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.

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It’s Going to be Another Trailblazing Summer in Los Angeles

Last summer when the First Ever Back to School Party made its way to East Hollywood in Los Angeles, it was following in the steps of an earlier precedent set in the neighborhood by the First Ever Open Mic at Cahuenga during Spring 2018.

Each event was designed from scratch, essentially made up of ‘thin air’, and would go on to create reverberations in and around the neighborhood for days. Now, with a 2nd Annual Open Mic Night at Cahuenga Library officially done and documented, and with the official start of summer just over a week away, it’s my pleasure to announce a 2nd Annual Back to School Party (BTS II), once again at El Gran Burrito in Los Angeles on Saturday, August 24, 2019. BTS II will coalesce with several other projects by yours truly, including the East Hollywood Neighborhood Survey, an upcoming Summer Writing Challenge for Students in L.A., and more Los Cuentos Merch, among other goodies.

In other words, it’s an exciting time to prepare for summer heat in The City, where our marks under the sun wait once again to be remade. In celebration and anticipation of the next ‘BTS’ Party, it’s also my pleasure to publish the gallery in this blog, each picture courtesy of Samanta Helou, of This Side of Hoover. Samanta’s pictures are proof of the power that emanates so boldly when communities come together unapologetically seeking something new for themselves. My world changed magnetically in the flicker of time that was the event–just as it would in the time following it–and I know I’m not the only one for whom that’s true.

I look to create the same opportunity and more for The City alongside my team this next Summer 2019. Expect nothing less than the world!

J.T.

Schoool (For the students of Los Angeles)

A little remix of 21 Savage’s billboard-topping ‘a lot’ by yours truly for the students of Los Angeles:

“How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? (straight up) 
How much homework you got? 

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot) 

Every day that I exist, I’ma side with the kids 
I’d rather be paid their thoughts than collect like Trix 
Told my students take my cred if my speech starts to cringe 
But I’m J.T. forev ain’t no way I’ma fidge(t)”

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round.

Huge potential outcomes if you state a couple facts 
Your dream so bold you could put it in your cap 
Fam vs the world, me and moms, it was us 
Then school sent me to da station and they really cuffed me up 

My father broke wives so he failed to be my teach 
My brothers popped ice and it fell em to the streets 
I been through the court but it turned me to J.T. 
Now the other side is sunny, I get paid these thoughts on sheets 

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot) 

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round. (x2)

How many sent to the deans’? 
For throwin ‘ they shots like vaccines 
I can see behind the phones and filters 
Egos ain’t big as they seem

Intersects like a string
Everybody got they thing 
Some students make dean’s list, other students make lean
I’m gon’ reflect on the scene
I’m not gon’ choke, I’ma free ‘em 

I don’t wan hear your concerns 
This ain’t no parent-square but I’ma care 
When they dragging kids down for expressin’ they heritage 
U know kids can learn from rap battlin’ and culture 

I guess you were hoping the rules would just tame they true selves
But these bars flowin ‘ college of self

OK, I got it, we’ll show up on everyone’s algorithm 
You know what bro Malcolm would preach 

Bettin ‘ a thousan

It’s got to the point that these schools ain’t even always the safest to be 
Fuck it cause that’s where this Los Cuentos fashion just hit me
It led me to save kids a spot, on a new remix to drop 
Shout out to “a lot, ” I polish the hook and I jot 

Pray for our schools cause they robbed like Iraq 
I picture the slaves on the fields pickin ‘ cot 
Respecc how they made it past all em cops 
Risking no less than they death if they caught 

I pray for the students who think they should cut 
Just want you to know your lives matter, my kiddos 
If I never met you, still know that you special 
And that the world needs you, don’t doubt it, for reala 

All the real teachers, stay solid, amigos 
I’m only tellin ‘ it just how I felt it 

I saw this parent look lost and abandoned  
When told that her kid goin ‘nowhere by standin’ out,’ I got amends 

It’s said that ur grades all about ur success, jot this dissent 
Flow on a mission reflectin’ how goals at our schools got be bigger 
Before we relent, reala

How many homeworks you got (a lot) 
How many quizzes you got? (a lot) 
How many teachers done doubted you? (a lot) 
Kicked you out the class? (a lot) 
How many lessons you lost? (a lot) 
How many field trips it cost? (a lot) 
How many laughs did you caught? (a lot) 
How many admins you shock? (a lot) 
How many times did you try? (a lot) 
How many times was it pride? (a lot) 
How many times you cold feet? (a lot) 
How many times did you sigh? (a lot) 
How many times your hope grieve? (a lot) 
How many times did it cry? (a lot) 
How many chances rap done gave you? (a lot) 
Thuggin’ round words like poets (a lot)

We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground 
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we give these schools they ground
We give these schools they ground, we make L.A. go ’round.

