EPISODE 16 – JAPANESE AMERICANS ON THE EAST SIDE OF L.A.

In our sixteenth episode, we discuss Japanese American history in Boyle Heights, Roosevelt High school, the Metro Gold Line’s impact on communities in the area, and much more with Victoria Kraus, of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. A can’t-miss session for listeners.

J.T.

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A man finishes searching through the dumpster bin for cans in Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Los Angeles is Dying in Black and Brown Shades

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 70)

It’s now being recorded in history that in the state of California, “reopening” business and houses of worship comes largely on the heels of white protesters in Sacramento and coastal communities such as Huntington Beach even as a second wave of COVID-19 increasingly places Black and Brown bodies at bedsides in intensive care units across South, East, Central L.A., and more.

Many of the bodies in Los Angeles belong to mothers, fathers, grand-mothers and grandmothers, and form no insignificant part of the more than 100,000 people who have lost their lives across the U.S. in less than four months since news of the coronavirus first became headlines.

They look like the man in this column’s photograph, who is sifting for cans through dumpsters along the famed Silver Lake neighborhood, trying to gain something–anything–by which to live to fight another day.

They took their bodies to work each day, and looked past discrimination and second-class citizenship for decades to still “play by the rules” pursuing an American dream they may have once actually believed in.

But history will show this is not an unlikely about-face for the state of California. One only has to recall that for nearly fifty years the golden state has also been the Golden Gulag, to quote Ruth Wilson Gilmore, with its elected officials voting as recently as 2018 to spend over $15 billion of taxpayers’ money to maintain the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which as of last year housed less than 127,000 inmates. A little bit of math will show that that’s over $118,000 to house just one inmate.

By contrast, what did the state spend for more than 6.1 million students at its K – 12 schools, even before the pandemic? A pinch above $12,000.

The state’s expenditures do not get better across the rest of its educational institutions. To quote David Crane, a lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University, California’s $15 billion allotment to incarcerate its population entails:

7x, 9x, 13x and 39x the amounts they’ll spend per K-12, UC, CSU and CCC student.

All we have to do then is remember which students depend most on under-funded public school districts like LAUSD across the state: Black, Brown, Asian, Native, as well as working-class white children. Indeed, the grandchildren of the many bodies now being prepared for the ground in California.

If long before the pandemic we were funding these childrens’ incarceration as adults more than we were funding their education, it says all one needs to know about why Los Angeles is losing its Black & Brown family members so disproportionately right now.

J.T.

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Call In or Write to Oppose Mayor Garcetti’s Police Raises As Housing & Community Investment Lose Millions

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 69)

I’ve been to Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, San Salvador, and Guatemala City, among others. With the exception of the latter two, all of these cities are larger than L.A. proper. But in none of them did I see thousands of encampments of unhoused people as I’ve seen in Los Angeles.

Even so, over the next year, experts estimate that the number of unhoused people in California due to rising unemployment from coronavirus can grow by up to 20%, from 150,000 people currently to 180,000.

In Los Angeles County, which contains more than 40% of the unhoused population in California, that can mean an increase of up to 12,000 more people on the sidewalks over the next twelve months.

That’s 1,000 families left to L.A.’s concrete every four weeks. And if Project Roomkey shows us anything, it’s that given two months, the city of Los Angeles can barely manage to get well short of 3,000 of its 15,000 most vulnerable unhoused citizens into a hotel room.

Exactly what would be the point of “reopening” Los Angeles then,
if all we have are more people in tents crowding below freeways, at schools and libraries, and around grocery stores and restaurants?

At the same time, the mayor’s proposed budget, which slashes $9 million from housing and community investment next year for a total of $81.1 million but increases the police budget by over $122 million for a total of $1.9 billion, is in the motions for approval by City Hall over the next four weeks.

That’s four weeks of time for residents in Los Angeles to use their first-amendment rights to express opposition to this proposal.

