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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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.

Calling All Bloggers, Writers, Storytellers: Publish Your Voice on Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller

It’s true.

“After five years of JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller, it’s time to make space on the blog for more voices and stories from communities in Los Angeles and beyond. Enter the new Submissions feature. To maintain and expand the blog’s love for city life and attention to its working class communities, here are the types of pieces writers everywhere are encouraged to submit…”

I’m very proud of this latest milestone for the site, and thereby look forward to seeing what types of stories we’ll be getting out there! Visit the new SUBMISSIONS page soon to go and see for yourself!

J.T.

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.

EPISODE 3 – THE WORLD AFTER BTS 2

In our 3rd episode–after more than 40 days of planning–we discuss turnout for BTS 2, as well as a little known backstory on immigration debates during the Bush years that inspired us into action, and which now makes our summer event all that more of a “homecoming.”

J.T.

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Our Community is Getting Stronger, Este Hollywood

From the words of Dr. Mary Gallagher, President of Los Angeles City College:

“On Saturday, August 24th from 4 to 8 PM, staff from the non-credit department of LACC participated in a great local community event called Back 2 School 2, marking the second year of this event. I was able to attend and hear all of the things going on at the ‘grass roots’ level of our community. LACC was included because of the GED preparation and testing we do. We also provided information from some of our students currently attending non-credit classes. It was a fabulous event. I look forward to next year.”

Dr. Gallagher’s recognition of BTS 2 is a milestone achievement for the work to uplift more vecindades in East Hollywood and throughout Los Angeles. In the days ahead, the work to keep strengthening our community will remain challenging, but I also believe that as our special event showed this past Saturday–and last year–the promise of the work will remain bright and full of encouragement. There will be more following up on the success of BTS 2, but for now, I’d like to express my deepest thanks to each supporter, close and afar, who took a moment to contribute to this critical day for our neighborhood and families all throughout this great city.

J.T.

5 NOs to Remember with Your Fam this Summer

JMBTMS_SALV_1110
J.T.’s Great Tio on Grandpa’s side; San Jose Guayabal, El Salvador, 2018

1. No, They’re Not (Always) Trying to Make Life More Miserable. Think about it this way: with everything going on at school before summer break, it’s likely that you didn’t quite have a plan about how to get through summer break. The same is true for many parents and/or siblings. So all of a sudden, you’re all ‘cooped up’ at home again, and there will be challenges. Sooner or later, someone’s emotions are gonna get high, and then, let’s be honest: someone’s gonna make a mistake. Trips will get canceled. Stuff will get lost, and other things will go wrong, too. But it won’t be just because your family’s (always) out to make life more difficult for you. It’ll be ’cause all the ‘free’ time during summer in Los Angeles can be a burden for a lot of us to get through without fail. Accept it!

2. No, They’re Not the Worst Family in the World. Let’s face it: even if you know it’s not all their fault, there will still be times during summer when it’ll feel like your family just doesn’t get you. And since you’ll still have to live with them even though you’re from two different planets, it’s gonna feel like you’re just stuck with them. But here’s a secret: the differences you have with your family, if you can see them for more than just what makes you opposed to them, can be the things where you learn the most from. Even more than what you learn at school! But it sure doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to settle the differences with your counterparts.

3. No, They Can’t Just Leave You Alone Every time You Want. Here’s a fact: your privacy is a key part of what makes you the unique person that you are. But now here’s another fact: when you live with others, there are going to be times when your privacy will simply not be possible. You’re going to have to learn how to share. I remember when mom would cook lunch for my brother and I, and how I’d be so selfish. I wanted the table all to myself. Or, if I had to share, I wanted the best seat. Little did I know then that getting just my way every time I wanted it would simply make life less interesting. Eventually, I’d not only get better at sharing the table with my brother thanks to learning with him, but I’d also get better at sharing with others in general. And now I love sitting down to eat with my bro whenever we get the chance. (Love you W!)

4. No, They Don’t Just Want to Take All Your Stuff to Leave You with Nothing. Now here’s one that makes enough sense, but which is hard to remember: sometimes you lose things to find other things that you need. Wanna know how I know? Occasionally, when not heeding guidance like the one in this post, I’d get the Xbox taken away for misbehaving, or I’d lose all my TV privileges. At first, I had no idea what I’d do without my electronics. But then, I got creative. And eventually, I got to writing. This would one day turn into JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller. Now, you and I both know we can’t get enough of this blog!

