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LINCOLN HEIGHTS : Poetry Rises From the Riots' Ashes

April 04, 1993|MARY ANNE PEREZ

A dark-red cellophane sky serves as the background for a black construction-paper skyline and smoky sky that Lincoln High School students created to illustrate their reflections of last spring's riots.

Poems based on what they saw in those terror-filled days, what they remembered from their childhoods and what they dream for the city--as well as the illustrations to dramatize their works--are on display through April 17 at the Lincoln Heights Library.

"I dreamed a big, big blak skai," was created by about 100 English as a Second Language students with the help of librarian Liebe Gray.

Gray often speaks at schools and was in a Lincoln High ESL class the day the riots erupted. Her talk had centered on the 1986 Central Library fire and how it made her realize how important libraries are. "Little did I know that by the next day, two more libraries would burn," she said.

She returned to the class to ask the students, many of whom arrived in this country one or two years ago, to put into words what they had seen during the unrest. "Sometimes, when they don't have the language quite right, it comes out like poetry," Gray said.

I dreamed a big, big blak skai

I dream it could rain to stop the fires,

but my dream didn't come through.

A few days after Ronnie King's case it rain.

I don't know what is wrong to the god.

My heart seems like a knife cuts.

Student Tiffany Ho inspired Gray with those lines on the first day of composition. Over several weeks, the students wrote their recollections from their home countries and of their dreams. Gray collected them and submitted an application for a Los Angeles Arts Recovery Fund grant for art in the schools.

"I come from a theater background and so I have seen that the best way to get people together is to create something together," Gray said.

With the $2,400 grant in hand, she continued her project, returning to the classes to develop a play based on the students' poems. They also cut silhouettes out of construction paper that resembled characters in their poems.

"Some of (the poems) are really powerful on an artistic level," said teacher Cynthia High. "The fragmented English has such a power and beauty all its own. It's important to leave the English as it came out. It's a powerful message artistically that's very rare because we're always correcting them."

Some of the students were born in Vietnam and had experienced violence there. Most of them, because much of the riots did not reach East Los Angeles, could only relate what they saw on television, but they saw the sky black with smoke, Gray said.

With background noises such as crashing glass, alarms and fires, the students put on a puppet show using their poetry as the characters' lines.

"Using drama, they were really able to express themselves and go into a deeper level," High said.

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