Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997)

I’m a child of the nineties, so maybe that explains why I seem to be so fascinated with so much of the literature from the period.

Or maybe it’s just that what so many writers published during the nineties comes off the pages as being directly related to general discussions about law and order today.

To be sure, Mona Ruiz’s Two Badges informs the idea of law and order from a rare and critical position; inspired by the author’s own life, the book is an autobiographical foray into the world of a former gang member turned police officer in her ‘old’ neighborhood.

If it sounds like a strange concept, the author is more than well aware of it. In the introduction to Badges, Ruiz describes the process for her:

“Talking about my past, my barrio and the circle of friends is difficult because there has been so much pain and loss. For many of them, the fact that I wear a police uniform now is a betrayal of sorts. I hope that this book will help them understand that I have never turned my back on the past–just the opposite, I believe I have dedicated my life to facing and dealing with it. I never left my barrio, I never ran away. I stayed and I’m trying to make a difference.”

The excerpt hits close to home, capturing perfectly the sense of survivor’s guilt that faces so many who feel they ‘escaped’ from a certain tragedy while their counterparts ‘stayed behind’.

In the case of Mona Ruiz’s life, the tragedy is the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration that demeans and disfigures her immediate circle of friends, and later, their children.

There is a second tragedy, however. If Ruiz was fortunate enough to ‘escape’ the cycle, it’s figuratively and literally a blessing in disguise, as she takes on a uniform which many would argue plays an unforgivable role in the execution of the cycle.

Ruiz doesn’t preach to the reader about which side has the right, though. Instead, she speaks purely about how role-switching since her youth informs her adulthood on unforgettable terms, as if it all happened in a single day:

“…The makeup made us feel older. The mask smoothed away signs of weakness and gave us power. When I was a teen, it was a sign that I belonged to the streets. At age thirty-two, staring into the peeling mirror in the locker room at the police station, it was a disguise, a way to hide my badge and my job. I couldn’t pretend, though, that I wasn’t feeling strange seeing myself in the war paint again. Behind my busy hands, I saw the face of my past staring at me in that mirror.”

For its vivid sense of introspection, Ruiz’s passage brings to mind just how often ‘the mask’ is being donned. That is, just when does the make-up begin for a person, and at what point does it end?

Moreover, in the twenty-first century, who isn’t putting on a mask to get through the day? For Ruiz, putting on the mask in her teens is a rite of passage, or the first step of claiming a face in the world for power. But later as a police officer, the disguising only continues.

As Badges goes on though, it’s clear that Ruiz isn’t interested as much in playing for power as much as she’s interested in healing from the consequences of so much time with the game.

As if the struggle for Mona between two lifetimes is not enough, there is a third challenge facing her as a woman: at home, when the badge is off, she’s the wife of a jealous husband, and a mother of two.

Even after everything, then, the mask-donning and fighting continues for her, and I can only imagine how exhausting it was for Ruiz to not only survive all of this, but to then place it into perspective and sit down to write about it.

For this, apart from the fascinating insights the book offers to the discussion of law and order, Two Badges also demonstrates how while great writing takes incredible amounts of time, when done truthfully and unapologetically, the result is vividly poignant.

In turn, The Lives of Mona Ruiz get a third badge: one of raucous approval from The L.A. Storyteller. And as a matter of appreciating the book so much, a couple of months ago I had the privilege to share an excerpt of the book alongside a group of young writers with the I.O.W. program.

Ruiz’s writing did not earn unanimous badges of approval from the youngsters, but it did inspired a lively array of opinions; I can assure anyone looking to engage their own group of youngsters that Mona Ruiz’s book will come through for you all the same.




Making Face, Making Soul (1990)

Before time runs out, it’s a pleasure to introduce my book for the month, which will be one of the greatest literary goldmines on my shelf for a long time to come. Below is an excerpt from Making Face, Making Soul: Critical Perspectives by Women of Color:

Sometimes all it means to me is suffering. Tragedy. Poverty. Las caras de los tortured santos y las mujeres en luto, toda la vida en luto. La miseria is not anything I want to remember and everything I cannot forget. Sometimes the bravery in facing and struggling in such life is too little. The courage with which a people siguen luchando against prejudice and injustice is not glory enough…” – Edna Escamill, Corazon de una Anciana

The book is a collection of writings by women of color from all across the United States, gathered and edited by the late, great Gloria Anzaldua.

