San Gabriel Valley

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.

Our Good Life

The ten year anniversary of September 11th is tomorrow. Although that means many things (most of which I'm not going to dive into here), let's remember something: Patriot Act or not, it's pretty good to live in America.

It’s not perfect, and it’s not always easy, but it's good.

Somewhere in America, an immigrant is opening up their own business. There is a child being born. A vegetarian has unlimited food options. Women can marry each other. Someone can wear overalls to church, just because they want to.

Here in Washington, DC, many people forget about the good life, but back home in LA - a city of immigrants - there is an unshakeable feeling that life there was a privilege. For people from war-torn or broken countries, simple afternoons filled with the scent of homemade meals, fresh laundry, and laughing children is the good life.

Tranquility might not make the 6 o’clock news, but it’s the tick-tock of the new American heartland.

So, as Kanye says, throw your hands up for the good life.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEKEjpTzB0Q]

Hapa Pop Show

As per usual, Brazil is beating the U.S. at its own cultural game. Hapa musician Curumin, a mixed Japanese Brazilian, gets the sound of (inter) American life right.

Curumin's music ranges from Samba Japa, which layers auto-tuned Japanese chants on modern beats, to the crunk, 90's club style Caixa Preta.

I don't know who the American equivalent of Curumin is. Who does pop like this? Where can we hear Chinese L.A., or Pilipino San Francisco, in fun young music? 

Let's get going. I want to hear it.  Cuz serious musicianship + playful mixing = la cosa nostra.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TEtoRbJBtM]

The Story of One Chinese Mother

Amy Chua has caused quite an uproar with her recent Wall Street Journal article 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.' The article has garnered some 6,767 comments, and Chua has received both praise and hate mail from non-Asian Americans and Asian Americans alike.

When I first read it, I thought, "Okay. Some of this is true. And some of this has been common knowledge since the 70's. What...exactly...is the big deal?"

I think the big deal is this, though: her overarching point - that Chinese mothers are superior - is not true. The word superior, in the piece and the title itself, comes off as 'superlative'. Yes, there are better ways to parent than others, but there is not a best way.

Having grown up in an area of greater Los Angeles that is almost half Chinese, I was raised around girls like Chua's daughters. The ones that couldn't go to sleepovers, and studied piano only after Chinese school and SAT prep classes were finished with.

Chua's parenting techniques raise smart and successful adults. But those techniques can also raise adults who don't fare well when not being given directions. Ten years out of high school, the AP and the SAT crowd has 'grown up', but for a long while there, they hadn't. High-school meet-ups during college were meetings of twenty year olds who still acted like fifteen year olds, joking about sex (that they hadn't had yet) and complaining about homework.

So her subtle suggestion that American society would be magically transformed if every child had to play the violin sounds bogus to me. It also sounds classist; not everyone needs to have a B.A. in order to be a good person.

In the end, Chua's article taught a lot of people about a world they didn't know about. And that's good. But Chua's article @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } is exaggerated to the point where it's almost untrue; and that all but negates the power of her argument.

She sold a hyperbole in order to get a book deal.  And since misunderstanding equals media squalor and media squalor equals web hits, both she and the WSJ are profiting. But it should be seen for what it is a - a hit. It's not an overarching statement about an ethnicity, it's one statement of one (superior-feeling) mother.

In the Land of the Underemployed

Back home in L.A. over the holidays, I re-discovered what the term "consumer heaven" means. The world is On Sale. Houses, cars, ear muffs, high heels.

Happiness.

Signs say all types of things. Signs say:

Grey Goose, $26.99
Jeans, $17.99
Sweaters, $7.99
Shoes, $6.99

In the Land of the Underemployed, everything is happening right now. (Either right now-right now, or later-later.) This is Ground Zero of the Stimulus Bill efforts; twenty percent unemployment, and that doesn't take into account those ‘underemployed’ UC Berkeley graduates who do work, but at a shoe store.

This is what the world looks like after the Bubble has burst; this is, without credit, what people can actually afford.

So, what can we expect, post-Crash and pre-gain? I can expect to buy these Fashion Sunglasses in my trusty undergraduate place of employment - ValuMart discount food warehouse - for $2.99.

And what's that like?

Noir, but nice!

For Bobby

It is said that everything that happens in the world happens first in California.

And now the first U.S. municipal official to die in the Mexico drug wars is from California.

El Monte, to be exact.

El Monte is about a mile away from where I grew up. I used to go running there after school. Our family buys cars there. El Monte is the subject of my favorite book, The People of Paper by Salvador Plasencia.

For the first time, El Monte was on the media map. It is the hometown of Bobby Salcedo, an Assistant Principal and School Board member killed in early January in Durango, Mexico. NPR reports refer to El Monte “an immigrant community." It is not an immigrant community; it is a community of color, but it is, by and large, a community of American-born folks living normal lives. Playing baseball, fixing up cars, or in the case of Bobby Salcedo, not just teaching kids but raising scholarship money for them.

News stories say that students like Crystal Delgado remember Bobby Salcedo as “not just a teacher; he was a friend. “

"He was always there for us,” she adds, “especially when I needed help. ...He was someone great who I will always remember."

Not that anyone should die in this conflict, but they especially shouldn't be the Bobby Salcedos of the world. Taking out the rival gang member, someone trying to snuff out new lines of business, that’s one thing. But to drag off and kill a Mexican-American success story, married to a Mexican national, who spent his time improving the quality of life in both his and her hometowns? Murdering the past President of South El Monte/ Durango, Mexico Sister City Organization - while they're having dinner?

That's who dies?

This is as emotionally puzzling as it is intellectually puzzling. The Merida Initiative is the U.S. policy initiative responsible for mitigating the drug wars, and subsequently, the violence caused by them. It is a hot topic among the prettied walls of the State Department. But part of me really wonders if drug cartels don’t make money off of the investments slated for fighting them; after all, the Colombian FARC grew fat with co-opted enforcement cash for a good 40 years.

And part of me wonders why the death of an (albeit low ranking) U.S. elected official won’t cause a blip in the larger policy picture.

Whatever their intent, the current "drug war" policies aren’t working: Bobby Salcedo is no longer around. And while his family might not be yet, I just hope he's at peace somewhere amongst the brush -the monte - between El Monte and Durango.