EPISODE 12 – THE ACTIVE VARIABLE

In our 12th episode, we sit down with our brother from another mother Edwin Monroy. We talk about a slate of different projects Ed’s been up to since our first Back 2 School Party together, including his new podcast The Active Variable. We also discuss a major fundraiser for his family following the recent passing of his father, Nery Edwin Monroy. To support Ed’s GoFundme, find the link HERE.

J.T.

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Nery Edwin Monroy: Loving Father, Tío to Many

Kryzia, Darcy, Nery, Edwin and Emily Monroy

On January 31st, 2020, Nery Edwin Monroy, a father of four, passed away at the age of 50 years old due to a liver and kidney failure.

Nery left behind his former wife of twenty years, as well as four children. His three daughters and single son are all under 30 years old, and were each alongside Nery at bedside until his last breath.

In my years of working for the community in East Hollywood, no single family has come together like a team to support and advance the work of uplifting the neighborhood alongside me the way the Monroy family has. Ed Monroy’s voice helped me launch J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, and Kryzia and Darcy Monroy supported both Back 2 School Parties in East Hollywood in 2018 and 2019.

I know from these experiences that the family’s future remains bright, but that this time is also filled with other transitions. Ed graduated from Cal State University Northridge just last year. This Fall 2020, Kryzia will begin her classes at Cal State Los Angeles following one last semester at Los Angeles City College.

It’s thus a small token of my gratitude for the Monroy family to uplift their mourning and recovery process following this loss.

To support the Monroy family’s fundraiser for Nery Monroy’s funeral, which is nearly halfway to its goal, please do so HERE.

J.T.

Meg Rakos: Supay & New York City: Two Adventures, One Destiny

Since as long as I can remember, the background on my computer screen was the NYC skyline. I was drawn to the city lights and told myself, “in another life” I would live there. I was born in Cusco, Peru, but was adopted weeks after birth and raised in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. At 25, I had just moved into a beautiful apartment and had an amazing job and strong support system from my friends and family in Brooklyn Park. But I was craving more. At the time everything felt like it was too easy, I knew I could be more and do more.

In 2017, I sold my car, packed two suitcases, and followed my heart, purchasing a one way ticket to New York City.

It was then that I reconnected with Sam, a friend of mine I’d met years earlier on a family visit to Lima, Peru. Sam had also been adopted from Peru and we met while we were both trying to reconnect with our birth families.

We didn’t know we’d both be in New York City 13 years later, but there we were. One night, while we were playing soccer down at the pier, Sam asked if I wanted to be his partner with SUPAY, a design company he had started in Summer 2015 showcasing his South American ties through modern street-wear. I was thrilled! Our illustration styles were similar, we had both gone to college for Graphic Design, and both shared an incredible culture to look back on together. I knew we’d make a solid team.

We started with the idea of self identity – who we are, where we come from, where we’re going. We both struggled with identity since we were each raised by Caucasian parents, missing out on the experience and knowledge of a Hispanic family. We wanted to reconnect with our roots and so we began to research South American civilizations, studying designs, textiles, architecture and artwork to make sense of the history.

Sam looked into Incan mythology and selected Supay for the brand’s name because Supay was the god of the Incan underworld. He was a misfit, but his unique character provided sustaining springs of subterranean waters to the upper world of life. We could both relate to Supay since each of us is constantly searching for the light among the darkness in NYC. It’s what we aim to show in each design for our t-shirts.

Sam also now goes by Uku Pacha for his DJ name, which references the Incan underworld.

It all happened very fast, but I feel like I’m right where I need to be.

When I step outside I feel a tremendous amount of energy that the city permeates. There’s always something more you can do to push yourself and that’s something I didn’t feel in MN. I’ve had so many people stop me at coffee-shops asking what I’m doing when I’m designing, wanting to see more illustrations and learn about the story behind SUPAY. Their positive energy advances me forward. It brings me only more happiness to know this is just the beginning and that I’m blessed to be following my dreams alongside my best friend.

