Saturday, December 26, 2009

Flowers of Fire: Poesía de Lucha y Amor

It is poetry from the Bay to Santiago de Chile, from the hilltops of Lincoln Heights to jarocho hollows and D.F. escapes, the flowers of the floricanto and the fires fed by restless revolutionary spirits. Please join us as we hand the symbolic torch to the Boyle Heights bards. I will spend more time with words, with the magazine and the blogs from here henceforth. I welcome Estrella and Leticia especially because they instigated my return to Chilangolandia and the poetry lulls between el rock pesado at el Chopo in the shadows of the Tlatelolco '68 masacre two years ago. I giggle at the sudden flock to Guadalajara by those who have finally equated the 80s Chicano punk explosion with the rockero counterpart and try to verbalize it all in catalogues and academic papers. It's a long way from eating hongos with Maria Sabina and dancing with concheros at Chalma while sleeping in the cemetary and an even longer way from the bomb explosion aftermath that greeted me at Plaza Universidad seven days after Marcos and the Zapatistas made a stand at San Cristobal. Leticia Luna, publisher and editorial director at la Cuadrilla de la Langosta, an imprint more strident and feminist than any I've seen in a long time, has been a midwife to punk poetry and youth culture in la mera capirucha for some twenty years, her yearling and protege Estrella del Valle was just awarded a prize in Colombia for a book called Vuelo México - Los Angeles Puerta 23, a searing indictment of privilege, even Chicano privilege here on the northern side of the border like a wound that cleaves a people apart. Ms. del Valle hails from Veracruz and lets us know that there is a darker side to life there and here, that happy, fandango music is not the only export the jarocho's can share with a vengeance. And what can I say about Leni? Un camarada de letras and a writer's writer, who writes from a place where narrative structure, memory and the genetic imprint of a dictator's torture delivered directly onto the backs of his own kin are salved with sweetness and justice and redemption. We welcome Angelinos, native and non, to the Corazón del Pueblo, home of a homegrown art and community paper, Brooklyn & Boyle (now a year old)... we're bringing it to you here, bringing it home, aún el hecho de estar en casa en ambos países. No es por nada el nombre de este sitio virtual... destino del los chilanguanacoides xicanos. If you fee up for poetry that moves and rattles, words that have been strewn across continents in beautiful volumes and in the pages of periodical perhaps a wee bit more erudite than you are used to, favor de acompañarnos con una buena vibra este martes a las 8 pm!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Coatlaxopeuh AKA La Guadalupe

Reading Gerry's ardent piece about Pedro Pans and how we fall somewhere in the middle of the 9-to-5 vs. the happy-go-lucky roustabout bohemians who purport to be so above it all and live with no concern about tomorrow, I am finally compelled and driven to blog a bit. The Brooklyn & Boyle toil has consumed me, but it's work for and commitment to something I hope will be lasting. It is an idea and a presence that has allowed me to find a place and a sense of community. And it has been the culmination of work that began shortly after my own mother's death. I want to tell Mr. Meraz, a down-ass vato who really does get it and really does give a f#%*, that his mamita his here, in him and in all the small miracles that occur everyday on the block, on the curb, on the sidewalks in those lugares, the places where we dwell. At the A.R.T.E.S. meeting recently, Gerry spoke up and said what I know and feel. He spoke to the Chicano artists who still look down on the truest rasquache evolution and like to imagine an East Side with primrose flower gardens and some sort of 70s, pre-mexicanización idyl. He said he was grateful for the vendors with who make every street a tianguis out of necessity. My mom embraced new immigrants and spoke to them in exceedingly fine Spanish despite the fact that her great-great grandmother was born north of the Rio Grande. My father married a catracha (look it up, raza, or ask someone from centroamerica) but still complains about how the mojados are taking over. He speaks good Spanish but is more willing to put down paisas than he is to recognize the fact that his own children are fueling a retro-acculturation movement. Then you have the indigenazis, mixed blood mestizos who glamorize and romanticize an azteca past that they only know from one or two trips to el D.F., Chicano Studies introduction to our raices pre-colombinos and a movimiento that revolted against the imposition of a Western or European hegemony. Voila, presto. They are suddenly proud to wear the beads and the ayoyotes as an antidote to the racist system that has made being indio somehow inferior. They're the ones who put down Ché because he was an argentino of European descent. In Gerry's thought provoking post, he leaves out the queer and lesbian quotient and talks about Pedro Pans who feel they are beyond relationships with the opposite sex, but I would add that there are also Patrici@ Pans who seek release and an unburdening in a series of souless couplings, unhealthy relationships. I watched Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence again last night and cried because the robot boy wanted so badly to be real and be held by his mother, wanted so much to hear her say that she loved him and wanted, finally, to know simply that he was every bit as human as she was. The Mexica-tihaui brothers all claim to honor the earth and our ancestors but I never see them cooking or cleaning at any ceremony or encuentro or blessing or drum circle. I was there when Maestro Andres Segura, un verdadero jefe de la danza, scolded a group of mostly male Mechistas once at a gathering near the border in South Texas, because they kept raising their fists and shouting "Mexica tiahui!" "No!" he told them, wagging his finger in reprimand. "No solo los mexicas! Todos tiahui!" "All forward." Just because you lead a sweat lodge or can say "Aho, mitakweasin" after beating on a handheld drum does not mean that you have overcome our inherent tendencies to propagate and further an unjust gender-class system that relegates us to certain roles. The day I go to a pow-wow or a danza and see all the men cooking for the women and allowing them to eat first and, by the same token, see all the young people cooking for the elders and letting them eat first, then perhaps I will have a little more hope. Gerry is a gifted writer and a homeboy from the hood. Self-analysis and self critique are important. I just wish more of the compañeros would step up and do the same. It's one thing to invoke the animas and in the palabra apologize if any mistakes or errors were committed in the process, to say aloud and in public that we want to walk and heal in a good way, surrounded by beauty and light and love, but another thing entirely to live that with each other, to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for our human flaws face-to-face within our families and with our past loves, perhaps peel the papas for the papa con huevo tacos and bring flowers for a friend, humbles ourselves and say nothing when the palabra traverses the círculo. It's what I've tried to do with the revista, a space where we can speak and allow others to speak and let arte, al final, provide the truths we seek. It shouldn't have to take the loss of our mothers to help us understand, as men, that we would be nothing if not for a womb that cradled us and brought us to life. Think about it, ese. And give thanks, today and everyday. In being good to yourself, you honor her, and I'm saying this as much to myself, porque la sangre y las lágrimas escurren igual de las llagas ancestrales.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Muertos de la Guerra/War Dead at Brooklyn & Boyle

