My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
** Originally published Nov. 1, 2013, at VICE México:
En Los Ángeles -- la segunda ciudad de mexicanos más grande del mundo -- el Día de Muertos se lo toman en serio. El año pasado estuve en el Sur de California por estas fechas, donde, en el centro cultural Self-Help Graphics & Art, una joya histórica de la raza del Este de Los Ángeles, vi el mejor altar de muertos que jamás he visto.
Lo hizo un artista conocido como Vyal Reyes, en memoria de grafiteros y taggers que han muerto de L.A. durante sus búsquedas por conquistar las calles con sus rayas.
Viniendo de una familia que incluye grafiteros, me impactó mucho este altar.
Primero, el artista uso un ataúd negro como pieza principal, donde metió fotos de graffiti-heads que han caído junto con latas de aerosol negras. Por fuera, Vyal pinto escenas urbanas con ojos "para estar trucha." Colocó latas de aerosol blancas en vez de velas, y pañuelos en vez de mantelitos.
"También incluí una cinta de seguridad, para indicar que la mayoría de estos artistas tuvieron muertes violentas" me dijo Vyal ayer vía correo, desde Los Ángeles.
"No conocí a todos los artistas personalmente", agregó, "pero tengo un gran respecto hacia ellos y hacia las contribuciones artísticas que dieron a la escena. Quiero homenajearlos para que sus esfuerzos no sean olvidados".
Los detalles obviamente tienen un sentido bien pensado. Hay una máscara para pintadores, junto con la salvia blanca que se quema tradicionalmente en California.
"Son las herramientas que usamos para protegernos físicamente y espiritualmente", añadió Vyal.
Afuera en el patio de Self Help, chicos del barrio del Centro de Los Ángeles estaban practicando su "spray art". Adentro, había muchos altares de la comunidad chicana de L.A., pero ninguno tenía la relevancia bruta con las calles como el de Vyal One. Tuve que regresar a tomarle más fotos, y a pararme a contemplar un poco la ofrenda.
El trabajo de Vyal se puede ver aquí. Este año, me dijo, está armando un altar en downtown Los Ángeles.
** Originally published at World Now:
It was a sweet Olympic gold victory for Mexican soccer, yes. But that was last week.
On Wednesday night, Mexico was defeated by the United States in a friendly match at the cavernous high-altitude Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, 1-0, the first win for the U.S. on Mexican soil in 75 years of a storied and often bitter rivalry.
The only goal of the game came from U.S. defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, 26, a Mexican American native of Orange.
When it happened, in the 79th minute, utter silence seemed to befall the entire Mexican capital for a second or two. The United States had not won a single game at the Azteca, and Mexico had barely lost there against any opponent, in official matches or friendlies.
Watch the game-winning goal here:
Mexico's current sports superstar, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez -- who didn't play for gold in London in the men's soccer final on Saturday -- attempted a few desperate strikes in the final minutes to salvage the game.
But U.S. goalie Tim Howard delivered crucial saves for the Americans, despite being battered with harrasment from the stands, a custom relished by fans at the Azteca. (At least one pesky person Wednesday was distracting the U.S. goalie with the light of a green laser.)
There was surprisingly little bad blood for Orozco in Mexico's media the next morning and among armchair analysts online.
Where could an ardently nationalist fan draw a line on criticism anyway? The U.S. friendly roster is rife with border-blurring athletes, a reflection of the complex historical migration patterns between the countries, and maybe a little of that free-trade spirit that has defined the binational relationship since 1994.
Edgar Castillo, a defender born in Las Cruces, N.M., has played for both the Mexican and U.S. national teams. Midfielder Joe Corona -- half-Mexican, half-Salvadoran and born in Los Angeles --plays professionally for Tijuana. And Herculez Gomez, born in L.A. to Mexican American parents, plays in Mexico for Pachuca.
Game-winner Orozco's parents are from the Mexican states of Durango and Queretaro. He was born in Orange County but plays professionally in Mexico for San Luis.
"That's history," he told one news outlet after the game. "It does leave a mark in my heart."
Photo: U.S. defender Michael Orozco, right, celebrates with teammate Terrence Boyd after scoring during a friendly soccer game against Mexico in Mexico City, Aug. 15, 2012. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press
Here's the extended clip of an interview I did with the charming Yarel Ramos of mun2 some weeks ago in Mexico City about a subject that touches us all -- ha! -- the state of the Mexican pegoratives of pocho and naco.
