I ASKED THE BLUE HERON (2017)

To come to terms with one’s status as a survivor is to relive the moments that nearly ended one’s life. To collect those moments and offer them to the world is to relieve their weight on one’s mind so new possibilities in one’s life may take shape. Lisbeth Coiman, an Afro-Venezuelan poet and writer, has embarked on this process in a particularly relevant reading journey for working-class people in cities like Los Angeles, especially for migrants from Latin America.

All across the streets of central, east and south Los Angeles are people unsheltered, overwhelmingly Black, but also substantially Latino, lying on the curb through summer heat, and lingering like abandoned cattle throughout the day. When I noted to someone recently that according to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, the official count of people living as such this year was upwards of 70,000, they gave me a higher estimate, which I found more credible: “It’s probably more like 200,000,” they said.

I wonder, for a moment, how many of the 200,000 in Los Angeles are survivors, or people who’ve suffered physical, mental, and other abuse at some point in their lives. In my work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth, I’ve come across more than only a few victims: teenagers whose parents were drug abusers, or teenagers who were molested by their family members at an early age; teenagers with inherent learning disabilities who were clearly discriminated against at schools before they were discriminated against in courtrooms, and teenagers who likely acquired learning disabilities as a result of abuse at home.

Lisbeth Coiman is also a survivor, whose first book, She Asked the Blue Heron, unwinds a mental and emotional journey for the author as she seeks to face a mental health battle on her terms and for her healing, to which the reader is invited. At 239 pages, by means of skillfully arranged, quick-moving chapters, Coiman’s book offers lifelines for any reader maneuvering through their own mental health battles at home, with family members, with lovers, and in the work of building a career. Coiman’s book also traces the process before, during, and after migration, although some notes should be made on the terms of migration today.

Continue reading “I ASKED THE BLUE HERON (2017)”
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.

La Siguanaba (2019)

Words create worlds. They are also known to destroy them. This is what makes the “house” of literature a central database and even a living organism where culture is collected, observed, and retold for human growth and learning. Even the late, great Gabriel García Márquez based his 100 Years of Solitude on experiences as a child with his abuelitos at their home in Aracataca, Colombia.

As a child in Los Angeles growing up in the 90s and then the 2000s, my eyes flocked to the wondrous movement of vibrant and surreal images on television. Among a handful of great shows, I loved Dragon Ball Z, in which brawny cartoon men and bulked up cartoon kids with edgy haircuts–or no haircuts–duked it out with other-worldly creatures for the fate of the universe. In the days leading up to my teen years, the prospect of domination itself is what drew my and friends and I–mostly, but not only, young men–to watch “wrestling” matches for years on end, including after we found out the matches were running on the same old script again (you know you did it, too).

Today, an obsession with stories and great storytelling is what leads me to recognize Randy Jurado Ertll’s LA SIGUANABA and the Magical Loroco as a book for all ages, for all genders, and for all futures whose histories are concerned with, if not total freedom, then serious liberation from the yoke of colonialist, misogynist and classist cultures entrenched throughout the American continent and between the continent’s various people.

The book is self-published by Ertll, and looking past a handful of grammatical and even a few thematic ‘loose ends,’ at 87 pages, it reads poetically, like something one might hear landing by chance at an Open Mic Hour on a dark-hued night in Los Angeles.

Like most well-told cuentos, the story begins with a bang. La Siguanaba is out for revenge. She has ‘no time for games,’ and is ready to make war on anyone who makes the mistake of getting in her way. By the end of the first paragraph, readers learn that she is unapologetically L.A., gangsta style, replete with 90s hip hop thumping loudly in her car, presumably while on her way to pick up some fine and sizzling pupusas.

Now, say what you will about the repetitiveness of another loud-talking, brash Latinx woman straight outta Los Angeles in fiction…except wait, actually, just when was the last time L.A. literature saw a major cultural icon from Los Angeles, or any U.S. city, for that matter, with brown skin and a surname pronounced in Español?

