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Editor’s note: In September we asked our readers to write essays about their “third place,” the special place where they can go to be themselves, be with friends or just be.

Lovin’ East L.A.

1st place $50

By David Rodriguez, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex


David stands outside a shop on Cesar Chavez Avenue, a street where he used to hang out with his friends.
Photo by Editor Amanda Riddle

Whoever said that a cheerful place has to be a safe place? Hmm … not me. My place isn’t just one spot, it’s a whole community. So what is it that makes this community so special to me? I was raised here; I witnessed unbelievable mess and faced freaky stuff.

When I look up I see the chopper’s bright lights near my friend’s pad. I hear the cops’ sirens and the ambulance picking up another unknown guy. Those are the streets I like being surrounded by. Those are the streets of Boyle Heights, Cesar Chavez Avenue and Soto Street to be exact. Since coming from Mexico my life has completely turned around. From 1996 to 2003, kicking back on the block with friends and family has been one of my favorite hobbies. Chilling with Big Head, Lil Droopy, Daniel and Miguel, my buddies of heart. Riding bikes around the block, hitting on girls and getting slapped, fleeing quickly to prevent trouble, riding at full speed and hiding at McDonald’s. Seeing Mexican revolution pieces on the wall, every time I’d see one I’d get chicken skin and my hairs grew tall.

So many places to go and we knew them all, the best tattoo shop in the mini mall. Walking through the streets that made history, when Chicanos walked out and protested to earn respect and dignity. Practicing soccer on my friend’s porch, later my cousins hooked me up with this black girl named Comiko. We would turn off the lights and start with the tickles. My friends and I would run when the ice cream truck would pass. We’d grab our BB guns and in no time we were ready to blast.

At Hollenbeck, the best middle school around, feeling cool, popular as if I owned a crown. Ditching on the roof of the auditorium with Gum Boy. Bumping music on our CD players, of course it had to be corridos. After school we go to the best taco stand ever, in the pharmacy we buy the best Slurpees, in Payless we get fake Chucks, and in Joe’s the best haircuts. In the evening there is carne asada and for youngsters, piñatas. The drunken adults arguing and the little ones running freely, but also crying. Later that night I see a gang of dudes in the corner posted up ready for the fine girls and their 20-inch Cadillacs, if you know where I’m headed at. Going to study with Julieta at Franklin Library. The next thing you know we share mouth to mouth galletas (crackers), vanilla her favorite.

It was rare when we had nothing to do. We would take the 620 shuttle around the whole area from White Memorial to General Hospital. We would get off at crazy neighborhoods, which, by the way, had a four-star restaurant that served the best food. We would cruise around in my uncle’s Altima. Five fools, we busted a wrong turn, and it ended in a burn. A little dude shot us from behind. When we turned around he was all tattooed. For some reason it seemed fun. Unfortunately everything wasn’t as ecstatic and exotic as I hoped, because another candle would light up in honor of another fella gone.

Outside of Roosevelt High my uncle’s buddy got shot, not once or twice, but 14 times. He took it all into the chest, but like he had marked, I do it for East L.A. Five months later he was paralyzed in a wheelchair.

There were crazy parties at Dino’s pad every night. It would get raided and the cops killed the ladies’ flash. Every day we lived a whole new experience and what an experience it would be. This is way different from being at high school or home because unlike those two places, the community has everything to explore. It helps one to be for real, witnessing life the way street men see it. We never see no stars with their badass cars, but dudes with messed up scars. It means a lot to me because it reminds me of my beloved country, Mexico. Throughout the years it has helped me figure out who I am. Now, here I am with the chance to write about a nice spot, but instead I prefer to write about where I came from.

I moved to Echo Park, started new adventures and met new friends. I like this place but it can’t compare. I guess no matter where I go, north, south and west, there is only one place for me, East L.A. See, I understand that my third place may not be as exciting or interesting as yours but when you see real life and the community, it isn’t as a fairytale. Still I don’t mind chilling. Like I said, it’s the hood, the people, the friends, the beautiful streets, Soto Street and Cesar Chavez, that I love!

