Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vuelos de Fantasia/Flights of Fantasy

Nothing like an ennui -laden visit to childhood stomping grounds in South Austin, post-pubescent, Lone Star beer-fueled sex and scramble runs on the West Side of San Antonio and a return to the scene of so many youthful experiements in teatro, muralismo, arte Chicano and poetic transformations. For the last ten days or so, it's been a non-stop rocket ride or a roller coaster descent into the maelstrom depending on your perspective. It was extraordinary to see my brother's latest salvo from the culture ward. Tomás, the artist who gifted me with a Che Guevara t-shirt when I was only nine, spent the late 80s and early 90s in San Juan Bautista as an apprentice at Teatro Campesino under the tutelage of the extended Valdez clan. In 1997, he revived the historic Pastorela tradition and staged a version very loosely based on the one our Californio brethren had been mounting in that marvelous mission church up north for years.

Have to say I could not have been prouder. The show ran at a 15-years-in-the-making Mexican American Cultural Center, in a building designed by Mexico City architect Theodoro González de León. I was pleased to see that support for such a staple of our annual holiday celebration was supported so strongly. Latinos make up about 30% of the population there and with nary a review or an article in the local (read: general market) press, La Pastorela had sell-out houses for its entire run.
Also managed to get my dose of Tamaleville (coined by Marisol Perez, my niece) nourishment while indulging in a laconic big screen marathon that consisted of I Am Legend one night, Beouwoulf 3D the next and The Golden Compass on the night after that. Finished it all with a Saxon Pub visit to hear Stephen Bruton and the Resentments. Bruton's played with everyone including the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn. He's also produced albums for Alejandro Escovedo, rocker, troubador and everyone's favorite músico under the influence as well as a spoken-word CD for indio-poet-honorary uncle raúlrsalinas. I know the Wolfe school says you can't go home, but Christmas trips to the land of bluebonnets and pecans can definitley put you in a place that makes for nostalgia and recovery.

Meanwhile, a dinner at the world-famous Guero's on South Congress Ave. saw me in the company of my 7th and 8th grade English teacher, Rosa. She and her husband Joe Pérez--both now retired educators who settled and taught in Brownsville after leaving Austin in the 70s--have my undying love and admiration. They tour together these days performing traditional border tunes in two-part harmonies. Rosa writes poetry and composes songs to pad their already considerable considerable repertoire. All of this is really her fault because she once whispered quietly into my ear about destiny and a mission and the need to transcribe these tales.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brown is the New Green

Coming off of the hand-crafted, artisan-fueled weekend excursion, I find myself thinking of Phillip Rodriguez and the economies of autonomy. Phillip is a filmmaker whose last film, L.A. Now was a poetic rumination on the tide of change and eternal flux that makes this city such a fascinating place to inhabit, discover, study, and forgive. I missed the screening and the discussion around his new film Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream held at USC last month, but the crux is that this so-called "Hispanic Market" explosion--that marketers and purveyors of mass consumerism are trying to figure out so they can slam more burgers and trendy gadgets down our already constricted throats--is a curious exercise in cluelessness. He is correct in pointing out that Latinos and U.S. Latinos in particular are not easily categorized, commodified, dissected as a generic demographic. Proudly, I purchased the new novel by Luís Rodríguez, Music of the Mills, a jar of hand-made sea-salt scrub, hand-made earings, boutique Christmas cards and a calendar printed in a small downtown art studio and bathed in the tradition of fine Mexican printmaking. Needless to say, this was all residual glow from the Virgen de Guadalupe: Diosa Inantzin spectacle I ws lucky enough to witness on Friday night. Sal López as Juan Diego was an example of flawless casting if ever there was one. El compa' Francisco Hernández reminded me, after he heard me rave about the musical and theatrical perfomances in the production, that Sal has probably incarnated Juan Diego more than any other single actor. Opera star and East LA native Suzanna Guzmán was luminescent as the Virgen de Guadalupe. Mad respect and props to Evelina Fernández for her libretto and José Luís Valenzuela for fine drecting. The show left me breathless, and I promise to attend again his holiday season if at all possible.

I find it infinitely beautiful that politically progressive Latino community activists in LA have been able to carve out so many accessible spaces where we can put our hard earned money directly into the hands of the people who have created the gifts I will take home to family in Texas. That spaces such as IMIX Bookstore in Eagle Rock, Trópico de Nopal Gallery and even a little gallery in Boyle Heights can exist and perhaps even thrive a little in an era when war is big business and more mass profit for the corporate raiders and financial captains of the global conglomerates is ample testimony of our survival instinct and the creative spirit that drives so many of those among us who resist. And in the spirit of resistance, I ventured out as far as Hollywood to see José Montoya, a original member of the Royal Chicano Airforce, read his poetry. Su hijo Richard Montoya de Culture Clash and Mario Rocha rounded out a slate of Chicano literary muscle. Termine cansado but still managed to make it back to Boyle Heights to congratulate the always pugnacious and plucky playwright/screenwriter Josefina López and the folks who put together BHLIFE (Boyle Heights Latina International Film Extravaganza). Mi admiración por su trabajo noble en el corazón de un barrio netamente angelino. If your free tonight, come to Self Help Graphics for a reading in celebration of Guadalupe-Tonantzín. Voy estrenar mi primer librito en 10 años, a self-published chapbook titled "Hija de Guadalupe."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bienvenidos a Guadalupe Central

Got an email from Daniel Hernández, periodista poca madre who's in Mexico City writing his book (dig his pictures of El Chopo posted today). He wondered what prompted my playful schoolyard tackle of Yepez. Perhaps I was as estridente as the columnist likes to think, but in the ironic interest of furthering the cultural critic's scattershop argument, I'll defer to my good friend Adolfo Guzmán López, radio reporter at KPCC-FM in LA and a founding member of the Taco Shop Poets. And I'll also gleefully encourage everyone to see La Virgen de Guadalupe: Diosa Inantzin, a musical play directed by José Luís Valenzuela, which previews for free at the downtown Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral before opening for a formal run at the New Los Angeles Theater Center next week.

Los Angeles is transformed this weekend into an awe-inspiring outpouring of faith that happens just as fanatically in Mexico City as it does here. In 1995, I wrote about doing danza azteca in el D.F. To me, she was bigger than the Rolling Stones. While they had merch tables, she had merch islands. Beyond the virtual explosion of mercados navideños all over town including the print sale at La Mano Press, more of last week's pachanga y arte magic at Frank Romero's studios, witness as well the Just Holiday Marketplace at SAJE (Strategic Action for a Just Economy) near USC. Catch any and all of your favorite community artisan and craftspeople at any one of these festive gatherings. Avoid the malls at all costs!

In the self congratulatory category: my article on Fidel Rodriguez and Divine Forces Radio appears now in New Angeles Monthly. He's a solid red road brother, and like most of the gente más chida I've gotten to know in Los, is an honorary child of maestros such as Luís Rodríguez, José Montoya (also being honored with a tribute at the LA Theater Center this Sunday), raúlrsalínas and maestras such as Angela de Hoyos, Gloria Alvarez, Cherrie Moraga and Lorna Dee Cervantes, all activist writers and media artists who were and continue to be comprometidos con la comunidad. If that makes me a neo-cristero nacionalist who adores Che as Christ, pues, que con gusto, guey!

Friday, November 30, 2007

La Virgen y El Che Rifan y Que?!

