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Claiming Space: Involve the Alternative

Interview with Four of the Organizers of
Sobreruedas en el Barrio: A Neighborhood Market

San Diego, California

Organizers of Casa de Vecinos Organizados (from left): José Sanchez, Avital Aboody, Sara Garcia, Genoveva Aguilar (with Philip Aguilar) and Marilyn Armenta. Photos by Nic Paget-Clarke.

Hundreds attended the Sobreruedas Opening on March 17. All are welcome on alternating Sundays at 30th and Imperial.
Avital Aboody, Genoveva Aguilar, Marilyn Armenta, and Sara Garcia are four of the organizers of the Sobreruedas en el Barrio: A Neighborhood Market. The interview was conducted (and later edited and translated) by Carlos Huerta and Nic Paget-Clarke for the Growing Discussion About Food (GDAF) on February 2, 2013 in Barrio Logan in San Diego, California.

To Share Culture

GDAF: What is the Sobreruedas idea?

Genoveva Aguilar: The main idea is to have space for our community to share culture, to share ideas, to have business, to have the opportunity for them to create their own business. And, at the same time, claiming space where community runs. Because we don’t have a lot of those spaces anymore in this community. It goes back to the history of this community which has been hit by gentrification for the past ten years. The first thing that we saw was a lot of displacement of the community.

The rents went really up with redevelopment and the development of downtown. They took care of downtown but they didn’t take care of the surrounding areas.

The market went down so that gentrification slowed down, in terms of housing, but now we are seeing it in terms of businesses. Corporations are coming into our community. The Sobreruedas
is a space where we allow the community to meet to share culture, to have the opportunity of owning its own b
usiness and have that environment before more corporations start coming into our community, start invading. That’s how I see the Sobreruedas.

Goods On Wheels

GDAF: What’s the origin of the name Sobreruedas?

Genoveva Aguilar: I heard the word in Tijuana with my aunt. People put out their stuff and sell them, a lot. But somebody told me it goes all the way back to the (Mexican) revolution. That they used to bring their goods on wheels and that’s why it got the name “Sobreruedas,” – wheels are running. They brought their goods on wheels to sell them where the base of the people – who were, involved in the revolution – where the movement was going to be. They would go with their stuff, with the food, or whatever.

If you can describe it in modern words, it’s like a swap-meet. It is not a farmers’ market. A farmers’ market in our community didn’t play so really well because with farmers’ markets we still need a lot of education on organics, stuff like that. The Sobreruedas is: whatever you need to sell, you can sell at Sobreruedas.

It is mostly like a claiming of space.

We used to have a similar thing in the historic Farmers’ Market building. The Farmers’ Market was like a Sobreruedas but inside doors, where they are building the Walmart. (Editors: In 2012, with strong community opposition, Walmart took over and demolished much of the front of the building that once housed the Farmers Market.)

Improve the quality of life

GDAF: Who is organizing the Sobreruedas?

Avital Aboody: The Sobreruedas is a project that is coming out of a partnership of organizations called the Greater Logan Heights Community Partnership (GLHCP), of which Casa de Vecinos Organizados is a member. Casa de Vecinos Organizados is very connected to a group of resident leaders that they have worked with over the past year through a leadership institute, training residents to understand their rights and to get more involved in organizing the neighborhood around community projects that will improve the quality of life.

Through Casa de Vecinos Organizados, the partnership (the GLHCP) has taken on this project as a way to have residents decide for themselves what kind of project they want to conduct in the neighborhood. We had meetings earlier in the year where this project came out as the idea that will really address economic issues in the neighborhood and be a community
gathering space, as Genoveva mentioned.

Also, it addresses issues of lack of access to quality foods and lots of different products at an affordable price for residents because, as Genoveva also mentioned, new companies are starting to come into the neighborhood and it’s effecting the local businesses. This is a chance for residents to start their own business as a way to combat a lot of unemployment in the neighborhood.

So, it is a resident-led project that is organized by Casa de Vecinos Organizados with the resources and support of a wider coalition of organizations in the neighborhood which include BAME Community Development Corporation, where our offices are based -- that’s the fiscal sponsor of Casa de Vecinos. The other partners in the group are MAAC Project Barrio Logan College Institute, King-Chavez Neighborhood of Schools, and we just added the Historic Barrio District CDC. It’s very much a community effort.

A learning process

Genoveva Aguilar: It is very different, the Sobreruedas being built in the barrio, because we are in the United States and not in Mexico. In Mexico you just ask the permission from the neighbors. Here there is a lot of stuff that we need to do for us to be on the street and selling our stuff. It is way different. We actually feel responsible that we need to have education on that, and making sure we have all the permits, because we don’t want to have a señora or señor to come with their goods and sell at the Sobreruedas and then the next day they can’t sell because we didn’t teach them about the permits. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything the right way for the permits, the process, for them to not be worrying about that.