Hope everyone can stop by. I know there's an important fundraiser for Claudia Mercado and Maritza Alvarez featuring La Santa Cecilia, but it would be great if you could stop by Casa 0101 and support the filmmaker and then check out the Muertos de la Guerra/War Dead exhibition. Or even just attend one of the later screenings for small donation of $7. Mil gracias de antemano. Laura Varela is a long-time friend, a fellow danzante who did ceremonia with us on the frontera between Matamoros and Brownsville. She will be leading the construction of an ofrenda for veterans at Brooklyn & Boyle to compliment the powerful, striking and moving work already on the wall. We will screen her film (which won't air on PBS until next year) at 7 pm at Casa 0101 then open Galeria Brooklyn & Boyle for a reception to honor Los Muertos de la Guerra. We will screen the film again on Friday at 5:30 pm, on Saturday at 6 pm then again one last time on Sunday at 7 pm. Her film is truly inspiring and Día de Los Muertos is a significant part of her narrative based on Chicano artists who went to Vietnam and made it back alive but not without psychic wounds that they deal with in a Circulo de Hombres with prayer and drumming.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Moratorium Revisited

If you can imagine what it feels like to watch the legendary Willy Herrón install a monumental 7' x 10' painting on the wall at your own space, then you get a sense for how last month unfolded. If meeting Joan Jett was like being in the company of rock stardom, opening a show with impassioned political work spanning three generations of Chicano and Mexicano artists that includes Herron's Munch-worthy painting of a tormented figure lifted from a photo of the actual Chicano Moratorium and celebrating my birthday with him and a slew of the city's best poets and art activists just a few days later was been like finding myself at home in a majestic galaxy that outshines Eta Carinae, long a contender for the Milkway's brightest sun. At this juncture, it is appropriate to credit Pete Galindo at the Federal Art Project, who debut the Herrón piece earlier this summer at a retrospective for the artist.

The opening of the "Chican@ Resistance & Revolution" exhibition was a powerful reminder of all that movimiento art and activism stood for and should continue to stand for. Maritza Alvarez, 13 Visions Productions cinematographer/photographer as well as member of the Mujerez de Maiz collective, stole the show for me with poetic black-and-white portraits depicting indigenous women, but references to the MacArthur Park melee where police used undue force on people in a stand-out painting by Wenceslao Quiroz harkened back to the 1970 and 1971 clashes between peaceful protesters and law enforcement agents and drew uncanny parallels..

In the process, we managed to whip out another issue of the paper with John Carlos de Luna's monochromatic image of Rubén Salazar on the cover. So the sharpest (and meatiest according to Random Hero) issue to date is currently filtering out into the East Side environs. The twin wedding day stories by Brandy Maya Healy Maramba and bass player Joey Maramba made the wait worthwhile. We closed the show on the Moratorium anniversary and were honored to have Carlos Montes and Elena Dominguez, both original LA-area Brown Berets, in the audience, after which Galería Brooklyn & Boyle was host to the filming of a new video for retro-cabaret, border-straddling lounge act Santos de Los Angeles. We were almost in overdrive at that point, but I still managed to slip into the Federal Art Project gallery for "Burn," a show of hauntingly sad, but still very disturbing images by Vincent Valdez, a young brother who wields a Vermeer-meets-Crumb paintbrush with deadly force. Valdez is, like me, a Tex-Mexile transplant who is just at home on LA's East Side as he is at San Anto's quintessential Bar America, the gateway to that city's South Side. Pete Galindo is on the leading edge of the burgeoning downtown LA art scene and a former SPARC staffer, so he knows Chicano art better than most. The show is the perfect allegory for the hottest side of the summer and the incendiary mountains that surrounded us with plumes of thick, black smoke for weeks as a result.

