The Fight for Los Angeles continues: Meet Diana Mabel Cruz

Four years ago when I first got back to Los Angeles from Davis, there was nothing which spoke to me more about the future than walking through the city, when it became clear that it was in the midst of a great change, and that somehow JIMBO TIMES would also be a part of that change. I look back at that time now and marvel at just how many other L.A. Stories were also orbiting close by, making their own way through a transformation with the city before claiming a role in the process of it. Diana Mabel Cruz tells one such Cuento.

Diana Cruz is a 25 year old organizer from Los Angeles who is currently fighting an eviction notice in her native vecindad of Koreatown.

Alongside her mother, she’s taking a stand against being forced to leave a community where their family holds decades’ worth of investment and memories by organizing a Legal Defense Fund for their stay. In walking with Diana through her neighborhood to learn more, she shared fragments with me of the countless stories that make her vecindad more than just a familiar place, but one worth defending; she showed me where her family first moved in to the neighborhood in the early 60s, where they went to church as the years passed by, the school she went to for elementary, and how many changes she’s noted in the community since. It became clear to me then how Diana perceives her neighborhood in a way that any city planner should find invaluable: she not only treasures the place she comes from, but also understands her ability to play an active part in its shaping over the course of time. She explains it best herself, however:

1. When did your family first arrive to Los Angeles? My grandparents moved to Koreatown in 1966 when my dad was only 5 years old, staying with family friends around Saint Kevin church until they could afford their own apartment. In 1968, they moved into their own home just nearby on Edgemont Street. I still have black and white photos from the family’s arrival here during the sixties. My mother arrived to Los Angeles in 1991. She moved out to the Koreatown neighborhood from the Pico-Union district in 1996.

2.What was your school experience like, being from the neighborhood? I went to nearby Cahuenga Elementary for 5 years, but my mother also placed me on a waiting list for a Magnet program at Brentwood elementary. I was accepted into Brentwood’s magnet program when I was in the fourth grade. I remember that my bus stop for Brentwood was then at Alexandria Elementary. From the sixth through eight grades, my bus stop for Paul Revere Middle school was at Virgil Middle School, and my bus stop for Pacific Palisades Charter High was at the corner of 3rd/Normandie. Throughout my time at schools on the west side, at any point that the school administrators considered me to be misbehaving, the ultimate form of punishment was the threat of being sent back to my home schools.

3. What did you study at UC Davis, and what drove you to return to L.A. once you graduated with a renewed vision of your place in The City? (YES, UCD!) I studied Sustainable Environmental Design at UCD and focused on Participatory Urbanism. Too often community members are not invited to the table when a city makes a planning decision that will directly impact them. Or if they are, meetings are hosted at times when they are unavailable and without language justice being offered. But the question persists for me: Who better to direct urban planning decisions than the people that live in their own neighborhoods? I’m now using the privilege I’ve had of being able to access higher education to amplify the voices of the people in my community. This is our neighborhood and we have just as much agency as the landlords that own the buildings we live in. One day, when I pay off my current student loans my goal is to go on to graduate school for these same reasons.

4. What inspires you to keep fighting for this particular struggle at Mariposa Villas in K-town? My family has a lot of history in this neighborhood. My dad went to Virgil Middle School and Belmont High. My aunt went to Marshall. The local church, panaderias, Central-American markets and restaurants here hold several memories for us as well. We have roots in this neighborhood that date 52 years ago–this is our home; these are the sidewalks I played in, the buildings I grew up in, and the streets that raised me. If we don’t fight for our right to stay, who will?

In addition to organizing for her Tenants Association in Koreatown, Diana is also supporting the Prop 10 campaign this upcoming election.

This November 6th, voters in California will decide on Proposition 10, or an historic piece of housing legislation that would allow localities to place new rent control ordinances in their cities in an effort to curb the state’s deepening housing crisis.

At the heart of the matter, what we’ll be deciding on is just how much of a support network we can create for the mass of renters who live and work for California by expanding protections for them to keep their homes. These renters may not be very visible on election day, and many of them will not (be enabled to) show up to the polls for various reasons, but they will be there for their pueblos at every other moment; they are people like Diana and her mother, and people like me and my mama, numbering in the millions throughout Los Angeles and across the Golden state as we keep these places clean, friendly, and most of all, beaming with warmth like the sunshine above us no matter the winds.

To support Diana’s current stand against the eviction in her building, please visit her Legal Defense Fund’s page. And stay tuned: November 6th is just around the corner.

J.T.

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Super Pan Bakery Has Gotten An Extension

Super Pan Panaderia with 'Matriarch' by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles
Super Pan Panadería with ‘Matriarch’ by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles

It’s with great pleasure to announce that the 20 year old Panadería in the
“Virgil Village” community has gotten an extension for its relocation. That’s right! At least until December, families in our community can continue to quench their appetites with Doña Elvia’s fresh pan dulce, hot tamales, and bolillos con huevos.

It’s a key victory for the pueblo that comprises the ole neighborhood, but now with the extension secured, some of us are left wondering: might the Panadería be able to simply stay after all?

The fact of the matter is that maintaining a small business like Super Pan in cities like Los Angeles is increasingly difficult. While gentrification in the community compounds the trouble involved in maintaining the bakery’s “appeal” over the years, even if the buzz-word was removed from the equation, rising inflation and the cost of living since the bakery’s opening in the early 2000’s without an increase in backing or security for its services continue to undermine any effort to keep its place in the community.

