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Madison Block Loses a Little Brother for the Ages, Fernie “Belok” Puga

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 04)

It was hardly before 7 pm when my mom heard the shot on her way home from work. She described it as something like a loud thunderclap. She is now sixty years old. The harrowing clap terrified her and forced her to turn her cart back racing the opposite way. The path along the street is one I’ve walked with her over a thousand times throughout the 18+ years that her stand’s doors have opened for the world on Santa Monica boulevard. The newsstand is a fixture, like the sign that marks the name of the boulevard itself, or the lights that guide the road. But mom’s stand is also subject to a window of time. One day, time will close its doors on the stand’s wooden frames too. It will also leave its place as any fixture is destined to do.

When I think back to when I first met Fernando (or Fernie), I remember the hopefulness of his greeting. There was a way that he lifted his whole chin to salute you, accentuating his cheeks and arching his eyes back as he focused them on yours while letting out an unhesitating smirk. This let you know that he was completely in the space with you as a kindred spirit. Fernie’s ability to hear you out was just as affirming. There was a way that you could express yourself with him without fearing that he’d use it against you. In a crowd of many friends–mostly teenage boys–it was difficult to find that. But Fernie was consistent. He was never out to get anyone unnecessarily. He was a loyal little brother to a pack of young men without many fathers to count among the ranks. He was there for you in any case, and was also bold on his own, which he often had to be, without flinching.

Whether you knew it or not, if you frequented Cahuenga Public Library, you were literally his neighbor. Whether you knew it or not, Fernie wore all the goodness of his neighborhood proudly on his chin. His violent loss now marks the end of an era for the community. His pack of brothers are grieving for him, praying to escape from the nightmare of a thousand memories now flowing out in his name. I salute these brothers–and also every sister and mother and father who Fernie leaves behind–and uplift Fernando “Belok” Puga’s name. Whether it’s clear or not, Fernie now walks with each of us as a giant among the stars as we continue past the boulevard on our way to a home which is still our home. A home we have to continue to claim for a community to still survive.

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.

Virgil Village Mourns the Loss of Another Youth

On May 21st a local of the neighborhood, Marvin Hernández, was the subject of an altercation in la vecindad that led to the loss of his life and the injury of another. Marvin was only 21 years old. Above, pictures of the neighborhood and that of ‘tags’ left by Marvin’s friends and survivors at the candlelight vigil in his memory on the corner of Virgil avenue and Clinton street.

Nearly three years ago to the day, also on Virgil avenue and five blocks north of Clinton street, another young man’s life was lost at the intersection of Virgil and Burns street.

It’s with an unimaginable sadness that the families of each of these young people have been forced to continue on without their loved ones, which the members of the community recognize, hence the reason they place their candle-lights and beer bottles, as well as their tags, at the scene of the crime as a form of honor and respect.

Although there is more to say regarding the implications for our vecindad following this loss, there is a time and a place for that separate from this acknowledgement. At this time, for anyone interested in supporting Marvin Hernández’s family as they organize his memorial, they can do so at the family’s fundraiser HERE.

J.T.

With a Deep Breath…

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…For another tragic death in The City. And for another candlelight vigil held to light the path.

With Love for Ma’liaya, and more soon,

J.T.

Dear Leo (About this Violence On Our Blocks),

Dear Leo,

I hope you’re well little brother. My name is Jimmy, and I’ve lived on Burns my whole life. I went to school at Lockwood, got into my first crew on Madison, and found myself caught in all sorts of no good up and down our neighborhood, right when I was your age.

I’m older now, though not old enough to forget what it was like. Nearly ten years later, I can still remember coming home from King to see homies posted up on the block.

They stood tall above the concrete, as they propped their chests up, and they garnered respect from their eyes, which showed fear for no one.

In a world that felt like it was trying to hold me down, these homies were heroes. Laughing and babbling all over the street, they did their own thing, and on their own terms, and for a while it seemed like this little bit of freedom was all there was to get in the hood.

