Tupac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” is more than just a song. To many, it is a sense of affection and loyalty to California and is the inspiration behind this show. Join host and New York Times writer Walter Thompson-Hernández as he takes us through his personal journey back to his hometown of Los Angeles. Part autobiography, part reportage, this show is a richly sound-designed audio tour that takes us into the homes of communities that are touchstones to Walter’s life.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It’s a Sunday afternoon. It’s 1991 and my mom and I are driving down Alameda street. It’s a year before we moved to the westside.
Ellie Hernández: And I said, Mijo look look. Mijo look outside. Mira mira. Los cowboys, they’re black cowboys.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And I see these two older black men on horses. I was only six. These cowboys seemed magical and wondrous, and their horses seem like they're from another world.
Ellie Hernández: I remember your face. Looking through the window with this big smile.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And I look at my mom, and I say, “You knew about this?” You know, it’s really hard to process things at that age. It felt like I had been missing out on something that I now know is a sacred mythology but was completely erased from the history books in my school. And I wasn’t alone. The other black and brown children in my school were also being deprived of this story. We didn’t know we could be cowboys.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: “Turn right to South Alameda Street”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And 25 years later, I’m back on Alameda Street and I’m driving to meet a group of childhood friends who call themselves the Compton Cowboys. They live in a farming community called the Richland Farms, an oasis in the heart of Compton.
GPS: “Your destination is on the left.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I started coming to the ranch in 2018, when I was working on a New York Times Story about the group. It was only supposed to be a 2000-word story, but it got way deeper and I became friends with the cowboys. And I realized these men and women, and the ranch potentially held answers for redemption and healing.
This is California Love and I’m Walter.
It’s 4:30 a.m., Tuesday, beginning of December 2019. Anthony’s an early bird — just like me. He’s the only person awake in Building 12 of the Imperial Courts in Watts. It’s one of the largest housing projects west of the Mississippi.
Anthony Harris: And this is all I do, what I’m doing right now.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony has an early morning routine and when I jump in his truck, he’s right in the middle of it. He lights up a black and mild and adjusts his mirrors. He’s on his way to a ranch inside the Richland Farms where he cares for horses. It’s home to the Compton Cowboys. He takes a giant puff, releases the smoke in the air, and then drives off.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And so this is your route every single morning, right?
Anthony Harris: At first I used to stop right here, at the light and go down Willowbrook. But I had to switch it up because a big truck hit my mirror. I always be in my mirrors, so I don’t let nobody follow me.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It’s really early, but Anthony’s head is already on a swivel. And he’s constantly looking around.
Anthony Harris: The Mexican’s ‘ill come from that corner, next to that … The mail truck at.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Right.
Anthony Harris: They be all right there. On both corners.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Chill?
Anthony Harris: Chilin. Just sitting there.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony sits high above all the neighborhood drama in a truck he calls “BIG RED.” Big Red is huge. It looks fit for a really tall person but Anthony’s a short guy. On a good day he’s maybe 5’5’’. We pass by different neighborhoods and stop at a gas station at the intersection of Alondra and Acacia Avenue. We’re deep in the Acacia Blocc Crips’ Territory, where many of his friends have lost their lives to the Compton Varrio 7 Oh’s, a local Mexican gang.
Anthony Harris: Now, if you a black coming to this gas station, they’ll come and rush you. Oh you from Acacia (a-ca-ci-a) that means Acacia (a-ca-sia). They try to beat up on you or they try to shoot at you. So, the homies that had to make ‘em leave killin ‘em and shootin em...ain’t none of them out there no more, none of em…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: This hurts to hear but I understand both sides because I’m the son of a black father and Mexican mother, and I’m no stranger to Black and Brown violence in LA. This gas station is where his best friend, his day one, Black, was murdered three years ago. Each landmark that we pass holds a lot of memories. The beauty salon with the tias in front of it, the Mexican meat market with the cows on the roof, and Mom’s Burgers on the left, compton High School’s on the right. These Compton landmarks have seen loss and violence.
Anthony Harris: The street sign say, Acacia, so….
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Acacia is the name of Anthony’s old gang and the name for his only daughter. He first read about its meaning in The Bible when he was incarcerated more than 15 years ago.
Anthony Harris: I’ll be like.. What’s that? I’m right there! That’s my name Daddy! Now, she loves her name...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Acacia means two things: Renewal and resurrection. Anthony prayed he would have both when he got out of prison. These streets are a part of him and he’s loyal.
Anthony Harris: My nigga TR, I can’t forget about youuuuuu…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: TR was murdered last year. As a child, Anthony was either on the streets or on the ranch.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: When Compton was founded in 1888, a part of it was zoned for farming. The area was called The Richland Farms and it was home to the cowboys I saw as a child.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The ranch was started by Mayisha Akbar, a member of the Hook family, and it sits on an acre of land. In 1988, Mayisha started a nonprofit called the Compton Jr. Posse. and she used it as a way to keep her children and their friends off the streets. And it all started in her backyard. There are four single family homes surrounding it, and when they look out their back window, there’s horses, cows, dogs, cats, llamas, chickens, and right in the middle, there’s an oval shaped riding arena filled with soft, loose dirt. People say, if you make a wrong turn down the right street you’ll run into it.
Keenan Abercrombia: Once you find the hidden secret, it’s like, “Oh this is here.” “Oh, you have an oasis.”
Randy Hook: back here on the ranch, it’s like, I can breathe.
Mayisha Akbar: Just like a deep breath of fresh air.
Kennan: Yeah, it’s like the world just chills out for a minute.
Keenan Abercrombia: When you come back here, you don’t see the rest of Compton.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: hahah… who’s your top eight? That was drama back in the days.
Keenan Abercrombia: Why’d you took me out of your top eight?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Right
Keenan Abercrombia: Why’d you took me out? Why’d you put ol’ girl up there?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Well, I’m seeing her now… I mean, you know. We’re together.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: A lot of cowboys come to the ranch. There’s T-Man, Kiera, Tre, Carlton, Lay lay.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What about Kennan?
Anthony Harris: Kennan, ah man he’s like me. Workaholic. “Whatchu need help with bro? I got you man.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony knows every single one of them.
Anthony Harris: Only thing Kennan needs… is his beer.
Keenan Abercrombia: She’s the number one on my Top Eight.
Walter Thompson-Hernández:She’s the number one right now.
Keenan Abercrombia: Two days later…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Two days later… ahhahaa.
