Support immigrant vendors.

Image via Flickr.

Take Action

  • Take action today by telling San José city council members to vote no on flea market redevelopment. Sample script: “I’m calling/emailing to oppose the Berryessa redevelopment. There’s no excuse to displace hundreds of vendors. We are watching and demand you do the right thing today.”
  • Contact the San José Flea Market and say you support the vendors by calling (408) 453 1110 and emailing hope@sjfm.com and pat@sjfm.com. Sample script: “I’m calling/emailing in support of the Flea Market Vendors Association. We demand each vendor receive adequate compensation and a permanent spot. What has been offered is not nearly enough. Do the right thing!”
  • Follow the Vendor Association and sign their petition for a community benefits agreement from the city.
  • Support immigrants in your community beyond the headlines.

The rapidly gentrifying Silicon Valley city of San José, California, is home to one of the largest flea markets in the country (Yahoo). Since 1960, generations of largely immigrant vendors have set up stalls on its 30 acres. The flea market and the 700 vendors who depend on it are threatened today by the construction of a “transit village” around a new light-rail station.

Though the new train station is a public investment, it’s explicitly “meant to serve a new Google campus with up to 25,000 employees” (SF Chronicle). Community activists already opposed the development, which they fear will raise housing costs enough to displace tens of thousands of people. In the words of one resident, “A San José Google campus will erase my existence” (Silicon Valley De-Bug).

In May, Google announced they’re “rallying support for immigrant rights” (Google). Google Doodles have celebrated Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, union leader Cesar Chavez, and Tejana music icon Selena Quintanilla (Google). And the cafeterias at Google’s current headquarters offer employees a urbane selection of global foods from chicken enchiladas to charred pork belly with shaved jicama salad (Business Insider). But this public infrastructure development created specifically for the company’s benefit may directly displace hundreds of immigrant vendors. Moreover, its new campus could economically displace thousands more.

And while it’s largely first- and second-generation immigrants working as San José flea market vendors, the flea market itself is owned by the white Bumb family. Though the Bumbs have made “millions” from the flea market (Metro Active), they refuse to negotiate in good faith with vendors seeking to preserve their livelihoods.

“I’m a second-generation vendor. I was raised in the flea market. My dad has been selling there for years,” community leader Kaled Escobedo told Anti-Racism Daily. Fresh off a hunger strike against the destruction of the flea market, she shared that her family’s blanket stand helped her pay her way through college. “That’s the only source of income my dad gets,” she said.

The city and Bumb family plan to shrink the flea market to 5 acres, offering only $4,000 to each vendor as compensation. This amount covers less than two months of rent for a one-bedroom San José apartment at market price (Zumper). The vendor association is demanding that San José city council vote against the redevelopment plan today, Tuesday, June 29, and that the Bumb family agree to reasonable demands that include fair compensation and vendor security. They are asking for wide support to achieve both of these goals. Ultimately, said Escobedo, “We want to be in charge of the market.” She envisions a future where the market is controlled by the immigrant families who make it work. Spaces like the San José Flea Market provide a space for communities to only make a living.

As someone born outside the U.S. and married to a first-generation immigrant, I’m interested in what we understand as “supporting immigrants” now that we have a new administration. The Trump administration’s baldly racist, nativist immigration policies sparked wide and justified opposition. Hundreds of cities rallied against “zero-tolerance” immigration policies in June 2018 alone (CNN). Liberal Americans developed what was, for some, a new-found respect for immigrants, one seemingly absent when then-Senator Obama declared, “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked” (AP). Some tried to oppose Trump by calling America “a nation of immigrants,” an objectively false and harmful idea (Colorlines). Do we only fight for immigrants when Republicans are in power and invent excuses for Democratic administrations continuing the same inhumane policies (NPR)? Do those born in the U.S. actually support real-life immigrants in their communities or view them as political tokens and providers of interesting culture to consume and discard at will?

The answer is important because immigrant communities remain under threat, not only by deportation but police brutality, economic exploitation, and gentrification, as well (Urban InstituteThe Atlantic). To support oppressed and marginalized communities means showing up even if there’s no immediate reward. It means showing up in the years where there’s no election. It means showing up though you may never set foot in a certain market or low-income neighborhood in your life. It means supporting immigrant businesses and workers of color even when they aren’t selling anything you might wish to consume. That’s what it means to be in solidarity, and it’s what is necessary for us to build communities where all of us can thrive.

Key Takeaways

  • Some outsiders think about immigrant communities as political tokens or only consider them in relation to the food, music, or other products they produce.
  • Corporations might support immigrants or other oppressed communities rhetorically while harming them in practice.
  • Solidarity must be a constant practice.

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