News / Racism

  • The New Slumlord of South Minneapolis

     

    Mostly Latino Low Wage Workers Take on the

    New Slumlord of South Minneapolis

     Minneapolis, MN. --- Juan Jimenez had not planned on going to the protest. He had never attended a meeting of Inquilinos Unidos, though he was aware that renters had been organizing in his apartment. Conditions had changed at his building but he had decided to not threaten the only affordable home he could find with the new landlord, and wait for the new normal to settle over his life. Now, after months of extra fees and strange demands, after threatening letters had been posted on his and his neighbor’s doors, moments after getting home from work on April 16th, he finally got mad. Juan stormed out of 3019 Pleasant Ave., an envelope crumpled in his fist, and piled his family into a taxi. He shouted the address of QT Properties to the cabbie. (Or at least the most recent address - they have had four different offices in the last 18 months.) Now he was fuming, tapping the envelope against his knee as he sped through South Minneapolis toward a crowd of about thirty people who didn’t know they were waiting for him.

     

     

    Jason Quilling, who owns 3019 Pleasant Ave., is the new slumlord of South Minneapolis.

     

    Between 2008 and 2012 the Minneapolis City Pages devoted a significant amount of resources to examining Spiros Zorbalas who they described as the biggest slumlord in recent memory. He owned 37 properties and went to jail several times for, among other things, possession of cocaine. Zorbalas was a colorful character who loved talking to reporters. Most of City Pages’ articles sensationalized the man and his habits more than the conditions his renters suffered. But it was these conditions that led Zorbalas, thanks to pressure from key city council members, to abandon his holdings in Minneapolis. About the time Zorbalas’ reign was ending, Jason Quilling began buying up properties in South Minneapolis.

     

    Quilling is not as colorful as Zorbalas. Zorbalas lived in a 5.5 million dollar beachfront home in Naples, Florida, while Quilling lives quietly on his Dayton farm. Zorbalas was described by City Pages as a ‘brash bon vivant,’ while Quilling hides behind a labyrinthine corporate structure. Zorbalas was an equal-opportunity abuser, while Jason Quilling profits from a blatantly racist business.

     

    Maria Alvarado has lived at 3019 Pleasant for 18 years. Her two sisters and her niece all live in the building next door. Maria’s life was “tranquila” until Jason Quilling bought the building in August of 2014. After that, “molestias todos los dias.” QT Properties placed weekly letters in bold colors on the front of the building and on her door, threatening fines for children playing outside, shoes left in the hallway, and apartment doors decorated with wrapping paper (as Maria does every season.)

     

    Many Latino renters had lived in 3019 Pleasant for over a decade, and more had lived just as long at 3105, 3023, and 3027 Pleasant, and at 3032, 3020, 3018, and 3114 Pillsbury, and at 3021 Longfellow. The story was the same in each building: the landlord never made repairs, but never bothered anyone and didn’t mind if rent was a little late. But when QT Properties bought the buildings, things started to change. The renters were curious of the changes, but didn't think anything of them until the threats and fines started.

     

    Several renters turned to Lyndale Neighborhood Association for legal advice about the new rules and changes to their leases. Their stories were alarming enough that Jen Arnold, lead organizer at LNA began door knocking in these buildings to learn more. She was joined by Natasha Villanueva and Roberto De La Riva, who are both school teachers and LNA boards members.

     

    The renters told similar stories but didn’t realize their neighbors shared their experiences. For example, in mid-February the renters had received letters demanding they pay rent online starting in March. The organizers heard over and over again, “I can figure out how to pay this way, but not everyone can.” The door knocks led to meetings, and the coalition of renters and organizers named themselves Inquilinos Unidos.

     

     

    Renters, sometimes still in their work uniforms, gather in an LNA meeting rooms to share their fears and frustrations about broken appointments, ignored maintenance requests, and how Fernando Campofreda (the property manager) and other staff treat them. The meetings always start with story-telling-- answering the question ‘why are you here?’

