Last Tuesday Serve the People- LA was honored to be present at a meeting hosted by the Pico Gardens Housing Project community to discuss the presence of high-priced art galleries in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. In no uncertain terms, the assembled community members made their demands to the art galleries clear: Get the fuck out! You are NOT welcomed here!

Understandably, this has generated a lot of press and attention for Boyle Heights and the groups responsible for organizing this community meeting—the galleries, and the deluge of money and speculative investors who are hiding just behind them, are not used to a community of people unwilling to be compliant in the face of their violent removal, who are not fooled by the liberal rhetoric of “dialogue” after “dialogue” in an endless cycle of “evolving conversations” that serve only to distract the members of the community from their ongoing violent erasure from neighborhoods they fought to establish decent lives in.

In the aftermath of this meeting, we see the same tropes about the community, the same misrepresentation of their arguments, and the same mix of blind ignorance and malicious distortion being paraded about by yuppie artists, investors and their pro-development lapdogs in establishment media (like the LA Weekly) to discredit the community’s organizing efforts. These types want to paint the community as ignorant, lacking an appreciation of “art and culture” (that apparently was non-existent in Boyle Heights until it was blessed with the presence of shithouses like Maccarone and Venus Over LA, peddling modern-art commodities to yuppie crackers too rich and detached from reality to realize they’re being scammed). They want to portray the community as misunderstanding the relationship between themselves and “artists” and pass the buck for displacement elsewhere—onto developers or landlords or city councils, too ignorant (and dishonest) to recognize the important role they play in the these people’s plans to “revitalize” neighborhoods like Boyle Heights.

In the case of the yuppie artists and those clamoring for yuppie artist-status (including many folks within our own community), their positions range from outright racist tropes to belligerent repetition of arguments that do nothing to address the fundamental concerns of the community. Eva Chimento, of Chimento Contemporary gallery, has expressed that folks in the community are thugs, intimidating her into leaving by causing her to fear for her safety. Present at the meeting for many of the community testimonials, Ms. Chimento couldn’t keep her disgust for the community off of her face, scoffing and grimacing when the women leadership of Defend Boyle Heights took the microphone to detail their analysis of the impact of galleries on the community. It was all Ms. Chimento could do to stop from jumping out of her chair shouting about how ignorant she found the community to be. After speaking, she immediately stormed out of the meeting space to loud applause and shouts of “liar!” Good riddance.

Other artists want to redirect the conversation to one about “art” as a metaphysical force in the world, separate from its material effect on the community. Their arguments consist predominately of sentimental rhetoric about the role art played in saving their lives, the necessity of “art and culture” and a pity-party urging people in the community to “pretty please don’t demonize the poor artists”–completely lacking in their sob-fest is an analysis of how their yuppie art erases working class communities and destroys the lives of young kids forced to move from one neighborhood to another, unable to build lasting relationships with friends or schools, as they are chased around the city by yuppies, investors, and hipsters eager to colonize the next “low-income” ‘area. Lacking is a discussion of whose art and culture is being promoted, and, when the rents have quadrupled, who will be left to partake in this “art and culture”. Lacking is an honest acknowledgment of WHO, exactly, all of this “art and culture” is for.

These artists hope that by earnestly peddling these deflections and distractions that the community will be sidetracked and lose sight of what they understand to be true, because of their lived experience: their communities are under threat. They hope that the community members have a short memory and will forget how far “dialogue” with gentrifiers took the communities of Echo Park, Silver Lake, Highland Park, and other low-income neighborhoods that have been ravaged by this type of development and speculative investment. They hope that by adopting the language of care and concern, by hiding behind the brown masks of vendidxs in the community willing to do their bidding, that the people will get lost and demoralized down a path of never-ending “dialogues” and lose their militant, resistant spirit. These artists severely underestimate the spirit of the Boyle Heights community.

