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 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!

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

Entertainment

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

gentefied / Instagram

Guys, this. is. crazy. Two people claim that I look like Carlos Santos from Netflix’s new series “Gentefied.” Que honor! I mean, whatever, it was my wife’s tía who said I look like him and my wife.

Check it out, y’all.

Credit: ofcourseitscarlos / Instagram

I mean, I totally see it and there is no way I can be biased.

Carlos Santos, If you need me to do your stunts or stand in for you when you eat a taco or bite into a torta ahogada, just let me know, homie. I’m ready for Hollywood, cabrón.

Enough about me being famous and extremely handsome. I’m here to let your booty know if it’s worth it to sit through ten episodes of “Gentefied.”

Here’s the premise of the show:

Two feuding cousins struggle to keep their abuelo’s taco restaurant afloat. All the while, the threat of gentrification, and the emergence of young hipster customers force the traditional taco joint to adapt to survive. 

I grew up in Huntington Park, California and this show should be praised for how it handles complicated themes. From gentrification to Chicano identity and the struggles of lower-income families, the show reminds me un chingo of my hood, my childhood, and even my present-day life. “Gentefied” took the stuff I grew up dealing with, and found a way to present it in the context of a comedy series. But, make no mistake, you will cry while watching this show because you will see your own community represented.

Casimiro (A Traditional Compa in Changing Times)

Recognize this dude? Of course! You know he looks like your abuelo. I know he looks a lot like my abuelo. The casting for Casimiro (the abuelo and taco restaurant owner on the show) is perfection. This viejo knows how to make you cry.

For starters, Casimiro is still in love with his deceased wife, Delfina, and you’ll catch him getting sentimental thinking about her every now and then. My heart was not ready for that kind of love and the tragedy of his character is already implied in his name. “Casi”-“miro,” Spanish for “nearly sees,” because this poor character’s conflict throughout the show is his struggle to hang on to his tradition and values while keeping an eye on the ever-changing present and trying to adapt.

Casimiro is surrounded by change. Rent going up. Menus evolving to catch the attention of young customers. Rich developers swooping in on Boyle Heights and buying up property as the city quickly becomes a hot spot. You’ll have to watch the series to see if this sweet old abuelo can keep up with everything happening around him.

Gay Representation & Struggling Artists: HEY, GURL, HEEEY!

The queer topic is still highly taboo in Latino culture. We don’t talk much about it, at least not with older generations of Latinos. Even though LGBTQ+ rights made huge strides leading up to 2016 and shows like “Queer Eye” are beloved in the mainstream, older Latino generations still have reservations and a hard time accepting queer family members.

In the show, Karie Martin, plays Anna Morales, a queer muralist/painter. Morales gets caught between her protesting girlfriend’s war against the gentrifiers and Casimiro and family’s attempts to keep the business alive. Anna is a struggling artist with a heart of gold but her storyline gets deep when she finds herself being commissioned by the very developers who are out to buy up her neighborhood. The drama gets thicc, fam.

The show raises a lot of moral questions about making pure art versus profit, and how artists can sometimes end up putting aside their values because sometimes you gotta pay the bills. Definitely watch how this plays out. You definitely want to keep an eye out on episode 5. It’s a gem and gives a little insight into the queer struggle amongst Latinos.

The “Not Mexican Enough and Not American Enough” Issue

Back Carlos Santos, who plays Chris on “Gentefied.” Chris is the grandson of Casimiro and is trying to get out of the hood so he can become a 5-star Michelin chef. His family refers to him as a “coconut,” which is what you call someone who’s brown on the outside, but gringo af on the inside.

Throughout the show, Chris’s Mexican identity is always put into question. His coworkers literally make him take a “Mexi-test” to see if he passes as a true Mexican. His family cracks jokes about his hipster tastes. Yet, in the face of his Caucasian boss, Chris is basically another brown dude, with a little bit of skill in the kitchen.

I can relate, like so many. I was born here. So, yes, I like Tame Impala. I like sushi. However, arroz y frijoles has my heart and so does Selena. Chris’s character represents an identity many children born to immigrant parents might sympathize with. Our struggle is we never feel like we belong, but we can take comfort in the fact that shows like “Gentefied” are shining a light on this identity. You’re not alone. If you think you need to pick a side and choose which nationality you rep more Latino or American, this show encourages you to be both and celebrate your intersectional identity.

Latina Moms

Look, I don’t want to spoil anything, but when you get to episode eight, “Women’s Work,” you’re going to get a strong urge to knock on your mom’s doors and cry-hug her. Anna’s mom on the show played by Laura Patalano is everyone’s mom. She is a queen and a true icon. She is sarcastic. She is harsh. You end up respecting her or at least sympathizing with her by the end of the series. I could write an entire book on this character.

