#BREAKTHEBOXES | CAPOEIRA | POEM

BY AZMERA DAVIS

Azmera Davis performs, with style and soul, a poem about the use of capoeira as a means to free herself from the invisible chains of historical prejudice, inequality, and racism.

Over 40% of slaves were shipped to Bahia, Brasil during the transatlantic trade. The slaves were not allowed to practice self-defense, so they disguised the art as a dance. Capoeira was seen as inspiration and hope for an escaped slave. Mestre Bimba is the first ever Master to create this art form, and created schools across Bahia that helped marginalized youth find alternative ways to live. Capoeira was outlawed because of the prestige and wealthy class viewing it as a form of promoting violence; however, after 1940, the first school was deemed a martial art and official sport.  

It is a world wide art, practiced all over Europe, Japan, South America, and more recently, in the United States. In the US, especially Los Angeles, there are several academies that use this art as community work, where they service at risk youth and people in general. The longest standing academy is in Santa Monica under Mestre Amen Santos of Capoeira Batuque. They have been in Los Angeles for over 25 years. "It is good for the mind, body, and soul."

 Below is a video that the UNICEF recently did that captures a good example of how it is being used to this day to help the oppressed communities.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153031648254002&pnref=story

“MISSION PLAYGROUND IS NOT FOR SALE!”

BY LINDA WANG

Mission Playground is not for sale!

            Last October, chanting these words, protesters and activists banded together in front of City Hall to present a list of demands. In the wake of massive tech yuppie move-ins, Mission residents have increasingly faced eviction, pay-for-use public spaces, and the displacement of long-time businesses and neighborhood services. So, when this video, Mission Playground is Not For Sale, went viral, adults and youth alike reached their boiling points. In the video, we see the image of white, rich, recently transplanted men, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their tech companies’ logos, presenting Latino, working-class youth with papers that demand that they leave—an image that feels all too familiar for many in San Francisco’s Mission District. While protesters were successful this time in getting the Recreation and Park Department to stop selling permits for adult play at the Mission Playground, it’s a small win in the face of incessant gentrification. How did we get to this point? 

            The development of urban spaces is a deliberate process. In attempting to explain why cities take the shape that they do, and to justify or condemn these processes, two major theories have been adopted by academics and experts in urban development: urban ecology and political economy. While urban ecology theory assumes inequalities to be fair and even sometimes beneficial, political economy theory posits that inequality is an intentional outcome of the economic and political institutions that shape cities to the benefit of these institutions' key players. Political economy theory is clearly at play today in San Francisco’s Mission District.

            In their work The City (1926) that advocates on behalf of urban ecology theory, Park, Burgess, and McKenzie argue that in a natural habitat, when left alone, the fittest survive. Consistent with this notion, the city is civilized man's natural habitat, and as such, it should also be left to private enterprise to determine where districts and businesses should locate. After all, “personal tastes and convenience, vocational and economic interests, infallibly tend to segregate and thus to classify the populations”—and those factors alone segregate populations. Political economy theory, on the other hand, not only accounts for such factors but emphasizes them over urban ecology’s trust of free competition as the biggest determinant. Logan and Molotch's 1987 work Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place, in contrast, argue that growth tends to “intensify the separation and disparities among social groups and communities”. Logan's position holds true for the Latinos of the Mission District; they were a highly vulnerable, working-class population who were effectively coerced out of vibrant communities.

            The Mission District was never used as a temporary settlement for the Mexican, Central American, and South American immigrants that started arriving en masse in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. From the very onset, they intended the Mission District to be a center of Latino culture. As Latino “artists, radicals, and intellectuals” moved into the Mission, they further invested the area with a sense of cultural identity. They painted murals; produced literary works like the local Mission newspaper, El Tecolote; and hosted community events like the annual 24th Street Cultural Festival. Though the Mission had family income levels below the city's average, it was a barrio that fostered a strong working enclave with close-knit networks. 

