East LA Interchange

Directed by Betsy Kalin
Visit Film Site: bluewatermedia.org

The subject of multiculturalism in the United States is more important today than ever. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050 African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans will increase from about a third of the population to more than half (54%). Los Angeles is often referred to as the new Ellis Island but as the city’s population grows more diverse, many of its monoethnic neighborhoods remain just that.

While much of Los Angeles is compartmentalized, divided along racial, ethnic, and class lines, uneasy transitions are emerging in some neighborhoods. At this critical juncture in our society, East LA Interchange poses the question: is our demographically multicultural nation ready to become a truly multicultural society?

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The premise of our documentary is that the diversity of today is not essentially different from the diversity of the past. Using Boyle Heights, the oldest neighborhood in East Los Angeles as an example, we explore its history, challenges, and triumphs throughout its 40 years as a multiethnic community.

Founded in 1875, Boyle Heights by the 1920s had evolved into a working-class, multiethnic neighborhood far more diverse than any U. S. city at the time with Mexicans, Japanese, African-Americans, Russian Molokans, Armenians, Italians, and the largest settlement of Jews west of Chicago living and working together side by side. According to George Sanchez, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History at USC, Boyle Heights is, “…the best example of a place where people lived together from different backgrounds, different races, different nations for a longer period of time than other neighborhoods.” In a 1955 article in Frontier Magazine titled, “U.N. in Microcosm,” Boyle Heights is held up as an example of various ethnic groups, developing their neighborhood into one of the most democratic and politically tolerant in America.

By analyzing this extraordinary neighborhood throughout its multiethnic history, we see how residents faced their racial and religious differences in school, on the street, and next door. Boyle Heights was not impervious to discrimination, racism, or gang activity and our subjects’ personal stories will explore those moments when tensions rose or when the neighborhood could not escape wider societal factors at work. Yet, how did Boyle Heights encourage and support diversity and tolerance? And what can we learn from the people who were part of this community during its multiethnic heyday?

Betsy Kalin
In 2004 her feature length documentary, Hearts Cracked Open, premiered to great acclaim at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and has gone on to win several awards. Her film, Roof, premiered at New York City’s MoMA as part of New Directors/New Films and is a part of the Short Shorts compilation released by Picture This! Entertainment. In 1997, Betsy formed Itchy Bee Productions and her experimental and documentary shorts have screened at festivals worldwide. She also wrote and directed the lesbian biography series, LesBios, for web broadcast. In addition to producing and directing, East L.A. Interchange, she is producing the documentary Before Homosexuals with John Scagliotti, the Emmy award-winning producer of Before Stonewall.