For some time I've been meaning to respond to the snotty superiority of Tijuana writer-cum intellectual Heriberto Yepez who penned an essay on how Chicano artists are fixated on la virgen de Guadalupe, Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara and that we are reactionary neo-cristero nationalists in an attempt to make himself appear literary while dismissing the cultural integrity and value of the remedial, almost childish spanish of Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street. His rant against the dominant paradigms posit him as a frustrated and envious climber who goes on to rail about how most Chicano poetry sucks and how there is no formal innovation in the Chicano novel. He obviously hasn't read Salvador Plascencia. And he continues by complaining that a prominent Chicano intellectual was above criticism and that he himself has been attacked as a burgues when the Chicano academics who make three times what he makes should look at themselves before making these types of accusations. All in all, pretty vicious if hackneyed approach derivative of Octavio Paz albeit with much less finesse and style. The article ran in a supplement to El Milenio, an important nacional daily that publishes regional editions throughout Mexico. His tack, clearly, is an attempt to create noise and generate a little polemical juice for himself, since he's virtually unknown in the U.S. I responded in a couple emails. But Ruben Martinez, a writer I respect and admire, had him here for a charla a while back and I missed my opportunity to respond in person. If not for the fact that he gets most of it all wrong, there even seemed to be a bit of anti-pocho racism that lumps Chicanos in with the hegemonic white culture. All that being said, I link the article and leave it for you to judge. I might take it upon myself to translate it as the poor bastard is much less fluent in English as a great many of us on this side, who on principal, make it a point to speak as naturally and comfortably in the tongue that has been virtually denied us in the U.S. No love or respect from Heriberto about the Mexica Tiahui recovery movement. Maybe he isn't even familiar and should spend a little time El Sereno.

I'm actually quite proud that I'll be participating in a poetry event in honor of Guadalupe-Tonantzin at Self-Help Graphics on Dec. 12th and I'm nostalgic aobut the Che Guevara t-shirt I was given at nine by my older brother, then a 17 year old Brown Beret in Austin, Texas. And so tonight I'll head to the Cactus Gallery in Eagle Rock to hear my friend Ricardo Acuña, who rights in English, Spanish and French, read from his self-published book, Under the Influence. And then maybe, just maybe, I'll crash the Christmas art sale at Romero Studios in Frogtown... perhaps a small celebration and the crush of holiday love will be an antidote to my own mispanthropic mini-rant about Yepez.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feliz Navidadddeeeeooooosssss

Couldn't bear to be away for too long, even in the throes of post-overeaters weekend recovery. After nearly needing to be carried back to El Sereno from Santa Ana in a half-ton pick up or at least a wheel barrow, I pulled up to the downtown LA loft of artist and jeweler Consuelo Campos, who was hosting a dinner for the occasion as well. An interesting and eclectic array of folks. Had just enough room for some incredible postres and a little dish washing with good wine. Also grabbed some take-out stuffing made cajun style under the gourmet watch of la connie. Her astounding designs in silver make most of the hot ticket stocking stuffer items lists. Gal pal and printmaker Emelda Gutierrez has been working with Consuelo and will be debuting some new designs of her own this season.

On Friday, even more blessings were bestowed my way... I was afforded the opportunity to cook enchiladas for the lady folk who descended on poet and beloved mentor Gloria Enedina Alvarez' kitchen. It had been about a year since I prepared green sauce and stewed pollo con chile pasillo, tomate, cebolla y trozitos de zanahoria. Needless to say they were a hit. Parece que ahora me puedo casar. The warmth and plática among good friends was priceless. And it was extended well into the next day at a birthday party for artist José Lozano hosted by Ave. 50 Studios. Maestro Lozano went all out, even turning on the disco lights. I wrote about his killer-back alley clowns for Artillery Magazine a while back. Gloria Alvarez and I produced a collaborative poem which we had mounted in a deluxe gold frame. The gathering of dancers, family, friends, artists and poets nearly approximated "lavish" proportions but retained a healthy dose of homespun Chicano celebración.

Of course, I made it by Mercadito Caracol on Sunday to load up on all natural soaps from Daisy Tonantzin at Yerberia Mayahuel before heading off to the X-mas sale at Self-Help Graphics. Too many cool things to buy and way to many cool peeps to list. Support SHG. The annual X-mas market happens again next Sunday. Better see you there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Frida at Olvera

My tocayo Abelardo de la Peña, Jr., founder and editor of LatinoLA--the complete guide to LA as filtered through tan-colored lenses--just hit me with a heads up on the Frida Kahlo lecture being presented next Wednesday, November 28th by Gregorio Luke. Abelardo has been a major part of the creative revival at Placita Olvera's Mexican Cultural Institute, bringing artists and ambitious exhibitions to the venue regularly while scouring the Southland for potential boardmembers who can assist him in the efforts to recast the struggling institution as a dynamic addition to Latino arts and culture in LA. He says its best to RSVP at 213-624-3660.

The former director of the Museum of Latin American Art and now an Instituto boardmember, Luke draws from his extensive research libary for what promises to be a revealing discussion on the artistic life, personal journey and influence of Frida Kahlo, illustrated by a multimedia presentation using slides and film. I admit to being pleasantly surprised to see that it's being sponsored by The Walt Disney Company. Head to the Plaza Methodist Church at 115 Paseo de la Plaza in the middle of Placita Olvera around seven. It free and open to the public. I'll be making my way there.

Tonight in Carson, Califas, thousands of diehard Soda Estereo fans are singing along to the 80s argentino pop-rock cult phenom that took Latin America by storm long before the phrase rock en español had come into usage and, as Chicanos, we collectively discovered an affinity for Maldita Vecindad, Los Fabuloso Cadillacs and Café Tacuba. Props to recovery efforts in the blogosphere by San Anto and LA students of the 80s Chicano punk explosion here in Los that often goes unnoticed, but at the same time I also encourage them to check the greater mundo-at-large and the influence of seminal bands such as Soda and the more political and indigenously rooted efforts of Tony Mendez at Rockotitlan who bridged the grandfathers of modern Latino rock--como El Tri y Rockdrigo, por ejemplo--with the pan-latino revolutionary punk-ska-rapero scene that now unfurls across LA, through El Chopo and all the way to Buenos Aires. Off my didactic soap box now por fa' porque luego mañana hay que irnos hacia Santa Ana for a late lunch with a tia and primos, one of whom has been a teacher at Garfield High for 30 years... both pre- and post Jaime Escalante, portrayed by Eddie Olmos in Stand and Deliver. Go Bulldogs! It's the very same East LA high school that recently had its auditorium torched by an irate student. Los Lobos lent their considerable talent to a fundraising concert held Oct. 14th at the Gibson Amphitheatre to restore the fire damaged structure. If that isn't enough East LA and Mexico City nostalgia to float your memory cards to down to the Long Beach harbor, I don't what it is... Y aunque no soy de aqui, mi niñez en el valle de San Gabriel como que me dió para siempre las ganas de ocupar los espacios orientales...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Political Equators, Transitorio Public and Amtrak Back

Running a week long, the glistening silver tendrils of thought and dialogue emanating from the gathering of artists, activists and scholars aptly titled TRÁNSITOry PÚBLICO | PUBLICo TRANSITorio continued unabated, culminating in a two-day trans-border event that criss-crossed the Tijuana-San Ysidro checkpoint. Disappointed at not being able to attend a daytime program called L.A.’s Un/Freeways: Collectivized Practices in the Dispersed City on Thursday with presentations by Daisy Tonantzin of Proyecto Jardin, Womyn Image Malers (WIM; a collective of activist filmmakers that includes Aurora Guerrero, Dalila Mendez, Maritza Alvarez and Claudia Mercado) as well as platica, arte y poesia from Gloria Alvarez and Yreina Cervantes, I followed work on an Amtrak Surfliner and inadvertently landed in the middle of The Political Equator II, a think-tank rendezvous with San Diego-Tijuana architect and artist Teddy Cruz, who led a group of international artists and urban strategists who work with public space and concepts elaborated around the issues of social justice and equity on a similar train trip south. I was amazed to discover a newly restored 1927 storefront designed by Louis Gill in San Ysidro and now owned by Casa Familiar, a community development organization that is transforming the very core of a marginalized and neglected border community. I was pleasantly surprised to see Ms. Space Chola herself, installation/conceptual artists and photographer/printmaker Sandra de la Loza as well Luis Alejandro Vega, both El Sereno proud..

