EPISODE 22 – MIKE SONSKEN, LETTERS TO MY CITY

In our twenty-second episode, we hop on the Zoom call with Mike Sonsken, a one of a kind ‘poet-journalist’ in Los Angeles. We discuss Sonsken’s studying under Mike Davis at UCLA, his first time meeting the former poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, lessons from Watts’ very own Wanda Coleman, KCET, and much more. A very special session for all of Los Angeles and lovers of storytelling.

J.T.

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EPISODE 21 – SILVER LAKE IS SUSPECT

In our twenty-first episode, we hop on the Zoom call with DJ Swish, a long-time local and East Hollywood aficionado. We discuss Cahuenga Public Library’s special, though sometimes unnoticed status in the community, news of Silver Lake’s recent Police Violence Memorial being taken down, the boundaries between Silver Lake and East Hollywood and their effect on the latter, and more of L.A. facts and fiction. A very special session for listeners.

J.T.

Brothers

Used to be inseparable. Just two kids from two cities along campus ground together.

Used to philosophize and riddle and debate as if no issue in our midst couldn’t diffuse.

Used to reflect on our classes together. Mutual friends. Romances. Music. Foreign policy. No end.

Broke down habits. Responses to each other. Prism of our minds. That’s what homies were.

Being alive was.

Remember our deliberations on these grounds together

Maximum profit by maximum strain,

Watching it unfurl across the world around us in lanes.

Student debt. Police. Prison policy.

Fast food. Oldies. Air in our pockets.

Worn out rooms another night. Unity.

Never would have expected walls to build around us as they did,

Somewhere along the way the strain got the best of us.

Perhaps the best of me,

Perhaps the best of you.

Now memory flutters wailing past Los Angeles

Slave patrol still hovering.

People still coughing up on the sidewalk

While still more profits margin.

Turning the corner,

A brother hobbling along the street asks if I know

Where he can find a pookie,

“Nah’.”

Been ten summers since we first spoke the rage.

Before another ten go by, I hope to find you again

If only to break free from this rift with you.

One between two

J.T.

Sam Yorty at City Hall

On this Day: Watts Spiraled Into Flames at the hands of the LAPD as Mayor Yorty Blamed “Communists” for Sowing Black Resentment

55 years ago, a summer celebrated for its record-setting economy led to prosperity for whites at the same time that it missed Black youth in Watts and South Los Angeles when then Mayor Yorty went rogue. In violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s “maximum feasible participation” clause, which sought to give local elected working-class community members an active role in community development programs, Mayor Yorty refused to create an official set of anti-poverty programs in areas such as Watts, South Central, or the Chicano Eastside of Los Angeles. At the same time, LAPD officers in 1965 virtually resembled the white Southern segregationists, and in fact many came from the South, as with the 77th street division of the LAPD. Officers in the “de facto” segregated South side of Los Angeles regularly roughhoused Black folks there into jail, fines, and even worse indignation.

In Set the Night on Fire, Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide one anecdote of the latter, reporting the story of Beverly Tate, a 22 year old Black woman & mother who at some point during the morning of July 1st, 1965 was stopped in her car by police, ordered out of the passenger’s seat, taken to a discreet location, and subsequently raped by LAPD officer W.D. McCloud as another LAPD officer stood watch. Tate’s story was given a brief mention as a “rumor” on the Los Angeles Times on July 31st of that year, and was also reported in Jet magazine on August 12th, 1965.

While McCloud was fired from the LAPD the next day, he was never charged for a crime. Yet the Black community in Los Angeles at the time was well aware of the account as an example of the LAPD’s blatant disregard for Black life throughout the city. In October of 1965, Tate, who was five months pregnant, died mysteriously of “unknown causes,” to be survived by her two children.

Together, each of these factors and more converged when a group of 77th street officers decided to jail an entire Black family following an unnecessary traffic stop outside their home near the Watts area. When a crowd gathered in shock at the LAPD’s manhandling of the family members, the officers responded aggressively in an effort to intimidate the crowd back. But after a few women jeered at the police officers, the officers grabbed several of the women from the crowd in an attempt to drag them into their patrol cars on “battery” charges. That’s when the bystanders erupted, throwing soda cans at the LAPD and chasing them out of the vicinity.

What followed over the next six days was a bloodbath that treated Black Los Angeles like the Viet Cong guerilla force in South Vietnam. Along with M14-toting National Guard troops, the LAPD, armed with shotguns, shot to kill and jail Black citizens in Watts and along South Central in an effort to subdue the community’s outrage at the inequities of joblessness and over-policed Black bodies. In less than a week, LAPD and National Guard troops would kill 26 civilians, and injure and arrest thousands more, overwhelmingly Black bodies, but also Latino. All 26 civilian deaths would be deemed by the LAPD and subsequent commissions as justifiable homicides, while Mayor Yorty backed these findings, to the satisfaction of then police chief Parker.

For its part, the L.A. Times during this period would center and reinforce the narrative of white victimization in predominantly Black Watts, publishing headlines such as”‘Get Whitey,’ Scream Blood-Hungry Mobs’” and “Negro Unrest Laid to Negro Family Failure.” Such coverage, along with media reels of disorder in the community, only stoked further white resentment of Blacks all across Los Angeles. More than a few groups of white caravans from places such as the valley and other white strongholds would arrive to attack Blacks in Watts, to be turned away by the LAPD, but not arrested.

