"…[W]e never understood until we were older what kind of prejudice people harbor…"

essays

Michael Jimenez

jimenezA Southern California native, Michael Jimenez divides his time between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles. Michael is a published writer with two pieces of work in the spring 2012 issue of West. An Honors Program student, Michael has been developing a unique technique for writing within the context of traditionally structured English composition classes. He hopes to present this process at the HTCC Student Research Conference at UC Irvine. Michael attributes his success as a writer to his lifelong love of reading. A husband and a father, Michael says his family is the most important facet of his busy life. Michael's schooling comes at the perfect time because he can do homework next to his six-year-old son in hopes that his son will absorb some techniques and discipline at a young age. Michael plans to continue to challenge himself scholastically through the most rigorous courses available. He hopes to attend UCLA in pursuit of both an undergraduate degree as well as admittance to the UCLA School of Law.

Editor's Note: In this essay from his spring 2012 California Literature class, Michael Jimenez fuses fiction/traditional essay writing, experimenting with a new, lively form of essay in which students can use their own life experiences and creative powers to dialogue with literary works, explore them: tell their own stories while supporting a traditional thesis about other writers’ stories. He conducts this experiment in the hope that his essay will live beyond the classroom walls. He wants to create an essay that an erudite reading audience, not just his teacher (who's required to read his essay), will find worthy of reading: enlightening as well as entertaining. He wants to create art.

Other Works:


Welcome to Class

Life was easy. Sort of. It wasn’t always this way. If working in the tire factory was pleasant, getting maced in the eye would be a vacation. Seething vats of liquid waited for me to dive in and come out with skin peeling off like a microderm abrasion from hell. One slip could cost me my life, or it could cost me a round of sandwiches for the schmucks that would (or wouldn’t) save my ass. When you’re Easy Rawlins, you look around things, and you look at things, and sometimes you even look into things. Sometimes.

“A story without a plot. I think that’s what I liked about the book. After all, isn’t that the way most of the people I knew lived? We went day to day with no real direction or endpoint” (Mosley 211). They would clock in and go about their daily routines with no real concept of what was going on around them. I was one of the few blacks “working” here. And I was new. They didn’t seem to care that I was new, or that I was black, or that I existed at all. Lucky for me. I was there to look into the happenings as of late. The less attention that I drew to myself, the better.

Apparently some of the workers here had a thing for performance. A tire-making, Mexican-American Actor-Playwright? Something was off here. I didn’t exactly know what I was or why I was here, but I had suspected that something was up. Why would the state come to a black man to infiltrate a Mexican outpost? I mean, granted I’m better than a white guy, but I can’t figure that one out. I had to attend one of these performances.

Word around was that some Luis Valdez guy was in on the productions. Strangely, these productions were held in random places, so I figured that if I just cruised around, I’d come across one eventually. It didn’t take long for me to get a face full of the happenings.

It was a warm night, and the air was thick like milk. You could feel that something was about to happen. Around the corner, the small crowd looked on as the chameleons from the tire shop took on character and a vibrant tone of voice. Wow, these guys were good!

“Feast your eyes on him! Sturdy U.S. steel frame, streamlined, modern. As a matter of fact, he is built exactly like our Anglo models, except that he comes in a variety of darker shades” (Valdez 190). Holy shit! They were mocking society! This could be problematic. No wonder they wanted to know what was happening; this could have real consequences. Who knows what crazy shit could come of this! If these guys weren’t careful, they could spark a fire and send the whole city up in flames.

Neither the police chief nor I knew what was to become of my foray into uncharted tire-molding territory when I was offered (I use that term loosely) this assignment.

It was too late. By the time I was able to convey the news, the city had erupted into chaos. The city was up in flames. Smoke billowed across rooftops like marshmallows waiting to descend upon a bed of chocolate; buildings flamed like inner-city bonfires aching for someone to celebrate a burning at the stake. Cars anxiously awaiting their death; their tires spewed smoke while releasing bitter fumes. The assault on the helpless city was in full swing.

The news vans managed to steal shots at every occasion while steering clear of the melee. Meanwhile, the politicians high upon their horses mounted their offense. “Proclaiming the 'eyes wide as suns'-wrong of the system” was their main weapon. They maintained that the system was to blame and that there must be reactions and swift adjustments in order to quell the uprising.

