Claremont Heritage exhibits “Stories of the East and West Barrios”

A collage of black and white pictures from the “stories of the East and West Barrios” exhibition, in front of Claremont Graduate University’s Harper Hall.
Claremont Heritage held a documentary screening and panel shedding light on the history of Claremont’s barrios. (Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

Today, the city of Claremont is defined by its colorful and quaint community: boutique shops, Sunday farmers markets and a slew of activities catered both to residents and 5C students. However, the city wasn’t always what it looks like now. Prior to the establishment of the Claremont Colleges, the city originally housed a small community of Mexican Americans who resided in the East and West barrio neighborhoods.

On Sept. 28, Claremont Heritage, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the city’s history, held a screening and panel discussion for the documentary “Stories of the East and West Barrios,” which highlights various narratives of the Claremont barrios. In collaboration with the Claremont Colleges Library Special Collections and Claremont Graduate University (CGU), the event aimed to record, collect and preserve the personal histories of residents who lived in these barrios between the 1930s and 1960s, before equitable housing policies.

Barrios is the Spanish word for “quarter” or “neighborhood.” The communities from those barrios deeply shaped the experiences of Mexican American residents living through a time before equitable housing policies existed. Recent CGU graduate and organizer of the event Chelsea Liu CG ’23 described the event as a pertinent opportunity for the greater Claremont community to get involved in the city’s history.

“[The event] was intended to provide a platform both for barrio community members to see their own history reflected and represented, and for other residents of Claremont and new generations of 7C students to learn about this living history,” Liu said.

The event was held as part of the closing ceremonies for an exhibit displaying the first comprehensive curation on the history of the Claremont barrios. Hosted by Claremont Heritage at the Ginger Elliot Center, it featured archival photographs and artifacts all contributed by community members.

“Panelists were asked to discuss the legacy of the barrios, its historical representation and directions for future community projects,” Liu said. “The film utilized oral histories from the project and archival photographs to present a history of the barrios from its origins to present day.”


“7C students and the wider Claremont community need to be aware of the histories of segregation and displacement that have constructed the city they live in, and can contribute to advocating for diversity and anti-racist efforts in Claremont today.”

The Claremont Colleges – which has depended on the barrio community labor force since the 1920s – also contributed to the insecurity of these communities all through the 20th century, Liu said.

“Throughout the 1930s to 1940s, Pomona [College] and Scripps College bought land in the neighborhood and relocated bungalow homes for students and staff from campus to vacant lots in Arbol Verde,” Liu said. “Claremont McKenna College (CMC), the largest landholder in the neighborhood today, first started purchasing lots in 1958. CMC argued that it needed the property for institutional uses such as employee and student housing, sports fields and parking lots.”

Since then, the demographic and space of the Arbol Verde has forever changed. What once was a stable neighborhood of homeowners became a temporary residence for college staff and students that only benefited the city and the Claremont Colleges.

“The City of Claremont seized the Sacred Heart Chapel, pool hall and numerous homes owned by long-term residents through eminent domain — and destroyed them [for a four-lane street] in spite of community protests and petitions,” Liu said.

The powerful exhibition and accompanying discussion was accomplished through several community stakeholders and academic experts. Important figures such as John Domingues and Lydia Henry served as consultants to connect them to barrio members, while Dr. Lisa Crane and Sean Stanley at the Claremont Colleges provided a digital repository, where the oral histories and archival photographs will be shared and made accessible to the public for research.

“The community members we interviewed for oral histories above all were incredibly generous in sharing their time and stories, and opening their homes and hearts to us, and we are grateful to have built relationships of trust and respect with them,” Liu said.

To continue the efforts of being aware and recognizing the local history of the Mexican American community in Claremont, various professors and graduate students at the 7Cs are dedicating their research and class to focus on these issues.

“Natalia Brazao Cartas, a graduate student at CGU, developed a walking tour of the East barrio with Dr. Romeo Guzmán,” Liu said. “[Meanwhile] Dr. Gina Lamb at Pitzer College is working with her students on a related project on the forthcoming El Barrio Park mural project commemorating the history of the barrios.”

“The Claremont Colleges and the City of Claremont have a responsibility to recognize and redress this history,” Liu said. “7C students and the wider Claremont community need to be aware of the histories of segregation and displacement that have constructed the city they live in, and can contribute to advocating for diversity and anti-racist efforts in Claremont today.”

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