When I moved to Los Angeles in 2002 I knew nearly nothing about the city and knew nearly no one except for a few friends from college. Roaming town alone, between the L.A. Times newsroom and my corporate apartment, I'd go see my homie Valmiki, Guatemalan American and L.A.-raised, and he'd take me to parties, parks, and places to eat. First in Northeast L.A., then in Boyle Heights and East L.A., then in Silver Lake and Echo Park and downtown.
Little by little, L.A. began to map itself for me.
The bridge, in some respects, between both my college experience in the Bay Area and my early experience in L.A. was the band Ozomatli. I saw them play at the Greek Theater on the Berkeley campus, where I first watched their traditional enter-from-the-audience exit-through-the-audience, a genuine gesture of solidarity, un-self-conscious and sincere. Valmiki and I then saw them about a year later at a community event in Boyle Heights, the downtown skyline rising elegantly against the sunset.
Among those folks, among those sounds, I remembering for the first time feeling ... at home.
On Sunday night when Ozomatli played at the FIL in Guadalajara, I felt an enormous wave of nostalgia for my L.A. days. I have to admit it: my heart ached a little. I know that in more cynical L.A. mindsets Ozomatli is seen as a self-repeating, or even a cliche, but one of the nice after-effects of moving to Mexico and living among "regular people" here is that you can get a refreshing new perspective on notions of community and justice.
Ozomatli as a collective of musicians are clearly committed to both.
Fifteen years later, they're still at it. That means something, beyond their ground-breaking and infections mix of musical genres. You could feel it in the sense of unity among the youth and families dancing last night. Ozo, I thought, are a true treasure of Southern California, and of the bridges possible between nations and borders.