Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Best of Native American Music

November is Native American Heritage Month and what better way to appreciate a culture, or cultures rather, than through my favorite medium, MUSIC! The Native American Music Awards are tallying votes now in over 30 categories and it's open to the public.  Check out www.nativeamericanmusicawards.com for an introduction to some of the best Native American artists of today. The eclectic categories may surprise you such as rock, country, gospel, blues, and hip-hop. I'm rooting for our local homeboys Aztlan Underground who have been nominated in 4 categories: rock, group, world, and spoken word. These guys certainly deserve the recognition having been around for over 20 years working for free, bartering for corn, and the occasional bread.

Click on the NAMA link and leave the home page open to hear a mix of the artists nominated. You're bound to hear more than a few songs that stir your soul. Most of these artists are independent, pouring their time, money, sweat, and tears to create their beautiful, powerful music. I'm listening to it as I type this and the current song playing sounds like Tejano. The band is called Mario's Bros and the song is C.B.F. I googled them but all I get is Super Mario Bros links. This is music you can't find just anywhere---more reason to support this collaborative awards show.

The 12th annual awards will be held November 12, at the Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino, in Niagara Falls, NY. Aztlan Underground and a few other groups have been asked to perform. Plus, if you feel so inclined, you too can submit your votes!

Monday, September 27, 2010

What you do for love

Falling in love is a wonderful feeling that has been described in song after endless love song, poem, Shakespearean play, pantomime . . . you get the idea. Songs ask: What would you do for love? The answer is usually some unattainable feat such as bring you the moon, walk 5,000 miles, go through heaven and hell, even DIE! Oh the tragedy of it all! Real life, as you may know, is much more simpler. My dear friend's brother passed away recently, and watching her cope with her fiance by her side got me thinking about what one does for love. Here is a guy who a couple of years ago moved to LA for a job, was living the single life, and then fell in love. A natural progression from single status to being in a relationship, to being engaged, and now planning a wedding has unfolded in both their lives. She grew up in LA, dated plenty of toads, kissed a few frogs, and now found her prince charming. For as much as we (society in general) berate men (in general) as being male-chauvinists, women-chasers, and typical frat boys, there are those guys out there that do right by their mates. They are loyal, supportive, and make their woman happy.

When people date, no one ever thinks, 'wow, I wonder how she'll cope with the loss of a relative', or 'what would we do if one of us becomes disabled'. It's more along the lines of how many kids you'll have, what part of town you'll move into together, and who needs the most closet space. Yet, it's the tough situations that bring a couple closer together. When my husband's father passed away, he was in Europe, I was in LA and we flew to New York City. I called his closest friends to give them the news, made travel arrangements, and took time off from work. It was a whirlwind of activity being a part of the funeral planning. I hadn't known my father-in-law long, but somehow I felt that he was my family too. It wasn't just my husband and sister-in-law's father, he meant something to me. You get this sense of responsibility and without question, take action . . . because you love. This is the part about falling in love no one ever mentions. Maybe this is because no one ever consciously thinks about it. You are moved into action to console, to help, and be present. You don't say much or draw attention to yourself. It's a time to step out of the spotlight and put the one you love first.

I guess what I really want to say is that love in the long run is a beautiful thing. It takes you to amazing highs, and pulls you out of miserable lows. Is it worth giving up the single life? I think my friend's fiance would say so (and so would she, of course). He's also had to experience exotic new foods, sit in a room full of people speaking another language, and even change religion (willingly, I might add). So yes, she's had to adjust to his ways as well such as carrying antibacterial gel every time they go out in public, will have to be mindful of his neat-freak tendencies once they move in together, and there is a chance they will have to leave LA for another state depending on his future job prospects. I don't think she's even though twice about it and is willing to move for the sake of love. And that's probably the reason I'm still in LA. If it weren't for my husband, I probably would be back in Texas living with my parents or buying my own big house there (because everything is big in Texas). Instead, we're stuck in high-priced LA, paying high rent for a small place, and paying the equivalent of a luxury car's worth for child care while driving my sweet beat-up Saturn with no air conditioner in 113 degree weather (that was today's high!) and a missing front license plate. You do it for love and that's all that matters.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My life through salsa

Summer at the Autry means it's salsa time and the music is in full eswing (swing in Spanglish)! It's been a fun season although the cool weather may have dampened a few of nights as the sun went down. Regardless, the bands were playing their hearts out and the dancers were in excellent form. It should have been another fun and easy promotion job for me and it was until we were faced with the passing of Francisco Aguabella. Yes, we knew he was sick but didn't want to face the possibility of him not making it to his gig date on August 5. I was really pulling for him until Joey (my musician husband) gave me the news that we were seeing his last days. The passing of a legend cast a cloud of melancholy over the circle of salsa musicians. You think everyone is going to last forever and then they're gone. That is when you begin sharing stories of your personal experience with that person.

I heard a few great ones about Francisco. His driving skills came up a few times. I'm sure musicians and those closest to him heard many more. One personal tidbit that I heard was that Francisco was at my wedding. I turned my head,"say what?" "Where was Francisco at our wedding," I said to Joey, rapidly thinking of where my wedding photos were and going through them in my head, page by page (because brides know them by heart). There was no picture of Francisco at my wedding. No way. No how. I would have remembered that! He had just attended the Church ceremony because like every good musician he had a gig that night (except for the ones playing at my wedding or standing as groomsmen. Francisco was probably the only gig in town). We asked Freddie Crespo to fill Francisco's shoes at the Autry and he did so marvelously. Another great giant of the Latin salsa scene. I didn't know about Freddie or his brother Johnny when we planned our wedding, but I left the dance band selection in Joey's hand. He just had to have Costazul. The problem was that they stopped playing a few years back. So Joey worked his magic and Freddie agreed to reunite the band for us. Freddie, Johnny, and Joey's dad went way back to NYC days. Freddie told me how he remembered Joey in diapers. So I thought, great, this guy means something to Joey's family, let's do this. Needless to say, it was a memorable wedding reception and seeing Costazul last week at Sizzling Summer Nights reminded me that we were in the presence of salsa greatness and he's our friend. Wow.

Susie Hansen (the first band up at the Autry this year) graciously offered to organize our reception and I am forever grateful. She also is the one who gave Joey (and many musicians looking to LA for their next big break) his first shot at the LA salsa scene. Without the break, it would have been harder to gain entry into this tight-knit community of musicians. In fact, it was at her gig--- at what was then the Whittier Radisson ---on a hot September evening that Joey got up on stage and in front of everyone, wished Susie a very happy birthday and then proposed to me. All I remember was walking up to the stage, trying not to fall into the pool wearing my 3-inch brown combat boots, and then confetti and a lost ring on the floor. It's all a big random sequence of events with flashes of Rene Camacho smiling and Victor Baez's dad, Mario coming to give me a hug. I don't even think I had a chance to say yes!

I was taken way back to the beginning of our relationship today as Son Mayor started their sound check. I said hello to Eddie, Julian, Alfred, and Georgie Ortiz and reminded them of the first time we met. I was in awe of myself at how crazy I was to trust Joey a week after meeting and going on a trip to Tucson with Son Mayor who he was playing with at the time. It was a small tropical club with tiny tables and lots of happy people. One lady was chatting us up and finally asked "so how long have you two been married?" I didn't want to let her down or surprise her so we said "a year". One week! Kids, don't try this at home. I was 24 years old. I hope my parents don't read this. lol After we got back to LA, we all headed for the best Cuban food around, Versailles, and met up with the band's family members. For someone who had no one in LA, it was very warm and welcoming to be included and accepted (as a person and not another chicken-head groupie). I went to many of Son Mayor's gigs at the Conga Room when it was still located on Wilshire followed by late-night Denny's meals with Kerry Loeschen who played trombone.

