American Me Locations
Want to visit some American Me Locations for yourself? You can! This gritty and realistic portrayal of prison gangs was filmed at a host of locations around Los Angeles, so it’s easy to see where some of the more memorable scenes from this 1992 movie were shot.
The apartment that the Santana family call home sits on Mathews Street in Boyle Heights, on LA’s eastside. Nearby locations like Evergreen Cemetery and Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary) also feature. However, the violent scenes depicting the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 were filmed on so-called New York Street in the Universal Studios backlot.
Of course, with so much of the film’s action taking place behind prison walls, a big chunk of shooting for American Me took place in real-life institutions. The opening scene with the prisoners being processed, for example, was shot at the California Institute for Men, while Montoya also spends time in L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall. American Me was even filmed in the intimidating environment of Folsom State Prison, which definitely adds extra authenticity to the action on-screen.
We’ve put together a collection of some of the best scenes in American Me (spoiler alert!) and where they were filmed. Keep reading for details of three important American Me locations.
The character of Montoya Santana is based on real-life Mexican mafia boss Rodolfo Cadena.
Opening scene in American Me
California Institute for Men, 14901 Central Ave, Chino, CA
As the opening titles roll, we’re introduced to a wizened older version of Montoya Santana. At first, we hear prison guards leading new inmates through the stark realities of processing and cavity searches. As the first images appear, we see that Montoya is unfazed by this dehumanizing process. He’s been through this before and is calm and thoughtful as he’s deposited into a cell.
Overlaid on top of these images we hear the voice of Julie talking to Montoya: “You're like two people. One is like a kid. Doesn't know how to dance, doesn't know how to make love. That's the one I cared about. But the other one. The other one I hate.”
The prisoner processing scenes were shot at the California Institution for Men in Chino, about 40 miles east of downtown LA. This is the same prison where Rodolfo Cadena, the mafia figure on whom the character of Montoya is loosely based, was murdered in 1972.
Zoot Suit Riots scene in American Me
Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA
To learn how Montoya becomes the man he does, we first need to learn a little of his backstory. To do that, we must head back to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, which Montoya’s parents Esperanza (Vira Montes) and Pedro (Sal Lopez) were caught up in.
We see Esperanza stepping onto a streetcar in LA and immediately attracting hostile glares from other passengers. Stepping into the role of narrator, Montoya explains why: “In June of 1943, America was at war, not only overseas but with itself. The racial tension was running high against everyone that was different.”
Esperanza is heading out for a date with Pedro, but the tension in the heart of LA is palpable, and it’s only long before racial hatred boils to the surface. Pedro is attacked and viciously beaten by a group of sailors, stripped of his clothes and thrown onto the street, while Esperanza is gang raped.
These confronting scenes of the Zoot Suit Riots were filmed on New York Street in the Universal Studios backlot, which was most recently rebuilt in 2009 following a 2008 fire.
Montoya visits his mother’s grave scene in American Me
Evergreen Cemetery, 204 N Evergreen Ave, Los Angeles, CA
Fresh out of prison, Montoya is still adapting to life on the outside. La Eme’s power stretches far beyond the prison walls, but the impact of gang violence on the wider community is starting to take its toll on the weary life-long criminal. And when he accompanies his father to visit his mother’s grave, Montoya is about to learn a shocking truth about his family.
Montoya apologizes to his father for whatever he did to make the older man hate him so much growing up. It’s then that Pedro reveals how Esperanza was raped as a 19-year-old during the Zoot Suit Riots. “After it happened, we never talked about it. We got married and we tried to forget,” Pedro reveals, gazing at Esperanza’s headstone.
Then, he turns to Montoya. “When you were born, I tried to love you. But every time I looked at you, I wondered who your real father was,” he says tearfully.
This American Me filming location is Evergreen Cemetery. You can find it in the Boyle Heights neighborhood on the eastside of LA, less than three miles from the heart of the city.
It may not be the best-known silver-screen portrayal of the brutal reality of gang life, but American Me is as authentic as they come. This often-forgotten drama is a rugged and realistic look at the rise of the Mexican mafia in California prisons during the second half of the 20th century, and one that leaves an impression long after the final credits have rolled.
There are also a host of American Me locations to be found around the LA area. While some, particularly the prisons, are off-limits for the average film fan, there are others you might want to check out for yourself.