Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 18

Even without the familiar road, there remains so much work to do. Life at home is only life with one’s long list of to-dos up closest to our periphery.

There is food to put on the table. And there are dishes to clean. There is fresh coffee to warm up. And there is old coffee to throw out. 

There is sweeping to do, in every room you can find. There is mail to sift through. Mail continues coming in each day. 

There is opening up this mail, the most important-looking one first.

There is mulling over the response, leaving the inconvenience for another time.

There is checking the phone, visiting the usual pages, refreshing them, then getting pulled into their warp for another minute, then another minute, then one more. 

There is putting the phone down, recalling life outside of virtual reality. There is taking a deep breath, then musing over what’s next.

There is a second meal to prepare. The more substantive, consequential, and by extension more costly meal.

There is opening the fridge, gathering what can be found, then recalling what’s missing.

There is a trip to the store to consider. There is checking the wallet. There is recalling what else is supposed to be saved for this week. There is checking the news. When will that stimulus check come again?

There is that other form in the mail again. The one opened yesterday and which was supposed to have been responded to by today. There is putting it off for just a minute longer.

There is the missing ingredient that still needs to be sought after.

There is putting shoes on.

There is putting a sweater on.

There is putting a face mask on.

Finally there is getting ready to head out the door. But then there is suddenly needing to visit the bathroom. There is stalling at the bathroom.

There is growling bubbling up, dryness stiffening, impatience taking root.

There is finally heading out the doorway, locking the door, then opening the gate and locking the gate behind. 

There is the openness of a new day outside to take in.

Then there is a rush we are reminded of. There is hurrying up to the store, finding the tomatoes firmly in reach, wrapping our bags around them, then heading into line.

There is the line to wait through, carefully, cautiously, acceptingly, if possible.

There is mulling over whether or not to check the phone again while waiting in line. There is deciding otherwise.

There is listening to the side-chatter, the registers opening and closing, and watching the traffic outside swerve by. There is wondering if life might always be this way from now on, steeped in uncertainty, or if it’s only been this way and it’s just that we’re now far more aware of it.

There is our turn at the register. There is exchanging our greetings, waiting patiently but also cautiously for our change. There is wondering if the change is worth the wait and risk. There is taking the risk and placing the change into the wallet.

There is getting back home again, locking the door behind us, then placing our things down and rushing to the bathroom to wash our hands.

There is returning to the kitchen, rinsing the sink, then taking out everything we gathered earlier, and finally placing the tomatoes alongside.

There is turning on the stove, placing the pot over the flames, filling it with water inside, then cutting up the tomatoes, the onions, and the celery. There is placing them all inside.

There is looking through the window, hearing the tunes of the birds, recalling that we’re still alive again.

There is taking a deep breath again. There is another chirping sound again.

There is friendship on the other side, reflecting another tenderness through the times. 

There is gratitude gradually shifting the whole being. 

There is the scent of boiling onions, celery, and tomatoes filling the air.

There is recalling that form in the mail, with a minute after all this time.

There is filling out the response, at long last, filling it out. 

There is still placing it into the envelope, finding and placing the stamp on the envelope, then placing the envelope out for pickup, and other work to do.

But first, there is the second meal again.

The longer-prepping meal, but by extension also longer-filling meal. The more rewarding meal of the day. Ahead, there is still another day just getting started.

J.T.

Los Angeles Students, California: Do Not Stop at One March

On the way,I see that it was in March 1968 that the students of five high schools across the fourth street bridge in East Los Angeles walked out of their classrooms in order to make their voices heard. They stood in defiance of rules barring them from so much as even uttering a word in Español at their schools, in protest of being paddled in front of their whole class by teachers and administrators for doing so, and in ire at being left by the state to sift through worn and torn books abandoned by more affluent white high schools on the opposite side of the bridge.

In 2008 I saw that at the end of the school-year at LAUSD, a school district in which over 74% of students speak a language other than English at home, only 48% of students graduated from the district, meaning more students were dropping out than leaving these schools with their diplomas. Unlike in 1968, however, there were no protests regarding these conditions.

In 2012 I saw a community college system in California that stifled the progress of Black and Brown bodies with useless math and “remedial” English classes that fractured their progress as undergraduates at every step of the way, eventually turning these students away from the state’s colleges altogether.

I then saw that in the ninth greatest economy in the world, the liberal dream state, or the home of Silicon Valley, where Brown bodies, or people who speak nomas un poquito de Español en sus casas make up nearly 50% of the state’s population, only 11% of this segment of the population has a Bachelor’s Degree.

I saw this after I watched some of the best minds of my generation in Los Angeles, teenagers who could have been doctors, professors, artists, musicians and far more, ransacked by methamphetamine addiction and its criminalization. Before them, for Generation X in the 1980s, it was the crack cocaine epidemic. In 2018, it is Molly, Xanax, OxyContin, and more.

This is as my generation and I are forced to watch the invasion of our neighborhoods by white wealth, which is moving with the same organized violence against my pueblo’s character as that of 50 years ago.

