The Arbol Verde Preservation Committee: 50 years on

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of El Barrio Park and centennial of Arbol Verde in 2012 are (L to R) Al Villanueva, Corey Calaycay, Opanyi Nisali, Sam Pedroza, the late Gloria Molina, Larry Schroeder, the late Joe Lyons, and Tony Ramos. Photo/by Susan Brunasso

by Al Villanueva | Special to the Courier

The history of Claremont is riddled with systemic racism and racially restrictive covenants. In the early 1900s, Mexican indigenous pioneers escaping the Mexican Revolution settled in the east barrio, known as “tierra de nadie.”

In 1965, the Mexican American community known as the “sleeping giant” woke up and the El Barrio Park committee was established by barrio Chicano activist, Al Villanueva, to pressure the Claremont City Council to build a city park for Mexican American children.

In 1967, Claremont Boulevard was built right through the barrio, destroying the historic Sacred Heart Chapel, Claremont’s first Catholic Church.

In July 1973, Villanueva formed the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee, a grassroots racial justice organization. Its mission was to prevent Claremont College intrusion into the east barrio, preserve the historical and cultural character of the Mexican American barrio, and provide a safe environment for children of color to grow up in.

Over the last 50 years El Barrio Park has hosted fiestas, queen contests, Cinco de Mayo events, and outdoor Masses, all sponsored by AVPC. In June 2012, a joint commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the east barrio community and the 40th anniversary of El Barrio Park took place.

During the last 10 years, AVPC has provided positive community outcomes. In 2014, with the assistance of the late Los Angeles County supervisor Gloria Molina and the Upland and Claremont police departments, the “Claramonte rifa,” a Latino gang, was eradicated in the east barrio. In January 2023, AVPC was successful in stopping the construction of public restrooms that were going to be built in the Upland section near the head of the Pacific Electric hiking trail.

Progress has been made during the past 50 years in the east barrio. Systemic racism has decreased but still exists in certain pockets of Claremont.

Demographic changes have been significant in Claremont. More than 50% of Claremont High School’s 2023 graduating class was comprised of students of color. Restrictive covenants no longer exist in Claremont.

As the great Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, “I have a dream, that one day the children will be judged by their character and not by the color of their skin.”

The Arbol Verde Preservation Committee has helped Claremont achieve “the dream.”

Al Villanueva is the chair of the Arbol Verde Preservation Committee.


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