By: Grace Rodriguez
East Los Angeles college alumna Luis J. Rodriguez came face to face with writers he inspired with his autobiographical book titled “Always Running.”
Rodriguez listened to authors from all around East Los Angeles who gathered for an open mic in his honor dubbed “Grito De Boyle Heights.”
The event was hosted by Sammy Quetzalli with Rodriguez as the featured act of the event Wednesday. Topics of poetry ranged from gentrification to struggling with identity.
Upon his arrival to the event, Rodriguez sat beside his wife on a couch and made himself an audience member for the first hour and a half. The event consisted of an hour of poetry recitals and 30 minutes of music.
Fittingly, the event took place in a tiny literature center on Cesar Chavez Avenue called “RE/ARTE: CENTRO LITERARIO.” The center opened its doors to any writer or musician who wished to speak.
Rodriguez advertised the event on Instagram the week before. This paid off because about 100 people gathered in and outside of the tiny literature store. The small crowd drew in passersby who were curious to see what all the commotion was about.
The crowd was diverse. Some people were there to support friends while others could not wait to meet Rodriguez.
While the poets and musicians seemed to serve as Rodriguez’s opening acts, they were far from inexperienced. Photographers, musicians, poets and writers had the chance to share their experiences and networked in the audience. Some were visibly nervous before performing and for others it seemed to be second nature.
A highlight of the event, aside from the well-received author, was Matt Sedillo with the recital of his poem, “Pilgrim.” The poem served as an homage to the natives that lived here before colonization.
Matt Sedillo recited his poem with passion and grace. The change of pace in his words took listeners on the journey across the peaks and valleys of his story. He had listeners at the edge of their seats.
Sedillo landed the delivery of every line, particularly when he said “We didn’t cross the borders. The borders crossed us.” In true slam poetry fashion, he delivered punchline after punchline. Poetry appreciation snaps could be heard from the crowd throughout his performance.
Another notable poem came from a woman by the name of Sandy Shakes. It was called “The OG.” She talked about the changes she observed in her neighborhood growing up. She helped listeners reminisce about a time when Cesar Chavez Avenue was still just Brooklyn.
Being a first generation college student she struggled immensely with feelings of not belonging in higher education because she did not look like everyone else. This was when she discovered Rodriguez’s book “Always Running.” She said the book helped her to know others like her have done it before.
Upon asking Sandy why she decided to perform Wednesday night, she said “I felt beyond honored to have been able to perform a poem in front of one of my favorite storytellers [Luis J. Rodriguez]…[my story]…and in doing so I feel like I have come full circle as a poet.”
She, like many others, drew inspiration from the book at a time when they were struggling with fitting in.
Rodriguez’s presence drew in the crowd but the poets that spoke made the wait to see Rodriguez worth it. The event was not only about Luis J. Rodriguez and his book but an appreciation for the writer’s movement he awakened in East Los Angeles in the ‘90s.
By 8:30pm Rodriguez was reciting poems he had previously performed at many jails and prisons around the world including South America and Europe. He touched on many topics including: addiction, prison time and a love for the place he grew up in.
The event was inching towards the end by 9pm.
After Rodriguez finished speaking he sat at the front of the literature store behind a small table for book signings.
About 10 copies of his autobiographical book titled “Always Running” were displayed on the wall and sold by the end of the night.
“RE/ARTE CENTRO LITERARIO” will be hosting another open mic event on Sep 22.