By Evie Kaufman
At an Athenaeum talk on April 4, Matthew Garcia visited Claremont McKenna College to discuss Arbol Verde, a neighborhood whose undoing can largely be attributed to the development of CMC itself. Thus, in an ironic way, the retrospective offered by Garcia, who had significant familial ties to Arbol Verde, was a personal one. Garcia’s approach in discussing the topic would make it difficult, however, for one to guess the relation.
Arbol Verde was founded in 1910, its origin story is rooted in the ugly realities of racism and segregation that existed so unabashedly less than a hundred years ago. 1910 was a tumultuous year for Mexico, one that was ridden with strife, violence and uncertainty. The Mexican Revolution was in full swing and those who were not fleeing from the direct violence itself were still displaced due to lack of economic opportunity and communal support. Thus, a large population from Mexico immigrated during this time to Southern California.
By 1920, Arbol Verde’s community was in full swing, having created a school, church and expanded residences. Social functions often took place around the church, and strong leadership on the part of the residents became realized. Additionally, the Padua Hills Theater, located in the area and a staple in the development of Latinx art in southern California, grew in size and capacity as the population in Arbol Verde expanded. In essence, Arbol Verde became an art hub that reflected the rich Mexican culture in Southern California.
Still, the wealthy middle class population surrounding the colleges and neighboring Arbol Verde pejoratively referred to the town as “the Barrio,” a term that was picked up by the community of Arbol Verde itself and reclaimed as “El Barrio.” However, it was the disdain and deluded perception on the part of the white population that ended up interfering with the community’s development. In the 1940’s, although well-intentioned, Pomona students and a professor alongside a wealthy grant institution decided to help save “the ghetto” by creating the Intercultural Council, ICC for short. 12 houses were built, and 6 were given to Mexican and black families, and the other 6 to white. This was supposedly an attempt to better the area by introducing whiteness to it, and was the beginning of Arbol Verde’s eventual gentrification and destruction.
Over time after the introduction of these houses, Arbol Verde’s core began to disintegrate. It put the neighborhood in the spotlight, eventually catching the attention of Claremont McKenna College, which would be established shortly thereafter. Houses were bought up by the college in hopes to take control of the neighborhood by breaking up the community, a clearly effective tactic.
In one of the more significant rounds of CMC’s expansion in the 1980’s, close to 23 houses were removed from Arbol Verde, an action that specifically went against the initial statements of CMC’s intention from that era. Even worse was the recognition of the devastation CMC’s developments would have on the community, exposed within the Environmental Impact Report, yet were ignored by the City Council. CMC was eventually allowed to continue under the grounds of aiding the community’s welfare in the long run.
In Matt Garcia’s talk, CMC’s president Jack Stark, active during one of the expansions of the college into Arbol Verde, made an official statement denying the solicitation and pressuring of Arbol Verde residents to sell their houses to the institution. In reality, CMC’s planners throughout the 20th century frequently badgered the few Mexican owners of houses in the area, while the rest of the residents were subject to the whims of their landlords. Those who were already a minority in terms of property ownership soon became coerced into selling their properties for under market value. The college has now, in retrospect, denied a major component of their part in Arbol Verde’s gentrification. It is frightening to think of how else the narrative will change overtime.
Claremont McKenna’s current master plan incorporates more infringement into what remains of Arbol Verde. It is clear their disregard for the community will continue and the expansion will eventually encapsulate the entirety of what’s left of Arbol Verde. CMC has no remorse for its past actions despite the steps forward it supposedly takes via the open, albeit moderated, discussions on campus. Created in 2009 and set to take place until 2039, CMC’s current master plan is reflective of its desire to destroy Arbol Verde in its entirety. Unsurprisingly, is planned to further expand into Arbol Verde’s official borders. It is clear that CMC will continue on its original course, while the rest of Claremont, if it reacts as it has historically, remains complicit to this reality.
The talk was aimed at the focus of reconciliation, however, if the perpetrators of these injustices will not admit to a fault, it becomes difficult to take steps to remedy the effects of Arbol Verde’s gentrification. Today Arbol Verde lacks any semblance to what it once was. Upland and especially Claremont have become densely white, a reality that acts as exceptions to Southern California’s diversity on the whole. Claremont was planned to be a white area, and despite the attempts of the city to keep it that way, the natural expansion of diverse communities persevered nonetheless. In the end though, policy, greed, and abject disregard eventually led to the destruction of this, likening Claremont to other redlined cities that exist throughout the United States.