Procesion de Testimonios: Evicting Displacement

By Leguim Samor, Highland Park resident and Member of North East Los Angeles Alliance

I would first like to start off by thanking my Ancestors and the Tongva people, the people of this land which I currently occupy.

The intention of this public art performance for me was to share the power within our voices and movement to perform a narrative and raise awareness to the rampant displacement of working class communities of color.

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Photo Credit: Lis Barrajas 

One of our goals was to create a public performance ( Evicting Displacement) to provoke dialogue on the rapid displacement happening in the community. We did so by placing evictions on businesses as a symbolic gesture depicting a glimpse of what is a reality for many working class families. In addition, the performance would also consist of creating a safe space for community testimonies performed through song or spoken word from various residents of North East LA. The testimony would also be accompanied by music with different instruments playing together.

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Photo Credit: John Urquiza

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Photo Credit: Lis Barrajas

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      Photo Credit: John Urquiza

I realize some business might of felt offended by this performance. However, we did intend to be controversial in our presentation, so long as we brought attention to the rampant evictions, displacement of people and the displacement of culture in our communities. We did not realistically evict these businesses( obviously), but we did want to have them question their privilege, and how they contribute to the displacement. This is something many will never understand, where developers and businesses come in unannounced and the working class people feel all the repercussions.

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An apartment complex undergoing renovations, but where did all the residents go?

Our Second goal was to engage community and provide information about a tenant rights workshop. Meanwhile creating a safe space where people could and would share their personal experiences of “el desalojo” (displacement). We did so by inviting the community members into (Pachanga Hahamongna) a walking celebration that invites community members to participate and share their own testimonios, to feel empowered and to know they are not alone. We would sing and play music to gain community attention and give us an opportunity engage in dialogue. We went to different locations such as Laundromats, apartment complexes, and anywhere where we saw people gather, and were able to provide information regarding tenant rights and hear out many of the community bring up their personal testimonies and concerns with displacement.

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Photo Credit : Elefante Collective

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Photo Credit: Yajaira Villareal

We called this portion of our performance Pachanga Hahamongna as a homage to the communities that have been physically displaced from this landscape. Hahahmongna which is the Tongva word and original name of the Arroyo Seco River. The other word Pachanga a spanish word for a party or celebration and is often used by the Latino culture.

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Photo Credit: Yajaira Villareal

We are open to have conversations with any of the business owners or community members. I acknowledge that all these business owners are also part of the community and as long as they are here we must be a cohesive community that supports each other. Specifically in coming together and finding a way to mitigate or put an end to the historic practice of displacing people and their culture.

In Community,

Leguim Samor

About the Northeast Alliance: 

The Northeast Alliance is a group of local Northeast Los Angeles Residents committed to witnessing and documenting the changing socio-economic landscape of NELA. The group is committed to understanding the full effect of gentrification on immigrant, working class and poor communities and addressing these effects through education, organizing, visual and performing arts and ongoing scholarship. Recognizing that many of the narratives defining gentrification are not coined by the immigrant, working class and poor communities it profoundly affects, Northeast Alliance is non-complacent in challenging those prevailing narratives by presenting and recording voices of those who are not heard.

 

Gentrification: A Primer for Korean Americans

Esther Kim, Koreatown resident

Gentrification is one of those words. We all agree on the surface level that it’s a bad thing, it displaces whole communities and strips cities of generations-old culture. But when in the comfort of our own homes and around those we trust, maybe we don’t think too negatively about gentrification. It takes shitty streets and turns them into new. It brings in hipsters and high-end coffee and homemade soap and an asinine amount of mason jars filled with shit that we didn’t know we wanted until we saw it in storefronts. It brings in new businesses and flashy high rises that make us feel more accomplished. It takes what was derelict about our community spaces and supplants something newer and fresher into the mix.

Most of my friends are young millenials, up-and-coming entrepreneurs, recent college and graduate school grads. I guarantee you that a good 90% of those friends agree with the above paragraph. As much as I would like to agree with what is written above, I’m not made to think that shinier and flashier is necessarily better. I invite you to consider what gentrification really means for our communities.

When your neighborhood is gentrified, it means that someone is looking to increase the property value of your neighborhood. If you own your own home, good for you. Maybe you’re looking to sell one day and the value goes up and you can sell it for a lot more money than you paid for. But what if you want to stay and raise kids there, have your kids raise their kids there, and then their kids after that? By then it might be an old ass home, but it’s the one that you spent your blood, sweat and tears to obtain. It’s the one that has culture, tradition, and above all else, a surrounding community. So let’s say that you want to stay, and that you’re a little excited about all the shit that’s coming into your neighborhood–like that new sandwich shop down the street–even if it means that you got some random white people included in there too. In your eyes, they are newcomers to your neighborhood – the neighborhood that your community fought like hell to get. That history means a sense of pride and ownership over the area that you call your home.

But we are human, and we aren’t made to be satisfied with the status quo. Even though your neighborhood is rich with culture (think of the Korean-only signage plastered throughout outdoor Koreatown malls), there are improvements that can be made. Ktown is kind of poor-looking and we intermix with other poor people. We aren’t Beverly Hills. We want it to look ritzier, be fancier, and become a place that rivals Beverly Hills or the Pacific Palisades. We want to do it by making massive high rises and inviting big business to take reign over our areas.

We are also inviting other young (practically trust-fund-baby status) millenials to take advantage of the “exotic” that is Koreatown and turn it into another one of their hipster projects. The high-end coffee shops displace our mom and pop Korean bakeries that have been there for over a decade. The homemade soaps and mason jars take businesses that our parents trusted, goods that our communities relied on for survival and replaces them with trinkets that appeal to folks that don’t actually want to take part in the community that’s been long established. The stores replace what represent us with things that represent folks who don’t care about what lies within our spaces. They want a takeover. They want to move into the flashy new high rises that were built after our grandparents were kicked out of their rent-controlled apartments, after our friends’ parents were swindled out of the corner they began calling home years ago. Gentrification makes life a lot more expensive to live.

Congratulations to the tiny sliver of the current Koreatown population that can still afford to live here. The rest of us feel like we’re told we don’t belong here anymore. Our homes and apartments are being offered to the rich white folks who can match the “rising property values” (on which I call bullshit). Businesses are changing to match their lifestyles. Pretty soon, Koreatown will be the next Silverlake, Echo Park, Elysian Heights. It will be a place that we once knew before we realized that we were letting other people take what we built over so many decades.

Where will you watch the World Cup games or send your kids for weekend volunteering? Where will you go for bilingual services for you and your parents?

Koreatown is uniquely ours, and it’s imperative that we keep our culture alive, and intact. We must only embrace change that includes us.