I believe nearly everyone has had this feeling at one time or another: “I’ve got something to say, but I don’t know how to say it, or know if anybody is even listening.” When I was growing up as a young boy in South Sacramento, this was something I felt quite often. Attending John F. Kennedy High School in the late 1990’s, I experienced what one could only call an identity crisis. I’m Mexican-American, but I was never taught how to speak Spanish. I grew up in a suburban tract home, but I spent most of my free time downtown with punk rockers. Long before it was socially acceptable, as it seems to be today, I was dyeing my hair every hue in the rainbow, and dressing in strange clothes I acquired from thrift stores and swap meets. Looking back now, I can only explain it as some sort of strange attempt to force strangers to stop in their step and acknowledge my existence. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I just knew that I wanted with every fiber of my being to make my mark on the surrounding landscape, desperately.
It may not have been that long ago, but you must remember, this was in an era before the internet as we know it today. Broadband video streaming sites like YouTube and the social networking powerhouse Facebook didn’t exist yet. It wasn’t easy to publish and share one’s thoughts or interests with their peers. So instead of updating my status, or recording a video blog, the only way I felt I could express myself was musically. I knew plenty of kids who felt the same way, and we’d get together and collect musical instruments of various quality and try to write melancholic songs about teenage angst and heartbreak. Were we any good? Not by a long shot. But were we successful? I’d say we were, if success can be measured not by the level of fame your art achieves, but by the sense of fulfillment creating something original gives your soul. In that sense, we were rock stars.
Now, I understand not everybody wants to be in a rock band. I’d actually be the last person to even recommend doing so to most. The point of my story is that even though I didn’t know it at the time, all I really wanted to do was express myself, and for others to witness and respond to that expression. As I’ve aged in life, I’ve continued to find new methods of expression to fulfill my needs. I’ve worked the restorations of semi-historical downtown buildings, some over 100 years old. I’ve joined neighborhood organizations and attended forums where my input has helped shape the future of our community. I’ve even found solace in the simple pleasures of gardening in my yard. To my surprise, however, nothing has satisfied me greater than a creative outlet I discovered about a year ago: online journalism.
The first piece I ever wrote was for the website sacramentopress.com. One morning, while driving to get coffee in my neighborhood, I noticed an abundance of illegal advertisements that were propagating on a temporary fence surrounding a construction site. I had noticed them before, but the sheer number I observed that morning inspired me to do something. I know I should have called code enforcement, or have contacted the property owner, but I decided that instead I would handle this myself. Pliers in hand, I removed dozens of signs and banners from that fence, and several telephone polls, vacant buildings, and empty lots in my neighborhood. Now, I could have stopped there, but I’m glad I didn’t. Once I got home, I laid all the materials on my driveway and took a digital photo. After uploading that picture to my computer, I took to my web browser and pointed it to sacpress.com. I wrote the tale of my actions, attached the photo, and clicked on a button that said “publish story”. I had no idea what I was in for next.
Over the next few days the comments beneath my article astounded me. Some thanked me for my actions. Others cheered me for my “vigilantism”. It was one posted comment, however, that really struck a chord with me. A user, quoting Gandhi, wrote: “be the change you want to see in the world.” It was as if somebody flipped a switch in my brain. I had no idea that a) something I wrote could affect so many strangers and b) that a strangers response to something I wrote could have such an affect on me. Over the next few months, I continued to write and hone my craft. I found my writing “voice” through trial and error. Most importantly, I felt as if finally I had found a way to connect with people in way I never knew possible before, by crafting original and relevant stories about this city which I love and have called home all my life.
I don’t posses a college degree or any specialized training. I don’t have a gift or exclusive ability that no one else can tap. All I have is my desire to express myself and a passion to see that this city remains a great place to live for me and my family and my neighbors. Luckily, I now live in an era where anybody can do so in the digital domain. This website, accesslocal.tv, and other social media sites like these allow those who once may have been voiceless speak as loud as their soul can shout. With the now common everyday tools such as a computer and a digital camera, we all are now free to share the stories that otherwise may have been lost to the ages. The stories of regular folks making their way through the world in a fast-changing environment. To that end, I am willing to help anyone use these tools in the hopes that they too can achieve the same sense of reward that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy. All you need to do is shed the fear of failure, look into your heart and the eyes of your neighbors, and write what you observe so that others can share in your experiences. This is an amazing time to be alive, why not help write the pages of history with your tales?