The People Issue

Page 1

Latina artist creates vibrant art to connect her person and culture

The People Issue

Jornalera takes care of family through her hard work

Emerging to the Light: The Story of Justine Gaytan

Father of AB 540 student seeks to give daughter a better life

Winter 2012 | Vol. 42 Issue 2

contents tarado del mes 4 | January Alabama 4 | February UCLA Store

10| the AB 540 parent Father of AB 540 student seeks to give daughter a better life

4 | March Pi Beta Phi

12| the latina artist Latina

sigan luchando

artist creates vibrant art to connect her person and culture

15 | From Within Contributions from our incarcerated readers

LaGENTEdotORG 22 | Audio Preview: A Life Story Recounted A gentista shares his grandfater’s biography 22 | Video Preview: Noche de Cultura Bringing Back an Annual Tradition

5| Letter from Grupo

14| the mixed student Mixed ethnic students struggle against discrimination

18| a UCLA student The

8| the female day laborer

going to UCLA 7| UCLA Community

keeper’s special bond with her employers helps her through the struggles of life ABOUT THE COVER

“Borders and Struggles.” Contributed by artist Ana Ruth Castillo.

making a living 16| Not Just Another Tire Shop Family business continues 17 | doing well despite recession

documented man makes a living recycling bottles in Westwood

overcoming obstacles 20| Cleaning up his Act Young man wishes to remain free for his family

20| The Land Without

2 LA GENTE winter 2012

11 |

Comes Together in SAC 7| “Si no van a la escuela van acabar como burros.”

16| One Man’s Trash is Another’s Treasure Un-

By Long Beach artist Jose Loza. Inspired by depression era artwork, he created this issue’s us“Chalchiutlicue, Esposacover de Tlaloc.” ing Ruth an artCastillo. deco/futuristic By Ana A Los Angeles with a from geometric baseddesign artist with roots Guatemala. styled cityscape Inspired to reflect cultureofandLos ancescurrent try, Angeles the beauty and of thea natural world, student as she a modand UCLA the sacred feminine, paints on Tocanvas view to more Loza’s wallsel.and shareofand connect. or her to website contactat him, You work can visit visit

“Heart of Seasons.” Contributed by artist Ana Ruth Castillo.

Latina employee learning English to be a part UCLA campus community Story of Justine Gaytan

9| the houskeeper House-


15| the english learner

Folklórico de UCLA Jornalera takes care of family through her hard work and optimism

featured art

Suffering? Unaccompanied youth travels to US in hopes of a better life La Gente Lingo LaGENTEdotORG online preview

sigan luchando for those inside tarado del mes the not-so-hot tamale

“Galactic Golden Eagle.” Contributed by artist Ana Ruth Castillo.

OUR MISSION: La Gente Newsmagazine is for the UCLA student interested in Latino issues. We want to represent the diversity of our culture and cultivate pride in our community. We’re a forum for conversation hoping to inspire readers to get involved and make their voices heard. Start a conversation! La Gente accepts outside submissions of all sorts for review and possible publication. Email with “Submission” in the subject line. Join the conversation! Comment on our articles online, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter. What should La Gente cover of the Latino student community? #estudiante Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the La Gente editorial board. All others columns, cartoons, and letters represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial board. The UCLA communications board has a media grievance procedure for resolving grievances against any of its media. For a copy of the complete procedure contact student media at 310.825.2787. Copyright 2011 ASUCLA Communications Board


Letter from the Editor People’s stories. Underneath the large encompassing umbrella


of La Gente are just stories determined by a set of students from year to year, writing the narrative of the Latina/o student mentality at UCLA.


For this issue, the staff have each interviewed someone to shade in nuances of archetype figures we encounter. A range of experiences that include immigration, building a new life, working to achieving dreams, as well as working through the obstacles that accompany it all.

MANAGING ASSISTANT Helen Alonzo COPY EDITORS Helen Alonzo Melissa Merrill Haidee Pacheco Samuel Temblador STAFF Armando Bustos Jr. Magaly Chavez Diana Cuevas Jacqueline Espinoza Gabriela Garcia Brenda Gutierrez Patty G. Jeanelle Horcasitas Alma Huitron Monica Ponce de Leon Jacqueline Espinoza Aranzazu Medellin Michelle Moreno Blanca Munoz Charlene Unzeuta Maria Teresa Armendariz Guerra DESIGN Helga Salinas GRAPHICS & ILLUSTRATIONS Jonthan Horcasitas PHOTOGRAPHERS Melissa Merrill Maria Revalcaba STUDENT MEDIA DIRECTOR Arvli Ward STUDENT MEDIA ADVISER Amy Emmert Community profiles, arts, culture and politics for the Latino college student

Artwork is once again featured in this print issue, all contributed by Ana Ruth Castillo (who also contributed the art below). The three full page pieces are “Heart of Seasons,” “Borders and Struggles,” and “Galactic Golden Eagle.” In between the artist’s intent and interpretation, the art juxtaposed to the articles highlight three themes. The heart representing passion or love as shown by an Latina artist’s drive to connect her existence to her heritage of her parent’s land through art. Borders and struggles representing the paths of transition to a new home through language and education. The eagle representing determination in the face of the seemingly overwhelming economy and state.

However, it seems that all these stories carry the layers of lingering impressions of transnational connection that drives the passion to plant prosperous roots for family and future. Admittedly, these profiles only offer one of many lives possibly represented, an acknowledgement that is important as stereotypes still permeate even in diverse spaces such as UCLA as shown by this issue’s Tarados del Mes and the hate crime that occurr on a UCLA student’s apartment door. La Gente always welcomes the readers’ contributions and point of views to further enrich the publication, as it also serves as a moment’s snapshot record of the UCLA Latino community. Enjoy!

118 Kerckhoff Hall 308 Westwood Plaza Los Angeles, CA 90024 310.825.9836 Facebook: La Gente Newsmagazine This magazine was made possible with the support of Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, online at

Helga L. Salinas

Campus Progress works to help young people — advocates, activists, journalists, artists — make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at

winter 2012 LA GENTE 3

tarado del mes



labama has finally solved its “immigration problem” thanks to the policy-crafting genius of Kris Kobach. I applaud Kobach’s initiatives for creating more job opportunities for American workers, who were so eager to fill the immense void left behind by undocumented immigrants for a whole two weeks. These pesky immigrant workers were 100% guilty of being 860% more productive than the Americans, and as for patriotism, well you can’t really quantify the patriotism of an individual who places their faith in a foreign country and gives it every fiber of their being just to earn the right to belong to it. But you can quantify blood, sweat and tears that the immigrants south of the border have been giving to America at an exponential rate for decades. Indeed, Kobach has done a great service for Alabama business and the economic sphere. Through E-verify, an online database used

UCLA Store


to check the status of immigrants, Alabama employers and industries will be “protected” from inadvertently hiring undocumented immigrants and the un-American vices of the immigrant work ethic. I mean, whatever happened to the Protestant work ethic? From Kobach’s perspective, these immigrants just don’t seem capable of adopting traditional American values. So while Alabama’s agricultural industry continues to depend on the Protestant work ethic as the fields rot, the economy loses millions in taxes from immigrants, and the state’s GDP is projected to lose from 2.3 to 10.8 billion dollars, the immigrants affected by this law will never be able to understand the ingenuity behind Kobach’s grand economic vision for states like Arizona and Alabama. Kobach’s brilliance is on a whole other level, so perhaps no one ever will.

March: H

Pi Beta Phi


ola Fellow Bruins!