     

    Angela begins. In November when she and her roommate Marisela asked for repairs to their one bedroom, Fernando told them, “we don’t do repairs while people are living in the apartment.” The two took their complaint to City Inspection and the repairs were finally made on the last possible day. Like nearly all tenants in 3027, 3023, and 3019 Pleasant, they had signed a year lease which included off-street parking, but one month in QT Properties demanded monthly payment for parking. After an exchange of letters, Angela and Marisela took QT Properties to court, won their case, and received a parking sticker; but they were the only ones. Other residents chime in that they either paid the extra fee or now park blocks away.

     

    Ofelia Benitez goes next. After living in 3114 Pillsbury for about three months, there was a plumbing problem in Ofelia’s apartment. The floor flooded and it took management days to get to the apartment to stop the problem. After that, they told Ofelia she needed to move out for six days so they could fix it. She couldn’t afford to stay in another place, so she used fans to dry out the floor. The water caused the floor to warp, and there was an inch step between the kitchen and the bedroom. When Ofelia asked for repairs, Fernando told her he didn’t have the staff to make the repairs. One morning, Ofelia tripped on the warped wood and fell, hitting her head and injuring her foot. The management company did not reimburse her for any of her medical bills.

    As they told their stories, the renters discovered that QT Properties targeted the Spanish speaking community through vague ads in Spanish language publications. The ads resemble those in the back of City Pages: “room for rent, call this number.” Many of the renters work in the service industry, making low wages and struggling to support their families.

     

    Besides those terse ads, the renters only knew about their shadowy landlord through Fernando and a voice on the maintenance line answering machine telling them to call back. The renters did not even have a permanent address for the company that had so much power over their lives; QT Properties has used four different houses as an office in the last 9 months.

     

    Seeking a place to send a letter, Inquilinos Unidos found 24 separate Limited Liability Corporations mostly in Minnesota which are connected by Jason Quilling’s ownership, a building at 2960 Winnetka Ave., or both. Ten of these LLCs own at least one rental building, and another four are construction firms. According to Jen Arnold, one lawyer, a Lyndale resident, suggested that creating this many LLC’s might be meant to protect Quilling from litigation.  

    At the next meeting, organizers shared these discoveries with renters. An oversized styrofoam board covered in post-it-notes tried to illustrate the connections among Quilling’s small empire. Their suspicions were affirmed, the company, and the problem, was bigger than Fernando. As their situation became clear, the renters began to draft a demand letter for Fernando and Quilling:

      

    April 16th, 2015

    Dear Jason Quilling,

    We are here today to ask you to make some changes in the way your business (Q.T. Properties) is managed. We are tired of being disrespected in our housing.

    1. We want to be treated with respect.
      1. We want warnings of changes that affect us with two weeks notice, like parking, new leases or the location of your office.
      2. We want your staff to be respectful and not threatening towards us.
      3. We want your staff to be available to answer our calls. They should make appointments with us when it works in our schedules, so we don’t have to take days off of work. We want your staff to show up when they make appointments with us.
      4. We want to be notified with one week’s notice about when an exterminator will come so we can make arrangements to be there.
      5. We want you to ask permission before you enter our apartments--it’s the law!
    2. We want our apartments to be in good condition.
      1. We want your staff to respond to repair requests that we make within a few days, and to respond to emergencies immediately.
      2. We want you to hire maintenance staff who are certified to do the repairs they are making, and to hire a sufficient amount of staff to attend to requests in a timely manner.
      3. We want you to hire certified exterminators for pests so that the exterminations are successful.
    3. We want the option to sign 6 month or 1 year leases.
    4. We want alternative methods to paying rent and submitting maintenance requests online.
    5. We want written communications in Spanish and English from your office, including the lease.

    We think the first step in addressing these demands is to find a new manager in your office to replace Fernando. He continually offends us and is in charge of all the decisions that have made it difficult to work with your company.

