Photos by Brittany Bravo

FEATURED STORY: Ceci Dominguez

The River and Elysian Valley

Decades ago, Ceci Dominguez remembers a very different LA River than the one undergoing rapid revitalization by way of nearby gentrification today. The word “river” might even be a bit generous here, as “flood channel” or “sewage line” could better describe its function in those days.

“My kids would ride their bikes and wander down the street, I would tell them, ‘”Don’t go to the river! You can’t go past the block.’” In the 80s and 90s, with gang violence at its peak, the river was ground zero for turf wars between rival groups. The factories and manufacturing plants occupying riverfront properties used the river as a waste disposal system, dumping toxins and other rot into its waters. It was dirty, neglected, and polluted — and so it’s easy to understand why a mother in the Elysian Valley would want her young children to stay away.

When Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) hosted their first river cleanup in 1990, it caught Ceci by surprise. “I didn’t even know who FoLAR was. I had no idea. What do you mean clean the river? That dirty old river? The one I tell my kids never to go to?“

A desire to understand the forces shaping her community led Ceci to events and discussions surrounding river revitalization efforts, even if the local community hadn’t initially been invited to participate. “They didn’t invite us, but there wasn’t a group that I didn’t volunteer for. I started doing that because I needed to know what they were doing. Why were they here and what [were] they doing in our community? That’s something that we needed to look into…Who’s coming in here?”

For Ceci, it’s essential that residents get involved with — and informed about — what’s going on in and around their neighborhoods. Care for each other, check up on each other, and always remember to put community first.

Ceci Dominguez has been a resident of Elysian Valley for over fifty years. She has been involved in a wide variety of community issues since moving to this neighborhood, including advocating for more green spaces, cleaning up the LA River, working on improving local education, and decreasing pollution from nearby trains and businesses. Driven by a desire to improve Elysian Valley, she has served on a variety of neighborhood leadership positions and currently heads the Elysian Valley Senior Group.