5. No, Things Won’t Always be This Way. Although you might not believe it, the fact is that you will not have your family right next to you all the time. Slowly but surely, you will meet other people, and you will find other things to do besides being with them every day of the season. Then, one sunny morning day, you’ll not only be able to find your own way, but you’ll have to.

This brings up one key question for me to ask all the Youngs out there. If you could find the best possible scenario for you to ‘leave’ your family with before setting out on your own life, what would that scenario look like? What would you want for your ma’ or your pa’? And/or what would you want to ‘give’ to your siblings before you could no longer ‘give’ them anything else? If you’re up for the challenge, answer these questions with no less than 300 words, then send it over to yours truly for review. If you think you can do it, then GO! The future 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.

We Will Not be Erased: How Open Mics in Our Community Uplift Our Cultural History

Our second annual Open Mic was a second-annual success, featuring 10 different poets, speakers and other members of the community who spoke in front of up to 25 guests throughout the evening. Our guest list was diverse, with attendants as young as 11 years old and as mature as 60.

In my own experience, after more than 25 years of living in this parcel of Los Angeles, I never knew of an open “forum” in the community like those created by the three different Open Mics held in the area over the last calendar year; first at Cahuenga Public Library last April, then at El Gran Burrito in August 2018, and now, for the second year in a row, once again at Cahuenga Public Library.

I view each of these events, both individually and collectively, as achievements for a demographic in East Hollywood increasingly facing displacement from L.A.’s collective memory vis-a-vis gentrification, or the process known for “cleaning up” [ethnic] spaces for whiter, wealthier living.

In her photographic exhibit at the Armory for the Arts, Los Angeles based artist Sandra de La Loza describes her experience living in a city that constantly denies people such as herself, her family–and their neighborhoods–of space for their history.

For the dispossessed whose stories are not memorialized or recorded, memory becomes a vital space in resisting erasure, silence and invisibility.

With this in mind, by “holding space” for others such as the youth, families, elders and others who’ve attended our Open Mic events this past year to share their memories with the local community, and by attempting to normalize such spaces and activities on a consistent basis, my peers and I are taking a stand for a collective cultural history; for a present and future in the same vein of resistance against the erasure described by de La Loza.

In a commentary on de la Loza’s artwork as a “Field Guide” for others, UCLA Digitial Media Professor Chon A. Noriega recognizes de la Loza’s installation and photographing of thought-provoking, albeit temporary ‘invisible monuments’ in Los Angeles as the work of a “guerilla historian”:

The work requires photo documentation, gallery exhibition, and now, publication in order to have a continuous impact, not as a vicarious experience of another time and place, but as a model for civic engagement through archival research. Indeed, the ongoing goal of Operation Invisible Monument is to serve as an example of how anyone can become a “guerrilla historian.” In this regard [her artwork] is as much about promulgating a method or process for engaging social space as it is about generating and recovering historical knowledge.

In other words, holding space for the memories of ethnic communities is not just an act of preservation, but also ‘a model’ to show others how they can find a way to hold such spaces on their own terms as well. Here, I think of the Filipino woman from last year’s first-ever Open Mic at Cahuenga who had “lived here for over 35 years” before taking up the microphone to share her story. And I think of Alfredo, the 10 year old boy who arrived to the Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito in August initially rolling his eyes at the workshops being offered, only to find through the course of the event that he was exactly the kind of youth our team had been looking for. Alfredo needed a space that recognized and uplifted his giftedness, and once he could see that our Party was just that, he transformed into one of our foremost little helpers, announcing the raffle and handing out prizes to the community as one of our team.

Lastly, I think of William Taylor III, who made his way to last Thursday’s Open Mic with stories about his time along Downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row area. Taylor III graced the microphone with an ode to the recently passed Nipsey Hussle, statements of resistance to Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, and more letters of love for the community. These are just a few of the people who’ve been moved by our work, and there will be more.

In this respect, I’m excited about recognizing our achievements for organizing events in East Hollywood as such, and hopeful to see what else my team and I will accomplish with more Open Mics, Back to School Parties, and other monuments for uplifting our communities. Because yes, of course there will be more soon. We’ve just gotten started!

J.T.