I think of another small place close to heart, in Mama’s caseta, which is less than four blocks north of Super Pan on Santa Monica boulevard.

In over sixteen years in the vecindad, regardless of whether the stand’s revistas and literatura turn a profit or not, we’re required to pay insurance fees for its footing before we can even submit a reapplication for permission from the city to maintain its location on the boulevard.

Once the stand clears the permitting process, as with most other things in life, taxes apply, but at no point in the process is there an accounting for the stand’s aggregate time in the community, or for its ability to make ends meet despite market ‘trends’, health or other issues which can impact the owners’ ability to stay in business; the stand is thus locked in a tax system which never offsets the burdens it places on small business with anything other than permission to keep operating. It thereby turns into an increased burden in itself for business owners to deal with, among other challenges they face in an increasingly expensive city to live in.

Is it any wonder why mujeres like like Doña Elvia and Mama have such a mystical spell about their place in the community, then?

Each year new hurdles are placed in from them as small businesses owners, but they continue to rise with their small places to claim their time under the sun. With their heads up high, they greet their customers loyally, serving each of them with gratitude in their gestures, and placing their faiths in the forces beyond them to continue with all of it through another day–and if they’re bendecidas enough–through another year. How then could we not honor these people, Los Angeles.

The extension of the deadline is a sign of good faith for what lies ahead, but there is in fact much more work left to do for the pueblo. Still, for now, please celebrate with us by visiting a small mom and pop shop near you with while you can! They are dreams come true today, and with them we move onto yet more dreams, for tomorrow. If somehow they can manage to do it, we can too, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Still Resilient in Los Angeles

JT_Red
Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

Our Petition for Super Pan Bakery of the Virgil Village is now LIVE

“She collected observations as one would collect ice-cream sticks: a youth riding a wobbly bike on the muddy shoulders of the street; a skinny cat roaming through the tall bird-of-paradise stalks; two comadres chatting between a fence; an old crooked bird man who fed his flock of pigeons daily. The desire to be on the other side of the fence, to run away and join them, was so strong, it startled her, just like the buzzard bell ending another recess.”

– Their Dogs Came With Them, Helena Maria Viramontes

One day we were teenagers, just trying to make our way home without forgetting our books at the 7-Eleven, either because we had put them down in trying to avoid looking overly studious with over-sized backpacks, or because we just didn’t take backpacks to school to begin with, being too cool.

The next we were at a crossroads, either turning the other cheek as police raided the homes and pockets of our classmates and peers, or going down in a blaze with them for trying to stand at their side without the social standing to back us.

Today we’re at another junction, as the influx of new wealth and power make their way through the streets which for decades we’ve called home, transforming their characters and erasing their pasts for a new crop of city-goers in a new time of city-going.

But to be clear about the question of change: the fact of the matter is that the neighborhood has been in the midst of transformation since the earliest steps our parents took through its intersections when they first arrived en masse to Los Angeles during the 1980s in an effort to make for new lives here.

The technology since that time has also been in the midst of transformation; the way human beings have connected with the rest of the world has come a long way from the days of the first home computers and beepers and payphones. My peers and I were born in the 1990s, arriving just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which placed us at the end of an arms and technological race between two empires that spawned formidable, reverberating technologies across the world.

While the smartphones we use today now change our perception of the world at light-speed, the atom and hydrogen bombs before them, followed by the freeways not long afterwards, also altered time and space in ways that moved people, including our people–that is, our immigrant and working class communities all over the U.S. and the world–to and through cities like Los Angeles.

But now another social and technological shift is underway again, and the question is not whether we can keep another neighborhood in Los Angeles from being taken from its past, because this has definitely not been the case here since the city’s foundation, throughout its annexation, during the boring for Mulholland’s aqueducts, amid the aforementioned scientific innovations, or at any other point.

The question is whether we can manage to facilitate these changes in a way that doesn’t come at the complete expense of others, and in a way that benefits more than just one group over another.

It’s also a question of whether the people in the “less affluent” groups like the one described here can muster the collective social and political strength necessary to take a stand in this regard. I would argue that our Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito this past August was a STAND, which makes it so that calling attention to Super Pan Bakery’s displacement from the Virgil Village is now a direct follow up to that same STAND.

I also believe that while there’s much debate in cities throughout the U.S. about just what kind of change is inevitable, it’s clear that it’s increasingly difficult for institutions and owners to take space from others without people calling attention to their place in the historical timeline of the environment in question.

Today then, calling attention to displacements like the one now facing Super Pan is a matter of claiming the history of our community here for our own sake and development.

At the time of this writing, we now have a petition with our first 137 signatures supporting the family at Super Pan Bakery in their bid for more time to relocate at the FOLLOWING:

https://www.change.org/p/mitch-o-farrell-help-super-pan-bakery-of-virgil-village-get-more-time-to-relocate

Only ten years ago, 137 signatures would have required far more work to put together over the course of a few days, if not a whole week, but now we can publish a petition online calling for our people just minutes after deeming it necessary. In the 15 days before the deadline for Super Pan’s relocation is up then, we will continue to rally support from the various members of Nuestro Pueblo throughout L.A., California, and across the world who believe in our Panaderias with us.

This next week also includes a meeting with a representative for local Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, getting more of us involved in the effort, and which we’ll have notes about in our next update. In the meantime, I hope we can garner the signatures of each reader of this blog for our petition, and that you can also spread the word to your own networks and peers.

Thankful for each step in this process, and each of you,

J.T.