Meet our subjects

Momo Yashima

Momo YashimaMomo Yashima was born in 1948 in New York City to immigrant Japanese parents who came to study art. Her father, Toro Yashima, was a Caldecott winning book author and illustrator and her mother, Mitsu, was an artist and activist in Women Strike for Peace. Momo is featured in many of her father’s books. Her older brother, Mako, was an Academy Award nominated actor and the Founder and Artistic Director of East West Players in Los Angeles. The family moved to Boyle Heights in 1953. Momo is a stage, television and film actress and recently co-wrote and directed, A Divided Community, about Japanese-American draft resisters during WWII. Momo graduated in 1966 from Roosevelt High School. Momo met Marsha (Maestas) Vasquez and Dian (Johnson) Harrison at Belvedere Junior High. The three have been friends for 50 years.

Dian Harrison

Dian HarrisonDian (Johnson) Harrison was born in 1948 at General Hospital in Los Angeles. Her father, Albert Johnson, and brother, Albert Jr., still live in the same house on Boulder Street in Boyle Heights. The Johnson family was an integral part of the African-American community in Boyle Heights and Dian has fond memories of spending Sundays with her many relatives after services at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. In early 2010, Dian retired after 17 years as the President and Chief Executive Officer for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, one of the largest Planned Parenthood affiliates in the US. Dian expanded PPGG's services with culturally relevant programs including the international family planning partnership in Ethiopia, the WomenFirst case management program she developed in East Oakland, and the Promotoras outreach and education program for Spanish-speaking immigrant populations. She has 33 years of progressive experience in the nonprofit sector, serving in leadership positions with high-profile organizations such as the United Way, the Urban League, and Fisk University.

Marsha Vasquez

Marsha VasquezMarsha (Maestas) Vasquez moved to Boyle Heights in 1955. Her grandparents were from Mexico but had been living in Boyle Heights since the 1940s. Her great aunt found a house on Alma Street and the family bought the property in the 1950s. After her parents divorced, Marsha lived with her extended family of her mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle. Her mother was involved with the Young Democrats and was politically active. Marsha cherishes her memories of learning about different cultures’ food at Momo and Dian’s homes. Marsha graduated from Garfield High School in 1966. After graduation, she was accepted into a teaching program and became a teacher’s aide at Garfield. Disillusioned upon finding students ready to graduate who couldn’t read, Marsha left teaching to raise her family and became active in the Vietnam anti-war movement and Chicano Movement. For the last 30 years, she has worked for the Los Angeles Department of Social Services as a Gain Coordinator helping women on welfare with employment. She is proud of fostering the acceptance of diversity in her workplace.

Cedrick Shimo

Cedrick ShimoCedrick Shimo is an 88-year-old Japanese-American Nisei. His working-class family moved to Boyle Heights in 1926 due to the lack of housing restrictions there. Looking back, he remembers being a second-class citizen in Los Angeles during the 1930s and 1940s: “There was a lot of discrimination outside of Boyle Heights. We couldn’t eat at restaurants up on Sunset Boulevard but this didn’t happen in Boyle Heights.” From his childhood on, Cedrick was part of a gang, the Cougars, known for getting into fights, but in actuality, it was more of an athletic and social club. The remaining Cougars still meet three times a year. Cedrick attended the Japanese language school in the neighborhood, Asahi Gakuen, run by his mother. Cedrick fondly remembers the diversity in his neighborhood. In 1941, he was drafted into the U.S. Army while at UC Berkeley. While at basic training, he discovered that his mother had been sent to Manzanar Internment Camp and his father, head of a Kendo school, had been arrested by the FBI and sent to a special camp. He became a military protester and activist. Cedrick speaks openly about the historical discrimination faced by Japanese-Americans. He worked for 25 years as the General Manager of a Chinese importing company and later, worked for Honda International Exporting Company. He writes and lectures nationally about his past experiences and volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum.