    The Mission bore witness to city redevelopment plans and the tendrils of gentrification in the 1960s and 1970s, but grassroots activists formed the Mission Council on Redevelopment (MCOR) and successfully campaigned against an urban renewal policy that would have unfairly hurt their community. Community activists also successfully worked to provide social services to their neighborhoods. The Model Cities Program (MCO) and Los Siete were able to create a breakfast program to feed over 100 Mission children daily, create new playgrounds, ban pawnshops, and fight discrimination, all because of high resident participation. 

            However, when the dot-com boom hit in the 1990s, gentrification resurfaced with a speed and precision that had not been seen for years. Because of the suddenness of the dot-com boom, Mission activists were ill-prepared to mobilize in time. Peter Plate noticed in San Francisco Magazine that, by 2000, the “Mission must have had something like 200 dot-com companies in a two-mile radius” (Plate 144). To make room for those companies, and all of the upscale dining, entertainment, and shopping facilities that accompanied them, landlords did everything they could to throw out their longtime Latino residents for tenants that would pay higher rent. More than 80% of the Latinos in the Mission were renters with low incomes, language barriers, lack of citizenship, or traits that made them otherwise more susceptible to gentrification pressures. 

            Structural barriers were many and worked in cohesion—Owner Move-In laws; the Ellis Act which provides landlords a legal way to “go out of business;” the 1988 ordinance allowing industrial spaces to be converted into lofts, which caters to childless dot-commers; and then-Mayor Christopher George's racist concerns the presence of ethnic minorities posing an “obstacle to attracting corporate investors and developers” (Mirabal).

            By using terms like “blighted,” “dangerous,” and “run-down,” politicians and businessmen served to racialize space and spatialize race. By “shifting markers of consumption” (encouraging businesses that target the wealthy,) developers forced longtime residents to travel outside of their neighborhood to get their needs met. The physical Latino presence was made less visible in that way. Suddenly, the area surrounding Valencia Street is “now described as the 'hippest in America' by Vanity Fair magazine” (Sinclair 149). Young, hip professionals love the muralists, painters, poets, and musicians of the Mission—the same artists they ironically drive out.  

            The Silicon Valley tech industry prides itself on doing things differently. Well, I think true innovation involves being socially responsible. Although many of the Mission’s residents hold little political clout, tech giants do and ought to exercise it for the sake of their new community. 

            Welcome to the neighborhood, guys—but try to stay welcome.

Additional Resources:

 

STARVING

BY EUNICE GONZALEZ SIERRA

I ask my mother if she’s hungry,
she responds,
“si.”

We are starving for justice
we have been craving it since before our birth
since then, my mother pulled at my umbilical cord and asked that I fight.

She sung me lullabies saying, 
“M’ija tienes que luchar,”
She warned me about the men
that’ll come in and out of me
only to prove
that they were powerful enough to make me love them,
but could not love me back.
I did not take her warning seriously.

Love.
we’ve disguised patriarchy as love and too many times womxn have become cupid’s martyr.

Patriarchy:
When my father touches my mother’s face
passionately enough,
that she flinches.

Patriarchy:
When a man gives himself the power to touch my best friend 
because somehow, somewhere on her skirt said, “I am asking for it,”
and for some reason that mute idea was louder than her screams.

We are starving for justice; we have not been fed yet.
My school said I’d be the architect of my education.
I believed them.
But they gave me a brick, instead of a pencil.
I’ve been building my future with bricks on my back,
and the struggles of my parents in the fields, within me.

My school said, I’d be the architect of my education,
but I still have not been given a pencil.
And instead I’ve become a construction worker
building my future brick by brick
and my goodness, I am tired.
and even so, I am afraid that my home will crumble.

Much like mine, my mother’s fear has always been
not to have enough money to house us.
but she forgets we come from broken homes.

We are starving for justice,
and they have yet to feed us.

My mother picks the strawberries they love so much
the same people who despise “illegals,”
the same people that say this is their land
with their skewed version of history.

She warned me about the people that will pull at my skin,
hard enough to remove the brown on me.
She warned me about the hunger I would feel.
She apologized for this.
This is not her doing.
She is not to blame.

We are starving,
but we will not stop fighting
until we are fed the justice that we deserve.

One day,
my mother will receive a plate
large enough to fill the wounds she’s been left with.