J.T.

Two Sides of Wonder (An 8th Grade Student’s Poem on Being)

U sit and wonder in class,
U sit in wonder at home,
I wonder why,
Why do I wonder,
Why do u wonder?

But isn’t it all wonderful
When we wonder
About being wonderful,

Or when we wonder about
What makes us wonder.

I wonder why, actually
I wonder why we wonder,
And what we wonder.

I wonder about my lady
Who’s got me bubbling lately,
Says my side is where she stay
But what happens when u drift away.

Look back at my pops, wonder where he’s at all day,
No kap, I’m just a young Black teen
Who wants to grow up and pursue his dreams.

A young visionary who wants to make sure
It’s always food in mom’s fridge,

Who wants to rise, uplift his friends,
Get bands, and count up the dividends.

KD

For My Favorite Ultimate Frisbee Team Ever

The spirit
Levitates

Leveling the wavelengths
Unidentified destiny

Drifting towards
The clasp of titans.

Time beckons
But lies distant

In a field fettered by the
Hurling of a thousand dreams

Destiny possessed,
Gravity is an afterthought

Dreams paint the edge
Illuminating the palms
Grasping them.

The bodies lift,

Watch
Them

RISE.

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, and by attempting to normalize such spaces 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.

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, our events during the past year have also acted like de la Loza’s ‘monuments’ for the oft-erased and invisible histories of the wide range of people who’ve made their lives in East Hollywood and similar parts of Los Angeles; I’m excited about recognizing our achievements for organizing the events 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.

The Power of Poetry: Pictures from Our 2nd Annual Open Mic Night at Cahuenga Public Library in Los Angeles

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We had a tremendous time at the 2nd Annual Open Mic Night at Cahuenga Public Library this past Thursday, April 25th, 2019, enjoying ourselves so much that we actually went over time. THIS is the power of poetry in our communities!

Photo courtesy of JRG & JIMBO TIMES.

J.T.

El Cipitío (2016), the new Cipitío

Image result for el cipitio ertl

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to reflect on Salvadoran-American fiction. In fact, this is actually the very first time. The only other instance in which I’ve cited the work of a contemporary Salvadoran-American author is in a brief note on Juan José Martínez D’aubuisson’s Ver, oír y callar (2016), a nonfiction book on the infamous wars between El Salvador’s two rival barrios. Now, Randy Jurado Ertll’s El Cipitío (2016) has changed that. As a disclosure, I met Randy Ertll last summer at a Central-American festival in Los Angeles, where I purchased a copy of his book.

The story of El Cipitío actually precedes Ertll’s book, going back to a Salvadoran legend about an orphaned boy spawning from an ‘extramarital’ affair between his mother, Siguanaba, and the Morning Star, otherwise known as Lucifer. In Nahuatl, or the Aztec language, Siguanaba means ‘beautiful woman’, which is what Cipitío’s mother is considered before his birth. By contrast, Sihuehuet means ‘ugly woman’, which is what Cipitío’s mother is considered in the wake of her ‘illegitimate’ child. Furthermore, in Nahuatl, Cipit is a word for youth, and today, almost any Salvadoran you can find will commonly refer to youth as ‘cipotes.’ If this has you wondering about how a North American or “Mexican” indigenous tribe’s language made its way into Central America, it’s because of the Aztec culture’s span into Central America at least half-a-century before the Spanish arrived to the American continent.

In other words, Cipitío’s dance through the imagination goes back so long that probably no living person today could trace its exact timeline. Moreover, the story has changed throughout the ages to reflect the views of different generations in different contexts and environments. With this in mind, J.T.’s review will tell readers why Randy Ertll’s Cipitío (2016) gives voice to a quintessentially modern version of Salvadoran-American male youth culture across Central and North America, fulfilling a dire need for the representation of this culture in contemporary American literature.