A few months later, I packed up my awesome bachelorette pad in downtown LA, overlooking the Grand Central Market and the Million Dollar Theater (yes, I still miss it. That place was da bomb!) and moved to Long Beach with Joey.  We were surrounded by other musicians who lived within walking distance like Angel Rodriguez of Lucky 7 fame. It was a cozy place and Long Beach was nice but my heart missed LA and my cultural scene so a few years later we moved back up.  I landed my job at the Autry and guess what? There's salsa in the summer! Sweet! It's sometimes the only time I get to run into these guys that are part of important times in my life. Angel, Victor, Rene, and other salsa musicians were in our wedding party and have been there for us throughout the years. I love talking to them about their experiences, the people they've played with, and the hilarious events that happen on the road and on gigs, or who sucks, is a jerk in person, or has a diva personality.

Recently, Joey has been playing with Poncho Sanchez and I've gotten to go on just a few out-of-town gigs with them. One memorable trip was taking the Playboy Jazz Cruise with them from Puerto Rico into the Bahamas and back to Miami. We swam in the ocean, ate some good food, drank some beer, and danced the lawnmower (sprinkler, shopping cart, and washing machine) half-drunk on a swaying ship.  There is absolutely no way we would have ever been able to enjoy that if it weren't for the music industry and music lovers that pay to hear them play. Franciso (Torres), Georgie, Ron, Poncho, Tony, the rest of the guys and their wives and girlfriends are a tight group that have a serious bond that comes with being in sync with each other on stage. It translates off the stage and makes for some really wonderful times.

As I write this, I wonder what is my purpose of this post. The only thing that I can think of is that I love experiences, mine or yours or anyone's. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. I feel lucky to have lived these great times with salsa musicians and want to tell people what it's been like off the stage, from my eyes. What amazing access for a historian-at-heart like myself. One day, when I'm old and gray (or artificially brunette), I want to look back on this blog or the video camera (I've yet to buy) and leave these small glimpses into my life in safe hands for my daughter and future generations to enjoy. Good times, good times.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quetzal

I moved to LA in 1993, to an whole new urban reality from a lush, green, laid back San Antonio. It is a very culturally Mexican city where cute little old white ladies wear chili pepper earrings and yellow Mexican dresses with ruffles and the Mexicans pack into George Straight concerts and eat polish sausage wrapped in tortillas (don't knock it til you try it). Cowboy hats and boots are bilingual yanno. Leaving the Riverwalk and the Guadalupe Culture Center, the mariachis, and the Battle of the Flowers for a new city was exciting and yet disappointing. LA didn't have that peaceful co-existence of cultures I was used to in SA. It was very much us vs them here in this ocean-lined metropolis. I expected LA to be bustling with Mexican pride and power. I was hoping to find Chicano leaders at the top of their game spearheading large festivals uniting the best mariachis, the best ballet folkloricos, and singers. Afterall, everyone who was anyone in the entertainment industry landed in LA. I did see amazing performers and found scholars and activist students who were 'down' but a lot of it was just a bunch of talk and male posturing. Eventually I did run into people who inspired me and made me want to learn more about our people and culture. My quest after high school was to learn my people's history. It was a debate I had with my HS world history teacher who presumed our parents were teaching us about Mexican history at home. Ha! What a riot I say sarcastically. I took history classes and Chicano/a literature in college as well as Mayan civilization, and the like but what fueled my soul was the music.
My college roommate was Rocio Marron. She was studying violin and played in her cousin's band, Quetzal. Not knowing much about LA I was eager to go out and explore the East LA vibe and see if it was a good fit for me. I'd follow her to as many gigs as I could and met some really inspiring people and watched them make music or art. Quetzal was tall and skinny but a force with a big personality that was tamed only by the strum of his guitar. Once on stage, his eyes closed and his thin frame swayed like a tree in the breeze. Rocio was his bookend on stage, just as tall and thin holding her violin pulsating electric vibes through it with a gentle ease. The music was bold and romantic. The lyrics had a statement to make and the music lifted you off the ground and sent you soaring in the clouds and over mountains to our Mexica past and Chicano present.
Queztal is the son of Chicano activists who passed down the legacy of struggle, survival, and standing up for your rights, but instead of marching the picket line, Quezal picked up the guitar pick and sang to the protesting masses.
"My big brother went to a boarding high school in Rhode Island. He would return home to East LA armed with a strange accent and tons of new music. He introduced me to the Smiths, REM, The Cure, U2, and many others. He also came back playing guitar. My family bought him a beautiful black Fender Stratocaster with a black pick guard and a pre CBS Fender Deluxe Reverb. I specifically remember him kicking out Sugar Magnolia by the Grateful Dead. This was 1987 and I was 14 years old. On one of his visits, he decided to leave the guitar and amp in Los Angeles. Naturally, I wanted to be just like my big brother, so as soon as he left, I picked up that guitar and tried to figure out what it was all about. Shortly thereafter my dad bought me an acoustic guitar from a yard sale. It didn't work past the 5th fret, but I learned many songs on that instrument. My sister was dating a guy in a metal band at the time, and the other guitar player in the band was a guitar genius. His name was Ruben Reza. My mom and aunt Rosa Maria bought me my first electric guitar in 1988. Ruben took me to Ace Music in Santa Monica to buy it. He began teaching me some songs, and I never looked back."
Quetzal grew up in a very progressive family with mostly Marxist ethics. The mix of music and politics was a natural process. "Before I formed Quetzal, I was in a band called 'Aztlan' with Gabriel Tenorio of Domingosiete, Andy Palacios, Marco Garcia, and Willie Reyes (later replaced by Ozzie Favela). We played mostly original songs that were really creative, deep, and sometimes very political. When Quetzal formed, most of the songwriting was a collaboration between Lilia, who was the first singer of the band, and myself. She mostly wrote the lyrics to Agua de la Manguera. That song is about Lincoln Heights, which was where we both grew up. I was always encouraging her to write more political stuff, but this was always met with resistance. I remember writing Chicano Skies (original title) and trying to go over it with her. She just wasn't feeling that vibe, which is totally understandable considering that wasn't her reality. I also wrote Pasa Montañas during that time, and to her credit, she did sing that one a couple of times. Shortly after she left the band." As Quetzal and the band moved toward more political topics, they never lost the melancholy sound that absorbed you into their world. At the same time, bands like Rage Against the Machine and Aztlan Underground were putting out messages of oppressed people and social injustice with a harder edge, a rough, angry, roar that also drew fans in search of an outlet for their rage at the current state of affairs. Quetzal fans were just as enraged with social inequality and were also fans of Rage and Aztlan Underground, but what Quetzal provided was a vision of a more beautiful existence, a cultural, colorful, soulful existence--- mind conscious, yet at peace.