Helena Maria Viramontes’s ‘Turtle’ is proof they have existed, and that they still exist, but the fact is that communities in Los Angeles would still be pressed to find much representation in literature reflective of their culture.

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, as recently as 2018, only 5% of Children’s books contained Latinx characters or protagonists, even though Latinx people now make up 18% of the U.S. population and are slated to grow even more in their share of the nation’s demographics.

This is what makes La Siguanaba a refreshing character on arrival, particularly for Latinx audiences. She’s an immigrant from El Salvador. She’s an entrepreneur. She’s incredibly successful, but is alone, resented by her two sons for past “sins.” She also holds no bars, speaking candidly at every turn, unafraid of men and whatever their position in society may be. And she possesses superpowers; she is beautiful at one moment, but unmistakably grotesque if provoked.

Yet despite La Siguanaba‘s personal empowerment, the fact persists that she still lives in a world where Central-American women’s bodies–like those of their African-American, Indigenous and Trans counterparts’–are largely disposable, traded between men for U.S. dollars in an ecosystem where wealth affords protection–most of all protection of wealth itself–to rich, predominantly white men, while most men and women without that protection surrender their bodies for crumbs of wealth in ways that are particularly degrading–that is, dehumanizing–for the latter.

So, what is La Siguanaba, as someone who knows the shielding effects of wealth in her entrepreneurial success but also the continual scorn faced by young women without access to resources across the American continent, to do?

We’ve heard this story before. She’s going to flip the system. But here’s the twist, unlike El Cipitio, who sought the White House to create revolutionary changes for his people, La Siguanaba seeks longer-term transformation for the society that continually makes people like her invisible. She’s going to do this by taking the battle right to heart of the matter, at least as far as it concerns Latinx people in America. Looking beyond the term-limits of presidencies in “democratic republics” known to fail the majority of their constituents whether leftist or rightist, La Siguanaba resolves not only beat the bastards at their own game, but to redefine the rules. In the opening chapters of the tale, we learn that she’s going to flip the system by pursuing the office of the Pope, as in, to become the first Madre or woman head of the one and only Catholic church, a lifetime appointment.

What follows is a frolicking tale of the lies and betrayal that are arguably endemic to yet another cuento about the destruction wreaked in the pursuit of power, despite all best intentions for use of that power, the details of which audiences love to hate time and again no matter how many times we’ve heard or seen it before. Relationships are destroyed. Secrets are cast out into the open. Yet somehow, there may be room for amends along the way. In the end, despite a litany of f-bombs riddled throughout (cursing is a crucial part of Salvadoran American Spanish), it’s a family-affair.

In an election year when the remaking of society, but also the remaking of the human family, is easily on the minds of people not just in the United States, but all across the world, La Siguanaba is right on time, beckoning to readers to reflect seriously on just where it all came from, or how things got so ‘nasty.’

It’s also true that as a cis-gender Salvadoran American man, Ertll’s writing can never fully capture the true experiences of Latinas, Afro-Latinas, and Indigenous muxeres all across El Salvador and throughout the American continent, but that Ertll can make an attempt at it. In a world where less than 5% of characters reflect a people whose contributions to this economy and our whole way of life are much larger, that attempt is important. The L.A. Storyteller therefore pays heed, and is proud to recommend this book to lovers of letters in Los Angeles, especially those of Brown skin with Spanish surnames. Find and purchase LA SIGUANABA and the Magical Loroco, and inform your attempt at challenging this status quo, too.

J.T.

Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 15)

In an effort to write about something other than the Coronavirus for a moment, even if it’s just one moment, I’m now on page 592 of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. This means I’ve got just a little less than 400 pages to go before completing the late author’s famous magnum opus. If I can keep up with my reading schedule, I should spend no more than two weeks from today finishing the legendary novel.

