‘We need help’: Long Beach takes first steps in creating a Latino cultural district

Long Beach is looking to create a cultural district for Latinos that would serve as an economic hub for the city’s largest racial demographic.

The new district, called El Mercado de Long Beach (“The market of Long Beach”), would be a space that could also help Latinos recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as data shows this group was hit particularly hard.

The location of this district has not yet been determined, but officials from Downtown’s District 1 say given the sizable Latino population in the city’s core, it will likely be located there, possibly near Cesar E. Chavez Park.

The city is early on in the process, embarking now on a feasibility study, approved Tuesday by the City Council. But advocates say they hope the district would provide business opportunities, along with support and resources for food insecurity, housing and health care access.

“The white flag has been raised here,” said Centro CHA executive director Jessica Quintana, who proposed the concept to city leaders. “We need help.”

Data from the city shows Latinos are concentrated in areas that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The 90806, 90805, 90810 and 90813 ZIP codes—Central Long Beach, North Long Beach, Downtown and West Long Beach, respectively—have the highest case rates in the city. These areas also have the lowest vaccination rates, a problem city officials have acknowledged.

CesarChavezPark03.31.16

File photo of Cesar E. Chavez Park on March 31, 2016.

Specifics on how the new district would address these issues are still unclear, but city officials say that the feasibility study will likely answer those questions in the coming months.

The study will also investigate funding sources for the district, including grants, Measure US funds, a bond measure, foundation support and government funding opportunities, according to a city memo. Staff would also need to explore zoning rules for the project before proceeding.

Beyond providing services, Quintana said that El Mercado would be a designated space for a Latinos who “don’t have a sense of belonging,” adding that many struggle with language barriers.

The city has several historical districts that are meant to preserve the city’s architectural heritage, but it has no districts specifically designated for racial groups. While Cambodia Town in Central Long Beach shares some similar qualities to El Mercado, Cambodia Town is categorized as a business corridor.

Officials say the idea for a cultural district has been discussed and supported by many city leaders since the 1980s. More recently, Quintana and her team presented an updated concept, El Mercado de Long Beach, during a January meeting for the Latino Cultural Center, a separate cultural project that has still not debuted.

“El Mercado de Long Beach is an exciting vision that’s been happening for years,” Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who represents District 1, said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “I think that the timing is perfect right now, and it’s long overdue.”

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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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