Book Cover for La Siguanaba and the Magical Loroco by Randy Jurado Ertll

La Siguanaba (2019)

Words create worlds. They are also known to destroy them. This is what makes the “house” of literature a central database and even a living organism where culture is collected, observed, and retold for human growth and learning. Even the late, great Gabriel García Márquez based his 100 Years of Solitude on experiences as a child with his abuelitos at their home in Aracataca, Colombia.

As a child in Los Angeles growing up in the 90s and then the 2000s, my eyes flocked to the wondrous movement of vibrant and surreal images on television. Among a handful of great shows, I loved Dragon Ball Z, in which brawny cartoon men and bulked up cartoon kids with edgy haircuts–or no haircuts–duked it out with other-worldly creatures for the fate of the universe. In the days leading up to my teen years, the prospect of domination itself is what drew my and friends and I–mostly, but not only, young men–to watch “wrestling” matches for years on end, including after we found out the matches were running on the same old script again (you know you did it, too).

Today, an obsession with stories and great storytelling is what leads me to recognize Randy Jurado Ertll’s LA SIGUANABA and the Magical Loroco as a book for all ages, for all genders, and for all futures whose histories are concerned with, if not total freedom, then serious liberation from the yoke of colonialist, misogynist and classist cultures entrenched throughout the American continent and between the continent’s various people.

The book is self-published by Ertll, and looking past a handful of grammatical and even a few thematic ‘loose ends,’ at 87 pages, it reads poetically, like something one might hear landing by chance at an Open Mic Hour on a dark-hued night in Los Angeles.

Like most well-told cuentos, the story begins with a bang. La Siguanaba is out for revenge. She has ‘no time for games,’ and is ready to make war on anyone who makes the mistake of getting in her way. By the end of the first paragraph, readers learn that she is unapologetically L.A., gangsta style, replete with 90s hip hop thumping loudly in her car, presumably while on her way to pick up some fine and sizzling pupusas.

Now, say what you will about the repetitiveness of another loud-talking, brash Latinx woman straight outta Los Angeles in fiction…except wait, actually, just when was the last time L.A. literature saw a major cultural icon from Los Angeles, or any U.S. city, for that matter, with brown skin and a surname pronounced in Español?

Helena Maria Viramontes’s ‘Turtle’ is proof they have existed, and that they still exist, but the fact is that communities in Los Angeles would still be pressed to find much representation in literature reflective of their culture.

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, as recently as 2018, only 5% of Children’s books contained Latinx characters or protagonists, even though Latinx people now make up 18% of the U.S. population and are slated to grow even more in their share of the nation’s demographics.

This is what makes La Siguanaba a refreshing character on arrival, particularly for Latinx audiences. She’s an immigrant from El Salvador. She’s an entrepreneur. She’s incredibly successful, but is alone, resented by her two sons for past “sins.” She also holds no bars, speaking candidly at every turn, unafraid of men and whatever their position in society may be. And she possesses superpowers; she is beautiful at one moment, but unmistakably grotesque if provoked.

Yet despite La Siguanaba‘s personal empowerment, the fact persists that she still lives in a world where Central-American women’s bodies–like those of their African-American, Indigenous and Trans counterparts’–are largely disposable, traded between men for U.S. dollars in an ecosystem where wealth affords protection–most of all protection of wealth itself–to rich, predominantly white men, while most men and women without that protection surrender their bodies for crumbs of wealth in ways that are particularly degrading–that is, dehumanizing–for the latter.

So, what is La Siguanaba, as someone who knows the shielding effects of wealth in her entrepreneurial success but also the continual scorn faced by young women without access to resources across the American continent, to do?

We’ve heard this story before. She’s going to flip the system. But here’s the twist, unlike El Cipitio, who sought the White House to create revolutionary changes for his people, La Siguanaba seeks longer-term transformation for the society that continually makes people like her invisible. She’s going to do this by taking the battle right to heart of the matter, at least as far as it concerns Latinx people in America. Looking beyond the term-limits of presidencies in “democratic republics” known to fail the majority of their constituents whether leftist or rightist, La Siguanaba resolves not only beat the bastards at their own game, but to redefine the rules. In the opening chapters of the tale, we learn that she’s going to flip the system by pursuing the office of the Pope, as in, to become the first Madre or woman head of the one and only Catholic church, a lifetime appointment.

