Thousands of children are arrested each year in Los Angeles County. Even one brush with the system when a person is young can adversely affect their life and lead to further entanglements with the system. In 2018, law enforcement officers in L.A. County reported 8,133 youth arrests—a figure that doesn’t include school arrests—to the California Department of Justice. This month, the county’s board of supervisors made strides toward reforming the juvenile justice system by launching a Department of Youth Development.
The department aims to change how the system treats and invests in kids who enter it. Most arrests and citations minors incur are for nonviolent misdemeanors or felonies that could be referred to diversion programs that would lead to more-positive outcomes than incarceration. Some of the most harrowing scenes that Luis J. Rodriguez recounts in his memoir Always Running, our July California Book Club pick, are set in prisons. He writes, for instance, of being brought out to see his parents in “old clothes, caked with dirt and blood.” How does it shape an impoverished child to be subject to such gross abuse, with no real recourse? And how helpless, how terrifying to be a parent who sees a biased system fail a child they love. But as Rodriguez explains in his essay “Why I Write” for Alta Journal, books provided him with grace and a refuge as a kid who got pulled into the system repeatedly.
Earlier in 2022, the writer, performer, and teacher Rubén Martínez published a stirring personal essay that is structured largely as a series of questions and takes stock of the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, he writes about parenting during this period, when the public drive toward a revolution in policing intensified but his own daughter struggled with overwhelming fear and anxiety. In the midst of an experience that will ring true to many parents, he locates grace in voice. His daughter’s panic attacks gradually receded “in direct proportion to her finding her political voice, emulating her heroine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” For Martínez, as well as for Rodriguez, deep hope can be found in fighting through language, expressing the many intertwined injustices of our system.
We are delighted to announce that Martínez will be our special guest for the CBC event to discuss Rodriguez’s memoir. Martínez was born and raised in Los Angeles and is the son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico on his father’s side and El Salvador on his mother’s. He holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University, with a joint appointment in the departments of English and Chicana/Chicano and Latina/Latino studies. He is the author of Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape, Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, and other titles. And he is the recipient of an Emmy Award, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, and a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
The conversation is sure to be a searing, smart, and lively look not only at the classic Always Running, but also at the arc of Rodriguez’s body of work and its themes of juvenile justice, indigeneity, Chicanx culture and history, and labor history. If you haven’t started reading Always Running yet, there’s still time—it’s a gripping, fast read. You can also win a copy through the California Book Club’s giveaways on Instagram.•
Join us July 21 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Rodriguez will appear in conversation with Martínez and CBC host John Freeman. Visit the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow California Book Club members know what you think of the book. Register here.