Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day


A new dawn rolls down over the hilltops here in El Sereno. Despite a slight haze, I bask in the residual euphoria from an election victory that signals an end to the monstrous greed and warlust that drove those foul Machiavellians to greater and greater heights of hubris and a false sense of invincible superiority gleaned from so many decades of late nite prowls along the marble-floored halls of our nation's capital. It was a supreme joy to hear our friend Roberto Lovato, a writer and essayist who covers politics from a sharp vantage (read his take on how to take on the Homeland Security militarization of immigration issue and ICE raids, please!) on KPFK radio with Amy Goodman as Roberto Leni and I searched for an address in Silver Lake where a group of us had a greed to gather for the election coverage. We missed the concession but arrived in time to hear the victory speech. The world was suddenly new. We danced and celebrated with musica troopical, enchilada and tequila. Ric Salinas, one third of Culture Clash, was ever the gracious host. Since, I 'd voted early and drove a borrowed vehicle to pick up the first issue of Brooklyn & Boyle all the way down in Gardena, I had a double reason to be uncontrollably joyful. Yes it is finally here. The long promised revista/periodico... Along with the coolest rock star President-elect in this country's history, we have a new mag. And the winds of sea change and rebirth that were clearly marked by the slew of ceremonies and celebrations in honor of Dia de los Muertos I was privileged enough to witness in the week or more leading up to this historic moment.

It began with the Secretos y Cartas del Los Muertos show at Ave. 50 where Barbara Carrasco curated a show of which included collaborations between writers and visual artists. For this, Ofelia Esparza created a small but poignant nicho while Harry Gamboa, a writer and a visual artist, created piece using a rain slicker that evoked the finest moments of ASCO and LA punk as political fashion. Over at Cactus Gallery in Eagle Rock, Sandra Mastrianni and her crew showed smaller works that were part of an exhibition called "Skullz." Film Xica Leticia Castañeda spearheaded the community altar there, her first. ChimMaya was also part of the mix with a superlative show the following day that featured a much larger altar by Ofelia Esparza and some of LA's hottest Latino artists, too many to name here, unfortunately. The ensuing week was highlighted by an Obama Te Ama fundraiser I helped promote at Hecho en Mexico here in El Sereno held immediately after a lively and inspiring encounter with teatreros and filmmakers at a Director's Guild of America event held to honor Luís Valdez, an activist, filmmaker and playwright who needs no introduction.

Day of the Dead the following week unfolded with all the promise and beauty of a sunrise over East LA and the San Gabriel Valley. A Thursday night visit to Trópico de Nopal Gallery & Art Space, where artist and visionary Reyes Rodriguez hosts his annual Ofrendas extravaganza (complete with a Calavera Fashion & Walking Altar show) for the altar viewing was moving in a way that communicated some of what my mother has been trying to tell me since she passed onward in April. It's about moving forward while honoring all of our relations. Ofelia Esparza's tribute to a renowned native woman from this region was just as powerful as the one created by her neice Juana Flores. Saturday at Hollywood Forever Cemetery was much more carnavalesque. Three bandstands, music and long food/beverage lines were a bit daunting but the festive atmosphere carried Leni and I well into the wee hours as we traded jokes with Lalo López who sold out of his Viva Obama posters (pictured above). During all the madness, I managed to sneak away to see the altares at Self Help Graphics, where I added a tabacco prayer to my mother as part of interactive the Mujeres de Maíz altar. Maritza Alvarez and Felicia Montes and Claudia Mercado and all of the firme guerreras were on the blessed side of a world crying out for justice and peace, for healing and an end to ICE immigration raids as well as an end to borders that separate native people. I was transported and empowered. Rigo Maldonado and Alma López created an altar which was at once a diaphanuos mobile and an reminder of how we make family outside of blook kin. It also celebrated 35 years of the Self Help Día de los Muertos tradition.

Of course, the picture and they cycle of destiny would not have been complete without a final DDLM fix at Self Help Graphics on Sunday, the following day, the actual day upon which the celebration is acknowledged. At 4:40 p.m., Self Help was already crowded. Moving through the parking lot in a face painted by a talented young woman named Brenda Gonzalez (who had a friend drive her to my El Sereno redoubt for the make-up session), I parked myself upstairs and painted faces for the better part of three hours. It was honestly and literally a blast... exhausting, but well beyond rewarding. The support for Self Help was more than evident. The important cultural work begun by Self Help over three decades ago will continue, even if it does not occur in the same physical building. This much I know... ahí nos vemos. Viva Obama!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bajo Las Estrellas All Across Los

The weeks were a dizzy spectacle. One of those dizzy in-a-good-way friezes that stand out in bold relief and linger like a warm day spent soaking in cool water. Eloy Torrez, painter, musician and muralist was asked to perform songs from his repertoire of original music on October 13th at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) where he currently has work in a show of paintings from the much-heralded Cheech Marin collection of Chicano Art. While many might know of his brilliant mural on Broadway or the Hollywood High School tribute to the film industry, not many are aware of his work as a singer-songwriter or the fact that he painted a mural in France in a Algerian neighborhood that was not immediately receptive. His work, like his music is—as a result—about inclusion, erasing differences and redefining what it means to be a person of color. With an almost Psychedelic Furs-inflected selection of about ten songs, Eloy and two of the boys from Maria Fatal along with Charles Jefferson on bass delivered soul searing music on the LACMA West patio to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Ofelia Esparza was there to hand out marigolds on honor of los muertitos as Eloy opened the set with a song to his late mother. Self Help Graphics was there in spirit and with giant paper mache calaveras as stage decoration. It was pretty near perfect.

And this while I was still glowing with euphoria at having attended and participated in a more personal fundraiser for Daisy Tonantzin “Bajo las Estrellas” on our end of town just a week-and-change before. To go from the booming and melodic vocals of Rocio Vasquez AKA Lobamora, the ultra-lounge Latin retro experiments (all successful) of Chicano Batman and sage spoken word from Los Poets del Norte on the East Side at First Street Studios to equally soulful sounds at LACMA would have been itself a marvelous, but then you follow that with a birthday party for Ruben “Funkahuatl” Guevara, a tried and true rocker, music historian, producer as well as poet and you have something on the order of miraculous. Guevara founded Ruben and the Jets once upon a time and even has the onerous distinction of having jammed with Frank Zappa before pioneering LA’s Rock en Español movement. With a crushed-velvet robe and a pork pie hat, he was channeling the Dalai Llama and shared a set that was barely contained by the teaming East Side Luv Wine Bar. The guests included so many artists, poets and musicians that you couldn’t turn 10-degrees to either the right or left with out literally bumping right up against one.