Want to bastardize the Latino culture? Well let me tell you just the right way to do it without thinking about it too hard. Through hosting a fundraising event for First Book, an organization that promotes literacy for children who cannot afford new books, Pi Beta Phi has completely outdone itself by stereotyping the Latino community. So here is their stereotypical agenda of the Latino community if you wish to follow…. First, make sure you make the title super legit. Ponle una palabra en Spanglish. Let’s see…let’s see…Oh yeah why not call it a Pi Beta Phiesta! Wuuh lets party and eat Mexican food! Puro Phiesta! No pero espérate métele más sazón. Put a Ranchero with his big mariachi hat and make sure he has a big bigote. Now make sure the Ranchero holds a Tapatío botella because let me tell you, Mexicanos love their chile. Bien picosito con sal y limón. But then don’t be rude and only

serve burritos with meat. Make sure you include an option for the vegetarians. Finally, the slogan has to be in Spanish. ¿A ver, A ver? Well duh, if you have the Ranchero, the bigote, and the sombrero just say, Ole! And if you are really trying to get your friends excited encourage them to bring a sombrero to be festive. Sale Vale! Nos vemos at Pi Beta Phiesta! As a Chicana Bruin, I was offended by the stereotypical language and images used to promote Mexican food. Soy la hija de Mexicanos who hold great pride in their Mexican cuisine. In my familia, food represents cultura. Every dish exerts a flavor so tasty that your mouth melts. A Pi Beta Phiesta!? Does your sorority promote Latino culture? Be self conscious of the images and stereotypical language you use and, not to mention, think about the offense you have created to your Latino community,

Your Fellow Latino Bruins!

Maria Teresa Armendariz Guerra


he UCLA campus store has taken to selling negative stereotypes as clothing wear. The student store in Ackerman recently held a sale in honor of Valentine’s Day, but the selection of sale shirts wasn’t so sweet. At $12.99, anyone can buy a shirt with the display of the iconic Mexican eagle-and-snake perched on a cactus paired with the words “Still Filthy.” On the shirt, the snake spews the name of the clothing company responsible for this offensive insinuation, Billabong. There are many parties involved that deserve to be held accountable. First, there’s the matter of Billabong’s purpose in creating a shirt that, whether intentionally or not, suggests an association of the Mexican flag emblem with the idea of being “filthy,” perpetuating the stereotype of the “dirty Mexican.” According to their website, the company created the shirt to promote a documentary about their surf team. Yet with a team consisting of mainly AngloAmerican males, the purpose for a t-shirt with a Mexican influence remains a mystery. But with over 600 stores internationally, the company has this shirt readily available for promotion of the Mexican derogatory term worldwide. The artist that originally produced the Mexican symbol is Santiago Uceda, an Oregon-based Peruvian-American who has done artwork for a website in support of the DREAM Act. In an email, Uceda explained that Billabong asked him “to create a t-shirt design using one of their taglines and it had to have a Latin theme.” He said it was understandable how Mexican students might get offended, but Uceda believes that censoring art in the fear of such would only weaken its meaning. “I am poking fun at the idea of governments creating these symbols and propaganda to try to create a sense of national pride when times are difficult.” Uceda ended the email with a sincere apology and a promise to be more mindful of tricky situations like this one. The majority of people on campus are not caught up on their surf-documentary knowledge, nor will they have a chance to ask Uceda about his artistic intentions in creating this piece. When Mexican and Latino students encounter this t-shirt, their initial interpretation won’t be that it is an artistic sociopolitical commentary or a reference to a sports team. The most common thought will be to interpret this shirt as another visual perpetuation of “the dirty Mexican” that continues to marginalize this population. Pepe Aguilar, a TA in the Chicana/o Studies department, commented on the issue: “This is the third time in my UCLA career that I see this exact t-shirt being sold. It seems like they put it away when we file complaints and a few years later put it back out. It’s definitely upsetting.” An urgent inquiry, then, is posed to the campus store: why has this shirt been allowed to sell on campus?

4 LA GENTE winter 2012

Estudiantes Letter from Grupo Folklórico de UCLA


n an effort for all to be aware that there was a successful Chicano/Latino population on university campuses in the 1960s, Folklorico groups began to form. It was also a way for them to have a part of home, culture and traditions, away from home. The first of these groups started here at UCLA. Professor Emilio Pulido-Huizar, the founder of the great Jaliscience folklorico group at Universidad de Guadalajara, established Grupo Folklórico de UCLA in 1966. Since then, the group has grown and flourished to consist of UCLA students, alumni, grad students, and community members beyond just Chicano/Latino students. The purpose of this group is primarily one of promoting and educating the UCLA community and the greater Los Angeles area about Mexican traditions and culture. This is done through music and dance. Each individual dance represents a region of Mexico and tells a story of its people, animals, daily life, and rituals as it is accompanied by the regional music. The members of the group don’t dance just for the sake of dancing; it is for the sake of cultural art.

Like us! Grupo Folklórico de UCLA Follow us! @GrupoDeUCLA Contact us at

Today, Grupo Folklórico extends out to the Los Angeles youth in order to promote higher education among minorities and show them that our raza is still present even at the most prestigious universities, encouraging them to strive to better themselves as well. Starting this academic school year, the group has a membership of over 50 students, community members, and graduate students. The largest membership it has ever had since its inception. Our motto is: “No experience necessary.” Our biggest struggle as a group, however, has been finding a space to dance. Every Tuesday and Thursday, folklórico members, without fail, dance to the beat of different regional songs at the McClure stage. The stage has served as a practice space for many years, but even this open space does not meet the need of such a large membership. The concrete does not allow for members to truly reach their full potential due to the risk of knee injuries. Using special dance shoes, similar to tap shoes, these zapatillas and botines have metal nails at the toe and heel of the bottom of the shoe. Concrete does not absorb the shock of a foot stomp as a wooden floor would. Aside from that, the lack of mirrors, which allow for one to witness his or her progress, are unavailable to us. The exception is the occasional Saturday practices when we book a room in the John Wooden Center, but even there we may not use our shoes because they may scratch the floors. Yet, once every other week does not suffice, even for the best dancers. We are currently hoping that the university provides us with a space to practice with mirrors, seeing that the majority of members are UCLA students, whose needs should be met in order to achieve their greatest potential. Even with these constraints, the love for dance and show must go on. Grupo Folklórico de UCLA’s primary goal is to perform at our annual Royce Hall performance, which takes place the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (this year, landing on May 27th at 7pm). Keeping true to our mission, we provide this educational and cultural show to UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community at a world-renowned theater free of charge. Yet ironically, this becomes harder with budget cuts as things begin to cost more. Although we are a student group, the cost to put on the show this year has come to be about $18,000, which the studentrun group simply does not have at hand. Some funding is provided from the school, but not enough. As a non-profit organization, we fundraise and reach out to the community in hope of being sponsored in order to continue these wonderful traditions. We make as much an effort as possible, through performing on campus, by outreaching to youth and by being a home away from home for many members. Despite the obstacles we must overcome, we strive to keep this 45-year-old tradition and organization alive. winter 2012 LA GENTE 5


going to UCLA

“Si no van a la escuela van acabar como burros.”

UCLA Community Comes Together in SAC

Patty G.

Brenda Gutierrez


ascuala Ramirez made it across the border at the age of twentyseven with a coyote in 1987. In Salinas, she worked as a babysitter for three children where she cooked and cleaned. Ms. Ramirez earned fifty dollars a week for her assistance and Sundays were her only days off. After a year of helping another family, she came to Los Angeles. She only completed elementary school because her family didn’t have money for her to proceed to the next level in school, “Tenia que ayudar a la familia,” she said. Ms. Ramirez is now working at minimum wage and has five children to look after. Her

school. Ms. Ramirez is not the type of mother who showed affection. She wanted to show her children reality. “Todo tiene riesgos, lo bueno y lo malo,” she would say. She believed that they have to learn on their own and go with the flow, like learning how to swim. “Tienen que dejar [a] sus hijos que vallan y que vengan.” In September 2009, Ms. Ramirez went back to Mexico to try to get her Green Card. During that time her family was living under limitations. Only their father was home, but he had to work and was barely around. Her third child, Geena, cooked for

