Mexico's lone Olympian competing in the Vancouver Games, which end on Sunday, is 51 years old and is officially a "Prinz." Read more about Hubertus von Hohenlohe --and his bodysuit -- at my current post at La Plaza.
Reclusive author J.D. Salinger and crusading historian Howard Zinn died on the same day this year, January 27. In honor of these two greats, Hilobrow offers a quick history of the United States in the voice of Salinger's famous young protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Here's how it starts:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is how the Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look and that kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
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."
I'm telling you. Disregard, momentarily, every preconception you have about what Guns N' Roses might signify in the wideness of our pop universe. Disregard, if you can, Axl Rose's long record of irresponsibility, homophobia, and racism. Just watch above, like more than 20 million others have, preferably on blast.
"Sweet Child O' Mine" is a perfect rock ballad. Axl sings and moves incredibly. Slash (Time's second-best electric guitar player of all time, after Jimi) and the band play incredibly. The whole thing feels incredible -- in that late-period hair-metal lost-Hollywood early-90s sort of way.
Then reconsider "Don't Cry" and that epic journey, "November Rain." Cinematic rock-n-roll genius is what I call it. Growing up, there was plenty of appreciation among my siblings for Hendrix, The Doors, and Santana. With MTV invading our brain back then, it was easy to make room for some Guns N' Roses, too. (We just never admitted it much.)
You're not being asked to buy into the "new" Guns N' Roses, by any means. But as a slight rubric on how to consider the influence this band has had on our generations, take a look: People are still dressing like them.
Activism is not only about organizations and grassroots and lefty news media. It's basically about seizing the opportunity. Consider: On Thursday night in Los Angeles, Residente of Calle 13 (previously blogged here) hosted the MTV Latino awards. Sensing an opportunity, he used his platform -- millions of viewers up and down the Western Hemisphere -- to verbally assault just about every major free-market-friendly, authoritarian-leaning Latin American political figure currently sitting in power.
He called the (Republican) governor of Puerto Rico -- where fed-up workers staged a general strike the same day -- an "hijo de la gran puta." He said Cristina Kirchner of Argentina gets too much Botox. He ordered Mexican President Felipe Calderon to basically shut up and get to work, then added "¡Viva México cabrones!" Of his native island, Residente said that "Latin America is incomplete without a free Puerto Rico."
Between each performance and award, Residente changed his T-shirt, each one pushing a cutting new political message: "México nunca olvida, 2/oct/68" said one (Thank you), "Uribe paramiltar," said another.
Watch the punk-recorded clip above. When the camera seems to prepare to cut away from him, Residente stops the photographer, "Wait there, wait there, wait there!" He proclaims openly: "I say it here because I have power."
Wow. No wonder some of the thin-skinned Latin American politicians he (justly) skewered delivered public responses to René Pérez's on-air comments. "What are we teaching our children?" asked Marcos Rodríguez Ema, interior secretary of Puerto Rico, surely with appalled indignation. Colombia also responded, but ... come on, homie isn't making this shit up.
Fact is, René Pérez seems to me the sanest and most honest person on both our continents right now. He smartly wields his sex and pop appeal to speak truth to power, making him one of very few MTV-level figures in any language who recognize the urgency of the contemporary moment.
Needless to say, I'm a follower.
** NOTE TO READERS: I'll be updating this month at The Faster Times Mexico.
Before he became the official delegado-electo of the Iztapalapa borough, the largest and most troubled in Mexico City, Rafael "Juanito" Acosta was a simple street vendor and rank-and-file leftist activist, a member of the tiny Workers Party who at some point got to wearing a tricolor headband that became his trademark, the word "Juanito" scribbled on front. Affable and seemingly harmless -- if a bit inarticulate in his language -- "Juanito" unexpectedly became a pawn this summer at the hands of Andres Manuel López Obrador.