What follows is a frolicking tale of the lies and betrayal that are arguably endemic to yet another cuento about the destruction wreaked in the pursuit of power, despite all best intentions for use of that power, the details of which audiences love to hate time and again no matter how many times we’ve heard or seen it before. Relationships are destroyed. Secrets are cast out into the open. Yet somehow, there may be room for amends along the way. In the end, despite a litany of f-bombs riddled throughout (cursing is a crucial part of Salvadoran American Spanish), it’s a family-affair.

In an election year when the remaking of society, but also the remaking of the human family, is easily on the minds of people not just in the United States, but all across the world, La Siguanaba is right on time, beckoning to readers to reflect seriously on just where it all came from, or how things got so ‘nasty.’

It’s also true that as a cis-gender Salvadoran American man, Ertll’s writing can never fully capture the true experiences of Latinas, Afro-Latinas, and Indigenous muxeres all across El Salvador and throughout the American continent, but that Ertll can make an attempt at it. In a world where less than 5% of characters reflect a people whose contributions to this economy and our whole way of life are much larger, that attempt is important. The L.A. Storyteller therefore pays heed, and is proud to recommend this book to lovers of letters in Los Angeles, especially those of Brown skin with Spanish surnames. Find and purchase LA SIGUANABA and the Magical Loroco, and inform your attempt at challenging this status quo, too.

J.T.

A pigeon sits atop a lamp post in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 16

L.A.’s streets in the early evening are curled into misty shadows. Once again I walked through the city, moving to the drum of its dimmed pulse. I know this is a privilege that not just everyone gets to enjoy. I am thankful for what I have, and hopeful that by sharing that through this blog, I can still make a difference.

A friend asked me earlier today how I’ve been getting through the times, and I responded that I’ve been reading, and writing. Then repeating. During this process it’s become more clear to me how over the course of these last few years, as I’ve picked up my smartphone more frequently, I’ve picked up my paperback and hardcover books less and less.

This has been obvious enough of a case for most everyone, but through the course of the quarantine season, I’ve seen only more clearly how work and school and the rest of my time dashing through time and space have been divided in so many different directions, and how the smartphone became a bridge to connect these things.

That is, until now, when in lieu of these most recent events, my phone has become less of a necessary bridge. While I still need to set my reminders, I don’t need to rely on the screen for them. And while I still have appointments, I take them one day at a time.

In these times, Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller has been the more necessary bridge–my daily reminder–or my way to not only remain connected but to become even more ensconced withing my community and culture.

Since so many of my daily treks across the road have vanished, I’ve gotten back to my reading goals in a way that seemed virtually out of reach only a month ago. In the first week of the shutdown, at long last, I finished Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. Today, during this third week, I finally got past 600 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Almost in celebration, I published an “early” review (or is that a critique) of Infinite Jest on the site, the first review in months for J.T.

At this rate, if I’m able to continue my sudden return to the classics, maybe I can finally get back to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, not to mention W.E.B. Du Bois’s Reconstruction. These are books that have sat on my shelf for years now, but which at this particular juncture, for all intents and purposes, I can see and pick up again with refreshed eyes.

But after two weeks, I’d say I’ve gone on long enough about myself. What are the people of L.A. reading? And what might they recommend for yours truly to review on the site? At least for the time being, time appears to be just enough on our side for the matter.

J.T.

Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 15)

In an effort to write about something other than the Coronavirus for a moment, even if it’s just one moment, I’m now on page 592 of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. This means I’ve got just a little less than 400 pages to go before completing the late author’s famous magnum opus. If I can keep up with my reading schedule, I should spend no more than two weeks from today finishing the legendary novel.

David Foster Wallace was a brilliant writer and thinker whose non-fiction I really enjoyed before his fiction, but I’ve actually got quite a few issues with Infinite Jest. The vast majority of reviews hail the work as pure genius, but today it’s clear that such reviews are of a different time, and mostly written by white generation X-ers like Mr. Wallace himself. This makes it so that as a millennial Latinx blogger from Los Angeles, I’ve got a different take to share. So here are Five Times David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest FAILS:

1. When the book is highly unreadable. Sure, the epiphanous literary oases that make up each “chapter” (or Sierpinski triangle) of the novel read musically for book-worms or lovers of Dead Poets Society everywhere, but at some point they tend to muddle the author’s point more than clarifying it, and this is not helped by the author’s titanic footnote excavations or “side-explanations.” As a result, it takes nearly 400 pages into the novel to get a firm sense of who’s who and just where the characters of Infinite Jest may be going. And I get it. Wallace wanted to challenge his readers in a critical way, demanding their full and undivided attention during what he rightly saw as an era of mass distraction. He was prescient for seeing how reductive and repetitive American pop culture was becoming in its numbing of attention spans everywhere, but how much did he really need to pontificate about aerodynamic theories as divulged at elite institutions like his book’s Enfield Tennis Academy’s? In 2005, during Wallace’s famous speech at Kenyon College, at one point during his lecture the author skips through his own lengthy descriptions, saying “etc, etc., [I’m] cutting stuff out because it’s a long ceremony.” At many moments throughout Infinite Jest, it feels exactly like one of those “long ceremonies” that could use some cutting out.

2. When the book is totally White and from the Mid-West, meaning that yes, it frequently enjoys throwing racist jabs at minorities. The year was 1996. Nirvana and MTV ruled the billboards, ratings, and t-shirts. Black superstars were either “latchkey” kids from New York or South Central L.A., while “Latinos” were basically Mexicans “randomly” spread throughout the states (according to the dominant pop culture). Infinite Jest, despite frequently being called “ahead of its time,” offers virtually no alternative reading of these groups’ contributions to American culture, instead relying on stereotypes like “n-words and spics,” as much as any other cheap film during America’s beloved 90s era. But ask these types of groups today if treating their culture as such was as grossly reductive then as it is today, and yeah, it was grossly reductive then too, and only stands out more now.

3. When the book treats women in its plot really, really badly. In 2020, three years after the rise of the #metoo movement–and despite nationalist white guys in tandem insisting otherwise–treating women in pop culture as objects serving mostly for men’s barbarities is by and large fundamentally unacceptable, worthy of the utmost scrutiny. As with the part about minimizing Black and Latino characters in its story, this is another area where Infinite Jest was actually not only NOT “ahead of its time,” but waaaaay privileged and condescending. This also demonstrates the first point about the writing “going on and on” in a way that’s not only unnecessary, but downright obnoxious. A case in point, in one sequence of Infinite Jest, Wallace describes an abortion for one of the many side-characters in truly harrowing detail, presumably to give us “an example” of his Ennet [Rehab] House’s many dysfunctional characters. But what purpose does the detail serve? Is it supposed to be like gore in a horror flick? It comes off as indulgent. Moreover, the fact that treatment of women throughout the novel in this way is almost never discussed in the vast majority of the book’s reviews also speaks to the “trade-offs” overlooked when reviewers praised Wallace’s literary genius.

4. When the book enjoys ridiculing disabled people. Readers need to look no further than the constant reminders of Mario Incandenza’s difference from from others as the prematurely-born and oddly figured member of his family, which tend to run on in a way that aren’t just expansive, but which border on sadist. Take the following passage, for example, when Wallace describes the one romantic experience of Mario Incandenza’s life:

“[A girl] was trying to undo Mario’s corduroys but was frustrated by the complex system of snaps and fasteners at the bottom of his…Velcro vest [which supports his disabled figure]…it was when [Kent] wrapped one arm around his shoulder for leverage and forced her other hand up under the hem of the tight vest and then down inside the trousers and briefs, rooting for a penis, that Mario became so ticklish…”

As a reader, on the one hand, I know that Wallace wants to endear readers to Mario’s extraordinary physical makeup, which in spite of its difference, doesn’t keep Mario from having a strange sexual interaction like any other teenager out there. On the other hand, idunno, it feels like Wallace is–as in other sequences–exploiting the character’s “defects” too. I’m not sure if it’s Wallace just doing Wallace, or if he’s being humorous at the expense of someone else’s “deformity,” which brings up another question I don’t recall being posed to Wallace by popular reviewers: why so many “disabled” characters? If Wallace was in an editing room today, I’m sure he wouldn’t get off as easily with such literary devices just because at the end of the day the writing is simply so witty.