    We anxiously await your response. You can get in communicate with us by sending a letter or email of response to Jennifer Arnold (jennifer@lyndale.org) at the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

    Sincerely,

     

    Inquilinos Unidos por Justicia

     

     

    Armed with the letter and their stories, on April 16th the renters descended on 3112 Hennepin Ave, the most recent home of QT Properties. The business had its windows open but as soon as the crowds began chanting the panes were shuttered. The renters brought their children, who peered through the mail slot, yelling for Fernando. Their parents wanted to give Fernando a letter, they said. When no one answered, the renters took over the space, climbing the steps, turning the porch into a stage from which they told of injustices and threats. Pedestrians wandered past, curious about the ruckus in an otherwise congested commercial center. An Apple store and an Urban Outfitters are both just around the corner.

    Board Member Roberto de La Riva went around to the neighbors to inform them of who they were living next to. Ofelia, Angela, and Maria told their stories to cheers of support from other renters and a handful of men and women who had come to show solidarity. The media remained respectfully quiet, even as they interviewed renters. After the letter had been ceremoniously shoved through the mail slot, as the energy leveled out, a taxi zoomed to a stop in the middle of the street.

     

    Many of those present did not know who the man was, but those who lived at 3019 Pleasant Ave. recognized the Jimenez family. Juan ran to the front of the crowd while his wife paid the taxi driver. He mounted the porch and pulled a bill out of the envelope he was holding: $486 dollars for two towed cars. He had been one of those who paid the mid-lease parking fees, he had dutifully affixed the new stickers, so why had he been towed? “This happened because the protest is going on,” he told the crowd. Another renter had been abused, but thanks to Inquilinos Unidos, Juan Jimenez had a stage to speak from, and a crowd to listen.

     

    After the protest, QT staff met with city officials. While the meeting was closed to the public, QT clearly felt pressured. They have been posting letters on their tenants doors, insisting there is no problem. They urge direct communication with the management company, discourage renters from ‘inconsistencies in association,’ and warn of outside agitators who are just trying to stir up trouble. They have also door knocked twice, but it is clear that the renters know their power is in the bond they have created telling stories and depending on one another and they refuse to deal with the company alone.

     

    At the same time, the company has ignored demands to give tenants the latest parking permit (remember, free parking is promised in the lease). They have not rescinded their demand that rent be paid online. As a result, tenants distrust the communication with the Landlord and they fear if they express their concerns they will be retaliated against. Tenants say the management company is trying to isolate tenants instead of agreeing to meet with them altogether, as they have been asking for since before the protest.

     

    On May 6th a group of renters met at Lyndale Neighborhood Organization to meet meet with JoAnn Velde, Chief Inspector for Minneapolis Inspection Services - for buildings with 1 to 3 units. (The room was filled with a bounty of Mexican sweet bread that this writer disproportionately consumed, unable to shake off the nostalgia of eating, “pan de dulce” on the streets of his native Los Angeles.) Renters spoke with conviction as they carefully described the frustrations of being tenants of Jason Quilling. JoAnn was visibly moved, as a translator described the deplorable conditions renters had been living in. Most shockingly renters revealed that when Quilling took over 3027, 3023 and 3019 Pleasant he had essentially stolen their security deposits.

     

    When asked if this was the worst case JoAnn had ever seen she mentioned that Spiros Zorbalas had been the worst slumlord in recent memory. As they spoke, Jen Arnold wrote out their concerns on a poster board. The rough, sharpie-scrawled note makes a strong case for a New Slumlord of South Minneapolis:

     

    Building Negligence

    General Disrespect

    Needless Fines

    Drain plugged for two days, heat turned off overnight.

    Longfellow tenants receive an eviction letter at the same time.

    50 dollar a day fine for having AC.

    Longfellow building has heating problems.

    While canvassing renters spoke to a white women who mentioned that the property manager Fernando not only fixed the washing machine, but even returned money.

