News

Mobile-home park residents host holiday Posada

Following tradition, Buena Vista neighbors re-enact journey of Biblical Mary and Joseph

In long robes and accompanied by an angel, modern-day versions of Mary and Joseph, parents of the yet-unborn Jesus, beseeched residents of Palo Alto's Buena Vista Mobile Home Park for a place to stay on Sunday evening, Dec. 16.

Saul Bracamontes (Joseph) and Cory Gaytan (Mary) were following a centuries-old tradition as they wandered among the prefabricated homes, twinkling with holiday lights, looking for a place to rest their weary heads.

The Pedir Posada, or "asking for shelter," was started by Spanish missionaries in the U.S. during the 16th century. Designed to help native peoples convert to the Christian faith, it is practiced throughout Latin America today on the first day of Advent, according to the Knights of Columbus organization.

A combination of prayer, pageantry and celebration, the posada celebrates food, faith and joy. But Sunday's event -- the mobile-home park's first -- could also have been its last. Residents face losing their homes at the 86-year-old trailer park.

Buena Vista is an enclave of 115 mobile homes and 12 studio apartments behind a strip mall at 3980 El Camino Real and Los Robles Avenue. In September, the property owner announced that the land might be sold. Five days before the posada, residents met with Joe Jisser, whose family owns Buena Vista, and San Mateo development firm Prometheus, who outlined a process for closing down the park and developing a relocation plan for the nearly 400 residents.

Buena Vista could close by early 2014, Jisser said. Prometheus is proposing to build 180 high-end apartments.

A crowd of nearly 100 people, ranging from city firefighters to residents of surrounding neighborhoods, joined the holy couple, following them through the mobile-home park's streets with lit candles. The procession was both holiday event and political statement, as several residents donned "Save Our Homes" T-shirts.

Colorful paper flags, tinsel and holiday decorations strung across the alleyways fluttered in the gentle wind that proceeded an incoming storm. Greeters welcomed nearly 80 visitors from other neighborhoods, including Ventura, Greenmeadow and College Terrace. Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Karen Holman also attended.

Resident and greeter Melody Cheney said the posada was Buena Vista residents' way of thanking people for their support over the years.

The event offered a chance for outsiders to explore the fenced-off community, which many neighboring residents have passed by but in which few have entered, they said.

Barron Park Association board member Gwen Luce said she had never visited Buena Vista, even though her son lived there for a short time.

"I didn't realize there was such a strong community," she said, adding that she found the park was clean and orderly.

On Sunday, Luce and others followed the Joseph and Mary as they stopped at mobile home number 32. While one group of singers stood outside and asked for shelter, others inside responded by turning the couple away to the rattle of a tambourine:

"In the name of Heaven

Please give us some shelter,

for she cannot walk

my beloved wife ..."

"You are not at an inn

So keep on your way

For I cannot open

you might be a rogue.

"You can keep on walking

And do stop knocking

For if I get angry

I will beat you badly ..."

The crowd raised their candles and prayed for the Virgin of Guadalupe to protect the children. The procession flowed past inflated snowmen and blinking lights. They stopped at trailer space 24 -- the second "inn." The song was accompanied by a strumming guitar:

"Please show us some mercy;

Do grant us this favor,

For the God of heaven

will be sure to repay you.

"We are very tired

Came from Nazareth

Joseph is my name

Carpenter by trade ..."

"I don't care for the name," came the reply.

"Let me go to sleep,

because as I told you

I won't open to thee ... "

The group eventually arrived at the end of a row of trailers, where a plastic tent decorated as a cattle stall had been painted with images of the holy family and scenes from the birth of Christ. A baby Jesus lay in a manger surrounded by straw. Finally, Mary and Joseph found shelter and a home for the night.

The posada continued with hundreds of tamales, deep pots of red and green posole stew, tostadas, punch, hot coffee and pan dulce. Children laughed and ran amid cascading treats that dropped from a burst pinata.

Lynnie Melena, Barron Park Association president, said she had always stayed away from Buena Vista, largely because it was walled off by a wooden fence. It did not seem an accessible place to drive through as one might on other neighborhood streets, she said.

"It's always just been here. It hasn't been positive or negative; it's just been 'this place,'" she said.

The Barron Park Association hasn't taken a position on Buena Vista's survival; Melena said the association is made up of many people who do not share similar views. But the association might decide to make the park a topic for discussion at a community meeting, she said.