5. When the book blames poor people for their own damn problems. Although the “middle class” kids who make up the Tennis Academy’s student body are all grotesque personalities in their own way, they mostly get away with this for being young and really smart. By contrast, when it comes to say, a Randy Lenz, who’s got issues that go way back to his (Lenz’s) working-class background, when Wallace makes psychoanalytic exhibitions of these types of characters’ experiences with such things as incest, rape, child abuse and other issues that tend to face people in poverty, it doesn’t come off as “just witty,” but as narcissistic, and not in an ironic or ‘gotcha’ kind of way. This makes it so that at many points in Infinite Jest, Wallace seems to view urban Boston as just another petri dish of lost or abandoned characters the way just another white kid in a Michigan basement would view “dirty city-life,” his literary prowess notwithstanding.

(5. Continued) But what about, say, white-collar types who are also addicted types and not far off from the city, exploiting those same “lost or abandoned” types in their own grotesque ways when they aren’t promulgating pop-culture to keep the American population dormant to America’s inequalities? Why not expound on the idiosyncratic mannerisms, of say, an Alan Greenspan or Bill Clinton? Wallace does NOT achieve a “fair-share” of doling out his psychoanalysis even with say, “President Gentle,” who is only a “background” character, the descriptions of which only make him a shallow political figure and nothing else, even though presidents in American history tend to play a major role in “shaping” pop culture. And Enfield Tennis Academy–for all its cruel, elitist tendencies–does NOT come off as an “equal” counterpart to Ennet House’s “trashy” makeup, so the book falls short of juxtaposing these groups for Wallace’s larger point about American culture’s wayside decline.

Okay, even with these gripes, is the massive 1,100 page book still worth reading? If you don’t count the footnotes, the novel is not that long, weighing in at more like 981 pages. And yes, it’s still worth reading. Despite these and other shortcomings, Wallace’s writing still challenges readers to imagine farther-reaching, more complex prose as a form of expression. And no matter what verdict different readers might give Infinite Jest, it’s worth pointing out that rather than breaking the rules, Wallace’s book bends them, expanding the bandwidth of literature overall to elasticize the reader’s ability to imagine different ways of expressing ideas.

I just would chill on all the boundless praise that earlier reviewers have tended to give the book, but would still recommend readers to be challenged by its virtuoso achievements. I would also say it’s an especially approachable book during these times, when literary oases have never more been needed to get away from the news. Speaking of which, that’s enough of a retreat. Let’s get back to our coronavirus woes.

J.T.

Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013)

Taking space in Los Angeles has been of increasing concern for this blog and its author, making it crucial to research what the process of taking social and political space in the city has looked like in the historical periods before this one.

To this end, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013) has served as an engrossing read on the complicated ways that people have taken space from one another, alongside one another, and through one another’s influence in Los Angeles, and which should satisfy any reader interested in the intersections between race, class and culture in urban settings like those of L.A.’s.

Edited by USC’s Josh Kun and the University of Oregon’s Laura Pulido, Black and Brown is comprised of nearly fifteen different feature-length essays which set out to establish a lasting conversation on some of the most meaningful interactions between Black and Latino Angelenos during the last seventy years; the post World War II era, the Immigration And Naturalization Act in 1965, and Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, are just a few eras discussed by several featured authors.

Reviewing each essay would prove worthwhile for readers of JIMBO TIMES, but it’s also true that a moment with just one of the essays should still give readers a strong sense of what to expect from the rest of the book’s analyses. For this, I’d like to reflect briefly on a few excerpts from Gaye Theresa Johnson’s essay, entitled Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Sonic Reclamation in Postwar Los Angeles.

Johnson discusses a period that previously seemed folkloric to The L.A. Storyteller: L.A. in the 50s. She foregrounds her discussion with an important note on the various methods of taking space, citing the difference between the construction and destruction of public housing in the United States in the post WWII era over a twenty-year period:

“Between 1949 and 1973, scores of Black and Latino communities were destroyed to make way for the postindustrial, suburban sensibilities that would characterize the modern U.S. city. Between the Housing Act of 1949 and 1967, 400,000 residential units were demolished in urban renewal areas across the nation, while only 10,760 low-rent public housing units replaced them.”

One might think of this forceful taking of space during the post WWII era as a 20th century case of gentrification. But instead of avocado toast symbolizing the inevitable modernization of urban cores housing ethnic communities, it was the dawn of the freeways that promised “overall improvement” of the city over time. The irony, of course, was that freeways spelled immediate and irreversible loss of housing for working class communities of color. Johnson cites an earlier L.A. historian, George Sanchez, on what displacement for the sake of modernization would suggest in historic terms:

“Sanchez has argued that local and federal officials used ‘applied social science research, fiscal policy, and direct intervention,’ to justify the evisceration of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights [for the development of the East Los Angeles Interchange] and, in the process, redefined postwar terms of racialization through the suppression of interracial spaces.”

