Erick Cabrera hadn’t visited A Place Called Home in 15 years. A unique opportunity to share his story before a live audience, combined with his passion for writing, brought this former APCH member back to campus in February 2020 with an unexpected result. Erick recently reflected on growing up in South Central, his experience over the past 15 years and APCH’s lasting impact on his life. We’re thrilled to share his reflection with you here:
Editorial by Erick Cabrera, APCH Alum
I entered APCH’s doors in the early 2000’s. Like many other inner-city youths during that time, my home was a product of migrants who desperately sought to assimilate into American life. We learned quickly that the journey to assimilation was not without its severe limitations. Especially for what WE were considered… minorities. Resources were limited. We were expected to learn English, but didn’t have access to the same educational and financial opportunities as others. Brown people were viewed as nothing more than laborers. That’s when APCH stepped in.
My best friend referred me to APCH and I was initially attracted by the free stuff, such as turkey giveaways for Thanksgiving. I soon realized there was so much more than freebies, like arts programs that provided a creative outlet I did not have at school, due to program cuts.
I was drawn to the Student Council Program for teen members, which not only helped me develop my leadership skills, but also gained me a lifelong mentor, Monique Edwards, who led our group. I also participated in the Youth Mentoring Program, which provided an opportunity to visit and learn from employees at the Warner Bros. studio lot every week and where I’d find another lifelong mentor, Rissa Dodson. Both were strong women of color which I am proud to say contributed to the man I am today. They recognized my ability to write and encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Although surrounded by gang warfare, poverty, discrimination, and limited access to resources, my mentors helped instill in me the idea that I wasn’t just meant for the streets. In fact, the streets were simply crossroads to endless opportunities I could choose to overcome.
I left APCH in 2005 after graduating high school and fell victim to the trappings of inner-city life. I became a teenage father and immediately entered the workforce to make ends meet. I didn’t go to college because I couldn’t afford it, but never lost touch with my mentors. Every so often, I’d seek their guidance as I began to navigate the corporate world. Eventually, I managed to reach a Senior IT Analyst position in the foreign exchange industry through constant hussle, as we say in the hood. I attribute my career success to the leadership skills I acquired at APCH – skills my superiors recognized and rewarded. Though now a professional, I never forgot my dream of pursuing writing and continued practicing my craft.
In early 2020, I got a chance to put my skills to the test at The Moth, a live storytelling event held in cities across the globe. Previously, I’d attended The Moth in Echo Park, where the stories catered more to a hipster, English-speaking-Anglo audience. I found myself unable to connect and didn’t return until The Moth announced an all-Spanish language event, its first Spanish StorySLAM in Los Angeles. Even more to my surprise, the SLAM was being held on the APCH campus. I found the coincidence symbolic and immediately planned to attend, but was nervous. I had performed at other storytelling events, but never in Spanish.
Walking through the APCH campus brought back an overwhelming sense of nostalgia but also reaffirmation. If there was ever a place to tell my story it was in the same space that influenced me. I drew strength from it and used it towards my performance.
Erick performs at The Moth at The Bridge Theater at APCH
The night’s theme was “Conexiones/Connections.” I spoke about my history of abusive relationships, including abusive behavior I observed within my parents’ relationship. I had not been in a committed, romantic relationship in 13 years and I wasn’t sure why. Through therapy and meditation, I learned to let go of generational trauma, how to break the cycle of violence and how to create a healthy lifestyle. After telling my story at The Moth and in Spanish for the first time, I won the StorySLAM! I felt I owed the win to my APCH family that cheered for me from the audience.
It had been over 15 years since APCH helped shape me and here it was again pulling me back to a lifelong dream. As I continue to write pages in my book about my experiences and hope it gets published someday, my ultimate dream is for this work to inspire others. To remind them that adversity is not the end of our stories but a catalyst for much more.
South Central could have easily written me off as a statistic all those years ago but I was fortunate to have found a place I could call home.