Don’t mess with a Barrio Hollywood nana. Seriously.
Unless you want a political ass-kicking.
And, apparently, that is exactly what the City of Tucson and a handful of self-appointed characters received last Thursday: a thorough, democratic, decisive and beautiful slap down by the people of Barrio Hollywood (BH).
I’m going to add to the ongoing discussion by using a “Frequently Asked Questions” format. This might bring a different perspective, because, really, the questions keep rolling in; new and honest questions; tired, old questions; question meant to offend; and questions meant to distract us and maybe even hurt us.
Let’s give it a shot:
I heard a crazy meeting took place at El Rio last Thursday. What happened?
Thanks for asking, hommie! (come on, do you blame me for starting with a softball?) By a ratio of almost 7 to 1, over a hundred BH residents and supporters packed a room at the El Rio Neighborhood Center and voted 69 to 10 to change the Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association (BHNA) bylaws, making it official that only residents of BH are eligible to vote within their association.
So you guys hate the businesses in Barrio Hollywood? What did they do?
No. Of course not. In fact, most of the businesses support the BHNA and the annual Fiesta Grande and we support them. Members of the BHNA and the Fiesta Grande (keep in mind that they are not the same thing: they are separate organizations) have worked tirelessly to promote BH businesses over many years. Get this: one of the biggest reasons the Fiesta Grande was started back in 2003 was to celebrate our mom and pops and let the rest of Tucson know that Grande Avenue was open for business after that gigantic sink hole that opened up on Grande & Speedway was repaired. They benefited from our promotion, and they have continued to benefit from the 12 fiestas that followed. And we continue to plan and put on the Fiesta Grande every year at no cost to the businesses. They get all that free publicity from our volunteer work!
I know, right?!
Since then, we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for neighborhood improvements like the Cambio Grande that added all those beautiful murals, benches, sidewalks and brick paving. We have raised money for the Late Night Hoops program at El Rio; raised money for scholarships to benefit local students; recognized barrio (and Tucson) heroes like Lupe Castillo, Richard Rodriguez Sr., Henry “Hank” Oyama, and many more. And this annual street festival has always been free for the enjoyment of BH residents, their relatives and friends and for the entire Tucson community. It averages 50,000 in attendance each year. It is a big, West Side, family oriented party that everyone has come to love.
If you have been, you absolutely know this.
And I must emphasize again that we have provided 13 years of promotion for Grande Avenue businesses via television interviews, press releases, radio, print, etc. This kind of marketing and advertising is very expensive if you try to buy it for your business directly- it is valued in the tens of thousands of dollars if bought in the private market. But we secured it at no cost to them over the years. We put Grande Avenue on the map. But a small handful of businesses and outsiders don’t appreciate that.
So, not all of the businesses have a problem with BHLA and the Fiesta Grande?
Of course not. CP, owner of Mariscso Chihuahua, not only supports us, he also helps us plan the Fiesta Grande every year. Others supportive businesses include; Taco Giro, LaTortilla; Lulu’s Hair Salon; American Legion Post 59; Regi’s Automotive Repair; Our Liquors, Manna From Heaven Indian Fry Bread; St. Mary’s Mexican Food; and on, and on.
But there are a handful that you will have to ask yourself where they stand. Like Rat’s Chilli Dogs.
You mean Pat’s?
Never heard of them.
All I’m saying is that I am done with the handful of haters who don’t appreciate what we have done for our kids, our barrio streets, and even for them, the businesses. You mess with my Barrio Hollywood family, you mess with me. So I am done with Rat’s.
You mean Pat’s? With a “P”?
My name is Jon. I’m white. I am thinking of opening up a business in Barrio Hollywood. Maybe even moving into the barrio with my family. Is it true you guys would have a problem with that?
Jon, where do you get this stuff? Come on, man. Of course you would be welcomed. Gentrification is not a black hat, white hat kinda of phenomena. It is more complicated than that. If you are respectful of the priorities, culture, history and people of BH, I know you will be welcomed. While a primarily a Chicano barrio, BH is pretty diverse, actually, and good people of many backgrounds and ethnicities live there. And, as a resident, you will have a vote if you get involved with the BHNA.
We just urge you to be respectful. Follow the advice given by Luke Salcido at the special BHNA meeting in question:
“.. I was born and raised in Tucson. Almost 30 years. (I don’t live in Barrio Hollywood, but) I got a lot of people that I love in Barrio Hollywood. My family is from right there on 12th and 27th where there was a panadero, a business owner. We were Chicanos in a primarily Yaqui neighborhood… (the panadero) didn’t go in there and try and tell them how to run their neighborhood because they have their own culture, they have their own traditions. If you want to do that, you now, and you want to build coalitions, and build partnerships, you don’t go in there and tell the people that have lived here for years what to do. You come in and you ask. And you be respectful of the people…”
Live by those words, Jon. And, if you only open up a business in BH and decide not to live there, don’t expect a vote. Like long time BH resident Manny Jacques puts it, “This is our neighborhood. This is where we sleep and where we wake up.”
