This piece was originally published Friday, August 31, 2018 as "Perspective: My friend Alfred Fraijo, the Angel of Boyle Heights" in Boyle Heights Beat.
Across the tutor’s living room where our freshman orientation took place, the young man with the glistening black pompadour and mustache immediately caught my eye. Fresh from Roosevelt High School, Alfred looked more grown up than the other motley freshmen moving into Harvard’s Canaday Hall dorm. His startling hazel eyes stood out against his brown skin, reflecting more of life’s heartbreak than the rest of us had seen, already alchemizing it into compassion.
There was something in his manner simultaneously foreign to a girl who had grown up in New York City’s trendy Tribeca and familiar to a girl whose father’s family hailed from Boyle Heights. Over the next four years, our tight-knit group of multi-cultural misfits helped each other weather Harvard’s pressures by singing and dancing to Ana Gabriel and Elvis Crespo until the sun came up.
As long as I’ve known Alfred Fraijo, Jr., he has loved art, becoming an accomplished painter himself. Now, his work is more abstract. Back then, he painted lone, winged men, their heads tilted downward somberly, their backs to the viewer – angels.
Our first year of college, Alfred lost his father to a sudden heart attack while he was home for spring break. When he watched his father die, Alfred said, he’d felt an overwhelming urge to heave with sobs. But as soon as he saw his mother and sister fall apart, his soul sucked his feelings backward like a vacuum so that he could hold his family together.
Not yet out of his teens and just beginning to navigate the alien territory of America’s Ivory Tower – to say nothing of his nascent understanding and acceptance of himself as a gay man– Alfred, the first member of his far-reaching Chicano family to finish high school, became “Dad.”
He put his head down, kept ironing his jeans, and exercised the same emotional muscle that had enabled him to see the corpse of a young gang member on the street outside his childhood home and still excel at school, while working seven hours a day at his weekend job. Seeing the dead boy “was an experience, but it wasn’t life-changing,” he told a Los Angeles Times reporter for a 1995 profile when he was a Roosevelt senior. “It didn’t make me want to move.”
He stayed true to his word. Upon graduating from Harvard — where he’d won a full ride, worked, advanced the LGBTQ association, run Raza, strategized how to one day help his community, and worn a sarape sash over his graduation gown — he could have taken a lucrative job on Wall Street, as many of our classmates did. Instead, he returned to Boyle Heights and attended Loyola Marymount Law School. His mother and sisters made tamales for hundreds at his 2002 graduation party.
After a stint at a firm in San Francisco, he returned once again, surprising his mom with the bungalow on Camulos Street, where she still lives, fulfilling her lifelong dream of owning a home. He helped raise his younger siblings, enabling them to follow his footsteps to college. He has saved friends and family members in ways no one will ever learn.
He has leveraged his position as a successful real estate and land use lawyer at the esteemed Sheppard-Mullin law firm to expand housing options for people in his community, to find a permanent home for Self-Help Graphics, the Chicanx art collective founded there in 1973, and to help spearhead the Hollywood Central Park Project, a green space to be built over the 101 freeway.
He founded the nonprofit community development organization LURN (Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, Inc.), which helped win a major victory for small immigrant-owned businesses as part of a campaign to legalize LA street food vendors.
The sound of victory! Street vendors cheering outside of council chambers after a major win today at City Council. Councilmembers APPROVED (11-4) the recommended proposal to Legalize Street Vending WITHOUT the business veto!!! #LAStreetVendors #legalizestreetvending
He founded the Honor PAC to launch progressive LGBTQ Latinx candidates, including State Senator Ricardo Lara, currently running for California Insurance Commissioner. Alfred joined the board of Farmworker Justice, passionately supporting legal aid for immigrant farm workers, like his maternal grandmother, who as a lone teen had fled sexual violence in Sinaloa with her baby, Alfred’s mother, on her back, to pick strawberries and lettuce in California’s fields.
