Citizens Demand Bilingual Meetings on Gentrification

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Jessica O. Guerrero holds a sign while her colleague from the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center speaks at the the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Wednesday evening’s public input meeting on how to mitigate gentrification erupted into several shouting matches in English and Spanish after organizers said there would not be simultaneous translation of all comments.

This meeting at Tafolla Middle School was to be the community’s first chance to give feedback on recommended policies and plans from the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, also known as the Gentrification Task Force. Organizers spent an hour coming up with a format to satisfy the most vocal audience members: everything gets translated.

English is the language in which city, state, and federal government operate.* Simultaneous translation doubles the time of an already long information/comment session, said Mimi Quintanilla, the meeting facilitator hired by the City.

Still, given the subject matter and the Spanish-language dominant population of the near-Westside, where the meeting was held, audience members said it was wrong for the City to not provide simultaneous translation.

Quintanilla said the City will try to arrange for simultaneous translation at Thursday night’s Eastside meeting, 6 p.m. at Ella Austin Community Center, 1023 N. Pine St., although there is no certainty that the next audience will benefit from Spanish-language translation or want that service.

The auditorium was filled with more than 50 participants just after 6 p.m., when the meeting was set to begin. The task force invited community members to ask questions regarding the recommendations made in its recent report, but first offered context to the audience in English and Spanish.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) spoke in English and Spanish during the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) spoke in English and Spanish during the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

About 30 attendees, several with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, chanted “Reset,” to reschedule the meeting with a proper translator. City staff offered to host a separate meeting for Spanish speakers in the near future. ‘That’s segregation!” shouted an audience member. “It has to be bilingual.” shouted another.

The “Spanish only” meeting was immediately cancelled.

Jessica O. Guerrero (right) speaks while Iris Duran, program manager for the City's planning department (and temporary translator), looks on during the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Jessica O. Guerrero (right) speaks while Iris Duran, program manager for the City’s planning department (and temporary translator), looks on during the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

So for the rest of the evening, all testimony brought by community members was translated for either English or Spanish speakers. Though not official translators, staff members were pulled in for the task.

“This meeting is an example of how the city runs, unprepared,” shouted community activist Jessica Fuentes.

Some task force members looked surprised by the outbursts. Some were frustrated with the lack of communication.

“(The City) did not even have the courtesy of letting me, a member of the task force, have prior access to the pre-submitted questions,” Netti Hinton said to the audience. “I’m reading them for the first time just as you are hearing them for the first time, so I feel disrespected as well.”

Westside resident Arturo Trejo tells City representatives that Spanish translation will be key to obtaining public input. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Westside resident Arturo Trejo tells City representatives that Spanish translation will be key to obtaining public input. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The task force began to hear community input on its recommendations an hour behind schedule. Quintanilla invited community members to a podium at the front of the room to ask questions about the report, which aims to “identify policies and programs that encourage investment in inner city neighborhoods but minimize or prevent displacement of people or adverse impacts related to history, culture, and quality of life of unique neighborhoods.”

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center read a list of its own recommendations, which representatives said they began working on before the task force was formed.

“People are what make the flavor of each neighborhood. People are what make the culture of each neighborhood. It is not buildings. It is not new housing. Who is protecting our people?” Marylou Mendoza asked.

Westside community member Ronald Rocha asked the task force why the City hasn’t created a historical district or implemented a beautification project on the Westside.

Task force members listened and took notes without answering questions.

The task force was initiated by former Mayor Julián Castro in response to the Mission Trails Mobile Home Park community evictions announced last year. The mobile home community is on San Antonio’s near-Southside along the San Antonio River, an area of town that is beginning to redevelop. The trailer park was badly neglected by its Colorado corporate owner. Dozens of trailers were vacant and in a state of advanced deterioration. Standing water was evident weeks after storms.

The property was sold and a $75 million multi-family apartment complex will be constructed on the site where residents and activists say 300 Mission Trails residents lived in trailer homes in various stages of neglect, although far fewer people appeared to reside there last year when the sale was first announced.

Mission Trails Mobile Home Park former residents and supporters speak during the the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Mission Trails Mobile Home Park former residents and supporters speak during the the first Gentrification Task Force town hall meeting at Tafolla Middle School. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Evicted residents of the park stood in front of the task force and asked for justice while fighting back tears. Former residents held up a large, black cross to represent a fellow Mission Trails neighbor who died shortly after her eviction. The residents said her death was a result of stress, but no evidence as offered to support the claim.

View the entire draft report here. The task force will consider the community input and present the final report on April 29. After the meeting Thursday night, one more is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Central library on March 26. After Wednesday night’s display, however, its possible that more meetings will be scheduled into April

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article attributed the sentence “English is the language in which city, state, and federal government operate,” to Quintanilla. This was an editing error, she had only commented that simultaneous translation would double meeting times.

Related Stories:

Gentrification Task Force Schedules Three Public Input Meetings

Task Force May Recommend Affordable Housing Bond

2014: The Year of Gentrification Debate

Save Miguel’s Home: The Human Face of Gentrification

Mayor Taylor Takes Helm of Gentrification Task Force

19 thoughts on “Citizens Demand Bilingual Meetings on Gentrification

  1. This isn’t that diffcult. Property taxes are driving people out of their homes. If the city wanted to have an honest conversation, that fact would be front and center.

