Gentrifiers Just Colonized Santa Ana’s Cinco de Mayo Festival

If you are a young resident of Santa Ana, you probably remember walking down la cuatro with your family or friends on the first weekend of May, stretching your dollar bills to pay for a warm, pineapple-filled churro or an agua de melon. You probably also remember the carnival rides light up the night along 3rd and Spurgeon and the corridos blaring out from the stage.

For almost two decades, the Cinco de Mayo Festival in the heart of Santa Ana not only held the value of community tradition, it provided opportunities for people to network with each other and access valuable resources for themselves and their loved ones.

This year will be different —very different.

The Cinco de Mayo Festival we all grew up with will be replaced by sombrero-wearing, zarape-dragging gringos shouting “CINCO DE DRINK-O” from Native Son Alehouse and watered-down margaritas from Chapter One.

The City of Santa Ana has once again given Downtown Inc. and the Santa Ana Business Council the green light to continue their master plan of creating “the hipster haven” they’ve always dreamed of for Santa Ana, one that doesn’t include any of us who kept la cuatro alive when they neglected it.

The results of a public records request prove that both Downtown Inc. and the Santa Ana Business Council aggressively advocated for the city to end the Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Santa Ana beginning this year.

“S. Batres announced that the Agency is also recommending to the Youth, Education and Community Services Council Committee that due to limited staffing, budgetary concerns, and negative feedback provided by the [Santa Ana Business Council] and Downtown Inc members, that the Cinco de Mayo event be eliminated,” read the minutes of a June 22, 2017 meeting of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Agency.

With broken hearts, we see once again the effects of the large, orchestrated plan by Downtown Inc. and by “cultural consultants” like Ryan Smolar, who is also a fan of calling the police on activists.

The need for a boycott against Downtown Inc. called on by groups like Chicanxs Unidxs and Protege Santa Ana is more clear than ever. The attacks on street vendors, local business owners and small Latinx business isn’t new. The wave of expensive restaurants and bars is just the latest reincarnation of private partnerships that lead to gentrification.

The gentrifying nature of eliminating cultural traditions like Cinco de Mayo is a call to action for those of us still on the edge about gentrification. The need to preserve a community built by working-class Latinxs is important, especially at a time in which developers, investors and wealthy artists are asserting their presence in what is quickly becoming a battleground between low-income tenants and the so-called “creative class.”

While rents skyrocket and tenants get evicted at alarming rates, moves like these by Downtown Inc., city government, and the Santa Ana Business Council remind us of how crucial it is to fight for local people to remain and strive for economic justice.

Making sure that we are securing the right for Santa Ana residents and local businesses to live free from the fear of evictions in times like this is important, and honoring the boycotts of Santa Ana residents leading anti-gentrification campaigns is a good way to support your community.

Writer’s Note: Community members will gather in front of the Yost Theatre this Saturday at 5:00 p.m.

David Carbajal Torres is a public health worker and community organizer interested in gentrification and queer and trans issues. David has written for we are mitú and has contributed to several other blogs like The Gran Varones which uplifts the stories of queer, gay, bisexual and trans Latinx men. He resides in Santa Ana.

Follow David @davidcarbs  @davidcarbs