Kendrick Lamar once said, “Life is a traffic jam.”
Pedaling through the Davis Quad, as just one of over 32,000 students on this campus, I see traffic. But raised from the concrete of Los Angeles, whose cracks swallow life every day, I know a jam bigger than a busy intersection.
In a country deeply troubled by borders, Los Angeles is the pinnacle of turf warfare. Dubbed “Gang capital” of the nation, the streets of my city are claimed by over 45,000 “homies” in over 450 “hoods.”
The hood’s history goes back a long way, but a good starting point would be the “Zoot Suit Riots” of 1943, where LAPD sanctioned the beating of Latino and other youths by white sailors in a classic case of U.S. government-backed violence against “others.”
Almost 70 years later, war against “others” continues, but it’s not merely mindless “beef” between descendants of those beaten youths. In 2012, the descendants of those white sailors are still attacking black and brown skin, but in badges; sanctioned.
Because in L.A. the police are also a gang — the most brutal one, as they shed the most blood on L.A.’s concrete but with immunity. On July 22 for example, 35-year-old Alesia Thomas, a mother of two, was beaten to death despite already being handcuffed by police in South Los Angeles. In October, 3.2 million taxpayer dollars were awarded to Valerie Allen, a patient of bipolar disorder, for being shot three times in the chest, stomach and arm by police in East Hollywood.
In the former case, police reports initially omitted information about Thomas’ stomping. In the latter case, the shooter, officer Houlihan, is also responsible for fatally gunning down another L.A. citizen 30 years prior.
To this day, none of these cases have seen convictions. They are few of many.
But Los Angeles is more than just gangland. In 2012, with over 51,000 people without shelter, L.A. is also the homeless capital of the nation.
The cracks continue when the Vera Institute of Justice reveals “… the Los Angeles County jail is the largest jail in the United States, with approximately 171,000 people booked annually….”
Rest assured, those homies and homeless know it.
This shows that the Zoot Suit beatings never ended, they just changed forms.
And yet despite that, here I am.
After growing up in one of those same hoods, having gone to school with those same homies; after facing that same vicious LAPD with them, time and again, still I’m here with you.
I now share the Davis Quad with you, after a lifetime of sharing L.A.’s subways with only a few of its 51,000 homeless, even despite the cracks of my city continuing in an L.A. Unified school district that saw only 48 percent of its 2008 class graduate on time.
Like 2Pac’s poetry in “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” even “when no one else ever cared,” I still walked out of my high school with a diploma in hand.
To tell you that even after all of this, you and I are still not so different; none of us are. That like the millions of others I’ve bustled alongside in L.A.’s traffic, and the billions of metropolitans around the globe also hustling past oppression, we all struggle.
I see it every time I walk through the CoHo looking around; it’s everywhere.
It’s not easy for anyone. It’s a traffic jam.
But I have fought traffic all of my life to get here, as my mother fought the jam for over 20 years to raise me and my brother to the task despite L.A.’s madness.
I am bigger than my time; we all are.
What’s done today is all about tomorrow.
And going to school is about more than just school, it’s about history; about the future you start here now.
Consider this, as 2012 comes to a close, before any obstacle standing between your peace after a tough day, week, year.
Consider my story as only one other reason of over 32,000 at Davis to give it all that you’ve got.
For your family and your friends, but also for only one “stranger” you walk past.
For the future you both share.
Do it because you can; you have done so all your life.
JIMMY RECINOS thanks you for your time; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.