Los Angeles is In Fashion: Meet Mauricio Zelada

Mauricio Zelada, 31; Winter, 2018
Mauricio Zelada, 31; Winter, 2018

In today’s big-city culture, one thing I’ve often noticed is that people generally imitate each other. That is, they shop at the same places, wear the same clothes, drive the same cars, and even listen to the same music. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, it’s also true that with so much imitating it can be difficult to find something more original or organic. This is precisely what makes Buy Back the Block, a design label by L.A. born and bred Mauricio Zelada so refreshing. With bold designs reminiscent of L.A.’s old street culture, Buy Back the Block both reminds city-goers such as myself about the importance of valuing the places we come from, and how no matter what day it is, we still carry a piece of those places with us, taking strength from the memories they encompass. Below, Mauricio tells us a bit of the story behind the BBTB!

Age: 31

Where in Los Angeles do you hail from? I grew up around various neighborhoods: 15th & Normandie, 20th & Hoover, 3rd & Westmoreland, and Rampart & 3rd. All those places got a place in my heart. Normandie Park in particular is a place filled with memories for me.

Tell us about your brand. Explain it to someone who’s never heard of it before. Buy Back The Block is a young men’s street wear brand. The mission of the brand is to empower young men by inspiring confidence. With the messages I choose to print on blank canvases, I want to plant seeds in the minds of these young men and help their confidence grow. Buy Back The Block is a limited edition, high quality clothing brand that is energetically infused with confidence with the hope that whoever wears it may feel powerful and confident. I believe confidence and self-esteem are must-haves for the future of our youth. When our confidence is high as a collective, then we can start to build a world where we own our blocks.

Is fashion something that’s always been a part of you, or is it something more recent in your life? Fashion has always been a part of me. I’ve always prided myself on being able to pull off fits or looks that not many could rock. As far as fashion design, I remember one of the first moments I wanted to try my hand at it was when I saw a pair of Mankind jeans giving a woman with a flat butt a big butt (laughs). I thought, “how they do that?!” From there, my desire to create clothing that looked and felt good was born.

How do you manage deadlines with Buy Back the Block? And what does a successful project for the brand mean to you? Meeting deadlines can be challenging. I do all the production (designing, drafting, pattern-making, cutting, sewing, graphic designs), marketing, branding, business plans, and I fund everything from my own pocket. Sometimes setbacks get in the way but I have limitless faith in what I’m creating so I’m never short on faith. Every now and again I also get impatient, but only because my excitement to get the product out is off the chain. A successful project to me is when everything is geometrically aligned. When the project flows, lines up beautifully, and it Photographs amazing then I know the project is complete.

What should folks look forward to next with Buy Back the Block? I’m in the final stages of production for my first capsule collection! I named it Baboso, which means dummy in Spanish. I dedicated it to all the people that I’ve angered or hurt because of my stubborn ways sometimes (laughs). Once I drop this first collection, I’ll begin the creative process for the 2nd collection.

To learn more about Buy Back the Block, follow the up and coming brand on Instagram.

J.T.

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Why Visit Japan, Part I

Harajuku, Tokyo; Japan, Summer 2017
Harajuku, Tokyo; Japan, Summer 2017

One of the first questions I get when I tell people about visiting Japan is: why there? I’d like to answer this question with a short series for readers on how Japanese culture came into my life at an early age as a young person growing up in Los Angeles.

It started with Nintendo’s Gameboy. Not the Gameboy SP, nor even the Gameboy Color, but just the very first GAMEBOY released by Japan’s Nintendo company, along with a little cartridge disk inside of the Gameboy with a sticker at its center that glistened in the daylight as it read DONKEY KONG.

When the Metro 26 bus from Virgil Avenue to Downtown L.A. still existed, I couldn’t have been more than five years old as I sat next to mom in the terse round seats that used to make up the bus. In my hands I clutched the big, brawny Gameboy, and practically hugged it with my stomach to keep it from falling.

The 26 bus would bobble up and down Virgil boulevard and rattle its way through Temple street’s damaged pavement, but with my Gameboy in hand, there was rarely a single shock during the commute which could startle me. I sat immersed in an alternate universe with Donkey Kong, one of gaming’s favorite characters at the time, and together we skipped past troves of wooden containers and darts hurled our way, gliding through digital skies collecting banana peels for points en route to gaming victory.

