This is a script from a story by a Boyle Heights Beat journalist that’s part of KCRW’s Boyle Heights youth radio project. You can listen to the story here:
By Alex Medina
Host Intro: In a neighborhood that’s been battling with gentrification for many years, Boyle Heights community members are polarized about a unique phenomenon that stems from this controversial issue.
(Barber Clipper in Action Ambient Noise)
Growing up in Boyle Heights, Lino C. Campos had to travel far from his neighborhood to get the kind of haircut he wanted.
“If you wanted a rockabilly or a teddy boy haircut or certain, pretty much detailed into the whole greaser community, you had to drive quite a few miles out of here and pay extra bucks.”
When he grew up, he decided to bring the peluquería he never had to Boyle Heights. And his business stands out in the slew of barber shops that dot the neighborhood.
“Everybody liked those hot rod colors, usually always the red and black…The theme has always been a bit of a greaser, rebel kind of style.”
The Cream Shop sits on the busy Cesar Chavez Street in the heart of Boyle Heights. On a Saturday afternoon, Campos offers customers a quality cut for 20 bucks, nearly twice as much as other local barber shops.
(Barber Cutting Ambient Noise)
Which is why not everyone in the community is happy that Campos came and started a business.
“We did get some people who came to us, obviously with profanity and some anger, saying to ‘Get out of the neighborhood’”.
Why would people in his own community have a problem with Campos starting a business? Some are calling it GENTEfication, a term that marries the word “gente”, Spanish for people, with gentrification.
“They’re siblings and when someone leaves the community but returns with a different mindset it’s no longer beneficial to to the community. You know if the person comes back and they have the same mindset as a gentrifier who’s never lived there before, then it’s just as bad.”
That’s Asiyahola Sankara, a community organizer in Los Angeles. Sankara works on anti-displacement policies in the city. He’s worried locals who leave, and later return to start businesses are contributing to the rising cost of living in places like Boyle Heights.
“People would say that I’m an example of gentefication…”
Long time Boyle Heights resident Josefina López types away on her laptop while eating dinner at Casafina on 1st Street in Boyle Heights. It’s the restaurant she co-owns with her husband.
(Ambience: SOUND of restaurant)
Nearby is the community theater she started in 2000. The 48-year-old López grew up undocumented in Boyle Heights in the 70s and 80s. Back then, she says she didn’t have access to the cultural opportunities she wanted.
“I knew that there was gonna be a Renaissance in Boyle Heights and that I had to go leave this community, go get a college education, acquire as many skills, and then come back.”
And that’s exactly what López did. She says she’s created businesses that consider the well-being of her community.
“Making the prices accessible, to the economy of this community. Secondly to keeping the aesthetics welcoming and accessible to the Latino community, the community that lives here.”
Lopez says coming back and being successful offers Boyle Heights residents an example.
She tells the story of a local teen who knocked on her door, selling chocolate for a fundraiser. The kid noticed she carried herself differently, assumed she had a college education, and wondered why she came back.
“If you have a college education, why do you live here?”
And I said “so that you would ask that question. So that you would ask yourself, well, why is it okay, why is it not about leaving?”
Leaving, learning some new things, and if you’re Josefina, coming back to share your skills.
If some people call it GENTEfication, she’s fine with that.
Reporting in Boyle Heights, this is Alex Medina.
Alex Medina is a senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. He is an avid runner and writer who leads the Gay Straight Alliance at Bravo in order to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their allies. He hopes to attend a University of California school after high school.