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This longtime Basque club in La Puente became a regular stop for jerezanos.
Courtesy of La Puente Handball Club

Mapping a Mexican diaspora’s Southern Californian life

Baptisms, quinceañera, wedding venues

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This longtime Basque club in La Puente became a regular stop for jerezanos.
| Courtesy of La Puente Handball Club

Every weekend across Southern California, Mexicans prepare for a parade of weddings, baptisms, birthdays, quinceañeras, golden anniversaries, and more. We rent labor halls, community centers, church multipurpose rooms, VWF posts—really, anywhere than can squeeze in a couple hundred people for a dinner followed by a massive dance party. We couldn’t host such parties in someone’s backyard, or a park. When your village transplants itself to a new country, so does the custom of inviting everyone and their second cousins.

Over the decades, certain venues become favored facilities for a specific diaspora—that is, villages and cities with a huge population here. Each has its circuit, and examining the choices tells a surprising story of immigration.

Many start with humble spaces near their homes, then slowly rent fancier spots as members find success en los Estados Unidos and make professional connections. Their fully assimilated children go even higher-end, while newer members start at the humble ones—and the circle continues.

That’s how we did it in my ancestral community: Jerez, Zacatecas, specifically the ranchos of El Cargadero (where my mom is from) and Jomulquillo, the birthplace of my father. Thousands of people with ties to Jerez and its many ranchos live across the Southland, with the biggest concentrations in Anaheim, Montebello, the San Fernando Valley, and Inland Empire. For the past 40 years, people from Jerez have used the venues mapped here again and again for some of the biggest days of our lives.

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St Alphonsus Catholic Church

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Most of my father’s side of the family ended up on the border between East Los Angeles and Montebello, so I had cousins who attended Garfield, Roosevelt, Schurr and Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary high schools. But everyone attended this small Catholic church, which we all call “San Alfonso.” Many religious ceremonies for Jomulquillo families happened here, and smaller parties were held in the church hall.

Chava’s Cafe (closed)

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When I texted a jerezano friend who’s now a professor at UC Santa Cruz to suggest locations for this story, he immediately texted  “¡CHAVA’S CAFÉ!” complete with caps and upside-down exclamation points. That’s the hold this now-closed restaurant has on people from Jerez.

Mention it to Gen X-er jerezanos, and they’ll regale you with childhood memories of a bare ballroom in a seedy Downtown Los Angeles, and that our parents wouldn’t let us go outside lest homeless people kidnap us (their scare tactics, not ours).

So many people of my dad’s generation rented it over the decades that it was rebranded as Salón Jerez for a couple of years. All good things must come to an end, though, and nearby businesses now include the Museum of Ice Cream, Bestia and Guerilla Tacos. Man, if Chava’s Café was able to get gentrified, then nowhere is safe.

La Puente Handball Club

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Once jerezanos became socially mobile and moved to the San Gabriel Valley—Pomona, La Puente, Monterrey Park, and El Monte, especially—this longtime Basque club became a regular stop. I always remember the high ceilings here, a remnant of when members tried to build a jai alai court in the 1950s, according to A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals (the state declared the development illegal because it classified jai alai as a gambling sport, and so construction stopped). We’d only rent the salon part, leaving its expansive barbecue pits and picnic areas alone.

O’Callaghan Center at St. John Vianney Church

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This Hacienda Heights parish made national headlines in 2011 when someone deliberately burned down its sanctuary. But the flames never touched its multipurpose room, where many of my cousins had their quinceañeras and we held our brother’s baptism. For a great social history of the parish, read my fellow cargaderense—and noted Chicana blogger—Cindy Mosqueda Campbell’s many posts about it over the years at Lotería Chicana.

Ohhhh How i Love #stjohnvianneychurch #stjohnvianney

A post shared by Amber (@purrr_t_amber) on

Quiet Cannon

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Hometown benefit associations became popular among Mexican immigrants during the late 1990s and early 2000s, as they raised funds with dances to build infrastructure back home. Zacatecas was widely hailed for having the most powerful clubes sociales

And once a year, all the Jerez clubs joined their fellow zacatecanos at this golf course clubhouse for the annual gathering of the Federaciones de Clubes Zacatecanos del Sur de California. This is when politicians from our home state would address a crowd of over 1,000, where the latest Miss Zacatecas-Los Angeles would get crowned, and where our legendary tamborazos would clobber their drums and blast their brass with no fears of neighbor complaints.

Some #decorlighting for tonight’s wedding. #mijoent

A post shared by MIJO Entertainment (@mijoent) on

UFCW Local 324

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This was the main banquet hall for people from El Cargadero (located just two villages away form Jomulquillo), because nearly the entire diaspora had settled in Orange County, specifically Anaheim. Teenage boys too nerdy to dance (like me) frequently walked to a nearby Tower Records and spent hours there. The massive union hall was refurbished some years back, but the El Cargadero parties mysteriously ended over a decade ago for reasons I’ve never been able to discover.