Fifty five years later, Watts is now 80% Latino, and less than 20% Black, but it remains one of the most impoverished areas in all of Los Angeles. More than a quarter of the population in the Watts area lives underneath the federal poverty line, while the vast majority of the conditions that fueled Black outrage in 1965 at inequities in their community, including joblessness and scant access to a college education, adequate health-care and home ownership, remain intransigently locked in. Or, as the Reverend Marcus Murchinson tells it:

“Multiple generations of the same families continue to live in public housing projects and only a small percentage get off government assistance and achieve the dream of owning a home.”


It has been said that change is the only constant. Yet in places like Watts, those are but words in contrast to a stark reality on the ground. To turn such conditions into conditions that support the quality of life in this part of Los Angeles will thus take more than activism, but a rain of support like the reign of fire that engulfed this community into generations of second-class citizenship fifty-five summers ago. Yorty, for his part, has been dead for more than two decades now, but the federal moneys he and his political allies held away from support of Black employment, education, and home ownership remain missing in action.

J.T.

EPISODE 20 – LOS CUENTOS SUMMER BOOK CLUB WITH J.T.

In our twentieth episode, listeners are treated to the special final meeting for our first ever Los Cuentos Summer Book club this 2020, featuring Randy Jurado Ertll, the author of LA SIGUANABA AND THE MAGICAL LOROCO. We discuss Latin-American history with Ertll, inspiration for his work from places like Spain and South Central Los Angeles, his challenges writing and making books for the Central-American community, and more. A truly extraordinary session for listeners, with major thanks also to the InsideOUT Writers for hosting our club’s meeting over Zoom.

J.T.

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You Can Now Support J.T. The L.A. Storyteller on Patreon

It’s true! After six years with JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller as a free and open source for all, yours truly is now prepared to offer exclusive deals and content to subscribers via PATREON. Hop on over to see the first major giveaway!

J.T.

The official flyer for the first ever Los Cuentos Summer Book Club

Our Fourth and Final Meeting For The New Los Cuentos Summer Book Club with J.T. Takes Place this Wednesday, August 5th

Save the date and time, Los Angeles: This Wednesday, August 5th from 6:00 – 7:30 PM via Zoom.

The fourth and final Wednesday for the new Los Cuentos Summer Book Club is upon us! Our last meeting will see our community conclude discussions of LA SIGUANABA‘s incredible journey through Ertll’s novel, and will also feature Ertll himself to give our book club members a chance to chat with the author. To make our final meeting all the more special, any and all Los Cuentos supporters are welcome to attend. Our meeting will also feature a raffle, giving away four free copies of LA SIGUANABA AND THE MAGICAL LOROCO to four lucky attendees. Find the login info for our meeting posted on the @jimbotimes Instagram page this Wednesday morning at 11:00 AM, and follow J.T. on Twitter for live updates.

J.T.

EPISODE 19 – PONTE LAS PILAS PRESS

In our nineteenth episode, we hop on a call with Viva Padilla, the founder and editor-in-chief of Ponte Las Pilas Press, a publishing house from South Central Los Angeles. We talk about Viva’s funding and design process making literary journals, challenges and opportunities after five years of doing the work, motherhood, the future of the literati & open mic scene in L.A., and more. A truly fun session for listeners.

J.T.

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The book cover for Mike the Poet's Letters to My City, published in 2019

Letters To My City (2019)

Through a tremendous last couple of weeks between the Los Angeles Review of Books workshop, the new Los Cuentos Book Club, and more for your truly, I just finished Mike the Poet’s L.A.’s Letters to My City. By the turn of the final page, I both see it and hear it. Sonsken’s ‘letters’ are not just prose, but also songs from the heart to all comers. Most of all, they’re a tribute to those who’ve been here, as Sonsken shows no fear celebrating L.A.’s Black, Indigenous, Asian, Native & Latinx roots. His book can thus be though of as an invitation for all poets, writers, and anyone interested in uplifting this city and keeping its history sacred to tag along for the ride.

Sonsken’s writing also consistently understands that he’s not the guiding hand, but that his is one led by the voices of others, those around him to uncover or pay heed to the roots. Sonsken’s work therefore comes off as a round-table discussion, a gathering of minds from across L.A., but abundant especially with folks from the South and East sides, as well as with folks from less discussed “L.A.” like Long Beach, Oxnard and even Cerritos and the OC. It is a call for Los Angeles’s artists and all creators to come together with major respect to the city, to the communities, for the stories, which form the heartbeat of this sometimes totally cruel, sometimes surreal town. Los Cuentos sees this, and I look forward to passing Mike’s book along to the next generation of historians with major visions for our city.

Towards the end the book also leads to more questions. For one, I found myself reflecting on reparations awarded to Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles who faced internment. In a closing vignette on Little Tokyo’s history and a Buddhist temple in the area Mike writes:

A key component of Japanese religion and culture is the idea of ancestor veneration, essentially the idea of gratitude to your family and specifically appreciating one’s ancestors.

I thought then of the enslaved, and those whose lives were uprooted and taken by genocide and U.S. imperialism. I seriously wondered: where is the discussion in L.A. on reparations for African-American, Native, and also Mexican bodies? These are our ancestors, and there are more, in and even beyond America. I believe Sonsken would agree for a need to come together and discuss it, and that, at least in L.A., his book is certainly one way to start.

J.T.

The official flyer for the first ever Los Cuentos Summer Book Club

Our Third Meeting For The New Los Cuentos Summer Book Club with J.T. Takes Place Tonight

For the third week in a row our team reconnects to discuss our latest reflections on LA SIGUANABA and The Magical Loroco. Discussion items will include the way literature acts as a form of escapism, how popular culture might influence policy decisions, and the transactional nature of politics as seen in Ertll’s SIGUANABA. Follow JIMBO TIMES on Twitter for live updates from our chat.

J.T.