Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zen Beans: Frijoles De La Oya Fantasy

Mom's clay bean pot
Lopsided aged still works.
A plate on top to create steam.
"Comida de los pobres"
(poor people's food)
But so rich.
Frijoles de la oya in a plate;
a dash of cilantro
diced onions
maybe some tomato.
Pinch of Mexican cheese
Freshly made flour tortilla
A spoonful
of fresh salsa.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chicano Haikus: One Hand Clapping

Never Seem To Learn
Bold Gringo there
"I just love hot peppers", he says
Jalapeno strikes again!
In the garden
corn cobs hide.
Tortilla maker comes!
Cultural Conflict
You make footballs.
We make Chicharrones!
Chicano Hangover
Man in pain there.
Bowl of Menudo.
"No mas", he vows.
Chicano Nightmare #1
Light skinned
Jose Sanchez on the beach
squeezing Coppertone there.
Northern Delight
Hot from the stove
A flour tortilla
butter dripping from the ends.
Hamburger Helper
Her hamburger comes
Woolworth lunch counter.
Jalapeno from my mother's purse.
Supply and Demand
One bean burrito
for two Baloney sandwiches
even trade at lunch!
Chicano Nightmare #2
Short, dark-skinned Jose there.
"Como te llamas?" He's asked.
"No espiko di Spanich", he says.
Chicano Nightmare #3
Pedro went to Pete
Maria to Mary
Jose to Joe!
Chicano Nightmare #4
Jose, Concha, Pedro and Margarita
all listen intently
Black rapper on Cinco de Mayo!
Brown Dreamer #1
On the hot desert borderland
A rattler slithers
The body of an illegal alien.
Brown Dreamer #2
To a plump round belly
Maria takes a kitchen knife.
Baby oozes out in a land of plenty.
Brown Dreamer#3
On a hot summer night
a siren wails.
Mario on life support.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Mexican Schindler?

Just read that Gilberto Bosques Saldivar was recently honored (posthumously) by the Jewish Anti Defamation League (ADL) for helping to save as many as 40,000 Jews and other refugees from Nazi persecution during WWII. He was a Mexican Consul General in Marseilles, France in 1939. He rented two chateaux for Jews and refugees and in two years issued about 40,000 visas and chartered ships to take them to various African nations and from there they went on to Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. When I first met my wife in Mexico City in 1965, her mother owned a small beauty salon that served many Jewish clients. They spoke flawless Spanish and had smoothly assimilated into Mexican society.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Pause That Refreshes: Peeing With Cuco

Cuco Sanchez was one of Mexico's greatest "cantantes" (singer/songwriter). I had the privilege of seeing him in person some years ago in Mexico City. In was an intimate venue at one of the historical hotels near the Zocalo (central square). He began the concert on the button, but it was soon evident there was a problem with the sound system, feedback and squelching. He would frown, toss frustrated glances backstage, but never missed a beat. After a few songs, and increasing frustration, he simply turned off the mic, and sang a' capella! El Maestro simply did not need the damned thing! That night, dressed in his Charro outfit, he belted out all his classics like "Cama de Piedra" (A Bed of Stone), "Gritenme Piedras del Campo" (Cry To Me Rocks From The Fields), and "Anillo de Compromiso" (The Engagement Ring), and "Guitarras, Lloren Guitarras" (Cry Guitars, Cry). He eminated machismo, confidence, power and his delivery was flawless despite the crappy sound system. When the intermission came, I excused myself and went into the men's room to pee. And there, there in the urinal next to me was The Man, El Maestro de la Cancion Mexicana, Cuco Sanchez, peeing alongside me! I told him how much I was enjoying his performance, despite the cursed sound system; he just smiled and thanked me. It was indeed a most memorable night, especially being granted the privelege to have peed with Cuco Sanchez. Aye, aye, aye.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mexican Dogs: Feast or Famine?

When I was a kid we always had dogs. However, it was unheard of in the barrio to keep a dog inside the house. Usually, the dog slept out in the yard in a shelter made of wood by some member of the house. We fed them scraps from the table, old tortillas, frijoles, papas (potatoes), and an occasional bone. Whenever a dog turned his nose at the food, my mom would say "Andale fregado, vas a ver. Conque no tienes hambre? Manana te lo comeras! Vas a ver" (Ok damn you. So you're not hungry now? We'll see how hungy you are tomorrow). Then, she would put the dog's plate in the refrigerator and place it out again the next day. It was fun to watch the dog scarf it up the next day with no complaints! There was no such thing as "dog food" at the store. Doggie baths? Unheard of. Vets? Unheard of. When one of our dogs got rabies, one of my older brothers would take an old 22. cal pump rifle and shoot him. Not unusual in the barrio. Once, my mom told me to shoot one of our rabid dogs, but as I stood over him in the front yard, and aimed the rifle, I just could not pull the trigger. My older brother, Jess, had to do it for me.
On another day, one of my cats came home with a mangled front leg; it was shredded. My mom bandaged it as best she could with rags soaked in some smelly ointment, and we put him out. However, he failed to return for about 4 days and when he did, the leg was worse and had begun to decay. I begged my mom to take him to the Vet and the prognosis was to put down the cat or amputate the leg at the shoulder. It would cost $17.00 and believe me, that was big time money in the 40's. After I pleaded for my cat's life, my mom conceded and afterwards I would continue to happily play and romp around the yard with my 3-legged cat. He could even climb trees!
However, my mom broke all the rules one day, when my brother Ed gave her a Pekinese puppy for Mother's Day. "Tiny" was king. He slept inside the house and my mom pampered him like one of her own kids. She would even buy him those little circus animal cookies in a box!
Pictured above is our "in house" Chihuahua "Princess" getting a bath in our kitchen sink, would you believe it? Spoiled, pampered thus, we would have been ostracized in the barrio for such treatment of a dog. Today, I bought a doggie bed at Gottschalk's for little Princess. She sleeps in front of our gas insert. Pobrecita, huh?