"Around the same time I met Marcos Loya and began studying guitar with him. He really got me started on Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican music. Through him I met Lorenzo "Lencho" Martinez. Lencho put the jarana in my hands and told me that I needed to be able to express myself through roots music. He also later introduced me to the bajosexto and musica Norteña. I suddenly felt armed like I hadn't before. For several years after that, rock music and the electric guitar really didn't exist. While this revolution is happening in my soul, I begin to read about the Zapatistas and their struggle for autonomy, dignity, and humanity. Simultaneously, I met Martha Gonzalez." With the arrival of Martha, the band was able to go full force in a stronger, solid direction. As band members came and went, the core of Martha and Quetzal remained strong and kept the band going. "There was an immediate connection and synergy between us through Mexican music, but also politics. She was a very creative writer in both Spanish and English. It was really an interesting time considering rock en español was exploding around us, and we were obliviously focused on going back to the roots."
"Martha had no problem writing political songs. In fact, we both agreed that we had a responsibility and accountability as musicians to write songs that speak the language of struggle. The first song we co-wrote was Todos Somos Ramona. From that point on it's been a very organic process of writing songs. It doesn't hurt to be married to her. When it came time to write lyrics for Die Cowboy Die I was revisiting a lot of my Smiths records and some early Morrissey stuff. I came across Margaret on a Guillotine from the Viva Hate album and the song was stuck in my head for weeks. I finally got it out on a plane coming back from the East Coast. I looked over to Martha and said, 'How about this for a chorus to that one jarocho type jam we've been working on, the killing of millions of people, now you must die?' She took it from there and wrote the rest as soon as we got home."
Over the years, Quetzal has traveled the world from Japan to Russia and across the US. "The trip to Russia was fascinating on many fronts. The epicenter of proletariat revolution turned social imperialists turned hyper capitalist....sort of. The way I saw it, we were going to a place where the US's biggest competition in global domination was planned, and many time executed. A place geographically far, but systematically much closer than everyone thought/thinks. We performed at the Golden Mask festival with a bunch of avant-garde groups. We got interviewed on the radio and I talked a bunch of shit about the Bush regime and the neo global economic project. We got to kick it in Red Square, checked out the Kremlin, St. Basil's cathedral. The architecture at the subway stations is incredible. The soviet era buildings are grey, cold, and remind me an awful lot of the projects in any barrio or ghetto in the US. Our hotel was smack dab in the middle of a bunch of these complexes. The advantage of staying in the neighborhood was the marketplace. Good ass food, you get to see how everyday people get their hustle on, and you get clowned as if you were in the hood. The capitalist thing hasn't completely settled in for everyone. So many times we'd walk into a market or restaurant and the workers would just stare at us. Not a twitch, just staring. We'd walk a little closer, still nothing. Finally we'd sit down, still nothing. We'd motion for them to come over, and they would reluctantly come over to see what the fuck we wanted. It was hilarious. There is no customer service there. I dug it. Kind of like Shirley from 'What's Happening'. After they realized we were cool, they starting giving us shots of flavored vodka (garlic, chile, olive, etc..). Quincy [McCrary] got sick. Sandino went on this trip with us, and that was probably the most challenging, and rewarding aspect of the trip. It was a 12 hour flight both ways. We didn't take a babysitter on this one, so he had to hang out on the wings of the stage. It turned out ok. He ate really well there. Mostly borscht. It's interesting for him to be at school, and have his teacher do reading time with the class, and all of a sudden a picture of St. Basil's cathedral is on the page and Sandino says, 'I've been there. It's beautiful'. Then everyone including the teachers are like, 'yeah, right'."  
Some of the most powerful and touching songs (well, practically all of them) are those from Quetzal and Martha's personal experiences and beliefs. Wrought with human emotion is Limones Agrios about Quetzal's grandfather. I only met his once or twice at family parties and he passed away a couple of days before my wedding when Rocio was to be my maid of honor. I missed the Valdez family members I've grown to love and adore at my wedding but Rocio didn't waver in my request to spend the day with her family instead of holding back tears at my wedding. It's that loyalty and beauty that perhaps their grandfather and grandmother passed along to them and for that I feel blessed to know them and have them a part of my life regardless of the obstacles between us like daily life and living far from each other. "Martha and I wrote Limones Agrios the week after my grandfather passed. It was actually written in a matter of hours. I sat on the couch in our Highland Park apartment and strummed away at my jarana trying to get some relief from the pain. Music and basketball usually does the trick for me. Martha was doing other stuff around the house and at some point she connected to what I was playing. She sat on her cajon played a little, took out her lyric book and wrote some. Bam! Instant healing. I love playing that song live. I always feel like he's listening. There was one instance where it was really difficult to play because my whole family was there. We had a video presentation of my grandfather going on behind us. One of my uncles wept for the rest of the show. In the end, it's all positive and healthy."

It's safe to say that Quetzal's songs provide the same positivity to their listeners and fans world-wide. So many songs I could mention that touch me but yet they take on a more profound meaning knowing what those songs mean to Quetzal when he and Martha wrote them. "I still enjoy listening to and playing Politics Y Amor. It was written during a very difficult time in my life. One of those moments where you have a broken heart, you're unemployed, there's no clear direction or path, and you feel like the world's against you. Yet, somehow, the burden of being hyper sensitive leads you to hope. This is why I always say that music has always been there for me. Again, this was written around the same time as Chicana Skies and has a similar poetic sentiment. Another song is Learning Solitude. Dante [Pascuzzo] and Martha wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. The collaboration between the three of us was magical, and produced many beautiful ideas. It was a very difficult time for many people and relationships close to me. It's always hard to watch people you love be destructive. This was my way of telling them that I love them, and that this hard time will soon pass with some hard ass work. Jarocho Elegua is such an epic piece of self determination and self reflection. I love the way Martha narrates this open conversation with Elegua. A Chicana asking an Orisha for permission to embark using an Afro-Mexican musical platform as a ship or vehicle. I never get tired of playing this one live. Another collab between Dante, Martha, and myself. At my funeral I want Martha and Gabriel [Gonzalez] to sing Rayando el Sol. I think Pasa Montañas would be appropriate as well." That'd be Rayando el Sol NOT the Mana version but the traditional song. I won't make that mistake again. "No, that's an old ass Mexican tune that Martha and Grabby learned from their grandma. Maybe Mana re made it. Fuck Mana." Even Quetzal can make me dislike Mana (but only for a little while. :-)
"I feel like I'm eternally evolving and learning. Fatherhood certainly affords me a constant reminder that music without real life experiences isn't worth a damn thing. It also keeps me focused on music as a community experience. I want to make sure that he gets a healthy dose of the context in which music can be used to organize and empower." -Quetzal Flores

Need I say more.





Photo (top) by Abel Gutierrez.




