In the first few weeks of kindergarten at Lorena Street School in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Harry Gamboa Jr. learned a few crucial lessons. His teacher put him on a stool in front of the class with a dunce-cap that said “Spanish.” As he recalls in this vivid account of an artist’s coming-of-age in the 1960s, “her attempt failed to induce the desired fear and submission. I was little, but I wasn’t stupid.”
At the age of five, Gamboa Jr. left school to carry out his self-education in the rich milieu of this multicultural, working-class corner of L.A. Reading and writing were crucial, and he found numerous ways to sharpen those skills—from the newspapers left lying around at diners to the comic books he’d buy whenever he had the money. Still enrolled in the public schools (and moved forward year after year despite not attending classes), Gamboa Jr. spent his time wandering from Boyle Heights into downtown L.A. and more distant parts of the city. By 1968 he’d joined the coalition of young and older activists who carried out the L.A. high school walkouts and sparked that city’s Chicano Movement activism. Four years later, in 1972, he co-founded the pioneering multimedia collective, ASCO. Gamboa Jr.’s story is further proof that literature happens where and how it must.
1 March, 2022