I ask readers to imagine if just half as many people who flocked to the city’s beaches and park trails over the weekends called in to their local Council Member’s offices or Board of Supervisors’ office to demand they rescind their support for the mayor’s budget in its current form.

Mayor Garcetti and each Council Member and Board Supervisor are supposed to be our elected officials, after all, not Kings and Queens of our fate; each of these representatives is supposed to advance our interests given that they’re paid for by money from our income, sales, property taxes, and more.

See below for two directories, one for L.A. City council members and the mayor’s office, and another for the L.A. Board of Supervisors:

Mayor’s Office & City Hall Directory
L.A. County Board of Supervisors Contact Info

The office of the City Clerk also features a little-known form online for the public to write in a comment for the public comment portion on items considered by the L.A. City Council, listed below:

Office of the City Clerk for Public Comment Form

Not sure how to start? Feel free to contact yours truly for some ideas.

J.T.

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Summer 2020 will be the time to Empower more Parents to Become Teachers in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 68)

Despite a trove of news reports over these last two months, I believe one cuento that’s still under-reported has been that of a generation of parents in Los Angeles coming to know their children’s education amid this shutdown in ways that may have once been inconceivable.

Living in the tight-knit quarters of Los Angeles’s tiny places for home, it’s safe to say the process for this has been rife with emotions, lung-raising, and bodies shifting reluctantly to rest after lengthy days at home.

In Los Angeles, with 80% of LAUSD’s families at or below the poverty line, it’s meant only doing more with less. Despite the loss of work and income, the education of their children has still had to move forward, even if imperfectly.

I know many students in these families have done their best to keep up with their teachers despite all the last-minute scrambling, but I also know that many others who were already struggling have only been further disconnected. In both cases, it’s been critical for parents to see this at home.

As Superintendent Beutner has pointed out:

“When schools are open it’s relatively simple to measure attendance and have a pretty good sense of a how engaged a student is…You can see it in their body language, their interaction in the classroom, and in their work. Online, it’s not so simple. A login on a computer doesn’t necessarily mean a student’s engaged in learning, and the absence of a login if a student’s reading a book or working on a writing assignment can also be misleading.”

A shared understanding between educators anywhere is that we are constantly learning, and that we only learn more by asking questions of what we see around us. Now, more parents can place educators’ hats on themselves to ask:

Why is my child’s education important?
What tools do I have to support my child’s education, and what tools do I still need?
Despite the most recent challenges, do I still want my child to go to college?

For decades, the ways to create an environment for learning at home in ways that complement an environment for learning at school have been underappreciated, or written off as something there isn’t enough time to scrutinize during the frenzy of a school-year filled with homework assignments, standardized testing, and more. Now, with a summer of online learning ahead in Los Angeles, and possibly even further time at home, there is only more reason for parents to learn with their children.

These parents cannot be alone in this process, because another shared understanding between educators everywhere is that no child can get to college on their own, just as no single teacher can get them there; in fact, it does still take a village.

If that village is not there, then this is the time to call it forward and organize it.

Because here’s one last understanding between educators everywhere: we are not just constantly learning. Our actions ensure that we are also constantly teaching.

So now the question is simply what we want to teach, Los Angeles. The city’s future is counting on us.

J.T.

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A candlelight vigil for Cary Rodriguez, 21, at Melrose and North Westmoreland avenues

This Memorial Day Weekend, Honor Lives Lost Close to Home

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 67)

Truly the best way to honor Memorial Day this year would be to end all wars waged by the United States, which take U.S. lives to fight and lose as well as any others.

But another way to honor lives lost to senseless wars would be to consider every life taken by senseless violence inside the nation’s borders as a life worth commemorating as well.

At the local level for yours truly, five years ago this same weekend, a 17 year old named Leonardo Gabriel Martinez was shot and killed at the intersection of Burns and Virgil in the Virgil Village area. Since that day, eighteen people have been murdered no more than two miles from that intersection, the overwhelming amount young, male and Latino. But women’s lives have also been lost due to violence in the area, including one pregnant woman’s.