American Legion Post 72

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Smaller cargaderense parties happened at this otherwise forgettable gathering spot, which I remember most for the ornery vets who’d peer into our celebrations, grunt, then go back to smoking.

Via Google Maps

Laborers Local 652

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This union center became the home base for the El Cargadero Social Club, because many cargaderenses belonged to this sindicato. Once the UFCW stopped hosting our parties, nearly all the El Cargadero shindigs happened here until my generation came of age and wouldn’t tolerate dinky labor halls anymore.

#partyprivado #quinceañera #laborersunion652

A post shared by Dinastia Nortena (@dinastianortena) on

Yorba Linda Community Center

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Starting last decade, the second-generation El Cargadero weddings began to ramp up their wedding game. I’ll always remember this large, sleek spot because my cousin Plácido got married here, and I was one of his groomsmen. We entered the room to the theme to Superman, which our friends and I have never let him live down.

Armenian Center Inc

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If Armenians ever use this snug room, I’ve never seen them. On the other hand, my dad’s family has used it for quinceañeras for years. Most recently, I saw my cousin Angie’s daughter Cassie have hers there, with a showstopper of a waltz—first a traditional one, then all the kids in her court dance to Silentó’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” which left us olds befuddled.

A post shared by Carlos Sanchez (@dangelusevent) on

Industry Hills Expo Center

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A sprawling complex that contains a rodeo arena, an outdoor stretch of grass, and a Grand Pavilion, it’s an equidistant point for the ever-spreading Jerez community. Most recently, my uncle had his 70th birthday party here. I don’t like this spot, though, because you can’t wander around too much outside without getting a security guard to follow you, as if you were near Area 51. Those narcs really don’t help the city’s shady situation, you know?

A post shared by Jesse Gonzales (@ninjety39) on

Artesia Community Center

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My paternal aunt had her 70th here a couple of years ago, and it triggered memories of previous Jomulquillo here. Across the street from City Hall, it’s a metaphor for this bedroom community: well-kept, well-organized, and happy to be overlooked.

Rancho El Toro

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This venue has become increasingly popular with millennials, because peak Mexican can happen here. It’s outdoors, in a brick courtyard with a fountain and up in Corona’s hills, which allows twenty- and thirty-somethings to pretend they’re back in the rancho and walk through dusty roads to a small stone chapel—multiple Instagram possibilities!

Diamond Bar Center

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From Chava’s Café to the La Puente Handball Club to St. John Vianney’s (or, as my dad pronounces it, “San Joanne Bennett”) to now this, the newest jerezano spots seems to move eastward on the 60 freeway, to richer cities. You’ve been to one community center, you’ve been to all of them, but this is a favored location for couples who want to keep the invite list smaller.

Congratulations Vy and Minh!

A post shared by Spotlight Groove Entertainment (@spotlightgroove) on

CRAFTED at Port of Los Angeles

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I didn’t realize until now, but we rarely ever attended Jerez celebrations in Long Beach, because it wasn’t part of our geography. But now that millennials in the community are getting married, they’re starting to flock to the port city for its cheaper prices and urban feel. I’ve been to one wedding here so far, and CRAFTED’s repurposed warehouses bring back memories of the massive pachangas of the past—but now, hipper. Ah, assimilation...

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St Alphonsus Catholic Church

Most of my father’s side of the family ended up on the border between East Los Angeles and Montebello, so I had cousins who attended Garfield, Roosevelt, Schurr and Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary high schools. But everyone attended this small Catholic church, which we all call “San Alfonso.” Many religious ceremonies for Jomulquillo families happened here, and smaller parties were held in the church hall.

Chava’s Cafe (closed)

When I texted a jerezano friend who’s now a professor at UC Santa Cruz to suggest locations for this story, he immediately texted  “¡CHAVA’S CAFÉ!” complete with caps and upside-down exclamation points. That’s the hold this now-closed restaurant has on people from Jerez.

Mention it to Gen X-er jerezanos, and they’ll regale you with childhood memories of a bare ballroom in a seedy Downtown Los Angeles, and that our parents wouldn’t let us go outside lest homeless people kidnap us (their scare tactics, not ours).

So many people of my dad’s generation rented it over the decades that it was rebranded as Salón Jerez for a couple of years. All good things must come to an end, though, and nearby businesses now include the Museum of Ice Cream, Bestia and Guerilla Tacos. Man, if Chava’s Café was able to get gentrified, then nowhere is safe.

La Puente Handball Club

Once jerezanos became socially mobile and moved to the San Gabriel Valley—Pomona, La Puente, Monterrey Park, and El Monte, especially—this longtime Basque club became a regular stop. I always remember the high ceilings here, a remnant of when members tried to build a jai alai court in the 1950s, according to A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals (the state declared the development illegal because it classified jai alai as a gambling sport, and so construction stopped). We’d only rent the salon part, leaving its expansive barbecue pits and picnic areas alone.