About our current exhibition, "Neo-Indigenismo," I can only say you don't know what you're missing. Curated in conjunction with the CASA 0101 production of Thy Kingdom Come, an ambitious new play set during the conquista, the show features new work by Aztlan Underground's Joe "Peps" Galarza, a striking Zapata portrait by John Carlos de Luna in his inimitable style, and of course, a piece titled "Martian Nopal" by maestro Sergio Hernández, who while at Con Safos magazine in the early '70s, published and illustrated raúlrsalinas' epic paean "Un Trip Through the Mind Jail," this while the vato everyone now calls the original Xicanindio poet was still doing prison time. I would be remiss of I didn't mention Arturo Urista, who has come out of a hiding to support Brooklyn & Boyle by showing his newest and most exciting work with us. It's also important to mention work by Francisco T. Norazagaray, Dolores González Haro, Sonji, Raul González from Mictlan Murals and his camarada Ricardo Estrada, the latter two artists being gifted neighborhood cats who believing in taking art to the streets and the people. And, of course, Maritza Alvarez, whose photos were so good, I had to show two of them again.

Tonight, we premier a new music video featuring bandleader leader Big Joe Hurt, directed by Victor Parra, yet another Tex-Mexile who seems more Angelino than otherwise. Come see the play at CASA 0101 and stay for the free live music and video presentation at Brooklyn & Boyle! (Image Above: "Burn" by Vincent Valdez)

Friday, August 7, 2009

La Santa Cecilia & Joan Jett

All in one night. That's right. At the risk of sounding ridiculously cliché, it doesn't get any better. Trip out on this... we start with a slow pan on the surprisingly well-attended Friday night opening for our 1st Annual Hot Summer Art Extravaganza at Brooklyn & Boyle where even Adrian Rivas of Gallery 727 finally made good on his threat to come visit. He managed to bring along Carolina Caycedo, the conceptual artist de la isla del encanto--who conducted the monumental barter art installation and happening at his place (which I kick myself for having missed). Adrian and Caro joined the cuates, Ernesto and Eduardo Espinoza who jointly head up the East L.A. Cine Sin Fin Chican@ Film Festival, and Conchita de Sousa and Fernando Cruz from Casa de Sousa as the late-comers who left a glowing energy lingering in their wake long after we locked the doors at nearly midnight. I was particularly proud to exhibit a piece by the ladies from Mi Vida. The corazón de papel maché over a beautiful serape background is a steal at $75 but I'm making it $65, so I can buy it for myself.

Anybueys, we all hung out at East Side Luv and helped Danell celebrate her cumple in style. We also met the Colombian Napolean Dynamite. No lie. He had brown hair instead of red, was a foot shorter, but had the glasses AND the dance moves. Noelle, it turns out (sshhh, don't say anything), has a book project she's working on, and I'm utterly intrigued at the idea. Closed the joint down and I turned into the proverbial pumpkin. Had to save some steam for Cal Plaza where I trundled along to with writer and former interim Self Help Director Rose Ramírez as well the baddest, toughest, coolest gallery and magazine collaborator/crimie (crime partner in the parlance of my lil' banger foo's from Eastlake) in town, Christy Ramírez. At Cal Plaza, I did the hot-foot for our usual camp-site with Fabiola Torres, Reina Prado, and my life-long cuate-carnal Francisco Hernández, AKA Smokin' Mirrors man-about-town. Francisco, who's always busy on a film or a tour with any number of biz heavies, cuts me off near the facilities after a glittering set by La Santa Cecilia, a band fronted by Marisoul Hernández, who must have pipes made of platinum because her voice is a shimmering echo of love and heartache and, yes, soul. Think Mercedes Sosa and Astrid Hadad and Lila Downs all rolled into one sweet melody over tango and cumbia and too many other post-millenial LA hybrid sounds to list.

We were about forty minutes into the Mentiritas set. Wil-Dog was going full-tilt and CAVA (Cavaliscious when she lends her vocals to the atomic rancholo party band project) had already been escorted in on a litter fit for a queen after which she promptly dismissed her subjects with a haughty wave. "Let's go the wrap party for THE RUNAWAYS," Francisco says. "Where?" I ask. "El Cid, open bar and a spread. I have to say high to Joan Jett," he explains almost nonchalantly, like no big deal. Of course my jaw drops. He also mentions the need to drop by the Los Angeles Theater Center for a party with Very Be Careful, but I'm already walking alongside him headed to the car. El Cid is hopping with the cast and crew. We catch Ms. Jett on her way out. She's on a flight to a couple of stadium shows in Japan, no surprise. I'm too dumbstruck to tell her she was my first and only
vinyl record crush. Period. She looks exactly the same, hasn't changed. All cut, black-and-white Chucks, eye-liner curled up slightly at the ends, spiked bangs hanging low over her forehead. Awww, man! And I'm speechless... something which almost never happens. I was "scirrred" of rock royalty for the first time in my life.

