When Los Angeles natives think of Boyle Heights, it’s possible that the first images they may think of can be Mariachi Plaza, strolling through 4th Street or even Hollenbeck Park, but certainly not new hipster-owned art galleries that are amounting as the latest form of gentrification for the city.
The reason why gentrification is an issue to the neighborhood of Boyle Heights which is predominantly a working class Mexican-American community, is that it displaces years of existing culture and local artists for the “rise of the creative class.”
As an activist and East LA resident, I don’t believe it’s fair for developers to come into these small communities to claim and conquer integral parts of Los Angeles without hearing the voices of those being affected first.
In May of last year, a non-profit art gallery called PSSST was preparing to open in the city near the Los Angeles Bridge. On what should’ve been the opening day, the gallery was confronted with a sea of protesters gathered in front of the space, banging drums, holding posters, and chanting slogans in English “We don’t need galleries, we need higher salaries!”and Spanish “¡El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!”
Those who have and continue to take a stand against forms of gentrification in Boyle Heights (or any soon-to-be-hip city in Los Angeles) are participating in what counts as a milestone movement.
It didn’t take long for local activists such as Angel Luna to create an instagram page and organization fittingly called Defend Boyle Heights. In cooperation with ServethePeopleLA, he has managed to organize marches, educate the community how gentrification neglects their needs, and has worked to make life generally uncomfortable for both these new businesses and the people who patronize them.
A major victory has come their way with the announcing of PSSST’s closing about a month ago.
Here’s a bit from their goodbye-
“Our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person … we could no longer continue to put already vulnerable communities at further risk.”
So does this mean Los Angeles gentrifiers will steer clear from the hood and keep their “contemporary” homes and art galleries the fuck away for good?
The sad answer is no, but the lesson here is that gentrification is worth fighting against when it’s not going to serve the existing needs of any community.
For Boyle Heights, a city literally two driving minutes away from all of DTLA, there has got to be a balance between developers and community members investing in projects that will also invest in the likes of la raza without throwing shade to years of prevailing Mexican-American culture.
City planners in Los Angeles move way too fast. I get that money talks but, so do the people.
“We want things like a new laundromat on the corner of Whittier and Boyle,” says Luna. “We shouldn’t have to wait until white people live here for someone to care enough to fix the sidewalks.”
All images courtesy of Angel Luna
Follow his Instagram at @defendboyleheights