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Photograph by Curtis Cartier

The Neighbor Kids

Curtis Cartier photographs the children of Beach Flats.

photos and text by Curtis Cartier

THE neighborhood of Beach Flats in Santa Cruz represents different things to different people. To some it's a blighted community, a place to be avoided or hurried through on the way to the Boardwalk. But to thousands of its residents, the nine-acre district east of Riverside Avenue in the shadow of the Giant Dipper roller coaster is home, a place filled with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, where the smell of spicy menudo mixes with the salty ocean air, where people know their neighbors by name and are never too far from a busy park or too late for a hot meal.

Beach Flats is also a community in transition. The older generations, having immigrated mostly from Mexico and Central America, have started new families. Through their children, they are changing both the way they've lived for decades and the way the rest of Santa Cruz lives today.

More images here


Virgilia Ruiz, 12, moved to Santa Cruz with her parents as a young girl to receive critical cataract surgery. Top: Here she holds a fishing trophy she won as part of a youth group in 2007. Outside the Ruiz home on Kaye Street, Virgilia (on landing) along with (clockwise from top) brother Filogonio, 6; friend Lizbeth Aguillares, 5; sister Maria, 8 and mother Cristina speak with a neighbor before heading to school.


Top: Filogonio and Maria Ruiz pause for a brief moment to pose for the camera. Middle: Virgilia is quickly learning to play the guitar through lessons offered at the Beach Flats Community Center. Bottom: Maria digs through her dresser, which doubles as the family television stand, while older brother Raul (far left) and uncle Celestino relax on the couch, which also serves as Virgilia's bed.


Above: Filogonio hoists his prized wrestling belt toward the sky.


Above: Virginia Garcia, 17, pictured with her Santa Cruz High diploma, plans to go to nursing school at Cabrillo College.


The Beach Flats neighborhood is home to a number of gang members. This young man, who asked not want to be named, is a Sureņo gang dropout who has lived in the neighborhood for most his life. After being stabbed four times in July by rival Norteņo gangsters, he is looking to clean his life up. Top: The young man shows two of his four stab wound scars. Bottom: In an effort to stay away from bad influences, he's been doing odd jobs at the Barrios Unidos community outreach center.


Above: Lopez-Calvillo gets his face sprayed by water jets at Simpkins Family Swim Center on a trip with the Barrios Unidos Kids Club.

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