After that, we cruise downtown and it was all incredibly cool. Said hi teatrero maestro José Luís Valenzuela. When we finally rolled into Trópico de Nopal for a last call at the "official" Mentiritas after-party, I couldn't have been happier. And that sums up another unexpected evening in Los. Sometimes it makes no sense to make plans... so that said, I've spent the week in delerium. Played hooky on Monday and went for a swim. Watched the goats on Tuesday at Farmlab and here we are again, Friday, juggling a blog, the chivos, a sale of a two-piece work by Steven Amado (Chatismo), the beginnings of a poem  that I will read tomorrow at Self Help Graphics for the "16 years later, Femicides in Ciudad Juarez" event being organized by Rigo Maldonado and Victoria Delgadillo. Please come show your support for an important issue in our community. Todos somos las víctimas de los femicidios en Juaritos. The situation there has not changed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brooklyn & Boyle... A State of Mayan

If the ever-so-kind and generous Kevin Roderick over at LA Observed has followed the progress of Brooklyn & Boyle, I think I can ascribe it to a parallel sense of optimism and a general commitment to media both in and out of our respective communities. Roderick, an amazing journalist and scholar of everything LA, is a model and an anti-model simultaneously, and there's a part of me that would like to think he's genuinely pleased with me and the David-and-Goliath allegories inherent in what we're trying to do. Lil' bit upstart mag on paper, no less and without a website tilting at windmills, while the big time daily paper dwindles and founders. While the legion-like online community that assembles at Roderick's site daily is scattered nationwide and formally entrenched in all media matters having to do with LA (an unheralded feat he is to be commended for), over on this end we’re just as excited about reaching those with maybe less access to the web. I’m talking Metro riders who sit in front of the space where the magazine is assembled (also called Brooklyn & Boyle, BTW) every morning to catch a city bus to work. I’m talking Metro commuters who bus it to Union station from City Terrace and Red Line it to Hollywood where they staff restaurants and offices and medical centers. These are the readers we look for, the ones we want, and we’re thrilled at the possibility that the Gold Line will make transit for them more fluid, giving them a few extra minutes to read the latest issue and still get them to where they need to be more quickly. Though I'm not ruling out the possibility that we might eventually have an online presence, I'm pretty psyched at simply being out on paper with ink that stains your fingertips and a broad range of writing.

So, here we are feeling both goofy and giddy, at some kind of a midway point, on our sixth and—I dare say--finest issue yet, a newsprint tabloid created in the spirit of community. Organically, B & B has evolved into just the kind of locally-based arts journal I’ve imagined for nearly 10 years, a neighborhood voice which looks forward and inward and outward, all at the same time, while spotlighting the very real arts and culture treasure trove to be found on this side of the river. I find it hard not regard the project as the child I never had, a small saludo content to circulate in hand-to-hand exchanges and at bus stops throughout the still largely Latino neighborhoods it hopes to cover and serve as adroitly and honestly as possible.

Above all, it is an expression of gratitude, a thank you to la ciudad de Los Angeles, the world-class pueblo that took me in as a child and then again as a grown up. It is, for me, akin to that mythical place of herons, a homeland that continues to open magical doorways into a multi-layered, global mystery, a world where hipsters and Southsider cholos and norteño cowboys with glittering accordions slung over their backs rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis. A place where the fantastic media convergence that is LA Observed can nurture and root for a start up newsprint platform that hopes with plucky chutzpah that it will see another month and another edition.

Being indignant about gentrification and the hipsterization of our barrios is odds, perhaps, with a need to create a tentative peace and a lasting harmony, but it is a worthy exercise. It is a conversation that is far from over even if the progressive, liberal, tattooed and pierced peaceniks are tired of hearing it. Even though I’m no one to tell the new neighbors flooding in that they’re not wanted, I do feel a tinge of dissatisfaction when I see a transplant from outside of LA settling in Los Feliz then launching a website called Eastside Living Los Angeles, to cover the “fabled Eastside.” Sometimes, the hippest and coolest folks in the ‘hood are the ones with third-generation ties to the sacred lands where our ancestors grew corn and squash for centuries before the hemisphere was colonized. Please be mindful and respectful of that in your attempts to find and "break" the cool new spots.  In some cases, these third-generation Angelenos wind up being the most worldly, navigating between the Getty and Skirball while doing business in downtown and heading home to unincorporated East LA county at the end of the day for te con miel de maguey with their parents.

From where I sit, on a maguey and cactus and palm and lemon tree-encrusted bluff overlooking Obregon Park, just blocks from Self-Help Graphics and under a new moon, I think of the Lakota brothers, warriors who often said hoka hey, meaning, roughly, "it is a good day to die," the implicit converse being equally true. "It is a good day to be alive." And while I may miss Warwick Ave. y la familia Perez in El Sereno, I bring it here, to these new digs on an Eastside cliffside that still feeds and nourishes in a way that the Gold Room in Echo park will never do again. Here atop the five-story drop, I must simply remember that I bring all of the Chicano barrios and suburbs I’ve ever inhabited along with me, glued to the luminous fibers stretching outward from the metaphorical ombligo, the belly-button that connects us to all to one another and finds itself reflected in the serenity of the lunar mirror, the face of our abuelita lending light to earth after the sun has set. And who cares if Castañeda merely imagined or made up the curanderos we have come to know and love as Don Juan and Don Genaro?

