The story of Alex Chalgren, a young black gay Trump supporter in South Carolina, produced by Zoe Chace, almost made me cry. Hate that.
Check out the official trailer for the Guide to Oaxaca I am hosting for MUNCHIES, the newly launched food channel at VICE. It's a quick taste of the five-part, hour-long series I recorded in November with colleagues Santiago F. and Guillermo A. from VICE México.
Yes, I tried the turtle eggs.
** Originally published May 17 at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Same-sex marriage is legal in this city. Gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and the government touts tolerance and respect for "sexual diversity" in messages posted on subway platforms and bus billboards.
Yet, according to Jonathan Zamora, a 31-year-old psychologist, the advancement of gay rights in Mexico's capital in recent years conceals an ugly, persistent problem: unchecked discrimination and violence in what is, on paper at least, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
Early on March 15, Zamora alleges, he was detained while walking home by police who beat and jailed him for hours.
Zamora says he was not drinking in public, was fully clothed and only blocks from his door after a night out with friends. When he asked officers why he was stopped, Zamora says one of them told him it was for being gay, using a Mexican slur for homosexuals.
When Zamora reached his home later that afternoon -- bruised and without his belongings, which he said were confiscated -- he posted photos of his injuries online. Thus, a campaign began targeting what gay rights activists call police discrimination in Mexico City, as well as reports of homophobic threats and violence on the streets.
"I thought my case was isolated, but we know it's not," Zamora said in a recent interview at a cafe in Mexico City's refurbished historic center. "There are so many other cases like mine, and they keep coming to me .... Some [people] have even lost their lives."
The spokesman's office for Mexico City's police department declined to answer questions about Zamora's case. But city prosecutors said they were aware of the case and that an investigation was underway.
On Friday, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera was taking part in an event to roll out new protocols for the police that are intended to ensure that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are respected.
Zamora's complaint is one of numerous reported incidents of violence or discrimination against the gay community in Mexico City in recent months.
In mid-January, gunmen held up an upscale men's bathhouse near the ritzy Polanco district. Men identifying themselves online as customers of the bathhouse later complained of abuse at the hands of police who responded.
At least three men have been reported killed or found dead after confrontations near gay bars since the start of the year, according to police reports.
Zamora, a native of a middle-class suburb northwest of Mexico City, offered chilling details of his detention. He said the officers who stopped him drove around aimlessly for at least an hour before delivering him to a jail cell. At one point, Zamora alleges, one of the officers said he could be set free if he performed oral sex on them.
Hours later, alone in a cell, Zamora said he began kicking a door to demand his release. He still hadn't been told what crime led to his detention, he said, and hadn't been permitted to make a phone call.
He claimed four officers entered his cell and proceeded to punch and kick him. Zamora said he was then taken to a hospital, examined, returned to a police station and let go, ending an ordeal that lasted about eight hours.
"In my case, it wasn't just about a lack of training, it was a lack of everything," he said. "How can you hire people who are aggressive, violent, who don't behave like community?"
New police protocols published Thursday instruct officers to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people "with respect for human rights" and to respect their "gender identity." They also prohibit the use of insulting language or degrading comments.
"First, the police have to recognize that we're people," said Jaime Lopez Vela, a longtime gay rights activist who helped draft the new rules. "We've been talking about this for years. It's been on the agenda, and sadly, it's been expedited by the recent aggressions."
More than two months after his arrest, Zamora says he is still waiting for justice. The officers who allegedly detained and beat him have been identified, but no charges or disciplinary measures have been announced. Meanwhile, he's turned to Facebook, Twitter and Change.org to keep the public’s eye on his case.
"Any moment that your dignity, your values, your rights are broken, you must raise your voice," Zamora said.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The city that was once considered one of the world's most polluted and crime-ridden now boasts that it is a haven from Mexico's drug violence and has gone so "green" with new mass transit lines and trendy vertical gardens that it is hardly recognizable from its former self.
Miguel Angel Mancera, the newly sworn-in mayor, vowed this week to continue the socially progressive policies of his predecessor and make Mexico's gargantuan capital "safer, freer, more equal, more progressive" during his next six years in office.
"My government shall be humanist, truthful, honorable, transparent, democratic and united with the people," the mayor said in his first speech after taking the oath of office Wednesday.
