- Reporters Desk
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Luis Rodriguez loves LA.
I can’t forget its smells
I love to make love in LA
It’s a great city
A city without a handle
The world’s most mixed metropolis
of intolerance and divisions
That’s an excerpt from A Love Poem to Los Angeles, a poem he released this past January. In it, he professes his unconditional love for the city of angels with all its virtues and defects. His life probably exemplifies this love-hate relationship, where injustice meets activism and community service.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recognized these attributes and named him the second Los Angeles Poet Laureate in 2014, succeeding Eloise Klein Healy. The poet laureate is expected to compose poems to the city, host readings and classes or workshops, and serve as a cultural ambassador. Rodriguez is scheduled to visit San Pedro and share his poetry, life experiences and writing.
“Through poetry you are able to make a statement, you are able to improve your life and lives of others,” said Raymond Regalado, project supervisor with the Commission on Human Relations of Los Angeles County. “In a sense, provide the opportunity for people in the Harbor Area to listen, ask questions and maybe hear the story of someone who was born and raised in LA, and has been able to overcome challenges in his particular life.”
Regalado helped organize the event, working with his wife Yolanda, to host this event at her coffee shop, Sirens Java and Tea, which she owns. The May 21 event will allow attendees the opportunity to get autograph copies of the novelist, memoirist, short story and children’s book writer, journalist, community activist and youth advocate.
Rodriguez is a major figure in contemporary Chicano literature. He has received numerous awards. His best-known work, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, among others. Due to its gang life depictions, the book was the subject of controversy when it was included in school reading lists in California, Illinois, Michigan and Texas.
“Reading some of his books, you see that, challenges don’t keep you down,” Regalado said. “And, that’s a story we can all learn from.”
Regalado said Rodriguez’s experience is a great example of how people’s lives are not defined by who they are.
“He’s got a good story to tell,” Regalado said. “He’s had challenges like every single one of us.”
Regalado said he wants youth and older generations alike to experience Rodriguez’s works.
“His work could inspire young people and old people alike, to be able say, ‘I can be part of change in the community,” Regalado said. “With that said, I want to be in a place to create my change for my community’”
Born in El Paso, Texas, Rodriguez’s moved to South Los Angeles in the 60s. They later relocated to the San Gabriel, where at the age of 11, Rodriguez joined the Lomas gang.
Rodriguez became an active gang member and drug user in East Los Angeles. He even lived in the San Pedro housing projects for some time. Despite his gang activity, Rodriguez became involved in the Chicano Movement of the 1970s. Later in life, Rodriguez came into contact with the John Fabela Youth Center in San Gabriel.
Regalado said, despite his older age, he has benefitted and learn things from Rodriguez’s experiences. He hopes the reading will inspire conversation.
“That’s what Luis is all about,” Regalado said. “It’s not just Luis writing a book and hoping to sell. He is trying to inspire.”
He found a mentor who recognized his abilities as an artist and community leader. With the help of mentors he painted several murals in the San Gabriel Valley. Eventually, Rodriguez quit the gang life and his drug use, and dedicated himself to Marxist study and community organizing. He’s helped negotiate gang truces and urban peace efforts in Los Angeles. He’s run for the Los Angeles School Board, worked as a bus driver, truck driver, construction worker, carpenter mechanic and welder.
As a night student of East Los Angeles College, Rodriguez worked as a writer and photographer for several East Los Angeles Publications. He later covered crime and urban issues for the San Bernardino Sun. He also led a group of writers in publishing a ChismeArte, a Chicano art journal. In the early 80s Rodriguez began to facilitate writing workshops and talks in prisons and juvenile lockups.
“Everyone can find a little bit of their lives in his challenges,” Regalado said. “It’s a story we can all benefit from. And, he is such an easy person to listen to.”
In 1998, Rodriguez received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.
Rodriguez also is known for co-founding the Tía Chucha Press, which publishes the work of unknown writers, the Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural, a San Fernando Valley cultural center, and the Chicago-based, Youth Struggling for Survival, an organization for at-risk youth.
The Regalados are working with the arts district, local media and schools to promote the event. They are expecting about 100 to 200 people to show up for the reading. Regalado hopes that Harbor Area residents will invite the poet laureate to come back. He and his wife also would like to have similar events at her coffee shop.
“We would like to think that this won’t be his last time in the area,” Regalado said. “We are hoping that this place is a place where people to come, be inspired, maybe get a little knowledge and go out and create some change. Whatever that change might be.”
More details about Luis Rodriguez can be found at www.luisjrodriguez.com.
Time: 2 p.m. May 21
Details: (424) 477-5609
Venue: Sirens Java and Tea, 356 W. 7th St., San Pedro