It was the future, but back then it was just the early 1990s, although we the little ones knew, or our hands knew, that we were edging on the brink of a digital revolution which would change the world for decades to come. That is, until mom tugged at our hands on arriving to our stop because it was time to race off the bus.

J.T.

Still Resilient in Los Angeles

JT_Red
Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

Show and Tell: The Sock-Puppet

I will never forget the anguish I put my mother through as a child. So many dreams. Dreams that are memories now and also pain mixed up with love and a desire to let them be known.

I remember the sock-puppet for show and tell. It was a cloudy afternoon when the dim orange lighting of the kitchen washed over the peeling walls as I begged and pleaded with mom to help me with my show and tell project.

I needed something to show. Mom worked in needles. She worked in sowing, in making something out of nothing but a string of yarn. She agreed to help me then, making my anguish into her anguish as the hours seemed to trap both of us in their midst. It was still early in the afternoon when I sidetracked her with my last minute request, and we could take the whole evening if need be, but the next day still loomed like the clouds through the windowpanes, into our souls and slowly more coldly.

As night encroached I didn’t know if we would make it. All I could feel was my heart pouncing as time managed to swerve right above our every angle and motion.

Mom kept her personal sowing machine in the kitchen, and it didn’t dawn on me that she did so because that’s where she could get more work done for her shift at the garment warehouse the next morning. It didn’t occur to me that she had already had an eight hour work-day by the time I made my request to her, and that she had already picked us up from school, and that she had even managed to prepare dinner for us to curl into the evening with our bellies full.

All that dawned on me was my show and tell. The sock puppet needed to be real, and to come alive like the ones on Mr. Rogers’s. I needed to be able to hold my puppet, and to tell its story like an expert.

So I went back and forth between the kitchen and the living room checking on mom and her hands at work, keeping an eye on her angles as she shaped the dimensions of the puppet underneath the magic needle. She gave life to my dream on that day, which was also my pain, in one of the earliest instances of a lifetime of last minute races against time and everything that seemed possible that I’d embark on with her. We would share anguish over each other and one another’s fates through the course of many years in this manner. Years which would also seem to dash just above our heads as we scrambled to meet them with our best minds.

Before late into the night, mom stretched the hands and legs of the tiny sock-puppet before my eyes. I remember looking at it in that moment, as if to look into the depths of imagination itself, and feeling at once that it wasn’t like what I expected.

Made purely of black yarn, it didn’t look like the sock-puppets from Mr. Rogers’s. And it barely fit through my hands. I also couldn’t move the legs if my fingers were placed through the puppets’ hands, and likewise couldn’t move its hands if my fingers were placed through its legs. At least, not in the seamless way that appeared to be most right.

What’s more, our sock-puppet had no face. It was just the figure of a body, but it had no personality.

I barely mustered a thank you to mom before taking it from her hands then, as I figured that I could maybe still make it work, if only I gave it some eyes and some lips and a nose. I then retreated into the living room with the soft garment in my hands, placed the puppet’s body down on the plastic table where my brother and I did our homework, took some scratch paper out of my backpack, and set out to give the tiny figure its rightful personality.

I won’t ever forget the face I would forge on the sheet then, because it was the most natural face that came to mind in that moment; the only one in the entire galaxy that I could draw with some ease. After cutting out the circle of paper that we’d glue onto the figure’s circular-shaped head, I gave the sock-puppet curious wide eyes, brimming bright eyelashes, a roundish nose with just a small lumping tip at the end, and a set of large, wise lips. It was the face of my mom.

Even if the figure wasn’t quite what I expected then, I would still have something to show for show and tell. And my mom’s face before my anxieties–just as her hands motioning through the darkness of the night to still save the day–would remain with my memory through a lifetime; every dream come true for me now is only an extension of everything possible through the tiny sock-puppet with her eyes.

J.T.

