Calling All Bloggers, Writers, Storytellers: Publish Your Voice on Jimbo Times: The L.A. Storyteller

It’s true.

“After five years of JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller, it’s time to make space on the blog for more voices and stories from communities in Los Angeles and beyond. Enter the new Submissions feature. To maintain and expand the blog’s love for city life and attention to its working class communities, here are the types of pieces writers everywhere are encouraged to submit…”

I’m very proud of this latest milestone for the site, and thereby look forward to seeing what types of stories we’ll be getting out there! Visit the new SUBMISSIONS page soon to go and see for yourself!

J.T.

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El Cipitío (2016), the new Cipitío

Image result for el cipitio ertl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.T.

Helena Maria Viramontes: Their Dogs Came With Them (2006)

‘L.A.’ in 2018 is a city of over 10 million people by the last estimate, and in several other ways significantly bigger than what it was during the 1970s when Viramontes was a teenager roaming through its avenues and boulevards to pick up the fulcrum on which her novel rests.

Yet a glance at L.A. then reveals a world not radically different from the one which appears to be on the brink of collapse today, particularly for urban youth in the city: the Vietnam war raged on, while at the same time the 1965 Watts Riots left the city in a state of racial insecurity and opposition to the police state; simultaneously, Black and Brown communities increasingly found heroin and other drugs infiltrating their neighborhoods, while at L.A.’s schools and California’s universities, institutional racism spawned further battle lines for the sunshine state; on the East and South sides of Los Angeles, the bitter memories of the erection of L.A.’s freeways in the early 1960s left people of color there weary of the city and its development; and only a few feet away, youth ‘delinquency’ and incarceration marked the outset of a prison industrial complex, which nearly fifty years later our communities are still dealing with.

These are the living nightmares of what was then still a newly modernizing world which inspired the heroine that is the amazing Viramontes. Her literary gifts unwind similarly to a nightmare, or as genuine superpowers around the mind of the reader for immersing us like veins into bodies of suffering deviating from their wake. In Their Dogs Came With Them, the micro-histories that make up Los Angeles are given life on the literary big screen, where they shine like a golden Pontiac, roaring with desire and pulling all in their midst to the edge of what might be possible with just enough forgetting. Although total forgetting is never quite possible.

In the opening chapters of the book, we meet Ermila, along with her Grandmother, the latter of whom is haunted by memories of a life in fear:

“A bespectacled Grandmother didn’t see the child lift the box to show off her award. The sunlight scarred her vision, and Grandmother couldn’t quite discern the child holding on to Miss Eastman except for the white teeth of the teacher talking to the child as they walked the dark corridor to meet her. Grandmother had watched the escalating heat rising each and every day, the glass thermometer bursting, its red mercury spreading infectious green-tinted rage. Miss Eastman grew larger and darker, and the child swung her pink gift in the shaded hollowness of the corridor. No longer immunized, Grandmother knew it was only a matter of time before the roaming packs of Negroes would claw out of the television’s own green guts, riot-rushing to lift and overturn cars and set fire to all the neighborhood had worked for, to anything flammable on the living side of First Street. Though the teacher passed the child over to Grandmother tenderly, Miss Eastman appeared so black, she was green.”

Grandmother, who is the only caretaker in her granddaughter’s life, also speaks to the apprehension–or Americanization–of the time, which, much like today, was dominated by the mystical spell of late night news, albeit through the color or green televisions that were just making their way into so many living rooms. And while we never learn much about Grandmother’s own childhood, she’s a woman many readers will recognize right away, as are each of the novel’s figures in its surreal sequence of events.

Memory ‘lapses’ form major parts of each character’s time with us, making for a surreal timeline that moves through Their Dogs, but a few themes stand out most consistently for this reader: Viramontes’s work is deeply concerned with upbringing and the burdens placed on youth coming of age in a world that at many turns appears to be dis-invested in their humanization, and which at others appears to be teeming with life so palpable it can’t simply be passed over as anything but extraordinary. Ermila, who is probably the novel’s second most rebellious figure, carries this most naturally:

“She collected observations as one would collect ice-cream sticks: a youth riding a wobbly bike on the muddy shoulders of the street; a skinny cat roaming through the tall bird-of-paradise stalks; two comadres chatting between a fence; an old crooked bird man who fed his flock of pigeons daily. The desire to be on the other side of the fence, to run away and join them, was so strong, it startled her.”

There is also, no matter how much a reader might hope for the novel to do otherwise, a refusal to let go of the traumas which turn youth from hand-held creatures brimming with the future in their eyes into unintelligible monsters weighed down by their pasts, depending on which side we meet their glances from. A heartbreaking memory from arguably the novel’s most compelling figure, “Turtle,” demonstrates this clearly:

“Tio Angel lunged at his brother Frank, and after the bump and break of furniture, the fall and jingle of Christmas tree, the grind and gravel of glass shards, Turtle heard the screen door screech open. Turtle dug her fingertips underneath some shingles, terrified of falling, and she peered over the roof’s edge and saw how awkwardly the scuffling shadows flew into the nopales.”

Each page through the novel is filled with piercing uses of language such as this, at times nearly unbearable to digest. But just when violence threatens to steal the show, Viramontes follows with paragraphs that are simply mystical and delicious concoctions of sounds for readers to sift through, reminiscent of the late great Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, though with a voice distinguished by the duality of a young woman both trapped and liberated by femininity and age. When Ermila and her girlfriends mightily get back at an ex of hers after their recent breakup, for example, they smuggle their teenage glee for the more adult-like professionalism over the affair, driving the sequence through with a galvanizing energy to dwell in:

“And just as they had converged, they pulled away in opposite directions slowly, sluggishly lest they call attention to themselves, not rushing to leave the scene of the crime, though it was a difficult task not to explode adrenaline all over the place. They had to silence the forcefulness of their delight, hesitating to acknowledge one another’s glances. They strolled away in separate directions, carrying the flakes of metallic paint, bluish palms, the color of yams on their hands, barely containing their collective sense of invincibility. Whatever laughter or disbelief, whatever overblown nerves Ermila had suppressed, now raised her spirit to the point that her steps felt buoyant and she felt an enormous craving for adventure.”

These are the lines which make the novel not just a reflection on childhood, but a dream through the thin space between actuality and imagination, like the gravity that separates us from the stars only physically, but not in our fantasies. And they are the micro-histories and maybe even sub-atomic histories that Viramontes unravels with such mastery for a novel so gorgeous it contains something for everyone no matter which side of history they may stand on. What is the best literature, after all, if not an expression for the whole world and all of humanity to observe together, opposite of one another, and more. In Ben, whose character haunts the novel’s trajectory more than engaging with it directly, any reader who’s ever felt a tinge of uncertainty at simply “going with the flow” will relate:

“Thank you, he said. Being late for class, Ben said he’d better get going because seats became scarce in his Intro Soc class. But the young woman shouted to his back, A gift for you, hermano. And then ran up to him, removed her beret and placed it on his head. And at that instance when he looked directly into her eyes, Ben would’ve given his life to walk upright without hobbling, to push his chest out, to brave the mental eye of the tornado and be absorbed by something larger. The woman cocked her head to read his stunned expression, and he turned to mask it. His leg plagued him like his fear. He resisted being lifted up into a gathering mass of swirling political storms. He refused to be clearly defined as Chicano, and for that, he refused to belong to a fluid movement, joining her, joining them, joining other Chicanos to become a part, to become a whole and not just stay forever in between.”

I am unmistakably shaken by Viramontes’s astounding historical prose and document, which ultimately erupts into a brilliant crescendo or joyride through Los Angeles with her characters no matter how dark the space. Even before the immaculate finale, however, each moment in the novel is a memory mixed with a wish, an ode to friends and members of her community across the ages; our people thus become one and the same; and our struggle to look beyond Los Angeles’s smog and out towards the night sky in hopes of better days, a ritual encompassing every last one of us.

Their Dogs Came With Them is an achievement for literary aficionados, artists, scholars, and witnesses of all kinds everywhere. And from this day forward, the book is not just with JIMBO TIMES, but it’s embedded into our reading’s subatomic consciousness. With each new young reader we get to meet, then, we’ll be sending this book their way. Nuestro Pueblo will know Viramontes’s name.

J.T.

It’s Been Ten Years of Writing in Los Angeles

Marveling at the Times; Spring 2018

It was ten years ago that I found myself at home in the living room wondering desperately about what the future held for me. I was seventeen years old, just graduated from high school, and anxious to get through the summer ahead of me. I felt terribly alone, disassociated from the friends that I’d known, and unsure about how on earth I’d get through the high temperatures that dominated so many of the days from the early hours of the morning into the evening.

Then one day through the heat, I sat myself before the desktop we’d had in the living room at the time, opened a blank document, and began to write, etching the heat I felt on my back onto the screen for the record to see. I wrote like hell that summer, and the results were strange, not in an ominous way, but in an altogether new and mysterious way. What I saw reflected on the screen was somehow alive, even if ‘frozen’ in time. It was myself, like some other half from an alternate universe, staring right back at me through the page.

I remember that I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick at the time, which made it so that my mind was especially warped, and which came off in my entries to the page–a lot of existential identity stuff. But I also remember that since I still had a bit of HTML programming fresh in my mind, after a few sessions of writing on the desktop I decided that I couldn’t keep my texts on just any ole blank document; I had to design a proper little website for them all.

So I put together the fonts and their sizes, downloaded some cool images for background off the web, activated the links, and launched it. I would name the private little website that I’d come away with through this process Revolt Radio (RR).

There were three main components of RR, that is, in terms of the writing that would make its way through it.

First, there was the Current page, which functioned like a stream for all of the miscellaneous thoughts or ‘summaries’ of the days I had, and which thereby filled up the fastest.

Second, there was the Poems page, where I hid all of my hymns, letters, and other ‘confessions’ I could never muster up the courage to publish for any eyes other than my own.

Finally, there was the Stories page, where I stored all of my ‘science-fiction’ writing, based loosely on none other than yours truly, but also on the accounts I’d heard from my peers back at Marshall.

Even at seventeen, a part of me wanted to write something of an autobiography, but because at the same time I also aspired to be a sci-fi writer like the great PKD himself, my Stories page featured tales both on a personal level as well as on more abstract terms, although the latter was just a ‘stranger’ version of the former.

In turn, Revolt Radio got me through that first summer out of high school, its pages receiving worlds that I couldn’t even begin to describe to anyone else. The pages didn’t judge me for what those worlds contained or what they lacked, nor did they disappoint me, or demand anything of me at all.

The pages were acceptance in its purest form, but filling them up was also a matter of survival; in writing my heart out I made it clear that I wouldn’t allow the world just to pass me by. Then, in seeing my words put together like those of the novels by famous authors which I’d hold in my hands, I had proof that my beliefs were also more than just feelings, but articles with their own lives which could stare right back at me unafraid.

I treasured the little alternate universe of Revolt Radio so much that for the next six years, I would continue writing through the site, making and remaking its pages until the time came for me to culminate onto other platforms.

Today, I’ve got another little set of pages, which are public, but even now I look back at that frightening little summer from ten years ago with tremendous gratitude for spawning RR, the site; in staring at me now as vividly as they did ten years ago, the pages make me all the more fearless for what’s in front of me in the days to come.

If we’re fortunate enough, to another ten years Los Angeles,

J.T.

Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997)

I’m a child of the nineties, so maybe that explains why I seem to be so fascinated with so much of the literature from the period.

Or maybe it’s just that what so many writers published during the nineties comes off the pages as being directly related to general discussions about law and order today.

To be sure, Mona Ruiz’s Two Badges informs the idea of law and order from a rare and critical position; inspired by the author’s own life, the book is an autobiographical foray into the world of a former gang member turned police officer in her ‘old’ neighborhood.

If it sounds like a strange concept, the author is more than well aware of it. In the introduction to Badges, Ruiz describes the process for her:

“Talking about my past, my barrio and the circle of friends is difficult because there has been so much pain and loss. For many of them, the fact that I wear a police uniform now is a betrayal of sorts. I hope that this book will help them understand that I have never turned my back on the past–just the opposite, I believe I have dedicated my life to facing and dealing with it. I never left my barrio, I never ran away. I stayed and I’m trying to make a difference.”

The excerpt hits close to home, capturing perfectly the sense of survivor’s guilt that faces so many who feel they ‘escaped’ from a certain tragedy while their counterparts ‘stayed behind’.

In the case of Mona Ruiz’s life, the tragedy is the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration that demeans and disfigures her immediate circle of friends, and later, their children.

There is a second tragedy, however. If Ruiz was fortunate enough to ‘escape’ the cycle, it’s figuratively and literally a blessing in disguise, as she takes on a uniform which many would argue plays an unforgivable role in the execution of the cycle.

Ruiz doesn’t preach to the reader about which side has the right, though. Instead, she speaks purely about how role-switching since her youth informs her adulthood on unforgettable terms, as if it all happened in a single day:

“…The makeup made us feel older. The mask smoothed away signs of weakness and gave us power. When I was a teen, it was a sign that I belonged to the streets. At age thirty-two, staring into the peeling mirror in the locker room at the police station, it was a disguise, a way to hide my badge and my job. I couldn’t pretend, though, that I wasn’t feeling strange seeing myself in the war paint again. Behind my busy hands, I saw the face of my past staring at me in that mirror.”

For its vivid sense of introspection, Ruiz’s passage brings to mind just how often ‘the mask’ is being donned. That is, just when does the make-up begin for a person, and at what point does it end?

Moreover, in the twenty-first century, who isn’t putting on a mask to get through the day? For Ruiz, putting on the mask in her teens is a rite of passage, or the first step of claiming a face in the world for power. But later as a police officer, the disguising only continues.

As Badges goes on though, it’s clear that Ruiz isn’t interested as much in playing for power as much as she’s interested in healing from the consequences of so much time with the game.

As if the struggle for Mona between two lifetimes is not enough, there is a third challenge facing her as a woman: at home, when the badge is off, she’s the wife of a jealous husband, and a mother of two.

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Even after everything, then, the mask-donning and fighting continues for her, and I can only imagine how exhausting it was for Ruiz to not only survive all of this, but to then place it into perspective and sit down to write about it.

For this, apart from the fascinating insights the book offers to the discussion of law and order, Two Badges also demonstrates how while great writing takes incredible amounts of time, when done truthfully and unapologetically, the result is vividly poignant.

In turn, The Lives of Mona Ruiz get a third badge: one of raucous approval from The L.A. Storyteller. And as a matter of appreciating the book so much, a couple of months ago I had the privilege to share an excerpt of the book alongside a group of young writers with the I.O.W. program.

Ruiz’s writing did not earn unanimous badges of approval from the youngsters, but it did inspired a lively array of opinions; I can assure anyone looking to engage their own group of youngsters that Mona Ruiz’s book will come through for you all the same.

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.

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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.

Glowing white,

An angel tried to tell me my fate the other day,

Not knowing how I am the darkness

Which towers over the night.

When the angel discovered this about me,

It retreated to the heavens.

To which I said, so be it:

I needed no light

To see night as

My only destiny. And

Glowing in my darkness,

I smiled at the bright side of my face,

My laughter cackling through the sky.

I cursed the angel then, for

What it tried to make of me.

The darkness of my character, its truth and its worth

Glows as much as any benevolent light above from heaven.