Keenan Abercrombia: All the homies back up there.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: All the homies back up there...Like that one homie that got pushed out.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: While Keenan and I are talking about our old Myspace Top Eight, Anthony’s busy raking. Anthony is the first cowboy at the ranch every morning. He tends to the horses and he oversees the entire property. He’s been doing this for almost ten years. He loves it.
Anthony Harris: I’m happy. I’m at work. I love hearing my animals. Especially my cat Gangsta, he follow me everywhere. Look, he way up there...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The ranch means different things. It’s a sanctuary and it feels like a secret that the cowboys have dedicated their lives to protect. It’s also a place where people can go and feel safe. The racial violence that exists down the street, at the gas station, doesn’t exist in the farms. Black and brown people here, ride together and are connected through a love of horses. The Ranch is where Anthony feels closest to his true self.
Anthony Harris: Everytime I go there, it’s like you free. Nobody be on you, nobody hounding you. It's like a free world.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It feels like there are no limits to what can happen inside of the ranch.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You’d be cool being a pony?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Cowboy’s are even allowed to be ponies.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Hold on, Like if you had a choice, you would be a pony instead of a thoroughbred?
Anthony Harris: Heck yeah, I rather be a pony.
Keenan Abercrombia: It’s like the middle life of like freedom. If you were a full-blown horse, you got to deal with too many responsibilities.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: That’s deep as fuck.
Keenan Abercrombia: The quarter horses, the horses? Yeah, they have to deal with the adults.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Ant wanna be a pony he said.
Anthony Harris: I wanna be a pony.
Everyone: Ant, he already a lil nigga.
Anthony Harris: I’m little so I’m coming through. [feet moving] I’m a little pony.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Would you rather be a pony Randy, if you had a choice?
Anthony Harris: A pony, a big horse, which one?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Be honest bro.
Randy Harris: I rather be a big ass horse. A stallion.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Oh, here come Randy.
Randy Harris: My hooves hitting the ground hard. Bloca, bloca, bloca. Hair swangin’.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The big ass stallion with the hair swangin? That’s Randy.
Mayisha Akbar: That’s down at the creek… there’s Randy.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: He’s Mayisha’s nephew. Mayisha’s the founder of the ranch.
Mayisha Akbar: This is from the City of Los Angeles… [audio duck under]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: As she stands beside her walls, her voice is light and soft and her spirit is calm. This calmness wasn’t available to her when she led the Compton Jr. Posse for almost 30 years. The toll of the work was a lot on her body and it eventually caused an aneurysm. Forcing her to hand over The Ranch to her nephew, Randy. It wasn’t easy letting go of The Ranch. Mostly, because horses have been a part of her entire life.
Mayisha Akbar: Well, as a child from the time I can remember my dad and I used to every Saturday morning watch Westerns. John Wayne, Randel Scott, High Noon, Gary Cooper. Just all those old westerns…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: When she jumped on a horse at the age of eight, the horses became real.
Mayisha Akbar: So it just felt like... Ahhhh, I’m a movie star now. I’m actually doing it. Not just watchin it.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: That feeling stuck with her. When she moved to the Richland Farms, she passed down the same feeling to her children and their friends in the neighborhood.
Mayisha Akbar: All the kids always say… it’s like flying. It is.
Anthony Harris: It was... it took a breath like, “Whoa, I'm on horse.”
Keenan Abercrombia: You know, I’ve been trying to figure this out my life. Like what is it about you…?
Randy Harris: Because when you’re on a horse you’re elevated. People are literally looking up to you. It’s like man — you just feel invincible.
Reagan: From the beginning of our administration, we’ve taken strong steps to do something about this horror.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Ronald Reagan’s administration expanded the war on drugs, but some Compton residents believed it was a war on black people.
Reagan: And by next year, our spending for drug law enforcement will have more than tripled from its 1981 levels....
Walter Thompson-Hernández: When Mayisha first moved to The Hub City, black middle class families were moving out of Compton. Jobs that were available to black families in the 60s and 70s were now being shipped overseas. It left the community with some of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation.
Mayisha Akbar: Oh man, back in the days it was such a big war.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: While there was a war going on in the Middle East in the 90s, there was also a war going on in Compton. The crack cocaine epidemic was in full force. Compton’s Bloods and Crips and Mexican gangs, they were all wrestling for control over drug territories.
Mayisha Akbar: So many of the kids were getting killed. I mean we lost over 40 kids’ lives.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Mayisha’s kids were often targets and so were their friends.
Mayisha Akbar: And so my mission was to be more competitive with the gangs.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: These gangs needed young people to survive. So they recruited. The gangs brought them in with love, support and respect. Mayisha did the exact same thing. The Compton Jr. Posse provided tutoring, clothing, food, and free horse riding lessons. She gave these kids love — and they sometimes didn’t know how to respond to it.
Mayisha Akbar: You know I would keep talking to them and they would say, “Why you keep talking to me Miss Mayisha, you know I’m gonna be dead by the time I'm 15. My mama’s a gang banger, my daddy's a gang banger. I am gonna be dead pretty soon so don't even worry about me.” That would just wrench my heart, you know. So no, you know you're not gonna be dead. We'll keep you busy. We’ll get you doing something. Find something different to do….
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Mayisha had three kids. They were all in elementary school. And she met Anthony through them. Anthony became one of the kids she was trying to protect.
Mayisha Akbar: And he was always happy to be there, always smiling. So you’re always happy to see ANTHONYYYYYY [hahaha]...
Anthony Harris: [hahah] “BOY WHAT THE…” yeah, she one of them… [AH laughs]... What you… da da da…
Mayisha Akbar: Most of them were afraid of me. They said I was like their grandmother GRRRRR….
Anthony Harris: She seen me go through a lot on these streets.
She like put me under her wing, like ok you don’t have to do that… like a mom.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony’s own mom — was absent from his life. When he was in elementary school, Anthony’s father moved him to the Acacia block. Anthony senior worked multiple jobs to support his son, he was hardly ever home. Anthony spent a lot of time alone and like most kids, he sought out love and attention. He found it in front of his apartment complex, where the O.G.’s would hang out. Anthony, he looked up to them — I mean, who wouldn’t? They looked fly, had money, and drove around in Buick Regals. It only took a matter of months before he was initiated into the Acacia Blocc Crips. He was only eight years old. It was almost like he never had a choice. It’s either you were part of the gang or you were against them.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What did you do in prison to pass time? How do you make sense of all that?