Marilyn Armenta: It has been a learning process for a lot of the residents. We have invested time in workshops and educating them on how to obtain a seller’s permit, a food permit, where to go to class, getting a lot of their input in terms of where they want the Sobreruedas to take place. How often. What they want to sell. Who’s allowed to sell.

It’s obviously a space for the residents of the neighboring communities but they’ve opened it up to the surrounding neighborhoods as well. There’s a good variety of people participating. So far it’s been a great experience. It’s been real easy. There haven’t been any rocks in the way.

Whatever we do, we’ve got a good core of people who have a good head on their shoulders and know how to think positively and constructively and see what other options there are. They are willing to invest their time, their effort, into it. Some of the people that are volunteering are also vendors in the Sobreruedas so they are taking dual roles, switching hats, participating in something that they want to call their own. Once the residents own something, that’s when they invest more time.

Sara Garcia: More than anything, the Sobreruedas was born out of the community’s need to have something which reflects the Latino tradition. The Sobreruedas involves what border communities more commonly identify with, rather than a Farmers’ Market, as the concept is very different. People feel that it covers more of the needs of the Latino families living in this area and that they have a greater opportunity to be able to have extra economic access by selling products, whether they be new or second-hand, food or other items. I believe that it provides an important opportunity for businesses which are being displaced by Walmart, and is an opportunity for families to generate some extra income for their homes.

Taking power into our own hands

GDAF: What has been the role of members of the community?

Sara Garcia: I believe that the role of the community is very important and that their involvement has been very good because, primarily, the workshops offered by Casa de Vecinos Organizados gave an opportunity to the community to learn a little more of the importance of taking power into our own hands. They have been participating very actively thinking that there is no other way to be able to make change. It must come from the community. The people are very enthusiastic about this idea, they are participating a lot, and I believe that is important not only for those who participated in the leadership institute, but people that have been informed about this project as stakeholders seeking to participate.

GDAF: How many people are involved?

Sara Garcia: More than 100 people have participated in the workshops. About 60 people continued on, and currently about 40 community members are participating in making decisions about the Sobreruedas, such as the location etc.

It is important to mention that some months ago we formed a board of directors and today they are playing a very important role as a committee to determine what people want to do with the Sobreruedas, because we don’t want Casa de Vecinos Organizados) just be the voice of the group. They are involved in the community, thinking, participating, giving their opinions as residents, as interested people, and how this project is going to benefit society, and the families. So, their role, their involvement is important, and I believe we have it now.

Organizing and Education at the Same Time

GDAF: Earlier, you mentioned gentrification, Walmart, high unemployment, and lack of access to products and food as some of the reasons the Sobreruedas is being put in place. Would you consider that there is a crisis in this neighborhood and what would be the crisis? Do you feel like the members of the community are aware of this?

Genoveva Aguilar: I think that you saw how many people were there today, in the morning. There’s a lot of need. We have been facing the crisis since 10 years ago. No one is writing about it. No one is documenting it. The fact that Chicano Park was just considered a historical park, no one is even considering that this is a historical site (the Farmers’ Market). In other parts of the country in historical sites people invest in it. Put money in it.

It almost seems like it was planned. First, there was the displacement and a lot of people got gentrified because the rents went up. There was no decent rent for the people who moved to this community, especially working class. Now the jobs are leaving. Corporation jobs are being offered with Walmart. I don’t know if you have walked by Imperial (Avenue) -- all the businesses are leaving.

By the attendance, you can see there is a lot of need. I think that is our work to make them conscious of how everything connects and how there is a relationship with the globalization that is going on worldwide. That needs to be more conscious. But we have the issue on ourselves so we need to start moving. We need to start organizing and educating at the same time.

I think the Zapatistas put it in a good way when they say, “Andando conscientizando”, meaning we don’t have time to educate, we have to be moving as we educate. And I think that is what is going on here. We have to be moving as we educate because the problem is already in.

People want to see results. People want to see something and be educated in the process. In a way, I think that is the best way people learn, too. It is a need. Also, a lot of people have lost their jobs. A lot of people in the community know how to do business, so they like the whole idea of being your own business owner.

And, just to share this story, (when) I announced it at Christ The King Catholic Church, even the priest recommended everybody should go and participate. This is what he said, “It is better to write checks from the front than from the back.” This is what he said. “I would highly recommend you become your own business owner and take this opportunity.” And a lot of people came because of that. So even him, he is aware of what is going on.