Saul Ines

Saul InesSaul Ines is 31-years-old and has lived in Boyle Heights his entire life. His mother and father came to Boyle Heights from Jalisco, Mexico in 1975. Saul’s parents bought Cedrick Shimo’s former house at 2812 Lanfranco Street as well as the property next door where his sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces live. They renovated the property in 1992 and it looks quite different from when Cedrick lived there in the 1930s and 1940s. Saul had a D-average at Roosevelt High School but graduated in 1995. His neighborhood is right on the line between two warring gangs and over two years in the 1990s, he went to fifteen funerals. Saul was heading for trouble with gangs but his cousin’s gang-related death helped him turn his life around. He is the only one of his friends to attend college and is getting his degree in Sociology from Cal State L.A. and hopes to become a professor of sociology. While attending school, he works as a tutor and for FedEx at night. All of Saul’s friends are married and have children; here he also is an exception. Saul has little knowledge of Boyle Heights’ multicultural history and has only had Latino friends in the neighborhood. He is a big fan of the Beatles, John Lennon and the Doors and follows “Los Cucharaches,” a Mexican Beatles tribute band.

Floyd Jeter

Floyd JeterFloyd Jeter, Jr. was born in 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His grandmother was the first person in his family born out of slavery and his mother, Sally, had only a third grade education. In October of 1942, he and his grandparents, uncles, and mother moved to Los Angeles because they heard there were jobs in the shipyards and factories. His mother rented from Vasily Volkoff in the Russian Flats section of Boyle Heights and later, his grandparents moved in next door. Floyd spent most of his days and nights at the Pecan Playground where he knew Bill Novikoff from age nine on. At Roosevelt High, he excelled at athletics and held the school record in hurdles and high jump. Floyd represented the United States as a member of the Goodwill Track Team in a month-long tour of Europe in 1954 and was ranked 2nd in the world in the high jump by US Track and Field Magazine. The first African-American to receive a track scholarship to USC in 1955. Bill and Floyd have remained friends for 64 years. While attending East Los Angeles College, Bill and Floyd came back to the site where they first met and worked as assistant playground directors at Pecan Playground. Floyd worked for 26 years as a Los Angeles County Probation Officer primarily with Mexican-American youth in Boyle Heights and East L.A. Floyd was recently honored by his induction into the Roosevelt Hall of Fame and is very active in the Roosevelt Class of 1952 Alumni and edits their newsletter. He has seven children and fourteen grandchildren and lives in San Luis Obispo.

Bill Novikoff

Bill NovikoffBill Novikoff was born in 1934 at his house on Pecan Street in the Russian Flats section of Boyle Heights. His parents were Russian Molokans and his mother was born in Mexico where there was a large Molokan population. Her father was a farmer in Guadalupe, Baja, after being exiled from Russia for his religious beliefs. His aunt and uncle, John and Anna, lived upstairs and took care of him and his brother. Later, John lost three homes due to eminent domain for the building of the freeway system in Boyle Heights. The freeways wiped out most of the Russian Flats neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s. Bill was very fortunate to grow up right next door to the Pecan Playground. A talented athlete, he received four varsity letters while at Roosevelt for baseball, football and track. He was drafted in the Army and served from 1954 to 1956 as a photographer despite his religion’s belief in non-violence (most Molokans are conscientious objectors). He was later disowned by his church when he married his wife, Loretta, a Mexican-American Catholic and East L.A. native, in 1960. After the army, he went to Cal State L.A. in 1956 and graduated with a B.A. in teaching. He later received a Masters in Education at Cal Lutheran. He returned to Boyle Heights to teach at Hollenbeck Jr. High with some of his old teachers in 1963. He was a teacher at Verdugo Hills High School for most of his career and was also a beloved coach for football, volleyball, and golf before retiring in 1995. Bill writes historical articles about Boyle Heights for the 1952 Roosevelt Alumni newsletter.