Anthony Harris: Mainly drawing…. Drawing characters, horses.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony was incarcerated for more than two years in a California federal prison for the possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. He passed the time by drawing, writing, and painting. At some point, his hobby turned into a daily ritual. But prison isn’t a place with a wide range of art supplies, so Anthony had to make his own using his favorite candy.
Anthony Harris: You gotta mix your water in skittles to make your color. Nobody know about that color.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony used the color of skittles to create vivid horse paintings. He sent them and handwritten letters home to his family.
Anthony Harris: Hey LoLo Baby.
LoLo : Hi Anthony, I’ve been thinking about you. Me and the baby’s fine, the kids are good.
Acacia: Hi Daddy. I miss you. I wish I could hold you in my arms.
Anthony Harris: I hope to see you soon.
LoLo: I miss you.
Anthony Harris: I love you baby.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony also sang to LoLo on the phone.
Anthony Harris: “Meet me at the altar in your white dress... “
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Those horse paintings helped Anthony in more ways than he could ever imagine.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What’d your cellmate think about this?
Anthony Harris: He thought it was cool because I was drawing him stuff. Sendin it home.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You were drawing him horses?
Anthony Harris: I was drawing him characters, horses. Whatever you want it. I colored it. “Ah Thanks, man. That’s a soup.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Anthony’s paintings became his own personal currency. He traded them for an extra soup at lunch, a Snickers bar, or anything else he wanted. Everyone started calling him “The Horse Man” and it was an alter ego that kept him safe. The first few weeks after his release were the toughest. He was physically free but the structure of prison still confined him: The barking orders of correctional officers, the constant threat of violence, and the early morning wake up calls, they all haunted thim. But being around his baby mama and his daughter, that’s what he had dreamed about in prison. And now — he had it. But his phone didn’t stop ringing and every time someone from his past called, he would tell his daughter or wife to say he wasn’t home.
Anthony Harris: The hood is me. I can’t never give it up. But the streets didn't teach me nothing but to go to jail.… Like now, if I could take you through here… The gang banger, my homies, they always in the same spot doing the same thing.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: His friends were still hanging on the block. But he and LoLo chose to stay away from it. The phone kept ringing. They kept saying he wasn't home, and then Mayisha called. She needed help running the ranch and offered Anthony a job. Anthony hadn’t stepped on the ranch in more than 10 years.
Anthony Harris: When I walked to the back it was shocking because it was like, “Woah, I’m at home.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: After that phone call. He became its full-time groundskeeper. And he’s never looked back.
Anthony Harris: My home is like my life back there. If you call the police, I’m not gonna leave.
Anthony Harris: My horse is taller than you horse… AHHHHHHHH! I can see over the gate, you can’t.
Keenan Abercrombia: I can!
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It’s not just the horses that keep him here, it’s also the relationships with the other cowboys.
Anthony Harris: WHOAAA. boyyyyyy.
Randy Hook: Compton Cowboys, Good Morning…
Anthony Harris: WHOAAA. Boyyyyyy. HAHAHAHAHA
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The ranch isn’t just a ranch. Beneath all the jokes and shit talking, is something more profound taking place. That can maybe help Compton heal from some of its wounds. And it all begins and ends with the horses. But the ranch, it’s actually not doing so well.
MIDROLL - COMMERCIAL BREAK - 20:42
Anthony Harris: Get em’ Red Dog, watch ‘em.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: There is something so special between the cowboys and the horses here. It feels like they speak the same language and also share a similar story.
Anthony Harris: You can’t let ‘em stay in a stall all day. That’s just like you standing there, not moving your bones, get cramps and get stiff. So you gotta let them out, to stretch they bones. Let ‘em play.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Almost every horse on the ranch has a troubled past. Some were abused and malnourished, and then eventually sold at horse auctions for little money. Who they are today, is not who they were when they first arrived.
Randy Hook: You know the hood hardens you from a young age and when you’re hard, you can get yourself into shit.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Randy knows what it’s like to get into shit. Like this one time with Slim, his best friend.
Randy Hook: And his mom used to call him Sweet Boy. Nice kid… But he’s one of them dudes that — hyper aggressive.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Slim was always getting into fights with people for no reason. Like at the corner of Wilmington and Alondra.
Randy Hook: And I remember walking in there with him and we was walking in and some Samoan dudes was walking out. They was from Park Village Crips.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Randy and Slim were affiliated with a different gang because of where they lived.
Randy Hook: You could, you could feel the hood shit when you walk in, it's very profound you know what I mean?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Randy wasn’t ever one to fight people but Slim was always ready. So Randy and Slim walk past these guys, they walk into a t-shirt store, and then they walk out.
Randy Hook: They still standing there waiting. One of the dudes was looking at Slim like, “Hey nigga why you was looking at me like that for?”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And then Randy is thinking...
Randy Hook: There we go again here with this shit. So...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Neither of them said anything.
Randy Hook: Cause I’m, I’m confused...Slim was behind me when we walked in so I didn’t see what he did. But in my head I’m like, this is all clicking in in real time happening like “Damn… I know Slim and he be on some extra shit.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: So Randy just looks at him…
Randy Hook: I knew he knew what they were talking about. The dude he asked again, “I said why you, why you looking at me like that for? Where you from cuz? Where you from?”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Man, so many people have been here before. I know I’ve been here before. And this situation, can turn out in so many different ways. Sometimes it just takes a look, and that look can mean your life.
Randy Hook: “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pop you right now?” And then flashed his gun. “Like nigga I’ll shoot you right here, bro.” I'm going to de-escalation mode immediately. I'm like, “Oh Nah, man, you know it ain't nothing like that bro. We just came to get a shirt.” Like we ain’t in on no gang banging shit. At that point I’m like man come on Slim. Let’s just go back in the store. So we just backpedaled a little bit, just walked into the store and stayed in there for a little while.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: They ended up leaving and Randy and Slim left too. Nobody’s born hard. Most black and brown men in the hood are taught to be hard. It’s almost like you have no choice. Cause being soft — might get you killed. Randy was quick to deescalate things because of what he learned with the horses.
Randy Hook: Horses react to human energy. Which is in the hood, you know, we like the hood, you animated. But then the horses kind of make you be like okay, I can’t be waving my arms all around. I can’t be doing all this, doing all that. Let me chill out, let me calm my voice down. “Hey... hey....”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It’s not just a soft voice.
Randy Hook: This is a therapy center. Like when you go to counseling this has that
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Equine therapy has tremendous impacts on people. The ranch provides some of that.