Friday, July 2, 2010

Summertime Fun

Amazing sunset shot above and dancers below by Abel Gutierrez.
The sun is out and not a cloud in the city of angels. This is the season that California is known for. Might as well patent the sun because we have it. The past couple of days have been scorchers early in the morning and driving around in my trusty Saturn with no a/c has been a challenge. Nevertheless, I'm loving it. Break out the sandals (as if I ever put them away) and the SPF 99 because unless you hate people, now is the time to get the heck out of the house.
What can I tell you about summertime in LA other than it's fun and fulfills the soul. I might as well list everything and the kitchen sink that you can go out and do. Regionally, by theme, by dress code, and parking rates, there are tons of events going on. Let's see . . .  Well, let's start with where I'll be this summer. Working at the Autry comes the perk of going to Sizzling Summer Nights every Thursday in July and August. Last night's Susie Hansen gig was tons of fun. (Get her new cd! Representante de la Salsa).The crowd arrived early. I'm talking 5pm, people were getting their grub on because they need that hour to digest before hitting the dance floor. I pulled up around 7pm and the parking lot was full. The outdoor plaza was crowded and Susie had on the most appropriate fire-engine red halter top dress. My husband Joey played on the gig sporting a very manly light pink shirt. My daughter was in a bright pink ruffle dress and I was rockin' the purple dress with flared sleeves. Color saturation is definitely a trend I love. I ran into quite a few friends (most of the band members) and former co-workers. The kids were jumping and diving across their separate dance floor and fedora hats on the men where quite charming. I didn't see the usual amount of Cubavera shirts though. Maybe people realized that they all looked alike and changed it up. I'll definitely be a regular at Sizzling Summer Nights this year. By the way, parking is FREE!
The beach is another place I want to make sure I visit often. My daughter shouldn't be as afraid of the ocean as in previous years and she loves to build sand castles. Our favorite beach is Seal Beach (dare I mention the O.C? . . . given the state of LA County beaches, yes!) Not crowded at all. Noise level is pretty low and the water "looks" clean. I have heard that Redondo and Hermosa Beaches are nice too. I'd stay away from Venice unless you're a tourist looking for the ganja-leaf-painted crack pipe. The freak show isn't all that interesting anyway.

There are also plenty of concerts going on. My favorite places are the Hollywood Bowl and Ford Theatre. I'll definitely be at the Viva Mexico! event to see my homeboys Ozomatli. The Ford has a Big! World! Fun! concert series for families on Saturday mornings that are super duper affordable at $5 for adults and free for kids. Parking is $1! Getattahere! In my neck of the woods, the Burbank Starlight Bowl has an interesting line-up with affordable shows going for $10 and $6 for seniors, disabled, and kids. It's also an outdoor amphitheater up in the mountains.
If you prefer a marine layer, head out to the Santa Monica Pier for their Twilight Dance Series. I first laid eyes on my husband there. We didn't meet there but the friend I was with pointed out that the blur of green way up on the stage was his friend. It may have been Son Mayor. After I met Joey, we realized I was at that show and he was the guy wearing the bright green shirt. This pier gets packed and it's standing room and contact-high-only so arrive early or if you hate crowds like I do, arrive late and avoid the rush and stand in the back with the stoners.
Levitt Pavilion in both Pasadena and MacArthur Park offer some of the coolest bands around town for FREE! These venues are more laid-back and more my speed. Parking isn't so bad. You can arrive early and find street parking or the local garages are reasonably priced. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. In fact, keep these items in your trunk because you will need them all summer as well as the optional umbrella.
So writing this blog makes me realize that all of these venues are big and crowded. All provided wonderful cultural experiences once you've found parking, waited in line for your food/drink and moved spaced-out people from your seat. Therefore, I must pay tribute to my favorite small hole-in-the-wall places that I love dearly in my next installment on summertime fun. Til then, here's to a fun LA summer!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aztlan Underground's New Album and Tour

A Lyrical Quest for Unity Among Indigenous Peoples
Aztlan Underground announces the launch of their third independent, self-titled album Aztlan Underground (2009); and up-coming "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges" Tour, inspired by the recent political distress in the southwestern state of Arizona. "The reality is that the earth is too small to ignore our interdependence and interconnection as a human family. To ignore this fact is to uphold archaic notions of superiority of one group of people over another," said lead vocalist Yaotl.

The band is rehearsing and preparing for several important dates including an anti-drugs educational and music workshop for the Nuu chah nulth Nation in Canada in July. Reaching out to underprivileged Native youth is a priority for the band members who themselves faced many of the same struggles growing up around violence and poverty. “It’s about the language of expressing what we see in one another, helping give voice to the voiceless and shedding light on injustice,” says drummer Caxo.

The new self-titled album features an evolution towards a more global, humanitarian struggle. Traditional indigenous rhythms, modern industrial sounds, and the hypnotizing sense of timelessness of the songs stretch the boundaries from standard compositions to become 8- to 9-minute nonconformist journeys. Collaborating as a circle with no bosses and no leaders, each member contributes their personal story to the creation of a song. Four versions of the same story are told in four different ways at the same time. The bilingual English and Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) album, Aztlan Underground (2009), is available now on iTunes and in-stores July 2010.

The "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges" Tour is set to cross the Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Southern California in the fall bringing their message of peace and unity. "Let us see Arizona's SB1070 for what it is; Devolution. Let us evolve together as a human family and abolish racism and nationalism forever," says the band. In addition to the tour, Aztlan Underground has been invited to perform at the 2010 Native American Music Awards in November where the new album has been nominated for an award in the Rock category.

Azltan Underground Performance Schedule

Air Conditioner
Venice Beach, CA
June 10

Farmchella
Bakersfield, CA
June 12

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges Tour
     Fresno, CA
     June 17

     Arizona Sux, Watsonville Rox
     Watsonville, CA
     June 18

     Death to Meth, Ukiah CA
     June 19

     Farce of July
     Phoenix, AZ July 3
     Tucson, AZ July 4

     Additional Fall 2010 Dates TBA
     Southern California, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona

Nuu Chah Nulth Nation, Pacific Rim Festival
July 9-12
Vancouver Island, Canada
Educational workshops and outreach

Native American Music Awards (NAMMYS)
November 2010
Award ceremony performance

*More dates to be confirmed


About Aztlan Underground

Aztlan Underground’s music reveals the unrestrained voices of global indigenous peoples combining hypnotic Native rhythms with modern industrial sounds. For 20 years, they have cultivated a grassroots audience across the world from Europe to Australia and Canada to Venezuela. At home, they are an institution influencing a new generation of musicians, bands, and free-thinkers. They challenge their audience to look within, to their own life-giving forces, and human potential. Their new self-titled album features an evolution towards a global, humanitarian struggle while remaining true to their name and beliefs by playing political rallies, underground venues, and anywhere the doors open.

Collaborating as a circle with no bosses and no leaders, each member contributes their personal story to the creation of a song. Four versions of the same story are told in four different ways at the same time. With this ritual, Aztlan Underground has independently produced and distributed three albums: Decolonize (1995), Sub-Verses (2001), and the self-titled album Aztlan Underground (2009). The band’s albums reflect a process of self-discovery and realization evolving from the anger of Decolonize to the new self-titled album featuring an evolution towards a more global, humanitarian struggle. The new album maintains the indigenous infusion of sounds and timelessness where the songs stretch the boundaries of the standard composition and become 8- to 9-minute nonconformist journeys.

Website: www.aztlanunderground.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/aztlanunderground
YouTube: www.youtube.com/aztlanug


Aztlan Underground is:


Joe "Peps"(Comanche*): bass, rattles, Native American wood and clay flute

Maker of his own gourd rattles, clay flutes, and bird calls, Joe is as much a visual artist as he is a musician. He joined Aztlan Underground in 1994 after a chance performance at the now defunct Popular Resource Center in Los Angeles, well-known for having inspired cultural movements. Growing up in El Sereno, an urban reality surrounded by the Chicano experience of Los Angeles, he fostered his talent as a painter, sculptor, feather-work artist, bass player, and Native musician. He captures his thoughts, indigenous worldview, and oral histories through his art and music combining both on-stage with Aztlan Underground. Joe currently teaches art to youth in juvenile detention facilities. His intent is to pose questions through art and music and address urban social issues within a global age of poverty and oppression.
“The power of music is beyond just me. We’re simply a vehicle to inspire and send a message to empower, and enlighten. The world is at stake--the war--we’re all part of the puzzle. Everyone is being conscious, aware that the earth is speaking, things are changing.”