Enjoy. And ... Pochos Unite!
* ADD: I'm inspired on this subject by the work of historian Claudio Lomnitz.
From Frank Ocean's first mixtape, a video and track that captures with uncanny accuracy a certain late-2000s decade Los Angeles lifestyle that led to many transcended boundaries for many kids in the city at the time -- right when no one was really paying attention.
* "Excavations" is not a category on this blog, it's a theme.
** Originally published at World Now:
The tiny but closely watched migrant segment of the Mexican electorate voted for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the governing National Action Party (PAN), an opposite result to her third-place showing in the national race.
The results announced Monday by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) also showed a 23% increase in voter-abroad participation over the 2006 election, the first time Mexicans living abroad had the right to vote.
In all, 40,714 votes were counted from 91 countries, with a wide majority of those from the U.S., reflecting the deep civic engagement with Mexico that many established immigrants can maintain after decades away.
Voters abroad registered with the IFE months in advance to receive a postage-paid ballot by mail, which had to be returned by Saturday. Electoral authorities on Monday noted they were also able to reduce the budget for the vote-from-abroad count by more than half.
"It was a success because the goal was to get more votes than in 2006 at less of a cost, and that's what happened," said Ana Isabel Fuentes, IFE spokeswoman for the vote-abroad program.
The news was a bright spot in the post-election buzz for the PAN.
A PAN-led government under President Vicente Fox pushed changes in electoral laws in 2005 to give Mexicans living abroad the right to vote, which migrants in the United States had lobbied for since the 1970s. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had resisted giving migrants the vote throughout its presidencies.
PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won Sunday's election, returning the party to power after 12 years in opposition. During the campaign, supporters of the PRI opened an unofficial campaign office in the Los Angeles area, and that may have given the party a boost over its showing in 2006.
Vazquez Mota won 42.1% of the 2012 migrant vote, results showed. She was followed by leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 38.9%. The PRI finished with 15.6%, a low third place compared with its national victory of at least 38%, according to Monday's ongoing national tally.
In 2006, the PRI finished with a paltry 4% of the votes sent from abroad.
The migrant vote is minuscule compared with the tens of millions who vote in Mexico, but they often remain influential leaders in their communities here and account for a large portion of Mexico's wealth through remittances.
In an interview with The Times conducted before the election, Peña Nieto's advisor on migrant affairs said that upon winning, the PRI would maintain and expand migrant-friendly programs developed by two consecutive PAN governments.
Arnulfo Valdivia, a political economist and dual Mexican-U.S. citizen himself, said Peña Nieto's administration would also seek to make it easier for the estimated 12 million Mexicans living in the U.S. to vote in future elections. Currently the IFE does not issue voter cards outside the country.
"The phenomenon of migration cannot be a point of pride," Valdivia said. "It's fundamentally a reflection of the lack of opportunities that exist in Mexico."
[Post edited slightly.]
* Photo: Ramiro Romero shows his ballot as a voter abroad in Mexico's July 1 presidential election, May 24, 2012, in the Lynwood suburb of Los Angeles.
** Originally published in print in Metro, cross-posted with World, in the Los Angeles Times, Friday, June 15:
Ramiro Romero owns an auto upholstery business in Lynwood, has sent three children to college and is a first-time voter in a country in which he hasn't lived for more than 30 years: Mexico.
"As a mexicano, we haven't lost our roots, our culture, and that makes voting a civic necessity," Romero, 56, said one morning at his bustling workshop on Atlantic Avenue.
"We want a prosperous Mexico. We want a Mexico that's not in the top ranks for violence but in the top ranks for its economy, so we won't have to go looking for opportunities to other countries."
Romero, who holds dual citizenship, is among the tens of thousands of Mexicans living abroad who are voting by mail in the July 1 presidential election — a contest being closely watched as the country confronts soaring violence related to the U.S.-backed drug war.
** Read the rest of the story here.
* Photo: Mr. Romero, left, and his brother Salvador, 53, at their workshop in Lynwood.
** Originally published at World Now:
LYNWOOD, Calif. -- Immigrants supporting Mexico's formerly long-ruling political party have opened a campaign office in the Los Angeles area for its 2012 presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto.