David Foster Wallace was a brilliant writer and thinker whose non-fiction I really enjoyed before his fiction, but I’ve actually got quite a few issues with Infinite Jest. The vast majority of reviews hail the work as pure genius, but today it’s clear that such reviews are of a different time, and mostly written by white generation X-ers like Mr. Wallace himself. This makes it so that as a millennial Latinx blogger from Los Angeles, I’ve got a different take to share. So here are Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS:

1. When the book is highly unreadable. Sure, the epiphanous literary oases that make up each “chapter” (or Sierpinski triangle) of the novel read musically for book-worms or lovers of Dead Poets Society everywhere, but at some point they tend to muddle the author’s point more than clarifying it, and this is not helped by the author’s titanic footnote excavations or “side-explanations.” As a result, it takes nearly 400 pages into the novel to get a firm sense of who’s who and just where the characters of Infinite Jest may be going. And I get it. Wallace wanted to challenge his readers in a critical way, demanding their full and undivided attention during what he rightly saw as an era of mass distraction. He was prescient for seeing how reductive and repetitive American pop culture was becoming in its numbing of attention spans everywhere, but how much did he really need to pontificate about aerodynamic theories as divulged at elite institutions like his book’s Enfield Tennis Academy’s? In 2005, during Wallace’s famous speech at Kenyon College, at one point during his lecture the author skips through his own lengthy descriptions, saying “etc, etc., [I’m] cutting stuff out because it’s a long ceremony.” At many moments throughout Infinite Jest, it feels exactly like one of those “long ceremonies” that could use some cutting out.

2. When the book is totally White and from the Mid-West, meaning that yes, it frequently enjoys throwing racist jabs at minorities. The year was 1996. Nirvana and MTV ruled the billboards, ratings, and t-shirts. Black superstars were either “latchkey” kids from New York or South Central L.A., while “Latinos” were basically Mexicans “randomly” spread throughout the states (according to the dominant pop culture). Infinite Jest, despite frequently being called “ahead of its time,” offers virtually no alternative reading of these groups’ contributions to American culture, instead relying on stereotypes like “n-words and spics,” as much as any other cheap film during America’s beloved 90s era. But ask these types of groups today if treating their culture as such was as grossly reductive then as it is today, and yeah, it was grossly reductive then too, and only stands out more now.

3. When the book treats women in its plot really, really badly. In 2020, three years after the rise of the #metoo movement–and despite nationalist white guys in tandem insisting otherwise–treating women in pop culture as objects serving mostly for men’s barbarities is by and large fundamentally unacceptable, worthy of the utmost scrutiny. As with the part about minimizing Black and Latino characters in its story, this is another area where Infinite Jest was actually not only NOT “ahead of its time,” but waaaaay privileged and condescending. This also demonstrates the first point about the writing “going on and on” in a way that’s not only unnecessary, but downright obnoxious. A case in point, in one sequence of Infinite Jest, Wallace describes an abortion for one of the many side-characters in truly harrowing detail, presumably to give us “an example” of his Ennet [Rehab] House’s many dysfunctional characters. But what purpose does the detail serve? Is it supposed to be like gore in a horror flick? It comes off as indulgent. Moreover, the fact that treatment of women throughout the novel in this way is almost never discussed in the vast majority of the book’s reviews also speaks to the “trade-offs” overlooked when reviewers praised Wallace’s literary genius.

4. When the book enjoys ridiculing disabled people. Readers need to look no further than the constant reminders of Mario Incandenza’s difference from from others as the prematurely-born and oddly figured member of his family, which tend to run on in a way that isn’t just expansive, but bordering on sadist. Take the following passage, for example, when Wallace describes the one romantic experience of Mario Incandenza’s life:

“[A girl] was trying to undo Mario’s corduroys but was frustrated by the complex system of snaps and fasteners at the bottom of his…Velcro vest [which supports his disabled figure]…it was when [Kent] wrapped one arm around his shoulder for leverage and forced her other hand up under the hem of the tight vest and then down inside the trousers and briefs, rooting for a penis, that Mario became so ticklish…”