Obrador, who still insists the 2006 presidential election was "stolen" from him, should have known better than anyone else that one of the perils of manipulation is that it can always back-fire on you. Let's look at a previous post for the back-story:
"Juanito" ... struck a deal with allies in the opposition wing of the PRD, led by López Obrador, in which he would resign the office the day he assumes it [... and ...] would be required to appoint a replacement. That replacement is to be Clara Brugada, the AMLO-supported PRD candidate who was not allowed to run for Iztapalapa chief. The PRD wing currently in power, known as "Los Chuchos" for party president Jesús Ortega, muscled their own person on the ballot there.
But soon after the July 5 election, in which Juanito won, the headband-wearing street vendor turned into a political Frankenstein. He announced that, Nevermind, he'll stay as chief of Iztapalapa as the voters declared -- AMLO, Clara, and the whole deal be damned.
This of course caused a sensation. AMLO had warned Juanito -- as I witnessed at a huge rally in Iztapalapa -- against succumbing to the "siren song" of power. Acosta conveniently forgot that the people in fact did not vote for "Juanito" specifically but for Juanito as the front-man of AMLO's wing of the PRD. Yet for the first time, it seemed, a little guy was standing up to the arrogance and machinations of Mexico's political caudillos. And why not? When does a guy like Juanito -- like us? -- get to run a demarcation more populous than several Mexican states? Who cares if he's, uh, a little crazy?
For weeks, Rafael Acosta appeared on the front pages of all the D.F. papers and several magazines (including this month's Chilango). Seminal Mexican rocker Alex Lora said he'd write Juanito a song. El Universal detailed Juanito's "fifteen pleasures," revealing pertinent trivia such as his favorite team (Cruz Azul) and movie ("Rambo"). Then he went topless at the Mr. Mexico competition, and everyone loved him for it.
Meanwhile, Juanito armed himself with a war-room to prepare for his administration, while it seemed like every politician who was not immediately allied with AMLO was willing to give Juanito a chance -- if only to further weaken and fracture the left until the next election in 2012. Juanito was more than willing to oblige; tabloids published photos of Juanito meeting with the local head of the PAN, the boogeyman conservatives.
Then, just when the spectacle couldn't get any weirder, the delegado-electo emerged from a meeting with Mayor Marcelo Ebrard on Monday and abruptly announced he would not assume office on October 1 after all -- seriously this time. AMLO-allied groups in Iztapalapa were organizing rallies against him, and a poll found he was in fact not more popular in the borough than Clara Brugada. Ebrard reportedly told Juanito he could guarantee his safety and that there could be social unrest in Iztapalapa if he did not honor his side of the pre-election deal.
But who knows what was really said between the two men. El Universal reported that Ebrard was told, "He's crazy," and then somehow convinced Juanito it would be worth his while to step aside. On Thursday, he took office, then filed for a leave of 59 days, naming Clara Brugada as his successor. Along the way, he took off his red PT necktie and stomped on it, shouting incoherently, "Traitors! PR ... PT!" His career as delegado of Iztapalapa over in just a couple hours, Juanito was whisked out of the D.F. legislative assembly hall through a back-door, and is reportedly heading to the beach.
I count myself among the many people in Mexico City who were torn about what to think of Juanito. In some way, he is a victim of the political status quo, and an unlikely sort of a hero. On the other hand, the thought of a clownish "Juanito" running a place as big and complicated as Iztapalapa was ... a little frightening.
We'll see what Rafael Acosta has planned for 2012. Juanito, Hope?
* BLOG NOTE: Intersections goes dark until November 1. Please be patient as I complete revisions on the draft of my book. As ever, thanks for the comments and feedback! Heart, D.
Mexico City artist Yoshua Okon opens a new solo show, Ventanilla única, at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil on Tuesday night. The show emphasizes recent video and photography previously not seen in Mexico, including his 2008 project White Russians, which focuses on a "family" living in the remote and desolate California high desert.