The office, opened Thursday at a Mexico-themed mall in this suburb, is an unofficial headquarters for the party in Southern California and represents a shift both for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and for the increasingly influential communities of Los Angeles-area immigrants from various regions of Mexico.
Officially the office is for a group calling itself the Committee of Migrants United for Mexico. Leaders said they would be phone-banking with their relatives back home to encourage them to vote for the PRI.
"We opened this office so that any migrant who has a proposal [can] pass it to us, and we pass it" to the presidential candidate, said Roman Cabral, a former migrant-abroad state legislator from Zacatecas state.
"We will have direct communication with Mexico City," he said.
Photographs of Peña Nieto adorn the walls of the mostly bare new office, where tortas and pan de dulce were served for participants and journalists, a party custom.
And just like back in Mexico, the PRI activists wore the party's bright red campaign color and spoke glowingly about Peña Nieto -- who is leading in polls -- and what they described as the party's "regenerated" identity.
The PRI for many years resisted reforms that would have given Mexicans abroad the right to vote. Their new presence in Southern California also reflects a change in the party's ideals and shows that the "new PRI" will pay attention to migrants' needs, activists said.
Yet at the office opening at the suburban Plaza Mexico mall, the PRI members found themselves facing tough questions from local Spanish-language reporters. How could you support the PRI, one reporter asked, if decades of PRI policies and corruption scandals pushed many migrants to come to the United States?
"Why would I vote for the PRI if the PRI was the reason that we came here? Well, I respond, 'Why don't you go back?' It's been 12 years without the PRI and no one's gone back," said Felipe Cabral, also of Zacatecas.
"The last 10 years is when the most migrants came, and that shows the bad work done by other parties," said Mike Gonzalez, an immigrant from Jalisco, referring to President Felipe Calderon's ruling National Action Party, or PAN.
Another reporter asked what the migrant PRI members thought of the grassroots student demonstrations in Mexico against their candidate. Protesters argue that the dominant news network Televisa favors Peña Nieto's candidacy.
"I think Mr. Peña Nieto has won his media power through his good record," migrant Arturo Vega said.
The PRI members said they would propose that, if elected, Peña Nieto open a Cabinet-level ministry for migrant affairs. They said their effort in L.A. was entirely volunteer-based.
Peña Nieto leads by at least 15 points in most polls, ahead of Josefina Vazquez Mota of PAN and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of a three-party leftist coalition.
This year, more than 59,000 Mexicans living abroad requested mail-in ballots for the July 1 vote, electoral officials in Mexico City said.
* Top Photo: Angel Morales, center, and other migrant voters answer questions during the opening of a new office for the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico at the Plaza Mexico mall in Lynwood, May 24, 2012. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times
** Bottom Photo: A view of the outside of the office at the Plaza Mexico mall. Credit: Daniel Hernandez
** Originally published in the Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times:
On a wide but quiet strip of Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, in the run-down Casa Honduras dance hall, the ska kids are waiting for the next band to start.
Couples are making out in the corners of the venue, attached to a Honduran restaurant. They sport dreadlocks, Afros and spiky punk 'dos and are dressed in everything from camouflage and combat boots to Chucks and suspenders.
A sound check ensues with a band called Blanco y Negro. Once its members get going, blasting the room with a frenetic Latin-punk sound sung both in English and Spanish, the young crowd forms a circle and begins to skank. The dance has them lifting their elbows and knees rhythmically to the ska beat, rushing and pushing against one another when the music accelerates into punk or metal.
Bodies are in motion, sweating, pounding skin to skin. Though just eight miles from downtown L.A., by the sounds and faces, this could be a jam in Mexico City or Tijuana.
Ska — the Jamaican sound that expanded into a variety of rock and reggae subgenres in the United Kingdom and then the United States in the late 1970s through the '90s — is booming again in Southern California. It is experiencing a comeback after a decade of relative exile, but this time around it's influenced by ska from Latin America.
Underground shows are happening in backyards and warehouses across Southern California, with mini-scenes developing in areas such as South and southeastern Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
"Do you remember the swing days? This is the new era of that," said Hollywood resident Josh Morales, 24. "But it's more ska-reggae."
"It's like a combination of cumbia with ska," Morales said as the band Los Chiles Verdes began warming up for its set. "It's like Spanish rock.... I don't know. It's hard to explain."