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Mother's Faith: Santos & Milagros

My mother was named Guadalupe, after her patron saint, The Virgen of Guadalupe and she had an abiding love and faith in the virgen. This print had a prominent place on the family altar which she had formed atop a mint-green dresser in her bedroom. Always, votive candles burned before the images of saints (santos) she had brought with her from Mexico. She loved to tell the story of the virgen's apparaition to the indian, Juan Diego and of how miraculous she was. "She appeared to an indian", she would stress, "not to the Europeans or the priests, but to an indian." She seemed especially proud of that.
Another image that was dear to her was San Martin de Porres, the black South American saint, pictured with his broom to emphasize his humble status. He was especially kind to the poor and to animals. One of her favorite stories of Martin was of a miracle he performed in a church that was infested by mice. "Look", he told the mice, "you must move out of the church because the priest if getting ready to exterminate all of you." The mice obeyed Martin, exited the church, and were saved.
One of my favorite prints was one of San Antonio (Saint Anthony) holding a Christ child. It is a beautifully colored print and seemed almost holy to me. I knew little about him but in the print he lovingly holds the child and looks heavenward, bathed in a glow of golden light, the child with a halo around its head, peers benevolently at the viewer. He wears the traditional brown Fransican robe tied at the waist with a rope, and a rosary tied to it.
The print depicting Mary was, I felt unique. It is softly colored and her expression is one of peace, tranquility and tenderness. One hand is pointing to her sacred heart (burning with the fire of Her love) and the other holds a branch of white lilies. No wonder my mother prayed to the mother of all mothers, who understands our human suffering, especially those of a mother.
El Santo Nino de Atocha (The Christ Child of Atocha), was yet another of her favorite "santos". The print, a delicate black and white lithograph on old, yellowed paper, she kept in a simple wooden frame, depicts a Christ Child sitting in a chair, wearing a strange plumed hat, holding a staff in his left hand and a small basket in his right. He wears sandals on his feet. I recall thinking how the artist had failed to capture the face of a child, and how he looks too grown up in it. At the time, I had no idea about the stories of a mysterious child who magically appeared to the sick and needy, in the far off Atocha, Spain, bringing them food and water.
The Virgen of San Juan de Los Lagos was yet another of her favorites. She was especially miraculous my mother said. She is pictured in a triangular shaped, elegant and fluffy blue gown, rich with gold brocade. Long and wavy locks of hair tumble down her shoulders, and an over sized crown graces her head, bordered by two cherubims holding a banner which reads: "Immaculate Mother Pray For Us", in Latin, and crescent shaped moon at her feet. I will never forget visitng the church in San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco in Mexico with my mom about 1965. The entrance to the beautiful old colonial church is lined from floor to ceiling with retablos (miracle boards), documenting the hundreds of miracles attributed to her. Painted by amateur artists, the child like images on tin depict the suffering of mankind, and the lettering on each one tells of the specific event, with names and dates, and the divine intervention of La Virgen in their lives. I was stunned. As I wandered around outside the church I found a large open room and stepped inside. Piled to the cielings and along its walls were stacked, dozens of old dusty wheelchairs, crutches, and old arm, leg and body casts. When I asked my mom what it all meant, she said "These are things left behind by people who came here in them and left, no longer needing them." I felt humbled, and embarrased by my stupid question.
I often scoffed her faith: "Mom, you don't really believe this stuff about miracles and Santos, do you? Shaking her head she would say "You are an incredulo! Se te ha metido El Diablo." On occasion, I would find one of the statues on its head, or a print facing the wall. When I asked about it she would say "I am punishing him. I am tired of praying and praying for your older brothers and he fails to answer me! He will stay that way until he answer my prayers!"
Today, a small, abandoned altar graces an upstairs bedroom in my home, and some of her statues and prints of her santos still grace it. While I never could acquire the faith of my mother in the santos and milagros (miracles), I did learn to respect it. Maybe it was El Diablo that prevented it, just like she always said?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dining Out Mexican Style