As an advisory, when I picked up the book, I had a choice between an English and Spanish version, choosing to go with the latter in an effort to improve my fluency. In turn, the following quotes will all be in Español, while my analyses will remain in English. A truly modern Latinx style of review.

To begin with, Ertll informs readers early that his Cipitío will be a far more complicated character than what those familiar with the legend may be used to:

“La traumatizada criatura, con apariencia de niño, casi siempre estaba enfadada por nunca haber pasado de los 10 años de edad y quedarse solo midiendo tres pies de altura. El demonio le había hecho así y le impuso el deseo obsesivo de vengarse de todo el mundo.”

By introducing el Cipitío as a brown-faced boy of extraordinarily short stature–who nevertheless has hidden superpowers while being ‘cursed’ indefinitely to being ten years old–Ertll honors the essence of the legendary character’s features. But by referring to him as a ‘traumatized creature’ made by the ‘devil’, he describes a more modern and relatable figure to the ‘racial subconscious’; for one, Cipitío’s brown skin and short stature reflect the features of many real Latin-Americans, whose physical bodies, like our protagonist’s, occupy space in a world where tall, strident white figures symbolize the dominant order. For another, because even Cipitío’s own mother is a source of rancor for him, reminding him only of loss and separation, there is little to no chance for the youth to understand the layers of his story beyond that of the pain it invokes, a recurring theme for many Latino families as they tell the stories of their migration across lands.

Ertll’s Cipitío is thus complicated from the beginning, setting him apart from the more simplistic youth in the legend who’s a generally happy character only occasionally suffering loss and chagrin. At the same time, for any reader who’s even slightly familiar with Latin-American displacement over the last three decades of U.S. policy, it’s clear that Ertll’s character is speaking to the historical periods preceding his contemporary one.

Even if readers are not familiar with this history though, as good fiction does, Ertll’s writing offers a glimpse into the historic Latin-American diaspora through the details ‘fleshing out’ el Cipitío, which are ‘facts’ that specifically many Salvadoran-Americans know well today: officially, from 1980 – 1992 there was a war in El Salvador between the U.S. backed Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) government and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). This war cost tens of thousands of lives, and displaced tens of thousands more; in that process, according to Ertll, even Cipitío’s twin brother, named el Duende (Nahuatl for ‘malign’), whom Cipitio was also separated from at birth, is taken as a youth to fight as a member of ARENA’s national military. Duende eventually leaves the national military and El Salvador altogether for the U.S., however, where he vanishes almost entirely:

“Dentro de las guerillas, no existía ningún progreso para el Duende; así que el decidió inmigrar a los Estados Unidos. Y nunca le dijo a nadie dónde vivía; su direccion la mantenía en secreto. Por eso, algunos decían que el residía en Washington, D.C.; otros señalaban que en Virginia o Maryland. El caso es que un día el Duende vino a ser visto vagando por áreas boscosas, escalando árboles como un mono, puesto que el encantaba tomar siestas dentro de los árboles frondosos.”

By naming Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. as states where Cipitío’s twin brother possibly disappeared to, Ertll calls attention to the handful of places in the U.S. other than Los Angeles and New York where thousands of Salvadoran migrants took refuge during the eighties and early nineties. Once again, this is what makes the protagonist’s story highly relatable: the trajectory of Duende’s journey honors those of countless Central Americans displaced as a result of U.S. intervention in Latin America during 1970s and 1980s’ Cold War policy.

At the same time, Duende’s steadfast refusal to let any of his countrymen know his whereabouts after the war acknowledges the theme of many central-American stories of migration to the U.S. post 1980, in which the ‘old country’ stirs only memories of pain, corrupt government officials, and broken family units, leading many to sever ties with their native land to ‘start over’ with the new one. Before letting readers into what life in the new country looks like, however, Ertll looks to the trails walked by so many Central Americans en route to the U.S. for refuge:

“El Cipitío camino hasta México y vio cómo los centroamericanos eran brutalmente golpeados, violados y asesinados. Eso le trajo viejos recuerdos de lo que hacía el batallón Díaz Arce en su país natal. Las guerillas y los escuadrónes de la muerte cruzaban México, y en verdad eran bestias contra su propia gente. Aprendieron de sus maestros españoles durante la colonización a odiar a las mujeres y a golpear a sus esposas, madres, hijas y novias.”

