Initially the Eastside Café was a “traveling” café that took its activity and message on the road. After three years and five major cultural events the Eastside Café decided to rent a space in the El Sereno community, in Northeast Los Angeles, where many of its participants lived. The Eastside Café has three main historical roots, the Encuentro Chican@-Zapatista and the Big Frente Zapatista, Union de Comunidades and last but not least in the struggles and people that live in our communities.
The Eastside Café is the latest project of Union de Comunidades. The first project of Union de Comunidades was the organization of a group of 24 people –mainly from student organizations- but also from community struggles–to cover the entire Zapatista Caravan in 2001.
The Eastside Café and Union de Comunidades (UdC) have their common roots in the Encuentro Chican@-Zapatista and have adopted the goal of organizing in the Eastside of Los Angeles communities where most of the youth that participated in the encuentro were from. So, today’s Eastside Café proudly claims that it is an effort to apply general concepts of community self-determination or autonomy through the development of interlocking community networks in the area of housing, community security, health, education, information, employment and self-sustaining micro-businesses, art and culture to name a few.
The Eastside Café borrows many ideas from the struggles around the world but it is ultimately and mainly based on the real conditions, histories, cultures, and struggles of the communities that make up the Eastside of Los Angeles. (For a chronology of The Eastside Café please see appendix A).
The Eastside Café has now been in the El Sereno Community as a space since August of 2003. Since that time we have had
Given that today we are trying to make memory of the lessons of the 1992 Riots, Revolt, Rebellion, we should mention that UdC also has its roots in the 1992 rebellion as well. UdC is a response to the question that came up during and after April 29, 1992: How do we be/exist and organize ourselves so that we can create lasting permanent justice and peace. The events of April 29 made it clear that the government, the state was not only unwilling to do justice but, more importantly, unable to do justice. How does a system based on global exploitation be just? They didn’t and don’t know how, they can’t. The system then can only be forced and that can happen only through the massive participation of vast numbers of people taking control of their destiny, participating in the decision that affect their lives. At that moment many youth, particularly youth, realized it was up to them to do justice. The event demonstrated to them that reliance on government was getting us nowhere. By extension, many concluded that the state, the government could no longer follow up with any of its promises and reforms because companies, multinational, global companies are in charge of government and the state.
The Zapatista Uprising
Less than two years later, on Jan 1st 1994, the eve of the signing of NAFTA with the US, the Zapatistas showed the world how neoliberalism, a political and economic system ruled by the policies of NAFTA, GATT, WTO, World Bank, and the IMF, benefit only a few by creating more poverty for the majority. The Zapatistas were saying the same thing –but what is different is that the Zapatistas had already begun it process of Autonomous communities that were politically independent from the state. They also agreed with the sentiment of the authors of the ex-gang members who turned their lives around and set up the greater LA wide gang truce and many others who understood that now we had to rely on ourselves. This takes us back to the Eastside Café as a cultural institution asking the question: how and why we should rely on ourselves—and we know that to answer that question we must be ourselves and know ourselves. So, the Eastside Café is a way of figuring out how to be ourselves through getting to know ourselves by relying on ourselves.
Recovering our best cultural traditions to organize ourselves from our community
The Eastside Café is providing some tools that perhaps could be useful for organizing; tools that the community has always had, but that the system has looked down on and put down. Tools such as solidarity, respect for difference, cooperation, unity, real education and dignity. Many of the so-called political leaders have said, “Put those tools away, you can’t make it in this country being respectful and cooperative, being honest.” Instead they offer mean spirited Darwinian competition and survival of the fittest thinking.
Some of the human relationship tools that the Eastside Café would like to stress are rooting, networking, community scholar, community leader, community vendor and community artists.
Rooting –Fortaleciendo la Raiz
These are concepts that we have come up with that are useful to us but we want everyone and expect everyone to come up with different tools, human, cultural expressions of important human values, language and ways to establish independent communities. This is exactly what the Zapatistas mean when they say you have to rely on your own knowledge and your own customs and culture and art. Also, this concept of rooting is very much related to the concept of networking.