** Read the rest here. Read more ...
Remember Mexico City in the 1940s? Here's another good one.
Via LAObserved, this is an L.A. Public Library photograph showing the intersection of 1st Street and Broadway in downtown L.A., with a view of the corner where the gloomy Times Mirror corporate building now stands.
That's on the block that is sometimes gallantly known as Times Mirror Square, the headquarters of the once-storied L.A. Times company, where I went to work between 2002 and 2006 (and work now again, from farther away). In 1954, it looked like this. Look closely. There's a sign for a "Mexico City Cafe" in the mid-right, near the woman's head.
Come again? A place called Mexico City Cafe in downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s? Boggles the mind. A quick search turned up zero, and I'm left wondering and imagining ... Who founded it? How long was it there? What did this place look like inside? What was on the menu?
How did regular downtown Angelenos in the period respond to and interact with this cipher from its future "sister city"? Did LAT staffers or City Hall workers take lunch there? Did they like it? And, what are the cafe's ghosts?
This calls for a Serious Investigation. Mike Davis?
** EXTRA: Zocalo Public Square, another of my writing homes, asked this week, "What Movie (Besides Chinatown) Best Captures L.A.?" I thought of this one.
It's 2011 and the only memory I have left from the 2008 Democratic presidential primary -- in which Barack Obama was fighting a political death-match against the Clinton machine -- is Bill Clinton saying something mildly demeaning about Obama's campaign while in South Carolina.
So I was surprised when I opened a note from a writer who said she'd like me to read a book she wrote about a young gay Latina in East L.A. with a drinking problem, and set during the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The following is an excerpt from that book, "The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive," by Vanessa Libertad Garcia. This is from a section called "Lament," while the speaker is on the beach drinking 40s and watching a homeless man collect trash:
I've given others money: Friends, Acquaintances, Churches, Family, Causes, Co-workers, and Other homeless people. I drink the second bottle and catch him to my left not too far away.
I call him over. "Hey you!"
He walks over. It takes him a couple of minutes. Each small step he makes, I take a long swig. I finish it. He opens his bag. I drop it in. We both hear it clank.
I ask him to sit. I ask him his name. I open the third 40.
We're both liberal. Eugene is a lot more hopeful than I. I ask him why he's homeless, of course. He responds and then I reply with a monologue about why I want to die.
Busting up. Throughout, in a series of loosely interconnected sections of prose and poetry (and even a long transcribed IM chat), the book is this wonderful mix of coy and cutting, open-hearted and bleak. It is a short book and ends without a looping resolution, yet it is an enjoyable, satisfying read. The prose sections in first-person have some real gems. Here's another:
Look at me in this mirror, my tits, breasts look great, my face is doing its job and this forty tastes so gooooooooooooooooooooooooooood. I wonder if that bi chick, with the ex-boyfriend, is going to be there tonight. Why can't we just get drunk and then I fingerfuck her and then she falls asleep in my arms all lusty and needy like Kathleen Turner in all those early films before the fun went to her face and turned her into Chandler's dad and then I leave at 6am and then I get a mcgriddle.
See what I mean?
A real voice. "The Voting Booth After Dark" also did something only good books can do: It reminds you --- or tricks you into being reminded -- of places you've been, people and crews you know, even situations that feel familiar or thought-trains you've had.
The thing also made me miss L.A. a little. The billboards. The stucco-choked windows poking out from behind sound walls on the freeways. The unpretentious yet sophisticated L.A. kids who are usually, deep down, from East of East L.A. The bars.
Sal Castro stole the show at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, with total justification.
For starters, the longtime activist and lion-figure in the 1968 student movement in East Los Angeles broke flat-out late into the 12:30 panel shared between Castro, author Mario T. Garcia, author Miriam Pawel, myself, and author Hector Tobar, the moderator.
Castro showed off posters related to film depictions of the walkouts he helped lead: the 1996 four-part PBS documentary "Chicano!" and the film "Walkout!" by Edward James Olmos. This time Castro was presenting, with co-author Garcia, the book version of his story: "Blowout!" by UNC Press.
But the panel wasn't about the book or any other represented in the room. It was about Sal Castro and his stories from the trenches.
