Noam Chomsky says that the factors predicting success in our “meritocracy” are a “combination of greed, cynicism, obsequiousness and subordination, lack of curiosity and independence of mind, [and] self-serving disregard for others.”
“But he was known as a guardian of black cinema. He warned a younger generation of filmmakers against the “slavery Zeitgeist” of contemporary Hollywood, a system that homogenizes the work of black creators into soulless content. “They want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to who they are,” he said, in 2014.”- Doreen St. Felix on John Singleton for The New Yorker 4/30.19 .
John Singleton died last week at the age of 51. I have been thinking about him all week and reading a few pieces about him and his life and his work. I was a fan. I was 13 or 14 when Boyz n the Hood came out. That movie meant a lot to me for a lot of reasons. As a Mexican kid growing up poor in a small town, I related more to stories of black people portrayed on screen than the middle class and wealthy white people that were portrayed on 99% of T.V. and film screens. Often those black people were poor and worked in service jobs, just like my family. The characters also embodied this feeling that the world treats and sees you as Other, which was also relatable.
But Boyz n the Hood was special. It took place in L.A. which was just over an hour from where I lived and it was where some of my relatives lived. It took place on streets that looked similar to the streets where my cousins lived in Wilmington; a suburb of Long, Beach CA. Streets where my cousins also found themselves fighting for their lives and futures in a war not of their making. Streets where my aunt and uncle spent sleepless nights worrying about their kids and grand kids and mourning the fact that their son, my cousin, had been sentenced to life in prison.
I sometimes feel that the most defining moment of mine and my brothers lives was that my dad took a job as a fry cook in a small town called Lebec, rather than in one of the many poor, predominantly black and hispanic cities that surround Los Angeles. I was born in Torrance, which is one of those cities. But that was only because our only relatives here in the States were my aunt and uncle who had been in Long Beach, CA many years. They were the ones that helped my mom and took to the hospital when she went into labor with me. Since my father had been deported days prior she had to rely on them to get her to the hospital. But I never lived in Torrance or San Pedro or Long Beach.
My uncle was my dads older brother, he and his wife and their four kids had come to the states in the 60’s from Chihuahua Mexico and that’s where they settled. My uncle worked on the loading docks in San Pedro. Three of my four cousins who grew up there, were in jail for long periods of their adult lives, and suffered with drug addiction. My cousin who has been in jail since I was 11years old died of cancer this past January, while in prison. He was in his 54 years old.
My brothers and I played Little League, went to proms and finished high school. Two of my brothers went into the Army; one retired and now has his own business, the other has the highest rank of a NCO (non commissioned officer) and is still serving. My third brother has a good job that he has for close to two decades and has a wife and kids and owns a home. I ,eventually, in my early 40’s found my way to living my dreams. But from a lot of my family members’ perspectives, we’ve always been living the dream.