Planet Ernesto | LAUP Narratives

“What’s on Planet Ernesto?” I asked.

“There’s LOTS of dirt for dirt bikes and motorcycles, and so many trees that grow apples- but not the fruit kind, the candy ones. Can there  be a rainbow road with unicorns and lots of stars in the sky? Sounds beautiful!” he replied, his eyes looking afar and glowing with wonder. I chuckled.

“Ok, your turn! What’s on Planet Angela?”

“Well, how about you make it up for me?”

“Okay, hmm…probably lots of coffee!”

As you could imagine, I bursted out laughing by this point. I mean come on y’all, that couldn’t have been more accurate- Planet Angela would most definitely run on coffee. I had been placing a tumbler with tea or coffee on the desk every day that I came in to class for “Impacto”, a summer enrichment program for kids in the inner city of LA located in Boyle Heights that I was volunteering for in my duration as a LAUP Intern. Ernesto, a 8 year old boy in the 2nd/3rd grade class I was assisting for, must have noticed my tumbler when we read together and stored it in his memory.

That wasn’t the only moment he proved his spectacular memory and attention to detail. As we walked on the streets for the program’s weekly neighborhood field trips (whether to a police station, park, or library), he would tell me from the beginning the exact directions to reach our destination. While we headed back to the classroom from lunch time, he would vividly describe a funny movie scene or tell stories of his family from years prior. He was even able to digest complicated plots in the Star Wars comic book that I read with him, which was way above his reading level- and honestly, I didn’t even understand what was going on half the time.

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Ernesto; he insisted we take a selfie, and then hated it because he’s missing a tooth LOL.

Throughout LAUP, I learned about the complex layers of systemic injustice and how that effects people, especially low-income ethnic minority communities. In fact, it’s so deeply engrained and complex that it feels hopeless to see any change no matter how much people shout for help and their voices to be heard, or how much they try to push and yank off the strings that are choking them. Trying to untie one string out of the many intertwined strings of a giant knotted ball still leaves an inevitably giant knotted ball. It was not the first time I heard about these issues, but being away without technology or worries of everyday life for 6 weeks really forced me to immerse into the deeper waters.

It’s one thing to hear about these messed up policies and  the overwhelming, glaring statistics, but another to build relationships, hear real life stories, and witness them yourself. Also, I did not expect to see so much of my own story in what I heard and learned- how freaking uncomfortable! I was at LAUP to learn about injustice and God’s heart, not about my own past and present hardships or pains- what the heck, Jesus?! That’s what being at LAUP was like for me, if I had to summarize it.

The partial narrative of my LAUP experience that I’m about to continue telling here is about how one boy’s life intersected with mine at the right place in the right time, and how Jesus used this to grip my heart, alter my perspective, and realign the trajectory of my future.  There is no happy ending or clear resolution to this story, but it is one that is honest and real.

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Tales of a Clutz in a Materialistic Culture

For lack of a better description, I felt like a total clutz these past few weeks. In a span of 1 week, I lost both my phone and wallet.

Well, the first incident was considered a theft as my iphone was stolen from a taco place in Long Beach. It was turned off when I tried to call it, and 2 hours later the location was tracked in between East LA and Compton at 10 p.m. The person who took it clearly knew what he (or she) was doing, and it would not have been worth it to drive to a sketchy area in the middle of the night just to try to retrieve the phone. I had already made peace with what had happened within those 2 hours anyway, and while it was kind of a hassle to go through with it, everything was fine and I moved on the next day. It was actually nice to have a week of “phone fasting”.

Now, losing my wallet on the other hand was a different story. I was on the bus back from work, sleep deprived and apparently too distracted by looking out the window at the busy street construction before I got off on my stop. An hour later, I realized it was missing and the only place I could have lost it was on the bus. I was panicked due to some money I received from my parents the night before for rent, as well as irreplaceable important documents I had in there. I wondered how I could have been so clumsy and given this was the “theme” of the week after the phone incident, the guilt felt even stronger. The story for this one ends better though. The 4th bus driver opened his door at the bus stop I waited at and greeted me with a smile saying “Yes, I know exactly why you’re here!” and handed me my wallet. This could have easily been stolen too instead of being turned in.

With both incidents, no real damage was done. However, as I was shaken with worry from the second event, I knew these things didn’t occur out of coincidence. Perhaps it was a lesson to always put my belongings in a zipped pocket or bag, but it had to be more than that…

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