Mancera, 46, the former attorney general of Mexico City, holds a doctorate in law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a single father and fitness buff who boxes regularly. The society magazine Quien called him "the golden bachelor" in a recent cover story.
Mancera won the July 1 mayoral election by a whopping 63% of the vote, a margin of victory considered partly a referendum on the liberal Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and its uninterrupted run at City Hall since 1997, when the position of mayor was created for the Federal District, the formal name of Mexico City.
Mancera took the reins of the city's government after the largely successful term of outgoing Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a popular figure who is credited with reducing crime in the capital even as violence soared in other parts of the country and who legalized same-sex marriage and abortion on demand in the city.
The position of mayor is considered a launching pad for higher office in Mexico, but it is also a frustrating barrier for the PRD. Its presidential candidates in recent national elections, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have both been mayors of Mexico City but have been unable to capture the presidency in a total of four attempts.
Ebrard, a product of the more centrist wing of the PRD, was sidelined as candidate in the 2012 presidential election by the populist stalwart Lopez Obrador, who finished second after Enrique Peña Nieto, the new president.
After his swearing-in, Mancera said he would install thousands more high-tech surveillance cameras to further reduce crime. He also proposed the creation of a post in his Cabinet, a U.S.-style city manager, to answer citizens' needs.
On Thursday, his first full day on the job, Mancera waded into the capital's current major controversy, the alleged abuse by police and abitrary arrests of dozens of protesters in clashes during last week's swearing-in of Peña Nieto. The city's human rights commission said Thursday that more than 20 people who weren't involved in the violence had been arrested, including a Romanian journalist taking photographs of the events, and that at least four may have been tortured or beaten.
Mancera urged residents to be patient with legal proceedings for 69 people who face charges of vandalism and disturbing the peace on Saturday. "To say that no one disturbed the peace or public order would be out of touch with reality," he said.
However Mancera's term as mayor turns out, it may not be enough to catapult him higher if he harbors aspirations for the presidency in 2018. For that election, his former boss, Marcelo Ebrard, has already indicated he's in the running.
* Photo via Chilango.com.
This was some radical gang graffiti in Chicago, I guess, proclaiming, "Radicals Against Discrimination," like it was a slogan for a political party or a popular movement.
Somewhere along the north end of the city's shore on Lake Michigan, near Lincoln Park and DePaul University, an idealistic and committed Chicagoan, possibly a young person, decided it was necessary to say what she or he stood for.
Apart from the factor of a strong punk scene in Chicago, the gesture made me smile. People here are straight-up.
Chicago is huge. Some 2.7 million within the city limits and about 9.8 million people in the metropolitan region at large. I was more excited for this trip than any in a long while. What is going on down there? Had just a few short days to gather an impression, in for a talk at DePaul.
While landing, the city looked gargantuan and seemed to spread, dilligently and with evident muscularity, to the far-off horizons. Old-school, built-up, tough, efficient Americana. Chicago.
Upon arrival, the cold was significant. But it also felt good on the lungs. Above, your blogger before the Anish Kapoor sculpture "Cloud Gate" at Millenium Park near the Lake Michigan waterfront.
The Tribune Tower.
Pizza at a neighborhood family pizza spot in Brighton Park, a Mexican barrio near the Mexican Chicago epicenter of Pilsen. I was pretty astounded at first sight but now let's just say it flat and move on. "Chicago is a Mexican city," as ethnographer Daniel Makagon put it one night.
So here we were, a family pizza place on a Saturday night in Mexican Chicago. The pizza crust was amazing; rest of pie, so-so, but it didn't matter. The winning factor was the ambience. Almost everyone inside was brown. Others represented the ethnic diversity that is a standard cosmopolitanism of Mexican barrios anywhere in the world.
Anyone who lives in a pocho/paisa hood inevitably becomes somewhat Mexican themselves, right?
* From Latino USA:
Singer Chavela Vargas was beloved throughout the continent for her rough yet tender voice singing songs of love gained and lost. She died August 5. Reporter Daniel Hernandez attended her very public wake in her adopted home, Mexico City.
Listen to the piece here. Previously, "On voting for the first time for president in Mexico."