And Rubén’s show only brought us through to Thursday, if you can believe that. Hence my description of the recent weeks as dizzy. I’d have lost my blogging rights if I’d even thought about missing the Epicentro Poets and their Poetic Epidemic the following night at Casa 0101. Born in the Salvadoran and Central American Diaspora the followed the civil wars and those fleeing to LA and San Francisco to avoid the right-wing paramilitary death squad inspired chaos, Epicentro refers to the center of the earthquake that hit San Salvador and these poets put it down with all the might of a major magnitude terremoto. Leticia Hernandez-Linares and Gustavo Vásquez are the most familiar of the group, but the new faces were not far behind in terms of depth and delivery. It was one of those nights when, instead of the music, it was the poetry, pure and right-out-the-barrel, that drew tears to my eyes. The photographs from Cuba in downtown gallery on Saturday (the next night) were the proverbial frosting since they took me back to a recent time when poets from throughout the hemisphere gathered for a tribute to indigenous people. And finally, there was Willie Herron’s Boyle Heights open mic on Sunday night, which took me back to the birth of Chicano Punk and Los Illegals. Willie might have been joking but he said he’ll christen the weekly forum for music and poetry “I Am” as in “yo soy” but it can also be read as an acronym… IAM or Illegal Acoustic Movement, a fitting name and a fitting end to 14 days in LA. You’ll forgive me if I just want to nest for awhile… maybe try to finally get that first issue of Brooklyn & Boyle out. Even if I have to crank it out on a borrowed machine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ménage à trois as never imagined...

The islands of myth and the participles of pain, the tree of knowledge and the aching emptiness of lost love or childhood… They are all here, here in this room where the trio comes together to confide in whispered essences. Ménage à trois, the fabled threesome assembled here under “A Very Old Tree” (Marichal) where the watchers are also seekers, brings together the work of three very distinct printmakers. Poli Marichal, Victor Rosas and Marianne Sadowski, a group that represents, in many ways, the antithesis of the triumvirate, have launched much of their radically different work from Self-Help Graphics and its Los de Abajo Collective, perhaps the most sincere and community-based arts institution in East LA if not the entire metropolis.

As creators, they live and breathe and dream a world and a space where love and longing are tempered by life and still informed by myth and fantasy. They are all here. In this room, this room that has been transformed, that has become for brief moments a Los Angeles or Washington D.C. skyline, the bleak underbelly of urban landscapes, political surfaces where hypocrisy and corruption are rooted out and underscored.

Here in this room, a room that has also become a shifting, a transcendence and an escape from those things marked by the fear and the violence and the excess that have become emblematic of sex and the simultaneous violation or debauchery of our planet… here in the sweetness of three disparate voices, three gentle artists who work quietly into the wee hours with images carved from wood or etched into linoleum or scratched into plexiglass, here we are also transported to the “Island of Mysterious Flowers” (Sadowski) and a realm where memories and myth float across the maps of our innocence and a time when fantastical beasts and creatures roamed both land and sea.

All soft spoken and serious, Sadowski, Marichal and Rosas come together here in this room as necessary elements, as a tri-colored banner or tri-part whole. Incredibly, their conversation here is not hermetic. It is not sealed and inaccessible. Instead, it resounds with the pain and pleasure of creation, of birth and death surrounded by the flora and fauna of timelessness and written in the hues of a public entreaty, a call to the common good.

These images are thus missives to our subconscious desire for the exotic that does not turn other beings or objects into fetish but imbues them with their primordial significance, unlocks their grace and allows us to peer into entirely new dimensions. This is the secret. This is what makes us voyeurs. We are the seekers and the watchers. We are the eyes that float eerily inside the tree of knowledge. We are drawn, fascinated by the idea, the sense that these images and these artists have learned a hidden dance, uncovered a buried ritual and that—in their voyage from beyond—they have broken the code and created a universe where the work and images speak among themselves to each other. We can imagine a conversation that occurs on the walls at Self Help’s Boccalero Gallery after night falls in the dim light when no one is there, when no one is looking.

It is a ménage of epic proportions and a simple a menagerie, a skeletal reduction where we see ourselves reflected in the dark foreboding knowledge that not all is well, that the world is not always accommodating and kind, a place where we say, “Fuck Hope” (Rosas) with almost no irony or sarcastic humor, a place where the blueprints of injustice are conceived and executed.
Yet in the context of that conversation, the dialogue that occurs as Rosas, Sadowski and Marichal share their witty and—at times caustically bemused— vision, we are flown directly on the wings of desire and yearning to a geography of hope populated by magical hybrids and the beaming tides of imagination unchecked, unhinged and unleashed without fury, without the glare of a gallery spotlight or a Hollywood cliché.

We travel to “The Day the Nests Were Left Alone” (Sadowski), an antidote to a place where gumball machines are all that remain to dispense the deer, the turtle and the honeybee for profit in a private “Zoo” (Rosas), the terrain where “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys express outrage (Marichal) at the havoc the “Ciego/Blind” (Rosas) continue to wreak upon the earth. Yet we can still awaken, we are made to understand here, in the world where “Trees Can Dream” (Marichal) and where the possibility of change is real in spite of the insomnia, the strong coffee well into the dawn when we are compelled to share a story, a picture, a song, in spite of our anger at what is often done to nature in our names. We can float over and beyond the residual sadness and the idea that our lives are bleak or that we are unequipped to make things better. In the hands of these three, the images have become totems of fire and rebirth. There can, in fact, be a tender unfolding, a renewal of the psyche.

(Excerpted from "Ménage à trois: A Tender Unfolding," a review of the last exhibition at Self Help Graphics. Images: Poli Marichal)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Butterscotch Guayabera and Notes From the Film Festival Frontlines

So I bounced into First Street Studios for the first-ever Tlalpaleria event a few weeks back. The muestra brought an even newer group of talented Chican@/Latin@ artists to the storefront's forefront. Chalk another one up for Lilia Ramiriez, the fine artist and jeweler behind many of the explosively creative events going down consistently in Boyle Heights of late. For the opening, Liliflor gathered spoken word artists, a capoeira troupe, DJ Poncho and a score of gifted artisans who, as a whole, were part of what was being billed as an "astral" experience. Among those who populated the "Stellar Artisan Alley" were Noelle Reyes and Danell Hughes, a pair of fashionistas, El Sereno community activist moms and owners of the Mi Vida boutique in South Pasadena. Specializing in classic vintage wear, cool contemporary threads, hand crafted accessories and original art, Mi Vida is, above all, an elegant aesthetic expression that marries their love for beautiful clothing and an allegiance to the philosophy that encourages neighborhood and community self-sufficiency as a precursor to political and economic independence. Both Reyes and Hughes have children who attend Academia Semillas del Pueblo, where Reyes also works and both practice danza azteca.

Thus, I found myself in the middle of Artisan Alley, chatting with the firme Mi Vida proprietors after a quick hello to Elisa Rodriguez of IMIX Bookstore. Upon a closer examination of the clothing rack they'd installed as part of their booth, I spied what must have been the sweetest guayabera I'd ever laid eyes on. Hanging on a wire, the butterscotch yellow, short sleeved, Cuban-style shirt was immaculately pressed. It whispered to me in unheard melodic strains of guaguanco and rumba madness. I swear I heard it call out my name and had to laugh aloud at my own looniness. It goes without saying that I voiced my attraction to the textile wonder I've been lucky enough to behold. Promising to make Tejano-style papa con huevo y queso breakfast tacos for them the following day, I begged and pleaded and cajoled the honorary sisters because I didn't have cash in my pocket.

Maybe it was the novelty of having breakfast made and delivered by a dude... in any event Danell saw fit to take the guayabera off the rack and return it to a box under the table. The following day, I'm walking out of the store on Huntington Dr. just before Fremont in the finest shirt I've ever worn. Two smiling mujeres are talking about how I look like the mayor of poetry and, wouldn't you know, I head straight for a spoken word presentation in Altadena. There, I read seven poems and walk away--still in the butterscotch guayabera--with $50 I never expected to receive. Who gets paid for poetry these days, huh? Unheard of, right? It's almost as if the guayabera has endowed me with unbelievable luck, super-human powers of literary extraction and a little Caribbean charm tossed in for dressing.