When she spoke about her struggle for her Green Card, she tied in her children’s struggle to help themselves. “Tienes que luchar,” she would say, “porque yo de donde.” second child, Brenda, graduated salutatorian of her class and is currently attending UCLA. When Brenda was only in preschool, Ms. Ramirez took her on a field trip to UCLA. Since then, Brenda said that she too wanted to to go there. She liked to read and write and her teachers were always pleasant to have her. Ms. Ramirez always knew her little girl was going succeed. “Estoy muy orgullosa de Michelle y todo lo a logrado,” one of Brenda’s successes is being part of the La Gente staff. Although Ms. Ramirez didn’t get much education, she loved to read and watch movies, especially about history. She helped her daughter Brenda in her AP History classes and others as well. She did everything she could to help her children do well in school, “Si no van a la escuela van acabar como burros.” Though it may have been hard, Ms. Ramirez provided a computer with Internet, school supplies, and transportation to

her brothers and sisters. There wasn’t much to eat except mole and rice with torillas but they still made it through. Ms. Ramirez would always talk to them about school and made sure they never missed a day. Her kids would walk their mother through their whole day because they all missed her. Brenda would say, “Tienes que venir, nos haces falta.” Tears fell down her face as Ms. Ramirez recalled this. When she called to inform that she wasn’t getting her Green Card in November, Brenda broke out in tears. Ms. Ramirez then stayed another two months in Mexico. They gave her a Green Card on February 4, 2010 and returned home. As Ms. Ramirez talked about her interest in reading, she mentioned how she helped her daughter in school, tying her struggle for her Green Card with her children’s struggle to help themselves. “Tienes que luchar,” she would say, “porque yo de donde.”


he University of California of Los Angeles, founded in 1919, started with 4 buildings. Today, it has grown to 163 buildings, with thousands of workers and students. The Students Activities Center (SAC) is located at the bottom of Jans steps in Wilson Plaza. For students, it serves an oasis from the monotonous lectures. Inside SAC, you can find Olga Lopez working from 5 pm until 2 am on a regular basis. Olga arrived to the United States in 1974. A friend recommended the job to her and has now worked at UCLA for five years. Olga sees her job as a great blessing. She cares about the students and worries about them as if they were her children. Similar to her, the students also feel a very strong bond with her. “Los estudiantes son una belleza (the students are a beauty),” she said while looking around with a smile on her face.

science and Asian American studies student. CPO aspires to encourage students from underserved communities to pursue higher education, graduate and give back to their communities. “We focus on the needs of all students, the major one is making the students feel they are part of a community. The different projects offer different components that reach this goal,” said Emilio Hernandez, a fifthyear year transfer, Chicana/o studies student and Campus Retention Committee chair. These students come from different backgrounds and have different needs. They all help one another by working in unison in CPO. “On campus we work together to create a community, we also do wonderful work outside the university,” said Tep. The CPO encourages students to learn about different cultures and the

“She is like a little piece of home to me, she always gives me advice and tells me things my mother would say.” Olga has taken time to get to know these students and grow to love them. One of her wishes is to win the lottery “para ayudar a los estudiantes (to help the students).” “She is like a little piece of home to me, she always gives me advice and tells me things my mother would say,” said Cynthia Montano, first-year psychology student at UCLA. One of the offices she cleans is the UCLA Community Programs Office (CPO). It is a student-run department that works towards helping communities within Southern California. “What is beautiful about CPO is that it takes advantage of students and develops them into leaders. It is the greatest place to really develop leaders,” said Layhearn Tep, a fourth-year political

issues that exist within the different communities. Through this, the students will see that although their communities are different, they sometimes face the same issues. “I have learned about a lot of people from different backgrounds, it has given me different perspectives about different cultures,” says Katherine Herrera, first-year international development studies student. SAC, CPO, workers like Olga, and students are all irreplaceable components to this amazing chain of life within the community of UCLA. This chain will hopefully produce amazing leaders that will take what they have experienced and learned back to their communities and make change. They will be the leaders who will encourage youth to become future leaders of their communities. winter 2012 LA GENTE 7

the female day laborer

Not Just a Man’s Job Jornalera takes care of family through her hard work and optimism Michelle Moreno


very day Maria Elena Garcia enters the Community Job Center in downtown Los Angeles that is filled with male day laborers. She sits and waits for a job as she watches another man get picked. The sign outside the center that reads “Hire Day Laborers and Household Workers” makes Garcia reflect on the journey that brought her here four years ago from Jalisco, Mexico. Seeing no opportunity for work and desiring to provide her son with a thriving future, Garcia parted from her old life and set out on a solitary trip to the North.

At the downtown center she spends hours waiting for a job. If she is offered one, she accepts it. If she does not, she begins making and distributing business cards with the domestic services she offers. Upon her arrival, she found assimilation into the host society extremely difficult. Missing her son and unable to find a stable job, she quickly slipped into a debilitating state of depression, which was also triggered by a stagnant cycle of searching but not finding. “I hadn’t been here even one month when I grew tired of this country’s persistent rejection. I couldn’t stand the loneliness, so I decided to bring my son over here.” With her son in the states, Garcia had a even greater need to find stable employment. Although she had a steady job for some time and was providing for her son and her family, she unexpectedly got laid off. As a result, she was forced to move out of the room she was renting and into the living room of an apartment. When asked to describe a regular day in her life she begins, “I wake up, thank God for another day, I feed my son, send him to school, and walk to the center. I spend most of my day there.” At the downtown center she spends hours waiting for a job. If she is offered one, she accepts it. If she does not, she begins making and distributing business cards with the domestic services she offers. As one of the few women who attend this center, Garcia seems almost desensitized to being the only female presence there. Upon being asked if she feels out of place, Garcia responds, “No, the moment I step here, I forget that I am a woman.” More than just putting aside her identity as a woman and assuming the identity of a day laborer, Garcia also becomes male day laborers’ competition for work. When asked if she would perform a man’s job, without hesitating she responds, “Yes.” As for the differences between jornalero men and women, Garcia is very clear in emphasizing her belief that women have an overall advantage over men. “We are charismatic; we can adapt better to situations, and can perform a greater array of domestic jobs,” she says. Despite her certainty in the female advantage, she also expresses reservations about potential disadvantages. The greatest of these is the position of subordination in which women are often put. Because this is a male-dominated environment, women mostly interact with men. Often, a woman is offered a job by a male, meets him at their agreed location, and quickly discovers that what she is being offered is in fact a different and morally degrading domestic job. Another common situation is when housekeepers become victims of abuse 8 LA GENTE winter 2012


by the male of the household. Their fear of deportation combined with their need for money forces many of these women to allow this abuse to continue for long periods of time. Whether it is verbal or physical abuse, it ultimately transcends into psychological abuse, driving them into a state of constant fear, anxiety, and disgust. It is experiences like these that shake the resolute faith of jornalero women like Maria Elena. “Things are really dangerous here now. Almost like Mexico, but without your family to support and look out for you,” she says. In regards to where she sees herself in five years she says, “In Mexico, in my home. I’m tired of being alone here. I want to be with my family.” If given the opportunity to do this again, she “would think twice now that (she) has seen the discrimination, abuse, and impossibility of assimilation.” Despite her desire to return to Mexico, Maria Elena embraces life every day. She realizes that she has a responsibility here: “These things scare me, but they do not stop me from taking any jobs. I have a responsibility to my son.” Indeed, it is God, her son, her family, and her own positivity which keeps her motivated. “The dissolution I feel after getting a door slammed in my face is hard. But, the dissolution I feel after realizing that I am an invisible burden to this society is unbearable.” With saddened eyes that reveal her sorrow that illuminate her face, Maria continues, “But even if I have to do it with tears in my eyes, I force myself to stay positive and be thankful for the things I have and the things I don’t.”

the housekeeper

Offering More than Support Housekeeper’s special bond with her employers helps her through the struggles of life Charlene Unzueta


riting a story about a housekeeper, I believed that I was writing about an invisible person who is normally ignored. For Bennie Herrera, her life was intertwined with her employers. “La manera como soy, posiblemente me tienen confianza, mas que cualquier housekeeper,” she said. Bennie came because of her employer Amelia. Bennie worked for Amelia, in Peru, by taking care of her three children, and then sold clothes at Amelia’s boutique. One day Amelia asked Bennie to come to the US with her and she accepted. She came to the United States from Lima, Peru when she was 20 years old. When Bennie got to the US with Amelia and her family, the pleasant working environment changed. Amelia’s friends saw how well she treated Bennie and soon people started advising her to change. Amelia began to say that she would steal and she would not let Bennie leave the house. With the help of her neighbors, Bennie was able to leave Amelia’s em-

