Thursday, December 18, 2014

I'm Not a Fan

Backstage access rocks!
Just the other day, a well-known MC, Kanetic, posted a picture of us together on his Instagram with a caption that read "As an Artist, one shouldn't consider someone who likes their music a 'Fan', but rather 'Familia'." My initial reaction was to go into shock upon seeing the word "fan" mentioned in reference to myself but then I realized he was saying what I have always felt, that I'm not a fan. I'm part of the music machine that promotes and keeps my favorite types of music genres alive and in business. Yes, we are family.

I'm always taken back to that scene in the movie Almost Famous that explains it perfectly:

Penny Lane: We are not Groupies. Groupies sleep with rockstars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids."
And this: 
William Miller: "That groupie"? She was a Band-Aid! All she did was love your band. And you used her, all of you! You used her and threw her away! She almost died last night while you were with Bob Dylan. You guys, you're always talking about the fans, the fans, the fans; she was your biggest fan, and you threw her away! And if you can't see that, that's your biggest problem. And I love her! I love her!

So maybe no band member is proclaiming their love for me or my fellow music-supporters to this extent but those of us that take our music seriously don't mess around when it comes to who we follow and engage with in person, at concerts, and of course, social media. I'll drop my money on the actual CD and get it autographed and maybe buy some merch I'll never use like those boxy, tight collar boy t-shirts that make me look like SpongeBob---square and unflattering---or that bumper sticker I'll never plaster all over my car just for the sake of supporting the band and their work. I'll go see a band that doesn't rise to my standards if it's free and there's cheap booze but I have no problem supporting those groups that put all their heart and soul into their art form. Call me a music snob. I do and am proud of it. 

Music has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a kid and learned the words to Juan Gabriel's No Tengo Dinero and thought Vicente Fernandez was my dad because they both rocked the sideburns and brillantina in their hair. My brother Gonzo and I were in the school district mariachi and I went on to join the band in middle and high school. We even made some decent money gigging around town. My friend Jeanette and I had a love of classical music in middle school. We were such nerds but cool nerds because we loved Mozart's Requiem, the rock song of the genre. When I moved to LA, I was surrounded by working musicians and often hired bands for whatever cultural non-profit I was working for at the time, mainly Latin bands doing salsa or alt rock. In fact, I'm back working with musicians in my current position in San Antonio. I'm very comfortable here. These are my people. Music is my first love. Art is a very close second. History and culture are right up there too. Combined, this is my world and it makes for a very exciting and inspiring life. This is why I take my music and musicians seriously. I have songs that represent certain times in my life and when I connect to a lyric or an emotion in the music, it's magic. You know the feeling. 

My favorite part of living in a musical world is understanding the reason for it. I like to look at the big picture and see where a certain artist or genre fits into the historical timeline. What is happening in the world that influenced this artist to write songs. What is everyone working on at the time? Happy cumbias or sad dreary distortion? Are the lyrics about a social cause or pretty butterflies floating in the wind? Did you know that Gene Autry rose to fame with his happy go-lucky songs during the Great Depression? Why? Because everyone was so sad and, well, depressed, that they needed an escape, something happy to get their mind off their troubles. This is the genius of music. It alters your mood. It makes you think. 

The worst part of being a music lover is discovering an artist when their obituary comes out. I hate it. Where was I that I didn't know about this person? I should know about everyone, right?! Yes, it's an obsession. So please don't call me a fan. Call me a music snob, music lover, a promoter and sometimes the band's publicist or pretend tour manager just so they can put me on their guest list, go backstage, and get our selfies on. Yes, the bands and musicians do appreciate the support and are humbled by your vote of confidence in their music. It's a reciprocal relationship. I live and breathe music and I will drop an artist if they do something stupid that doesn't align with my beliefs about the world. I won't admit that I do listen to pop music on commercial radio or that I need to take a heavy dose of Swiftamine (see video below) now and then. We all fall victim to Taylor Swift onset vertigo. Admit it! But yes, I do support independent labels and artists. It's the accessible artists that I prefer. I may never meet the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Metallica nor Nikki Minaj. They're in a good place making their money. Following them and buying up all their merch and expensive concert tickets makes one a fan and that's all well and good but for me, I rather be familia. 



Monday, September 8, 2014

Morally Corrupt Ordinace To Criminalize Charitable Folks

There comes a time when something so ridiculous comes to light and you wonder what are the real motives behind such horrible proposals. Well, the award for most infringement on civil liberties and basic human morality this year goes to San Antonio Police Department's Chief William McManus. His proposal before City Council will criminalize the giving of money to panhandlers. The "logic" behind it is to dissuade people (regardless of circumstance) from begging for money on the streets and public areas. He generalizes by saying that this money is being spent on drugs and alcohol. Apparently, he hasn't spoken to any of these people before because if he had, he'd hear stories as varied as there are dire circumstances plaguing our city's poor.

