A Note to My Momma


Momma do you know what's happening in my head today? 
Do you know how tired my mind is from running marathons with my heart? 
Do you feel the panic I feel when this fight or flight response takes over my body without warning me at all? 

This is called anxiety, 
And it's something that I suffer,
A cruel act that decides to play with my mind.

I want you to know momma, that this illness is not your fault
My therapist says that anxiety really does affect us all. 

Some people are good at acting, and pretending this life is fine,
But momma, I'm no actress, the Oscar is not mine. 

I just wish you knew momma, that this "thing" I need to "get over,"
Might be a forever thing, there's no getting over, 
A mental illness suffering. 

It's comparable to the illnesses doctors say we have, 
But there are not cures momma, 
Just some good days and some bad. 

Momma I hope someday you'll realize
This thing that happens in my head
Is not something to be ashamed of,
Not something you should dread. 

I'm telling you this momma,
Because I just want you to know, 
I have something called anxiety, 
And I'm beginning to let it show. 



I ask my mother if she’s hungry,
she responds,

We are starving for justice
we have been craving it since before our birth
since then, my mother pulled at my umbilical cord and asked that I fight.

She sung me lullabies saying, 
“M’ija tienes que luchar,”
She warned me about the men
that’ll come in and out of me
only to prove
that they were powerful enough to make me love them,
but could not love me back.
I did not take her warning seriously.

we’ve disguised patriarchy as love and too many times womxn have become cupid’s martyr.

When my father touches my mother’s face
passionately enough,
that she flinches.

When a man gives himself the power to touch my best friend
because somehow, somewhere on her skirt said, “I am asking for it,”
and for some reason that mute idea was louder than her screams.

We are starving for justice; we have not been fed yet.
My school said I’d be the architect of my education.
I believed them.
But they gave me a brick, instead of a pencil.
I’ve been building my future with bricks on my back,
and the struggles of my parents in the fields, within me.

My school said, I’d be the architect of my education,
but I still have not been given a pencil.
And instead I’ve become a construction worker
building my future brick by brick
and my goodness, I am tired.
and even so, I am afraid that my home will crumble.

Much like mine, my mother’s fear has always been
not to have enough money to house us.
but she forgets we come from broken homes.

We are starving for justice,
and they have yet to feed us.

My mother picks the strawberries they love so much
the same people who despise “illegals,”
the same people that say this is their land
with their skewed version of history.

She warned me about the people that will pull at my skin,
hard enough to remove the brown on me.
She warned me about the hunger I would feel.
She apologized for this.
This is not her doing.
She is not to blame.

We are starving,
but we will not stop fighting
until we are fed the justice that we deserve.

One day,
my mother will receive a plate
large enough to fill the wounds she’s been left with.

Summer in the City: Innocence Lost and Found


While every new generation redefines the meaning of "childhood", one thing remains constant: playing outside in the summer.

And despite all that has been said about how technology has isolated today's children and sequestered them indoors, a trip to a couple of Santa Ana's inner-city neighborhoods shows that children still do venture out.

I spent time in two of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Santa Ana -- Artesia Pillar and Central City. And while I encountered many sights and sounds that were familiar to my own childhood, I also discovered a certain innocence lost.

The children don't come out to play until later in the day because of their parents work schedules. And though they still run through the neighborhoods kicking balls, they kick plastic balls because property owners who fear broken windows have banned real soccer balls. Many have also witnessed gang violence and cars that drive dangerously through their neighborhoods.

As a result, they are often limited to the small confines of their apartment complex, or their tiny cement stoops. But just like the flower that pushes through the cracks in the concrete, their play can't be denied.

Below are my efforts to capture both what has and hasn’t been lost on the streets in summertime.

Emily, Artesia Pillar neighborhood

A soul filled with undeniable charisma, Emily only demands a couple of things: attention and her daily allowance of $1 to purchase ice cream from her neighbor.

A soul filled with undeniable charisma, Emily only demands a couple of things: attention and her daily allowance of $1 to purchase ice cream from her neighbor.

A young girl, Artesia Pillar neighborhood

She sits on her porch, barefoot and happy. She's only allowed on the front steps of her home while her grandfather watches from afar. She takes her dog everywhere she goes.

