Costumes vs. Cultura

It’s kind of hard to not be exposed to so many fashion trends while living in Los Angeles. Ultimately, this is an eclectic city where Angelenos find new and alternative ways to blend cultures with clothing. However, in some particular areas of LA, some recent “trends” have yet to be taken moderately because they interfere with street culture and gang life.

In March, Vogue released an online editorial shoot entitled “Latinas in Los Angeles” for their 125th anniversary in which several instafamous female artists  are dressed in what was originally considered to be chola attire back in the ’90s.

Up until today, dressing in dickies, wearing large hoop earrings, and bold lip liner has been socially acceptable and normal across the ‘gram and other media platforms. About thirty years ago, this wasn’t the case.

 

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Read with Caution *FACTS*

 

For actual gang members or residents who have and continue to grow up in rough parts of LA, this appropriation of street dress is becoming more of a mockery.

Gang culture is just a real as any other subculture, with the exception that this form of dress will always find it’s way back to perpetuating violence and getting asked if one is actually involved in any crew/gang.

So should be there be limits to trends?

It depends. With this trend, if you don’t know what’s up with gang culture and are willing to risk your life if confronted by an actual gang member, then yes. Don’t dress like one.

Cultures are not a costume. Most are indeed a lifestyle that need to be respected first.

Image courtesy of @nightofthewaxican on Instagram

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Gentrifiers… Pa Fuera!

 

 

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BH NOT FOR SALE

 

When Los Angeles natives think of Boyle Heights, it’s possible that the first images they may think of can be Mariachi Plaza, strolling through 4th Street or even Hollenbeck Park, but certainly not new hipster-owned art galleries that are amounting as the latest form of gentrification for the city.

The reason why gentrification is an issue to the neighborhood of Boyle Heights which is predominantly a working class Mexican-American community, is that it displaces years of existing culture and local artists for the “rise of the creative class.”

As an activist and East LA resident, I don’t believe it’s fair for developers to come into these small communities to claim and conquer integral parts of Los Angeles without hearing the voices of those being affected first.

In May of last year, a non-profit art gallery called PSSST was preparing to open in the city near the Los Angeles Bridge. On what should’ve been the opening day, the gallery was confronted with a sea of protesters gathered in front of the space, banging drums, holding posters, and chanting slogans in English “We don’t need galleries, we need higher salaries!”and Spanish “¡El pueblo, unido,  jamás será vencido!”

 

Those who have and continue to take a stand against forms of gentrification in Boyle Heights (or any soon-to-be-hip city in Los Angeles) are participating in what counts as a milestone movement.

It didn’t take long for local activists such as Angel Luna to create an instagram page and organization fittingly called Defend Boyle Heights. In cooperation with ServethePeopleLA, he has managed to organize marches, educate the community how gentrification neglects their needs, and has worked to make life generally uncomfortable for both these new businesses and the people who patronize them.

 

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memes speaking volumes

A major victory has come their way with the announcing of PSSST’s closing about a month ago.

 

Here’s a bit from their goodbye-

“Our staff and artists were routinely trolled online and harassed in-person … we could no longer continue to put already vulnerable communities at further risk.”

So does this mean Los Angeles gentrifiers will steer clear from the hood and keep their “contemporary” homes and art galleries the fuck away for good?

The sad answer is no, but the lesson here is that gentrification is worth fighting against when it’s not going to serve the existing needs of any community.

For Boyle Heights, a city literally two driving minutes away from all of DTLA, there has got to be a balance between developers and community members investing in projects that will also invest in the likes of la raza  without throwing shade to years of prevailing Mexican-American culture.

City planners in Los Angeles move way too fast. I get that money talks but, so do the people.

“We want things like a new laundromat on the corner of Whittier and Boyle,” says Luna. “We shouldn’t have to wait until white people live here for someone to care enough to fix the sidewalks.”

All images courtesy of Angel Luna

Follow his Instagram at @defendboyleheights

Low, Slow, and Soulful

For the past 60 years, Southern California Chicano low riders have looked to the past in order to find the perfect musical mood, sound, and feel when cruising in their vehicles. Just like their classic cars, the sweet melodies and delicate harmonies from “old school” R&B records have become timeless as they are still widely appreciated in Chicano Culture today.

As a musical genre, oldies can touch anyone right in the heart.  Here are some of my favorite songs that have that low ‘n’ slow romantic vibe.

  1. We Go Together- The Royal Jesters

From San Antonio, Texas, The Royal Jesters made young couples swoon over their songs all across the Alamo City in the 1960s by playing their doo-wop love songs at slow dances. Sometimes I really wish I weren’t a millennial.

 

2. La La (Means I Love You)- The Delfonics

This Delfonics’ hit is known for being a famous dedication love song worldwide. Across the nation, It’s notoriously requested on Art Laboe’s “Love Connection” satellite radio show. It’s also my dad’s choice of song to my mom.

 

3. Me and You- Brenton Wood

At the age of 79, Brenton Wood is still performing his cherished classics in full-on zoot suits across Chicano communities throughout Los Angeles. The San Pedro native has won me over with his voice that always gets me grooving from side to side.

Chillin’ in the Park

One thing I admire about Southern California is its multitude of beautiful parks. Add their history on top of that, and I’m just about over the moon.

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“Gangsters get  lonely too”

This past weekend I finally made the trip down to San Diego with a group of friends to spend an afternoon at Chicano Park in honor of its founding day. It was definitely the largest birthday party at a park that I’ve ever gone to and incredibly fun.

