No Need For Permission – Finding Liberation In Spaces We Create

San Jose artist and organizer Rich Guiterrez writes on the importance of accessible space in San Jose and the folks making it happen despite the tightening squeeze of the established. "I write this as a reflection of hope, not to be mistaken as a self righteous pitch of criticism. It is meant to be a critique leaning into an option, not an absolute solution, but a possible one written by someone who is currently unlearning and lighting bridges with hope in place of fear," he says.

Access and permission

My roots soaked knowledge from the smartest and realest folks I knew coming up: Drug dealers, drug users, overworked moms, punks with less dividing lines of what's cool, broken men, angry grandpas and angrier grandmas, loving and multi faceted. They focused on survival before politics. What started out as asking for permission turned into claiming in ways that took tact and street smarts to survive in the face of oppression and destructive habits.

I was taught by example to just walk straight up to the counter of a spot and simply ask the boss if I could hold an event there and talk logistics about the use of space. Just like my aunts and uncles would set up a family reunion, you hit up the hall or restaurant, pool your resources, and organize together to make it pop off. It was really empowering for me to see how I too could take hold of my own ideas and allow them to come to fruition. I gained life skills that I used to create my own events. Along the way I learned knowledge of self which I apply today in most jobs, social endeavors, and organizing.

Now, many community spaces and groups locally are keeping the pace of gentrification by making art and community spaces inaccessible scaring everyone into thinking that they don’t have the tools to do on their own.

People much younger than me have recently asked me after events I’ve helped organize, "Which promoter did you go through?"  Each time it made me scratch a hole through my head.

What is more telling of what we need is seeing youth create in the margins because they can't enter 21+ spaces or aren't visible or seen as legitimate, and that is really inspiring.

The established pillars have become too busy to acknowledge these youth movements until they can no longer be ignored, and then the established are no longer progenitors of culture – they are piggy backing and even appropriating.

Tired of being pushed to the margins, we are no longer asking for permission or access.

With the resurgence of creating spaces and collectives I hope that we can serve in at least three sustainable ways: 

1. As catalysts for positive change
2. As resources for change
3. For creating self worth 

We like to be vessels and not captains

It is not in our best interests to have a small group of gatekeepers whom we all look to, to syphon down events and spaces to us. Our best interest is to be accountable for the space we take as individuals and groups within the larger community. With our limited amount of all ages and cost accessible spaces, we should all make an effort to share our resources with one another in ways that truly matter, and empower others to do the same. 

The Zapatista idea of putting ourselves in the mindset of communal people power over individual power is really beautiful. "Para todos todo. Para nosotros nada" – "everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves" really struck me.

In order for our events to be the most accessible to everyone, and in direct defiance of capitalistic separation and dehumanization, they need not always be profit based. Trust, I have bills to pay, my rent ain't ever skipped a month, but I truly believe that cooperation, not competition, can lead to ultimate support on all aspects including stacking paper for all involved. When the ultimate goal is to profit over anything else, I feel the most sacred things take a backseat.

A friend asked me what I think makes community groups that I volunteer my time with, something other than another gatekeeper. My answer came faster than I thought: "I think we like to be vessels and not captains."  We strive to not be the only voice, but rather a spring board for everyone's voice and add to the conversation.

We should all fight back against this western idea of INDEPENDENCE over anything else. We have to let go of this assumption that we must always own or leave and conquer, instead of staying and building and using collectivism as a frame to empowering everyone and ourselves. We need to have faith in something greater than profit; we need esperanza for the people, ourselves and our ability to do great things.

Looking back on this year so far, I did see a lot of walls being broken down and great steps in community work that centered around the accessibility of resources and knowledge. The push for love and acceptance is en vogue here and it's exciting, although the squeeze is just as real right now. The threat of displacement and gatekeepers are knocking down our doors. So I look to what is beautiful in this maze of disheartening roadblocks and to those of us who are being forced to be more resourceful.