I had the fortune to learn about the book after a dear friend of mine shared one of its essays with me: Aleticia Tijerina’s Notes on Oppression and Violence. In it, Tijerina speaks of her life with imprisonment since the age of twelve, and describes the herculean feat of finding and maintaining love for herself before an unrelenting enemy, both in the state and in herself. I was riveted by the power of Tijerina’s voice, which was filled as much by rage as it was by beauty.

“We were all imprisoned for various crimes against the State: impersonating men; escaping abusive homes; setting fires; taking drugs; robbery ’cause we were hungry…Most of our so-called “crimes” were acts of resistence or rebellion against an oppressive family, school, society; for many of us, our cultural identity had been battered and abused since birth.”

Though I couldn’t fully comprehend it at the moment, I knew on hearing Tijerina’s voice that I’d found a living, breathing genius, who — most importantly– was in close proximity to my community. Little did I know how many more writers just like her were out there.

In Gloria Anzaldua’s Haciendo Caras, there’s an entire generation of women –like Tijerina but also substantially different– who have published their voices after a lifetime of being silenced.

There’s no doubt about the brilliance of each voice in this endeavor. Gloria Anzaldua and her contemporaries show themselves to be masterful writers who have not only studied their subjects, but who have also taken the time to weave them in terms that pulse vividly with life for the reader.

She sat cross-legged and still on top of the hill, at first watching and then becoming part of the moonlight, the brilliant sun. Tall yellow grasses stood stiff and dry and were blown down by the first harsh winds of winter. When the rains came, the earth sprouted in green and tender innocence. She listened to the meditative soul of winter and felt the quickening of spring and each of the seasons in turn: she knew that Time was inside of her.

Journeying alongside each writer in Making Face, I found myself humbled to learn of their intricate arguments, which reveal difficult positions on how to achieve a total humanity between male, female, and other identities alike.

For example, how should ‘women of color’ identify themselves as women who are distinct from the dominant white women’s feminist movement at the same time that they search for the mutual liberation of both white and non-white women, i.e. all women?

And how can women of color increase the publication of their perspectives when the major industries of publication are themselves caught in a power struggle between white females and their white male counterparts?

Similarly, how do women of color reconcile their relationships with others who call themselves allies, but who are only interested in their own personal gain from the movement?

And in Anzaldua’s words, how do women of color resist the imposition of internalized self-loathing on their counterparts?

Like the (colonizer) we try to impose our version of ‘the way things should be’: we try to impose one’s self on the Other by making her the recipient of one’s negative elements, usually the same elements that the Anglo projected on us. Like them, we project our own self-hatred on her: we stereotype her; we make her generic.

The response to these challenges vary from voice to voice, and themselves only represent a sample of the book’s many subjects, but Making Face manages to place its multiple different perspectives in a way that still indicates a true solidarity between them.

For this, I know that JIMBO TIMES is privileged to share the collection with the people of Los Angeles, as well as with the many other fans across the globe (yeah, we’re worldwide </:).

And to be sure, there’s far more that can be said about the collection — of its beautiful treatment of dreams and time and space, or of its historic lens across the decades — but of course, there’s only so much we can say before time runs out.

For now, check out Making Face, Making Soul for yourself; I assure you you won’t regret it!

With more soon,


Ana Castillo: Massacre of the Dreamers (1995)

Ana Castillo: Bibliography

Massacre of the Dreamers is crucial literature for any activist in the 21st century, as Castillo searingly navigates through the century-old roots of oppression at the heart of the Americas: the oppression of the brown woman.

Castillo not only details the layers of misogynist systems which brown women have faced throughout their existence, but she also manages to cast a vision for those of us who want to be allies of Xicanisma –Chicana-based feminist consciousness — as we seek to free ourselves from our own internalized oppression.

