Monday, June 29, 2009

Two men, a Monster energy drink and Michael Jackson.

The inside of my Monster can was nearly empty and the Long Beach Transit bus No. 61 still a no-show. I know that these sort of energy drinks are extremely bad for me, but I've been feeling extremely exhausted lately. I need that extra push in my life to keep me from falling asleep. One last sip. Still no bus.

"Damn fucking bus," said the man with the bright green sweatpants. "I've seen two No. 51's go by but this one is taking forever."

"What's the rush, son?" asked the well-dressed man next to him. "This world is always rushing."

I took a look at my empty energy drink can. The familiar M Logo looking back at me as though saying "don't listen to that man, you need me."

Feeling that familiar buzz in my body, I walked closer to the two men and asked how long they'd been waiting for the bus.

"Too damn long if you ask me," said the man with the bright green sweatpants.

"When we're young, we can't wait to get old," the well-dressed man responded as he removed a speckle of dirt off his perfectly ironed pants. "We rush to make money. Then we worry about keeping that money. We rush, rush, rush. Next thing we know, we retired and want to rush to death."

I look around to see if anybody else was as captivated by this man's wise words as I was.

"But we need to make that money man," said Mr. green sweatpants as he walked near the middle of the street to see if our bus was approaching. "It may not be all there is in life, but it helps a whole lot."

I reached for my cellphone to check for the time. 3:10 p.m. I still had to transfer to another bus and if I wanted to be at work on time, the bus had to be there in the next five minutes.

"Now son, don't be thinking that money is everything," the wise man said. "Look at Michael Jackson. He had every single thing that money could buy. Do you think he was completely happy? Did he die happy?"

Neither man had an answer. The bus arrived just in time and the three of us boarded the new Hybrid vehicle.

We crossed the long bridge and both men got off on the next stop. They got off the bus and walked in separate directions.

I looked at the time and figured that I'd be just fine as long as the other bus didn't leave me behind.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The conscience of our nation

The noise coming from the buses' engines were not enough to drown David's voice. The South Korea native and UCLA international studies major nearly broke down in the middle of his AB 540 testimonial but the support of the nearly 150 students behind him were enough to give him the strength to go on.

All of these students—clad in graduation cap and gowns—stood in solidarity with the thousands of students who graduate every year from U.S. high schools but face huge challenges when it comes to college because they're undocumented immigrants.

"I have a freind that rides the bus for six hours a day just to get to school," Santa Ana College student Maria Robles said. "I just wouldn't do that."

Robles, like many of the students present, is an AB 540 ally and was there to show her support to students who she considers "work 10 times harder than anybody I know."

As part of the National DREAM Act Graduation Day, these students took part of a mock graduation in front of City Hall urging Congress to pass the DREAM Act. If passed, the DREAM Act would allow these students to apply for financial aid and contribute back to this country.

The we-cannot-afford-to-help-these-criminals excuse is so 2008. This country is in dire need of the money that undocumented students can bring into the economy. Just think about it for a second. If the 60,000 or so undocumented students paid the fees needed in order to apply for citizenship, a large chunk of money would a good boost to the economy. Now, imagine if the 14 million or so undocumented immigrants were given the chance to apply for a green card and pay for their fees...that's math I can't even do!

"They're here as the conscience of the nation," UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong said during a passionate speech. "These students are risking a lot by being here but they're taking a bigger risk by being silence."

Well said Mr. Wong.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama committed to passing comprehensive reform

Last week, President Barack Obama committed to pass comprehensive reform. Today there was an feature article in the Los Angeles Times about two kids from different economic backgrounds—a Latino kid from South Central and a white rich kid from La CaƱada—and how their path to college has been so different but at the same time so the same. Oh the oxymorons!

