Whisked away at 6 months old from the dangers of the growing mara salvatrucha gangs in El Salvador, Manuel Bracamonte was brought to the United States by his parents who hoped to escape the violence and poverty that festered in their home country.
Growing up in the barrios of west Los Angeles, Bracamonte might as well have stayed in El Salvador. Violence and dangers seemed to have been everywhere.
“In El Salvador it’s political, but here it’s about territory,” said Bracamonte.
At the age of 7, Bracamonte stumbled upon what would become his passion. While playing baseball in a dirt yard, he saw the older kids, the different colors and the animated characters that they would depict on the neighborhood walls.
“I don’t remember what they were writing, but I remember how they were doing it, and that image just stuck with me,” said Bracamonte.
He imitated the colors and characters he would see on the walls. Like his peers, he would eventually fall deeper into the art of graffiti. And along with the graffiti came his love for hip-hop.
As he grew older, Bracamonte soon realized that art and music were the only escape from the world he was living in.
During his teens, Bracamonte found himself inevitably immersed in the gang lifestyle. Not so much of a gang per se, but a group of young men who went out of their way to cause mischief on the streets.
“First we started as graffiti writers, everybody having a good time, destroying property. Then from there it led to slashing, fights, then jumping people, jumping people with bats, and then guns,” said Bracamonte.
His salvation from the gang lifestyle came in form of a summer program sponsored by Cal Arts. For a whole month, Bracamonte, along with other students, devoted their time to their art.
Slowly, he was letting go of the lifestyle that brought him run-ins with the police and clashes with his family.
Some of his main supporters were friends from the group he affiliated with. According to Bracamonte, they were always on a positive trip, encouraging him to go on and make something out of his life through his art and music.
One of his biggest motivst strive for success is his family, When Bracamonte first started winning competitions with his free style lyrics, he would take his winnings and hand them to his mother. That is when his mother realized that her son had talent and that his interest in both music and graffiti was taking a serious turn. He hopes that success may someday take them out from the dangers of the barrio.
“My parents put food on the table, but they struggled,” said Bracamonte. “There’s been times when I had to do things to help them out, but it shouldn’t be like that.”
Among some of the material that Bracamonte writes and paints about are politics. Being a Latino, he knows what it’s like to be the underdog in a society that benefits the wealthy.
“A lot of people out here, they have it made and they don’t even appreciate it,” the artist said. “Walk a day in my shoes, or walk around Skid Row for a night, then go back to your little life and see how you think after.
During the summer, Bracamonte recorded a demo consisting of 10 songs a mix of Spanish and English lyrics, dealing with such topics as the war, love and life.
A worker at the GCC bookstore for approximately four years, Bracamonte chuckles at the thought of setting up a rack in the bookstore and displaying his demo. “I wouldn’t even charge for it, just take it and listen to it.”
His co-workers at the bookstore are all too familiar with Bracamonte’s work outside the store, and as the director of the bookstore Anjali Spanislaus would say, it is interesting.
“Manny is a terrific person who has great work ethics,” said Spanislaus. “It’s been fun having him around and seeing his accomplishments in both art and in his music.”
Recently, Bracamonte has been making his rounds at local clubs and bookstores, showcasing his talents as a lyricist and graffiti artist. He makes his own silk screen shirts, illustrating the Mayans. He wears his creations and promotes himself all the time, according to him, that is the only way that one can make it.
Everyday is a struggle for the now 25 year old Bracamonte. His plans are to move on to an art institution and excel in his craft. But, with these hopes, there always comes doubt. “There is always a what if, but I can’t ponder on that my whole life. I got to make moves.”
As he walked passed the demonstration against the war on Plaza Vaquero, he regretted not being among his peers to show his frustrations and resentment toward the war. He frequently appears at various events hosted by the Justice Coalition and the Association of Latin American Students.
Bracamonte only hopes that this war would end and create a harmonious balance amongst the people.
“I think that it’s time to stop talking and make some moves.”
He takes the time to reflect on the world he lives in, his accomplishments, and what he has yet to accomplish. He goes into detail about the significance behind his artist name, Vida.
“Vida means life, and the way I would want to be remembered, I guess just as someone who wanted to life and make a difference,” said Bracamonte.