Tag Archives: east los angeles

Swipe the card

28 May

Sparkly sandals, boxes piling up at my side
Platforms
Stiletto black patent leather
kitten heels
Swipe the card

Men’s wear
Dad’s birthday
Lovely polos
Swipe the card

Walking back
Shiny red sign of SALE
Toss it aside
Keep
Swipe the card

Red gel manicure
pedicure to match
smooth legs
Humming of the massage chair
Swipe the card

Whole Foods
Bright and fun
Kale
Wild Caught Salmon
Swipe the card

Sports gear for the girls
sneakers
for basketball
sandals
for summer

A dress maybe?
Or two
And shorts
or a jumper
All three
Swipe the card

Theatre camp
piano lessons
dance
lunch money
Dinner out
a movie
Rent

in LA
on the freeway
pulling in to fill the tank
Swipe the card

Gotta keep moving
and working
to swipe the card

Running

4 Apr

Running

I feel the music
flowing
spreading through my body

I have to fight the urge
to dance
Wild and Free

My arms start swinging
propelling me
my legs find the rhythm
hitting the pavement to the beat

The lyrics carry me
Forward

I feel myself
Floating
Invisible

A wide grin flashes on my face
I can fly
I can soar

Stronger
Faster
Happier
I go

Hip hop
Cumbias
Rap
They heal me
Transform me
As I run

Run free

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!

Helpless

15 Mar

The tide recedes
each time
a bit further
taking with it a little pain
and a little strength

When the sun is out
it warms my face
On my palms
it tingles
and I sigh
relief

I hear the birds sing again
the sky, a gorgeous hue of blue
beauty everywhere
fresh air
never tastes sweeter
sharp
full of promise

I want to run
but not away
towards something, someone, somewhere
Clearly defined

peace

I smile
wide and free
show my teeth even
and giggle endlessly

Self love
the color of my skin
the way it shimmers in the sun
the shape of my body
the softness of my lips
in harmony with my strength

I feel
and more importantly
I Want
to feel

A day, a week, or a month goes by
and I wake up
feeling strange
unsettled

Heaviness sets
my thoughts pained
a cold sweat
as the memories take hold

Alone
the quiet scares me
as it creeps in
the lack of sound

In a fog
everything hurts
my mind lays
Dormant
withdrawn

Those muted days
I don’t wish on anyone

Sadness fills me
at the thought of
Wasted youth
in a frenzy to feel nothing
to fade

Release the gray days
for the clear blue days
learn to feel again
Not so
helpless

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 ;) )

Lost in Translation

28 Jan

I was 15 and missing class for the day as I walked along my dad to an immigration one stop shop to renew his green card. By then, our relationship was distant, making for awkward conversation as we waited, mostly in silence, for his number to be called.

He had walked into my room the previous evening, looking slightly nervous, to ask me if I could take the day off school and help him with paperwork and translating questions. He didn’t mention what kind of paperwork and I didn’t ask. I simply said, “Claro que si papi!” And he walked back out, his shoulders noticeably relaxed.

The following morning we got up early and briskly walked to the bus stop. As we waited, he asked if I would miss much school work. I shook my head and we rode in silence, using the noisy backdrop of multiple conversations, music, arguments, and laughter from our fellow bus riders as noise filler.

“Numero 143!” The loudspeaker was all base and garbled sound that you had to strain to hear it, followed by multiple questions of, “Que dijo? Cual numero?!” I looked down at our number, #257…

I looked around and saw the snaking line in front of us, and even longer mess of a wait behind us. I had the large manila folder close to my chest, its contents all neatly filled out and in the appropriate order. We went through the questions: Color of Hair -, “Negro no?”, Color of Eyes -, “Cafe”, Height -…and so on. What year did you enter the US? Have you ever illegally done this, that, and other idiotic questions that were meant to trick you into losing your green card.

