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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Meg Rakos: Supay & New York City: Two Adventures, One Destiny

Since as long as I can remember, the background on my computer screen was the NYC skyline. I was drawn to the city lights and told myself, “in another life” I would live there. I was born in Cusco, Peru, but was adopted weeks after birth and raised in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. At 25, I had just moved into a beautiful apartment and had an amazing job and strong support system from my friends and family in Brooklyn Park. But I was craving more. At the time everything felt like it was too easy, I knew I could be more and do more.

In 2017, I sold my car, packed two suitcases, and followed my heart, purchasing a one way ticket to New York City.

It was then that I reconnected with Sam, a friend of mine I’d met years earlier on a family visit to Lima, Peru. Sam had also been adopted from Peru and we met while we were both trying to reconnect with our birth families.

We didn’t know we’d both be in New York City 13 years later, but there we were. One night, while we were playing soccer down at the pier, Sam asked if I wanted to be his partner with SUPAY, a design company he had started in Summer 2015 showcasing his South American ties through modern street-wear. I was thrilled! Our illustration styles were similar, we had both gone to college for Graphic Design, and both shared an incredible culture to look back on together. I knew we’d make a solid team.

We started with the idea of self identity – who we are, where we come from, where we’re going. We both struggled with identity since we were each raised by Caucasian parents, missing out on the experience and knowledge of a Hispanic family. We wanted to reconnect with our roots and so we began to research South American civilizations, studying designs, textiles, architecture and artwork to make sense of the history.

Sam looked into Incan mythology and selected Supay for the brand’s name because Supay was the god of the Incan underworld. He was a misfit, but his unique character provided sustaining springs of subterranean waters to the upper world of life. We could both relate to Supay since each of us is constantly searching for the light among the darkness in NYC. It’s what we aim to show in each design for our t-shirts.

Sam also now goes by Uku Pacha for his DJ name, which references the Incan underworld.

It all happened very fast, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be.

When I step outside I feel a tremendous amount of energy that the city permeates. There’s always something more you can do to push yourself and that’s something I didn’t feel in MN. I’ve had so many people stop me at coffee-shops asking what I’m doing when I’m designing, wanting to see more illustrations and learn about the story behind SUPAY. Their positive energy advances me forward. It brings me only more happiness to know this is just the beginning and that I’m blessed to be following my dreams alongside my best friend.

My advice for anyone out there who feels out of place sometimes but who still has a dream just like I did, would be this: your dream doesn’t have to be just an idea resting in your mind. You can will it into existence and take that first step. If you truly give yourself a chance to push through all the uncertainty and do everything with love, you’ll be steered in the right direction, every time.

M.R.

A Poem Born in L.A.

Like a true son

Of Los

It keeps rising

Like a true heir

Of Los

It keeps lifting

Ocean grains,
Earth rains,
Desert range

Stars changed


When they renamed
Los,

Los Cuentos.

Es tiempo.
Lo Siento
Los Angeles

It’s

Cuentos’

Time.

J.T.

All Great Cities are Must-See, for their People

In just one lifetime, cities like Shanghai have transformed from trading hubs for merchants only to internationally renowned metropolises for tens of millions of people finding a way to make a piece of the city their own. In China, Shanghai’s trajectory to stardom over the course of some seventy years is not so different from that of L.A.’s rise to global recognition. For each city, migrants and migrant culture are indisputably what make them so rich in flavor, style and depth. At the same time, in cities so large it’s difficult to keep track of just where everything is going, that is, in terms of who’s staying or who’s going, who’s coming, who we’ve lost, and how we might support those who we find along the way again. In my own life, at one point cities seemed to be the very end of the world themselves, places with no end for good reason: to explore indefinitely. Now, I view cities as another destination through the road, but not the end-goals outright; even after all we might achieve with beautiful skylines, bustling financial centers, and a litany of food and retail choices, so long as our people remain in need, still there must be something better to find, something better to create. Shanghai, you’ve inspired me to create again! To think BIG.

J.T.

From Shanghai, a Strange & Wondrous Place for Los Cuentos

I’ve come to learn that every city has something to say, but also that probably not enough can be said of just how important port-cities are for connecting one part of the globe to another. Maybe it was quite meant to be that we see this special place from China’s harbors then. But what do you say, Los Angeles? Shall we continue exploring to see which insights we can take back home with us?

J.T.

