By Tiffany Kinh Lam
As local businesses and performance artists in Boyle Heights face the threat of gentrification and displacement, First Street Community Business Association (FSCBA) formed two years ago to ensure the economic empowerment and development of family-run businesses.
On Thursday night, the group of local stakeholders held its first event entitled Noche de Serenata to highlight the culture, food, music, arts, and traditions that Boyle Heights has to offer to locals and non-locals.
As the evening was just about to kick off with Aztec dancers followed by local female vocalists Blanca Araceli, Jackeline Cacho, and Margarita Luna, the co-owner of First Street Taqueria, Gerardo Vasquez, explained his hopes for the evening.
“We hope to see people from all over Los Angeles, especially nearby areas like Downtown, Pasadena, East LA, Vernon, Huntington Park because we have a lot to offer,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez, who owns LA 1st Street Taqueria (located on First Street between Bailey and State) with his wife Mayra Vasquez, joined FSCBA when their restaurant officially opened in January 2015, offering tacos with fresh ingredients such as kale and other veggies.
About joining FSCBA, Vasquez said, “I had just started my business and I was very welcomed as a new owner.”
The emphasis of FSCBA is to ensure that the recent, unprecedented amounts of investment in Boyle Heights is geared to support existing family-owned-and-operated businesses.
According to their mission statement, FSCBA supports the economic stability and inclusivity for all residents of Boyle Heights, including but not limited to brick-and-mortar businesses, non-profit organizations, community collectives, street vendors, and mariachi groups.
The group meets on a monthly basis to support individual small businesses as well as a united commercial corridor for all the businesses surrounding Mariachi Plaza.
As Mariachi Plaza faces extensive development in nearby lots owned by the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Metro Rail, and East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), FSCBA is campaigning for more parking in the area.
Vasquez explained, “Our main priority is parking. The businesses that have been here prior to myself have struggled with this issue. We have brought this to the Council member [Jose Huizar] and he has not responded to our needs.”
A featured artist and vendor Huitzil shared similar sentiments about the need to support local businesses.
“Sometimes we go out of our way to go out outside Boyle Heights for what we need. I’m guilty too of driving 10 miles away when I should be more supportive of local businesses,” said Huitzil.
A local gallery owner who specializes in stain glass art with non-lead ink, Huitzil was motivated to participate because he feels strongly about the connections between artists and business owners.
As Huitizil explained, their is a strong artistic presence among independently-owned businesses.
According to Huitzil, “Business owners have to express their feelings and emotions through colors and décor as well when they design their restaurants, business cards, or menus.”
Other vendors included local garment designers, jewelry makers, palm readers, as well as local not-for-profit groups such as Little Warriors Jiu Jitsu Self-Defense.
The highlights of the evening included live performances from local Aztec ensembles, Mariachi bands, and the Boyle Heights natives Viento Callejero who headlined the event with their modern, urban take on cumbia and rock.
Veronica Santana, who organized the vendors for the event, believed the event to be a success.
“The idea was to promote and enjoy our local community and bring unity to Boyle Heights,” said Veronica.
The free and public event ended with a live coordinated flash mob of more than 100 Jarocho dancers or folk dancers.
Taking place every third Thursday of the month, in order to accommodate the local Mariachi players who tend to be booked on the weekends, the second Noche de Seranata en Paseo la Primera will be held on Thursday, June 16th on Mariachi Plaza from 4 to 10 pm.