Julie Leopo

An enterprising and award-winning photojournalist in Orange County and beyond. Leopo, as Voice of OC’s Director of Photography, has captured a wide array of photographs visually documenting the news and soul of Orange County local government and community. Her work has also appeared in Vice, KCET, Ed Source, The California Endowment and OC Weekly.

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Next Tuesday, the Santa Ana City Council is expected to vote on a proposal for a “wellness district” centered on downtown’s Fourth Street.

The district would highlight the area’s Latino character and require the city to implement a variety of measures that benefit the city’s working-class residents. It is a response to what activists and Latino business owners say has been a sustained gentrification effort by wealthy downtown interests.

Suffice it to say, that notion has created quite a bit of controversy, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. I decided to meet the people of Fourth Street and hear their opinions first hand.

Here’s what they said in both English and Spanish:

Jason Quinn — Owner, The Playground and several restaurants at the 4th Street Market food court.

Credit: Julie Leopo

“People look at people like myself and they say like, ‘Oh, he’s replacing Mexican businesses,’ and uh..the business that were here failed.”

“La gente me ven a mi y dicen…’Oh esta remplazando a los negociantes Mexicanos,’…pero esos negocios fracasaron.”

“It’s not about race at all, it couldn’t be less about it…like the Chase Family…I’m sure they have come up in conversation, and Irv Chase is portrayed as the modern-day Hitler you know? And the guy could not be more focused on tenants and what they are bringing to the table, and really, it kinda hurts my feelings to see a person like that be in a situation where they are called, you know, bad names, when they are just trying to do business. And yeah, typically, this has been a hang out spot for that demographic (presumably referring to Latinos)…we never asked them to leave.”

“No tiene nada que ver con raza…como la Familia Chase…estoy seguro que la gente habla de ellos y Irv Chase lo hacen ver como si fuera un tipo Hitler de hoy en día, sabes? Y el hombre no pudiera esta mas enfocado en sus inquilinos y lo que pueden aportar como negocios, y me duele mucho ver una persona como el estar en una situación donde la gente le llama por malos nombres. Cuando el solo esta haciendo negocio. Y si…este lugar a sido típicamente un lugar donde esta demografía (Hispanos) se la pasaban..nunca les pedimos que se fueran.”

“There is this competition for every person who was coming through here, there is [sic] several shops that you can get a quinceañera dress. There is [sic] just too many, that’s not a white-people-coming-in problem, there is just a lot of them…there is a natural competition, there’s only so many girls turning 15, and you get their business once.”

“Hay competiciones para cada persona que esta aquí..hay muchas tiendas para quinceañeras. Y hay muchas, pero no es un problema que hay ‘muchos gringos llegando a esta area’, solo que hay muchas tiendas y mucha competencia. Solo hay unas cuantas niñas que están cumpliendo su quince años, y solo puedes tener su compra una vez.”

Juan Manuel Romos — Owner, Salon Santa Ana.

Credit: Julie Leopo

“Lo lamentable es que no tenemos el dinero para comprar propiedades para hacer y deshacer.”

“The sad thing is that we don’t have the funds to buy properties to create or tear apart.”

“Desafortunadamente, las propiedades o el ‘property owner’ es de otra cultura, y se termina el lease y el dinero habla. Ellos pueden hablar con los dueños y ofrecer mas dinero que yo puedo.”

“Unfortunately, the properties or the property owner is from another culture, and the lease ends and money talks. They can speak with the owners and offer more money than I ever could.”

Food Vendor (wishes not to disclose her name)

Credit: Julie Leopo

“Ahora me preguntan…’¿Donde están las tiendas Mexicanas que vendían cosas típicas Mexicanas?’, y ya no hay quien vendan, la noche es nomas de pura borrachera.”

“Now they ask me…’Where are the Mexican stores that sold typical Mexican products?’ and there is no one that sells that now…evenings here are nothing but drunken debauchery.”

Olga Calderon — Owner, Fiestas Niños

Credit: Julie Leopo

“Muchas personas están tristes, y nos preguntan, ‘¿Porque nos quieren quitarnos?’”

