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Leaving LA

9 Jul

The process of moving and telling others that I am leaving LA has been a mixed bag of highs and lows.

I am a native Angeleno and I love my city with all its misunderstood and under appreciated idiosyncrasies. I grew up in Boyle Heights near El Tepeyac and Evergreen cemetary. I moved around but always in LA: downtown, Chinatown and a brief stint in the valley.

I’ve experienced so much within one county which includes the large swath of land that is home to 15 million.

I’ve lived the LA of East LA where you naturally fall into the lyrical song of Spanish, the early conversion to cool of Downtown LA, the ridiculous parties and outings that only LA can outlandishly provide, and the quieter and sweeter moments of growing a parent community as a mother.

Every memory of this city remains etched in my mind; from my early years of living on Union by McArthur Park: drive by’s, elderly neighbors who always had hot apple pie, my grandfather handing us a quarter for a bag of pepinos and even the kind LAPD beat officers who handed out baseball cards to us.

Now it’s a golden sunset setting on my rear view mirror.

I drive past the grapevine, by the acrid smell of cows, the rolling hills covered in blankets of wheat and the fruit stands of Gilroy – to land here. Silicon Valley.

I’ve been here less than a week and already I feel the dull ache of a lost one long loved. I sense the need to see the awesome landscape below the hills of City Terrace. I miss the daily reminder of my connection to a city, a place, my memories… I fell the pull.

Los Angeles.

The bad, dark and shallow times we shared remain on my mind. The empty promises linger on the avenue of broken dreams. Not Hollywood. The place where broken dreams go to bury the pain is always darker than the pretense of the avenue of the stars. In the streets of daily living lie the real stories of LA. On Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Whittier Boulevard, Hoover, 41st, 18th, in every single corner that the downtrodden go to blend into the indistinguishable mess of sadness.

Los Angeles. Like a good-looking love that I can’t get rid of, no matter how bad you know they are for you. You cling to me. Days of fear and anger intermingle with days of triumph and evenings spent toasting on rooftops thinking we’ve done it all. I love you.

But for now, we need to take a break. I need space, I need time, I need a place to lay my head and make a mark before I come back to you. To you I toast, dear city of mine.

Ciudad mia, adoracion de mi corazon, dame tiempo y paciencia y con los aires de la suerte llegare a tu lado de nuevo.

Until then dear LA, find someone else to claw your heartless charms into. I need a break.

A Belated Mother’s Day Post

14 May

A Belated Mother’s Day Post

The rise and fall of my emotion is punctuated with bouts of extreme joy and maddening sadness on this day.

Your excitement, hardly contained, explodes into a dazzling smile that reaches your eyes – like shining angels that guide my way.

“Cookies! We made you cookies and a cake! It’s a surprise but it’s a cake.”

It’s a reminder of everything good in my life. Seeing the two of you grow up is piercingly beautiful, hauntingly sweet. I see your smiling faces start to grow sharp with the angles of pre-pubescent youth and I gasp.

Where has the time gone?

I held you to my chest and your body would rise with each breath.

Rise and Fall

Now I hold you close as you cuddle up to me but I can’t breathe with the weight of your growing bodies on my chest.

Where has the time gone?

Am I doing right by you? The happiness of holding you close makes me break down inside and weep openly within the confines of my conscious as it weighs heavily on me that I only give you myself. Will you be fine?

Rise and Fall

We get home and you take my hand, running up the stairs to show me your beautifully hand crafted decorations on the sugar cookies you have baked with your tia. Colors of happiness – light hues of green, pink and baby blue.

“A cake, we made you a cake!”

A strong palette of dark chocolate with accents of light pink mini hearts: a reflection of your own spirits. And I know that you are not just fine, you are wonderfully enveloped in my blanket of love.

Rise and Fall

Day by day. Smile by smile.

Rise we will.

