Jim Hinch

How Green Is Our Valley

Bureaucracy can be a wonderful thing. Tucked inside a recent meeting agenda for an obscure government agency (the Fresno Council of Governments) is a startling revelation: Planners in California’s San Joaquin Valley are embarking on a massive effort to inventory and map out all of the Valley’s natural resources, its watersheds, open spaces, grasslands, remaining wilderness (if any), etc. The project is called the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint and it follows a similar recently completed Valley Blueprint that inventoried the Valley’s urban sprawl and remaining farmland. Don’t write this off as yet another forgettable government study. The Valley Blueprint has already sparked debate between developers, agribusiness and conservationists as Valley governments, for the first time in history, seek to limit sprawl and preserve farmland. The Greenprint will undoubtedly inspire equally intense discussion. The effort to plan Valley growth matters to all Californians, indeed to people around the globe. Most of the fruits and vegetables Americans eat are grown in California. Loss of Valley farmland will drive up food prices for everyone. At the same time the Valley now has eclipsed Los Angeles as home to America’s dirtiest air. If efforts to rein in sprawl and curb greenhouses gases fail here it won’t matter whether they succeed elsewhere in the state. The Greenprint represents a welcome focus on a crucial and often misunderstood and under-appreciated part of California.

The Holy City

Cardus, a Toronto-based think tank, likes artist Fabian Debora, subject of a profile I wrote in the current issue of Image:

A Spade is Not a Spade: The Art of Fabian Debora and the Mystery of Los Angeles” is, as the title implies, about roughly a baker’s dozen different things at once. Principally, it is about the Los Angeles artist Fabian Debora’s spiritual evolution from hardened street gang member to (locally) celebrated painter. It is also, with a bit of a sideways slide, about a Jesuit priest named Father Greg Boyle who runs an initiative called Homeboy Industries that helps the Debora’s of the world escape the projects, the violence, the drugs, the normalization of murder, intrinsic to gang life.

Then it becomes something else again: a meditation on neighborhood, and on memories attached to the places where we grow up, even when those places feature children who must be taught to sleep in “bullet proof” postures to avoid being killed in their beds by random shootings in the hallway or the squalid apartment next door.

That would be enough for even the most voracious reader, but Hinch goes further yet by tying Debora’s redemption, “Father G’s” saving work, and sense of home that creates homeboys up to the underappreciated, if not unknown, truth that the Los Angeles of all our stereotypes is now among the most fertile spiritual soil in the world.

The immigration that meets the racism that feeds the poverty that fosters the eradication of community that begets the violence is, simultaneously, the source of a 21st Century version of the Great Awakening.

“Newcomers—almost four and a half million, a third from Asia, more than half from Mexico and Latin America—have created in Los Angeles a massive religious infrastructure similar to the network of Catholic parishes and Jewish synagogues that once anchored life in immigrant landing zones such as New York’s Lower East Side and South Boston,” Hinch writes.

“More Catholics pack more parishes and run more schools in southern California today than in any archdiocese in the nation. Mosques in Orange County operate mortuaries and schools, furnish reception rooms for weddings and other community activities. In Hacienda Heights . . . the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere organizes summer camps, teaches Cantonese, produces radio and television broadcasts, raises money for disabled children, operates a printing press and runs and art gallery.”

This is not just interesting information. It is inherently newsworthy of its potential to make all of us new. As we all know, what starts in California, sooner or later starts everywhere else as well. Yet how much room is given to it in a so-called mainstream media obsessed with every burp and tickle in, say, American electoral primaries that will be meaningless in a matter of weeks? None, or next to it.

Kyung-In

This is Kyung-In Lee. I’ll be writing about her soon. She’s praying in this photo, which she did every morning before preparing breakfast for her husband and seven children. Kyung-In lived in Seoul through the Japanese occupation of Korea, World War II and the Korean War. Her husband, a minister, was imprisoned by the Japanese and later killed (the family presumes) by North Korean communists following the invasion of Seoul. Kyung-In lost four children to war and disease. Her oldest son became a communist. She sent four of her children to live in America, placing them on American cargo ships in Pusan harbor. She lived much of the latter part of her life as a refugee. Her youngest son, Hi-Dong, told me he sometimes found her praying while holding a handkerchief wet with tears. That is the through-line in Kyung-In’s life: prayer. “I used to wake up at night and find her praying,” Hi-Dong told me. “I came home from school and found her praying in a corner of the living room….Through prayer she found strength to go on through the dark valleys of death and separation.” Kyung-In joined her children in the U.S. in the early 1980s. She died in 1987 at age 93. She is buried in Los Gatos, California. Her headstone reads: “She loved unconditionally.”

King’s Way

Wow. Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, home to super-pastor Rick Warren (Obama inauguration, Purpose Driven Life, etc.) has joined forces with Southern California mosques to adopt a three-step plan for ending enmity between evangelical Christians and Muslims. The plan’s first step calls for Muslims and Christians to recognize they worship the same God. Interfaith reconciliation has been proceeding for years between Muslims and more liberal-leaning mainline Protestant denominations. This is the first such effort I’ve heard of by an evangelical mega-church. Many evangelicals regard Islam as Christianity’s number one enemy, and they do not at all agree that the two faiths worship the same God. This is likely to make waves. See news release and pictures at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Contested Visions

Only three days left to catch “Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World,” a stunning exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Four hundred years of art produced in the Spanish-speaking Americas. What fascinates me is how the exhibit highlights both the resilience of native artistic traditions in the face of overwhelming Christianization, and also the adaptability of Catholicism in new lands. A parallel to pressures and adaptations faced by many immigrants in America today. Excellent review by Daniela Bleichmar in the 2/9/12 New York Review of Books.

God, gangs and art in L.A.

Two new publications this month, both about the work of Fabian Debora, a former East L.A. gang member turned painter and muralist. “Pay Me No Mind” appears in the latest issue of Boom: A Journal of California (an excellent and welcome addition to the literature of California). “A Spade is Not a Spade” appears in the latest issue of Image.