Watch These Oakland Students Tell Us How to Understand and End Gun Violence

About the Author: Sophia Sobko is a former teacher and current graduate student at UC Berkeley.

​Last Friday evening E14 Gallery in Downtown Oakland buzzed as 7th and 8th graders from Lighthouse Community Charter School shared their research, artwork, and writing on gun-related violence in Oakland. The exhibit was the culmination of a year of research and creative production exploring the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of gun violence in their community and beyond.

Student ambassadors spread across the spacious gallery, leading visitors through the exhibit’s many stations: research and data, history of the 2nd amendment, narratives, art campaigns, potential solutions, and participant response. Student speakers moved between English and Spanish, sharing statistics and personal stories about gun violence with one goal: to educate others and move them to action.

The Predator, The Snake, and The Thief; Why I Couldn’t Wait to Get Away from Paradise

IMG_0287My name is Jeremias Arevalo. I am a junior at Lighthouse Community Charter School. I have always enjoyed writing in the forms of poetry, scripture and memoirs. I hope that my work shows you an insight into the life of a mixed-race, 17-year-old growing up in a turbulent time, in a turbulent place. I love the Bay Area and California so I hope to go to college in Santa Cruz or Berkeley. I don’t yet know of what I want to do with my adult life but hopefully it will be full of misadventures and success, so when I am an old man I can write my stories down to share with the world.

 

Snakes in the jungle, predator in the streets, thief in my home.

All were gathered under one roof and called me nephew. Guatemala is a wonderful place for a third world country: drinking age is never enforced; white folks are treated as walking banks, and reggaeton is the soundtrack to the lustful poverty.

The innocent boy visiting the jungle, the home of his father. If only the father was more of a wordsmith and could weave the wild acts committed in the depths of night to something not so shocking. Father told him one day, and quite by accident, he morphed him.

I was 15 during these events. My father called me into the guest room back in Oakland, a small quiver in his voice. I knew it was serious. I mentally prepped my mind for the worst. Divorce? Death? Adoption? What could it be?! I surely wasn’t prepared for what was said next.

My father began the compilation of stories about my uncles that I wish were fiction; new truths, new light shone on them like the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass on an anthill. One of them I didn’t know very well, one I despised and the last I loved. My family always branded the motto: Family is the purest thing and blood is thicker than water. Apparently ineptitude in life is thicker than blood.

The Predator

IMG_1683My father’s body language prepared me for the tale of the The Predator.

I dare not speak or write his name. He was a man of god, yet he committed such deadly sins, absolved of whatever promises he made to those he preached.

As a male lion entering his new pack, he devoured his children. The husks left behind, sacrificed to Moloch. My poor cousins. When my father told me what he did to them, I was in shock. That my younger cousins were raped by their father, while my aunty knew and didn’t do anything about it made me question the sanity of my bloodline.

This experience changed my opinion on family forever. I could no longer trust my most active muscle of blood to carry me through life, for it had been bitten by the predator.

The Snake

IMG_1681The snake arrived at my house the third day of my vacation in Guatemala. As usual he decided to slither into the house without us knowing.

“Hola guicho,” my dad said with a blatant air of disdain in his voice in spying the snake.

“Hi tio,” I said nervously, looking at my father expectantly.

“Holassss Jeremiassss,” the snake replied, engulfing me in the stench of alcohol while showing his yellowed fangs and flashing his vertical pupils at me, pot belly jiggling from his last meal.

“How are you? You have a lot of girls huh?” The snake interrogated.

“I’m fine tio, and no, no girl yet.”

The gruffness of the exchanges that occurred between my father and my uncle showed the true sides of the two: one a protective father, the other a slithering duplicitous reptile. My uncle then started begging my father for money to settle this enormous debt he had. Problem is he wouldn’t tell us how he racked up this debt. My father shooed him away after a while and he slithered out hissing his opinions on us under his breath.

The Thief

Enlight2He is Elder. My favourite uncle. Elder would take me on his motorcycle with his adorable baby son. We would walk down the Guatemalan streets and talk about life. Struggles, pain, pleasure. He was the only uncle I could talk with about serious topics such as family, love, and the types of people to worry about, the only uncle who would take me seriously. But bombas of crushing truths did not cease with the Predator or the Snake.

“You can’t talk to him anymore. If he comes close I’ll kill him.”

My father was in a fury.

“Elder has been stealing money from the people of Morales. That’s us. And the cartel. Jeremias, I  know you love him but I forbid you to talk to him or be around him. He may not be alive for much longer. I’m sorry.”

Elder’s job with the municipal government was corrupt. The job I would hear him talk about so much was actually his way of laundering money from taxes for himself and the mayor. Now he was being hunted like an animal.

Love: Is it the strongest bond above anything else?

I questioned whether I should still love my uncle after I found out that he is a completely different person when he’s not around me. Two personalities, double trouble, two lives, two polarities. One I activate with my presence, the other evident without me. Golden-toothed smile begging for family, missing thumb, broken spirit. The posture of a man exposed for his true self. No security, not even in life.

 
*     *     *     *
 

I was leaving Guatemala with the same amount of luggage, but tons more mental baggage.

I couldn’t wait to get away from the poisonous paradise. When we finally arrived back home there was a silent tension about the desecrated image of my kin.

My brother didn’t need to know; some secrets are best kept in the dark, where they came from.

I thought that seeing my family would make me feel more complete. Instead, the realities of man, the cruelest animal, were shown in my blood.