Things That Matter

A Chicano Community In San Diego Was Outraged Over A White Woman’s Attempt To Open A ‘Modern Fruteria’

Jenny Niezgoda clearly didn’t do her homework. The travel blogger and self-proclaimed “barefoot bohemian” released a now-canceled Kickstarter campaign and accompanying video for her next passion project – a “plant-based cocina” and “modern fruteria” she was calling La Gracia. And she would be opening this business in the center of Barrio Logan, a historically Mexican-American and Chicano neighborhood in San Diego with a long history of grassroots activism and fighting gentrification.

The backlash was almost instant, with community members and activists, along with a large chunk of the internet, calling this yet another signifier of gentrification in their community by a woman seen as the poster child for cultural appropriation. La Gracia is now being called La Desgracia.

Here is the video that sparked it all.


Niezgoda has all the markings of an Instagram influencer, branding herself as a “gypsy soul,” “chic nomad” and “a pure reflection of her world” while posting photos that are the product of someone with a clear savviness for marketing. She bears a resemblance to actress Blake Lively, appears to love a good flower crown and waxes about how “life is good in Me-he-co” in her blog.

In the video, she struts effortlessly through the neighborhood in an off-shoulder top, posing in front of murals of Frida Kahlo and Cesar Chavez while Latin-sounding guitar plays in the background. She turns in slo-mo, whipping her long, wand-waved locks around and dropping a toothy smile into the camera. Between poses, Niezgoda explains that she’s “spent the last couple of years traveling the world in search of the most vibrant, history-rich, artistic and food-centric neighborhood,” but it was Mexico that stole her heart. “And then I found it here in San Diego!” she announces excitedly. Niezgoda goes on to explain that a fruteria is a “Mexican-inspired juice bar,” however La Gracia “we will be so much more!” In fact, it will be “an integral thread in this community’s fabric.” In the end, she proudly shouts she is bringing “a heathy option to the barrio!” And this is just the video, which many didn’t believe was actually real. The Kickstarter page also has caused outrage over its tone deaf phrasing and what some call a white savior attitude.

CREDIT: Credit: La Gracia/Kickstarter

In her quest to create an “urban sanctuary” and a business of her very own, Niezgoda has enraged a community that is fervently protective of its identity and has fought tooth-and-nail for decades to preserve itself from outside influence. Barrio Logan has a long history of activism and grassroots organizing. It’s one of the epicenters for the Chicano movement, with Chicano Park, located just down the street from where La Gracia hopes to open its doors, earning the designation as a cultural landmark in the National Register of Historic Places.

“People who know its history know its resistance,” says Irma Patricia Aguayo, a Chicano Park muralist and longtime activist. For someone to come in thinking they’re going to save something they’re not part of is offensive. The way she’s representing her business, I feel colonized once again.”

In the last few years, as residents have built businesses that the “hipster” demographic (cool coffee shops, art galleries, tattoo shops, a craft brewery serving culturally-inspired beer and a taco shop covered in bright Chicano artwork, to name a few), they’ve seen the city and developers take notice. It’s resulted in new developments, one of which is a building that houses La Gracia, increased rent and an influx of newcomers that don’t fit the long-standing ethnic make-up of the community. Which is to say, white people. White people are coming, and the incredibly protective community is not happy with what that means. Niezgoda and La Gracia are certainly not the first sign of gentrification in Barrio Logan, and surely not to be the last. But it has sparked the outrage and hell no-attitude that bubbles constantly in the neighborhood by those who fear that Barrio Logan will be lost, though not without a fight.

“She didn’t start this,” says Antonio Ley, owner of the Corazón de Torta food truck, run out of Logan Heights. “Down the street there’s $13 hot dogs sold out of a lowrider. She just made the dumbest video ever. It’s the most racially divisive business that’s hit Barrio Logan because she made it completely white. She was here to take what we made and tried to run with it.”

CREDIT: Credit: The Barefoot Bohemian

“For someone to come in out of nowhere and present herself in such a way as to be a savior was at best clueless and at worst completely disrespectful to an entire community and culture that has fought and struggled to survive in the face of great odds,” says Brent Beltran, vice chair of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group (though he does not speak on behalf of the group).

He adds: “For me the part that stands out the worst, beyond trying to appropriate our culinary culture, is the blatant willingness to gentrify this community. One of her responses to being called out was to claim that her business would help increase property values for homeowners. If she had done her due diligence she would’ve realized that Barrio Logan is a community of renters. If property values rise then the current working class residents will get pushed out.”