Steeped with fact-based analysis but not overwhelmingly focused on numbers, the book is also a model for what academic literature should be: based on the present conditions faced ‘on the ground’ by non-academics, since the majority of the working class which so many scholars hope to advocate for have neither the time nor the patience to sift through jargon-laden writing aimed at other academics.

M.O.D was published in 1995, but is as relevant now as it was during the nineties for its careful examination of events like the Chicano Student walkouts of East Los Angeles in 1968, subsequent movements for economic justice such as the 1986 Watsonville Women’s Strike, and the form which the movement has taken more recently in events such as the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) conference.

For its words of wisdom, sources, and its persistence in seeking ways to identify and dismantle systems of inequality, I absolutely recommend Ana Castillo’s book for anyone looking to learn about the Amerindian, or Mestiza mujer‘s role in the movement.


City of Quartz: On Landscape

Sunset Boulevard; West Hollywood

“Although awash with garbled pseudo-scientisms and racial allusions, [Anton Wagner’s] Los Angeles (1935) offered an extraordinarily detailed panorama of the city’s districts and environs in the early depression…particularly Hollywood’s elaborate, but doomed, attempt to generate a Europeanized ‘real urban milieu’:

‘Here, one wants to create the Paris of the Far West. Evening traffic on Hollywood boulevard attempts to mimic Parisian boulevard life. However, life on the boulevard is extinct before midnight, and the seats in front of the cafes, where in Paris one can watch street life in a leisurely manner, are missing…'”

Here I’m reminded of something I heard in my writing workshop with VONA at Miami, when a fellow writer mentioned how on first getting to L.A., the place felt “like a country town.” I remember being so struck by her words, as before then it had never occurred to me just how much the city feels like a village nestled out in the wilderness! Somehow, I’d gotten so caught up in the concrete and density of L.A. that I viewed it purely as a metropolis, when its origins clearly still mark it as a nexus of hills, canyons, and other dry land that just had concrete plastered all over it one day.

In fact, when I think about it the place isn’t even radically different from the pueblo in Southern Mexico where my mom originally hails from: a tiny little town in the mountains with its own miniature twists and turns through the landscape like the streets of Los Angeles.

What’s more, Wagner’s take on the ‘[missing] seats in front of the cafe’ furthers the point of L.A. as a teeming and even chaotic sprawl of mass, since unlike the streets of say, Manhattan, for example, which are flat and therefore prime locations for seats and tables on the street, Hollywood is landlocked amid the swirl of Sunset boulevard and cross-streets that curve strangely into one hill or the next. This makes it difficult to set up seats and tables in a way that is uniform and therefore synchronous with an overall aesthetic, or as Wagner points out, in a way that successfully mimics Parisian boulevard life. Of course, as for the midnight or two am curfew, I can’t quite explain how it came about in L.A., but somehow I have a feeling that Davis will cover it in his elaborate excavation.

Once again, then, I think I’m geeking out! I feel like my knowledge of L.A. only expands with each analysis, and like the information can only play a key role in determining the next twist and turn for The L.A. Storyteller, especially as a new year approaches.

With More Soon,

City of Quartz: On Real Estate

So from its beginnings, L.A. was a place for the rich, by the rich, all of whom wanted to sell Los Angeles to the masses. Mike Davis examines a couple of major institutions and their forerunners as follows:

“I begin with the so-called ‘Arroyo set’: writers, antiquarians, and publicists under the influence of Charles Fletcher Lummis (himself in the pay of the Times and the Chamber of Commerce), who at the turn of the century created a comprehensive fiction of Southern California as the promised land of a millenarian Anglo-Saxon racial odyssey. They inserted a mediterraneanized idyll of New England life into the perfumed ruins of an innocent but inferior ‘Spanish’ culture. In doing so, they wrote the script for the giant real-estate speculations of the early twentieth century that transformed Los Angeles from small town to metropolis. Their imagery, motifs, values and legends were in turn endlessly reproduced by Hollywood, while continuing to be incorporated into ersatz landscapes of suburban Southern California.”

Here, I don’t have to look far to find the ‘comprehensive fiction’ Davis describes, as memorabilia of L.A.’s idyllic lifestyle are abound:

Free Harbor and Glorious Southern California are brought to you by the L.A. Public Library, while California this Summer was found through the California State Library.