So, should you watch “Gentified”? Yes.

Not only is the series enjoyable to watch and will keep you carcajeando like your crazy tía when she forgets to take her medicine, but the characters are very well-developed, their story arcs join up beautifully, and you will fight back tears because this show hits home emotionally. As an extra incentive, some of your favorite mitú friends make appearances in the show: shout out to Jenny Lorenzo and Scar. A special shout out to Steph O. who worked behind-the-scenes.

Get binging, cabrones. And let us know what you think.

READ: Julissa Calderon And Annie Gonzalez On How ‘Gentefied’ Is Offering Empowerment And Representation In This New TV Era

Wilmer Valderrama And Amanda Pacheco Are Engaged And He Proposed In A Special Place In San Diego

Entertainment

Wilmer Valderrama And Amanda Pacheco Are Engaged And He Proposed In A Special Place In San Diego

seaweanie / Instagram

People in the United States aren’t getting married like they used to. While fewer people are getting married, more people are getting divorced. Yet, there is always the belief that love exists. Many like to go by the scripture of “Sex and The City” in which the great Prophet Miranda Bailey once said, “Men are like cabs. When they’re available, their light goes on. They wake up one day, and they decide they’re ready to settle down, have babies, whatever. And they turn their light on. The next woman they pick up, boom, that’s the one they’ll marry. It’s not fate, it’s dumb luck.” Call it what you will because one of the hottest bachelors in Hollywood is officially off the market. Guess the right crab came along. 

Actor and activist Wilmer Valderrama proposed to his girlfriend, Amanda Pacheco after less than a year of dating.

Credit: seaweanie / Instagram

The 39-year-old (soon to be 40!) got down on one knee on a La Jolla beach in San Diego and, in an Instagram-perfect kind of way, asked the model to marry him. She said “yes,” of course. Would you expect anything else?

‘It’s just us now,'” he wrote on Instagram, “01-01-2020.” What a way to kick off the New Year, right?! She posted the same picture and caption and also a closeup shot of her new diamond ring. 

According to E! News, Valderrama and his 28-year-old finance began dating in early 2019. They were seen out on dates and “shopping sprees.”

“Wilmer always opens the door for Amanda and pays the bill,” a source told E! News last year. “He definitely wants to make sure she feels taken care of. Even if they are just doing simple things, they have a lot of fun and are always smiling.”

The actor, who’s currently on “NCIS,” was clearly smitten over this Latina beauty who’s also a certified diver. 

After further Instagram investigation, we know exactly why Valderrama proposed in La Jolla. That beach holds a very special place for her.

Credit: seaweanie / Instagram

In 2017, Pacheco shared that not only was she born in San Diego, but it’s also where her parents met, and sadly, where she remembers her late mother as well. 

“32.8190•N 117.2781•W the coordinates to my wanderer bracelet lead me to a city that will always feel like home. It’s where my mom and dad fell in love, and it’s the city I was born in, but more specifically, it leads to the exact place my mom and I shared a truly amazing day together,” she wrote. “We picnicked on the beach, ate a delicious lunch, drank some cervesas, and met up with her best friend, and we laughed a lot! Oh, and of course, we watched the sunset. To me, I could not have asked for a better day. A few years later my entire family and I gathered at this same spot after my mom passed away and shared a moment in her memory, It’s my favorite place to ‘just breathe’ as my mom would always tell me, and to let go of the sadness of not having my mom and remembering how lucky I am that she lived, loved, and laughed-a lot.”

It’s so touching that Valderrama chose this spot to bring some more wonderful memories into their lives. 

Of course, with any great news such as this, people will, of course, remember Valderrama’s longest relationship that he shared with singer Demi Lovato.

Credit: Lovatics820 / Instagram

The couple broke up in 2016, and it seemed that for a while, the two remained close friends even through Lovato’s overdose. 

“After almost 6 loving and wonderful years together, we have decided to end our relationship,” their breakup statement read in 2016. “This was an incredibly difficult decision for both of us, but we have realized more than anything that we are better as best friends.”

People are still worried about how Lovato will take the news, especially more because she recently split with her boyfriend, model Austin Wilson.

Credit: @sololovato / Twitter

“Wow, Wilmer really proposed to his girlfriend,” someone tweeted, “I’m happy for them but at the same time worried for demi. I hope she’s ok.

“demi and wilmer we’re together for 6 years and she wrote songs begging him to propose, wilmer has been with his girlfriend for a year and just popped the question. moral of the story is these n****s know what they want and it ain’t YOU,” another said. 

We do hope she takes the news in a positive way. 

READ: Things Get A Little NSFW In Maluma’s Latest Video Featuring Wilmer Valderrama