Why Gentrification Will Never Kill Barrio Magic

The rough-and-tumble streetscape/ abandoned factories/ warehouses/ scrap-metal yards/ sidewalks still largely devoid of life/ metal gates and barbed wire/forbidding allure
/desolate/

“It’s all about discovery and taking chances and hopefully finding something revelatory”
“The social aspect is essential for artistic innovation”
“There’s a sense of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys around here.

– Gentrification, a study by The New York Times.

When white gentrifiers suddenly appeared sauntering down Boyle Height’s sidewalks
turning heads of abuelitas sitting on sunny porches
my neighborhood became important.

Important destination for bicycle tours featuring artisanal snacks
organized by developers for urbanites
with enough courage to venture to Los Angeles’s eastern frontier
in search of charming little Mexican homes to buy flip own

Important incubator of vanguard art hosted by emerging art galleries
the kind that boast of grimy freeway overpasses
city garbage and poverty providing
great dramatic contrast to their gallery’s impeccable white interiors

Important business endeavors for breweries serving up pale ales, saisons, porters
to patrons clueless of the brown bodies surrounding the renovated warehouses

Important because when gentrification sprang up in talks around dinner tables
we suddenly feared losing what we thought had always been and would always be ours

Safe space
where eating, laughing, bridging, organizing, and caring
are ways to heal our collective spiritual wounds
where we hold space to be fully ourselves

Presence defines us here
where we are more than just those who crossed the borders barefoot
the people who trim your yard
prepare and serve you your ramen, steak, or burger
More than just your maquila worker
your nanny or token Latinx voter

More than just those who were displaced from their campos
gunned down by police
ignored and pushed to the fringes of invisibility
beyond the reach of accountability, respect, and justice

Here we have nurtured a life filled with marvelous moments of
brown brilliance and barrio magic

What our parents carried on their backs
and imbued in us
what makes our lives
exceptionally beautiful and us
resilient

Barrio magic like
the morning strolls looking for the tamale lady
like that’s all the soul searching we’ll ever need

It’s the little brown girl posted alongside the raspado lady
digging through the mountain of 50-cent chips
holding up bag after bag to momma

Her moppy black hair frames her bright eyes peeking above the bag of Doritos
pleading to her momma too busy with the chisme

It’s the street-side food hustle that fills our bellies
with the blue corn quesadillas and deep-fried garnachas that remind us
of cities and pueblos that some of us have only been to in our dreams

The grandkids riding inside their abuelita’s black basket shopping carts
blabbering their Spanglish adventures to the wind
happy, invincible, and impeccably groomed
warmth between the little loves and the worlds that embrace them

Barrio magic is filling public space with our presence
musicians, migrantes, paísas, metalerxs
niñxs comiendo sus tostilocos on a plaza bench a luz de día
a luz de las nubes

Chambeadores, cocinerxs, gardinerxs, estudiantes, madres, abuelxs
seres who find home, space, and the rest
expressed in the beautiful word my momma always demanded
of my younger desmadrosa self: resollar, rest.

Rest in a world that is violence without cease,
toward the people who fill my community
means resisting in the way our communities have done all along:
inhabit and exist.

We recognize what gentrification means for us
not because it makes us suddenly visible or important
to those who will never see our magic

But displacement has followed us across
Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Honduran, Peruvian, U.S. borders

Unbearably important when we feel that stinging anger rise from the pit of our stomachs
as we witness whiteness and power
discover
purchase
occupy
colonize
anything it wants to and map it on Yelp.

The power to build, as if nothing was there before

Revamp as if structures, homes, life, and cultures crafted by the displaced into art and love are lives to be torn down by developers

Revitalize, as if life lay there listless, absent, and invisible

Rehab structures but shoo away street side-beggar plagued with cirrhosis
that take up space on the bus benches in front of their galleries

Overwhelming fear of seeing all the magic erased forever
what we love buried and built upon, torn down and redesigned

Our parents and ancestors forced to leave pueblos
have gone back to only find maquiladoras where before stood their apple orchards
where before beautiful soil persevered their memories, love, and life like shrines

Ensuing gentrification make me feel desperate to preserve the physical
structures
the places that nurture all that is love and presence

But this presence and magic lives in shrines within us
magic that whispers
We will not let them erase us.

