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At PCC, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez Talks Homelessness and the Uplifting Power of Art

Published on Monday, May 2, 2016 | 7:03 pm
Luis J. Rodriguez (right) at Pasadena City College on May 2, 2016


[Editor’s Note: In the original version of this article, Mr. Rodriguez’s name was incorrect due to a copy editing error. we sincerely apologize for this mistake.]

Luis J. Rodriguez was honored by Pasadena City College Wednesday afternoon in an intimate setting on campus, recognizing both his literary impact and the personal achievements of his journey from being homeless to becoming LA’s Poet Laureate.

The event looked at the Rodriguez’s tumultuous and inspiring life story. It presented live readings, a preview of his new documentary, a Q & A session and book raffles.

Rodriguez is the son of Mexican immigrants and is now regarded as one of America’s leading Latino writers. His autobiographical work Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A won a Carl Sandburg Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book.

In the book, Rodriguez recounts his days as a member of a street gang in East LA.

Guests at the PCC event were greeted with a warm welcome and a colorful assortment of vegetable trays and fruit platters before the event kicked off at noon with the poet front and center, accompanied by his wife Trini Rodriguez. While Rodriguez’s inspiring life story was condensed into two-hour compendium, he was quick to share anything and everything that helped shape him into the man and writer he is today.

The discussion was based on three topics that reign heavy in Rodriguez’s life and writing inspiration: the meaning of home, shifting between finding a home, and homelessness. He read excerpts from his poems as well as full poems to let the audience into his mind and into the experiences that were responsible for him writing them.

“I’ve had several bouts of homelessness. I’ve found that the center of home is in the heart. It’s really what’s inside of you that means something,” Rodriguez explained.

Rodriguez read many of his poems to a responsive and attentive audience, poems such as “Letters to My Daughter”and “Loving What You Leave,” and “The Calling,” a poem that recounts his experience at 16 years old of being sought for suspicion of murder following the deadly East L.A. riot in the 1970’s.

Rodriguez delivered his poems in a powerful voice.

“Instability prepared me for homelessness, but nothing prepares you for sense of abandonment and the cold nights without a roof over your head,” he said.

After an hour of personal discussion about his perspective on the economics and living situations in LA and how they have changed since he was a homeless man nearly three decades ago, Rodriguez then proceeded to premiere fifteen minutes of clips from his recent documentary titled, “Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community”, which explores the arts and arts-based community spaces in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

“We hope that this documentary puts the conversation out there about the role of the arts in society. The idea that art has been alienated, so we are trying to reintroduce the idea that art is not a luxury, but a necessity,” explained Trini Rodriguez in regards to the purpose of the new documentary that profiles the emerging artistic communities in the San Fernando Valley that were once riddled with gang violence.

The audience were then able to engage in a Q & A portion of the ceremony where Luis and Trini Rodriguez welcomed any and all questions. Rodriguez’s humble and wise demeanor coated every answer, even when asked about the livelihood of a poet of his caliber.

“I’m one of the most lucky poets in the world. Clapping is the best currency. I don’t do this for the money,” explained Rodriguez.

The ceremony was finalized with with a raffle. Fifteen lucky guests received signed copies of Ramirez’s newest book of poems, “Borrowed Bones”.

Luis and Trina Rodriguez own Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center in Sylmar where you can purchase “Borrowed Bones” and other literary pieces by Ramirez. For more information on Tia Chucha and Luis Ramirez’s body of work, visit

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