“Many people are sad, and they ask us…’Why do they want to kick us out?’”

Alejandro Enejo — broker for New York Insurance

Credit: Julie Leopo

“I think there is a place for everything, I do have my office in Irvine, you know corporate America! Right there, 12th floor, beautiful office and there is a place and time, if I am coming here to explain MY business to our people…I want to respect the way they live, the way they act, the way they shop, I’m not going to go against that by opening a store that doesn’t reflect what the people are.”

“Yo siento que hay un lugar para todo, yo tengo una oficina en Irvine, como una empresa grande! Ahi esta, duodécimo piso, oficina muy bonita, pero hay un lugar y tiempo para todo. Si yo vengo aquí para explicarles mi negocio a nuestra gente…quiero hacerlo en un modo de respetar la forma como ellos viven, como actúan, y como compran. Yo no voy a ir contra eso al abrir una tienda que no refleja lo que es el pueblo.”

Laura Humerez — owner, Laura’s Beauty Supply

Credit: Julie Leopo

“Yo siempre he peleado con ellos…dicen, ‘ah no que deben de haber bares, que debe de ver esto y el otro’. Yo les digo que haya lo que haya, pero esta zona es Hispana. No nos van a quitar, no nos van a quitar! Y no lo vamos a permitir. Yo ya he ido a muchas reuniones de ellos que quieren la ciudad cambiar, pero nosotros somos la ciudad, y nosotros somos los que pagamos y mantenemos. Cambiar esta bien, pero que mantengan nuestra raíz.”

“I have always fought with them…they say ‘oh there should be a bar here, there should be this or that.’ And I say, let there be whatever there will be here, but this is a Hispanic zone. They will not kick us out, they will not kick us out! And we will not allow it. I have gone to many of their meetings, of those that want to change the city, but we are the city, we are the ones that pay and maintain the city. Change is fine, but we should maintain our roots.”

Aron Habiger — chef for The North Left restaurant

Credit: Julie Leopo

“We all see something unique about this place and we embrace it, and we really like it. So it’s kind of trying to find that balance in between, which of course, I’m sure everyone wants. Easier said than done….obviously the more popular places get down here, rent will go up for everyone else and it will slowly push people that have had their businesses here for a really long time. It’s a really touchy subject and a fine line to walk, especially for the building owners, or the people controlling rent on these places and realize that they can get an extra $5 a square foot. If they basically kick this person out and raise the rent on them, and have someone else come in, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do…”

“Todos vemos algo especial de este lugar y lo queremos abarcar eso, y nos gusta mucho. Todo tiene que ver encontrar un balance, que por supuesto, estoy seguro que todos lo quieren. Pero no es tan fácil…obviamente entre mas popular este este lugar, la renta va seguir subiendo y lentamente va a desalojar a la gente que han tenido sus negocios aquí por mucho tiempo. Y es algo complicado y algo muy delicado que navegar, especialmente para los dueños de propiedad, o la gente controlando la renta en estos lugares y suben la renta porque pueden ganar $5 mas al pie cuadrado. Si desalojan esta persona y suben la renta, y otra pero los remplazan, no creo que es la cosa correcta…”

Paul Chamberlin — owner, Boldo Bowl

Credit: Julie Leopo

“I thought from the very beginning, when they were starting the 4th Street Market, I was like…’you guys are not getting it’…this is just me speaking…’I think you should make it like El Mercado (The Market in Spanish)’…it should be [a] Hispanic base, if you wan to make it nicer, great…but I don’t get it completely, that’s their thing.”

“Desde que empezó todo esto, cuando estaban empezando el 4th Street Market, yo les decía…’no entienden ustedes’…esto solamente es mi opinion…’yo creo que debería ser un tipo mercado Hispano’, con una base latina, si lo quieren hacer mas bonito esta bien! Pero no entiendo lo que ellos están tratando de hacer con su mercado.”

“I think you gotta keep the flavor of this area or it won’t work.”

“Yo pienso que tienen que mantener el sabor autentico de esta area, o nada va a funcionar.”

Julie Leopo is a Santa Ana-based freelance photographer. She can be reached at julieleopo@yahoo.com

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