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.
After leaving an abusive relationship, Sarai Arpero spent seven years moving from room to room in apartments she shared with other immigrant families. Sarai was looking for a healthy environment to raise her four sons and even though she worked at a clinic full-time, she wasn't able to afford her own apartment in Santa Ana’s gentrifying neighborhoods where the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $1,500 a month.
“It was hard at that time going from house to house, living with the stress of whether or not your kid touched somebody else’s toy or if somebody else ate your food and left you with nothing to feed your children,” said Arpero who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City more than a decade ago.
Working long hours left Arpero with little energy in the evening to do anything more than feed her children dinner, bathe them and put them to bed, but Arpero reluctantly started volunteering at her children’s after-school program when one of the mothers asked her to help make snacks for the kids. Arpero was suffering from depression and some of the mothers recommended she join Latino Health Access’ support groups for depression and survivors of domestic violence. She started taking training programs to become a facilitator for support groups and in 2010, Arpero was hired as a promotora in a full-time position which enabled her to afford her own apartment for her and her children.
“We’ve created a safe space where people can talk about problems that face our community and possible solutions while celebrating our community and making it stronger.”
“I like my work because I like to be close to the people. It’s not a job where you feel like you’re saving the world because it’s your community where your working. I like to contribute as much as I can and the job of the promotora enables me to do that and to also keep learning because we’re always getting new training so I grow personally and professionally,” said Arpero.
Arpero lives in Santa Ana, a city which for years has been predominantly Latino and where rents rose 6.1% in the past year, forcing many of the city’s low income and immigrant residents to move further inland or live in overcrowded conditions, said Arpero.
As a promotora, Arpero organizes community events and goes door-to-door to educate the local community on issues like diabetes, obesity, domestic violence and, unlike most promotore models that focus solely on health, gentrification.
“We try to take a holistic approach to health and we are trained to identify how health is linked to other social determinants and help others understand it, but once somebody’s health is improving then the question is how do we fix this problem not only for [one person], but for everybody,” said Arepro.
It is common to see more than five families living in a two-bedroom house in Santa Ana and, in some instances, space is shared with families dealing with alcohol abuse or domestic violence and the stress can affect entire families, said Arpero. Promotores at Latino Health Access are trained to help the community understand that health goes beyond physical ailments and that the stress of working numerous jobs and struggling with rent can affect a person’s mental health, an issue that carries a stigma in Latino communities. Although 16.3% of Latino adults live with a mental health illness, only 6% of men and 9% of women seek treatment.
“We have the capacity to meet all needs; to refer somebody for services, to accompany them if they need it and to help them navigate the complex network of social services. We are the bridge between the community and the public institutions,” said Arpero. “And it’s never just for the parents; we offer services to the children too.”
Arpero is one of three promotoras at LHA trained to foster civic engagement by informing and engaging the local community and giving them the tools they need to influence policy and have a role in planning, development and the allocation of public funds in Santa Ana.
In 2011, before the removal of the carousel on 4th Street — more commonly known as Calle Cuatro amongst Santa Ana’s Latino residents — weekends in the plaza were busy with Latino families coming to watch talent shows and concerts and stroll down the boulevard where tiendas sold Mexican products and glimmering quinceanera dresses were on display in shop windows.
Calle Cuatro has become the epicenter of gentrification in Santa Ana and when the city removed the carousel, longtime Latino residents saw it as an attack on their community.
“When they removed the carousel, it hurt the community. The Mexican tiendas are gone, the taquerias are gone and the storefronts changed. The city says they are improving the buildings and infrastructure, but we ask people what is behind those improvements and who benefits from them and from there we talk about how people that can pay can stay and those who can’t have to leave,” said Arpero.
Lack of open spaces and public safety are just a few of the challenges for Santa Ana’s neighborhoods and promotores at LHA organize community building “cafecitos,” community clean-ups and parties where neighbors get to know each other and discuss these and other issues. They familiarize themselves with the local government and learn how policies can be transformed by connecting it to people’s everyday lives, like the need for work or citizenship.
“We’ve created a safe space where people can talk about problems that face our community and possible solutions while celebrating our community and making it stronger,” said Arpero.