So yes, thank you, Rosaura Ramirez, for giving me the opportunity to inhabit a hilltop precipice, and thank you Dona Ofelia Esparza for carrying the light these long many years. Gracias por exponer su obra en la galeria y por haber traido tantos hijos e hijas al mundo. The talent and visionary grace you embody have transferred to your children, who have earned every right to ask hipsters and newcomers and even die-hard Chicano literalocos y literatontos like me, “Where you from?”

Welcome to Brooklyn & Boyle, not just an intersection but a state of Mayan…

Friday, June 12, 2009

Doña Ofelia y El Papalotero

Fridays suddenly trickle in under a June gloom cloud cover, even if our disposition is disproportionately sunny. But the afterglow and after burn like psychedelic tracers from a glorious dream are completely justified. I can start with yesterday's tranquil spin at goat tending within the
Anabolic Monument where I decided that Chiquita's little dude should be officially christened "Deer Dancer." Chiquita is a sheep and deer hybrid who leads the small group of chivas who are helping bring nature back to the park many Angelinos used to know as the Cornfields. After herding goats and feeding the foul, I was scooped up by none other than Brandy Maya Healy, a new contributing writer at the magazine, a dancer and longtime City of LA Cultural Affairs department staff member--okay, okay... also Wayne Healy's kid--and her companion Joey Maramba who straps on an electric bass regularly as part a band called the Ninja Academy, fast forward to a small reception at Homeboy Industries where Luís Rodriguez shared some poems as part of the celebration honoring the launch of Homeboy Review, a literary journal now being published by Homeboy Press, a division of Homeboy Industries. It was great to finally meet Father G. live and in person. Next stop: Señor Fish, where ChicanArtista Leo Limón unveiled an incredible show of paintings and oil pastel drawings. We can never get enough of those wry and extremely witty River Catz, bro'! So then it's a Downtown Artwalk to The Hive Gallery where the aesthetic is goth-meets-graphic novel zine, laced with graffiti and Giant Robot-plus-tattoo and Heavy Metal (the adult illustrated fantasy magazine and not the musical genre, Random) imagery. Talk about sensory overload.

Okay, so that was this last Thursday night. Rewind slightly to just over a week ago when Brooklyn & Boyle, the small art space that's grown up around the publishing effort, opened a one-woman show for maestra Ofelia Esparza. About 200 folks came through to congratulate the beloved 77-year-old community artist and an elder who continues to mentor young artists on the Eastside while teaching us how to be kinder and more forgiving human beings. Ofelia's work as an altarista is well-known, but her paintings and monoprints are luminous. Cheech Marin would do well to consider including her work in his storied collection of Chicano art.

Then on Monday, after a quick visit with good people at a send off cena for East LA Cityhood advocate Dr. Oscar Gonzales, (he's going to be a deputy director for the Agricultural Department in D.C.), it was back to ground zero for Eastside cultura, vida y comunidad, where Lilia Ramirez of Liliflor Studios was kind enough to host a meeting with Council Member José Huizar and the group we're calling A.R.T.E.S. (Artists Revitalizing the East Side). It's enough to say that we aren't waiting around to be "discovered" by the next wave of urban gentrifiers and artsy pioneers like those in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park who are under the mistaken impression that they are living on the Eastside.

Of course, this all brings us back to a Farmlab/Metabolic Studios morning visit today where I picked up the carrot cake I left in small brown paper bag on the roof of the small barn and gallinero built for the goats and chickens which will fertilize the parkland as part of a reclamation and renewal effort that includes  the cultivation of native pants like sage and xempaxuchil (marigolds for the uninitiated). While I was there this morning, I was able to speak at length with Don Esequiel Contreras, an 86-year-old master kite maker from Lincoln Heights who spoke of his childhood in the neighboring hills. I thought of his young tocayo,  Esequiel Hernández, the young U.S.-born goat herder who was killed by Marines patrolling the U.S. border near Redford, Texas in 1997. The trigger man was a Chicano from Califas. Is it any different now? Gangbangers killing each other. Chicano cops harassing cholos. Latino soldiers forced to brutalize Iraqi and Afghani people. They say the murder of Esequiel was an accident and that absolved the U.S. government, who compensated the Hernández family with over a million dollars in blood money. Everything goes in a circle. I'm tending goats now myself and stand in awe of an octogenarian kite builder whose youthful spirit humbles me. The Mujeres de Maiz offered a song in honor of Ofelia at the June 4th opening here at the gallery and my heart soared. I knew in my soul that my jefita's huitzilin spirit was elated at the outpouring of love and energy for a true maestra. Between Ofelia and Don Esequiel I stand transfixed...  transformado, pero de a deverasImage above: "Tus Recuerdos" Monoprint by Ofelia Esparza.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brooklyn & Boyle, Vol. 1, No. 5 y ke?