In a two-week interval this year, between March and April, three men were shot and killed in East Hollywood, while one was stabbed to death.

With respect for each of these lives, which all entail grieving families & communities, listed here are names, age, date of death, and location of decease for homicide victims in East Hollywood during the last five years:

Javier Resendiz, Jr., 27
January 03, 2015
600 block of North Alexandria avenue

Leonardo Gabriel Martinez, 17
May 23, 2015
North Virgil and Burns avenues

Wilfredo Fernando Portillo, 57
March 22, 2016
811 North Virgil avenue

Lauren Elaine Olguin, 32
April 12, 2016
500 North Virgil avenue

Hector Orlando Estrada Maldonado Jr., 20
September 16, 2016
550 North Heliotrope drive

Walter Martinez Jr., 23
September 16, 2016
550 North Heliotrope drive

Marvin Hernandez, 21
May 21, 2018
609 North Virgil avenue

Andre Pierre Warren-Cyrus, 18
June 14, 2018
North Virgil avenue & Middlebury street

Isaac Dubon, 18
November 7, 2018
1000 North Serrano avenue

Cary Rodriguez, 21
May 5, 2019
Melrose and North Westmoreland avenue

Herbert Antonio Martinez, 56
June 10, 2019
5200 West Sunset boulevard

Cindy Yaneth Lopez Vasquez, 28

July 18, 2019
900 North Oxford avenue

Alexis Gihovani Lopez, 22
July 26, 2019
4550 Marathon street

Aristides Antonio Ruiz Jr., 29
October 28, 2019
North Virgil avenue and Lockwood street

Roberto DeJesus Hernandez, 53
December 21, 2019
800 North Mariposa avenue

Fernando Puga, 28
March 21, 2020
1129 North Madison avenue

Duncan Eric Campbell Jr., 51
March 29, 2020
800 North Mariposa avenue

Alexander Wildberger-Negrete, age not listed
April 6, 2020
1648 North Kingsley drive

Joshua Alexander Andrade Galvez, 24
April 6, 2020
4477 Beverly boulevard

J.T.

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A man sits waiting for the bus at the Vermont and Santa Monica transit center.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 66

Today I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the class of 2020.

It’s been over two months and just shy of one week since the shut-down orders in California went into effect, and as this writing series stretches into the end of the school-year, I realize that I would be remiss not to address the class of 2020 for a moment.

Students, let’s be heard:

To be a graduating senior at this time is to trade your one-way ticket for the journey of a lifetime for a one way entry into the challenge of a lifetime, of gargantuan proportions.

It is to leave one of the most familiar institutions in your life for a globe that’s just teeming into a newfound uncertainty.

And it is to be introduced, to a world that needs more exposure if it is to change.

In Los Angeles, over the span of two months, we’ve learned much about the world here that we might have already known, but which, just in case we’d forgotten, has come back resoundingly for us to keep in mind:

The world has come to accept an unacceptable inequality.

The world is profoundly in need of new leadership.

The world needs new voices to lead these calls.

The fact of the matter is, in times of great crisis, much of the world is convinced that the only resolution is to “get back to normal.”

But if normal in this country is far and away a time spent waging wars, incarcerating the poor, and pricing the most vulnerable among us out of their homes, is that a “normal” that we should want to get back to?

This is what our elected officials mean by “normal.”

And but if normal in this country is indebting first-generation college students, and maintaining racialized job markets upon their graduation to solidify racial hegemony, and offering all of these students and workers only the most basic benefits and health services, is that a “normal” that’s optimal for us to get back to?

Remember also that normal is a world in which Black, Brown, and white children in the United States still go hungry, in which people over the age of 65 have no health-care during the most important days of their lives, and in which Wal-Mart executives would rather let their full-time employees live on food stamps instead of raising their wages.

I believe the students have to scrutinize this “normality” better than anyone in the days ahead.

I also believe that America needs the students, as well as their parents, to see America for what it truly is in this way.

