Mothers of East Los Angeles

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Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA), started in 1986, as a group of Latina mothers under the guidance of Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church with the dedication to fight the proposed construction of a state prison in East Los Angeles by Governor Deukmejian.[1] Rosa Diseno, Lucy Ramos, Mary Lou Trevis and Aurora Castillo are some of the founding mothers among the now 400-member group.[2] Two organizations exist today who originate from the same founding members, one organization being the Mothers of East LA and the other being Madres de Este Los Angeles, Santa Isabel. Both groups are primarily focused on environmental justice because "[t]hey are mothers who have coalesced around something of immediate importance to them, the safety of their families and children."[3] They are known nationally for their victory over the proposed state prison in East L.A. which later lead MELA to take on many issues that have affected their environment and quality of life and has been unceasing in their dedication to protect their community from other projects they perceive as harmful.

MELA’S political history[edit]

East Los Angeles State Prison

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) was ordered by the California state legislators to build a prison in the Los Angeles County because of the disproportionate number of inmates that originated from the SoCal area.[4] Plans regarding the site location had been under debate for three years prior to the announcement of a new prison in the region of East Los Angeles in March 1985.[4] Many people were not aware until Assemblywoman Gloria Molina directed attention to the issue.[5] Molina began to rally the support of organizations and coalitions which helped gain time for their movement to grow but was coming to a decisive point by September 1986. Not long before that a parish priest Monsignor John Moretta[2] had become part of the prison opposition and gained certain prominence in the movement. He was responsible for naming the mothers as “Mothers of East L.A.” MELA’s involvement in the opposition for the prison created a greater sense of community,[6] exposed the potential dangers that the prison could present to the existing mixed residential-industrial community, and gained major publicity protesting against the prison construction.[2] When the prison came up for a vote in the summer of 1991, it failed by four votes.

Environmental Justice[edit]

Incinerator in Vernon[edit]

In 1987 California Thermal Treatment Systems announced that an incinerator was going “to be constructed in the heart of the South Coast Air Basin, in the city of Vernon, within 7,500 feet of homes, schools, churches, hospitals, and food processing facilities.”[5] The planning for this incinerator had been under the rug for “two years” [5] before the news was announced. Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard quickly gathered support from the East LA community such as MELA and Greenpeace.[7] They were able to organize protest marches, keep the community aware using their “bilingual”[5] ties, and attend important hearings to make their voices publicly heard. MELA actively participated in the fight against the incinerator for several reasons: harmful health effects from probable increased air, pollution,[7] environmental discrimination from large companies[5] and failure for the Environmental Protection Agency and CTTS to undergo proper legal procedures.[7] After a six-year battle MELA sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failure to provide Environmental Impact Report prior to agreeing to the continuance of the project. It was during this time in 1991 that the incinerator project was abandoned due to high opposition from health risks and a change of a new conditional agreement which included "prepar[ing] an EIR, [and to] incorporate 'best available control technology’ (BACT), and update its health risk assessment."[7]

Treatment plant[edit]

A few weeks after the victory over the incinerator project, ChemClear, a treatment plant for hazardous waste was proposed in the Huntington Park, California. MELA, Senator Al Torres, California Association of School Health Educators and other important groups played a critical role in petitioning and protesting against the plant. They rose issues against the facility location, an emergency contingency plan, waste minimization, fugitive emissions, methods of public outreach, and alternate transportation routes.[8] In 1991, Chem Clear abandoned the project due to a recession.[9] Nonetheless, MELA considered it a victory against yet another harmful project.[9]

Motherly activism[edit]

MELA transformed traditional networks, resources based on family, and Mexican American culture to defend their communities from injustices. They made important connections to the mother’s role as selfless caregivers by using political activism as a tool to extend that care towards the community. They have also strived to be inclusive to non-mothers. Members from MELA often relate the conditions of their low income communities and their histories to be a strong factor in believing that they have the right to oppose state-proposed projects if they believe it is detrimental to the health of the community.[10]

MELA and their allies[edit]

Mothers of East LA has worked alongside many other organizations that have fought for the quality of life in the community.

