It’s no secret that Stockton, which lies on Yokuts and Miwok territory, has a reputation. For those of us who grew up here, we know what parks to avoid depending on whether the sun is out (or whether to avoid them completely). We know the corners where candles and photos polkadot the ground are in memoriam of lost loved ones (more commonly, teens gone too soon). We know Madison Market used to be the spot to kick it but now even walking past the parking lot very easily could be a death sentence (ashè to the countless lives taken and transformed). To us, this is just the way it is; or at least to some of us.

For Luna and Luis Mario, it’s only the sun they see. Where some would say danger lurks or thrives even, Luna and Luis Mario find a village of people worthy of healing. They call it El Pueblo del Sol. For years, young creatives have brought one time art shows to the community to showcase the relationship between Stockton and creating. While others have been only one night, “we are not a pop up shop,” Luna said. “We are a community, cultural celebration.” One that is mobile. It is not the reputation of the city that binds the people, Luis Mario said. Luna said Sol unites us as “The sun is above all of us.” On a grey day in mid February, the sun was hidden only from sight. El Pueblo del Sol’s “Dia del Amor and La Amistad Celebracion” brought the warmth needed during the gloomy days of quarantine. While Stockton saw losses due to COVID-19, we also saw community members take their own lives as an aftermath of isolation.

The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, created by nonprofit hospitals in San Joaquin County, identified mental health and economic security as the highest priority for future public health efforts. The county showed higher rates of mental instability, suicide being among the most prevalent issues. Luna is no stranger to the importance of mental health. Although her family bounced from city to pueblo, her time on Miwok and Yokuts territory has partially been spent living next to the California St. Behavioral Health Services center where her mother took refuge for a period of time.

“We want to transmute the energy of Stockton to positive, love, abundance,” said Luna. “It seems necessary at this time.”

Having grown up in different places culturally, socially, and economically, Luna says she’s been able to carry the many lessons of cities with her into the vision she and Luis Mario have for El Pueblo del Sol. She’s been in Stockton for years but she said her and her family “didn’t have an established home.” She recalls Wilmington as a former home and labels it a “gentrified area.” Where culture used to pulsate the earth beneath, now resides corporate establishments like banks and restaurants and “it’s in ruins.” Another home was Compo Esperanza, a rural village with mango trees, pigs, chickens, and canals. Here she learned one of her greatest lessons, how to adapt to and with nature: “If the village flooded, we swam in the flood.” Come rain or shine, read the flier for the event.

Growing up on the decayed streets of the southside, Luis Mario from Filbert St knows well the value of having an outlet.

“Being able to showcase art is an opportunity for folks to show who they are,” said Mario. This is what he does as a graffiti artist, among many other trades. “Art is a culture in Stockton,” he said. When the mayor of the city commissions a 70-foot mural to honor a community activist, we find that Stockton does indeed value art. Graffiti, though, has a reputation much like Stockton. Bad thing they say. Cause damage. Luis Mario envisions something more beautiful.

“I want youth to know that graffiti is a form of art,” said Mario. This artisan skill of spray can kaleidoscope is something he wants to perfect.

“The more you master your skills, the more you heal others,” said Mario. “This brings a respectful honor to your life. There’s no reason to master a craft and be selfish by not teaching or not returning to the community.”

48C51A42-B038-4F4C-B8AC-9301419862DE.jpeg At one of many El Pueblo del Sol’s public, open-air events. Photo by Jada Johnson.

While most pieces of Stockton’s art are downtown, many have made their way to the tables of vendors looking to sell the ideas they’ve brought to the eye. Others have spoken them into existence through poetry readings. All of this has occurred at the events Luna and Luis Mario curate.

“We do this, El Pueblo del Sol, for nature and ancestral tradition. Our ancestors danced, drew, had their sacred rituals,” said Luna. “Creating is what gives us sanity and happiness.”

Luis Mario is in agreement and too, releases; but this time he expresses his faith in Stockton as a place to harvest health.

“We are practicing group economics. We want our people to know they are appreciated.” said Mario. A small cupid walks by. Would you like to buy a chocolate? The value of group economics is learned young and homegrown.

At El Pueblo del Sol, many vendors find each other and share stories through their crafts. Photo by Jada Johnson.

However, “once the white man sees that there’s no money to make here, they leave,” said Luna.

“This city is dark and injustices happen here,” said Luna. However, “The reputation here is not reflective of representation,” added Mario.

A foundational question finds its way to Luna “Why do I feel such a royal energy here?” While Stockton was a contender for the capital of California, it never became so. Today, the city seems to be wreaking havoc on itself.

“Everyone deserves healing,” said Mario.

In order to heal, there must first be a light shined on the wounds beckoning closure. It’ll take the sun and the people too. Eventually, where folks may see a city with no purpose, there may be a generation of artists who see Stockton from an omnipotent vantage point; knowing it isn’t the money that matters here but the expression of poems, pictures, and paints which shows our rich culture.

Check out El Pueblo del Sol on Instagram to keep up with their events, with the latest below:

WHAT: Dance Festival, El Verano es Azul

[Dance and Drum Circle, Live Music + Performances, Graffiti, Art + Crafts, Vegan Food and More]

WHEN: Sunday, June 27th 11am-4pm

WHERE: 1562 S. El Dorado Street
Stockton, CA 95206
Free Outside Event at Michelaguas la Gordita Muniz