Launching September 13, City Rising is a multimedia documentary program that traces gentrification and displacement through a lens of historical discriminatory laws and practices. Fearing the loss of their community’s soul, residents are gathering into a movement, not just in California, but across the nation as the rights to property, home, community and the city are taking center stage in a local and global debate. Learn more.
With a seventy-eight percent Latino population, Santa Ana has become a sanctuary for Latinos in Orange County. Generations of U.S. born Latinos and Latino immigrants have taken refuge in the city, maintaining traditions from their homelands that have in turn cultivated Santa Ana’s distinct culture.
As a native of Santa Ana, I have taken it upon myself to visually document the stories of overlooked residents: the ones who don’t have time to go to town meetings; the mothers working three low-paying jobs and subsequently can’t afford to see their kids more than twice a week; the kids that at age eight can name all the gang territories and signs in Santa Ana; the immigrants that only can speak Nuahtl; the immigrant families that don’t identify with the ever so changing downtown area; street vendors, disabled seniors; and the children that play on concrete parking lots and so on. Santa Ana means different things to many different people, but to the residents, it’s a sanctuary. With the many recent developments and rising housing costs, many locals voice concerns of displacement, uncertainty, and confusion.
In recent years, Orange County has ranked tenth on paying the highest rent when compared to the other eighty-four metro cities in the U.S., and rent prices are exponentially growing, reports the Orange County Register. Specifically, in Santa Ana, the impact is dire. On average, two families live in one-bedroom apartments. “We divide the rent between the families. I pay $200 a month. It’s the only way to do it,” says a local renter whose family lives on a $12,000 yearly income. Throughout my interviews, many residents spoke of the recurring domestic violence, gang activity and sexual abuse of children that goes on behind closed doors, exacerbated by these overcrowded housing conditions. With many parents juggling three low-paying jobs in order to pay the rent, childcare services are a luxury. There are many renters who aren't aware of their rights as tenants and they are scared to come out of the shadows, particularly during this current political climate.
Many local business owners in downtown Santa Ana also fear the current forces of gentrification. Many worry they may not be able to afford the rising rents and will be forced to leave their businesses behind. New developments in downtown cater to higher income patrons; highlighting the class and cultural disparity of this new investment. One local comments, “I can’t bring my family (to dine) here, it costs too much. Also, I don't like eggs on top of my hamburgers.”
Santa Ana’s rising homeless population further illuminates Santa Ana’s housing crisis. Hundreds of people have created their own makeshift shelters on the Santa Ana Riverbed. Meanwhile, there is an established homeless community in the Civic Center. But in the midst of all this, Santa Ana residents are continually taking a stand against displacement. The coalition Equity for All is working to establish community land trusts throughout the city, a model that takes land out of the free market to ensure the land’s affordability in perpetuity. The coalition is compromised of residents and local non-profits fighting to create a culture where developments are manifested with the help of the community members.
As a visual communicator, the love and admiration I have for my community is at times difficult to put into words. The task to verbally decode and encapsulate in a few paragraphs what is Santa Ana is difficult. However, with the help of my subjects and their stories, together we offer you a glimpse of our community, resilience, culture and, most importantly, a window into Santa Ana’s soul and why it is important to preserve it for future generations.
Top Image: "SANTA ANA." | Julie Leopo
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