The guayabera later become even more symbolic because I've come to work at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, a yearly celebration of moving pictures held in Hollywood at the famed Egyptian Theater. I'm charged with wrangling volunteers for the 12th annual edition of the festival co-founded by actor Edward James Olmos. In my head, I'm thinking about The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, a 1998 film starring Olmos and written for the screen by Ray Bradbury (based on his 1958 short story which he later turned into a play for a collection of pieces written for stage). In the story, a magical suit inspires a group of young men to yearn for and imagine a world where they can walk the street in the dazzling radiance of a suit that will give them the ability to realize all of their inner-most hopes and goals. And here I am, working for Olmos indirectly while at the same time whistling with glee and smiling effusively to myself each time I think of the guayabera in my closet. It is a not-so-literary descendant of Bradbury's white linen suit and a reminder that the business of movies and movie-making is not all bad. It's also a reminder that inspiration can come from anywhere, not just the anger, bitterness or pain that can often accompany personal disappointments or lost love. Hay que celebrar el truinfo humano de vez en cuando, que no?

Look for a film festival blog after the fact at the LALIFF website. It will detail my life as an occassional wordslinger marooned on film festival island for several weeks. From the festival front lines, you'll hear about films and filmmakers, festival chisme and perhaps a tiny bit of celebrity revelry. I'll try to make it a day-by-day, blow-by-blow chronicle of as much as I can remember now that it's over and I can get back to the serious business of launching the much bally-hooed Brooklyn & Boyle magazine. It's amazing how a festival can put your life completely on hold. Try an entire three weeks since this blog was active. More on the Brooklyn & Boyle project next time. It's high time for a real East Side magazine, no crees?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Moratorium Remembered, Oaxaca Under Assault

I had hoped to wax ebullient, cantar la celebración, deliver idylic prose on the beauty of poetry as well as both political and cultural convictions restored at Teocintli in Boyle Heights, where veteranos del movimiento such as David Sánchez, an original Brown Beret, and Carlos Montes joined two successive generations of resistance in the floricanto tradition. De verdad, quería decir cuanto me impactarón los poemas compartidos por Felicia Montes, Nico, y Javi--estos dos últimos miembros del la colectiva llamada Los Poets del Norte. Commemorating the August 29th, 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam, a small yet insistent group gathered to rally around the same root causes, the painfully similiar conditions that continue to plague people in marginalized communities. I wanted to proclaim how positive it was to see Ollin's Scott Rodarte and visit with El Random Hero himself, who has agreed to be part of the Brooklyn & Boyle magazine staff.

But the glow is dimmed this morning when I read that on the very day we commemorated an attack against our community 38 years ago, the federales in Mexico stormed a community radio station in Oaxaca organized and sustained by the Mixteca people who are allied with La Otra Campaña. Everywhere the repression rears its ugly head. And here, in addition to the belleza and collective energy over the recognition that our work as "artivists" (nod to Ms. Montes for the term) must continue, I was still basking in the residual peace and joy leftover from the gathering of poetas románticos at East Side Luv a couple of weeks ago. Rubén "Funkhuatl" Guevara delivered a line in one of his poems at the Moratorium commemoration last night. "I am a weapon," he intoned. The phrase is allegorical and it expresses my particular conundrum. Rubén was also part of the genesis for the "Literoticana Chicana: Una Noche de Luz, Deseo y Lengua" reading where about a eighty people joined six poets for a celebration of passion and romance and language in verse. How can we cling to our humanity, make consistent attempts to share life, love and consciousness in the face of the buffeting realities at home, in Iraq, in Oaxaca? No tengo la respuesta. raúlrsalinas, RIP, my Xicanindio poet-mentor, friend and fellow literaloco-literatonto and an AIM activist who worked alongside Leonard Peltier in prison before being released and establishing Resistencia Bookstore so many years later, used to throw up his hands in the air and shrug. "Sometimes it just bees that way, bro."

In all fairness, I had meant to meander into the realm of ennui, of the perhaps even somewhat shmarmy sweetness, the sacharine roll call like a litany of rose petal blossom gossamer whispers. Wanted to say how Ruben Guevara and Gloria Alvarez and Rafael Alvarado and Reina Prado and Corrie Greathouse--the poets who comprised the "literoticana" experiment--were stunningly warm and magnetic on the Luv stage. And I also sincerely wanted to follow up with a heartfelt expression of gratitude for la familia Esparza and everyone who dropped by the potluck BBQ in honore of August birthdays, great friends, beautiful artists, heart broken poets, restless dreamers and rambunctious dancers. Al fin, I'll leave that to chance and simply end with a recommendation that you read Ruben Mendoza's essay on the "Phantom Sightings" exhibition at the LACMA. It is beyond doubt, the most effective, cogent and fully actualized critique of the exhibit anyone has written.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Two-Tone Wingtip Staceys Serve It Up Serio

If you didn't hear about The Panza Monologues, a one-woman show written by San Antonio homegirls Vicki Grise and Dr. Irma Mayorga with contributions from several Texas-based scribes--among them Barbara Renaud-Gonzalez--that brought down the house at Plaza de la Raza on Saturday night, then you were probably among the five or six people that Rip Van Winkle their way along in the world. A Chicana tour de force as far as live theatre goes, the show opened for a one-night only showcase and at least twenty people were turned away. Karla Legaspy and Felicia Montes helped spread the word only too-well. Using stories that range from the hilarious to the deeply moving, Vicki Grise romps back and forth, carving up the stage with panza moon goddess prowess or alternately touching vignettes that address ancestral sadness, movimiento politics and feminist issues. Special mention should be made of Marissa Ramirez' lighting design and general theatre know-how. It couldn't have happened without her tirelesss stagecraft. Of course, Adelina Anthony's turn as the host didn't hurt none either. Está bien funny la Ade. But her rapier wit skewers you while it leaves you wanting more...

For the LA incarnation, which was videotaped by Roberto Oregel for the production of a Panza DVD, las muchachas enlisted the assistance of several jaraner@s, among them el Tejarocho Alexandro Hernández, another Tex-Mexpatriot, who put together a live backing band called Los Flacosos. Hernandez is working on a PhD in ethnomusicology and plays just about any instrument con cuerdas. He also performs as a regular member of the "world jarocho music" group zocaloZüe. Joining him on stage were Eduardo Arenas, Soul Rebel Radio's jaranera extraordinaire Laura Cambrón and violinista Jacqueline Mungía who, as a group, added an entirely new dimension to the production. Can anyone say soundtrack? The capacity crowd rose immediately to its feet at the end of the show for an ovation that recognized the play's world class caliber.