In Free Harbor (1899), the L.A. ports of 1899 are overseen by a flock of little white angels, who promise great things to come for the land neighbored by the ocean and overseen by triumphant sunlight. In similar fashion, Jubilee‘s trumpet signals the rise of an American dream in California’s ports, from which freedom and eloquence naturally follow.

California This Summer (1934) makes similar gestures, as the poster captures a world with a little bit of everything, including a state of beaches, lush and green hills, and even mountaintops to quietly conquer as the fair lady with the sunhat does. Life in the portrait looks simple and untainted by the dirt of cities and the congestion of crowds. A perfect summer vacation.

Glorious Southern California (1907) exhausts the point. On one side, the ocean waves signal the life of unchartered waters, while below, the life of cactus and other plants serve to welcome dreams of real estate and other property in an open frontier.

As Davis notes, all of the posters promise Anglo-saxon or white purity, making no allusion or reference to the Spanish-speaking brown cultures which gave California its name, nor the pockets of indigenous civilizations throughout the state which were pushed out to make way for the influx of newcomers. Instead, real estate moguls figured out that depicting a world of endless sunshine and openness would be a draw, and they were absolutely right. As Quartz reveals, such images of Southern California would be endlessly reproduced in Hollywood throughout the decades that’d follow, and well into the present.

It reminds me of a similar trend in my neighborhood at the moment, where real estate agencies dub the area as Silverlake, when in fact the city recognizes it as ‘East Hollywood’. As a neighbor pointed out to me, “when out-of-towners arrive into their new apartments from Seattle and other parts of the country, they’re surprised: there’s no lake, and the apartments are much smaller than they thought, so they just leave, and the cycle starts all over again.

With more soon,

My Mysterious Son

Before I move on with the rest of Quartz, I’d like to take a moment to ‘officially’ review a book for the month. A little while ago, I had the pleasure to learn about My Mysterious Son after meeting the author, Dick Russell, at a writing workshop with the Inside Out Writers. When ‘D.R.’ gave me his book, I thanked him for the journey, without knowing just how challenging its contents would actually be to grapple with. From the opening, D.R. leaves no doubt for readers about just how much of his life he’s sharing with others:

“This is a book about a different interpretation of schizophrenia, based upon almost twenty years of one father’s experience with his son’s struggle against mental illness. Experiences fraught with desperation, confusion, incomprehension, and pain. Experiences also filled with surprise, humor, adventure, and hope. Experiences that ultimately go beyond (but do not discard) the Western “medical model” for treating mental illness.”

Perhaps no moment in the book speaks more to the doubled-edged nature of these experiences than the poetic turning point of the journey, when one morning, the author’s then-seventeen year old son, Franklin, hands him a mysterious note recounting a ‘dream-like’ journey he found himself in the night before.

Russell shares this note in the book, but so as to let readers encounter it for themselves, I’ll leave the note unquoted. What I can say about its contents, however, is that I found myself immediately struck by Franklin’s ability to capture the brilliant images of his journey so vividly.

The note is sharp and enigmatic, taking readers from one edge of a galactic field to another, and right away, it’s clear that Franklin is dealing with a multitude of worlds beyond his own, and that what he’s able to ‘bring back’ from this intersection of realities is something to be treasured.

At the same time, it’s also clear that even if Franklin brings back treasures, there’s only so much understanding one can reach with them, as ultimately, the note leaves readers with more questions than answers.

As fate would have it, Franklin’s note was just the beginning of a tragic divorce from a rather ordinary teenage life up to that point, since what follows next is a harrowing ten years in hospitals, intensive medication, bitter identity crises, effective and ineffective therapy, and so much more for him and his mother and father due to a form of schizophrenia which he’s diagnosed with.

The experience for Franklin is magnified by his status as an only child, as well as the fact that his parents separated when he was still just a newborn. Perhaps most of all, however, Franklin and his family’s journey is complicated by his struggle to come to terms with his biracial identity.


