Flores: The right thing to do
Activists and vendors carry signs protesting a proposed development on the site of the San Jose Flea Market. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

It is hard to do the right thing. But doing the right thing is always right. San Jose—and its elected leaders—have an opportunity today to do the right thing for its people.

The Google project is the largest land deal in the city’s history. From the announcement to the three years of dialogue between all those fighting to protect and serve the community, this project has been part of a very public process. As it should be.

The San Jose Flea Market is the second largest. It is home to more than 700 vendors, their employees and thousands of visitors—many of which were unaware of the plans to raze the 60-plus acres to build housing near the long anticipated BART station.

Why are these two projects being treated so differently? Why is public engagement—and outcry for that matter—seemingly absent?

I want to be clear—we need housing in San Jose. We need affordable housing. But why must we be forced to choose between housing and the livelihood of thousands of people of color working to earn an honest living here in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley? Why can’t we have both?

For years, we have all heard about the jobs to housing imbalance in San Jose. We have heard of the importance of bringing jobs to San Jose. So why are we allowing the erasure of thousands of jobs that support communities of color?

The San Jose Flea Market is economic justice incarnate for our communities of color. I know. I am proof of it. My family vended for nearly a decade at both the San Jose Flea Market and the Capitol Flea Market—lovingly known to my family as simply Las Pulgas.

In my family, there were no Saturday morning cartoons. My sister and I spent every weekend there. During the summer months, we bounced between the two markets, depending on which was open. I grew up there. I learned the importance of community and hard work and accountability to others there.

My immigrant parents found opportunity with these San Jose gems. They found community and upward mobility. They achieved the American Dream—a stable home, stable food and a better life for their children.

I am the fruit of the flea market. And I am not alone. There are generations just like me who have found upward mobility, stability and a higher quality of life. And this is what is truly at stake—opportunity for generations of communities of color that are found nowhere else but here in San Jose.

Are we really ready to give that up?

We all talk about how we live in the center of innovation. I challenge all those involved in this decision—Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, David Cohen, Magdalena Carrasco, Dev Davis, Maya Esparza, Sylvia Arenas, Pam Foley and Matt Mahan—to be innovative, to think bigger, to be bolder and see what I see.

This is a hard thing to do, but it is the right thing to do.

Mayra Flores is the daughter of immigrants, a proud native San Josean and District 3 resident. 

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