ANAHEIM: THE HAPPIEST CITY ON EARTH

Anaheim and its Native Sons

An Essay by: Gabriel San Roman

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             In 1975, my parents moved from Bell to their new home in Anaheim. My father worked tirelessly managing a now-defunct Pup ‘N’ Taco fast food joint on Olive Street. At the time, Anaheim remained a lily-white suburb. My parents witnessed the demographic changes of the city in raising their three children. By the time I came of age, Anaheim was well on its way to becoming a Latino majority city Little did I know then that I’d be reporting on Anaheim for the OC Weekly during its most trying times in 2012. The experience getting there, though, wasn’t without its growing pains.

Racial profiling in Anaheim began for me as a 3rd grader. My principal grabbed my jean jacket collars and asked, “Why do you people always dress like you're looking for trouble?” A child innocent to the ways of the world, I didn't know what racism was then. I responded by telling her I didn’t get in trouble, I only got good grades.

Later in my elementary school years, a white Anaheim police DARE officer used a stereotypical cholo accent in pretending to be drug dealer during a class presentation. My friends thought I was crazy, but I decided to confront him at recess about it saying not all drug dealers in the city are Latino as he implied. I knew what racism was then. In many ways, I’m still combating the same police culture in my critical reporting twenty years later.

Growing up, Anaheim portrayed an image of childhood innocence emanating from the gates of Disneyland out into the world. Visiting relatives from El Paso, Texas spent their vacations here with my family and always wanted to go to the amusement park. My primos and I have been on Star Tours more times than I can remember. While Disneyland’s international profile captured the imagination of the multitude for generations, the gaze of the world turned to my town one summer for very different reasons.

A tragic weekend in July 2012 brought back-to-back police shootings that killed 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz and 21-year-old Joel Acevedo. Both men died in neighborhoods claimed by decades-old street gangs. In Acevedo’s case, his body lay twitching on the other side of what residents of the barrio call the “Disney Wall,” a contrast illustrative of the city’s inequality if there ever was one.

Diaz and Acevedo both sported their respective gang tats, but are Anaheim’s native sons. Invited to the Santa Ana home of Genevieve Huizar, Diaz’s mother, I was left without words when she introduced me to Manuel in the form of an urn stationed under a television set in the family living room. He was literally reduced to ashes after two bullets from a policeman’s gun struck him from behind.

 

Like the insight of Richard Wright’s protest novel Native Son suggested, a summer weekend like the one experienced in Anaheim that year was a systemic inevitability. Days of rage followed culminating in a street clash between mostly Latino youth and Anaheim police. Generations of unrequited grievances above and beyond police abuse aired out into the night with every cathartic outburst competing with Disneyland fireworks exploding in the sky.

But where does the city go from that moment in time? There is much self-reflection going on in Anaheim. People like William Camargo are asking questions through their talents. Camargo is a ‘native son’ in his own right, being born and raised in the city growing up in the neighborhood near Northgate Market on La Palma and Citron Avenue.

 

Anaheim is ‘in progress’ as the title of his photography book suggests. Its destiny is to become a supermajority Latino city. Photo portrayals of immigrant working-class communities are immediately known to all who live here, be it the ordering line for Mos 2’s teriyaki bowls next to Anaheim High School, Palm Sunday congregates outside St. Boniface Church or fundraising car washes outside the Del Taco on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and La Palma Avenue.

 

But it is the portraits of youth that are the most poignant and pressing of Camargo’s work. Punks, cholos, Chicanos, immigrants and children all co-exist in a transitioning Anaheim.

With the future of their days, they plant the seeds of a Tomorrowland outside the gates of Disney.