One poor reporter was overrun by the vicious mob. She was mid-broadcast, burning my hand with a kiss--

eyes wide as suns

burn my hand with a kiss

go outside to play in the streets (Coleman 4.7-9)

--when she had to abandon ship. Her camera, left running, lay sideways on the concrete. Between running feet, and clapping chanclas, the sideways mural featured part of a piece by Wanda Coleman.  “you’re home. it’s a surprise/you’ve made it thru another day” (3.1-2) read the text. How many wouldn’t make it through this night to come home in the morning?

Okay, class, that’s it for the day. I’ll see you on Thursday. Please come with some thoughts written down so that we can ask some questions and come up with some ideas regarding this novel, its implications and themes. Please assume that we will inspect how these things play a part in our culture. Remember, this is a California Literature class, thus we want to look at this piece of writing from a multi-faceted viewpoint.

...

This should be interesting, class. Thank you for returning today. I hope that your insight will prove beneficial and thought-provoking. Let us dissect this story by Mr. Jimenez.

Let’s start with Jason. Sir, what do you have for us today?

Sir, I wanted to comment on the first section where our narrator quotes a book he is reading. The quote refers to a lack of direction. It would seem that our author is using the narrator to convey a feeling of being stranded, directionless. It could be that the author wants to convey a feeling about the inner city and the feeling of monotony, a kind of zombie-like brainlessness that can come to settle upon a people that have nothing to hope for.

Mark, what do you have to share with the class?

Sir, the way that the politicians addressed the people, it just doesn’t seem right. I mean, I know that it’s the politician’s job to take care of the state and the people, but it’s clear that our author doesn’t feel that way. He states that the politicians were “High upon their horses.” Granted, it’s a clever play on words, but it also speaks to a great depiction of the government and its reaction in the time of violence and up-rise. Our author is showing the rift between the politicians and their people. He not only shows the rift, but also manages to communicate the superiority that the politicians hold above the community.

Genevieve, care to share with us?

Well class, I feel that the part where they refer to the building of a Mexican American is a great place to start. Mr. Jimenez effectively uses the robot as a tool to depict the American tendency to socially mold those that come to live in this country. I cannot yet know the full meaning of this because we have not read the entire book. I can confidently state that as it stands, the people were tired of being unable to be themselves. The play mocked the norms of the American society.

Mark, anything?

Sure. I think that the racial component of the story is significant. I guess the fact that our protagonist is black but somehow ends up in what seems to be a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood is interesting. I assume that there is a developing theme in regard to race relations here. More than likely it would seem that Jimenez seeks to state that multiculturalism in Cali is an inevitable reality. Working together to achieve a common goal is a big part of being human.

Aaron, what’s your take on the mural scene?

I feel that the mural is also a nod to multiculturalism. The writer of the poem featured on the mural is African American, yet the mural is in a predominantly Latin-American neighborhood. This theme seems to be a main focus for Mr. Jimenez and parallels the nature of mixed culture that we have addressed within this classroom for most of this semester. I understand why we are reading this book in a Cali Lit class. By the way, I find that using a tire shop is fitting for a story set in California. The automobile is a huge part of California culture.

It’s time to move on to our papers today class. I’ll close with this. Mr. Jimenez is absolutely breaking the rules here. He tries to urge us to understand that we are all human. His angles are definitely unique, but his goal is clear. His desire to make statements about the government and the community comes across clearly. He uses multiple settings and refers to many different sources for images that speak to California as a whole. We see a focus on the economic, social, geographic, and political views of our author. His goal is to build awareness that there is a need for multicultural interaction. California is a multicultural place. By embracing this multicultural quality, we can gain a mindset of unity and peace, rather than violence and distrust. To embrace this ideal of multi-cultural living is to truly embrace and embody all that is California.

 

Works Cited

Coleman, Wanda. “About God & Things.” Poems and Poets. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web 24 May 2012.

Bukowski, Charles. “the riots.” Poems. bukowski.net, n.d. Web. 24 May 2012.

Mosley, Walter. Little Scarlet. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2005. Print.

Soto, Gary. “Mission Tire Factory, 1969.” Gary Soto (April 12, 1952). PoemHunter.com, n.d. Web. 24 May 2012.

Valdez, Luis. Los Vendidos. Early Works: Actos, Bernabe and Pensamiento Serpentino. Los Angeles: Arte Publico Press, 1990. Print.


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