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.

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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. That’s right! 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.

Fundraising for Our Party Begins Today Los Angeles

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Greetings,

I hope this note finds you well. Today it’s a tremendous pleasure to share a monumental development in my work as a community writer, photographer, and organizer in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, August 25, 2018, along with a team of my peers, I’m overseeing a community gathering at El Gran Burrito restaurant. El Gran Burrito been owned by the same immigrant family for nearly 30 years, standing at at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Santa Monica in East Hollywood.

The event will be a day of workshops, music, and dialogue for the local families of my neighborhood.

For parents, workshops will touch on local issues such as Renter’s Rights, Women’s Self-Defense, and Youth Crisis/Intervention programs. For teens, workshops will feature live art sessions, writing groups, sample book-making, and more. All of the facilitators for our workshops, like us, the organizers, will be volunteering their time for the day. And all parents and students attending our workshops will be given one raffle ticket each for a big show at the end.

Following workshop, our guests will be treated to lunch, that is, ‘GRAN’ burritos, as well as an Open Mic or open performance session, and of course, the MAJOR “Back to School” raffle. Items we look to hand out through the raffle include backpacks, Metro TAP cards, a skateboard, a bicycle, a scooter, helmets, and more. The goal is to have 50 people take part in this experience.

The event is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood before, and I’m exceptionally proud to be designing it alongside my peers, who are fellow locals and people raised in the community here like myself. I’m also in a slight crisis due to the event, however, as I now need to reach out to the larger community for support.

I am fundraising for this event on behalf of my community because it is the great gift of this country that such a thing is even possible. I think of the 13 year old and his or her mother, who will walk into El Gran Burrito on August 25 simply to get lunch, only to hear the music outside and walk on over to give it a chance. My great obsessive dream is to show these folks that they are magnanimously valued, by providing them with a day of resources and activities designed to uplift their social and creative spirits. I want to then call the raffle ticket number that’s going to gift a scooter or even a bicycle to one of these families for them to take home that day, because I believe such ‘little things’ can go quite a long way. I know that it’s somewhat absurd to visualize things so charitably, but I also remind myself that it’s instances like these when I was a youth which filled me with hope about some future. Now, I believe it’s my great responsibility as a young professional to give that feeling right back to the next generations of my community. Below is the outline for the fundraising I hope to do:

Lunch: $300

Printing Materials (flyers, wide paper for drawing, printed J.T. photography for raffle, and more): $300

4 Metro TAP cards with $25 fares loaded: $104

Backpacks, 1 Scooter & 1 Bicycle, 1 Skateboard and 3 helmets: $500

Extra materials to support facilitators: $300

Promotional Budget: $100

Total: $1,604

The truth is that I’ve never raised so much money for a single event before. But what’s also true is that I have an immense belief in the importance of this event for me and my peers, and for the families who we’re trying to put this together for. I believe enough in this collective moment for us to make this call, asking once again, for the support of an even larger community than the one through these streets; to the ones out there.

To donate, you can click the following: DONATE.

And to learn more about the special day, supporters can visit our facebook page HERE, where we’re also posting video updates for the event:

Thank you for your time, and please expect to hear from me sometime next week with an update on this crazy campaign! We are eighteen days away.

As always: with heart, honor, and respect,

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.