Seeing the Gray in Others – and Doing Something About it

26 Mar

When you go for a walk, while you shop at the grocery store, on a bench outside of work, on the sidewalk, in a class room, you see it…

The slouch of the posture
the roundness of the shoulders
eyes that seem to spill with sadness
behind a large swallow

Downcast eyes
searching for an answer
a tentative sigh
as if afraid to take the most natural step of life

Shakiness of a sentence
a heaviness of the body
sagging
towards earth

Life spent in a muted gray. Sadness, in its most cruel form: depression. What can you do? If you knew, would you actually do it?

A smile. A meeting of the eyes with kindness in your look, even if the moment is fleeting.

A connection.
A reminder that they are seen.
A feeling of validation that they hold a place in this world.
An assertion of existence.
Hope.

In our children, nieces/nephews, in kids of our friends, we learn how cruel words or actions by another can make a deep impact on their vulnerable and developing psyche and we have seen as a society a concerted effort to prevent bullying and the mistreatment of children at that impressionable age.

But what happens when those children who are under-cared, under-loved, under-appreciated, abused even, grow into adults? No longer seen as cute, vulnerable, or helpless – they are commonly tossed aside, dismissed – as if with age (and no help) they are magically cured of the fog that weighs them down.

A small gesture that might make you slightly uncomfortable, a smile to a stranger (I’m not asking you to walk around staring at strangers with wide toothy grins either), can make a difference, however small, on the recipient of your kindness.

My fellow Angelenos, whether native or transplants, I know what you’re thinking as you roll your eyes – eye contact AND a smile? But then I won’t be able to conserve my hip disinterested Hollywood cool look! Alas, no one is as cool as James Dean, and I bet that even he looked a little awkward walking around LA and would have benefited from a kind smile too.

If it’s someone who you know through work, ask them to join you for a cup of coffee or actually stop as you pass by their desk and say a warm hello. Nothing big. Feel the warmth and the kindness as you do it and they will feel it too.

Small acts of kindness, that’s not asking for much. On my first day to class at the local community college, I was frantically looking for where I had to pay the parking fee when a fellow student told me that the first week was free to allow for a smooth transition for students. That’s two acts of kindness there: that student didn’t have to tell me anything and could have walked off as I scurried around, and the school for giving a person a break! I asked the student where the B building was and they graciously showed me the way.

On my second week of class as I was pulling up to the meter to pay for the daily pass of parking, another fellow student gave me their daily pass as they were leaving and wished me an early Christmas (it was February) as they smilingly drove away.

On the fourth week of class, I saw someone else asking students for change (for the parking) looking increasingly frustrated as no one did. I didn’t either but when I walked back to my car to retrieve my belongings I noticed I did have the exact change and nothing more. My last $2 in cash. I walked over and gave them to him, and as he tried to hand a $5 I waved it off and said, “offer $2 to someone else who might need it as repayment”. He was very thankful and touched and I felt REALLY good, really ALIVE as I walked away.

Small acts of kindness, of human interaction, no matter how old we are or from what walk of life we are, make a difference. They pay in higher dividends than the bogus schemes of Wall Street bankers. ;)

Share your moment of kindness – given or received!

The SuperFlyingMonkeys at the San Francisco Golden Gate Slides

22 Mar

LA Morning Commute with the SuperFlyingMonkeys

19 Mar

Bronzed Beauties

5 Mar

Running
little legs
Giggles that chase
fear away

Stopping only
for a look
a nod
and they’re off
running
again

Warm light
bouncing off
sun streaked hair
Bright red
shiny cheeks
Riding high on laughter

Smiles
growing wide
Eyes full of wonder
twinkling on the water’s surface
Breaking it
as they jump in

Endless giggles
Bouncing off

Jumping higher
Reaching heights
of carefree happiness

Sunning
Bronzed limbs
in the glow
of California desert nights

Uniforms, Poverty, and Inspiration

29 Jan

In the 8th grade, I was about 13 or 14, I was elected student body president. My teacher, Ms. Kane, was very passionate and talented at instilling patriotic ideals and an appreciation for the little we possessed as well as reminded us of the world that lay at our doorstep.