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Mexico City: Exhaustion

Cansada. The traffic jams have become knots on my back.  But then, looking back, I wrote  seven articles, twenty-six blog posts, and nine magazine submissions. I wrote the most, wrote what I wanted inspired by the city I had to be in, in my entire life.

journal.eahn
Contours of chaos, a view from above (1972).

Three months after beginning this blog post, I’m inspired to begin, experience, and complete this post on how hard it has been to thrive and succeed in my decision and commitment to writing. In a commitment to a city. In commitment.

It’s been exhausting. Working full-time within the journalism world has kicked my ass. Working full-time and secluded in Mexico City’s deep south has been fatiguing. The toll of stress: anxiety of falling short, of being inadequate to begin with, of overcoming the fear of actually and really being brilliant. Urban inspired exhaustion: traveling 1.5 hours just to have a latte at my favorite cafe with its perfect view of city life, of asshole taxi drivers annoyed that they had to drive me to my place in Tepepan, a colonia just north of Xochimilco and a community a friend and I jokingly coined “the country.” Of the stress of car horns, traffic, and anxious and impatient masses filling metro cars.

I grew impatient. With challenge came great expectations and my flexibility, fluidity, love, and ability to discern  beauty and poetry in my surroundings and even life shrunk to a minimal tolerance. It’s as if my high-stress life suddenly blinded me from seeing that I was doing exactly what I wanted, exactly where I wanted.  Recalling and re-reading earlier prose and odes to the city, I was reminded that I appreciated the chaos of it all, its impatience, lust, and possibility. I was enthralled and even propelled by it. But in a state of unhappiness and stress, it became too much.

What finally allowed me to reflect on all of this was the space, calm and contemplation I had denied myself previously. Assigning blame to the city that has always inspired me, its noise, its chaos, its defiance to grant me one single moment of repose and silence to calm my reeling, anxious, impatient mind. The city and I seemed to be competing to see which would self-destruct quickest. And my love and patience for it during those long metro rides home, the love and gratitude for the immediacy and inspiration of an unapologetically and painfully alive city, fell victim.

Because exhaustion and short-sightedness is impairing and fatalistic. Because poor and neglected rituals of self-love make drowning in despair all the more probable. Because I sometimes may want to run away from a place I love so deeply and thoroughly I have defied everything just to feel myself embraced by its nights and mornings. Because nothing is permanent, finite, and unchanging. Because loving and learning means understanding that the process of loving and learning can be difficult, challenging, and exhausting.

That the poetry and beauty I discern on tired and drowsy faces of Mexico City’s poor denizens that I forget about once I reach my destination doesn’t end there. That deciding and choosing to be a writer and journalist isn’t the final published product alone. That traveling south, with all of my belongings, anxieties, hesitations, dreams, inspiration, and love isn’t easy. That not everything is grand or fantastic, doom or death.

Codex and Give Up The Ghost, the only two songs on my phone, on repeat non-stop on the MetroBus ride home, from Alvaro Obregon to Camineros. To feel, be present, and muster appreciation and gratitude for the city lights and life that zooms past me at the end of another day fully living and thriving in the city. For a pasajera en trance in the face of her dreams, this is the enduring commitment and gift from the beloved city that inspires and gives to me fully and to exhaustion.

Tláloc destroys Mexico City

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Las lluvias fuertes que nos enviaba Tláloc finalmente lograron derrubar el piso de pierda volcánica.

El gigante hueco, que en algún momento fue el Zócalo se expande cada vez más, devorando la corrupción, arrogancia, el racismo, y todas esas estúpidas sucursales Starbucks. Se borra sobre la faz de esta ciudad la banalidad que le impuso el neoliberalismo, se aniquila la estratificación de clases en la urbe, y se elimina la desigualdad por que Tlalóc de una ves por todas elimina la ciudad.

