local insights

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Chicas Rockeras Sur Este: Taco Core + Mujer Empowerment

This past week was the first Chicas Rockeras Sur Este Los Angeles camp for girls ages 8-17, which took place at Ollin Prep academy, a school in Huntington Park.South East LA is an area between East LA and South Central, but it is an area of its own and definitely needs to be put on the map. I was a band manager and had been anticipating camp all year.

As soon as camp started, I knew this space was special because I was surrounded by women and young girls and spaces like that are rare. The papel picado had “SELA” on it, there was band posters with womxn leads all over the wall, and a little stage in the middle of the MPR. There was a mini assembly before class started (which included workshops, instrument practice, and band practice.) and we all sang along to the camp song: “Quien eres? Quien quieres ser? Ahora es la hora de poder! si se puede! (si se puede!) con chicas a tu lado, finalmento tu momento a llegado!” On the first day every participant in camp looked shy, but in contrast to the last time we sang the theme song on Saturday everyone was singing and dancing along, and even formed a pit.

The age groups were separated into two: 7-12 and 13-17. The younger groups were the “bidibidis” and the older group were the “bomboms.” After assembly, the bidi bidis and the bom boms were separated for the workshops and instrument practice.

Workshops were centered around topics such as: know your hustle, environmental justice, body positivity, oppression 101, screen printing, and women in music.

It was powerful to sit in on some of them and even help lead one, and see the girls ask questions and participate. Some people did not understand all these concepts until they get to college and here in my community young girls were able to participate in these conversations.

The instruments we had at camp were keyboards, bass, guitars, drums and vocals. Some of the band coaches were also instrument instructors and taught the girls the instruments.

Alice Bag was one of the vocal instructors and I was able to sit in and watch the class sing to Angel Baby or the way they sang it: Taco Baby.

During lunch, there was always performances and the girls were exposed to a lot of music with women leading. Afterwards the girls formed bands and we had band practice where the girls wrote their own songs and worked together to prepare for a showcase hosted on that Saturday.

Even on the last ending assembly, we sang the camp theme song and the girls were super into the second time and every time after that. I have never felt so comfortable to get in the pit and dance and shout as much as I did with Chicas Rockeras.

Saturdays showcase was much more than I expected. The venue filled up with family and friends anticipating the moment of seeing the growth of the Chicas. It was beautiful to see everyone high fiving and dancing to each bands songs, with lyrics that included: “Pick up your trash! pick up your trash!”, “We wont take it anymore, we have bodies we adore!” to “Trust dreams, trust your heart, trust your story!”

Marin and Mayra, comadres and two of the organizers of the camp, MCed the event.  At the end, we all sang the camp theme song one last time. “Who are you? Who do you wanna be? Today is your day listen and see. Yes we can! (yes we can!), with chicas on your side, your moment has finally arrived!”

The whole week was very TacoxCore and I definitely feel Chicas withdrawals. And I miss the high fives we all gave each other. SouthEast LA really needed this camp. Our communities don’t have access to a lot of programs for youth. This camp has definitely been the most healing space I have ever been a part of, especially because girls really felt empowered through the end of it, and many tears were shed all week. I can’t wait for camp next year and continue the growth and empowerment of girls.

Chicano Batman at Santa Monica Pier

Every year, the Santa Monica Pier hosts their Twilight Concert series showcasing an array of musical artists from all types of genres. For this 31st year anniversary, the Twilight Concerts’ lineup includes musical artists such as Real Estate, Sister Nancy, and Ariel Pink. Chicano Batman performed and opened the stage on July 23rd with their retro ruffled suits and psychedelic funk before the headliners, Cubanismo.