One of the most accomplished Mexican artists from the 90s generation, Yoshua's work consistently gets under your skin. On the surface it is humorous, bizarre or even abusive. But underneath it exposes uncomfortable barriers of class and culture, and in the lopsided relationship between subjects and documenters (where far too many artists, journalists, academics, and filmmakers lack a critical stance or approach).
"The excuse of the camera, the excuse of it 'being art,' offers you opportunities that everyday life does not allow you," the artist explains in this VBS documentary. In effect, Yoshua's practice is about exploiting exploitation, while directly implicating the viewer in the process. My favorite of his pieces, which I can return to over and over, are Lago Bolsena, Crabby, Presenta, Orillese a la Orilla, Rinoplastia, and Cockfight.
Okon and fellow artist Miguel Calderon were the original proprietors of La Panadería, the experimental arts space in the once tucked-away and forgotten Col. Condesa whose success eventually helped spawn ... the new Condesa. Among artists who belong to that period of Mexico City's avant-garde and have been covered previously in Intersections are Mariana Botey, Dr. Lakra, Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Teresa Margolles, Miguel Calderon and Eduardo Abaroa.
Ventanilla única is at the Carrillo Gil until early January 2010.
* Image above: White Russians, 2008. Performance. High Desert Test Sites. Joshua Tree, E.U. 8-9 Nov, 2008. 12-5pm.
Los Angeles "Mexican regional" artist Jenni Rivera has just one message for her new socia, her boyfriend's fiancee, just ... one message ... Jenni of course doesn't mess around. So no need to mention, please, that minor US$50,000 in cash at the Mexico City international airport incident in May.
The bicultural, bilingual, binational Mexico City-born artist Ruben Ortiz-Torres opened a dual show with Marcos Lopez at the Centro del Imagen last week. Ortiz-Torres, who teaches art at UC San Diego, presents his series of photographs of pyramids in otherwordly, dislocated contexts: a pyramid-shaped water-slide at a resort in the Bahamas, a pyramid-shaped furniture store in San Diego, a gym at Cal State Long Beach, as seen above.
Go here, here, and here for coverage of the "Thriller" spectacle that happened at the Monumento de la Revolucion on Saturday. The video above is by AFP, which says 12,937 dancers heeded the call of "Todos somos zombies" and followed the lead of Hector Jackson, Mexico's premier MJ impersonator.
Almost 13,000 danced but the city said as many as 50,000 people crowded the plaza and surrounding streets for the event. As for me, after watching two sing-along, swaying renditions of "Heal the World" as more and more people poured into the space, I decided I had MJ overload, and left.
But in case you missed it, I profiled Hector last week for The Faster Times, as he prepared for his biggest show yet. He's a true-blue hustling chilango. "I started liking his songs, I started investigating more, and it started as a game. Dancing like him," Hector said. "And what started out as a game is now a matter of work. A lot, a lot of work."
* Previously, "Getting ready for 'Thriller' in Mexico City."
This is me smooching with the last bit of my lunch last Saturday, a crispy bunny head, enchilada. Don't worry, I didn't ingest the tiny toasted brain, eyes or head meat. I did have plenty of meat from its other parts, though. It was succulent, tasty, and tender. Delicioso.
That day we piled into a little hatchback and headed to the far southeast of the Estado de México, in the verdant chilly hills under the volcanoes. There, farms produce the base livestock for the local speciality, guisados de conejo. We shared two whole rabbits enchilado and al pastor, and accompanied them with carnitas and beef marrow soup. Washed it all down with fresh pulque. Mmmmm.
An un-heralded delicacy in the pantheon of Mexican cuisine, rabbit is still big enough to get its own Feria de Conejo, in Xochimilco. Outside the road-side restaurant in San Andres Metla last weekend, vendors sold bunny feet, hides, and scarves. And hopping furry little live ones, too, if that's your thing or whatever.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Mexico City are expected to dance Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on August 29, the King of Pop's birthday and also the day he is finally laid to rest. They're hoping to set a world record with the Facebook-organized event, to be held on the sloping plaza before the Monumento de la Revolución. But ... can they beat the Filipino prison inmates?