  2. I have to ask: if the city doesn’t usually conduct its meetings in Spanish, why was the group so upset there was no translation? Either request translation ahead of time or bring your own translator. If I were in Mexico and attended some meeting there I wouldn’t expect them to automatically do the meeting in English just because I’m there. Let’s be real here.

    Beyond that, I happened to be at the meeting (which accomplished nothing, by the way, thanks to the people who highjacked it) and someone leaned over to tell me that the very people who were upset that the meeting wasn’t bilingual were native San Antonians fluent in English. What gives?

    And as for the woman at the meeting who claimed that her son burned his arms at work because he was stressed about having to move from Mission Trails. Do we seriously buy that? Yes, burns are awful and painful and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, but it’s a reeeally long stretch to claim that an accident like that is because of gentrification.

    I’m all for finding solutions to the g-word that so many people misunderstand, but attacking the very group who set up the meeting to hear your input is not the way to do it. I wish these so-called “organizers” would get a clue.

  3. In the gentrification process that’s what high property taxes are intended to do. Drive you out of your home.

  4. Would somebody like to tell me what the opposite of gentrification is? I’d like to know since there seems to be so much negative connotation on this gentrification. What’s the opposite, and would you call that a good thing?

    • I guess you could say the opposite of gentrification (a particular socio-economic group flocking to a particular area & changing the neighborhood dynamic in favor of the new group) is “white flight” (when whites fled the central, urban areas for outer suburban areas based on socio-economics). Neither of these I would consider to be a good thing at all.

  5. The first thing they should have thought of was translators. How the heck else do you show good faith on tackling the issues of gentrification when part of it is relocating people of different cultural backgrounds. This is poor planning, even poorer decision making, and a poor excuse for a task force.

  6. I don’t think “gentrification” needs to be a bad word. It can be done thoughtfully. When we first bought in Lavaca, after renting here a few years (and taking very good care of our rented property, along with the Landlods’ help – who were also residents in the ‘hood), we bought a house falling down – which is what we could afford at the time on our salary.

    But one of the reasons we liked it here was the mix of people, old residents and new, and were told by many that the LNA was committed to doing what it could to avoid the ugly side of gentrification by working with the city to help long term residents remain in their houses. Now, I’m thrilled to see houses being fixed up (in the time we’ve been here, there has always been a house/property within hearing distance that has some work going on), but we’ve also seen our property taxes quadruple, even tough our salaries have not. My neighbor’s house isn’t perfect, but I adore them and would be heartbroken if they moved (they won’t, they’re savvy and know how to fight their taxes, and have lived here more than 50 years). I’m ok with not looking like Alamo Heights, though I have no love for the crack-house looking place on Labor St.

    I have no sympathy for 20-somethings who want “affordable” luxury apartments downtown, and I don’t mind at all the condos and new developments on vacant property, but I’d like taxes to be based on something liquid – like income. I can pay taxes based on the money I have coming in, but unless I sell or rent my house, whether it’s worth $100,000 or $500,000 does nothing for me.

  7. Lorenzo Gomez III, I agree, but would you say that all of the fear is unwarranted? After a segment of the population deals with the brunt of policy and “progress” for so long are they not afforded skepticism that this progress is being planned without their interests in mind? Living in San Antonio from Chicago and New Jersey/New York, the similarity I see is the introduction of commodities geared towards those who can afford more BEFORE the introduction of means to develop those who can’t. That’s the Brooklyn way. That’s the south side of Chicago way. Hell, that’s all of Chicago’s way today with Rahm at the helm. My main issue is that the allocation of support is so blatantly moved towards the “new folks” (aka me and my fellow tech folks for instance) in SA rather than the people who work day in and day out for minimum wage. All they get is called names for populating bus stops that scare these new people. There’s a small flock of folks trying to #KeepSAReal, but there’s not enough.

  8. You cannot stop people from improving property. The burden of protecting the less fortunate when property values rise lies within governmental agencies. Perhaps tax revenue generated from gentrification could be used to subsidize housing for people of lower socio-economic status? It is a matter of public policy but it shouldn’t come at the expense of private investment. Also, is there not a bit of bigotry against those moving in? Does there not seem to be a bit of “why can’t those white/snobby people stay where they belong” in this equation?

  9. I am one of the “outsiders” who is moving in to the city core. I grew up outside of San Antonio in a rural part of the county. I work downtown. Throughout my adult life I have lived in many parts of the city including Alta Vista, Leon Valley and the Quarry. I have always loved the old houses in the city center. I have finally found a home to call my own just south east of downtown. It is in an area that is currently distressed, but I have hopes that it will come up again soon. I am aware that with a rise in values will come a rise in taxes. I am willing to accept that if it means a rise in the level of niceties I will be able to choose from. New homeowners usually spark new businesses. That’s something that is great for everyone.

    As a neighbor, if you are elderly or disabled, I am going to do my best to help you maintain your home. I might mow your lawn in trade for some home made tortillas. That’s what good neighbors do.

    Since I didn’t come from the neighborhood where I am buying my house, does that make me the enemy? Because that’s how I read a lot of these comments.

  10. if they want diverse, mixed income communities, they then need to have policies/programs that encourage more middle and high income households to buy / invest in these inner city neighborhoods. the percent of low income households far far outweighs any percent of households with higher income…..I have seen alta vista change for the past 25 years and it is still a modest mixed income neighborhood….same with Baja king Williams….what low income renters/homeowners need is a financial advisor to create opportunity when their area is changing

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