In a neighborhood faced with adversity, Washington residents lift spirits with modest holiday decor

Residents of the Washington neighborhood whipped out some aluminum foil these past two weekends, but not to preserving holiday leftovers, rather, it’s to preserve hope with modest sparkle by decorating trees, street lights and stop signs across a neighborhood devastated by crime and the pandemic.

Since March, Washington Neighborhood Association president Jesús Esparza, who helped lead the decoration project, said that his community has seen “the worst of the worst, everywhere.” Everything from COVID restrictions to deaths, robberies, stabbings and shootings.

“Truly, it has been a lot of frustration, fear, panic, stress, loneliness,” Esparza said in Spanish. “We are all going to work together to bring peace, harmony, solidarity, hope, love to our community, which we are sorely needing.”

Aluminum foil, red tape topped with a large, green bow adorns a tree on Cedar Avenue and 17th Street in the Washington neighborhood in Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

To begin with, a group of eight volunteers decorated and cleaned up any trash, starting at Henderson Avenue, moving on to Chestnut, Cedar, Pacific, Pine and Locust avenues.

In the past, the neighborhood has had a holiday decoration competition. This year, Habitat for Humanity, an organization stationed in the neighborhood, funded the materials, which consisted of only aluminum foil, thick, red tape as a substitute for ribbon, thin garland and large, red and green bows. While recognizing that not everyone in the community celebrates Christmas, Esparza said he wants to “awaken the Christmas spirit” through this gesture.

“Thank you very much. It looks good,” he recalled people yelling over to them. Esparza felt a warmth from neighbors as they expressed gratitude and joy “to see those details.”

Wherever 68-year-old Nestor Zea goes, he said he feels like people thought this would be the last year of Christmas. He lives on Cedar Avenue and 17th Street, one of the blocks that was decorated.

“This year, even though there is no work, people are not doing well financially, but now, people have a Christmas spirit,” said Zea, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, in Spanish.

Not that everyone necessarily feels that way.

“When are you guys going to remove that trash?” said Esparza, chuckling, as he recalled one neighborhood resident’s opinion of the street decorations. By the way, Esparza said the decorations will come down after Jan. 6, when el Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day), takes place.

Esparza hopes his neighborhood can also pull off a holiday car caravan this month, similar to their Día de los Muertos caravan this fall, featuring a man dressed as Santa Claus and low-budget gifts to giveaway.

“How nice that all the people that God loves keep the spirit alive from this day forward so that every day will be better,” Zea said.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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