There’s a lot of history, too much to get into here, but a Google search and talking to business owners and community members would have been beneficial to Niezgoda. However, she doesn’t appear to have done much of the latter, from what a handful of business owners tell us. In her Kickstarter, she says says she’s “spent months getting to know the neighbors and surrounded myself with a team of people who know their sh*t,” but only one person out of the dozen interviewed for this story says she spoke to them about La Gracia.

“She’s a sweet girl,” adds Ley, who says she only mentioned her business, but never asked for input. “She told me about this months ago, and I thought ‘Damn, that sounds expensive and not for the neighbors that already live here.’ But I didn’t want to burst her bubble or tell her she’s culturally appropriating. I thought, ‘it’s fruit. People can do whatever they want with it.’ But if I saw that video, I would have told her it was offensive.”

“If she doesn’t take the time to get to know the neighbors, her fellow business owners, the history of the neighborhood, the history of Chicano Park and the local organizations, then she doesn’t understand the fabric of the neighborhood,” says Olympia Andrade Beltran, a nurse and activist who’s a member of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group. “She can’t assume the role [of being part of the neighborhood’s fabric]. It’s not for her to define, it’s for the neighborhood to define.”

The video, and some of Niezgoda’s other online posts, is what the Barrio Logan community has to go off of when understanding who she is and, to put it in words many of them have used, what the hell she was thinking.

Here’s a break down of some of the video’s offenses, point by point.

CREDIT: Credit: La Gracia/Kickstarter

The Spanish guitar music throughout the video.

For Ley, the music used reminded him of Rick Bayless of the Travel Channel.

“The music itself sets the tone that it’s not from Barrio Logan, it’s from outsiders,” he explains. “It’s super cheesy and corny. It’s trying to identify that this is somehow Latino, and right away it sets the tone because it’s just stereotypical Latino music.”

The name, and use of the Spanish language and Mexican influences overall.

“I don’t feel she had bad intentions, or is intentionally racist against Mexicans,” says Andrade Beltran. “She’s a white woman born with privilege. She had the financial stability to travel and found beauty in Mexico that everyone can appreciate. I think that her idea to capitalize off that inspiration of indigenous traditions, an indigenous style of preparing food, and to bring that into an already culturally infused and rich community was her mistake.”

Calling Barrio Logan a “vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhood.”

This provoked outrage and concern in many, who see or hear this phrase whenever neighborhoods feel the effects of gentrification. It’s one of the first signs.

“It’s a classic case of Columbusing, or thinking that you are the first person ‘discovering’ something new or hip even though it has been part of the common everyday life and practices of the people from whom you are ‘discovering said phenomenon,” says Roberto Hernandez, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University. “In this case, both in terms of her doing the “modern” fruteria but also in terms of Barrio Logan and her being at the ‘forefront’ of the ‘up-and-coming’ neighborhood.”

Posing in front of murals of important Latinx figures.

CREDIT: Credit: La Gracia/Kickstarter

For Betty Bangs, a resident who also works as an on-air DJ at the local, community-powered radio station, Radio Pulso del Barrio, this hit a particularly sensitive nerve.

“How does she relate? Did those people fight for her? Does she know what those people really mean to us?,” says Bangs. “I’ve never seen her. I walk these streets every single day, and I’ve never seen her. How is she walking the streets like she’s part of it or made it a better place. What gives her the right? Because she has money?”

Niezgoda saying she’s “bringing healthy options to the barrio.”

This has been a major point of contention. While Barrio Logan is a food desert, healthy options do exist, even in the form of fruterias.

“She’s not innovating. She’s not the first person to do it,” says Andrade Beltran, who welcomes the idea of more healthy food options to the neighborhood. “I just would appreciate it if she would acknowledge the efforts already being made in the neighborhood.

“That’s why you want to be here,” says Bangs. “Because it’s already good. You want to come here and feed me my own culture on a plate? No, white girl. I don’t think so.”

Insisting it’s “appreciating” not appropriation.

CREDIT: @lagraciasd/Instagram

Later, in a response posted on the La Gracia Instagram page, Niezgoda or someone on her team posted a response to a comment insisting that the company has “so much love and respect for the culture and a love for Mexico.” She describes doing her yoga training in Puerto Vallarte and spending “many winters” in the resort fishing village of Sayulita as proof, which many have called problematic in itself as is shows a lack of understanding of the culture beyond a vacation mentality.

“This is not appropriation or gentrification, it’s APPRECIATION,” she writes.

CREDIT: A still from de La Gracia video showing Niezgoda and her friends vacationing.

