By Katlyn Valdez
Boyle Heights Beat
The walls at the Las Fotos Project headquarters in Lincoln Heights were covered with photos from the “City Rising” exhibit –vibrant shots taken in Boyle Heights and South L.A, some featuring faces and vendors from these communities, exposing the neighborhood’s hidden beauty and telling a story at the same time.
On a Saturday in late September, a large group gathered in the small room to listen and learn on the effects of gentrification from youth voices. In partnership with Boyle Heights Beat, Las Fotos Project hosted a panel and discussion with youth journalists and photographers reporting about this issue in those two communities.
The evening discussion was moderated by youth photographer Juliana Aguirre, a Senior at Franklin High School.
All four panelists talked about how gentrification was visible to them.
Marisabel Perez, a photographer with Las Fotos, described how growing up in South L.A she was alarmed by USC developments. The 17-year-old said she noticed that her community began to cater more to college students causing the property value to increase.
“When you’re displaced from a low income community, where do you go?,” she asked.
When Aguirre asked how the panelists’ perception on gentrification had changed, 18-year-old Mary Reyes, also with Las Fotos, explained that initially she considered both the pros and cons of gentrification. That changed, she said, “because it affected me, because it hit home. I began to dismiss the pros.”
Reyes said her family and community members were really affected by the increase in property value as some of her neighbors went from being gardeners to USC professors.
Stephanie Medina, both a reporter with Boyle Heights Beat and a photographer with Las Fotos, said that when one these communities develops and achieves growth on its own, “people come in and make it their own.”
Medina,17, said residents in these communities should be able to preserve and appreciate their culture, so that they don’t allow others “to change it and use it for the aesthetics.”
When the subject of resistance surfaced, all panelists communicated the importance of staying informed and unified amongst them.
The idea of respect resonated during the discussion, when Aguirre asked the panelists, “what traditions and values would you want people to respect?” Perez was quick to answer: “don’t call something ghetto if it’s not appealing to you.”
Xochil Ramírez, a 17-year-old youth reporter with Boyle Heights Beat, discussed the concept of cultural appropriation and the negative connotation it has in today’s society. Similarly, Medina explained that she would want people to appreciate what’s already there. “Don’t imitate it,” she said, “don’t make it your own.”
Pérez stated it was important low income communities to be aware and informed on their rights, while Reyes added, “It’s up to the youth to be engaged and informed.”
“s]So long as we support each other, have resilience, and empower our community,” added Ramírez.
The panelists left on a positive note as they touched on the notion of “gentefication” and agreed that the best way to avoid becoming a gentrifier in a community is to respect it and to stay informed.
“It’s about how you come back, make sure you remember your struggles in your community,” said Medina.
The four panelists remained enthusiastic and confident in the power of the people. They all believed that the community members themselves can grow together, united, and at the same time preserve their roots, diversity, and deep culture.
“Por la gente, para la gente,” concluded.