Randy Hook: So you know, you might be one of the people that’s doing all this and, yo wa wa, let me slow myself down. Soften yourself and then, now you have success with the horse.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Success with the horses can mean a lot of different things. For someone who has experienced trauma or ptsd, it can mean being healed. It can also mean: Taking control of a situation, de-escalation, or building trust. For Randy…. it’s meant learning how to navigate the streets.
Randy Hook: It's easy to take a life when you don't get life. But when you spend time watching and a horse grow, you feeding it, its loving you, you learning love, you learning life, that translates. Before you shoot somebody, you might think like damn, man, this somebody taking care this somebody that somebody love.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Love is what drove Mayisha, and love is what continues to drive Randy.
Randy Hook: 15 mins we out of here.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And sometimes the love is tough.
Randy Hook: 15 minutes we outta here. 15 minutes!
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Every time Randy walks around the ranch, everything seems to be running smoothly. There’s horses in stalls. Every stall has a roof. And the youth program is up and running after a three year hiatus. Randy’s in charge now.
Randy Hook: I sometime I really felt like Mayisha. I even felt myself telling myself, damn you sound like Mayisha.
Mayisha Akbar: And if you don’t do what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re going to get that finger.
Randy Hook: Hey Carlton, can you grab Red Dog for a minute cuz the barking is loud… matter of fact tell Kennan to hold on for a minute. Tell Kennan to STOP. STOPPPPP! WAIT! Tell him to stop, Carlton…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: But, ultimately, love won't pay the bills.
Randy Hook: I'm always thinking about the worst case scenario. I look at the bank account every day just because, you know, look at every day, just to make, just to look at it. I'm always like, Man, what if I, what if I look at it one day and it’s almost zero? And this thought crosses my head all the time. But then I’m like, it’ll never be on zero if I keep working hard.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And working hard means finding $20,000 a month to keep the ranch running. The cowboys are still receiving donations, they’re modeling, and they’re receiving brand sponsorships. You’ve seen them before:
I feel like I was destined to be a cowboy.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Boot Barn, Abercrombie, Adidas
So when I’m a horse it’s just...sky’s the limit
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Levis, Wrangler, Guinness
Did I save the horse? Or did the horse save me?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: They’ve been everywhere and these aren’t small brands. The revenue streams are there but unfortunately they’re not always steady.
Randy Hook: I have to hustle it every month you know what I’m saying. And that’s a lot.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I feel Randy — that is a lot. Listen, I may be way out of line here, but it seems like the cowboys were set up for failure. Because when Mayisha retired, she closed Compton Jr. Posse, the board dissolved, and donations stopped pouring in and the people who were once invested in the Posse — weren’t invested in the Cowboys in the same way. But to be honest, it’s way deeper than that. When the cowboys took over, it was obvious they weren’t the children they once were. Donors didn’t see black men and black women as safe investments, at least not in the same way they saw black children. It kind of felt like white guilt kept the ranch alive for so many years. But at some point, the white guilt, like most things, had to come to an end. But again, this is just me, and maybe I’m trippin’? Horses, supplies, and equipment, they all started to be sold off. Their trailers, too. It left the ranch and the cowboys with very little to succeed. They basically had to start over. But it really forced the cowboys to be creative and it’s part of the reason why Randy never takes a day off. There’s too much riding on his shoulders, and not everyone always appreciates it.
Randy Hook: You know I said to the group before. I was like man, you know, it would be really nice if y'all would say thank you sometimes, ‘cause it's hard on me and I just want to know that y'all see and appreciate how much I'm put in it. ‘Cause maybe they just don't see. I don't be crying in front of everybody. But when I lay down on my pillow at night, I'm stressing.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Randy doesn’t cry in front of everybody but this isn’t the first time he’s cried in front of me, and when he talks about stress, I know he’s not just talking about money.
Randy Hook: I got friends that got killed.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I have friends that have been shot and killed too.
Randy Hook: My friend Marcus got killed
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like my friend Roach.
Randy Hook: In the day time at the burger stand over there. And my cousin got shot in front of this house right here.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like Oscar.
Randy Hook: Slim got shot.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Brian.
Randy Hook: Black got murdered.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like my uncle.
Randy Hook: Leeble got murdered. This is all like right in the same, like couple blocks like from right here. So it’s not far-fetched to say that I could get killed. Think about that every day. Thinking about that all day, every day.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like Randy, the names of my friends and family hold different memories. It’s something that we share. Randy really believes in the power of the ranch. It’s why he wants to replicate the ranch model in black communities throughout the U.S. And he’s not the first… because they already exist. In Houston, Philly, Baltimore, Atlanta, and other places. If it saved him and his friends, he thinks it could save others. And it’s already happening. The Compton Cowboys have started a massive movement.
[clip: I’ve seen you before. You from Compton, right?...]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Lil Nas X, Solange
[clip: Solange song]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Meg Thee Stallion.
[clip: Megan Thee Stallion]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Back on the ranch, there’s a lot up in the air right now and Randy feels the weight. The other cowboys feel it too. Keenan just had a baby and he’s unemployed, Anthony’s step-grandson just got locked up. Keiara, the only woman in the group is recovering from back injuries as she prepares to compete in rodeo again. But at least the cowboys have the farms and the streets to ride on. And they have each other.
Keenan Abercrombia: Technically, nah… technically I’m not.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Keenan and Stona are having a huge debate. They’re arguing about drinking and riding at the same time.
Keenan Abercrombia: This is a self driving vehicle bro… look. This is all horse power. Natural horse power.
Stona (Kenneth Atkins): This is some shit you got to break down in court.
Keenan Abercrombia: Hahahahaha...Pretty much
Walter Thompson-Hernández: If I could go back and talk to young Walter, I would tell him that there were black cowboys all along, long before he was surprised to see them that day on Alameda Street. I’d tell him that black cowboys had a big part of the American West and that they came here to be free. Just like my grandfather, Walter Thompson — and thousands of other black men and women. I’d tell him that one out of every four cowboys — was black. And that they were some of the most daring and adventurous riders. And they had names like Bill Pickett, Nat Love, and John Ware. And thousands of others whose names we’ll never know. But whose stories continue to live on today. They’re embodied in people like Anthony…
Anthony Harris: Every kid out here, lookin’ up to somebody. And it can be you, Walter, me, T-Man. So it’s like you gotta set a example. You know, a different path. That’s what I love. See I love doing that, ‘Cause I’m changing they life to be okay, what you do like?
Josh González: I like small horses, I like fast horses, I like that are used to like cattle…
Walter Thompson-Hernández: They’re embodied in people like 10-year-old Josh…
Josh González: Hey you guys rather want to go home and sit on your iPad, or you want to be in the Compton Cowboys and walk and be in the parade?
