Mechanomorphism, or biking Los Angeles

I did the LA River Ride this past Sunday, and it was an incredible experience. Sure, the event was fun, but the best part was the astonishing realization I had while riding. Somewhere around Hollenbeck Park, I thought…my body can be a machine.

It was mechanomorphism, along the LA River.

Growing up in Los Angeles, the car was always the way in which I knew my environment. That changed a little bit as I got into running as a teenager, but the extent of those journeys was four or five miles. Not twenty. It was exhilarating to bike along the river and see what I had (actually) never seen before up close: the flora and fauna of the river, the cute little homesteads along it, replete with fruit trees and roosters. I had never known there were birds in the LA River, much less how physically close the arts-y area of Los Feliz is to hard-struck northeast LA neighborhoods like Lincoln Heights. It was cool to actually see who lived there, and share the same bike path as residents as they went on their morning walks.

It was almost like touring some sort of living museum of revitalized Los Angeles, powered by your own two legs. When you cross a street with your body, you can feel distance and proximity in a way that the media, education, or curriculum can never teach you. You see that old Filipino janitors go to the same McDonalds as old white farmers, and they both like pancakes on Sundays.

That’s what’s radical about this exercise: seeing – and BEING – in your city in a whole new way. Inhabiting space that was formerly deemed uninhabitable.

Crossing Cesar Chavez Avenue, I felt so free and so light! Not at all like I did when I commuted; I wasn’t burning any money, only calories. And the Downtown buildings looked so majestic and tall. You somehow see things more clearly on a bike, even though you’re stripped away of the steel protection of a car. So much of Los Angeles is about filtration – from movie screen to viewer, from driver to car window.

Without a filter, being in the city is a much more intimate and enjoyable experience.

It creates this inspiring confidence, powering yourself over streets that are normally only traversed by cars. You create evidence that it is possible to mechanize our society in new ways – power ourselves off of oxygen, and not foreign (or national!) oil. We don’t have to dump money into a fixture that clogs our transportation system and ruins our health. Besides, if there was ever a bike-able major urban metropolis, it’s probably this one. The weather is temperate, and the LA Basin is mostly flat.

So in the city of Bladerunner, the most radical thing you can do is simply go back to the future: a car-less future.

It’s a privilege to know the city you’re from, and really understand its history from tree trunk to skyscraper to home to riverbed. Los Angeles is a cool place, especially if you take the time to know about it. It’s good to see each other, and see our city, more clearly. And if more and more people do this sort of thing, maybe the new generation of Angelenas (thirty years my junior) can see things differently.

Regina and Francisca

This is the second post in my series comparing two different musicians of the HispAnglo (Hispanic/Anglo) world. Complete the analogy: Linda Rondstant is to Gal Costa what Regina Spektor is to __________.

(Francisca Valenzuela).

They don't look as alike as Linda and Gal do, but New York-based signer does have the same look and general aesthetic of Chilean hipster crooner Francisca Valenzuela:

Regina Spektor

Francisca Valenzuela

These two reigning queens of North American and South American indie pop even have similar sounds.

Here is Francisca Valenzuela's song "Esta Soy Yo" (This Is Me): [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0dKy_Q4FXA]

which has some of the quirky but epic camp elements of Regina Spektor's song "Us":

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fczPlmz-Vug]

And Francisca Valenzuela's song "Peces" (Fishes): 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyzGG74VlY8]


has some of the same sentimental overtones as Regina Spektor's "Fidelity":

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wigqKfLWjvM]

Next week's analogy:

If Regina Spektor is to Francisca Valenzuela, then Janis Joplin is to...???

Linda and Gal

Who says the US and Brazil don't have much in common? Besides common histories and geographies, some of our cultural icons look alike.

In the case of 70's music stars Linda Ronstadt and Gal Costa, they look startlingly alike.
Here is a young Linda Ronstadt: 

And her music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58id5JIzFao]

And here is young Gal Costa: 

And her music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?index=42&list=PL1DD83DFEAFCE5ECB&hl=en_US]

Gal has the same soft combed out hair and easy-living breeze that made Linda a star. In their times, these mestiza ladies defined music in their countries and throughout the whole hemisphere. The only difference? (According to Gal Costa), when you sing in Brazil, you don't have to wear a bra.

Living on the Day of the Dead

In this week's fantastic Alt Latino show on NPR, the first song they play is La Bruja/The Witch, in which the signer cries, "Oh, how beautiful it is to fly/At two in the morning/ At two in the morning, how beautiful it is to fly, ay, mama".

He's flying with a witch.

A hot witch.

The beautiful thing about Day of the Dead is its sex appeal - the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day, is about celebrating the duality of life. It's about creation, and also about destruction. It embraces the two sides of existence, and in it, the poetry of existence itself. The Day of the Dead is about staring life down to the end of the road, and smiling.

