“They’re not gonna make me not live. There not gonna make me stop what I’m doing. If anything they’re making my resolve harder and firmer.”
By Brent E. Beltrán
Last week I found out there’s this restaurant owner in Logan Heights that has been facing death threats from the people that have been hating on the refugee children from Central America. Mark Lane, owner of Poppa’s Fresh Fish, has received numerous phone calls and social media messages calling for his death and that of his family after calling for a boycott of Murrieta, Hate City USA, and for taking in a refugee family from Guatemala.
After hearing about the death threats and the attempted boycott of his business by hateful bigots I thought I’d contact him and see if he was willing to talk about his situation. He was and he had a lot to say.
Brent E. Beltrán: Let me get a little background on who you are, where you come from and why you opened here in Logan Heights of all places.
Mark Lane: Who I am is Mark Lane. Born and raised here in San Diego about a mile that way (he point East). So this neighborhood for me is a normal neighborhood. We grew up in and out of here. So for me it’s just normal.
I ran food production plants probably the last 20 years or so. About seven years ago I quit. I decided I was going to take little time off, start a business. Couple months into that I got a phone call from a big fish processor and they offered me a really good job in management, director of operations job. I took it and that’s how I got into the fish business.
After I was there I should’ve stuck with the original plan and started my own business. I think I was at a point where I was no longer ready to work for people anymore. About a year into that I started selling fish in the farmer’s markets because I saw there was a vacuum there. Guy that was doing it back then was not doing a great job. Wasn’t telling the truth about his fish. I knew what he bought from us and what he was selling out there.
I decided to give it a go and see what happens with a weekend gig. Quickly it turned into a full time gig. I was doing my full time job and that. After a year of doing that and two years at the fish place I left. For the last five years I’ve been doing this business. We started cooking maybe four years ago in the farmer’s markets, shucking oysters and shucking urchins and clams on the street. People liked what I was doing. So I thought, oh, maybe I should open a restaurant.
We started heading towards a restaurant of some sort a few years ago. I found this place by accident. Rent is low, parking lot is big, access to the three major freeways. I’m right in the middle of the triangle. So it was a go. We took it and opened it up. We’re about six months old now.
BEB: Where’d you go to high school?
ML: Mt. Miguel down in Spring Valley.
BEB: Where’s your family from? Are they originally from San Diego also?
ML: My mom’s from Brooklyn, my dad’s from North Carolina.
ML: (He gets a phone call from a media outlet). This is my new life.
BEB: I could imagine with all these interviews. It kind of feels good getting it off your chest little, no?
ML: It does and it feels good also because we are getting a lot of support from people that are now finding out about it. So we got the hate people that want to kill me and want to kill my kids and want to ruin my business. But we’re getting a lot more support. We’re getting people coming from all over southern California. Saturday we had some action out here with some of the people coming by trying to start issues. Had the cops out here five times. I was posting it on our Facebook page. By the end of the night we had about ten or fifteen people sitting out here just watching making sure we can work peacefully with nothing going on which was kind of cool. Yesterday (Sunday) we had a Mexican motorcycle club show up.
BEB: Los Cabrones?
ML: I don’t remember their name. But they showed up and they came and hung out for a while. Gave me their number and said if anything happens give us a call. We’ve been getting a ton of support. (The haters) are trying to boycott my business. That was their plan but they actually doubled my business since this all came out last Tuesday (July 29). So their boycott plan isn’t working. In fact, two days after they put up a Boycott Poppa’s Fresh Fish page they took Poppa’s Fresh Fish off of it. Now they’ve taken the whole thing off because we figured out who owns the page.
BEB: Did your own little research?
ML: We had a hacker in there. And he worked his way back to the person and her five fake accounts.
BEB: Let’s talk about when this whole refugee crisis started. Obviously you must have seen it on the news what was going on. What was your first reaction to that?
ML: What happened is on July 1 when those protests started in Murrieta where they blocked the busses I just happened to be watching the news. My five year-old son was sitting on my lap. I was watching what was going on. I was sitting there thinking, man, this is 2014 and these people are acting like that? My five year-old son says, “Dad, why are they mad at the buses?” And that pissed me off. Why in 2014 do I have to explain to my five year-old why these guys are that mad at the buses? How do I explain that they’re not mad at the buses they’re mad at the people that are brown skinned inside the buses.