Kids: Be in the parade! Exactly!
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like young Keenan…
Kennan: When you’re on top of the horse, yes it’s like the world just chills out for a minute. It’s like you’re in control of something.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: And they’re embodied in the city of Compton.
Announcers: Compton Cowboys… yay! Lookin’ good, Compton Cowboys. Lookin’ good.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Black cowboys were never far from my home. If little me asked why he didn’t learn about them in school, I’d say that some people in the world really wanted to erase the experiences of black cowboys from the history books.
[Clip: When the lights shut off
And it's my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me
I said when the lights shut off…]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: When the first part of the chorus for “Sing About Me” hit, it spoke to my five-year-old and 32-year-old self.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: “When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down, my main concern, promise that you will sing about me. Promise that you will sing about me.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Kendrick’s words really made me think about the legacy of the Compton Cowboys. It made me think about those who have come before us and now passed. I think he wrote this song to honor those who have died, while we’re still here. You know — I’ve heard that in life, we die twice: the moment we physically die and the moment they stop singing about us. Kendrick’s song is for those who couldn’t sing anymore. The Compton Cowboys don’t sing though, they ride. They ride to ensure that their story lives on forever. So that they aren’t the last black cowboys in Compton. And that the work they put in — mattered. And for the most part, I feel the same way. But it’s hard sometimes. Because we’re all just good kids in a mad city.
[Clip: ...Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me…]
The lead producer for this episode is Megan Tan
Supporting Producer Tamika Adams.
Our Editor is Arwen Nicks.
Our Producer is Elizabeth Nakano.
Valentino Rivera is our sound engineer.
Original music by Andrew Eapen.
Angela Bromstad is our Executive Producer
This episode was written by me Walter Thompson-Hernandez with help from Megan Tan and Tamika Adams.
I’m your host Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Oh — one more thing, I also wrote a book about these guys. You should check it out. You can find it wherever you buy books.
California Love is a production of LAist Studios.
Thank you for listening. I really appreciate you.
Elizabeth Nakano: This is California Love. I’m clearly not Walter. I’m Elizabeth. You’ll hear more from me later. In LA, we have a large and noisy population of green parrots. Maybe you’ve seen them, they’re almost fluorescent and look like they belong in some tropical forest. It can feel shocking to see them using power lines as a perch but where they came from, and why, is often a tangle of urban legends. We decided to find out. So today, we’re bringing you a parable called, “Why The Sky is Green,” a story about how Los Angeles came to be home to a pandemonium of screaming, green parrots.
James Maley: We’re probably at about a hundred now, and we’ll probably get to 800 if not over a thousand parrots here within the next ten minutes...So it’s about to get insane...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I’m going to tell you a story about how we turned the Los Angeles sky green.
Jorge Obregon: I hear these birds, man, in the morning. And they’re so loud.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Why we’re here…
James Maley: Can you imagine being exorcised from your home when you’re a baby and like stuck in a cage for ten years?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: ...and where we were before.
Martha: To save the birds, they let them fly off free.
Lee Smith: They had seventeen acres up on Colorado Blvd.
Phone recording: Thank you for calling Anheuser Busch.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: This story starts in what the humans call the 1970s, back when most of us green parrots still lived in our original home. Back then, we lived in Northeast Mexico... in the tropical woods of Tamaulipas, in a really small town halfway in between Cuidad Victoria and Reynosa. A town nestled in a valley next to a river. We called it the Purple River because of its beautiful purple flowers. Our homes were in the cavities of tall trees. My family was close but there was no one I admired more than Uncle Ramon. He’s the kind of bird who flies higher than the rest of us and returns from the sky with grand stories and the best berries. He was charming and had the kind of laugh that’s more contagious than a yawn. Everyone loved him. My dad liked to tell everyone that it was Uncle Ramon who had first introduced my parents when they were teenagers, near the mine on the other side of town. Dad told everyone he used to catch Mom staring at his muscular wings when he picked berries by the Aguilar family farm. Dad was pretty tall for a parrot. He was little over a foot long and, like other parrots, had a horn colored beak and black highlights. He was a really handsome bird. And his wings? They stretched further than anyone else's. But my mom, well...she told a different story. She said my dad used to awkwardly fly next to her, and offered her a different kind of fruit berry every single day for an entire year. He was really determined. And she? She was kind of annoyed. My mom said she got tired of him one day and finally accepted his offer. She did like his choice in berries and said that what drew her in... not the size of his wing muscles. Anyway, one night, Uncle Ramon didn’t come home. I thought the flower monsters got him. The ones by the river. I wasn’t old enough to go to the river alone. Mom always said, “It’s too far from our tree and said your wings aren’t strong enough yet.” So I’d never seen the monsters but I knew they came out once a day to find food. I knew they weren’t that much bigger than a carrot, but if anything got within five feet of their flower...They’d shoot this sticky substance out of their mouth and catch you and eventually eat you.
They preyed on small children, like me, like you, little parrots. And just the thought of those monsters kept me as far away from the river as possible. So when Uncle Ramon was missing, I thought the monsters had for sure gotten him. We were panicked. You have to understand, Uncle Ramon always came back. So my mom and dad and our neighbors formed a search party and set out to look for him. They flew up and down the Purple River, all over town, and over by the highway where he sometimes liked to hang out. And... nothing. Uncle Ramon was gone.
As days without him passed, other parrots would come by and squawk their theories at us but no one knew what happened...until we heard that more parrots had gone missing. They were captured by men who had large nets in the dark of night. It was only once in a while at first, and parrots across the trees thought they would be safe but when the net men came more and more frequently and took fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and lovers with them, nobody was safe. Some parrots left for other reasons, reasons my parents tried to keep from me. Like when my Tia Martha also went missing one day. Esperanza, the older nosy lady who lived alone, spent most of her days cleaning her hole with Fabuloso cleaning products. She lived on the other side of the tree and started talking about my tia. She was running her mouth, telling people that my Aunt Martha had eaten too many berries and had fallen in the river and drowned.
But I didn’t really believe her, because she was drama and it didn’t really add up. And we knew Esperanza hated my tia ever since they fought over a piece of mango on the steps of the church a few years back. The fight was so scandalous and caused such a huge disruption that the priest had to rush out of a noon service to break up the fight by throwing holy water at them and scolding them at the top of his lungs, hoping to get the demons out of the both of them. So, for all we knew, Esperanza could have been making the whole story up.