O’Callaghan Center at St. John Vianney Church

This Hacienda Heights parish made national headlines in 2011 when someone deliberately burned down its sanctuary. But the flames never touched its multipurpose room, where many of my cousins had their quinceañeras and we held our brother’s baptism. For a great social history of the parish, read my fellow cargaderense—and noted Chicana blogger—Cindy Mosqueda Campbell’s many posts about it over the years at Lotería Chicana.

Ohhhh How i Love #stjohnvianneychurch #stjohnvianney

A post shared by Amber (@purrr_t_amber) on

Quiet Cannon

Hometown benefit associations became popular among Mexican immigrants during the late 1990s and early 2000s, as they raised funds with dances to build infrastructure back home. Zacatecas was widely hailed for having the most powerful clubes sociales

And once a year, all the Jerez clubs joined their fellow zacatecanos at this golf course clubhouse for the annual gathering of the Federaciones de Clubes Zacatecanos del Sur de California. This is when politicians from our home state would address a crowd of over 1,000, where the latest Miss Zacatecas-Los Angeles would get crowned, and where our legendary tamborazos would clobber their drums and blast their brass with no fears of neighbor complaints.

Some #decorlighting for tonight’s wedding. #mijoent

A post shared by MIJO Entertainment (@mijoent) on

UFCW Local 324

This was the main banquet hall for people from El Cargadero (located just two villages away form Jomulquillo), because nearly the entire diaspora had settled in Orange County, specifically Anaheim. Teenage boys too nerdy to dance (like me) frequently walked to a nearby Tower Records and spent hours there. The massive union hall was refurbished some years back, but the El Cargadero parties mysteriously ended over a decade ago for reasons I’ve never been able to discover.

American Legion Post 72

Via Google Maps

Smaller cargaderense parties happened at this otherwise forgettable gathering spot, which I remember most for the ornery vets who’d peer into our celebrations, grunt, then go back to smoking.

Via Google Maps

Laborers Local 652

This union center became the home base for the El Cargadero Social Club, because many cargaderenses belonged to this sindicato. Once the UFCW stopped hosting our parties, nearly all the El Cargadero shindigs happened here until my generation came of age and wouldn’t tolerate dinky labor halls anymore.

#partyprivado #quinceañera #laborersunion652

A post shared by Dinastia Nortena (@dinastianortena) on

Yorba Linda Community Center

Starting last decade, the second-generation El Cargadero weddings began to ramp up their wedding game. I’ll always remember this large, sleek spot because my cousin Plácido got married here, and I was one of his groomsmen. We entered the room to the theme to Superman, which our friends and I have never let him live down.

Armenian Center Inc

If Armenians ever use this snug room, I’ve never seen them. On the other hand, my dad’s family has used it for quinceañeras for years. Most recently, I saw my cousin Angie’s daughter Cassie have hers there, with a showstopper of a waltz—first a traditional one, then all the kids in her court dance to Silentó’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” which left us olds befuddled.

A post shared by Carlos Sanchez (@dangelusevent) on

Industry Hills Expo Center

A sprawling complex that contains a rodeo arena, an outdoor stretch of grass, and a Grand Pavilion, it’s an equidistant point for the ever-spreading Jerez community. Most recently, my uncle had his 70th birthday party here. I don’t like this spot, though, because you can’t wander around too much outside without getting a security guard to follow you, as if you were near Area 51. Those narcs really don’t help the city’s shady situation, you know?

A post shared by Jesse Gonzales (@ninjety39) on

Artesia Community Center

My paternal aunt had her 70th here a couple of years ago, and it triggered memories of previous Jomulquillo here. Across the street from City Hall, it’s a metaphor for this bedroom community: well-kept, well-organized, and happy to be overlooked.

Rancho El Toro

This venue has become increasingly popular with millennials, because peak Mexican can happen here. It’s outdoors, in a brick courtyard with a fountain and up in Corona’s hills, which allows twenty- and thirty-somethings to pretend they’re back in the rancho and walk through dusty roads to a small stone chapel—multiple Instagram possibilities!

Diamond Bar Center

From Chava’s Café to the La Puente Handball Club to St. John Vianney’s (or, as my dad pronounces it, “San Joanne Bennett”) to now this, the newest jerezano spots seems to move eastward on the 60 freeway, to richer cities. You’ve been to one community center, you’ve been to all of them, but this is a favored location for couples who want to keep the invite list smaller.

Congratulations Vy and Minh!

A post shared by Spotlight Groove Entertainment (@spotlightgroove) on

CRAFTED at Port of Los Angeles

I didn’t realize until now, but we rarely ever attended Jerez celebrations in Long Beach, because it wasn’t part of our geography. But now that millennials in the community are getting married, they’re starting to flock to the port city for its cheaper prices and urban feel. I’ve been to one wedding here so far, and CRAFTED’s repurposed warehouses bring back memories of the massive pachangas of the past—but now, hipper. Ah, assimilation...