Episode 7 Transcript: Ellie
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What do you have for lunch today?
Ellie Hernández: Arroz blanco estilo de mi Mama.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Are we speaking in Spanish today?
Ellie Hernández: No.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I mean, I'm cool with that.
Ellie Hernández: [laughs]
Walter Thompson-Hernández: This is my mom, Eleuteria Hernández. Her friends call her Ellie. She’s one of my best friends, a big homie, big sister, and so much more.
Ellie Hernández: I made rice the same style as my mom used to make it. Usually you know when we eat white rice, it's just white. Pero mi mama will put a little bit of milk and onion and garlic, and one chile. And it's really delicious. Not a lot of milk, just a little drop.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: My mom and I are sitting in her sister’s room in Huntington Park. We’re in my aunt’s room because they have these two tiny white dogs that never stop barking and a blue macaw that never stops talking. There’s at least fifty different religious candles around me. And pictures of different santeria saints that my aunt keeps by her bed. There’s also the remains of a green apple on the dresser. My mom’s hair is almost fully white at this point in her life. She’s wearing these cool pink and black Nike running shoes that I bought her a few months ago.
Ellie singing in
Ellie Hernández: My mother, whenever she felt sad, she will sing.
Ellie singing out
Ellie Hernández: And whenever she was happy, she will have a beer. She was not a borracha. No. But she will have a beer.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Really?
Ellie Hernández: Uh-huh. And she was an activist.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: But this isn’t just a trip down memory lane. This whole show is about my relationship to this city, and I wouldn’t be here if my mom hadn’t decided to make LA her home, too. It’s been a while since we sat down and spoke like this. But it feels like everything — for me — begins and ends with my mom. This is California Love, and I’m Walter.
Ellie Hernández: I still remember I was about five or four years old and in our neighborhood, we didn't have an elementary school. So all of the kids will have to walk almost a kilometer to go to the elementary school in the downtown area. So my mother organized all of the mothers from the neighborhood. We all walked from our neighborhood, to The City Hall, La Presidencia. All of the women were walking, protesting to talk to the president of the calde, de pueblo, so that he could build a elementary school in our neighborhood. I was like four or five, but I felt so powerful, so proud of my mom because my mom was the organizer. I was in the front walking with all the kids and the mom. My mom was holding my hand. I feel like my mom is chingona.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: what do you think your life would have been like if you would have stayed in Magdelena?
Ellie Hernández: I will probably now looked really old. Have a lot of kids. No husband.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Why no husband?
Ellie Hernández: Because I don't think I will be able to, to stay with someone who didn't treat me right, who was having kids all over town. The only available man in the town were the narcos, so probably would have married a narco guy, honestly. And probably I would have gotten involved with selling drugs. And probably I would have been in jail, a lot of my friends, female friends, that's what they did.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: My mom was 14 years old when she was sent away from Magdalena, Jalisco. Her older sisters were already living in LA, and she left to join them. She filled up a light blue suitcase with all of her things and left home for the first time.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: So why do you think my grandma, your Mom, why do you think it was important for her to send you to LA?
Ellie Hernández: So that I could have a better future. She didn't have a happy marriage life but she was so Catholic, she was so spiritual that she couldn't leave my father. She didn’t want that for me.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Do you remember the day that you left for LA for the first time?
Ellie Hernández: I was sad and I remember we took a picture. I remember I put on very nice clothes: White suit with white top. Very elegant. Because you know when you take a plane, you had to dress nice. That was the mentality. Not comfortable shoes, not comfortable dress. No, no, no, it was a suit. My father didn't give me the bendición because he was really upset. I was coming to the United States. So I came without his blessing.I lived in Bell, California, with my sisters.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What's your first impression of LA?
Ellie Hernández: A lot of traffic and a lot of people. I never seen so many different people in my whole life. So for me, I used to be like mirona, you know, like looking at people like, see how they look like. You know, Asian people, people from Africa, Cubans, people from Spain. You know, so they were very different from me and that was nice. I didn't like the fact that I was far from my mom. But I knew that I had to sacrifice that.