Writing a story about a housekeeper, I believed that I was writing about an invisible person who is normally ignored. For Bennie Herrera, her life was intertwined with her employers. ployment to begin her path towards working in convalescent homes and cleaning homes. At one of the convalescent homes, she was introduced to Barney Industrial Company. Barney Industrial Company gave her two houses to clean. She was 25 years old when she began to train to clean houses. John, one of the managers, taught her how to run her own business of cleaning houses. She then put an ad in a Pasadena newspaper to find homes. People started to call Bennie, and she was now self-employed, setting her own prices, making more money, and having a flexible schedule. “Me relajo. Puedo cantar, puedo hablar con Dios, puedo pensar,” she said. It is more than a job; it allows time for herself. From 1996 to 2001, Bennie went through a divorce, which took up a lot of her time and money. Her ex-husband tried to provoke her employers to fire her and even told the judge that she worked too much and did not have time for their kids. The judge made her choose between her business and her kids. She chose her kids. Despite her ex-husband’s efforts, there were three households who remained by Bennie and these are the three that have meant the most to Bennie; that of Mrs. Rives, Judi, and Dr. Lavine. “Estas tres no creyeron en el,” says Bennie. They all called her on the first day that her ad ran in the newspaper and they are the ones who have continued to be by Bennie’s side. “Con el cariño de ellos, no me he sentido sola,” said Bennie. For the past five years, she has been Mrs. Rives’ personal caregiver. She is the one person Bennie works with everyday, while Bennie balances cleaning houses four days a week and working at convalescent homes the other three days of the week. Their close relationship grew when Bennie was there to console Mrs. Rives for the death of her two sons and, later, the death of her husband. She would be the person Mrs. Rives could cry to, while also making sure Mrs. Rives did not forget to eat. Bennie remembers them crying together and


Bennie Herrera at her El Monte home.

holding each other to get through each death. Mrs. Rives’ daughter, Nancy, has even told Bennie that it is because of her that Mrs. Rives is still alive. Just as Bennie was there to console Mrs. Rives, Mrs. Rives and her other employers were by Bennie’s side when she broke her wrist last year. Judi stood by Bennie throughout her whole divorce and would try to take care of Bennie as much as she could. She gave Bennie furniture, plates, clothes, and other necessities. Bennie remembers that Judi called her when she went to the market just to ask if there was anything Bennie needed. “Ella fue una persona especial, se preocupaba de mi ropa, se preocupaba de mis niños, y se preocupaba si tenia comida en la casa,” said Bennie. At one point Judi moved to Palm Springs. Bennie drove the distance to continue to work for Judi. While Bennie no longer cleans Judi’s home, they still have a very close relationship. In just talking about Judi, Bennie is reminded that she needs to call her to catch up. Dr. Lavine was also a household where Bennie transitioned from housekeeper to caregiver. Bennie would arrive at the house, and instead of cleaning as soon as she got there, Dr. Lavine invited Bennie to sit down and have breakfast with the family. Dr. Lavine would even make Bennie lunch by buying Bennie’s favorite things like turkey, tuna, muffins, Diet Seven-Up, and bananas. Bennie remembers Dr. Lavine, “¿Que patrona da eso? Ella se preocupaba que yo desayunara y que yo lonchara. Y cuando no me hizía comida, me daba diez dolares y me decia, ‘you promise honey that you’ll stop and get lunch.’” Bennie took care of Dr. Lavine until the day she passed away. Just as many people might believe there is disconnect between the employer and the employee, Bennie realizes that her relationships have been special. “No las veo como extrañas personas.” Her relationships tell a different story than just the one of an employee working for a paycheck. “Mas que todo me miran como familia y no me tratan como housekeeper o como una empleada.” winter 2012 LA GENTE 9

the AB 540 parent

Working Hard for His Daughter’s Dreams Father of AB 540 student seeks to give daughter a better life Blanca Munoz


ust outside the where he works in love,” said Becerra. top schools in the state, does he feel the mid-city area, Gerardo Becerra Upon arriving in the US, Becerra like his dream of a better life has anxiously waits to buy his coffee at was faced with the reality of livbeen fulfilled? He smiles and rea parked food truck. His work-day ing in a capitalist nation. One must sponds, “Pues en parte si [well, in begins at 4 a.m. and usually ends work very hard, in the presence of a part yes].” twelve to thirteen hours later. Becerra language barrier no less, in order to “There are things out of my is a family man who enjoys spending survive. Finding a job was difficult. control,” reiterated Becerra, like his time with his four children; however, Him and his wife thought about daughter’s legal status or his own lately he has spent more time at work returning home to Mexico to try to permanent status here in the US. than at home. His oldest daughter, make a living there; however, a few “Making ends meet has become so 19-year-old Denise, is an AB 540 months after arriving to the US, his difficult and now there is such a student who was admitted to Califor- wife Norma became pregnant, and strong anti-immigrant sentiment nia State University, Long Beach last they decided to wait until after the that you just don’t know anymore. It fall, causing a strain on the family’s birth of the child. After 17 years, feels like we can get kicked out any income. “My co-workers, and my they now formed a life here, a home day.” immediate boss know that I need to they can’t simply renounce. “I came As an AB 540 parent, Becerra come up with around $4,000 every here for myself, to find a better life, faces many challenges. He wishes to semester give his daughter to put necessary tools “Seguir Adelante,” said Becerra, a phrase he is known for. the Denise to succeed in life; He believes in moving forward to work hard for his chil- however, the unrethrough school, liability of his ledren’s dreams, which are now his own. so they gal status prevent help out him from fully by trading their days off with me, and I stayed here for my children. I doing so. He wishes he could have or letting me work overtime,” said want to see them succeed, to see that a better job, so he can make more Becerra. they live out this better life,” said money, educate himself, and help his As an AB 540 student, Denise Becerra. daughter in choosing the right path. does not receive any financial aid. She As the head of household, he feels “No puedo hacer mas por mi hija, [I is responsible for covering tuition obliged to provide for his daughcan’t do more for my daughter],” he and book costs for her education. ter’s education; however, he admits said. Commuting every day and living it is financially overwhelming. “It The biggest challenge is knowin the two-bedroom home with her feels like I am paying two houses. I ing that his daughter will have to parents helps the family save some have to take as much overtime as my work twice as much as any student money. boss is willing to offer me to make because of a decision he took years Becerra was born and raised in it through the month. Family and ago: migrating to a different country Jalisco, Mexico and migrated to the friends have been very supportive.” with different customs United States in 1994 with his wife His wife Norma does not work. that was not his home and daughter. He fled poverty with Instead, she takes care of the younger then, but has become the hopes of finding a better future in children at home who are all US-born his home now. el norte [the north]. He was persuad- citizens. They host family events to “There are days,” ed by a cousin to come and try his raise money for Denise. “My wife described Geluck in the US, only to find “that you makes tamales. Friends and family rardo, “when do earn more money here, but you help out by selling them. They try Denise gets sad also pay more bills.” to have Tamaleadas [tamale sales] because she can’t Not having finished high school once every month,” said Becerra. At do things that himself, he admits that sometimes work, he also raffles tequila bottles, her friends can it’s hard to help his daughter. How perfumes, movies, and anything that do like travel, can a parent guide his child through will help buy Denise that one very study abroad, work, something that is unknown to him? expensive textbook or her bus pass. drive, or simply vol“The best way to help is offering an Now that his daughter has the unteer at schools.” For incredible amount of support and opportunity of attending one of the the Becerras, “there is 10 LA GENTE winter 2012

always that fear in the back of our minds about what will happen once she gets through with school. If she will be recognized as a professional, if she will be able to work, to be what she is studying for, a teacher.” As much as he tries not to let his fears show in front of his daughter, these are things that he worries about. “Seguir Adelante,” said Becerra, a phrase he is known for. He believes in moving forward to work hard for his children’s dreams, which are now his own. “She is my first daughter; I came to this country for her. I wanted a better life for her and I will give her as much as I can,” affirmed Becerra.