So, just what does it matter anyway, if freeway development and car culture in L.A. were established nearly 70 years ago? As recently as 2015, nearly 70% of people who drove to work in L.A. drove there alone. This is significant because in a city where people spend so much time by themselves in a car, only to spend the next portion of the day at work, before getting back to the freeways in their insulated vehicles once again, the city’s infrastructure steers people away from ‘the soul’ and character of its culture. Or, as Johnson’s analysis implies, the infrastructure not only disconnects us, but it actually erodes the possibility of more democratic ‘public spheres.’

“A common sphere of congregation, what Jurgen Habermas has referred to as the ‘public sphere,’ can be a crucial site of discourse among community members, where private interests are set aside and democracies are enacted in order to determine collective good.

Taking ‘social and political space’ in this context is therefore a process of people making a claim to the environments around them by whatever means available to them. ‘Collective good,’ by extension, can be thought of as a complement to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village,’ in that it takes a village in democratized communication to determine collective good. As a a result, when people are denied access to such spaces by forces of state power and its local subsidiaries, they get creative. Or, they get active.

“Scholars of working-class resistance have argued that ‘subaltern counter publics’ are sites where oppressed groups assert their humanity and refine their articulated opposition to dominant discourses about citizenship and social membership.”

Nearly eight months ago, when the Back to School Party made its way through El Gran Burrito, the ‘driving force’ of the event’s planning was the idea that for a community which was often overlooked and passed over for the city’s more vogue terrain, that community deserved to have a space, even if the space was unconventional, temporary and limited in other ways. Just as important was that it was crucial to put together the event for the neighborhood precisely because it was difficult to do under normal circumstances. Thus, as Johnson describes L.A. city officials in the 50s taking both time and space from predominantly working class ethnic communities for the sake of ‘the greater good’ of the city’s freeways, it becomes clear how so much of Los Angeles has only ever been a matter of what might be called “space wars.”

“…In Los Angeles, the zoot suit violence of 1943, the eviction of whole communities from long-standing vibrant neighborhoods, the relocation of Japanese citizens during World War II, police repression of interracial spaces, and systematic segregation facilitated by federal mishandling of the Fair Housing Act were enduring reminders that public spaces were, at best, contested terrain. Though segregated Black and Latino communities in L.A. during this period were expanding, the symbolic place of these groups in postwar Los Angeles was diminishing. Therefore, claiming and enacting social space, both material and symbolic, was an important measure of the limits and possibilities of social membership.”

Moreover, the postwar era in Los Angeles would see Blacks, Latinos and Japanese treated as marginalized groups encroaching on the dominant order, therefore leading them to face some of the first modern waves of ‘multicultural’ institutionalized racism in modern U.S society, which was also a key shift away from the more historic Black vs White racism seen more generally across the country at the time:

“Gerald Horne has argued that L.A. displayed a ‘rainbow racism…not solely or predominantly of the typical black-white dichotomy that obtained elsewhere. In the immediate pre- and postwar era, studies revealed that in factories where Mexicans were categorized as ‘colored,’ Blacks not only worked with them but were also given positions over them. In other plants, Mexicans and whites worked together. Further research indicated that white workers often accepted Blacks and objected to Mexicans; still another pattern was found showing that white workers accepted Mexicans but objected to Japanese.”

Johnson goes on to point out that while the state sought to keep the groups contained in the workplace, the airwaves of the radio were coming into formation; as a result, despite de jure segregation in more formal settings, 50s Jazz and Blues rhythms would spark the way towards space for youth of all backgrounds to coalesce; at shows, White, Black and Brown kids danced together in some of the only instances of proximity with one another throughout The City. Strangely, the state would attempt to contain this phenomenon as well:

“…local politicians and municipal arts administrators created the Bureau of Music in order to encourage patriotic citizenship, prevent juvenile delinquency, and promote acceptable music. But it was too late: the Blendells, Willie G, the Soul-Jers, the Jaguars, Joe Liggins, Don Tosti, the Premiers, Johnny Otis, and many others had already created a soundtrack of spatial claims concomitant with the articulation of other forms of spatial entitlement. What resulted were new visions of social membership among working-class people, whose basic citizenship rights were relentlessly compromised by the repression of working-class coalitional politics and the growth of white suburbia.”