One anecdote of many he shared struck me. He told us about a young woman he met in his years of working with Mexican American public-school youth and encouraging them to gain higher education. He said a bright young student had been offered a coveted full scholarship to Occidental College, but the scholarship would require she live on campus.
In a traditional immigrant household in Southern California in the post-68 period, that's something parents would never approve for a young woman. (Heck, even in the late 1990s for a young man it wasn't easy to convince some Mexican immigrant parents that college away from home was viable, as was my case.) Mr. Castro told us the girl's parents dug their heels, and so did Occidental.
Someone called Sal. El maestro came up with a plan. He agreed to meet the parents, and speak to them in Spanish, as they were not fluent in English. He told us he told the parents in serious español that their daughter's scholarship offer was a federal program, and that "in this country you don't mess with the federal government," so they better accept or they'd get a "multa." Or worse.
The girl's parents swiftly relented and accepted. The young lady, Castro told us, ended up excelling at Oxy, enjoying a long academic career. Once more, Taper 101 filled with laughter, cheers, and applause. The C-SPAN cameras rolled. At one point, Hector tried to throw the mic to me, but I declined. Like most of others in the room, I wanted to hear more from the guys who walk in history.
* MORE: Read a Q&A with Castro and Garcia on "Blowout!" at the UNC Press title page. I couldn't get my hands on it Saturday. It sold out during the signing session.
** Photo via Jacket Copy, L.A. Times.
Above, kids in the midst of some hard-core skanking at an underground ska toquin in San Bernardino, Calif., up near the mountains in the Inland Empire, Friday, February 11, 2011. I shot these photos with a disposible camera. It's all I had on me. It was so smokey and hot in there.
What is skank? Wikipedia says: "Originally, skanking consisted of a 'running man' motion of the legs to the beat while alternating bent-elbow fist-punches, left and right. Over time, however, variations have emerged across the musical world. The punk version features a sharp striking out look with the arms, and is sometimes used in moshing to knock around others doing the same."
Here's a blog-post on Skanking 101.
The show got going in a warehouse behind a storefront in downtown San Bernardino, with a long line-up of IE ska bands, a 5-dollar cover, and a BOYB ground-rule that usually promotes good vibes and good skanking. The dudes in Los Rudos told me about it during an interview the night before in Riverside (more on that later!), so I went. Among the bands on the bill, some of the hardest working Latin ska bands in the IE: Cerebro Negro, Skakahuate, La Liberacion, and more.
Buildings crumble like mud and bread, people fall dramatically to their deaths from exposed rubble, stuff falls on people and crushes them, looters get shot. I remember seeing this film when I was kid. It was terrifying back then. Right now, would I laugh watching it or go check to see if we have a fresh earthquake kit?
The news in the United States is intensely upsetting right now. It feels like it's from another world. But no, it's here, the world we've created. Watch this Russia Today report from what appears to be West Los Angeles. Correspondent Ramon Galindo, emphasizing the words "extra precaution" over and over, asks a regular citizen named Aaron Gonzalez how he's preparing for the coming nuclear apocalypse:
Gonzalez: "I've been following several subscribers on YouTube that broke the news early, so I was able to get to Whole Foods and beat the crowd and I was able to get a hold of several bottles of the potassium iodine pills so I can distribute to my family and friends."
Galindo: "Besides the pills, have you heard of any other people taking extra precautions to prepare for a possible radioactive cloud coming this way?"
Gonzalez: "I've heard of people saran-wrapping their doors and windows, loading up on rice and grains, storing water."
Then this: A Berkeley-educated geologist who claims he can predict earthquakes and says we should expect one this weekend. Jim Berkland (bio here) accurately predicted, to the day, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. He told Fox News -- where the threshold of speculative wackiness is usually very high -- that he predicts a large earthquake on the U.S. Pacific coast this Saturday, March 19. Watch here.
Berkland's evidence: schools of fish washing up dead (happened in Redondo Beach three days before the Japanese quake, and on the day in Acapulco, only the Mexican fishies were alive), animals fleeing their homes, high tides, and the spring equinox, arriving on Sunday, March 20.
When the anchor thanks Berkland for appearing on air, Berkland replies: "My pleasure, I hope."
Forgive me for indulging in a few well-worn cliches about Los Angeles; the planet's mood is certainly apocalyptic enough this week as it is. A meltdown is in progress in Japan. So driving around this city again didn't help ease the sensation that the world is snapping and crumbling around us.