Although Ertll’s Cipitío maintains supernatural powers through his journey, he nevertheless experiences human emotions, especially as a ten year old witnessing the plight of fellow Salvadorans making the trek through dangerous trails upwards through Mexico. What’s more, Ertll’s telling of how Salvadoran death squads embarked on those routes as well, whose members sometimes beat their own wives, mothers, and daughters in the process, forces readers to confront those same dirt trails in their own imaginations: a necessary process if they’re to acquire an understanding of the way these stories inform el Cipitío, and by extension, much of Salvadoran-American culture today. Ertll’s subsequent reflection that these men must have inherited hatred for their own people from Spanish colonizers captures the enduring legacy of colonialism for much of Latin-America, including for his protagonist, whose name literally comes from a word meaning ‘the youth.’ Youth are the group most impacted by government policies throughout Ertll’s novel, but it’s the way the author ties this phenomenon into the actual Salvadoran-American experience in Los Angeles that resonates most for J.T:

“Se matriculó en Le Conte Middle School y era el chico más pequeño de su clase…Empezó a vestirse como los otros niños de la escuela y dejo que su pelo le creciera largo. En ocasiones se ponía ropa negra para representar su lado satánico, y por ello fue invitado a unirse a los locos de heavy metal.”

Since at least the early 1980s, in the East Hollywood area Le Conte Middle School has been one of the only public middle schools–the other being Thomas Starr King–where a myriad of Salvadoran, Guatemalan and other central American families have sent their children to be educated. By sprinkling these small, communal sites of Los Angeles into the new Cipitío’s story, then, Ertll’s character speaks with authenticity to the lived experiences of many Salvadoran-American youth over the last forty years in settings like L.A. This is significant because Ertll understands that like Cipitío, many young Salvadoran-Americans in the U.S. can claim ties to far away, magical places in Central-America and beyond, but often view the ‘old country’ which their families once called home–like the neglected streets many of them live on, and like the frequently understaffed schools they attend–as anything but extraordinary. Thus, the new Cipitío puts these tiny ‘barrios’ on the map, or historicizes East Hollywood, Le Conte Middle School and more.

In the same vein, Cipitío’s adoption of the heavy metal look speaks to another historic reality through L.A.’s middle and high schools during the 1980s: the influence of American heavy metal or ‘satanic’ music on a generation of ‘misfit’ youth, who as a result of their skin, language–and don’t forget, stature–not only didn’t fit in with the dominant White culture, but also failed to gain acceptance from the more visible and historic Mexican youth at the time. Ertll’s Cipitío thus marks another specter following the contemporary Salvadoran-American experience: the story of the overly popularized MS-13 gang, which was founded in Los Angeles by Salvadoran youth in neighborhoods like East Hollywood’s, where after-school programs and other resources for their successful integration into the U.S. were lacking, to say the least; Ertll understands that the formation of the truchas was a matter of self-acceptance–a chosen family, so to speak, especially for orphaned children like Cipitío–and protection against Mexican gangs, which at the time refused to treat Central-Americans as equals in typically racialized U.S. relations. Our protagonist thus moves in this fashion through L.A.’s schools, until it leads him to ponder the city’s class structure as a whole:

“El Cipitío recorrió las calles y exploró la historia de Los Ángeles, su arquitectura y logros de ingeniería. Vio las divisiones entre los ricos y los pobres. Los ricos vivían cómodamente en el Lado Oeste y otras áreas, mientras que los pobres tomaron los barrios bajos.”

Throughout the 1980s, as the central American diaspora made its way into Los Angeles, the city grew increasingly segregated. This was due to a range of political developments preceding the Salvadoran war, including the defunding of L.A.’s public schools, the successful efforts to stop desegregation at those same schools, the rise of drug addiction, gang violence, the AIDS crisis, and more. As Laura Pulido and Josh Kun describe in Black and Brown in Los Angeles (2013):

“…in the 1980s we begin to see such things as the rise of the prison-industrial complex as the preferred means to deal with surplus labor and social problems…the almost complete abandonment of the public school system by white and the middle class of all colors; the suburbanization of both the Black and Brown middle class as people of color moved farther away from the woes of the central city and in search of affordable housing; and the emergence of Los Angeles as the capital of the working poor.”

