By: Kimberly Soriano (Guest Contributor)
We were standing at the corner of Alvarado and Sunset waiting for our usual order: a sope de al pastor con cebollitas and nopal, for me, and three tacos for my little sister Melly.
She was bouncing and fidgeting while proclaiming, “I need to pee!”
At her age, I was a casual freeloader asking for courtesy rides on the bus, so naturally, I told her to go across the street to Cosa Buona and use the restroom. She came back looking satisfied and ready to eat.
Two weeks later, the same scenario. Melly walked across the street. This time she pushed through a crowd of snobby hipsters only to be stopped by one of the restaurant workers. “Where do you think you are going?” demanded the worker. “Can I use your restroom?”, Melly asked. He shook his head and escorted her out.
She stormed out and marched back to Flaming Taco and furiously said, “Cosa Buona wouldn’t let me use it”.
Cosa Buona occupies a location that Pizza Buona held since 1959, their displacement in 2015 relocated them to a small spot in a strip mall down Alvarado.
A complete ripoff of Pizza Buona’s name and iconic signage, Cosa Buona serves as a visual metaphor of what has happened to Brown folks in Echo Park. Cosa Buona doesn’t care about our memories or ties to this little corner of pizza and lasagna heaven. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t notice, but the hipster decor and the increase in price cannot fool us.
Pizza Buona has not been the only casualty of gentrification that Echo Park has experienced. Lucy’s Laundromat recently close down to make room for gourmet desserts and other chain restaurants.
A community accessible clinic- where my older sister got an ultrasound when she was pregnant with one of my nephews- was confined to a smaller space to make way for a bougie bike shop – because we all need a $1000 bike, right?
Consequently, the four vendor shops on the corner of Logan St. and Sunset Blvd. closed down. These shops specialized in selling artesanias from Oaxaca, a photo booth for passport pictures. The irony is that one of them even sold bikes and bike parts.
The Gold Room was closed down for a couple of weeks and re-opened only to have a new aesthetic complete with neon lights accompanied by a note from the Perez Family that partially reads:
“If you haven’t noticed it we have tried to keep up with the so often changing Echo Park. Changing throughout the years yet trying to stay true to the dive bar look. Now 2017 has brought in a whole new chapter in this story … same owner but now with a new look and a whole new menu…
We realized some of you might see it and not feel at home but we want to assure everyone that we will try our hardest to give the best service possible along with new great quality products.”
My friends have posted angry tweets, Instagram and Facebook messages sharing their feelings of sadness.
“Gold Room es unas de las ultimas cosas que quedaron”, My dad told me as he explained how he stopped going there because he started seeing folks my age at the bar. I stopped going because, although the Perez Family assures the best service, their renovations and new drink menu make it clear that we are no longer their preferred customers. Working class sites of pleasure and leisure are no longer a priority for Echo Park – as bars upgrade from Micheladas and peanuts to microbrews.
Echo Park has become a site of entertainment for White upper & middle-class folks. Bars and cafes serve drinks that nowhere near accessible to working poor Latinxs from the area. These same bars and cafes hosted the 6th annual Echo Park Rising, a festival that attracts White hipsters from all over LA and equally attracts heavy police presence, which can prove deadly for Brown and Black people.
Gentrification renders whole communities as sites of entertainment. As Echo Park Rising is organized there is little to no consideration about what the Echo Park native community members want at the festival.
This year’s lineup included Alice Bag and Linda Nuves a DJ who is a member of Chulita Vinyl Club. Chicano Batman and Downtown Boys performed last year. These are great, albeit few performers of color. Still, there were no musical guests for monolingual Spanish speaking folks. Why couldn’t we have Sonora Santanera or other cumbia, banda, or bachata performers? Who even plans Echo Park Rising and why aren’t their planning meetings advertised and open to other members of the community?
I have to admit, I feel torn about these performers joining these festivals. A part of me feels disappointed that they accept to perform at festivals that cater to a touristy hipster whose very presence is pushing low-income residents out of Echo Park.
By rendering neighborhoods as sites of entertainment, we enable “well-meaning” artists of color to become complicit and participate in gentrification. Many artists can argue and say, “Well at least its not a White person claiming this space”. Well to those artists I say, you are still not from Echo Park and yes you are still complicit in gentrification.
Often times gentrification feels like a huge force that cannot be pushed back – no matter how hard we try. As Angela Davis so eloquently says, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time”.
In actuality, this means politicizing where you choose to party. If you notice that a certain event is planned by White gentrifiers at a bar that’s gentrifying the community, you can choose to not attend. If you are an artist planning an event, why don’t you plan events in your hometown? If you are already a gentrifier, don’t complain about your loud Brown neighbors whose food smells you shame (yes someone in my apartment building tried to come for my mom’s cooking), and do not call police on Brown or Black people – it can literally lead to our deaths just like Alex Nieto’s in San Francisco.
As for community members, take up space wherever your voice is needed. Local tenants unions are not doing a good job at centering long-time community members. By experience, these spaces are uncomfortable yet ironic because you can see gentrifiers organizing against the displacement that they are bringing about.
Resistance can look like anything from tagging on Bre Investments ugly ads to protesting an open house just like homies in Highland Park. Resistance can be digital art such as this image found on Instagram where the artists erased ‘realtor’ and replaced it with ‘evictor’. Bre Investments utilizes huge advertisements all over Echo Park as a constant reminder that Brown people living in Echo Park are a waste of resource. Similar to the colonial logic of Palestinian occupation, à la Manifest Destiny, realtors see their role as benevolent investors who are revitalizing a community for their own gain.
Echo Park is experiencing gentrification, it has not been fully gentrified. The latter suggests that we don’t exist and that we don’t fight. Gentrification is class warfare and we need to be willing to fight for the communities that raised and nurtured us.
We need to challenge our friends who refuse to see their complicity in gentrification and we must hold them accountable to community boycotts such as those that Defend Boyle Heights has set up. We need to also challenge ourselves and how we talk about our own community.