Free to skate

2nd place $30

By Jesse Cisneros, Gardena HS

My favorite third place is a school where my friends and I skate. To me it is not about skating but just about relaxing and hanging out with my friends. It is about being in a place where no one tells you what to do.

There are lots of people there. They skate, hang out, talk or just do their own thing listening to their music. There are lots of people with different backgrounds: pretty boys, rockers, taggers, nerds, 10-year-olds to people in their 20s, good skaters and beginners.

My skating spot is a good place to learn how to skate because people do not put you down. I learned how to skate there seven years ago; people there did not even know me but still encouraged me. They showed me new tricks. In fact, I still skate with them once in a while.

You make new friends there. When we’ve skated for a long time some of us go to the 99 cents store and buy chips and soda. I used to skate there until 11 or 12 at night, but now I don’t have time and the police told us that we can’t skate there anymore.
Someday, I would like to start a skate park for the youth of the city. Hopefully it will offer them a place to get away, relax and just hang out. Who knows? Ten years from now, maybe another kid out there will be writing about my skate park as his third place.

A grassy oasis not far from school

3rd place $20

By Gaby Kovarik, Wilson MS (Glendale)

Come on, come on. “Brrrring!” Finally, the bell rings and a sea of students forms in the halls of Wilson Middle School. Every kid is pushing to get to their locker or call their parents to come get them. I hate the enormous crowds and immediately slip through to the nearest exit. I run outside to a place my friends and I call the Island. The Island is our patch of hope in despair, a.k.a. several square feet of grass and a pine tree, sitting between two streets.

My friends and I first discovered the Island during summer school. We would eat our snacks there after first period. Then, we would go back in the school for second period. This year, my friends and I meet up there after school. “Vroom!!!” As cars pass by the Island, people stare at us, but we just laugh.

The Island is so different from being at home or school. No one tells us what to do or gives out chores and homework. My parents don’t yell at me there and teachers don’t tell us to be quiet. On the Island, my friends and I are as loud as we want. “Oh, it’s that bunch of hooligan kids again,” some people probably think. My friends and I don’t really care what other people think about us. At the Island, we can talk about whatever we feel like—awesome songs, new commercials or something totally embarrassing that happened in fifth or sixth period. The number one, incomparable thing about the Island is … hanging out with the coolest people I know, my friends.

The Mall

Honorable mention

Meshalay White, Gardena HS

Since my first steps into this world I have been in love with this place. A variety of department stores, food courts and specialty stores. The mellow music, the sound of footsteps and the chattering of people’s voices. From one side of the mall to the other, I walk my pain away.

The mall is where I can go after I failed that math test, or “got into it” with my parents. It’s where I can go and not think about my boyfriend problems. It’s where I feel at home, from walking to different stores, talking to the salespeople about the newest fashion and flipping through the sale racks. Sometimes the mind tells you to give up, but being at the mall reminds me that I have bigger things to live for.

I love going here with my close friends who are going through similar things as me. We eat, talk, laugh, shop, go to the movies, or talk about the nice-looking boys we have seen. The mall is a relaxation. Just the excitement to see what’s new in stores relaxes me. Once I leave the mall, I feel rejuvenated, eager to go back to the stressful life and reminisce on all the fun times I had shopping.


What’s the hardest part about relationships?

Relationships can be great, but they aren’t always candy and roses. Your girlfriend calls you too much. Your parents don’t like him. You’re not sure if you feel the same way she feels about you. It’s hard to find time to date with everything going on in your life. Or maybe you’ve been hurt, emotionally or physically. Maybe other people’s relationships have affected you, like friends who don’t have time for you anymore or you feel pressured to date. Tell us about the relationship challenges and pressures you’ve had. What’s the hardest part about relationships? What have you had to overcome and how did you deal with it?

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it.

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and telephone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our January-February issue and put on our Web site at


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