Southern California

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.

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!

Where We're From

The Digable Planets are back in style. Why do we miss the 90’s when they were only uh…10 years ago?

Angelenos move to New York to experience where the Diggable Planets are from. To experience the Brooklyn of Biggie Smalls, the late 80’s and early 90’s East Coast rap that preceded the TuPac stuff we grew up on.

Likewise, New Yorkers move to Los Angeles to get away from a continually gentrified metropolis, and experience a groaning, growing city in all of its discomfort, its dirt, and dysfunction.

But what about the places where, to quote the song, kids don’t “be reading Marx” or “dig some sounds coming from a jeep”? Doesn’t it get exhausting to always be on the lookout for the epicenter of cool?

Beyond where we’re from, let’s just be…where we are.

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.

Migrations and Salutations

In the halls of the Arcadia Methodist Hospital, migration and immigration mean two different things entirely. The Emergency Room sign says “Emergency” in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and even sorrow speaks different languages.

“Mom, you’re going to be fine. I know. I love you.” (Wipe tear off cheek.) She’s going down the hall, off to surgery.

“Everything’s going to be fine, okay? K, I’ll see you in a bit. (Kiss)

Bye.”

In the waiting room, the children of Saint Gabriel fill the waiting rooms with In and Out burgers. It is a sea of black jeans, highlights, and acrylic nails. Cousins have come. Girlfriends have come.

Families sit in circles, with black ponytails swishing above the straight-backed chairs.

People are accompanied.

Around the corner, the nurse in the elevator releases a quiet sigh.

"How are you?" I ask.

"Oh, I'm fine; just a bit tired, that's all.

I'm a glutton for self-punishment. I commute everyday from Hemet."

Amongst the quiet chit-chatting of everyday realities, a loud wail suddenly interrupts the silence.

Down the hall, a ponytailed woman in a zip-up jumpsuit is sobbing uncontrollably. Wailing in Spanish on a flip phone.

“But I did call his brother to tell him! He just doesn’t pick up!!!!”

Her sorrow is unbearable. Someone has died, and she can’t reach the people she needs to tell. Although she is in Arcadia, Mexico isn’t. Not only is her husband gone, her loved ones are far away from her.

In the ICU, my mother’s mind is elsewhere as her body sits in Unit 6. She breathes calmly. Her mind might be elsewhere, but she is there. With me.