On the Ruins of Jumpolin

Activists still protesting Blue Cat Cafe

Last Friday, protesters disrupted an on-site animal adoption event at the Blue Cat Cafe, which stands on the same site where last year landowners F&F Real Estate Ventures demolished the Jumpolin piñata store.

Monica and Sergio Lejarazu during the demonstration (by John Anderson)

The protest was organized by Defend Our Hoodz, a group that emerged in the wake of that demolition to protest the landowners as well as anyone who leases from them.

The Kitten Wonderland event showcased rescue shelters from Pflugerville, Bastrop, and other parts of Central Texas in an effort to help accommodate the overflow most shelters experience during the summer months. Rebecca Gray, the cafe’s owner, said that events like this are also important for raising money to cover the maintenance costs of the cats that call Blue Cat Cafe home. “About $400-500 of work goes into each cat,” she said. “That doesn’t pay for itself!”

When demonstrators lined up on the sidewalk, some potential adopters walked out while others responded more aggressively. Multiple attendees hurled insults at the protesters, and some tried to physically accost them and had to be restrained by security guards.

Defend Our Hoodz contends that Friday’s picket pales in comparison to the disorder caused by Blue Cat Cafe and F&F, both to the East Town Lakes neighborhood and to Sergio and Monica Lejarazu, the owners of Jumpolin. “We’ve been picketing special events at Blue Cat Cafe as a deliberate strategy to counteract the normalization of the space as a place for celebration and things that Austin considers innocuous, like music events, ice cream socials, etc.,” a Defend Our Hoodz supporter said. (All representatives of Defend Our Hoodz the Chronicle spoke with declined to be named.)

From Gray’s perspective, the ongoing protests started out against Jordan French and Darius Fisher, co-owners of F&F, but have now become against “gentrification in general.” Defend Our Hoodz agrees, but emphasizes that right now the group’s focus is on Blue Cat Cafe. “We saw this [event] as an escalation on [Gray’s] part,” a spokesperson said, “because it was the first time she was explicitly throwing an event on the patio outside, which directly sits on Jumpolin’s ruins.”

A Defend Our Hoodz member, who is from the neighborhood, said that the group continues to protest the cafe to remind customers where their money is going. “In this capitalist system, F&F is not going to care much about a bunch of neighbors telling them how horrible they are,” they said. “They already know how horrible they are; that’s their business practice. What they are more likely to listen to is the sound of folks choosing not to reward F&F for their destructive practices and choosing not to contribute to their profits.”

French declined to comment and Fisher could not be reached by time of publication.

Serve the People, a self-identified revolutionary political organization from the Eastside, also participated in the protest. An STP spokesperson said that Blue Cat Cafe can expect disruption of events in the future: “They should not be allowed to have peace on a site that was ripped out from under the Lejarazu family. If they want peace they should move west of [I-35].”

Thirteen cats were adopted in total at the event, and Gray said that she wants her business to continue to positively contribute to the neighborhood. “We employ thirteen people, and we don’t sell expensive food or drinks,” she said. “I love the Eastside, and I’m proud to be here and provide jobs and adoptions for cats and have coffee.”

Another Defend Our Hoodz member, also from the neighborhood, said that sometimes in Austin it feels like the needs of animals are more important than the needs of the Mexican-American community. “[Gray] hides behind a bunch of cats, because she knows most white people care more about animals than a bunch of Mexicans, blacks, homeless, or displaced people,” they said.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Blue Cat Cafe, Defend Our Hoodz, Monica and Sergio Lejarazu, piñatas, Jumpolin, Rebecca Gray

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