More Than a Garage, a Place for a Community Gathering
By Frank Rojas 10/8/19
From the outside, the populated driveway could be confused for a carne asada. People are gathered around vendors who sell local, prints, stickers, jewelry, and other art that is proudly and unapologetically Latinx. Community organizers are engaging with the crowd to inform and converse on local city politics. The garage at the end of the drive-way is brightly lit up with strings of lights hanging from the wooden ceiling. Chairs are set up in front of a small concrete stage with a backdrop of a sign that reads, “Alivio Open Mic.”
This gathering at the famous garage located in the city of Bell is nothing new. Eric Eztli has created and hosted this monthly community gathering at his parents’ home since 2014. His reasoning behind this function is that when spaces are not accessible to community members they must be created out of those who need it. Alivio Open Mic is more than just a poetry hangout, it has become a place of art and engagement. It is a grassroots safe space intended to celebrate the working-class community of South East Los Angeles.
This Friday night at Alivio Open Mic was especially important as it also served as the official book release party for Eztli’s first book of poetry. It’s called From My Blood.
This was a definitive moment for Eztli as he is also a community organizer, educator, husband, and father. His book is a culmination of all those identities and those of his Mexican-American culture and his South East Los Angeles community.
Eztli has been writing poetry since he was in the tenth grade. But the young poet never thought he could write poetry because growing up, he never saw himself represented in poetry.
“From the time I was reading poetry, it was never ever a poet of color. It was always an old white man that I did not understand. So I was really disconnected from it.”
Eztli went on to study creative writing at California State University, Long Beach. While in college he stumbled upon the work of the acclaimed Mexican American writer and 2014 Los Angeles Poet Laureate, Luis Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s story of growing up in gang culture reminded Eztli of one of his uncles who was able to make it out. He credits Rodriguez for his poetry and personal activism as what inspired him into a life as a writer.
Eztli dedicates From My Blood to his family. The book of 65 poems is broken up into five chapters with each relating to the inner workings of the heart. The book cover depicts a hand holding oranges, a reference to the opening poem “Oranges in His Hand.” The poem describes a brown and white man outside at the end of a freeway exit. But while Eztli feels for both of them, he only admires one. The brown man is selling oranges while the white man is holding a sign asking for money. The poem describes the resilience of communities of color in striving for opportunities in the United States.
The book, the poems, and the garage space have all been a labor of love for Eztli. Last July he was able to collaborate with other community organizers in hosting the second annual SELA Arts Festival, which celebrates the art and culture of South East Los Angeles. When he’s not writing, he’s grading papers, or raising his son with his wife.
Alivio Open Mic will be hosting their final event of the year in October. Make sure to come by and witness the art and culture that comes out of South East Los Angeles. The link to purchase From My Blood can be found here.
“From My Blood” by Eric Eztli
like a mountain
beyond borders and boundaries.
My words crack out of calluses
covered in purpose.
from my tongue
to speak with the sun.
on the desert sand
are the seeds of my success.
harvest in my heart,
waiting for the breath of my children.
Luminescent legends pulse
inside my veins,
gifts of knowledge wait
for the coming generation.
Soliloquies burst from my blood
and find home in the galaxy
so when my family needs guidance,
in the stars they will find me,