But it was nice to–I felt like I was wealthy.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Why’d you feel like you were wealthy?
Ellie Hernández: Because only wealthy people will go to different countries to study. So even though I was living with my sisters I feel like oh, “Soy rica. Vienen a otro país para estudiar inglés”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Mom went to Bell high school, a city in Southeast LA. She was in the 10th grade.
Ellie Hernández: I was taking only ESL courses– English as a second language. So we used to watch I Love Lucy. That's how I learned English and it was really interesting to understand the, ah the Cuban guy. Como se llama va?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Ricky Ricardo
Ellie Hernández: Ah, Ricky. Ricky! But you know, my level of comprehension was a little limited but I was ready for the challenge. Then, on my second semester, I got into tennis, and guess what?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What, Mom?
Ellie Hernández: You're not gonna believe this.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What happened?
Ellie Hernández: I wanted to be a cheerleader.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Hold on. You've never told me this before. So you also wanted to be a cheerleader?
Ellie Hernández: Yes. Because they look so cute with the little skirt. And they were so popular and I wanted to follow the Archie, you know, the comic book. But I was not selected. I was a little gordita. I couldn't jump and then my English was very limited.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Damn.
Ellie Hernández: I know. But I still remember one cheer. “At the beginning of the world, nobody knew how to...except the eagles!”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: [laughing] Wait, wait. Is there more? Wait! No wonder you didn’t make it.
Ellie Hernández: “At the beginning of the world, nobody knew how to...except The Eagles!”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Oh my god! Wait, I mean, mom, no wonder they didn't select you because you didn't remember the cheers. You know, I'm not mad at them for that.
Ellie Hernández: It was 40 years ago okay? So, please, give me a break. My impression of the American life was Archie. My introduction to the American life, quote unquote American life, was Archie. So for me being a cheerleader was the biggest accomplishment. Maybe if I have a granddaughter, she will be a cheerleader
Walter Thompson-Hernández: When she was a senior, she and a close friend went to see their guidance counselor. They wanted information about how to apply to college.
Ellie Hernández: The counselor told us that since we were ESL students, because we were still classified as ESL students, we were better off going to a trade school. And we left very sad. He wanted to be a doctor. And he said, “I'm going to apply to colleges.” And I said, “Me too.” We went to the Career Center, and we submitted applications. I was admitted to several schools, but I was not ready. My English was still limited and I was afraid to go to college so I decided to go to a community college, Los Angeles Trade Technical College right there on Grand and Washington Boulevard. I took all of the courses to transfer because my goal was to transfer to become an engineer. So that's what I did. I played tennis there and I was a very good tennis player so I met a tennis player in the team.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: She’s talking about my dad.
Ellie Hernández: We became the number one mixed doubles couples in community college. We fell in love, and we were dating, and then he went to UCLA. He transferred to UCLA and then I transferred to UCLA. We had a very nice relationship. Our whole life was around tennis. Like on the weekends when we're not playing any tournaments. We will play in the Huntington Park, Salt Lake Park and play tennis the whole day. Or we will go to Rancho Park and play tennis the whole day. Being the only non black around the African, Afro-American tennis circuit was hard. Because the girls will look at me like, “What are you doing with my man?” So it was hard, because I was Mexican, I am Mexican, and he was black, and he was very good looking.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: How’d the relationship end?
Ellie Hernández: I still remember very clearly when I went to see him at his job in Fox Hill Mall. He used to work in a shoe store. I dress really nice. Muy bonita, muy elegant. I was already three months and a half, four months pregnant. And he said, “You know, I cannot be a father right now.” So I said, “Well, thank you for letting me know. I'm gonna have my child.” That was the end of our relationship.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: So, my dad says this is a really simplified version of what happened and he wasn’t around when I was growing up. But we reconnected when I was twenty-three. Stories have multiple versions but this episode is about my mom. My mom was pregnant with me when she was going to UCLA. She was first studying to become an engineer but then dropped that major and chose literature instead.
