Eric Cocoletzi was used to people talking shit on Santa Ana. As a water polo player at Saddleback High School, he had to endure players from affluent teams raining down insults on the town he's called home since birth.
"We'd go to Costa Mesa or Newport, and all you hear is 'Bunch of Mexicans, bunch of gangsters,' " the 29-year-old says. " 'You're school is cheap. The city sucks.' People always hated on it, calling it low-class and not as good as them."
Flashforward a decade, and downtown Santa Ana is now a destination for the county's hipsters and foodies. But Cocoletzi became annoyed anew—this time at the area's acolytes. "People were looking at Santa Ana as a place where people can get fucked up and faded," he said. "The boosters only talked about the cool restaurants and the bars. But I felt people were forgetting that the artists made it happening and cool. And downtown Santa Ana isn't Santa Ana 100 percent. It doesn't represent the whole city."
Santanero is available at Cafe Calacas, 324 W. Fourth St., #B, Santa Ana, (714) 662-2002.
With no experience in publishing whatsoever, Cocoletzi and his pals decided to do something about it. On Cinco de Mayo 2012, the inaugural issue of Santanero popped up around the city, a free glossy zine filled with color photographs of art, interviews with city intellectuals, profiles on musicians and random doodles—Maximum Rocknroll via Harper's. On the cover was an homage to the cover of the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers: a closeup of Cocoletzi wearing a cinto piteado and Wranglers, the city's Mexican reality and Mexican-American future boldly asserting itself with no shame whatsoever.
Santanero (the word in Mexican Spanish for someone from Santa Ana) has published monthly ever since, with a vibrant Web presence that has given the city a literary sense of place by highlighting all sections of its life, from the trendy spots to the dives, from tales of police harassment to local comic-strip artists, from Chicano nerds to gabachos more Mexican than pochos. And Cocoletzi has emerged as an ambassador who straddles Santa Ana's brutal gentrification wars, as someone who isn't opposed to change but also demands that outsiders respect and interact with the working-class residents who made it so popular in the first place.
"Santa Ana is it in Orange County," he says. "No city is better—and I don't just say it because this is my home and I plan to live here my entire life. Everyone else can hate, but those of us who truly love it know what's up."
Publishing a zine seems an unlikely venture for Cocoletzi, even though he was once an English major. He currently works for the food department of the Santa Ana Unified School District and at Scott's Seafood in Costa Mesa; he dabbled in culinary arts, music, guitar-making, and even engineering in his college years. But in 2011, a downtown Santa Ana booster's group asked if Cocoletzi could head their social media efforts and create a magazine that would promote the area—a proposal that rankled him.
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"They wanted something like Better Homes and Gardens—very simple, la-dee-dah, smiley faces," he says. "I didn't want to do that." In particular, he opposed the proposed publication's emphasis on highlighting only certain businesses, and its outright exclusion of the Latinos who had operated businesses there for decades, who were slowly getting pushed out. In fact, Cocoletzi says he told the Latino merchants to contact the booster group and complain—at which point he and the group parted ways.
But the magazine idea stuck. "I'm old-school, I guess. I'm still physically attatched to the print form," he says. Using a pirated version of InDesign and Photoshop and learning how to use them via YouTube tutorials, Cocoletzi and a staff of five took two months to do their debut issue—"all trial and error, us fucking up and learning," he admits.
And it's still trial and error. Cocoletzi is turning the publication into a bimonthly because "we all lose money on this" every time Santanero gets published. He's still learning how to be an editor and publisher—"Writers, I tell you!" he says with a laugh. But with the positive feedback Santanero has received and a glut of submissions in the archives, Cocoletzi and crew plan to make the zine a fixture in Santa Ana life.
"A lot of people were impressed with the quality of it, and I did that on purpose," Cocoletzi says about his decision to make it so professional. "When people heard of it, they expected it to be a shitty zine—'It's a publication from Santa Ana by someone who hasn't done it before. It's going to be pretty crappy.' But I wanted people to respect what it was, and where it came from. Do it well, or don't do it at all."