    Rent increase in an apartment from $625 to $700 within 6 months.

    Floors were flooded, and no emergency staff came for six days. After, were not repaired. Parent concerned since her child is asthmatic.

    No options for physical rent payments, tenants forced to pay via internet or move.

    The management doesn't seem to like fun. If you sit outside you get fined $60.

    Lots of bugs, maintenance just put down some paste. Mice and cockroaches. They said they would be killed by the venom in two minutes, but they were still there in 2 months.

    When they signed the lease, Fernando was nice, but when they called for repairs he was mean.

    Tenants will be fined $500 for opening their windows before April 15th, but there is no kitchen exhaust.

    Laundry machines don't work.

    They were told arbitrarily that they couldn't have a satellite dish. Many were given one week notice taped on the front door.

    Were told that it's illegal to play outside, $50 fine; management chained fences so youth couldn’t play between buildings.

     

    To listen to Jennifer and I talk about the organizing and what it all felt like and to here Jennifer's goofy Minnesota accent check out our podcast convo below! 

     

    Note: Here at chipsterlife we primarily blog while sometimes telling long form stories, reflections, features on artists and something close to actual journalism. In this piece I was motivated to investigate Jason Quilling and QT Properties by Jennifer Arnold, Lead Organizer at Lyndale Neighborhood Organization. Thus was borne Chipsterlife’s first investigative long form piece. I spent considerable time with Jennifer and the renters  to try and understand the complexities and story of the restless, predominantly latino tenants who had had enough. Jennifer graciously helped me pull together the essential components for this investigative piece. Furthermore, through an unnamed informant we were able to get Quilling’s personal cell phone number. After some phone calls and texts I was not able to get a comment on the record from him about his properties; he simply dismissively claimed that the accusations levied by the latino renters are made up and affirmed that the properties are well maintained.   

    -Filiberto Nolasco Gomez and Logan Carroll,
    with significant contributions from Jennifer Arnold
  • The Battle for Chicano and Latino Studies

    The Battle for Chicano and Latino Studies:
    What a banner drop on Cinco De Mayo was really all about

     

    Born out of the struggles by Chicanos throughout the United States to set the terms of their identity, the University of Minnesota established the first Chicano Studies Department in the upper Midwest in the 1970s.  Following similar successful efforts on the West Coast, the epicenter of the burgeoning Chicano Movement, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities department blossomed following a sit in by student activists at the primarily administrative building Morrill Hall.

    While victorious in its inception, the Chicano and Latino Studies Department has never had more than 4 faculty members and normally only two--one senior faculty and one junior faculty, i.e. non-tenured. Faculty have come and gone, many citing the inhospitable environment for faculty and students of color at the University of Minnesota as a primary motivation for leaving. Last year, the University revealed that former Chair Louis Mendoza’s tenure track faculty line would not be replaced, leaving the department with one tenure track professor. Chicano leaders throughout the community interpreted this as an attempt to destabilize the department and set it on a track for closure. Students and other community members responded to this and other social justice related concerns on campus with a series of events throughout the academic year, eventually leading to a sit in at the President’s office by one particular group, Whose Diversity?.

     

    On a snowy Minnesota afternoon, at a faculty organized solidarity rally for support of the students arrested during the sit in, the only professor in the Chicano Latino Studies Department spoke. Assistant Professor Jimmy Patiño gave a speech to a crowd of well-layered protesters on the front steps of the University’s main administration building. He explained:

     

     

    “I am currently the only faculty member in the 40 year old department of Chicano and Latino Studies. I have been put in a situation where I must constantly think and rethink how this situation came to be and what my responsibilities are in doing something about it.  And the administration has given excuses as to how this occurred, has minimized the absurdity of such a situation, and even suggested that this department is somehow supposed to have only a few faculty members. With all the excuses, what I hear from the admin is that “we do not value what you have dedicated your life to do. We do not value this field of study and the community it takes as its central subject of knowledge creating.”