Organization About
Watchdog focusing in environmental issues through “education, scientific analysis, and public protest”
Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles non-profit organization that works to create and help low income housing projects around their community
AD Hoc Committee works to try to end poverty in Los Angeles and all around California
Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce a business oriented private nonprofit organization that tries to make resources more accessible to the public and tries to be involved with city beautification projects
Hollenbeck Youth Center an organization that focuses on providing enrichment programs through athletics, education, culture, and community activities for kids
TELACU tries to improve and enforce ideas on how to protect and make the community grow to become a safe and clean environment

These organizations assist MELA in creating public improvement projects geared towards greater community.

MELA'S work during the 21st century[edit]

MELA’s focuses in conservation programs like health education campaigns, raising money for scholarships, informing the community about environmental injustice through mass demonstrations, community and legal hearings.[6]

In 2010 MELA has been involved fighting against the proposed CVS Pharmacy in place of the historic Golden Gate Theater which was built in 1927.[11] MELA argued that the construction of a CVS could have hazardous environmental effects and increase the alcohol selling/buying ratio.[12] However, East Los Angeles Association (ELARA) stated that “it would mean critical revenue for any future city of East Los Angeles.”[13] The Board of Supervisors allowed the conversion of the theater to CVS store.[13]

Since 2011 MELA has been working on improving the air quality of 7 schools in Boyle Heights. This project is being funded through the “$1 million grant from Reformulated Gasoline Fund.” [14]

MELA's goal for this project is to create a better environment for children because Los Angeles has a reputation for having bad air pollution. [15]


The archives of Mothers of East Los Angeles are held in the University Library at California State University, Northridge.[16]


  1. ^ "MELA official website". Archived from the original on 6 April 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Varley, Pamela (2000). ""No Prison in East L.A.!" A Birth of a Grassroots Movement" (PDF). John F. Kennedy School of Government, Case Studies Program. Retrieved 18 April 2012.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Sahagun, Louis (13 August 1989). "The Mothers of East L.A. Transform Themselves and Their Neighborhood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b Miller, Lesley (24 June 2006). "East LA Prison Stakeholder Analysis" (PDF). Memorandum.[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d e Stuart, Betsy (Spring 1992). "Passion of Aurora Castilla: The Militant Mothers of East L.A." (PDF). Northeast Papers Inc. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  6. ^ a b Pardo, Mary S. (1998). Mexican American Women Activists: Identity and Resistance in Two Los Angeles Communities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-572-0.
  7. ^ a b c d Reynolds, Joel. "California Heroes Â" Toppling a Toxic Incinerator". Summary. Planning and Conservation League Foundation. Archived from the original on 1 September 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  8. ^ "RCRA Permit Appeal Fact Sheet" (PDF). Environmental Protection Agency. 1991. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  9. ^ a b Holguin, Rick (16 May 1991). "Group Launches Petition Drive Against Hazardous Waste Plant : Construction: The opponents of the facility say a full environmental impact report is needed". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  10. ^ Pardo, Mary (March 1990). "Mexican American Women Grassroots Community Activists: "Mothers of East L.A."". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 11.1. 1–7 (Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies): 1–7. JSTOR 3346696.
  11. ^ Smith, Dakota (25 May 2010). "East LA's Golden Gate Theater Cleared for CVS Conversion". Curbed L.A. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Mothers of East Los Angeles Appeal Golden Gate Theatre Drugstore Project". EPG News Service. 20 May 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  13. ^ a b Salgado, C.J. (23 June 2010). "What would East LA get out of cityhood?". The Eastsider. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  14. ^ "'Mothers of East LA' Takes On Air Quality at Boyle Heights Schools". EPG News Service. 4 August 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  15. ^ American Lung Association, American Lung Association (2011). "The State of Air 2011" (PDF). The State of Air (Report): 11–13. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  16. ^ "Guide to the Juana Beatriz Gutiérrez Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA) Collection, 1978-2004". Online Archive of California. 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2019.