I forewent the walking tour over the border to observe the wall that fails to truly divide what cannot and should never be divided, Baja y Alta California and opted instead for a drive to the U.S. side of the said divider as it spills out into the ocean at Border Fields State Park, a recreational retreat that marks the end of the Tijuana River Valley and its link to the Pacific. Trippy and revolting at the same time. And I hear it used to be called Friendship Park before the onslaught of anti-immigrant hysteria. The Amtrak ride home after a hot pastrami in San Diego's Little Italy--the Mona Lisa Deli and Restaurant to be more precise--was highlighted by convesation with de la Loza and her two firme camaradas, Jessica and Joy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mercado de las Mamacitas

Under the banner of "conscious consumerism" former Blue Chips Gallery co-owner Karla Lopez has organized a moveable feast of fashion and design she calls the Mamacita's Market. Tonight, she and a gang of righteous women celebrate cool togs, couture and tricked out accessories by notables such as Virginia de la Luna and artists such as Gina "Guadalupe Gurl" Ramirez. Zocaloc designer/artist Peter E. Carrillo will also be on hand with his wares to represent the papacitos. The "Viva La Chica" extravaganza goes down tonight at Placita Olvera. Unfortunately, I'm previously committed to a Tu Ciudad Magazine party at the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts). I'll neither confirm or deny the rumor that I have a personal interest in promoting the work of one designer in particular, though a certain gifted artesana comes to mind...
In the shameless self-promotion department, I suggest grabbing the current issue of Tu Ciudad for a guide to good food and, not one, but two pieces by your friendly neighborhood blogger, one on the custom ice cream truck built for Ry Cooder by the Ruelas brothers--founders of The Dukes, LAs oldest custom car club--and painted by San Antonio artist Vincent Valdez (see previous blog) and another on Cristela Alonzo, a comedian (and fellow Tex-Mex-patriot) who opens for Carlos Mencia these days and knows her way around the funny like nobody's business.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ollin Mondays

The quaking sons of City Terrace, Randy and Scott Rodarte have fronted Ollin since its inception in 1994. An often unheralded band of musical heroes who make legions from Berkeley to Boyle Heights dizzy with delight, they deliver high energy live sets with an eclectic range that takes punk through organic twists and turns in a laberynth of folk rhythms drawn from throughout the world. Their annual St. Patrick's Day show of Pogues covers is unworldly. And on Mondays through November, they're holding court at Mr. T's Bowl, a former bowling alley turned dive music venue in the heart of Highland Park. Have to confess that this Monday was particularly rivetting. Following a live open mic jazz jam at the classic Columbo's in Eagle Rock in the company of poets and printmakers, I stepped in and was lucky enough to catch a few signature tunes at the tail end of the gig. And it being Veteran's Day, Ollin once again had me throat knotted with a version of "Waltzing Matilda," a stirring Australian folk song at that follows a young soldier to war. Sad, true and moving in light of the stream of casualties coming home from Iraq... Ollin's featuring San Antonio Visual artist Vincent Valdez on trumpet these days. Valdez also did the cover art for San Patricios, a new CD that alludes to the brave and noble Irish lads who fought on the Mexican side during the U.S. invasion and subsequent landgrab that looted over half of Mexico's territory.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Clumsy Goodbye

So the kid I baptized in jail four years ago is out. Hosted him for almost two months and have to vouch for him in court on Dia de la Virgen, December 12 before he's completely done with probation, but it's been an incredibly difficult journey. Se me fue mi ahijado. He's hangin' in the San Fernando Valley with a girl he met inside an institution because they've recently conceived a child. Where do we steer them? Why do the the little vatos feel so entitled and angry and in love with a lifestyle that won't allow them to ever become actualized? It's almost funny that we're living in an era that makes exotic gods of bald-headed cholos. Cholos as rock stars? Yes. And I'm not so sure it's a good thing. I don't know yet if it's a bad thing, but the neighborhood beefs go on, even if Mr. Cartoon scores a big-time movie deal and photographer Esteban Oriol is slated to direct. The young men are raised by institutions that remove their sense of compassion and often, remorse. Clumsy, you are not alone... even if I denied you the request to bring your pregnant girlfriend home to stay with us while you wait for your court date, a date I agreed to attend when I told the judge you would be staying with me until you got your life together. Perdoname, hijo. But in two months you've done little to seal the break with the banger mentality that was only reinforced during the last four years as a ward of the county probation system...

Espero que te vaya bien, lil' brother. Please be successful. Please be who I know you have the potential to be... If not like me, then like the artist, my tocayo Abel Alejandre, who opened a show of works in graphite at Ave. 50 on Saturday. If I were ever to imagine that my poetry could aspire to some scope or emotional depth which was manifested in the visual realm, it have to be the pencil drawing that pulled me so deeply into memory and love and loss, that I was almost forced to walk away. Large faces rendered with exact parallel lines become intimate relatives, lost loved ones and people we remember in our dreams from childhood. Four-and-half stars. I'm proud to bear his name. I'd spent the better part of Friday in Santa Monica preparing material and setting up a meal delivery for the opening part of a NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) board meeting and strategic planning retreat. Wore me out. Pleased to be working with NALIP again after a four-year absence. The organization, which nurtures and trains independent mediamakers with programs and an annual conference has more than doubled since I've been away at another gig with yet another membership organization.

Director Kathryn Galan, no relation to either Hector or Nely, had me hopping, so I schlepped things back and forth and got some good left overs in the process. Sunday was dank and wet on the westside. Finally got to sample the brunch fair at Swingers, a west coast landmark akin Mel's diner, only a little cheekier. I recommend Edwin's Pasta, a breakfast plate you'll love even if may seen strange to mix farfalle pasta with scrambled organic eggs, sausage, ham, bacon and parmesan. You'll get over the Warhol-inspired wall art and worship the well-stocked jukebox instead, as you chow like an A-list screenwriter. Trust me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

365 Days, Plays, Birthdays and Orales

As an L.A. Center Stage project, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks took it upon herself to write one play a day for an entire calendar year. The result, a monumental production eponymously titled 365 Days, 365 Plays, has had left those who live, breathe, sweat and dream theatre across the U.S. with mouths agape. Hundreds of companies nationwide have been staging them as if their livelihoods depended on it. Last night, a hometown of version of the final seven were delivered at California Plaza, the downtown home of the Grand Performances series. Every week for a year, seven short plays were thrown down somewhere in the land of voiceless angels and sweetly courteous immigrant mothers. The plays in the final throw down were funny, poignant, bold, revolutionary and bizarre... more evidence of the playwright's downright genius. Thought there was a decidedly Eastern, Hindu/Bhuddist/Chakra-slanging tilt to the entire assemblage of short theatrical pieces staged end to end seemlessly, the audience was almost a perfect balance of black and white. I sat next to the venerable poet and performer and friend, Peter J. Harris, author of Safe Arms: 20 Love & Erotic Poems. Even though Parks made an obvious effort and included an memorable Latino character in a brief comedic episode called "Talkback to the Playwright," there were none of us in the audience. Other than one of the the show's producers, LA theatre doyen, Diane Rodriguez, a playwright and director in her own right, the only other Chican@ I recognized in the audience was Debra Padilla, from SPARC (Social & Public Art Resource Center), where the digital mural by Judy Baca featured above can by found.