But now I can also see how “the other” is necessary for the legacy of white supremacy to survive, as necessary as it was over 500 years ago when the first colonizers arrived to the islands of the Western hemisphere to massacre the indigenous people who made their lives here; the colonizers knew early on that “the others” had to be maimed and then made inhumane in order for them to validate the exploitation of their character and that of the resources around them. Today the colonizers no longer arrive in wooden ships upon natives, but they arrive in the form of real estate evictions and rent hikes upon tenants. A war of attrition.

It does not end there, however. It only begins. I can also see that from Orange County to Los Angeles, to Ventura County and Santa Barbara, onto Fresno, Solano, Modesto, Stockton, Sacramento, and the Bay Area, it is the bodies of young Black, Brown, and “others” whose entrapment and displacement together account for over 90% of the state of California’s “juvenile” cases, aiding and abetting the survival of a multi-billion dollar police state here.

I then see how in addition to the state’s incarceration, probation, and other forms of entrapment of California’s Black and Brown bodies, the state also contracts “shadow” organizations or “nonprofits” it oversees and regulates to apply services to these bodies. Once these shadow organizations deem their services applied, though only to a select portion of these disenfranchised Black and Brown bodies, both the state and its partners are proud to tout such “reformed” Black and Brown people as “examples” of change or what could “one day” be of more of them.

At the same time I see that the people overseeing these services maintain the same white power structure, that is, of liberal white men and their peers claiming leadership, differing little from those service-providers who “corrected” my peers 50 years ago, and who “civilized” my people across the American continent long before then.

And so I see that in 2018 many in “the resistance” who like to think of themselves as helping the helpless are actually just helping themselves, signing the contracts, citing the services, and professionalizing the process over the long term in order to assure the state’s backing and its survival rather than assuring a reduction of its assault on Black and Brown bodies or otherwise dismantling.

I see many even in “the resistance” taking and brandishing the intellectual property of these Black and Brown bodies. “Advocates” getting awards off these Black and Brown bodies. “Counselors” getting grants off these Black and Brown bodies. Even “Marchers” getting paid off these Black and Brown bodies.

In turn, I see white guilt relieving itself in a country that is still shooting, maiming, and incarcerating more Black and Brown bodies with the day at the same time that it employs its court systems to further degrade and demoralize our conditions, and to justify such degradation and demoralization afterwards.

And I see that in 2018, the democrats are touted as our only hope in a U.S. Congress currently dominated by a republican majority, as if Black men and their families should forget how they were sent to prison at the highest rate of all time under a democratic president in the 1990s. And as if immigrant families should forget that Obama deported more economic refugees seeking shelter from U.S. destabilization policies abroad –primarily women and children– than the previous three presidents combined.

I further see that since 2016 in California there’s ruled in the state a democratic majority, which nonetheless makes for legislative sessions that are more interested in expanding California’s prison systems than the state’s universities. See Senate Bill No. 776, or Assembly Bill No. 2028.

California could likely be Clinton’s most prized tough-on-crime jewel; over the last thirty years it saw the largest expansion of the prison industrial complex in the country, which now increasingly contracts the private sector to lock up more Black and Brown bodies; so-called undocumented Black and Brown bodies. But the state of California also saw an expansion of its “shadow” organizations or shadow “services”, many of which in 2018 enjoy claiming responsibility for the “reform” of great portions of those same Black men incarcerated in the 1990s. As such, it is just a matter of time before many of these same groups claim responsibility for “services” applied to “undocumented” Black and Brown bodies as well.

Finally, I see my boy G, who is 12 years old and now a student at LAUSD, and one of the sharpest minds I’ve seen through my neighborhood in a generation. Like his peers 50 years before him and prior, he lives in a home without his father, but he must also face a mother in that home who doesn’t know how to nurture or appreciate his mind. G’s life is at risk.

He could be a champion for his pueblo, but the numbers speak for themselves. There is a higher chance of G’s going to prison than the state’s colleges for no other reason than his and his family’s coming from the pueblos.

I see hatred of G’s condition. But I also see collusion in his condition.

I see silence about G’s condition, its normalization.

And this is not all I see. But it is just enough.

Students; Professors; All:

Moving forward with your movements, keep this information close:

There are generations of violence they’ve inflicted on our bodies going back longer than one moment can recount.

Now, we’ve got to be careful with how we distinguish the different mechanisms of this violence. From our school systems, to rent hikes, to evictions and the courts which support them, to incarceration, surveillance of our public transportation, and even the organizations we join in resistance to these things: we’ve got to be careful not only with recognizing the system in its normalcy out in public, but even with those we call allies in the work of resistance to that same system in our more private movements; the state is widespread, covert and overt, and if we’re not careful to trace our steps as we move forward, the state is just as much with us as we hope to be against it.

Let us still be against it.

Let us be against it for the students of L.A. in 1968. But let us also be against it for the students of L.A. in 2008. Let us be against it for G.

For you and me, and the pueblo we all share.

The pueblo of Los Angeles.

J.T.

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.