Nonprofit Spotlight: Esperanza Community Housing Corporation

Intersection’s Nonprofit Spotlight series profiles South L.A. organizations that are propelling positive change in South L.A. Here we look at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation — a 25-year-old group helping people to create communities for themselves where they can thrive.

Mercado la Paloma |

Mercado la Paloma |

What is Esperanza Community Housing’s purpose?

Esperanza seeks to create opportunities for community residents’ growth, security, participation, recognition, and ownership through developing and preserving affordable housing, promoting accessible health care, stimulating involvement in arts and culture, ensuring quality education, pursuing economic development, and advocating for progressive public policy.

When was Esperanza Community Housing founded? 1990

Which areas does Esperanza Community Housing serve? Figueroa Corridor

What services does Esperanza Community Housing provide? The organization provides a variety of programs around the core program areas of affordable, housing, health, economic development, environmental justice, and arts and culture. [Read more…]

South LA Democratic Space: Esperanza Community Housing Corporation

Monic Uriarte, Community Organizer/Health Promoter for Esperanza Community Housing Corporation

Mercado la Paloma promotes a local entrepreneurial spirit while fostering creative and multi-cultural community-based activities and programming.

The conceptual idea of Mercado la Paloma grew in 1999 from local residents living in Esperanza Community Housing Corporation’s building development.

Monic, who has worked in South LA for 16 years, believes Mercado La Paloma “is so important because it gives the opportunity to local residents to dream about being their own business owners. In South Central LA it was almost impossible to get investors to invest in local residents to create local businesses, so Esperanza created Mercado La Paloma to provoke this democratic space.”

Mercado la Paloma promueve un espíritu de comercio local y facilita actividades creativas y multiculturales en la comunidad del Sur de Los Ángeles. La idea del mercado creció en 1999 entre residentes que vivían en un edificio de desarrollo patrocinado por Esperanza Community Housing.

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The Two Gilbertos: Creating Community Through Yucatan Cuisine

By Cara Rifkin

imageThe Mercado La Paloma is a charming and vibrant space filled with restaurants and non-profit organizations. Chichen Itza is a Yucatan restaurant at the center of the Mercado, not only for where it is situated in the market, but for its eleven successful years in business. Chef Gilberto Cetina and his son, Gilberto Cetina Jr., have been at the Mercado since day one. Their story warms the heart, and their food satisfies the belly.

Both men previously had careers outside of the culinary arts (Cetina a civil engineer, Cetina Jr. a computer technician) before making their living at Chichen Itza. Nevertheless, food was always a part of the family. Cetina’s mother had a restaurant in Yucatan, Mexico, and special occasions were always celebrated by cooking large meals. It wasn’t until spaces became available to vendors at Mercado La Paloma that Cetina decided to pursue his dream of owning a restaurant, just like his mother. Just after the grand opening eleven years ago, Cetina Jr. gave up his job to join the staff. Cetina and Cetina Jr. share a passion for cooking and working in the restaurant industry.

Through authentic Yucatan cuisine and incredibly engaging personalities, the father and son team have created a community for Yucatecan people living in Los Angeles. Family and friends gather every seven days for Sunday supper, and Cetina and his son are at the heart of this weekly occasion. They have incorporated family values into their business, and the community that they have created proves it.

Remembering Jorge Negrete

image“¡Ay Jalisco, No Te Rajes!” (Jalisco, Don’t Back Down) – 1941. (Photo courtesy Concepción Bauza.)

A photo exhibit commemorating Jorge Negrete’s 100th birthday is currently on display at the Mercado La Paloma. The black and white photos highlight some of the most memorable moments of the star’s career.

The exhibit consists of 30 photos from the private collection of Concepción Bauza, who organized the showing that ends this Saturday, January 14th.

“Mexican cinema opened the doors to Latin American film,” she says. “Those movies from the ‘40s and the ‘50s are unforgettable… just like its stars – Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante and the great María Félix.”

imageWedding of María Felix and Jorge Negrete – 1952.

Bauza felt compelled to honor the memory of Negrete, also known as El Charro Cantor (The Singing Charro), whose 100th birthday was November 30, 2011.

Negrete died of hepatitis in Los Angeles in 1953. “I have one of the last pictures taken of Jorge Negrete when he arrived in Los Angeles to perform at the Million Dollar Theater,” says Bauza proudly.

There are also several photos of him with two of his movie co-stars and wives: Gloria Marín and María Félix.

If you’re a fan of old movies and iconic stars, the exhibit makes for a good field trip. Plus, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the Mercado’s restaurants!

imageExhibit photos at the Mercado.

“Free the Streets” promotes bicycle culture in South LA

imageIn the shady gated courtyard in front of Mercado La Paloma on Grand Avenue, handfuls of low-rider and fixed-gear bicycles plus a booming DJ sound system set the stage for the “Free the Streets” bicycle and community activism event last Saturday, November 5th.