Franklin is dark-skinned, and like most people of color — and black people in America in particular — Franklin struggles with a world that seems to place little to no value on his life. This proves difficult for his white father to grasp, and leads to more than a number of searing confrontations between them on the difference of their skin colors.

At times, Franklin blatantly calls his father an impostor, or implies that someone else is his true ‘ole man’. This is tough to read through, but I can only imagine how much tougher it is to breathe through for the author. Still, D.R. manages to hang on to every sharp-edged word uttered by his son, determined to learn from and use the words as building blocks rather than not.

Moreover, as Russell states at the outset, in contrast to the bitter words between him and his son, there is also a world’s worth of beautiful ‘gems’ the author hears from Franklin’s voice on things. Along with a magnetic vision, Franklin commands a charming knowledge of esoteric facts on language, people, and geography, which on more than a few occasions leaves readers in pleasant awe.

This is the journey through My Mysterious Son, characterized as much by ‘progress’ as ‘regression’ like the life of any ‘normal’ human being. However, things take another major turning point towards the end of the book, when Franklin and his father meet the famed West African writer and teacher Malidoma, who practices ancestral indigenous healing techniques for illness.

Franklin takes well to the West African, and alongside his father, he develops a significant relation with the world renowned spiritual leader, which each of them express gratitude for, and which the author movingly describes.

This alone makes My Mysterious Son a worthy read, but there’s more, considering the cross-roads at which our country remains stuck at on the subject of race. After all, Malidoma, like Franklin, is ultimately a black man, with spiritual and divine knowledge of the world around him that’s more precious than diamonds or gold can ever be.

This knowledge — like that of the alternative forms of healing to Western medicine which the author encounters in his effort to help his son — is indigenous and ancestral information, which — were it not for the author’s open heart and mind — he might never have found for himself.

By extension then, it’s fair to say that  My Mysterious Son shows how in looking past the differences of their skin colors and the different worlds they contain, and in listening for the value of Franklin and later the West African Malidoma’s voices –coupled with Franklin’s willingness to work with his father on dealing with his condition — both men save each other from certain destruction and loss of one another.

For this, the book is not just a great read and journey, but a reading and journey which all Americans should take part in, and I thank both D.R. and Franklin for the knowledge they share in their unforgettable story together.

City of Quartz: Ajah!


The days since my last update have been adventurous, taking me from one polarity of rhythm to the next, with a weekend that featured two incredibly fast and filled up days of work for yours truly, and a Monday that saw the short editorial “To My People” published on
Abernathy Magazine! Finally, this Tuesday allows me some solid time to update The L.A. Storyteller.

I just got through the first chapter of City of Quartz, which featured a total of eighty-five pages analyzing everything in ‘Los Angeles’ from the rise of its bungalow homes in the 1910s to the eve of L.A.’s gangster-rap era as first led by NWA in 1990. Such a lengthy timeline of analysis makes it difficult to choose a part of the text which captures all of Davis’s excavation through so many different periods and their trades, but I’m just going to pick a few passages and navigate through them in the next few posts.

To start off, I’d like to explore Davis’s insight into the way that investors specifically designed and marketed L.A.’s downtown and West-side areas as ‘melting pots’, where the author pulls no punches when calling out those behind the appropriation of ‘culture’ in The City:

“The large-scale developers and their financial allies, together with a few oil magnates and entertainment moguls, have been the driving force behind the public-private coalition to build a cultural superstructure for Los Angeles’s emergence as a ‘world city’. They patronize the art market, endow the museums, subsidize the regional institutes and planning schools, award the architectural competitions, dominate the arts and urban design task-forces, and influence the flow of public arts monies. They have become so integrally involved in the organization of high culture, not because of old-fashioned philanthropy, but because ‘culture’ has become an important component of the land-development process, as well as a crucial moment in the competition between different elites and regional centers.”

Here, the passage invokes for me the way that places like the MOCA and LACMA have always seemed foreign for housing or ‘hiding away’ the pieces of L.A., as whether I’ve walked from the streets of MacArthur Park, where I’m swept by the smell of beans and cheese melting inside pupusas on the grill, or through Wilshire boulevard, as Koreatown greets me with barbecue restaurants, tofu houses, and Tom N Toms, L.A.’s culture has always been in the air for me.