There is an old Mexican addage: "Como Mexico no hay dos", meaning like Mexico, there is no other and I agree 100%. When you visit, get ready for a trip (journey) but also a mind trip. We arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico after an grueling bus trip, tired and hungry. As we entered the hotel I noticed a taco stand outside and once we were given our room, my wife opted for a nap while I went outside to get me some tacos. Mexicans have never heard of waiting your turn or of standing in line, so getting served was a matter of survival of the fittest. There was the usual jousting, pushing and elbowing and the hand gestures, or whistling to catch the eye of one of the servers, who were racing around filling orders. It must have been arounnd lunchtime since there was a large crowd. After about 12 minutes I was no closer to getting my order in. In an act of desperation I cliked my fingers and finally made eye contact with one of the girls. I shouted in my order and she nodded. After another 10 minutes I caught her eye again and she assured me my tacos were on their way. When my order was finally done, she raced by and slid my plate of tacos accross the counter and disappeared into the chaos. However, there was no salsa anywhere nearby and everybody knows you can't eat tacos without salsa! Again, I tried to make contact with one of the servers so one of them would bring me some salsa. After another 5 minutes, I made contact with the young lady who had served me and shouted out "Salsa! Aqui!" Pointing to my plate of tacos. She looked at me contemptously, grabbed a molcajete filled with salsa and deftly slid it towards me, spilling some of the contents all over the counter. By this time my blood began to steam. To make matters worse, one of the legs of the molcajete was shorter than the other two and the salsa continued to spill. Once again I glared at the girl's back hoping she could feel my growing rage and when our eyes met, I shouted "Look, one of the legs on the molcajete is too short and the salsa is spilling all over the place!" She paused, scowled at me and in an almost acrobatic movement, grabbed a tomato and stuck it under the short leg! I was dumfounded. I ate my tacos quietly, my ego totally burst, and accepted my defeat "como un hombre" (like a man). It is true: Como Mexico no hay dos!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yesterday's Train: "Mexican Time" Revisited

My mother was a fanatic for being on time. Each time she had an appointment with the doctor, for instance, she would drag me with her and we would arrive 30 minutes early. To this day, I have friends who said "I'm coming right over. I'm on my way now", and 10 years later I am still waiting for them! Many of us have joked about "Chicano Time", which holds that Chicanos are never on time for anything! The same holds true for our brothers on the other side of the border.
Some years ago, my wife and I went to Oaxaca on the bus. We had a splendid time there visiting galleries, buying handcrafts and enjoying the Mercados. When it was time to leave we decided to make the trip back to Mexico City by train. Knowing the ropes, I went early to the train station to purchase the tickets for departure that afternoon. However, when I made my way to the ticket booth, the agent told me he could not sell me the tickets at that time and that I would have to come back to purchase them that afternoon. I went back to the hotel, and my wife and I packed our bags and sat out in the plaza to enjoy the last of our stay watching people, kids playing and the vendors. An hour before departure, we took a cab to the station, I bought our tickets, and settled in to wait for the train. When the train did not arrive on time, I inquired and was told it would be about two hours late, so we opted to drag our bags back to the hotel and kill some more time. About an hour and a half later we headed for the station again, and when we arrived, we saw the train slowly pulling out of station! We ran after it, hoping to jump on, but a conductor yelled out that the train was just pulling forward, and that it would back up to the loading dock. Exhausted, we lugged our bags back to the loading dock and waited and sure enough the train returned. When we approached the conductor, I gave him our tickets and he stared at them for an unreasonable amount of time. "Oh, shit", I thought to myself, "now what?" He began to shake his head and finally said: "There was an accident on the tracks a few miles back, and your train is about two hours late. You will have to wait for it. You cannot get on this one." Dejected, we took our baggage and waited. A couple of hours later we saw our train approaching. As it slowed to the loading gate, we picked up our luggage and prepared to board. Again, we approached the conductor showed him our tickets and again he scoured them for a long time. "O.K. go ahead and board", he said. We took our seats and were anxious to get on the road. A few minutes later, another ticket taker approached and asked to see our tickets. To this point I had been a relatively polite American but now I was starting to get pissed. He shook his head, looked at the conductor and they both shook their heads! "I am sorry Senor, but these tickets are no good for this train. Because of the accident, your train has been delayed and it is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. This is yesterday's train, so you must get off and wait for yours." Yesterday's train? I could not believe my ears. Worse, the train was half-empty! At this point my face reddened and I looked him in the eye and told him I refused to get off. He glared at me for a moment, then walked away. The trip back to Mexico City was otherwise uneventful.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chicanos: Cultural Identity In Flux

