Arts & Entertainment

24-hour Memorial Day vigil honors Latino veterans in Boyle Heights

Families honor the contributions of Mexican American soldiers from World War Two to the present at the Cinco Puntos intersection and war memorial.
Families honor the contributions of Mexican American soldiers from World War Two to the present at the Cinco Puntos intersection and war memorial.
Molly Peterson / KPCC

Saturday morning in Boyle Heights, veterans began a 24-hour vigil at the Mexican American All Wars Memorial in Cinco Puntos. This is the seventh year for the day-long vigil, which culminates in a ceremony on Sunday at 10 a.m. — although the Memorial Day service stretches back 69 years.

The idea for the vigil originated in the office of congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and "quickly became a popular thing to do," according to Rick Coca, a spokesperson for Councilman Jose Huizar. "If you're a Latino veteran, this place is sort of hallowed ground for the region."

The vigil starts off with a few people. Others join in and take shifts during the 24-hour stretch. The idea is to honor Latino service in the military.

"There's been a long history of stellar service, but it hasn't been publicized well," Coca tells KPCC. "So they wanted a place that people could go to and honor military service."

What can you expect to see if you show up?

Coca explains: "A lot of American flags. A lot of patriotism but also with a sort of a Latino flavor. My boss was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and became a citizen when he was 18, 19 years old. He is very proud of his heritage but is also extremely proud to be a citizen of the greatest country in the world. And that is a feeling that resonates quite strongly in the Latino community in Boyle Heights."

For Coca, the political is also personal. His father's name is on one of the plaques at the Boyle Heights memorial.

"My father is in his 80s and his memory is starting to go," Coca says, "but one of the things that he never forgets is his time in the military. When he was more lucid, he looked on it fondly but understood what it meant to be in war and how horrific that can be."