It’s Easy To Be In A Saint In Paradise

Mar. 16, 2020 / By

A youth retreat in the San Antonio Mountains is exactly what Alvin Engo needed to continue his and the community’s struggle.

Ceferino basking on the cliffs prior to the sun setting during the Youth Summit Retreat on February 1, 2020. All photos by Ceferino Martirez

I take solace in the knowledge that one day I’ll be free. But until that day comes I fight to help keep others from oppression as the black boot comes marching in our streets.

When I was young, I grew up without the loving embrace of a family. This lack of choice instilled in me a martial tradition that kept me alive. While harsh, it gave me the ability to survive in a poor community, it paved the way for the experience I needed to rely on my own, especially when family was a luxury I could not afford.

My family never gave me the opportunities I was promised. Crushed underneath the tides of deceit and chained to the sands of time. Broken promise after broken promise gave way to my growing frustrations.

They were a colossal power that I could not hope to endure indefinitely. Independence, and independence alone, was the only way forward. So the decision had to be made, I made the motion to slowly exert my own independence as soon as it was possible and set my own path.

I became the VoiceWaves representative for the Long Beach Youth Committee, a coalition of youth organizations across Long Beach who are uniting to fight for a better future for their communities.

I am proud of doing my duty to take part in this. Before taking part in this great endeavor, I was just a junior taking refuge as a member of Poly High School’s Comic Book Club every Thursday after school to relax and talk with like-minded folks.

They gave me a space and gave me a home away from home; many of them would be long lasting friends to this day. I grew up with an affinity in history and read a story of the Irish War For Independence, a revolution where they were willing to fight against an immense might without even a fighting chance. I empathize with their struggle for the basic human right to be free.

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My early work organizing for Measure WW in 2018 during its late phases gave an air of purpose. Although I was late to joining the measure’s campaign, I had witnessed and taken part in one of the biggest events in Long Beach history, helping provide countless hotel employees the safety and rights they deserved.

I took to the front-lines and applied to be a Youth Reporter for VoiceWaves and took part and covered many events in the greater Long Beach city area. Prior to joining, I had an interest in photography for use in advocacy. So I equipped myself with a camera and learned that each picture taken depicts a story, including when was I pinned to the brim during an alt-right counter protest with both sides breathing down on my neck as they shouted at each other while I was trapped, crouched between them. It was an experience I enjoyed even if it was on a modest level.

Although being one of the newest additions to the Youth Committee was daunting, I appreciated the challenge to the highest level a man like me can bestow. Aside from my start in getting set up in the Youth Committee and meeting with members of the old guard, their years of experience was great to hear and they welcomed new members with open arms, introducing me to youth representatives of different cultures and backgrounds.

We were representatives of our respective organizations and the communities we lived in. We came from all over Long Beach and represented countless youth organizations within the city. Jenn was from Khmer Girls In Action (KGA), who have been taking the youth organizing helm for years alongside the likes of the many members of Californians For Justice (CFJ), shaping the history of youth led activism and pioneering change within the Northern fringes of Long Beach. Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) also had many talented and artistic individuals whose identities were forged by a dream to live and exist without prosecution.

I became good friends with members from Educated Men with Meaningful Messages (EM3) who had stories of uplifting youth and giving them a place of refuge. They and many others gave voice to the significant minority groups that are often underlooked, if not neglected altogether.

As a teen, I learned the importance of learning another’s culture, and how it could reveal so much understanding from people. Up north, in those mountains, I had not felt such genuine peace for over a decade and half, until I was up there climbing up on a rock, basking in the cliffs to take in such magnificent sights at the breaking of the dawn.

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I’d love to thank Jenn and the rest of the camp members my deepest of respects. Her experience in Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) afforded her with such vast knowledge. She and I both shared the same experience that only those that shared the same family struggle could understand. She joined me to watch the sunset for another day in the crisp, cold air of being this up north provided.

The owners of the camp were good men doing a great service of feeding us hot meals and cold drinks. After it was all over and we departed to go our separate ways, the trip provided a sense of duty and collective responsibility.

I understand that this world is cruel and lonely, raised in between a sierra of hypocrisy and promises, tempered under the perpetual engines of war and peace. Corrupt politicians, Wall Street, and religious demagogues make mockery on human life. For against it all, we triumph over it — there are those willing to secure our future, to lay down their lives till their last breath is spent.

But for now, we fight to attain the future. It shall be a long and painful journey, but our struggles are all intertwined, destined to meet at its inevitable conclusion: A world where we can all live free without the black boot coming to thread on us once more, because for the privileged, they live like saints in paradise where there is no fear of violence, hunger, or of poverty. Out here, our problems haven’t been solved yet.

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Ceferino Martirez

Ceferino Martirez is a photojournalist with VoiceWaves. He is a history and history education major at CSULB who joined VoiceWaves in 2018. Martirez’s work focuses on street photography and protest coverage. His work with VoiceWaves has focused on using his photography to capture community voices on issues like housing, labor, and youth rights.