Letter to Congressman Schiff: In Support of Little Tokyo Service Center’s Santa Monica & Vermont Apartments for East Hollywood

Dear Honorable Congressman Schiff,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you today to express my support for the Little Tokyo Service Center’s (LTSC) transformative housing project in partnership with L.A. Metro at the Vermont/Santa Monica intersection in East Hollywood.

This past March, along with members of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and a coalition of storytellers, scholars, and other community members, I discussed historic redlining practices affecting East Hollywood in the critical years before the onset of WWII. You may or may not know that East Hollywood, along with a number of other neighborhoods in the Central L.A. area, was historically redlined by federal and municipal government officials who saw Black and immigrant families as “blight” and “too risky” or unworthy of investment.

As offensive as redlining was for racist language that discouraged private banks from lending to working-class families in East Hollywood, what was more consequential was redlining’s discouragement of building development to break ground for needed housing in the community.

This is still relevant today. The World War II era, for its myriad of unique particularities, continues bearing key connections to the current housing crisis in Los Angeles. In 1939, the national economy was still emerging from a decade of the Great Depression. Therefore, when the U.S. officially joined the conflict, while California’s ports and aerospace industries began employing masses of new workers, labor shortages threatened to stifle the state’s service and agriculture economies, which could have almost certainly cost the U.S. the war effort.

In bouts of heroism and bravery alike, waves of Black families from the historic U.S. south came to the rescue, especially for the Golden State’s service economies. Simultaneously, Latinx workers from the global south, particularly from Mexico, came to California as the first “Braceros” for the state’s agricultural industry.

Yet while these workers were sure to be hired in Los Angeles, what was entirely uncertain was their housing. After decades of racial covenants, deed restrictions, campaigns against housing for non-whites by an L.A. chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and their collaborators, and homogeneously white city councils, courtrooms, and police, Los Angeles left Black, Latinx and APPI communities with housing conditions that would only worsen with time.

Twenty years after the end of WWII, these conditions erupted in Watts. A generation later, less than twenty years after the world recession of 1973 – 1975, these conditions erupted again in South Central Los Angeles.

And today, even as research shows Black and Latinx people make up to 70% of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, and virtually the same rate of the incarcerated population in the L.A. County Jail and across California prisons, during the “war” against COVID, Black, Latinx and AAPI workers have unflinchingly and resiliently supported L.A.’s service, agricultural and transportation economies, including in East Hollywood. This is why LTSC’s project at Vermont/Santa Monica is as timely as it is appropriate. It is breaking the ground for families needed as early as the years before WWII.

I write in support of Little Tokyo Service Center’s Santa Monica & Vermont Apartments because they will provide 187 units of overdue affordable housing for people of color in the community, as well as permanent supportive housing that communities of color in East Hollywood have missed as the homelessness crisis, which is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis, has only grown by leaps and bounds.

You are likely aware, Congressman Schiff, that in L.A. City Council’s 13th district, where East Hollywood is based, nearly 4,000 people are unhoused, and also that job losses due to the pandemic threaten to unhouse waves of more families of color in our community.

Therefore, while federal and municipal officials have still yet to officially account for discrimination in housing in East Hollywood due to redlining and related policies, LTSC’s extremely low-income housing is what beginning to “turn the page” looks like.

Congressman Schiff, the current moment for our state and nation calls for both bravery and urgency from our leadership, most of all in regards to historic issues of racial and economic justice in the U.S.

As you can recall, Lyndon B. Johnson was the first in Washington D.C. to officially declare “war” on poverty, but could only see the work unfinished as subsequent, “reactionary,” and corporate-bound leadership jeopardized the effort to bridge the wealth gap in our country. The moment now calls for that unfinished work to be resumed with utmost haste, and so we await your affirmation of this through your urgent support for LTSC’s housing work in East Hollywood.

