Stuck on La Mesa

Photo by Mary York Amber Wilson, a manager at The Hills Local Pub, holds up one of John Fonseca’s “We are One Strong Community” stickers. The stickers were made available for free at the pub as well as other locations around La Mesa in an effort to encourage the community following the economic fallout and social unrest.

They are everywhere – hanging off the side of the Walmart in Grossmont Center, posted up by the police station, stickering lamp posts in the La Mesa Village. Banners, signs and stickers saying “We are One Strong Community” have popped up all over town to remind residents that the struggles of recent events do not define the community.

The decals were conceived and produced by John Fonseca of Fonsecas Design Shop, a La Mesa-based business that specializes in graphic design, silkscreening, apparel and promotional products.

They were originally meant to encourage the community in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“The message of these signs took on another meaning for me after the riots,” Fonseca said. “My boys and I, like many of us, watched in disbelief as mayhem unfolded.  We watched our bank burn along with the beautiful Randall Lamb building. We saw the image on the news of the fire chief’s truck ablaze. It was the same truck which my team had worked on earlier in the week repairing the graphics. The banner at the police station we had just donated was short lived, as it too was torn down and burnt. It was a long night for many of us.”

Fonseca said he turned out with the hundreds of volunteers that came to clean up La Mesa on Sunday morning, May 31, after rioters ripped through the village looting and burning businesses.

“The very essence of our city was crushed,” he said. “You could see it in the faces of fellow La Mesans and business owners.”

So, he turned again to his We are One Strong Community message and re-envisioned it.

“I decided to print a few thousand stickers with the same message to do something to help support and unify our community,” he said.

The stickers have found their way across La Mesa, available for free at Grossmont Center’s guest services, Copy It, The Hills Local Pub and Act II.

Amber Wilson, a manager and lead support at The Hills Local Pub said the stickers have been a hit.

“People have been coming in saying, ‘Can we get some of these stickers?’” said Wilson. “I love La Mesa, it’s amazing to see the support.”

Just weeks after COVID-19-related restrictions on local restaurants and business were eased, some Village business owners found themselves having to rebuild after the May 30 protest turned into a night of chaos. The protest was originally a response to the death of George Floyd, a man who died while in police custody, and the alleged racial profiling of a Black man in La Mesa by local police.

Authorities and witnesses said the protest was hijacked by extremist groups who used it as an opportunity to burn and pillage shops, stores and offices in the area.

Despite a large turnout of volunteers from around the county the following morning to help clean up the broken glass, graffiti and debris, many businesses in La Mesa, even those not in the Village area, boarded up their windows and storefronts as a precaution. As protests continued around San Diego county, the La Mesa City Council and other parts of East County adopted curfews, many of which lasted until Monday, June 7, and California Governor Gavin Newsom sent in the National Guard to occupy La Mesa for nearly a week.

Mark Robak, a commercial real estate broker in the Village, said the unrest could be a hindrance to economic recovery.

“We need to get all this wood down,” Robak said of the boarded windows in the Village. “If the pandemic wasn’t bad enough, this is crazy.”

Fonseca, who was born in Mexico and moved to La Mesa with his parents in 1986, said he has seen both racism and role models in the local police. The power to change what may be unjust in society, he said, lies with the community.

“My involvement over the years in the community has led me to forge friendships with many of our La Mesa police officers. I know these officers to be genuinely good people who, like many of us, love La Mesa,” said Fonseca. “It is my belief that we all bear some responsibility for the erroneous cultural and racial beliefs that society at large accepts and is comfortable with… This is our family, our community, our society and our nation. I have a renewed sense of hope for our small community because change is here.”

Fonseca said he hopes the message he printed and the community distributed is an encouragement toward that change.

“Be prepared to bring solutions, be prepared to listen, be prepared to change and let’s not confuse effort with results… Do your part to fix what you don’t like,” he said. “I hope that these decals and banners play a small role in helping La Mesa heal.”