It was an arduous journey, a long-uphill climb, a long distance run punctuated by a trip to the Piaute-Shoshone reservation in the high Eastern Sierras, where I met the Tribal Council and returned to the circle, the ceremony of light on the slopes at the foot of Mt. Whitney. I'm talking about the effort to get one more issue of Brooklyn & Boyle out. I won't launch into a litany of all the "you should have been there" happenstances of art and wonder on the eastern and central edges of Los Angeles during the interim, won't mention how impressed I was that State Senator Gil Cedillo gave the keynote address at an immigration conference and how, as much as I've been pleased with the plucky chutzpah demonstrated by young Emanuel Pleitez, I officially throw my support behind Cedillo. His sincerity and empathy are genuine. 
'Nuff said. I won't digress into a discussion of the several incredible art exhibitions I managed to catch since the last post or how cool it was to visit the Museum of the Southwest with chingón sculpturor Michael Amescua, who will show there for the Museum of the Arroyo Day on May 17th, by the way. No, it'll all have to be left for the next visit. Instead, I offer the fifth and finest edition of the little tabloid newsprint periodical that could, a new kind of community arts magazine for the REAL Eastside. In this, our Mother's Day issue, find an essay by Dr. Karen Dávalos and Chris Torres on our cover artist, Margaret García. The painting featured, a sumptuous piece entitled "Our Daily Bread," oil on canvas, recently sold at her Fremont Gallery one-woman show.

We also feature a review of Sleepdealer by none other than Ehecatl Chumacero, an interview with the illustrious Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara, a review by Brandy Maya Healy on the Poli Marichal exhibition at Tropicó de Nopal Gallery and Art Space titled "Sleepwalking in LA,"a review of the new Octavio Solís play Lydia and, as if that weren't enough to entice your interest, a poem by Peter J. Harris and a poem by David R. Díaz, respectively. On the younger end of the spectrum but no less poetically powerful, we interview Frank Escamilla, your friendly neighborhood Bus Stop Prophet. Look for it. Ask for it. I have a feeling you know how and where to find it. If not, well, sorry. I just don't have the time to list the locations of all the drops I'll be making in the next few days. And if did have time, I rather spend it thanking everyone who makes the magazine possible time after time. Stay tuned for issue Number 6. I promise the wait won't be as long. ¡Que viva la palabra y nuestra comunidad!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sleep Dealer Opens in LA & New York

It's finally here. While the buzz has been electric for over a year as New York's Alex Rivera made the film festival circuit with a sci-fi film that turns that reinvents the genre. If you've ever read Gibson's Nueromancer, imagine that with a heavy dose of Fuentes, Borges and Cortázar and even a peek of Bolaños joining the cyberseer on the page. Rivera has crafted a riveting chronicle of a world where immigrants are still shunned but connected via nodes to a network that allows them to operate robotic labor from the big border cities such as Tijuana. We get all of their labor but none of their actual physical presence, an idea I'm sure the minutemen and the zenophobes will go simply apeshit over.

Though I only caught snippets of the film at LALIFF last year, I look forward to seeing it in a bona fide movie house, chocolate crunch loaded popcorn with a smidgeon of butter included. Confession: I had a Mr. Spock doll as a child. I treasured a mass produced lithographic portfolio collection of early acrylic and watercolor renderings which would eventually become the storyboard designs for Star Wars. When I discovered the still as yet unfulfilled promise of the internet in the pages of the dark and foreboding cyberpunk novel that started it all, I was home. Alex Rivera is the international heir to the noir prophecies unfurled in those early tomes. Look for an official review of Sleep Dealer in the pages of an upcoming issue of Brooklyn & Boyle. I promised not to describe in detail the ski trip a former girlfriend and I took with Alex and a former girlfriend of his so as to spare everyone the nostalgic resurgence of romantic melancholy (everyone says, "enough already, vato. Give it a rest!"). Maybe it'll go in the book. Reindome desenfrenadamente about now!!!  Let's hope I can corner Alex at the NALIP conference (which I'll attend without a badge by the way to help Josefina Lopez at her book table) long enough for a real sit down interview.

And on the subject of the upstart Eastside arts and life magazine now headed for it's fifth installment, it was a monumental pleasure talking to Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara. I'm probably scooping a local weekly by mentioning the fact that he's going in their annual "people" issue. But he'll also be published almost verbatim in Brooklyn & Boyle over the next several issues. The first segment, as told to your most grateful editor/publisher, is tentatively titled "Ruben Guevara on Music, Eastside Arts and the Tao of Love." Stay tuned for more. The next issue of B & B has got a music and film focus, but we'll be exuberantly proud to publish a spring poem by Peter Harris, a bard's bard and arts educator who I happen to have some serious history with. He attended a journalism workshop at Berkeley about 20 years ago for writers of color with my sister Joanne and now widely published author Luis J. Rodriguez. Only fitting, by the way, that Ruben Guevara has been helping Tia Chucha (the bookstore/cafe Rodriguez founded in el valluco de San Fernando) with fundraising strategy. We come full circle yet again.

I know, I know... I've been less than diligent here, pero ya saben... we have been far from fallow. Trying to score a photo of Ollin for the cover and may wind up having to write the story myself if another extremely talented but also extremely busy scribe doesn't come through.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blogero or Bloggero?