As 1950s containment gave way to the radical 60s, teenagers in Los Angeles would discover some of the first sound-waves of interracially influenced rhythms; similarly to the way Chicanos in the 40s were inspired enough by Jazz players and their Zoot suits to fashion the look into “Pachuco” suits for themselves, Chicano musicians in the 1960s would be influenced by Black soul during the decade prior. The result was Pachuco soul, which was a key achievement for both Black and Latino audiences:

“By celebrating the sociopolitical and cultural identities that both Blacks and Chicanos identified with, the creation of Pachuco soul and its performance became a means to project an alternative body of cultural and political expression that could consider the world differently from a new perspective: its emancipatory transformation. This sonic legacy reverberated in Thee Midniters’ ‘Whittier Boulevard’ in the 1960s.”

Once again, the discussion reaches close to home; I think about the creation of POC Today in 2017 as a platform for people of color to portray themselves as opposed to only being portrayed, which was also a form of celebrating these communities, or what can be thought of as self-love turned love for the collective whole. The media project has been on hiatus, but POCT’s intention will continue to take space in the days to come.

As Johnson makes clear, the process of crafting a world through the airwaves with all of these projects will follow in the legacy of similar claims of space by people in prior generations, with hopes of achieving, once again, extraordinary value for future generations to look back on.

“These articulations of spatial entitlement, sonic and symbolic, were often articulated in moments when the loss of space meant devastating losses of wealth for communities of color, wealth that was rarely regained. Considering the unrelenting efforts to keep Black and Brown people from recognizing their mutual stakes in a just future makes these spatial claims all the more remarkable.”

In that regard, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition is an excellent read that gets the full nod from this Angeleno. Readers can order a copy through the web, or, as I do, see if the Los Angeles Public Library can lend it to you first!

J.T.

The First Ever Open Mic Saturday at Cahuenga Branch Library is Now Scheduled

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April 14th, 2018; 12:15 – 2:00 PM

It’s happening. After 27 years of marking so many ‘footprints’ in a little pueblo now branded by so many real estate agents as East Hollywood–but which to me for so long has just been the place I call Home–I finally get to announce a major event in the neighborhood at which my dirty chucks and I can stand at the fore alongside fellow Angelenos and L.A. enthusiasts alike. Mark your calendars!

Poetry Day for Poetry Month is taking place on Saturday, April 14th, 2018, at the Cahuenga Branch Public Library from 12:15 PM to 2:00 PM.

It is a major event. In the downstairs section of the library, and in conjunction with the library’s book sale that day as well as with support from the congruent Friends of Cahuenga chapter, I will be serving as emcee for an Open Mic celebration of April’s Poetry Month theme. The event will feature poets from Los Angeles, refreshments from the Friends, and of course, many of the library’s delicious books for sale.

If he were still with us, I’m confident that Roger King, the chess coach, would be proud. Roger passed on last year after a brief battle with cancer, and although his games have been missed, this afternoon I could feel Roger’s local friendly spirit stamping through the classroom where the planning meeting for the event was held, just like when he oversaw the handful of chess battles on the boards there.

Naturally, as the event organizer, I’ve got my eyes on other locals in the neighborhood for the big day, but every reader and supporter or friend of a friend of JT is officially invited to come out. There are also more details of the event to come, but for now consider yourself informed:

We are going to make you proud Los Angeles.

J.T.

Los Angeles: Roots

Almost a year ago to the tee, following a recommendation from a friend, I got my hands on a little book called City of Quartz by Mike Davis.

It felt like a brilliant discovery, since as early as the book’s first pages, one thing was clear: whether in discussing the international interests of downtown L.A.’s skyscrapers, or in recounting “township rebellion” through the streets of South Central, author Mike Davis was someone who cared about Los Angeles.

In turn, I went through a few of Quartz’s chapters on the site, and had a blast analyzing the roots of The City in response to the author’s perspectives on it.

But then, something happened.

It was a great but unpredictable time for me. On the one hand, I was having a lot of fun earning a little bit of money from freelance writing and photography, not to mention time with The Plus Me Project and The Beautiful Gate, but on the other hand, it wasn’t enough.

