Pandemic and Protests, Pacoima Presente!
The US went from being the center of a Global Pandemic to the center of a historic Rebellion that has smoldered the tender fabric holding together the hypocritical entity that is the United States. Weakened by the Coronavirus’ the image of George Floyd an African man being lynched in public streaming live on Social Media in the year 2020 set fire to the shaky restraint the African nation inside of the US had held back even a large number of the Chicano-Mexicano and Raza peoples together with the public at large. Rebellions tore through basically all of the major cities of the empire or prison of nations. Images of extreme violence we are used to seeing happen ANYWHERE else but here imprinted themselves on the people. Police forces without any restraint and the people who had had the last straw met on the street. Brutal clashes, looting, a police station torched, Trump hiding out in a bunker while outside police shot at people and people battled them. A cloud of tear gas wafts over from sea to shining sea.
Take all that in and in Pacoima a small town in the most northern part of the City of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley a working class Barrio, the only place Africans could buy a house, down the street from where the Rodney King beating happened. Yes this small town home of Ritchie Valens, where you can see Danny Trejo attending some event every now and then, where Cheech Marin’s original character “Pedro de Pacas” walked the Barrio streets, where all three of their faces adorn many murals, took a stand.
Police murder and brutality has always been a staple in the experience of Chicanos. Neighbor to Pacoima is the independent City of San Fernando which used to have the fame of Chicanos mysteriously “committing suicide” by hanging themselves in the old town jail under the Court building. So bad was their reputation that not that long ago many of their officers were known for beating Chicanos up if they caught you unaware. San Fernando PD and the LAPD were also sued by La Raza Unida in a class action lawsuit in the early 80’s for spying and disrupting the Partido. Some of their tactics included not only infiltrating the organization but infiltrating families, mine one of them. One of my fathers stories includes being pulled out of his van by SFPD at gunpoint. The cop saying “oh you’re one of them Raza boys, lets see how bad you are now” the police officer holding a gun to my fathers face with his buddy behind him gun drawn as well and in contrast my father a new teacher at Pacoima Junior High with two Raza Youth Committee members with him. Then the 80’s and 90’s came and you walked in fear of the police. Pacoima is home to the LAPD foothill division, the same one that beat Rodney King and the same one to first use the LAPD’s then new toy, a tank modified with a battering ram. Back then before cameras and phones were being carried around everywhere the police exacted an amount of fear, mistrust and indignation upon Pacoima and San Fernando that still rears its head up today. Obviously the same story practically goes anywhere there is Raza or Africans.
Then as we saw these events unfolding before our eyes people wanted to organize something locally. With an amount of fear and uneasiness because one does not just jump into planning things risking the health and well being of their own community or people. Many people in the barrio having seen images of looting feared that that would be brought to Pacoima with anything even touching upon the subject at this very moment. Also, Coronavirus has impacted the area going from a dozen cases two months ago to almost 1,000 confirmed cases by now. These concerns were real.
The call was made to gather on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Osborne about two large blocks away from the LAPD foothill station itself. The corner is the parking lot for a decades long abandoned supermarket “El Tigre” and a small shopping center with only a small shop open in that corner. A testament to the abandon and disregard to our peoples, to our communities well-being. A group of young Chicanos came and set up giving away BBQ and chicken sandwiches, the event started with the sound of the Huehuetl or “tambores Mexicas” then members of the Tataviam and Tungva tribes made a welcoming, followed by members of Danza Temachtia Quetzalcoatl, Tloque Nahuaque and others whose drumbeats and dance helped bring the crowd together. I, a member of La Raza Unida, was asked to MC the event. Speakers from the community came up, some of them having come off the street. An elderly African man said how he teared up in his car seeing us out there supporting Black Lives that he just had to stop, some people spoke about their experiences, a Chicana mother spoke of having had to raise her nephews because the Foothill Division had murdered her brother in the 80’s. A sense of empowerment and down to earth solidarity electrified the crowd. The event ended without any incident although it was said the LAPD was waiting up the street. People mostly young Africans and Chicanas rallied and a group would march from corner to corner shouting “Black Lives Matter!” On one of the corners some brothers from the GR818ERS a local hip hop cultural group, began breaking. We emphasized the need for organization and were able to sign up a lot of people to participate in future actions and events. Rancheras and oldies mixed into the air from the Ranflas parked behind the crowd as the event came to a finish and we were able to have everyone go home safe and without incident.
A few days earlier a small committee of people had come together and developed a program and pulled together a security team. Then another flyer came out and that added another variable to our concerns. We were able to reach them and coordinate. We were able to coordinate with some of the local Barrios as well who kept a watchful eye over the barrio making sure all was well. With what little time we had Pacoima proved itself as not only a center of resistance and a long held tradition of liberation politics but that Pacoima itself was able to like always defy all the odds and bring out its people, manifest our justified indignation and just as abruptly pull back and send everyone home safe. Against the fear, against the social media woke policing of events held by Chicanos all this was accomplished. That day was a true testament to organization, a true testament to community policing and defense. A glimpse of what could be shown itself in this humble Chicano Mexicano and African/Black barrio nestled in the San Fernando Valley.
I cannot express the pride I felt going home that evening. The pride that my town, my Raza was able to in the matter of days muster itself up and put this together and show leadership and solidarity is beyond words. I love this town, I love Pacoima. I love Tataviam.
La Raza Unida