John Arroyo, 2008 Colodny Scholar

 

How did you become a preservationist?

Growing up in the vibrant Latino community of East Los Angeles, I was inspired by my community's dynamic urbanism and cultural history. However, due to the area being an unincorporated portion of LA County, there were no local strategies to support or protect historic preservation efforts. As a result, I noticed a lack of awareness, advocacy, and stewardship for my community's landmarks.  Apart from modest architectural integrity, many of them held strong social and cultural associations, all factors which encouraged me to steward their preservation and share their profound history both within and beyond my East LA community.

My interest in preservation was also formed by my mother and aunt, who encouraged me to appreciate and explore my Mexican culture, as well as my grandmother, who shared her knowledge about our ancestral roots in Zacatecas and Guanajuato, two of Mexico's most colonial cities as well as designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What is the value of diversifying the preservation movement?

Although the preservation movement has clearly made many strides, I realize there remain many communities who still feel excluded from the movement due to its traditional and historical roots. I feel there is tremendous value in celebrating the social, cultural, and architectural history of minority and underrepresented groups. Not only do they offer new and fresh perspectives to preservation, they also reflect the changing demographics of the country and as such, the future of preservation. These communities remind us of the importance of cultural literacy in preservation education and advocacy as well as the value of social and cultural history.

As a result, I feel that my own experience as an underrepresented person may serve as a model for the next generation of preservationists, especially among inner-city Latino and queer populations. I want to continue to encourage other people of diverse backgrounds to take an active, leading role in creating healthy communities, utilizing preservation as a primary tool.  I want to frame my unique experiences as a means to create bridges for my hometown as well as other transitional and complex minority communities.  This call to order is even more critical in hybrid communities like East L.A., where transnational cultural exchange between the United States and Latin America is ever-present. 

How did you become familiar with the National Trust?

I became familiar with the National Trust during my one of my earliest and first professional preservation experiences as an intern for the launch of the The Getty Foundation's Preserve LA initiative. A part of The Getty Foundation's Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program, the opportunity proved to be one of my most influential experiences. It demonstrated the transformative power of the built environment and culture to improve our communities and affect our quality of life, as well as encouraged me to pursue a leadership role in the field. My experience also allowed me to consider and publicly address the critical lack of diversity in the profession first hand. The following year I served as a Preservation Advocacy Intern at the Los Angeles Conservancy, an opportunity which taught me more about preservation education and local advocacy, and led me attend the Trust's 2000 Conference in Los Angeles, where I was awarded a Diversity Scholarship.

What did you think of your experience as a Diversity Scholar/Colodny Scholar?

I feel very fortunate to have been selected both as a National Trust Diversity Scholar (2000) as well as a Mildred Colodny Scholar (2008/09). My experience as a Diversity Scholar allowed me to learn a great deal about preservation issues in Los Angeles and expand my network of local preservationists. This led to my interest in preservation as a tool for community and economic development. It also inspired me seek special volunteer opportunities, including serving as a docent for the LA Conservancy and Las Angelitas del Pueblo and as a board member for the Highland Park Heritage Trust.

As a Colodny Scholar, my experience has allowed me to expand my local knowledge and network into a national setting. In March 2009 I attended the National Main Streets Conference in Chicago where I met a broad spectrum of preservationists from around country and learned how to implement new policies and best practice case studies for using preservation as tool for commercial revitalization.

Final thoughts:

This semester I have participated in MIT's award-winning Revitalizing Urban Main Streets Practicum, a hands-on client-driven class based on the National Trust's Main Streets Program. Now in it's fifth year, the class has worked with St. Claude Avenue Main Streets in New Orleans all semester. We have conducted field work and research (both in New Orleans and at MIT) in order to understand physical and economic development interventions and aid in the preparation of a formal district-wide commercial revitalization plan. The Practicum has been an invaluable learning experience which has prepared me well for my summer internship at the National Trust's Main Street Center, where I will be working on the projects related to the impact of the Main Streets program on urban ethnic communities as well as the impact of arts and culture in historic urban commercial districts.

Additionally, I currently serve as an elected Council Member for the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Scholar, as well as a member of MIT’s newly established Historic Preservation Student Committee.

 

Diversity Scholarship Program: 2000 (Los Angeles)

Mildred Colodny Scholarship: 2008/2009

Graduate Institution: MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Master in City Planning and Certificate in Urban Design, 2010

Graduate Institution: MIT School of Architecture + Planning, National Academy of Sciences / Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, PhD Student, City Design + Development Group