Sincerely, and in community, always

J.T.

anonymous black men with speaker and blm placards on stairs

DON’T FORGET: JOIN US FOR THE HOLLYWOOD COMMUNITY UPDATE PLAN HEARING THIS THURSDAY AT 8:30 AM

The Just Hollywood Coalition, a coalition led by a local hotel-workers union known as Unite Here Local 11, is planning to show up in mass to the Public Hearing to call for an end to Ellis act evictions in Hollywood, an end to single family home zoning for the area’s Community Update Plan, affordable housing requirements (not encouragements) in Hollywood, and more housing for workers, not hotels for the rich in Hollywood. We sure hope to catch you all there! 8:30 AM on Thursday, March 18th (zoom info on the flyer).

J.T.

The Writing Is On the Wall: California Progresses Only in Robbing More of Its Black and Brown Youth of their Future

The state of California is a racist entity. From Orange County to Los Angeles, to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and on. First the state impoverishes Black & Brown families with inadequate housing, minimum wage employment, and battered, broken schools. Then the state expounds on that impoverishment by policing and incarcerating the young people bled out by this system. After that, when such young people find themselves behind bars as recipients of “services” overseen by “shadow” organizations funded or controlled by the state of California, they are put on display for liberal progressives to gall over what the benevolent state can still “provide”; as if the kids were simply livestock led astray which the state was kind enough to contract other folks into shepherding back towards decency, rather than racialized subjects relegated to the farthest corners that no money can buy.

But the state and its proxies are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. It’s the state which first leaves Black and Brown youth to underfunded and overcrowded schooling within abandoned neighborhoods to begin with, and then it’s the state which places the most vulnerable of such youth on programs such as probation, which is a life-sucking form of surveillance and regulation that would hardly allow anyone to develop their education and work opportunities successfully. The moment young people in destitute neighborhoods fail to meet the stringent policies enforced against them and their families, the state moves at the first minute to further penalize them. Where is the constitution in this? Or the supreme court of California?

America is a war machine against non-white bodies, and I am deeply offended, but as a Chicano in California I’m used to being offended by the state’s policing and harassment strategies, which act as attrition towards my character and that of my peers. Yet what disturbs me as much is how many “reform” organizations out there tout their non-profit services as “the helping hand” in this racist power structure. The professionalization of what once may have been a genuine effort of resistance to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown youth is now a mere hashtag for fundraising and photo opps; it is also the continuation of a long history of radical ideas being co-opted by the state and its beneficiaries.

I will not be silent in the matter, however. Instead, as I know it is my responsibility to do, I will spread this information as far and wide as daylight and earth allow me to. Our youth and our families deserve to live in dignity. It is our life’s work to advance it.

J.T.

Dear Sisters: Black Lives Matter

Your pain, and the bravery in your hearts to share what you feel, are embers of light in a world that insists on living in darkness.

Your endurance through chaos, and your will to survive through its reams, are layers of strength for those who will follow in your footsteps.

You’ve heard before that you have to keep fighting, and that you have to keep pushing,

And you will hear this again.

But tonight, I encourage you to put your arms down, and to lay your heads back.

Tonight, I encourage you to simply find somewhere to rest.

And to reach out to one another, to hold one another, and to assure each other of one thing, if only just one thing:

That you are not alone.

And that your pain will not be in vain.

Your struggle is the world’s struggle, as it is humanity’s struggle, and as it is the struggle of the future.

And in your fight to bring light to our society, you reflect the orbit of a world fighting to survive in a galaxy full of darkness.

Thank you for shining so brightly in this journey, and for your resilience through its tremors.

And know that you are seen.

That you are heard,

And that you will always be acknowledged and appreciated.

From the center of the earth,

To the edges of the universe,

Through time and space,

And even beyond,

Thank you once again, dear sisters; indefinitely.

How Footage of Sandra Bland’s Death Desensitizes America

As more footage of the late Sandra Bland’s final hours of life spiral further onto the desks of talking heads and other media outlets, I think it’s important to acknowledge the ability of a film to desensitize and distort the abuse of a human being.

We live in an age and culture where we’ve seen so much abuse on screens in film and television that at certain points it’s merely a spectacle to observe, regardless of whether it’s ‘real’ abuse or not. For this, the comfort provided by the distance and space encapsulated on a screen provides us with a sense of detachment, which is empowering to a degree, but also dangerous.

