In photos: Two years on, from El Salvador to Guatemala, and Oaxaca to L.A., our pueblo lives on

Two years since our first sojourn through familial homelands in central America and beyond, one lesson remains: the need to continue discovering our cuentos in yet more places is as important as ever. Admittedly, this particular time is a difficult one for us to discover more of the world beyond familiar borders on foot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some time to learn about the world from afar through a good book; I’d say a good starting point would be Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. Of course, it’s also said that a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here are a handful. More with yours truly once again soon, Los Angeles. And with hands extended in prayer for all the people of the world during this extraordinary time.

J.T.

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Food Justice in East Hollywood is Growing Fruits and Veggies at Madison Ave Community Garden

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 43)

We originally featured the new park in East Hollywood over three years ago. Now, a few months shy of a year since the grand opening of the first-ever community garden at 1115 North Madison Avenue, a local chef and gardener has overseen the growth of the first year’s sets of fruits and vegetables for the community.

Heleo Leyva has lived in East Hollywood for nearly eighteen years. Since June 2019, when the garden was originally introduced to the neighborhood by the LA Garden Council, he has served as the lead gardener for the project, planting and raising seeds through the new soil to produce an array of beets, tomatoes, chili, kale, hierba buena, jamaica, zanahorias, nopales, and more fresh produce.

Heleo first learned to plant from his father in Puebla, Mexico, who began teaching him the craft in his formative years. He is not commissioned by the LA Garden Council, but volunteers his time to grow the greens out of a love for farming.

“It’s hard to explain. But it’s a part of life, not something separate,” he says of planting.

In a community surrounded by fast food, where boxes of pizza, if not plastic or paper bags with grilled meats and buns, serve to dominate the expenses of many families here, the act of growing and consuming fruits and vegetables can seem like a remote, cumbersome, and even unsatisfying process. But there is more to the cuento.

East Hollywood’s median annual family income for a household of three is reported as being just under $40,000, or only 1.8 times over the federal poverty level for such household sizes. In Los Angeles, that $40,000 median income level is also well below the “average” of $69,138, for families of the same size in L.A. County.

Heleo’s time with the garden is also taking place during a chapter for the community when a growing number of healthy, but unaffordable foods are entering the area due to the ongoing gentrification of its storefronts and housing, which can have the effect of leading many of the area’s ethnic communities to view healthy eating as “a white thing.”

This is where Heleo’s roots play an important role in challenging that narrative. Hailing originally from Puebla, Mexico, where many pueblos are still tied to their native customs, including speaking Nahuatl, Heleo views farming as something intrinsic to living. This is a perspective largely out of range for much of Los Angeles, where the ability to consume food and entertainment far outweighs incentives to live more sustainably, thus making the act of growing one’s own food an act of resistance.

But even if Heleo wasn’t rooted as such, the simple fact that he can communicate himself in two languages in an area where the majority of youth speak one language at home while learning another at school, makes him well-equipped to invite an “old” community into a “new” way of interacting with their vicinity.

Over the course of time, then, in the post-coronavirus world that’s certain to arrive in due process, I believe that with the right support network, there should be no reason why he and other growers can’t teach youth and families of color in the community to grow too, as Heleo’s father once showed him. The garden will also surely need more volunteers to grow and fulfill such vision, which will be another key step towards creating food justice in East Hollywood.

To learn more about the fresh new stretch of green in the community, continue down the rabbit hole here.

J.T.

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Feed Folks Program and Volunteers Deliver Produce to Neighbors in East Hollywood

Earlier this week on Sunday, April 12th, a group of locals and volunteers in East Hollywood distributed over 30 boxes of fresh produce to residents in the neighborhood courtesy of donations and volunteer sign-ups. The effort was led by Feed Folks, a new pilot-program in East Hollywood. Greens and veggies in the boxes were provided by the McGrath Family Farm, of Camarillo, as well as the historic South Central Farmers.

Sponsors for the food boxes included the Little Tokyo Service Center, as well as Cafe Juayua, a local coffee coalition. Volunteers helping to organize and deliver these boxes included Linc Gasking, from Feed Folks, as well as Ninoska Suarez, from the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

The coalition of neighbors and community partners aims to continue this program, but will need support from more donors and volunteers.

To donate a Fresh Produce Box for the coalitions next drop-off on April 19, 2020, you can donate HERE. To volunteer to help deliver boxes–with safe social distancing practices in mind–please visit the Feed Folks website.

To sign up for a box for your own household or identify other individuals or households who are food insecure in East Hollywood, the coalition has created a google form in English and Español.

J.T.

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A New Support Line for Workers, Families, Elderly and Disabled People in East Hollywood During this Crisis

Written all en español for madres solteras, mayores de edad, gente discapacitada, familias inmigrantes, y más, the Quien Es Tu Vecindario website posts daily updates and also maintains a chat-line to inform the community and keep them resource-full. Please take some time to visit the website, or direct someone you know who may need to it. And if you’d like to get involved or support, please reach out through our contact page.

A nuevo flyer for Quien Es Tu Vecindario, an arts and education collective in East Hollywood.

Thank you Los Angeles,

J.T.

