Belmont High School – the infamous, the original, the jewel of Crown Hill. Established as a public high school in 1923, the home of the Sentinels was the first school to utilize the year-round system, where students were divided into tracks that alternated between periods of academics and breaks to offset the needs of the growing local population. Once the most densely attended school in LAUSD, California, and even the entire United States, many backyard boogies were organized because of Oscar and Johneric’s inability to grab a seat in a classroom with 60 other contending students.
A diverse student body of Mexican, Central American, Pilipino, and Chinese youth Belmont served as a microcosm to Downtown Los Angeles’ local politics, culture, and attitude. Belmont was one of the 5 schools that participated in the “Chicano Blowout” walk outs, helped organized by Sal Castro a local educator and activist who called for the need of bi-lingual and culturally relevant education materials.
Not just considered a “Mexican” thing, this trend in thought helped influence the Pilipino and Asian student bodies to also advocate for Asian American studies as well as Pilipino American courses.
A venue for many film, TV, and independent videos, Belmont High became a mecca of skate boarding enthusiasts as well as some of the inspiration to Tony Hawk’s 1998 Pro Skater Los Angeles level. Just ask Cheech Marin where he went.
Across the street from St. Columban Church, the oldest Pilipino American Catholic church in the United States, Belmont High was school to Joseph “Jojo” Ileto. At the age of 14, Joseph immigrated with his family and moved to Echo Park from the Philippines. Attending Belmont High and St. Columban Church, Joseph eventually moved out of the neighborhood and got a job with the United States Postal Service.
On his day off, filling in for a co-worker in need, Joseph went out to do his job and take care of the people’s mail needs. That same day, on August 7th, 1999, a deranged white supremacist went on a violent act of ignorance and brutality. After fleeing the scene where he opened fire on children at the North Valley Jewish Center, Buford R. Furrow Jr., then asked Joseph to mail a letter for him. A kind soul looking to help, Joseph was then gunned down as he was approached by the racist cowardly thief who took Joseph away from his family and our community.
For Pilipino American History Month, we remember where many families in Los Angeles have went to school, gone to church, and have grown up. We also remember that there is a long way to go to battle against fair access to resources, ignorance, and xenophobia.
Keep the narrative going.