After all, whether we’re talking about Burns street or Wall Street, freedom is power. To be free of limits, and to be capable of anything means that you could step on anyone, anytime.

And from Scarface to every U.S. history book at school, if there’s anything we’re supposed to learn by the time we’re fifteen, it’s that we’re supposed to be free.

This is why being a part of the hood makes sense; it’s a claim of land and dignity, no different from what governments and businesses do with territory they fight over.

Of course, we both know there’s more to the hood than just wanting to be free.

For me, it was also something akin to revenge. I wanted to take revenge on my old man for leaving my family, and revenge on my family for not being enough in his absence, and revenge on anyone who doubted that I could hold my own despite being down one parent.

Now, I’m sure your homies want to take revenge for your passing.

And I won’t lie: if I was their age and in their shoes, I would want the same.

If I was them, I would take your death as a call to arms, just like Bush did after 9/11, when the U.S. armed forces went all out on their enemies.

And since you were shot on Memorial Day weekend, a holiday about honoring those who died in our name, it’d only make sense to lace up and put it down for your memory, and to make it known that nobody from nowhere could mess with our land and our people.

I know you would stand up too, if it was one of your homies on the other side instead of you.

I know it’d be about honor, and I know it’d be about respect. But I also know that it’d inevitably be about a lie, Leo.

The fact of the matter is: none of your homies could save you when the bullets ripped through your arteries. And none of them could save you when your body hit the cement, or when you gasped for your last breath of air.

Similarly, none of them can bring you back by getting back at ‘the enemies’. The only thing any of them could do is claim that they loved you, and claim that they’re about what you were about, but even that can be a stretch little bro.

Plain and simple: in this culture that we live in, most people are just using each other to get by; companies are using commercials, politicians are using slogans, police are using ‘reasonable suspicion’, and the courts are using ‘just law’. But you and I both know it’s a game. At the end of the day, we both know they’re tactics, meant to keep one group down while another stays up.

What’s harder to call is our own game, though.

It isn’t all that clear when we’re younger, but the evidence is there. When the homies get locked up, we keep walking. And when they get shot, we still keep walking.

Similarly when they pass away, you know how it goes. No one is wrong for moving on; they do what they have to, but the thing is, it’s hard to call bullshit on the homies. We want to believe that our homies are different, and that they’re with us for life, but let’s be clear: when shit hits the fan, the homies hit the road.

It’s alright. They’re not fake for looking out for themselves. They’re just human.

But in the same vein, your killers aren’t the enemies, or the ones to get back at. At the end of the day, the enemies are no different than we are: like us, they’re trying to be free. And like us, they feel stranded on these blocks sometimes.

How couldn’t they? Somewhere down the line, either society forgot about all of our blocks combined, or planned that they stay locked down, behind bars, and broken.

I don’t know what it is, but I do know this: anyone who truly cares about your name values human life. Over everything. And anyone who’s truly hurt by your death wouldn’t inflict the same pain on anyone else. Instead, they’d rather let life continue to allow time to heal the wound, knowing that revenge doesn’t heal but only lengthens the pain.

I’m hurt by your death. And as I walk past the place where your body lied as if it never happened, I’m hurt that I’ve got to move on like everyone else. I’m also worried, knowing that if one of the homies does take revenge, it puts all of the people in our neighborhood at risk. I know you wouldn’t want this; I know that like everyone else, you just wanted to live the life you deserved.

For this alone: I’ll continue to fight for the consciousness of the young minds who survive you. Together, I know we can build a better road for those who come after us. I know I can’t be their family. And I know I can’t be their savior. But I know I can give them a moment. And I know that sometimes a moment is all it takes.

Not only have I seen it, but I’ve felt it Leo. And I’m breathing it now as I write to you. It’s my life’s work to build a better community for our people, and your death is part of the pain that drives it.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I give you my word that I’m working on not wishing, but making sure it’s better for somebody else. Through it all, you’re indefinitely in my thought, planning, and moving process; as a neighbor, as a confidant, and as a brother through the ages.

With love for you and your family, and the community we all share,

J.T.