Caxo(Huichol-Mexica*): drums

Ignacio “Caxo” Lopez comes from a long line of musicians such as his cantina guitarist grandfather Luis, flamenco and orchestra musician brother Rodolfo, and upright bass player brother Rosendo. Together they grew up amidst the flourishing barrio music scene of East Los Angeles listening to his mother sing while his father blared music by Perez Prado, Roy Orbison, and Jose Alfredo Jimenez. Still, as most colonized Native children, he attended church at 6 am every Sunday morning while longing for the mindless entertainment of Sunday morning cartoons. It was there that a pint sized lady named Lucy inspired Caxo to create music as she belted out prayer songs with enormous strength and conviction. Her powerhouse voice inspired Caxo to imagine creating music around it. He since has delved in to writing, art, and music. Performing since junior high he joined Chronic Atrocity and the death metal scene followed by Tezacrifico and Kontraattaque in the do-it-yourself hardcore punk rock scene in Los Angeles. Caxo joins Azltan Underground in the 2003 where his unfiltered expression fruitfully emerges.
“It’s about the language of expressing what we see in one another, helping give voice to the voiceless and shedding light on injustice.”

Yaotl (Raramuri/Mazahua*): vocals, Indigenous percussion

Founding member of Aztlan Underground, Yaotl brings to the microphone the raw intensity of the concrete jungle that is the modern urban experience and combines it with the meditative chants of Ancient America’s timeless trance. The married father of four is determined to create a better world for the next generation having experienced a rough childhood filled with violence, abuse, and neglect. Having survived gang initiation and a violence-induced coma, Yaotl turned to music. “Music saved my life,” he says. Heavily influenced by punk rock and "do it yourself" ethos, he left the gang life and formed his own band. Listening to punk bands like Minor Threat and Rudimentary Peni who were anti-drugs, -alcohol, -war, and -authority, Yaotl began studying anarchism and thus began his insatiable thirst for information and truth. Fatherhood, he feels, has changed him completely. It now fuels him even more to create a better life, another place, another way of co-existing.
“It’s a reality check about the frailty of life.” 

Alonzo Beas(Apache*): guitars, keyboards, synthesizer, native percussion, sequencing

Alonzo Beas is the electricity behind the innovative guitar playing and soundscapes found in Aztlan Underground’s music. Creating musical textures and beats through various instruments, guitar pedals, and computer software, he ignites the spark that takes listeners on a mystical voyage. His home base has always been the guitar, finding his center on the instrument. This is evident on-stage or in the studio. His musical influences are those that go beyond the scripted into the provisional, from rock to breaks, noise to industrial or even mariachi. He grew up in Northeast Los Angeles to Mexican parents and identifies strongly as a Chicano. His Mexican roots gave way to his vast knowledge of music. Always seeking a higher consciousness, he reaches beyond the barriers of labels to blend his past with the present to create cutting-edge uninhibited music.
“I want to convey a message of love, kindness, and peace when I create and perform music. It is significantly inspired by the mystery of where we come from and where we go when we die.”

*Refers to tribal affiliation.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Walk in Beauty

Here are some beauty and fashion tips that I want to share with the ladies. Beauty comes from within and all that jazz. You know that part already. These are some solid ideas I made up along the way.  I try to keep them in mind when going about the day.  You may have your own take on what fits your personality. At least I hope you do! I know you do. But if you could use a little encouragement or advice on how to mix it up, read on.

  • Glitter eye shadow is fun for work and play
  • Fake eyelashes are worth trying and trying until you get it right
  • Liquid eyeliner takes A L O T of practice but once you get the hang of it, watcha!
  • With sparkly glitter eye shadow use lip gloss not lipstick
  • With subdued eyes, go for the RED lips!
  • Wear jewelry that makes you happy preferably big chunky rings
  • Invest in a few pieces of nice jewelry and wear them everyday
  • Mix your good jewelry with your fake jewelry
  • Accessories are your friend but limit them to a few small pieces and one big wow piece. 
  • Wearing comfy shoes all the time is A-Ok after you're married
  • Uncomfortable but great looking shoes are ok if you will be sitting down
  • Find the color that look good on you. Experiment, experiment, experiment until you get it right. Then wear it loud and proud!
  • Bright colors are not scary!
  • Beige is for grandmas!!
  • Khakis should be burned in the BBQ pit or used as canvas
  • Hats only hide the beauty of your gorgeous mane, skip them. Plus they give you hat hair. Not good.
  • Buy a good pair of cowboy boots for those days you feel like roughing it and going against the grain. They're oddly empowering.
  • Silk scarfs are for baby boomers
  • Yes, people will think you're a lesbian if you have short spikey hair (and send me e-mails about supporting GLAAD . . . inside joke)
  •  Condition your hair, always.
  • Control the frizz.
  • Keep your toenails painted. It detracts from people noticing your dry feet.
  • On the same note, wear bright lipstick to make your teeth look whiter or to draw attention away from the huge honkin' zit on your nose
  • A little cleavage never killed anyone. Just put smiles on people's faces.
  • You don't have to smile at everyone. It only makes you look crazy, not friendly.
  • On the flip side, smile once in a while fer Pete's sake. It ain't that bad. 
  • Ugly old men aren't always creepy. They're just tired and have better stories than goofy 20-somethings.
  • Beer is for men unless you're broke and he's cheap. 
  • Cosmos are yummy and pink
  • Ask for extra olives
  • Stop after 2 drinks
  • Eat before you go out drinking
  • Wear your beautiful fancy dress. Don't store it away in the closet. It may never come out.
  • Comfy sweats belong inside the house and maybe at the grocery store if paired with big chunky sunglasses and a pony tail, but never out in public beyond that.
  • If you get the urge to put a flower in your hair, do it.
  • Pigtails look cute on little girls, not grown women.
  • Drink water, slather lotion, and spritz some perfume
  • Don't dress for others, dress for yourself
  • Dress to match your mood
  • And most importantly, remember that you only live this life once! Enjoy it! 
Do you have your own personal mantras and beauty tips? Share them here. I'd love to read them!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chatting it up with Grandpa

I don't know if I was just born this way or if it was the way I was raised, but I have a secret fascination with talking to old people. I'm not talking mere card-carrying senior citizens. I love talking to people 70 and above.  I've yet to have the pleasure of chatting it up with a centenarian but I'd love to one day. The closest I got was in high school when I had to put in some volunteer hours in order to meet the requirements of a school club. While other kids were tutoring kids and helping at homeless shelters, I was wheeling sedated seniors around a local nursing home. There were no fun stories there. Just funny yet sad incidents of saggy old men walking around with their pants around their ankles or the little old lady that tried to make a run for it but instead got scared and started yelling from outside the emergency door. Fun times.