As a reader, on the one hand, I know that Wallace wants to endear readers to Mario’s extraordinary physical makeup, which in spite of its difference, doesn’t keep Mario from having a strange sexual interaction like any other teenager out there. On the other hand, idunno, it feels like Wallace is–as in other sequences–exploiting the character’s “defects” too. I’m not sure if it’s Wallace just doing Wallace, or if he’s being humorous at the expense of someone else’s “deformity,” which brings up another question I don’t recall being posed to Wallace by popular reviewers: why so many “disabled” characters? If Wallace was in an editing room today, I’m sure he wouldn’t get off as easily with such literary devices just because at the end of the day the writing is simply so witty.

5. When the book blames poor people for their own damn problems. Although the “middle class” kids who make up the Tennis Academy’s student body are all grotesque personalities in their own way, they mostly get away with this for being young and really smart. By contrast, when it comes to say, a Randy Lenz, who’s got issues that go way back to his (Lenz’s) working-class background, when Wallace makes psychoanalytic exhibitions of these types of characters’ experiences with such things as incest, rape, child abuse and other issues that tend to face people in poverty, it doesn’t come off as “just witty,” but as narcissistic, and not in an ironic or ‘gotcha’ kind of way. This makes it so that at many points in Infinite Jest, Wallace seems to view urban Boston as just another petri dish of lost or abandoned characters the way just another white kid in a Michigan basement would view “dirty city-life,” his literary prowess notwithstanding.

(5. Continued) But what about, say, white-collar types who are also addicted types and not far off from the city, exploiting those same “lost or abandoned” types in their own grotesque ways when they aren’t promulgating pop-culture to keep the American population dormant to America’s inequalities? Why not expound on the idiosyncratic mannerisms, of say, an Alan Greenspan or Bill Clinton? Wallace does NOT achieve a “fair-share” of doling out his psychoanalysis even with say, “President Gentle,” who is only a “background” character, the descriptions of which only make him a shallow political figure and nothing else, even though presidents in American history tend to play a major role in “shaping” pop culture. And Enfield Tennis Academy–for all its cruel, elitist tendencies–does NOT come off as an “equal” counterpart to Ennet House’s “trashy” makeup, so the book falls short of juxtaposing these groups for Wallace’s larger point about American culture’s wayside decline.

Okay, even with these gripes, is the massive 1,100 page book still worth reading? If you don’t count the footnotes, the novel is not that long, weighing in at more like 981 pages. And yes, it’s still worth reading. Despite these and other shortcomings, Wallace’s writing still challenges readers to imagine farther-reaching, more complex prose as a form of expression. And no matter what verdict different readers might give Infinite Jest, it’s worth pointing out that rather than breaking the rules, Wallace’s book bends them, expanding the bandwidth of literature overall to elasticize the reader’s ability to imagine different ways of expressing ideas.

I just would chill on all the boundless praise that earlier reviewers have tended to give the book, but would still recommend readers to be challenged by its virtuoso achievements. I would also say it’s an especially approachable book during these times, when literary oases have never more been needed to get away from the news. Speaking of which, that’s enough of a retreat. Let’s get back to our coronavirus woes.

J.T.

Bethanee Epifani: When Looks Can Kill a Whole Vibe: An Excerpt from Don’t Fall Prey!

When it comes to romantic interests, this idea of ‘perfection’ is based heavily on appearance…we are flooded with images…Whether it’s advertisements on billboards or magazines, music videos, or social media, these images are everywhere and dictate beauty standards.

I remember a few years ago, my best guy friend was dating a new girl, and he had brought her to my birthday dinner where we met each other for the first time. My friend told me that he found the girl to be attractive, however, a few of his guy friends didn’t think she was that attractive. He wanted to know what I thought. She had a cute, short haircut and pretty brown skin.

