Photo: Current Jumpolin Piñata Store location at 2605 E Cesar Chavez in East Austin.
By Mike Talavera
The Jumpolin Piñata Store, a staple of the East Austin community for over 10 years, announced the closure of its storefront this morning. The statement posted to social media was signed by the owners, the Lejarazu family, and unapologetically blamed gentrification for the store’s demise. Despite the sad news, the family concluded the statement with a message of optimism.
“We are not defeated, because we have seen the work our community has put into combating and slowing down this mass displacement and support it to the fullest,” the statement reads. “Although we are closing our doors, we hope to see more resistance from our community and wish to continue to serve them in any ways we can.”
Monica Lejarazu told Incendiary that the decision to close had been made about a month ago. “We have accepted that the community that once had such a demand for piñatas and [party] rentals is dwindling quickly from the east side,” she said, “and that the new wave of people just don’t value our work enough.”
The demolition of Jumpolin’s original storefront in 2015 helped spark today’s thriving anti-gentrification movement in Austin, led by revolutionary organization Defend Our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio (DOH) which formed in the aftermath of the blatant act of profit-driven displacement. On February 12 of that year, landlords F&F Real Estate Ventures bulldozed the building housing Jumpolin at the time, which was located at 1401 Cesar Chavez St., to clear the lot for a party as part of the corporate tech and music festival South by Southwest. F&F did this without warning while the owners drove their daughter to school, their merchandise and personal belongings still inside. Images of the store in ruin made national headlines.
Jordan French, co-owner of F&F with Darius Fisher, fueled the anger of the community even more when he made racist remarks about the Lejarazus, who are Mexican immigrants, in an interview a few days after the demolition. “Say you have a house that was infested by roaches,” French said. “You have to clean that up.”
‘Cockroach’ is a slur historically used against Mexican people and those of Mexican descent, including the Chicano people of the Southwest.
A coalition of activists and community members quickly emerged to support Jumpolin and resist F&F. The ruthless act of displacement did more than destroy the livelihoods of the Lejarazus; it clearly demonstrated the class character of gentrification.
Since the early 2000s, East Austin, which for generations had been a working-class neighborhood with racially segregated enclaves for Austin’s Black, Chicano, immigrant masses, has become the target of greedy developers who seek to reshape it to attract wealthier residents and increase property values and rents, the common pattern of gentrification seen worldwide. At one time, the Holly neighborhood where Jumpolin has operated was one of the most quickly gentrifying zip codes in the US.
The culmination of the community coalition’s efforts was the adoption of a boycott of F&F and any business that took advantage of their anti-working class business practices. In August of that year, entrepreneur Rebecca Gray knowingly crossed that picket line when they signed a lease with F&F to open the now-infamous Blue Cat Café.
Blue Cat opened its doors a few months later in October 2015, and the militant response to this violation sowed the seeds for the combative organizing that would lead to the formation of DOH.
Beginning with sidewalk protests, resistance to Blue Cat’s operation was met with retaliation from Gray and her reactionary allies, who would harass and mock these first picket lines. DOH itself officially formed in February 2016 as some of the activists involved sharpened their analysis of gentrification and saw the need for more revolutionary forms of organization.
Later that year, Gray accused DOH of being responsible for graffiti that appeared on Blue Cat that read “Fuck You Gentrifier Scum,” and InfoWars host Alex Jones and other reactionaries rallied to her cause, helping her raise $15,000 to keep the gentrifying business alive. Comments on Gray’s gofundme page made explicit threats against those resisting Blue Cat Café, like “I hope these protesters die a slow and horrible death.”
In 2017, the extent of Gray’s reactionary ties was exposed when her Nazi brother Paul Gray and his fascist friends attacked a picket of Blue Cat. The protesters defended themselves and split open the head of Erik Sailors, who would later be caught putting up Nazi propaganda with Paul at Texas State University.
While the community boycotted Blue Cat, the Lejarazus managed to open a new Jumpolin storefront further down Cesar Chavez St. The new location included a wall, curated by DOH and ATX Barrio Archive, dedicated to the former community institutions and businesses that once served the predominantly Chicano, Mexican immigrant community of the East Austin barrio.
A few months after its three-year anniversary, Blue Cat Café finally closed in February 2019, almost four years to the day after Jumpolin’s demolition. Gray and her business associates were unable to withstand the wide array of tactics DOH and the community had carried out against it. Shortly after, DOH held a mock funeral to commemorate the hard blow to F&F’s profits that the closure signified.
While the takedown of Blue Cat will forever be marked as a victory in the history of the anti-gentrification movement in Austin and the US in general, this month’s closure of Jumpolin shows that the capitalist forces of gentrification continue to terrorize and displace the working class and oppressed nations.
“Even if we hadn’t experienced the demolition that made worldwide news, it’s very possible that we would be in the same position we are today, because gentrification isn’t always an overnight thing, but a gradual process,” the Jumpolin statement posted today reads. “With our store closing, we are being pushed out not by the vindictive act of a landlord, but the reality of a city and system that actively denies opportunities to the working class and the businesses that serve them.”
While boycotts against gentrifiers like Blue Cat or larger campaigns like the ongoing DOH-led movement against the Domain on Riverside project on East Riverside are necessary fights to be waged against the forces of displacement, the Jumpolin statement rightly recognizes that these struggles are only part of the greater fight to overthrow the ruling class and to build a new society in its place to serve the common good. Only through revolution can the root cause of gentrification, imperialism, truly be put to an end.
Recently, graffiti reading “Boycott F&F” appeared on the building which used to house Blue Cat, showing that the community boycott still stands.
Former Blue Cat Cafe storefront with “Boycott F&F” graffiti
Incendiary has closely covered Jumpolin’s story since our publication started, and we admire and applaud the defiance which today’s statement resolutely expresses. We encourage our readers to continue to support the Lejarazus, who will maintain Jumpolin’s business via their social media accounts, offering the party rental and piñata services that have made them a beloved part of Austin’s working-class community.
“[Our] optimism comes from the incredible support we have received from the community,” Monica Lejarazu said.