winter 2012 LA GENTE 11

Connecting to Her Ancestors through Art Latina artist creates vibrant art to connect her person and culture Alma Huitron


rt hangs from the painted green walls in an apartment filled with paintbrushes and containing a canvas with a work in progress. In a small apartment near Echo Park, there lies bright paintings that have helped a young woman reconnect with her heritage. Ana Ruth Castillo was born in Los Angeles in 1982 to Guatemalan parents, economic refugees during the civil wars of the 1970s. She grew up in various parts of LA such as Inglewood, Southbay, and eventually

12 LA GENTE winter 2012

graduated high school in South Central. At six years old, she had the opportunity to visit Guatemala because of the access allowed by the government to the refugees. Her parents took Ana and her sister to visit the family members that still resided in the country. It was through those visits when she first realized the difficulties in relating to her parent’s country. “I was always considered gringa,” she says when

talking of her childhood visits. It was her first time she was introduced to poverty. Before then she didn’t know another world less privileged existed, fueling her desire to learn more about her parent’s native country. She became attracted to the trajes of Guatemalan’s indigenous villages. It was difficult to learn about the culture she was not part of, but loved since a young age. In the US, she was disheartened that there was never a space where she could learn more about her parents’ country. Her visits to Guatemala showed her there was another world, and she looked for its history, her ancestor’s heritage, but could never find it. Ana asked herself, “Where

the hell am I from?” That sense of displacement was a big push for Ana who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2006 with a degree in Latin American and Latino Studies. It was in college where she first took a chance in art. Ana and her friends began to have “art nights” by bringing different art supplies to paint for a fun night in on a Friday night. Soon creativity took over. She took art as a means to put onto canvas everything she had learned and felt about her culture. “How do you give continuity to everyone who came before you?” said Ana. Ana sees her paintings as a responsibility toward her culture and her ancestors. Through her most personal art pieces, called

the latina artist

“Public art is important,” said Ana, “(it) has that function to bring people in and public art should represent the people who live there.”

“My Ancestors Presente” (pictured below), Ana believes that she honors her ancestors for this space and time. Her sense of cultural displacement from it is a “big part of why I paint what I paint,” said Ana. “The more I paint the more I want to get better. At this point I have to get better.” Her art incorporates Guatemalan cultural myths like her painting “Ixel” depicting grandmother moon, or the common problem of searching for identities in a world with man-made borders shown in “Borders and Struggles”

(page 10). Her art is like a collage of everything that she associates with on a personal or cultural level to her parent’s homeland. Ana looks toward the future on how art can now allow her community to connect to their culture Ana is a strong supporter of the reviving the LA mural movement. In addition to taking part in the Restoration Project at the Great Wall of Los Angeles, she is also painting a mural in Xela, Guatemala, her mother’s hometown, at Café R.E.D. Café R.E.D. focuses on the arts as a way to support the local the community and its economy. She explains that whenever she is taking part in creating a mural, many people, especially the youth, come to help. “Public art is important,”

said Ana, “[it] has that function to bring people in and public art should represent the people who live there.” “As central Americans, my parents were the first generation to come to America and stay here,” said Ana. She believes it is important to create something for the next generation. She hopes a museum would be available for children so they could have a place that would teach them where they come from. She believes that this is the responsi-

bility of the Latino community, which she expresses through her art. She recently became a part of the Central American Writing Arts Collective in Los Angeles. It is a oneyear old collective where painters, writers, musicians, poets, and media makers of various generations come together to share their work. Ana’s vision is the same as the collectives: a space where artists and other members of the Central American community could teach history through art to the children of future generations. “I can not go back to practices that have become lost over time and conquest, but I can honor what I have learned and retained and put in canvas,” said Ana.


winter 2012 LA GENTE 13

the mixed student

Blurring the Lines Mixed ethnic students struggle against discrimination Jeanelle Horcasitas


hen an elderly woman walked into Supercuts that day, Raquel Alexander wasn’t expecting to be insulted simply for being herself, especially not at her job. “What ethnicity are you? Are you Indian?” “No, actually I am mixed. I am Black and Mexican.” “Ugh! Those Blacks and Mexicans need to stick to their own race and stop mixing with one another!” Stunned and grossly offended, Raquel complained to her manager, who ignored the racist comment and sent her to lunch. This moment has stuck with Raquel for years, and it is only one of the many times she has encountered this type of discrimination as a mixed individual. According to the US Census Bureau, the amount of people identifying with two races or more increased by 32% from 2000 to 2010. The nation’s mixed population is growing as more people identify with multiple ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, they may also experience the same discrimination that Raquel faced at her job. For some mixed people, it is easier to identify with just one race so as to avoid being judged, insulted, or scrutinized. Raquel is one of those victims who felt that she had to hide a part of who she is so as to avoid being an outcast. “I tell people that I am just Black because it is most people’s first impression of me,” she said. Raquel is an African and Mexican American female with her associate’s degree in social science. She stated that because she does not speak Spanish, she feels that she cannot truly identify with her Mexican roots. She cannot relate to her Mexican-half since she does not feel that she was exposed to this culture, especially the language. “It has limited me from more job opportunities,” she said. Yet, she believes “being mixed is a good thing because it means more diversity.” JONATHAN HORCASITAS 14 LA GENTE winter 2012

Mackenzie Rossi is a female Mexican and Caucasian, a second-year business economics student. “I tell people that I am ‘White,’ so as not to confuse people, or explain why or how I am mixed,” she said. Unlike Raquel, she was exposed to her Mexican culture, but given a negative view by her grandfather. “My grandpa (who emigrated to the US from Mexico) felt that I should identify solely with being White, especially when going to school, because he felt that in US society, it was not OK to be Mexican.” The schools she attended while growing up influenced her decision to identify with one race. “It wasn’t until high school I began to identify with both ethnicities. It’s a struggle to be mixed because other ethnicities don’t accept you; you feel like you don’t have a ‘home.’ ” Fortunately, Mackenzie also found being mixed to be a positive characteristic, “You are getting the best of both worlds!” Ivan Pena-Aparicio, a third-year human biology in society student, had a different perspective on being mixed in the US, especially because he was raised in Latin America. Ivan is Panamanian, Spanish, and Brazilian. Although he identifies with one race to

avoid confusion, he appreciates being mixed. “I embrace all of them and don’t necessarily choose one over the other, but I say Latino because it is an ethnicity that most people can recognize.” Originally from Latin America, Ivan realized that the perception of mixed people in the US differs significantly from the perceptions of those in Latin America. “In Latin America, it is more common to be mixed. It wasn’t until I came to the US that I realized people who were mixed were affected in a negative way because they felt they couldn’t fit in with the majority or the minority that they are mixed with.” Ivan feels that because he is not from the US, he doesn’t face the same struggle as those who were born mixed in America. “It is not that I’m mixed but that those from the US that are mixed aren’t okay with being that way.” For this reason, he co-founded the UCLA Mixed Student Union. An organization that focuses on multi-cultural dialogues which encourage people to become more open-minded and learn something new about someone else’s culture. “Being mixed is talking about mixed experiences, something that many of the students at UCLA share in common – that they may not identify as being mixed, but in many ways are.” These individuals have different views of what it means to be mixed and the struggles that go along with it. The Census Bureau has proven that there is an increase in the mixed population, which probably continue to grow in the future. Thus, it appears, as said by Raquel, “I want people to see me as both ethnicities, not just one.”

