Attendees at the “Boyle Heights: Neighborhood Change, Jobs & Gentrification” talk at LA Plaza de Cultura y Arte. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas.
Attendees at the “Boyle Heights: Neighborhood Change, Jobs & Gentrification” talk at LA Plaza de Cultura y Arte.

The timing couldn’t have been better for Thursday’s so-called plática about gentrification in Boyle Heights at downtown Los Angeles’ LA Plaza de Cultura y Arte.

While the announced topic was “Neighborhood Change, Jobs & Gentrification,” it was apparent that almost everyone’s mind was on current media attention generated by grassroots activism in Boyle Heights –and the ongoing protest against the newly-opened Weird Wave Coffee shop.

A packed house listened attentively to the two invited speakers, Dr. Eric Ávila and Dr. Abel Valenzuela, Chicano Studies and History professors at UCLA. Both spoke about how scholarly research focused on Boyle Heights should influence and benefit current anti-gentrification activism in the neighborhood.

Dr. Eric Ávila.

“Boyle Heights has always been on the throes of change,” pointed out Ávila, who outlined the neighborhood’s development in the 20th century. He detailed how government-sponsored practices such as “redlining” and the construction of freeways made way for the neighborhood becoming “the capital of Mexican America.”

Ávila also outlined how in the 1970’s Boyle Heights became the “epicenter of the Chicano Movement” and how “art has always been [essential] to the form of activism that has come out of” Los Angeles’ Eastside.

For his part, Valenzuela reviewed a study he helped conduct in 2000 that identified assets in Boyle Heights in the areas of art, economy and housing, and suggested that it would be beneficial to replicate the scholarly work in 2017.

Dr. Abel Valenzuela (left).

Valenzuela also advised Boyle Heights activists to look at how anti-gentrification activism is happening in other parts of the United States and especially in downtown Los Angeles. “Some of the resistance could benefit from a connection to a broader form of activism” in the city, he said.

What followed was a lively discussion –a true plática– with several Boyle Heights residents, including several well-known community activists.

While the discussion began around the coffee-shop protest, it moved on to include the subject of voter participation, the role of undocumented activists and the effects of unbridled capitalism.

While one speaker complained that the current anti-gentrification movement has little time to wait for new scholarly work on the subject, Ávila countered that “activism that is not informed is not going to go very far.”

The plática was streamed live on Facebook and the video is available on the LA Plaza de Cultura y Arte page.

All photos by Antonio Mejías-Rentas for Boyle Heights Beat.

Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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