And tomorrow? Students from all over the country will be heading over to Washington D.C. for the National DREAM Act Gradtuation Day. Los Angeles and Orange County will be having their very own graduations as well. The point of these mock graduations is to show how undocumented students--AB students por favor!--are trying to do anything it takes to get out of the shadows and do something to resolve their current legal status in the country. And getting a good education in the process of course!

The main goal of these graduations is to pass the federal DREAM Act, which will allow all of these students a legal path to citizenship.

I mentioned the L.A. Times article because of its blunt look at two kids who are essentially working for the same goals, yet one of the is facing far bigger obstacles to get there. Now, I don't know if the Latino kid in the article is an AB 540 student, but judging by the nature of his "lifestyle" it is not unlike the lives of many of the undocumented students that live in this country.

"If our children don't get the world-class education they need to succeed then America will not be able to compete with other countries," Obama said during the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast last Firday. Well Mr. President, I hope you're closely reviewing tomorrow's mock graduations.

For AB 540 students who graduate from colleges ever year, their graduations are just that: a mockery of a flawed system that allows them to fall in love with education in elementary school, but are later told that their dreams must come to a halt because they're "different."

Obama also mentioned the stories of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and a kid from Nicaragua who joined the service just become a citizen. Imagine if the DREAM Act passes? There will be a bunch of Sotomayores tomorrow, fighting for their humble right to dream a little dream.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Las Vegas, me and a hair show.

LAS VEGAS—The nail-salon smell hit my nostrils as I walk inside the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 2009 International Beauty Show. I take a look at my badge, which reads BEAUTY PROFESSIONAL. No, I didn’t lie. I just didn’t answer when the lady at ticket counter asked to see my hair-dresser license. I left that to my friend Miguel, an actual beauty professional who was kind enough to invite me to a free trip to Las Vegas to get an inside look at the industry of beauty. That, and he didn't want to drive by himself.

I couldn't have been more out of place. My cargo shorts and Payless sandals were enough to get a few looks of disapproval from women carrying expensive designer bags and orange face glows.

While thousands of Iranians were marching due to a fraud election, I was roaming around isles that featured the latest pair of hair irons and blond extensions. Tables dedicated exclusively to beauty magazines and hair gel just blew my mind. Or maybe it was the fourth Jack Daniel’s Lemonade.

“Even in the recession people are going to spend money on beauty,” said Sally Bencke from, a networking site that focuses on connecting clients with beauty salons around the world.

I don’t know that people will choose to buy hair product over food if they lose their jobs, but you never know.

Like comic geeks at a ComiCon, these attendees were fascinated by products that probably cost more than the little spending cash I took to Vegas. At first, I was annoyed that such a convention existed. Come on, three days dedicated to an industry that makes chubby girls feel bad about themselves and dictates how one should look in order to feel better and succeed?

But my cynical attitude was subdued when I realized that I was doing exactly what I was making fun of in the first place. When Miguel described how he viewed his job as a form of artistic expression, I gave in. According to him, there aren't many things in life that we can control. Being able to create a masterpiece with your our hands and call it your own is priceless. What can I say? I'm a fool for the arts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

$5 McDonald's gift cards for the homeless

The up-to-no-good vato standing outside the Union Station is the ultimate danger sign lingering around the minds of people who fail to recognize their hidden prejudices. The African-American man next to him talking to the homeless guy is probably enough to keep some people walking.

As soon as I crossed Cesar Chavez Ave. towards their direction, I noticed their t-shirts. The 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count was sprawled across their chests.

"There's a lady with a baby asking for money," a man told Draper Hughes--the guy chatting with the homeless guy.
He finished up his conversation with the homeless guy and walked up to the woman, who was accepting a bill from a young girl.

