Santa Ana "Resurrected"? When Did it Ever Die?

Fourth Street, SanTana: mid 1950s. What was so great about these segregated days?
Fourth Street, SanTana: mid 1950s. What was so great about these segregated days?

Orange County is a place where booster myths have masqueraded as fact and history since the days of Serra, but an article in this month's Orange Coast by former Los Angeles Times writer Agustín Gurza on SanTana and its Artists Village takes the orange crate label. It starts with the title ("The Resurrection of Santa Ana," implying the county seat was once dead, which should come as a surprise to all the Mexicans who've continuously been around the town for, oh, the past 110 years) and only gets stranger and more inaccurate from there.

Gurza's thesis is that all the controversies surround the establishment of the Artists Village in the middle of one of the most Latino big cities in the United States are over, that hipster and bohemian now cohabit fine with wab, and that he can't believe it but now firmly does, and did Mayor Don Papi Pulido mug Gurza and take over the keyboard for a bit? There is no mention in the article of the Renaissance Specific Plan, about its chronic infection of conflict-of-influenza, and how those same activists Gurza describes as essentially accepting of the city's initiative to establish a hip downtown by subsidy (bowdlerized in the piece as redevelopment funds) were the very "rabble-rousers" who stopped that plan cold last year. Or the vacancies plaguing the area. Or all the struggles that the annual Dia de los Muertos event have in trying to placate the loft dwellers next to the Yost Theater (no mention of that place at all), or the organizers' eternal suspicion of the artists in the area for better or worse.

And some of Gurza's statements are flat-out wrong.

SanTana is not the "Rodney Dangerfield of Orange County cities"; that would be Stanton. SanTana is our Norma Desmond--the former belle of the ball, now schizo about its reality. Those "Tijuana taxis" Gurza says are now gone from Fourth Street are still there; my uncle took one the other week. SanTana still has a stigma in the rest of Orange County, will have one until Mexicans take over South County as well--that's the sad truth, one Artist Village boosters just don't want to believe. Out-of-towners have been afraid to pass through SanTana since at least the 1960s; I have an

Orange County Register

article from 1986 in which Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce head Mike Metzler says his then-girlfriend from Anaheim would bypass the city when going to the beach.

In the 1960s

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, when our Sunkist memories residents say the city was still the center of life in Orange County and free of the illegal-alien invasion.

And the whole idea that the downtown where the Artist Village now exists was dead and that all those quinceañera shops nearby made non-Mexis "feel exluded" is not only contradictory but downright dismissive of the merchants who give the city its second-largest shopping base after MainPlace. "Santa Ana now stands for something, and it's not gangs or illegal immigrants," Gurza wrote. "It stands for art that's edgy and experimental, informal and antiestablishment, as the artists themselves define it. But it also stands for a pioneer spirit, the spirit of visionaries who took chances, not knowing what the future would bring."

And all those Mexicans who filled up those spaces when no one else would and without the city's help? Not pioneers? Then maybe Injuns who merely occupied the land until the wasichu arrived and developed the frontier to its full potential? See how ridiculous Gurza's argument stands?

What's most surprising about the piece is that it's Gurza who wrote it. Back in the day, Gurza was Orange County's Ruben Salazar, a crusading columnist (first with the Register, then the Times, back in the days when paper could afford Latino columnists) so Aztlanista he'd made me look like Lupe Moreno. Wrote great pieces about Latino O.C.--its trials and tribulations, history and haters. The Times stupidly axed his column axed in 2001, and he continued as an excellent arts and culture writer. Gurza isn't clueless, but has his time away from the city he once covered warped his writing knife?

Oh, and before my amigos come out of the shadows and paint me as some Artist Village antagoniste: stop it. Either Edwin or I have praised every non-Mexican downtown restaurant except one. Johnny Sampson at Memphis gets me wasted nearly every week. I have friends who own businesses or galleries in the area. Don't go to many of the galleries, but that's because my idea of art largely ends at Norman Rockwell and R. Crumb (am going to that show at the Grand Central Arts Station). No, what's offensive to me is the idea that the area was dead until the city stepped into save it. Sure, it wasn't the most appealing of spots (my father lived in SanTana during the 1970s and frequented downtown through the end of his alcoholic days in the mid-1980s, and he says there were bars even he wouldn't frequent).

But there were Mexicans there. Mexicans saved SanTana's downtown. Mexicans believed in it back in the days when Don Papi fought against the very redevelopment he now proposes. They filled the buildings no one else would at the time, and with no city funds. If it weren't for Mexicans, SanTana would've probably knocked down the historic buildings that make the Artist Village so purty like Anaheim did with its old downtown. But credit something good to Mexicans in this county? Nah...

Full disclosure: Gurza doesn't particularly like me, but is my Facebook friend.
Fuller disclosure: He concludes his piece with glowing words about my chica and her store. Fullest disclosure: I'm from Anaheim. We're the true center of la naranja. Wabaheim RAWWWWWWWWWWKS! 

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