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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: The myth-busting power of an opera-singing homeless woman

Emily Zamourka
A video posted online by an LAPD officer of Emily Zamourka singing opera at a subway has gone viral.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: I live in Burbank, not Los Angeles. Homelessness exists here too. (“Homeless singer has a viral moment on L.A. subway and, suddenly, new prospects,” Oct. 1)

There is a stigma about people experiencing homelessness, the most common belief being that nearly all of them are mentally challenged or addicted to drugs and alcohol. My experience interacting with a group of homeless individuals who spent their nights at a nearby car wash tells me this is far from the truth.

Like Emily Zamourka, the woman who sings Puccini and played her violin in Los Angeles subway stations, the homeless people I encountered possessed talents of their own. One was a mathematical genius, displaying his skills to me on a sheet of paper showing one advanced equation after another. Why was he homeless? Simple — he preferred it that way, he said.

The others were affable. I had deep discussions with them, philosophical ones. These people loved the freedom, as if they were in the jungle or out in the forest, only in the city. Their stresses were different from so-called normal folk. They enjoyed interactions with people like me. They didn’t pay taxes. They didn’t have to deal with landlords. They appeared down to earth. They were funny.

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Sure, there were stories about divorces, lost jobs and dealing with bureaucracy. Their stories are our stories. As one of them said to me: “I love looking at the stars at night no matter where I am, because bottom line, we all die. Just live your life how you wish.”

Norman Zangl, Burbank

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To the editor: I never knew Emily Zamourka’s name, but I recognized her the instant I saw her picture.

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I moved to downtown Los Angeles in 2015 after 25 years living on the USC campus (where I am a professor), and I would hear her playing an amplified violin outside the 7th Street/Metro Center Station on my way home. She’s excellent, and did something wonderful for the quality of everyone’s commute.

I passed her a $20-bill every day I saw her, hoping for a little karma in exchange. The last day I saw her she gave me a big hug, but then I never saw her again.

I have never forgotten her and was curious as to what had become of her. I am sorry for what she has suffered, grateful for what she has given me, and grateful to those who have acted to help her.

James E. Moore II, Los Angeles

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To the editor: The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was noted for saying, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Zamourka’s life story is operatic in its dramatic unfolding. She uses her soothing and gentle voice in tandem with her life’s situation to demonstrate her feelings and talent, quite reluctantly, in a subway station. Opera tells stories that can break your heart and hold your interest and your breath until the last note.

This courageous, talented musician who speaks softly tells her story in her own way. She has already inspired many to cheer her on and to applaud her efforts to survive, ultimately to thrive and finally to triumph and share her gift.

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I wish her everything wonderful and great success as her life story continues to be told. Brava!

Frances Terrell Lippman, Sherman Oaks


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