It is a clear spring day, the sunshine and a spectacular view of the San Gabriels behind the downtown skyline dazzle me as I drive north on Main Street, on my way home from work. My thoughts wander as I pass grim-faced garment factories, sidewalk paleta vendors and the crowds that line the sidewalks of Skid Row (or Gallery Row, as it has been christened by the neighborhood council).
Taking in these scenes of
I, too, LOVE
Though he loved this city, my Dad understood its faults and the injustices endured by many here, including our own family. He introduced me to those too, by deciding that I was old enough at 14, to read and understand the Raymond Chandler novels that he passed along to me, by sharing his stories about growing up in East LA and the Van Nuys barrio, and the milestones of LA history, as he understood and experienced them. Born in 1949 at LA County hospital, my Dad spent his early childhood in Van Nuys with his paternal grandparents, Antonio and Balbina, who had emigrated from
Filtered through my Dad's intellect and love of storytelling, these LA milestones became part of his story. Joyous and generous by nature, he marvelled at the beauty of LA, despite his childhood experiences with segregation and unjust conditions in East LA. As an adult, he would praise the beautiful aspects of life here and proudly and happily share his stories and views with friends and family. He especially loved showing out-of-town visitors the things he felt make Los Angeles great: Venice Beach, the Griffith Observatory, Mulholland Drive on a clear night, the Great Wall mural in the LA River, Chinatown, the hills of City Terrace .
As a teenager, I cringed every time my father would tell us (for the umpteenth time) his stories: the chickens that his grandparents raised; his shock when he saw his grandmother kill one of the chickens for dinner; the time he painted the dog green to match the newly painted house; the way the relatives all lived in houses next to one another on Delano Street in Van Nuys or back to back, without fences so that the extended family was able to freely walk from one house to the next. He also spoke fondly about the farm fields and open spaces that still existed in the San Fernando Valley in the early 50s; running away from home as a child to the Sepulveda Dam, and running back home at dusk, driven by the fear of the hobos who--he had been warned-- would catch and roast small children to eat, walking miles (or so it seemed) in the mid-summer Valley heat with his uncles to have “tomato wars” in the newly picked tomato fields.
He had a story for just about every part of town we visited together:
After my parents split up, my Dad moved to
Only later, as an adult and urban planning student would I realize that these experiences with my father and his stories connected me to this place in a way that would bring meaning and structure to my life. As I go through my life without him in it, I often stop to remind myself that he is the source of much of the hope and energy that drives me in my efforts to make LA a more just place. Each time I share one of his stories or my own, or talk about LA history, I am sharing the legacy of joy, beauty and hope that he left me.