Nahshon D. Anderson: Don’t Just Black Out Now; Support Queer & Trans Writers of Color

The recent unlawful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African-Americans and 40+ emails since that I’ve received from different nonprofits stating solidarity for Black Lives led me to write this.

Many organizations are now claiming to support Black people (because it’s currently convenient) and believe they are standing in solidarity with us (even as they obtain more funding and media attention since it’s currently convenient).

Yet Queer writers of color have been overlooked and under-funded for decades, especially Trans writers of color (i.e. transgender writers of color).

When it’s come time to cut checks, much of our literature hasn’t been worth bothering for. Many manuscripts, submissions, and more have been left on the curb without hope. In my own work, focusing my subject matter on social justice, economic inequality and police brutality is my form of protest.

Last December, I submitted chapter four of my unpublished memoir Shooting Range, titled “This is for Rodney King,” into a literary competition. I did not expect to win, nor did I expect to lose. I just went for it.

Over the years, in addition to my writing, I’ve also served as panelist for various arts organizations and awards and have been shocked at the absence of a relevant narrative examining police brutality in general and honoring people like Rodney Glen King. Police brutality has been an ongoing issue for years that’s only gotten worse, and Mr. George Floyd’s and Ms. Breonna Taylor’s deaths are only the latest proof. This is what made my submission to the contest, which was dedicated to honoring Rodney Glen King, important for more publications to support. But the piece was rejected.

I was going to remain quiet about not receiving the award for my submission. But when not long afterwards I received an email from the same organization behind the contest about its newly awakened principles and commitment to Black Lives, I was left shaking my head, tired of reading the same bullshit.

However, there are organizations out there committed to walking the walk. To name one example, Shade Literary Arts, a literary organization focused on the empowerment and expansion of literature by queer writers of color, is holding an excellent fundraiser that still needs help reaching its goal of $100,000 to support queer and trans lives.

Do you mind digging in your purse to support Shade Literary Arts, or do you need my help?

Moving forward, I hope nonprofits and arts organizations across the U.S. are sincere in their newfound solidarity statements, even if I know they’re only manufacturing them based on current events, which by the way all read as if they were written by the same person(s).

I also hope that future grant awards reflect diversity instead of it being just another “trendy” bandwagon. This change is long, long, long, long overdue.

N.D.A. aka K.I.N.A.

Nahshon Dion Anderson, aka K.I.N.A, born April 1, 1978 in Altadena, California, is an Afro-Latin American, and French Creole Transgender writer. As a pre-teen, she was her family’s scribe and lector, both reading and writing for her illiterate grandfather, blind grandmother, and dyslexic mother. During 1992, Nahshon’s improbable career trajectory as an actor, writer, and later literary arts advocate, began after family friend Rodney Glen King was beaten by the LAPD, the ensuing aftermath of which played out in Nahshon’s driveway and front lawn. In 2014, Nahshon received a Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (BRIO) from the Bronx Council on the Arts’, for an excerpt of her memoir Shooting Range, which details an assault she survived as a teen in July of 1997.

Sunset over East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Victor Avila: Hope Amid Stones both Tall and Gray

Infinity does not know the grave
though the digger’s hand still turns the soil.
These monuments that some think grand
only mutely invoke the names
of the long forgotten dead.

There is no permanence
as these stones hope to proclaim.
Whether we are buried over here or over there
only bones below in a box remain.

The earth gladly welcomes them.

Perhaps infinity is just a word
Like truth and God and love.
Are they just pretty syllables
for atheists and blasphemers
to ponder in their despair?

Faith is irrational. It’s the logic of angels.

No, I will never understand
the mystery of the silent mountains.
not far beyond these gray and somber stones.
All the secrets of the universe
I’ll leave for others to discover.
The unknown will remain for me unknown.
I am glad of this.

I walk among the intaglio of crosses
and joyfully accept my mortality.
It’s because of this that I do not fear
the eventuality of days.

For every story, even ours, has a conclusion.

The essence of everything
we hold briefly in our hands.
In reality though, there is nothing in between them.
I find this notion both magnificent and grand.

Dust in time will cover even this.

Nothing in life is learned
until beauty becomes our mirror.
Only then will we catch a glimpse
of all that we call immortal.
We do well when we chase the ethereal.

For it is in the chasing of it, that we find most joy.

V.A.

Victor Avila is a winner of the Chicano Literary Prize. His poetry collection, “The Mystic Thrones of Night,” was published through Vagabond Books in 2019. Victor’s poetry has been widely published and anthologized. Recent work can be found in such collections as EXTREME: An Anthology for Social and Economic Justice, and The Border Crossed Us. Victor has taught in California schools for over thirty years.

Helen Bernstein High School from Sunset boulevard, East Hollywood

José Ocampo: I Wanted School to Be Over

Many students (high school seniors, I’m talking to you!) constantly share one common wish: for school to be over. As seniors, we have put up with nearly 12 years of schooling, have gone through twice as many teachers, met 5 times as many annoying-ass kids, and just wanted our final year to be a breeze. Do we still want that?

