Highlight the history of East San Jose

Until this month, the history of East San Jose was a gaping hole in the city’s local libraries.

The community, often overlooked and overlooked, did not see itself reflected at all in the Silicon Valley history books.

Everything changed with just one question.

A student from San Jose State was looking to learn more about the city’s lowriding culture and asked a campus librarian for copies of Lowrider Magazine — a national publication started by three SJSU students who grew up in the city. ‘East side.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Library did not have it.

“Just as the Eastside has been overlooked, so has history,” librarian Estrella Inda told San Jose Spotlight. “I couldn’t tell you why, but it’s a loss for San Jose.”


Inda, whose mother was a local organizer in east San Jose, turned to the community to collect oral history of the lowriding culture and salvage old magazines — ultimately using the information for a major exhibition of library in 2018. But as she dug through this part of East San Jose history, Inda and other librarians realized there was a huge void in their collection.

The stories of the Eastside from the 1950s to today – arts, theatre, culture and activism – were undocumented. They were not captured by the university, local news or historians, Inda said. And if they aren’t registered now, while many of those implicated residents are still alive, those stories could fade away.

“We don’t know what happened in the past, but it’s one of those things we can fix now,” Inda said. “It’s important that we do this because there are already so many people I would have liked to talk to – Esther Medina, Sofia Mendoza – they are no longer there. But there are still others who have worked with them.”

Thus began an almost anthropological quest to tell the untold stories of East San Jose.

Paint another story

On July 1, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose launched “Eastside Dreams: The Untold Stories from the Eastside.” The free exhibition will run until September 24 on the fifth floor.

Signs for major Eastside streets like McKee and King Roads line the ceilings of the exhibit, guiding visitors to the lowrider section and through a collection of photos and posters for community events and events. The Special Collections Room highlights prominent community leaders and maps of the evolution of East San Jose.

Darlene Tenes, founder of the Farmworker Caravan, is one of the Eastside leaders featured along with her mother Lily Tenes. She said she was honored to have her family recognized, but even more thrilled to see East San Jose accurately represented.

“People just reject the Eastside,” Tenes told San Jose Spotlight. “They don’t realize the whole history, the lore. That it’s filled with good people. This crime is actually not concentrated in the Eastside…and most of the wealth came from here, that’s why the city is the first the country club is here too.”

East San Jose is teeming with generations of activists, like the family of Cesar Chavez — whose sister ran the Community Service Organization, a prominent Latin American civil rights organization. The exhibit highlights the organization-born community leaders who fought for the city to finally open a hospital on the Eastside in 1965.

A collection of documents tells the story of an effort, started by activist Sofia Mendoza, to monitor interactions between police and residents in order to combat police brutality in the early 1970s. There are also the brothers Ribs, the first African-American entrepreneurs to have a street named after them.

By telling these extraordinary stories, leaders and historians hope to shed harmful narratives and stereotypes about East San Jose — and instead elevate the rich cultural history that has been whitewashed, glossed over, or replaced by image. shining star of a tech-driven Silicon Valley.

“It paints a different story of the Eastside,” Inda told San Jose Spotlight. “It’s not what it was portrayed as, the worst neighborhood in town. It’s families, multi-generational homes, artists and activists.”

A potluck of artifacts

Inda and other librarians spoke to hundreds of residents – some well-known and others unaware of the importance of their work – to tell the stories of East San Jose and grow the collection. They conducted interviews and asked for artifacts like photos, protest posters, event flyers and anything else to visually tell the story of the time.

“We found that it wasn’t just Mexican Americans or Chicanos, it was a diverse community of individuals who wanted to work towards voice improvement,” said the director of the Special Collections Library, Kathryn Blackmer Reyes, at San Jose Spotlight.

The granddaughter of Kathy Chavez Napoli, one of the few Native Americans to run for San Jose city council in 2000, donated photos from her childhood.

State Sen. Dave Cortese, whose family worked in orchards in east San Jose before turning to politics, donated items like a hard hat from the family farm, awards and Pictures. Members of the Black Berets for Justice and the Chicano Pinto Union provided posters they used to organize.

“Eastside has been underlined and stigmatized for years, almost as if it were a non-contributor, or somehow a drag on our metro area,” Cortese said. “The exhibit shows that not only was it not a drag, but it may have provided the impetus for innovative global leadership.”

Inda and Reyes hope residents visiting the exhibit will gain a new perspective on East San Jose.

“We know we’re going to be criticized for missing some stories,” Reyes said. “But that’s a good thing because it’s a living, breathing exhibit that we want residents to contribute to, to capture our story. It’s not just the story of east San Jose. , but all of San Jose.”

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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