But as Andrade Beltran points out, that’s not really how appreciation works.

The the problem with cultural appropriation is that people with privilege are defining appreciation without asking the people they’re inspired by how’d they’d like to be appreciated,” she says.

Beltran likens Niezgoda’s version of appreciation to native figures being used by sports teams like the Washington Redskins, who then argue that they’re not disrespecting the cultures but showing appreciation for them, despite the outcries from people of that culture.

“Instead, to just say it is Mexicans that just do not understand and that they need to be taught by presumably them as more enlightened beings just exacerbates the most basic aspects of it, such as their belief that their presence should be appreciated because after all they are helping raise property values of homes,” he explains.

While the backlash has been aimed most loudly at Niezgoda and the concept of La Gracia, it’s the product of a larger problem the community sees. In a statement sent to mitú, the local political organization Unión de Barrio says, “As long as we limit our understanding of this struggle to individual Beckys or isolated barrios, we will forever be easy targets [of gentrification].”

Some believe “hipster” businesses, like coffee shops, restaurants, breweries and galleries, brought this on.

“We can’t deny that it is those same galleries and shops that attract outsider culture vultures, affluent folks and developers to the hood,” says David Morales, who grew up in the neighborhood. “When this happens, rent prices go up and people who have lived in Logan for many many years are displaced. My own family was displaced from Logan. The house we were renting was bought by a young white couple looking into moving close to the ‘vibrant, up-and-coming’ community that this White lady from La Gracia describes.”

Many of those businesses, however, were built by Chicanos and Mexican-Americans from the community or with close ties to it through their work. When these businesses began long ago, it was a sign of ‘gentefication,’ a term coined by Latino Los Angeles business owner Guillermo Uribe to describe the process of improvements to a community from its own people. It’s not a case of this is why we can’t have nice things, as some argue, so much as it is a case of blaming those with the power.

“Blame should not be placed on [local business owners] for trying to make their community better,” says Beltran. “It’s the greed of the property owners. They are the ones to blame. These property pirates that are trying to capitalize on the cultural caché created by the people who built this.”

Aguayo believes that while Niezgoda is a misguided, privileged white woman, the problem doesn’t completely lie with her. The property manager, Hector Perez, is a longtime community advocate and professor at the nearby Woodbury School of Architecture. It was his decision to lease the space to Niezgoda.

“I’d like to know the science behind the decision, what Hector was thinking then and what he’s thinking now,” says Aguayo. “The reason it’s so hard for people to come into this neighborhood is because there’s gatekeepers, and they’re here for a reason. In this case, Hector is the gatekeeper. I don’t know how he has allowed this to happen.”

Both Perez and Niezgoda were reached for comment, but did not reply.

In the meantime, Barrio Logan community members have made their thoughts on La Gracia well-known, and continue to fight this and other white-owned businesses encroaching on the neighborhood. Because for them, protecting the soul of the community is essential to preserving their own identity.

Update: In a statement posted on the La Gracia Facebook page, Niezgoda announced she will not be opening La Gracia.

CREDIT: La Gracia/Facebook

READ: The Artist Behind ‘Veteranas y Rucas’ Talks About Her Place In Boyle Heights’ Battle Against Gentrification

Is gentrification a concern in your community? Then share this story with your followers!

“Tips” For Starbucks Barista Who Stood Down The San Diego Karen Reaches $100K

Things That Matter

“Tips” For Starbucks Barista Who Stood Down The San Diego Karen Reaches $100K

Amber Lynn Gilles / Facebook

Update: The GoFundMe page for Lenin Gutierrez was created with the goal of raising $1,000 after a woman, identified as Amber Lynn Guilles, tried to shame him for telling her to wear a mask. The original goal has been met and surpassed by leaps and bounds.

The GoFundMe page for Lenin Gutierrez is now over $102,000.

Credit: GoFundMe

Gutierrez is now $100,000 richer after his friend Matt Cowan set up the GoFundMe to make the bad experience better. The original goal for the GoFundMe page was $1,000 but the amount keeps on growing as people share the love with Gutierrez.

According to the GoFundMe, Cowan set up for Gutierrez to meet with a financial advisor to help him invest the money. Gutierrez has said that he wants to use the money to pursue his dream of being a dancer. Even more, the young mans shared in a video that he wants to use the money to help others chase their dreams in dance as well.

“We crossed the $100,000 mark,” reads the GoFundMe page. “A huge thank you to everyone who has donated. Lenin is overjoyed and at a loss of words at the kindness that has been shown to him by everyone worldwide.”