J.T. Salutes You,

Digang Yuzhuang,
Digang Village, 南浔区 Huzhou, Zhejiang, China

At more than 5,500 miles from home, with fervor in my veins pushing as ever before to unlock the best of myself for the rest of the world to know.

Let’s make it happen, Los Angeles. From Huzhou to Shanghai, let’s give these Cuentos what they need, something more to believe in.

J.T.

Hey Los Angeles: Thank You Again,

If the city is actually something in a person’s imagination, then what I see when I look into the face of Los Angeles today is something infinitely more golden, with lemonade spruced on top, percolating through winds from worlds away; even now at five years since JTLA first spawned onto the scene, on days like this I feel as much warmth past the throes of traffic and concrete making up the tiny corner I call home as I did five calendars ago.

While my eyes may perceive things in a slightly different light from how they saw things when the city first daintily glistened to me on returning home, my memories now pick up where my vision might trail off.

I can still remember just getting back to Los Angeles, when all I could hope for was finding a way to serve the world that raised me here with everything that I could muster. Eventually, serving became a matter of inspiring others to imagine a place for themselves in the big city’s future, too. From there, I’d move on to testing my resilience. My experiences seemed to ask: how does one remain inspired while also remaining resilient?

Over time, I’d find that the balance between being inspired and being resilient is probably about as constant as the balance between the moon and skylight above my brows; every time I look up at the two again, both are just a little different, each taking turns filling the abyss.

But if I’m still moving like the clouds above as I stretch my arms across savory grass below, I find my thoughts churning at a speed parallel to that of the clouds’ movement, musing at how I just may actually be right in the middle of the universe, at the center of my existence, somehow free or just right up against freedom–perhaps the closest I’ll ever be–when I face the city with warmth emanating from my inner-most being.

This is probably the city’s greatest gift to me: it’s brought me closer not just to others, but to myself. Amid the amalgamation of passersby searching through the shadows in L.A.’s abandoned sidewalks, I find light in a stasis, or from a place where all the marvelous elements remind me: if for the slightest difference, none of it–none of this–could be. I can only conclude more resoundingly then, that even after all this time, Los Angeles is still one of the greatest cities in the world.

As the feats of so many citygoers continue dancing in its iridescence, I’m grateful to stretch my legs back into this existence again, too, to know I’m not alone in it, and to imagine even more possibilities as everything meets its counterpart, its opposite, newer gravity unearthing potential for infinitely more wondrous worlds.

J.T.

Secret Agent: How to Discover Your Neighborhood in Los Angeles

Kev with the new Los Cuentos Black & Gold Cap; Summer 2019

So it’s the second week of summer and you read How to Beat Summer 2019 Parts I III, 10 Ways Not to Beat Summer 2019, and even How to Outline Summer 2019, but you’re still not quite sure what to do with all this newfound time on your hands.

In this case, you’re likely making it just a tad more complicated than it needs to be (I know from experience). But with this blog, we’re going to give it one more shot in a last-minute challenge for you.

The only requirements for this challenge are a few hours of time on your hands, permission to go out for a few of those hours, and either a parent, friend, sibling or pet turtle to accompany you. Okay, maybe not the pet turtle. Sorry pet!

Ready? You’re now officially a secret agent going on an adventure. Your mission: to explore the second most populous city in the world and bring some of its top secrets back to headquarters. Your key ‘weapons’ for the mission are: walking shoes, a smart-phone, a Los Cuentos hat, and a water bottle.

There are also no cars allowed for the assignment. Metro buses and rail-lines only.

Ready to find out where you’re going? You will choose one of the following places for this mission:

  1. Little Tokyo
  2. Plazita Olvera
  3. Koreatown

In true secret-agent fashion, you’re not visiting these places just to ‘have fun.’ You’re going to ‘excavate’ them for some classified info like a world class spy. Sure, you can go with your people, get some ice cream at the stores, and check out the stuff on sale like a lookie-loo. But the real purpose of your visit to these other places will be to find out the following:

I. Where is ‘the heart’ of the neighborhood? (As in, where is the public square, or main area? What kind of businesses are there? Is there any kind of art you see there?)

II. How does it differ from your side of town? (What kind of people are there? How many languages do you hear spoken? And what can you tell about the ‘other’ kids at this other part of town?)

