The Pioneer Project is an attempt to gather stories and history information related to the place known as Little India on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, California. In doing this project, we hope to illuminate the ethnic and cultural histories of Artesia that continue to be intertwined with development of this commercial and transportation route. The Pioneer Project is an investigation and history survey conducted in 2011 and spearheaded by the Studio for Southern California History, a non-profit resource center dedicated to local history.
The Pioneer Project is co-led by Sharon Sekhon and Janani Subramanian. Gabrielle Garcia and Michelle Lopez authored a community quilt that interpreted what they learned and turned it into an interactive project, ultimately donated to the Artesia Public Library for display upon completion of the project. The Pioneer Partners received help from Studio student interns including Lucas Benitez, Carla Calderon, George Castillo and Marcella Haro. The goals of The Pioneer Project were three-fold: to record oral histories of neighborhood residents, business owners and visitors to the site; to situate their histories within a larger narrative of immigration and assimilation in Southern California; and finally, to encourage our high school and undergraduate interns to participate firsthand in piecing together the various narratives that make up local history. These interns, from California State University Los Angeles and Abraham Lincoln High School, visited the area to interview residents, conduct surveys, take photographs, and get to know Pioneer Boulevard by talking to shop owners, tasting the food at different restaurants, and meeting people who frequented the area. Although both Sekhon and Subramanian had experience with Pioneer Boulevard as a place, both felt a shared ambivalence as visitors and not residents to the community. However, the authors recognized a personal need to understand this community as members of the South Asian diaspora.
Artesia is a city of approximately 16,500 people and is located at the nexus of the 605, 105, and 91 Freeways, 13 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Named after the area's artesian wells, the city of Artesia did not incorporate until 1959; it was previously known as Dairy Valley, for the acres of land dedicated to the milk industry. However, the Los Angeles Times recognizes the current location as Artesia as early as 1882. The region was populated by immigrants from the Netherlands and Portugal throughout the 1930s and the dairy industry thrived here until the end of the Bracero program in 1964. By the 1970s, Artesia sought to change its agricultural economies to more residential and commercial zones. In the 1980s the area saw the emergence of many Indian related shops and cultural centers. Artesia is home to many groups including Mexican Americans, Filipino-Americans, South Asians and Anglo American residents who share a relatively small area of 1.6 square miles.
We acknowledge there are residents in Artesia who may be better at representing this history because of their day-to-day intimacy with the place, and because they have made it their job to care about its local history. All ethnographic projects are subject to limits and subjectivities, and we in no way represent an "objective" point of view in this project, as people connected to Little India in tangible ways and as scholars seeking to understand change over time in a multicultural space. We expect other scholars and Artesians to continue this project in the spirit of this place.