It’d been just a year since I graduated from college, and though JIMBO TIMES had taken me to Miami, when I got back from the trip I could see that if I wanted to keep going places I’d have to make some sacrifices.

I then did what so many of my peers did before me, as our families did before us: I found myself a job, earned a little bit of pay, and called it a day.

It was good: I could finally help mom out at home on a more sustainable level, and I could also just help myself with anything from gas money to a new memory card for my camera.

But it was also tough: while I could see my time in the service industry with Starbucks as something honorable and even brilliant, I also felt that it was a significant digression from my interests in work for youth, education, and of course, writing!

Work with the company was also exhausting; standing on my feet for so many hours of the day made it so that when I got home I found myself too worn out to keep my eyes up through a book as dense as Mike Davis’s Quartz.

I had to let it go, then. And let it go I did.

I told myself I’d get back to the book and the rest of J.T. soon enough, but then the days passed, and then some other projects came up, and then:

Boom!

From one week to the next, I got wrapped up in the cha-ching noise, numbers, and the framework of it all; even if I wasn’t earning much, there was this rhythm to it– and, who am I kidding–it was a matter of getting some milk and bread.

But the thing is: even if it was all well and fine to work and work hard, it also took time from The L.A. Storyteller, and I couldn’t just let this go.

In response, in January of this year I made some changes to my schedule to regain some of the time I’d lost with J.T.. Moreover, I was chosen for a special project with the Inside Out Writers, and just like that: my framework expanded.

Contrary to a silent skepticism, then, J.T. was still growing after all; new seeds were being planted, and earlier seeds were blooming, at last.

But there was still more: more I needed to give to JIMBO TIMES, and more which I needed to sort of get back to…like City of Quartz, L.A. Stories, and other extensions of the site not just for me personally, but for the kids.

On seeing this, I realized that I had to make some sacrifices again, but this time in the other direction;

I had to get back to myself.

And so I do.

Tonight it’s a bittersweet pleasure to announce that I’m finished with Starbucks at the end of July, and that my project with the Inside Out Writers has grown into a precious part-time position with the organization.

It’s also a pleasure to announce that I’ll be picking up where I left off with City of Quartz over the next few weeks. The thing is, these pages are dedicated to The People of The City, and critical literature by those before us plays an integral part in just how the pages continue to form. I can’t just let this go, even when I do let it go.

As such, it’s about to get literary again, and so I hope The People are ready.

There’s too much going on in the world for us to neglect our voice in it. Plus, studies show that many of the kids from the neighborhood start to slump during the summer. But nah’, we choose to make the opposite true: this summer is now officially dedicated to reading, writing, and more work to uplift The People of L.A.

With more soon,

J.T.

Making Face, Making Soul (1990)

Before time runs out, it’s a pleasure to introduce my book for the month, which will be one of the greatest literary goldmines on my shelf for a long time to come. Below is an excerpt from Making Face, Making Soul: Critical Perspectives by Women of Color:

“¡LA CULTURA! ¡LA RAZA!
Sometimes all it means to me is suffering. Tragedy. Poverty. Las caras de los tortured santos y las mujeres en luto, toda la vida en luto. La miseria is not anything I want to remember and everything I cannot forget. Sometimes the bravery in facing and struggling in such life is too little. The courage with which a people siguen luchando against prejudice and injustice is not glory enough…” – Edna Escamill, Corazon de una Anciana

The book is a collection of writings by women of color from all across the United States, gathered and edited by the late, great Gloria Anzaldua.


I had the fortune to learn about the book after a dear friend of mine shared one of its essays with me: Aleticia Tijerina’s Notes on Oppression and Violence. In it, Tijerina speaks of her life with imprisonment since the age of twelve, and describes the herculean feat of finding and maintaining love for herself before an unrelenting enemy, both in the state and in herself. I was riveted by the power of Tijerina’s voice, which was filled as much by rage as it was by beauty.

“We were all imprisoned for various crimes against the State: impersonating men; escaping abusive homes; setting fires; taking drugs; robbery ’cause we were hungry…Most of our so-called “crimes” were acts of resistence or rebellion against an oppressive family, school, society; for many of us, our cultural identity had been battered and abused since birth.”

Though I couldn’t fully comprehend it at the moment, I knew on hearing Tijerina’s voice that I’d found a living, breathing genius, who — most importantly– was in close proximity to my community. Little did I know how many more writers just like her were out there.