The quartet, featuring Carlos Arevalo (guitar), Bardo Martinez (lead vocals, keyboard, guitar), Eduardo Arenas (bass, vocals), and Gabriel Villa (drums, percussion), put on an amazing show encompassing a broad collection of Latin sounds from past generations rejuvenated to fit the present. With their surf-rock Cumbia, romantica-style melodies, and Colombian rhythms, Chicano Batman pays homage to influential legendary Latin groups such as Los Lobos, Los Mirlos, and Los Angeles Negros. Their bilingual transitions during sets speak to the legacy of the Spanish language musical heritage of the United States which continues to diversify the dance floor and concert spaces with a bit of multiculturalism. Bossa Nova is also a major musical influence on the band’s fusion of Portuguese, samba, and jazz. But more than a tribute band, Chicano Batman is on “a mission to bring the overlooked to the forefront” as they state on their website.

In fact, Chicano Batman’s logo pieces together the United Farm Workers’ eagle designed by Caesar Chavez in the 1960s and the batman symbol. Together these symbols represent the band’s allegiance to the Latin community both through pop-culture and political cultural identity. Through their lyricism and rhythm, Chicano Batman expresses the daily experiences of modern day Latin Americans, presenting themselves as an example. Their music stems from their own living experiences and memories within the Los Angeles community. Thus, each track generates a sense of nostalgia, which is a common response to most postmodern art forms. Not only do they borrow from past traditions in both their music and style, but they seek to immortalize the experience of growing up to the sounds of their parents’ music. It is for this reason the band combines these styles for their live audience throughout local Los Angeles. A passerby might say they sound different and for others, psychedelic Chicano rock. Whichever genre they fit, Chicano Batman will not be mitigated to menial parts of the record store. They are a group of passionate Latinos from East Los Angeles who appreciate and validate a multicultural community through language and art.

Chicano Batman’s latest album is titled Cycles of Existential Rhyme and you can catch them at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on August 28th.

Hole in the Wall: The Honey Tones

The rain quickly falls on them as they run up the Kerckhoff steps. They hurried across the wet concrete, making sure not to fall or drop any of their equipment. Some used their jackets to cover their amps, some took off their shirts. All of them were trying to avoid as much rain as possible. This is how The Honey Tones came to our office. Soaked, but with a sound so sweet, it went beyond their name.

With a dapper air surrounding them and a weird kind of grace, they struck off the set with their signature oldies infused with their unique indie sound. With Crystal Cerecedes as vocalist and guitarist, April Jimenez on keyboards, Omar Praslin on bass, and Jesse (Stewey) Mendez on drums, they dragged us into their melodic, charming sound, taking us somewhere carefree.

“I think every time we’re asked what our sound is…” April begins to explain.

“It’s lowrider music,” Crystal jokingly chimes in.

“We’re dream pop,” Omar exclaims.

Each member idled with various music groups; Crystal use to play in a funk group, April was in a surf rock band, while Stewey was part of the metal scene. Despite these vast differences and even though they don’t hang out as much, they cohesively work together.

“We all come from different musical backgrounds… We all meshed into one,” April says.

“As a band, we don’t hang out at all… But see, everybody has a job and a different life. It’s time to grow up. This is more like a hobby,” Stewey explains.

This mesh of a group began with Crystal Cerecedes’ desire to create an all girl band. When that didn’t become end game, they continued on with The Honey Tones, wanting to add something different to the booming backyard Los Angeles music scene.

“I guess basically its wanting to do our own thing. I’ve been in the shadows of other musicians… Most of them are dominant male bands… So, that’s kind of refreshing that Crystal wanted to start her own thing,” April says.

And though the intensity of life gets them down from accomplishing mainstream success, they manage to do what they must do to survive this kind of lifestyle.

“Cos we’re working class, we got to work our way to the top. And it’s hard cos you’re trying to make ends meets,” April says. “It’s just a balancing act to be honest. Because when we find time, the little spare, scraps of time we have, that’s when we meet up and try to make something. It’s difficult.”

“It takes a lot of drugs to keep up,” Omar says, laughing.

They continue to believe in the music they produce and greatly appreciate those that recognize their work.

“We want to make it but at the same time the biggest reward would be the music,” April says. “And I know it sounds really cheesy, but when a fan comes up to us, that makes it worth it.”

Catch them at local shows around Los Angeles and follow their Instagram (@thehoneytones) for updates.