In the year and a half that I've been back in one of the friendliest cities in the nation, I've listened to stories of people in need begging for money on the street corner. Just here in my neighborhood at the big intersections of Military and Zarzamora, and Military and I35 you see a variety of needy people. The most heart-breaking is the families who are in need of covering medical costs and funerals. They hold up poster board signs with photos. Mothers, brothers, sisters, children all gathered near their pickup trucks at the Walgreens directing family members to stand on either of the street medians.

I walked into a chain restaurant to watch an elderly woman count her change and order a senior coffee then realizing that she didn't have enough for a burger. She didn't ask but I offered to pay for her meal. She told me she didn't like to beg because people assume she's going to use it for drugs. "Yo deje de hacer drogas hace mucho tiempo. Ahora solo vengo por un cafe y algo para comer," she said. Perhaps she made bad decisions in life but that doesn't mean we should continue to punish her and avoid her like the plague because the SAPD gestapo is watching citizens like a hawk to see what we do with the five dollar bill in our hands. The city will be like a spoiled child asking to be paid 100 times over in the form of a fine because I decided to give a needy person money. We're not handing out $100 bills here. We're talking pocket change, but the city wants to criminalize us and charge us a steep fine. If I wanted to donate money to the city I would but it will happen when I say so, not when it enacts an ordinance that violates my rights as a decent human being. Where is the morality in this? There is none. It's business and it's ugly.

One night my friend was waiting for me out near a local business when a man approached him telling him how he found a job in the city but not before he ran out of money for a cheap motel room for the night. Mother and little kids were sitting inside the car filled with their belongings unsure of where they were going to sleep that evening. My friend gave him enough to make the man crack a smile and bless him many times over. Did my friend think that money was going to drugs and alcohol? Of course not. Then there's the military veteran that can't bend his knees when he walks. He's young enough but you know that he's not all there mentally. You can only imagine what he has been through to get to this point. I haven't given him any money because he is a bit intimidating in his camouflage but I believe he has a right to stand there on that street corner and show us his battle scars. We may not want to see it. Could that be the reason for the ordinance? Make them all go away because they shed light on where we have failed them as a society?  It's already a crime to panhandle if you can believe that.

Just the other day, an elderly man approached me at the gas station. He walked with a limp and showed me the few coins he had in his hand. He wanted to buy a taco. At first I said I didn't have any change and he left. When I was done pumping gas, I felt something inside me that said I needed to help him. He was elderly and we in this country, don't treat our elders with the respect they deserve. I'm sure it was difficult for him to approach me, a younger lady, to ask for money. He probably grew up in a time when men where the bread winners and women stayed home raising children. Times have changed and I didn't want him to feel any worse than he probably already did. I tracked him down and gave him some money. The smile on his face, his apologetic acceptance of it, and amount of blessings he showered me with made me feel incredible. There's a wonderful sense of respect and divinity in this one exchange. It's special. The saying is true, it is better to give than to receive. I just don't need the government overstepping it's bounds and chastising actions that are born from my heart and consciousness. If this ordinance passes, we are headed down a dark and evil road. San Antonio, with it's spiritual, generous people and great amount of need won't stand for that chief.

Sign the petition here!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Viva La Barbie

I've never been a Barbie hater. In fact, I think Barbie does a better job than other dolls out in the market of providing diverse looks, jobs, fashion . . . ok, maybe not body type, but growing up, I never looked at my blonde hair/blue eyed size 0 doll and made any comparisons to myself. I watched my daughter ask for and play with a variety of dolls with various skin colors and hair types. Doll play is about creating a novela and acting it out with your friends.Who wants to play with dolls that all look the same? Perhaps on a deeper level, her diverse doll collection helped her better able to make friends with diverse kids at school and on the playground. On second thought, I wouldn't give one toy that much credit. It takes a whole host of influences to develop a child's mind, taste, discretion, and personality. And sometimes they're just born with their own opinion like mine.

While the previous Mexican Barbie realllly missed the mark by putting her in a less-than-ornate folklorico outfit, sending her off with chihuahua and passport in hand, I think they did a beautiful job on Mariachi Barbie  (the hat may be on backwards with the wide brim up front) but as as a former mariachi, it's part of my past, my culture and a big part of who I am. I wore that same black outfit and wore it with pride. I also wore a folklorico outfit but not to the fiesta like Barbie 2012. Perhaps their next Mexican doll could be modernized a bit but in a world where kids are dressing the same across the westernized globe, idolizing Zendaya and Selena Gomez or all those crazy Comic Con characters, it's nice to bring back traditional outfits and nods to our cultural roots.