Our Petition for Super Pan Bakery of the Virgil Village is now LIVE

“She collected observations as one would collect ice-cream sticks: a youth riding a wobbly bike on the muddy shoulders of the street; a skinny cat roaming through the tall bird-of-paradise stalks; two comadres chatting between a fence; an old crooked bird man who fed his flock of pigeons daily. The desire to be on the other side of the fence, to run away and join them, was so strong, it startled her, just like the buzzard bell ending another recess.”

– Their Dogs Came With Them, Helena Maria Viramontes

One day we were teenagers, just trying to make our way home without forgetting our books at the 7-Eleven, either because we had put them down in trying to avoid looking overly studious with over-sized backpacks, or because we just didn’t take backpacks to school to begin with, being too cool.

The next we were at a crossroads, either turning the other cheek as police raided the homes and pockets of our classmates and peers, or going down in a blaze with them for trying to stand at their side without the social standing to back us.

Today we’re at another junction, as the influx of new wealth and power make their way through the streets which for decades we’ve called home, transforming their characters and erasing their pasts for a new crop of city-goers in a new time of city-going.

But to be clear about the question of change: the fact of the matter is that the neighborhood has been in the midst of transformation since the earliest steps our parents took through its intersections when they first arrived en masse to Los Angeles during the 1980s in an effort to make for new lives here.

The technology since that time has also been in the midst of transformation; the way human beings have connected with the rest of the world has come a long way from the days of the first home computers and beepers and payphones. My peers and I were born in the 1990s, arriving just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which placed us at the end of an arms and technological race between two empires that spawned formidable, reverberating technologies across the world.

While the smartphones we use today now change our perception of the world at light-speed, the atom and hydrogen bombs before them, followed by the freeways not long afterwards, also altered time and space in ways that moved people, including our people–that is, our immigrant and working class communities all over the U.S. and the world–to and through cities like Los Angeles.

But now another social and technological shift is underway again, and the question is not whether we can keep another neighborhood in Los Angeles from being taken from its past, because this has definitely not been the case here since the city’s foundation, throughout its annexation, during the boring for Mulholland’s aqueducts, amid the aforementioned scientific innovations, or at any other point.

The question is whether we can manage to facilitate these changes in a way that doesn’t come at the complete expense of others, and in a way that benefits more than just one group over another.

It’s also a question of whether the people in the “less affluent” groups like the one described here can muster the collective social and political strength necessary to take a stand in this regard. I would argue that our Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito this past August was a STAND, which makes it so that calling attention to Super Pan Bakery’s displacement from the Virgil Village is now a direct follow up to that same STAND.

I also believe that while there’s much debate in cities throughout the U.S. about just what kind of change is inevitable, it’s clear that it’s increasingly difficult for institutions and owners to take space from others without people calling attention to their place in the historical timeline of the environment in question.

Today then, calling attention to displacements like the one now facing Super Pan is a matter of claiming the history of our community here for our own sake and development.

At the time of this writing, we now have a petition with our first 137 signatures supporting the family at Super Pan Bakery in their bid for more time to relocate at the FOLLOWING:

https://www.change.org/p/mitch-o-farrell-help-super-pan-bakery-of-virgil-village-get-more-time-to-relocate

Only ten years ago, 137 signatures would have required far more work to put together over the course of a few days, if not a whole week, but now we can publish a petition online calling for our people just minutes after deeming it necessary. In the 15 days before the deadline for Super Pan’s relocation is up then, we will continue to rally support from the various members of Nuestro Pueblo throughout L.A., California, and across the world who believe in our Panaderias with us.

This next week also includes a meeting with a representative for local Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, getting more of us involved in the effort, and which we’ll have notes about in our next update. In the meantime, I hope we can garner the signatures of each reader of this blog for our petition, and that you can also spread the word to your own networks and peers.

Thankful for each step in this process, and each of you,

J.T.

4 Years of Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller

JIMBO TIMES began just a little over four years ago following an epiphanous walk from my mom’s newsstand on Santa Monica boulevard the evening of August 19, 2014. It was near mid-night when the idea took hold of me, and I can still remember crawling from the apartment bedroom into the bathroom with the same laptop I write these words on now to spill out an ode to the city I call home.