I don’t get a vote even with a business there? That doesn’t seem fair.
Don’t be rediculous, Jon. Look, I don’t live in Marana so I don’t get to to vote for Marana’s next mayor. What’s so hard to understand? This is a basic principal of democracy. That’s how it works. Next question.
I’m a senior at Tucson High and I am writing an essay on this issue. I detect an attitude from many of the people in Barrio Hollywood. What’s your problem? There seems to be a lot of shouting and social media fights.
So, ya know…. who cares?
I don’t understand.
Barrio Hollywood is a very special place with many very independent, passionate people. Actually, you can say this is true for much of the West Side barrios. Specifically, however, BH has a long history of activism. El Rio Neighborhood Center and Joaquin Murrieta Park were not just given to West Side residents: they had to be fought for. There was a lot of shouting back then too. People even got up from a meeting and just crossed the street and physically took over the golf course.
Just because the meetings get a little heated, just because residents speak their mind (sometimes – maybe often – loudly), just because the subjects we raise and how we talk about them make people uncomfortable, doesn’t mean we are wrong and it doesn’t mean we need to adjust to your comfort level.
Historically, Barrio Hollywood people have been fiercely independent. Nobody cares who represents us at the Ward 1 Office, they just better represent us well. The Fiesta Grande was not an event that was created or organized by the City or the Ward 1 Office – it was, and still is, completely independent. If politicians want to come to the fiesta and say hello, we will bring them on stage so they can do so. If they don’t come, we don’t care. They serve us, we don’t serve them.
Wow. I like that. I didn’t know about the El Rio story.
That’s because local politicians refuse to fight for the return of the Mexican American Studies program to your school. Otherwise, you probably would have learned all about the El Rio story by your Sophomore year. Next question.
What’s the deal with all the reports on TV and newspaper about all this? I’m confused.
We have a local journalism/democracy problem in this town that seems to be only getting worse. It has been getting steadily worse over the years. But we still have some good people trying to do some honest reporting (and we have lost many good journalists due to the economic downturn: good reporters are people , they also have to feed their families).
That said, for such an important meeting, you would think there would be many reporters there. Instead, only two journalists from two media outlets showed up, and a hand full of bloggers/writers, including your truly.
And, of course, the media that did not show up produced the worst coverage of the event.
So let’s take a look at the coverage so far, starting with the “no shows”:
If you read Ernesto Portillo’s piece in the Arizona Daily Star about this neighborhood association meeting you notices that; it didn’t list the results of the 69 to 10 slap down vote; it described the BH as a neighborhood in need of “healing” when, actually, the vibe was extremely celebratory after such a great victory; and, again, he wasn’t there and neither were any Arizona Daily Star reporters that we are aware of.
Writing about an event he was not present at was probably the most troubling of all. However, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Portillo. I know he has very thick skin, as all good journalists should. So I do believe that future writing on this subject – which is sure to continue – will receive better, more thoughtful coverage.
The KGUN 9 report was even worse. It was completely one-sided. I hear we’ll get another opportunity to share our side soon – now that maximum damage has been done, that is.
The AZPM piece was better (especially the interviews segments with actual residents) because, well, that AZPM reporter was the other one that actually showed up. See how that works?
Now, if you really want the best report on what went down last Thursday, check out Maria Ines Taracena’s piece in the Tucson Weekly. This is by far the most accurate report on what happened. Now, she stayed for the entire meeting, start to finish, and talked to as many people as she could. She deserves a lot of praise for a job well done.
Not to get off the subject, but this is not the first time the Tucson Weekly has provided excellent investigative reporting. It is now under the leadership of Managing Editor Mari Herreras who has done her fair share of independent and courageous investigative reporting. And unlike Mr. Coyote who produces stories about tall, skinny, expensive food once every couple of months, the Tucson Weekly continues its tradition of comforting the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I know, know. I’m being hard on Mr. Coyote. He manages to put out a few good pieces. But, like I said about Rat’s, you mess with our peeps, you mess with all of us. We don’t have time for a privileged, arrogant coyote to take up space hating on important journalist. Instead, we need to encourage and support more honest coverage of pressing issues impacting our families and less stories about pretty food. There, I said it.
So why won’t the Fiesta Grande organizers open up their books and prove there is nothing fishy going on?
So, have you returned that car you stole?
After the hand full of outsiders lost the bylaws battle (they got stomped 69 to 10, remember?), they are now suddenly throwing out a ridiculous red herring: they couldn’t beat us with an open, transparent vote, so now they are changing the subject and trying for character assassination.
Maybe the lone business owner who has trouble losing should start a new conversation by writing a check and supporting our fundraising efforts like other businesses have. It’s really hard to take a business owner seriously when he and others refuse to simply start a business alliance for themselves like the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association or the Sunshine Mile or the Main Gate Square.
Too lazy? Easier to just try and profit off the work of a non-profit that raises money to benefit kids and seniors?
