Arturo Hernandez Sametier
My life has been divided between the dedication to troubled, marginalized youth and a need to tell stories and make music. The coin laundry in the background was where I spent my childhood. We bought the oldest laundromat in L.A., in what was then a high crime corner of Highland Park. My dad would sometimes hang me upside down behind the ancient washers so I could wrench the places he couldn't reach.
Of my current books, “The Good Lessons” is based on two interventions: a one room schoolhouse created for the Clanton and First Flat's gangs of South Central during L.A.’s gang epidemic, and a very similar experience working with Pima and Apache gang youth in Indian Country. In both cases, the communities involved allowed for radical changes to how they thought about schooling, especially with their most vulnerable and difficult children. My work with troubled, delinquent and often learning disabled youth has allowed me to work in schools across Indian Country, South Boston, Phoenix, Oakland, L.A. and with the migrant farm youth of the Salinas Valley.
“Shelter: Notes from a Detained Migrant Children’s facility” developed from work I recently completed as a therapist with Guatemalan refugee kids separated from parents. It is the only inside account of life within our immigration shelters for unaccompanied minors. My hope is that following the stories of these children will help inform a kinder, more nuanced view of who they are.
I have one novel in print. While working with children has been a life-long commitment, I have been blessed with a second life as a storyteller and musician. "The Music of Jimmy Ojotriste" was an intense labor of several years and born of an admiration for a glass-eyed orphan who used to serenade along East L.A.'s restaurant boulevards. I was also a street musician, and with each interaction I had with this child, a story brewed a little warmer and further in my imagination. Like many authors, I write stories that I want to read: For myself, these are tales imbued with the warmth, humor and subtle magic that has permeated my experience. The Music of Jimmy Ojotrsite has been compared by readers to the magic-realism of Allende and Marquez, and it is a love-letter to a glass-eyed child, brujos, abuelas, music, locuras and illusiones.
Here at the end of 2020, our pandemic year, I am preparing to open a farm-based charter school on the outskirts of phoenix. I am planning for it to be a very different educational experience than currently available. In 2006, I was privileged to receive a national teacher-of-the-year award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education: I continue to receive generous support from an extensive network of friends and peers, and this is moving the school toward realization.