Alfred and his partner created the CityLabs co-working spaces in Boyle Heights, to help foster entrepreneurship and creativity in underserved communities. It’s the home of Mi Centro, a bilingual LGBTQ center that offers youth and senior services, family counseling, immigration support and legal services, among others. He became a patron of Latina and Chicano queer emerging artists from Los Angeles, including Boyle Heights, to support the vision of those making the unseen seen.
Now, Alfred is a husband and a father, his pompadour and mustache long gone. He still paints, when he can find the time. I’ve been thinking about his early angel paintings. Did the angels represent his father? Dead vatos on the streets of Boyle Heights? Figures out of an iconic Chicano street mural?
Those who know him understand that the real angel of Boyle Heights is Alfred himself, lifting others like him on his many-colored wings.
TIP OF THE WEEK
HOW TO ORGANIZE VOLUNTEERS TO GET OUT THE VOTE
Have a planning meeting during which very Consenting to Lead Club member takes responsibility for a certain portion of the preparations.
Presumably, you’ve thrown house parties. So you’re an expert there. But if you’re new to throwing a grassroots organizing party, here is a sample template you can use.
This template will also work whether you’re planning phone bank, canvass, petition, a voter registration drive, a fundraiser, a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) event, and so on.
· Use social media and email to spread the word that you’re getting a group of your friends together for an inaugural “Flip the House” Party – it’s a house party with a purpose!
· Invite your local Democratic Club, other people you know who know care about progressive values, or clubs for constituency groups that are fighting for their voices to be heard, like union locals, Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety, Voto Latino, Color for Change, The Sierra Club or Greenpeace, public school advocates, and so on.
· You can host it in a house, a backward, a park, a bar, a restaurant, a church basement, a union hall, whatever makes sense.
· Make it potluck and BYOB for you and your fellow organizers. Let the new guests just bring themselves. Breaking bread helps break the ice.
· Invite your candidate and/or a couple of local state house or state senate or assembly district, city council, school board or primary delegate candidates to Skype in to the party.
AT THE PARTY:
· Someone sits by the door to man the sign in sheet and make sure every single person signs up.
· Organizer introduces herself/himself and states the point of the party. Use SELF, US, NOW to introduce yourself in 3 minutes or less:
· SELF: I am _______ from _______. I work as a ______ and my family is _______, etc.
· US: I am here because I believe in _______ or because my family went through ________, etc.
· NOW: I want things to be better in this country in these ways _________ and I know we can only do it together by mobilizing, organizing and acting.
· Feel free to livestream your party on Facebook Live, Periscope or the platform of your choice
· If a candidate or two (preferably not more) are Skyping in, have them address the crowd in 5 mins or less, with the focus being:
o Top-down leadership has failed us. The only way to transform this country is from the bottom up. Everyone here is on the frontlines of creating that change. Thank you so much for taking up that call. The cavalry is not coming. It’s you. It’s us. With you, everything is possible.
o Tonight, we’re having fun, getting to know each other, catching the vibe. Look to your left and right. These are the people with whom you’ll roll up your sleeves and take America back, #GiveAmericaARaise, and exemplify the kind of moral leadership most of our leaders are not displaying enough of.
o The most important way to do that is to FLIP THE HOUSE:
§ The House is where Articles of Impeachment are drafted.
§ The House influences the Senate.
§ The House writes the Census language that will decide districting in future elections.
· The Census language can be used to discriminate or to empower. Right now, for example, the language is leaving out LGBTQ families from the questions. You can change that.
Activism is a fun bonding experience. Working together toward positive common goals feels great.
SET MANAGEABLE GOALS:
· Desired Outcome of First “Flip the House” Party:
o Everyone has fun and gets to know each other!
o Everyone donates something to the campaign, even if it’s just $1 (of course, more is welcome)
o Everyone signs up their name on a chart-like sign-up sheet:
email address, zip code
1-3 skills they could contribute to the campaign
check a box for next event at which they’ll volunteer:
local candidate GOTV canvass or phonebank
voter registration outreach event
phone bank or canvass to spread the word about a progressive candidate
translation of materials into languages of local immigrant groups for newly voting citizens