Four years later, with the Back to School Party, a one day event of art, workshops and music for my neighborhood, less than a week behind me, I can think of no better place to be with J.T: The L.A. Storyteller.

If I’m fortunate enough to get four more years of this magical glitz through the stars, the idea is to do so not alone, but alongside more of Los Cuentos. Not only Los Cuentos, the shirts by Jimbo Times, but also with Los Cuentos de nuestro pueblo, Los Angeles.

What do you say, L.A? Do we dare dream of what could still be, might be, or should be if we only put our minds to it?

J.T.

10 Things We Learned from an Incredible Time at Our Back to School Party this August 25th, 2018

adonis_anderson
More pictures soon. For now, Adonis (left to yours truly) and Anderson (right) at our BACK to School PARTY at El Gran Burrito this past Saturday, August 25th in Los Angeles, CA.

After 36 days of non-stop planning for our first ever BACK to School PARTY at El Gran Burrito, I needed at least a couple of days to rest and relax, to enjoy a bit of silence, and to reflect on just what it is that actually happened this special Summer of 2018. A few things in particular stand out now, listed below for all our folks to see.

1. When you have a dream, it’s important to claim it, value it, and also to be able to defend it when necessary. The fact of the matter is, while I spent the last month in particular running around from one area to the next to keep our “Back to School” Party ‘on track’, I had visualized the event as early as June 26, 2018, when I sent the following note to the team of volunteers who helped us put together our Open Mic Saturday event at the Cahuenga Public Library in April:

As school is out in the neighborhood and the summer has just kicked off, I know there are droves of parents around the library looking for a place where ‘the fam’ can cool off. Thus, I’m interested in putting together a second gathering for the community, probably some time in August. However, first I’m going to do some more walking and ‘surveying’ through the neighborhood to be certain on just what would work best at the moment. At a glance my guess is that any event to do with skating, sports, painting, or other outdoor activities would be key for garnering some interest from our young people, and as with the Open Mic, we’d make it economic and volunteer driven.

Getting this ‘on file’ was a matter of stating my intention with the event for myself personally, as well as for the larger body of my community to consider. From there, the idea could germinate for all of us, and this was a key factor in what would eventually become a push to move “Back to School” forward.

2. Not everyone will understand your vision, and not only is that okay, it’s great. Not long after sending the aforementioned note to the team of volunteers that helped with Open Mic Saturday, I was first met with silence when I sought feedback for its contents, and then, upon persisting about a response, was told that the idea seemed to be too ‘rough’ or ‘unready’ in its form to see through. Then, to make matters more challenging, on trying to vouch further for the essence of the event I was given an official “no” from the administration at Cahuenga, whose approval was necessary for the event to take place there. I found this to be devastating for the gathering’s odds of moving forward, but would not stay down before too long.

3. You have to defend your dreams, sometimes even from your own doubt. In the days after I was met with the official ‘no thanks’ for the event, I found myself reeling. Even if some greater part of me knew that the gathering still had to happen, to think that there was suddenly no location for it defied the logic of the whole thing. I fell into a kind of deep slumber then, mired by feelings of rejection and self-doubt. And yet, I knew I’d have to pick myself up from that point. So I got my mind off the event for a day or so, took some leave from the neighborhood towards other vecindades where I could speak with a different band of folks about what happened, and determined to get back to the drawing board only after this much needed ‘get-away’. Finally, a few days later on Sunday morning I found myself galvanized enough again to get back out to the ole neighborhood to inquire about ‘this event’ again in a few different directionsThen, from out of nowhere, we actually found a location.

4. When you finally get the ‘yes,’ tell the world what you need next. On landing the support of El Gran, I scrambled to  find out what further support I could muster since time was running out for an ample planning period. So I sent out a survey to the community on the afternoon of June 29th, waited to see what responses I could gather, and upon hearing back just enough of what I needed from folks, registered that it was time to span my wings for lift-off. By the morning of June 30th, there were officially 27 days left before August 25th, or the date for which I’d originally proposed the event. That was three days less than there were with Open Mic Saturday, but this time, I knew a few things I didn’t know in the buildup for Open Mic Saturday. That is, just where to go, and where not to go.

