Benjamin “Elote Man” Ramirez is the Hero and Argument That Anti-Gentrification Activists Need

I’ve covered Orange County’s gentrification wars for the past 15 years as a reporter for OC Weekly, and seen it played out across the country with the same, lame lofts, refurbished apartments and light-rail boondoggles. This infestation has taken over formerly working class neighborhoods from San Francisco’s Mission District to Denver’s barrios, from D.C. to NYC. And that’s why I think the assault on the food cart of Benjamin Ramirez has an unwitting silver lining: it’s made the most eloquent case against gentrification yet.

Ramirez, of course, is the Hollywood elotero whose corn and raspado business was overturned by some asshole Argentine in a video that has gone viral and has led to all sorts of fundraisers for Ramirez. Here’s the ABC-TV Channel 7 story:

The assault came at a time where gentrification is getting national play thanks to clamorous rallies outside Weird Wave Coffee in Boyle Heights this past month, and the outright anger at a hipster restaurant last week that opened in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood with bullet-scarred walls as decor. But now and for years, anti-gentrification activists have had to deal with a sad reality: people in general don’t care about their cause. The economic changes gentrification bring have been almost unstoppable despite such resistance—just check all the children of Mexican immigrants who patronize the hipster bars and restaurants in downtown SanTana, and just down another IPA when their leftist peers accuse them of being vendidos.

Gentrification is a visceral topic to those affected by it, but one big shrug to a public that doesn’t want to hear about opaque-to-them topics like displacement and community benefits agreements and land trusts. Un-woke folks get turned off by radical actions, and proponents gleefully point out inconsistencies, like why some businesses get ridiculed while others don’t, as the Los Angeles Times recently, lamely tried to do with an editorial and a Steve Lopez column. Even when protestors try to calmly state their case, politicians and developers and gentrifiers usually counter with a false dichotomy—What don’t anti-gentrification activists like about progress?—that puts activists on the defensive and that the public at large swallows without question.

And then came the elotero.

Ramirez shouldn’t have gone through the shit he did, and thank God he’s okay. But the video captures perfectly the struggle that anti-gentrification have talked about for years. Say “economic violence,” and most people will roll their eyes—but show an actual workingman getting his delicious livelihood tossed onto the sidewalk, and it suddenly makes sense. Hipsters are so easily mockable, and thus almost impossible to convince skeptics they’re dangerous—but see some tatted-up pendejo in a Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirt, shitty hat, sunglasses, bushy beard, and skinny jeans walking a boxer (and enabled by a foul-mouthed gabacha) get triggered and violent against corn, and now arguments about privilege and entitlement make sense.

And then comes the most valuable lesson of the video: Ramirez no se dejó. He didn’t allow the asshole to win. Not only did Ramirez record the encounter, he threw a can of chile powder at the boludo and called the cops—SAVAGE.

That’s why the video has gone as far as it has. Ramirez was no victim: he stood his ground against the personification of gentrification. It was a commedia dell’arte, with Ramirez as the triumphant victor and the Guns ‘n’ Roses idiot as a stock villain out of Snidely Whiplash. Unintentionally, Ramirez’s stand was for all the Mexican beer bars shut down, for all the quinceañera shops ridiculed by people who don’t blink at seven coffee shops in a two-block radius, for all the immigrant families priced out of their residences. He’s the EveryHombre now elevated to hero, the argument to the question of what hath gentrification wrought—and the righteous response.

Seriously, anti-gentrification gente: next time you want to state your case, roll the tape (and then follow with this King of the Hill episode). All-day workshops and funny memes and fliers are fine, but we live now in a video age, you know? ¡QUE VIVA EL ELOTERO!

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