** Photo: Fans at Garibaldi.
** Originally published at World Now:
It is almost pointless to be sad about the passing of Chavela Vargas. Her entire life, through song, was about transcending and challenging death.
The singer, who passed away Sunday in Cuernavaca, lived to be 93, surviving many contemporaries from decades ago when Vargas wore men’s clothes, smoked, and carried a pistol in macho-bound Mexico.
Then she disappeared. For a few foggy years in the last century, when Vargas stayed away from the capital's cabarets and fell under the spell of alcohol in a forgotten town in the state of Morelos, she had become a ghostly myth. Many people actually thought she had died.
After the reflourishing of her career -- starting in 1991 at the Coyoacan district cabaret El Habito, but marked for U.S. audiences by her performance of "La Llorona" in the 2002 film "Frida" -- Vargas through her performances seemed to be gamely singing her way around death.
It was always a fair match, always a matter of courtly struggle against a respected rival.
In her songs, in that uniquely Latin American way of romancing melancholy, Vargas would channel the long echoes of sorrow and pain that accompany any life as long as hers, armor against its end. Few details are known about her famous affairs, but we didn't really need them. Her songs about love and loss evoked countless shivers and heavy hearts, countless borracheras -- enthusiastically sorrowful drinking sessions.
For that, audiences and listeners across Mexico, the Americas and Spain would sometimes find themselves under a surprising state of rapture in the presence of her voice. It was pleading and raspy, yet always remarkably controlled.
On Monday night, throngs of Vargas devotees filled Plaza Garibaldi near downtown Mexico City to be near her casket for a few hours and participate in a customary Mexican ritual that's become familiar after the passings of Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsivais: a public mourning session.
Howls of farewell from fans were heard across the plaza. When prominent folk singer Eugenia Leon led the crowds in the universally revered ranchera ballad “Volver,” which Vargas always delivered with fire and ruination, hundreds of voices joined in what felt like a spontaneous group therapy session. There was a lot of tequila flowing by then.
This sort of event in any context can become a platform for insincere or awkward reactions to the death of a beloved figure, and this was particularly apparent. The memorial was organized by the culture ministry of the Mexico City municipal government and included the participation of a mariachi band associated with the media conglomerate Televisa.
Against such a powerfully distinct voice as that of "Chavela," the tributes sung by Leon, Tania Libertad and Lila Downs as "offerings" before her reboso-covered casket served only as reminders of what has been lost. All are accomplished singers, but none could capture what Vargas could.
When she sang, she'd sometimes lift her chin in a slow physical gesture, as if exposing both her dignity and wounds. At a microphone, she'd take her arms and raise them past her head, palms open, as though conjuring a ghost. Vargas might have laughed out loud if she was observing the memorial Monday night from the comforts of the Aztecs' underworld.
At Plaza Garibaldi, the troubled meeting-point for Mexico City’s roving mariachi musicians, several mariachis said gruffly that they were respectful but indifferent to her passing because Vargas usually did not perform with mariachis but with the solitary guitar.
She did, however, drink at the Tenampa cantina on the plaza. On Monday night, a group of longtime lesbian activists who knew Vargas gathered at a table at the Tenampa, with a bottle of tequila in her honor.
Patria Jimenez Flores, 55, described herself as a "spiritual daughter" to Vargas, who was also seriously regarded by many as a shaman.
"She was the first to break with all the stereotypes and paradigms in a country like Mexico, that is somachista. She took the criticisms, and then had the public at her feet," Jimenez said.
A comment heard since Vargas's death is that, as a chamana, she not merely died but "transcended" to another plane.
In one of her final interviews, Vargas told the El Universal newspaper's Sunday magazine in April that she was enjoying her final years in her home in Tepoztlan. She told the magazine that she would "cease living without dying."
* Photo: Chavela Vargas performs in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 12, 2002. Credit: Jaime Razuri / AFP/Getty Images
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:
MEXICO CITY -- It was, in a manner of speaking, the biggest moment of Sunday night's presidential debate in Mexico.
To mark the debate's start, a stunning, undeniably well-endowed model took the floor, smiling silently and carrying a box with four pieces of paper in it that candidates drew to see who went first.
The candidates managed a straight face, but at first sight of her, dozens of journalists inside the debate press room at Mexico City's World Trade Center gasped and jeered.
