If the soul of Los Angeles is Latino, then the heart of that soul is, arguably, East L.A. — the neighborhoods just across the Los Angeles River, east of downtown. It is often considered by Latinos and non-Latinos alike as a traditional barrio, the historic epicenter for a proud, vibrant and authentic culture.
Any community needs champions, organizers, even historians, to keep the place's sense of purpose and character alive, and no one does more to promote this special enclave than Victor Felix and his wondrous Facebook page Who Remembers in East L.A.?
Felix, who grew up in the neighborhood, owns a party entertainment company and takes evening classes in photovoltaic and home technology at East Los Angeles Occupational Center. Before that, he worked for years at a subprime auto bank as a dealer account manager, until the recession torpedoed that job.
He started the Facebook page in mid-February 2010 to gather memories of East Los Angeles from those who grew up in the area. He also wanted to show outsiders the beautiful, historic buildings and amenities and to highlight the impressive list of great citizens who have come from there.
"Many people may think that East Los Angeles is dangerous to walk around in and everyone is a gang member," says Felix, an amiable, upbeat guy. "That really makes me laugh, because 99 percent of the people here are hardworking and want to make a decent living and have huge dreams. The negative 1 percent is what the outsiders and the media focus on."
His page currently has about 9,500 fans and gets an average of 12,000 to 15,000 daily visitors. Felix posts an image or a topic and then watches history roll out as fans of the page post to it. "I usually pick a location that I remember as a child that my parents would take us to. Then, everyone else shares their story."
Felix's business, VICC Entertainment, also provides free outdoor movie nights at parks throughout Los Angeles during the summer. "I wanted to be able to provide something positive that today's youth can talk about 20 years from now, to their children."
Felix shares East L.A. stories effusively, including when the community raised $18,000 in one day for famed Stand and Deliver teacher Jaime Escalante to get medicine to battle his cancer; when neighborhood residents caught "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez and beat him with brooms and sticks; and how boxing champ Oscar De La Hoya built a high school for the community and pays for breast cancer treatment for women at White Memorial Hospital in memory of his mother.
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"This page is very time-consuming and well worth it," Felix says. "I think that if the media did a little less nit-picking on the negativity of the area and showed the positive instead, you would have more businesses still open today and historic buildings open and not torn down."