Did You Know: In 2000, a total of 6,826,228

people identified with at least two racial backgrounds. In 2010, numbers increased to 9,009,073. SOURCE: US Census Bureau

the english learner

SPELL-ing Success In Both Languages Latina employee learning to be a part UCLA campus community Maria Teresa Armendariz Guerra


t’s 5 am, around the time when most stu“When I first started out, tenía mucho miedo para dents who have procrastinated head for bed. hablar en Inglés y contestar sus preguntas que For Gloria, it’s time to wake up and head to work. me preguntaban [I was afraid to speak in English and answer their questions they would ask],” she She works a full eight-hour shift, cleaning the confessed, commenting on the miscommunication dorms of Hedrick Hall, but at noon she takes a that occurred between herself and students she break to learn English. encountered every day. Gloria is an employee for UCLA Housing and During the past four years, Gloria would Hospitality Services. She participates in Project avoid conversation with students who approached SPELL (Students for Progress in Employee Lanher, always due to a lack of confidence in English. guage Learning), a program on campus that offers Even the little thank-you notes some left at the English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring end of the year were difficult to understand. “I for employees to improve their English skills. A wanted to know what they said and answer them volunteer-based program in its second year, SPELL (the students) when they ask questions. I also need matches employees with student tutors, each pair to tell them when I have problems,” Gloria said, “I meeting twice a week for one-hour lessons. The knew that I had to speak better English.” Gloria’s employees range from those who have basic Enginsistent tone in making this statement, accompalish skills to those studying for their GED. SPELL nied by a head nod, shows she accepts the situais a Volunteer Center Initiative that welcomes any tion as more of a challenge rather than a looming non-native English speaker. obstacle. She believes that English is important SPELL produces many stories of success like because it is how workers, staff, and students Gloria’s. As her personal tutor, I have seen an iminteract with each other. mense Gloria im“The students, the RAs, are always very nice. They say, also encounprove‘Hi Gloria, how are you?’ I talk more English with them, ters the lanment guage proband they say, ‘You are doing very good with English!’” lem at home. in her English Her children, skills, as well as her confidence with the language. first generation Salvadoran-Americans, balance “ Cada oportunidad a aprender es bueno [every both languages. Yet, with her grandchildren, opportunity to learn is good],” Gloria explained English is more dominant. “My youngest nieta as the main reason she decided to participate in [granddaughter] speaks mostly English,” Gloria the program. She answers in the quiet yet serious said, “they learned it first, so they always answer voice of someone who gives constant advice from me in English even when I speak Spanish.” experience. Although sometimes serious, Gloria is While this occurs, Gloria said that she does mainly a cheery woman who enjoys describing her not want them to prefer one language, “I want to life experiences and family stories in comical ways. be able to speak to them in English and Spanish.” Originally from El Salvador, she arrived in the US She wants her grandchildren to speak both lanin the early 1990s and has since made it a top pri- guages fluently, emphasizing that “los dos lenguas ority, though a slow process, to learn English. son importantes igualmente [both languages As it is for a majority of immigrants, the fact are equally important].” This is the philosophy that LA has a prominent Spanish-speaking comthat Gloria carries to our weekly lessons: to learn munity is a major reason why becoming fluent English and set an example for her grandchildren. in English has been difficult for her. “At work, I At home, she sings the English alphabet with her try to speak English, but at home I speak mostly granddaughters to practice phonetics, and at least Spanish,” she said. She also mentioned that suonce a day she takes time to complete an English pervisors speak English to their employees, but crossword puzzle to build up vocabulary. many opt to direct their workers in their first On our first day together, Gloria was nerlanguage—Spanish. Bilingual managers make em- vous about practicing her speech skills because ployees comfortable in using mostly Spanish. of frustrating experiences in the past. These days Outside the work place, Gloria realized that she happily chats with any student, taking every learning English was crucial in order to commuopportunity to practice her English skills. “The nicate with UCLA staff and, especially, students. students, the RAs, are always very nice. They say,

‘Hi Gloria, how are you?’ I talk more English with them, and they say, ‘You are doing very good with English!’ ” Encouragement from students and family is what influences Gloria to continue improving each quarter. Her face grows into a wide smile as she says, “English provides more opportunidades y beneficios. Estoy contenta a aprender mas y mas [English provides more opportunities and benefits. I am happy to learn more and more]!”

Did You Know: There are currently 30 Adult Education centers in the city of Los Angeles

8 Adult Education centers within a 5-mile range of UCLA offer ESLadult courses

6 Adult Education centers within a 5-mile range of UCLA offer U.S. citizenship preparation classes

Adult Education programs in the city of LA serve approximately 347,000 adult ESL-learners and high school dropout students earning GED/high school credits

53% of working-age adults in the city

of LA are under-educated, the highest rate of any major metropolitan city in the U.S. LAUSD Education Board proposed in early January 2012 to eliminate

all 30 Adult Education schools in the LAUSD area due to budget constraints.

SOURCE:,, Los Angeles Workforce Literacy Project, Cara Onofre

Do you want more information on Project SPELL? Email Maria at winter 2012 LA GENTE 15

making a living

Not Just Another Tire Shop Family business continues doing well despite recession Gabriela Garcia he little tire shop on Baseline Road might just seem like one of many in Southern California, but Margarita Velasco owns this small shop in the city of San Bernardino. She started this small business with little economic help from her family. One month’s worth of paperwork later, she was able to begin getting it on its feet. Currently, this business is fully operated by Margarita and her husband. Her duties include “todo lo del papeleo….de hacer los pagos...firmar papeles...regresarlos...y a veces contestar el teléfono [everything concerning paperwork… making payments…signing papers…returning them…and answering the phone].” She is also in charge of the financial management of the shop. Her husband installs tires and selling auto parts. But it wasn’t always this way. When asked about how the economy has affected her family business, she said, “Cuando baja el trabajo es cuando descansamos a las dos personas


que estaban [when business was low, we laid off the two workers we had].” The machines and parts used in the shop are all bought with their own money, and the clientele is, according to Margarita, “de toda

With no work-related accidents, no dangers of closing down, and no barriers to Margarita being actively involved as a mother and wife in her household, this small business is truly a blessing for the Velasco family. clase [all types]”--not just Latino. Open Mondays through Saturdays from 8 am to 6 pm, and supporting a family of four, this little tire shop is described as “ muy bajo ni muy alto... en todo (incluyendo ganancias y clientela) {regular, not too low or too everything (including

clients and income)}.” “En un día malo, 15 (clientes) y en un día bueno, 25 [on a bad day, 15 (clients), and on a good day, 25],” says Margarita when asked about the average client visits per day. Margarita predicts the business will stay at the same pace in the near future. With no work-related accidents, no dangers of closing down, and no barriers for Margarita to be actively involved as a mother and wife, this small business is a blessing for the Velasco family. Many immigrants are forced to take jobs where the danger might not be worth the little money they work hard to earn. Most importantly, they aren’t able to pay as much attention as they would like to their family matters when they arrive home tired and hungry from a long day of difficult work. The Velasco family business is much more than what you get at first glance- a small building, perhaps easily overlooked on a busy street close to a supermercado and taqueria.

One Man’s Trash is Another’s Treasure Undocumented man makes a living recycling bottles in Westwood Jacqueline Espinoza

Going green” is for many Californians a way Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, there is no harm in recy- recyclables, earning a yearly income of $33,500. of life, but for Juan Lorenzo, it is his way to cling through others’ trash bins if it is on the curb Recycling is not a stable job. Since Juan since it is considered public property. However, it depends on UCLA students to obtain recyclables, make a living. For the past four years, the he is aware of the school schedule and makes sure 34-year-old undocumented Guatemalan native has is prohibited on private property. Juan is conscious of this, but sees it in a differto save money for the expected school breaks. He come to Westwood every day for 10 to 12 hour ent light, “Pues reciclo porque número uno, de ahí searches for jobs during breaks between quarters, shifts. He searches for aluminum cans, plastic vivo [I recycle because first of all it is how I make “E buscado trabajo en restuarantes…y en costura, water bottles, and glass containers from other a living].” It is his source of income to support pero no me dan trabajo porque están llenos [I have people’s trash. looked for work in restaurants Sometimes he works from and tailoring, but there is It is his source of income to support himself, his wife and his 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. or from 4 none because it is full].” p.m. to 3 a.m., or simply until two sons, as well as to send money to his family in Guatemala. For a time, he was hired to when there are no recyclables clean at a McDonald’s for three He is the only one in his family in the states. left to sort. He goes around hours a day. He would make the perimeter of Veteran, minimum wage of $8 an hour. Gayley, Kelton and Landfair himself, his wife and his two sons, as well as to Lorenzo realized he makes more money recycling “porque (las botellas son) más accesibles [because send money to his family in Guatemala. He is the instead of working at a fast-food restaurant. the bottles are more accessible].” only one in his family in the states. “Número dos, Like other immigrants, Juan came to the “No he tenido problemas porque saben que ahorramos para la ciudad, para usarlos nuevamente United States for the opportunity to achieve the es mi tienen confianza. Hasta me las [secondly, it helps the city to save and reuse it American Dream, but attaining money was not as tienen (las botellas) guardadas [I haven’t had prob- again],” said Juan. easy as he was told. He does not regret coming to lems because they know it is my job, they have But he is not alone. There are ten other men the US. The working conditions “es igual como faith in me. They even have the bottles saved for who also recycle for a living. They work with each si estuviera en mi país, pero llegué a conocer el me],” said Juan, referencing UCLA students who other instead of competing, tied with the common mundo un poco mejor [are the same as if I were in live around campus. motive of survival. my country, but at least I got to know the world a According to the 1988 case California v. Juan makes about $200 for a full truckload of little better].” 16 LA GENTE winter 2012