Despite sparse attendance throughout the afternoon, the event — also known as the Cycle Music Arts Festival —included screen-printing demonstrations, freehand graffiti painting on the Mobile Mural Lab truck, live DJs and a Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsored bar.

imageHalf of the $10 admission fee will help campaigns for safer streets in South L.A. that urge for more bike lanes and green areas, better street crossings and narrower roads. The other half will benefit CicLAvia, a semiannual event that blocks off 7.5 miles of downtown streets to cars and gives bicyclists and pedestrians full reign, and their plan extend the route into South L.A.

“We want to bring Angelenos together and show them each other, show them the city, and make our streets more alive,” CicLAvia board member Joe Linton said. “After the first CicLAvia, we got calls from people from South L.A. saying, ‘Hey, when are you going to come to South L.A.? We love it!’”

After hearing requests from many community groups to bring CicLAvia further south, Linton said he recognized the need for it in the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of risk of obesity, there’s a lack of park space, there’s a lack of places where communities gather,” he said. “We think CicLAvia can play a role in that.”

imageOrganizers are tentatively planning for the new route, for the next ride on April 15, 2012, to shoot south on Central Avenue from Downtown Los Angeles and head west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Exposition Park and Leimert Park. In the future, they hope to extend it all the way to Watts Towers. But closing down so many streets to car traffic requires money for the proper permits.

With events like “Free the Streets,” organizers and activists hope to raise the funds for the route extension as well as awareness of South L.A. as a vibrant and bikeable destination.

image“South L.A. gets a really bad rep from media sometimes,” said Andres Ramirez, a Strategic Actions for a Just Economy tenant organizer. “CicLAvia gets people to explore different parts of the city that they wouldn’t normally explore. That’s what we’re envisioning, bringing it to South Central. South L.A. has a lot of history, has a lot of culture, has a lot of people period.”

Ramirez gave Mercado La Paloma as an example: a collective marketplace with gourmet Central and South American restaurants, local artwork on display and a kids’ play area that is a “gem” in the community but largely ignored by the rest of the city.

“Free the Streets” and future CicLAvia routes could introduce more people to independent businesses like the Mercado and an improved view of South L.A.

Dia de los Muertos outgrowing its Mexican cultural roots

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageDia de los Muertos fills Los Angeles with altars, sugar skulls and yellow marigolds on the first two days of November each year. But recently, the Mexican holiday has become increasingly popular.

The Day of the Dead is at least a two-day affair. According to the holiday’s tradition, souls of deceased children returned to earth today, and they’ll be joined by families’ other ancestors overnight.

But at the South LA marketplace Mercado la Paloma, this year’s festival is much bigger than its Mexican roots.

Celebrations, art and food are bringing people from all kinds of backgrounds together, said Gilberto Cetina. He owns Chichen Itza, a restaurant within in the Mercado.

“White people, Asian people, Indian people, Latin people… it’s really a multicultural event. it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or if you sing in English or Spanish.”

This year, Gilberto is serving a special tamale pie called Mucbil Pollo. It’s what families in the Yucatan region of Mexico used to leave with their ancestors’ bodies while their souls waited for the afterlife. They still leave it on their altars. And people love it.

“The Mayans had a tradition to leave a corn on the mouth of the body, to feed the body. And now that corn dog is a little bit more sophisticated, and it’s a tamale pie.”

Visitors have plenty to see, too. Altars for families’ ancestors line the walls, and each one uses different fabric, pictures and relics based on what their ancestors loved.

Damon Turner is the Mercado’s Arts and Cultural Program Director. He helped set up the altars and a festival this past weekend. As a kid, his family didn’t even celebrate Halloween.

But Dia de los Muertos is special, he thinks, because it recognizes such common ground: family and death.

“I think the idea of Dia de los Muertos is really like celebrating that which is taboo, typically, in America, which is death. It’s looking at death as a place of strength, a place where we can build community with each other – and, yeah, have some good food while we’re doing it.”

Dia de los Muertos ends tomorrow – but Gilberto’s tamale pie will be back at the Mercado la Paloma next year.

Hundreds attend South LA Youth Arts and Media fest

Over 300 Los Angeles area students of all ages attended the Youth Arts & Media Festival (YAM L.A.) this past weekend.

The event, held at the Mercado La Paloma on Grand Ave and Exposition Blvd., near the USC University Park Campus, featured youth video, dance, art, music, photo, spoken work and skating exhibitions.

This is the second year of the festival, which is done in partnership with community-based organizations committed to providing teens and young adults in the LA area with free access to high quality media arts, visual and music education.

This year the festival welcomed HBO as a main sponsor. The live performances and workshops at the event were provided free of charge.

YAM LA’s mission is to “encourage youth to use and understand digital technologies as vehicles for communication.”

Unemployed workers hopeful on president’s job plan

Around 50 unemployed people gathered in Mercado La Paloma just off the Figueroa Corridor to watch President Obama speak about his American Jobs Act to a joint session of Congress on Thursday. The event featured two viewing areas where attendees could watch the speech in English or Spanish.