That guy in front in the shot above is Héctor Jackson, one of several Mexican MJ impersonators, during a rehearsal on Sunday. Check out more photos here, here, here, and here. And here is raw video that I shot.
Today, MJ fanatics got together again at Bellas Artes to further promote the happening.
* More later.
Ever wonder if there's a back-story to the practice in some U.S. Mexican restaurants to offer patrons, "Corn or flour?" Via LA Eastside, here's a mini-movie directed by media artist Esteban Zul that offers us a satisfying mythology over the always fruitful tortilla wars. Wait for when the "reclusive brujo" chants "Tecate! Tecate! Modelo! Sapporo! Asahi! Tecate! Tecate! Con limon!"
There's been a welcome re-shuffling of the permanent collection at the MUNAL, a grand museum that like many in Mexico City has a breathtaking permanent collection but suffers from terrible museumography. The main temporary show right now is built on the weak premise of somehow filtering MUNAL's collection through the "lens" of Octavio Paz. This basically means moving around the artworks and stringing them together with strange and confusing quotations from Paz's writings.
The upside, room for fresh works!
The MUNAL is finally acknowledging thousands of years of Mexican history that preceded the collision with the Spanish by bringing in pre-Columbian artifacts to the spaces. One of these, seen above, stopped me in my tracks. It's a late Classic Tlaloc (for whom I've always had a soft spot) from the Veracruz region.
The Tlaloc is in remarkable condition. But take a close look. With his skinny frame, hunched and pensive pose, oversized eyewear, uh, uncommon fashion sense, and petulant demeanor, I couldn't help asking ...
Is this the most hipster-ish deity figure that Mesoamerica ever produced?
This iconic image by Jorge Dan of Reuters came to epitomize in these weeks that famous instinct of Mexican ingenuity in the face of constant existential threats. It's a very funny photograh.
Specifically, the masked saint is San Judas Tadeo. As I've discussed before, many young people in Mexico City's poorest or most 'dangerous' barrios venerate San Judas as the patron of lost causes and lost souls.
Non-adherents disparagingly call them "reggaetoneros" or "tepiteños," making reference to the famous barrio bravo where San Judas's presence is strong. The prevailing assumption is that most of his devoted in Mexico are hoodlums and petty criminals. Others say San Judas is just a fad, a fashion trend.
This photo must have been taken on April 28, at the peak of the swine flu fear. Each 28th of each month, the San Judas tribe makes pilgrimage to the San Hipolite church in Centro. There by Hidalgo, they get their statues blessed, buy loads of San Judas jewelry and trinkets, and on the fringes, drink and take drugs.
Check out this portrait of a San Judas kid by Keith Dannemiller.
* In Centro, I am bombarded with San Judas signals every day. Seduced by the perception of his spiritual strength, I have been begun wearing him myself. But more on that later.
My friend Jane in middle school once gave herself a chola make-over. She totally pulled it off. So does Stevie Ryan. This is because if you had contact with cholas growing up, with a little effort you could turn yourself into one, too –- as many "gueras" do in real life. The chola style and attitude is that distinct and recognizable.
With her 2007 video for "Luxurious," add Gwen Stefani, who grew up in Orange County. Her California Chicana, directed by Sophie Muller, is uncanny. She even shows us her chancla at the end. That’s bold. In the codes of the classical barrio, taking off your chancla is basically saying, ‘You wanna fight?'
* Previously, "It's your homegirl up in here ..."
Anderson Cooper, on assignment in Mexico for 60 Minutes, walked into visiting hours at the federal prison where Sandra Ávila Beltrán is behind bars and had a sit-down with "La Reina del Pacífico" as part of this extensive piece on the drug war. Ávila Beltrán repeatedly pressed into Cooper the idea that the Mexican government is not the solution but part of the problem behind the current wave of bloodshed here.
Can they win? he asks her. "I don't think so," the Queen responds. "You'd have to wipe out the government to wipe out drug trafficking." Watch the exchange here.