It’s empowering because we can see and analyze an abuse taking place in a film, but dangerous because we cannot feel the physical and cognitive abuse experienced by the people being filmed. Thus, while some of us might be considerably horrified at seeing a fellow human being treated like an animal on the screen, the feeling of horror provides us with a false or minuscule understanding of the lived experience of having one’s body violated by the hands of an attack in such a way.

The lived experience of having one’s body violated by anyone is a harrowing sequence of traumatization in and of itself, but in the case of police violence, this horror is exacerbated by the fact that the inflictor of that trauma is sanctioned by an institution that literally surrounds and leaves no way out for your escape.

To name just one such instance: When police take you into custody, they attack you not just with their own imposing bodies in uniform, but with the bodies of concrete walls that limit your eyesight, and with the bodies of voyeuristic police cameras watching your every move, and with the bodies of cold steel handcuffs that weigh down your wrists, as well as other instruments that enclose themselves upon YOUR BODY.

We can’t and will never understand such abuse by watching a film or reading a description of it; we can only feel it to understand it, and even that understanding will be limited by the frequency at which we experience such abuse.

Here, it should noted that Black people in America have faced more of this type of psychological, political, and ultimately physical violence than any other group of people since – to quote the great Angela Davis – “the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”

At the same time, while it’s fundamental to acknowledge how the color of our skin is extremely important in determining our treatment at the hands of our government, it’s my opinion that racial makeup is still second to the size of our pockets and the wealth controlled by our heritage. To paraphrase Chicago’s Alvin Lau on the success of Tiger Woods: If you’re rich, you don’t have to worry about stupid shit like this.

This is where it gets complicated: as an increasing number of white middle class Americans continue to fall into the cracks of poverty with people of color they once presumed they were ‘above’, the current trends of police and state violence suggest that the rights afforded to such white Americans will also suffer impoverishment.

In California, the vast majority of people victimized by the power dynamic of this country over the last few decades have been black and brown skinned bodies, but there are myriads of poor white bodies in the state and across the country that have been imprisoned as well, and it’s not because of the color of their skin, but because of the scarcity of resources with which they’re able to defend themselves as poor people standing in the way of a government that feasts on poor people.

In turn, at the same time that we become increasingly tolerant of the violent defense of this dynamic when it’s captured and viewed on screen, our country is witnessing the concentration of wealth into fewer and more vicious hands than before.

And in the humble opinion of yours truly, unless we recognize and support the Americans fighting for a better way for our country now – those Black and Brown people organizing – this power dynamic is just the tip of the iceberg in the land of the free and the home of the brave of the future, one piece of violent footage at a time.

Whoah!

julycover

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.

Reeling from Our News Cycle

It’s been difficult to write, more difficult than usual.

The news has been especially disturbing as of late, and I can still recall the days when I’d criticize mom for paying attention to the news on television, back when we still had a television in our living room. Years later, I find myself clenched to my seat, unable to look away; scared, angered, and disheveled by the scene on the screen of my laptop all at once.

To make matters more difficult, I don’t know what else I can really say to anyone else at this point. For a long time, my writing’s operated on the premise that I could appeal to reason within others the way others have appealed to the reason within me, but at this point, I’m not so sure anymore.

At this point, I don’t know who’s listening, or if anyone is listening at all. At the very least, I tell myself, the writing will go on some kind of record, for whatever that might count, except that there are so many records, so many of which are just obsolete, all just describing a moment of helplessness before the act of a great crime or tragedy against humanity, but they never actually contesting it or fighting back, just merely recounting.

The idea, then, that I can at least write to educate others about injustice in hopes of raising a general awareness to prevent more crimes against humanity offers little respite from the great sense of disappointment that my efforts at this have produced so far. Toni Morrison once said “the purpose of freedom is to free someone else,” but what’s the point of freeing one person’s mind if three times as many will still remain enchained at the end of the day?

Continue reading “Reeling from Our News Cycle”