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

Check out the Tobin's opening season schedule featuring Latino acts Vikky Carr, Alejandra Guzman, Santana, and Juanes here:

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 piñata. 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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Washington DC IRL

Funny how we are raised to imagine certain cities as part of our collective thread and historic consciousness. New York City, where immigrants from ravaged European countries arrived on steamy ships in black & white film; Chicago, where pin-stripped suited gangsters carried violin cases and raged war on banks and cops, filmed in black & white; San Francisco, where the fog doesn't allow you to imagine it in color so you settle for sepia-toned ships sailing across Alcatraz to the smell of clam chowder in a bread bowl on a chilly morning; Miami, where tanned and slick-haired Cubans men in wife-beaters smoke cigars and shapely blondes walk the beach in tiny bikinis, in full tropical color; and Los Angeles, where the colors are in vibrant shades and spotlights blind you from the diamond-encrusted celebrities and bold murals that race across the sky hovering over dirty sidewalks.

Then que Hail to the Chief  . . . enter Washington, DC. Not a city, not a state. A district? What that means, we shall never fully understand but I digress. Images of larger than life monuments and bloody battles between men in white wigs, coat tails with inflated chests atop elegant stallions parade across our text books and encyclopedias of years past. These visions of heroism did not dissipate on my first trip to DC.

I was selected to participate in the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute this past April, a two-day intensive, in-tense-ive, hands-on training that builds advocacy skills and knowledge about the role of government and public institutions in the arts field. We met with legislative staff from our respective congressman's offices and made some very important points about the positive impact the arts have on society and the economy. The small group of 12 participants hailed from Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas. Our mentors, aka fearless leaders, included Maria Lopez De Leon, Executive Director of NALAC; Adriana Gallegos, Deputy Director of NALAC; Rosalba Rolon, Artistic Director of Pregones Theater in the Bronx, NY; Abel Lopez, Associate Producing Director of GALA Hispanic Theatre and new Chair of Americans for the Arts; and Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Executive Director of BAAD! Bronx Academy  of Arts and Dance. In January 2013, President Obama appointed Maria to serve on the National Council on the Arts. In 2012, she was named among the nation’s 2012 Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Art. Read more about her here.
Two days of intense advocacy meeting arts supporters such as congressman Joaquin Castro and Jose Serrano, visiting with White House staff, stepping foot on historic sites, and learning to navigate the political landscape with the support of other arts administrators and artists from across the country thanks to NALAC.

Surrounded by arts leaders in a political environment was an amazing experience. So often, artists and arts leaders bury our heads, create wonderful works and projects but deflect any work that involves the bigger picture that keeps the arts afloat. We study the art of drawing, we practice our instruments for hours on end, we exhaust our hearts seeking inspiration for our next poem and forget that there are people who hold our very livelihoods in their hands. These people are legislators, lobbyists, and active citizens who either stand up for us without our knowledge and input or advocate for our demise without our consent.

Some of the main points we made included appointing Latinos to national committees/boards/positions. We need to be at the table where decisions on the arts are made. We also discussed the significant contributions of the arts to the economy. We spend our funding on canvas, paint, instruments, tools, events, food, drink, rent, parking, exhibit openings, recitals, consultants, contractors, construction, caterers and drive business to local restaurants, hotels, shops, you name it. People visit any city and hope to see a play, art, local culture, learn the local history, take a tour, visit a cultural attraction. The arts provide the reason for spending in a local economy and improve the quality of life of its residents. We also encouraged congress to keep charitable giving incentives. If people don't want the arts to be funded by the government, then allow individuals, corporations, estates, and everyone else to receive a tax break on their donations. This is currently in danger and we hope that these tax incentives remain in place for the sake of all non-profits. We also advocated for the Smithsonian's National Latino Museum on the Mall. These and other local issues were raised with our respective congressional members.

The rest of the week, I took the chance to explore the Mall and visit the National Museum of American History as well as National Museum of the American Indian which had a fantastic exhibition on Central American ceramics called Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed. I saw Dorothy's red ruby slippers, an amazing Mayan stone calendar, awesome WWII propaganda, Celia Cruz's wigs, Michelle Obama's inaugural gown and more amazing pieces. My favorite place, however, and surprisingly has to be the Lincoln Memorial. Nothing compared to the sheer size of this structure with Lincoln's robe floating in the wind, the movement of his clothes and the solidness of his figure was just striking beyond compare. Then to turn around and see the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and spoke to millions of people . . . just wonderful, beautiful, peaceful and moving experience.

I left DC in awe. It was more than I expected. It stirred something in me that made me hopeful for MY future. I would even consider moving there for a great job opportunity, for a chance to be part of a national arts movement that would sincerely make a difference in the story of this country. Thank you NALAC, Maria De Leon, Adriana, Rosalba, Abel and everyone who believed in us and opened our eyes to the possibilities that await.