When we said, “UGH! I want to get out of here already!” we meant that we wanted the school year to go by fast, unnoticed. However, fate and life (and some may even say God) enjoy toying with us, and like making a wish at a magic genie booth at the L.A. County fair, we actually got what we wanted, just in the most undesirable way possible.

COVID-19 has every school in the major Los Angeles area closed with a very high chance that they’ll remain closed until the upcoming fall. Suddenly, all of us students have been forced into online schooling, with every teacher trying to host a Zoom session at the same time, with many teachers assigning homework every single day, and with some teachers still having no idea how to use technology. This is not the end we wanted.

Suddenly, it seemed our introverted lifestyles were becoming a law and a survival guide: don’t go outside, don’t interact with anyone, avoid direct contact, only leave to get food. Finally, our binge-eating and binge-watching routines were no longer taboo, but being encouraged by the leaders of our state. In a nutshell, it can seem ideal. Living in it, though, has been a serious challenge.

Be careful what you wish for. You don’t know the value of what you have until it’s gone. These are sayings that are kicking everyone in the ass at the moment.

The vast majority of people always complain about the insipidity of their daily routine; we’re always asking for a change. It’s only now that we start to realize how dependent we are in our customs. Think about it: you’re sitting on your couch, watching something random on Netflix for background noise, eating your 5th Cup Noodles this week, and daydreaming about how life was perfectly normal a month ago (though you were probably complaining about it then too).

Many of our lonely souls just want this to be over because we miss our friends. We miss making plans we probably weren’t going to show up for. We miss rolling our eyes at the kids in the halls who take their sweet ass time walking to class. We also miss seeing that one teacher that remembered what being a high school student was like. Some of us are even questioning if we’ll still remember our social skills once this is over. Will we remember how to say “hi” properly, or how to hug our friends?

No matter what kind of person you may be, you probably miss the times that seem like forever ago too. Every day lasts 72 hours now, and there is apparently nothing to do. We all want this to be over, and soon. But what can we do? Be awesome and listen. That’s what. Also, remember to wash your hands and practice saying “hello” at home whenever possible.

(This blog was originally published on the new LA Voice Blog by José Ocampo)

JO

José Ocampo is an 18 year old Senior high school student in Los Angeles who will be studying at the University of San Francisco as a Psychology major this upcoming Fall 2020. He loves writing about the world, and sharing his mind with as many people as he can. Please check out and subscribe to his new blog, the LA Voice, immediately during this quarantine season!

Kevin Walton King: During Trauma, Crisis, and Times of Transition, Love is Essential

I was hesitant to write some of my thoughts during this time of change and transition due to the Coronavirus. The main reason is because it seemed odd to me to offer my metaphysical musings at a time when people are looking for physical solutions: Food. Economic resources. Material comfort and the like. But I realize there is no time like the present to focus on what is important to us.

Finally, more people, including our mayors and governors are asking, what is essential to human culture and life? What are things or activities we can do without? Maybe in this way we can begin to live simpler and more sustainable lifestyles.

At the micro level we can ask the same questions. What is important to me? What gives my life meaning, joy, and strength and vitality? And when we find the answer, we can then find the courage to make sure that we commit to those things. For what gives us joy is a gift not only to ourselves but also to the world. Without these gifts being let to shine, we are left collectively poorer and wanting.

In my own life, I’ve found that love is essential. But I also understand that during trauma and crisis and times of transition it can be very hard to remember that love is essential. That joy is essential. That a smile is essential. That creativity is essential. The teacher said that ‘we can not live by bread alone.’ That means that there is an intangible nature to life. A spiritual nature. You can’t name it, but you know it when you experience it.

Trauma and crisis and transition bring our focus rightly to the material, but life is not only trauma and crisis and transition. The teacher has something to say about this as well when he offers ‘that he came to give us life and life more abundantly.’ The abundant life is a full life. Life in all its fecundity. Flourishing life. Life that beams in all seasons and at all times so that during the harvest we sing songs of triumph and during a drought we shout the blues.

I also understand that this time of adversity will affect our emotional and mental and spiritual well being. For some, it will be exasperating, one more inconvenience and difficulty and chaotic event thrust upon their already overwhelmed life.

For others, it will be like the Polish tale of the Rabbi who advises the farmer to bring his livestock into his home even as the farmer complains that his home is chaotic and devoid of peace and quiet. Many of us, like the farmer in that tale, may experience a moment of liberation when we realize that the majority of our complaints, in the grand scheme of things, are of little consequence.

The majority of us, however, will find ourselves somewhere in the middle. And the blessing of this state is that we will realize that we are a part of a vast continuum, with stress and anxiety on the one end, and liberation at the other. And with our eyes open to this reality we may find that we are a part of an expansive and infinite world full of possibilities. May we all, especially at this time of challenge, experience the greatest of these possibilities.