I told him I thought she was very attractive. However, my seal of approval didn’t seem to be enough for him, and he was in doubt. I was annoyed by my friend, whom I had always believed to be an independent thinker…[he] didn’t want his male buddies’ opinion on whether or not she was kind, smart, or ambitious; he just wanted to know whether or not he had gotten the “hot girl” that would provide the envy of other men. I was disappointed, because I thought he had more depth than that.

The pressure is, and has always been, on women to alter their appearance to suit a man’s desires and preference rather than her own. They feel they have to fit in with the trend or else they get overlooked.

This dire need for male approval, coupled with the fear of being seen as un-beautiful, plus the damaging, unrealistic media comparisons is what drives women to change their appearance and develop low self-esteem and body dysmorphia disorder (BDD).

We need to teach women that their value is not in their appearance, but that their value–and real beauty–lies in the intelligence, knowledge, skills and love that they can bring to a relationship.

Bethanee Epifani’s Don’t Fall Prey! is a collection of personal dating lessons, stories, observations, and suggestions aimed at reminding women of their power, their value, and their beauty. The intention of this book is to promote introspection and clarity on how to tailor one’s dating life into a more positive, and healthy experience. While Don’t Fall Prey! is told from a woman’s perspective, it does not mean men cannot gain something beneficial as well. All are welcome to read, learn, and grow. Available for purchase on Amazon & bethaneeepifani.com.

B.E.

Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (2010)

The first time we analyzed an election in California was in 2017, when we reviewed data from a Special Election in Los Angeles. Data for that election showed a yawning gap between the voting rates for white and non-white voters; at the close of the special election, in a city where less than 50% of the population identified as white, over 64% of mail-in ballots turned in belonged to white voters. As we noted in that article:

“Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast in L.A., post-election day, only 36% of ballots turned in belonged to non-white voters.”

As it turns out, the rate of return for that Special Election in L.A. was not an anomaly, or some new and strange phenomenon, but actually consistent with the history of voting in ‘liberal’ California as a whole.

In Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, Daniel HoSang takes an analysis of California’s voting patterns one step further, exploring the way the predominantly white electorate of the state has voted negatively or against a handful of ballot issues dealing closely with racial or progressive issues in the state during a sixty year period from just after 1945 to the early 2000s.

And why should we care about a handful of ‘old’ voting issues in California? HoSang explains that ballot measures are especially useful for thinking about the state’s role in the inequalities found between its housing, public schools, healthcare, employment and other areas ‘separating’ people of color from wealthier whites due to the way that voting publicizes a particular type of conversation on these issues:

“Ballot measures…especially those that receive widespread public attention, create public spectacles where competing political interests necessarily seek to shape public consciousness and meaning.”

Put another way: materials like campaign rhetoric, opinion articles, television commercials and other instruments which are used to support the passage of certain ballot issues, or used to defeat them, show that campaign or policy battles don’t ‘just express’ the will of an electorate, but even go as far as to create and develop certain ideals about what the state of California is, who California is, and who it belongs to.

“Because the instruments of direct democracy by definition are intended to advance the will of “the people,”…organized groups and interests must always make their claim in populist rather than partisan terms, thereby defining the very meaning of the common good.”

In other words, for HoSang, as anyone familiar with the 2016 Presidential Election should be able to recall, voting issues have a very particular–at times even “nasty”–way of telling voters about “who we are,” what our values are–or what they should be–and how we should act on such values with our votes.

HoSang further contends that the “sensibilities” or logic which the voting issues of Racial Propositions make their appeals to are voters’ “political whiteness.” The phrase “political whiteness” has layered meanings, but essentially, throughout his book it means a degree of privilege and status for white voters that’s not only maintained but also expounded on by voting issues.

From the outset, HoSang claims that “whiteness” in the United States isn’t simply a “fixed” identity, where if you’re white, you view yourself as such in a “static” or “unchanging” way; instead, he argues, “whiteness” is highly impressionable, or capable of transforming due to external factors like advertising, propagandizing, and finally, voting.