With this piece and many others filtering through since last week, it was as if the United States suddenly sat up and realized there was a problem brewing south of the border. Janet Napolitano, the new Homeland Security Secretary, sounded the alarm before a committee in Congress. And the Justice Department announced more than 700 arrests across the U.S. in a crackdown on the Sinaloa cartel. New U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. used his first press conference to issue an open warning to Mexican cartels operating distribution cells within the country, but it sounded a bit hollow; how long have the cartels been building networks of distributors in the U.S.? Two decades, at least? Three?
Check out this L.A. Times Flash map to see just how deeply a part of the criminal landscape Mexican druglords are in gringolandia. And we're only talking about this now?
Could it be that a more general fear factor is taking hold? One U.S. poll suggests so. Last week The Wall Street Journal appeared eager to fan the flames, directly comparing Mexico's battle against the cartels with Pakistan's battle against Islamic radicals. The rest of the piece takes us through Monterrey, detailing the Zetas' hold on the streets, but as a work of journalism it read as overtly hysterical. (Let me know where this place known as "Tepitoto" is located, if you find it.)
What's needed is a far more honest discussion on the United States's several points of responsibility for what is happening in Mexico. The U.S. is the biggest narcotics market in the world. A large majority of the weapons and cash that fuel the war come from the north to the south.
President Felipe Calderon meanwhile will to continue to insist that Mexico is not a failed state. But all signs right now point to the country's vast state of failure. Maybe we should start listening to former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and his friends on this one. As an Intersections reader pointed out, things are so hairy in Ciudad Juarez that its mayor is hiding out across the river in El Paso -- and is considered in danger even there.
* Photo above by Bloomberg via NYT.
This dude had trouble landing out of his grind at this mini-skate park in Barrio 18 in a dense and dusty region of Xochimilco, on a recent smoggy Saturday. Still fun watching him, though. We stood around snapping pictures of the skaters, drinking beer, having burgers, chattin' it up. A crackhead came up to me and asked to "borrow" my lighter -- not without first offering me some piedra. Of course, I never saw the thing again. Happens every time ...
* Added a new category, Tribes. Check it out.
Oxnard-bred Michele Serros, one of California's sharpest and funniest writers, has an essay in the current Washington Post Sunday magazine titled "Boundary Issues." It's a short narrative about her therapist, her therapist's "housekeeper," and la migra. Serros also did a radio commentary recently for Latino USA about the two Fridas. No, not the ones in the iconic painting by Frida Kahlo. Serros draws a post-Fridamania riff about the Mexican painter and ... Frida from ABBA. Some strong assertions in there, but I'll leave it up to you to pounce upon them. Listen here.
* Know your Serros. Re-discover the hilariously good "How to Be a Chicana Role Model." When I gave it to my little sister Erika to read when she was in middle school, she devoured it in a couple of days. Everyone does.
Last week Mexican President Felipe Calderon delivered his second annual "Government Report" to the Congress, and to the customary analysis and critique in the papers and punditry. But for the general citizenry's convenience, Los Pinos also has a YouTube channel, where the president's direct-address sub-reports are now viewable -- and open for comments.
Above is Calderon's report on the security situation in Mexico. The president, a PAN man, focuses on enforcement successes and offers cursory regrets for the thousands of lives lost in the country's internal narco war since he took office. Watch when he mentions Zenghli Ye Gon and makes a point to refer to him as a "citizen of Chinese origin."
* Previously, "Mediocrity of Message: The march against insecurity."
This was the altar in the private home in Independencia, Chiapas where many of the UNAM brigadistas stayed during our group's time there. There had been a recent loss in the family.
* Previously, "From UNAM to Chiapas, on a mission of action."