A Note to Los Shoppers during this COVID-19 Season

Doña Ana is a single mother of two teenage boys who makes her living taking care of her neighbors’ children while the parents go to work for the day. She had a shift this past Saturday, meaning that she could only get to the store after her neighbors returned from their shifts to pick up their little ones come evening. When Doña Ana finally got to the store with her boys, however, the shelves were cleared of groceries and carried no toilet paper. She now figures that she and her family can use scratch paper or coupon magazines in the interim. This is who panic buyers take away from the most.

J.T.

Julieta Galan: Memories of our reality

State street park, a comfort zone on the street to me.

I’d go there to play on the swings,

I’d feel the breeze passing through my untamed frizzy hair,

Through leaves of the trees and the rattling grass.

It balances the warmth of the sun, enough to be able to withstand the sun a while longer.

There are times that the sun gives streaks of golden sunlight on the grass,

The grass that has just been showered with water.

And if you listen closely it’s almost as if mother nature is trying to communicate with you.

This is the park where the recreation center instructor taught me how to play the guitar,

Where I first stepped foot on a stage to perform the Yellow Submarine by The Beatles in cold December.

The first terrifying moment of my childhood,

My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating,

I felt as if I was a contestant on American Idol,

It was only that the recreation center was encouraging me to practice the confidence that I carry within me.

Seven years later since I’ve visited this park it has only been a reminder of how I used to feel towards it.

Returning to this park now, I see the saddening truth of it all.

There is a fence dividing the park and the street that gets smashed into the basketball court,

Threatening the lives of the youngsters playing in the court.

Young drunk girls pee on the grass,

The gang that once used to run the park are all cracked out, not going anywhere with their lives,

These cracked out fools only looking for trouble asking the kids “what street they claim.”

In a house across the street the dealers sell drugs to anyone who needs a fix.

The police continuously make rounds around the park day and night staring down anyone who looks suspicious.

I can only reminisce about how I felt,

It is a different life at State street park when you’re all grown up.

In the 20th century Boyle heights had a diversity of Japanese, Latinos, and Jewish, but because of racist banks the Jewish were run out. They could not borrow money or buy houses even after Bill Phillips helped in the process of bringing all these people together. Economics and racism are pretty much the same thing in Boyle Heights. The banks didn’t want to lend the Jewish people money or decide to reconstruct their homes, forcing them to move out.

J.G.

Julieta Galan is a Boyle Heights native and resident of Los Angeles.

EPISODE 13 – BETHANEE EPIFANI

In our 13th episode, we sit down with Bethanee Epifani for a discussion on “cultural work” in Los Angeles vis-a-vis the publication of her second book, Don’t Fall Prey! Our discussion touches on the need for more Black spaces in L.A., as well as Bethanee’s very own live event for her book taking place this Saturday, February 29th, 2020 at South LA Cafe. To learn more about Bethanee’s work, find her on Instagram @bepifani.

J.T.

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EPISODE 12 – THE ACTIVE VARIABLE

In our 12th episode, we sit down with our brother from another mother Edwin Monroy. We talk about a slate of different projects Ed’s been up to since our first Back 2 School Party together, including his new podcast The Active Variable. We also discuss a major fundraiser for his family following the recent passing of his father, Nery Edwin Monroy. To support Ed’s GoFundme, find the link HERE.

J.T.

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Nery Edwin Monroy: Loving Father, Tío to Many

Kryzia, Darcy, Nery, Edwin and Emily Monroy

On January 31st, 2020, Nery Edwin Monroy, a father of four, passed away at the age of 50 years old due to a liver and kidney failure.

Nery left behind his former wife of twenty years, as well as four children. His three daughters and single son are all under 30 years old, and were each alongside Nery at bedside until his last breath.

In my years of working for the community in East Hollywood, no single family has come together like a team to support and advance the work of uplifting the neighborhood alongside me the way the Monroy family has. Ed Monroy’s voice helped me launch J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, and Kryzia and Darcy Monroy supported both Back 2 School Parties in East Hollywood in 2018 and 2019.

I know from these experiences that the family’s future remains bright, but that this time is also filled with other transitions. Ed graduated from Cal State University Northridge just last year. This Fall 2020, Kryzia will begin her classes at Cal State Los Angeles following one last semester at Los Angeles City College.

It’s thus a small token of my gratitude for the Monroy family to uplift their mourning and recovery process following this loss.

To support the Monroy family’s fundraiser for Nery Monroy’s funeral, which is nearly halfway to its goal, please do so HERE.

J.T.

Tony Bao Tang: Song Unsilenced

Let loving words unsaid remain

In place of lost goodbyes withheld

For unsung verses bittersweet

In songs of memory shall obtain

A timely voice without conceit

Untuned yet echoing harmony

Lyrics unheard yet ever felt

Our song unsilenced bidding farewell

T.B.T.

A few words from the author: I’ve realized recently that the more living, learning, and loving you do, the more you have left to do. It’s a perpetual cycle, so it seems, but I kind of like it. Writing has become one of my vehicles to express and reflect upon this cycle. Come along for the journey, if you so wish, HERE.