Hernández has also been recently recruited by fiery hip-hop MC Olmeca. And we followed the Saturday show at Plaza with the John Anson Ford Theater benefit for Tia Chucha's Café Cultural where a near capacity crowd was treated to a dazzling flurry of words and sound from the young East Side poet and mic master, who was once again in peak form. With the addition of an electric guitar, Olmeca's live sound takes on an urgency that lingers along more interesting lines that communicate whispers of canto nuevao or la nueva trova. Lyrically, in both Spanish and English, he balances a muscular vocabulary and a litany-like staccato burst of non-stop rhyme with relevant and socially conscious story that is both accessible and inspiring. I would even dare call it hopeful. despite my own proclivity to cynicism. And I would be remiss if I didn't confess a desire to see the boys live again for an entire show, even if it's just to marvel at the two-tone, black-and-white wingtip calcos pachucos. The benefit also featured a dance-your-nalgas off set by the heirs t0 Ozomatli, a young East Side band called Upground, who delivered cumbia, salsa and rock fusion worthy of the South By South West Music and Media Conference selection they were part of this year. No es por nada that they were invited to play the most important music industry conference in the nation right there in my hometown of Austin, Tejaztlan. The city likes to bill itself "the live music capital of the world," and I really can't argue. The finale last night featured comedian and actor Cheech Marin, who strapped on his own hollow body guitar and lead Upground in a slew of musical numbers, among them the perennial "Born in East LA." It was puro Califas, a moment unlike any other I've ever experienced before, serio foo'. It was sicccc.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All about the son... jarocho and otherwise

Grooves and good vibra here in the wake of the Self Help Graphics storm. Para empezar, I offer a strident shout out to Nico of Los Poets del Norte and his partner Mayra, who operates Teocintli, a cultural space and store in Boyle Heights that offers clothing, accessories, books and other relevant gear as well as a small gallery space. They recently relocated from a smaller home a block away, and the grand re-opening was well attended. Got my eye on one of Nico's paintings neart the register, so "hands off," please! Just keeding... Regrettably, I couldn't stay long enough to catch the poetry performances or the music from Buyepongo, but the art exhibition was definitely worth the trip over the hill.

The community meeting at Self Help reminded all of us just how important it is to create ownership of our own cultural spaces. The influx of investors who merely seek to "flip" property for a profit is a historical fact and since we weren't even safe in the hands of the church, it's time to remind all the well-connected and politically installed Chicanos that they have an important roll to play financially, that they shouldn't just come around when they're looking for votes or want some high quality and somehow still inexpensive art to decorate their fancy homes. They should get behind and on board a capitalization project that would create enough funding for a permanent Self Help home on the East Side.

Diatribes and tirades and soapboxes aside, the música jarocha showcase held at Trópico de Nopal last Sunday was pure sonic deliciousness. Reyes and his family should be proud of the space they have built from the ground up. The backyard at Trópico was awash in the sound of jarana and tololoche the likes of which had not likely ever been seen or heard in LA's Rampart vecindad. Of course, with Son de Madera having already played McArther Park as part of the Levitt Pavillion summer concert series and the unequivocably stunnng performance on the same stage last night by Quetzal, it's safe to say that son jarocho and sonfusión Chicano inspired by son jarocho are fast finding an audience in that neck o' the cityscape. And speaking of which, I can't miss CAVA, a band led by Claudia Gonzalez, whose older sister Martha sings lead vocals with Quetzal. CAVA performing tonight at the Zona Rosa Caffe in Pasadena, not too far from this little second floor redoubt in el sereno... Claudia also lends vocals to Mentiritas, the band I profiled for Tu Ciudad magazine and will have to do so again somewhere else since Ciudad's August issue (where the story was slated to run) was never published. For now, you can check out the piece on the Mentiritas page. I send special thanks to artist Rick Mobbs for the image above called "The Kiss of the Fourth Wind." I've borrowed it for a flyer to announce the "Literoticana Chicana: una noche de luz, deseo y lengua" poetry event I helped put together at East Side Luv on August 14th with Ruben Funkahuatl Guevara and maestra Gloria Alvarez. More on that shortly.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Calling All Superhero Hoop Girls to Self Help

Calling all superhero Hoop Girls! We need your sassy, take-no-prisoners strength. We're in a crutch. Right about now, your fuerza and in-it-to-win-it incandescence would come in quite handy. Can you please take a small leave of absence from the stage and the pages of the brilliant new play by Gabriela López, the production I was fortunate enough to catch at a closing Casa 0101 performance? You see, the nefarious powers that be over at the LA Archdiocese have sold Self Help Graphics & Art out from under the community to some nameless, faceless real estate developer and investor who says he wants to get $30,000 (!!!!!) a month in rent and that the artists, community members and world renowned art programs that have called the building at César Chávez (Brooklyn) and Gage home for 30 years are going to have to vacate the premises at the end of the year. With no prior discussion or warning, the Sisters of St. Francis, Mount Alverno allowed the LA Archodiocese to hawk the building on the block for a whole lot less than the original $1.5 million asking price they quoted to members of the Self Help board of directors back in 2007. There are even some who say the money is being used to help the church settle lawsuits stemming from the abuse scandals.

The community is aghast. How could the cruel and allegedly Christian leaders let a priceless cultural legacy go so easily? How on earth could they have tossed a glittering institution that has nurtured two generations of artists into the wind without so much as a discussion? Why would they have shuttered or attempted to shutter a center responsible for the creation of so much beauty within a neighborhood that has suffered marginalization and neglect for a century? With no attempt at engaging the real stakeholders, they kept the deal secret and even asked the new owner to stay away from the property until the sale was final. How's that for desgraciadamente descarado?

Hoop Girls, we're flashing the silver-gold hoop signal, the golden beam of circular power into the Gotham-Metropolis-Boyle Heights night sky because you are, like so many of us in Eagle Rock, Highland Park, El Sereno, and Lincoln Heights, the children Self Help. We came of age with knowledge of ateliers and silkscreens and the selfless dedication of one Sister Karen Boccalero, who nurtured and trained and cajoled a multitude of artists who have been our role models, mentors and teachers. We beseech you because the profiteers are trying to turn back the clock. Property is at a premium and they know the subway is coming. It's a blatant landgrab and the officeholders (many of our own, in fact) think we're going to roll over on the East Side just because they took the farm in South Central away with nary a scuffle. Hoop Girls, we call on you as masters of the universe who can fight crime and overcome the idiocy of politicians and businessmen while balancing on four-inch heels and mastering the art of how to wear the four-inch hoop earring with unparalleled style and grace. Please hear our plea. Would it be possible to bring that ensemble magic, that trancendent love, care and concern that enveloped audiences and inspired us with its truth to Self Help for a final stand?

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina, demonstrating a bit of Hoop Girl panache herself, has promised to help make the church answer for its ungodly and seemingly intentional disregard for Self Help, this when the organization has been in comeback mode for over a year with several successful print shows and cultural celebrations behind it, enough to make the glimmer of hope and a phoenix-like rise from the bumpy transitions it weathered for a minute there a distinct probability and not just a possiblity...

Next episode: Will Supervisor Molina deliver on her Hoop Girl promise? Will the Mayor and Council Member José Huizar do the right thing and join the forces with the Hoop Girl justice league? Will Self Help find a new home on the East Side? Tune in next week for answers to these and many other life or death questions... (special thanks to artist and blogger Ed Fuentes for the SHG press conference photo above)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nostalgia and the farce of July

It is sadness and hope at the same time. It is the winded glow that comes from an afternoon climb to the hilltop pond at Debs Park alongside the decent and kind profesor Felipe Castruita, for the stunning views of Highland Park, the downtown LA skyline, Montecito Heights and El Sereno from a place as tall and serene as you will find en esta tierra de mil lomas. This the day after the first Proyecto Jardín Wednesday capoeira workshop I've ever attended. Talk about toe-up! So then June 28th, tres días despues, it was once again essential Los, and it began on Saturday morning with kids who are currently detained at Eastlake Juvenile Hall, where a fifteen year old girl who had just read my dog-eared copy of Bless Me, Ultima, said that it didn't matter if she was locked up or not because her mind and her imagination were free. Wisdom from the mouths of children... Immediately thereafter, I tended bar at a backyard wedding. The groom was a periodista friend and an LA newcomer from Oklahoma who met and fell in love with a beautiful colombiana during his first visit there a little over a year ago. Michael is a child of the bible belt holy rollers and another testament to the transformative power of Los Angeles. Although he struggled with his vows in Spanish, there were few dry eyes there. Best wishes for the happy couple from opposite ends of the universe.

