The topic of gentrification in East Austin is not new, but in February the issue was brought into the spotlight when a local business in East Austin called Jumpolin, a party and piñata store, was demolished with merchandise still inside. Owners of the property tore down the business without notifying the Lejarazu family, who runs Jumpolin. After recovering from the shock, the family has been working to rebuild their business that was torn down to make room for events during SXSW. This is just one instance of locals suffering from the growing gentrification of East Austin. ORANGE talked to radio-television-film junior Paul Ramirez who worked on a documentary that follows the family in their journey to rebuild. Ramirez talks to us about the issues surrounding this local tragedy and the process of capturing the Leiarazu's story.
Interview by Sarah Jasmine Montgomery
ORANGE: The initial news of their business being destroyed was covered a lot by media, but there hasn't been a lot of follow up. What do you think this kind of story has to say about the way Austin is expanding, its relationship to festivals like SXSW and how both of those affect locals?
Paul Ramirez: I think it definitely shows the negative impacts of Austin’s expansion. It’s a complicated problem, with positive and negative impacts, and this is definitely a prime example of how Austin’s growth is literally shoving people out. In terms of SXSW, that too is just as complicated. That week brings the city the most revenue, while out-of-towners invade the city and over flow in to residential areas in East Austin. Residence’s front yards become the city’s parking lot, and no one ever asked permission. There is never a clear consensus from the locals, because some Austinites love it, while others despise it. The issue with Jumpolin just demonstrates how some residents suffer at the hands of a potential profit. Was that one event worth destroying a thriving business, you know?
O: What first drew you to this story?
PR: I’m enrolled in documentary class called East Austin Stories. It was around time to propose an idea for our first documentary and I was completely lost. I knew little about the area other than the issue of gentrification. I had initially been looking to do a documentary that highlighted a more positive aspect of the East Side, but when a classmate, who later became the editor of the project, Maggie Ball, sent out an email about the Lejarazus' story, I was in such shock, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to find out the details of the story, and that’s what drew me to it.
O: Why did you decide it was important to tell?
PR: It was story of injustice, and a blatant act of disrespect to the community. When I saw Mrs. Monica’s first interview, where she was crying and asking “why me?” it made me tear up. Being Hispanic, I had an emotional tie to the fact that it was a piñata shop. However, ultimately, I decided to tell this story because a family’s life was destroyed for a potential profit. It was important to me because it could have been anyone. At the end of the day, someone’s selfish decision cost a family their life’s work, and I wanted to do something that could help the Lejarazu's in any way possible.
O: What surprises or memorable moments came up while you were filming this piece?
PR: Given that the story was literally unfolding as we were filming was very intense because everyday could bring a new turn. A surprising moment happened just after we wrapped up filming (because the project was due) and it was Jordan French resignation as CEO of F&F Real Estate, the company that he founded. I felt like that was the ultimate form of justice being served, and payback for what he did to the Lejarazu's.
O: How much time went into the making of this documentary?
PR: It was over the course of 4 weeks, which was enough time given the assignment and scale of the coverage I was trying to get.
O: What improvements would you make looking back on the project?
PR: I would definitely have liked to just spend more time with the Lejarazu's family. I got to know them over the course of filming, but I would have liked to get a lot more coverage. School and other obligations got in the way. For the most part though, just spending more time with them.
O: What is the most important take away for you from making this documentary?
PR: I’d have to say that an important take away for me was the notion of helping each other, as corny as that sounds. That could have easily been anyone’s business, but the Lejarazu's were able to get back on their feet with the help of neighbors and friends. One thing I loved that Mrs. Lejarazu's said is that she thought she was going to spend all of her says at home crying, but she couldn’t help but work and be happy because of the support from the community.
O: What do you hope that the family can gain from this/ what is your hope for them in the future?
PR: I hope that the family can gain more support in this difficult time. I hope that they’re able to afford another location that they want, and that they can continue to thrive as a business and provide people with piñatas and party supplies, just like they want.
O: What do you hope the audience takes away from this story?
PR: I hope they audience takes away a general sense of compassion. What happened to the Lejarazu’s was a deliberate slap in their face, and an act of disrespect toward the community and Hispanic cultures. I hope they can understand that actions always have consequences, and that no amount of money is ever worth ruining someone else’s life.
O: What changes need to be made to stop issues like this from happening in Austin/ what do you see as a solution to this problem?
PR: I don’t feel like I know exactly everything there is to know about gentrification, or even enough to come to a black and white solution. The problem is so complicated because of the idea of capitalism, and growth. I just think the way to prevent problems like this from happening again is to have simple human decency, and not let greed control your decisions. In terms of changes, I think their should be more strict enforcement of prior contracts, and in depth consideration when deciding if advancements on new land developments should be made to avoid a situation like Jumpolin.
To support the Lejarazu's family you can visit their shop and buy their piñatas and party supplies at 4926 East Cesar Chavez St., or you can donate to their gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/pinatas.
Ramirez's documentary is embedded below. You can also watch it here.