University Times

Gentrification Leads to Local Activism

Speakers share personal stories of displacement in Los Angeles.

Adriana Sanchez, Contributor

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On Feb. 15, Dr. Kimberley Robertson of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality department hosted a panel titled “Gentrification, Indigeneity and Gender” in the U-SU Theater. There were three main presenters: Joel Garcia of Self Help Graphics & Art, Raquel Ramon of Dolores Mission, and Dr. Charles Sepulveda Professor of Native Studies in the department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies at Cal Poly Pomona.

Each of the speakers spoke of their personal experiences of displacement due to gentrification that led them to their activist work. Garcia spoke of “Yagna” which was native land before it was claimed and renamed Downtown Los Angeles. He explained how gentrification impacts not only homes, but agriculture, public utilities and access to land as well.

In an effort to counter displacement, Garcia suggested some ideas to make the newer developments more inclusive to the community such as using the original names of areas, making space for community members and acknowledging the ongoing displacement of indigenous people.

He further brought up the topic race. He talked about how some are using “art-washing” as a term for “white-washing” and how white people use this excuse to justify the relocation of people of color.

Ramon opened her discussion with Dolores Mission’s history serving as a homeless shelter exclusively for men until the tragic death of a woman named Lorenza. Lorenza influenced the East Side Mujeres Movement to provide assistance for women on the streets of Los Angeles.

This led to a discussion on the feminization of poverty due to social structures. Some factors include a decrease in marriage rates, increasing numbers of minority women becoming heads of households or single mothers, multi-generational poverty and lack of higher education. She further reports that 80 percent of street vendors in Los Angeles are women, and 1.2 million domestic workers in the United States make only $17,000 a year.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Latino homelessness shot up by 63% in the past year, a staggering number in a county that saw its overall homeless population soar by 23%, despite increasing efforts to get people off the street. This is due to a decrease of jobs and increase of rent in the area. Women, especially older women, have more difficulty finding jobs compared to men and when they do, it is usually not enough to afford a home. This is where Ramon’s work at the Dolores Mission ties in and allows her to provide shelter to the women of the community.

Dr. Sepulveda is a member of the Tongva tribe indigenous to the Los Angeles/Orange County Area. He explained how the local tribes did not have defined ownership boundaries, but a shared understanding of land. He spoke of the Natives’ hospitality and how the first European settlers lacked respect as guests to the land. The guests were not just white colonists, but a mix of Mestizo (European-Native mixed) and Mulatto (European-African mixed) families brought over by Spain to spread their patriarchal and religious ideologies. He ultimately compares the relocation of homeless people to the removal of Native Americans.

When asked about the importance of solidarity between these three voices of gentrification, Garcia said “How can I help my cause and by me focusing on what’s affecting me help their cause. By putting pressure on two sides, you can get more out of decision makers.”

Raquel Rojas, a Master of Arts student in Art and Art History had a personal take away from the gentrification panel:

“I am an artist and my work is about femicide in the Americas,” She said. “I haven’t really thought about going out and talking to people about the work I’m creating. I have so many here. The Pan-African department, the Women’s and Gender department, the Chicano Studies department. I’m making work about them—about us. I can call them up and say hey, let’s talk about this before I put it up. They’re the ones who this is about.”

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