Thinking about how much work the downtown art scene and the theatre world in LA still has ahead of it in the way of bringing more of us into public art presentations, I was taken back to a night last week when I missed a friend who works near Crash Mansion and wound up having a beer at Hank's, a serious dive in the old Stillwell Hotel at 9th and Grand. Wouldn't you know I'd have to wind up in the middle of a birthday party for a blonde sweetheart, the blue-eyed, dimpled icon of All-American perfection, not bulemic but buxom in a tiara with more than a few shots of Maker's Mark under her belt. Eavesdropping on her friends, all of them equally young and pretty while going on about Port Arthur and Beaumont and Houston in a verifiable twang, I finally caved in and swaggered around in my Texas Longhorn guayabera (perhaps oxymoronic). I was the sudden toast, the new kid who even managed to get a peck on the cheek and a "thank you , sweetheart" from the girl of the hour, none other than Ryanne Duzich who had starred in, according to the Texas-natives there, Friday Night Lights. Someone else made it a point to bring a bottle of Wild Turkey as a gift for Ryanne. Turns out a lot of them live in the Santa Fe Street Lofts downtown, and I was caught between dreading the fact that a covey of beautiful Hollywood hipsters had finally invaded my last refuge and the pleasant glow that comes from being around so many genuinely nice folks from back home. In a city so full of Chicanos, Mexicanos and Latinos, maybe I do like to find myself ashore on stretches of the stratified and dissonant streets where difference and distances are built in, where it takes an effort to reach someone with a different history and an accent, someone walking around behind walls they don't even see...

Monday, November 5, 2007


Dia de los Muertos blew by, and once again, Self-Help Graphics played host to an outpouring of community and art and music and altars. Monte Carlo 76 has added sultry singer and Phoenix, Arizona emigre Marisa Rondstat. I wrote about the band a couple years back for Tu Ciudad Los Angeles Magazine. Jeremy Keller and dgomez, former members of Slowrider, did right to bring her on board the suavecito sounds of the plush Monte Carlo cruisin' along the highways and byways of Los Angeles. The set last Friday was rock solid. A liberal dose tequila and wine to take us all the way to Grand Star in China town to catch the last few songs by Domingo Siete, and there we were dancing with complete strangers and making our way to underground after hours reggae fun in a downtown warehouse nearMission. Missed the Dia de los Muertos in El Sereno, but caught up with the poetas at Ave. 50 for the monthly La Palabra reading where the Echospace Poets were featured!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Flikas y Los Fieles Difuntos

Finally saw the new Benicio del Toro and Halle Berry flick, Things We Lost in the Fire and was reminded why I hold the former in such high esteem. His talent and emotional range are such that I could watch him smoke a cigarette for ten minutes, an eternity in film. Here he plays a recovering heroine addict at odds and occasionally in cooperation with Berry. Painful and ultimately redemptive, the film struggles with Berry's two note breadth. She goes from maniacally desperate freaking out to cold and aloof with no sense of the humor a simple smile or nod of the head can imbue a gesture or a look. She delivers it but it falls flat more often than not. Meanwhile Benicio squints, rolls his eyes, bares his teeth and can make it all part of a real sense for the silly and the comedic truths in an everyday conversation about riding the white horse. One-and-a-half thumbs up. Look forward to Benicio's dyptich on the life of Che Guevara, The Argentine and Guerrilla.

I also saw the Hillary Swank led Freedom Writers about a high school teacher in Long Beach who walks naively into an urban campus where war on the streets spills into the classroom. Based on a true story, the tale is a modern take on Stand and Deliver, also based on a true story, where the good hearted maestra bonds with her kids and gets them all the way to graduation and makes published writers out of them all. What gets me, however is the incessant need to cast Puerto Ricans with obvious New York caribeño-urban enunciation. How am I supposed to believe the little Chicana chola gangster girl when she sounds like a J-Lo knock-off. Worse yet, all the cholos in the film speak exclusively in perfect Spanish (subtitled). Chicano gangmembers stopped speaking formal spanish 50 years ago. The filmmakers should have hired Manny and the boys at Suspect. It almost reeks of something more sinister... a subtle attempt to criminilize immigrants. What up, foos?

Monday, October 29, 2007

From Lunada to Days of the Dead

Scene and heard, and I mean that in the most laudatory way... La Cita Bar was transformed last Wednesday into a virtually unpretensious Latino hipster getaway for the appearance of Nacotheque. DJ Marcelo Cunning, working out of New York along with his punk fairy princess and partner Amylu Meneses on a movable feast that can only be described as pyramid of sound, spins the absolutely, without a doubt, coolest alternative, Spanish-language dance music that draws from every corner and every era of música latina for a groove like you've never heard anywhere before. But if that weren't enough, draught Tecate was three dollars a pint. Heads up to cantinero Joe, who was particularly pleasant in Buddy Holly glasses and non-attitude approachablity.

If you missed the Lunada: An Evening of Erotic Poetry & Performance at IMIX Bookstore under the Hunter's Full Moon on Oct. 26th, you missed out. Lo que se perdieron. And not just because I read a selection of previously unheard poems. I had the honor and privilege of sharing a stage with poets/writers Peter J. Harris, Reina Prado, Consuelo Flores, Estrella del Valle, Victor Carrillo as well as venerable playwright, performer, stand up comedian Monica Palacios, who headlined a steamy series of performances under the largest full moon of the year. Reina Prado and Gloria Enedina Álvarez--one of the three best Xicana poets I alluded to before--concocted the idea for the show. Afterwards, we managed to make our way to Columbo's around the corner for Italian comida deluxe and live Latin jazz. Eagle Rock rocks, I'm realizing.

Also had the incredible opportunity to hear Carlos Guitarlos at the Ave. 50 Studios tardeada and art auction the next day. Scores of artist donated work for "An Afternoon of Visual Delights" and a smorgasbord of Chow Hound worthy eats. Carlos is a veteran of the proto LA bar band, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs and a survivor who could launch a second career as a deft, coy and riveting master of satire and innuendo. His blues fret work channels Robert Johnson as easily as it registers compositional genius on his own material. Bring him back to liven any gathering up and set it on fire with nearly six decades of the hard boozin', blues-in and brawlin' life gathered up into songs that rip and soar and crest in a melodic howl from the gray-bearded ghost on the Stratocaster. Kudos to Ave. 50 Director Kathy Gallegos and artist Poli Marichal who curated the art. Let's hope they raised chingos of feria... the museum-caliber and architectural stand-out home of Judge Ricardo and Maria Teresa Muñoz way up in the South Pasadena hills was a fitting site for the fandango. Sweetest digs with a view this side of El Sereno I've seen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sierra en Llamas

I can see the fires on either end of the Los Angeles River Basin from the window of my westward bound flight. As we begin a descent, I see San Bernardino flames first then peer out through the window across the aisle and see Malibu's red orange glow below in the nightime darkness. It is disturbing and a sharp dose of reality after a week on Miami Beach for the Florida Media Market's Global Conference 2007, where I discovered a previously unknown affinity for all things dominicano, broke bread with independent producers and directors and writers and documentarians from Italy, all across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia, Cuba and beyond while schmoozing in subconsciously Caribbean-inflected filmspeak. Spent the final day of down time in the ocean and on a Collins Ave. bus in search of lunch. Fortune was on my side. Aside from having connected the previous day with Daniel Herrera of La Razza Films , I was rewarded with a seven buck lunch special at Varanda's Brazil Cafe, an east coast equivalent of our own down-home El Sereno bound Taste of Brazil.

