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 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 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 fiancĂ©, 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:

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

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!