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor; a slowly fading tattoo of her serial number that was her only identity during the war, still marked her for what she had lived through. When they came to America, they were dirt poor, completely displaced from their home, their bearings still rattled by one of the most grotesque series of events in human history.

Someone was being immature in class and teasing another student about what they were wearing. Ms. Kane became another person. Always on task, she became impassioned and emotional as she described how she only had one black skirt and a white long sleeved collar shirt that she wore to school every day. This was her uniform. But problem was she was the only one wearing it at school. It was her only outfit. As she described how she would be so very careful not to soil her outfit for the next day and how she would fanatically wash it every third day, I fought to check my tears. A few students looked to me to see whether they should laugh and teaser her too and I scowled at them, trying my best to look hard (as hard as I could now look as a student body council prez) and communicate it was best to just stay mum.

Ms. Kane’s story hit a chord with me then, it made this Jewish woman much more relatable to me, a Mexican-American teenager whose only exposure to white people were through a handful of teachers. It also reminded me how important it was that we had uniforms.

You remember how you used to detest wearing school uniforms? Those awful, often scratchy, completely unflattering plaid or horrid solid jumpers and skirts (that I am sure manufacturers dye just to embarrass legions of youth every year), you remember right? Or as my fellow Latinos and/or George Lopez fans would say, “You member right? You member!”

I remember them too. The deep evergreen jumper that I owned when I was in elementary school where some genius decided to send home flyers advising parents that they would be implementing a uniform policy and the colors parents should purchase for their children. All the while in small print it mentioned that this would be a voluntary measure and no one would be forced to purchase or wear these uniforms.

The first day of school I arrived in my jumper, one of two that I owned, and found myself the only one in said jumper in my class. It was quickly pointed out to me by other students in the school yard that I was the only kid that they could see that was wearing the uniform. Well apparently they had not caught sight of my sister.

Every day I walked to school knowing I would be ridiculed, that I would be bullied by the older kids, taunted for being poor and only having the one outfit. I became highly skilled at using words to make those bullies feel stupid but I still walked away feeling wounded, feeling small, feeling inadequate.

I am a PTA member at my daughters’ school, I became the Fundraiser Chair this year, and one of my highest priorities was enacting a school uniform policy. There were complains about the lack of self-expression, about forcing parents to purchase these uniforms, as well as supporting arguments that it would be good for the sixth grade students to have their wardrobe choices checked with the new guidelines. The usual supporting arguments of it lowering the gang and/or explicit music affiliation were mentioned and it became a back and forth stalemate.

I got up and said, “I’m a single parent. I would have no problem making the initial investment of purchasing uniforms for my children since the benefits of not worrying about them being up to the latest fashions, reducing the time of getting ready in the morning, and quite frankly it is much more affordable than buying them several different outfits throughout the year.” Another parent piped up and brilliantly mentioned that we could fundraise for those unable to purchase the uniforms and we could hold an exchange of uniforms amongst parents as children outgrew their uniforms. We pushed and went through the motions and months later my kids are happily wearing uniforms.

It’s not just about leveling the field in the shallow self-expression through clothing amongst children, it’s about leveling the field of the haves and have not’s and instilling a sense of inclusion at a young age for our next generations.

I went to Washington D.C. with Ms. Kane that year and we wore our uniforms all week. We groaned, hollered, and dragged our feet but when we got there we frequently received compliments from elderly white women (again pardon my then limited interaction outside my East LA school neighborhood) about how polished and classy we looked compared to the scantily dressed youth of nowadays. We spend many lunches having a conversation with strangers about where we were from, where they were from, it was almost as if we forgot if we were white or not, we were just human.

So remember, even as awful as these uniforms may seem, they make everyone seem human and approachable, at least a little bit more so, at least as approachable as LA people can be…

-Susana Benavidez
Native Angeleno (so don’t rag on me for talking smack about LA ;) )

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