Similarly, I think of how through the “bombs” of graffiti artists or the paintings of the old school Chicano muralists, L.A. for me was never a city to be framed in portraits hanging on the interior walls of ‘art centers’, but to be felt through its aerosol-laden brick and adobe walls out in the open, which speak to the city’s de-centeredness.

Perhaps most of all, however, to me any culture in Los Angeles has always proliferated in the myriad of English dialects which it’s home to, as I walk through the city’s neighborhoods to the chatter of ‘foo’, ‘bluh’, or ‘cuh’ vernaculars, among so many others.

For largely failing to acknowledge such homegrown characteristics, L.A.’s major museums have always been a downer for many of me and my friends, but until Davis’s text, the feeling was always subconscious. Now, with the insight of Quartz in mind, I finally have a context for the feeling of estrangement throughout so many of The City’s supposed representations. A lot like Hollywood, L.A.’s museums were never exactly meant for me or my friends to really ‘star’ or find representation in, but they were meant for us to ‘buy into’ like we do with the movies for which we ‘suspend belief’.

On the one hand, this is a challenge to accept, as coming to terms with the idea of living in a city that’s continually trying to sell illusions to me is frankly just difficult to digest. On the other hand: it’s an education like no other to see past the illusion, and I nevertheless recognize it as a fundamental way in which to learn how to respond to the seller.

As I continue with reflections on Davis’s text, I wonder how readers might react to such descriptions of The City. One thing’s for sure: I’ve never been more fascinated with the discussion as I am now, nor equipped with so much literature to draw from! Alas, it seems then, that The L.A. Storyteller, is really just The L.A. Geek.

With more soon,

City of Quartz: Oh man,

Another great part of finally landing my hands on Davis’s Quartz is digging through all of the beautiful things that others have written about The City before The L.A. Storyteller. From the pages of Davis’s excavation, I draw from one of his quotations to share with J.T., which he takes from Morrow Mayo’s Los Angeles of 1933!

“Here is an artificial city which has been pumped up under forced draught, inflated like a balloon, stuffed with rural humanity like a goose with corn…endeavoring to eat up this too-rapid avalanche of anthropoids, the sunshine metropolis heaves and strains, sweats and becomes pop-eyed, like a young boa constrictor trying to swallow a goat. It has never imparted an urban character to its incoming population, for the simple reason that it has never had any urban character to impart. On the other hand, the place has retained the manners, culture, and general outlook of a huge country village.”

…And it’s so precious to meet the words of another soul fascinated by The City, through which time and space collapse for the timeless and spaceless realm of love; love for one’s surroundings, and one’s understanding of a world beyond them. I could have been born in Paris, or Mexico City, and I would have treasured it all the same. My affection for the place I call home is merely a human affection, for life that’s been around long before J.T., and which will remain long afterwards too.

In the meantime, however, it’s so great to see that L.A. was dealing with a ‘drought’ as far back as 1933. The truth is that the terrain on which The City was founded has always been a dry land, but that somewhere along the way either people forgot about the natural dry spell or flat out denied it in their insistence on living here. Los Angeles is indefinitely something of a living dream this way, or a fantasy that people hold onto because it’s better than ‘real life’ elsewhere.

For Mr. Davis and other writers, such ‘holding onto the dream’ marks L.A. as one of the last frontiers of late capitalism, where all of the fantasies of high living culminate into one great and strange experiment of freeways, beaches, individualism, and the sense of starting over and away from America, and even the rest of the world.

This assessment is fair enough, but for those of us who were born and bred in this city, L.A. is not the last, but just the first world of many more like it to come, where at some point in the process of living through a fantasy as people are living through a ‘drought’, people don’t just hold onto, but fight for their dreams. 

And if the last one hundred and twenty something years of L.A. show anything, it’s that no matter what society or year it might be, people will always need their dreams, as a life without them is meaningless. On the one hand, this is scary, since there are real and not fantasized issues that trouble L.A. like any other part of the world. On the other hand, it’s what keeps the great fight going, and I’ve got to be honest: I love a great fight. As Mayo, Davis, Fante, and countless other souls before me have fought with their words to ‘wake up’ The City, and as others will fight to do so after my time, it’s an honor to bring J.T. into what might most appropriately be called The Battle of Los Angeles.

