On Saturday night, Dec. 21, I got a chance to visit Anna Drive in the City of Anaheim. It’s been a long time since I’d been in the neighborhood. I worked as an Anaheim police officer for nearly 30 years, retiring in 2010. From 1992 to 1995 I was a sergeant with the Community Policing Team and worked with the Anna Drive community.
It was a time of high gang activity and street drug sales. Many of the apartments were run down with absentee owners and poor living conditions. Anna Drive was a challenging place to live. Residents would bring children inside as soon as the sun went down, then bunker down behind wrought-iron grates. One owner even donated a vacant apartment to be used as a police substation.
Anna Drive also was the flashpoint for public unrest after an officer-involved shooting in 2012.
Today the area looks much different than what I remembered. Instead of yards consisting of dirt and empty pools there is grass and courtyards. Families and children walk the street with an apparent sense of security and safety.
On Saturday night, I attended the Las Posadas celebration on Anna Drive. This has become an annual event organized by Yesenia Rojas, a longtime resident and community activist. Las Posadas is a Mexican tradition that commemorates the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem as they attempt to seek shelter. Children dress in period costumes representing Joseph, Mary, and an angel. They travel in a procession singing hymns and going from one neighbor’s door to another. At each location they are refused lodging.
Also invited to participate in the Las Posadas procession were the Anaheim Police Department, Anaheim Fire & Rescue, and local politicians including City Councilman Stephen Faessel and representatives from the Office of Congressman Lou Correa.
Nearly a hundred children and their parents from the community also participated. Each child had an opportunity to receive a toy collected from a number of sources including the police and fire departments.
Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros and Capt. Joe Reiss participated in the procession along with Councilman Stephen Faessel. At the final stop, the procession was greeted by members of the Anaheim Police Department and Anaheim Fire & Rescue complete with police cars and fire trucks.
Reiss is very familiar with the neighborhood. His grandmother lived on Anna Drive for many years and was the housekeeper for St. Anthony’s, located next door.
There was pan dulce and hot arroz con leche (rice milk drink) at the conclusion, along with lots of smiles. Hundreds of toys were laid out in a courtyard on tables. Children entered in small groups and with the help of police officers and firefighters picked several toys.
Rojas buzzed from one spot to another, ensuring order in the growing line and then rushing over to make sure invited guests had their fill of sweet bread and arroz con leche.
In a 2017 interview with the Orange County Register Rojas said, “We have to move forward together. We have to invite (government officials and police) to our community, invite them to our events and be part of our life. Every event we do we try to get our city government to be part of it.”
It’s evident that Rojas’ efforts have not been in vain. The city and community have grown closer.
Reiss said the neighborhood is much safer and better than it was when I worked there over two decades ago. Community engagement has improved, and Chief Cisneros is committed to furthering those efforts. Las Posadas is just one small part of that engagement.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org