Growing up in the early 40's, I remember my older brothers calling themselves "Chicanos".
I had no idea then as to the origens of the word and I assumed it was a word to describe those of us born of Mexican ancestry. However, I never really used it to refer to myself and again assuming that the term "Mexican" sufficed, since my parents had immigrated from Mexico and I still spoke what I believed to be Spanish. One day, someone (from Mexico) called me a "Pocho". Though I didn't really know what the word meant, it sounded nasty. I came to understand that it had a contemptuous tone to it and meant "wanna be, used to be Mexican", not the real thing. Nonetheless, for years I believed that calling myself "American" was the correct thing , until one of my teachers said: "You are not 'American', you are Mexican." It wasn't until I started teaching Chicano Studies in 1972, that I again encountered the word Chicano, but this time it was being used in a different context, despite the negative connotations the word held. "I don't understand", we were told by fellow Mexicans, "Why you call yourself 'Chicano'? Don't you know that the word means "Chingado?!!" (One Fucked over) But the dilemma was this: If we called ourself Mexican, and were being told "You are not Mexican because you were born in the U.S. and no longer speak Spanish, and on the other hand, being told by Americans that we were not Americans because our parents came from Mexico, we were in cultural Limbo!
However, the Nuevos Chicanos of the late 60's were determined to take the old term and give it new meaning describing those of us born between two cultures, Mexican and American, who spoke a new language, half Spanish and half English, later dubbed Spanglish or Pochismo. It went something like this: "Mom, voy ir a la store pa' comprar un funny book y un pack of gum, 'orita vengo." Linguists on both sides were outraged. "Speak one or the other!" They demanded. My good friend and colleague, artist, poet Jose Montoya, one of the founders of the R.C.A.F. (Royal Chicano Air Force), offered a unique argument: "What we speak is Pochismo, a natrual language of the Barrio, and it demands that we possess TWO languages in order to speak and understand it." Jose turned this hodge podge of language into Poetry! So Chicano now became a word charged with cultrual pride, positivism, activism, self-determination, and like our "Negro" brothers who struggled to convince America (and their own people) that "Black is Beautiful", so we had to convince America, and ourselves that "Brown is Beautiful" too.
However, the media began to write about the new "Chicanos" and to show them on TV protesting the Viet Nam War, demanding college and high school courses relevant to their culture, speaking out against racism, discrimination, dressed in the long hair and the garb of the 1960's. Thus, was born the Chicano Movement. Yet, our very own people began to say "Why are you 'Chicanos' , making waves, rocking the boat? We should be grateful to be in America. You're nothing but a bunch of troublemakers, Marijuanos, greniudos, and comunistas!" In the midst of all this came Cesar Chavez and the farmworker struggle, giving the movement the validity it seemed to need. It gave us a righteous cause to fight for (La Causa), because many of us had worked in the fields as children. Theories abounded as to the origins of the word and one of the most popular was that it came from "Mexicano" a derivative of "Mexica", pronounced "Meshica", the term the Aztecs called themselves, and that it was later refined to "Meshicano", or "Mexicano", and hence, shortened to the term "Chicano." Thus, to align oneself to a great culture of Mexico's past was optimal for the Chicanos. At the same, to complicate matters came other cultural labels for us to choose from (see my post on "Cho & Lo" called ("Always Read The Label First"), like Mexican-American, which we quickly rejected as being too Americanized, and later terms like Latino, Hispanic etc. each having to be weighed in. We lost a lot of loyalists to these labels. Author/Historian Rudy Acuna who visited our campus one day warned "Never give up the word 'Chicano' because it defines a very small group of us who have special needs in this society. We fought too hard for the word."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pretending To be Mexican: The New Tio Tacos?

Today I read where Central and South Americans in Los Angeles have been pretending to be Mexicans in order to get jobs. First, they need to acquire a Mexican accent, then learn some new words (especially swear words) and last eat Mexican food. They live in fear of being uncovered and potentially losing their jobs. Wow, in my day Mexicans worked hard to pretend they were anglos, but this?? Who would've thunk it? We called them "coconuts" (brown on the outside, but white on the inside), or Tio Tacos. They went so far as to change their names, especially their last names. The classic example is Victoria Carranza, who renamed herself Vicky Carr! One of the best stories I ever heard was from one of my students years back by the name of Ronnie Lopstain. He called himself a Chicano but I had my doubts. One day I confronted him about it, inquiring how he came to get the name, instead of say, Lopez or something. He told me that in fact his father's name was Lopez, but the family moved into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in San Francisco and opened a corner grocery store calling it "Lopez Groceries". When few clients frequented his business, his father decided to change the store's name to "Lopestain Groceries", but in time refined it to Lopstain! Needless to say his business increased tenfold! When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

Monday, November 3, 2008

El CuCui/Latin Bogey Man

Many of us hispanics grew up with the terror of being devoured by El Cucui at night. Although no one ever claimed to have actually seen it, we knew he was horrific, and voracious for young children to eat. We loved to play at dark, especially in the orchard across the road from my mother's house, or alongside the railroad tracks, or down at the nearby Tuolumne River, but all it took for us to race home, was someone saying "Did you hear that!? It's the cucui!!" Laying in bed at night, with the lights out, any sound of the wind or branches scraping against the walls of the house was "El Cucui!" And we would snuggle deeper under our blankets. Moms would scold us saying: "Portate bien o te va llevar El Cucui!" The thought of being carted off by a monstrous Cucui, just for being disobedient was terrifying. I tried it on my own kids but it didn't seem to work as well as it did for us. Somehow, they could not quite conjure up the horrific images of some child-eating monster like our imaginations could. Maybe they have seen too many horror films?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