With more soon,

City of Quartz: Opening Remarks [Extended]

My brother and I might have been raised by a single mother, but we were raised to be educated, active, and resilient young men, so 
I’d never really thought of me and my family as vulnerable people. When I take a moment to think about the economics we’re steeped in today, however, I see us at a thin line between poverty and flat out financial insolvency. With Davis’s analysis in mind, that thin line is magnified. Continuing with some more of the preface from City of Quartz, another passage strikes me as being particularly relevant. Once again, in his updated preface of 2006, Davis writes:

As manufacturing employment shrinks, an already precarious low-wage workforce is further compressed into a limited spectrum of service-sector jobs in restaurants, hotels, offices, theme parks, and private homes. This service-heavy economy, based upon a myriad of poorly-capitalized small businesses, is especially vulnerable to fluctuations in economic weather…

When the financial meltdown of 2008 stormed the market, Davis’s insight proved to be prescient. Like the Titanic, the first to lose everything in the crash were the laborers at the bottom of the ship, or people like the garment workers who’d no longer have work following the crash even when they were just managing to pay their rent in the first place.

The second group of people to lose everything would be those just a level above the laborers, or people like me and my brother, as the inheritors of an economy that had no real safety net for their immigrant parents, and barely any safety net for us as their children.

For yours truly, however, in 2008 there wasn’t much of a crash for my eyes to assess. I was barely an eighteen-year old high school graduate then, and the only thing I knew is that I was going to college at the same time that the country was getting ready to claim its first Black president; I was excited about the future, and hopeful that I was a part of a new era of American culture. Plus, my mother had left the garment industry to start and run her own small business a few years prior, so I believed that my family’s destiny was always going to be a little different from those around us.

Our destiny would be different, in its own natural way, but not different enough to distinguish my mother’s struggle to pay the rent from that of our next-door neighbors who cleaned houses for a living. As Davis’s text points out, our ability to level the crash was fragile, and though my mother’s little newsstand business managed to survive the next couple of years of the sour market, a “profit” has never been more difficult for her to garner than it is today.

The truth is that business for mom is not growing, but reeling further into a story of yesterday’s memories with each passing day. In turn, seven years after Hope for an era of American Change, the only thing that’s different for me and my family is that the task now lies on my brother and I to step up and weather the storm.

I can live with this destiny, of course, as my mother managed to live with the fact that she’d have to raise two young men in Los Angeles on her own, but I know that all of us expected more from our country. Yet with the clock ticking, each minute that passes wanes my mother’s tiny bones further into exhaustion, making my post-graduate phase less about crafting my own destiny than about inhereting my mother’s. She needs major health procedures on her teeth and feet soon, and as Davis points out in his preface:

“The working poor in Los Angeles have only marginally better access to healthcare than they might possess in Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro.”

It’s true. As a recipient of Medi-Cal, like my mother before me, I know firsthand just how many benefits of the government’s health-care my family and I are actually able to access. Benefits include check-ups and diagnoses for our health needs, but the rest has to come out of pockets that are already drained.

Still, as Davis later points out in his preface, “wages in California have increased only for workers with a college degree…”

And as I think about my education throughout the last couple of years, I believe firmly in my ability to gain a greater footing for me and my family to make it through the next seven years. Unlike my blind optimism in 2008, however, I’m not holding onto any hope for a presidential bailout anytime soon. As I reflect on the market for what it’s been to me and my family throughout the last decade, I finally see that any upward mobility, like its downward counterpart, comes one step at a time.

With more soon,

City of Quartz: Opening Remarks


City  of Quartz,

We meet at last. It’s taken me twenty-four years to reach Mike Davis’s legendary “excavation” of Los Angeles, and yet I know I’m right on time. Published just two years before rioting rumbled through the streets of South Central, the book is renowned for its unfaltering confrontation of the money and politics underpinning life, crime, and movement in Los Angeles. For this, the book is particularly special to yours truly, as it paints a unique portrait of worlds in The City that I walk through each day of my life. As such, my next few posts will be reviewing the book’s chapters in hopes of “carpooling” with J.T.’s readers on a journey with the author.