In the face of all the hoopla about a McCain visit to Colombia and the release of prisoners by the guerrilla forces, there's the unspoken undercurrent. While the media talks about some sort of daring rescue, I see no proof. Some have even said that there was a hefty ransom paid and that McCain was the bagman. The released military contractors (read mercenaries ala Blackwater) can now go on CNN and talk about how they were held hostage by terrorists. Let's bring the farce of Iraq closer to home so we can create more unfounded fear and somehow link Hugo Chavez. We can't let him get all the credit for getting prisoners of war released, now can we?

All of which brings us to the Xicano Records & Film Farce of July, which reminds us that all the patriotic hoopla is once again a way to distract the numbed and medicated masses glued to their screens. Should we mindlessly admire celebratory fireworks against the backdrop of a useless war that bankrupts our nation and enriches the war profiteers while everyday folk struggle just to come up with gas money? Anyguey, enough of the ranting. I would have liked to hear the musical and poetic presentations at both Farce of July events held in LA last Friday but missed both. Y en mi opinión humilde, it was good sign that we, as angelinos, could support and provide decent sized audiences for at least two events staged to create that kind of awareness. My nephew, who works at a progressive radio station in Buffalo, New York, took his new bride to Canada for the 4th and rode a ferris wheel. "I went to Canada to celebrate," he told his mother, my sister Joanne.

Many who dropped by the closing night celebration at Antigua Cultural Coffee House, here in El Sereno a week before the chantaje del cuatro de julio will recall that the assembled crowd was so joyful and upbeat, spilling out onto the street for Luis Vega's incendiary public performance art piece that LAPD even dispatched a helicopter to buzz the sky over us and flash the ghetto buster light on the huge contingent of former patrons who had come to say goodbye. Too many people enjoying the jaraner@s or the reggae grooves of Pachamama to handle or what? I should be glad I live in a country that sends the po-po just because we came out in strength and peace to support a neighborhood business that was literally being forced out to make way for a Starbuck$ or a Coffee Bean? NO creo yo, chuy.

Cut to the "Nostalgia" exhibition at Lilia Ramírez' First Street Studios which opened on Saturday, July 5th with a set of unplugged and spine-tingling music from El-Haru Kuroi. If you thought the Herban Mother-lode show was a smash, the selection of paintings, prints and photographs gathered for the current exhibition are irridescent in their ability to evoke sadness over lost lives and loves as well as melancholy over the immutable past while embracing optimism simultaneously. The show includes work by Javier Barboza, Cesar Gonzalez, Rogelio Gutierrez, Jennifer Gutierrez Morgan, Andrea LaHue, Rosalie Lopez, Manuel Lopez, Rick Mendoza, Esmeralda Montes, Stephen Romio, Victor Rosas, Alexander Schaefer, Mariacruz Velasco and Rosalie Villegas. "Nostalgia" runs through July 26th.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Before 'n after

The crash landing in dizzy-land after the magia of a visit to tierra liberada comes suffused with mixed feelings. Have to say, at the onset, that it's always refreshing to read compa' Jimmy Mendiola's critical take on the pop cultura tip. Recently annointed with a kudo in Ciudad Magazine's "Best of Latino LA" issue, his blog--monikered with a tongue-in-cheek "Ken Burns Hates Mexicans" sobriquet--is right on in pointing out how we are truthfully devoid of Chican@ superheroes. His criticism of the brown folk dearth in New York-generated rock histories deserves mention. And I particularly enjoy his terse, unadorned writing style. It's in that spirit that I almost feel like offering up a joke about how Ciudad fingered his blog for notice and then went belly up. While I personally disagree with JMs blanket dismissal of Journey as a serious musical standard, I can condone the efforts to separate punk rebellion from the '80s extension of the oldies heart-thump songs that fueled Whittier Blvd. cruises and crushes and heartbreaks while many of us were in diapers far away from East LA. That said, or as Jimmy often adroitly observes in classic Marvel Comic guru Stan Lee-speak "Nuff Said."

The last three weeks, while defined by post-poetry withdrawal symptoms have also been largely balanced by what seems to be an explosion on the cultural front. From the exhibition at LACMA of art by Chicano painters from the personal collection of Cheech Marin (picture above: "Chino Latino" 2000 by Chaz Bojorquez) to the black-and-brown "Changing Ties" show at Ave. 50 as well as the eye-popping "Rebel Legacies" show of abstract Latino art curated by Ave. 50 director Kathy Gallegos at the Pharmaka Gallery in downtown LA, there has been very little time to breathe. Toss in a healthy mix of music and theatre at California Plaza's "Grand Performances" that included former Tijuana No rocker Ceci Bastida, new work from playwright-actor-director Adelina Anthony and music from Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80 and the mercury in LA's ahts-n-kultcha thermometer skyrockets. Makes one dizzy just getting from one show or worthy cause-related event to the next.

As a sweat-drenched and stirring example, this recent weekend began with a stop Friday night at Cal Plaza for Egypt 80 and a barrage of African beats. Saturday started with a Very Be Careful headliner performance at El Cariso County Park during the Tia Chucha Cafe Cultural's third annual Celebrating Words Festival held out in Sylmar which was followed by a garden party to celebrate the 80th birthday of Don Normark, a photographer who was on hand to document when Chicano families were being evicted and having their homes razed in 1949 to make way for Dodger Stadium. The Highland Park hilltop backyard was literally aglow with about 75 friends and artists for a sit down, serve-yourself-on-real-china and crystalware affair that rivaled the poshest La Brea Avenue art happening. Flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts were the encouraged optional attire. Sunday found me at a Cornfields park in Chinatown for an equally lovely birthday potluck BBQ in honor of Daniel González, a printmaker and artist who turned 28 and was recently commissioned to create a public art piece for a station on the new Metro Expo line. Meanwhile Ave. 50 hosted Trekking LA's summer-long demonstration of traditional comida eaten in LA's distinct art communties by hiring a Pachuca, Hidaldo family now-based in Riverside to prepare barbacoa in a fire pit filled with maguey cactus leaves. It smoked for 12 hours and guests who didn't eat lamb or chicken could still make due with grilled veggies. Trekking LA is a project of LA Commons, which art and stories to help foster better understanding between communities.