Daniel is a cat from El Paso living in Cape Coral and working on a doc about Immokalee, an alligator alley town on the west coast of Florida where the loosely Catholic Church affiliated Centro Guadalupe shelters, feeds and bathes immigrants in search of work and dignity. Dan's working with Miami-bred cineasta Georg Koszulinski, and they restore the meaning of subversive cine with an edge and an educated bite. Download the trailer and do yourself a favor. The conditions in which our (shhhssshh, we won't tell) "guest" worker are forced to live is enough to make you fume.

Filmmakers and distributors as well as panelists and executives pow-wowed and partied for several days at the Alexander Hotel. It was an insulated bubble and made my discovery of the hell-spawn fires that now rage across the Southern California landscape all the more shocking and awesome. Of course, we're all waiting with our breath in check for Bushie to make his photo op appearance and declare a national emergency. Yeah, right. More money for war and none for heat in poverty stricken homes and then they want to console those whose homes have been engulfed and destroyed by flames run rampant amidst the raging Santa Ana winds? No creo yo, chuy... to use the expression of incredulity handed to me once not so long ago on the Brownsville-Matamoros border where I took up residence in the late '90s as an Austin exile, mexilidado, mojado al reves.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Days Between Stations

So I'm on the red eye to Miami and couldn't leave my palm tree lined neighborhood--which no longer squawks with the morning parrot armadas in full color regalia since temperatures have descended--without a return to the final throes of a weekend I'm still thrumming over. And since I broached the subject of Dia de Los Muertos at the close of an earlier entry, it's approriate to point out that last Sunday was similarly filled with art forays and extremely delightful company. After a tasty feijoada at Taste of Brazil, conveniently next door to Antigua and now finally serving beer and wine, a friend and I then dropped in on the second Day of the Dead exhibition of the weekend at ChimMaya on Beverly Blvd. just east of Atlantic. That part of unincorporated LA county is now actually considering cityhood. Imagine, the "City of East LA."

So there I was with the annual arts holiday-holyday still a week out, even. Goes to show how seriously we take Dia de Los Muertos on this side of town. The exhibition at ChimMaya, a full-on gallery and hand crafts store in the heart of the Garfield High School neighborhood, brought everybody together and included an altar by Ofelia Esparza, madrina to just about every mural painter and silk screen printer who ever stepped foot inside Self-Help Graphics. Props to Leo Limon, painter, printmaker and muralist for his art and his patient friendship. His work is here up top and the print here is a portrait in a linocut print. Not sure who it's by but I guess I could troll around on the net and find it. Dig the linocut print portrait of Leo by Artemo Rodriguez of La Mano Press on the left. They were created for an exhibition of prints based on Cheech Marin's collection of Chicano art.

Followed up the ChimMaya visit with a stop at Self-Help Graphics for the closing of the a print show featuring work by master printer Poli Marichal, poet and artist Don Newton, Judith Duran, Emelda Gutierrez, Kay Brown and Victor Rojas, among others. Titled H2O, the exhibition was a love letter to clean water and the issued around the liquid gold that have plagued Los Angeles for two generations and now threaten the world. Eco-warriors and barrio angels are not mutually exclusive categories and the two twin up well in a show that needed more attention. Politics and poetry conceived a tribute to Yemaya, the Afro-cuban orisha and goddess of water in a show that takes printmaking into to new territory. Los de Abajo, as the printmaking collective is called, delivered a stridently beautiful prayer in honor of a planet that is mostly water, inhabited by human, whose bodies are also mostly water. Oye!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday Blues

Damp and dreary here en las lomas de El Sereno. Still coasting on the estrogen fix at WITHIN. The urban mujeres delivered in spades. Sirens, the all girl punk band from East LA, capped the show which included MCs, DJ, artesanas, flowmasters and fashion designers. There had to be about 500 people there. Timoi, who curated the show, should be rightfully proud. Next up at Crash Mansion is a graffiti show. I'll be out for the week and won't be able to catch it. Props as well to Sandy Rodríguez who hung high heels and dress up kicks for men and women from the ceiling as part of her altar installation to James Brown at Ave. 50. Of course the evening would not have been complete without the daring and delightful burlesque show at the M Bar next door to El Floridita and Vine and Fountain in Hollywood. Friends gathered to take in the "Trick or Tease" show and celebrate a dual birthday for poet-sister Reina Prado and artist Raul Balthazar. Ms. Prado is helping put together a "Lunada" in celebration that will feature erotic poetry and performance on Oct. 26th. I look forward to the privilege of sharing a particularly succulent poem or two.

Mariachi crooner and native Zacatecano Antonio Aguilar, one of the very few latinos with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, passed away in June of this year. Aguilar spent time in LA at the beginning of his career, sleeping at Placita Olvera before he could afford rent and get settled in. He eventually returned to Mexico and became the icon popularly known as "El Charro de México." Printmaker and artist Daniel González is helping his aunt Theresa, of Teresita's restaurant in East LA, with a project to establish a permanent memorial and life-sized sculpture of Aguilar at a location still to be determined. According to Daniel, she is taking up a collection of used keys and hopes to have enough of them eventually to melt down for the statue. Look for a key donation bucket at Teresita's, a family-run establishment since 1983. I actually began going there years ago at the recommendation of LA Times reporter Robert López. It's a good excuse to go back and close enough to Self-Help Graphics, which, if you haven't realized it by now, is Día de Los Muertos central in the city of angels. More on Day of the Dead when we come back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dia de la Raza or Die, Columbus, Die?

The internal dialogues bristle and pop with even more kinetic energy this time of year as the growing legion of Chicano, Mexica and Red Road activists make friends with technology and begin using spoken word, the internet and recovery of ancestral knowledge to discuss and define a post-Chicano movement that is much more clearly articulated as an indigenous wave that counters colonial and Western hegemony. Sorry if that seems sort of dense. What it boils down to is a barrage of music, art and ceremony in celebration of all that was before, what Los Poetas de Norte and many others, including playwright, filmmaker and founder of Teatro Campesino Luis Valdez have often referred to as a return to Anahuac. It's about erasing artificially imposed borders between nations in North America from Canada to El Salvador and Honduras, all turf that was part of a greater trading and cultural region that the Spanish, the French and the British just couldn't keep their hands off of. So eager to get some, they divided Anahuac into separate nation states in order to make the partition and re-distribution seem orderly and inevitable.

I wouldn't, under normal circumstances, be so willing to offer a Dia de la Raza round up, but for sheer magnitude, this weekend belongs to the artists and cultural warriors, DJs, bands and artisans who don't celebrate Columbus Day, but instead gather to celebrate something bigger, older and equally inevitable. And if you saw Aymara elder and the first ever indigenous president of Bolivia Evo Morales on Jon Stewart, you'll understand why the descendents of the original inhabitants of Anahuac and its rightful heirs have a right to be cheeky and in your face this week. We are not liberal, left-leaning commie pinkos, just humble gente trying to teach the world that excess is killing the planet, that violence and war are natural symptoms of opression and suppression in the wake of excessive industry, excessive wealth, excessive consumption that leaves so many of our kids on the street, undereducated, in gangs and on a suicide mission that breaks my heart every day. That ends the diatribe (for now, hazme el pinche favor!).