Los Angeles is unsettling by its nature.
I used to laugh at the over-use of this cliche because true L.A. sophisticates know that L.A. is "more complex" or "more normal" than outsiders insist on imagining. But then I remembered, in fact, I always felt a little like this when I lived in L.A., unsettled, scrambled. The amount of time spent alone in a vehicle is really remarkable and completely alters a person's relationship to the city, its landscape, its other citizens. You're driving a deadly weapon. Depth perception becomes fuzzy.
I snapped this photo Sunday while swinging under the 110 to reach the 101, after an afternoon visiting a friend in Venice, for a quick beer at a metal fest at the Echo, before the reading in Lincoln Heights, before dinner back in Pasadena. Pasadena's chiseled streets got me lost for the first time in L.A. in years. It was frustrating.
Earlier, something about driving this freeway interchange seemed especially unfamiliar. Then I noticed. All the graffiti is gone.
"Oh yeah, they buffed that."
This is imported tepache, a natural drink made from fermented pineapple. I spotted this bottle last week while on a beer run at the liquor store on Sunset and Alvarado in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Could be nasty but could be good, I thought.
Tepache is sold all over D.F. from carts on the streets (usually in plastic baggies) or at many taco or quesadilla stands. It's refreshing, tart, cool, and is fermented so well in some cases, as in Oaxaca, it sometimes acquires an alcohol content. Beer is added sometimes.
This version of tepache is made by a company named Frumex, which calls it "pineapple cider." It's the first I've seen this traditional drink from central Mexico in bottled form or in the United States. Popped it open and took a swig. Besides being carbonated, the Frumex product is 'authentic' and damn good, in the quality ginger or root beer category of good.
So later on, back out in Riverside 50 miles east from L.A. in Southern California's suburban country, I saw the bottled tepache again at a Mexican supermarket. Bought two bottles this time, one for me and one to share with my hosts.
(Now, knowing how these things work, let me know when you spot some bottled tepache at your neighborhood Trader Joe's. Only a matter of time, watch.)
Here's an audio interview I did with Turnstyle News, a new outlet based out of Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif. We talk about the emo riots, the cosmopolitan nature of D.F., and a topic I knew would be coming up: Why did you feel it was OK to address your own dabbling in drug use in some sections of the book?
As I tell interviewer Nishat Kurwa, in more words, of course ... Why not? Not like it's never been done before. In the interest of transparency, I showed those sections to my parents before I showed them to anyone else. Without any misgivings. Think about it: Bet a good majority of your editors and media execs -- to say nothing of your president -- went through exactly what I did when I first hit D.F., my "impossible city" in a world of many.
Listen to the Turnstyle News interview here.
I'm stopping this afternoon at UC Irvine to speak to the students of Erika Hayasaki, a former colleague at the L.A. Times and now an assistant professor of literary journalism at Irvine. This evening, Stories in Echo Park. Wednesday, I'll (still) be talking about the book to the students of Ruben Martinez, journalist, author, and professor at Loyola Marymount University in West L.A. Here's that flier.
Thursday's the party.
Above, a video created by Sister Mantos, an L.A.-based musician and performance artist who will be sharing the bill at the Slake magazine release party for "Down & Delirious in Mexico City." This is precisely the energy that I think is present in many of the book's pages.
Here's the Slake release sheet on the event. The party is Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Echoplex -- ** UPDATE: The venue has been changed to the Echo upstairs. ** The idea is to organize a music party in the spirit of the book. So, also playing next Thursday and also right up our alley, DJ Total Freedom, Crazy Band (who belong to that anti-Internet presence movement), and DJ Lengua. I'll also read a little. Thanks, guys, for agreeing to play!
Thank you Liz Garo, Joe Donnelly, Laurie Ochoa, Anne McCaddon, and Craig Gaines for putting the Echoplex party together. Thank you Pilar Perez and Marcus Kuiland-Nazario for organizing the Stories reading.
We'll have books and also issues of Slake for sale. Slake is now in its second issue. Honored to be a part of a venture in new literary journalism and creative writing in a sometimes bleak landscape for new writing. There's an excerpt from the book in Issue 2, "Mexican Gringo."