Ni queda el lecho del lago, la pierda volcánica, solo vacío. Al final, solo así logramos deshacernos de una violenta desigualdad de nuestra propia creación. Valió la pena rogarle tanto a Tláloc, a ver si podemos empezar de nuevo, a ver si no la cagamos.

Todo aquello me lo imagino mientras voy sentada en un Metrobus que ha estado inmóvil en el cruce de Insurgentes y Baja California por diez minutos. Diez minutos.

Cuando llueve así de fuerte como llovió hace dos horas todo se vuelve una mierda. A mi me encanta la lluvia tanto como me asusta, ver como azota contra sombrillas con una violencia milenaria, haciéndome pensar que Tlalóc  esta disgustado (quien no, con un mundo donde los Trumps y Peña Nietos son dueños del poder mediático y político).

Me encanta la lluvia, y a pesar de que mis jellies queden empapados y la sombrilla rota, estoy agradecida con Tlalóc por que nos bendice con caos, que es vida. Y me pongo a contemplar si algún día la naturaleza ejerce todo su poder de destrucción contra nosotros, contra esta ciudad monstruosa, qué sucediera.

¿Por dónde volveríamos a empezar? ¿Construiríamos lo mismo? Nunca me arrastraría del cráter si eso significaba vivir en un mundo lleno de Starbucks.

End of a season and the continuation of renewed cycles, my journey to Mexico City

It’s about that time of year here in Boyle Heights when the jacaranda trees shed the last of their beautiful lilac flowers. And as the last of its sweet petals frame our view of the early summer sky, I prepare to once again head south for Mexico City.

The jacaranda tree, magnificent and populously planted all over Boyle Heights, has perhaps been my favorite companion in these last few Spring months. Be it enjoying the sight of them through the train window coming home from yoga on the metro gold line or walking beneath them on especially gloomy and overcast days, their presence has been a personal source of happiness and inspiration.

And just like the many beings I continue to meet on my journey, I feel grateful for the jacaranda and what it has taught me about presence, resiliency, and the cyclical nature of our days, lives, opportunities, and worlds.

Well, it was only very recently that I received an offer to work as the Managing Director for the Center of International Policy’s Americas Program in Mexico City, an organization I’ve worked as an intern and journalist for the last three years.

I was surprised and deeply grateful regarding the timeliness of this amazing offer, considering that my plans for a Fulbright didn’t come into fruition this past April and in light of my overwhelming desire to make a more permanent move to DF. Considering that for over two years, I have made two unsuccessful attempts at graduate admissions at UNAM, countless unfruitful job applications to Mexican organizations, and an endless amount of sent emails and withheld sighs and depressions experienced in the process. Simply put, this offer is basically a dream come true for this transbarrio writer and nepantlera.

Yet after the conversation with my friend and would be boss, I have walked around my neighborhood, contemplating the increasingly bare branches of the jacaranda, and it was during these barrio saunters that I sincerely felt a sadness about leaving and embarking south. Of leaving during a time I have felt I have become more intimate and familiar with Boyle Heights.

In an instant I felt conflicted whether to stay in Boyle Heights and explore and deepen the possibilities of my happiness here or to heed this opportunity to embark on a career in journalism in Mexico City, a destination I have sought to arrive to so desperately, so insanely, so intensely for so long.

And in considering this sudden and unexpected opportunity not only to travel and live in the city of my dreams, but work in the field of journalism, and to be physically and creatively closer to a life of writing and living splendidly, I feel compelled to take a cue from my favorite trees that in their cycles and essence have taught me an important lesson about blooming and letting go.

For over three years, I have struggled with transitions. Refusing to be present and struggling with accepting and letting go of new spiritual, personal, and emotional seasons. These have included the spiritually debilitating experience of transitioning back into the often alienating culture and politics of the US. Of the institutional violence inflicted upon young people of color not only seeking to survive the job market, but living and existing in US society. Of my own intolerance and violence toward myself, the way I have adopted criteria and judgment toward myself, and my ability and capacity to achieve, create, and exist. Meanwhile these many forms of violence are products of both tangible and metaphysical legacies of injustice and inequality, one of the biggest challenges has been recognizing that I have always been where I needed to be, both physically and emotionally.