I can't decide which is better, blogero or bloggero. The correct spelling in Spanish would be "bloguero," (Correction thanks to Abelardo at but somehow the double "g" gives it heft, no? Anybuey, I suppose I could make an argument for adding the @ sign at the end to make it genderless or include the female blogera simultaneously in one of those genius coinages that came out of the "mechista" attempts to examine our internalized sexism, that is, machismo built into the language itself. Still, the irregular words are interesting. Like the word for problem, for example. "Problema" should be preceeded by the feminine article "la", but is instead introduced properly with the masculine article "el". Does this mean that, most of the time, problems are of male origin? All of this is round about way of saying that I was impressed with the 12th Annual Mujeres de Maiz presentation at Farmlab. Roughly a thousand participants caught some of the heavy hitter wombyn poets, musicians, actors, dancers, drummers, artisans and visual artists from the West Coast and beyond. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of wrapping up the latest issue of Brooklyn & Boyle, and I was also signed on to watch the goats Farmlab brought in to graze the former cornfield which will soon be a garden in the shape of a mystical pre-Colombian symbol, according to former Teatro Campesino stalwart as well as Native and Environmental rights activist/media artist Olivia Chumacero, who was the Farmlab liaison. Thanks to Felicia Montes and "y la tropa indefatigable de mujeres" that includes Womyn Imagemakers Aurora Guerrero, Maritza Alvarez and Claudia Mercado. Aurora was in town to begin work on a new movie. Karla Legaspy is helping her. Even Sleepdealer writer/director Alex Rivera popped in to check out the MdM event.

Still more MdM events to come, and it so happens that I'll post as I go. For the moment, I'm pleased that the Brooklyn & Boyle gallery space has hosted three exhibition thus far and is working on a fourth in honor of Earth Day in April. The East LA blogeros/as were here on Monday and we had a round of Purgatory Pizza. It was extremely cool to finally meet some of those on my blog roll in person. Random Hero was, of course, the star. This is partially due to the fact that he's been adopted by most of us viejos and viejas, and blogs from his iPhone in a manner befitting a true Bladerunner boy. I've warned him about growing up to to be completely "necio" like Gerry Meraz or Victoria Delgadillo, the two most sardonic of the Eastsider bloggers. Talk about dry wit and detached bemusement. It'll take me some time to upload links and an image or two... it has indeed been a minute or so since this semi-weekly spatter of notes and observations from El Sereno and the rest of NELA down to 4th and Boyle was kept current. Don't forget the Grand Opening at Tia Chucha's new location. You won't want to miss Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara jamming with former Doors drummer John Densmore.

I was fortunate to hear Funkahuatl get down on on the mic with sum poetree & bluez at a birthday soiree for Adolfo Guzman López, founding member of the Taco Shop Poets and a reporter at KPCC. A certain "clashero" described the event as a chicano/chilanga/chileno collision of culture. Couldn't have said it better me-self. Props to Willy Herron for hosting. Willy was joined by Sid Medina and Xiuy Velo for some new musical material and a few choice blasts from the now glittering punk past. Can't get over how cool Willy has ornamented his goth-rock pad. It's a veritable museum to not-too-over-the-top classical "churrigueresco" (let the art mavens, the phantom sightlookers and the cultural curators look that one up, que no, Will?) done up City Terrace style.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Muralismo Part 2

At home, he nurses the muse, gets his hands dirty on a few guerrilla mural projects, including an anti-apartheid mural on a makeshift shanty on the west mall in the middle of the Univerity of Texas campus, which he paints alongside his brother-in-law Rolando Castro, a gifted young artist from Del Rio, Texas. The mural and shanty are torched within days by anonymous perpetrators. It is his first experience with politically motivated vandalism that seeks to whitewash the historical facts and erase the evidence of oppression. Perhaps the low-budget mural had made frat boys and racists uncomfortable enough to lash out.
Today, as an editor and a cultural curator who was finally brave enough to make his way westward to the creative homeland that first touched him with those monumental murals born in the fire of change and anEast LA renaissance, he has to ask himself, have things really changed that much? Fledgling graffiti artists are persecuted and often mistakenly profiled as gang-affiliated even though the art form has been validated at the highest echelons of internationally elite art institutions. A moratorium on new murals in Los Angeles is gridlocked in a process that city politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats seem unable to unravel. And finally, the children in neighborhoods that are consistently deprived of arts and humanities in a steadfast effort to deny them the very things that make them less likely to become statistics and vandals are no longer connected to their own cultural and artistic traditions. They are largely disassociated from the history and thus the significance of murals that spoke to the generation that came before.

They have no idea who Yreina Cervantes or Judith Hernandez or Judy Baca are or what SPARC (Social & Public Art Resource Center) was all about. They were never told or taught about Wayne Healy or Frank Romero or Carlos Almaraz or even Eloy Torrez, all artists who have lived or worked on the Eastside or in Downtown LA. Meanwhile, the iconic Anthony Quinn mural, a symbol of everything good and beautiful in Los Angeles, falls into disrepair. Almost makes one think there are those only too happy to see a legacy fade. All soapbox rants aside, the mural is LA. The city is not Hollywood, not some snooty invitation-only reception at the Getty that helps the landed or the moneyed gentry feel somehow superior. It lives, instead in it’s forgotten status as the mural capital of the world, a laurel that no longer applies.
Murals are an antidote, and art heals. There can be no other explanation. Consider this: millions are spent yearly on graffiti abatement while NOTHING is spent on mural programs that engage the young people who are crying out desperately to be noticed. Where do you think tagging and graffiti begin? They are emblematic symbols of fragile human identities, young souls who spray paint on walls because they have no other modes for self-expression. The solutions are there. The artists are still here. They are only too happy to revisit the neighborhoods where they first began transforming public spaces into outdoor galleries and museums. Our city needs them more than ever. Our children will die without them, rotting in jails or medicating themselves into oblivion because art is necessary. It is not a luxury or a privilege. Don’t you see? (Image above: El Corrido de Boyle Heights, mural at César Chavez and Soto by David Botello, Wayne Healy and George Yepes.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Muralismo in the Mirror of Nostalgia, Phase I