The holiday is a glorious whirl of marigolds and miel; but this year, with as much death as there is in the Americas, and particularly in Mexico and Central America (where it is celebrated the strongest), it has a different tone. The drug wars in Mexico have turned it into a pais de lloronas, in the literal sense.

It might be easy to let death have the final word; to just give in, and fly with it. Let it slowly lessen the value of life, and overshadow its glow.

That's the lazy option, and it's the wrong one.

The harder one is to get on with the business of living. We know we respect the dead, and that the dead respect us. But let's also have a little more respect for the living, - and live it like we mean it.

Let's make policies and communities that are life-affirming. Start by signing this Washington Office on Latin America petition to stop the arms smuggling that's driving so much death in Mexico by clicking here. Solo faltan 300 - they only need 300 more.

As the famous Los Fabulosos Cadillacs song Skeletons and Devils/Calaveras y Diablitos, reminds us:

Las tumbas son para los muertos...
Graves are for the dead
La vida es para gozarla
Life is about living well
La vida es para vivirla mejor.
Life is about living it better and better all the time.

The Feminista Mystique: What Would JLo Do?

Positive thinking is all the rage these days. Everyone from Joel Osteen to Suzie Orman to your neighborhood pothead tells you It's Your Time! Stand in Your Truth! Don't Worry, Be Happy!
These mantras are the 21st century versions of the WWJD wristbands of the 90's. Although I didn't wear them then, if I did now, instead of asking about what Jesus would do, why not ask myself...what would JLo do?!
Maybe the best way to live like Jesus is actually to live like JLo: validate yourself to keep doing whatever it is you're doing, and do it well. 

How did she do this? Ironically enough, by having no shame: she publicly burned through multiple marriages, flaunts her gigantic ass, and arrives at awards ceremonies in a see-through peacock robe. She made her performing weakness - singing - her emphasis, and keeps singing in front of thousands of people even though her voice cracks. The melody of "Get on the Floor" is stolen from a 1980's lambada song, and the outfits are glittery versions of footsie pajamas.

But by the looks of it, she - as Tina Fey writes in Bossypants - doesn't “...[expletive] care if you like it!” Her lack of shame is what makes her a feminist and has made her a success. Instead of falling into the female trap of self-punishment for not being perfect, she accepts her flaws and keeps it moving. Instead of hiding her hips, she got them insured for a million dollars. 

Instead of shame, she has swagger - that je-ne-sais-JLo  that took her from back up dancer to millionaire mother, all on her terms.
So similar to how songstress Demi Lovato has 'Stay Strong' tattooed on her wrists, I wrote a makeshift tattoo reminding myself of the power of La Yenifer. She reminds us that whatever it is we do, we, at the end of the day, are doin' it well.


Castizo Closets

It's confirmed: Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" is half Mexican. Given that he slept with a member of his domestic household staff, I figured that the woman was Latina, and turns out she is. Mildred Patricia Baena, to be exact. Somewhere in Southern California a certain Chicano kid has been smirking on the couch while his friends unknowingly joked, "I'll be back!".
While it's disappointing, a high-level politician cheating on his wife is too normal to really be newsworthy. (After all, nearly all high-level politicos from DC to CA - Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa - have checked that box.) What is newsworthy is how old-school this is.
Schwarzenegger having a love-child with his Mexican maid is straight 19th century. It's casta California, a color-based caste and power system in which European landowners often had children with indigenous women who worked in or around their homes. That's the mission system every California 3rd grader has to re-create with styrofoam as a class project. While Anglo settlers rejected this loose, Latin American social system that allowed for racial mixing, it's a deeply ingrained idea in California's subconscious.
And is perhaps even more so now, because NAFTA has turned the best intentions of both the Minute Men and the reconquista (reconquest) activists on their heads: American corporations have rendered Mexico economically uninhabitable, pushing hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals back into what was Northern Mexico just 150 years ago.
Who knew that of all people, Republicans would make the reconquista real. California is half Mexican now, and its "centrist" governor has sealed the deal.
In californio California, people wouldn't have blinked if a blond governor had a dark-haired son in the figurative closets of his large estate. Maybe Arnold's most famous line is really the voice of casta California: I'll be back!

Ten Ways to Tell You’re in a Latino House

1) People will not let their bare feet touch the floor. They wear flip flops on carpet. While wearing socks.
2) The whole house smells like Fabuloso.
3) The bakeware is kept in the oven itself.
4) There’s whole milk in the fridge.
5) There are more than two pictures or statuettes of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in the house.
6) The newest electronic in the house is the TV. And it’s huge.
7) Univision is on TV, but no one is watching it. They're just listening to it.
8) There are early risers in the house.
9) Most food products say 'Goya'.
10) The residents of the house are both better looking and have better judgment than the idiots on Univision in the background.