Growing up Jewish in Southeast Los Angeles with Communist parents who worked alongside the Black Panthers, Wil Abers never seemed to fit in.
"I struggled with my identity living around Mexicans and African-Americans, while being white and seeing my parents fight against people in power," says Abers, the co-founder and bass player for Ozomatli, an L.A.-based Latin-fusion rock band.
Since seeing The Clash perform in concert when he was six, his dream was to make it as a musician. Now 39, he looks back at his struggles overcome, which inspired his latest work, a Mexican banda side project called El Gavachillo. They cover classic American punk-rock songs, but remixed in Spanish, and play at Grand Performances tonight.
His mom would come home with torn shirts from being beaten at rallies, and he was always afraid of police and other authority figures, recalls Abers. "They gave me fictitious names. I was always scared and felt like I was in hiding my whole childhood."
His parents divorced when he was in middle school and Abers started using drugs. Crack hit Los Angeles hard in the '80s and he was a victim. "At any given time, there were drug dealers on every corner," he remembers. "Nothing right now in L.A. can compare to what that looked like. Maybe Skid Row, but even that is less extreme."
He moved in with his mom who was literally living in a school bus, one that was retrofitted into a home that she bought for $600. It was parked it in a lot south of Rose Avenue in Venice Beach. His friends hanging out on the boardwalk started to get suspicious.
"Nobody knew I was homeless living in a bus, but I would use the showers on the beach."
His mother married a homeless Rastafarian man she met, and, sans Abers, they drove the bus to San Francisco. She would drive into Berkeley to be street vendor on Telegraph Avenue selling hats and incense.
Back in Los Angeles, Abers was living in a car he bought, and began robbing and stealing from friends. He eventually dropped out of Fairfax High School. "I became that guy nobody trusted," he says.