By Viva Padilla
In pre-K on the bus back from a field trip, my classmate sitting in front of me started singing: “Siempre hay por quien vivir y a quien amar/ Siempre hay por que vivir por que luchar,” a song by Julio Iglesias that my dad and his choir would sing as a (remixed) recessional song at Nativity Catholic Church on Sundays. I remember sitting back in my seat as the bus moved along, looking out the window and feeling the sun shine on me, as I listened to her sing. This is the first poem that ever stayed with me.
Growing up in the 90s, I went to a Catholic school that was founded by French nuns in 1925; it was a brick building in the middle of the hood (Slauson and Vermont Ave.) full of Black and Brown kids, and Black teachers.
During the ’92 uprising, I remember hearing explosions in the distance outside my house and concluding as a little girl: This is what war sounds like. I remember it being my big brother’s birthday, and my family and I were driving around looking for a place to have dinner, my parents unaware that riots were really happening right outside our door. I saw our carniceria off Martin Luther King Blvd completely black and gone. I remember worrying, “Where is the security man with black hair and a big black mustache?” He was a friend of my dad’s who worked there, a Mexican with green eyes and a Chente look. After driving around more, we ended up in the parking lot of a KFC and my dad left all seven of us in the van as he went to go and check if it was open. He came back a while later, completely pale. As we pulled away, a Black guy came running toward the van with a baseball bat and my dad, the quick thinker, sped up towards him as if he were going to run him over. I remember we all went home after that and no one talked about anything. My dad later said that while inside the KFC, someone had pulled a gun on him.
I remember never having answers to these things I had experienced. My teachers never had them and neither did my dad or his cura friends, but I was embedded with the monastic love of studying and reading, that was impressed upon me by adults who taught me by example. It wasn’t until I was later given a blank journal by my 6th grade teachers, Mr. Bender and Mr. Chen (my first non-Black teachers), I began to write within this journal’s blank pages as a way to figure out my life, to ask all these questions no one seemed to have the answer for, questions that still seem unanswerable now. This is where Dryland was born.
A literary journal is a place for questions, a place where art can find you, where a personal narrative can be claimed and celebrated, shared and enjoyed by anyone who resonates with it. Literary journals should not be an unusual thing in our culture here in the US. They should not be saved for MFA programs and orgs with grantwriters backing it; they need to be in the hands of the people. Art comes to life within a soul that’s ready to receive it. South Central (and communities like it) are, and have been, ready for it.
It’s been 5 years since I started this journal. Before then, I had been on a path full of dead ends and false starts for a long while. Committing myself to Dryland has been in itself a commitment to save myself from all the forces that were close to constricting me to the self-destructive malaise of a ghetto, a historically racist creation, of South Central. By creating the journal, I trust that having this space that transcends a physical one, to share our ideas, our art, write our own stories, and ask the unanswerable questions—this is what will sustain us in the face of oppressive forces.
Dryland is a historical document, a way to claim our narrative. We are in our 10th issue and it feels like we are just starting. The number of contributors has doubled in comparison to issue 9, from 30 to almost 60. The support has been immense, and through the direct financial support from people (not grants or universities) we were able to publish 500 copies in our first print run. The writers who worked on pieces specifically for this issue, including Compton poet Jenise Miller and Boyle Heights reporter Nidia Bautista, are just a few of the brilliant voices in this issue. Shoutout to others featured in this issue: Tongo Eisen-Martin from the Bay, who shares the belief in our work and philosophy, Eva Recinos, a fellow South Central mujer who knows what having to be a jedi in training in the hood is like, and lastly Patrick Martinez (the cover artist), whose work I hope welcomes you to read us.
It is 2020. We are fumbling through this pandemic. History is on repeat. The cops have barbarically murdered a Black man on video… It’s been a rough going in the past few months, to say the least, but this journal has been a lifeline for me, as I hope it is for others. Pausing it was never an option… because that song, that first poem that ever stayed with me, still resonates in my mind when it says, “there is always a reason to live, there is always a reason to fight.”
Viva Padilla is a poet and the founding editor of Dryland, an independent print literary journal founded in South Central Los Angeles and of Hombre Lobo. She is a first-generation Chicana, a daughter of immigrants who crossed the border from Colima, Mexico. She is currently working on a bilingual poetry collection.