The woman, identified later as a model and former playmate for Mexican Playboy, Julia Orayen, almost immediately became a trending topic on Twitter.
Orayen was serving as an edecan, a role that has long been traditional to formal political, business, or entertainment events in Mexico.
The edecan is a sort of hostess who stands during meetings or parties to help guide or coordinate guests. They are usually attractive young women with long hair who wear sexy dresses and heels, a feature of Mexican public life that some consider a throwback to the culture's more macho tendencies.
"Who won the debate?" one Twitter user quipped. "Edecan: 93%."
As photos of the debate's busty model kept abuzz online overnight, analysts and even some of the candidates on Monday morning took the edecan as a topic serious enough to discuss on the morning news radio programs.
Speaking to host Carmen Aristegui, presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota said she thought Orayen was "very attractive" but that her dress was inappropriate for the generally serious nature of the debate, the first of two organized by the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE.
"The truth is, Carmen, I want to say that suddenly I was surprised, and I [thought], 'Well, what sort of event are we attending here?'"
Playing defense, a member of the IFE's governing council said that the edecan was hired by an independent production company contracted to organize the debate, but Councilor Alfredo Figueroa would not identify the producer (link in Spanish).
"We asked the producer that there be no elements of distraction, for a sober dress," Figueroa said.
Orayen had her own opinion on the matter. The model told W Radio host Brozo -- who wears a clown costume -- that she felt "weird" by the sudden surge of attention.
"I just got a call to be there, I didn't know what it was going to be about, and much less that it would have such an impact for 30 seconds," Orayen said.
"The costume ... intrigued me," Brozo replied.
"I got a call for a white dress. I took many options, and this was the one chosen by me," she said.
* Image: In a screen shot of Sunday's video feed of the presidential debate in Mexico, model Julia Orayen carries a clear box to each of the candidates. Credit: Twitpic.com, via Twitter
Los contenidos del primer num. de Estrella Cercana ya estan en línea. Checkanlo! El periódico se puede conseguir imprentos en kurimanzutto, y varios otros locaciones entre el Centro, la Condesa, Roma, y por los alrededores.
Follow @StrellaCercana for the details.
True role models, as far as I'm concerned. I know that headache. Are we need of an a la chingada with it all, pan-Latino-style work revolt? Play it!
* Previously, "No voy a trabajar."
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.
"In the last decade, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil got married, got divorced, came out of the closet, and talked to Oprah Winfrey -- and now, he's spreading awareness about a spreading HIV crisis in India."
Masumi has a strange effect on people. I know; I've seen it in action. Hang out a little and you'll wind up dazed, invigorated, shaken up. The nature of chemistry, I guess.
I have this suspicion that recent American Apparel window displays have also been inspired by Masumi. Mannequins I've seen in L.A. and D.F. have been fixed with long black locks and lips colored deep red. Precisely Masumi's everyday look.
Have you noticed? The self-proclaimed Xochimilca strikes.
This is one of the fold-out photos of Romina Aranzola in the December 2010 issue of Playboy Mexico. Romina, a former host of the TV Azteca show Hit M3, is the cover-girl. The photos are by Enrique Covarrubias and they were taken at the Nanciyaga ecological reserve in Veracruz, Romina's choice. She's a native of the port state.
"If I didn't do this with Playboy, I'd end up doing it with a friend, or who knows. Why wouldn't I get nude?" Romina says in the interview, by Arturo J. Flores.
Romina is now taking a year off in Australia. Wishing her the best.
In Mexico and in Spanish spoken by Mexican immigrants in the United States, a "tocayo" is a friend or acquaintance who has the same first-name as you do. "Tocayos" greet each other and say good-bye with it and not their shared name.
Tonight, I want to salute my tocayo doble in Arizona, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a 20-year-old student at the University of Arizona who essentially saved the life of Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords in Saturday's shooting in Tucson.
Above, Daniel's interview with the openly right-wing outlet known as Fox News. There is the characteristic awkward nature of the questions and answers in such spots, but more so here, as Daniel stays incredibly on-point, on-message, and composed while recounting the horror of what happened. He ran to the bullets when the shots started, and directly to the congresswoman. He propped her up, applied pressure to her wounds, held her hand and spoke to her, and traveled with Rep. Giffords in the ambulance to the University Medical Center in Tucson.