She sits on her porch, barefoot and happy. She's only allowed on the front steps of her home while her grandfather watches from afar. She takes her dog everywhere she goes.

 (From left) Suzy, Robert, Arleen, Central City neighborhood

Arleen: "Sometimes I’m scared to come outside, there’s drunk people.”

Arleen: "Sometimes I’m scared to come outside, there’s drunk people.”

Christopher, Central City neighborhood

“My name is Christopher, this is my gun.”  He is shy but has no problem sharing his toys. He runs around the neighborhood shooting at imaginary targets.

“My name is Christopher, this is my gun.”

He is shy but has no problem sharing his toys. He runs around the neighborhood shooting at imaginary targets.

Arlene, Central City neighborhood

“My dog needs to match (nail color) with me!”  Arlene wishes one day to live in Miami. She enjoys playing outside and playing teacher, and giving her pup daily manicures.

“My dog needs to match (nail color) with me!”

Arlene wishes one day to live in Miami. She enjoys playing outside and playing teacher, and giving her pup daily manicures.

Nata, Central City neighborhood

Nata is a quiet presence in the neighborhood -- perched in her bedroom window.

Nata is a quiet presence in the neighborhood -- perched in her bedroom window.

Email: Julieleopo@gmail.com

IG: Julieleopo

Website: Julieleopo.com

Your Article Makes Me Angry, Mr. Thompson

By Cathleen McCaffery

In remembrance of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Cathleen mccaffery offers a captivating response to the Problematic journalistic commentary in the aftermath of the tragic events. she employs space, numbers, and a particular choice of words to demonstrate the power of poetry for social justice.

I wrote this poem as part of a poetry course with Molly Bendall at the University of Southern California. It is an experimentation with the sestina form as well as integrating historical facts and figures and media with poetry. I wanted to play with the use of footnotes and quotations in a poem and, in using alternative forms of text atypical to poetry, create multiple dialogues on different platforms. I see this poem both as a response to a specific New Yorker article as well as general trends in media that give more precedence to some tragedies versus others or, cite comparisons between two very disparate events, such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Spanish Civil War. While death, pain, and loss are unquantifiable, I wanted to shed light on the absurdity of comparing an isolated tragic event with a prolonged period of violence.


Your Article Makes Me Angry, Mr. Thompson


You wrote about the Boston Marathon bombing and said:

“Terrorists and madmen, after all, don’t see people; they see targets: masses

            of humanity or political symbols.”[1]

Have you ever had terrorist eyes? Do terrorists cry? How do you know what they can see?

And while we are at it, Can you show me a picture of a terrorist? Who

            makes for a good terrorist? What color are his eyes?

I don't have Pablo Neruda's eyes, but if his eyes read your article I

think they might bulge out in horror over your comparison:


The Boston Marathon Bombing to the Spanish Civil War—The Spanish Holocaust[2] —compare

the death toll:                            3: 200,000 + 20,000 + more (varied estimates) it is said.

Can you write an article with 200,000 + 20,000 + more names, with a paragraph for each? I

think that would take up too much space. The New Yorker doesn't have time for the mass

amount of space + energy + thought it would take to detail anecdotes of those deaths. Who

has time for that? You mentioned veterans of wars, but what about victims? See,

            Mr. Thompson, only the living can re-experience death.                              


Pain is not mathematical. Please don't mistake my comparison for that. You see,

pain is not quantifiable like counting – or, fractions. Compare

            how you feel about death: 1/(200,000 + 20,000 + more), 1/3, 1/disputed.

Are the dead soldier's father's tears, whose son died in Iraq, for 1/4,486 heavier than a father who            

            cries for 1/1,000,000? Pain is not comparable, but I would say:

1,200,000 quarts of blood in Neruda's streets would make a better front cover picture than 18. Say,

how about Iraqi streets? 1 million deaths (estimates vary) times 6 quarts per person: a massive

amount of blood—enough to create a Venice in the Middle East. What about that article? I'm

            Explaining a Few Things, Mr. Thompson.


