The book cover for Mike the Poet's Letters to My City, published in 2019

Letters To My City (2019)

Through a tremendous last couple of weeks between the Los Angeles Review of Books workshop, the new Los Cuentos Book Club, and more for your truly, I just finished Mike the Poet’s L.A.’s Letters to My City. By the turn of the final page, I both see it and hear it. Sonsken’s ‘letters’ are not just prose, but also songs from the heart to all comers. Most of all, they’re a tribute to those who’ve been here, as Sonsken shows no fear celebrating L.A.’s Black, Indigenous, Asian, Native & Latinx roots. His book can thus be though of as an invitation for all poets, writers, and anyone interested in uplifting this city and keeping its history sacred to tag along for the ride.

Sonsken’s writing also consistently understands that he’s not the guiding hand, but that his is one led by the voices of others, those around him to uncover or pay heed to the roots. Sonsken’s work therefore comes off as a round-table discussion, a gathering of minds from across L.A., but abundant especially with folks from the South and East sides, as well as with folks from less discussed “L.A.” like Long Beach, Oxnard and even Cerritos and the OC. It is a call for Los Angeles’s artists and all creators to come together with major respect to the city, to the communities, for the stories, which form the heartbeat of this sometimes totally cruel, sometimes surreal town. Los Cuentos sees this, and I look forward to passing Mike’s book along to the next generation of historians with major visions for our city.

Towards the end the book also leads to more questions. For one, I found myself reflecting on reparations awarded to Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles who faced internment. In a closing vignette on Little Tokyo’s history and a Buddhist temple in the area Mike writes:

A key component of Japanese religion and culture is the idea of ancestor veneration, essentially the idea of gratitude to your family and specifically appreciating one’s ancestors.

I thought then of the enslaved, and those whose lives were uprooted and taken by genocide and U.S. imperialism. I seriously wondered: where is the discussion in L.A. on reparations for African-American, Native, and also Mexican bodies? These are our ancestors, and there are more, in and even beyond America. I believe Sonsken would agree for a need to come together and discuss it, and that, at least in L.A., his book is certainly one way to start.

J.T.

A fence with barbed wire barricades the site of the former Super Pan Bakery at Virgil avenue and Monroe street

We Raise It: A Poem for Los Youngs During These Times

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 88)

I know. It’s not fair. It’s been more than three months since everything up and changed. And since then, nothing has changed. Everything is still a mess. Home is stressful.

I know. Even if someone says otherwise, still feels like there’s nowhere else to go. Even when we step out, everything is weird. Strangers are stranger. It’s not fun anymore.

I know. The pupuserias are not the same. The panaderias take forever to get into. The burger joints aren’t even there anymore. Pockets don’t have enough to get much anyway.

I know. You didn’t get to say goodbye to your friends. Everyone knew this was the last year you’d get to see each other. Now everyone is fighting. Everyone online is just going at each other.

I know. Summer’s coming up and there’s no pool at the house. No AC. Not enough fans. All the sockets are taken.

I know. Family is stressful. Everyone says the same about how we’ll get through this. Doesn’t feel like we’re getting through.

And I know. It can’t be long before some more riots pop off. Cops killing Black people. Whites got no love. How are you supposed to walk around when they can get you any minute. Racism’s worse than corona.

I know. Everyone online is just stressing. And if there’s just one more argument–

I know. It’s not fair. Everyone is scared. It’s no love. Can’t get any love.

I know. It’s like a war that’s coming. It’s dirty. But rules are rules. If they hate us, gotta hate back.

I know. It feels this way. And I know it feels like it just stays this way.

I know it’s not a time for promises. But this is not a promise.

This is just to let you know that through it all, you’re still heard, still seen, and still the future.

To let you know that you got every right to be mad, like from the top of your lungs, ready to let it all out. We’re mad with you. We’re tired of the same old story too.

But I know that you know. That if it’s another day we get, we gotta take it.

So we raise it.

J.T.

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Nahshon D. Anderson: Don’t Just Black Out Now; Support Queer & Trans Writers of Color

The recent unlawful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African-Americans and 40+ emails since that I’ve received from different nonprofits stating solidarity for Black Lives led me to write this.

Many organizations are now claiming to support Black people (because it’s currently convenient) and believe they are standing in solidarity with us (even as they obtain more funding and media attention since it’s currently convenient).

Yet Queer writers of color have been overlooked and under-funded for decades, especially Trans writers of color (i.e. transgender writers of color).