My advice for anyone out there who feels out of place sometimes but who still has a dream just like I did, would be this: your dream doesn’t have to be just an idea resting in your mind. You can will it into existence and take that first step. If you truly give yourself a chance to push through all the uncertainty and do everything with love, you’ll be steered in the right direction, every time.

M.R.

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.”

5 NOs to Remember with Your Fam this Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.T.

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.

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.

Super Pan Bakery Has Gotten An Extension

Super Pan Panaderia with 'Matriarch' by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles
Super Pan Panadería with ‘Matriarch’ by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles

It’s with great pleasure to announce that the 20 year old Panadería in the “Virgil Village” community has gotten an extension for its relocation. At least until December, families in our community can continue to quench their appetites with Doña Elvia’s fresh pan dulce, hot tamales, and bolillos con huevos.

It’s a key victory for the pueblo that comprises the ole neighborhood, but now with the extension secured, some of us are left wondering: might the Panadería be able to simply stay after all?

The fact of the matter is that maintaining a small business like Super Pan in cities like Los Angeles is increasingly difficult. While gentrification in the community compounds the trouble involved in maintaining the bakery’s “appeal” over the years, even if the buzz-word was removed from the equation, rising inflation and the cost of living since the bakery’s opening in the early 2000’s without an increase in backing or security for its services continue to undermine any effort to keep its place in the community.

I think of another small place close to heart, in Mama’s caseta, which is less than four blocks north of Super Pan on Santa Monica boulevard.

In over sixteen years in the vecindad, regardless of whether the stand’s revistas and literatura turn a profit or not, we’re required to pay insurance fees for its footing before we can even submit a reapplication for permission from the city to maintain its location on the boulevard.

Once the stand clears the permitting process, as with most other things in life, taxes apply, but at no point in the process is there an accounting for the stand’s aggregate time in the community, or for its ability to make ends meet despite market ‘trends’, health or other issues which can impact the owners’ ability to stay in business; the stand is thus locked in a tax system which never offsets the burdens it places on small business with anything other than permission to keep operating. It thereby turns into an increased burden in itself for business owners to deal with, among other challenges they face in an increasingly expensive city to live in.

Is it any wonder why mujeres like like Doña Elvia and Mama have such a mystical spell about their place in the community, then?

Each year new hurdles are placed in from them as small businesses owners, but they continue to rise with their small places to claim their time under the sun. With their heads up high, they greet their customers loyally, serving each of them with gratitude in their gestures, and placing their faiths in the forces beyond them to continue with all of it through another day–and if they’re bendecidas enough–through another year. How then could we not honor these people, Los Angeles.

The extension of the deadline is a sign of good faith for what lies ahead, but there is in fact much more work left to do for the pueblo. Still, for now, please celebrate with us by visiting a small mom and pop shop near you with while you can! They are dreams come true today, and with them we move onto yet more dreams, for tomorrow. If somehow they can manage to do it, we can too, Los Angeles.

J.T.

And, Between Us and the Night

I took the day to take time off of everything, and it was a smart move. In the depths of my rest and recreation, I took a look back at some archives and resolved on an additional surprise for The People:

This December, I will send PRINTED COPIES of only the best photography from The L.A. Storyteller to each and every donor to A New Camera for J.T., as well as to the great folks who supported our trip to Miami for VONA.

At my core, I see that no matter how far we might be going in the days that follow, we can’t forget the people who have supported our work since the beginning; I look at J.T. now, and I’m truly proud of what I see: a gorgeous, ever-expanding accomplishment in community, but one which couldn’t be such without each and every individual that’s contributed to its L.A. stories from one day to the next.

Therefore, from the day-ones to the current ones, we will honor The People of these pages, and it’s going to be another beautiful time. Just wait and see!

Yours truly,

J.T.