Sara Garcia: Definitely, I think there is an economic crisis and this community is very affected. The families in this community already suffer from unemployment and they receive very few resources from the city or the state. There are not that many projects which are receiving support.
We believe that the Sobreruedas is a great opportunity, as Genoveva mentioned, to offer products at affordable prices and for the money to go directly into the community. The lack of employment affects people. We are struggling so that there can be more opportunities for employment within the community. If they are going to build new stores, or they already have, then that employment should be for people who live here -- not for those who come from outside -- and to make changes which benefit the community. I believe that the work that Casa de Vecinos Organizados is doing is such a step and we believe it is important.

Community gardens

GDAF: At the beginning, when we first started meeting, we were also talking about the possibility of community gardens. How is that coming along? Is that considered part of the plan?

Avital Aboody: We would still very much love to have a community garden in the neighborhood and just last week we drove around the neighborhood again trying to scout out some sites. As the Greater Logan Heights Community Partnership, we just joined the Community Budget Alliance which is a group of 30 non-profit organizations that work in under-served communities, that are trying to figure out how to get the needs of those communities into the budget -- to advocate for themselves in the city budget. I submitted a list of priorities of capital improvement projects in the neighborhood and put on there that we would really like to have some funding set aside to put a community garden in the neighborhood.

It’s going to take a lot of work with the City to identify a space and figure out how we can prepare the land properly. If we were able to get some more firm partners in place both financially, and also groups that have experience doing gardens, I think we would like to put it back on the agenda.
Also, I know that you helped us organize a presenter to help people figure out how to do their own personal gardens and I think we should follow up on that. At least, start getting some people to be able to grow in their own gardens and then maybe start contributing that product to the Sobreruedas to build more consciousness about gardening in the community so that it will flow more naturally into a community garden when we are ready to set that space up.

A Space to Educate and Create More Leadership

GDAF: Besides making the Sobreruedas an opportunity for people to create their own businesses and selling products, what else do you see happening around the Sobreruedas?

Genoveva Aguilar: We are taking the space of the Sobreruedas to have an opportunity to educate our community and develop more leadership. So, the first workshop we are going to have is employee’s rights. The Employee Rights Center is providing the workshop. We are going to be doing a lot of employee’s rights. A lot of unions already volunteered to do their workshops. We are doing tenant’s rights, immigration rights -- keeping everybody informed about what is going on with immigration.

So, yes, the space in our community, Sobreruedas, is also a space to educate and create more leadership. We are providing a space in the Sobreruedas to make sure that happens.

Avital Aboody: Also, we circulated a survey around, that we need to get more responses to, but we are starting to gather information about what kinds of workshops people would be interested in attending. Some other responses so far, besides the workshops Geno mentioned, for which there is a lot of interest are: people are interested in cooking classes, and fitness workshops, to cultivate consciousness around health in the community. We are open to having a whole variety of workshops and partnering with other organizations who might have ideas and what they would like to do in popular education in the community.

Barrio Logan and Barrio Sherman

GDAF: Can you clarify the name of the community.

Avital Aboody: There are a lot of different names which people use to describe the area that we work in. The five neighborhoods are: Memorial, Stockton, Grant Hill, Logan Heights, and Sherman Heights. They are bordered by the 15 to the East, the 94 to the North, and the 5 to the South and West. That’s the triangle area we are talking about. Some people refer to that whole area as Greater Logan Heights. Some people refer to it as the Historic Barrio district. Some people refer to it as the Central Village.

Genoveva Aguilar: For the people who grew up here in Barrio Logan and Barrio Sherman, it’s never going to change. People are going to name it differently to fit their needs and their plans, but it’s always going to be Barrio Logan and Barrio Sherman.

Involve the Alternative

GDAF: Is there something else you would like to add?

Genoveva Aguilar: One of the things about the Sobreruedas is that it will provide opportunities for our community because it is part of not only Casas De Vecinos Organizados and, like Avital says, part of a Greater Logan Heights Partnership, and we have a great expert with Marilyn Armenta who is helping us with all the paperwork, but bottom-line, as a person who grew up in this neighborhood, I grew up living close to Farmers’ Market where the new Walmart is going to be -- it used to be a Farmers’ Market. It provided clothes, food to everybody. And everybody is like “Go to the farmers’ market” or “I’ll meet you at the farmers’ market.” Our identity and culture revolved around the location of the Farmers’ Market. Now they are building a Walmart so I will hear for myself who has a nephew, growing up in this community, that all his culture and identity is involved around the WalMart, when a Walmart doesn’t have good labor ethics.

I would rather have him say, “I will meet you at the Sobreruedas.” “Let’s have food at the Sobreruedas.” Involve the alternative. We are providing alternatives in our community because this big corporation, not only does it not provide good jobs in our community, but it takes away our identity and the culture of our community. We want to create another option.

Published in In Motion Magazine June 26, 2013

Also see:

  • This interview was previously published in two parts in the Growing Discussion About Food newsletter Vol. 1 #2 and Vol.1 #3

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