A world that is not fair; a world that has actually spent an immeasurable amount of time and energy in arresting the development of generations of people to bolster inequality, and a world which can only grow more unequal if we don’t take this moment, that is, this next decade, to stand for something better.

Congratulations, class of 2020, for all your hard work leading up to and in spite of this moment, and because America will benefit greatly from your exposure to this reality.

In the days ahead, no matter what may lie ahead, I promise you this: my voice will not be far.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 65

This weekend is another that will go by without meaningful action from the city’s elected officials to address the crisis posed by tens of thousands of unhoused people lingering on the streets while COVID-19 continues battering our communities.

It’s also a weekend that will go by with Jose Huizar retaining his seat at L.A. City Council even as the world can see that his commitment to Chinese real estate tycoons disqualifies him from being able to meaningfully serve his constituents in the 14th district.

The weekend is also one in which Jose Huizar’s successor, Kevin de Leon, will once again fail to make a meaningful statement condemning the Huizar case’s embarrassing exposure of the L.A. City Council during this critical moment for Los Angeles. De Leon is seen by many as likely running for mayor when Garcetti is termed out in 2022, and so it’s probable that the future candidate doesn’t want to stir the pot regarding real estate’s endemic connections to decision-making at L.A. City Hall.

Is this the best that Los Angeles can do?

A few years ago, during an LAUSD board race for the 5th district, a panel was held at LACC featuring the various candidates vying to represent the area’s constituents at the board. For the panel’s moderator, a high school student who couldn’t have been more than 17 years old was chosen. We can call her Monica.

The candidates seated for the panel were adults of various walks of life and credentials, and thus people with much to say. As a moderator, especially one still in high school, Monica would have been forgiven for being overly polite, or for making a few too many mistakes in her facilitation of the discussion, but that was not the case at all.

Monica read each question for the candidates clearly, and stood at the podium facing the candidates emitting nothing but confidence. Most of all, when it came to the strict time limits for each candidate to make their statement, while even another adult might show some flexibility for the limits out of respect for the candidates, or simply to let them finish what they had to say, Monica, by contrast, was fearless.

At every indication that their time was up, it didn’t matter that most of the candidates making their statements were more than twice her age. And it didn’t matter if they spoke with conviction or if they spoke with experience.

Fair was fair, and Monica stuck to her moderation of each statement so consistently that by the end of the discussion, it was clear she had upstaged the candidates for the evening and left many people wondering when she would run for public office.

That panel was held a little over three years ago, which means that soon, probably as early as next year, Monica should be graduating from college. As I look around at Los Angeles, I know that the city will benefit greatly from leadership like hers and that of her peers, but also that such things are easier said than done. 

Even with all her talents, Monica and other young professionals like her cannot reshape the city’s politics alone, and much less so if they only inherit those politics in their current form, which, as so many of our current elected officials make clear: are not only antithetical to fairness, but steeped in loyalty to foreign capital and the interests of the more powerful.

As Monica demonstrated in her moderation, fair is fair no matter whose name it is, but it will take something special before Los Angeles can reach such fairness under the current circumstances. We the people have to demand it.

J.T.

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Public Education at our Schools Once Again Stands to Lose from Budget Woes Next Year

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 64)

Governments have established virus task-forces, and job task-forces. Where’s the education task-force?

– Austin Beutner

In his address to families and educators this past Monday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner noted the toll on public education posed by Governor Newsom’s proposed budget for the following year, which is said to contain nearly $7 billion in cuts to public schools in California following an estimated $54 billion loss in the state’s income and sales taxes due to these last two months of shutdown.

While the governor originally forecast almost $19 billion in losses for education over the next two years, he is now looking to direct nearly $4 billion from the federal Stimulus bill passed in late March to make up for learning loss during the crisis, which is particularly important for special education students, as well as for districts with large concentrations of low-income families such as LAUSD, where more than 80% of families are living at or below the poverty line.

