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Ocupemos el Barrio / Occupy the 'Hood

by Cathy Mendonça
San Diego, California

Much of what you are about to hear right now is familiar in the barrio area. For many of you who have been involved in Occupy San Diego, the points that will be touched on right now may be new to you. The more that all of us as the 99% learn from each other, the stronger we are in challenging the power of the richest 1% and we take back that power for ourselves.

No one can expect a community to feel safe when the residents of that community are stopped for no other reason than their skin color. Racial profiling is NOT protecting and serving the citizens, it is harassment of citizens. Residents have the right to challenge police officers if those officers are in the wrong without any fear of wrongful arrest or physical assault on trumped-up or flimsy excuses. Checkpoints that result in the impounding of the autos occur more often than not in our low income communities and these occur for offenses that are more deserving of mere citations. Open police brutality has been seen at San Diego’s civic center and in the cities of Oakland, Davis, New York Boston and other places. Let it be known that the communities of Logan, Sherman, City Heights, Chula Vista, and San Ysidro have known this kind of terrible behavior on the part of police for decades. All this must eventually and finally stop.

It is bad enough that local police are a source of stress upon the barrio, but unfortunately the abuse by the federal government in the form of ICE raids and deportations has gotten worse in the last four years. Latino communities cannot continue to undergo harassment by the federal government, especially when elected leaders promise fair humane immigration reform. The barrio is tired of -- and cynical of -- hearing humane words by politicians while seeing cruel actions by “La Migra”.

The crimes and the manipulations of the largest banks headquartered in Wall Street (who were then bailed out by Washington DC) have caused SO MUCH pain in the form of foreclosures on homes and small businesses everywhere. Here in the barrio however, foreclosures have a harsher effect on an already low income community. The Barrio as a whole cannot just bounce back the way the communities of Vista, Mira Mesa, and Rancho Bernardo can. When low income families lose their homes, the barrio loses out on the stability of those families and on the neighborhood connections that make for a living culture. Latinos have lived continuously in Logan, Sherman, National City, and Chula Vista for over a century. Traditions that are handed down from generation to generation make for genuine communities with character that spring from the bottom up, and that is something that is destroyed by foreclosures and cannot be bought with gentrification.

The outsourcing of jobs to other countries so that the 1% may take advantage of exploiting labor abroad is unfortunately not new to the barrio communities. The tuna fishing and cannery industries together once rivaled the US Navy in the employment of people in San Diego. Good steady work with union protection was enjoyed by the barrio. The 1980s however saw Van De Kamp, Bumble Bee Tuna and other canneries leave San Diego, and barrio families had yet another burden placed upon them. So many other industries would do the same to other working class communities all over the US as NAFTA and outsourcing to China accelerated this outsourcing process in the '90s and in the 2000s.

Due to the need for parents to work long hours, and the long term problem of access to fresh healthy foods, fast food has unfortunately become a major source of nutrition in low-income, urban neighborhoods across the United States. Although some social and cultural factors account for fast food's overwhelming popularity, targeted marketing, infiltration into schools, government subsidies, and federal food policy each play a significant role in denying inner-city people of color access to healthy food. The overabundance of fast food and lack of access to healthier foods, in turn, have increased African American and Latino communities' vulnerability to food-related death and diseases such as heart attack, diabetes and high blood pressure. The Farmers Markets of Sherman Heights and City Heights do however, show a promising beginning to the communities facing this oppression by improving access to local organic fresh food for low income areas.

Alongside the need for fresh food access is the need for access to fresh air and clean water. Industrial sites are heavily concentrated alongside the barrio’s port area and also mixed in next to residential homes. San Diego Bay is one of the most polluted harbors in the United States. A study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed San Diego Bay as the second most toxic of 18 bays studied , second to Newark Bay, New Jersey. 56% of the Bay sediments are acutely toxic to marine organisms, while 74% of the area exhibited chronic toxicity. The most toxic sites were found along the shipbuilding and Navy facilities adjacent to Barrio Logan. We have many Latinos, Filipinos, and Vietnamese who are so poor; they NEED to fish in order to feed their families. The fish that are caught also have toxic materials inside of them. It is time for the US Navy and the shipyards to pay their fair share of the cleanup of the toxins in San Diego bay. It is only fair since THEY made it dirty in the first place. There is too much asthma and other lung disease occurring in the barrio. If there must be chrome-plating shops and auto body shops in the barrio, then let’s have an industrial zone just for these toxic sites and away from residential homes. The Navy and the shipyards must behave responsibly and be held accountable for their actions just like the banks on Wall Street.

All these problems are fixable. They are human problems after all and it is human beings who can also turn injustice around. There is hope for people to live free from harassment at the hands of the police and “La Migra.” There is hope for people to keep their homes and continue to live in a community they love. There is hope to reverse the outsourcing of jobs and bring back full steady employment back to the barrio. Finally there is hope for all the barrio residents to live with the same access to clean air, clean water, and healthy food as all the other neighborhoods of San Diego.

The residents of the barrio have fought for all these goals for a long time, and these goals are similar to the goals of the residents of Oakland, of Boston, of Los Angeles, of New York and all other cities that have become fed up with Wall Street, with the 1% and their abuse of power. We are ALL the 99% and as a united front, we win back power for ourselves so we can all live in good health and in dignity.

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Published in In Motion Magazine - February 26, 2012.