For these reasons, when by a magical turn of events Cipitío becomes mayor of our famed city–his heavy metal style notwithstanding, and as surely many youth like him have imagined themselves to be at some point, even if only playfully–our protagonist uses both his secret and official powers to transform L.A. with a radical idea: a free college education for all of the city’s Black, Brown and Asian youth from places like East Hollywood, South Central, East Los Angeles and more:

“Su fundación asi ofrecía becas completas para cada estudiante de secundaria, y pagaba todos los gastos universitarios. Los estudiantes no podían creerlo, sobre todo los estudiantes pobres, cuyos padres eran costureras, conserjes, guardias de seguridad y maestros suplentes. Cuando los estudiantes se graduaban en colegios y universidades, regresaban a sus comunidades pobres ya convertidos en médicos, abogados, arquitectos, y ponían manos a la obra para ayudar a revitalizar la zona.”

Here, by going on to play mayor in his story, Cipitío makes the cut from a struggle which many ‘first’ or ‘second’ generation American youth find themselves grappling with at some point in their lives: the prospect of transcending poverty to move into the ‘middle-class’, despite being raised by parents laboring daily as garment factory workers, security guards, custodians, and in other jobs tied indefinitely to minimum wages.

As Mayor Cipitío’s beca awardees return to Los Angeles, then, the pages create a striking image for readers to envision–though not a new one by any means–of hundreds of thousands of students in Los Angeles going to college every year and returning as doctors, lawyers, architects, and more to uplift the neighborhoods they come from. By last official count, LAUSD’s students are nearly 75% Latino, 10% Black, and 5% Asian, respectively, but more than two-thirds of graduates are not prepared for college after high school. Once again, then, Ertll’s writing pays tribute to the lived experiences of people like Cipitío all across the modern ‘world city.’

Following his successful tenure at City Hall, our protagonist aspires for an even higher office: the presidency of the United States itself. Cipitío’s ambition highlights the prevalence of the U.S’s popularity contest in the minds of many Salvadoran-Americans like himself, and plays to the reader’s delight: after all, who wouldn’t want to see a little brown-faced ten year old in the role of U.S. president for a change?

This brings into focus the very reason that literature exists: to (re)imagine our world by other means. By this point in the novel, Cipitío’s growing aspirations are allowed to flourish in the ‘safe space’ of the literature, where something so ‘absurd’ as a Central-American directly challenging the confines of the ‘real world’ and claiming victory can take place (Spoiler Alert: Cipitío goes on to win the election for president by a landslide); a sequence of events that little Black and Brown children just like him all throughout Los Angeles and the world can benefit from seeing for a change.

Even so, despite Cipitío’s unlikely success at the highest echelons of power, he continues to be haunted by the gorge of his memory, which navigates him back to a primordial need, for something even greater than the presidency: the need for a love that only a mother could provide to her son.

“El alcalde Cipitío tenía sueños donde era abrazado y aceptado por su madre, que ella nunca lo ahogó, que lo nutría y cuidaba de él. Se imaginaba que ella lo llevaba en sus brazos, acariciando su cabello, dándole leche de su pecho voluptuoso.”

Cipitío’s longing for his mother through the high end of his journey is what makes his story, once more, something local. It is also a showcase in how memory makes human life a mixture of memories, dreams, and what might still yet be. In the case of the youth, the memory of a violent separation from his mother persists in reducing his world:

Pero cuando despertaba, la realidad lo golpeaba con el peso de una tonelada de ladrillos; y se ponía enojado, furioso, enfurecido.

Dreams can be nightmares, just as memories can take us back to some of our worst experiences of dehumanization, an appropriate reminder considering the recent incarceration of Central American children apprehended at the U.S. border by the U.S.’s latest ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Like Cipitío, these children, who have also been separated from their mothers and guardians–and who have even been tried in U.S. courts despite their age–just may be gifted with superpowers, especially if surviving the perilous trek to the U.S. has anything to say about it. Like Cipitío, they can also be mayors, presidents, and otherwise people who can change the world if only we’d let them; if only we’d meet them with the love that all ‘creatures’ like them need.