5. Any team anywhere is affected by a vision, or lack thereof from its leadership. 27 days to plan the event was cutting it close, but I knew enough from what I’d seen in my ‘visions’ leading up to the ‘green light’ for “Back to School” to reach out to a handful of people. So I searched through my lists, texted and called the contacts I could interest in ‘just a conversation’, and from there, discovered the subsequent pieces to the puzzle through various questions from these contacts in our ‘convos’, as well as through their suggestions and other feedback. Then, once we were able to consolidate our shared visions, it became clear that we had to inform the whole hemisphere what kind of support we’d need. But first, I needed to consolidate one more time.

6. The best investment any ‘leader’ can make with their team is the one of ‘leading’ by example. Even if the contacts who became the allies who would go on to become the partners in the making of the event could agree in sentiment with the vision for the special day in our community, in addition to drawing out or brainstorming the vision together, it was also necessary for us to ‘get out there’ together for the event as time permitted. This meant visiting the site of El Gran together, speaking with Don Pedro and Doña Guadalupe together, meeting with other potential attendants and collaborators of the event together, and more, in order for us to share in the experience of discovering more pieces together. At day’s end, these shared experiences would prove integral in bolstering our abilities to support one another once it became necessary for us to find our respective roles to drive our shared vision through. And so, all of it was like practice for our biggest day of them all as a team.

7. Raising money for a cause is no light stroll through the park, but when you believe in the mission, it’s your mission. In weighing out the different needs for “Back to School,” I realized that it would be something of an exacting request for the base of supporters out there to consider, though not an altogether unreasonable one. But further complicating this request was the fact that there were only fifteen or so days to rally the financial support; there was no guarantee that the team and I could pull it off, yet the unwavering belief in our goals for the event was clear to people “up and down” throughout our networks, and slowly but surely then, like the sunlight in each day, we reached the evenings with just a little more of what we needed than the night prior.

8. Reminders are everything. People need to be reminded of the things they need to do. And we’re people too. We need reminders too. In the rush for the event to make its way through were numerous moments in which even if I thought the goals for “Back to School” were clear and stated for all to see, it was still necessary for me to “go back to the basics,” or touch base with the very reason I asked the team to embark on the effort with me, and to be reminded of that. This wasn’t always easy, but it was 100% worth it each time I could manage to truly listen to the parties outside of myself and respond accordingly to their needs or inquiries. It’s what made me an effective leader as opposed to just a leader in name.

9. Volunteers are life. It’s simple. Following every item the team and I could cross off our lists, and after reaching out to every perceivable ‘end’ in our midst for the event to shine under the sunlight, there were still no guarantees. Where would the people come from? And at what time? Then, how on earth would we get everything we needed to be done in time?

But in our greatest hour of need, our volunteers for “Back to School” arrived like a legion of envoys for the mission. They literally lifted our dreams from the page onto the gates of El Gran, upon the walls of the site, into the hands of the people of the pueblo, and more. They believed too. And thus these volunteers literally completed the team and I on Saturday, August 25th.

Finally, when setup was wrapped up and everyone was in position, as the music fluttered into the airwaves while the clock ticked away, from out of nowhere, como palomitas llegaron…a rescartanos. Otra vez mas. Nuestro Pueblo. Los Angeles.

10. Thank. Everyone. Thank those who said yes, thank those who said no, thank those who never responded, and more than anything, thank everyone who came through. Do. Not. Forget.

Thank. Everyone.

Thank you Los Angeles. Thank you team. Thank you supporters from afar. And thank your people, too. Thank the daylight. Thank the planet earth. Thank the Milky Way galaxy. And thank even the Black Holes for not swallowing these living quarters into their midst yet, too.

And one more note; a bonus note: Our pueblos DO need these days in our community, and so our pueblos WILL have them. As such, this is only the beginning. The future is no longer waiting. We have arrived.

J.T.

Seeking Volunteers for Our Back to School Party this August 25th

We salute our volunteer DJ for our “Back to School” PARTY, as well as every donor to our fundraiser. We also place the call out for additional volunteers to help with the big day’s setup.

J.T.

Meet these L.A. Stalwarts at our Back to School Party this August 25th,

Together anything is possible. Every bit of support counts!

J.T.