UPDATE at 11:18 a.m., Wednesday, March 2, 2016: See our new primer on East Los Angeles here.
The Academy Awards' Best Actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio has said it at least twice this month: He's from East Los Angeles.
The problem is, he's not.
We would normally let such a white-guy lie slide. But East L.A. represents culture, hardship and ethnic roots that are hard-earned.
The unincorporated L.A. County community east and southeast of downtown is a storied heart of Mexican-American California, the place where the Chicano movement pierced the national conscience with student walkouts in 1968, where Garfield High School's Jaime Escalante taught the children of poor immigrants to excel in math, and where low-rider and cholo style cruised Whittier Boulevard and ended up influencing youths around the world.
DiCaprio was a part of none of that, and to claim otherwise is cultural theft.
Conversation erupted on Facebook after the actor told an ABC interviewer on the Oscars red carpet yesterday, “I grew up in East Los Angeles.”
“And my parents took me to auditions every day after school,” he said. (See video, below.)
Two weeks ago, in accepting a British Academy of Film & Television Arts acting award, DiCaprio said something very similar.
“I didn't grow up in a life of privilege,” the actor said. “I grew up in a very rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.”
East Los Angeles doesn't show up in any bio of DiCaprio that we've seen. The book Leonardo DiCaprio: The Biography has a comparatively detailed look at his childhood.
Born in New York, he was moved to Echo Park and then to what his brother describes in the account as East Hollywood, or “Scumsville,” where the future Oscar winner is said to have witnessed public sex and drug activity.
He later moved to tony Los Feliz and attended John Marshall High School.
Despite their location west of downtown, some hipsters have incorrectly taken to calling those areas the Eastside. They certainly aren't East Los Angeles.
Discussion broke out on the Facebook page of Latino artist and television writer Lalo Alcaraz after a video clip of DiCaprio's red-carpet claim was shared there last night.
“Echo Park and Los Feliz are not East L.A.,” said one commenter.
Said another, “Oh, brother. He did not! Trying to get 'brownie' points. … This brownie isn't buying it.”
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