Eventos recomendandos hoy: Peace & Dignity Journeys 08 Benefit Concert at Proyecto Jardín (Boyle and Bridge), noon to 8 p.m. in support of runners who will run for six months beginning in Alaska to meet runners from Southern indigenous communities in Panama;. Within: The Urban Woman Experience, at Crash Mansion, 1024 S. Grand Ave., 4 p.m. - 8 p.m. featuring DJs, artists, artisans, designers, performers and more!; A Funk and R & B fueled Dia de Los Muertos tribute to James Brown at Ave. 50 Studios, 131 N. Ave. 50 (Highland Park), 7 p.m. - 11 p.m. Mañana: Insurgent Verses at the Knitting Factory, 7026 Hollywood Blvd., 8 p.m., featuring Rubén Guevara, 2Mex, El Vuh, Cihuatl-Ce, Quese IMC, Tolteca and Los Poetas del Norte.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tragedy and Majesty

Tonight, LALIFF presents Fuera del Cielo, a new film by Javier Patrón, a recent addition to the crew comprising Mexico's emblematic holy trinity of cinema: Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu. Actorazo Demián Bichir stars as Marlboro and the film follows his 6 a.m. release from prison for 24 hours while he reunites with his younger brother Cucú. Ostensibly about orphans and life on the grittiest, most hopeless streets of Mexico City, the film, from what I've read, purports to reflect some sad truths facing those at every socio-economic level in the nation of my forebears. Juxtapose this with former president Vicente Fox's new memoir, Revolution of Hope and you begin to see why I might be curious. Ironically, the film screens on a night when the Festival fetes the Lucha Libre tradition and screens an old Santo film while throwing a party on the roof of the parking structure behind the ArcLight Theater complex. Think I'll skip the good, clean, campy fun with Santo and see the Patrón film while hoping it doesn't drag me down into a morose stupor. And in any event, I'm sure the Lucha Libre party scheduled immediatley after the Santo film screening might be in order as an antidote if another tragedy in the wake of Babel and Amores Perros gets too burdensome. For the record, I saw Babel on Valentine's Day with an ex-girlfriend I was still yearning for. Not a good idea in spite of the smuggled in wine, homemade Greek salad and tuna.

For wit and intelligence, check out a blog written by Laura Martinez, a chilanga in New York whose site, Mi Blog Es Tu Blog, was recently posted by Advertising Age. Her essay on how the zippiness of advertising aimed at Latinos outpaces and outstrips the television programming it sandwiches should be the subject of some serious discussion. It's why we brave the Hollywood traffic on a Thursday night for the Latino film festival. Who the hell wants to be more impressed with the comercials on Spanish language television while sitting through some of the worst programming on any grid? Gracias, Laura. At least someone has the chutzpah to tell it like it is. And don't get her started on Ugly Betty.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Miercolicos (Hump Day Hi-jinx)

Confessional pena: I registered as media at the Congreso Latino and never even went by to pick up the badge. I did, however, make the Sunday night dinner at the downtown Sheraton and heard U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (Newark, NJ) stump for Hillary Clinton. Antonio González stoked the crowd, thinned somewhat by the opening night red carpet pachanga hald as part of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival launch at the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood, as best he could. Antonio, an earstwhile childhood friend of LA's golden boy mayor, delivered a treatise on the strategy of joining evangélicos and environmentalists, a brilliant way to engage immigrants and tree huggers politically with a constructive, what can we do together to save God's earth agenda. Pretty amazing, and heady stuff.
Missing the always interesting Latino film festival opening night festivities are we now? Sorry Mr. Olmos and Marlene, but sometimes ya' just need to be reminded, just need to hang where raza is still more interested in resolutions and action committees composed of delegates who traveled to Los Angeles from across the country to participate in a downtown discussion that was actually even protested by Minutemen.

California State Senate Majority leader Gloria Romero spoke spiritedly on behalf of Barak Obama. Chicanos with an ounce of self-repect and any semblance of molecular memory vis-a-vis the movimiento and what it stood for would do well to quit frontin' and get behind the man who opposed the debacle in Iraq from the get go. Working within constraints, you have to applaud the gente behind the Congreso Latino for opening up a forum for serious dicussion of immigration and the changing complexion of the nation. Gloria Romero gives East LA a good name.

Unfortunately, I missed out on most of the townhall-style discourse, but from the little that I saw, it obviously reflects a shift, an honest-to-goodness political shift. The fact that there were Minutemen a hundred deep outside the Macy's downtown is ample evidence that Chicano-Latino agendas led and driven by emerging and increasingly successful political operatives from our side of the river are resonating across the board.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Weekend Recap

What can you say about SoundEye? Held at Taper Hall on the USC campus, it was intimidating insofar as the gathering of poets had to compete with a Trojan game, so parking was beastly. Enough discussion about hermetic insularity vs. accessibility and transference. The reading, held in a small conference room/library filled with faculty work (T.C. Boyle's titles seemed to predominate along the section of shelving where I sat to get my SoundEye fill), was intense and aloof at the same time. I won't even shy away from saying flatly that some of poetry was breathtaking. Alfred Arteaga, recently out of the hospital, read from a book that came of a sojourn in Ireland in addition to work from Cantos and Fred Moten, author of In the Break: the Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, revealed essences of a poet-philopsher who takes the work of writing seriously.

Equally urbane and riveting, Marisela Norte invited the boys, her male contemporaries in LA artes y letras, to read some of her work while she delivered a piece penned by each of them as an introduction. Sesshu Foster, Rubén Martínez and Michael C. Ford did her justice and the words blistered with innate fire and devotion. I bear witness, even if the residue of the late night before left me a might wee bit on the sedate side. One the three best Chicana poets in the country, Norte stalks the city on Metro buses and reveals the real LA in every line etched neatly along the pages of her notepads and composition books. Coincidentally, La Palabra featured a counterpart from across the cultural divide the following day. Steve Abee, in a vein similar to Norte, mines material from the street forward. His style is perhaps less subtle and distinguised by construction as muscular, run-on, free form prose, but the work converges on the same tender perspective. Ultimately, it is a take that doesn't skew the inherent ironies of life absorbed from a rolling perch ambling along the city's surface like blood cells in a body culled from a rainbow of angels.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

The whirlwind art and music and magazine and poetry and community activism tour takes an extended run this weekend. Teatro CHUSMA's Cervantino send-off was barely the beginning. Followed that with an action painting demonstration by Fernando Barragan at the Salon Belleza which was highlighted by an inadvertent encounter with long-time teatreras Mónica Sánchez and Tonantzin Esparza, and then a stop in at Union Station for the Tu Ciudad mag Hip, Hot Now issue release and celebration to fete Daniel Hernandez, Alexis Rivera and Sandra de la Loza, among others. San Gabriel Valley girl Linda Chavaria and her gal pals were surprised to hear me make references to Sangra and Lomas, old-school clikas they've left behind in their sem-suburban climb. New York's emerging electronica sound-luxe stars Pachamassive stole the show with a song called "Don't Let Go (No Te Vayas)" that underscored how there really is nothing quite like a party in one of the LA's architectural marvels.