Here are the details.
Almost frustrated toward the end of the interview, the anchor asks Daniel, "You're an example for a lot of young people, Daniel, in terms of your courage and your responsiblity. What's your message for other folks out there tonight watching, thinking, 'How can I raise a boy to be just like Daniel?'"
"I think the first thing we need to do," Daniel responds, "is make sure we acknowledge the real heroes, that's the public servants ... "
Amazing. The anchor in her New York studio is almost speechless.
Daniel, presumably a Mexican American, might be native-born. He also might not be. Daniel, I'm being told, is also gay/queer/LGBT-identified. Don't know for sure. (*UPDATE: Queerty reports Daniel serves on the Tucson Commission on GLBT Issues, and his name appears on the site's members list.) But what counts right now is his enormous strength of character, courage, and sense of civic engagement, even in the face of mortal danger. His statements reflect a genuine dedication to public service and to those who work in government not to spread hate or division but, as he puts it, to help people.
That's about as close as you can get to "patriotism" these days than anything else.
I am proud to share a name with you tonight, Daniel Hernandez, mi tocayo. Your family, friends, and millions of strangers are proud of you as well. You certainly are an example for all of us. I wish you all the best in the future, surely a bright one.
I got nothing but a big-ass county fair in my hood, which is all I could ever really ask for from Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar -- the guy in black-face. The fair ended Thursday night. I miss it already. That's where I'd been eating, according to my calculations, about ten different kinds of mega-healthy fair snacks on each of the, oh, five or six nights I went.
The funnest -- most fun? -- Tilt-a-Whirl rides play that kind of Mexican tribal. The dudes who run them, Tepito-style to the core, stand on the track the whole way, hopping on your carrito to make it swing more furiously. They even, swear-to-god, grabbed the top of the car sometimes, in a flash, hurling themselves into the air so their legs hit the ceiling of the ride itself, then pressing back down, twirling you till it hurts.
(One of the dudes -- sensing something? -- lifted his shirt a little at our mixed crew while a-whirling and did a little gigolo gyrating move in between, with a smirk. Thanks a lot, guy.)
At the feria, I had tlacoyos, blueberries dipped in chocolate and chocolate sprinkles, esquites, freshly fried french fries, cotton candy, fresh-made hotcakes with cajeta, lechera and (more) sprinkles, and something called a jarrito loco. (No idea, but as long as it had ice, chile, lime, and salt in it, it was fine by me.)
I loved the excessive P.D.A., the little kids out all night with their faces painted like tigers or fairies, the liberating kitschiness and tackiness of it, the sense that this hood -- downtown -- belongs to the always-stylish and hyper-stimulated tepiteño kids who populate it and culturally "run" it. That's the way it is, pretty much today, tomorrow, and as long as Centro is Centro. The feria is our focal point.
We took a photo with the Reyes, yes. But didn't get on "The Inverter." Maybe next year?
In 2010 I began to appreciate the trip that a good electronic mixtape can be, in any genre. I had more interactions with more DJs/mixers/selecters and began to understand something about the mechanics and back-ending involved in mixing a good mixtape. In December, I collaborated on an experimental mixtape of my own.
Here are a few solid mixes I got wind of this year, might have blogged about here or there, and listened to over and over in different states.
THE YEAR OF SALEM:
Salem knocked me out this year. Actually, starting late last year, when their We Make it Good mix for The Fader in November immediately made an impact on my understanding of the limits of mashing. What is it? Witch house? Gothic hip-hop? Just ... fucked up?
Whatever you want to call it, Salem's sound draws from, among other things, drugs, Chicago, and DJ Screw. That there's been such extravagant strokes of blacklash in some sectors I think legitimizes their position on the avant garde. Salem allows music to feed on our collective dark side.
Then they got mentioned for the first time in an article in The New York Times, and I paused. How could this sound possibly be commercialized? From 2010, I got into Salem's I BURIED MY HEART INNA WOUNDED KNEE and Raver Stay Wif Me.
Heffington has singlehandedly created a whole dance subculture in the center of Los Angeles. He runs or helps create Hysteria dance company, the Sweat Spot dance studio, and the art-band We Are the World.
