Los Angeles is a melting pot of cultures and experiences that are reflected in the literature produced by local writers. In locally authored books are recorded not only the stories of immigrants, but also the stories of those whose lives have been altered by the influx of foreigners. The printed page tells of the great contrasts that coexist within one same city – from the horrors of gang violence to the glamor attached to Hollywood. Below are five contemporary authors who masterfully keep record of modern life in Los Angeles.
Abelardo de la Peña Gonzalez
Original of Guadalajara, Jalisco, in Mexico, Abelardo de la Peña Gonzalez immigrated to the US with his new wife, Maria del Refugio, and settled in the city of Wilmington. He worked his way up from a janitorial position to become the executive director of a social services agency meeting the needs of the Latino community. After his retirement, he wrote four books: “Chapala Olvidada” – a memoir of the small town of Chapala in Jalisco; “Nachin El Cristero” – a biography of his uncle and his struggles for religious freedom; “Mi Barco, El Sueño Americano” (My Ship, the American Dream) – a chronology of his life pursuing the American Dream; and “El Pueblo de Mexico Tiene el Derecho a la Democracia” (The People of Mexico Have Democratic Rights) – a passionate essay on the promise and failure of political reform in Mexico.
Leon Bing is the author of “Do Or Die,” “Smoked: A True Story About the Kids Next Door,” “A Wrongful Death: One Child’s Fatal Encounter with Public Health” and “Swans and Pistols: Modeling, Motherhood, and Making It in the Me Generation.” The daughter of a well-to-do family in Pasadena, Bing started out as a journalist. In 1986, while writing for the L.A. Weekly, she showed up at a park in South Pasadena where members of the Bloods gang were known to gather and began to develop a rapport with several of them that eventually led to the writing of “Do Or Die,” one of her most popular books, as well as a series of articles about gang life that were published in the L.A. Weekly.
Luis J. Rodriguez
An important part of contemporary Chicano literature, Luis J. Rodriguez is best known for “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA,” which depicts gang life in detail. Towards the end of 2011, he released a sequel memoir to that book entitled “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” This sequel became a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the Autobiography category. Rodriguez is a co-founder of the well-known Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural in Sylmar, a coffee shop, art gallery, performance space and bookstore venue that is popular with Latino artists. He also founded Tia Chucha Press, which publishes the work of new writers. This is only a partial list of the many activities Rodriguez is involved with, as he is likewise interested in poetry, music and politics.
Miluka Rivera is a Puerto Rican author very much interested in the legacy of her compatriots in the overall American culture. She has written a poetry book entitled “Alma Boricua, Alma Boreal” (Puerto Rican Soul) and two books – “Hollywood Latinos Offspring” and “Puerto Rica Legacy in Hollywood.” For the latter, she researched the inclusion of Puerto Rican artists in films dating back a hundred years, searching through library records and newspapers, and in a few cases finding information that would later correct biographies and other works published on the Internet. With her husband, Rivera owns the Kumaras Center for the Arts, Dance and Etiquette in Burbank, an organization that offers classes, events and health lectures to local students and residents.
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Samantha Dunn’s work has received plenty of recognition. For example, her book “Failing Paris” was a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award in 2000. But one of her most enjoyable stories has to be her “Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation,” where she tells of a woman who, wanting to impress a man, decides to take a salsa dance lesson. The music (and the instructor) change the way she sees herself, her culture, her relationships and even her country. Dunn is also a specialty feature writer for the Orange County Register and lives in Orange.
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Dena Burroughs is a freelance writer living in Azusa, CA. She is a CSULA graduate with specialties in Creative Writing and Communications. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.