A brief layover thereafter amidst the Congreso Latino late-night lobby bar loitering resulted in a first-time ever meeting with poeta nicaraguense Roberto Vargas, a OG, Floricanto-founding scribe who has run with maestro Raul Salinas, owner of Resistenica Books in Austin, for as long as I've been alive. Hearing him read impromptu was moving. Throat got all knotted up. Then over to Sabor Lounge to catch a last set by Mezklah, where guitarrista Greg Hernández took us all to another planet. Stay tuned for more on SoundEye West wrap up and a phenomenal reading of Marisela Norte's work by Rubén Martínez, Sesshu Foster and Michael C. Ford. Que suertudo me siento.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Latino Congreso

Kicking off with a media breakfast today, the Southwest Voter Registration Project's William C. Velásquez Institute sponsored Latino Congreso brings Latino activists and organizers to LA this weekend for plenary sessions, workshops on enfranchisement and climate change as well as environmental issues elaborated through the prism of immigration and urban issues that Latinos confront in the U.S. The list of participants is too long to list here, but it all transpires at the downtown LA Sheraton and it's definitely worth a second look. Personally it pleases me to see that the Congreso coincides with an opening at Salon Belleza at the Wilshire Grand that features new work by Fernando Barragan, a badass painter who runs with filmmaker and documentarian Ernesto Quintero, an OG in the El Sereno artistic renaissance who's working on a film about Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a charter school in my neighborhood that teaches Nahuatl, danza azteca, Mandarin and Spanish as part of a curriculum that makes right wing talk show radio hosts fume. La reconquista is real, no matter how many apologists want to feign a distance, speak in halting, barely coherent Spanish and dismiss the paisas because "they don't like pochos, anyway." No excuse. You, of all people, need to make an effort, force yourselves to speak, at the very least, the language of your immediate forebears, no matter how assimilated or "adjusted" you believe yourself to be. Otherwise, be prepared to be left behind and get recruited by the asshole minutemen who can't fathom a nation overrun by poblanos and oaxaqueños and purepeche and otomi. Get comfortable with an end to your "guerito" or class privilege if you've used lana and intelectualismo to buy your way out of comparisons and links to the chuntaros and tarudos, because the world can't turn without them. Sure, we can go to the private, invitation-only Ciudad Magazine party at Union Station, but on my way home, I'll stop at El Tarasco, a cantina that Echo Park and Silver Lake hipsters haven't yet discovered, where I can meet blue collar immigrant fathers who once auditioned for Amalia Hernández' Ballet Folklorico in Mexico City and can still recite poems by Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro, a poet who penned the unforgettable "El Brindis del Bohemio" in the early 1900s.

This doesn't preclude, however, a couple of out-and-about literary recommendations around town this weekend. I'll make a concerted effort, myself, to attend a reading at Tropico de Nopal as part of Mariela Norte's Sociedad Anonima exhibition that includes Rubén Martinez, Sesshu Foster and Michael C. Ford on Saturday at 8 p.m. On Sunday, Ave. 5o hosts the monthly La Palabra reading led by Echospace poets Don Newton and Laura Longoria and featuring poet, essayist and local literaloco Steve Abee, who rails against MySpace on a MySpace page and makes complete sense to the Pixies soundtrack classic "Where is My Mind."

The plan woud be to make a mad morning run to the South Central Farm tianguis to support sustainable agriculture and neighborhood autonomy then head to Highland Park at 2 p.m. for La Palabra. Get off the computer and do something. Mix it up and contribute, por fa? Stick around after the reading for a closing reception in honor of "Appetite," a show of impressively muscular charcoal drawings by Reyes Rodgriguez, founder/owner of Tropico de Nopal. The drawing here to the right is called "Lust," and it's the last chance to see the work which is introduced by text from Sesshu Foster, a firme wordslinger whose Atomik Aztex has got heads spinning from City Terrace to Boston.

Mystery Hang Up

Teatro CHUSMA and a housefull of well-wishers restored my faith in community with a resounding and emphatic nod to the antecedents of Chicano movement politics and neighborhood love. Quinto Sol, an East LA outfit that fuses cumbia and reggae while remaining true to the spirit of our roots and early education at the hands of those who embraced Chicanismo, played a paired down set that could verily redefine "unplugged." An art auction with work from Zach de la Rocha, Leo Limon, gift baskets from tienda Teocintli and IMIX Bookstore and a host of artists who donated work to help CHUSMA make it's way to México for the Cervantino inspired several fierce bidding contests. The CHUSMA sketches and still guerrilla-style, in your face theatre were the culmination of a barrio happening that included a hyper-soul liberation set from Olmeca and a high throttle turn from Mystery Hang Up, an all-girl Orange County punk band that could have walked right out of an Hernandez brothers Love and Rockets comic book. I noticed (kind of hard not to) the sisters, one of whom calls herself Cat and leads on a low-slung electric guitar behind the lead vocals mic while her carnala Lux does double-time duty on the drums in the audience at the Girl in a Coma show a week ago and was psyched to see them take the small Eastside Cafe impromtu stage with vengeance. More when we solve the riddle of the 80s Chacha-meets- Chola Mystery Hang Up gang from Orange County. Oooooyyyyy!!! These gurrrls could thrash El Chopo and have enough verve left over to kick in your teeth in with high heeled tacones and glam-glitter fringe leather jackets tossed laconically over their shoulders.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Poetry Massive

File under "found" or, at the very least, a pleasant discovery: La Barca Restaurant on Vermont just south of I-10 near USC. Had a burrito de chile verde for under five bucks. No nonsense eclecticisim with an all-walks-of-life crowd that never quit. I have no idea how the spot could have eluded me for so long. Bet your bottom dollar, I'm going back to work my way through the menu. Anyone for dutch treat? Met fellow Echospace Poetry Collective compa' Roberto Leni, a chileno who grew up in the Bay Area as a protege of Dr. Jose Cuellar, AKA Dr. Loco of the Rockin' Jalapeños and Dr. David Lloyd, Irish poet and playwright who teaches English at the univerity for dinner in the unassuming, homespun, folk-art accented restaurant that, in my humble estimation, ranks 4-stars for quality and quantity. Lloyd has organized SoundEye West, a poetry conference that brings California-based writers together with a pair of illustrious bards from Ireland. Beginning Friday afternoon, a slew of panels and readings will feature Chicano poet and scholar Alfred Arteaga and UC Riverside poet Gabriela Juaregui, a Mexico City native and Freewaves boardmember as well as SoundEye founder Trevor Joyce and Fergal Gaynor, both straight-outta-Cork of late. Saba Syed Razvi, Jen Hofer, Christine Wertheim and Fred Moten, among many others, flesh out a program that focuses on "Poetry Between Languages." Joyce co-founded New Writer's Press in Dublin in 1967 when he was but a mere 19. And with SoundEye West, Lloyd hopes to undescore the international reach of poetic action that emphasizes radical democracy and "counter-cooptation." I've recently had the opportunity to discuss Arteaga's work with poet and spiritual madrina Gloria Alvarez, so I'm looking forward to the encuentro, which culminates Saturday night with a poetry pachanga in Lloyd's Silverlake backyard.

Getting back to the haps in El Sereno, y sin darme demasiadas cremitas, I'll be reading tonight with East LA spoken word boy-genius and movimiento indigena/community activist Olmeca at the Eastside Cafe on Hungtington Dr. as part of a send-off party for Teatro Chusma, a barrio-based troupe which has been invited to the Cervantino in Guanajuato. Agradecimientos are due Chusmeros Alberto Ibarra, Gustavo Chavez and Marisol L. Torres, the latter also part of In Lak Ech, who have a new spoken word CD. Should point out that the disc, Mujeres con Palabra, was produced by Quetzal's Martha Gonzalez and it makes the perfect anti-Columbus day gift. Available in stores and at Café Cultural Antigua now!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

La Region Mas Transparente

Unsurprisingly, the lecture tonight by Carlos Fuentes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is sold out. The lecture accompanies an exhibit entitled "The Arts in Latin America: 1492-1820" and appears to be a ratings success based on the number of visitors and the fact that one of Mexico's preeminent writers is playing to a packed house. I may try to crash, and more than a few of us are waiting to hear from a friend on the inside about last minute availability. Fuentes was last in LA for the Zócalo series organized by L.A. Times editorial writer, author and director of the California Fellows Program at the New America Foundation Gregory Rodriguez.