Maybe his greatest creation, though, is a piece reminiscent of performances I caught at the earliest iterations of Fingered or Mustache Mondays, the downtown L.A. meta-queer disco party. Please strap yourself into your chair for this brilliant genderfuck: "Dirty Diana."
What does Mexico City sounds like, right now? Maybe, from at least two particular perspectives, a little like this. It's "The Sound of Mexico City," a mixtape I co-curated at the invitation of sound designer Daniel Perlin on the soundscape of D.F., for the Italian design and urbanism magazine Domus. Perlin led the project and mixed the mix.
Throughout, I read a portion of "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" in which I rhapsodize on the city's noise. (It's the first time I've read any section of the book for audio online publication, so I'm a little nervous right now. Will the listener/reader get this particular excerpt's sense of exaggeration, the overblown sound-pyschosis, the humor?)
In addition, there's a pretty haunting piece in there by sound artist Rogelio Sosa. It includes the infamous clip of former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz saying he was "most proud" of his role in the crackdown on the 1968 student movement.
Perlin and I had to turn around the mix pretty quickly, but I think we managed to string together a decent sample of various musical genres that define the D.F. soundscape right now, cumbia, tribal guarachero, ska, rockabilly, hip-hop. Thank you to the artists whom I personally contacted and agreed to supply a track. They are ...
The Kumbia Queers, whose garage-y lo-fi sound captures a certain "right now" aesthetic that bridges cumbia, punk, and queerness -- particularly of the female sort. The Rebel Cats, the slick maestros of Mexican rockabilly; they play tight and sport a good look. MC Luka, one of many hiphoperos doing it big in the Gran Tenochtitlan; I particularly like Luka because he addresses transnational cholo/barrio culture -- and spits so good overall. Sonido Sonoramico, one of several cumbia bands who play somewhere in town just about every week of the year, easily in the elite of this street subculture. And finally Maldita Vecindad, true OGs of the old-school ska/fusion scene in Mexico City, which in my view operates as an umbrella for many subsequent genres and groups. They've been at it for two decades now and remain committed to a sociopolitical vision of music and its ability to liberate and build community. Respeto.
In the near future, with more time than this project allowed, I'll be linking up more artists who I think define the sound of Mexico City as I've lived it these past three years. I'll also be posting, soon, on my "Top Ten Mixtapes of 2010."
Nos vemos en la calle, cabrones!
Doon Arbus, daughter of the legendary New York photographer Diane Arbus, opens this beautiful 1972 short film on Arbus's images. Doon is phenomenal in her period Afro, her sense of empowerment, and her sharp analysis of work so intimately tied to her personal history. Please watch.
And definitely follow on to Part 2 and the rest. As Doon explains, a Japanese photographer learning English recorded Arbus in class sessions. In the film, an Arbus friend reads Diane's words "over glimpses of Diane's photographs."
Her frank thinking on the moral conundrums of documentary photography is golden. From Part 2 of the film as it appears on YouTube, and my transcript, Arbus on "freaks":
Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first thing I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them. I don't quite mean they're my best friends, but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe. There's a quality of legend about freaks, like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. I mean, if you've ever spoken to someone with two heads, you know they know they something you don't. Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats.
"Freaks," in the words of Lisette Model, who follows in the video, are in the same group as "homosexuals, lesbians, cripples, sick people, dying people, dead people."
Diane Arbus committed suicide in 1971.
Oakland-based Youth Radio has an impressive two-part series up this week on teen prostitution, produced in partnership with "All Things Considered" on NPR and led by young reporter Denise Tejada.
Tejada, in Part 1 of the series, talks two former teenage sex workers who were coerced or forced into hooking on the streets of Oakland. Their descriptions of their time under the control of pimps -- they have subcategories, apparently, such as "romeo pimp" and "guerrilla pimp" -- are pretty chilling.
One girl identified as Brittney explains how she entered the underworld. She was kidnapped when she was 15: "All I heard was, 'Man, go get that girl,' and one of them came out and dragged me by my hair and pulled me into the car."
She was then gang-raped.
Interviewed in the story, Alameda County District Atty. Sharmin Bock is up-front: "Remember Guyana and Jim Jones where everybody's drinking that Kool-Aid drink? Well, that's exactly what these girls have had. Let's call it pimp juice. They've all had it and they can't see past either their affection for him, or their fear for their trafficker."