The governor is also looking to offset the state’s revenue losses by reducing a number of increases in pension payments scheduled for 2020 – 2021 before the crisis, which can save up to $1 billion, as well as issuing up to $2 billion in deferrals or IOUs for 2020 – 2021, meaning that districts can count on being paid back for the money, though at an unspecified date.

These adjustments from the governor’s office account commit up to $7 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges in California despite the crisis, but still fall well short of rescuing the public education system.

The biggest cut would be in the local funding control formula by about 10% under the proposed budget, translating into a $6.5 billion dollar loss for public schools, and forcing districts to pick and choose between prioritizing instruction for English learners, unhoused students, students in the foster care system, and the many more low-income students enrolled on their sheets.

The reduced budget can also entail a shortened school year, more furlough days for teachers and staff, larger class sizes, and a hiring freeze for new teachers.

According to John Gray, president of the School Services of California consulting group, the last possibility of losing new teachers due to budget cuts, whom were already in short supply following the great recession, will lead to a repetition of this history in the years ahead:

Last time, we went up and down the state and dismantled public education piece by piece. We lost 40,000 teachers and they never came back because the recession lasted so long. They left the profession. [If this next round of cuts come to pass] yet again we’re going to just disillusion thousands and thousands of teachers.

In his own remarks, Beutner noted that such cuts could prove catastrophic to the hundreds of thousands of families like those at LAUSD, whose children’s dependence on schools should demand more support from the state’s resources, not less. In his view, failing to support students with the additional resources they need during this time and in the days ahead can prove just as damaging for their future as the coronavirus, yet the issue isn’t being treated with the urgency it demands.

Is it because the harm is silent and unseen, unlike the image of overrun hospitals? Is it because children don’t have a voice, or is it because so many of the families we serve are living in poverty and don’t have access to the corridors of power in Sacramento, and Washington D.C.?

This makes it critical for more families and advocates to stand for this public good, for how its loss can alter the course of too many lives for the foreseeable future. Or, as one mother said of what parents can learn to better support their families going forward:

Mainly we need to learn how to use a computer to support our children, and not stress ourselves out. We also need to have more patience because our teenagers are a little more stressed [right now].

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 63

Today I’d like to encourage readers to take a break from their phones, and to take a respite from the news, in order to devote some time to their own personal well-being.

For myself, that means walking, as far as I can go, to enjoy the fresh Spring air and the violet blue jacaranda leaves all across Los Angeles.

For you, if it feels like there might not be anywhere in particular to go, you can give yourself a random task that requires you to step outside.

This Tuesday morning, for example, I took some old black & white film rolls to nearby D & J Digital Imaging, which sits just a couple of blocks away from home, and which opened its doors again just the day before.

When I got to the store, however, Mr. D & J explained to me that his shop only develops color film, not black & white, and that my best bet from there would be the Freestyle Photoshop on Sunset boulevard, a little over a mile out. I thought then that maybe I could walk the few blocks back home to get the car and then hightail it onto Sunset, but quickly decided against it. I was already outside, and all I needed to do was keep heading west. I knew exactly which intersections I needed to cross to get to the Freestyle shop.

What I didn’t know was whether Freestyle would be open, but I figured that if Mr. D & J was reopening his doors, then surely his counterparts were also getting back in the motions as well.

Moreover, even if the shop wasn’t open, I’d enjoy some time apart from my desk and away from my phone’s screen. And while I had a familiar intersection in mind to get to my destination, at the last minute I decided to take a slightly different route, crisscrossing through a street I’d definitely driven past before, but which I’d never actually walked through. What struck me then most of all were the luminescent trees hanging over the block, dividing the light from above into what seemed like fractals over the nestle of single-story homes and apartment buildings along.

Then, along one of the homes, outside, a sparrow arrived as I walked past to dip its beak into a water-bowl set up for it. The bird seemed to celebrate the whole of the environment each time it raised its wet beak, only to dip it in again for another dab of freshness. Even if I might have walked a thousand blocks just like it before then, it felt like I had never seen a street quite like it.