Leo Frumkin

Leo FrumkinLeo Frumkin was born in 1928 in East Los Angeles and lived there for 29 years. His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants and Social Democrats involved with the Workmen’s Circle in Boyle Heights. Exposed to Trotskyism by his older sisters and their husbands, Leo became a Trotskyist at age 14 and joined the Socialist Worker’s Party at 16. He remained a Trotskyist until 1983 when the new leadership kicked him out along with other long-time members. In Leo’s experience, Boyle Heights’ Jewish community was ninety percent political and predominately secular. Leo formed a Socialist Youth Group in Boyle Heights and still has friendships from the group to this day. During his senior year at Roosevelt High School, he organized a student walk out and demonstration to protest an appearance by the fascist, Gerald L.K. Smith. At 19, he became the youngest president of the UAW Local. He was drafted into the army during the Korean War, but accused of disloyalty and discharged when they discovered his political affiliations. Years later, the army reversed their decision and gave him an honorable discharge. After the war, Leo studied radio and became a local DJ but was fired when he refused to cross a picket line in support of the station’s engineers who were trying to form a union. He was active in the Vietnam anti-war movement and continues to serve on the board of the ACLU of Southern California. He cherished growing up in the diverse, multicultural environment of Boyle Heights and believes it had a profound impact on his political development.

Roy Yoshioka

Roy YoshiokaRoy Yoshioka was born in Bakersfield in 1941. His father owned pharmacies there but was forced to sell them prior to the family’s internment at Amachi in Colorado. After WWII, his family was not interested in returning to Bakersfield and moved to Los Angeles. They settled in Boyle Heights in the early 1950s because it was both close to the schools and downtown where his father owned a pharmacy. Roy currently lives in his family’s Boyle Heights’ home and notes that there are still three Japanese families on his block. Roy attended East Los Angeles College and USC Pharmacy School. He loves living in Boyle Heights and walks four miles through the neighborhood two to three times a week. He also works at the local Lorena Pharmacy which was founded in 1922. He has two daughters..

Don Hodes

Don HodesDon Hodes moved to Boyle Heights with his family when he was 3 years old in 1932. He lived there through 1954. Don’s parents were involved in the International Worker’s Order, which was a more radical version of the Workmen’s Circle. His father was a tailor and his father, mother, and he used to work in a garment factory together. Like most families in Boyle Heights, Don’s family was working class. Don proudly remembers marching with his parents through Boyle Heights in November 1938 during the March for Kristallnacht organized by the Communists and Socialists. Don is a self-proclaimed former troublemaker. As a teenager, he hung around Brooklyn Avenue with eighteen friends: four became felons, and he is the only one who finished college. Their favorite hangout was the pool hall around the corner from the Breed Street Shul. Don graduated from LA City College and became a teacher, principal, and then superintendent of schools. He was also a member of the committee who designed the national Head Start Program. Working for 20 years in Compton, he said he knew how to deal with at-risk youth because it was like dealing with himself all over again.

Mollie Murphy

Mollie (Wilson) MurphyMollie (Wilson) Murphy was born in 1926 in Boyle Heights. Her parents had moved there in the late 1800s as children with their families. Mollie lived with her two brothers and parents on Boulder Street and still has a friend who lives there. She also knows Dian (Johnson) Harrison’s father and grandmother. Boulder Street was very diverse and there were other African-American families there as well as Jewish, Japanese, Mexican, Italian and Anglo families. Mollie’s many Japanese friends taught her Japanese songs and language before they were interned during WWII. Mollie faithfully exchanged letters with them and kept the letters which tell a very poignant story of the forced removal of Japanese-American teenage girls and their longing for home. Many of the letters comment on Mollie’s excellent Japanese writing as she continued to study Japanese even after her friends were gone. She is still close with June Nishimura, Mary Nishi, Lillian Nishioka and Sandie Okada. When Sandie left camp to study at UCLA, she lived with Mollie’s family until her family was released. Mollie also attended UCLA and received a degree in Spanish. She became a Spanish teacher and taught at Pasadena Community College. Mollie worked as “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII. She married her husband, Millard, in 1946 and they lived in Boyle Heights until 1957 in the family-owned apartments on New Jersey Street. When her father moved to Boyle Heights with his family in the 1800s, they settled on the same property where he later built the apartments. Mollie has eleven children and over thirty grandchildren and lives in Pasadena.