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!