When I got to Freestyle, it was open after all, though with the usual new stipulations as everywhere else. The attendant also informed me that while they were still accepting film, there was also a new process: before dropping my film into the bins set up outside for them, I needed to go online to set up the appointment and fill out a form. Then I needed to print out the form and drop it off with my film for a turn-around of about seven business days. Although my old film would have to wait a little longer then, I told the attendant it’d be just fine; I’d make another task of it. It was time for lunch then. My walk could continue, and Thai food it was.

J.T.

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A couple waits at a light at Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard.

JIMBO TIMES is more than 2,100 Days Old Today

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 62)

JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller completed 2,100 days around the sun yesterday. The blog’s first column was posted on the evening of August 19th, 2014. According to Google, that was exactly 2,100 days ago, with today being the 2,101st day on record. During that time, I’ve published just a little over 700 columns on the site, or just short of one writing a day for two consecutive years’ worth of reading.

When I first started the blog, it was simply an ode to mom and the rest of the community that raised me through the streets of Los Angeles. I thought I had seen much of those streets by then, which I could showcase through the blog, but I had no idea just how much more was ahead.

I didn’t know, for example, that I would write about the deaths of young Latinos through the intersections of East Hollywood.

Likewise, I didn’t know that I would write about working as a barista and server behind Los Angeles’s registers.

I also didn’t know that I would get to review what would become my favorite book ever about Los Angeles, Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.

And even if I believed I could show up to classrooms all over Los Angeles to motivate young people towards their education some day, as well as juvenile detention centers for the same purpose, none of it was guaranteed. I strove to see all of it through.

Even so, if someone had told me then that all of that work would one day lead me to feature student voices on the blog, I would have believed it, but guardedly, under a quiet skepticism.

The only thing I knew for a long time was that even if these cuentos might not have seemed like extraordinary things to much of the rest of the world around me, they still mattered to me.

Today, our blog is 62 consecutive blogs into Pandemic in Los Angeles. I know that many readers haven’t had a chance to keep up with each column, but that’s the beauty of the site: like a good book, it’s not going anywhere.

Take your time to see if you can catch up, Los Angeles

J.T.

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A police cruiser is stopped at a light on Sunset boulevard and Vermont avenue.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 61

A thread I saw online recently asked people to share one thing they missed about being a pedestrian before the coronavirus uprooted life as we knew it. I replied that I missed nothing, because nothing has fundamentally changed.

During the last sixty days of this series, walking through the city, I’ve only seen more of its poverty exacerbated, transmuting into something more shameful. Not far along, I’ve also seen many of the same police cruisers from before, still whizzing past intersections to goodness knows where, as if the people buried in the sidewalk a few feet away are invisible, or still not enough of a priority to “protect and serve.”

This makes rhetoric from elected officials and several of our newspapers about “reopening” a hollow cry of obliviousness. Even if, for example, the city’s families need to get their kids back in classrooms with utmost haste, as is supposed to be case under “Phase 3” of the “return-to-normal,” in L.A. County that means getting back to schools surrounded by more than 60,000 unhoused people, where encampments crowd sidewalks on the way to school, hang from freeway underpasses located near schools, and where they linger on the paths coming back from school.

There are many intersections abandoned this way throughout metropolitan Los Angeles alone, to say nothing of the county, but it has always been unfair and confounding to let children from our public schools walk past encampments where the failure of our public health system is on full display.

In an interview with Mayor Garcetti last week regarding the extension of the stay-at-home orders in L.A. County, the mayor made an interesting remark:

This is just a dangerous a virus today as it was when it arrived. And we should never become too comfortable. We’re learning to live with it. We are not moving beyond it.”

The exact same is true of a lack of shelter for more than 60,000 in Los Angeles. And the inadequate response to COVID-19 in L.A. these past two months is just an extension of the woeful response to the basic needs of the most vulnerable citizens here throughout a far longer time period.

J.T.

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