What I now realize is that meanwhile it has been so in the past, transitions do not necessarily have to be painful. That cycles end only to begin different and more necessary journeys. That in searching for affirmations and inspiration, we must take cues from the universe and the worlds around us, from the beauty of the changing branches of the jacaranda tree to the boundless and limitlessness of earth and peoples despite borders, of the grandeur of existence.

What is wonderful and what I am so unbelievably grateful for is that I owe the beginning of this cycle to hard work, serendipity, and coincidence. It is recognizing that it is a result of my work and effort over three years and that it is also a product of a phone call and an alignment of both well wishes and a genuine search for support. And it has perhaps even come in a time when I’ve needed it most: it is a ripple of cycles that came before, many that even began before I came to exist in this present form.

I am open to embarking on this cycle and I recognize that I must bloom and let go as the seasons require. That my potential and power to regenerate, reinvent, and heal is limitless. And that I am so incredibly excited for what lies ahead. And that I am strong and ready to transition and flow and relish in it.

I recognize and affirm that Boyle Heights and my gente and these trees are resilient and are within me as much as I stay and live within them. That I am headed to where I need to be only to return to continue what many of us began for ourselves and together.

And just like the jacaranda tree bears its beautiful branches regardless of the season, I am grateful and love my life both in times of splendor and simplicity, triumph and challenge, growth and stillness.

Como pasajera en trance y repose, I look forward to the transitions and renewed seasons that await.

Ella Está Embarcando: The Retreat Forward

The soft lavender hue of my notepad makes writing this a pleasant visual experience. A compliment to these feelings of tranquility and peace affirmed by the music and conversation of the last few hours, of the last few days. Everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment encourages me to retreat ahead in the construction and expression of my creative desires. A shift, a recalibration, a decision. A choice in the direction to do what I have always wanted to do in the places I have always wanted to be.

It has been a long and agonizing accumulation of pain and heartbreak, this life and becoming. As I’ve probably expressed in my writing and in conversation and in silence, I am who I continue to become because of Mexico City and the traversing of physical, spiritual, emotional, creative terrain that it has entailed.

Navigating the intersections of these has challenged and strengthened every inch of my spiritual and physical body. It has broken me down and built me up a hundred times over. Destroyed and inspired an identity faithful to the emancipation from a spiritually, culturally, physically, creatively bordered existence. And the embracement of it. I am a child and inhabitant of the borderlands. They have birthed and destroyed me. Crossing them and inhabiting each edge, each crevice, has strengthened me.

Four years ago, at twenty years old and during my first return to Mexico City, I crossed the physical terrain in search for the affirmation of an authenticity of the self. I returned to Mexico, a symbolic and deeply spiritual journey masked as a study abroad opportunity, to demystify what it meant to live and be and perform as a Mexican from within its political and ephemeral borders. I sought the authenticity and approval that I never received. Because of my language, skin, lived experiences and condition as child of both the diaspora and the transbarrio, I experienced the violence inspired by nationalism and cultural and social distance. I wasn’t Mexican but Pocha, not Spanish but Spanglish, not authentic but foreign. I suffered but eventually relished in it all. I began to look for the unique and non-conforming in Mexico City and I found it at every corner, found that I belonged there because of my love and passion, because of my difference. I learned there that that is precisely what this world depends on.

I fell in love with that city and during my second and third returns, I began to more comfortably occupy this new and different position and perspective, felt the opportunities to reflect and discard, better understand and build anew. The liberty and opportunity of traveling to a new place unfamiliar with your past and who you have been before. A place that attracts people in search of this opportunity. Here I studied, I researched, I worked, and I became.

My fourth return was pure and exhilarating escape. I proved that DF has always been mine, it has always been within my grasp, just a plane ticket, a phone call, an email, a decision away.

This realization was a long time coming. For four years, I felt deep pain when for different circumstances, I have had to leave DF behind for the US. It is when I have felt furthest away from these feelings and visions I mention inspired by the city, from the superior passional quality of absolutely every detail of rising to live another day, from the prospect of recreating this just one more time, that I have retreated into depression and pain. A physical pain inflicted by denial, negation, and distance. My own negation and the impossibility of finding the encouragement and affirmation from my surroundings.

