Francisco Gutierrez was born in 1871 at La Mision Vieja to Californio parents who came for the Gold Rush. Francisco worked as a foreman in orange packing houses and was a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff stationed in Arcadia. In 1905, Francisco came to Monrovia and worked for B. R. Davison Company as cement foreman. In 1925, he opened his own cement business. Sidewalks around Monrovia Plunge, Immaculate Conception, tennis courts at Recreation Park, and private homes would have the Gutierrez imprint.
Francisco’s son Felix J. was born in 1918. He was part of the Shamrock Rovers, a group of multiracial boys who did what boys do. But life in Monrovia was segregated. Felix J. would only be able to swim one day a week at the pool that his father helped build. Francisco had other ideas and allowed Felix J. and his friends to baptize the pool with their frolics before opening day. Felix J. went to MAD High School and was one of only two Mexicans to graduate in 1937. He lettered in track and was staff artist for the school’s Wildcat newspaper. The Depression caused hardship for Gutierrez’ cement business and Felix worked to support his own ambitions. It was even harder to find jobs picking oranges along Huntington Boulevard with more “Okies” in town.
Felix J. had grand ideas. Upon transferring to Pasadena Junior College to study art, Felix started a newspaper, Mexican Voice. Launched from his home at 323 E. Lemon, Felix was writer, artist, editor, and spoke for the Mexican American movement throughout the Southwest. In a blistering editorial with political cartoons, Mexican Voice questioned why Mexican volunteers were considered “White” by the World War II draft board, but “colored” by Monrovia Plunge, school districts, and neighbors. Some of these Mexicans had gone to Monrovia City Council in 1939 to assert their rights to integration, comparing their segregation with that of Jews in Germany. Mexicans could only sit on the right side of the theater and could not patronize some restaurants on Myrtle. Felix J. reported on a 1949 police brutality case involving Monrovia’s Chago. Felix’ high school buddy, Art Tsuneishi, continued to correspond with him after being unjustly removed to Heart Mountain concentration camp.
Felix F. remembers his father teaching junior high in San Bernardino and then East LA. But Felix F. and his two sisters lost their father to cancer in 1955. Felix F. came back to Monrovia Historical Museum for Monrovia Latino Heritage Day on 18 Sept 2011. He stood in front of the panel of pictures that Curators Mark Still and Jimmy O’Balles had compiled. He chatted with Garcias, Zermenos, Quinteros and others who have lived for generations in Monrovia. He listened to Steven Sandoval make a speech about his grandfather, Jim Espinosa, a community activist who was loved by everybody. Felix F. even got a proclamation from Assemblymember Anthony Portantino in memoriam of Felix J.
Dr. Felix F. Gutierrez is Professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He is the 2011 recipient of the Lionel C. Barrow Jr. Award for Distinguished Achievement in Diversity Research and Education by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. His recently curated “Voices for Justice: 200 Years of Latino Newspapers in the United States.”
Dr. Gutierrez choked a little as he made his speech at the exact location of the Monrovia Plunge - where his grandfather and his father had both made their own imprint. The large multicultural audience choked up a little too to marvel at how far we’ve all come, thanks to the contributions of those before us.
Written by Susie Ling