Part 2 of the series, on how sex-trafficking has "gone global and more violent," airs Tuesday.
The Youth Radio page for the "Trafficked" series also includes essential web extras. The "Pimp Business Plan" is ... wow ("Make every hoe take a vow to hoeing."), and the Davey D audio essay on rap's connection to pimping and the "hustling" culture of Oakland is also good listening.
Addenda, on the media:
Denise Tejada, by the way, is the kind of natural new-generation journalist who should rightfully make old media models and old media institutions a bit nervous. I found a post with video where Tejada is first interviewed by NBC-Universal's mun2 then manages to turn the tables, getting an interview from her interviewers.
That's what's up Denise, and all young people of color; never permit yourself to be merely a subject. We all know how ugly that paradigm can get. So congratulations is due to the young journalists at Youth Radio, and all their supporters, for their strong work.
Keep at it!
She's Nicki Minaj, discovered on MySpace and now backed by Lil Wayne's Young Money Entertainment and Universal Motown, and she's about to release a record that is likely to complete the well-known formula for mega-stardom. Just see the samuria-inspired video for "Your Love."
But before she became the next natural development in over-produced pop ladyhood, Nicki was an ambitious, rough-ridin' female MC who more or less didn't play around. Above, "Warning." The track follows Nicki as she learns her man is messing around with some other lady named Kim.
The hook: "Damn. I'm'a have to send her to her Maker." The ending? An instant classic.
I've also had "Go Hard" on loop for weeks now, thanks in part to a sample of the track used at the end of a long mix from last year by Nguzunguzu/Total Freedom. In the original track, this couplet just kills it:
Hit 'em, hit 'em knock-knock, tell 'em let me in.
My name rings bells, bitch, buzz me in.
And I only stop for pedestrians,
Or a real real bad lesbian.
Shit, who wouldn't be?
Believe in Everything? In the maximal ambisexual nature of the Moment?
Then believe in Dis Magazine, headed in part by fair and friendly weirdo David Toro and a collective, based in New York City. Above, a visual appendage to a recent mixtape at the mag's site, by someone called Visual AIDS. No idea who that is right now either, but it looks like we should be friends. The mix seamlessly combines, among other naturally evolved references, jams by Aaliyah (Q.D.E.P. forever my lady), Ace of Bass, and what sounds like that haunting soundcloud theme from the "Terminator" movies.
Total sense, right?
Go there and download it, and give yourself some radical queer balance to the essentially normative expression that is Wednesday's federal court ruling against Prop. 8 in California. Speaking of, after the celebrations tonight, read this article from a January 2010 issue of The New Yorker on the risks of taking same-sex marriage "too soon" to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The battle's only begun. Again.
* Post edited.
Right now no one in Mexico is painting like Daniel Lezama is. His world in representational strokes is a fully resolved, fully horrifying vision of a Mexico beheaded. A brutal and naked Mexico, a carnival of cell phones and homicidal clowns, a nation in ritual rebirth. Lezama paints madness by the skin of the maguey.
That his work doesn't cause more of a stir in the public sphere is perhaps a welcome sign in this dark bicentennial year. Mexico might be drowning in its own blood, but at least the artists are still allowed to take the stains and spread them around on canvas, still wet.
Above, a detail from a Lezama (in full view: "La gran noche mexicana," 2005) at a show just inaugurated at the MUNAL. The exhibit is a blandly nationalist thing they titled "Imagenes de la Patria." Yes, the man with the microphone above is Juan Ga. One piece by another artist, in the Age of Arizona, proposes a cholo guadalupano refashioning of the United States flag. See here. It is by Adolfo Patiño, 1998, and called "Proyecto para la bandera de una colonia mexicana."
* Previously, "Control your magic."
** It's vacation time. Intersections now takes another breather, and will check in shortly from Puebla, Oaxaca, Tijuana/San Diego, and Los Angeles.
* How Postopolis spread: engagement. Via Tomo.
The culture supplement Tomo has just put out its Postopolis issue. Flip through the pages here. It's a useful marker to publish my final Postopolis report, so here it goes. Sorry for the delay ...
