Young people who live in East San Jose have decided they’re not going to sit around waiting for someone else to turn East San Jose into the community they want for their futures. They’re taking the project on themselves.
Through their work with the East San Jose PEACE Partnership and SOMOS Mayfair, they’re fighting for a community center where young people can gather, and for more murals that portray their history and culture. In the process, they’re learning about how to get input from community members and use it to change city policies.
On October 15th, six young people from the PEACE Partnership youth leadership and placemaking workgroup stood in front of 100 community members who’d gathered at Lee Mathison Middle School and told the audience what they want to see in East San Jose in the next 20 years. They presented the results of a survey they’d carried out during the previous three months, which asked respondents what projects they’d like to see in the community. 112 young people responded, saying that their top choices were community murals and improvements to teen and community centers.
They young activists also showed the audience at Lee Mathison Middle School a huge map that used post-it notes to mark the East San Jose locations they were proposing for facilities and services like parks, affordable housing, health clinics, murals, and community centers.
One reason for the focus on murals is that several historic murals in East San Jose have been painted over in recent years, most recently a Chicano history mural called Mural de la Raza, which had been painted by Latino artists from East San Jose in 1985. The loss of the murals is felt deeply by community residents not only because they beautified the neighborhood but also because one of the things East San Jose residents love about their community is its cultural heritage.
The young people also talked about their desire for a community center where young people can gather. They’re focused on re-opening the building that used to house MACSA—the Mexican American Community Service Agency. The space, which is owned by the Alum Rock School District, is currently vacant. Previously it had offered programs like a late-night program for young people, a gym, and a health clinic.
Another issue that the young people are concerned about is displacement. They see long-time community residents being forced out because of soaring rents. Over the last year, youth leaders have studied the housing problem and possible solutions to it, and they continue to learn about ways to address the issue of affordability. One of their ideas is to fix up abandoned houses with the intention of renting to families that need a place to live.
Encouraged and supported by organizations like the PEACE Partnership and SOMOS Mayfair, the young people are meeting with city council members and the mayor’s office to present their ideas. They provided input at a recent presentation by the San Jose city government about the anti-displacement policy the city is crafting. They’ve also attended meetings of the San Jose historical preservation committee to see if they can get the East San Jose murals considered cultural assets that need to be protected and preserved.
The actions by the youth group are an invitation to all of us to join in, roll up our sleeves, struggle in partnership with the community, and take action. But rest assured that the young people won’t wait for the rest of us to advance their vision of equity, because the time to create change is now and the power is in their hands.