Maybe it's the ache in my heart for my long gone grandfather whose memory brings me to tears on occasion. That doesn't quite explain though, exactly why, since birth (probably), I would almost always prefer to hang out with my parents and their friends instead of going to play with other kids. If I had the option, I'd choose the adults. I could sit and listen to their stories of youth, recounting events that took place in their lives, most of them really funny or scary. It must be a Mexican thing or more specifically, people from the ranch life that have these awesome scary ghost, devil, evil dog, witch lady stories that frightened the heck out of me. My grandfather once told me that there was buried treasure under the tree in his back yard. We'd sit out there enjoying the summer weather and he'd point, "Ahi!! Ahi se aparecio la cabeza de una mujer y me dijo que habia tesoro." "There! That is where a woman's head appeared to me and told me. This is were the treasure is buried." I'd look at the patch of dry patted down dirt wondering if she would appear to us then but nothing. Nevertheless, I'd speed by that spot on my way across his yard and never pass by there at night. Noooo way! My parents, aunts, uncles and older cousins have tons of great stories that my grandfather told. I guess I'm just very jealous to be one of the youngest of his grandkids that didn't get to enjoy his stories as an adult. Couple that with my fascination with history and culture and well, you had me at "when I was a kid".

A few days ago, an older friend of my husbands (in his 70s, not quite 80) was telling a joke about a man picking up a hooker. I especially liked his choice of words. "A man picks up a woman on the street. Takes her back to a hotel. Has her way with her. When he finished, he said to her, 'in exactly nine months, you will have a baby'. She turned to him and said, 'in exactly 3 days, you're going to have a rash'." The joke was priceless. It's so hard to get old folks to relax and curse or tell dirty jokes around young folks especially us woman. I was giddy that he shared that with ladies present.

At my daughter's gymnastics class just last week, a tall elderly man wearing a cowboy hat, face rugged from decades of hard labor, wearing a jacket with a big "Hecho en Mexico"/ "Made in Mexico" logo on his back slowly strutted into the gym. I was instantly fixated on him. He was with one of the mom's I didn't really know. I had to talk to him. I struck up a conversation with the mom in Spanish so that he could understand as well. Moments later the woman's daughter started doing the "gotz to go potty" dance and off they went. I asked if he was visiting and made other small talk. Next thing you know he's telling me about where he's from in Mexico, how long he's been in the US, where the states are located in Mexico drawing circles and lines on the steps where we sat. The mom returned and tried to shush him thinking he was bothering me. I explained to her that I really enjoyed talking with him but she persisted. I chose to ignore her and kept asking Gramps questions. He was more than willing to continue the conversation not really caring to watch his granddaughter fall off the mats. (sorry kid) He tells me about a very old marketplace in Mexico where all the crops from across the country are taken after they are harvested. It's been there for about 100 years but after about noon, the morning buzz of the crowd is gone and everything is sold. I can't remember the name of the town even after I asked him twice. (I'm so bad at remembering names.) He also told me about this type of cheese called añejo they used to make in Durango. They dig a hole along the hillside, place the cheese in there, cover it with a tarp, and bury it for roughly twelve months. After a year, a distinct cheesy smell starts to creep into the air and that's when they know it's ready. They don't make this cheese anymore since most of the younger generations chose to leave the small towns and traditions behind in search of a better living and more money across the border. Long gone are the days of horseback riding, burros, and neighbors helping neighbors. He lamented the passing of time and the good ole' days. Now the drug war and drug lords have taken over these norther territories and made people scared to visit or live there.

We can learn quite a bit about ourselves and society by talking to people that are blessed to be living long lives. Just imagine what they have seen in a 70 year span---a few wars, defeated presidents, natural disasters, encounters with famous people, or perhaps they themselves did something adventurous. You never know until you ask. Everyone has an interesting story to tell and older people have simply had more experiences with the passing of time. I want to hear them all.

What about you? Do you have an interesting story to tell? Did you ever do something wildly adventurous or fascinating that when you reach your silver years you will be recounting those adventures to your grandchildren or the perhaps to that nosey stranger sitting next to you? I'd love to hear your stories too!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Free Museum Days (Bookmark This!)

(Click on the image to enlarge)

You will want to bookmark this page for the day you are sitting around wondering what to do. This is especially great when you have family or friends visiting, the kids are restless, or you just want to get out of the house before cabin fever sets in. Well, this chart is here to save the day . . . and your pocketbook. It is a list of FREE DAYS offered by various museums in LA and Orange County. A few institutions are free every day they are open such as the California African American Museum, California Science Center, FIDM, Fowler, Getty, Getty Villa, Paley Center for Media, Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the Studio for Southern California History. What more do you want?? Free parking?? Some offer free parking like the Autry and MoLAA. Sometimes you can get lucky and find free street parking around Exposition Park to access Natural History Museum, Science Center, and the African-American Museum.

This  is a good way to explore all of these wonderful world-class museums here in your own back yard and then decide which ones to support by becoming a member. Membership is so important to institutions. The more members they have, the more funding they get, the more programs they can schedule, the more variety of interesting things they offer. As a member, you also get to have a say in the life of the museum, meet the curators and let them know what you think. You become part of the museum family if you are active. Plus, there are tons of amazing perks for members in addition to the free admission year-round. There are special events, discounts, front-of-line passes/RSVPs, and all around special treatment. If you feel museums are worth your while, you need to support them, no if's, and's, or but's! People travel across the country and the globe to attend these fabulous, inspiring institutions. Do you realize how lucky you are to live in LA, and so close by? This is yet another reason WE LOVE LA!

Visit MuseumsLA.org for a list of upcoming exhibitions and events.


I'd love to hear from you! What is your favorite museum, museum event, or exhibition past or present?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alma

Alma Zamudio-Sanchez is a good friend of mine. In fact, she’s like the sister I never had. We met as first year students at the University of Southern California in the summer of 1993. We were the future generation fulfilling the promise of the American Dream we had so often heard about. We were Latinas who had achieved so much already by simply attending USC and basked in the glory of being accepted into this prestigious university. No one in our immediate families had attended college. For other more affluent students at school, attending USC was the first step in achieving their goals of becoming business moguls, doctors, and lawyers (because attending USC can make that happen). For us, we had already come a long way. Little did I know just how far my soon-to-be best friend had, in fact, already come or would go.

She is the 3rd youngest of a family of 12 who grew up just south of the US/Mexico border in San Luis, Sonora. I figured hers was a typical Mexican immigrant story since I knew her siblings were also on this side of the border following the crop harvesting seasons up and down California and into Washington. I knew a little about that having heard stories from my own mom who picked cotton in Manteca, CA—a town named after lard which I always found funny.

The dorms we lived in were suites in a seven-story building called Fluor Tower which is shaped like the letter H. She was on one foot of the H and I on the other. I’d often go visit her suite to chat with the other girls my age. The older girls there and guys across the hall would hang out together and treat us younger ones like the bratty little siblings they tolerated. Alma was older but always mingled with everyone. She’s the kind of person that will ask you very personal questions upon meeting and make you willingly answer them in full detail. Some of the younger, more reserved girls were intimidated by her because she would sing at top of her lungs the most ranchera songs you can think of and would walk around in her underwear as if she were fully clothed--- probably because privacy was a luxury in a large family such as hers. I found her gutsy. I, too, was reserved and self-conscious but I longed to be out-going and fearless like Alma. I could be more myself among all these new people in my world. We became fast friends especially because she was one of the few who owned a car that she let me borrow, a burgundy Beretta. Fascinated by that, I asked her how she came to own a car (granted I was an underprivileged 18 year old). The story, if I recall correctly, was that someone in a store parking lot in San Luis wanted her previous car (a much sought-after Buick Regal with sunroof) so she sold it to the guy on the spot and called a taxi to take her home, then bought the Beretta. It blew my mind that she actually owned a car previously and would do something so bold as to negotiate a sale price on the spot to some random stranger, a man, and then call a taxi to take her home. That is just not done by a young lady I thought. I would have told the guy to talk to my dad and buzz off. But still, Alma was my new idol.