By Saturday, Postopolis had spread, like a Red Specter contagion. People in D.F. were hearing about it, tuning in and watching the stream online, and arriving to hear the talks live. The faces of my fellow bloggers were becoming not just familiar but welcoming. And those arty concrete ladrillos were by then all-too familiar with our poor sore nalgas.
On the final day David Lida came to discuss his book "First Stop in the New World" with Jace Clayton. A
questions centered on Lida's thesis in the book that Mexico is "the capital of
the Twenty First Century." He reiterated that his argument is based on the idea
fastest growing cities in the developing world are growing like Mexico
City did, which makes D.F. sort of the mother figure to places like Lagos or
Mumbai. People for the most part make their life here day-to-day, Lida said, like in so many other such cities.
In a question, Mariana Delgado of Proyecto Sonidero challenged the notion that Mexico City is post-Colonial or post-Hispanic. She said something to the effect of, 'This is still Tenochtitlán.' The exchange was so cool because it demonstrated that this question -– Is Tenochtitlán a ghost city or the city around us, actually? –- is still a relevant one in D.F. today, in the year 2010.
* Audience at the opening of Postopolis DF, via Tomo.
An amazing start to Postopolis DF at the Eco on Tuesday. The event kicked off in high spirits with introductions by the Storefront crew, despite the rain clouds (mercifully) sitting themselves upon Mexico City. Each invited blogger then introduced their site and work. Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography nlightened us with her food esoterica, including "disaster wine." Regine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art opened our minds to the weirdness of her native Belgium. (If the Dutch-speaking part separates from the French-speaking part, who keeps Brussels?)
Once the invited presentations got underway (Remember, in the "Ponzi scheme" of Postopolis, as Joseph Grima describes it, organizers invite bloggers they find intriguing, bloggers invite guests whose work intrigues them, and the conversations start), we listened to Fernando Romero quickly discuss the major projects undertaken by his firm LAR. Will they ever build that border bridge museum? Less and less likely, tragically.
The most insightful moment for me was when during the Q&A, a young guy in the back offered his perspective: He is from "provincia" like Ali, he said, and is surprised at how, as he sees it, Mexico City kids tend to remain strictly within their tribal boundaries, while non-Mexico City natives who live here are more open to going to different tocadas during the week. Punk one day, rockabilly the next, migrating between hip-hop and reggae and so on on any given night. "Es una multicultura."
It might have been a generalization, but his remarks definitely resonated with Ali and others in the audience.
Earlier today, I introduced Carlos Alvarez Montero and his documentary work on transnational cholo subcultures, including his project "Covers (Adapt & Adopt)." Questions focused on Alvarez's "M of Michoacan" photo series, documenting migrants who return to Mexico after absorbing classical urban Chicano dress from the North. "How do you approach them?" came a question, regarding the photographer's practice.
Carlos said it's fairly easy getting cholos or other subcultural adherents to agree to have their photo taken. When people consciously adopt a certain set of dress codes, merging and mixing them, they're looking to be documented. It's the point, he said. "It's vanity."
* Keep up with the invited blogs and the main Postopolis page for all the updates. Intersections updates again on Friday.
** Post updated.
And just like that, Postopolis DF is set to start. Tuesday June 8 is the opening day of the free offerings of talks and interviews at the Eco museum, until Saturday, June 11. Check out this previous post for all the details. And check out the whole schedule at the main Postopolis site, where all the events will be streamed live.
I'm so impressed by the line-up and the ability of the many organizers to make this come together. Now here are my guests. I think they reflect general concerns in my own work: subcultures, bilingualism, transnationalism, youth, modes of violence, modes of resistance, justice, contemporary art, and the wide giant scope of human sexuality. The urbanism of D.F. is the unifying glue.
On Tuesday, I sit down with Ali Gadorki, an OG figure in the Mexico City punk/alternative scene. Ali is a founding member of the ground-breaking all-female band Las Ultrasonicas (previously blogged here) and now leads the Kumbia Queers, another all-ladies group Ali created with a set musicians from Argentina. Ali is also known as Ali Gua Gua, her DJ handle. We'll be discussing the history and development of punk in Mexico City, queers in punk, women in punk, and everyone's new fixation: crate-digging for cumbia from the streets and the south south south south.
Keep reading ...