Let's get upset when they come out with Reggaeton Barbie or Chicklet-selling Barbie instead ok?
I mean really:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Corporate Art Meets Grassroots Pros

Tobin's River Walk Plaza under construction. Photo by Yaya.
San Antonio is a city on the rise but rising isn't always easy. How a city progresses depends on its leadership but also the vision of the businesses and individuals mixed up in the momentum and those looking on from the periphery. Where you stand solely depends on you and today I had the opportunity to join members of the San Antonio Latino Theater Alliance (SALTA) for a tour of the soon-to-open Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. A relatively new group of theatre professionals who have years of experience in the arts, SALTA is a group on the go. Long before skyscraper cranes towered over the former Municipal Auditorium, local artists have hustled for the sake of their creative work, living paycheck to paycheck, knocking on doors, ready for the next project. Meanwhile the city pondered a new life for the site that witnessed civil unrest, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Fiesta coronations, Miss USA and so much more. A private, non-profit organization, the Tobin brings excitement among the vibrant arts community in San Antonio. Finally, a state-of-the-art home for the San Antonio Symphony, Chamber Orchestra, Opera and others. A blue black-box theatre and an outdoor setting offer smaller spaces for a variety of events.

View of  Siqueiros' "America Tropical," with Budweiser Beer Garden sign. (Credit: PBS)
Of particular interest to SALTA and tour organizer Mari Barrera, is the black-box named the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater. Who is Carlos Alvarez you may wonder? We did too. It turns out Mr. Alvarez is the man responsible for bringing Corona Beer to the US. He is Chairman and CEO of the Gambrinus Company, "a highly successful brewer and beer distributor in San Antonio, Texas," according to Forbes. This news stumped a few of us SALTA members. Do we like this or really, really hate it? Latinos and beer money have always put arts administrators and artists in a catch-22. Do we take beer money and get our programs funded or do we reject their deep pockets and continue the fight to get our work accomplished? What's wrong with beer money? Well, just ask your tia Chela. However, it is a fact that Budweiser has been funding Latino projects since the beginning. When David Alfaro Siquerios spent 10 months in Los Angeles in 1930, he painted an amazing controversial an innovative outdoor mural at the birthplace of the city, Olvera Street. Historic photographs reveal a huge Budweiser sign indicating the beer garden just under the mural. Does this make it right? We were still pondering our feelings over a few mojitos at Ocho after the tour. In the case of the Tobin, the name of the black-box theatre probably had nothing to do with Mr. Alvarez's last name or what company he works for but more-likely a naming opportunity with a price tag. Of course, the name doesn't hurt in a city with a predominant Latino community. But now Latinos will want to know who is this Mr. Alvarez, and just as we got our hopes somewhat deflated, so will others. Not everything needs to be named for Cesar Chavez but here we thought there was a new leader in town that we could hold in high regard. Not to take anything away from Mr. Alvarez's accomplishments as a businessman. We're just used to naming places, streets, and our babies after community leaders. Perhaps Mr. Alvarez would be interested in funding a few SALTA projects? And if he is, there's that catch-22 again.

SALTA members with Tobin's Mike Fresher. Photo by Yaya.
The hard hat tour was led by President and CEO of the Tobin, Mike Fresher and Senior Director of Facilities, Jack Freeman. Both men have a resume filled with national performing arts facilities and shared their excitement about being in San Antonio and working on this project. While no working relationship was established at this meeting, it was good for Tobin execs to meet with this new grassroots group of professional theatre artists. Likewise SALTA members were able to ask questions and get to know how the Tobin will be operating come opening day and beyond. SALTA's goal is to have a local artists presence at the Tobin. County and City residents green-lighted millions of tax dollars in funds for the Tobin. It seems only reasonable for appropriate local arts organizations to be given the opportunity to use the space. But as Mr. Fresher said, the Tobin "is not in the business of losing money. We're not in the business of making a lot of money but we are in the business of making a little bit of money," referring to its non-profit status and rental rates for the space. It shouldn't always be about the bottom line but sometimes it is especially with NEA funding always in danger and other sources of funding dwindling. Still, there's always a silver lining and in a city where (Spurs) silver is held near and dear, the future of the arts here in San Antonio, is looking up.