Yesterday's reading at UC Riverside went really well. Really engaging questions from students and community members. Was fun to hang out a bit with Michael Jaime-Becerra and Jazmin Ortega, former La Opinion reporter and press official for the L.A. mayor, and a UCR alum. We checked out the campus paper The Highlander and the Tomas Rivera library, which has a great collection of children's literature.
I'm excited to share this project three years in the making with my friends and former neighbors, and to share the energy of Mexico City with its close cuz, Los Angeles, always home.
First post in Author News, so here we go.
On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the day "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" goes on sale, I'm doing my first reading from the book at Writers Week at UC Riverside. Here's the release from the UCR newsroom and from the Deparment of Creative Writing.
Writers Week is an annual event at one of the nation's premier creative writing programs, and I'm honored to receive the invitation from Professor Michael Jayme, the El Monte native and author of "Every Night Is Ladies' Night." On the bill this year is Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic (and FIL homie) Jonathan Gold, and my friend Ben Ehrenreich, author of "The Suitors," among many other great writers.
I'm proud to start the roll-out of this book at the University of California, my struggling alma mater, and especially happy to do it at UCR. Riverside has the highest rates of underrepresented minority and low-income students in the University of California system, making it one of the most ethnically and economically diverse university campuses in the world. The campus's central library is named after Tomas Rivera, the trailblazing author of "... y no se lo trago la tierra," a life-long educator and the first minority chancellor in the UC system.
Also, on Thursday, Feb. 10, I'm presenting the book at Calacas in downtown Santa Ana, hosted by author and journalist Gustavo Arellano. Here's the announcement at the OC Weekly. Santa Ana, of course, is the oh-so Mexican county seat of Orange County and the first front, Gustavo might say, in the "reconquista."
Excited for this event, too. While I know I gotta technically read from the book this week, what I'm most looking forward to with this process are the discussions. I wanna hear what people are thinking these days about Mexico, migration, transnationality, books and publishing, Southern California, the drug war, subcultures, megacities, chilango-isms, the border, whatever comes up.
So please come out and say hi if you're in the area.
And here's something else I just noticed. Simon & Schuster has posted an excerpt from the book online. It's Chapter 6, "The Lake of Fire."
* Reading dates and locations for Los Angeles and San Diego coming soon! I can tell you right now, though, the big L.A. event is gonna be the bomb.
** Photo above, the carillon bell tower on the UC Riverside campus, via Flickr.
From a Southern California strip mall near you, above, "Japanese Mexican girls," by artist Shizu Saldamando, via FB. Can I get a pose, too? Check out some of Shizu's work here. A personal favorite are the romantic embraces in "18 With a Bullet."
Last Tuesday I moderated the Q&A with Cheech Marin at the Guadalajara screening of his greatest hit, "Born in East L.A." A lot of pochos living south showed up. They asked Marin how he view Tijuana, and asked about the future of Mexican American film, why there's so little still. Cheech's response was, given the demographic shifts happening in the U.S., "It's gonna change no matter what."
"Born in East L.A.," which Marin wrote and directed, remains the model, I think -- along with Luis Valdez's "La Bamba" and "Zoot Suit." I remember going to see the film at the drive-in theater in Imperial Beach with the whole family, and experiencing such a thrill even at six years old to see people like us, and places we knew, on the big screen.
At the Q&A, Marin told us that the inspiration for the film was a small news story he had read about an L.A. boy who had been wrongly deported to Tijuana. I mentioned to him afterward that incidents like that still happen. Off this case, I wrote a long feature for LA Weekly about Pedro Guzman, the Lancaster man wrongly deported from the L.A. County jail system in summer 2007. Guzman was eventually reunited with his family.
Above, the 'Waas Sappening' scene from "Born in East L.A."
The U.C.E. car club from San Fernando brought two customized cars and two bikes down to the FIL in Guadalajara. Author Luis Rodriguez at Tia Chucha's Cafe organized the exhibit. He blogs about it here.
By the looks of the constant crowds around the vehicles, the lowrider presence at the book fair almost stole the whole show. Above, Orgullo Mexicano, a multiple-award-winning piece of beauty designed around a Mexican roots theme. Glass panels were placed below the car to make its bottom side visible.