Ellie Hernández: So I was taking math, calculus 31B or 31C. I don't remember. So I used to sit in the front of the, of the lecture hall, because that was the closest for me to like, you know, I could move the the table so that I will fit because I was big. So, oh, my God. Every time I will go into this particular lecture...you will start kicking me and moving all over so I couldn't even stay put in the seat. I had to get up and walk around so that you could be happy.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Why do you think I was doing that?
Ellie Hernández: Because you didn't like numbers.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I was like, “Get me out of here now!”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: My mom had me when she was a junior in college, and then she started contemplating dropping out. We didn’t have a lot. We lived in Huntington Park with my aunts and uncles and cousins. Everyone picked up cardboard boxes in the city of Vernon and took them to the recycling center for money. That’s how we survived.
Ellie Hernández: After you were born, I was on welfare. I was receiving food stamps and all of the benefits from the government. So I decided that I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to be the stereotype that all single moms are always living off the government. So I wanted to, I decided that I was gonna quit UCLA and just go to work. However…I still remember very clearly, I was coming back from, –I don't remember where I was coming back. But we were in the bus, number 60 coming from Downtown to Huntington Park, and it was around three, four o'clock. And all of the ladies – todas las señoras – they will get on the bus really tired. They will just fall asleep, because you know, they were coming out of the factories. And I said to myself, “No, I'm not gonna quit.” To me, college was something that my son was going to be proud of me. And I knew he was going to be proud of me, even if I had become a factory worker, but I wanted more. So I decided not to quit and go back, still receive benefits from the government. But as soon as I could, I was off welfare. It was not easy, but it was my goal, and I made it.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: I'm so proud of you, Mom. You have no idea.
Ellie Hernández: Thank you, Mijo.
MIDROLL - 16:38
Walter Thompson-Hernández: We moved to the west side in ‘92 because of the uprisings and because it was easier for my mom.
Ellie Hernández: I wanted to be closer to school, and I wanted better schools for you. My whole family was against that idea but I needed to become a grown up. I needed to be independent. I remember the first night we went to the supermarket in the white neighborhood in the west side. And you and I were the only brown people in the supermarket. It was late in the afternoon and everybody was looking at us, or maybe it was just my assumption that everybody was looking at us. So it felt really weird.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You were really active with, like, demonstrations and hunger strikes and protests, you know, like when we moved to the west side. And I'm wondering if, if my grandma, you know, if her early activism, if that inspired you in any way?
Ellie Hernández: Yes, I was very involved with a lot of protests. My friends used to say that if I will see a protest, I will stop and support them even though I didn't know what the cause was, and I feel like I have always been like that, since my mom took me to those demonstrations in Presidencia.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Why was it important to take me to those?
Ellie Hernández: I will take you everywhere. What, what else? I didn't have a babysitter. So there was no choice, Mijo. No, but it was important for you to learn about las injusticias out there, social injustices. So it was important for me that you were aware of that.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You remember any demonstrations that you took me to?
Ellie Hernández: Of course, the most important one, the hunger strike at UCLA. They wanted to dismantle the Chicano/Chicana Studies program. And all of the students, the Brown students, the Black students, American Indian students–the few of them, Islamic students, Asian students, we all got together and organized ourselves. So we left from La Placita Olvera, all the way to UCLA walking. So there was another group coming from Loyola. There was another group coming for Northridge, and it was so much fun. It was so beautiful to walk down Wilshire Boulevard. There is a point in Wilshire Boulevard when it's a little higher, like a little hill. And when you could look back and see the waves of people. It was like an ocean of people walking and walking and walking. And you know, when you're in a PhD program, you have to do all of that. Because if you're just go there to get an education, and you don't get involved, you know, what's the point?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What about LA now feels special to you?
