Anti-Gentrification Panel at El Centro Cultural de México Wonders What's Next for Downtown Santa Ana

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By Gabriel San Román

This past Saturday, within walking distance of people hopping from restaurants to bars in downtown SanTana, about sixty people gathered for a night forum on gentrification at El Centro Cultural de Mexico. Even with the special tax on downtown businesses known as the PBID now dismantled after much anger vented at City Hall, the debate surrounding gentrification (or aburgesamiento, which sounds like Spanglish for "hamburger") remains. It's not going anywhere, even though empty store fronts like El Paso Shoes on Calle Cuatro are. Concerns, on the other hand, can't be displaced so easily.

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Gabriel San Román
At the Saturday panel
"There are a lot of people out drinking, leaving bottles everywhere," said Maria Andrade, member of the SACReD coalition in Santa Ana during open testimonies at the onset of the forum. Speaking as a resident of 17 years and a mother of two children whom she used to take to the carousel that no longer stands in the defunct Fiesta Marketplace, Andrade worries about the nightlife culture, saying she's seen people having sex in cars and urinating in public. "The Latino businesses are disappearing. This is my experience and I hope we can do something about it."

A screening of the poetry video Cambios by Marylinn Montano set the tone for event. Poets followed expressing their views on the issue at hand through spoken word before Revel Sims, a doctoral candidate in urban planning at UCLA, gave a half-hour Powerpoint presentation on what gentrification is, defining it as "the development of poorer communities by wealthier people and businesses." Sims named the intertwined culprits: developers, banks, and politicians.
"The people that we most commonly associate with gentrification are these newcomers coming in," he said of the ever-reviled hipsters. "My argument is that they are sort of the product. They are the result of what these other people have already decided."
After laying everything out, the presentation concluded with a number of strategies proactive on the residential displacement front such as organizing for rent control policies and moratoriums on condo conversions. Sims didn't have eviction data for Santa Ana, but warned that recovery in certain sectors of the economy, particularly real estate, bodes ill for the future of low-income residents. The presence of activists engaged over the struggle to preserve the historic Wyvernwood garden apartment community in Boyle Heights at the forum underscored that point from a position of solidarity.
A panel discussion followed the presentation and participants included among others, Alicia Rojas of United Artists of Santa Ana, Illoheem, an undocumented organizer with the youth group RAIZ, and Skeith De Wine, a longtime artist who has lived in the city for decades. De Wine gave an interesting perspective as a pioneer who now finds himself at the brink of displacement from the loft he has lived in for years on Santiago Street. He described his early days as an Irvine transplant that eventually moved to Santa Ana as an artist looking for and helping to develop a scene.

"The newspapers started getting curious. The city council got curious and built the Santiago Lofts," the priced-out resident said of his new neighbors later adding that city officials were practically begging him to come. "It's probably our own fault for coming here and accelerating the process."
Rojas, featured in the Weekly's inaugural People Issue, pushed for coalition building. "Gentrification is historic," she said. "What can we do here that hasn't been done before?" The artist waxed nostalgia from the onset about Occupy Santa Ana where different community members met at the Santora Arts building for a foundational, exploratory meeting. "It isn't about race anymore," she said. The Occupy phenomenon frayed along such notions early on, though, and proved to be short-lived.
Illoheem made connections between immigration policies and gentrification. He said that ICE raids on Fourth Street between 2006 and 2009 instilled fear in a vulnerable population from congregating there and formed a nexus for the clientele changes already in progress. Illoheem also fielded a question about the arts. "We do see some art that is criminalized and others that are funded," he said pointing to the dichotomy where the SAPO community mural projects have faced challenges while the Yost Theater brings outside muralists for its venue.
The panel discussion concluded as people in attendance broke into working groups that sought out action-orientated ideas. A boycott of certain venues was discussed, but more emphasis was placed on a buycott that actively supports loncheras and other businesses that aren't willingly weaved into the web of gentrification. Another flash mob protest was suggested like the one featuring poetry and theater alongside the streets of the former Fiesta Marketplace back in September 2011. Others proposed engaging the issue in the arts and being conscious of the target audience. There was also talk of renter's rights, a tenant's union, and a push for positive code enforcement.
The energetic evening concluded vowing not to let the momentum of the discussion on gentrification just simply dissipate, promising to build like the crescendo of the solidarity clap that concluded it. Memories of what once was will fuel the fury of the future resistance to come.
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12 comments
dubyadawg
dubyadawg topcommenter

Bottles? Those bottles come from a liquor store, grocery store or a 7-11, not from on of the bars or restaurants. I have stood behind many people, white and brown, waiting for them to pay for their case of cheap beer. Get a clue.

jett
jett

A community is scared that new businesses and people are moving in who don't look and think exactly like them. This is the definition of intolerance.

jmcguinness
jmcguinness

I'm not sure what a "Latino business" is; is it a business run by Latinos? As far as I can tell, many of the "hipster" businesses are owned and run by Latinos.

RustieX
RustieX

As I recall, Mexicans displaced Blacks in Santa Ana. Only about 1.5% now reside in Santa Ana. Considerably less from just 40 years ago. About the same time wrought iron window bars started to boom.

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

So a population that displaced the previous population (remember, the Chantays of 'Pipeline' fame met at Santa Ana high school), is bitching about getting displaced themselves. 

Como se dice 'Schadenfreude' en Espanyol?

gabrielsanroman
gabrielsanroman topcommenter

@jett How did they move in? Was that PBID on some fair 'taxation with representation' tip? Or were you referring to white flight out the city back in the day? Ha!

gabrielsanroman
gabrielsanroman topcommenter

@jmcguinness Oh, the token opportunists are plentiful. Me? I wouldn't wanna step on the back of somebody else to get to where I'm going.

gabrielsanroman
gabrielsanroman topcommenter

@RustieX Oh really? Mexicans 'ghettoized' them in the SW section of the city? With what real estate swag? The census figures started atrophying after police brutality courtesy of the SAPD in the late 60s/early 70s didn't exactly roll out the welcoming mat...

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Mitchell_Young No one forced the gabas to move out except the gabas who refused to live with any minorities, period—but nice to see you continue to try and pass yourself off as Catalan! Wow, even the Whites don't want to be white anymore...

jett
jett

@gabrielsanroman @jett Why no, no I'm not! I'm referring to Mexicans being intolerant towards a new group who is moving into "their" city. You can't be intolerant of other races on one hand, while not understanding people's intolerance of your race on the other. Intolerance is wrong, but in this case it's also hypocritical.

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