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."