Young filmmakers document fight to save The Firs Mobile Home park

Three young people in SeaTac became filmmakers in response to the possibility that their homes and way of life would be run over by redevelopment.

Crystal Sanchez, Wendy Salinas and Elisha Velazquez are among the residents of The Firs Mobile Home Park, which has been in limbo for the past couple years after the landowner made plans for redevelopment.

The residents of The Firs own the mobile homes and trailers where they live, often investing a lifetime of savings or borrowing money to purchase their homes, but they rent the land where their homes are located. Many of the residents are immigrants and children and are in a lower income bracket.

A street in The Firs. (Photo by Gavin Amos-Lopez.)

In late 2016, property owner Jong Park put notes on everyone’s door giving them two months to get out. The community response was amazing, as the residents quickly became activists and started organizing to preserve their homes.

Crystal Sanchez, Wendy Salinas and Elisha Velazquez made a documentary capturing their neighbors sharing their stories of living in the community. This film will be screened this week at an event organized by The Northwest Film Forum and The Seattle Globalist.

Elisha, 15, has lived in The Firs for six years, Wendy, 15, has lived there for nine years. Crystal, 13, has spent her whole life in the community.

Wendy reflected on the strength she found when sharing the stories of the people in her neighborhood.

“After we interviewed everyone and put our video together, we realized that our stories matter and it can affect how other people think about us. I never thought we would get this far,” she said.  “I just thought that people will just be like, oh they should just take the trailers out, like it doesn’t matter. But now we come this far.”

Wendy Salinas, 15, has lived in The Firs for nine years. (Photo by Gavin Amos-Lopez)

Their film, which they initially produced for a class project, has had attention from throughout the Puget Sound, including coverage in the Seattle Times.

Elisha said the film helped bring attention and allies to their fight to maintain their neighborhood.

“I felt like not a lot people knew what was happening with our homes. They weren’t really getting involved with helping us save our homes,” Elisha said. “It’s partly because we were not as important to them. But since we made the documentary, a lot more attention was brought to our home situation. more people starting getting involved and caring. we’ve received a lot of help.”

Wendy Salinas and Crystal Sanchez hold a feature article in The Seattle Times that brought attention to their documentary about their neighborhood, The Firs Mobile Home Park, which is threatened with redevelopment. Wendy’s brother Aldo stands behind her. (Photo by Gavin Amos-Lopez)

Wendy and Crystal said before the eviction notices, the neighborhood felt safe and secure.

“We didn’t have to worry too much about it,” Wendy said.

“I feel like before it was more of a calm space, where we didn’t have to worry about if we had this much time to leave or worry about being displaced,” Crystal said. “Now its more like ‘Ah, yeah I have to live with this in the back of my head.’”

Even with the threat of displacement looming around the corner, the girls beamed when talking about their homes.

“It’s not about how our homes look, its about how much our families have invested in it.” Wendy said. “Other people won’t think much of it but it’s our home. Our home represents all the hard work our families have given.”

Crystal responds with the same affection towards what her family has built.

“When my family first acquired the trailer, it was just a trailer, right? Once you start getting inside the house, you’ll see we’ve remodeled almost everything. Every single thing added to the house has memories to it. Like we got it from this place and it has our funniest moments that happened. The whole community and our homes reminds us of everything we’ve lived through.”

Crystal said her father works six days during the week and even the entire day on Friday as a landscaper and parking janitor.

“My dad only gets Sundays off. After resting from his night job, he takes us all out so we can spend some time together during the afternoon,” she said. “But we just go out for walks and we know he wants to rest. We’re excited that we get to spend time with him.”

Crystal’s family works hard on their home, despite financial challenges.

“My dad is the only one who works for now. My mom she used to work, but three years ago, she hurt her back at work picking up heavy boxes. But overall they both work really hard to maintain us and be happy at the same time,” Crystal said. “If the house needs anything, we do it. If we need help with school, they’ll help us too.”

The young women make it clear, that they are fighting for the preservation of their community. They want to keep living with the folks with whom they’ve spent their whole lives. Their families and neighbors have built continuity in the mobile home park. They do not want to lose the community that their parents worked so hard to provide for them.

These young women did not grow in an environment that nurture their creativity and expression, but rather reduce them to be afraid of telling their story, they were able to step out of their comfort zone and find a new passion — out of love of their families.

“I feel like we’re more open now,” Cyrstal said. “Like when we have to go up so speak, I feel like we’re more confident and able to do it easier now. Especially since we’ve been talking a lot.”

Elisha agrees.

“The possibility of losing my home and being forced to move to a different place and miss out what I have with my friends and neighbors —it really made me step up as person. I’m a shy person and i don’t really like putting myself out there, but now I have.”

Hear more about the young filmmakers and their home, and other stories about Seattle-area residents’ sense of place at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Northwest Film Forum.