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In tightknit El Monte, the killing of two cops reinforces a deep sense of community

Andrew J. Campa and Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The suspect, Justin Flores, 35, shot himself amid a gun battle with other officers in the Siesta Inn parking lot and died at the scene, sources told The Times.

“Knowing that this is my department, and I’ve worked and seen them in the halls, it really hurts me a lot,” said Montserrat Sanchez, 17, who spent three years in the El Monte Police Department’s Explorer program for students. She was among hundreds of people at Saturday’s vigil outside the police station, holding candles and bringing flowers.

The city’s true legacy is one of resilience, said Romeo Guzmán, a Claremont Graduate University assistant professor and an editor of the book “East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte.”

How El Monte is perceived is a battle that has stretched back decades, he said, and is encapsulated in the mythology surrounding the Santa Fe Trail.

The city seal depicts a horse-drawn covered wagon with the phrase “End of the Santa Fe Trail.” A city park and a large shopping complex are named for the route. El Monte students are taught that their city was the last stop on the 19th-century corridor across the American West.

In fact, Guzmán said, the commercial and migratory route stretched only as far as Santa Fe, N.M. — hence the name.

 

“When you buy into the Santa Fe Trail history, you are denying your own history,” Guzmán said.

Instead, he said, El Monte should be celebrated for its Chicano writers and poets, including Salvador Plascencia and Toni Plummer, as well as the immigrants who move to the town and work in small businesses along Valley Boulevard, Garvey Avenue and other thoroughfares.

The Siesta Inn sits on a stretch of Garvey dotted with stucco strip malls and car dealerships.

The mom and pop stores hint at the city’s evolution: panaderías sit near restaurants serving pho and music schools that cater to a growing Asian immigrant population. About half of El Monte residents were born in other countries, split roughly evenly between Asia and Latin America, according to Census data.

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