La Llorona/The Weeping Lady

When I was a kid my mother told me the story of La Llorona. This powerful oral tradition story often began with: "I knew a woman in my pueblo in Mexico who was La Llorona." I have come to find out that there are many variations to the myth, but there seems to be one resonant theme: a woman has lost or killed her children and she is wandering the earth in search of them. My mother's version went this way: An indian woman was married to a cruel and womanizing Spaniard. When a neighbor told her one day of his many affairs, she took her children 4 or 5 to the river and drowned them one by one in a desperate act of revenge. The river washed each away and she never saw them again. One day she died and went to heaven and as she stood in judgement before God, he asked: "Where are your children?" When she could not answer his question, He proclaimed: "I cannot let you into Paradise until you bring me the souls of her children". "But how can I ever find them", she moaned, "the current has taken them away!?" "You find them and bring them to me." The story goes that as night descends, wherever there is water, a river, a marsh or a lake, you can hear the piercing wail of La Llorona: "Aiiieee mis hijos! Aiiieee mis hijos! Aiiiee mis hijos!" At any rate, the story served to bring us all in early at night for fear that La Llorona would devour us! "Did you hear that??!!" Someone would shout, and we would all race home! Will she ever find them? Qien sabe?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Nopal En La Frente"

"Nopal En La Frente" (Cactus on Your Forehead), is a clay mask about 12" high, which is inspired by an old Mexican phrase mocking those who go around pretending they are not Mexican. It is not uncommon for Mexicans in the U.S. to deny their nationality, avoid speaking Spanish, and even to change their names! Thus, Consuelo becomes "Connie", Jose becomes "Joe" and Pedro becomes "Pete". When a Mexican denies his language and culture, trying to pass himself on as "American" or some other nationality, due to a desire "to get ahead" in Anglo society, people say: "Miralo, se cree muy Americano pero trae un nopal en la frente!" It is a way of saying a Mexican can never fool anybody into thinking he or she is not Mexican or "A Tiger can never change his stripes!" The "cactus" (symbolizing Mexican culture) on his forehead is a firebrand, a permanent mark that cannot be so easily be removed.

"Primavera" (Spring)

"Primavera" (Spring), is a clay mask, about 10" high. She too has been decorated with under glazes, which are painted on after the piece is already fired. The piece then goes into the kiln for a second firing, and the colors brighten. A coat of glossy glaze has been painted over the entire mask. She is delicate, and reminiscent of Precolumbian masks, epecially Maya ones which I have seen. Her head dress is adorned with flowers and insects, symbols of Spring, and she wears gold earrings and a turquoise necklace. The leaves are attached to the face of the mask using wire which is pushed into the clay form while it is soft. The wire survives the hot temperatures of the firing process. This technique is used commonly, especially in the Trees of Life from Mexico, where forms are attached to the main body of the tree with wire stems.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Chuco: Zoot-Suiter"

"Chuco" is one of my most recent pieces, and I made it just to see if I still had it in me to make a piece similar to those I made some 20 years ago.
I did, but I struggled with it. The piece is about 20" high but unlike my previous work, this one is painted with under glazes and thus is limited to the bright colors and shading hand painting provides. Also the figure has no tatoos.


"Cholo" is a sample of a successful Cholo & Zoot-Suiter series of works my wife Graciela and I created during the mid-80's.
They were inspired by teaching classes at the California Youth Authority. Some of my students looked like this and of course, from the vatos I grew up with or saw on the "calles" (streets). We had numerous shows throughout central Califas and the Bay Area and overall they were enthusiastically received, but not without criticism "aren't your pieces glorifying a negative lifestyle?" "These are gangsters." "You're making La Raza look bad." Yet, we never ceased to been amazed by the positive reactions to them. We had struck in inner nerve with the gente and they responded.
I would mentally study the vatos in my classes at CYA, and their poses, dress and tatoos. I would also scour Low Rider Magazines for ideas. Like most of my work, they were hand painted with acrylics after firing. Over the years we sold many pieces. Each took hours of work to build and paint, and my wife and I worked together. She is vastly more patient than I am and though she has absolutely no training in art, she became my apprentice and added her womans "touch" to each piece. The greatest compliment for me was to see people pore over each piece, especially audiences like young kids who had probably never been exposed to art, and enjoy them. "Hey, check this one out, this looks like my Tio Chuy!" We have few pieces left now, just a handful, broken (glued together) or rejects. Friends often ask: "When are you going to make more?" Probably never.
It was a good period in our lives and I seem to have lost the patience I once had. But on the other hand, maybe I will make more. Quien sabe? For now, writing is taking its place.

"Rock-N-Rollero" (Rock-N-Roller"

"Rock-N-Rollero" is a basically a clay vessel onto which I placed a "muerte". La Calaca is playing an electric guitar (c.2004) and the piece is about 14" high. Calacas (skeletons)associated with "Dia de Los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) in Mexico are usually facetious characters, after the etchings of Guadalupe Posada, who worked in the late 1800's. His famous calacas mock everything from "Los Ricos" (the rich), the upper classes, politics, religion and the "jodidos" (dispossessed) of the working classes. Nothing is sacred.

