Professor creates museum to combat gentrification

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Boyle Heights is a familiar topic for Sanchez, the director for the Center of Democracy and Diversity and an American studies & ethnicity and history professor USC. The area has been a 20-year research project for him, and he’s currently writing a book on Boyle Heights. Sanchez worked with Lopez to create the Boyle Heights Museum last year, and selected 12 USC students — three graduates and nine undergraduates, — assist him in the project.

“The most important thing is that Boyle Heights is a fascinating community with a lot of newcomers and we felt it was important it had its own museum to tell its history,” Sanchez said. “We also felt it was a particularly important time to do it because of the pressures of gentrification helping in the community.”

The group focused their research in the archives, finding images and writing copy that reflected Boyle Heights’ diverse history. Over the summer, they traveled to Washington, D.C. to find inspiration from other museums on how to present their topic to a community divided by gentrification.

In recent years, real estate prices have risen across the Los Angeles area, making Boyle Heights a gold mine for buyers seeking relatively affordable real estate. Sanchez explains that this hurt the area’s working and lower-class residents, pricing them out of their homes and businesses. However, Sanchez thinks it’s important to understand that gentrification like this is a recurring problem.

“[In Los Angeles] there is a very long history of local and federal officials not taking rights of people that live in the community seriously,” Sanchez said. “For most of its time, the local officials have tried to change the people who have lived in Boyle Heights. There have been various efforts to segregate community and make it harder for people to own old homes.”

To showcase this history, the museum will rotate through exhibits every few months. In March, the museum will showcase its second exhibit about the 1968 student walkouts in eastern Los Angeles. Sanchez and his students will also continue to work to create additional community programming in Boyle Heights, including an event where local undocumented high school students will be able to come to the museum and share their own experiences.

Above all, Sanchez thinks the project exemplifies how all USC students, undergraduate and graduate, can assist the surrounding areas.

“At our opening, there were several people who said that [the museum] is the most incredibly example of university/community relations,” Sanchez said.