As HoSang takes readers through the first dozen or so pages of Racial Propositions, then, rather than simply restating the term, the author arrests and interrogates scores of materials left by different voting issues in California. The campaigns for Fair Employment, Fair Housing, or the effort to Desegregate Public Schools in California are just a few of the voting issues he discusses, in which he exposes the logic of “political whiteness” at play in efforts by organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Realtors Association (CREA), the Parents Associations and other groups that come together to defeat policies aimed at “leveling the playing field” between white and non-white people in the Golden State.

That’s right. Did you know that in 1946, voters in California decided against protections for workers facing discrimination in hiring? Or, did you know that in 1964, voters in California decided against protections for non-white residents looking for a home in the state? Did you know that in 1979, California voters decided against racial integration at our schools when they canceled the state’s busing program?

In Los Angeles alone, a mass of white parents voted by a margin of 73% to put an end to school busing in the city, which was only instituted in 1977 and thus not even off the ground yet.

The vote against desegregating schools was passed through an ordinance known as Proposition 1, and put an end to “mandatory” busing in 1980 (which, of course, was just a few years before my parents would arrive from Latin-America alongside many other Central-American and Asian people. Can anyone say, awkward?).

On the issue of school integration, HoSang points out that it wasn’t easy placing an end to a program whose stated goal was the integration of the races in the state’s public classrooms in accordance with Brown vs Board of Education; the formula to defeat integration required a sophisticated deployment of a language of “racial innocence,” which sought to ‘pass the buck’ or responsibility for “fixing” racism onto the desks of the state and away from the homes of ‘innocent’ [white] parents:

“[Supporters of Proposition 1] held that because white parents and students did not intentionally create the second-class schools to which most racial minorities were consigned nor explicitly support segregated schools as a matter of principle, they could not be compelled to participate in the schools’ improvement.”

In other words, in the same way that today the Trump administration likes to argue that the refugee crisis in Central-America should be some other state’s–perhaps Mexico’s–problem, opponents of the school-busing program in late seventies California argued that mixing their white children with Black and Brown kids was unfairly burdening them with a job that was supposed to be the state or federal government’s to do. That is, whenever the state or federal government would get to it. Perhaps never, even, but the point being the same: it was not the parents’ responsibility to account for or address inequality at public schools. They were “the innocent ones.”

But the gift of Racial Propositions is that no matter what the reader may make of the author’s argument on political whiteness, the book is an exhilarating page-turner for anyone interested in a political history of “The Golden State.” This is due in no small part to HoSang’s unsparingly sharp, saber-like writing skills. For his part, the author recognizes none other than James Baldwin as a key influence on his analytical framework:

“Whiteness was for Baldwin “absolutely, a moral choice,” an identity derived from and constructed through a set of political convictions. It was by inhabiting a particular political subjectivity—one that rested upon a series of destructive assumptions—that one became white. To embrace the myth of whiteness, he argued, was to ‘believe, as no child believes, in the dream of safety’; that one could insist on an inalienable and permanent protection from vulnerability.”

By the closing pages of Racial Propositions, HoSang’s analysis also makes clear why our political discussions today need to abate a conception of ‘liberal’ California which still dominates the vox populi leading up to 2020: that because California is already a “minority majority” state, it offers a glimpse into the “progressive” future of America, since the U.S.’s “browning” is asumed to lead towards ‘liberalizing’ it.

HoSang notes that if such “majority minority” or “browning” scenarios are the last frontiers for the hope of liberalism, which became the case in California nearly two decades ago, than they better take a closer look at the numbers:

“…in 2000, as California became the first large “majority minority” state in the nation, white voters still constituted 72 percent of the electorate.”

And so, as one blogger put it to his fellow readers and historians following another election where that same “majority minority” was hardly seen during election day:

“The current disparities throughout California between white voter rates and those of people of color when considering the larger voter eligibility pool of the latter is not just unfortunate, it’s something of a public safety concern.”