We didn’t live together again until my junior year at ‘SC. She was a senior. We lived in a mouse- and ant- infested adorable three bedroom quadra-plex with hardwood floors just off-campus. My bedroom was in the back next to the restroom. Every time she showered, I’d get her best rendition of Libro Abrieto a boca-abierta, at the top of her lungs. The song goes like this:

Dicen de mi
que yo he sido un libro abierto
Donde mucha gente ha escrito
no hagas caso, nada es cierto.

En blanco esta
nadie supo escribir nada
no dejaron ni una huella
nadie le importaba nada.

Me importas tu
tu si escribes muy bonito
para ti soy libro abierto
escribe en mi, te necesito.

Los Cadetes de Linares, Libro Abierto


“People say that I am an open book where many have written. Don’t listen to them. It’s not true. The pages are blank. No one wrote a thing nor left a mark. No one cared at all. You are important to me. For you, I am an open book. Write in me. I need you.”

And in fact, Alma is an open book. She will tell you everything about her life and bring you into it. She should write a book. Her life has had many twists and turns that I will try my best to convey and fail miserably to describe them in this story. Being a girl and one of the youngest in her family, she wasn’t expected or even allowed to get an education. A little bit of high school was acceptable but after that, it was off to the baby factory. Alma had other plans. Defying her father’s orders, she ran away and crossed the border into Yuma, Arizona. There she found a tiny trailer to live in and enrolled in the local community college’s English-as-a-second-language program. After six months, she was able to speak the language and enrolled in more courses. Meanwhile, the rest of her family moved up and down the states following the crops. Some settled in Central California in small towns like Tulare and others stayed closer to home on both sides of the border. She remembers riding in a truck on their way up north passing through downtown Los Angeles and admiring the monstrous buildings. Looking up, she’d stare at the Arco building and would say to herself, “One day, I will work there.” Reaching out to her youngest sister, Ruth, Alma was determined to make a better life for her too. Ruth moved in with Alma and was sent to finish high school. Less than 2 years after running away, Alma was accepted into the business school at USC. She was well on her way to a high-rise office in downtown LA.

While at USC, Alma and I were active in student organizations planning events, taking on leadership positions, and leading active student lives. We took a memorable Christmas vacation to Mexico City and Morelia, Mexico on a cultural exchange program. She’d take me along to visit her family in Arizona and Tulare or south to San Diego where Ruth was then enrolled at UCSD. Aside from an active student life, Alma was an over-achiever winning every single scholarship she ever applied to. She was selected to be part of President Steven Sample’s leadership seminar which was by invitation only. I remember her telling me about how he took 15-minute power naps during the day and how carrying the perfect sophisticated pen to job interviews would land you the job. She studied endless hours and entered the School of Accounting, one of the hardest degrees to pursue at USC. Leave it to Alma to choose the most-challenging track. Why . . . because she was determined to prove herself to everyone. Prove that she could be more than a farm worker or baby factory. Prove that she could learn English and get accepted to USC and graduate at the top of her class. It wasn’t easy but she did it. At career day, Alma marched strait to the Arco booth on campus and signed up. To no one’s surprise, she got the job working in a high rise building in downtown LA.

Soon after, Alma was pregnant. It was a special time in her life. She had come a long way from San Luis, Sonora, had the career she dreamed about, and was in a relationship with a man who was equally as inspiring. Ramiro was a dentist. He was several years her senior but just as much of a go-getter as Alma. Together they helped his practice thrive and led the Latin American Dental Association for several years. Ramsey was born and all was well in the world. Alma and Ramiro wanted the best for their newborn and bought every single educational apparatus, CD, book, DVD, flash cards, you name it for the boy. At just a few months, he was responding and enjoying all the education mom and dad provided until one day, when Alma noticed her baby boy stopped responding to the stimulating exercises he was so good at. Not missing a beat, she rushed him to the doctor and the diagnosis came down: Autism. Alma and Ramiro were devastated. How could this happen? Was it a result of all those years surrounded by harmful chemicals in the fields? Was it because of Ramiro’s advanced age? Vaccines? Sadly, the cause was not and is still not known. The fact remained that Ramsey was going to be developmentally challenged. Therapy and doctor visits consumed the couple from then on out. There was so much to do that Alma gave up her dream job and stayed home to take care of Ramsey.

Life resumed a rhythm for Alma shuttling Ramsey around and helping Ramiro with his business and advocacy to allow foreign-trained dentists to practice in the US. Mixers, fundraisers, and hobnobbing with politicians kept the couple active. Perhaps giving up accounting wasn’t so bad. The perks of a corporate job were great but family and activism were pretty fulfilling as well. Nothing could stop them until one day, Ramiro could not get out of bed. My then fiancé, called me at work saying Ramiro called in sick that day. His appointment was earlier that morning. Concerned I called Alma and didn’t hear back. Several weeks passed by until I got the call. Cancer. Ramiro was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had 11 months to live. They had been in and out of the hospital, seeing doctor after doctor, preparing his final will and testament, making sure Alma and Ramsey would be ok after he was gone, and finally, got married in a small ceremony. Ramiro passed a week or so after the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Ramsey was 3 years old. Alma and the nation were in mourning and I was getting married. On my wedding day, that following February, my dear friend Alma made an appearance. She was full of smiles and good cheer for me but I could tell in the gleam of her eyes that she was devastated. Nevertheless, she was there for me.

Today, Ramsey is 12 years old and thriving. She has dedicated this chapter in her life to him. She has yet to remarry or date for that matter. She lives up in the hills of Monterey Park, CA shuttling Ramsey to and from school, therapy, and counseling sessions. She runs an apartment complex left to her by Ramiro where you may find her rolling a splash of paint across the walls (because it’s cheaper to do it herself) or ordering new stoves for units. During the holidays, she jumps in her fire-engine red truck and jets off to San Luis with Ramsey to visit her ailing mother. Her father passed away a few years ago. They had made their peace before then and I’m certain that he along with the rest of her family, and everyone else that has come into contact with Alma, are very proud of her achievements. But it is not in the achievements she has attained that inspire me, it’s her resilience against the knocks and punches life has dealt her along the way. She keeps getting back up and fighting back. Her favorite quote in college was “el que persevera, alcanza” or “he who perseveres, achieves”. It’s a motto she has passed along to me, her sisters, and her nieces who are now attending prestigious universities. You may not be able to spot Alma in a crowd or at the grocery store and perhaps the same is true for any woman you may encounter in public. She may be your neighbor or you very own mother or even your college roommate who bears a story so inspirational that you decide to write about it and tell the world how amazing she is.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How do you measure a year in the life?




Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life?

I've never seen the Broadway play Rent but I couldn't help but have it's Seasons of Love stuck in my head today as we paid tribute and laid to rest a true legend in his own time, Francisco Aguabella.  Francisco had 84 five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes in his life and I can only imagine all that his eyes witnessed in his long life.  How do you measure a life, especially a life so long and well lived? Imagine doing something, being so good at it, and being able to do it every single day. Even if your time on earth was half of what Francisco lived, if you do what you love, you'd enjoy every minute of life. That's what I think may have been the case for Francisco.  He was the last of his kind. He was old school, taught by the masters in Cuba and brought Cuban folklore and Santeria drumming to the mainland. I didn't know until today that he was responsible for teaching everyone here how to properly play the bata.