I was kind of stewing on that for a few days. For whatever reason it really affected me. On July 4 I was up at my brother’s house for a barbecue and I was still stewing on it. I got home and said I’ve got to do something to show my kids, I’ve got three boys, I’ve got to do something to show them how to counter act that kind of hate. I got home and decided with some friends to start a Facebook page called Boycott Murrieta. I woke up (the next day) and there was 600 likes on it. I was just trying to make a statement. I was like, “What happened here?” Two days later we had over 2000 likes and people were, “What are we going to do now? What’s the plan?” I was sitting there thinking, I don’t know. I had never done anything activist like that before. Between us and a couple of the administrators we just started developing little action plans and things we can do. We started working with a network of people across the country that are different kinds of civil right activists, human rights activists, gay rights activists, just activists in general for rights of people. It grew really big. At the height of it our page was interacting with 150,000 people a week in some way, shape, or form.
We affected some change. We affected some discomfort for the leadership of Murrieta, which was one of the goals because they incited this. The big and little of it is they’re the ones that incited it. They’re the ones that called the people out. They defended it at their town hall meeting they had that night. We didn’t take a stand or position on immigration. We didn’t say we were anti-immigration. We didn’t say we were pro-immigration. We took a stand on advocating for the kids.
And we took a stand on the leadership of Murrieta stepping up to the plate and saying, hey, we screwed up. We messed up. We want to fix what we did. But they’re not doing it. They’re doing the opposite. They hired a PR firm with a Mexican owner. We went after him too. They got rid of him after a couple weeks because we went hardcore after him. They started letting the Vice Mayor do all the speaking because his last name is Ramos. The City Manager of Murrieta the next day put out kind of an apology and was soundly chastised by the Vice Mayor for doing that, which shows where their leadership stands. Their leadership incited, supported, encouraged and defended and they haven’t stepped back from that. Fine. Our boycott stands and we’re still going to go strong.
BEB: What really got me about the buses being stopped was that the Murrieta Police were complicit.
ML: They stopped the buses. They stopped them. The police stopped the buses!
BEB: If we were to do that here in Logan Heights or Barrio Logan where I live…
ML: We’d get tasered.
BEB: Yes. Tasered or pepper sprayed.
ML: They stopped the buses. They let the people out in the streets. They let the people terrorize (the people on the bus), plain and simple. It is what it is. They did it and now it is time to own up to it. They didn’t arrest the guy who spit in (Lupillo Rivera’s) face. The Mexican singer was on the other side of the road, protesting with his sign up, he slapped the sign out of his hand, spit in his face, video provided and everything, and the Murrieta Police Department didn’t do anything. He filed assault charges, Murrieta Police didn’t do anything. They’re complicit. The leadership is complicit.
People in Murrieta were mad that we were stereotyping the whole town, but we’re not. We’re saying that if you’re a citizen in Murrieta that’s against what happened, step up and hold your leadership accountable. As of today, four weeks later nobody’s stepped up. Nobody’s asked for a recall. Nobody’s asked for a public apology, nobody’s gone over there and said, “Hey, what you guys did was wrong.” So the boycott stands. It is what it is. That infuriates them. Those people that stopped the buses, that infuriates them. You know, most of them are not even from Murrieta, but Murrieta’s leadership called them in. They called on the dogs.
In the process of doing that, I started interacting with different charities and stuff because some of the advocacy that we were doing for the kids was coordinating donations. Where can people donate money? Where can people donate clothes? Where can people donate groceries? And in that process I started interacting with Border Angels, which is a local charity that really handles most of the refugees coming across and the immigrants coming across. They needed houses for families because there were so many coming. So we signed up and got approved.
BEB: Did you have any trepidation at first? Just about bringing in a family that you don’t know?
ML: Didn’t even think twice about it. In reality, I didn’t even think twice about it.
BEB: Your whole family was for it?
ML: Everybody was just kind of, it just happened, and it is what it is and I asked my wife and she said yes. So it just happened. And again, we did everything anonymously, nobody knew anything and nobody was giving us a hard time and then when somehow they found out, they made it public and then they went after us.
BEB: When they first started going after you and other administrators, but more specific you, how did you feel at that point? At any point did you feel that some backlash may be brought upon you for doing this?
ML: Well, they didn’t go after the other administrators because the other administrators were not ID’d. So they ID’d me and they went after me. I figured yeah, there’d be some backlash. They immediately put up a page to boycott Mark Lane and to boycott Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company. Which is cool and which is fine, except that they put pictures of my kids up and they put pictures of my wife up. Which not even the mafia does. They talked about me, they talked about my wife, talked about hurting the kids, talked about hurting the family, hurting us. If they want to boycott me, fine. I don’t know how you boycott a person but that’s fine. If you want to boycott my business, fine, boycott my business. But why the need to call? “We’re going to kill you. We’re going to kill your family. You’re a race traitor. You are a traitor to your country.” Why the need to do all that? I didn’t break any laws. I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t ask them for any money. We’re doing it on our own dime.
BEB: Do you see any parallels between this situation and say, when they integrated Little Rock High School back in (‘57)?