Ellie Hernández: Taking the metro, taking the bus, but especially the metro. That's where I met so many beautiful people. And I also have guided so many parents, moms and dads, how to help their kids in high school, how you know, I connect with the students. I guide them. I don't even know them. But I'm a mentor in the metro.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like a metro mentor.
Ellie Hernández: Oh, I like that Metro Mentor. MM. I’m an MM.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You’re an MM. A big reason why I wanted to interview was because so much of what I know about LA is through you, right? It's through the experiences that you first helped me learn about. So I felt like it was, I felt like it was really interesting to, to ask you questions, you know, to kind of bring it, like, full circle, you know, like in the sense where it's like, I'm really coming back home to, like, learn more about my city. But I'm also coming back home to learn more about you.
Ellie Hernández: Well, thank you for giving me credit that you know the city through me. But we never left. We never left Huntington Park. We never left southeast, because I found out that the markets in the west side were very expensive. So I will come back to Huntington Park to go to the market here. I will come back also because my mother was here at that moment. We will come back on Friday night, stay in the south east for the weekend.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Every weekend, yeah.
Ellie Hernández: And we were able to, like, come back home and be able to combine the two worlds.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Yeah.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: You know, I don’t know if I would be a writer or a journalist if it wasn’t for my mom.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What parts of yourself do you see me?
Ellie Hernández: You know what you've been doing lately? And I don't want to give myself credit for that. But I think I do deserve some credit.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Go ahead, go ahead.
Ellie Hernández: Because of me, you were introduced to a lot of books.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: That’s right. You’re right.
Ellie Hernández: Okay, so please. [laughing] No, no, no, I'm just being funny. That was the only thing I could share with you, you know. I could share with you my books. You could see me reading until late at night. You could see me having conversations with my colleagues from the PhD program and I think that's why you got hungry for books, hungry for words. And I see that part of me.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Do you remember me asking you for a college fund in elementary school?
Ellie Hernández: [Laughs] Mijo, if I’m 90 years old...
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What happened?
Ellie Hernández: I will still remember that. We were in the kitchen. We were gonna have dinner. You were about eight, seven. And then you said, “Mom, do I have a college fund?” I looked at you with this big, big, wide open eyes. And I said, “Cabron, that’s mal favor. We barely have money to eat hot dogs, and you want me to have a college fund for you.” And I said, “Where did you get that idea?” And you very innocent. You say, “Mom, everybody at school were talking about college fund. I just wanted to know if I have one.” Ay, Mjjo. But I totally understand. You wanted to find out. Why wouldn't you have a college fund when everybody was talking like, like having a pair of tennis shoes? You know, that was everybody, everybody's conversation was so normal. But no, our conversations were different. They were not about college fund. They were about survival. And you know if we had enough food stamps to go and eat and buy the food. But it was cute. I never forget that.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What parts about me inspire you?
Ellie Hernández: You know, when you turn your life around? To me, that was a sign of...endurance?
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Perseverance?
Ellie Hernández: Perseverance. That was such a powerful moment. I knew that you were going to go far, mijo, because you made the decision to change your life.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: The reason why I changed my life around is because, like, at 14, 14 and a half, almost 15, right, like, I understood that you made so many sacrifices for me. And I felt like the path that I was going down, you know, I was either going to be dead or in jail. But I also thought about you and I thought about how you felt at 14 or 15 when you came to this country. We were the same age, essentially. Right? So for me, it was really important, you know, to think, “Wow, my mom was 14,15 when she came to LA, and I'm 14,15 now, you know, and what am I doing?” I felt like I was, like, throwing it all away.
Ellie Hernández: It's very nice how you compare your age at that age when I came to the United States. That's really nice. I never thought about that.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Did you ever want to leave LA?
Ellie Hernández: No. When I compare with the life that I could have had in Mexico in my hometown, I feel that I'm wealthy here. I have everything. I have a car, a house, I have a job. I have a family. I have friends. I, you know, I could go to the stores, and I don't have to be super wealthy to buy new things. In Mexico, I will have to be really wealthy to go to the stores. The fact that I have options makes me feel powerful.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What kind of options are you talking about?
