“Growing up in South Gate and in Huntington Park, we're talking late 90s, there was definitely a perspective amongst the folks that I hung out with that Downey was where people from Southeast LA went to sell out,” says Carlos Arceo, who moved to this city of 111,000 people 11 years ago. “It was just like this idea that Downey was bougie. And if you came to live to Downey, you were bougie by extension.”
The late 90s is about when the term “Mexican Beverly Hills” first popped up. The name became more popular after a 2015 Los Angeles Times article referred to it, and that was followed by another piece about it in the New York Times in 2020. Now CBS has a comedy show called “Mexican Beverly Hills” in production. By now, many residents have heard this label at some point.
Ask former and current Downey community members what they think of the term, and you’ll hear everything from a wholesale rejection to a full-on embrace.
Mario Guerra lived in Huntington Park most of his childhood, and says he saw Downey as a “shining light” where he hoped to move one day. He bought a house in Downey in 1979 and eventually served as mayor twice.
Guerra remembers Downey changing from a community that was 78% white in 1980 to 74% Latino by 2021.
Today Downey residents come from many different cultures. “I think the people that were going to move out — moved out; and the people that were going to move in — moved in,” Guerra says.“The white flighters to Yorba Linda” were part of the shift, he says.
He explains that although Downey is majority Latino now, it isn’t majority Mexican. So Guerra – who emigrated from Cuba as a child – doesn't feel like “Mexican Beverly Hills” accurately describes this town.
At the end of the day, Guerra loves this city. No matter what people call it, the community shines in his eyes.
“Downey is a good place,” Guerra says. “Beverly Hills … they're the ‘White Downey.’”
When Downey native Aron Ramirez moved to Northern California to attend Stanford in 2015, he experienced a culture shock.
“Stanford is a primarily white institution,” he explains. “It has a lot less economic diversity, a lot of the students there really do come from some of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the country and in the world. And so it was the first time that I really reckoned with what it meant to be Mexican, because for the first time, not everybody around me was also a Mexican or any other Latino.”
Ramirez recalls Spanish being spoken outside of his home, and Latino businesses like paleterias, or Mexican ice cream shops, scattered throughout the city.
He first heard of the “Mexican Beverly Hills” in the LA Times article. Ramirez has mixed feelings about it and explains there are some criticisms to be made of the label. For example, the city is majority renter and the label could be erasing the experiences of residents who are not upper middle class and are not homeowners.
“People were thinking that ‘I'm also from Downey, but that's not me,’ and it's the same issue with the article that came out in the New York Times a couple years later,” he says.
Victor Salas doesn’t live in Downey, but he considers the community his home. He has driven a UPS truck in the southern part of the city for about 20 years.
“These folks that I deliver to become family to me,” he says. Some of those people jokingly call Salas “the mayor,” which is now laminated on his UPS scanner.
“It seems to be a town that gives the small guy the break … he needs or she needs. It's a town of opportunity,” Salas says. “Perhaps that's why it gets the reputation as the Mexican Beverly Hills, but I say Beverly Hills is Beverly Hills. This is Downey.”