Boyle Heights, the old Jewish neighborhood just east of Downtown L.A. that was taken over by Mexicans about a century ago, would be an obvious candidate. But ethnic violence is always a temptation to fight back against gentrifiers. (Oakland, CA, for example, has retarded gentrification via politicized black violence since the days of the Black Panthers.) From The Guardian:
“I can’t help but hope that your 60-minute bike ride is a total disaster and that everyone who eats your artisanal treats pukes immediately,” said one message. “Stay outta my f****** hood,” said another.
I almost went to that experimental opera. (By the way, the Pacific Opera Project has a few tickets left for Friday and Sunday of their very funny show Mozart vs. Salieri at the main library in lovely South Pasadena.)
An eclectic coalition of residents, business owners, feminists, Maoists and other activists stands guard, working the levers of local government, deploying zoning and legal arguments – and occasionally intimidating perceived interlopers.
“Gentrification is a violent threat. When we feel it we may react in an angry way, through fear,” said Xochitl Palomera, an activist with the group Corazón Del Pueblo. “Boyle Heights is not going down without a fight. We know what we’re up against and we’re not afraid. Our roots run deep here.”
… Bold words given that developers are investing billions of dollars a five-minute bike ride away in downtown LA, transforming the skyline with gleaming towers and the streets with boutique bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries.
Known for low-income housing, mom-and-pop stores, taco stands, service workers and mariachis, Boyle Heights may appear ripe for transformation. Most residents rent, and many are poor. Other Latino enclaves in east LA, after all, have morphed into trendy areas where whites now walk their dogs.
Bana Haffar, a realtor with Adaptive Realty in Beverly Boulevard, five miles west, distributed a flyer in May 2014 titled “Why rent downtown when you could own in Boyle Heights?” She invited clients to join her on a bike ride in this “charming, historic, walkable and bikeable neighbourhood”.
“I think I was a little naive,” Haffar said last week. “I didn’t know gentrification was such a sensitive topic. Perhaps in retrospect it was not in the best taste. I was pretty shocked at the threatening and violent responses from some people. Some of it was way too much.” Fearing violence, she cancelled the tour.
Last November Hopscotch, an experimental opera performed in limousines and different locations around downtown, tried to stage a segment in Hollenbeck Park, near Boyle Avenue. Critics had raved about the production, a brainchild of the Industry, LA’s premier avant garde opera company.
Protesters in Hollenbeck Park felt otherwise and barracked the performers. “I made efforts to speak to a woman who appeared to be in charge but was always ignored and often shouted over,” recalled Marc Lowenstein, the company’s music director. “Some of the things she said were: ‘This park is for brown people’ and ‘This is not a park for white people. You are white people.’”
Things escalated on the show’s final day when members of the Roosevelt high school band used saxophones, trombones and trumpets to drown out the opera. Performers moved to another side of the bandshell but the high school band followed them, urged on, according to Lowenstein, by activists from a group called Serve the People LA (STPLA).
“I asked our own musicians to play along with the high school players, to engage them. The Serve the People members, though, encouraged the high school players to become physically intimidating and they themselves became physically intimidating.”
Rebellion is in the area’s DNA. Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants with liberal, socialist and communist ideals stamped their identity here before the second world war. Mexican immigrants who followed helped forge the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s, a heritage emblazoned in murals around Mariachi Plaza. Posters of Bernie Sanders as Pancho Villa adorn some store windows.
What Southern California now has a lot of, in contrast, are affluent, hard-nosed, 100% white guilt-free immigrants — Armenians, Israelis, Vietnamese, Persians, Russians, Koreans, Uzbekis, Chinese, Arabs, etc. — who don’t see much reason why they should take any guff from Mexicans, who have the numbers but not the money.