September 15, 2006

In a Little Piece of México, Mothers Make a Difference

By Raymond R. Beltran

Marta Gallardo guiltily admits that she’s not too fond of Barrio Logan. When she arrived in 1992 from Jalisco, México, she found herself amongst a majority of poor families struggling to work for livable wages. She found herself searching for housing that’s affordable or just a clean neighborhood where her four children could play.

She had more to say than what was allowed in her home, since machisimo had crossed over with her former husband. But she’s long been remarried, having survived a violent relationship, and now she’s a different person who, along with other mothers, is involved in making her neighborhood a bit more livable for many.

“Before I was very shy,” she says while staring off through her kitchen window, facing the south side of Chicano Park.

Today, Marta Gallardo is a member of BUHO Barrios Unidos Hoy Organizado, and at the low income Mercado Apartments where she lives, she heads the Food Bank, a free-food program for, sometimes, up to 120 poor families.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” she says. As a member of the complex’s resident association, she heard that no one was going to lead the program, so, she felt the need to take charge and keep it in existence.

Though she says her family isn’t as in need as most, she says, “I like to do it because when I get involved, I see a lot of people with happy faces. Sometimes when we don’t have enough money, we need help to eat.”

Every last Thursday of the month, Marta Gallardo (left) organizes the Food Bank program that delivers free food to low income families in Barrio Logan.

Like her peers, Gallardo lives in low income housing. She brings from Jalisco an education from Colegio Morales in Administrative Assistance, but her and her husband find it more feasible that she works as a stay home mother. Her children are two, eleven, thirteen, and eighteen years old. Her husband, a technician for the Metropolitan Transit System, brings home the bread, just less than $45,000 a year and just a bit more than the average resident in Logan.

“I don’t like the barrio,” she says laughing in disbelief to what she openly admits. “But I like that it’s a little piece of Mexico, the customs and the people.”

Aside from the “familiar faces” and the celebrations that liven up the barrio for her, it’s the homeless and their alcohol consumption, the trash and the drug abuse that limits her family to the gated Mercado Apartments, a place the family’s lived since 1999 and plans to leave someday.

They want a home like anyone else. “In Chula Vista or National City, not too far from here,” she says. “We go to a first time buyer’s program and I didn’t like it, because they said it was for low income [people] but I don’t think it was, because we only qualify for $300,000 and houses cost $400,000, and that’s not helping.”

Her husband plans to pay off their car next year to give them some edge, but Marta has already begun to contribute in her own way. She joined BUHO in 2005 to raise awareness about the issues that stymie families who are trying to advance economically.

She says about BUHO organizers, “I like the way they think to help the people, and they talk to us with … mucho entusiasmo. I like the experience because [they] teach me to express myself, to say what I think, and I’m different than before.”

In a local youth produced documentary, Barrio Logan: Voices from the Community, Marta spoke out in the film’s housing segment titled “Staying in this Barrio” and she stated, “There are a lot of spaces, empty lots that are just not being used. I think that is what the politicians should be focusing on, on using those lots on giving them a use that benefits the community. What is more beneficial than constructing apartments or condominiums there?”

The film points out that between 2004 and 2005, gentrification has begun to take affect in Marta’s neighborhood because of the proximity of Petco Park, and housing costs have risen by almost 49 percent.

“We want Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights to unite,” says BUHO Community Leader Christina Alvarado, a single mother of three. “We want to put [the barrios] together. We need más fuerza. We need the support of the people, because we have more ideas. We want más seguridad in the neighborhood.”

Christina’s a native of Ciudad México and a mother of three daughters, four, thirteen, and sixteen years old. She is single and her family depends on her income as a house cleaner. Like Marta, Christina lives in low income housing in Logan but wants to buy a house someday. She has a long ‘to do list’ of accomplishments to be met: guide her children through school, learn more English, enroll in college courses to acquire a better job, and ultimately earn a living that will provide for a home of their own.

During last year’s election to fill Ralph Inzunza’s District Eight councilman position, Christina helped to organize a community meeting where all six candidates in the running committed to improve the areas of the barrio where residents saw fit. Among building more affordable housing, street maintenance and neighborhood lighting are areas in need of attention.

The eight candidates, at the time, committed to working with the residents, a commitment Benjamin Hueso seems to have forgotten now, according to Marta. She lives on Newton Avenue and because she’s taking care of the home mostly, she sees more of the trash accumulating on the block than street sweepers to come clean it up.

Rolling street lamps now stand on the corners of Newton and Cesar Chavez Pkwy, a small victory says Christina Alvarado, but she says the group will now come with ideas geared toward better education and services in their children’s schools.

“My daughter needs speech therapy,” says Christina, an area she says is weak in her children’s schools. “Maybe other kids need special education, and it’s not there.”

Last year, she went to a leadership conference in Chicago for a week. There, she learned how to organize and work to empower local communities. She’s been out of commission with health problems for the past few months. But now that she’s recuperating says her endeavors are to “call for the people to come to the meetings.”

Meetings take place at King/Chavez Elementary in Barrio Logan every other Wednesday evening of the month. The next meeting is September 19.

Affordable homes are a prevalent issue.

“We care about this because we want to have apartments for low income [people] and we talk about new houses, affordable houses.” says Christina. “I like to work with the community because I want a better neighborhood for my daughters.”

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