Emerging to the Light The Story of Justine Gaytan

Monica Ponce de Leon


ome say that people live up to their names. The meaning of Justine is “fair and upright.” Those adjectives embody her in the quest of her life. Justine Gaytan sits on the couch with a smile, generously offering me her sandwich. Her energy radiates excitement to tell her story. “I remember those things everyday,” she said, “it’s just nice when people ask me about it and I can talk about it.” Her long black hair, cute pink shirt, and the positive energy that she brought to her story reminded me of a striking lotus bud that grew from the swamp, struggling to the surface, where it found enough light to blossom into a flower. The swamp was Justine’s world before, filled with drugs, loneliness, depression, alcohol and disappointments; yet, the woman she is today doesn’t leave much of a trace of what she lived through. “Five years ago I never thought or could’ve even imagined or have the capability of imagining to be here at UCLA.” Justine grew up in the Los Angeles area, moving around several times during her childhood. She was the younger of two sisters. “I don’t think I got a lot of attention growing up,” she said. She watched her sister mature while she spent a lot of time by herself. Her loneliness developed into a feeling of not being accepted or loved. She looked for a solution for her emptiness. In middle school, her experiences started to create the swamp. At the age of 11, she was introduced to smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. “I just really liked that attention: being accepted by other people. Being down to, you know, do different things. Down to kick it, and down to hang out, and do all these crazy things.” “I grew up in a good suburban neighborhood and a good school. I was the one who brought the bad influence into my surroundings,” she contin18 LA GENTE winter 2012

ued, “I would end up in a mental hospital, or I would get suspended, so my grades would suffer, but if I came back to school, I was able to pick up and do really well.” She started taking pills that she would buy or steal from the stores. By sixth grade, she had run away from home “too many times to remember.” These addictions sent her to the psychiatric hospital, but even this did not stop her. At 12, Justine was introduced to harder drugs, such as meth, amphetamine, and cocaine. In seventh grade, she was finally expelled from school for bringing drugs and being under the influence. She faced probation and house arrest. Justine attended a continuation school in order to be able to pass middle school and she excelled. “I even got a most courageous award,” she chuckled, “but during all this time I did not stop taking drugs or drinking.” Transitioning from summer to high school was not what she expected. Still wanting to fill her emptiness, she decided to run away from home during her first semester. Justine ended up on Grove and Hollywood Blvd. “When I see that area, it makes me sad. It makes me sad because it reminds me of a lot of different memories, of the things I saw and things I did,” she reflected, “I think of the people that I knew and the situation that they were in, and I wonder if I’m going to see them (again). When I came back to Hollywood, I found out (about) this girl (I knew) who was raped and strangled. It is surreal to think that I was there, that I was living that life and now here I am. It seems like it was a dream but it’s not.” Missioner, Justine’s street name, tried to survive in the streets of Hollywood at only 14 years old by stealing and selling mp3 players or car parts from stores. She met her boyfriend in Hollywood

and then got adopted by a street family of drug dealers who would protect them. Passing through Hollywood, she remembers every corner, church, dirty stairwell, step or side of the road where she slept through the cold winter nights. She still is fascinated by the rooftops, remembering where she slept underneath a clear sky and the Hollywood lights. She also recounts how she got a foot condition from walking so much with a pair of Chucks. “When I would take off my socks, my skin would come right off with it. I just had the mentality to keep on going one step at a time no matter what.” Justine lived in the streets for three months until something triggered her to go back home: her sister’s birthday. “We were very close. I wanted to be there on her birthday. I was so selfish because I was gone all other holidays. I wasn’t there all the other times.” Justine called her family informing them that she was coming home that day. “I was nervous. I was afraid of what was going happen when I walked in the door and my mom waiting there for me.” Her family received her with open arms. They had been searching for her for months; her friend even showed her the posters they had posted. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but another friend and my sister said that I wasn’t the same…I haven’t been the same after that.” In 2007, Justine went back to high school. “It was an adjustment. People knew that I was missing, so walking down the hall people would stare at me, but I think I still wanted that lifestyle,” she said. Something needed to be planted for Justine to start growing into a flower. “I just wanted to be free,” she said, “A woman who worked in my high school, invited me to church one day, I didn’t

a UCLA student

“It is surreal to think that I was there, that I was living that life and now here I am. It seems like it was a dream but it’s not.”

think much of it, I was usually down for anything, so I thought I might as well go to church.” She met the leader of the teen ministry who asked her if she wanted to study the Bible. She agreed to it. During the studies, Justine continued her way of life, but something started to change. “I got a lot of support and encouragement from the women to change my life for the better, but a part of me still wanted the same life,” she continued, “but I did start to change. I always knew that if you are going to commit yourself to anything you have to want it for yourself first. I just remember crying, and I decided to commit myself to not do drugs or alcohol for me and for God and that’s it.” Attending church and studying the Bible motivated Justine to go through the chemical recovery program they offered. “It focused on God, and I really loved it because it helped me to see my powerlessness, that the main goal, to see your powerlessness over your usage,” she recalled. After chemical recovery and her Bible studies, Justine was able to grow out of the swamp and started reaching for the light at the surface. She continued going regularly to church and started living her life according to the Bible. “I started taking AP classes, I graduated with honors, I was a member of many clubs, and I lead our Bible discussions for the Truth Be Told Club,” she said smiling proudly. Justine applied to UCLA at her mentor’s suggestion and was accepted into the sociology program, for which she was given a standing ovation at her church. She joined an organization at UCLA called Simple Truth, which is a part of her church, the International Church of Christ, connecting her to other Bruins like her. Could this change have come in any other way? “No,” she giggled, “because a lot of people change, but from what I experienced, God is the only one that can really transform me in the way that He has. Everything that is in my heart, the

inner strength, the ability to persevere, healing, and the accomplishments I have attained, I wouldn’t even have had the opportunity without God.” Justine Gaytan reached the surface of the swamp and blossomed into a flower. “Everyone needs hope, and when you have hope, it gives you something to fight for so you have to keep your head up, so you can see the goal you are moving towards,” she said.


winter 2012 LA GENTE 19

overcoming obstacles

Cleaning up his Act

Young man wishes to remain free for his family Diana Cuevas rrested. Again. This is reflective of how institutional racism plays a role in the lives of Guero got a text from an unknown number asking to buy some youth; laws are stricter concerning drugs used by minorities. For example, weed. He called the number back, and it sounded like a white girl. He asked five grams of crack cocaine, which is mostly used by people of color, is his brother, “Should I slang to her?” equivalent to 500 grams of powder cocaine, which is primarily used by white “No, don’t do it dude,” the brother replied. people. Both amounts result in a minimum of 5 years of jail time, acccording His mom, who was listening, barged in, “No te vayas a meter en esas to ondas. Es una trampa! [Don’t get involved in those activities. It’s a trap!]” This institutional racism targets people of color and makes their struggle “Mom, don’t worry about it!” said Guero. to survive in low-income communities a cycle of repeated offenses. The A few hours later, the dreaded phone call from the Hollywood jail came. problem is compounded by the fact that there is a lack of support to establish Guero is one of the many young adults better lives for these people after the first This institutional racism targets people of that get caught up in the thug life. At 18 offense. years old, he stands six feet tall and sports color and makes their struggle to survive in lowGuero is determined to finish high a full-grown mustache. His lean and tall school after realizing education is a way income communities a cycle of repeated offenses. to a better life. To accomplish that, he stature exudes power, yet his warm smile and eyes can put one at ease. His confiasked his sisters for help. They host dence and demeanor are characteristics of someone with leadership potential. tutoring sessions every Tuesday night, work on projects, and make sure he is “Since my last arrest, I have been going to tutoring at my sister’s house not behind in any of his classes. every Tuesday, and I’m looking for a job to help my mom out a bit. But there Guero was released without bail due to his persistence to finish school, are no jobs,” said Guero as he leans forward in his seat with his elbows on his but he still has to go back for court. If he is convicted, it will make it even knees and hands wringing together. harder for Guero to get a job, perhaps leading him back into a life of crime. The easiest way to make some money is to sell marijuana to some friends. For Guero, this is when he will “clean up his act,” as he puts it. “I recent“I got a medical card, so I can go to the dispensary and buy some bud for my ly found out my girl is pregnant, and so I want to do what my dad didn’t do homies, just until I get a job, you know,” explained Guero. for me and my family; I want to be there for mine,” said Guero.