Here's a look at who is doing just that:

Snaughty & Friends

A new D.I.Y based movement bringing together artists of all mediums through a series of art shows over  summer that incorporated a wide assortment of their peers and placed the events in a small park sized backyard on the eastside. Artists and performers spread out over three events with family serving food and all run by youth for the youth without sponsorship and all promoting creativity.

Problem Co.

A new clothing line based out of San Jose, that is much more than streetwear. They have roots in community and are putting down for a less suffocating future for artists. Early in the year they hosted an all ages community run event featuring art, independent business, music, culture in a traditional cutty San Jose spirit. It was a beautiful event in a hall adjacent Eastridge mall – all done affordably for the youth by the youth.

Think and Die Thinking

Think and Die Thinking hosted its first ever youth arts and music program.

The pilot program was three days of free, drop-in style workshops during Labor Day weekend at the Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy. Classes included instrument instruction, open practice times, skill-shares and workshops on various forms of music, crafts and visual art for all youth ages 13-21 in San Jose and the South Bay who wanted to learn, skill-share and create. The target audience was low-income youth, queer youth, trans youth, youth of color, and girls. It was run by all volunteers and every instrument, tool and food needed was donated.

Also, T.A.D.T., alongside DEBUG, CHEERS FROM THE WASTELAND And MY DUNGEON SHOOK, hosted SUMMER OF DISCONTENT a summer long event where participants were encouraged to self document through zine making over the summer creating brand new zines of their own. This event included the building and use of a new portable zine library, discussions on self documentation, writing workshops, open mic zine readings and sharing knowledge on resources for creating, writing, putting together zines all in community settings.

Casa Chikimalas

Casa Chikimalas is a house made up of four women of color that has been hosting music events, healing circles, brunches – basically being a safe space for healing and support in San Jose. Not only opening space but constructively claiming their space and the space for other women and queers in the South Bay to feel like a threat in the best way. They have also been co hosting events with other local community organizers SONIDO CLASH.

Cheers from The Wasteland

Cheers recently started as a "placed based" journal that has its sight set on recording all things South Bay, allowing all those who reside here to be in charge of our narrative. Permiting us all to have a peek into the minds and hearts of south bayliens. Involving themselves in so much more than just a website they are proving to be a crucial pin on the inspiration map of the South Bay.

My Dungeon Shook

MDS is an archival storytelling project, Working in partnership with SV DeBug that aims to encourage a culture of expression through writing. MDS provides workshops for high school youth, collects writing by unpublished authors with the intention of preserving histories in the South Bay.


The LGBTQ Youth Space is a Program of Family & Children Services. They are a community drop-in center and mental health program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally youth and young adults ages 13-25 who live in Santa Clara County. They have resources ranging from workshops (working with My Dungeon Shook) to things like internet access. Some volunteers helped with outreach and programs at TADT AMP.

Boba Bar

Boba Bar had an event at the end of summer called BOUND TOGETHER: An Art + Zine Exhibit curated by Marisol Picazo & Robbie Lopez. It was packed and showcased many underrepresented artists in the South Bay; it was truly inspirational. This first of its kind in this space was dreamt up by the owner and Robbie while he was sitting there working on his own stuff. They are now curating regular art events in this central space!

Social Policy Cafe

A new coffee shop downtown has been organizing shows since opening curated by Lola Saba. They had an end of summer community building event called EASY. It was co-hosted by Ricky Oseguera and Saoirse Alesandro. This event had installations by the two, but its other focus was a mini zine fair urging people to table prints and their own self published materials. It brought together a lot of people in a way that is contagiously influential.



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Related Media: 
Writing as a Mirror: Janice Sapigao on Her Upcoming Book, microchips for millions

The Sacred and Familiar in the Forthcoming "Knowing Your Worth" Zine

Cheers from the Wasteland: A San Jose Place Based Journal


This article is part of the category: Community 
This article is part of the tags: Boba Bar  / Casa Chikimalas  / Cheers from the Wasteland  / LGBTQ Youthspace  / My Dungeon Shook  / Problem Co  / San Jose art  / San Jose artists  / San Jose culture  / Snaughty and Friends  / Social Policy Cafe  / Think And Die Thinking 


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