“this became a war zone when it was supposed to just be a marathon.”[3] I

would like to know, then, about bedtime stories and birthday parties that became a sea

of blood in war zones non-terrorists created. 4,486: 1,000,000. Ask the masses

in Iraq, how many marathons were supposed to be? Do we see 'people' not 'targets'? Your comparison,

Mr. Thompson—how many marathons did we make war zones? You said

one of the most moving poems you've read is Neruda's “I'm Explaining a Few Things.” Who                           


can I ask for a copy of the letter to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who

kept a copy? Dear Residents, We see you as people, not targets, but are going to make your eyes

bleed with radioactive dust. We see you as people, not 'masses of humanity.' Say

your names out loud. Write them down. We'll send you each a copy, so when you're swimming in a sea

of destruction, “devouring human beings,” you can write down all the names and compare

what you see through your individual eyes.[4] Show our non-terrorist eyes that we see people, not masses.


Kant, remind me of your principle of humanity[5], a note for the masses.

Mr. Thompson, show me, please, who

abides by this principle and who does not. What can we see through terrorist eyes? Compared

to non-terrorist eyes, is the sky still blue? What color is cement? I

would to know where to buy a pair of terrorist glasses so I can see what you say they see.

How many lives were changed by 200,000 + 20,000 + more, or 1,000,000 dead? You said


that a mass of “lives were changed...for a terrible moment, when the bombs went off.”[6] I

would like to know how many moments make up 1,000,000 lives? Whose moments? See,

Mr. Thompson, can you put each name in your next article? A sentence each? Let's compromise, I say. 


[1]    http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/come-and-see-the-blood-in-the-streets

[2]    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/books/review/the-spanish-holocaust-by-paul-preston.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[3]    http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/come-and-see-the-blood-in-the-streets

[4]    Pablo Neruda. “I'm Explaining a Few Things.”

[5]    “We should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in    others, as a means only but always as an end in itself.”

[6]    http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/come-and-see-the-blood-in-the-streets

“Mission Playground is not for sale!”

By Linda Wang

Check out Linda Wang's commentary and contextualization on the recent, viral video: Mission Playground is Not For Sale. 

“Mission Playground is not for sale!”

            Last October, chanting these words, protesters and activists banded together in front of City Hall to present a list of demands. In the wake of massive tech yuppie move-ins, Mission residents have increasingly faced eviction, pay-for-use public spaces, and the displacement of long-time businesses and neighborhood services. So, when this video, Mission Playground is Not For Sale, went viral, adults and youth alike reached their boiling points. In the video, we see the image of white, rich, recently transplanted men, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their tech companies’ logos, presenting Latino, working-class youth with papers that demand that they leave—an image that feels all too familiar for many in San Francisco’s Mission District. While protesters were successful this time in getting the Recreation and Park Department to stop selling permits for adult play at the Mission Playground, it’s a small win in the face of incessant gentrification. How did we get to this point?

            The development of urban spaces is a deliberate process. In attempting to explain why cities take the shape that they do, and to justify or condemn these processes, two major theories have been adopted by academics and experts in urban development: urban ecology and political economy. While urban ecology theory assumes inequalities to be fair and even sometimes beneficial, political economy theory posits that inequality is an intentional outcome of the economic and political institutions that shape cities to the benefit of these institutions' key players. Political economy theory is clearly at play today in San Francisco’s Mission District.

            In their work The City (1926) that advocates on behalf of urban ecology theory, Park, Burgess, and McKenzie argue that in a natural habitat, when left alone, the fittest survive. Consistent with this notion, the city is civilized man's natural habitat, and as such, it should also be left to private enterprise to determine where districts and businesses should locate. After all, “personal tastes and convenience, vocational and economic interests, infallibly tend to segregate and thus to classify the populations”—and those factors alone segregate populations. Political economy theory, on the other hand, not only accounts for such factors but emphasizes them over urban ecology’s trust of free competition as the biggest determinant. Logan and Molotch's 1987 work Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place, in contrast, argue that growth tends to “intensify the separation and disparities among social groups and communities”. Logan's position holds true for the Latinos of the Mission District; they were a highly vulnerable, working-class population who were effectively coerced out of vibrant communities.

            The Mission District was never used as a temporary settlement for the Mexican, Central American, and South American immigrants that started arriving en masse in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. From the very onset, they intended the Mission District to be a center of Latino culture. As Latino “artists, radicals, and intellectuals” moved into the Mission, they further invested the area with a sense of cultural identity. They painted murals; produced literary works like the local Mission newspaper, El Tecolote; and hosted community events like the annual 24th Street Cultural Festival. Though the Mission had family income levels below the city's average, it was a barrio that fostered a strong working enclave with close-knit networks.