Arbol De La Vida/Tree of Life

This piece was commisioned by a close friend of mine about one year ago. He had seen the typical Trees of Life from Mexico, but he wanted something unique, something made especially for him in honor of his deceased mother. It stands about 24" high and features a Virgen de Guadalupe on the base and eventually, a photo of his mom, centered between the two angels. The piece is "bone-dry" at this stage, and then had to be fired. This particular clay turns a beautiful white color when it dries. I held my breath after weeks of working on it, in its transfer to the local college where it was "fired". The piece at this stage is increbibly fragile and can crumble into pieces. The final step was to hand paint it in brilliant colors using acrylic paints. He was absolutely ecstatic with the finished piece, and I was satisfied too, one of my best works.

El Revolucionario/The Revolutionary

This clay figurine (10" high) I made many years ago (c.1985) when I first began working with clay (hand building). Though he is rather simplistic in concept, I still like it. I have always wanted to maintain a "folk" crudeness to my work reminiscent of the quality I see in many of the hand-crafts of Mexico. My work would get more technical as I gained confidence in the media and learned how to control it. It is bique fired and then handpainted with acrylic paints. I have been intrigued by the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). I still love singing corridos from that
time period, with my guitar.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Avocado Resurrection

Years back, late 1960's, my wife and I lived in Oakland, California. One night we were invited to dinner at the home of a young anglo couple. After an enjoyable evening, some wine and good conversation, we left. As they walked us out alongside the driveway, our friends pointed to a large tree with "these dark colored things laying all over the ground. Do you know what they are?" Since it was dark, we had to pick up one of the fruits inspect it closely, and Dios Mio, the tree was loaded with avocados! Hijole, we couldn't believe it! We took a shopping bag full home and feasted for weeks to come.
About 8 years ago, I planted an avocado tree in my back yard hoping to harvest and enjoy its fruits during the summer months. Each year, the tree bloomed, but with the wind and hot weather, the flowers dried up, died, and fell off. I knew from experience that most fruit plants take several years before they bear fruit. Yet each year it was the same story. People gave me advice on pruning, and fertillizers and one guy even told me to strike a large nail into the base of the trunk and the iron would boost production but nada.
Last summer, I took an axe and went out into the yard with the intention of chopping down the tree! "I'm sick and tired of wasting time and water on this tree and nothing", I told my wife.
She looked at me with dismay and scolded "Don't chop it down. Give it another year and see what happens?" So I took the axe and put it away.
This summer, the tree has at least a dozen beautiful aguacates! They are ripening each day, and soon we hope to enjoy them. Do you suppose the tree heard me planning to chop it down? Quien Sabe. Dios Sabra. I really should thank it, que no?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Man From The Sea

"Man From The Sea" is a ceramic mask I made in 2007. For years, I have been intrigued by masks, like our ancestors from many ancient cultures. I think clay is in my blood, since I was a child playing with mud, making clay tortillas and pies. It is mud at your command, but it has a mind of its own. It has its own laws, and you must respect it and know its limitations. Most of all, you need patience and know how to control its drying process. While it is wet you can only do so much because it is so heavy it will collapse on itself. In a way, it is a product of simple engineering, and figuring out how to support sections long enough so they can stand on their own.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chihuahuas and Chupacabras

"Princess", our female Chihuahua has obviously never seen herself in the mirror. She will snarl, growl and attack any dog no matter the size and she barks at every sound, especially at night. All I have to do is say "chew em' up!" and she begins growling.
Unlike most Mexicans, we keep our dog inside. On summer nights we keep our back screened security door open and every few moments she races to the door and snarls at some smell or sound. The other night in jest, my wife shouted "Chupacabra! Chupacabra, Princess get it!", and she raced off into the night to presum-
ably rip it to shreds. Now, we play around with her each night "Chupacabra!"and roll around laughing as she races outside. This morning I went out into the yard and found the small, black and bloodied carcass of Princess. Its insides had been suctioned out! Dios Mio!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How To Make Salsa The Easy Way For Tontos

For all of you gente out there who like salsa but don't know how to
make it I offer the following simple recipe, diluted from my mother's
old-fashioned Mexican way of making it. She, of course, made it all
with fresh ingredients, roasting the chiles, roasting the tomatoes,
and grinding them by hand in her old volcanic stone "molcajete".
I still have it and use it when I'm not feeling lazy.

However, for us Microwave Raza, I have found a nice easy way
to make it, and not have to waste money on Pace Picante or the
fake stuff from New York City. Summer is a great time to make it
because everything is fresh. Buy some fresh yellow (hot) or
Jalapeno chiles and roast them on a grill, or hot plate, right on
your stove, regularly turning them so they roast evenly on all
sides. It's OK if the skin burns but not too much. But get ready for
your house to smell (stink) of roasted chiles!! You can open a few
windows or doors if you want. The neighbors may even knock on
your door and ask you if everything is alright. Next, if you're amb-
itious, roast fresh tomatoes, but you can use canned, stewed
tomatoes just as well. Recently, I've discovered stewed tomatoes
that even have Basil in them! Orale!