The Land Without Suffering?

Unaccompanied youth travels to US in hopes of a better life Magaly Chavez

J” is an unaccompanied immigrant youth who left his home at the age of 14 due to the threat that surrounded him, looking for a better future in a cold and unfamiliar place. At first glance, he seems like any other 17 year-old, wearing basketball shorts and a Lakers hat, texting during the interview. The wall that at first glance seemed like apathy, was soon noticeable to be a defense mechanism that hid the pain and struggle J underwent at such a young age. As soon as we were introduced the first thing I was told was his identity and location could not be published for the safety of J’s life. “Yo vengo huyendo por mi vida, es muy peligroso en El Salvador.” J left his home of El Salvador at the age of 14, when he found a job with the circus that was passing by his hometown. He ended up in Mexico where he worked for a few months, but could no longer afford to support himself as all of the friends he had come with had been deported. J saw the United States as his only option, his mind full of dreams of owning his own home and car. He would work in the US in whichever job he found. Just like many immigrants, he believed the US did not have poverty. “Pensaba que todos vivian en casas enormes en los Estados Unidos, que no habia pobresa. Podia empesar a trabajar, tener mi propia casa y carro. Ayudar a mi familia.” He had a sister who had offered to help him before so he decided to head his journey to the United States. “Aqui tenia mi hermana, ella me iba a hechar la mano. Pensaba voy a tener un lugar en donde de vivir.” J walked for 9 days, traveling on cargo trains from Chiapas, Mexico to the border of Arizona. The cargo trains themselves are extremely dangerous, 20 LA GENTE winter 2012

many die or lose a limb trying to climb on. “Pensaba en el peligro que iba a pasar, que me pudieran haber secuestrado, morirme al subirme al tren, o tambien la gente que se partia por mitad. Pero no tenia otra opcion.” J was eventually captured by border patrol in the Arizona border. As a minor, his sister who obtained residency was able to gain his custody. However, after a few months, his sister no longer wanted him to live with her, so he moved to a place for unaccompanied youth, where he currently lives. “Cuando yo estaba en Mexico todo era differente, ella (mi hermana) decia que me queria ayudar pero a la hora de lo hora no fue asi.” J realized that the life he thought he was going to have in the United States was not possible. He found himself in a home full of strangers, confused why he was there. Despite feeling lonely and missing home, he realized that he would never be able to return due to the violence that faces him there. J does continue to have one hope: to make a better future for himself. He counts on furthering his education, and eventually entering the police academy. However, he does not have a working visa, hindering his opportunities. “Yo me imaginaba los estados unidos bien chido, para que te miento pensaba que no habia tierra, puro granita verde. Pero estoy sufriendo igual que en Mexico, no sufro aqui por comida pero me siento solo, aqui no tengo a mi familia, pero nunca voy a poder a regresar al El Salvador.” J still sees America as the land where hopes and dreams come true, but unfortunately for J he lives in reality. Dedicated to my Father, who was an unaccompanied child immigrant. Without him, none of this would be possible.

sigan luchando

Reality Manuel Estrada | Kern Valley State Prison

A world filled of propaganda, how hard can it be to face the fact of reality? Blind sighted by ignorance and defeated by arrogance. I’m still here on my own in the silence wondering what’s really going on, trying to comprehend but can’t take it anymore… where did our conscience go? It’s what my common sense demands, stop refusing of what we are and hiding from what it is. Our pain comes to be someone else’s glory but fxxx-up is their theory! Once we find ourselves, the sky has no limits as we begin to listen to our destiny with fury. My individuality still fighting the controlling system is what’s keeping me alive. We’re strong enough to break the invisible shackles and pave our way to let our beliefs be known. Lost in a dark world for so long, it’s our time to let our minds feel the power and show the world that we have a mind of our own. We have been fighters, warriors and soldiers every single time the occasion knocked at our door, so let’s keep on fighting until we conquer our greatest enemy of them all as we earn that utmost respect our gente deserves. Let’s allow ourselves to see reality for what it is and learn to destroy that obstacle that has been holding us back for so long… Can you hear me scream the pain and sorrow running through my veins as I will never forget what we have been through, even after my last breath is long gone. Let’s open our eyes and stare at reality straight in the eye so we can push on through in the same direction with our greatest weapon of all times….Nuestras Mentes!

About Sigan Luchando: La Gente Newsmagazine began correspondence with prisoners with our first issue in 1971. Beginning with the April/May 1993 issue, we created a section to feature their letters as well as contributions that include short stories, poetry, and art.

Augie Carrion | Salinas Valley State Prison winter 2012 LA GENTE 21


Night of Cultura Prepares for the Big Show Bringing back an annual tradition Haidee Pacheco


ast time they impressed an audience, they left them wanting for more. This year, they are back and trying to bring something bigger to the stage! UCLA’s Night of Cultura holds auditions and prepares for their performance of the year! Night of Cultura is an “organization that strives to create a yearly theatre, dance, and music production that unites and empowers the Chicano/a & Latino/a community on campus,” as their constitution states. Each year they attempt to not only entertain their audience, but also to open their eyes to various issues that are important to the Latino community. Issues such as politics, gender, nationality, and history, are present in their yearly productions. Their first production in 2004 was a great success, and so was every following one. However, in 2008, because of the lack of funding their productions came to a halt. This changed in 2011, when several students decided to bring back the club. After realizing the success of their production last year, they decided to keep their yearly tradition going. Watch the video to see as UCLA’s Night of Cultura prepares for their 2012 show, and/or to learn more about the organization. And of course, you wouldn’t want to miss the show, so look for dates, times, and further information!

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A Life Story Recounted A gentista shares his grandfather’s biography Armando Bustos Jr. magine men in suits waiting in your boss’ office only to find out the FBI wants to ask you a few questions. Roberto Gonzalez, my grandfather, lived a difficult life like many of Mexicanos born in the 1940s. As I sit with him in his apartment, he emotionally recounts his childhood memories. His sentiments overwhelm him as he remembers the good and the bad of his memories and we have to stop the interview a few times for Roberto to regain his composure. His wife, Juana Gonzalez smiled, nodded her head as she put images to my Grandpa’s stories in her head. My grandpa describes his noviaszgo as the most beautiful woman in the world. But, he didn’t always like her. My grandpa decided to leave to the US in order to escape debt. His peers thought that his decision to cross the border with the entire family of four children was crazy. However my grandpa replied, “Si nos va bien, nos va bien a todos, y si nos va mal a todos, no va mal a todos (If it goes well, then it will go well for all of us, if it goes bad than it will go bad for all of us).” My grandpa was working at a furniture company. After ten years he went from sweeping to supervisor on a false social security number. After ten years he decided to file for a passport. Almost a year passed and no word on the status of his passport. One day at work the owner of the furniture company calls Roberto up to his office. A man flashes his badge and say he is under arrest. They load him into an unmarked black vehicle. Find out about Roberto’s experience with the FBI at


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22 LA GENTE winter 2012

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