In Gloria Anzaldua’s Haciendo Caras, there’s an entire generation of women –like Tijerina but also substantially different– who have published their voices after a lifetime of being silenced.

There’s no doubt about the brilliance of each voice in this endeavor. Gloria Anzaldua and her contemporaries show themselves to be masterful writers who have not only studied their subjects, but who have also taken the time to weave them in terms that pulse vividly with life for the reader.

She sat cross-legged and still on top of the hill, at first watching and then becoming part of the moonlight, the brilliant sun. Tall yellow grasses stood stiff and dry and were blown down by the first harsh winds of winter. When the rains came, the earth sprouted in green and tender innocence. She listened to the meditative soul of winter and felt the quickening of spring and each of the seasons in turn: she knew that Time was inside of her.

Journeying alongside each writer in Making Face, I found myself humbled to learn of their intricate arguments, which reveal difficult positions on how to achieve a total humanity between male, female, and other identities alike.

For example, how should ‘women of color’ identify themselves as women who are distinct from the dominant white women’s feminist movement at the same time that they search for the mutual liberation of both white and non-white women, i.e. all women?

And how can women of color increase the publication of their perspectives when the major industries of publication are themselves caught in a power struggle between white females and their white male counterparts?

Similarly, how do women of color reconcile their relationships with others who call themselves allies, but who are only interested in their own personal gain from the movement?

And in Anzaldua’s words, how do women of color resist the imposition of internalized self-loathing on their counterparts?

Like the (colonizer) we try to impose our version of ‘the way things should be’: we try to impose one’s self on the Other by making her the recipient of one’s negative elements, usually the same elements that the Anglo projected on us. Like them, we project our own self-hatred on her: we stereotype her; we make her generic.

The response to these challenges vary from voice to voice, and themselves only represent a sample of the book’s many subjects, but Making Face manages to place its multiple different perspectives in a way that still indicates a true solidarity between them.

For this, I know that JIMBO TIMES is privileged to share the collection with the people of Los Angeles, as well as with the many other fans across the globe (yeah, we’re worldwide </:).

And to be sure, there’s far more that can be said about the collection — of its beautiful treatment of dreams and time and space, or of its historic lens across the decades — but of course, there’s only so much we can say before time runs out.

For now, check out Making Face, Making Soul for yourself; I assure you you won’t regret it!

With more soon,

J.T.

Wherever You Are,

Find and visit your local library.

The library really is a genius invention, and it needs us now more than ever.

With more soon,

J.T.

Ana Castillo: Massacre of the Dreamers (1995)

Massacre of the Dreamers is crucial literature for any activist in the 21st century, as Castillo searingly navigates through the century-old roots of oppression at the heart of the Americas: the oppression of the brown woman.

Castillo not only details the layers of misogynist systems which brown women have faced throughout their existence, but she also manages to cast a vision for those of us who want to be allies of Xicanisma –Chicana-based feminist consciousness — as we seek to free ourselves from our own internalized oppression.

Steeped with fact-based analysis but not overwhelmingly focused on numbers, the book is also a model for what academic literature should be: based on the present conditions faced ‘on the ground’ by non-academics, since the majority of the working class which so many scholars hope to advocate for have neither the time nor the patience to sift through jargon-laden writing aimed at other academics.

M.O.D was published in 1995, but is as relevant now as it was during the nineties for its careful examination of events like the Chicano Student walkouts of East Los Angeles in 1968, subsequent movements for economic justice such as the 1986 Watsonville Women’s Strike, and the form which the movement has taken more recently in events such as the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) conference.

For its words of wisdom, sources, and its persistence in seeking ways to identify and dismantle systems of inequality, I absolutely recommend Ana Castillo’s book for anyone looking to learn about the Amerindian, or Mestiza mujer‘s role in the movement.

J.T.

Success!!!

I told myself I’d treat myself to the Festival of Books this Sunday, and I absolutely did it! On the bus in the morning heading south through Vermont avenue, my eyes swelled with tears of joy: I was like a child on his way to Disneyland after a lifetime of waiting for the big day.

On getting there, I twirled through tree-trunks on my way into campus, and arrived just on time for my panels. The rest is history. Life was rich and filled with taste, and the world was a dazzling treasure to sift through at every turn. Thank you Los Angeles!

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To find out more about the event, you can check out the event website here. </:D