Original: Karens are everywhere and one Starbuck barista in San Diego encountered one in the wild without a face mask. Lenin Gutierrez asked a customer if she had a mask when he saw her without one. She said no and refused to put on one. She then went to social media to call him out.

A white woman in San Diego was very upset that a Starbucks barista told her to wear a mask.

Credit: Amber Lynn Gilles / Facebook

Face masks have become a very controversial issue. The most important tool in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has become a politicized issue. Conservatives have denounced the facial coverings claiming they infringe on their rights and are unconstitutional. A Vinn diagram of people protesting the lockdown and not wanting to wear masks would show a lot of overlap.

She included a photo of Lenin Gutierrez, the man who stood up to her.

Credit: Amber Lynn Gilles / Facebook

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a mandate ordering al Californians to wear facial coverings when they are in public. Private businesses, like Starbucks, are allowed to refuse service to anyone that employees deem necessary. During a pandemic that has killed more than 120,000 Americans and infected more than 2.6 million, facial coverings are crucial.

Gutierrez is the one coming out ahead when a GoFundMe was set up to show him support.

Credit: GoFundMe

So far, more than $49,000 have been raised to help Gutierrez. The money is being donated by people who are thanking him for stand up to the woman who thinks she is too good to wear a mask. If you want to donate, you can click here.

Gutierrez took to Facebook to thank everyone who donated to him.

I’ve received numerous messages asking for my side of the story. Since this seems to be the most popular thread I decided to post my personal experience here. Thank you all for the love and support.

Posted by Lenin Gutierrez on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The barista was so moved by the donations. The young man shared that he was working at Starbucks to make the money to pursue his dreams of dancing. According to his Facebook, he likes Folklorico, the native dance of Mexico. There is no doubt that $49,000 will definitely help him pursuing is dreams of diving deeper into dancing.

Don’t forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 has not slowed down in the U.S. Instead, the number of infections continues to rise in the U.S. with more than 40,000 falling ill on Thursday. Facial coverings are the best tool we have to slow the spread. Be smart. Be safe. Listen to the scientists. We can make it through this together.

READ: People Are Using Social Media to Highlight Racism On The Islands

Netflix’s ‘Gentefied’ Renewed For Season 2, Fans Overjoyed

Entertainment

Netflix’s ‘Gentefied’ Renewed For Season 2, Fans Overjoyed

gentefied / Instagram

Any and all news is welcomed right now and Netflix came through this week. “Gentefied” is coming back for a second season and this is absolutely not a drill. Soon we will be back in Boyle Heights with Ana, Chris, Erik, and the rest of the cast we have come to love so much.

Netflix has confirmed “Gentefied” for a second season.

The show is a fan favorite for Netflix with praise and love pouring in for the groundbreaking show. “Gentefied” is set in Boyle Heights and it is all about the fight against gentrification. The show premiered this year to big fanfare and excitement from Latino Netflix users. The show, created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, was picked up for an eight-episode run of the 30-minute show.

The show is one of the most relevant portrayals of the Latino experience in the 21st century.

The show highlights the plight of gentrification on communities across the U.S. Boyle Heights in Los Angeles has been the center of growing tension as the neighborhood slowly gentrifies. Rising rents have forced some residents and businesses to close and leave because of the changing demographic in the neighborhood.

Hearts are full as everyone celebrates the news of a whole new season.

The show originally premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival as a digital series. Lemus and Chávez debuted the show and it was an instant hit with festival-goers. After three years of waiting, the show was released by Netflix and became a national hit. The show has shone a light on the cost of gentrification for more Americans than knew about it before the show aired.

Low key, it has made for perfect binge-watching during this quarantine.

There isn’t a whole lot any of us can do at the moment. Most of us are at home because of self-isolation and social distancing guidelines designed to save lives during the pandemic. Might as well us some of your time to watch and support and very important moment in our community. This kind of representation is something that Latinos have been asking for.

While excited, some fans want more, like a cross-over with Starz’s “Vida.”

Now, just to be clear, we are not concerned with what it takes to make this happen. Netflix and Starz can come up with the actual plan. We are just going to be here waiting to be heard so we can all have the kind of cross-over the world deserves. Just imagine a chance for those two shows to collide in Latino excellence.

Now we wait for an air date.

We are patient. We will be here when you are ready. All you have to do is let us know when to tune in and you know we are coming through.

READ: I Watched ‘Gentefied’ On Netflix And These Are My Brutally Honest Thoughts