Así Está La Cosa

Biography Arturo Hernandez-Sametier


When we bought the oldest laundry in Los Angeles, it came with an old man. He was an ex-monk, ex-merchant marine, a scrappy little man without family who slept behind the dryers since 1952. We kept him and we kept the same machines for another twenty years. I grew up in East L.A., my head stuck in the back of ancient GE washers, fighting with frozen bolts and listening to Little Joe's stories.

The Monte Vista Arms, a massive tenement across the street, kept my father busy making crosses out of old machine parts. He would tie them to pipes along the alley anytime another gang member died on our premises. The last I remember was a kid named Huero. His parents sold tamales from a barrel on the corner and they pulled him off the fence the day they cut him up and left him there.

My life has since been divided between dedication to troubled, marginalized kids, a need to tell stories and a love of music. My first book told the story of a one room school for the Clanton and First Flat's gangs of South Central – I built it when I was a 20, still a kid and with little fear. Everyone came by to help: nuns, Kentucky Fried Chicken, local cops – the universe does seem to encourage a little crazy idealism. The next book added what I had learned working with Pima and Apache gang youth in Indian Country, and then with the inner-city gangs in Boston, Oakland and Phoenix. I'm now working with Guatemalan refugee kids arriving at our borders without parents, and hoping our politics is kinder than it sounds at the moment.

Between these projects I went to college, wrote a musical with my brother (actor Marco Hernandez), had children, and bought an Ice Cream truck when my kids needed their dad to be home. My kids worked it after-school, and sometimes during, and we were the best damned Ice Cream Truck in Phoenix.  

The Music of Jimmy Ojotriste has been an intense labor. Like many authors, I write stories that I want to read: tales imbued with the human warmth, humor and subtle magic that has permeated my experience. This year will be about sharing this story of music, glass eyes, brujos, abuelas, amigos, locuras and illusiones.