Another neighbor said that she had last seen my tia with her old boyfriend, Hector, a parrot who lived on the other side of town, by a row of sugarberry trees. Now, Hector? He didn’t really have the best reputation in our roost. He drank too much, always got into fights with other parrots, and hung out with a really sketchy group of guys. And the worst part about Hector? Sometimes he’d show up to our tree in the middle of the night after drinking fruit nectar, yelling, begging Martha to take him back. This one time it got so bad that my dad and my uncle had to restrain him from entering our home. Hector and my tia definitely had a toxic relationship, and they aired out all of their drama for everyone to see. You know the type? But apparently, Hector had sold my aunt on a dream and he persuaded her to take him back — again — and fly to Cancun. I guess he had a cousin there who had extra space in a palm tree right next to the beach. At least, that’s what our neighbor had said. And it seemed like something that my tia would have done because she really loved the beach.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh right...the kidnappings.
Well as you know, soon after we’re born we’re tucked away in trees, hidden from plain view of danger before we know how to fly. It’s only the first few days but so much can happen in those few days. It’s why so many children go missing. Sometimes it’s hawks or skunks. But a new predator came along — poachers. They would have lookouts and know when our babies were born. That’s how they got me.
It was night and the air was crisp. The last of the spring rains had passed the week before. I was curled in my nest. The next thing I knew, a large human hand reached inside of our hole, the shadow from its flesh turning the night into darkness. It grabbed me by the neck, pulling me from the tree and threw me inside of a metal cage. It all happened so fast. When I looked up, I was in the back of a pick-up truck, and in the bed there were hundreds of other young parrots around me, also in cages. As the truck began to move I looked up and saw my parents chasing overhead, calling to me. But as the truck sped off into the mountains, my parents, they couldn’t keep up.
It was an eerie and dark night, but the moonlight provided a little light as we drove further and further away from the valley. The valley where generations of parrots in my family had lived before me. In the moonlight, I could see a kid next to me. He had a red crown on his forehead with blue streaks behind his grey eyes. Just like me. There were a few others in our cage who also had red crowns. Some of the others had blue crowns on their heads. They had divided us by the color of our crowns. And we were all from different parts of the same valley. I imagined that our families had sometimes competed for the same berries and seeds from the same trees. I pictured our father’s fathers racing through the sky in a dance of competition but at this point in our lives, none of that really mattered. We were all in cages. Someone in a nearby cage said that we were all going to a place that had angels in it. Angels have wings, I thought to myself. They’ll for sure understand me. My mom always said that anyone with wings was, in some way, related to us. So maybe everyone in this angel's place was a part of my family.
Someone overheard one of the drivers say the place we were going was a half desert city next to a big, blue ocean filled with lots of cars and other parrots and animals and trees who had also been brought there and that the angels had all fled long ago. The chirps and the squawks grew silent as night went on. I couldn’t sleep that night. My adrenaline had worn off and I had nothing left to quiet the fear that I felt throughout my whole body. I think I was the only parrot still awake when the sun rose. I had lost track of days. The sky still had the night’s blue on its edges and I could still see the sun and the moon and the stars. The same moon and stars that I know my mom was also looking at back home. The truck finally came to a stop, and in an instant a tarp was thrown over, shattering the slumber of all the other birds, blocking out the sky. We sat, in near silence, seeing nothing but the reflection of our fear in each other’s faces. A big red crown with a light scar on the left side of his cheek said, “It isn’t just the animals they put in cages. They do it to their own. Even the young.” And that is how I came to Los Angeles.
For the next few weeks, I would live inside of a windowless room in a small cage with the rest of the red crowns. They called it The Warehouse, and each day the humans would bring more parrots to fill more cages while we all sat in the dark together. Hundreds of us, maybe even thousands.
MIDROLL --- 14:53
Walter Thompson-Hernández: There are three popular legends as to how we took over the skies of L.A. The first legend is called “The Gardens.” The second legend is called “The Release.” And the third legend is called “The Fire.” And they all start just like I told you: with parrots like my uncle or me being taken from Mexico and put in a cage and smuggled here. But after that? Well, according to the first legend, we were taken from those who had first taken us. It’s said that one day, men from the human government found out about the warehouse. We watched as they circled our cages. They didn’t know what to do with us. We weren’t supposed to be here. So the men asked the people at a place called Busch Gardens to take us in. They said, “If you care for these parrots, we’ll give you money.” So we went to live at Busch Gardens, in a city called Van Nuys. We lived near lots of other birds from all over the world, and every day, hundreds of humans with cameras and fanny packs came to look at us. And life at Busch Gardens was really unhappy. The company that owned the gardens back then is called Anheuser-Busch and our story isn’t one they love to talk about today.
Elizabeth Nakano: Anheuser Busch has declined my request to talk about the parrots. My name is Elizabeth Nakano, and I am a producer for California Love. I called the company…I wrote an email to them...and the response that I got back reads, quote, “We won’t be able to participate in your story at this time.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: But there are records about what happened to us.
Elizabeth Nakano: Anheusber-Busch filed a claim against the U.S. government for the cost of taking care of the parrots, and there is a written decision from the acting comptroller general at the time that gives details about the case. A few newspapers also covered the settlement.
Now, we don’t know for sure if the parrots that Busch Gardens had were the same green parrots that are all over Los Angeles now. They were described as Amazon parrots that were “greenish and about the size of an overweight pigeon”...which could be our parrots?
Okay, so, back to my research: In 1978, Anheuser Busch filed a claim against the government for $109,550. That was the alleged amount it cost the park to house and care for the parrots for the three and a half years that they had them. And the bill was a surprise to some people in the government. According to the Washington Post, some officials admitted they had completely forgotten about the birds.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: At Busch Gardens, most of us parrots didn’t make it.
Elizabeth: 205 Amazon parrots were given to Busch Gardens in 1974. And then, by the time of this legal claim in 1978, 91 were still alive.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Some parrots, the legal document says, starved to death. Some were stolen. And some...they escaped. The second legend says our community was started by humans who wanted us in their homes.
James Maley: It's the steady release of pets that's happened over the last hundred years.
James Maley: So you can kind of see what the collection’s about...
James Maley: I'm James Maley. I'm the collections manager of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology at Occidental College in Northeast LA. The Moore Lab is the largest collection of Mexican birds in the world, is primarily what we're known for.
James Maley: Let me show you over here. So...
Elizabeth Nakano: It looks so futuristic. This is the sort of lab you would see in a movie, with like these lights would all go on slowly in a row.
