Sunday Meditation

 

“I am forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face and deal with and embrace the stranger whom they maligned so long. ” 
— James Baldwin

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Power, Persistence and Bearing Witness

I SPENT a  little time a few weeks ago interviewing photographer Warren Hill for show he was preparing for featuring his work celebrating community organizing and the power of collective voices.

Though it is visual representation of community building, Hill’s work is at its core about listening:  Getting to know a place is about getting to know the people who inhabit it, who have shaped and tended it when others have looked away. 

To really see Los Angeles — its many working parts, its vivid tapestry —  starts with listening.IMG_2816

As I mentioned in my remarks on Saturday afternoon: “His lens asks open-ended,  ‘how-and-why’ questions that allow his subjects  the space to fill in the frame. He’s not imposing a narrative but allowing his subject’s the space to articulate delicate shadings and implications  of their own situation.”

Hill will be at the Central Library Wednesday afternoon talking about his work for Photographer’s Eye: “Power and Persistence: Grassroots Activists and Musicians in L.A.” Click here for more information.

You can see the photographs in person until June 26th Venice Arts.

 

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Freedom to Live

Claudia Rankine via KCET

Just before I hopped out of town for a brief pause, I was able to speak to writer Claudia Rankine about her book Citizen: An American Lyric and the staged version that will be up at the Fountain Theatre here in L.A. until October 11.

Here’s a snip from the intro:

On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.

While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.

To read the interview in full click here.

Rojas’ Eastside

James Rojas - Urban Planner & Community Activist

James Rojas – Urban Planner & Community Activist (photo by Lynell George)

GREAT URBAN walkabout on Saturday with James Rojas who led about a dozen of us through Boyle Heights into East L.A. Rojas, an urban planner and community activist, gave us generous samples of Latino Urbanism — a specific refashioning of built landscape.

Writes Rojas:

“Street vendors, plazas, and benches are all part of the Latin American streetscape. Traditional Latin American homes extend to the property line, and the street is often used as a semi-public, semi-private space where residents set up small businesses, socialize, watch children at play, and otherwise engage the community.

To create a similar sense of belonging within an Anglo-American context, Latinos use their bodies to reinvent the street.”

We looked at how people refashion and mark place and make it their own. We wandered by front yards turned into plazas. We explored upon gardens, shrines, murals and garage-adjacent altars. Christmas is still in full bloom; it’s just tucked away off the main drag. I was most taken by the thread of improvisation winding through block by block. Streets that are made for walking with goods and signage at eye-level. Re-purposed gas stations, vacant lots and front porches transformed into impromptu meeting places.

Community in this sense truly feels like community — lives linked together, shaped by one another.

Big thanks to wonderful Victoria for letting me know about it. I’m always re-energized seeing L.A. through a different set of eyes.

So grateful to you to James Rojas!

(mosaic images by Lynell George)

Are you a “You Guys” or “Youse” or “Y’all”?

LIKE MANY yesterday, I got sucked in to taking this New York Times interactive quiz which afterward produces a map explaining the origins of your accent/dialect. My results were surprising — as they pointed to my parents origins and not the place I grew up — here in Los Angeles. It makes sense though how speech, word-choice and idiom are deeply influenced by home environment.

You can navigate here to take the quiz. Right now it takes a while for the map to come up due to high-traffic … as I said, I got sucked in — it’s an absorbing journey back home.