By Augustine Ugalde
An unyielding passion to introduce and develop artistic interest into eastside community youth is the driving force behind Espacio 1839 in Boyle Heights.
Part retail store, part radio station and part community service organization, Espacio 1839 brings together four artisans dedicated to spreading the eastside culture through their work.
Co-owners Nico Avina, Elisa Garcia, Marco Amador and David Gomez bring their talents to the organization that range from music, to painting and graphic design, according to Avina.
Avina, who was born and raised in Boyle Heights, said the four friends have known each other for a number of years but didn’t know they were destined to begin a business together.
“We weren’t looking to open up a store,” Avina said.
Avina was approached by the building owner while displaying his art at the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market during a Caminarte (art walk) event, setting-off a series of events that led to the founding of Espacio 1839.
Avina said the owner was impressed with his art and with the work the artists were doing within the community and offered him the space.
The espacio in Espacio 1839 translates to “space” from Spanish to English and helps define the type of organization it is.
It is more than just a retail outlet and more than a radio station; it is a space where the community can learn about its culture.
The organization engages the community with panel discussions about issues that affect the east side through meetings, art receptions and film and by offering artistic workshops to community youth.
Radio Sombra plays a variety of music rooted in the eastside culture ranging from local artists to music dedicated to the plight of the people of color, according to Avina.
“We wanted to build community pride and a sense of being proud of where you came from,” Avina said.
The organization caught the eye of Mexican-born, rapper/singer, Maya Jupiter, who was so taken by the work being done by the cooperative that she came to Boyle Heights to get involved.
Her radio show, Black Beans, Brown Rice, Radio, strives to create awareness of social issues and injustices that exist for people of color.
The self-described social activists felt an immediate connection with Espacio 1839 and the surrounding community.
“It felt very comfortable to have my show hosted by Radio Sombra. It has a very family oriented, supportive feel to it,” Jupiter said.
She has been actively involved with weekend youth workshops that takes students through the radio show production process culminating in the “Por Vida Youth Radio,” an all-student show.
“This is a center for community building,” Jupiter said.
Although Avina owes his inspiration to the murals and local music he experienced while growing up in Boyle Heights, he has been greatly influenced by the late, Jose Alfredo Jimenez.
He cites an inspirational, Spanish quote by the Mexican singer/songwriter which roughly translates to, “the day the community is no longer supportive of us, we know we are no longer reflective of the community.”
The group’s long term goal is to expand its workshop sessions and to continue to instill a sense of cultural pride and community in young people.
“We know we want to be here for a long time,” Avina said.
Espacio 1839 is located on 1839 First St., Los Angeles, Calif 90023 and can be reached at (323) 265-3730. Radio Sombra’s web address is radiosombra.org.