It’s for these reasons and more that Ertll’s novel is a timely read for any ‘global citizen’ today, and one that has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller. To get your copy, check out Ertll’s website HERE.

And the next time you see el Cipitío or a youth like him in a city like Los Angeles, please be sure to show them a lot of respect! (Spoiler Alert: they all have superpowers.)

J.T.

Vote for North Virgil’s Very Own Arasele Torrez

Arasele Torrez, Lockwood Elementary
Arasele Torrez, Lockwood Elementary; Summer 2018


In the throes of Los Angeles, where traffic jams crowd out hopes of a day when the world might move differently, it can be difficult to imagine things actually changing. Yet when one encounters stories of the shakers and movers right in our midst, it’s clear that even if it appears like we’re only slouching in limbo out here, things are actually moving around us each day. Arasele Torrez tells one such cuento.

Age: 28

Where are your parents from? Do you know how they met and/or when they were married? My parents are from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. They met when my dad was visiting their town of Rio Verde in 1989. My parents never got married. However, they have been separated for over eight years now.

When did you all arrive to the Virgil Village community? We arrived to the neighborhood in July 1999 when I was nine years old. So we’ve lived in the community here for almost 20 years now.

Were you the first in your family to go to college? And how many people from your graduating class do you know who went to college? I was the first in my family to go to college. I graduated from Marshall High School in 2008 and went on to UC Davis, where I graduated in 2012. I was also the first in my family to get my master’s degree (Cal State Northridge, 2015). I don’t know how many people from my graduating class also went on to college. However, I’m sure there are statistics available somewhere.

What made you decide to return to Virgil Village? And how did you start to become an advocate for people here? Ever since I was very young, I always loved being of service to my family and neighbors, and volunteering at school. I went to Davis with the idea of returning to East Hollywood and giving back to make a difference. Los Angeles is my city and I can’t picture myself leaving again. I learned so much in college. In particular, I loved my Chicano Studies social policy class, in which I was able to focus my research on East Hollywood, its economy, educational makeup, labor and health statistics. When I learned that our statistics showed a low-income and vulnerable community here, it increased my desire to get involved.

Arasele Torrez, 'Virgil Village'
Arasele Torrez, ‘Virgil Village’; Summer 2018

When did you first get involved with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council? I had learned about the council when I researched the different groups making up East Hollywood, and decided to run for a seat on the board not long after college in September 2012 to become the Virgil Village North Representative. But my race was contested with two other candidates. Although I beat the gas station owner, I lost to the incumbent by about 16 votes. However, because I truly cared about my community, unlike other candidates who lose, I chose to stick around. I was then appointed as the Student Representative because I was taking courses at LACC for my paralegal program. Since then, I’ve been a part of the neighborhood council for over six years.

Where do you see yourself and this work going within the next three to five years? I’m not sure where I’ll be in three to five years. Hopefully, I’ll still be living in Virgil Village and making an impact if my landlord doesn’t sell us out like other owners have done to several families in the neighborhood. I hope to stay involved locally, and making a difference for the community, for the low-income and underrepresented, in whatever job I have.

Lockwood and Madison, 'Virgil Village'; Spring 2018
Lockwood and Madison, ‘Virgil Village’; Spring 2018

Would you have any advice for other people looking to become more involved in their neighborhood? If so, what would you say is a good way to start? I would say, if you live within LA City Council districts, first look and see what neighborhood council you belong to. You can start by attending their monthly governing board meetings. Just by attending a meeting and voicing some of your concerns, it’s a start to becoming involved in your community.

Also, see if you’re interested in joining one of the committees of the Neighborhood Council as a community member, or stakeholder. At the same time, find out what local non-profits are in the area. And especially if you’re a first generation college student, get involved with the local public schools. Talk to students, our youth and the parents. If you’re in Virgil Village and need any other suggestions, or help getting started, you can also contact me via email at: araseletorrez@gmail.com.

Arasele Torrez, 28, has served as President of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council since February 2017 and is now running to represent stakeholders as the EHNC’s Virgil Village Representative. To see her Candidate’s Statement, please follow THIS LINK. On the search tab, select “East Hollywood NC.”

GO Arasele!

J.T.