Meet the Residents of the Contested Territory of Boyle Heights
A few years ago, upscale art galleries started popping up in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, a predominantly Mexican American community on Los Angeles’s Eastside. And a certain set of changes was expected to follow: Someone opens a café selling $4 doughnuts and $6 pour-overs. Developers perk up — the place has “potential”; it’s “up-and-coming.” Maybe the neighborhood is given a new, more marketable name. Investors pounce. Real estate prices skyrocket. Long-term residents are pushed out. Police presence increases. The newcomers soothe themselves with stories about how they’re benefiting the neighborhood, lowering crime rates, and improving services. The losses are less visible: the erosion of local lore, relationships, economic systems, and culture.
But in Boyle Heights, the process of gentrification didn’t unroll smoothly. Local community groups began a sustained, aggressive campaign against the changes in their neighborhood. They boycotted new businesses and protested outside art openings. They rallied against landlords who attempted to evict residents. Some of the activist organizations were criticized for their tactics and for targeting their ire at artists, ostensibly their political allies. But then again, more-polite methods don’t have a particularly good track record.
The contested territory of Boyle Heights is where photographer Star Montana makes her home and her work. Her relationship to the community, as a third-generation resident of the neighborhood, is complexly layered. Growing up, Montana sometimes felt trapped in Boyle Heights, suffocated by its violence. But now, all that history is on the verge of being smoothed over and flattened into something unrecognizable.