The book cover for Mike the Poet's Letters to My City, published in 2019

Letters To My City (2019)

Through a tremendous last couple of weeks between the Los Angeles Review of Books workshop, the new Los Cuentos Book Club, and more for your truly, I just finished Mike the Poet’s L.A.’s Letters to My City. By the turn of the final page, I both see it and hear it. Sonsken’s ‘letters’ are not just prose, but also songs from the heart to all comers. Most of all, they’re a tribute to those who’ve been here, as Sonsken shows no fear celebrating L.A.’s Black, Indigenous, Asian, Native & Latinx roots. His book can thus be though of as an invitation for all poets, writers, and anyone interested in uplifting this city and keeping its history sacred to tag along for the ride.

Sonsken’s writing also consistently understands that he’s not the guiding hand, but that his is one led by the voices of others, those around him to uncover or pay heed to the roots. Sonsken’s work therefore comes off as a round-table discussion, a gathering of minds from across L.A., but abundant especially with folks from the South and East sides, as well as with folks from less discussed “L.A.” like Long Beach, Oxnard and even Cerritos and the OC. It is a call for Los Angeles’s artists and all creators to come together with major respect to the city, to the communities, for the stories, which form the heartbeat of this sometimes totally cruel, sometimes surreal town. Los Cuentos sees this, and I look forward to passing Mike’s book along to the next generation of historians with major visions for our city.

Towards the end the book also leads to more questions. For one, I found myself reflecting on reparations awarded to Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles who faced internment. In a closing vignette on Little Tokyo’s history and a Buddhist temple in the area Mike writes:

A key component of Japanese religion and culture is the idea of ancestor veneration, essentially the idea of gratitude to your family and specifically appreciating one’s ancestors.

I thought then of the enslaved, and those whose lives were uprooted and taken by genocide and U.S. imperialism. I seriously wondered: where is the discussion in L.A. on reparations for African-American, Native, and also Mexican bodies? These are our ancestors, and there are more, in and even beyond America. I believe Sonsken would agree for a need to come together and discuss it, and that, at least in L.A., his book is certainly one way to start.

J.T.

Did you hear? Our first meeting for the first ever Los Cuentos Summer Book Club was Awesome

Our first meeting for the Los Cuentos Book Club this past Wednesday was a success, with 9 attendants, predominantly muxeres, from places like East & South Los Angeles, and even San Bernardino. Our discussion for LA SIGUANABA and The Magical Loroco was over an hour long, serving as an “online venue” for community engagement with literature made just for them.

Our club now just needs a small push or ‘jale’ to cover the cost of our books, which we’ve handed free of charge to each of our participants in an effort to be inclusive, and which we’ve purchased directly from the author in order to continue shopping from & supporting local artists in Los Angeles. As always, any donation or sharing the campaign with a friend will be of great support, and we can assure you to make it go a long, long way!

Our Book Club will hold its second meeting next Wednesday, July 22nd, and did you hear? Every supporter of our club is more than welcome to attend. To donate, you can find our fundraiser HERE.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 46

For the 46th column, I’d like to lend attention to another blog in the city of Los Angeles, Slauson Girl: World News with a South Central State of Mind, whose voice is particularly resonant during this time.

Over 28 years since Black and Latino residents of South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere in L.A. expressed outrage over a predominantly white jury’s acquittal of four LAPD officers after the officers viciously fractured King’s skull, broke the man’s bones and teeth, and left him with permanent brain damage, it gives me chills to think that if it weren’t for nine minutes of video, the assault “would otherwise have been a violent, but soon forgotten, encounter between Los Angeles police and Rodney King.”

Today the ability to consume video and photography is all around us and seemingly infinite. But in 1992, footage of King’s powerlessness, considered by many to be “the first viral video” of the modern era, was an anomalous union of technology and the will to use technology to inform the public of a flagrant abuse of power. The video would change the world, even if only for a moment, since many of Los Angeles’s institutions, including the LAPD, would continue using racist policies against communities of color well into the days following.

But this is why today’s voices “on the front lines” are as important as they were 28 years ago. Slauson Girl, who is a native of the historic South Central Los Angeles, is pursuing justice for her community as a community-based reporter and commentator. At her website and podcast, she discusses not only lessons from Rodney King, but also the ongoing displacement of Black culture in L.A. development projects, which continue favoring wealthier wallets over the essential workers whose time and labor create that wealth, as well as on Black businesses during the time of Coronavirus, the passing of Nipsey Hussle, and more.

It is imperative for The L.A. Storyteller to uplift more voices in Los Angeles such as Slauson Girl’s, and so readers (and listeners) should stay tuned, as there will be more from this highlight soon.

J.T.

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