The author brings his message to Kennedy students

by Andrew Hernandez and Karina Garcia (News Editor and Staff Writer)- 2/10/16

English Teacher Teresa Chuc poses with Luis Rodriguez after his presentation
English Teacher Teresa Chuc poses with Luis Rodriguez after his presentation


Celebrated Chicano writer Luis J. Rodriguez visited Kennedy to share his life stories and lessons with students in the little theatre.

Rodriguez recounted the days of his turbulent youth in Watts: being shot at, getting in fights, and struggles with drugs and alcohol. “I wanted to die … I thought dying was the best thing that could happen to me at that time,” Rodriguez shared from the mindset of his gang-affiliated teenage self. Rodriguez’s troubles with the law were numerous. At the age of 16, Rodriguez was briefly held in murderer’s row in 1970 only to be released with no charges filed. Two years later, Rodriguez was convicted and sentenced for a minimum of six years for getting in an altercation with sheriff’s deputies.

It was in his time in prison where Rodriguez felt a “calling to writing.” It was here when Rodriguez read one of his signature poems “The Calling.”

After more readings of his poems, one entitled “Watts Bleeds,” Rodriguez opened the field for questions. Rodriguez responded to questions ranging from what he personally gets out of poetry to what book garnered him the biggest payday. “Whatever you do, don’t give up what you love. If you have a passion for something, shouldn’t that be your life? Get that passion because when I’m feeling unbalanced or angry, I always go back to writing to put me back at peace.”

The assembly was made possible by English teacher Teresa Chuc who was familiar with Rodriguez through his works but learned about the assemblies that Rodriguez holds for other students through a colleague, prompting her to contact him about holding an assembly for Kennedy. Chuc hoped that students would be inspired by his words and his story, a hope that Principal Richard Chavez, as well as other staff members shared in.

Chuc’s hopes of students being inspired by Rodriguez’s story were materialized in freshman Angela Murillo. “It was inspirational. He went through a really hard stage in life, but he became better.”

Students agreed having guest speakers like Rodriguez is a motivation to become better students and people. Kennedy freshman Farshad Azam stated that Rodriguez “showed that you can’t quit something. He stopped using alcohol and drugs. You just got to work for what you want.”

Rodriguez’s appearance at Kennedy was only a small portion of the events and assemblies he has held in the Los Angeles area since he was named the Los Angeles Poet Laureate in 2014. Rodriguez’s expectations as Poet Laureate are that he is expected to compose poems to the city, host at least six readings, hold at least six classes or workshops at public library branches, and serve as a cultural ambassador.  “When they named me Poet Laureate they said ‘do what you want to do with it’ and so far I have held over 110 events, and I have 100 pages of new poetry coming out in March, so it’s been a great honor,” Rodriguez proudly stated.

Rodriguez, his wife Trini Rodriguez, and other cultural leaders founded Tia Chucha’s, a not-for-profit cultural arts center and bookstore in Sylmar in 2001. After several moves, Tia Chucha’s is still in operation today in Sylmar providing guitar lessons, dance lessons, open mic nights, and other programs that seek to promote culture and the arts within the community. “We really want Tia Chucha’s to have its own building.”

At the end of Rodriguez’s visit, english teacher Daniel Armstrong asked what was the advice that he had for students and teachers.