The murals loom large and surreal over downtown LA. While his studies have not thus far included a formal survey of Chicano art history, he knows enough from magazines sent home to Texas by a sister on the West Coast to appreciate the spectacular vista before him. A two-year stay during childhood in La Puente and regular drives along I-10 had exposed him early to some of the movimiento politics and the Chicano-centric images gracing walls on buildings and public spaces he suddenly finds himself gawking at in amazement.

A Che Guevara t-shirt at nine, a copy of Black Elk Speaks at 12 and marches in protest of police brutality alongside a local chapter of the Brown Berets had solidified his ideas but the luminous beauty of the LA murals had already marked him forever in more important ways. They were beyond the ideological, beyond the politics of liberation and justice for the descendents of Mexicans in the U.S. Southwest. Skimming through copies of Con Safos, Regeneración, Avance and Xismearte magazines while assisting at a small space in Austin called the “Museo del Barrio” established the League of United Chicano Artists (LUChA), an arts non-profit), he was often lost in his own world, a universe colored in brilliant hues and peopled by a panorama envisioned by LA’s Los Streetscapers.

One might say he was steeped in art, art history and Chicano art history in particular long before the formal exposure in a college reader compiled by Dr. Jacinto Quirarte for a groundbreaking class with Dr. Ramon Favela, an instructor who introduced him to the Cubist work of Diego Rivera. Shortly after that pivotal visit to the City of Angels, he would enroll in Favela’s course. Similarly, he was destined to immerse himself in the learning even more, avidly devouring the lesson plan in Favela’s class before moving on to a Latin American Art History section with Dr. Jacquelyn Barnitz. The small, bird-like professor would bring him to the work of many others, successors to revered Mexican mural masters— “los tres grandes” as she liked to call them—who had triggered the LA Chicano mural movement still lingering in his imagination.

So at the moment, he’s tooling around the left coast in a BMW with Daniel Verches, a young political operative he’s met only once before in at a “Latinos in the Peace Movement” conference held in Denver. Danny, who prefers to go by Dan, is an aide to California Assemblyman Art Torres. While obviously the less strident of the two, Verches is, in fact, the Eastside native, even if his aspirations are more middle class than revolutionary, more Gucci and Armani than Mexica and Red Road brotherhood. He is patient and kind as he humors the art hungry activist kid from Austin.

From Placita Olvera he is whisked away to a Democratic Party presidential campaign function at a community center on Brooklyn Ave. in East LA where he is introduced to Mrs. Michael Dukakis and a smart young woman who also happens to be student body president at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights. From there, the pair head first to Melrose and then toward Venice Beach. For days after his departure, the murals decorating walls from East LA to the Victor Clothing Company building downtown and a score ocean front rooming houses, surf shops and head shops glow incandescently in his head. (Image: Kent Twitchell, Bride and Groom, 1972, Victor Clothing Company, 242 South Broadway. North wall, latex and acrylic on masonry. 70'x70')

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Mural is LA.

So we haven't been posting for a few months. Took the time to launch the REAL Eastside arts and culture magazine. And I don't say that lightly. Kind of interesting that New Angeles Monthly, who I was happy to write for, is now only going to publish quarterly. Say hello to Brooklyn & Boyle: Art & Life in Boyle Heights and Beyond, our humble effort to create a print space for good writing and community. Everyone knows by now that Tu Ciudad Los Angeles went belly up. The gravy train was good for awhile, but again, the business model was flawed. Not that mine isn't, but we're four issues into our modest monthly and the response has been overwhelming. Most of our support has come from small art galleries, studio spaces, local eateries, mom-and-pop businesses and artists or arts promotion professionals themselves. Who says EastSiders aren't proud of their progress and their cultural contributions? I'm happy to host the next blogero meeting at the gallery/artspace that came about as a result of a collaboration with Josefina Lopez (REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES), who is one of the most produced Chicana playwrights in the country and a now a formidable novelist in the Chica Lit scene. So here's a piece in the current issue, now that that the mag is catching it's stride. With four down and another in the hopper, B & B is a proud part of the emerging East 1st arts corridor as a new neighbor on a three block stretch that includes East Side Luv, Liliflor Open Studios, Casa 0101 theaterspace and the soon to be open arts hall where our very own Josefina López will be celebrating the publication of her book with a birthday party. Read the essay in several parts over the next few posts and try to make it by the community fundraiser for An Unfinished Dream, a documentary film in progress on students working their way through college next Thursday on the 19th. We're hosting the event and have invited Darren DeLeon, a Bay area poet and spoken word artist to throw down some palabra.

An excerpt from this month's Brooklyn & Boyle: The Mural is LA - Part I