If you get out to one thing this coming weekend, check out the goodbye event at Antigua. We're all upset that it's closing down since it was the source of so much El Sereno pride and leaves a hole in the cultural and politically active community that calls this beloved neighborhood home.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Encuentro Mundial & Chronic Cubanitis

Still reeling with the euphoria of it all. Que les puedo decir? Imagine poetry in the original Guaraní delivered with quiet elegance and dignity by Suzy Delgado, an elder, poet and journalist from Paraguay. Just imagine contemporary poems shared in Mapuche and Aymara from the altiplanos or Wayú desde Colombia offered selflessly by indigenous bards and word warriors who represent the soul of the hemisphere. From El Sereno to the sierra andina where the eagle and the condor soar as one, I bask in the afterglow. Suficiente decir que en algunos lugares, los poetas son bienvenidos como sagrados sacerdotes. Never before have I felt so welcome. As a result, I'll have a poem appearing in a Peruvian literary magazine. I'll eventually make my way to Madrid for a "lectura" organized on by a poet originally from Las Islas Canarias. If that were not enough to celebrate, uno de mis mejores camaradas, Francisco of Smokin' Mirrors, and I will one day be able to share a documentary on the state of poetry in the world today and its urgency in our time. I'm thankful to the grandmothers and grandfathers, to all my relations, for providing the doorway and the words with which to express my amazement and gratitude. Stay tuned for oblique references and periodic stammerings in a effort to share at least slivers and snippets of the glorious cascade, the fusilade of spoken word and glistening verse I was blessed by only recently as a participant en un encuentro increíble.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Respite from the Sun

From the jam-packed Very Be Careful show on Friday at Grandstar's Firecracker in Chinatown to the Amsterdam Cafe in the North Hollywood arts district on Sunday for an afternoon of poetry, there was no avoiding the extreme heat that laid low the greater LA-area. At the moment, the much cooler sound of an El Sereno rooster accompanies the hint of fog under partially overcast skies. He must think it's the breaking of a longer-than-average dawn. This contrasts with the smoking VBC fusilade of Colombian cumbia and happy-fingered accordion riffs which was brief but beautiful. Unexpectedly caught sight, from across the room, of a healthy contingent from Proyecto Jardin, a squad of white-clad artisans and community comadres who support, nurture and cultivate--literally--the independent Boyle Heights green space and gather once a month for the Mercado Caracol to break bread while trading/selling books, jewelry, crafts and herbal products. Bumped into Azul and his camera yet again for an equally pleasant surprise. Of course, the foursome I was part of raced madly thereafter to Eastside Luv for last call with Guillermo "Pata de Perro" Uribe, whose entirely too hip and too cool night spot was the subject of an LA Times feature the following day. Felicidades to Guillermo and Arlene. You have to love an in-house DJ that plays Morrisey and Ramón Ayala back to back. And what's with all these husband and wife teams showing the rest of us how that sort of thing is possible? Unfortunately, I missed the Mentiritas show there the next night, but that's another story. Do yourself a favor and catch Lysa Flores there this Friday if you can't make the history of LA DJ culture event on Thursday.

Running on Firecracker fumes and residual Eastside Luv glow from the night before, I still managed to catch the last part of the First Annual Latino Student Film Festival at Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights, the neighborhood directly south of here on Saturday morning. Organized by Harry Liflan and the Latin-American Cinemateca of LA, the one-day fest was chock-full of future directors, producers and writers. Alternately touching and hilarious, the short films were marked by uncanny understanding of teen angst and its place in the world as a harbinger of passion and the creative spirit. And the vegetarian tamales I brought home are off the hizinges.

Qwik-ee Round Up: I'll save the personal take on Linda Arreola's "Vaguely Chicana" exhibit, which closed on Saturday afternoon at Trópico de Nopal Gallery and the Vexing show which opened at the Claremont Museum of Art on Saturday night for another post. Suffice it simply to say here that Arreola is an El Sereno neighbor whose work is con[text]ually divine in its geometric and mathematical precision. At the other end of the spectrum, the Claremont exhibition is intended to highlight the contributions of women to the underground LA Chicano punk scene during the late 70s and early 80s as well as the bastard, hybrid art spawned by that era. Much of the work, which ruptured outward into the mainstream consciouness with an LA Weekly article on ASCO and again with the opening of "Phantom Sightings" at LACMA, is reprised, but not a rehash. Despite the fact that at least two of the show's curators were children being reared in places other than LA when the scene unfolded, the exhibition is extremely well put together. The research was spot on. The raucous opening night performances by queen of Chicano rock Lysa Flores and Alice Bags were fever pitch odes to the Sex Pistols and Clash-inspired turbulence I flirted with in high school while at the same time, I was ordering by mail a compilation album titled Los Angelinos: The Eastside Renaissance, a 1983 issue that included tunes by both The Brat and The Plugz. And who will ever match Alice Bags neé Alicia Armendáriz shouting "Chinga tu madre" in a song at the top of her lungs repeatedly then joking about the need to end her set because the vehicle from the senior citizen's home was waiting for her outside?

In the sin verguenza, mire lo que hice department, I read a few poems at the Amsterdam Cafe in the North Hollywood (NOHO... How pretensious is that?) Arts District on Sunday alongside Gloria Alvarez who has been like a sister, a literary co-conspirator and all-around comandante brillante through a tumultuous year, and Gabriela Jauregui, a heavy-duty wordslinger packed into a tiny, five-foot frame all decked out in a gauzy white dress, red undergarments and cat-eye glasses. Her book, Controlled Decay, is available on Chris Abani's Black Goat poetry series. Born and raised in Mexico City, she out-Conrads Conrad with an urgent, dangerously sublime command of el idioma de los gringos. Her poems are visceral yet captivatingly femenine. Obviously, being educated at some of the best schools in two countries as part of the elite, privileged class is no hindrance. But hers is a language that trancends, that couples freedom and liberation and dreams of a society without class distinctions or exploitation. Muscular and at times venturing compellingly into the realm of the pyrotechnic, her work is necessary frontburner reading and at the leading edge of Latina letters in the U.S. Props to Rafael Alvarado for coordinating the monthly Amsterdam event.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dualities and Line Drawing

Have to begin this post with a resounding plug for Alberto Ibarra and Christi Burgos, who celebrate 13 years of matrimony and art. Beto is a founding member of Teatro Chusma in East LA, and they both make stunning visual work they've grouped together for a show called "Giving Birth to Duality." The husband and wife collaborative exhibition is currently on display at Antigua Cultural Coffee House here in El Sereno and features serigraphy and painting as well as the vivid 3-D paper mache pieces Burgos creates as the force behind Mayan Inspirations. I wasn't able to make the opening, but the work will remain on exhibit for the next few weeks. Be sure to check the wedding photo that pictures the happy couple in front of a classic bomb lowrider straight from the 1940s. Kind of makes you proud to be in LA.

"Herban Mother-Lode," a photo exhibition at First Street Studios in the heart of Boyle Heights featuring work by several photographers I admire, opened last Saturday with a daylight outdoor performance by East LA's favored musical sons Ollin and beats by Spaceways Radio DJ Carlos Nino. The exhibition offer eye-catching and thoughtful work by Sandra de la Loza, Dalila Mendez, Heriberto Oriol and his son Esteban Oriol. Definitely worth checking out. I plan to stop by for a second look myself. It was definitely cool to finally catch up with Azul, the artist behind the "Peace in Iraq" photo project.

Of course, the weekend would not have been complete without a predictable stop at Ave. 50 after the Boyle Heights run for a showing of new work from The Los De Abajo Printmaking Collective, an informal group working out of Self-Help Graphics. "Drawing the Line," as the exhibition is titled, is a tantalizing show of experimental prints that use line as a point of departure for exploration and examination of social demarcations, internal and external emotional states as well as the intersections of art with political and personal ideologies or transfigurations. Among the artists exhibiting are José Lozano, Emelda Gutierrez, Judith Durán, Kay Brown, Poli Marichal (who will also be part of the "Maestras" show opening in several weeks at Self-Help), Mariana Sadowsky, Antonio Escalante, Victor Rojas and fellow Echospace Poetry Collective member Don Newton.