ML: All you have to do is look at the pictures and the videos from the different protests. These people are just screaming and you can see the vile hatred coming out of their faces and out of their heads and out of their body. People have made pictures where they’ve showed the lady screaming in Murrieta compared to the lady screaming in 1957 in Little Rock and the only difference is the date. The only difference is that it’s a black kid instead of a Guatemalan kid.
BEB: So you and your family decided to take on a family. How were the initial introductions? How did that go and how have they become acculturated to being a part of your family?
ML: Initially, they were very scared. They were traumatized. Some bad things happened to them once they got here. On top of everything bad that happened to them down there. We had two extra rooms and they were so scared they piled into one. So they just stayed in one room. I’m sure they were afraid that something was going to happen in the middle of the night like had happened in the other shelter they were at.
A new customer walks up to the door and said she came because she knows the people in Border Angels and wanted to support his business.
ML: Yeah it’s been hectic and I do appreciate it. That’s another thing that’s been happening a lot. We’re getting tons of people from everywhere. We’ve had people coming from everywhere and gotten phone calls of support from everywhere.
So the family has integrated good. After a couple of days they started opening up a little more. They started out spending more time with my wife because I was working most of the time. And now it’s just like they’ve always been there. Kind of like you bring a baby home from the hospital and it seems like the baby wasn’t always there, but now they are an extension of the family really. They are a lot more open, a lot more relaxed. You can see the complete change in their demeanor. All we really did is give them a little safe refuge and be nice to them. Treat them with respect. Humanize them.
BEB: Have you talked to them about what their prior perceptions were about coming to the U.S.? Did they know there was this potential for hatred?
ML: One of the things I asked her the second night she was here had she heard about all the protests and the stuff going on at the border and the issues. She said, “It doesn’t matter. I’d rather my kids be here in jail, then down there dead. If we’re in jail here, we’re safe. If we’re in someone’s house here we’re safe. If we’re down there, we’re dead.”
BEB: Do they have any future plans? Has anything been discussed regarding that?
ML: Well, the 18 year-old son is still in detention, hopefully he’s getting out at some point this week. The father is in detention in El Centro, I’m not sure how that one’s going to play out. The mother’s brother lives in North Carolina so that’s eventually where they’re going to end up. They’re waiting for their next immigration hearing so they have conditional permission to be here, depending on what happens with the next hearing.
BEB: Considering the hate here in California, I can imagine what it’s going to be like in North Carolina. It’s part of the South and some of that stuff comes out there. Hopefully things work out well for them, because they deserve to live in a safe place.
ML: It’s not their fault they lost the birth lottery. We were born here by accident. They were born there by accident. It doesn’t make them worse or better or us any better than them.
BEB: What does the future hold for Poppa’s Fresh Fish here in Logan? Is this someplace you’d want to maintain and keep it? Are there other things you want to do?
ML: A couple things have changed. The Logan the community has accepted us. The community has come strong when this happened. So staying here? Yeah. We’re actually going to start a farmer’s market here in the parking lot. A ‘commodities only’ farmer’s market for the neighborhood here so we have access to some clean produce and vegetables. My son in law wants to open a Poppa’s Fresh Fish up in Hunting Beach. He has a couple of restaurants up there so we’re talking about that.
But, this has kind of affected me now that I got “outed” and ID’d. I didn’t want to be the face of any movement ever in my life –I don’t have really the face for anything to be honest with you– but now I’m working on putting together a foundation where we can help immigrant kids while they’re in process no matter where they come from. Whether it’s Europe or Africa or Asia, it doesn’t matter. If they’re an immigrant, refugee kid and they’re here illegally on conditional, political asylum request we want to start up a foundation where we want to be able to get counselors for them to help them deal with their issues of trauma from down there and also coming up here. And we want to get English tutors also, getting them started while they’re in the process. Get them learning English while they’re going through the process so when they finally do end up, if it takes two months or three months or a year or whatever they will have that English already coming through to them. Get them into schools because there is a law that allows refugee kids to go to school so they can start getting that acclimation to being around other people here, Americans. And that’s what we’re working on right now. We’re working on building the board of directors. Then once we get the people in place, then we’ll work on building the platform for what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. We’re going to get the paperwork done and get up and rolling.
BEB: You speak Spanish. Where did you learn how to speak Spanish? Did you grow up with it?
ML: I learned growing up. All my friends were Mexican, a lot of time in Tijuana. Studied all through school then I lived down in Mexico for probably a good ten years or so with my ex-wife. We had adopted a boy and there were some issues with his paperwork. So we just had the whole family down there so he could stay with us while we were going through that. We ended up staying.
BEB: What part of Mexico?
ML: Tijuana. I lived also a little bit of time in Cuernavaca and Durango. The majority of the time in Tijuana.