In the heart of Barrio Logan, Chicano Park celebrated its 47th year since its takeover as a people’s land with hundreds of families and vendors in attendance. A great majority of those attendees came in customized, shiny lowriders that were lined up all along Logan Avenue as part of a huge car show. Looking at so many decked out cars seriously made me want to go back home in style by the end of the day. Several car clubs were represented- Pharos, Viejitos, Pachuco , Tribal Clique, – with some members bringing in vehicles as far from Texas.

Bobby Ruiz, a Tribal Clique member, had his 1959 Chevy Fleetline on display, fully restored with a dual chrome body and all original white tires. This was his fourth year at the park with his car club.

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Bobby’s bomba making me wish it was mine

“It’s a real beautiful day for familia and car culture.” said Ruiz. “Everyone repping all this Chicano pride around us only exemplifies that this here is chosen lifestyle, not a trend”

The classic event this year was also spent with some sadness.

Amidst the trumpet flares from the mariachis, costumed  folklorico dancers, and food trucks were warm memories of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, a community leader and educator from Barrio Logan who passed away in October. Saturday’s 47th Chicano Park Day was dedicated to him and his accomplishments.

Sanchez had deep roots in Chicano Park. In the late ’70s, the Chicano activist wrote a song about it entitled “Chicano Park Samba” in which he sings about the culture and struggle of Chicanos in their fight for the creation of the park.

At the time, when community members learned about new plans to turn the land under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge into a parking lot for the California Highway Patrol, protesters came and locked arms to form a human chain and didn’t leave for 12 days. The community asked for a park instead, and they got one.

It was truly heartwarming to be surrounded by multiple shades of brown coming together to remember an important day in Chicano history.

Chicano Park was declared a National Historic Landmark this past January.

Tommie Camarillo, chairperson of the park, eloquently drew a picture with words in a speech stating, “It means that all this will still be here long after we’re gone; Our grandchildren, their grandchildren.. they’ll get to come here and see this.”

I can’t wait for that day.

Here’s a video capturing the unforgettable day in its full glory, filmed by car collector Johnny Torres.

Follow his Instagram page at @boulevard_nights

All images author’s own unless otherwise noted 

Growing up Blessed

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWhen I was younger, one of the last things my mother would have me do before going to bed was practice my prayers in Spanish. And although I would mispronounce “pecadores” for “pescadores” (sinners for fisherman), reciting the Hail Mary together was my first exposure to the significance of the Virgin Mary in Mexican culture.

For me, the famous folklore of when La Virgin de Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico City never gets old. I was told as a little girl that since she chose to show herself to a peasant who believed in her, all I had to do was the same in order for her to watch over me. The belief still holds true among a vast majority of Mexican-American families today.

In the “barrios” of East Los Angeles alone, the image of La Virgin de Guadalupe is a constant sight across colorful murals, tattoos, food stands, altars, and shopping centers. El Mercado de Los Angeles  is a personal favorite of mine. On the outside of this indoor mall lies the prettiest floral alter with a Virgin Mary as the center of attention. Not only is she represented as cultural symbol of appreciation,  visitors and families alike head on over to the alter after some shopping for their daily blessings and protection. I’m glad to say that I got two mothers, one that’s mine and one forever watching over me.

Image author’s own

Let’s Take a Cruise Down Cesar Chavez Ave.

Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, but never Cesar Chavez Avenue. The street alone doesn’t get the same “oohs and aahs” as the first two but, what it does receive is homegrown cultural appreciation.

We’re talking about a street that has been oozing Chicano history since the 1970s and continues to pave the way for the new generation of Chicanos in East LA. Between the campus of East Los Angeles College, White Memorial Hospital, and the famous Evergreen Cemetery, East Los Angeles is home to hundreds of Mexican-American families that own small businesses on the avenue. And since I don’t live too far from the avenue, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of these small businesses . Here are just a few of my favorite “vendedores” or vendors that give meaning to Cesar Chavez Avenue.

Connie’s Dry Cleaning Etc…

Originally a Sloan’s Dry Cleaners since 1957, new owner Connie Castro changed the name to Dry Cleaning Etc. in 2002 and has been working comfortably in chair fixing her customer’s clothing. Her shop isn’t an ordinary dry cleaner’s. In fact, the inside decor of her shop can make one feel as if they entered the 70’s. However, it’s Connie’s strict motherly personality that keeps her customers always coming back. It’s how fast she can speak Spanglish when telling someone how she’s going to fix their special alteration, how she can have piles of need-to-be-fixed clothes yet still tell you she’ll have it done in a day (if you get on her good side), and remember the item of clothing to who it belongs to. She is the tailor lady of East LA who has been passed around through word of mouth for over 10 years. You wanna make that shirt a crop top? Go see Connie on Cesar Chavez.

Maravilla  Meat Market

The meat market with the beautiful mural. On the outside of this business lies the original work of artist John Zender reflecting famous Chicano leaders such as Emilio Zapata, The Brown Berets, and Cesar Chavez himself holding a beacon of light. The inside is equally significant to many local families who continue to buy their fresh produce, meats, and water from the classic Maravilla Market. To this day, I still get sent by my mother to go get a pound of meat “de la Maravilla” and, I always say yes just to get my daily dose of culture.

Los 5 Puntos

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Welcome to Los 5 Puntos

That means 5 points in Spanish. I never understood on what scale they graded themselves on, but this family eatery has been in movies such as Blood In, Blood Out and remains a staple of East LA home cooking. Los 5 Puntos is one of those spots where you eat with your hands, no utensils needed. Best believe there will be a line out the door on Sunday afternoons and cars in the parking lot playing oldies. You can’t miss it on the avenue as it’s one of the last classic spots before entering Boyle Heights.

That’s all folks!

All images author’s own