Emelda Gutierrez and Kay Brown deserve mention here because I had not yet realized how singularly powerful and evocative their respective print work has become. Beyond that, I'm wearing a nugget-sized quartz crystal in a brass wire setting that hangs from a leather chord around my neck these days. It is a gift from the hyper-energetic Gutierrez, and it has become the amulet that fuses both poetic and earthly energy for me as the waves of melancholy nostalgia and fear-laced sadness are gradually replaced with peace and light and joy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mother's Day Tribute & Post-Chicano Blues


In El Sereno and environs, life will not be the same but it goes on, because go on it must. After turning the final pages of The Shadow of the Wind, an extraordinary novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I linger on the moderate attempts made over the last few days to once again inhabit the land of the living and to once again be inspired by the landscapes of love and art. The annual summer youth play at Plaza de la Raza, an adaption of Teatro Campesino's El Soldado Razo by Culture Clash's Herbet Siguenza, reminds us of the need to examine the costs of war, both literally and metaphorically, in our community. Doff o' the old bowler hat to me friend Herb for a putting together a play in Lincoln Heights with more than a score of neighborhood and community youth, righteous kids who helped write the script then put on quite a show and even danced salsa with Vicky Grise and the ever fabulous Karla Legaspy at Friday's opening night after-party. Compound that particular joy with a Saturday night splash at Ave. 50 by the Inspiration House Poetry Choir. Joining the usual crew was the "Chola con Cello" herself, María Elena Gaitán, who lit up the already intoxicating fusion of improvised music behind live poetry delivered at volcanic intensities with her relentless bow. Y finalmente, I was able to sit in on the discussion between Sandra de la Loza and Harry Gamboa at Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of the "Phantom Sightings" exhibition. Not a whole lot of new ground covered, but at least it wasn't a rehash of the same old tropes. Ms. de la Loza, if a bit nervous before such a large crowd and for the fact that the show has been the subject of far ranging polemics, discussion and criticism, reminded us that we can and must reappropriate media and public symbols in order to restore forgotten or intentionally whitewashed history. It is this re-write of truth and distortion of historical fact to create myths and collective amnesia, she seems to suggest, that makes possible a world where urban youth are criminalized and dissent, critical thought or free-speech, at every level, is quelled before it truly ever even begins with the complicity of corporate thought control as issued by mass media in support of a hegemonic state and both its internal and external policies. So here we are, folks, well into the hyperglorified Cinco de Mayo celebration, a holiday rarely celebrated in Mexico, if you must know. Stay tuned for this Friday's "Homenaje Dia de las Madres: Honoring our Mothers and the Earth." It's a fundraiser and tribute at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. The reading begins 8 p.m. and will include sets from spinmasters Fermina D and DJ Hugo Molina.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Para la quien ya no volveré a buscar

Con un agradecimiento sincero a la maga kenia.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Adios mamá, aneh huitzilincuatzintahtli

The hummingbird whir of her hands, nimble fingers that stitched quinceañera dresses, built delicate sand castle-sized cakes from roses and flowers made with sugar frosting can be heard faintly. Her small, strong and stoic hands, hands that once picked cotton and tomatoes and okra, are pressing against my breastbone gently in the dark. Her spirit has returned to remind me of those moments as a child when only a warm glass of milk and her thumbs in circular motion along my temples could get me to sleep. She is gone you see. Se nos ha ido la bella picarrosa. She ascended on Saturday night in a room far away. I would have spoken of weeklong dread, a foreboding that was countered by a good meeting on Friday with old friend, author and community advocate Luís Rodríguez at Tia Chucha's Café Cultural and a visit to both Ave. 50 Studios and Trópico de Nopal as a tag along with friends who knew I was anxious to be near my mother's side. I searched frantically for a one-way flight because I could not change a previously purchased reservation in order to arrive sooner, but it was not soon enough. Juliana Zepeda Vela, the woman from whom everything beautiful, my appreciation for all things creative, aesthetic, sensitive or artistic comes, is no longer here. I know hurt greater than any heartbreak now. My artist friend Daniel Gonzalez, a printmaker from Boyle Heights says "Que tragos amargos nos da la vida!" Media artist Maritza Alvarez sends me into the aftermath of my beautiful mother's ascencion with "fuerza y paz." But the loss is no less painful. At 69, she succumbed to liver cancer, almost as if the posting of the previous poem was a prophetic foreshadowing. We knew it would happen. We just didn't think it would happen so quickly. The poem was posted shortly after a run along Huntington Drive to Alhambra--a stab at cardiovascular health--where I discovered a hummingbird on the pavement midway between the El Sereno Community Garden and Fremont Street. Irridescent, the nestling was barely alive, its tiny heartbeat racing uncontrollably. I moved the injured baby bird to a cooler, less visibe place. And I did not realize it was a message for me until I opened the box of adornments my mother had often worn and wished me to have as a gift when she was gone. Last night inside my mother's home, my sister Alma handed me what seemed to be a watch or bracelet case. Inside, I found a silver a hummingbird broach. It lay alongside a pendant, an antique woman's watch and a bracelet, keepsakes meant for me by a mother who embodied style and grace as the visible evidence and an extension of her natural talent as an artesana. Remarkably, the pendant--a silver Thai circle with an aqua-colored stone set in its center--suits the dress she selected for her burial, perfectly. Since she had never worn the dress, we removed it from her closest with the price tag still attached. I've decided she will take the pendant with her. I have my family's permission to place the pendant around her slender neck during a memorial service tomorrow. The brocade huitzilin I will keep as a reminder of the mission she has symbolically entrusted to me. Y como me mandó mi querida madre, voy empezar pidiendole publicamente las disculpas a la hija de ehecatl. Ojalá que un día me pueda perdonar. Pero no la culparía si nunca quisiera jamás. I will honor her memory as well, while I seek transformation and peace. As instructed by my mother, I will leave the past where it belongs and hover fearlessly in the face of the future.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

fantasmas personales: poesía COMO movimiento

It is the iron and blood offered on blue black

flower stems or rusting hulks of palm tree decay,

the children who rage and perish in green cellblock

isolation, medicated under guard and lock and key,

a street-bred godson lost in the slow suspicion that his

chameleon gifts are unwelcome and misunderstood,

the propaganda that paralyzes thought and dissent with

threat and fear amplified on screens and speakers

bought and paid for with clueless taxpayer complicity.

It is the bitter sound of homelessness on worn sneaker

soles under the anonymous face of addiction and exile,

the Iraq war veteran with a gun to his head as he recalls

atrocity in a desert he should never have known,

his grandfather who cries silently at dawn for lost loves

and the borders like walls and turrets that drove them away,

the bent and fractured poet who twists with insomnia

and recalls every unfinished dream like the color of dread,

his mother with a blooming flower of death in her liver,

as if to say innocence can only be rewarded with fire.

It is the unforgotten beloved he could not regain,

the stainless steel memory of refrigerated nausea

against the gray-smoke haze of anguish or remorse

or the sound of a blackboard under his fingernails

until the blistering exhaustion encircles his neck

and rakes all of his pores along barbed-wire truth

like the time he woke up on the curb, his face tired

and the spring a season of despair longing for hope.