“Numero 257!” We hurried up to the window, my father a step behind me, and I beamed brightly at the zombie-esque employee behind the window. I pushed the paperwork toward him and he rattled off a litany of questions, each to which my father would look to me before responding in the affirmative or negative. He looked so serious, that face that I came to know every time he was in front of a figure of authority, that face that thinly masked the knots of nervous terror that threatened to snake through his pores. His yellow pallor and slight suffle from his left to right foot reflected his fear, this precarious arrangement by the US government that allowed him to be in the North side of the Mexican/US border with his family – his wife and kids that is. I was standing next to him so I did the only thing I thought to do, I reached for his hand and held it in mine and gave it a slight squeeze. To my surprise, he squeezed back and released a pent up breath. Those long heavy breathes that you release when you forget to breathe.

Thump. The stamp of approval came down on my father’s paperwork and the zombie gave me the proof of renewal as well as intructions of things to watch out for in the mail.

As we stepped away I saw hundred of people just like my dad, a yellow tint betraying their fear, their unsteady stance on slippery ice of the INS.

As we left that dimly lit and dingy building and walked out into the bright sunshine of Olympic/Soto, he cheerfully asked me if I wanted to grab a bite. “Quieres una Hamburguesa?” I didn’t. I wanted to go home and rid myself of the depressing images of hope and broken dreams that the building had left behind in my mind. I wanted to stop the awkward company of my father and lock myself up in my room to listen to music and read a book. But his smile was so rare, it seemed out of place in his usual solemn face, and I remembered how he had returned the squeeze when we held hands that I nodded my head and smiled so he could remember his five year old Chuchi that had always quickly done anything he requested.

Instead of hopping on the bus we walked to Tom’s Burgers on 4th/Soto and ordered burgers, fries, and a shake for me. I told him about how my swimming was going, about my history class, about all of the subjects that I enjoyed. That afternoon I had my father back; the one that used to help me with homework art projects, read to me and protect me when I was in pre-school.

It dawned on me then how hard and embarassing it must have been for him to ask me for help for a matter that I would never have to face since I won the lottery at birth and was born in this country.

My mother always came to me when she needed translating, documents filled out, appointments for me to attend with her, but my father… He had never asked for my help before then and I was happy that I had quickly assented, that I had agreed energetically to having lunch with him.

He told me about his adventures as a young man; stories about crossing the border, the comedy he peppered in didn’t quite hide the perils and unfortunate events that crossing illegally with a pollero invited. The fry scratched my throat as I chewed and tried to swallow the mouthful along with my sense of shame of not having wanted to prolong my stay with my dad. But the shame was nothing compared to the ache that I felt for the millions of unfortunate undocumented fathers out there whose standing on the North side of the border was even more precarious than my father’s.

President Obama will release his immigration reform plan tomorrow and I have a seed of hope hesitantly sprouting that his plan includes a major upheaval of our class system: the third class that suffers in silence and moves noiselessly from unwanted job to job without any right to vote or voice their injustice, the second class that holds green cards but are not yet citizens and do not have the right to vote, and the rest of us – US Citizens (via birth or naturalization) that are free to enjoy 100 % of our rights, as disparate in education and economic mobility opportunity as they may be, there is still a door for us that grants us 100% of the right to seek those opportunities. And with shame I acknowledge that I have often forgotten how fortunate I am for having a US birth certificate, that sacred paper that allows me to live the life I have led…

I hope that President Obama pushes his immigration plan forward and doesn’t allow for the stories of suffering undocumented millions to be lost in translation.

Moments with you

21 Jan

I brush my mascara on
Look up and see you
Smiling and dancing towards me

Your smile mirrors mine

I follow your gaze
An inch away from me
My skin burns for your touch

I slip my dress over my head
Hurry onto my heels
Flip my hair over and look my best for you

Your smile mirrors mine

You dance closer to me
Captivate me
Suspend me in time

You bend over me
as you lead me
on a slow dance

Your smile mirrors mine

In the car
Holding hands to sweet melodies
The city lights our candlelight

In the parking lot
kissing me as we clamber out
to the night
full of laughter

And your smile mirrors mine

Dance the night away
the band is out
and we run back to
Late nights over King Taco

Sipping and swaying to the whiskey
In our home
Barefoot and dancing

And your smile mirrors mine

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