Chavez Ravine history still painful to displaced Hispanic Community

By Kevin Gonzalez

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the spotlight after finally playing in the World Series for the first time since 1988 and many fans have come forth. Ready to pledge their allegiance without knowing the genesis of the team.

According to the MLB attendance report, the Dodgers saw an increase in attendance of more than 62,000 people compared to 2016.

Los Angeles County is 47 percent  to 49 percent Hispanic, meaning that amongst the growth of spectators a lot of them will, naturally, be of Hispanic descent.

Jesse Nunez, the Spanish Language Media Sales Manager for the Dodgers understands this demographic well and recognizes that appealing to these new Hispanic fans will play a major role in the future economic well-being of the team.

It’s hard not to become a Dodgers fan with all of the propaganda targeted toward the Hispanic community.

The team was the first to broadcast its games in Spanish, they host Viva Los Dodgers festivals before every Sunday game, and they purchase billboards around the city with slogans like, “ Esta es mi ciudad.”

“The affinity to the team is very much a part of the fabric of what it means to be a Latino in Los Angeles. And as families transition from immigrants to residents, they become a part of that fabric. And as such, their interest in the Dodgers becomes more and more solidified,” said Nunez in an interview with online magazine Portada.

Being a Dodger fan has become part of the Hispanic experience in LA, but it wasn’t always like this. The team had to first get past a rocky start with the Hispanic community.

Chavez Ravine is named after one of the first LA County Supervisors in the 1800s Julian Chavez, who acquired the land in the 19th century. In the early 1900s a predominantly Mexican-American community lived in the area where Dodger   Stadium now sits.

This area was once known as “the Poor Man’s Shangri La” and consisted of the neighborhoods, Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop.

The history of Chavez Ravine is painful for many Hispanics because of the violent displacement of the Mexican-American community that previously occupied the area.

“Chavez Ravine is a site of displacement for Latinos because, after WWII, the city used eminent domain to remove the predominantly Mexican-American community for the construction of public housing.

“That project was canceled and the Brooklyn Dodgers secured a sweetheart deal for the land that once housed nearly 1,100 families,” said Priscilla Leiva, an assistant professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Los Angeles in an interview for ESPN.

Through eminent domain the city was able to buy the property from these families for half of the property’s real value.

The families that accepted the move were promised that they would get first choice of new homes once the housing project was complete.

“The problem that emerged from accepting the small amount of money was that the families eventually realized they couldn’t afford a home anywhere descent with the money that they were given. Most of the families ended up moving in with relatives or into apartments,” said Gerardo Gutierrez, professor of Chicano Studies at East Los Angeles College.

Little by little the families were bought out one-by-one by force or through fear tactics until the once thriving Hispanic community resembled a ghost town.

“They would tell us, ‘If you don’t sell were going to condemn your property and you won’t get anything out of it,’” said Genovia Gamboa, a former Chavez   Ravine resident, in an interview with PBS.

Those that resisted and decided not to sell their property became classified as squatters.

The city decided to use physical force and had the Sheriff’s Department remove all those that remained.

By the time the last person was removed from Chavez Ravine, the land already belonged to the Dodgers.

“The people of Chavez Ravine lost their property for peanuts,” said Gutierrez.

This event led to many in the Hispanic community vowing to never buy a ticket to any Dodger game.

Others who continued to protest would occasionally throw tomatoes onto the field during games.

It wasn’t until 1981 when Mexican born Fernando Valenzuela became a pitcher for the Dodgers that the Hispanic community started to reconsider their stance on the team.

Fernando Valenzuela gave Latinos the opportunity to find a connection to the Dodgers. “Valenzuela turned so many people from Mexico, Central America, South America into fans,” said Jaime Jarrin, the team’s Spanish Broadcaster.

Eventually, even those that once vowed to never attend a Dodger game became fans.

After Valenzuela came more Latino stars that the Hispanic community could relate to and led to more Latino fans in the stadiums.

Little-by-little, people forgot about the Mexicans that had their land stolen from them and accepted the Dodgers as part of the community.

In present time, the Dodgers have the largest Latino fan base of any sports team in the United States.

Although time heals all wounds, it is important to know the history behind something so significant in  the culture.

The Hispanic community must not ignore the past just because of how uncomfortable it makes them feel.

Over time the Dodgers have made great effort to integrate into the Hispanic community, but they must not become complacent.

The stadium should be more commonly known as Chavez Ravine Stadium instead of Dodger Stadium at least within our community.

The neighborhood around the stadium should not be referred to as “Dodgertown” but should rather remain Chavez Ravine.

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