Raza Grad 73’ till Infinity

June 1st, 1973: As thousands of UCLA graduating students sat in Drake Stadium, ready to hear their name and receive their diploma, the few number of Raza students amongst the class sat ready to redefine the impersonal graduation process. Although emotions of excitement were felt throughout the graduating class, for the Raza students on campus, this so-called “celebration” of their accomplishment also felt extremely unwelcoming.

While it was meant to celebrate the achievements of students’ efforts at UCLA, the graduation had no relevance or connection to the experience of the Raza students. The ceremony was only held in English and tickets for students were limited. Although the Raza students wanted to acknowledge the help their family and community gave them throughout their time in school, the school’s graduation process implied the school did not want to recognize the community the students came from. Yet, rather than comply with the process, and accept their accomplishment as an individual effort, the Raza students at the graduation threw their caps in the air and walked out in protest of the impersonal, English-only, and culturally irrelevant ceremony.

As the students walked out of the ceremony to a speech read by Chancellor Charles E. Young explaining the reason behind the protest, the booing coming from the predominantly white crowd reflected the alienation these and many other Raza students felt on campus throughout their college experience, as well as the reality of the racial inequality dominant on the campus.

Waiting for them on the lawns of Sunset Canyon Recreation, with open arms and delicious food, were the family and friends of these students. With the presence of loved ones, food, and a small impromptu stage on the back of a flatbed semi, the first UCLA Raza Graduation was born.

Unlike the UCLA Letters and Science commencement ceremony, Raza Grad does not limit tickets for the families and friends of the participating graduates, is bilingual in order for families to understand, and features culturally relevant and empowering speakers and performers that the audience can relate to.

Since its initiation, Raza Grad focuses on ensuring all Raza students and communities have the opportunity to be a part of the culturally empowering ceremony that celebrates the cultural diversity and history of Latinas/Latinos and Chicanas/Chicanos at UCLA.

For this reason, the identity of a Raza student and thus the invitation to Raza Grad is not limited to students who identify as Chicana/o Latina/o. It is not limited to students from particular backgrounds. It is not limited to students from certain areas of study, or even restricted for graduating students.

Raza Graduation is open to all: undergraduates, post-graduates, students of different races and ethnicities, students with different majors, and anyone who values the access to higher education and retention of our communities.

Forty two years later, Raza Grad continues to be a student-initiated, student-run graduation celebration at UCLA that honors the success of each Raza graduate in achieving a degree in higher education. As Spring quarter begins, the excitement of graduation once again starts to fill the air all around campus. Now held at Pauley Pavilion, this year’s Raza Graduation will take place on Sunday, June 14th 2015.

First initiated by UCLA’s MEChA in 1973, MEChA de UCLA successfully continues to plan, fundraise for, and host the ceremony through the suggestions and decisions made from a committee consisting of volunteer Raza students on campus that also participate in fundraising, outreach, and community service activities.

In the involvement of the students to plan the ceremony, Raza Grad becomes a representation of community building, unity, and resilience. It is a celebration built for the community by the community. To be able to see my fellow Raza peers ready to embark on life’s next journey despite the bullshit we have faced in this university, whatever it may be, is truly inspiring and motivating to myself; however, in acknowledging each of our experiences, we also recognize that our journey was not one we traveled alone.

The theme for this year’s graduation is: “Mis Raíces Son Mi Orgullo y Poder,” “My Roots Are My Pride and Power.” This year’s Raza graduation wants to focus on the efforts and accomplishments of our families and communities rather than ourselves. 42 graduations later, we still recognize the strength our families and communities give us to survive the harsh world of the UCLA campus.

As a graduating student, I am grateful for a ceremony my parents will be able to understand and be able to feel a part of. This degree that I have earned is not only for me, but for my parents, who have spent most of their lives tirelessly working to provide my siblings and I with as much support as they could to help us succeed. This graduation is more for my parents and my community than it is for myself. It is important that this celebration continues to thrive because Raza Grad not only helps us celebrate and recognize our accomplishments, but also helps us honor the community that helped us get here, and inspires us to give back to it as well.