Yet meanwhile this suffering may very well have been self inflicted, it was my reaction to this sudden shift and recalibration into a different terrain, one that I felt and knew was hostile to everything that I had loved so deeply in Mexico City. Being in the US, I felt frustrated and oppressed with the apathy and alienation that inspires people to prefer material well being versus poetry. How this preference informed social interactions, a hug, a kiss, a glance was drained of the desire to truly connect and acknowledge – two exercises I learned to do while living in the city of my dreams. Social and public distance charted out my navigation of space and I hated it so deeply. I made the resolve that my only escape was back to Mexico. And I saw it as an escape in the direction of the fulfillment of my happiness.

This dream that still holds true and that is perhaps more mature with experience and steadfast with conviction, is one that has made many people uncomfortable and has solicited critique, and even spiritual violence, from people I deeply love and have surrounded me all my life. This violence was me denying this for myself. Retreating backward to nostalgia.

Yet everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment affirms that if I continue to obey an environment so unfamiliar with what i love and propels me forward, I will probably never transcend any challenge and pain. Never create of it, use my vision and love to express this experience. This life.

All of this movement and migration has liberated my spirit in such an irreparable way: it can never be undone. I can never retreat backward.

The only option, my only opportunity to continue to live and love, is to move forward. Yet, what I have recently learned is that the pain and suffering that has characterized my life for four years must now be what propels me forward.

In my past, I had refused to accept that I had to expand and deepen and express myself and my vision, to be and use what I had lived to create, to understand that this was another way of living, that it wasn’t anyone else’s say but my own, and that I had to faithfully inwardly listen to this truth. Pain because I couldn’t and was not ready to decide for myself. Pain because we are constantly told to follow the path of obedience. Because to choose sometimes means to challenge those who so desperately seek to preserve the integrity of their decisions, choosing differently means breaking away, building anew.

I will use this pain and life and ultimately love and inspiration to propel myself forward and not to oppress my decision and vision. There is only one way left to escape alienation of present day society, to retreat ahead of it. Wherever the retreat forward takes me.

boyle heights como presencia

la primera, boyle heights

In Boyle Heights, the coming of Spring begins to permeate our mornings through the smell of flowers when the wind blows and in the brightening brown faces of gente walking the streets of a community perched atop a hill anchored in the heart of LA. As I walk around my community, up and down streets lined with victorian homes and multi-family apartment buildings bustling with life, on a bright March morning the jacaranda trees bloom and sprinkle its petals on the faces of brown children and viajeras who glance up to embrace its beauty and grandeur. The purple flowers hang off tree limbs that extend expansively into the sky above, a presence unwavered by wind and time.

Spring, as bearer of life and rebirth, serves as a backdrop for a community filled with hundreds of people as strong and as present as the jacaranda trees planted here and throughout nuestra américa, our transbarrios. Yet it was under a patterned blue and light purple evening sky, that I discerned perhaps for the first time yesterday, the meaning of this presence, how tangible, beautiful, and singular people of Boyle Heights are.

My love for this place runs as deep as my love for the smell of moist soil, the taste of food prepared by men and womyn in dozens of its street corners, for happiness and community on a park and plaza bench, and the gift of walking and moving and knowing where I was born, where my parents chose to stay and build, to harvest, and to grow.

Yet for a long time, when I’ve walked down its streets I have seen and felt an absence in this place I love without measure that I couldn’t exactly name. In my treasured ritual of walking down 1st street, an avenue of constant movement where storefronts neighbor the community theater and police station, I often have searched to find a connection, the gaze of my neighbors both young and old, to find reassurance in a smile and in an affirmation. Without understanding this need, I felt I wanted to embrace the people who live in a community I have gone on to carry with me wherever I have traveled, when Boyle Heights has rolled off my tongue when speaking with students and activist in Mexico City, when strolling down the pebbled streets of Oaxaca, when stepping onto the campus of a university in a small predominately white town in Northern California.