BEB: Who’s Poppa? Is that you?
ML: Poppa’s like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels. You never ever see him but you always feel his presence. If that was me I think I’d be happy. I’d be nice and chill and relaxed somewhere in the Mediterranean.
BEB: For somebody who’s under, obviously, a lot of stress you seem to have this kind of spirit, this happiness still, this laughter, is that part of your personality or a coping mechanism?
ML: I don’t know. I’m one of those guys that if you’re gonna bully me I’m gonna bully back. If you’re gonna put me up against the wall I’m one of those guys that are gonna fight back. It is what it is and nothing I can do to change it. I’m still alive. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, you’re on edge, you’re on alert. Still alive, still have my family. Gotta live like you’re still alive. They’re not gonna make me not live. There not gonna make me stop what I’m doing. If anything they’re making my resolve harder and firmer. Really, they are.
BEB: What would you say to people that want to support you, not necessarily just you, but support this issue in general? And what would you say to the people that are bringing the hate?
ML: To the people that are bringing the hate you’re not gonna change our minds. You guys for centuries have tried to scare people and kill people. You’ve hurt people. You’ve tried to bully people into your position. You’re not gonna change us. Why do it? Unfortunately for you guys people are mixing. You guys are going to become extinct and then what happens? People are people. It doesn’t matter what color their skin are. People are people. You’re not smarter. You’re not dumber. You’re not better. You’re not worse. People are people. We’re all the same. We all bleed the same. We all feel the same. Why hate? And if you’re gonna hate, fine, why terrorize kids? That just blows my mind that the hate is so deep that they don’t even see them as humans. It just blows my mind.
For the people that are supportive of the issue of not being hateful, for lack of a better word, just speak loud. The problem here is there’re more of us but everybody is quiet. Speak loud. These guys are loud. These guys are good with the press. They got their propaganda machines running a hundred miles an hour. If you’re on the side of love, compassion and humanity then speak loud, stand up. Make them hear you. When you see the injustices stand up to them. I know there’re great people in Murrieta. I got friends in Murrieta. Stand up to your leadership, man. Tell them you don’t support that. You don’t support them if they support it. Stand up to them. Don’t let the bullies win.
As my interview with Mark winds down that new customer that came in earlier walks out and he tells her thank you. She says good luck and thanked him for what he’s doing.
ML: It’s one after another. It’s embarrassing. I’m not really that dude. I had two Guatemalan guys after the Univision thing aired last week that came over and said, “Hey, are you the guy that was on the news?” I said yes. They both hugged me. Two full grown men. They told me in Spanish, “You’re an honorable man. What you are doing not anyone would do. Your family and your lives are in danger because you are helping our people. That makes you one of us. From now on you’re Guate.” He said, “Tú eres de nosotros. You’re ours and we’re gonna take care of you.” And then they left. How can I walk away from that? I was thinking, what’s the exit strategy? Maybe this isn’t worth it. Then stuff like that happens. How do I walk away from that? I’m not that dude. I really didn’t want to be the face of any movement. I’m really not that dude. But now I am.
Mark Lane may not think he’s “that dude” but he’s someone willing to take a stand. He’s someone willing to take strangers into his home while hateful strangers threaten he and his family. Not everyone is willing to do that. He’s been thrust into the limelight after trying to remain anonymous and has become an unintentional activist. I’m glad there’s this dude selling fish in Logan Heights willing to share his home, his family, his business and his face for the betterment of humanity. We need more Mark Lane’s in this country.
Poppa’s Fresh Fish is located at 3227 Ocean View Blvd. in the Logan Heights/Memorial area. Stop by sometime and give this good man your support. You can be a fan of Poppa’s Fresh Fish on Facebook and follow on Twitter. You can also read a San Diego Free Press article on the opening of Poppa’s Fresh Fish here.
A thousand and one kisses to my wife Olympia for helping transcribe this interview.
San Diego Free Press has posted numerous stories on the refugee crisis and the hate coming out of Murrieta. Here are some of them:
- Immigrant Rights Leaders Urge San Diegans to Respond with Values to Humanitarian Crisis
- ACLU Statement on Public Reaction to Plight of Immigrant Children
- Central American Refugee Children Forced on a Dangerous Journey
- San Diegans Rally on Behalf of Central American Refugee Children
- Groups Sue Feds over Lack of Lawyers for Kids in Deportation Process
- Ugly Americans Block Migrant Buses in Murrieta
- Murrieta: Land of the Ugly, Home of the Bigots
- Our Children: Thoughts from #Murrieta
- A Moral Crisis Unleashed in Murrieta
- Hermanos en el Camino, Padre Solalinde, La Bestia, and the Plight of Refugees
- Unaccompanied Minors: Their Arduous Journey and Their Unknown Fate