If you wish to participate in Raza Graduation for June 2015, please register at:



Upcoming Events Celebrating Selena

She will always be etched into the fabric of our culture, even after twenty years since her murder.

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the queen of Tejano music, was considerably the most influential Latina within the music and fashion worlds. She paved the way for Latina artists in an especially male dominated musical genre and redefined fashion in her many sequenced bustiers. Her life was tragically cut short on March 31st, 1995, from a fatal gun shot.

As the anniversary of Selena’s death approaches, many have devoted events that honor her memory. Here are some events in California that pay tribute to her and her music.

     1. A Tribute to Selena

Located at LA Plaza de Cultura, this public event will hold art workshops, performances from Betty’s Mustache and La Reina de Aztlán, and paletas that you can eat while watching Selena, which begins at 8:00pm. Event is free.
When: Friday, March 27th at 6:00pm
Where: LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
501 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

     2.  “Anything for Salinas!” A Tribute to Selena

Being held at The Frida Cinema, this movie screening of Selena will raise proceeds to support the local high school Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) and the Zoraida Reyes Scholarship fund that assists local transgender individuals. There will be appetizers, music, and costume contests, so bring your best bustiers! General entrance is $15; For Frida Cinema Members, entrance is $12.
When: Tuesday, March 31st at 7:00pm
Where: The Frida Cinema
305 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701

     3. #SelenaFanGathering 2015

The second annual fan gathering will be held at Plaza de la Raza. There will be many performances and giveaways, as well as a special guest appearance from Selena Mural Artist Levi Fonz Ponce. Event is free.
When: Saturday, March 28 at 2:00pm
Where: Plaza de la Raza
3540 N Mission Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90031

     4. Como La Flor – A Tribute to Selena Quintanilla

Held at Club 21, there will be music commemorating Selena and all her contributions to tejano music. No cover charge before 11pm.
When: Friday, March 27th at 9:00pm
Where: Club 21
2111 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94612

If you have other events that you want to highlight, comment below!

Flyer image produced by LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes.

Educational beacon of light in Boyle Heights

People United to Enrich our Neighborhood Through Education (PUENTE) learning center is a not-for-profit organization located in Boyle Heights that focuses on the improvement of its community by providing educational resources to predominantly first-generation students and immigrants.

Sister Jennie Lechtenberg was the pioneer of the organization. Sister Jennie began her mission when she discovered that the students who struggled most in school came from households that lacked English proficiency, which resulted in “establishing the foundation for PUENTE as a family-oriented, multi-generational educational organization.” ­

I took a first-hand look at PUENTE as an organization where I was able to interact with the multi-surface composure of the learning facility. PUENTE underlines the organization’s goal of providing primary or supplementary educational program to improve graduation, literacy and employment rates of their students. Boyle Heights is predominantly composed of Latino residents, where the average median household income is about $33,325, which is low for the city of Los Angeles and the county. The low-income has a lot to do with the minimal educational attainment of constituents in Boyle Heights. In a community where less than 5% of its residents who are of the age 25 and older have a four year degree, and less than 33,620 out of 99,243 have a high school diploma there is a representation of how learning facilities like PUENTE serve to combat against the alarming statistics.

The first day I stepped into PUENTE, I was marveled by the architecture of the building, which stands out compared to the surrounding buildings. The crisp glass-like building is two-stories tall with several classrooms and a charter kindergarten. The structure of the learning center’s program is tailored to help families by allowing them to leave their children downstairs in school, while they participate in the English Second Language (ESL) classes upstairs. I was able to alternate between both groups and I found that they both embraced the opportunity of education, regardless of their age. I interacted with students who were only four years of age but they demonstrated a sense of willingness to learn.

Upstairs there were retired people learning English. One of the students was a retired cafeteria worker, who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for about thirty years. She told me that all her life she wanted to learn English but since she had to provide for her family she never had the opportunity, and now that her kids were all grown up she finally pursued her dream.

