Residents in Los Angeles’ historic Boyle Heights neighborhood are stepping back to consider how anger over gentrification led to recent vandalism against art galleries and where that leaves the changing community.
Nicodim Gallery on South Anderson Street was defaced with spray paint two weeks ago with an expletive and the words "white art." LAPD officials would not confirm if they’re investigating it as a hate crime.
The defacement is widely seen in Boyle Heights as the latest protest against art galleries that community activists say are helping drive up rents in the area that ultimately displace longtime business tenants and families.
In a neighborhood steeped in immigrant history, the vandalism makes no sense to the Romanian immigrant who owns the gallery.
Mihai Nicodim said Friday he understands concerns about gentrification. But he also thinks he should be free to own a business where he likes.
“I came to this country about 27, 28 years ago with $25 in my pocket, and I worked very hard to build a business. After so many years, to be told to go back where you come from, this is where their message is getting lost, I think,” he said.
Local activists who have been pushing back on gentrification say they don’t condone the vandalism, but that they understand the anger and view the galleries as part of the unwanted changes roiling established neighborhoods.
“Enough is enough," said Nancy Meza, with the anti-gentrification group Defend Boyle Heights, who grew up in Boyle Heights. "You know, we have friends from Highland Park, friends from Echo Park, friends from Silver Lake who constantly remind us of how fast their neighborhoods changed."
Jessica Lopez, who has lived in Boyle Heights for nine years, having lunch with her family Friday at a café on First Street, said she saw on Facebook recently that rents in one local apartment building were going way up.
“For me, in my own opinion, I think that’s just a way of getting people to move. Because they know that Latinos can’t afford that rent right now,” she said.
Meza said activists have learned from other communities undergoing gentrification to speak up sooner rather than later, or lose ground to those who can afford the higher rents.
Fifty years ago, Boyle Heights was home to a diverse population of Jews, Latinos, Russians, Portuguese, and Japanese-Americans. Today, the community is over 90 percent Latino.
This story has been updated.