James Maley: I know. We’re trying to lose that Apple Store feel a little bit
James Maley: The pet trade really picked up steam in the, I'd say like the 50s 60s and 70s, for whatever reason. But it's also, you know, one of these places where so many people have been coming for so long and a lot of them people brought the birds with them. And so then they got out and are living around here in LA.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Some of us parrots were sold at pet stores in LA.
The humans gave us many names...ones like Red-crowned Amazons, Red-crowned Parrots, Green-cheeked Amazons, or Mexican Red-headed Parrots. But, we’re all the same bird. Other parrots moved from Mexico with their human families.
James Maley: A lot of these birds that we see here are from Latin America, which is what you would expect, right? Then there's also a bunch of birds from Southeast Asia.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: But us green parrots? Our community became the most visible.
James Maley: What's really wild is the former curator of the Moore Lab, Bill Hardy, actually studied the parrots of Southern California when he worked here, and he wrote a paper in 1973 where he said that there was a single pair of free flying Red Crown Parrots in all of Los Angeles and that is by far the most common parrot now.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The legend many people think is true says we became free like the phoenix: freedom born from fire.
Martha Jackson: When I sit in my dad's backyard in South Pasadena, a couple times a day we will see the parrots fly overhead and we will hear them because they're quite vocal. I'm Martha Jackson, and I went to PCC in 1971.
One day, I said something to my dad about these parrots, and he said, well, he was the insurance adjuster on the fire claim that happened which was the cause of the birds being let loose in the Pasadena areas.
Bill Suter: I was an insurance claims adjuster. And I was the chief adjuster for property claims. I’m Bill Suter. I'm 97 going on 60, ‘cause I feel like I'm still in my 60s and I can do just about anything that I did when I was in my 60s. We insured, Liberty Mutual insured, a huge nursery on Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena. The nursery was called Simpson’s Garden Town Nursery and it burned. I made the initial contact to be certain there was no issue of arson, and once I could assess the extent of the damage and that arson was not involved, I turned the nuts and bolts of ascertaining the extent of the dollar damage to a staff adjuster. My adjuster sat there with him going over item by item, ascertaining the cost. And Mr. Simpson was a delightful individual, perfectly easy to deal with, he had excellent records, and so it was not too difficult, and that would be an item for the final settlement.
Elizabeth Nakano: Do you know if it was the green parrots that they said were released?
Bill Suter: That’s my recollection that they were green parrots. Yes.
Lee Smith: They had 17 acres up on Colorado Boulevard on I believe the corner of Orange and Colorado. There now, there's a science Cadillac agency and a home improvement center. I don't know if the home improvement center is still there or not. And then the freeway. They had two fires in Pasadena at the nursery. One was in 1959. That was the first fire. And the thing is they went through and opened all the cages, and let all the animals out. That's when they had their famous parrot Poncho. And he survived. And then in 1968 they had another fire but Poncho didn't survive that one.
Elizabeth Nakano: Was Pancho one of the green parrots that’s become synonymous with the parrots of LA?
Lee Smith: He was a Macaw. Yeah. They even did — when the second fire Poncho passed away–they did an obituary in the paper on Pancho. When the nursery burnt down, the children, kids would send Mr. Simpson a dollar to try to help rebuild. And the second time they didn’t allow him to rebuild. They took the property to put the offramp for the 210 freeway. The freeway took 10 acres of the 17 acres, and when they took the property, that's when he moved to San Diego and retired. But he couldn't sit still. So he started back up in the nursery aspects when he was almost 65 or 70, and then his granddaughter, which is my wife Cathy, went to work for him. And so, that's how we, we met. I used to sell plants to ‘em.
I’m Lee Smith. I would be...let’s see...I would be the grandson-in-law. That’s the rumor of where a lot of the parrots came from. It’s nice just to have people still think of the business and stuff after all these years.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Maybe all the legends are a little true. We don’t know but each of them leads us here, where we now live. In fact, more of us green parrots now live in L.A. now than in Mexico.
James Maley: A recent estimate put the number in Mexico to be at about 2000. And it's estimated that there's maybe 10,000 here in Los Angeles ‘cause for a variety of reasons, mostly, mostly the pet trade, but then again, habitat destruction.
If you get a parrot that was taken out of its nest cavity and you know, brought across the border and sold here in Southern California, which is illegal now, it has been since the 90s, that parrot could live 40, 50, 60, 70 years. That bird may have never flown outside before.
Can you imagine, like being exercised from your home when you're a baby and like, stuck in a cage for 10 years, and then all of a sudden, you just get released into the world? Here you go survive, and these parrots are doing it. It's amazing, and so, and that's one of the things that really I find fascinating watching parrots is trying to find the ones that were pets in the flocks. I found one the other day that had a weird ring on its leg. So clearly it had been tied to a post for some proportion of its life and now it's just going free.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: But the people here, don’t all love us.
Jorge Obregon: So I hear these birds man in the morning. And they’rer so loud, you know, they're not like these little chirping birds that are kind of cute and beautiful, like, no, they fucking scream and they're just screamers you know, it's like, rrrrrrr, and you can't even see him because they just blend in with the green trees. You just hear them and you see all these berries falling and leaves fucking falling on the ground. They're shitting everywhere.
My name is Jorge Obregon, Pasadena resident for the last three years.
To me, they always tend to show up at the worst possible moment. Like, whenever I have a fucking hangover, they show up in the morning. Like they're always there when I have a hangover right at like 6am. RRRRRR... It's like screaming and like fuck, man. It's like they know I drink the night before.
Any time I have like some kind of gathering, like the day of — fuck, man — I got to clean up all the shit, all these leaves. And, man, have you ever tried to take bird shit off a picnic table? Shit’s impossible, man. I have one in the backyard. To remove that you better have a scraper, man. That shit is tough.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Some people throw things at us. Some yell up to the sky as we rest in trees and on telephone wires. Others will shake their fists at us and tell us to go back to where we came from. Some of the people who yell are the same ones who built this city from stolen goods. The palm trees that let us rest atop their crowns are not from here. The Black Mustard. The Eucalyptus. And all the other parrots.
James Maley: There have been 24 different species of parrots recorded in Los Angeles.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I’ll warn you that some people will call you invasive. They’ll say you are taking resources away from those who were here first.
