Can't Be Brown Downtown, Why The East Side Needs Its Own Spaces

A recent experience at a local café left writer Jocelin thinking about the lack of spaces for youth of color and drawing links between the lack of welcoming spaces and the housing crisis.

I walked into the only place I could find open near the East Side of San Jose. I had school deadlines due soon and I just wanted a place to sit comfortably with free Wi-Fi. I was born and raised in the East Side, but since I returned from college I’ve found it difficult to find a space where I could study.

The closest coffee shop I found was over 30 minutes away by bus and 15 minutes by car. It has two big couches and tables upstairs where you can sit and study.

I walked in and was greeted at the register by a young white woman with the very questionable mats of hair hipsters love to call “dreads.”

“Whole-ah”, she told me in “Spanish."

I cringed.


I ordered my coffee and stopped myself from asking her if she greeted everyone in “Spanish,” or just the Brown folks.

Instead, I went upstairs to work on my statement of purpose. Three individuals followed me up and sat on the couches across from me. I didn’t pay them any mind, I was way too happy with myself since I was finally typing up something other than my name and date.

But of course, like the salada that I can sometimes be, my right earbud blew out.

“Ok so next topics: El Chapo, his possible extradition, and Mexico. What jokes can we make for the show with that?”

“Ooh I know, we can make some currency jokes! Those skits are always funny!”

I looked up from my laptop and found myself sitting next to who appeared to be a young white woman, white man and a light-skinned Latino who could have passed as white.

                                              Bitchy Hollow

As I tried my best to ignore them and continue writing my statement, I found the jokes pouring through my broken right headphone becoming more and more like Jay Leno’s racist aggressive humor. I began to feel my face getting warm and my heart beating steadily faster.

“OK, so now what do we have for El Chapo’s extradition? ….hahaha, we can say that El Chapo is the only Mexican that the U.S. has asked for… the only one that didn’t have to cross the border.”

“Omg, yes."



Hold up.

“Excuse me,” I managed to say. By then, my ears were ringing and my face was uncomfortably hot. I probably looked like a tomato.

“I am a proud daughter of immigrants, and I don’t find any of your jokes funny at all. I actually find them offensive and racist.”

And with that, all hell broke loose.

“Well my parents are immigrants, too!” retorted the Latino.

                 Comedy Central

I always find it really sad when Latinos co-sign unto racism; are against immigration, or for example, are Trump supporters. It is such a confusing manifestation of internalized self-hatred and fear that never fails to leave me in awe and in outrage.

“Can you tell me why you find it offensive? I am not really caught up on things in Mexico,” said the white girl. Her shiny Mac laptop lay on her lap and may have suddenly become unable to produce a basic Google search.

“You’re trying to restrain my creativity!” accused one of the men.

“No, I’m not! It takes no creativity to be racist!” I told him as I felt my face getting even warmer.

“Well if you would have listened, you would have heard that we came up with other jokes that weren’t racist,” he patronized.

“I didn’t, my ears were ringing from the first racist jokes you all threw around!” I said.

“Well that seems like a personal problem then,” he concluded.

By this point I had imagined tackling him down multiple times, rugby style.

“No it’s not! I’m in all my right to be angry!” I replied.

I looked around. Apart from the white Latino, I was probably the only womyn of color there. Eyes were locked on my brown skin and although I did not for a moment regret speaking up, I knew all everyone saw was angry, irrational brown womyn.

Angry, yes. Exhausted after this unproductive argument, yes. Irrational, no.


I made up my mind to stay put, and shortly after, the three individuals left. I had decided to stay because I believed I had done nothing wrong and I had nowhere else to go.

Later that evening, I contemplated the importance of spaces for our communities of color. I thought about the spaces that are accessible and address the needs of Black and Brown folks in San Jose, especially those who are undocumented and/or part of the LGBTQI community. Or more precisely, I thought of the lack of spaces.

More than anything, I thought about our youth. Where can our Black and Brown youth go to study, to hang out without dealing with incidents like the one I experienced earlier that day? Where are the spaces where untrusting eyes aren’t locked on our Brown skin, spaces without racial and gendered microaggressions?

Where are the healing spaces that affirm the experiences of our youth of color? A space open until the late hours of the night with resources to ensure our academic and personal development and success?

A space that provides arts and media access, computers, free Wi-Fi, and advocacy in recognition to our needs as communities of color, historically underserved and under-resourced by our own city.

Look at our libraries – I love our libraries, I think they are beautiful places for the community, but unfortunately no library seems to be open after 6pm on the East Side. Yet, a library is an existing community facility that could possibly provide more services and resources; if only more staff could be hired to keep the East Side libraries open longer, and more funds directed for additional services and materials.

So again I ask, where are these spaces? Why don’t we have these spaces when we are surrounded by Silicon Valley’s incredible wealth?

The link between our current housing crisis and the lack of spaces for our communities of color cannot be overlooked. All around I see shops, businesses, and housing units being built ­– but for who?

What does it mean when our city does not prioritize low-income housing for lifelong residents of San Jose while claiming to embrace cultural diversity in the same breath? What does it mean when there is an enormous lack of space for our youth of color, our same youth who are constantly cast as criminals and dropouts?

I wonder, are we wanted here, or does our city only desire our culture? Our food? Our aesthetics? Our art? Our labor? But not us. Not our bodies, not our beautiful Brown and Black faces breathing life into the culture our city loves to market. People and communities create culture, without us, the culture becomes a distant hollow memory – one that San Jose can claim to have, but not one they will ever be able to grasp or ever truly feel.

San Jose is my home – it is our home. We deserve community spaces and resources that cater to the communities of color here in San Jose, we deserve everything our city has to offer.


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This article is part of the categories: Community  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: housing crisis  / libraries  / microagressions  / safe space  / san jose youth  / youth of color 


Very nice & well put.

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