(This article was first published in The Weekly Oracle)

K.K.

Alan Keving Walton King is one of a growing number of Love Performers who finds creative ways to add love to his life and, in doing so, helps us to remember that love never fails. King is also the author and mind behind The Weekly Oracle, where he is an “oracle for the people – what is substantive, what matters, the heart, the core [of] what is important, what touches us deeply, out of which we come into being, and through which the world is created.”

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.

Beverly M. Collins: The Mist

It’s 8:30 pm. I become aware of the cold

Temperature of the station bench through

My clothing. The train’s headlight appears

On the track, a distant sun blinking so far off

There is no warmth from its rays.

The feeling draws me back to our afternoon

Meeting announcement that a re-organization

Is about to disorganize my life and reveal

Accumulated dust in its corners

It’s funny how one sentence can tighten temples,

Add pepper and vinegar to a fresh cup of coffee

And suck all the air from the room at the same time.

These moments come out of the mist,

Bringing a chilly foul odor with a perfume label.

An appointment with insomnia placed before

Me with the dash of a stiff smile

Back at my desk, my attention creeps over

To the upside. I recalled insomnia visiting me with

Increased frequency over the past two years.

Let me see: demands, aching hands and insomnia

Versus insomnia and a new start. The cup before

Me was suddenly half full. It is not too sweet, but it

Has some cream.

B.M.C.

(First published in Poetry Letter and Literary Review, CSPS)

Beverly M. Collins is the author of the books, Quiet Observations: Diary Thought, Whimsy and Rhyme and Mud in Magic. Her works have also appeared in California Quarterly, Poetry Speaks! A year of Great Poems and Poets, The Hidden and the Divine Female Voices in Ireland, The Journal of Modern Poetry, Spectrum, The Altadena Poetry Review, Lummox, The Galway Review (Ireland), Verse of Silence (New Delhi), Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine (London), Scarlet Leaf Review (Canada), The Wild Word magazine (Berlin), Indigomania (Australia) and more.

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.

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.

Thelma T. Reyna: Old Habits

How easy it is, how easy,
for the brain to trick us
into wiping pain away,
into thinking you’re here at my door,
or in the kitchen by my side, sipping
at the mug, sighing at the early hour,
calling my name, your
mouth at my ear.
How easy, how easy.

The brain contorts memory
to shadows of itself, clipping
connections to calendars
and seasons, children growing
into future mists we veil over when
we’re tricked. I hear footsteps,
jingling keys, the gentle click
of a door unlocked, water lapping
at your washbowl, gentle, curling,
steaming stream gurgling, and
you humming as you shave your neck.

How easy it is
to hear these precious sounds again,
these tiny tunes of love,
tricking death and me with
double shots of cruelty: warmth
at the reliving; then stabs
of recollection,
of seeing you lowered,
sinking,
roses sliding
to the soil.

T.R.

“Former Poet Laureate Thelma T. Reyna weaves her nationally recognized skills as poet and as storyteller to craft a stirring, heartfelt memoir in poems that captures the essence of her husband’s brave, love-filled life—and the despair she navigated and surmounted when her spouse of 50 years died suddenly in minor surgery.”

Jeremy Tong: A Remembrance for Demetrio Zuniga Farias, Mayor of Breed Street

On December 2nd, 2019, a small, working class community in Boyle Heights experienced a sorrowful loss when Demetrio Zuniga Farias passed away at his home on Breed Street. He was 85 years old.

Born in 1934, Don Farias made Los Angeles his permanent home in the mid-1960s. In his long tenure in the city, Don Farias was an active member of his community who was constantly providing a lending hand. In 1987, he even earned recognition from the City of Los Angeles and Governor Jerry Brown for his commitment to the public good.

When Don Farias opened and managed his own mini-market in Boyle Heights, he showed much compassion for the community, at times helping families and single mothers in need with items such as milk, tortillas, and more at his expense.

Outside of Boyle Heights, Don Farias also traveled all over Europe, loved baseball, boxing, and Mariachi music. In fact, during the 1980s, he was actually associated with the Dodgers, working with the Spanish translation group for the prized blue franchise. Don Farias also had a network in the world of boxing and counted legends such as Julio Cesar Chavez and Don King among people he knew.

Don Farias was no ordinary man. He knew how to live life to the fullest at the same time that he counted his blessings. This led many members of the community to frequently gather at his home on Breed Street, making him constantly surrounded by people who had nothing but endearment for him. Breed Street was the heart of Don Faria’s pueblo, making him to locals the “Mayor of Breed Street.”

Although this great and honorable man is no longer with us physically, Don Farias’s legacy will always be the soul of Breed Street and a gem in our hearts.

J.T.

About the author: Jeremy Tong is a resident of Boyle Heights on the east side of Los Angeles and an avid supporter of grassroots movements in the community.