As the crowd thinned, residents danced to the pulses of folkloric music. Some grabbed the hands of reluctant outsiders and drew them into the crowd. Soon, they were caught up in the dance.

Buena Vista resident Blanca Fonseca reflected on the importance of the neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood sticking together. She pointed to a small trailer across the way from the manger. A man with schizophrenia lives there, and residents are helping him with his sickness, she said. Fonseca and others bring the man food, water and other supplies.

She pointed to another small trailer several doors down. Its windows were among the few that were dark.

"The man is in bed. He doesn't stand up anymore, but we help him; we help to dress him," she said.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

Are they using sacred Christian history to attempt to manipulate the outcome of the mobile home park in their favor, or maybe I'm just being cynical? It's not that I don't feel for them, I do. I just think they're perhaps misguided in expending their energy this way.


Like this comment
Posted by probably so
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm

first poster nailed it...


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Posted by Christian for social justice
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Another way to view it would be that they are making that sacred history contemporary and putting their faith into action as we are are called to do as Christians. Hard to see that as misguided in my book; au contraire.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Buena Vista sounds like a community full of caring people, but that doesn't change the fact that the infrastructure for the complex is failing and needs to be replaced.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Christian for social justice, thank you for your thoughtful input. I suspect it's a mix of my perspective and yours. PA Mom also contributed some wisdom.


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Posted by Myth reenactment
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I was driving on Middlefield Road Friday evening and hundreds, maybe even a thousand people were dressed in flowing robes probably re-enacting the ancient myth. I was saddened to see people trying to make something mythical seem real. And misleading their children so they will believe in something that never happened.
Very depressing, actually.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm

When in college, our humanities taught Judaeo-Christian Mythology along with Greco-Roman and other Mythologies.

Some folks NEED their myths...let them have them. Look at all the people who are here for freedom of mythology.


Like this comment
Posted by s
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 23, 2012 at 7:52 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Antoine Dodson
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm

*virtual fist bump to Anonymous*

Yep. Manipulation. Sorry. Not cool.


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Posted by BP resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Has the posada happened in years' past, or was this the first time? Why was mayor there? I hate to agree with the sentiment above, but it does feel manipulative and political. There are many lovely caring families residing there. Also undesirables, but that's true anywhere, any complex. It's going to be interesting... Some Palo Altans will want to preserve it, proposing major spending to fix the outdated sewer and gas infrastructure. I think the park has met it's maturation date.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2013 at 6:36 pm

This is in regards to these comments about religion. Millions upon millions of people use organized religion as a crutch. They use it to get by day to day and they believe that good things happen to them because of their faith. You'll find this everywhere you look from entertainment to politics,and in all of your neighborhoods. So why is it a problem when the Buena Vista residents use it as a "Hail Mary" just as they are about to be permanently discarded from their community. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Chris
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I attended the posada for the first time this year and--according to ten year resident I spoke with--it has a long history in that community. This doesn't surprise me given the predominant demographics of the park; many residents are from communities where the posada has been celebrated for centuries. This is a very strong tradition. This was not a protest, nor did it feel like one. It was a beautiful community gathering with food, traditional dance and music. There was not a word about the now-certain closure of the park. The parallels with the mythical search for shelter of Mary and Joseph were impossible to ignore, however, for those who understood the song (which was sung in Spanish, though a printed English translation was available). In sum, anonymous, I felt that this was the furthest thing from cynical. It was in fact joyous.


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Posted by What?
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 19, 2014 at 9:23 pm

"Buena Vista could close by early 2014, Jisser said." This doesn't make any sense. Do you mean 2015 or 2016 or??


Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 19, 2014 at 11:23 pm

The City now has at least $15 million in its affordable housing fund again. Maybe it's more by now. This is money that can't be spent any other way.

I hope the new City Council will consider trying to negotiate a long-term, very low interest loan to allow the residents to attempt to purchase the property. $15 million plus the $15 million they already raised makes $30 million. If the residents owned the park, the non-profit residents' group would be eligible to apply for grants to improve the park -- I'm guessing PAHC or other non-profits might help them with the application process if they needed it.

Most of the comments above are from people who live in other neighborhoods. While there is never anything unanimous, the majority of neighbors are in favor of saving the park (including those who opposed the Maybell rezoning) and improving it rather than it being razed and the neighbors evicted. Many of us live on this side of town because it is more diverse.

I think the posada is a beautiful tradition.


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