Dr. Jorge N Leal is a local Los Angeles historian and university professor. He had immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in the late 80s, and is an ERHS alumni. He has taught courses on subjects such as Mexican American/Latinx History, History of California and Los Angeles among other cultural and urban history topics. He is also the curator of Rock Archivo LA, an online archive on instagram, documenting different types of media and items from the Los Angeles Latinx rock en español scene, of which he was a participant as a concert producer. Previously in his career he’s also worked as a professional journalist and TV writer. I conducted this interview as I found a lot of his work very interesting, as he documents Los Angeles, Latinx history as well as working in the field of journalism, writing, and education. These are some of the points that will be addressed and discussed throughout this interview.
What are some experiences that you remember from your time at Eagle Rock High School/ being in Journalism here?
“We had an advisor who was an English teacher. This was before the advent of desktop publishing, we only had one computer (a Macintosh II computer). We would have to write our articles, handwritten, and then type them on the computer and print it as columns.”
These printed columns were quite literally cut and pasted onto paper and were printed for the newspaper copies.
“I was interested in writing for the paper because I wanted to study journalism, even as a high school student. I thought this would be a good idea and it was. It helped me understand journalism as a profession. It was very helpful to be in journalism.”
“For me it was very important as I was in ESL/English learners classes but being in journalism helped me get into the high school swing of things. It allowed me to get some of the basic skills and know how journalism worked as I went on to study journalism as my undergrad at Cal State Northridge.”
Is there anything else journalism had helped you out with then or now?
“I was very shy and insecure because my English was rather basic because I had only been in Los Angeles for around 3 ½ years. It was intimidating to talk to other people because of my limited english. Journalism, both in high school and later on, helped me get out of shyness and forced me to talk to people. I had a reason to talk to them so it wasn’t as awkward. I had to socialize and it allowed me to socialize in high school.”
“It was also the writing, to think of journalism as writing, and writing is at the root of how we narrate our human experience. Being a journalist gave me the first draft of being able to create a narrative about my life. I also got to know the city more because it allowed me to report on it so I got to know it more, as a professional journalist. When I was in high school, it allowed me to know the eagle rock high school culture a little bit more and pushed me from my comfort zone, to be able to talk to strangers with a mission.”
What was it like immigrating to the US at the age you did?
“It was definitely a challenge, because even though we have family in LA, one thing is to come to visit them once in a while, to live in the US. I had to adjust to having to make new friends, being in classes with new people, in a whole new country you don’t know, in a city you barely know.”
“I also want to say there was a sense of discovery, because everything was new. I had no knowledge of how high school in the U.S. was, the only knowledge I really had was movies and TV shows of the 80s. It was very different in some ways and in some ways it was similar. Lunch was new, the traditions were new, even the schedule was new. In Mexico you’d go from 7am to 1 or 2pm and here it was from 8 to 3. Also Eagle Rock has a unique characteristic which has grades 7th-12th. It was a challenge because as an immigrant, it didn't feel like I was fully part of the experience. It was also a discovery because everything was new. I was never bored because there was always something new to learn about.”
How did you connect with rock en español?
“It was music that came from Latin America, also it became popular with recent immigrants. The music said things that resonated with me, it was my own language, from people that had a similar experience to me. What surrounded the music in Los Angeles was a group of people that had a similar experience to mine that were interested in Latin American culture, so it allowed me to create my group of friends. Back then if you had a shirt with Caifanes, or Maldita Vecindad which were some of these popular bands, you would strike conversations with people that had those shirts - it was an identifier. There weren’t a lot of us in Eagle Rock, but there were people in Franklin. Even though they were our rival school, because we listened to the same music we got to know some of those people from Franklin and other high schools. It created a community. I never thought I was going to be in my 40s and talking about this music, but it allowed me to create a community. It wasn't only about the music it was also how we saw the world, we bonded over that and we created connections, many of those people are still my friends.”
What experiences do you remember from participating in that scene and eventually working with some of the bands and producing concerts?
(This is an abbreviated version of these events)
“My nature has been not only just to enjoy things but try to make them happen and make something out of them. Throughout the years I liked the music so much, there was a time where I thought, there are not that many music shows that have the bands that I like. Why don't I create my own shows? Again I was still very shy so I’d ask bands very meekly if they could play at my shows. Producing concerts at small places and venues and having bigger shows allowed me to bring bands that I like, to support bands that I enjoy. Not only from Los Angeles, but also from Mexico, from Argentina, and other places. Having them be on a stage, for them to share their music and their culture, for me says plenty about life, and about society. It was a way of creating a community around culture or arts that have something meaningful to say.”
What are some jobs you’ve had writing professionally?
“I was a journalist, first in newspapers, I also wrote for magazines, and then I moved to another aspect of media which was TV writing. I worked as a TV writer for this bilingual TV network which was called mun2 (pronounced mundos) which was owned by NBC and Telemundo. The shows were in English and in Spanish.”
“I wrote for a couple of their TV shows, then within that network I also started producing shows (concerts) but for them it was at a different scale. We had reggaetón artists, pop artists and regional Mexican artists, there was some rock in the mix too.”
These concerts were usually held at Universal CityWalk in Hollywood.
How has it been teaching online during the pandemic as a professor?
“I finished my PHD and I was a postdoctoral scholar at USC and that’s when the pandemic started so that was my first full experience teaching online. Before I had actually taught, as I was finishing my PHD as a lecturer, I would teach classes without having a full time position at Cal State LA and I taught online there but it was different, it wasn't synchronous, it was asynchronous. I had some experience teaching online and that was very different from teaching online during a pandemic. It’s a very different proposition because there is an online remote teaching that has been around for years but it’s different from what we've experienced. The online teaching we had done in the last year was really an emergency type of teaching. We’re all thrown into it without previous training. It’s been a challenge because of technology and connectivity issues for students but at the same time I think it’s been rewarding to see that people have been able to continue their education.”
Regarding your documenting and archive, what do you feel are some highlights of your collection and what you’ve received?
”I started the archive with my own materials that were in my house and I just thought this is cool stuff to keep. I never thought I was going to think of them in a historical way or could use them to create a historical study. I just thought these are just a bunch of flyers but there’s much more than flyers, there are photos that I have. When I made it collective, people started sending me their stuff. Besides flyers there’s photos, tapes, cassettes of bands that had very limited runs and that is really interesting because as a storer of these objects, I know there’s not that many going around or existing.”
“It’s great to be able to preserve songs that are part of LA history that otherwise might get lost. Then I saw flyers that had maps and it’s really interesting how immigrants and young people had mapped out their cities. So for me, the highlights are flyers that have maps where people map out Los Angeles, because we’re able to see how the city has changed in the last 30 years.”
“Another thing is videos. This was in the 90s during the advent of home videos. So several videos of shows and concerts that were gone, and being able to view them and see somebody saved this and it’s great to see this. This tells us a history of Los Angeles, that’s not in the newspapers or government documents because this is the history of Latinx youth, and their history has not always been documented. It is a history that everyday people have created out of their own existence.”
From my interview with Dr. Leal, I’ve learned quite a lot about this music scene but also the history of everyday people. There are everyday people that have gathered together through music and ultimately were a part of a historic musical experience. I’ve learned about how important things like writing and documenting are in our lives as through documenting and even journalism we can express different parts of our human experience. Through his teaching and documenting, I’m sure Dr. Leal will continue to spread awareness of this important history in our community of Los Angeles.