    With the former Chair Professor Mendoza’s departure, along with the University’s decision to not reinstate and rehire for his position, the department was put in an extremely tenuous. Not having a senior faculty member has limited the number of professors who teach classes and can complete other necessary administrative tasks. However, most crucially, this has left the department without a viable candidate to serve as chair--a (usually) tenured professor who oversees the department. Although this position is currently held by Professor Éden Torres, she is actually “on loan” from the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and her term is up next year after which she will go on sabbatical and then phased retirement.

    While the one hire from the University may “solve” the problem of who will chair the department after Torres, it does not solve the department's larger problems. In order to have a truly sustainable and thriving  department that lives up to the standards of excellence in academia, Chicano and Latino Studies requires a minimum of five faculty members. While a seemingly ambitious goal given the dire constraints of University funding, activists argue that this ask is nothing compared to peer Midwest institutions. For example, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign's Latino Studies department has 12 faculty members; the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Chican@ and Latin@ Studies department has 13 faculty members; and the University of Michigan’s Latina/o department has 10 faculty members.

     

     

    Activists explained that this was the reason that early in the morning on “Cinco De Mayo,” an estimated 40 ft  banner that read “FUND CHICANO STUDIES.” with the hashtag “#onehireisnotenough” was dropped from the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union’s balcony. This act of protest was designed to highlight the University of Minnesota’s systematic and detrimental underfunding of the Chicano and Latino Studies department.

    Activists chose to drop a banner as a response to the University administration’s lack of engagement with the community over the tenuous state of the department. Earlier this semester, a number of activists sent an email to President Kaler, Vice President Hanson, and CLA Dean Coleman asking them to attend a community meeting. Dean Coleman responded by stating that there had not only been enough discussion over the matter, but that in fact that the matter had been resolved. Coleman was referencing the opportunity granted to the Chicano Latino Studies Department to search for one senior faculty hire next year, a direct result of the Whose Diversity? sit in. Activists argue that one hire is simply not enough to stabilize the department.

    The activists’ demands, however, go beyond the department’s faculty hiring numbers. They also demand that the University reinstate funds so that the department can rehire its Outreach Coordinator at full-time status. The position has proven to be crucial to Chicano and Latino Studies, as this department and academic field was founded on an inextricable connection to those in the community. The department’s outreach coordinator maintains those community connections and helps them thrive. Furthermore, this position has been central to developing programs to recruit, retain, and sustain Chicano and Latino students at the University.

     

    - Filiberto Nolasco Gomez 

     

     

  • AN OPEN LETTER ON BLACKFACE AND BLACKNESS

    Minneapolis based Visual artist Junauda Alma Responds to a performer on stage using blackface. 

     

    I am up early as usual and I find myself listening to
    “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” by King Stevie Wonder. I find my ass crying and dancing really hard. There was one lyric in particular that swiftly put me all up in my feelings. 

     

    Why must my color black make me a lesser man?

    About a week ago I was backstage at an event curated for performance artists, Culture Wars at Patrick’s Cabaret. I was getting ready when my sweetfriend/sis-star, Jayanthi called me out to see what was on stage. I look and see one of the other artists performing.
    In BLACKFACE and devil horns and butt ass naked, splashing fake blood, thoroughly into his ass and genitals and humping the ground and wiping his ass with black paper. It was confusing me.

     

    The BLACKFACE part of it.

     

    I walk back into the dressing room with Jayanthi and we talked about it. Da fuq? BLACKFACE? What were we going to do? And we didn’t know. Nobody else seemed disturbed but us. And we didn’t feel particularly brave or righteous, but we knew it was wrong and this was a disturbance to the love of Black people and respect to the ancestors. And we were about to do a piece on the healing space of sisterhood within white supremacy (how meta...). And then here go some BLACKFACE. We decided after reflection to call that shit out on stage. We started rehearsing sumthin...

