It’s a brisk Tuesday morning in Austin, Texas and I’m walking the ten minute commute to my downtown office from the train station. I glance to my right and see a chic boutique displaying brightly colored piñatas and calavera sugar skulls tidily in the front window. Upon first glance, I think, “Aw, que cute!” and stop to look inside through the glass. I glance around and see the price tag - $250 for a tiny ceramic sugar skull painted pink and adorned with glitter? I balk and keep walking, baffled at such an enormous price tag for something so small.
I began pouring it over in my mind. I found myself in the middle of a busy metropolitan street corner; all around me, young professionals stared down at the ground as they shuffled off to work while I held my head high, anger beginning to flood through me, clouding my vision.
Back home in San Antonio, I have eyed several items similar to this, created with love by incredibly talented artist@s at small pop up shops, art galleries, and local music gigs for a fraction of the price. These artisans work hard during their spare time between breaks at their normal jobs (as educators, social workers, and laborers to name a few), to create these beautiful homages to their cultura.
Less than five miles down the road, impoverished people of color are slowly being removed from their neighborhoods by wealthy professionals and inexperienced hipsters with capital made from developing tech giants leisurely infiltrating from Silicon Valley. These neighborhoods entice young people with their low property values and bam! Next thing you know, there’s a Starbucks and a strip mall touting vegan burritos and wheatgrass smoothies. Suddenly, WholeFoods moves in and by the end of it, the entire neighborhood has been transformed and the gentrification process has proven successful.
The frustrating part is when these underprivileged people are driven out by skyrocketing real estate and a stronger law enforcement presence under the guise of “clean up” efforts. To add insult to injury, small pieces of la cultura of these populations are appropriated and commoditized by the current occupant in an effort to appear “liberal and well informed” while not realizing the intrinsic exoticization they are perpetuating.
While I realize this is the inherent nature of the city I have moved to, I cannot help but feel a disconnect with this place whose main appeal is driven by new technology and globalized commerce. I also realize I am no exception to this as I often frequent that Starbucks and Super Target for my everyday necessities. The struggle to shop small locally owned business creates an internal paradox as I navigate this new overly gentrified space. Additionally, I realize my opinion is an unpopular one, but it’s a criticism that has plagued my mind since I moved to Austin.
As activists, I find it’s important we challenge the activities that occur in the spaces we reside. Even if we are far and few between.