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?