     

    As part of the piece, I tell a story about feeling ugly in kindergarten because BLACKNESS (sweet, delicious, contemplatively divine and omnipotent BLACKNESS) was something I was taught to despise and misunderstand in me and in the world. After this I then said, “Then I grew up and became an artist. And got asked to be in the Culture Wars. And then here go some BLACKFACE.” Then Jayanthi and I looked at each other and said “Fucking BLACKFACE?” and stare at the audience for a little while. Then Jayanthi said “Are we giving it glory by mentioning it or staying silent? This is adding to my struggle.” Then we continued on with our piece.

     

    It burned me and Jayanthi’s hearts. We couldn’t stop talking about it for days and it was pissing us off that we were being preoccupied with this fellow artists’ work and he had no accountability to it. Since then we have talked to the curators, received what I believe to be heartfelt apologies for both allowing the work to be shown to an audience (twice) and even allowing images of it to be used for publicity, not recognizing the BLACKFACE as a fucking problem. Not noticing the BLACKFACE as noteworthy at all. Invisible. At the end of the day, we felt alone in calling out the BLACKFACE on the stage. Somehow no one involved seemed to have their heart up in it as much as we did and that hurt us.

     

    Someone showed me a Facebook post of the artist who performed in BLACKFACE and he was proud of himself and his mastubatory and boring (my opinion, maybe others were moved) artwork and additionally said “May Satan Bless her Heart” in reference to me for “offending” me. He categorized the work he did as “taking a risk.” Sigh... Okay. In 2015 when White and Armed AmeriKKKa is murderously struggling with seeing and loving Black people, BLACKFACE ain’t taking a risk. Sorry homie. White supremacy/fear is still psychically draining and killing Black people, even children, via the school systems, environmental racism, racism in hiring and pay, the prison system and with state-sponsored and vigilante gun violence. To name a few. Black Lives Matter. So being in BLACKFACE and saying it has something with being a risky artist falls flatly on the wrong side of history.

     

    It reifies the lies around BLACKNESS not being sacred and beautiful. And the church set this trend, when they made BLACKNESS seem like it had to do with craziness and evil and made Jesus look like a wholesome BeeGee. So devil horns in BLACKFACE...why? And for whom? Not for me. Who is art like that for? All the White people I saw staring back at us when Jayanthi and I said BLACKFACE out loud. Is that who that piece was for? I am really trying to understand. Actually, I am not...One of my sis-stars, another brilliant wild woman artist, who knows the BLACKFACE artist in the community, said if she was there she would have said, “Jaime?! Jaime!!!! Jaime, is that you? Get that shit off yo’ face!” The thought of her doing that makes me laugh and smile so hard. And wish someone would have done that.

     

    There is so much more to say and yet, I just want to go in my backyard and start working the earth for my garden. I love how the earth just got this spirit that reminds you of your truth and light, your sensuality and sweetness. Reminds you of your wholeness. A sis-star of mine, once told me when I was heartbroken to go panty-less with a big skirt and find a piece of the earth to sit down and get recharged and I must get back into that practice, now that it is warm enough. I am going to sit in the sun and recharge from the earth’s BLACKNESS and not fuss with this backwards, crazy shit anymore

     

     

  • Salsa on the Side: This isn’t Taco Bell, Bitch

    Folks we are happy to introduce a new partnership with Major Magazine. Over the next several months we will be reposting pieces from their website while also developing new pieces from their staff. We are very excited!

