As I've been giving book talks, I have often been asked, "Are you planning on doing a walking tour of Echo Park?” “Great idea,” I think to myself, “but how do I start?” I decided to call in an expert, my graduate student Arabella Delgado, who also works as the Digital Humanities Curator and Research Lead at the Boyle Heights Museum here in LA, where she has helped create wonderful walking tours of the neighborhood. Below, I share Arabella’s insights into how to present stories of place and history with you.
(Conversation lightly edited for clarity)
You’ve put together two tours in Boyle Heights, “A Walk Down First Street” and “A Walk Down Cesar Chavez.” Tell me about them.
The walking tours accompany our digital exhibit “Traditions of Innovations.” Boyle Heights has long had a rich spirit of “by the community, for the community,” and we wanted to celebrate that, especially in the face of increasing gentrification. The tours are meant to be enjoyable experiences—instead of just reading about them on your computer, we hope you will go to Boyle Heights, stop and eat at local restaurants, support local shops, and enjoy learning about the history from the inside out.
The tours highlight stories of local institutions that have endured even as Boyle Heights has changed, like Guisado’s, a Boyle Heights-based taco shop that now has locations across the city. They also showcase street vending and the informal economy, as well as organizations that intend to carry on a legacy of activism and local entrepreneurship, like Las Fotos Project, a nonprofit organization that mentors local high-school girls in photography.
Have you developed any other walking tours?
I have! My undergraduate thesis included a historic walking tour of downtown El Paso, Texas that wove together celebrated historic properties with less-well-known sites of working-class history. When I teach undergrads at USC in “Race and Class in Los Angeles,” I take them on a tour I made about how the university’s history of racism, especially anti-Semitism, is embedded into the built environment. I want them to think critically about their everyday surroundings and to understand how USC is a microcosm of Los Angeles history.
Can you describe your process of working alongside the community to develop the tours?
I joined the Museum team in Fall of 2020 when everything was on Zoom, so much of the content on the tour emerged from research other team members had already conducted for the exhibit, like their interviews with the journalists of Boyle Heights Beat. We forged new partnerships too: we were able to commission two photographers through the Las Fotos Project to provide the images for the digital exhibit. We gave them a list of potential sites and they captured these places through their own points of view.
Do you have any advice for people should they wish to develop a walking tour?
Walking tours are inherently about storytelling, and that story needs to be carefully crafted. What are the narratives we want to share? What do we want people to know about a particular place, population, or history? Are there existing stories and narratives that we need to challenge? It’s important to have a set of guiding questions that shape the overall narrative.
Thanks so much, Arabella!
If you'd like to see examples of more neighborhood tours, here are a few: