Los Angeles: Unchanged

img_1151It might just be natural to view our times with pure centrality, or a point of view that’s bound to the look and feel of where we are today, right now. How can we not, when it’s what we see online and in the papers, and when it’s all we can hear on the radio, or catch on tv on the day of.

But this is what makes going back in time all the more interesting; when we see the parallels between our days and the earlier pages of history, it’s a really mesmerizing effect. Speaking of 1940’s L.A. literature and entertainment, Mike Davis describes below:

“…the most interesting transit across Los Angeles’s literary scene in the 1940s was probably the brief appearance of Black noir. Los Angeles was a particularly cruel mirage for Black writers. At first sight to the young Langston Hughes…’Los Angeles seemed more a miracle than a city, a place where oranges sold for one cent a dozen, ordinary Black folks lived in huge houses with “miles of yards”, and prosperity seemed to rein in spite of the Depression.’

Later, in 1939, when Hughes attempted to work within the studio system, he discovered that the only available role for a Black writer was furnishing demeaning dialogue for cotton-field parodies of Black life. After a humiliating experience with the film Way Down South, he declared that ‘so far as Negroes are concerned [Hollywood] might just as well be controlled by Hitler.'”

It’s a heartbreaking rendition of the industry at the time; though in the years ahead Hughes would still become a literary icon, the fact of it only magnifies the indignity of Hollywood studios belittling his talents to produce only racist screenwriting.

And yet, perhaps even more regretful is how much the industry is still made up in this way. As famed comedian Chris Rock recently highlighted in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter:

“…forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans. It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else…

You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? The odds are, because people are people, that there’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot. And it’s not about being given a shot to greenlight a movie because nobody is going to give you that — you’ve got to take that. The shot is that a Mexican guy or a black guy is qualified to go and give his opinion about how loud the boings are in Dodgeball or whether it’s the right shit sound you hear when Jeff Daniels is on the toilet in Dumb and Dumber.”

Here I think of my own time in the service industry, and of all the hard workers I’ve met throughout the last year –Mexican and Central-American and Asian and more–from the grocery stores to the Starbucks shops, to the myriad of other shopping areas and restaurants in The City, and of course they are The People of Los Angeles, and of course they are beautiful and magnificent human beings; of course they’ve got all of the world to give in their hearts, but of course it’s this–or the exploitation of all this–which makes up the slave state Rock points out.

There’s a great sense of shame in identifying one’s self as something of a slave. It’s a ‘victim card’, or a sign of weakness in a world hellbent on showing muscle. But if it’s difficult for an individual to admit to being a part of slavery, it’s nearly-unthinkable for society to accept slavery as a fundamental part of what maintains the industries.

Yet whether we’re talking about the janitors or security guards up and down Hollywood’s lots, or the aspiring actors and directors who have yet to enter the business, or even the agents of change across the non-profit world who have set out to transform all of this, every day there’s some silent agreement we all make with the state of things, in which we consent to the sacrifice of our time and our bodies, the interests we hold dear, and even the sense of what’s right…

for what simply is; the status quo, the way things are; reality.

What are we doing as we make these silent agreements, if not perpetuating the complacency that’s maintained the same industries which once rejected Langston Hughes, and which still rejects Black writers and voices today, not to mention fellow Mexican, Asian, and other voices?

I fear we’re not changing anything this way, but it’s a fear I’ve learned to live with. Still, even more than what I fear, I believe in what I hope for:

I am the change I want to see, but only just one part of it, at that.

What’s more, I understand that I can’t focus too much on what it all looks like today; it is bigger than what one set of eyes can see in one moment, and made up of today as much as it’s made up of yesterday.

And when I think of the days ahead, the tomorrows still to come in the faces of our youth, I can’t help but stand up and tackle what’s in front of me: of course the world can be overwhelming, but of course it all begins with our perception.

Today I can feel all that’s ahead, and I choose to run towards it at full force. How do you do?!

With more soon,

J.T.

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City of Quartz: On Landscape

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Sunset Boulevard; West Hollywood

“Although awash with garbled pseudo-scientisms and racial allusions, [Anton Wagner’s] Los Angeles (1935) offered an extraordinarily detailed panorama of the city’s districts and environs in the early depression…particularly Hollywood’s elaborate, but doomed, attempt to generate a Europeanized ‘real urban milieu’:

‘Here, one wants to create the Paris of the Far West. Evening traffic on Hollywood boulevard attempts to mimic Parisian boulevard life. However, life on the boulevard is extinct before midnight, and the seats in front of the cafes, where in Paris one can watch street life in a leisurely manner, are missing…'”

Here I’m reminded of something I heard in my writing workshop with VONA at Miami, when a fellow writer mentioned how on first getting to L.A., the place felt “like a country town.” I remember being so struck by her words, as before then it had never occurred to me just how much the city feels like a village nestled out in the wilderness! Somehow, I’d gotten so caught up in the concrete and density of L.A. that I viewed it purely as a metropolis, when its origins clearly still mark it as a nexus of hills, canyons, and other dry land that just had concrete plastered all over it one day.

In fact, when I think about it the place isn’t even radically different from the pueblo in Southern Mexico where my mom originally hails from: a tiny little town in the mountains with its own miniature twists and turns through the landscape like the streets of Los Angeles.

What’s more, Wagner’s take on the ‘[missing] seats in front of the cafe’ furthers the point of L.A. as a teeming and even chaotic sprawl of mass, since unlike the streets of say, Manhattan, for example, which are flat and therefore prime locations for seats and tables on the street, Hollywood is landlocked amid the swirl of Sunset boulevard and cross-streets that curve strangely into one hill or the next. This makes it difficult to set up seats and tables in a way that is uniform and therefore synchronous with an overall aesthetic, or as Wagner points out, in a way that successfully mimics Parisian boulevard life. Of course, as for the midnight or two am curfew, I can’t quite explain how it came about in L.A., but somehow I have a feeling that Davis will cover it in his elaborate excavation.

Once again, then, I think I’m geeking out! I feel like my knowledge of L.A. only expands with each analysis, and like the information can only play a key role in determining the next twist and turn for The L.A. Storyteller, especially as a new year approaches.

With More Soon,

Whoah!

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It’s an honor to share an essay from yours truly recently published on the debut edition of DRYLAND, a new publication for L.A. poets, writers, and artists all around!

I had the fortune to connect with DRYLAND earlier this year after meeting one of their people at a writing circle with the InsideOUT Writers, and now it’s a special treat to see my work on their site. The thing is: in all the time I spend on J.T., it almost slips my mind to send my work out elsewhere. But neither VONA nor DRYLAND could have happened if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone to apply myself in other places for a little bit.

Just as with everything else, then: when we get so focused in one part of our lives, we really lose sight of certain other parts of ourselves through it. But with that in mind, let’s not get caught up in this post! Instead, let’s take a walk down memory lane with my essay:20 Years After the L.A. Riots.

And thank you to DRYLAND, and of course, to all the J.T. supporters for a moment of their time.