This is a detail of a painting by my brother Sergio, a graffiti and tattoo artist in San Diego. When I asked him to send me this image, I had been thinking of our curious relationship with Tijuana. The representational painting, in keeping with Sergio's toonish style, is a nostalgic scene of the barrio we knew in La Mesa. We called that lot -- a yard and a row of single-room bungalows -- "los cuartitos." Each little branch of my maternal Andrade clan had its own little cuartito. Here's what Sergio had to say about the painting:
The piece is called Saturday Morning in Tijuana 82. I've also called it Tijuana 1983. Either or. Like all the other pieces that are still in my house it is a work in progress. None of my paintings are finished until someone else owns them. I tried to portray what it felt like going to Tijuana to visit the fam on the weekends when we were little. I remember ninjas were awesome and Bruce Lee was the shit. I also remember random dangerous holes and cracks in the ground. Paleteros. The stories of [our brother] Gaston being like the local dog whisperer. I also included Gramma Esperanza in her lime green pants. Cars that were not functional... cousins that we called tios. Outhouses...stuff like that. I'm glad youre diggin it. I like it cause I think that that Tijuana, for better or worse, is quickly disappearing.
The piece kind of reminds me of a latter Carmen Lomas Garza. Lomas Garza is the Tejana painter whose warm scenes of Mexican American domestic life in South Texas are included in Cheech Marin's "Painters of the Verge" collection.
* Sergio is not naturally a self-promoter. But let me tell you that he has exhibited his canvas or graffiti work in galleries and shows in Baltimore, Oklahoma City, Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Tijuana, and Melbourne, Australia. He also practices mixed martial arts, MCs with the Boxfeeders, and has modeled for Tribal Gear.
* Previously, "Officially cool, Tijuana art arrives."
Meant to post this a whole ago: Sickly Season has valuable audio from a panel discussing graffiti and its engagement with civic life in Los Angeles, from June 2007, at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, in Little Tokyo. Really interesting perspectives in there from OG writer Chaz Bojorquez, Retna, Al Nodal, Slick, CalTrans official Dan Freeman, and Roger Gatsman, founding editor of While You Were Sleeping and Swindle. Also on the panel sat Shelley Leopold of the LA Weekly. Leopold has a feature this week on Mr. Brainwash, who is apparently making a scene on the L.A. landscape right now.
Definitely listen to what Chaz has to say. ("New York? They're still doing bubble letters.") But the really interesting part comes at the very beginning, when the panel's organizer tells the audience that someone had tagged the NCPD building in the "in the last fifteen minutes, which isn't cool." The organizer, in a fascinating bit of protocol and street smarts, handles the incident very well. Download the audio here. Graffiti: ever-mainstreaming, ever renegade.
** Housekeeping note: The fonts here have been finally, mercifully updated. Sans serif at last. I also added the "recent comments" box on the left, to highlight feedback that arrives on posts deep in the archives. Also slightly updated my author profile. Thanks for the continued feedback and encouragement.
My brother Sergio was the first to introduce me a while back to "Yo Gabba Gabba!," a TV show aimed at kids that he was almost as excited about as my nephew, Eligh, his youngest of two. No. He was basically a lot more excited about it than Eligh appeared to be. I quickly saw why.
Toddlers are the target audience, of course, but with that unmistakable hip-hop flavor and humor, and all those cool celebrity guest spots, "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is the kind of kiddie show that is drawing ardent adult fans. And inevitably, stoner college kids.
But now I gotta go, cuz there's a party in my tummy.
This is a billboard that shows a beautiful young mother shielding the eyes of her child from something awful, maybe a traffic accident, or a bloody crime scene. The image feels taut and in motion. It is clearly playing to the culture of fear in Mexico City -- fear of kidnappings, fear of freak calamities, fear of death. At the same time it is nodding at the mystique of motherhood that still dominates concepts of Mexican femininity.
So what's it selling? Why, it's Nido, the decidedly non-threatening milk powder. It's a whole campaign, by the way, saying essentially, If you're a good Mexican mother, you'll cover your kid's eyes from a horrible sight, and you'll buy him Nido. This particular billboard was spotted on the speedy north-south artery Calzada de Tlalpan, near the surface station of metro Portales.