Larry Taylor, a former security guard now on disability hopes the plan includes an extension on unemployment benefits.

Many came with friends or family members. Larry Taylor came to watch with his union, United Service Workers West. Before the speech began, Taylor, a former security guard now on disability, said he hoped Obama would offer an extension on unemployment benefits and a jobs package with new growth in construction jobs, as well as better opportunities in the arts and sciences.

“We need people with good brains to be paid to use them,” Taylor said. He also shared his frustrations with Congress. “I’m tired of this obstructionist attitude. Now is the time to come together.”

He’s not the only one who felt that way. Once the speech began, people clapped when the president said it was time to stop the “political circus” and put Americans back to work. But the biggest reaction from the crowd at Mercado La Paloma came when Obama addressed some of the inequities in the current tax and income structure. Viewers shouted and applauded in agreement.

Paul Villegas expressed on concern on the growing social and wealth disparities in the U.S.

For John Paul Villegas, this is an argument that defines the social inequality in this country. “The people at the top are making so much more than they used to,” he said. “But the people at the bottom are still making next to nothing. How can anyone ever catch up?”

Villegas liked what he heard in the speech, especially the promise of tax relief that would provide a $1,500 tax cut to the typical American family, but part of him worries that it’s too good to be true.

“It sounded so good, but it’s up to the people to re-elect him. If he doesn’t win in 2012, the whole plan could be out the window,” Villegas said.

Rosa Gudiel, about to lose her home, is looking to the president to create jobs and help homeowners.

For some, the evening presented a chance to talk about an issue closely related to jobs – housing. Rosa Gudiel, speaking through translator Peter Kuhns, said she was in the process of losing her house, but was determined to fight to the very end to save it. “I hope that the president really can create more jobs,” she said. “Then maybe we could really help the economy by helping homeowners.”

The gathering at Mercado La Paloma was one of nearly 200 “job speech viewing parties” held in homes, community centers and parks throughout South Los Angeles hosted by community organization Good Jobs LA. The South LA-based non-profit organized the events to emphasize how unemployment is “the number one issue” affecting local communities.

Award-winning chef believes in South LA

By Megan Sweas

When Ricardo Zarate first opened his South LA Peruvian restaurant in 2009, he thought it was going to be a failure. “For two months I was open, I was making zero money,” he says. “Even if I charged 12 dollars for a dish…my food was too expensive for the area.”

imageToday Zarate’s Mo-Chica, located in Mercado La Paloma at W. 37th St. and Grand Ave, pulls in customers from all over Los Angeles. Named one of 2011’s best new chefs by Food & Wine, Zarate has a new restaurant, Picca, in Beverly Hills and is planning to open up another Mo-Chica in downtown L.A.

“The fact that [Zarate is] finally getting the praise that his food deserves is telling of the space we have here,” remarks the Mercado’s art coordinator, Damon Turner.

imageTurner describes Mercado La Paloma as a small business incubator. With support from the city and foundations, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation transformed an old garment factory into a market space that includes restaurants, service businesses, arts and crafts shops, and non-profit organizations.

“I think I’m one of their biggest examples,” Zarate says.

The goal of this Peruvian-born chef is to bring the food of his homeland, with both its Incan roots and Asian influences, to the level of French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine. After he failed to convince investors of his vision, he decided to start the business with his own money. When he saw Mercado La Paloma, he fell in love with the space. But the location proved troublesome. Local residents were unable to afford his cuisine.

imageSurrounded by a field, storage facilities, warehouses, and the DMV, the Mercado is easy to miss. Even though it’s very close to the University of Southern California, the 110 freeway separates it from campus, hiding it from view. Students end up going to fast-food places like Subway, not knowing they could support a local business and get a good meal, says Zarate.

In spite of the challenges, Zarate’s investment paid off. His success has also been good for the Mercado. “It brings people from the other side of Los Angeles,” Zarate points out. “A lot of customers thought, ‘Hey, I’m going here and I’ve never been to this area ever in my life,’ and thanks to Mo-Chica they came.” That’s an accomplishment he’s proud of – helping people from different cultures and parts of the city come together thanks to his food.

Listen to what the chef has to say about his early struggles with the restaurant and his love for Mercado La Paloma in the following video:

Chichen Itza brings Yucatecan delicacies to South L.A.

Chichen Itza Yucatan Restaurant will celebrate it’s 10th anniversary in February.

Located in Mercado La Paloma, a food court that abuts the 110 freeway near the University of Southern California, the establishment is a family affair. Owned and operated by Chef Gilberto Cetina, his son Gilberto, Jr. and his wife, Blanca, the restaurant serves up Yucatecan delicacies such as Cochinita Pibil and Panuchos.

Yucatan food is a blend of Mayan, Spanish, Lebanese, and Dutch influences, says Cetina.

The chef, whose mother taught him to cook as a child, said he takes pride in bringing his Yucatecan recipes to patrons in the United States.

Watch Cetina describe his food.

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons