“Is it talking dirty if you’re just listening? What you see in the picture is me. Passenger Front seat. Cinder block wall behind me. I mailed it to my Romanian pen pal, me making a sexy face in my friend’s Falcon. To my right is the dustless dashboard. In the backseat is my older friend Junior. Give me a sexy look, he says. He’s taking a picture for my pen pal but it’s really for him. It’s also for me. For my other friend who’s driving. My sexy hair looks like this: a ponytail on top of my head, wavy brown cascading over to the side of my face. In my denim jacket and white button up, the other thing that sizzles is my plaid flannel skirt, one my mother made. Her hands lined my hem. The driver rolls carefully down my alley. Me, trying out my sexy look and he’s looking too. We enjoy it, watching me try. And I enjoy trying.”
Where else are you going to see a Latinx Bob Ross in huaraches this weekend? And naturally, Beto RosSela (see what he did there?) will be painting pajaritos on a virtual riverbed. You can join Beto and dozens of other residents and artists as they perform this weekend for the third-annual Southeast L.A. River Arts Festival held entirely online.
The first art walk I covered in the Southeast was in 2014. On the corner of Atlantic and Gage in the City of Bell, the main stage stood proud in front of a spray-painted mural. The participating businesses included used car lots, a vintage thrift shop and a paleteria, among others. They featured grassroots organizations like Chicas Rockeras, visual art and DJs who could be seen up Atlantic all the way to Slauson. In the last three years, it’s moved from the street into the actual floor of the L.A. riverbed in South Gate, and last year, attracted nearly 8,000 visitors. Due to the pandemic, festival attendants will have to “walk around” and view art, watch modern dance and hear spoken word poetry via pre-recorded performances on the web instead.
The sign illuminates eight lanes of the neighboring 710 Freeway. In contrast to the new monument to luxury, the gritty Long Beach Freeway leads into the post-industrial heart of Southeast Los Angeles. Thousands of eighteen-wheelers trucking in the majority of exports into the United States from the Pacific Rim make this the busiest highway with the most accidents in the state. The transported goods that make their way into every store across the country all pass by the Bicycle Club and the thousands of families who live along it.
“In the parking lot of the Food-4-Less supermarket on the corner of Atlantic and Slauson, two high school students stood near the sliding door entrance registering people to vote. The young women wore jeans and T-shirts (Garcia was probably in a Grateful Dead shirt), their hair gathered loosely into ponytails. Their temples beaded with sweat, both because of the weather and from asking complete strangers to sign state-issued documents.
They spoke to people in Spanish because that’s what they grew up speaking to their parents and neighbors. One of those teenagers was a then-sixteen-year old Assemblymember Garcia, a junior at the time. The other student was me.”
After five presidents and three recessions, El Pescador seafood restaurants are more popular than ever. Read my new essay on immigrant hustle, family lineage, and the multiple dazzling skills of restaurateurs in southeast LA. Gracias!
As part of an ongoing project about the importance of the 710 corridor in Los Angeles, Vickie Vertiz contributed an article about the arts, teachers, and artists in Southeast Los Angeles, where she grew up. She names a few writers who also document the lives of the people in Southeast L.A., such as Steve Gutierrez’s short stories in Live from Fresno y Los and in Hector Tobar’s book, Translation Nation.
While the 710 freeway is considered the backbone of commerce in Southern California, the Southeast L.A. region is rich with writers, visual artists, amazing public school teachers, and community art activists. Read the article here.