In many opinions "L.A. Confidential" is considered one of the very best films made about Los Angeles. Curtis Hanson's noirish thriller is a fascinating study of power in 1950s L.A., dealing with corruption, the limitations of justice, and the thin line between illusion and reality. Listening to Hanson talk about how he managed to get his movie made last night during a Q&A at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, with David Kipen of NEA, my appreciation for the film grew immensely.
A good director's vision doesn't quit. Warner Bros. wanted a major star in the lead, but Hanson wanted to cast virtual unknowns at the time, and have three leads propelling the story, not just one. The idea was to allow audiences' impressions of the characters to change over the arc the film. He rehearsed for six weeks with Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe in order to get their on-screen relationship just right. He met Kevin Spacey at the actual Formosa Cafe to talk to him about playing Jack Vincennes. He'd hunt for locations in L.A. with production designer Jeanine Oppewall, who had to take many security bars off windows to recall L.A. in the '50s.
In order to convey how Hanson wanted "L.A. Confidential" to feel overall, true to James Ellroy's original novel, he'd present a series of Pablo Ferro images to studio executives, actors, designers, and editors, contrasting the illusion of Los Angeles as a land of plenty with the reality of its less squeaky clean core. Those images eventually inspired the movie's opening sequence.
The perseverance paid off. "L.A. Confidential" was nominated for nine Oscars and won two.
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.
A natural bridge between Mexican and American culture, Los Angeles is also a city that has been able to acquire a unique identity relating to cultural production, the trademark that distinguishes its delegation, comprised of around 50 authors, 20 academics, 14 artists and theater companies. The program also includes 7 visual arts exhibitions and a film series presenting classic and contemporary films designed to showcase the diverse perspectives on its urban landscape, its culture and people.
True enough, there's going to be so much going on I won't know where to begin.
Both "Phantom Sightings" and "Vexing" are on view at Guadalajara museums. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be in town, and so will L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, and the Zócalo crew. One panel will have Gregory Rodriguez moderating the question of how Mexican Americans see Mexico.
The Jalisco edition of La Jornada breaks down the Encuentro Chicano, an ambitious two-day program that focuses on Mexican American arts and letters, organized by the Centro Universitario de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades at the University of Guadalajara. I am excited to be moderating a panel with Luis Rodriguez, Maria Amparo Escandon, Jose Luis Valenzuela, and Ruben Martinez. Come check it out if you're in town.
Here is a blog that artist Daniel Gonzalez is running right now from the festivities. So far Daniel has posted on the Hospicio Cabañas, Mixtecas drawing on Converse sneakers, installing the "Vexing" show, and more.
Finally, here is an essay I published on Sunday in the culture section of El Páis, Spain's biggest newspaper. In it, I discuss the radical recent changes to the "vaguely Mexican atmosphere" of Los Angeles, and where us 'post-Chicanos' stand today. I'll have an English translation link to the piece later today.
* Intersections returns on December 3.
There are some real gems, some big sounds, on the new Julian Casablancas solo album, "Phrazes for the Young." Here is audio for "Glass." It includes the lyrics: Take it easy / There's no time to be mad / That's their job / Bite on their teeth / Death on their vine.
It's a holiday today -- Day of the Dead -- so some places are closed and the city is mellower. There are openings this week at the Jumex Collection and Jimmie Durham at Kurimanzutto. Gang Gang Dance is playing somewhere in D.F. on Saturday. That should be interesting.
Today I'm reading about an exciting act of defiance against state censorship in Mexico, thanks to the legendary Los Tigres del Norte, and also an illuminating check-in on Julian Casablancas, of The Strokes.
It's a familiar story of exile and rebirth: Downtown New York artist rises fast, burns out, and moves to an equivalent neighborhood but a mellower and more fulfilling lifestyle in Los Angeles. Then their art ... changes:
On Tuesday his first solo album, "Phrazes for the Young," will be released on Cult Records/RCA. Cult is his own, newly started and self-financed imprint, with a handful of bicoastal employees. He wrote and arranged all the music and played much of it himself. In Los Angeles he’s been getting a band together and prepping madly for a tour that will include a series of residencies with elaborate stage shows. Evident ambition has replaced obtuse ennui.
Casablancas sounds so positive and peppy in the piece, like he's 'gone native.' It struck me; a lot of creative people in California talk this way, about valuing firstly personal happiness, community happiness, and family, and rejecting destructive behaviors.
Do we need a term for this phenomenon? California Positivism?