            The Mission bore witness to city redevelopment plans and the tendrils of gentrification in the 1960s and 1970s, but grassroots activists formed the Mission Council on Redevelopment (MCOR) and successfully campaigned against an urban renewal policy that would have unfairly hurt their community. Community activists also successfully worked to provide social services to their neighborhoods. The Model Cities Program (MCO) and Los Siete were able to create a breakfast program to feed over 100 Mission children daily, create new playgrounds, ban pawnshops, and fight discrimination, all because of high resident participation.

            However, when the dot-com boom hit in the 1990s, gentrification resurfaced with a speed and precision that had not been seen for years. Because of the suddenness of the dot-com boom, Mission activists were ill-prepared to mobilize in time. Peter Plate noticed in San Francisco Magazine that, by 2000, the “Mission must have had something like 200 dot-com companies in a two-mile radius” (Plate 144). To make room for those companies, and all of the upscale dining, entertainment, and shopping facilities that accompanied them, landlords did everything they could to throw out their longtime Latino residents for tenants that would pay higher rent. More than 80% of the Latinos in the Mission were renters with low incomes, language barriers, lack of citizenship, or traits that made them otherwise more susceptible to gentrification pressures.

            Structural barriers were many and worked in cohesion—Owner Move-In laws; the Ellis Act which provides landlords a legal way to “go out of business;” the 1988 ordinance allowing industrial spaces to be converted into lofts, which caters to childless dot-commers; and then-Mayor Christopher George's racist concerns the presence of ethnic minorities posing an “obstacle to attracting corporate investors and developers” (Mirabal).

            By using terms like “blighted,” “dangerous,” and “run-down,” politicians and businessmen served to racialize space and spatialize race. By “shifting markers of consumption” (encouraging businesses that target the wealthy,) developers forced longtime residents to travel outside of their neighborhood to get their needs met. The physical Latino presence was made less visible in that way. Suddenly, the area surrounding Valencia Street is “now described as the 'hippest in America' by Vanity Fair magazine” (Sinclair 149). Young, hip professionals love the muralists, painters, poets, and musicians of the Mission—the same artists they ironically drive out. 

            The Silicon Valley tech industry prides itself on doing things differently. Well, I think true innovation involves being socially responsible. Although many of the Mission’s residents hold little political clout, tech giants do and ought to exercise it for the sake of their new community.

            Welcome to the neighborhood, guys—but try to stay welcome.


Additional Resources:

Standards of Self | Disordered Thoughts, Eating and Eating Disorders

By Kylie Nicholson

After having multiple conversations with female friends about their past private struggles with eating disorders, I decided to address this societal problem by starting a conversation. Where is the line between controlled eating and an eating disorder? Eating disorders are talked about in health class, but not on a personal level. Here's to releasing the shame and stigma with these struggles and creating a space of openness, acceptance and love.

#BreakTheBoxes | Capoeira | Poem

By Azmera Davis

Social Justice Voices is excited to bring you our inaugural Post. Azmera Davis performs, with style and soul, a poem about the use of capoeira AS A MEANS TO free herself from the invisible chains of historical prejudice, inequality, and racism. LET her rhythm and spirit SPEAK TO THE VOICE OF JUSTICE WITHIN YOU. 

Over 40% of slaves were shipped to Bahia, Brasil during the transatlantic trade. The slaves were not allowed to practice self-defense, so they disguised the art as a dance. Capoeira was seen as inspiration and hope for an escaped slave. Mestre Bimba is the first ever Master to create this art form, and created schools across Bahia that helped marginalized youth find alternative ways to live. Capoeira was outlawed because of the prestige and wealthy class viewing it as a form of promoting violence; however, after 1940, the first school was deemed a martial art and official sport.  

It is a world wide art, practiced all over Europe, Japan, South America, and more recently, in the United States. In the US, especially Los Angeles, there are several academies that use this art as community work, where they service at risk youth and people in general. The longest standing academy is in Santa Monica under Mestre Amen Santos of Capoeira Batuque. They have been in Los Angeles for over 25 years. "It is good for the mind, body, and soul."


Below is a video that the UNICEF recently did that captures a good example of how it is being used to this day to help the oppressed communities.