Monday night lights

Mondays at the library are always a bit eerie.  The grand Central Library is empty- dim lights, no noise, and none of the usual characters shuffling in and out with their books, bags, and lives in hand.  It’s just a few security guards, a handful of colleagues, and the L.A. Public library staff that populate this massive place.   On Mondays in Los Angeles, the library is closed.  That means no checking out books, no computer usage, no literacy center, no DVD rentals, no place for students to do their homework, no language learning or job searching. It’s a day void of access to ideas and information.

Exiting the library tonight into a wintery evening sky, I saw two bright lights shining low in the sight line.  I’d never seen them before so I stepped out of my path to the parking garage and went to investigate.  The library gardens at night are dimly light, but these two lights were clearly not part of the standard setup.  These lights were two young students named Yana and Luís.  I’d estimate them to be about 11 and 7, respectively.  They were sitting on a cold, hard concrete floor with mini laptops-one for each of them- propped up on a concrete bench.  Electrical cords snaked down from the computers to an outdoor outlet I had never noticed before on the side of the bench.  Each of the kids had their own headphones and were working through homework exercises on the computer. Luís Miguel, Latin music superstar, was singing passionately-on mute-through the screen of an iPad that rested between the two computers. Luís Grande (the father) stood behind his kids, calmly pacing in the background.

It was startling to find two young kids doing their homework outside at night during the winter, with laptops and an iPad plugged into a wall on city property. Spurred by my curiosity, I plunged head first into a ton of questions, introducing myself somewhere along the way. Yana’s father began answering my questions in Spanish-Yana simultaneously translating into English- until I let her know I understood.

The kids were in fact doing homework- Luís on math and Yana on something else.  The headphones they were using connected them to live homework help; a tutor was on the other line assisting them with their work.  The computers had been given for free as part of a program that allowed the kids to keep them as long as they logged x amount of tutoring hours through the service.  They were totally hooked up, free technology and free help.  The free wi-fi vis-à-vis the library network signal must have been leaking through the thick metal doors thanks to the will of a homework fairy.  All of this free stuff yet no library to house the ones most in need.

I expressed my sympathy for them having to be outside, I explained why the library was closed on Monday, and eagerly began to tell Luís Grande about Measure L on the March 8 ballot (The silent voice in my head was asking me if he would even care about a measure on a ballot, but I figured hey-they’re outside, not in.  He gets it and he needs to know.)  When I began by asking if he was a registered voter, he confessed, “No tengo papeles.”  And so I urged him to tell his friends who did have “papeles” to vote YES on Measure L which would restore another day of service to the library (without any new taxes), and allow these two students to work inside.  He expressed his love of the library, how they do come here other days of the week, and I inquired if he used the library’s computers to search for jobs.  (He had also told me he was out of a job.)

“No, pues, todos piden papeles, está difícil.”  (No, they all ask for papers, it’s really difficult.)

“Do you live nearby?” I asked.

“Vivimos en el Union Rescue Mission aquí en downtown,” he responded.

Here is Luís grande, telling me his story, as his daughter Yana tugs at his jacket begging him to lend it to her. She’s getting cold, it’s dark out, and the library doors are closed.

I imagine that from here, Luís grande, Yana, and Luís will walk back to the Union Rescue Mission to sleep and to store their things, along with many other families, many other unemployed parents trying to raise their children and encourage them to do their homework.  (I can’t even imagine how one manages to keep a computer secure in a place like the Mission.)

There was something about Luís Grande that made the story, hmmm, inspiring.  Ingenuity was definitely at work.  He told me about his life with a smile, in confidence.  He said he has hope, and he pointed to the sky above.  There is something greater at work, he inferred.  We shook hands, I wished the kids luck with their homework, and I walked away with many a lesson.  Gratitude, for one.  And a conviction of how important the library is to the community.  It’s not just about books.  It’s about Yana and Luís.  We must help these little lights shine.

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~ by maureenmoore on February 15, 2011.

7 Responses to “Monday night lights”

  1. mo, thanks for sharing this. reading it brought tears to my eyes. i can’t believe the obstacles these kids, and too many others, face just to do homework. and thanks for the measure L info.! i didn’t know it would be on the ballot! we miss going to the library on monday!

  2. What a saga… no better story to illuminate the urgent need to PASS MEASURE L. Thank you, Maureen!

  3. If you haven’t already, you need to forward this family’s plight to the Measure L campaign people.

    Beautifully written, Mosey, and I’d like permission to insert it for today’s entry in my blog. Yes, I’ve succumbed, but haven’t spread the word. Still working on all parts of it.

    Love, Peace & Libraries ~Auntie TFJ

  4. Our library in our very small community of 7500 full time residents is open 7 days a week. The community would be in an uproar if it weren’t. We offer all the services your library does and the library is well used. Good luck with your work towards passage of Measure L.

  5. The American Library Association wants to be part of the revolution, on a national basis.

    Check this link for what we all can do, nationally:

    http://www.ilovelibraries.org/

    Vivas las bibliotecas!

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