In the case of establishment media, the intention is to distort the arguments made by the community to portray them as ignorant or misunderstanding key facts of the issue: this is apparent in Hillel Aaron’strash column for the LA Weekly, which uses its lead sentence to wildly distort the position of the BHAAAD, Defend Boyle Heights, and the larger Boyle Heights community, claiming they believe art galleries to be the “driving force of gentrification.” Either Mr. Aaron is a remarkably poor journalist, or his article is a piece of shameless and intentional pro-gentrification propaganda. In an official statement from DBH, in an interview with a DBH organizer in his very article, in a statementdistributed by BHAAAD at the meeting, and in the numerous testimonials given at the meeting, the position of the community was made clear: art galleries and other high-end businesses are a key factor in the speculative development of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights. These galleries help to establish the perception among investors than an area is “up-and-coming” or is being “revitalized” into a place hospitable to the super-wealthy, further driving investment in the area and objectively increasing the property values in an area overwhelmingly populated by renters who will see the material effect of this increase in property value as an increase in their rents and ultimately the total loss of affordable housing options.

The LA Weekly further contributes to this distortion through their use of a photo of a mural outside the now-closed Moctezuma Cafe as the cover-photo for the article, with the headline “Boyle Heights Activists Demand that All Art Galleries Get Out of Their Neighborhood”–linking the community’s supposed opposition to “art” with the longstanding and world-famous tradition of murals in Boyle Heights, celebrating all aspects of indigenous, Chicanx, and immigrant cultures—in a subtle effort to paint those organizing around the issue of gentrification as heathens committed to the destruction of a culture that has made Boyle Heights an artistic icon since long before the arrival of galleries from New York and West LA.

These manipulations and distortions illustrate clearly the contradiction between media outlets like the LA Weekly and communities resisting gentrification. The establishment media has interests largely aligned with the same forces that seek to “redevelop” and gentrify our neighborhoods: they are not our friends. Every new coffee shop, hipster music venue, “bohemian” art gallery, is a new place for the LA Weekly  to distribute its hipster rag and a new market of hipsters with more money than is good for them for the advertisers in their magazine to sell their useless shit to. By pushing these distortions of the community’s stance onto their readers, media outlets perpetuate the belligerent argument that the community should focus on  the “real enemy”–the developers and “greedy landlords” (though they too, will pass the buck and excuse themselves from culpability in the process, pointing to politicians and city councils), unable to conceive of the community’s ability to target BOTH developers and their eager pawns in the art world.

But all of this dishonesty and ignorance notwithstanding, the community of Boyle Heights remains steadfast in their goals. They will not be manipulated and sidetracked or talked out of their resistance. The señoras of Pico Gardens know very well how hard they fought to win safe and affordable housing for themselves, their families, and their communities. They saw how the same people who rush to invest in Boyle Heights in 2016 turned a cold shoulder to the community when it was crippled with violence and neglected by the city for improvements to its schools or to the “beautification” of its streets 20 years ago. They see how these developers and art galleries and investors move in to leech and profit off of a community they did nothing to build and fortify, where their only interest is exploitation and profit with no concern for the destruction of communities they leave in their wake.

The artistic spirit of Boyle Heights is alive and well on every wall and every street and every trainyard and freeway overpass in our neighborhood—we know this. We know that “promotion of arts and culture” is code for the promotion of white supremacy and bland yuppie redevelopment. It is code for the erasure of our people from this neighborhood, and soon the erasure of any and every working class community in Los Angeles. We know that the spirit of resistance in Boyle Heights goes way back, and isn’t going to be derailed by the clever usage of “social justice” language, hiding behind “non-profit” statuses, sentimentality, or the usage of Brown vendidxs in our community to defuse and distract our anger.

One of the representatives from PSSST gallery spoke towards the end of the meeting (while members of the community hissed that he was a “liar”), claiming that this was an “ongoing conversation” that he looks forward to continuing, but he misunderstands something very crucial: this is NOT an ongoing conversation—the people of this community have spoken their piece and suffered through the lies as you spoke yours. Now it’s time for you to get out. As long as this community is under threat, the people will defend it by any means necessary!


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