Today I'd like to explore something a little different than I normally do. Late last year I was invited by Mercedes Hart to come check out her new gallery in Boyle Heights: FachaPatoto. A few friends had told me about the gallery so I was already curious and I'd been talking to Mercedes about doing a photoshoot with her so this seemed like a good opportunity to come down, hang out, etc. She told me they'd be screening a film that evening (though I wasn't sure at the time what the film was). I arrived at the gallery slightly early with a small crowd outside. I figured this was good news as I wasn't sure what kind of turnout a gallery in Boyle Heights would have for a film screening on a weekday evening. I soon found Mercedes and her partner Cielo Garcia. They seemed both somber and frazzled and I had a hard time making heads or tails of the situation. I helped myself to a sangria and took a seat in anticipation of the screening.
Some time passed (as it tends to do) and the screening had not started. Growing somewhat impatient I looked outside to see Mercedes and Cielo in a circle of people. Not wanting to be left out I headed for the door. Once outside I could feel a thick tension in the air. I started snapping a few photos and listening to the circular conversation which now involved a talking stick. My experience is that a talking stick generally means that shit is so fucked up that a physical turn-taking indicator is needed or people will lose it. It took me a few moments to piece together what was going on but it seemed that several members of the Boyle Heights community were protesting the screening and overall presence of FachaPatoto in the neighborhood as a symbol of the growing "Gentrification Problem" in Boyle Heights.
Gentrification. I never really heard this word until I moved to Los Angeles. I suppose Western Mass, Ithaca, and South Florida might have had these issues but if it was then I didn't know about it. Once I moved to LA it became the norm. For those that may not know what gentrification is the term describes a previously low-income area developing with higher-end trendy businesses and housing, more often than not pushing out the families and businesses that once occupied the area. Obviously this is a very controversial topic and understandably upsetting for people that do not want to be displaced from their homes, lose their jobs, and the community that they built. Unfortunately this is the reality of living in a major city like Los Angeles and often times the heart might be the in the right place but the anger is misplaced.
Several of the individuals on the protest side cited that they didn't want "white hipsters" coming in to their community with a gallery imposing their art and ignoring the history of Boyle Heights. Others from the community on the side of the gallery cited the screening was sponsored by a chicano organization and was a film about Chicanos serving in the military in Vietnam. Another point was raised that Gentrification has become a problem all over Los Angeles as evidenced by the changes in nearby Silverlake and Echo Park who both experienced the closing of businesses that had been around for 20+ years in favor of trendy juice shops and that a gallery like this would only be the first stone thrown. The point I took most to heart was from a resident that the area had been a Jewish neighborhood in the past and when the hispanic population moved in The Jewish people were very inviting. I was also told the space had been unoccupied for three years. Eventually the conversation ended and screening went on.
Honestly I'm not sure what the answer is but this was the conversation in front of mine and the one I decided to document. I wasn't sure for a while whether or not to post the pictures but I thought that today I would share. It's good to have conversations about these things. I would say that the protesters are barking up the wrong tree by focusing on small galleries on 1st Street instead of all the land that's been gobbled up by larger businesses in the more industrial areas of Boyle Heights. But that's just one man's opinion.
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