So let’s get on it, Los Angeles. Find and read Daniel HoSang’s book, which has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller.

J.T.

War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (1980)

In the days since an ebullient Back 2 School 2 Party, I’ve had the privilege to rest and restore myself from the frenzy of so much organizing. One of the key activities in this “decompressing” process has been getting back to los beloved libros. In an effort to spread the joy of reading, then, here is another brief book review, this time on a little-known story by a major organizer in American history: Huey P. Newton’s War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (1980).

I can only imagine how demoralizing it was for Mr. Newton to describe the harrowing experience that led to the publication of this work, which describes how in less than ten (10) years his entire life was uprooted, distorted and destroyed by a branch of government whose authority was never approved by Congressional Hearing (see FBI), but which would nevertheless work “behind the scenes” to eradicate the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) efforts to free Black and other minorities from the second-class citizenship over a hundred (100) years after the Reconstruction period that followed the US Civil War (1861-1865). As Mr. Newton points out in the opening pages of his analysis:

“By 1966, the United States had experienced a recent series of disruptions in several of its major urban Black population centers—Harlem, Watts, Chicago and Detroit. Numerous organizations and leaders representing groups of Black people—e.g., SCLC (Martin Luther King, Jr.), the Black Muslims (Elijah Muhammed and Malcolm X), CORE (James Farmer), NAACP (Roy Wilkins)—had repeatedly articulated the causes of these riots or urban rebellions: high unemployment, bad housing, police brutality, poor health care, and inferior educational opportunities.”

That same year, the Party would be founded in Oakland, California. It wouldn’t last more than 14 years. But during its lifespan, the BPP served as a “vanguard,” to borrow one of Newton’s terms, which would not only extend the spirit of Black Liberation Theory passed down from the blood and ashes of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., but which would “evolve” that spirit to meet the needs of a new “postmodern” world dawning after the “radical sixties” era in the United States. A world which would nearly leave the Black community and other minorities completely behind, if not for the revolutionary spirit and action of thinkers like Mr. Newton, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, and other major intellectual and social figures of the times.

To be sure, War Against the Panthers is not a “tell-all” expose of the BPP and its legacy, but it’s a close and fact-based look at the methods of infiltration used by institutions such as the FBI, CIA and even the IRS and others, which set out to destroy the party’s Breakfast and other ‘Survival’ programs in Oakland, Chicago, New York and many more major cities across the U.S. For this same reason the dissertation is a very brief read containing a handful of facts, figures, and memorandums obtained through litigation by attorneys for the Panthers in cases against the FBI and its counterparts for violating the Panthers’ rights to privacy, freedom of speech, and other political freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In 2019, “privacy” and the right to privacy is a word and phrase I read mostly when articles are referring to the internet, and more specifically, when they’re referring to which companies are spying on Americans’s phones and web browsers (virtually all of them, though one might ask: does it still count as spying if we clicked “yes” in the disclosure agreement?).

Yet Newton’s dissertation is an example of just what kind of actions can be taken against any American when the major power players deem them a “threat to national security,” or even just expendable or collateral damage. The analysis is therefore also instructive in the matter about why ‘[the] people’s’ rights are still worth defending; the issues of privacy and the right to organize oneself privately, politically or otherwise are not just legislative or “abstract” issues, but truly personal ones affecting every American today. As Mr. Newton points out, if even just one power player can deploy their leverage against any one group or person to destroy the rights of their citizenship, then it follows that all power players are given permission to misuse their leverage against all [the] people:

“…governmental efforts at destruction of the Party, successful in varying degrees, were only thwarted or held in abeyance when they reached their logical consequence: destruction of the right of dissent for all groups, a right indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society.”

I salute Mr. Newton and his comrades for their invaluable bravery in living, breathing, and exposing this parable. At least for JIMBO TIMES, the people will know: these are legends not far at all removed from our time. The text is free online for any one to read, and has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller.

J.T.