Ellie Hernández: I'm talking about economic options. I'm talking about job options.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: How do you feel about where LA is now?
Ellie Hernández: I wish I could see more like what's going on right now with the protest. I wish those things could be implemented. The police doesn't have to treat us bad just because we have a different skin color. So it's different now, very different.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Do you still think about the comic book, Archie?
Ellie Hernández: Of course. It’s cute. And sometimes when I want to laugh, I think of Beverly Hills because Beverly Hills was represented in that comic book. It was not South Central. It was not La Puente. It was not Whittier. It was not, no, it was Beverly Hills with those big mansions. So yes, I still think about that. So when I want to laugh, I think that, “Oh, Beverly Hills. It's Archie.”
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Has your idea about Archie changed over the years?
Ellie Hernández: Yes, of course. Look where I live. It’s not
Walter Thompson-Hernández: Not in Beverly Hills.
Ellie Hernández: It’s not Beverly Hills. We don't have any big mansions on, you know, with big walls around the houses. No. Of course this is a reality. This is my reality. Sorry.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: It's our Beverly Hills, right?
Ellie Hernández: Yes, this is our Beverly Hills.
Walter Thompson-Hernández: What’s up mom. The older I get the more I realize what it took to raise me. You had to wear so many different hats and sometimes you wore them all at once. You were mom, friend, big sister, mentor, father, and so much more. There wasn’t a handbook that we followed and it felt like we were both growing up at the same time. Learning from our mistakes and cherishing our small victories. Sometimes I think back to those Friday nights we used to stay up late watching the X-files and eating pizza. I really miss them. Or I think about the old white Volvo we used to have — the one I filled the backseat up full of my toys. It was the same one that I used to ask you to drop me off two blocks away from school because I was embarrassed of how old our car looked. Mom — I’m really sorry I was embarrassed. There was nothing to ever be ashamed about. The Westside often felt like a distant world — and full of strangers who didn’t look like us. I really missed my friends, Alex, Brian, Matthew, and the rest of our family when we moved. I’ve never told you this, but sometimes I used to cry at night wishing we had never left. I felt really alone. But I always had you. And we had each other. At this age, it’s even harder to comprehend having a child in my early twenties would feel like. I don’t know how you did it. Some of your classmates went home for the summer. Or, had internships. But you had me. I now see what you did. And, more importantly, your why. I’m so thankful that, in this lifetime, we were able to call each other mother and son. I’m really thankful you chose to come here. Because without LA, there is no me. Thank you, Mama. I love you.
Elizabeth Nakano was the lead producer for this episode.
Supporting producer Tamika Adams.
Our editor is Arwen Nicks.
Valentino Rivera is our engineer.Original music by Andrew Eapen.
Our senior producer is Megan Tan.
Executive producer is Angela Bromstad
This episode was written by me, with help from Elizabeth Nakano and Arwen Nicks.
Before we end this series there are a lot of people involved in making something like this — the list is long — so here we go.
A huge thank you to:
Associate Producer - Tamika Adams
Producer - Elizabeth Nakano
Senior Producer - Megan Tan
Our editor - Arwen Nicks
Every episode was mixed and engineered by Valentino Rivera
Original Music is by Andrew Eapen
Angela Bromstad is our Executive Producer
Our website was designed by Andy Cheatwood & the marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio
Our episode artwork - by Theo Lambert
Our show artwork - by Leo Gomez, Kristen Hayford, and myself
The team at LAist Studios includes:Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo Gomez.
Our website is:LAist.com/californialove
California is a production of LAist Studios.
I’m your host Walter Thompson-Hernández
A huge thank you to my friends and family whose voices and sounds can be heard throughout this show.
When I first thought of making this show, I was thinking about you. I appreciate you — more than you may know. Thank you so much for listening.
This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.