Many times I have instead seen the downward gaze of an elder man dressed in a sombrero and guaraches walking in the opposite direction determined to get to some place. I have seen lackluster storefronts, one after another, profiled against a sunset peaking through the skyline down below, absent of people, absent of warmth. As a community so close to downtown and so familiar to migrant spirits, its sidewalks and bus benches become home to lingering souls, momentary refuge for rest and sleep. Through the unceasing cycle of night and morning, I have yearned to feel and to see and to know that collectively us gente from Boyle Heights know how beautiful it is to be and to be together, here.

But it was under the illuminated lavender sky of March that I finally found what I had for so long searched for. Walking home from work, while waiting at the intersection, across the street I discerned my community convening to share tacos and company. Posted all along a rail in front of our local surplus food store, the man who sleeps at the entrance of the youth center sat awaiting his order. Beside him was the older man who wakes up early every day and tours the neighborhood to pick up plastic bottles to recycle. And surrounding them were men, womyn, elders, and families all lined up at Tacos y Burritos El Texano, waiting to scarf down an order of 4 tacos de al pastor each, some seriously considering buying a champurrado or tamale from the man stationed with his shopping cart right at the corner.

This vision, people who I greet day after day on my walk through Boyle Heights were together, eating, sitting, existing, and occupying space in a community that is ours. I discerned presence. I discerned space. I discerned the existence and being of individuals that for many never exist. In my search to affirm the communality and love of Boyle Heights, I have not only learned that the sadness of our people informs our collective existence, but that many times what we consider absence, is really living and breathing presence.

As the light turned green I walked across the street, exchanging a wave with my neighbor and plastic-bottle collector, and began my way down the street I have known as home for twenty-four years, the wind caressing a smile onto my face. Somos como la jacarandá, sigilosxs y presentes.

“No nos queda más que luchar”

Acción Global for Ayotzinapa en Los Angeles, enero 27 (Andre Medina)
Acción Global for Ayotzinapa en Los Angeles, enero 27 (Andre Medina)

Bajo una llovizna rociada pero persistente, la voz de Saira Rodriquez, hija de Nestora Salgado, fundadora y coordinadora de la policía comunitaria de Olinalá, Guerrero, reverberó entre decenas de velas y claveles afuera de la Catedral de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles, en conmemoración y protesta de los cuatro meses desde la desaparición de los jóvenes, indígenas, estudiantes normalistas de Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

El asunto era éste: “no nos queda más que luchar.” A través de una llamada telefónica, con voz trémula hablaba de la intimidación y las amenazas que ha recibido por exigir y organizar por la libertad de su madre, presa en un penal de máxima seguridad desde agosto de 2013.

Parada allí, tan lejos de Saira y tan lejos de Ayotzinapa, identifique aquellas palabras con los consejos y saberes que me sigue brindando mi familia, mi hxstoria y comunidad.

Palabras que nacen de una hxstoria y contexto de lucha constante, una lección comúnmente transmitida a través de generaciones y fronteras, de madre a hija, abuelo a nieto, de luchadxs social a joven esperanzado y estudiante hacía su pueblo.

Palabras que nuestras madres recitan para condenar condiciones laborales injustas y patrones que manipulan y explotan. Que se expresan a través de los ojos lúcidos que adornan los rostros de nuestros abuelos, que nos platican de su hambre por sobrevivir y vivir alimentado del campo y la tierra. Las palabras y silencios que decenas, cientos, miles de madres, familias, hermanos y compañerxs usan para denunciar la desaparición se su sangre, para articular su dolor.

Lucha. Memoria y lección que impregna nuestra piel, sazona nuestras lagrimas, nutre los surcos de nuestros campos y ayuda a brotar las flores y los arboles entre las grietas de nuestras ciudades urbanas.

La lucha aplastada, marchitada, agobiada, pero viva. Regenerativa, se resucita en las platicas con nuestrxs abuelxs sobre revoluciones frustradas, manifiestos olvidados, sueños congelados. Sobrevive la migración y despojo, retando corrupción, violencia y olvido.

A falta de tanto no nos queda más que la lucha.