“SanTana’s Fairy Tales” Tells Grim Stories of City’s Gentrification Battles

In the imagination of Chicana author Sarah Rafael Garcia, the story of SanTana is best told through fairy tales. The city’s native daughter returned last year with a literary vision for her home. Through SanTana’s Fairy Tales, she wanted the folklore of the city to become the untold history of its everyday gente—a place where murals are animate and authorities are phantasmal, villainous ogres. Starting as six individual zines, the tales have finally woven together into a bilingual book that celebrates its release on Saturday.

“The idea of publishing a second book hasn’t quite settled with me yet,” says Garcia of SanTana’s Fairy Tales, the followup to her debut Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories. “Most of my time since January has been on organizing the exhibition and promoting the ‘open book’ performance, which makes it all surreal.”

The author has been an artist-in-residence for the better part of a year at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. She studied Grimm’s fairy tales and Latin American folklore, but most importantly the city itself. SanTana’s Fairy Tales begins with “The Carousel’s Lullaby” where Billy Spurgeon plays the part of an eternal city father who jingles coins in his pocket. Gentrification transforms the Fiesta Marketplace into the East End, taking a carousel where Latino children played along with it, leaving behind only rumors of its ghostly apparition.

“I realized the nostalgia for the carousel also spoke to various narratives in the immigrant experience,” says Garcia. “On a personal level, I, too, wondered what keeps me longing for a city which no longer exists.”

While gentrification may have reshaped downtown, the divisions in and around it are all too real, even in fairy tale form. Garcia’s book counters headlines and reporting on the Latino community in SanTana that a reader would have found in the Orange County Register over the years. Her characters ascend from below, like Zoraida, a SanTana transwoman activist found murdered in Anaheim. In “Zoraida y Marisol,” the slain soul become a consoling fairy godmother to other transwomen but not without reading her birth name “Gabriel” in accounts of the crime.

In another tale, Doña Carmen similarly communes with the ghost of Modesta Avila, OC’s first convicted felon who died in custody after protesting the Southern Pacific Railroad running tracks through her San Juan Capistrano property in 1889. Doña Carmen holds steadfast against developers wanting her home. But even her stubbornness can’t stop the neighborhood from changing around it. A paletero named Don Gustavo disappears, replaced by a hipster ice cream spot. The real life fairy tale muses for “Just a House” are in SanTana if readers know where to look.

Back in March, Grand Central Art Center hosted an exhibit based on Garcia’s latest work and Carla Zarate’s accompanying art, with a polished horse from the discarded downtown carousel as part of the display. The publication of SanTana’s Fairy Tales in full will be marked by two “open book” performances on Saturday night with help from Viento Callejero’s Gloria Estrada and local singer/songwriter Ruby Castellanos backed by Pacific Symphony musicians.

While Garcia’s fairy tales may not end “happily ever after,” and will be hard pressed to change static opinions on all things SanTana, they’ll challenge both sides from ever looking at the city the same way again, including the author. “I see us fighting the same fight for over a century,” Garcia says. “We’re the largest border town without a border but with plenty of city officials and urban developers still seeking to build a wall.”

Open book performance of “SanTana’s Fairy Tales” featuring Ruby Castellanos, Gloria Estrada and Pacific Symphony Musicians at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Free. All ages.

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