     

     

    Like most kids growing up, Saturday mornings were my favorite day of the week. Sleeping in, watching cartoons- that was the shit to me back then, but my favorite part about Saturday mornings, was being able to spend them cooking breakfast with mom. Since she worked 9-5 Monday through Friday, my brother Claudio and I never really got to enjoy home cooked breakfast until the weekend. Claudio was never much of a morning person, sometimes even the smell of the kitchen couldn’t get him out of bed, but I didn’t care, Saturday morning was my time to bond with Mom. If I wasn’t already awake by the time she was ready to cook, she’d come in and nudge me to get up. She’d play my favorite Jose Jose and Joan Sebastian albums and she’d show me step by step how to make her secret sauce for her Chilaquiles. I’d chop the onions, garlic and tortillas for her while she watched over me. Then, we’d go out into the yard together and pick out the herbs from her garden. I’d save crumbling the queso fresco till the end because that way I’d get to lick the cheese off my fingers. When the sauce was done simmering, I’d sit on the counter dangling my feet, telling mom about my week at school while she finished frying the tortillas. Everything about that dish reminds me of her and my childhood so much that I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for chilaquiles. If I was ever sad or upset, she’d make me fresh chilaquiles coupled with a large glass of OJ because she knew what they meant to me. That was our dish.

    Mom working in the kitchen at an old family restaurant.


    When I moved out of her house, I missed those mornings the most. I’d make them at home but it wasn’t the same because she wasn’t there to make them with me, and she always did the most arduous part, slaving over the stove frying the tortillas. So when I started working at THC, I couldn’t hide how excited I was to find out their chilaquiles recipe was the closest to mom’s I’ve ever tasted. To this day, I eat them at least two, three times a week at work. They stepped the recipe up a notch, made them spicier, and even made the dish into a burrito if that’s the way you wanted it. I always liked them traditional, on a plate with scrambled eggs, the way Mom made them for me. Since I work in a highly gentrified area, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me to find out that non-cultured people loved the chilaquiles, especially as a burrito. Some of the customers butchered the name so much, I’ve heard so many variations of it, chill-ahh-queels, cheeleekeels, chillkills, cheequills, chillaqueeless, some of them don’t even try to pronounce it, and opt for just pointing at the menu as if they were in some foreign country who’s language their tongue couldn’t understand. More than once I’ve had people order the chilaquiles with the salsa on the side. My least favorite is “breakfast nachos,” and I almost grew numb to their ignorance, I mean, you can only expect so much from someone who knows nothing about your culture, but there’s always that one person who has to go too far.

    Since my mom passed away in January, my patience at work, and life in general has diminished almost completely, so I can admit that I already wasn’t in a good mood when this girl came up to me a few weeks ago.

    “Oh my god, I heard you guys have a really amazing Dorito burrito.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “Yeah, my friend said you guys have this burrito that tastes just like Dorito’s, here it is, this one.” She pointed at the menu.
    “You must be thinking of the Chilaquiles Burrito. ”
    “Yeah, the breakfast nachos, I want that.”
    “Well, it doesn’t taste anything like Dorito’s, it’s fried corn tortillas cooked in a spicy tomato based salsa and then topped with eggs and queso fresco.”
    “Dorito’s burrito! I want one of those. My friend said it was killer, but can I get sour cream on the side, no cilantro and no onion.”
    “So you want it without all the essentials, yeah, I can do that.”

    This isn’t fucking Taco Bell bitch. She did not amuse me and not once did I smile at her. Normally, I can look past a customer’s ignorance with a smile on my face, I mean, it’s all part of the job, but some days, I just cannot bring myself to it. That dish is a staple to my childhood and this chick made me feel like shit, for reasons she would never understand. I rolled my eyes as she walked away and I could honestly care less if she saw me.

    When I think of chilaquiles, I think of my mom, dancing in the kitchen like a goofball, wooden spoon in hand, singing Joan Sebastian’s Maraca’s to me. I think of all those Saturday mornings I spent with her, telling me about life in Mexico before she moved to the states. Every time I eat a plate of chilaquiles, I think of her. I went home that day, threw myself into bed and cried. Cried because of how much I missed her, cried because I couldn’t call to tell her how stupid that girl was, cried because of how much she had insulted me and us, cried because some days, I just can’t handle the world’s stupidity. Cried because I was fed up and tired of pretending to be happy at work, helping people who know nothing about who I am and what I’ve been through.