After a short conversation, he went back to his formal spot and this time I noticed the clipboard. Turns out that Hughes and his friend (who's name I failed to catch because I was in a rush and he was on his cellphone) work and also volunteer for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority through the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

During our even shorter conversation, Hughes explained that his job consists of asking homeless citizens a couple of questions regarding their situation (why are they homeless, health issues, etc.) The surveyed people get a $5 McDonald's gift card after answering the questions. More information on Hughes and the 2009 GLAHC on a later blog.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lakers (101), American journalists in North Korea (12 years)

As I made an (illegal) run for the Transit Long Beach bus No. 5, I was sadden to find out that the sentencing news of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling to 12 years of hard labor was pushed to page A 14 of the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile bearded man Pau Gasol of the Lakers was featured on the cover. Must be nice to be a Lakers' player right now! Not so nice to be a passionate journalist.
Maybe I'm being too biased here. Who am I kidding, I'm totally being biased. I don't necessarily hate sports, but I just have never been a fan. Bad memories of being a chubby 12-year old getting picked last for flag football may have something to do with it. But to know that there are two individuals who are potentially facing "extreme labor under extremely brutal conditions" just for doing their job and pretend like this is just another bit of "world news" is very frustrating for a journalism student.
We live in a very strange world. Why aren't we crying out in the streets about this injustice the same way that we'll be rallying when the Lakers win the NBA Finals. Most importantly, why is the L.A. Times pushing such important stories to its middle pages? Is it money? Of course. Is it bad journalism? Claro que yes. There's a new breed of journalism out there that is probably answering this questions. Current TV, the San Francisco-based cable news outlet Lee and Ling were reporting for when they got arrested, is an example of the development of journalism. Is it good or bad development? I don't know. Former Vice President Al Gore co-owns the station and everyone should fear politicians. All I know is that good journalism is dying and we, as the heirs of an exploding mother Earth, must keep our ears and eyes open to what is really important. Or whatever.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Latino Graduation at CSULB

Rosa Carrillo gave me an skeptical look when I informed her that I was a reporter with the Daily 49er trying to cover the 20th Annual Chican@/Latin@vGraduation Celebration.
Why wouldn't she? After all, there were many people outside Cal State Long Beach's Walter Pyramid trying to get into the sold out event. Thank God for my validation via Student Life and Development assistant director Brett Waterfield, who congratulated me for a profile I'd written about him and the rest of the Cultural Graduations.
Carrillo, like many of the students working on the event, was volunteering her time and creativity to try and make this celebration a successful one. The Long Beach City College counselor had been in charged of the celebration in the past and was asked to return with her keen sense of organization and dead-on coordination skills.
"I think the language brings everyone together," Carrillo said about the bilingual celebration in between trips to the exit doors where graduates were lining up and arranging last minute details with security--apparently they had an issue with air horns inside the place.
As the 214 graduating students--including 30 Master's candidates--walked into the basketball court, the 4,000 plus guests stood up and began clapping and snapping photo after photo.
Women that looked like my grandma and men with Stetson hats screamed out the names of their graduates. Children would lean against the bleacher rails--which was decorated with Latin American flags--and jumped up and down with excitement as their brothers, sisters and cousins waved their zarape-embroided sashes.
Right before the celebration, I "bumped" into CSULB President F. King Alexander. With the economy throwing up on itself, I asked Alexander to level with the students and tell them what realities they will be facing in a job-less market.
"I'm really pushing students to go to grad school," he said. "The job market is tight, but once the economy recovers, they will be prepared."
Sugarcoat anyone?
After a couple of minutes on the stage, Mr. President and Vice President Douglas W. Robinson had to leave to attend other activities. On a Sunday.
I really wished they could have stayed behind and listened to Chicano Studies Professor Jose Moreno--this year's graduation Marshall--and his heart-felt speech to the graduates asking them not to be too happy just yet because the number of Latino college graduates is not big enough.
"I'm nervous, excited and angry," Moreno told the audience. "But we have to celebrate because too many of our accomplishments are not celebrated."
According to Moreno, out of 100 Latino kinder gardeners, eleven manage to graduate from the California State University system. Bittersweet celebration for the masses!
Photo by Maria Ventura