I met Francisco shortly after meeting my husband Joey. Joey played in his Latin jazz band for several years. I think he mumbled something to me and then turned around. I guess I didn't make much of an impression on him. He never seemed very approachable so I usually tried to keep out of his way. I thought he was real old school and didn't care to talk to the wives or girlfriends, just the musicians. I know how that goes so I never made an attempt to talk to him. Yet, after today, I realized that he was that way with everyone. A man of few words, but if you made the effort, he'd crack a smile and appreciate it. Still wouldn't say much but at least you'd make a connection. That's something I never got to experience in person with him, but today, I realized that I did have a connection to him through his music. As they played the closing song, A Few of My Favorite Things by Francisco, I felt the journey in the song. His music had this travel quality to it. I always imagine being on a train going steadily across a beautiful countryside, passing rolling hills on a beautiful sunny day. I was instantly transported there again today with that song. I keep going back to the beautiful program they handed out at the service. I read and re-read his biography, about his children, wife, and travels. I look at the pictures of him with his sons and daughters, and especially the one with a boy. It's a tender image of a grandfather. It's a different vision of a man that everyone has elevated to iconic master status. It's nice to see this other side to a very private man.

The song continues . . .
In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love? Measure in love

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.

When word spread about his cancer, Joey called him to ask how he was doing. Francisco's one-word answer, "fine" was all he needed to say. It was followed by a 'click' as he promptly hung up on him. We couldn't help but laugh because that is the man we knew and loved. So full of pride. He never wanted to show his weakness and if you ever saw the muscles on the man, you'd think he would have out-lived us all. Now that he is gone, I can only hope that someone can record all the wonderful, hilarious, poignant moments all have shared with Francisco because despite his reputation for being hot tempered . . . everyone will forever have a profound love and respect for the man.


It's time now to sing out,
Tho' the story never ends
Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Seasons of love!



Visit Francisco Aguabella's website for a ton of information about him including his albums and a wonderful photo gallery here: franciscoaguabella.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gays, Gays, Gays

It must be a great time to be gay because all around me, there are good gay things going on in the mainstream. I've never had first-hand knowledge of the gay community in general and never spent much time thinking about gays or their social/political issues. Yet lately I've been surrounded by a plethora of what is now positive stories of the LGBT community. I guess it all started last year with the installation of the Brokeback Mountain shirts in the Autry gallery. I quickly learned just how iconic those shirts are to the LGBT community. They're the "red ruby slippers of our time" said the owner of the shirts. We had a nice group of gay cowboys attend the installation opening. I didn't know what to expect when I heard they were attending. When I first saw them, they were lined up wearing their matching blue rodeo cowboy shirts and proceeded to march in to the event. It was a statement. They made such an impression. It was pretty cool. Following that came the creation of the Out West series, which I thought was a very clever title. I learned a little about gays in the West. The fact that they felt obligated to leave their rural towns for city life where their lifestyle was better accepted. The macho rural life was no place for them despite having deep roots in those communities. Then came Ozomatli, the multi-everything band that I love. Their new album, Fire Away, showcases the song "Gay Vatos in Love". I first heard it performed live at SXSW in Austin this past March. I didn't understand the lyrics completely but thought wow, these guys are seriously singing about gay vatos in love. Then a few days ago, they posted an interview with the band talking about this song and the video. I didn't know about Angie Zapata, the girl mentioned in the song. I found this NY Times article about her tragic death. Next thing you know, articles about Ozo's song are popping up like this article in the Advocate. It's great to read the positive blog comments. Even for Out West, blog comments all over the internet have been nothing short of inspiring and emotional in a good way. What is to me one of many events I have to promote for the museum has turned out to be something so special that people will not forget them for a long time to come. Being the first western museum to tell the stories of the LGBT community, the Autry has opened the door to a wider acceptance and, more importantly, dialogue. This is key particularly for someone like me who has no particular need or drive to give much thought to the LGBT community. The Autry series includes us straights in the conversation where we are not forced to choose sides, pin people against each other, or villanize a whole segment of the population. Because of the way it is presented, it's not a political rally, an election ballot initiative, or religious discussion about right and wrong.  It's scholarly. It's history. It's reality--- what really happened in history. Tonight, as I type this, there are people gathered at the Autry going on special tours of the galleries, bringing to life the LGBT "Hidden Histories" behind some of the objects on display. I can't be there tonight but I have heard a few of the stories that are being told tonight. Read a few in this LA Times story or listen to KPCC's Air Talk interview with the creator of the Out West series and one of the historians. Truly fascinating that perhaps homosexuality was more tolerated in the 1800s than just a few years ago. All the positive media attention given to the Autry and Ozomatli, and even with the outing of Ricky Martin (no real surprise there. My mom was right about this one. She thinks everyone in Hollywood is gay.) has me wondering if this isn't in fact a good time to be gay, especially gay in the West. Lord knows it's a horrible time to be gay in Uganda or Mexican in Arizona. Yes, hate and ignorance will continue to thrive in tiny clusters but for society at large, I hope that we continue this progressive movement, past mere tolerance, past acceptance, and hopefully towards integration starting with legalizing gay marriage (again)---integration of the LGBT community, and diverse peoples in general, into the mainstream. 


Ozomatli's Gay Vatos in Love


GAY VATOS IN LOVE LYRICS
Gaby and Mando walking through the park
Looking for love in protection of the dark
Club Cobra, a temple in the night,
The more I hear of Morrissey, the more I feel alright

(Chorus) Gay Vatos in Love

Javi and Kique with their girlfriends in the car
Fronting on Crenshaw knowing who they are
Juan Gabriel says, “amor es amor”
But Angie Zapata is lying on the dance floor

(Chorus) Gay Vatos in Love

If the world can’t understand
Stand by your man!


Friday, April 30, 2010

Red Lips and Roses

Funny how people treat you differently when you stop caring what they think and start doing your own thing. I'm not trying to write a cliche motivational speech, just an observation about the psychology of human behavior in reaction to things that are somewhat outside of the norm. Such is the case on those days that I remember to smear my favorite red lipstick on during broad daylight to accent my usual color pallet of red and black outfits, boots, scarves, and flowers. It's just lipstick but people treat me differently. I get more smiles from everyone, men, women, and children. People comment on my outfit as if it's the first time they've ever seen me wear it. They just can't seem to pinpoint why they feel the need to stare and speak. I get a kick out of it of course. I did spice it up even more today with an even bigger red rose pinned on my dress. When it's just the rose alone people know it's the rose they like but when it's the red lipstick, it's like they get hypnotized and thrown off. They have no clue but feel compelled to say something. I just smile and say thanks to whatever compliment  they conjure up at the moment. What really throws people off is wearing such a bold color at work or simply during the day. When did red get relegated to evening wear? Not in my book! Life is too short to not wear red I say. I've always loved the color red. In fact, I usually spell it in all capital letters because it's bold and should stand out. Three powerful letters R E D, for a powerful color. It's dramatic and beautiful, bold and gutsy. Maybe that is how I want to be on those days that I wear it. So here is to the color RED and all the smiles it brings out in people.