III. How might your neighborhood ‘be’ more like this one? (Could there be a different Metro Station to make it easier to get to your side of L.A, like with these other neighborhoods? If you could choose the stores you’d have in your neighborhood’s main area, what would they sell? And apart from the stores, where would the kids in your neighborhood hang out? Would they have their own main area too, or public square?)

That’s it! It’s true that these are quite a few different questions to remember during your visit to the assignment, but we both know you can glance at this blog while you’re out there on assignment.

We also both know that this is a mission you can definitely accomplish in three to four hours. Metro’s lines were made for you to use for exactly this kind of challenge, just as these ‘other’ places were made for you to visit and learn about.

At the end of the assignment, you’ll feel accomplished for learning about a new part of Los Angeles for yourself, send me the answers to your questions for a top-secret review, and receive a brief follow-up mission, if you so choose.

So, what are you waiting for? Give this last-minute challenge a shot and get out there, young storyteller. Your city is counting on you!

J.T.

Rap Heat Coming from a Latino: Music in L.A. with Sal Roses

“What you give is what you get,
But I only give respect,
Where I really think it’s due,
Tell me who the hell are you?

Sal Roses is a Salvadoran American writer born and raised in the City of Los Angeles, whose parents hail from the Pueblo of Santa Rosa de Lìma, La Union, El Salvador. As a member of the ‘first’ generation of his family in L.A., Roses’s world was one where a survival & entrepreneurial mentality at home often clashed with the systemic nature of American schools, work and life. Before finding himself as an artist, Roses would navigate through violence and abuse at home and his environment, financial instability, and the process of discovering his voice, eventually learning ‘to turn mud into gold.’ He now seeks to influence the world through music emblazoned with messages of confidence, self-reliance, and determination to turn one’s dreams into reality. 

1. Who are some of your earliest musical influences?

Parents are always first. They introduced me to Latin music, including cumbias, románticas, and all that good stuff. But it wasn’t until my cousins introduced me to hip hop that I saw the most for myself in the music. They introduced me to Chicano gangster rap, and that’s when I really started to visualize what these artists were going through. I could see it going on with my primos.

2. Tell me about Appetizers, Vol 1. What led you to this name for your EP?

It’s just a taste! And you can’t have the entree without a set of appetizers. It’s a build up to the full course of art we intend to supply. At 3 songs it felt like the perfect follow up to Killing Other People’s Beats The Mixtape (KOPB The Mixtape). Appetizers Vol. 1 also gives me creative freedom to drop a snack whenever I feel like the people are hungry for it. Just gotta stay hungry.

3. Tell me about the Spanish verse in Now; why did you choose to include Spanish in your opening song?

It was very important to include Spanish on this first project. Spanish and English have been equally important in shaping me to the point that it would have been wrong to leave out a verse in the latter. Plus, now more than ever, you can feel the strength of the language; it just carries a little more weight these days.

4. What do you make of Latinos in Hip Hop in 2019?

We’ve been consumers of Hip Hop from near the beginning but have gone mostly under-represented for a while. As a market, the Latino culture is being targeted more than ever before in the music, but it also calls for creatives like us to fill in the missing pieces. There are still so many stories to be told, so many thoughts to be brought up for discussion, deep rooted issues that need addressing. Our true contribution is still being formed and that’s the most exciting part about it.

5. And so, what if Adam ate the apple first?

This is my favorite line in the whole project! Imagine a world where, for all intents and purposes, Adam took that bite instead of Eve. Would men feel more inclined to push for gender equality? Would we want women to treat us differently? I say this as someone who considers themselves a feminist, pushing for true gender equality and not gender overcompensation. To me it’s thought-provoking, like a whole different world can be imagined just based on that thought.

Sal Roses; Summer 2019

6. Tell me about the drums in Richard’s Drums.

I was making this beat, and my drums were sucking bad. Every single sound before the drums excited me, but when I got to them, they kicked my ass. So I called Richard over, and in like 2 minutes he laid it down. We named the track after him in that moment.

7. Who else would you like to shout out now that your EP is out?

I’d like to shout out anybody and everybody whose been supporting our movement. So much work has been put in behind the scenes just to get to where we are right now. It’s still so small-scale that having true support from people who believe in what we’re doing has been instrumental in creating not just music, but a movement, a mobilization, a future. Thank you all.

To check out Sal’s Appetizers, Vol. 1, find his album on Spotify HERE.

J.T.