Rooting is simply breaking through the surface, going deep into the ground, so that we can’t be toppled by a strong political and/or ideological wind. We know that the corporations and their media machine can be like a devastating wind. We know that what corporations would like to do is to topple us, chop us up into individual commodity units and sell us. Rooting involves participating in the struggles that already have a history in our communities. Rooting through struggle is getting to know the true community, its real history, its weaknesses and strengths. To facilitate the rooting the Eastside Café we will encourage the people from the community to put on the event and to be the event. At this first Eastside Café we have Alberto and Cristi from Chusma who live in El Sereno, Quetzal who went to El Sereno Jr. High, some of the folks in Burning Star and from Cihuatl Tonali and Domingo 7 either work or live in El Sereno. In addition, we have El Sereno struggles for a skate park coming together, struggles for affordable housing and responsible landlords, struggles for environmental justice, for educational equality and quality. There are as many struggles and expressions of struggle contributing as there are people yet they don’t consider themselves one, part of the same thing. Rooting then is going deep by being part of the daily struggles and breaking ground, getting to know our own communities, getting to know ourselves. This would begin to develop a community network, a community governance infrastructure.
Networking: At the same time that we root, we extend out, we interlock, we connect with other struggles in other communities. We build interdependent communities for strength. This is the reason for the Eastside Circle, which is a community of five interdependent and interlinked communities. If we go back to the tree and root analogy these are trees with strong roots, whose healthy and broad branches and roots we are encouraging to interconnect and make a canopy for the protection of the communities.
Community Scholar: A community scholar is someone from the community that utilizes the resources, research skills learned in college to develop a critical and creative view of how to be part of, a contributor in the community. This is difficult because sometimes-young students are encouraged to leave the community. “Making it” has become synonymous with leaving the barrio, the ghetto, the community. Being a community scholar is also difficult because the dominant philosophy of education is corporate and they have turned colleges into training camps for corporate jobs and to train students on how to perpetuate the present system, which it presents as neutral and natural. Also, going to college has become another way to divide us up, to say I am better than you because I have an education and you don’t. This community scholar idea is supported by the understanding that the education that the system offers will train you to be used by someone else, usually big companies, government or one of its agencies, whereas real education should bring out what is inside of you as a contribution of a human being participating solving the real human issues facing us. This type of education we are calling autonomous education.
Community Vendor: Part of what occurs with corporate control is that multinational corporations such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Auto Zone, Kraegan’s are invading our communities. As they do, they knock out the small business owners of our communities and they make us depend on them. The Eastside Café sees part of setting up an independent community is to set up an independent economy. Bands like Quetzal, Ozomatli, Sabor and Doming 7 do this by helping each other out finance their CDs and refusing to enter into destructive and negative competition with each other. This economy is more based on cooperation and respect for difference than on competition. Micro cooperative economies are important for autonomy and independence. Think about it– we spend a lot of money outside of our communities or on multinationals inside our communities while the economies of our community are drying up. If we don’t establish our own economy we allow the same companies that control us at the global level to control us at the local level.
Community Artist: For ten years now the Chicano artist community of the eastside has been forming this type of cooperation. Community artists are those that have what we call an organic relationship with the community, they are inseparable from the community. They come from and become more and more the reflection of the community. Through their arts they help the community remember the power that the community has and they should help us not forget some of the mistakes that our community has made as well.
Community Leader: Community leaders are those that carryout the independent agenda of the community. There always is an independent people’s or community agenda but under this top down system, the bottom is not listened to –it is considered uncouth, not the authority, unprofessional and even ignorant and put to the side. If the idea is not coming from the so-called top honcho politicos they say it is no good. The type of community leader that we encourage has faith in the community and looks at the community as the source of real power, not just in an ideal sense but also in a concrete way. This type of leader is accountable to the community not to the politicians. Pluralistic Participatory Democracy is rule by a diverse people. What we have today is rule by corporations and that relationship like a bad computer virus tries to copy itself in all relationships. To oppose top-down leadership is hard to do because we are so used to looking at elected officials and leaders as unique, as the best and as superior and more powerful than the people. And we are used to looking at ourselves as subservient to them. The Eastside Café perspective of leader doesn’t believe that power resides in the leader but believes that the leader is a person that is entrusted by the innate power born of the people to carryout the people will.
This in a nutshell are some of the basic premises of the Eastside Café. We would love to hear some tips from you, the community-listeners, to learn from you, as we take off on the journey through the Eastside Circle. The Eastside Café will have 3 events in each one of the 5 communities starting with El Sereno. It is impossible to include everyone from each one of these communities with just one Café. After El Sereno we go to Highland Park, then to Lincoln Heights, then to Boyle Heights/City Terrace and then to the East LA/Montebello area. Just to travel the Eastside circle once we estimate that it will take us at least 4 years.
The Eastside Café is an institution of the people and thus doesn’t belong to anyone because it belongs to everyone. The main charge and responsibility to carry out the Eastside will be passed on to a slightly different group each time and we expect them and encourage them to offer a slightly different type of experience.