Mexicans vs. Mexicans in Downtown Santa Ana Gentrification Shout-Off--Then Someone Yelled "Wetback"

Things getting hairy outside American Barbershop!
Things getting hairy outside American Barbershop!
Courtesy of Igmar Rodas/SAPD (Stop Abusing People's Derechos, that is!)

What began as an anti-police brutality march on Friday night turned into the latest chapter in downtown SanTana's gentrification wars--this time pitting Mexicans against Mexicans.

There was no problem when about 50 protesters initially assembled at a plaza on the intersection of Fourth and French streets around dusk. But when they returned from a rally at Sasscer Park (after a march that took them across the downtown area, with some activists chanting "Gentrification sucks!" and yelling "sell-outs" at patrons at the Playground, according to participants and onlookers), a near-melee happened at American Barbershop. That's where, protesters maintain, people flicked cigarette butts at them and yelled "Wetbacks!"

But who said the w-word and flung ciggies is leading to yet another battle, this time on the Internet.

"It's hard to say who started it," says activist "Amaru" from OC A-Cafe, an anarchist collective that sets up in public spaces to give away free books, clothes, and food. "The barbers were outside their shop when the march passed by."

Amaru, who declined to give his real name, wasn't going to bother with the shouting match, but changed his mind when he heard "wetback" come from the barber side of the street. "They're Mexican, so it was weird, but they're hipster Mexicans, I guess," he says.

Another protester heard the same slur. "I had the megaphone and crossed the street," says Cynthia Perez. "I heard someone say 'wetback.' Protesters wanted to go back to the barbershop but I redirected everybody on message [to the rally's original anti-cop intent]."

One-star reviews and threats of a boycott over the incident are flooding American Barbershop's Facebook and Yelp pages. Those comments are enraging owner George Mendoza, who was initially across the street during the confrontation, but rushed to his business once he saw protesters approaching it.

"They said, 'Fuck American Barbershop," he says. "Fuck you and your new restaurant [Mendoza is opening a German spot nearby called Wursthaus]. Fuck you and your little hipster haircuts!''

Mendoza denies his crew called anyone a wetback, and takes the accusation personally. "Oh, hell no!" he says. "We're all Mexican here! For God's sake!" Mendoza pointed to his Mexican parents crossing la linea to get to the United States, a fact he's mentioned in the past whenever activists accuse him of helping in Fourth Street's gentrification.

"They came illegally. My dad was deported two times," Mendoza says. "He'd get chased through LA coming home from his dishwashing job being called 'wetback.'"  

"These people are a bunch of dumbshit, fucking ignorant people!" Mendoza continued, referring to the protesters. He claims they promised to "fuck" him and his shop up. "It makes me embarrassed for my own people."

(After the interview, Mendoza took to Facebook and threatened to sue for defamation the protesters and anyone leaving negative reviews on his shop's Yelp and Facebook pages, as can be seen above. There, he also gave his side of the shout-off: "Naturally tempers escalated and the barbers yelled back 'take off your masks you fucken [sic] cowards'" to the protesters)

Santa Ana police were already on scene, given the march was originally against them. "I was told there was a disturbance between the barbershop and the protesters," says SanTana Police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna "The officers intervened and kept the peace. Everyone went about their way."

Protesters had a different take. Amaru claimed someone menaced him with a skateboard. "I got chased right in front of the cops," he says. "They just watched."

Another protester says men decked in bow ties and suspenders went after him and his friends. "We were walking away from the march," says Jordan Brocious. "Six of them ran through the parking structure to catch up to us looking for a fight."

The police got in between them. Brocious blames American Barbershop for the encounter.

"I used to go that barbershop," he says, "but not anymore."

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2

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