When it’s come time to cut checks, much of our literature hasn’t been worth bothering for. Many manuscripts, submissions, and more have been left on the curb without hope. In my own work, focusing my subject matter on social justice, economic inequality and police brutality is my form of protest.

Last December, I submitted chapter four of my unpublished memoir Shooting Range, titled “This is for Rodney King,” into a literary competition. I did not expect to win, nor did I expect to lose. I just went for it.

Over the years, in addition to my writing, I’ve also served as panelist for various arts organizations and awards and have been shocked at the absence of a relevant narrative examining police brutality in general and honoring people like Rodney Glen King. Police brutality has been an ongoing issue for years that’s only gotten worse, and Mr. George Floyd’s and Ms. Breonna Taylor’s deaths are only the latest proof. This is what made my submission to the contest, which was dedicated to honoring Rodney Glen King, important for more publications to support. But the piece was rejected.

I was going to remain quiet about not receiving the award for my submission. But when not long afterwards I received an email from the same organization behind the contest about its newly awakened principles and commitment to Black Lives, I was left shaking my head, tired of reading the same bullshit.

However, there are organizations out there committed to walking the walk. To name one example, Shade Literary Arts, a literary organization focused on the empowerment and expansion of literature by queer writers of color, is holding an excellent fundraiser that still needs help reaching its goal of $100,000 to support queer and trans lives.

Do you mind digging in your purse to support Shade Literary Arts, or do you need my help?

Moving forward, I hope nonprofits and arts organizations across the U.S. are sincere in their newfound solidarity statements, even if I know they’re only manufacturing them based on current events, which by the way all read as if they were written by the same person(s).

I also hope that future grant awards reflect diversity instead of it being just another “trendy” bandwagon. This change is long, long, long, long overdue.

N.D.A. aka K.I.N.A.

Nahshon Dion Anderson, aka K.I.N.A, born April 1, 1978 in Altadena, California, is an Afro-Latin American, and French Creole Transgender writer. As a pre-teen, she was her family’s scribe and lector, both reading and writing for her illiterate grandfather, blind grandmother, and dyslexic mother. During 1992, Nahshon’s improbable career trajectory as an actor, writer, and later literary arts advocate, began after family friend Rodney Glen King was beaten by the LAPD, the ensuing aftermath of which played out in Nahshon’s driveway and front lawn. In 2014, Nahshon received a Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (BRIO) from the Bronx Council on the Arts’, for an excerpt of her memoir Shooting Range, which details an assault she survived as a teen in July of 1997.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 25

Even if it’s too early to think about the world post corona-virus, I can’t help but reflect that this year will be the sixth anniversary of my blog. I’ve been overtaken by an idea for the special day of the anniversary: free copies of a special, bilingual “magazine edition” of JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller for youth and families in the East Hollywood community.

As I’ve noted previously on the blog, my mother owns a newsstand in East Hollywood on Santa Monica boulevard, which this year will actually establish nineteen years in existence. That is correct. The stand is a 2001 baby, which means it’s still just showing this blogger how it’s done. While the wooden frame of the stand itself remains a humble, albeit resilient establishment, nineteen years is a legacy; one that I prize dearly for feeding my love and passion for the written word.

I want this blog to nurture the literacy and future of my community in the same way, but with an even larger, literal “print”; that is, I want kids, along with their mothers and fathers, to huddle together around Los Cuentos, or stories by JIMBO TIMES and other local writers in and around Los Angeles, so that they can experience the richness of arts and literature like we do.

The year following, there is no reason not to make a magazine edition of this blog a quarterly publication to have in circulation around the neighborhood, and in coffee shops and libraries all over Los Angeles. In the magazine, as I do with The L.A. Storyteller online, I will make a call for more up and coming writers and storytellers, both in English and en español, to submit their work for publication in subsequent editions of the magazine.

And in three years, with the momentum, funding, and correct plan intact, I see every reason for making this blog a monthly, printed newspaper for the community to benefit from, replete with a larger editing, design, and storytelling team for all. This, in my view, is the best way to honor my mother’s legacy in the community, which since the earliest days in East Hollywood has been a passion for supporting others with the written word, information, and education.

While I don’t mean to rush, or “get ahead of myself,” I sincerely see every reason to continue pursuing these dreams permeating within my mind, and even every reason to state them out loud for the whole world to know. It all comes down to one reason, though: that life is too short for any of us not to pursue our passions with every iota of will in our power.

All for and all through Los Angeles,

J.T.

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