Director, producer, and activist Fanny Veliz recently hosted “Kids Talk” at Blu Elefant Café. “Kids Talk” allows teenagers who have stepped up to the plate, to share their experiences and offer advice to their peers on how to navigate the obstacles they may face living in or around the neighborhoods of Harvard Heights, Pico-Union, Adams-Normandie, Jefferson Park, and Arlington Heights. Teens who participated are all seniors at Math and Science College Preparatory High School.
Veliz felt it necessary to provide this platform because she also faced many obstacles before achieving success. At the age of 17 she came to the United States from Venezuela to pursue a career in acting. She faced countless obstacles at the start of her career. She was told that her roles would be very limited due to the fact she was a Latina. This was the driving force behind her road to success.
“I began writing, producing, and directing,” said Veliz. “I offered parts to people of all backgrounds. I focused on helping independent film makers and empowering communities of color.”
Here are a few of their stories:
Edgar Pena an honor student was brave enough to share his story. Pena was born in Los Angeles after his parents moved here from Central America. His father worked 12-hour shifts in order to provide for his family. Because of this he was unable to establish the bond he needed with his father. His mother didn’t speak English so it was hard for her to provide him with the help he needed in school. Because of this and the lack of support he received from his teachers, he struggled in school in his early years.
“I considered my two closest friends my role models,” said Pena.
As he and his friends got older, the neighborhood in which they lived began to pose obstacles. It was gang and drug infested and looked to take over the young boys lives. With these major influences, Pena and his friends experimented with alcohol and drugs.
Pena attended Emerson middle school, which was unsafe to travel to from his home. One day he was jumped by gang members.
“After I was beat up I laid there and kept asking why this happened to me,” said an emotional Pena. “My view of life changed at that moment. I knew I did not want to end up like these people.”
He decided to leave the drugs and alcohol alone after this experience. His friends on the other hand became consumed by these substances. Because of this, he decided to make one of the hardest decisions of his life and separate himself from the two.
“After losing them I felt alone,” said Pena. “I lost my two closest friends, and my role models. I had no one else to look to for support.”
But after attending Math and Science College Preparatory High School, he started making friends and getting the support he’s always needed from his teachers. He quickly made his way to the top three of his class.
“I’m proving everyone who called me a failure wrong,” said Pena.
He is currently applying to various colleges and is looking forward to a successful future.
Jackie Martinez is another student who had an inspirational story to share. Before she began to tell her story she was immediately moved to tears. After about five minutes she was able to recollect and read her autobiography.
Along with her family, Martinez was born in Toluca, Mexico. Her father had come to the Los Angeles to get a better job and save money to arrange for the arrival of the rest of the family. After two years of being apart, when she was six her father sent for the family. He arranged for them to be divided between families returning to the states for a small fee. Unfortunately the journey would not be an easy one.
“When we arrived at the border we were asked for identification and how each of us were related,” said Martinez. “I was asked my name in English but I had no idea what I was being asked. My fake family forgot that I did not speak English. They were immediately arrested and I was sent to an orphanage.”
In this orphanage she recalls being treated very harshly by the staff. When all hope was lost, her mother somehow found where she was and picked her up. They traveled to Tijuana to begin a journey to Los Angeles. Martinez remembers the journey being very rigorous.
“We sometimes went without eating for days, we walked for hours at a time, we had to climb mountains, and cross rivers,” said Martinez. “My mother has heart disease so it made it hard to complete the journey. At the age of six I leaned independence and maturity.”
After a long trip, Martinez and her mother made it to Los Angeles where they moved into a one-bedroom apartment with her father and siblings who had also made it. They had to share a kitchen and bathroom with a man who owned a home next to them. They struggled financially for most of her early life. She fast-forwarded to her high school experience where she became class president and volunteered to do community work. She made her way to the top of her class and now focuses on helping other students who are undocumented.
“I feel there are immigration laws to intimidate undocumented people, so we need to work harder,” said a teary-eyed Martinez.
Bryan Alvarez’s parents made the trip from Guatemala to Los Angeles to look for better jobs and to provide him with a quality education. Because his parents worked so much, he spent most of his time with his babysitter.
As he got older he spent most of his time at school because he didn’t feel comfortable at home.
“I called it my second home,” said Alvarez. “I joined many after school program so that I could spend most of my time at school instead of at home.”
He was often bullied at school, and this led him to contemplate suicide. It was hard for him to make friends until he attended Math and Science Academy College Preparatory High School. His friends in high school are the only people he considered family. He was inspired by many of his teachers to further his education.
“I am going to college so that I can get a better job and never have to struggle like this again,” said Alvarez.
Yudith Sanchez shared her story of longing to have her father in her life. At 10-years-old her father was drunk and arrested for acting violently toward her mother. He was undocumented so after his arrest he was sent back to Mexico. Just a little girl, Sanchez wasn’t told the reality of the situation.
“Everyday after school I would run outside and hope it would be my father picking me up,” said Sanchez.
After many years of disappointment, she received a phone call from her father who told her he was in Mexico and wasn’t coming back. A heartbroken Sanchez couldn’t understand why, and her heart was torn more when her father told her that they would never survive without him.
“He kind of rubbed it in our faces that me and my mom wouldn’t make it without him,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez took those words and used them to fuel her aspiration of graduating high school, going to college, and getting a good job. She is currently applying to different colleges.
The last student was Aaron Perkins. Growing up he faced bullying because of his size, and race. He moved from school to school which made it difficult for him to make friends. He dealt with being an outcast while his twin sister was always popular.
He was able to get through his early years by joining L.A.’s Best which was an after school enrichment program.
“When the bell rang I would run as fast as I could to the after school program.” Said Perkins. “This was my safe haven from the bullies at my school.”
Perkins was disappointed in the school system. There was a lack of resources and support from teachers. This led him to become to go to and become very proactive at Math and Science College Preparatory High School where he mentors students.
“I encourage my peers and youth to speak out against bullying,” said Perkins. “I also encourage my peers to do everything it takes to become everything they want to be.”
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.