But why can’t the Fiesta Grande committee open up their books?
Why don’t you shut up and volunteer to clean up Grande Avenue when it’s time to prepare for the next fiesta? Maybe help carry the musicians heavy equipment? How about attend a few of the 20 or so planning meetings? Maybe help pick up the garbage late on a Sunday night after the whole thing is over? Who sent you, anyway?Next question.
Why is this whole thing so important to you? I hear you don’t even live in Barrio Hollywood.
Ah, but I can walk there from my house within a few minutes. My son just finished playing his first season of Western Little League T-ball at Joaquin Murrieta Park. His grandparents and great grandparents lived in Barrio Hollywood. And, for the past 13 years, I have been honored to be invited by BH residents to emcee their annual Fiesta Grande.
This exceptional barrio already has more than capable residents to fend for themselves such as; Margaret and Patrick McKenna and, well, all the McKennas; longtime educator and activist Lupe Castillo and her equally outspoken partner and attorney Margo Cowan, former chief aid to County Supervisor Carroll Scott Egan, the organizing master Pernela Jones, former City Council Member Steve Leal, and upcoming rock star Bunny Uriearte.
Wow. Makes you wonder why anyone would want to pick a fight with Barrio Hollywood in the first place.
But, the fact is, there are many West Siders and Tucsonans that care about Barrio Hollywood too. And, once in a while, we get invited to help fight some good fights.
The people that continue to attack Barrio Hollywood should know about other West Siders and friends who support BH. It goes something like this: if you mess with Barrio Hollywood, you also mess with the Baldenegors & Cruz Family, the Robles and Ortega Family, and the Sequeiros Family. If you push BH, you get pushed back by advocates of the former Mexican American Studies Program (MAS), you get pushed back by the El Rio Coalition II and you get pushed back by many other neighborhood association leaders from across our city. If you were at that meeting and took some time to look around, you would recognize this. It was historic.
And, I have to say, of all the political events I have been involved in over the last 30 years of my adult life in Tucson, this BHNA meeting was among the most powerful and uplifting one of them all. I think a lot of people felt that way because just about all the key supporters were present. It is no small thing to fill a room like that in the middle of summer in Tucson, Arizona.
Ok, so I live in Limberlost Neighborhood on the North Side of town. Why should I care about this battle happening in Barrio Hollywood?
You should care about this for the same reasons you should care about what happened to Access Tucson, what may happen to the Ronstadt Center (some say that battle is over but I don’t buy that the public transportation battle in general is over), what is happening to long-time locally owned mom and pops downtown and across the City, what is not happening for the working poor in this 8th poorest city in the nation, and, most relevant to you in Limberlost, how services, self-determination and power is diminishing for all neighborhoods across our City.
Via letters and media reports, City official are now hinting at calling for Mayor & Council involvement in looking at the overall City guidelines to consider changes to neighborhood association governance because of this so-called “division” in Barrio Hollywood. This appears to be an attempt at co-opting the narrative to give Mayor & Council an excuse to meddle in the governance of neighborhood associations.
The Mayor and Council will now have a choice: leave BH alone and allow the residents to determine for themselves how they will be governed, or use this manufactured crisis in BH as a pretext to open up the neighborhood guidelines and weaken all NA’s by making it mandatory to allow business and property owners to vote.
The cynical side of me might suspect that those that were upset because BH residents didn’t roll over and allow the theft of El Rio by the private Grand Canyon University - ok purchase, although “theft” is closer to the truth – a couple of years ago would love neighborhood guidelines changes that would weaken NAs and strengthened businesses and property owners.
See where this is all going?
My message to the Mayor and council is simple: If you are going to bring up anything regarding what NA’s need, you will first have to address the resources you have severely reduced for them over the years. And once you have done that, the first order of business has to be to bring those resources back to the level they were once at so that residents are better able to organize and determine their own governance and priorities.
Anything short of first returning resources to NA’s at the level they used to be will be interpreted as an unveiled attempt by the City to usurp NAs right to govern themselves while they are still suffering from diminished membership participation due to the reduction of City resources.
Lot’s of NAs have been talking about innovative ways to organize themselves and to advocate for their needs. I have always supported new, symbiotic partnerships between NA & local business: We have more in common with each other than we do with local politicians. There is power in that potential partnership.
Many NA leaders are closely following what is happening in Barrio Hollywood. They saw Nana give Walgreens a nice, political ass-kicking and I suspect that inspired them.
Wow. I get it now.
I knew you would.
Something special happened at that Barrio Hollywood meeting.
A packed room at El Rio in the dead of summer, over a hundred in attendance? Young and old? This was an extremely unprecedented turn out for a neighborhood association – again, during the dead of summer! That just doesn’t happen while many families are on vacation or just trying to stay cool in front of the swamp cooler.
Well, I take that back. The City also received an ass-kicking two summers ago over the whole Grand Canyon University thing.
Ok, so this last whoopin’ was a big deal too. It was historic.
You know where to find us if you need another. Don’t mess with our nanas!