    That night, I took a long, hot bath, put my headphones on and listened to all my favorite Joan Sebastian and Jose Jose songs that reminded me of her. I cried until my eyes hurt and I could no longer breath through my nose, trying to catch my breath in-between sobs, not caring if my neighbors could hear me through the thin walls. Before I went to bed, I put two large spoons in the freezer for the morning, so I could hide the swelling in my face, bracing myself for the next day, just like Mom had taught me.

    In loving memory of Eugenia M. Hernandez, my mom and best friend.

     

    Written by by Nicole Macias

    Reprinted with permission from Majormagazine.net

  • Santa Barbara Residents Fight Gentrification

    On February 15th, 2015, PODER organized a protest in an effort to focus attention on the dangers of the Milpas Community Association (MCA) and its proposed gentrification plans for the Eastside. The MCA’s Eastside business improvement district (E-BID) plan will make Milpas Street into a new State Street that will inevitably increase commercial and residential rents and drive out more locals from Santa Barbara.

     

    The protest took place in the 100 block of north Milpas in front of Taqueria El Bajio restaurant. The owner of the restaurant, Santos Guzman, is an advocate for the E-BID, working against the wishes of the majority of Latino-owned businesses on Milpas Street. This owner has historically stood against Latino protestors including the BFI Waste union protest.

     

    Spirited PODER activists waved signs, distributed literature, and spoke with interested restaurant patrons about the effects of gentrification on local communities. PODER members also spoke with Guzman about his perception of the E-BID. It was clear that Mr. Guzman does not fully understand the implications of gentrification and the harm his family business will suffer from in the long run under the proposed plan. The people most at risk are the residents and local business owners who would not be able to pay the increased fees and taxes since commercial and housing rents will inevitably rise if the E-BID is approved by city council.

    Police called by MCA member Jarrett Gorin checked in with PODER demonstrators and concluded that PODER was conducting a lawful protest through the exercise of its first amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly.. Gorrin is a developer at Vanguard Planning and is invested in the E-BID through his recent acquisition of the defunct Chevron station on the corner of Milpas and De La Guerra Street. His mix-use infill project will establish retail and residential rentals on the lot despite concerns of soil and groundwater contamination by underground fuel tanks on the site of the former gas station.

     

    Accounts of the harassment and intimidation of local business owners by MCA members continues to grow and have been reported to city council members and local agencies. A seventy-year-old Latina businesswoman who has had her shop on Milpas for decades was intimidated by MCA members but was too afraid to report it. Another Latino business owner objected when a member of the MCA forcibly removed a sign displaying the owner’s opposition to the E-BID from his storefront window. Business owners who questioned the actions of the MCA were told they would lose business if they challenged their intentions (please see MCA emails).

     PODER were not surprised when Gorin demonstrated his usual intimidiation tactics against opponents of the E-BID by calling in antagonizers to PODER’s protest who engaged in heated exchanges with peaceful PODER activists. Gorin and other MCA members arrived at the protest and made false allegations about protestors claiming protestors were shoving people, blocking entrance and harassing customers. All allegations were false as this was a peaceful demonstration to shed light to the bigger issue.

     

    Since the MCA’s announcement of the E-BID at City Council last November, PODER and other activists have been engaged in dialog with local Eastside businesses and residents to assess their knowledge of the gentrification plan. PODER members have discovered that very few small businesses have been consulted by MCA officials despite paying regular dues to the organization.

     

     PODER members are concerned that neighborhood residents, community churches, industrial businesses, and small locally owned shops on the Eastside would be driven out by the MCA’s gentrification plan in order to usher in big corporate conglomerates catering to wealthy tourists, big box stores, and Montecito elites.

     

    PODER is one of many groups working to preserve our neighborhood’s affordability for small mom-and-pop shops and area residents. We do not believe that MCA’s gentrification plan is appropriate for our neighborhood and instead support community-based alternatives that reflect the authentic wishes and desires of our local businesses and residents.

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