Mayra Rangel- It’s Never Far From Over (short story)

Every time Magdalena went out to play in the big hills of City Terrace behind her house, her mother would tell her about the different trails she could take in order to reach the top of the hill. It was a whole new different world for Magdalena, every time she walked through the hills of City Terrace. The grass reaching Magdalena’s waist mimics the waves of the ocean moving side-to-side following the rhythm of the wind. It was a world where ladybugs were not different from one another and caterpillars turn into butterflies. The tall threes surrounding her reminded her of the open field and dirty roads of Fresnillo Zacatecas. In that moment 12-year-old Magdalena felt strong, fearless, and free. Her heart was full of joy and happiness. Magdalena was able to feel everything that surrounded her in the most spiritual way. The beauty of nature surrounding her made her feel immortal.

As Magdalena reflects back to her memories when she was younger, when everything seemed so perfect, Magdalena struggled to understand the differences between then and now and why her happiness seems to have watered down throughout the years. Every step Magdalena made through the streets of Boyle Heights created confusion and frustration for not understanding the world she lived in. As Magdalena walked through the streets of Cesar Chavez, First Street, and fourth Street she would see the multiracial diversity in her community. In that moment she smiled, the different colored patterns reminded her when she was 12 years old, walking through the different trails where the flowers would blossom without asking for permission. The life she knew once before, she struggled to understand the life she was living in the present moment. She would constantly ask herself, “Why is there such a need to have it all?” Why do we need to wear what is in fashion in order to be noticed or accepted?” The idea society has created in order to be subjected to happiness has been misguided. The idea of beauty has been imbedded in women’s minds, the need to wear make-up in order to fulfill the standard of beauty. The need to assimilate to the media’s standards of beauty without acknowledging one’s own, in the end, contradicts having the freedom of choice. As she continues to walk down the streets of Boyle Heights she begins to realize the disconnection people have amongst themselves and others. As she reflects into the past when she was 12 years old, Magdalena remembered the beauty and happiness she experienced when she was surrounded by nature’s beauty. How the indication of beauty for Magdalena was like a flower, simple and natural, without assimilating itself to anything. The open landscapes of City Terrace’s full of green grass decorated with different colors fulfilled her standard of beauty. In that moment Magdalena understood her own interpretation of beauty, which helped her understand who she was. As we get older we seem to get lost in translation of what we believe in and what others believe, depriving society from their own free will to make their own decision.

Throughout City Terrace, Magdalena continued hiking, trying to reach the top of the hill. As she continued to walk across the long stream of grass up into the hill, Magdalena started to notice the dandelions tying to reach out into the sun to absorb as much light as possible. Every time Magdalena would try to reach out to grab a dandelion the pedals would escape from her hand. The freedom that dandelions had to move freely without any limitations and embrace the beauty of nature was priceless for Magdalena. At a very young age, Magdalena started to understand the true meaning of life. As we get older things start to change and we start to lose track of what is real and what is not and we are unable to see things clearly in our lives.

Magdalena continued to walk down the street of Boyle Heights looking at the history that remained inside every single sign, mural, and building. Everything that surrounded her made her feel like she was at home. In that moment Magdalena decided to walk towards Mariachi Plaza where there was live music, food, and games. The ground felt unstable when Magdalena all of a sudden saw a police car across the street from Mariachi Plaza. The thoughts of ICE started to wonder in her head, unable to clear her mind of the possibilities of being caught. The idea of being undocumented made her feel scared, ashamed, and unaccepted. She never told anyone about her “illegal” status and her mother always told her to keep herself in the shadows where nobody could find her. The memories started flashing to her head of that one time when she was 12 years old playing in the beautiful hills of City Terrace were the city of East LA seem so perfect.  In that moment, Magdalena wished she were a dandelion in order to fly away up into the sky. Magdalena wished she had the power to go back in time, to that one place where Magdalena could feel free and fearless. The tension increased as she got closer and closer to Mariachi Plaza, her hands were getting sweaty and she could feel her feet getting heavier by the minute.

“How long will it take me to get to the top,” Magdalena would ask herself as she continued to hike up the hill. The trail to get to the top of the hill was very bumpy and unstable; it was difficult for Magdalena to keep her balance. Every time she kept moving forward she was farther away from the green grass, flowers, and the trees that gave meaning to her life. The only thing she could see in front of her were big bolded rocks. Rocks that seemed impossible to move or crossover made it difficult for Magdalena to continue her hike. In that moment Magdalena got scared of what would happen if she continued on her hike; would she be able to make it to the top of the hill?

Every single step she made was a step closer towards the Mariachi Plaza. Magdalena was able to hear the music, smell the buñuelos and taste the champurado in her mouth. As Magdalena continued to walk towards the dance floor she felt a warm sensation in the left side of her chest. The dance floor turned into the happiest place on earth as Magdalena closed her eyes and danced in circles trying to absorb everything around her. The fear she felt deep inside vanished, she felt the same, as the ladybugs did, equal among each other. Everyone around her moved the same way as she did, felt the same joy and happiness she felt. She felt like a caterpillar escaping from its cocoon, spreading its wings, and liberating itself and tuning into a beautiful beautify. Her spirit liberated itself from its hidden shadow that did not allow her to express and be herself.  In that moment flashbacks and memories stared appearing in her head. At the age of 5, Magdalena had the opportunity to visit Fresnillo Zacatecas Mexico, her hometown, the place she always felt strongly connected to, the place she always dreamed of, the world she missed being part of; she finally found it. The trail that Magdalena was on was the trail that led her to the top of the hill.

Javier Cabral -The Eastside made me and secured my sense of identity

I’m probably one of the most prideful Eastsiders that you’ll ever meet (see: the nostalgic joy and mix of emotions that overcome me every single damn time I drive/ride/walk down Whittier Boulevard, Lorena, Soto, Cesar Chavez, Atlantic and almost every single cross street crossing these historic streets). So much so, that I have dedicated my entire career as a professional writer to covering the Eastside, everything from defending it against outsiders labeling it a food desert on a national level to writing about the best taquero in the hood and my favorite topic, the 30+ year-old underground backyard raw punk rock scene that could have only happened in East Los Angeles.

And yet when asked this seemingly simple question, it stopped me right in my tracks. What do I love about the Eastside? Is it the sense of community? The fact that every other homie and stranger young and old that I see in the street will most likely have a similar story to mine and know all about “the struggle”? The fact that traffic isn’t nearly as bad as the Westside? Hell, all of the bomb mom-and-pop tortilleria shops where I can go and pick up a blob of the very same staple food that my ancestors ate 500 years ago (probably just as good too)? The fact that this community allowed my entrepreneurial father to build a successful business, which hence, gave me a shirt to wear over my back? The truth is, that I just love the Eastside for way too many reasons to list here. But what I do know is that all these reasons accumulate to me as an individual. The Eastside made me and secured my sense of identity. The Eastside allowed me to publish my first story for the LA Times on Boyle Heights nine years later. I’m not even going to get into the international stuff that I’m doing with the East LA backyard punk rock scene right now. Hint: the whole world from South Korea to Germany knows of our backyard awesomeness now.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go defend anonymous people posting comments taking shit about Al & Bea’s since –according to a national poll–is the best burrito in LA (soon to be recognized by all of U.S., watch by the way).

Elizabeth Robles- I’m grateful for the Eastside for making our world a better place

I’m originally from Long Beach. I’ve been working in the Eastside over a year now as a parent organizer with InnerCity Struggle. I met some parent leaders during my interview and since that day I continue to be impressed and impacted by the commitment and sacrifice of so many parents from the Eastside to create a better education and better opportunities for their own kids and all youth in their community. My experience has been that parents and adults in the Eastside care about their youth and take on the responsibility to ensure public institutions and our elected officials care too and do something about it. These are everyday folks fighting for justice and equity and creating historic changes in LAUSD and in their community that have positive impact city, county, and state-wide. I’m grateful for the Eastside for making our world a better place.

Erick Huerta- I love the Eastside because it cultivated an appreciation for the art that adorns our walls

I love the Eastside because it cultivated an appreciation for the art that adorns our walls. Growing up around murals of all kinds, I never had any real context as to who painted them, why, and what they meant. It was only in my formative years and through organizations like Self Help Graphics that I was able to appreciate our cities murals with a new found understanding.

There are severely limited resources in the Eastside when it comes to the arts. Growing up, murals like “El Corrido de Boyle Heights” by the Streetscapers and “The Advancements of Man” by Willie Herron III fascinated in what they depicted and the life they brought to those walls.

Depending what street you walk down, it can feel like waking through a living and breathing art gallery that is constantly changing. Whether murals are painted by establish artist or a new generation of artist that use aerosol paint, if the words and imagery uplift our communities and bring life to a wall that other wise would have been blank, why not have them there? To have our streets filled with beautiful art that mirrors our everyday lives.

Erick Huerta Eastside Love Pic

Joshua Hernandez- it took me leaving East LA for the east coast to really understand and love my community for what it was

I had always been proud and always the first to say i was born and raised in East LA. But it took me leaving East LA for the east coast to really understand and love my community for what it was. The Eastside is no doubt a vital part of our great city of the angles, that adds culture, and a sense of character that imbues me an identity that I hold so high and proud when I travel. The people, the food, the smells and the sounds of the Eastside with its rich history of rebellion, protest, chican@ rights and our passion for who and what we are! these are the things that not only made me love my community but made me love myself more then ever! What else can one ask besides living in LA but to live in the Eastside!

Jennifer Maldonado-Son Jarocho gave me the space to feel connected to El Sereno

I have lived in El Sereno since I was a little girl. I attended Sierra Vista Elementary, El Sereno Elementary, El Sereno Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School. All I knew was El Sereno.I love the food and the people. When my mom would take me and my friends to school, we would stop at El Aguila Bakery for champurrado and conchas. I remember the canela smell and its’ warmth during the cold mornings before class. The concha de vanila has been my favorite since then because it was always soft and ready to eat. I felt connected with my community because I was supporting a local business that has been opened for a long time.

I joined the Eastside Cafe when I was a senior. I was recruited by Hector Flores to join the Son Jarocho workshops for beginners. My first workshop was facilitated by Mapache Ruiz. He showed us the jarana, 8-string guitar, and begun to play. Once I heard the sound this instrument produced, I fell in love. I became dedicated to learning and determined to continue learning beyond the Eastside Cafe as well. I met great people from El Sereno and traveled with them to fandangos, gatherings of Son Jarocho musicians.

Once I left for college in San Diego I realized I loved the Eastside. At the university there was no Son Jarocho and a small representation of the Latin@ community. What El Sereno taught me was to remember and be proud of where you come from. I was connected to El Sereno is other ways though. I began to organize Son Jarocho Workshops at the Che Cafe with local San Diego Son Jarocho musicians. And when we traveled to fandangos I would see my friends from the Eastside Cafe. And we would spend hours playing Son Jarocho, platicando y chismeando. Son Jarocho gave me the space to feel connected to El Sereno.

Margarita Ramirez- I love the Eastside more than anything for keeping me grounded,informed,and inspired!

I grew up in Boyle Heights during the 50s and 60s – those days when we spent LOTS of time out on the streets of the neighborhood — playing with tadpoles by the LA River at Hazard Park; playing sports, being part of clubs and just hanging around Wabash Playground; catching a movie at the Brooklyn Theatre whenever we could muster the 25-cent admission; lots of picnics at Hollenbeck Park; peeking through services at the various Jewish synagogues; learning to grow our little plants properly from our Japanese neighbors; listening to ice-cream trucks, Helm’s Bakery van, or trains and boats near the stations. I absolutely LOVE its culture and the people. I had my first rude political awakening at the 1970 Chicano Moratorium at Laguna Park. I attended East LA College before I moved away to attend college in Northern California. Now, I think I love the Eastside more than anything for keeping me grounded, informed, and inspired!

*Margarita Ramirez is a Deputy Director at the Liberty Hill Foundation *