Parish History and the Chicano Movement
The Church of the Epiphany was founded in 1883, only 33 years after the U.S. acquired Alta California from Mexico. Originally part of the Diocese of California (which then included the whole state), the church was the location for the first sermon preached by the first bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles in 1895. As an urban parish in a region close to the Mexican border, the church has persisted through the many demographic and economic shifts affecting East Los Angeles.
Initially the church served the Anglo population that settled in the new suburbs east of the city center. In the early twentieth-century East Los Angeles neighborhoods rapidly filled with Italian and European immigrants, and around the time of World War II, became predominantly Mexican. With this population change came racial tensions, fueled by racist discrimination against Mexican Americans and flaring in 1943 into the notorious Zoot Suit Riots between the local, extravagantly dressed pachucos and white U.S. military servicemen stationed in Southern California. Viewed as un-American delinquents and gangsters, the pachucos became targets for violent hate crimes by mobs of soldiers, servicemen and civilians. Similar incidents erupted in cities across the country. Twenty years later, as Epiphany responded to the needs of its neighborhood, the church became an organizing center in the 1960’s for the Chicano movement, which sought to confront and change the systemic repression of Mexican Americans.
The extraordinary events of this time marked the rise of a homegrown liberation movement birthed by Chicanos on the streets of East Los Angeles. The 1968 high school walkouts and sit-in at the Board of Education, the United Farmworkers’ pickets and strikes, the Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam war, and the organizing for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential primary campaign were experiences that formed a generation of community and civil rights activists whose efforts resulted in lasting empowerment and increased opportunity for Latinos in the educational system, employment, and the political arena. Church of the Epiphany was at the center of this movement, facilitating a profound cultural transformation in the Episcopal Church and the wider society by embracing Mexican cultural and religious traditions, supporting the development of leadership skills in its youth, and providing a safe space for revolutionary ideas and effective community organizing to emerge.