Tune In to the 3rd Episode of J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast

Yes, you read that right! Episode 3 is in. Tune in to hear all about how our event turned out, as well as more about the history that inspired BTS 2! Find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and SoundCloud.

J.T.

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Our Community is Getting Stronger, Este Hollywood

BTS 2 SQUAD
Back 2 School 2 Squad at the end of the night; Saturday, August 24th, 2019

From the words of Dr. Mary Gallagher, President of Los Angeles City College:

“On Saturday, August 24th from 4 to 8 PM, staff from the non-credit department of LACC participated in a great local community event called Back 2 School 2, marking the second year of this event. I was able to attend and hear all of the things going on at the ‘grass roots’ level of our community. LACC was included because of the GED preparation and testing we do. We also provided information from some of our students currently attending non-credit classes. It was a fabulous event. I look forward to next year.”

Dr. Gallagher’s recognition of BTS 2 is a milestone achievement for the work to uplift more vecindades in East Hollywood and throughout Los Angeles. In the days ahead, the work to keep strengthening our community will remain challenging, but I also believe that as our special event showed this past Saturday–and last year–the promise of the work will remain bright and full of encouragement. There will be more following up on the success of BTS 2, but for now, I’d like to express my deepest thanks to each supporter, close and afar, who took a moment to contribute to this critical day for our neighborhood and families all throughout this great city.

J.T.

We Will Not be Erased: How Open Mics in Our Community Uplift Our Cultural History

Our second annual Open Mic was a second-annual success, featuring 10 different poets, speakers and other members of the community who spoke in front of up to 25 guests throughout the evening. Our guest list was diverse, with attendants as young as 11 years old and as mature as 60.

In my own experience, after more than 25 years of living in this parcel of Los Angeles, I never knew of an open “forum” in the community like those created by the three different Open Mics held in the area over the last calendar year; first at Cahuenga Public Library last April, then at El Gran Burrito in August 2018, and now, for the second year in a row, once again at Cahuenga Public Library.

I view each of these events, both individually and collectively, as achievements for a demographic in East Hollywood increasingly facing displacement from L.A.’s collective memory.

The events have also acted as if in calling with larger movements in general defense and uplifting of communities targeted for displacement vis-a-vis gentrification, or the process known for “cleaning up” [ethnic] spaces for whiter, wealthier living. In her photographic exhibit at the Armory for the Arts, Los Angeles based artist Sandra de La Loza describes her experience living in a city that constantly denies people such as herself, her family–and their neighborhoods–of space for their history.

“For the dispossessed whose stories are not memorialized or recorded, memory becomes a vital space in resisting erasure, silence and invisibility.”

With this in mind, by “holding space” for others such as the youth, families, elders and others who’ve attended our Open Mic events this past year, and by attempting to normalize such spaces on a consistent basis, my peers and I are taking a stand for a collective cultural history; for a present and future in the same vein of resistance against the erasure described by de La Loza.

In a commentary on de la Loza’s artwork as a “Field Guide” for others, UCLA Digitial Media Professor Chon A. Noriega recognizes de la Loza’s installation and photographing of thought-provoking, albeit temporary ‘invisible monuments’ in Los Angeles as the work of a “guerilla historian”:

“The work requires photo documentation, gallery exhibition, and now, publication in order to have a continuous impact, not as a vicarious experience of another time and place, but as a model for civic engagement through archival research. Indeed, the ongoing goal of Operation Invisible Monument is to serve as an example of how anyone can become a “guerrilla historian.” In this regard [her artwork] is as much about promulgating a method or process for engaging social space as it is about generating and recovering historical knowledge.”

Here, I think of the Filipino woman from last year’s first-ever Open Mic at Cahuenga who had “lived here for over 35 years” before taking up the microphone to share her story. And I think of Alfredo, the 10 year old boy who arrived to the Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito in August initially rolling his eyes at the workshops being offered, only to find through the course of the event that he was exactly the kind of youth our team had been looking for. Alfredo needed a space that recognized and uplifted his giftedness, and once he could see that our Party was just that, he transformed into one of our foremost little helpers, announcing the raffle and handing out prizes to the community as one of our team. Lastly, I think of William Taylor III, who made his way to last Thursday’s Open Mic with stories about his time along Downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row area. Taylor III graced the microphone with an ode to the recently passed Nipsey Hussle, statements of resistance to Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, and more letters of love for the community. These are just a few of the people who’ve been moved by our work, and there will be more.

In this respect, our events during the past year have also acted like de la Loza’s ‘monuments’ for the oft-erased and invisible histories of the wide range of people who’ve made their lives in East Hollywood and similar parts of Los Angeles; I’m excited about recognizing our achievements for organizing the events as such, and hopeful to see what else my team and I will accomplish with more Open Mics, Back to School Parties, and other monuments for uplifting our communities. Because yes, of course there will be more soon. We’ve just gotten started.