El Sereno
November, 2007

Thursday, March 27, 2008

LA Phantom Sightings

The last weekend of the monthlong Somos Medicina celebration organized by Mujeres de Maiz coincided with the opening of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement." I am proud to say I made it to the video screenings at Self-Help, a soul stirring presentation of conscious hip-hop, rap, spoken word, jaraneras and the closing ceremonia at Proyecto Jardín as part of the former. Can't say enough about how true and powerful and uplifting the art exhibit and the films and the energy were. If I'm mum for a moment about the hotly anticipated LACMA show, it's because I agree with Oscar Magallanes and feel like the sisters got it going on with the kind of work that people need to know about. I can rattle off names, hurl shout outs to film and visual and word comadres Dalila Paola Mendez, Felicia Montes, Claudia Mercado, Marisol Torres, Maritza Alvarez, and Cihuatl Ce, all chingonas who don't need to be validated at the institution or by dry academics who barely ever even make their way to the Eastside unless it's to check out a collection of Chicano art owned by luminary collectors such as Gilbert Cardenas. It means more to me that Gloria Alvarez and Yreina Cervantes are invited and included by their legitimate heirs. It's the conversation that flies in the face of this tacit generational erasure, as if to say that Chicano art and movimiento politics are evolving into a more hybrid mainstream, one that brings a few emerging art stars to an invitation-only party at LACMA. Of course there are hold-outs, my own contemporaries who do stand up with serious critiques... Sandra de la Loza, la Space Chola and Arturo Romo are head on here. Ms. de la Loza was in both shows. And she is an El Sereno native. Call her a bridge and artist that can help redeem the inexcusable elitism of an exhibit that only tries to patronize and annoint... the kind of exercise that only further encourages some cool, hip youngsters. They are the kids who can tell you about ASCO and Rage Against the Machine. They'll know all the groovy nightspots around town but are losing the legacies of Emma Tenayuca or Reyes Tijerina or Raul Salinas in the process. Meanwhile, lofts and development get approved and poor people have to leave. Excuse me if I'm a little jaded and cynical, but I'd still much rather talk and write about what's happening in the 'hood. How come we haven't allowed the conversation to include the influence and beauty of Centro America on our politics and struggle? Why has Chicanismo not been there to prevent the exportation of a deeply embedded gang culture, furthering the criminalization of our youth in a global context and an interminable line of kids going to jail for making "terrorists threats" or just hanging out together on the street in the same neighborhoods being gentrified to may way for the next wave of starving artists? Why have we not spoken about the next generation of resistance to hegemony and colonialism coming from the artists that have as many roots in Mexico City and Guatemala as they do in the City of Angels?

Enough tirade. Go to First Street Studios and check out the new show curated by Lilia Ramirez and Juan Ochoa. Go there before you make the trek out west to LACMA. These are companion and complimentary exhibitions, in my own personal and highly opinionated point of view. I do want to see the "Phantom" show, and support the artists who have contributed work but I also want to be like Adelina Anthony, a Tex-Mex-patriot, playwright and luchadora. I want to cross my arms, click my teeth and palette and say for all time that I'm Xican@ with an "X" and an "at" sign at the end.

Y mis mas sinceros perdones/disculpas al anónimo quien dijo que debo aprender no mirar, porque me podrían picar los ojos.
I apologize profusely and confess that I have no idea where I'm looking at most times. I've been so severely inhabiting my own head and heart for two years now and especially since a return from the tomato fields in Florida, that I'm not exactly sure how I could be faulted for looking too long or untoward at anyone. If there was a mistaken perception that I was staring or engaging in some form of lurking disrespect, I would like to know and would be happy to have my eyes poked out by an honest, truthful person willing to tell me neta, to my face that they were feeling something I did was unkind or came from some machista objectification. This is exactly what I'm rebelling against. And it's what we all need some good healing from.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Immokalee, U.S.A.


Immokalee, Florida sits 80 miles southeast of Ft. Myers. Appearing out of morning mist within the lush palm, pine, cypress and orange tree groves that stand sentry as a gateway to the Everglades, the small agricultural outpost is "My Home," the Seminole word hanging as ironically in the air and as divorced from reality as the the nylon banners hanging from street corners on its modest Main St. with silkscreened images of a cornucopia overflowing with fruit. For the last week, between serving soup as a volunteer at the Guadalupe Center kitchen where Chiapanecos, Oaxaqueños and Guatemaltecos who can't find work in the fields come for lunch and a visit to the hyperreality of Disneyworld, I find myself in the middle of a post-industrial, slave-wage, stoop labor central, harvesting tomatoes alongside said undocumented migrant workers who speak Zapotec, Tzotzil and Quiche just as readily as they do Spanish. For fifty cents a bucket, I toil in a quivering exhaustion, my neck and shoulders beet red from the ravages of an unforgiving tropical sun. It is the first year in eight that I have not been in Los Angeles for the annual Ollin San Patricio show. Appropriately, the Rodarte twins, Scott and Randy, were actually gigging outside of LA this year and my so sojourn to the lands where the harvest of shame is far from over did not actually overlap the traditional Pogues cover tribute.

Imagine being on the Dana Point bluffs on the Pacific coast midway between San Diego and Los Angeles for the NALIP conference with independent Latino filmmakers and emerging industry players--among them Frida Torresblanco and Carlos Cuarón, two darlings of the recent renaissance in Mexican cinema--for two days of surfside schmooze and Mariott Hotel shenanigans then flipping the script 180 degrees for a rude awakening on the other side of the continental U.S. among the most humble and hardest working people on the planet, gente who work 12 hour days in an effort to earn 50 cents for every 20 pound bucket of tomatoes they harvest by hand. To call it a study in contrasts would be overstating the obvious, but here it becomes necessary to underscore how shallow and meaningless all the movie business and creative pretension seem alongside the sweat and pesticide-stained efforts of so many who toil under brutal and savage anonymity so that we can glibly and innocently consume our salads, sandwiches and pasta sauce. The next time some anti-immigrant, zenophobic rube tells me that Mexicans are breaking the law and should be deported, he'll be lucky if I don't slug him. I know. I did it. I picked 50 buckets and earned a measley $22 for an interminable day in the mud and steam of ripe tomato decay, picking green tomatoes in exchange for plastic coin-sized, wafer-thin chips, each the equivalent of two quarters. Those who rail against immigration only blame and persecute those least likely to defend themselves. They would wither and die in the shoes of the fieldworkers who pick the crops we see so many days later in the grocery store. Take your Whopper. I won't go near one. Go try to pick tomatoes in Immokalee for a day, then talk to me about how "illegal aliens" are taking jobs from U.S. citizens. I dare you. Grow some courage, please. Earn your right to talk about who this country belongs to and then tell me I'm unpatriotic. You took the land by force and now you're afraid that the brown-skinned natives from southern climes will inherit the soil you so easily claim as your own. Five hundred years does not an owner make. The earth will belong, as even your biblical references proclaim, once again to the meek. Those quiet, long-suffering Indians you hound and defile with your illiterate and uneducated invective, your hate and fear, are the only ones left with the strength and perseverance to harvest your meals at pennies per pound... And lastly, let me ask you to please support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in their efforts to end exploitation in the Florida fields by signing the petition to end sweat shops and slavery and by avoiding Burger King, which refuses still to pay an extra penny per pound.