In the 1980s, an 11-year-old Paul Borgonia-Ayala would navigate the gang-ridden streets of the South Bay late at night while making the journey home from his grandmother’s house in Carson after working a paper route. He would get off the bus, dodging the shadows of people creeping around his neighborhood in South Wrigley.

As soon as he’d get home to his room, a place he considered a safe haven from his rough upbringing, Ayala would get lost in the pages of his favorite books until it was time to sleep.

With so many stories inside his head, he would lock himself in his room and let his artistic side consume him. The music, the drawings and the books added light to his life.

But when it was time to shut the lights off, his mind was still racing full of creativity, keeping him up through the “scary” night.

Now 47, Ayala is a longshoreman and author, hoping to teach children how to conquer their fears through his book, “The Stubborn Little Coconut.” The colorful children’s book follows the adventure of a girl and coconut outside her home who realizes it is scared of the dark as it becomes the last coconut on the tree.

“The creative side of me has been there since I was a young kid,” Ayala said. “It was because, you know, I had nothing, so I had to create something.”

The Stubborn Little Coconut is a children’s book by Paul Borgonia-Ayala, a longshoreman in Long Beach Wednesday, March 2. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Sitting in his Downtown Long Beach apartment on a recent afternoon, Ayala thinks about how easily his life could have gone in the other direction growing up, with drugs and gangs right outside his doorstep.

Raised by a single mother of four, Ayala often moved back and forth between Carson and Long Beach. Being the oldest of his siblings, he picked up whatever jobs he could find to provide luxuries for himself that his family couldn’t afford.

“I came from a home where you got your school clothes in January out of layaway,” Ayala said. “You have three sets of clothes and that’s it for the entire semester.”

By the time he was 19, Ayala had a child of his own. And while the world was a little brighter, he still had to bear the responsibilities of his choices, which meant “no more fooling around.” It was time to provide for more than just himself.

He continued to work odd jobs until he landed a gig as a longshoreman in the Port of Los Angeles, where he has spent the better part of 25 years working as a crane operator. While he is up in the air moving containers at night, Ayala says he likes to let his imagination run wild, giving him the opportunity to think about his next project outside of work.

The Stubborn Little Coconut,” is Ayala’s first published book. He said the work that went behind creating the story was inspired by his background with books as a kid when his mom would take him to the Carson library because he couldn’t afford to participate in his school’s Scholastic Book Fair.

Now in a position where he can give back to the community, Ayala said he has plans to get his book to local schools and libraries so that kids can learn to overcome their fears, whatever they may be.

Despite working eight to 10 hours at the port most days, Ayala continues to draw, paint, write and even help produce music for a couple of artists in his free time.

When he needs inspiration or validation, Ayala likes to drive past the old apartment on 21st Street and Cedar Avenue where he spent a lot of his time reading inside his room, trying to get away from the darkness.

“I pinch myself,” Ayala said. “It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t luck. I’ve been doing this my entire life. There’s proof of not giving up.”

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