A practicing marriage and family therapist, Garcez has had nearly every milestone of her life take place in Santa Ana: She was born and raised there, attended school there (with the exception of her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at nearby Chapman University), met her husband and had a son there, and lives there.
Growing up, she loved the city’s diversity and Latino culture but was frustrated by the negative perceptions surrounding it. “People would ask where I was from and I would say ‘Santa Ana.’ They would say, ‘Really? From Santa Ana?’ And that always really, really bothered me—just how people (from here) were, frankly, looked down upon. So that’s when I felt like something needed to change, and I needed to do my part in that.”
Her first step came in 2018 through her creation of the Instagram account Santanera Living, named after the local term for a female native of Santa Ana. She initially posted artistic pictures of the city and promoted local businesses. “I wanted to highlight a different part of Santa Ana, the part that I knew, and that I know is there. And I think people really took to it because finally it was a positive side, a positive look at our city.”
As Santanera Living’s followers increased, the account evolved into a Chicano lifestyle brand for which Garcez designed clothing, jewelry, and decorations. While selling her wares, Garcez recognized the need for a more regular event to showcase Latino entrepreneurs and creative culture. “I was thinking of different places—Olvera Street in downtown L.A., San Diego has Barrio Logan—cities and areas of Chicano-owned businesses that have a rich culture and have different events that highlight that culture. And I feel like Orange County needs that.”
Her solution was Gente Market (gente means people in Spanish)—a monthly open-air market and festival. She and her family put on the first event at the Blue Lot in downtown Santa Ana in December 2019. Garcez chooses a theme for each event, and the lineup includes an array of food trucks, musicians, dancers, artists, plant installations, and crafts. July’s theme, Frida Fest, featured a Frida Kahlo look-alike contest. “I wanted to do this to create something for locals, for families, for all different types of classes and cultures to be able to mix in one space. If you come to our markets, you see a very diverse set of people. That’s why I called it Gente Market, because it’s like the people’s market. So my goal is to help a lot of these small businesses, these entrepreneurs, artists, to elevate their products in a way that people can really, truly see the beauty in them.”
Garcez’s idea has flourished, despite the challenges of rescheduling events and ensuring safety during the pandemic. “Our first market we had maybe 20 or 25 vendors, and probably 200 to 300 people showed up. And now we’re at a point where we have about 80 vendors and we’re at about 3,000 people attending our event. So in the past year and even through a pandemic, it’s amazing to me how much we have grown. I hope I can start working with other people in the community—other cultures—to do markets that are representative of (their) cultures as well.”