J.T.

The Fight for Los Angeles continues: Meet Diana Mabel Cruz

Four years ago when I first got back to Los Angeles from Davis, there was nothing which spoke to me more about the future than walking through the city, when it became clear that it was in the midst of a great change, and that somehow JIMBO TIMES would also be a part of that change. I look back at that time now and marvel at just how many other L.A. Stories were also orbiting close by, making their own way through a transformation with the city before claiming a role in the process of it. Diana Mabel Cruz tells one such Cuento.

Diana Cruz is a 25 year old organizer from Los Angeles who is currently fighting an eviction notice in her native vecindad of Koreatown.

Alongside her mother, she’s taking a stand against being forced to leave a community where their family holds decades’ worth of investment and memories by organizing a Legal Defense Fund for their stay. In walking with Diana through her neighborhood to learn more, she shared fragments with me of the countless stories that make her vecindad more than just a familiar place, but one worth defending; she showed me where her family first moved in to the neighborhood in the early 60s, where they went to church as the years passed by, the school she went to for elementary, and how many changes she’s noted in the community since. It became clear to me then how Diana perceives her neighborhood in a way that any city planner should find invaluable: she not only treasures the place she comes from, but also understands her ability to play an active part in its shaping over the course of time. She explains it best herself, however:

1. When did your family first arrive to Los Angeles? My grandparents moved to Koreatown in 1966 when my dad was only 5 years old, staying with family friends around Saint Kevin church until they could afford their own apartment. In 1968, they moved into their own home just nearby on Edgemont Street. I still have black and white photos from the family’s arrival here during the sixties. My mother arrived to Los Angeles in 1991. She moved out to the Koreatown neighborhood from the Pico-Union district in 1996.

2.What was your school experience like, being from the neighborhood? I went to nearby Cahuenga Elementary for 5 years, but my mother also placed me on a waiting list for a Magnet program at Brentwood elementary. I was accepted into Brentwood’s magnet program when I was in the fourth grade. I remember that my bus stop for Brentwood was then at Alexandria Elementary. From the sixth through eight grades, my bus stop for Paul Revere Middle school was at Virgil Middle School, and my bus stop for Pacific Palisades Charter High was at the corner of 3rd/Normandie. Throughout my time at schools on the west side, at any point that the school administrators considered me to be misbehaving, the ultimate form of punishment was the threat of being sent back to my home schools.

3. What did you study at UC Davis, and what drove you to return to L.A. once you graduated with a renewed vision of your place in The City? (YES, UCD!) I studied Sustainable Environmental Design at UCD and focused on Participatory Urbanism. Too often community members are not invited to the table when a city makes a planning decision that will directly impact them. Or if they are, meetings are hosted at times when they are unavailable and without language justice being offered. But the question persists for me: Who better to direct urban planning decisions than the people that live in their own neighborhoods? I’m now using the privilege I’ve had of being able to access higher education to amplify the voices of the people in my community. This is our neighborhood and we have just as much agency as the landlords that own the buildings we live in. One day, when I pay off my current student loans my goal is to go on to graduate school for these same reasons.

4. What inspires you to keep fighting for this particular struggle at Mariposa Villas in K-town? My family has a lot of history in this neighborhood. My dad went to Virgil Middle School and Belmont High. My aunt went to Marshall. The local church, panaderias, Central-American markets and restaurants here hold several memories for us as well. We have roots in this neighborhood that date 52 years ago–this is our home; these are the sidewalks I played in, the buildings I grew up in, and the streets that raised me. If we don’t fight for our right to stay, who will?

In addition to organizing for her Tenants Association in Koreatown, Diana is also supporting the Prop 10 campaign this upcoming election.

This November 6th, voters in California will decide on Proposition 10, or an historic piece of housing legislation that would allow localities to place new rent control ordinances in their cities in an effort to curb the state’s deepening housing crisis.

At the heart of the matter, what we’ll be deciding on is just how much of a support network we can create for the mass of renters who live and work for California by expanding protections for them to keep their homes. These renters may not be very visible on election day, and many of them will not (be enabled to) show up to the polls for various reasons, but they will be there for their pueblos at every other moment; they are people like Diana and her mother, and people like me and my mama, numbering in the millions throughout Los Angeles and across the Golden state as we keep these places clean, friendly, and most of all, beaming with warmth like the sunshine above us no matter the winds.

To support Diana’s current stand against the eviction in her building, please visit her Legal Defense Fund’s page. And stay tuned: November 6th is just around the corner.

J.T.