James Maley: That is a common thing that I hear is that invasives are all bad, and I would argue that the parrots are not bad. There's a bunch of different reasons for that. One of them is, you know, we're a kind of oasis in the desert. As the parrots, they're not going to fly to like, you know, Bakersfield. There are escaped parrots in Bakersfield. They're actually South Asian. They're called Rose Ringed Parakeets but our parrots are not going to escape LA. They're not going to fly up over the San Gabriels and get out. So they're sort of confined here, which means they're not having a kind of broader impact on our native wildlife. And then the other thing, too, is they're occupying a niche that previously didn't exist, right? So they're not coming into some sensitive environment and just disrupting birds that are trying to do their thing. They're taking advantage of, of this environmental heterogeneity that we created ourselves. And so I think it's great that they're here, especially since we can potentially use them for conservation.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I’ll tell you one final secret about us birds who fly through the skies of LA, blocking the blue with our green. That? It’s an illusion.
James Maley: They're not really green. We see them as green but that color is from the structure of the feathers themselves. So these feathers themselves are actually structurally blue and pigmented with yellow. If you get them wet, they turn bronzy red. It's like a penny. It's like a metallic bronze. And then you dry them out again and then they turn bright green again.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The humans — they are the green ones. They envy our songs and our flight and our beauty. And it seems like all they care about is green money. And not each other. Or Mother Nature.
James Maley: We’re watching the parrots come in to roost for the night.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: We may be far from the birthplace of our ancestors, but we’re here, and we belong.
Elizabeth Nakano: So this park has a skatepark nearby with maybe like a couple dozen kids. Some people playing basketball. Families playing at the little playground.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: We rest in trees that our parents and grandparents never saw in Mexico. We eat food they never ate, and we sleep in places they would have never imagined, places like this park in the middle of Pasadena — with busy streets on three sides...vendors selling chips...and a playground where kids climb up rope ladders while their parents watch from concrete picnic tables.
Elizabeth Nakano: It’s crazy. I’ve never seen so many of these one bird.
James Maley: Oh, this is nothing
Elizabeth Nakano: WHAT!
James Maley: It’s gonna...We’re probably at about a hundred now, and we’ll probably get to 800 if not over a thousand parrots here within the next ten minutes...So it’s about to get insane...We might actually get hit by a parrot. That’s probably the biggest threat to us right now, getting physically hit by a flying parrot.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: We fly all over L.A. and we see everything. This city is so big and it feels endless. It attracts so many people from different parts of the world. It seems like people come to L.A. for different reasons — some come to escape, while others come to chase a dream. Sometimes, during the evening, we see what the humans are watching. They open their windows and the sounds from their TVs fill the skies.
Trump: Taking precious resources away from the poorest Americans who need them most...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The voice of a man who lives out East. A man who doesn’t understand that no living thing should ever be in a cage. And I think of the parrot in the truck that night who told me, the big red crown with a light scar on the left side of his cheek. Remember him? “It isn’t just the animals they put in cages. They do it to their own. Even the young.” This city is our home. We’re here. We’ve built communities where none existed. We bring beauty, and we’ve made a home for ourselves. And, we’ve made the sky a lot greener in the process. So if they shout at you from the ground, little bird, fly proud and remember, this is just as much our home as it is theirs.
Elizabeth Nakano was the lead producer of this episode.
Supporting Producer is Tamika Adams.
Arwen Nicks is our editor.
Our Sound Engineer is Valentino Rivera.
Our Senior Producer is Megan Tan.
Original Music by Andrew Eapen.
I wrote this episode, with help from Arwen Nicks and Elizabeth Nakano.
Angela Bromstad is our Executive Producer.
For more information on this episode of Parrot: A Parable go to L-A-I-S-T.com/California Love.
California Love is a production of LAist Studios.
I’m your host Walter Thompson-Hernández. Thanks for listening.
I really appreciate you.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez was born and raised in Los Angeles. He is a former New York Times global subculture writer and host who has reported from nearly every continent. He just wrote a book called The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland, which can be found wherever you purchase books.
Tamika Adams is an independent audio producer who has worked on KPCC’s daily show, Take Two with A Martinez and APM’s national show The Dinner Party Download. When not collecting sound, she’s sleuthing internet archives and scaring herself sh*tless with horror in any and all formats.
Elizabeth Nakano is an independent audio producer who has worked on shows at Stitcher, Spotify, and Radiotopia, and contributed to shows such as 99% Invisible and Twenty Thousand Hertz. A radio documentary she helped produce–Two Years, Diaries of a Divided Nation–recently won a regional Edward R. Murrow award. When not telling stories, she can be found outdoors.
Megan Tan is a photo taker turned audio maker. She’s the creator of Radiotopia’s Millennial and has produced shows and episodes for Gimlet Media, Pineapple Street Media, TED, WNYC’s Radiolab, NPR’s Planet Money, NPR’s All Things Considered, and KALW’s The Stoop. For her fifth career, she wants to be a park ranger and a ceramicist.
Arwen Nicks is an independent podcast producer and editor and the founder of Channel 2 Productions. Arwen has worked in journalism for a dozen years and is most known for her work on How’s Your Day, The Sub Pop Podcast, Tell Them, I Am and The Big One. When not telling stories, she can be found indoors.
Valentino Rivera is the mixing/mastering engineer for LAist Studios. His adventure in sound started in radio and music recording. He loves the art of storytelling and using sound to amplify the emotion of the story. He’s always reading about new audio gear and software. Don’t ask what his favorite microphone is, he can’t choose.
Andrew Eapen is a music composer, sound designer, and mix engineer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He has composed music for a number of podcasts including: Moonface, The Thing About Pam, & Murder on the Towpath. His music has also been featured on Shameless, To All The Boys I've Loved Before, Jane The Virgin, and many other TV and film projects. Some of Andrews greatest accolades have been written about in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vice, and Consequence of Sound. Andrew is driven by his passion for music & sound design, and how he can connect others through these arts.
Angela Bromstad is an Executive Producer and former television executive. She spent 17 years at NBCUniversal, and most recently held the position of President of Primetime for NBC Entertainment and NBCUniversal Television studios. Prior to that she was President of International Television Production in London for NBCU International. Shows under her tenure include Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Office, Downtown Abby, Parenthood, Southland, as well as many others. Bromstad has several projects in development including The Burying Place at AMC and Gangsterland at Amazon. She has spent the last year consulting in the podcast world at KPCC/LAist working on California Love and Norco ’80.
LA is the heart and soul of the new America. A minority-majority city driven by power of diversity, inclusion, hard work, impossible dreams and an obsession with the future. But beyond its geography, LA is a state of mind, and we aim to connect with anybody who shares it, wherever they may be. LAist Studios exists to tell LA stories to the world.