party?

Aron: Yeah, that’s the thing with the city sanctioned events. We’re very particular about that. We support street vendors. They’re constantly being harassed here in the streets of El Monte. So we try to provide a space for them, where they can sell their merchandise without the stress of the police confiscating their items. 

Again, it’s we believe it’s a basic resource that we could provide for the community at no cost. If they want to better their economic situation, as artisans, cooks, what have you, whatever your art is, we want to provide a space for that in which we can collaborate without having to go through the hoops of permits, especially with undocumented communities. It’s a little difficult right? 

So we don’t ask any questions. We’re not, you know, hyper capitalist trying to make a profit off our community. But again, community orientated artists that want to provide mutual aid and support for our community and each other.

Chris: And what does an event like this tell you about the local character here in El Monte, or in the greater SGV?

Aron: It’s raw. We’re super raw. It’s in the back lot. I think it’s us. It’s who we are. It’s Garvey. We have a strong history. 

There’s a lot of been a lot of shootings recently. There’s a big houseless population. There’s issues with crystal meth. so something like this is definitely needed. That’s a positive outlet, based on art and creativity and community that we try to provide for each other again, in whatever spaces that we have.

You know, we may not have access to an auditorium and a state of the art sound system, but we have someone that can provide a boombox, someone that can provide a mic, someone that can provide DJ setup. We just bring what we can together and just make the best of it.

Chris: Thanks so much for coming on. SGV Connect. 

Aron:  Dope. Thank you for having us 

Damien: Thanks everyone for listening. We talked about this in the pre-show, but it is Fourth of July Weekend. Have a safe and happy one, and don’t forget to check those transit schedules. It’s also supposed to be HOT so take care before going out. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July and we’ll see you back here at Streetsblog next week.