When roasted, peel the cooled chiles (you can even even put
them in pan of cold water to cool first) but a word of caution:
peeling them by hand can cause your "feengers" to burn, and
even if you wash them with soap and water, if you rub them
on your face or eyes later, you'll be sorry! (Ay, Chingao!) Some
people use plastic gloves to peel them, but I find I cannot work
at anything with gloves! Next, carefully pull off the stems. When
peeled, place 6-8 into a blender. You can clean out the seeds,
but Mexicans always leave them in. Add a cup of water and
quickly blend them (30 seconds?), or they get foamy! Pour
blended chiles into a bowl. Then put two cups of tomatoes
into the blender and do the same. If you use fresh roasted
tomatoes, peel them first. Now pour the blended tomatoes into
the chiles and mix. If the mixture is too pasty, add water.

The finishing touch is to take and peel 4-6 wedges of fresh
garlic, and blend those with a cup of water. Add garlic mix into
the sauce, a teaspoon of salt and stir. If the salsa is too damned
hot, or too thick, add more water and/or blend more tomatoes
and add, to taste! If the quantity is too much use only 3-4 chiles
and less tomatoes next time. You can also freeze some of the
finished salsa in a freezer bag, and defrost for any future use!
Voila: Ya estuvo. You are ready to enjoy. Warning: You'll
get hooked!

For those chile nuts out there, try roasting a dozen or more
chiles at one time, then putting them in freezer bags, to use
all year round. That way you can take advantage of the
taste of "fresh" chiles and get the good summer price for
them, especially from your local farmer's markets!

You can, of course do all this using a molcajete, and the
salsa always seems to taste even better that way. My
mother loved salsa so much, she would even put it on her
pancakes! Orale, ouch!!

For an "enchilada", when you eat a spoonful of salsa
and it burns the hell out of your lips and mouth, I have
no recipe, except that's what you get, pendejo!

I also know an easy recipe for making dynamite can-
ned chiles in vinegar. Let me know if you would like a
recipe for this.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Illegal Immigration Dropping

It seems that the latest studies show a sharp drop in illlegal
immigration into the U.S. from south of the border. Mexico
also announced recently that the amount of money sent
by Mexicans to Mexico has sharply declined. President
Calderon touts that this has little effect on Mexico's
economy, but others point to its serious effect on those
who depend on money from the U.S., families and small
businesses throughout Mexico. Though no one exactly
knows the causes for this, many believe the struggling
U.S. economy, layoffs of workers and stepped-up immi-
gration laws are to blame. About 4 out of 5 illegals come
from Latin America, most from Mexico. It appears
the American Dream has become the American
Nightmare for many of us, including Americans.
"El dolar" has become "El Dolor".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bowls For Blankets

Some years back I read where some of the early American colonists
went into indian reservations as they spread their colonies eastward,
to "save" the native peoples. For centuries the method of commerce
for the people had been a system of trading. You make pottery,
you trade your pot to a weaver who makes blankets. No need
for money or cash, banks or lenders. But these early colonists saw
this system as backward, and they brought a new system of commerce,
credit. Alas, it is not hard to see how this system has infected our culture
today. The Aztecs measured wealth by the number of feathers a man
possessed. The brightly colored feathers of the Quetzal bird were the
most highly valued, so those of parrots. The Aztecs also mined silver
and gold before the arrival of the Europeans. It proved soft and shiny,
perfect for making jewelry and art objects. After the Spanish Conquest,
the Spaniards collected these beautifully crafted artifacts, tossed them
in a pot and melted them into bricks. Sometimes they piled so many bricks
onto boats bound for Europe that they sunk in the Gulf of Mexico.
Que tontos, verdad? "Pssst, hey gringo ju' 'wanna buy dis
blanket, cheep? Ju' can pay me later."

Friday, September 19, 2008

The On Going Saga of Cho & Lo

George Lopez For President

Lo: Hey, Cho what do you think about Sara Palin?
Cho: Never heard of the Ruca, who is she?
Lo: Who is she!? She is running for Vice President with that vato McCain!
Cho: Running for what? Who the hell is McCain? She probably running alright,
running from the law! (cracks up)
Lo: Este vato (sarcastically). McCain is running for President!!
Cho: (annoyed) I dunno why they keep running these gente who are unknown.
They should go back to running famous Hollywood people, like movie stars.
Lo: Movie stars? Get serious, homes.
Cho: Simon, like those vatos Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Americans like famous people. Just look at Arnold's muscles, ese.
Lo: Yeah, but muscles don't make you a good Governor, vato. Who do you think
should run for President?
Cho: They oughta run the Lopez'. Now they would win for sure.
Lo: What Lopez'?
Cho Yeah dude, George and Jennifer Lopez.
Lo: Orale, Jennifer... now I'd vote for her! She has a nice set of...
Cho: Eyes. (Both laugh) Yeah, and George Lopez could make us all laugh!
Lo: Seriously, Vato who you gonna vote for? I bet you ain't even registered!
Cho: Registered? Simon loco, I ain't no illegal alien, if that's what you mean!
Lo: Este vato (distressed). Are you Democrat or Republican?
Cho: Chale homes, I'm a registered... Vato Loco, y que?
Lo: You'e a loco, alright. Mucho loco en la cabeza!! (cracks up)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cho & Lo: Two Vatos From The Barrio

Sometime in the mid-1980's one of my students
came to me with an idea for creating a couple
of barrio characters named "Cho and Lo" (Cholo),
for a Chicano radio program we were airing out of
The University of the Pacific, KUOP-FM. The
weekly program consisted of mostly music: Oldies,
Rancheras, Latin Jazz, and of course, dedications:
"for mi Ruca from tu Vato, Spider".