El super cuate Jesse Katz, recently on leave from Los Angeles Magazine to write his own book about fatherhood, baseball, mixed marriage, being an honorary Latino and the power of Los Angeles to transform and transcend all of the above, was assigned the enviable task of introducing Don Carlos. Suggested reading then and now: La Muerte de Artemio Cruz by Fuentes and Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America by Gregory Rodriguez. And next time you drop into the H.M.S. Bounty on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown across the street from where the old Ambassador Hotel once stood, look for Gregory in his trademark tortoise shell glasses hunched over a table in deep discussion with like-minded observers who have so much to teach us about ourselves and our place on the golden coast, a place being recast daily by hard-working, shapeshifting mongrels and vagabonds who share dreams and destinies. Como vago perpétuo, I count myself among them.

Dulce Pinzon, an artist from México living in New York "en la Gabacha" says it more clearly and in vivid, living color with a photo series on "real superhoes," in which she subtly posits the fact that the Mexican economy has become dependent on the money sent home by immigrants while the U.S. economy has become dependent on the low-cost labor they provide. She has photographed the unheralded heroes in this paradigm wearing super-hero garb while engaged in the work they do every day in an effort to send support to those they've left behind. In the end, my entire excursion manages to wrap itself neatly in the inevitable circle. Like every good Marvel and DC Comics reader knows, the orphans, (ala Bruce Wayne and Wolverine) and mongrels (Wolverine) and vagabonds (Wolverine again) always grow up to be superheroes, so Pinzon's photo series dovetails perfectly here as we round third base and head home with a copy of Gregory's new book under our utility belt, a titanium belt loaded with gadgets that will give us an edge in our efforts to save the planet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mexico Rock

Talk about camp. Al Ritmo del Twist, a film presented by the Latin American Cinemateca of Los Angeles last Sunday at the Johh Anson Ford Amphitheatre was an exercise in the ultimate suspension of disbelief. Really hard to image a 40-something Manuel "Loco" Valdez as a high school student in a rip-off beach blanket party special where the stripped down, apolitical Mexican and utterly derivative, officially sanctioned rock bands from the sixties hold court. The monogamy of Churubusco veterans aping teenagers in a film where every scene is an excuse to feature a drum kit with lettering to announce "Los Rebeldes del Rock" or "Los Teen Tops," amidst a slew of twist dancers and live, human mannequins modeling female swimwear was a tad bit too much to bear. The Teen Tops Spanish-language cover of "Bony Maroni" which translates to "Popotipos" (my girl, the straw) is actually a highlight, and that's not saying much. Unfortunately, I missed the plática with Abraham Laborial, whose Afro-carribean father went from Honduras to Mexico in the first half of the last century as a studio musician and actually appears in the film. Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara rounded out the discussion with his own stateside 60s rock history, I'm told. In the company of poet Gloria Alvarez, her daugher Sol and friends Lluvia and Margit, I was delayed by an earth turning turn, community garden commitment at Proyecto Jardin, so you can blame me completely for the slag. I would have liked to be there for the discussion, even if it included more pontificating by everyone's favorite Latinophile, Josh Kun.

It was more urgent, for me anyway, to see Girl in a Coma, the girl band from San Antonio that has taken both the Chican@ and gringo rock worlds by storm with hurricane proportions. The film was a follow-up that we forced ourselves to sit through. And it was definitely cool to see Jimmy Mendiola, a wordslinger and filmmaker with his compañera and producing partner Faith Radle as well as another Tex-Mex patriot in LA, former Port of Houston Commissioner Azucena Maldonado, who worked the event. If you're interesed, Jimmy blogs about pop culture and all things Chicano and Latino at with a keen sensitivity and an attitude/aptitude that belies his San Antonio rocker roots and elevates him beyond the ken or ordinary pale of blogosphere navel gazers. He also directed a GIAC video that buzzes with a magnetic electricity.

This blog is actually a response and reaction to the Austin-LA-Mexico City triangle that has its genesis in a January, 1994 visit I made to Chiapas for The Austin Chronicle with a stop in Chilangolandia on the way, where I hung once again with Discos Rockotitlan founder Tony Mendez, who I'd met in New York at a 1991 New Music Seminar showcase. Have to say that I had been thoroughly influenced by a Rubén Martínez article on Maldita Vecindad in the LA Weekly and an Ed Morales Village Voice piece on resurgent rock en español with a bite. For me rock and the Zapatista revolution were inextricably intertwined after that ill-advised trip to la selva lacondona, where I was man-handled by soldiers at every roadblock from Mexico City to Juchitán. Maldita, Tijuana No, Los Hombres G and el TRI were my antidote to Eurythmics and baseless British pop that I raved to more often than I care to admit. I dumped The Clash and The Police completely while putting U2 on probation after hearing the rockeros rail against capitalismo and a gringo system imposed by MTV and McDonald's.

But enough with the stripes and who found chilango rock first because the "Mexico! Mexico! Rock! Rock! Rock!" program also drew luminary Angelenos, among them poet Marisela Norte, artist and owner of Tropico de Nopal Gallery Reyes Rodriguez and my cuate and occasional Gold Room sister Sandra de la Loza, a conceptual artist and photographer listed in the current issue of Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine as one of the 20 Hip, Hot (and very happening) Now brown people in the City of Angels. Props to printmaker and artist Daniel Gonzalez and Colin Gunkel, another Tex-patriot, for putting together an ambitious and ultimately important cultural program. Of course, it was a far cry from El Chopo, a Mexico City rock-and-roll swap meet where I wound up reading poetry earlier this summer as an opening act for Charlie Montana, a DF rockero who sports a Confederate flag t-shirt and a Jack Daniels bottle tattooed on his arm. Complete with the Lynyrd Skynyrd black leather hat and silver conch-shell hat band over a pair of aviator mirror shades, Montana could very well be the bastard love child of Axl Rose and Ozzy Osbourne.

Try sharing some sappy love poems in antcipation of that! I had to translate some work on the spot while juggling a live interview on the phone with a radio station and trying to save face in front of 600 goth punks and DF chuco skaters in scotch plaid, pierced ad infinitum and eager to hear a Mexico City barrio rocker who plays up the trailer trash persona in bleach blond hair to unexpected éxito. A universe of disconnect, at least for me, can't reconcile campy twist dance films where Annette Funicello and Frankie Valie give way to rode-hard Mexican movie stars on their last legs with the very real and always relevant Tianguis Cultural del Chopo, a squatterville terrain next door to Tlatelolco, the site of a 1968 government-sponsored massacre and a hotbed of resistance that, for the last 25 years, has manifested itself in the bodies, ritmos and ritos of los punks, los rockers, los darketos, los góticos y los hipitecas. Ask me about it sometime. Or better yet, take yourself there. Poet and scholar Reina Prado suggests the Greyhound bus direct to the Tijuana Airport from downtown LA. The flight on Aviacsa is about $280 round trip.

You can never be too cool for school unless you've been there and had at least three Indio beers with a quesadilla de flor de calabasa at Las Costillas de San Luis in Colonia La Roma before diving into a flotilla sized open air market fueled by music and all the rock & roll accessories you ever possibly imagine.