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.