For some time, I’ve done my best to steer clear of politics with my writing on JIMBO TIMES, and yet I’ve always known I could only look away for so long. My writing has always been a world exploring contrasts, honoring what’s beautiful throughout the world, while also acknowledging what threatens its beauty. This is what makes it an honor to reach the pages of City of Quartz, as I know the book will play a significant role in shaping The L.A. Storyteller’s perspective.

In fact, it already has. Just a few pages in, the book’s very preface has already helped me to identify a key aspect of my relation to The City. I’m reading the re-edition of Quartz, published in 2006 with an updated preface from the author, and I think a great starting point for reflection can be found in Davis’s assessment of then-Mayor Villaraigosa’s impact on the city.

After a municipal election (2005) sadly devoid of new concepts, genuine passions, or substantive debate, Los Angeles at last has a mayor -Antonia Villaraigosa- with a surname that resounds with the same accent as the majority of the population. The election of Villaraigosa – once a fiery trade-union and civil-liberties activist – should have been Los Angeles’s ‘La Guardia moment,’ an opportunity to sweep city-hall clean of its old scheming cabals with their monomaniac obsession with gentrifying Downtown at the expense of the city’s blue-collar neighborhoods. Instead…the former rebel from east of the river is now the jaded booster of a downtown-renaissance that promotes super-cathedrals, billionaire sports franchises, mega-museums, Yuppie lofts, and drunken Frank Gehry skyscrapers at the  expense of social justice and affordable housing…

Even before Davis’s mention of Villaraigosa, I’m almost immediately reminded of L.A.’s 2013 race for Mayor between then-councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Gruel, which finished with the lowest voter turnout in L.A. history. In fact, according to the L.A. Times, “Garcetti’s complete tally was 222,300, just 12.4% of the city’s registered voters. That was well ahead of his opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, but a smaller vote total than any incoming mayor since Frank Shaw in 1933.”

I was in Davis, California when the elections were taking place, but even from afar, I observed a contest that showed hardly any concern over the city’s housing, education, or transportation crises. Like Villaraigosa before them, both candidates seemed nearly oblivious to the worlds facing the people of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, or the neglected black and Latino students of L.A.U.S.D.

Garcetti spoke of “revitalizing” L.A., but for who? In the two years since his election, his time in office has merely been an extension of Villaraigosa’s liasoning to developers and other displacers with a stake in L.A. property. Just last year, despite heated protests from riders, Garcetti voted along with the Metro board to raise the fare on Metro’s ridership, the vast majority of whom – as cited by the L.A. Weekly – barely earn “an income of roughly $20,000 a year and more than 80 percent [of whom] are minorities, according to a Metro survey in 2012.”

Naturally, proponents of the fee hike pointed to rising operating costs for the Metro system, but as several leaders opposing the vote made clear, Metro’s board cited rising costs while failing to acknowledge their inability to attract new, wealthier riders over the last few years. In turn, their vote placed the costs of their under-performance on the backs of their already financially-strapped patrons.

As if to catch my drift, apart from the election at the time, the preface of Quartz also delves right into transportation, providing material for readers to place the relevance of Metro’s recent decision within the larger spectrum of L.A.’s transportation crises:

“Right now [in 2006], locals pay a ‘congestion tax’ – ninety-three hours per commuter per year lost in traffic delays – that is the highest in the United States, and twice as high as it was in 1982. In the worst scenario, it can double again in another decade.”

And here, I think readers can see why I’m so excited about the book: in the opening alone, Davis shows concern for the city like a driver exiting the freeway determined to find the origins of the traffic that stifles it. Taking a stand on the pathway overlooking the congestion, Davis is ready for a change. Walking down the street in my journey with L.A., I recognize the author as he stares down at traffic, and join him in observation. Together, Davis’s preface tells me that both the reader and writer can find key roots of the gridlock, and in turn, key roots of the response.

I look forward to sharing more of what these responses look like with City of Quartz soon, and I hope readers look forward to hearing them.

With Love,