However, I began to include poetry, dramatic
readings and original skits, so the idea of a weekly
series of two locos from the barrio was perfect.
Little did we know that Cho & Lo would grow to
tremendous popularity in the community and that
what started out as 30 second skits, mostly locuras
and pendejadas, would become a sophisticated venue
with episodes "to be continued next week", for advocating
anti-gang, anti-drug messages and the importance of education.
We would in time add extras, music, and sound effects.

The next step was to produce episodes live for audiences,
so we would don some khakis, a pendelton, beanie or headband
and take it to the local jails, prisons and schools. People I meet
from this area still can recall our opening: "As the barrio turns
and the Menudo burns, we meet Cho & Lo", over the lyrics
of the song, "The Cisco Kid" by the group"WAR".

Some years later, a drunk driver would claim the life of
my partner "Cho" (Richard Zapata). Locals, and old-timers
often run into me and ask about Cho & Lo, whether I have any
recordings (I do), and stress how there is still a need for the messages
of the espisodes out in our community, for a new generation.

So I write this new episode kind of in Memoriam of my
pal, Richard and the good times we had writing and performing
the adventures of "Cho & Lo":

"Always Read The Label First"

Cho: Hey, Lo what do you call yourself anyway?
Lo: A vato, what else?
Cho: Na, I mean when people ask "what are you?"
Lo: Well, it depends.
Cho: Depends on what?
Lo: On what day it is, ese.
Cho: That don't make no sense, loco. Estas chiflas.
Lo: No, I have a different label, depending on what day it is. For example,
I call myself "Latino" on Mondays cuz' it's the first day of the week
and people have more respect for Hispanics.
Cho: Orale, so what do you call yourself on Tuesdays?
Lo: On Tuesdays I am a "Hispanic", still getting some respect from people
but not as much.
Cho: Ok, on Wednesdays what?
Lo: On Wednesday I call myself "Mexican-American", and that one is pretty
clean sounding too, and it sounds a little more "Mexican", you know? After
all my Jefitos came from Chihuahua.
Cho: Can't wait to hear what you call yourself on Thursdays.
Lo: Thursdays is my "American" day, but all my Anglo buddies call me a Mexican.
Fridays I call myself "Mexican", but my Mexican buddies say I am "American."
Cho: You can't win, ese. What do you do on Saturdays?
Lo: On Saturdays I let it all hang out and call myself a Chicano! Orale, I can do my
"radical" thing then and wear my khakis, my pendelton, and my headband.
Cho: Orale, but there's only one day left, what do you do on Sunday?
Lo: On Sundays I take a day of rest.
Cho: You ain't telling me you go to Mass?
Lo: Na. I'm just "human" on Sundays. But you know what day is the hardest for
me? Fridays, when I call myself "Mexican."
Cho: Why's that, homes?
Lo: Cuz' I can't speak no spanish vato, tu sabes?
Cho: Orale, but you can't speak "no English" either!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Soy Artista/I Am Artist

Soy un Senior Citizen, retired after 33
years of teaching, viejito, picante pero sabroso. Hold 2 Master's Degrees, one from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland in Fine Art, and a 2nd in English from Stanislaus State University . Taught the gamut of Chicano courses for some 15 years : Chicano Literature, Chicano History, Mexican History and Art, and Chicano Teatro. Taught the gamut of English courses the last 15 years: English, literature and Critical Thinking. Was co-cordinator of the Puente Program at Delta College for the last 4 years.
I was inducted into Stockton's Mexican American Hall of Fame in 1993, was one of 5 honorees at KVIE's Channel 6,
Hispanic Cultural Celebration in September 2008, and will receive Stockton Arts Commision S.T.A.R. Award (Stockton'sTop Artist Recognition) on Octber 17, 2008. New to Blogging, sounds like a dirty word. I do a littlle of many things: paint, draw, play guitar & sing bi-lingual of course, and write poetry. I epecially love to sing corridos and rancheras but I do American folk and folk-rock stuff too. I paint and draw, but have found a special place in my corazon for clay and many of my latest works are ceramic masks and figurines. I am often invited to perform, to sing and read my poetry and I love it. Nothing like an audience that reacts to poetry and music with joy. Orale. Soon as I learn more, hope to post poems, videos y photos etc. For now it is baby steps, poquito a poquito, like a child learning to walk, to talk. Chicanismo is a way of seeing the world, of living in the middle of things taking the best from two sides, frijoles con steak, tu sabes, hamburger con salsa, jalapenos con pickles.