By Nidia Melissa Bautista, Boyle Heights resident
One of the worst things about being poor is always being forced to interact with, and cede to, the interests of rich people. Now add race, and gender, geopolitics, and immigration status to this equation of extraction and displacement: poor people are always forced to move, to migrate, to conform to new and more desolate street-side homes and barrios. Across the bridge from Skid Row – in Boyle Heights, CA – barrios suddenly become attractive and the novelty of poor, but charming, immigrant neighborhoods draws in the privileged capital – ‘cuz in this country not every dollar wielding individual is created equal – to displace and run-out the eternally displaceable. “Gentrification” is the displacements of migrantes de America, de agua por Coca-Cola, de milpas por Monsanto, of barely there sustenance under cardboard homes for luxury condos – todo para volver a vendernos lo que nos han quitado // all in order to sell us back what they have taken from us.
This is a matter of dispossession and displacement. In the (pict)oral histories that map the movement of people, we find patterns marked by displacement. While all of us remain individually terrified of displacement, of ambiguity, of the stripping away of all of our comforts and support, many people’s hxstories remain deeply entrenched and informed by displacement. Displaced from their pueblos. Displaced of their food ways. Displaced of their language. Displaced even from the comfort and security of their urban poverty. It is as if some communities are destined to be perpetually driven to the most remote corners of the earth. On the intention and meticulous planning of economic interests informed by appetites for the consumption of “culture” and “diversity” – a perpetual search to fill the voids constructed by racial violence and capital accumulation – people seek to occupy the cultural spaces built by perpetually displaced communities who had hoped of “finally being able to stay.” Hope after having traversed thousands of miles, having ceded to the social and political rituals of a new place, having hoisted up the social and cultural infrastructure to both cede to the demands of a hostile society and challenge and attempt to transform it, still they have no place.
In the name of advancement, governments have bastioned transnational economic policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the name of progress, governments have ceded to the demands of transnational corporations and a result have poisoned hundreds of communities with toxic waste and genetically modified food. And in the name of development, city officials and realtors seek to cultivate communities as if weeds inhabited them. Yet in all these instances those who continue to be chased away remain to be the same people. They are the working class brown bodies chased away from their communities because of U.S. political and economic intervention abroad, by racism and discrimination, and by greed.
Gentrification is displacement. It faithfully follows a pattern that has chased and driven away people across borders, willed on not with the interest of their well-being but the profits to be made by their dispossession. We can survive and flourish in the condition of displacement, and even in our apparently sedentary lives we experience the threat of rupture through the deportation, the arrest, the silencing and reprimanding of everything we know. But we cannot continue our movement willed by the demand of those whose insatiable hunger knows no limit, whose greed remains unperturbed by our historical expulsion.
In Boyle Heights – as in Mexico and as in Guatemala – weeds do not spring from the earth. The evolution of community development and progress has been bastioned by those who found themselves with the opportunity to repose from their ardent journey fleeing displacement. There exists a relationship among diasporas who remain committed to supporting and recognizing the importance of mutually supporting the means for community survival. For a community model that recognizes that the señora de los tamales is more important than a corporation that sells frothy iced coffee drinks, because that womxs is their mother, daughter, abuela, hija, companion in a collective struggle against displacement.
Here, among the backdrop of a cityscape that reflects these journeys in its murals and informal economy of pan Latin American delicacies, among the men and womxn who struggle to feed themselves by feeding us the food that managed to make it across the border, among both the silences and articulation of trans-generational knowledge and experience, there exists an opportunity for a collective resistance against displacement. And to unearth and articulate our deeply embedded desire to confront those who seek to continue to push us and say that, here there exists life. And here we choose to stay.