SALTA encourages arts and theater professionals and supporters to join the alliance. Visit SALTA on Facebook at Facebook.com/SALTASanAntonio

Check out the Tobin's opening season schedule featuring Latino acts Vikky Carr, Alejandra Guzman, Santana, and Juanes here: tobincenter.org/box-office

Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin. Photo by Yaya.


Mandatory selfie.




Tobin's Fresher tours SALTA members in the HEB Performance Hall. Photo by Yaya.



Monday, February 3, 2014

One Year Later

When you're busy adapting to a new situation it's hard to put your life into perspective much less into words. When I left San Antonio for college life in Los Angeles, I didn't think twice. I was excited to move and explore life as an independent adult. It was a wonderful experience. Yes, it was also difficult but problems aren't the end of the world when you have ways of blowing off steam with tons of other young adults going through the same thing. Now, I'm enjoying my last year of the thirsty thirties back in San Antonio. It has been one year since my arrival or rather my journey back. I believe time is cyclical and overlaps. Nothing is ever so clean as going from A to B to C. For me at least, it's been point A to C to Z and back to D. The thought of moving back happened rather quickly but situations in my life were already aligning in a way that when the opportunity to move was presented, it was the best thing for me. Then everything made sense.

The journey here was wrought with emotion. Aside from the pain of leaving LA, my friends, the world at my fingertips, we faced a terrible accident. My dad skid and somersaulted on the dark and icy road through New Mexico. He could have lost his life but by some miracle, he was saved. It was a dark moment that made me wonder if this move was even worth it. No, it made me realize that it HAD to be worth it. I lost almost everything. My furniture, clothes, and my pet turtle of 16 years. I didn't care about the material. I felt a deep loss for my pet. He never did much but wait for me to come home. He would tap on the glass of his aquarium and let me know he was there. He was stinky and he shed his shell now and then. He loved worms and stretching his limbs in the sunlight. But somehow I feel that he gave his life for my dad. Yes, no doubt, I rather have my dad. But that little critter brought peace and happiness to my life by just being there. My one constant. I pray he didn't suffer and sometimes I wonder if perhaps he survived and fled to the nearest river. He could do it. He could have survived. I will never know.

That January night was horrible. Having to wake my mother up and tell her the bad news. My dad had already called her. I wanted to leave immediately and go find him. It tore me up. We checked the weather.His truck was totaled. He was beat up. He sold that truck for pennies and was soon on his way home in a new Uhaul with all my broken past in tow. I don't know why I couldn't talk about this before. It was perhaps just too painful. Still is. Finally a few days later, with my mom and baby on board, we stuffed the car with what could fit and headed east. There are no songs about heading east. It's always West. "The West is the best". It took us four days. I should have been two. The roads were still slick. I stopped in Tucson. Then El Paso. Leaving El Paso, the day was cold but the sun was out. I was eager to get home. My plan was to stop in Arizona and take a day to visit the Grand Canyon as a family. We were supposed to caravan together. My dad couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to hit the road and besides, he didn't feel comfortable parking a Uhaul trailer anywhere for too long with my whole adult life packed in it. So he went on ahead. I wanted to see Sedona and I really wanted to road trip to Santa Fe. No go. Santa Fe was snowed in and I just wanted to see my dad who was finally home in San Antonio. We said goodbye to El Paso and headed up the mountain. The clouds were dark and ominous. It began to rain and everyone was going 80. Fine, I can hang with the best of them. More rain and snow on the side of the road. We climbed higher. Patches of ice formed on the sides. Before I knew it, there were sheets of ice covering one lane and then the other. Trailers passing me by going 80. Cars tailgating wanting to go 90. When in Rome, really? I've never driven with such intensity. My hands gripped the steering wheel, knuckles turned white, my mom prayed. It was the longest ride. By the grace of the divine, we made it to Ft. Stockton. I pulled over at a Mexican restaurant, called my dad, hands still shaking. We ate a good meal and by luck found a very nice hotel complete with an indoor pool and heated jacuzzi. My baby girl still asks if we can go back there again. Never again. Never again.

A few weeks later, we celebrated my dad's 70th birthday. We brought balloons and a cake. My cousin founds a tiny piƱata. My baby bought him a red rose. He's always hated attention. But this time, he smiled and we had a good time.

It's now one year later. My dad can turn his head all the way, we got a puppy and I have yet to buy new furniture. I am still in transition. I'm still adjusting. I'm still on this journey. Unlike my college days, there's no one going through the same situation. After college, you're on your own to carve your own path. Your crossroads are different from everyone else's and the road you choose is yours alone. I never thought I'd be back here living in San Antonio. I don't dare predict what the future holds. All I can hope for . . . is for it all, in the end, to make sense.