ECHO PARK — Jose Angel Dominguez Mondejar was part of Echo Park’s once thriving Cuban community with its restaurants, shops and newspapers. As the years passed, many of those Cubans and their businesses moved away. But Dominguez stuck around, his white coat and pants making him a memorable figure around the neighborhood. Late last month, however, Dominguez passed away shortly before his birthday.
Rhonda Reynolds of Masa of Echo Park had already included birthday wishes for Dominguez Mondejar in her restaurant newsletter when she heard about his death. He was a regular at Masa, which formerly housed a Cuban bakery and restaurant named El Carmelo. The name and menu changed but the Cuban native continued to return to the same place, Reynolds said.
Echo Park’s Cuban community was established following the arrival of refugees and immigrants in the early 1960s. Many credit the Episcopal Church in Echo Park for drawing Cubans to the neighborhood by supporting the new immigrants who were fleeing Cuba as Fidel Castro rose to power. In 1961, the Los Angeles Times reported that 38 young Cubans met at the Echo Park Lions Club to plan a counter revolution against Fidel Castro. In 1962, a Cuban club with English classes opened at the former St. Athansius Episcopal Church.
Bienvendia Husssain, owner of Havana Travel on Alvarado Street, said Dominguez Mondejar visited her shop nearly every day, writing letters and talking about politics. But one day last month Dominguez told her that he was not feeling well. She told him to see a doctor. The next day, on Feb. 26, Dominguez Mondejar did not come into the shop or answer his phone. A few days later his body was found in his apartment near Alvarado and Seventh Street, Hussain said.
Dominguez Mondejar had no immediate family in Los Angeles but did mention a relative in Orlando, Florida. However, no one has been able to track down a family member, Hussain said. She did not know his exact age, but thought he was in his 70s.
In a 2010 Eastsider story, Dominguez Mondejar conceded that the glory days of Cuban Echo Park were over. He often cleaned up trash dumped near the bust of Jose Marti at Echo Park Lake. He even confronted a man who was urinating near the monument. However, he said that many Los Angeles Cubans remained deeply interested in Echo Park. When asked in 2010 if Echo Park’s Cuban culture and commerce would completely disappear, he responded: “Never – not while I’m alive.”
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