PUENTE also incorporates other programs to their facility such as after-school enrichment programs, high-school tutoring, SAT preparation, adult high school diploma preparation, job training preparation, job referrals, computer repair A+ certification and even programs to help veterans.

In total, they have served over 85,000 students since their inception in 1985. The administrative staff that runs the organization are all dedicated to serve others through education, which highlights a principal problem in the Boyle Heights area. Puente in the Puente in spanish means bridge in English which is exactly what the learning center is doing, slowly diminishing the gap between the lack of education in low-income communities and the achievement of students.

To find out more about the PUENTE learning center and their mission to help students, feel free to check out their website: http://www.PUENTE.org

“Con Confianza!”: Inside Compañia de Café

Compañia de Café is a coffee shop that opened about a year ago in the San Fernando Valley. It is located in El Centro, a collection of local shops, restaurants, and fast food places. Amongst these small locales, Compañia provides an original space and delicious treats. The Mexican-inspired shop has large display windows that reveal popping eyefuls of colorful and bright decorations, such as a bright, white table by the storefront window, a wall full of pastel-colored bird cages, and dark blue tiles that fade into white as they stretch through to the end of the wall.

Neida Rodriguez, who works at the café since it opened, explains that all the decorations have a meaning behind them.

“Everything has a concept. There’s a reason why everything is in a certain location. It is supposed to represent what it is to be Mexican American, and we strove for the feel of grandma’s house, but with a modern twist,” she said.

The modern twist applies to the pastries and drinks, as well. Traditional pieces such as a chocolate cupcake are innovated by the inclusion of ingredients such as tequila and chipotle, adding a change to the taste that is still subtle enough to enjoy its familiar flair. Cookies are turned into edible tiles, complete with painstakingly detailed art in differing designs. Compañia’s specialty drink plays with different variations on the renowned Chocolate Abuelita, available in both warm and over-ice options.

San Fernando resident, Stephanie Rivera, cannot help proclaim her excitement for the new shop.

“There’s never been anything like this in the valley,” Rivera says. “It’s like those kind of places that you see in LA, but never here. It’s great to have a local place now that combines cute aesthetic and sweet treats.”

The shop’s appeal has drawn a large audience, from people who come to study, people who wish to sit and chat, and entire families who want to enjoy some downtime munching on a delicious treat.

Compañia’s appeal and success is undeniable. Though less than a year old, its services are now extended to the people in South Gate with the recent opening of a second location.

Here is to hoping that Compañia continues to grow and touch others with its unique and savory take on Mexican-American culture.

Hole in the Wall: Jorge Lopez

Jorge Lopez, originally from East Palo Alto, recently moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of his educational and artistic goals.  He studies Sociology at Santa Monica Community College and hopes to transfer into the University of California, Los Angeles. Jorge developed a deeper appreciation for education after leaving high school, as one of his songs “Standardizing Creativity” illustrates. This song reveals Jorge’s desire to really explore his own creativity through writing rather than just regurgitating irrelevant information to pass an exam. In his high school he became known as the rapper and he recorded his first song at age 14 with his older brother, Freddy Lopez. From then on he continues to write in hopes that others will connect with his flows.

“I like writing, so might as well try to rap,” said Jorge. “[My lyrics are] really just myself, what I’m feeling or thinking.”

Click here for more of Jorge Lopez’s music!

Hole in the Wall became a series of La Gente Newsmagazine, hoping to feature musicians and artists of color. Artists of color do not receive much praise or recognition despite overwhelming talent. This segment’s main purpose is to alleviate that by becoming a platform for artists of color. If you are interested in being part of the series, please email lagente@media.ucla.edu. 

Self-represented People of Color in Family Court

Low income people of color do not have the opportunities to suitably represent themselves in the court room. From my own experiences volunteering at a court’s self help center, I’ve seen the burden that self-represented people of color have to endure when dealing with family court cases.

There are free resources available to obtain legal help, which are primarily used by people of color, but these resources are scarce. If you don’t have access to services within the judicial/court system, you do not have the opportunity to represent yourself the best possible way.

Many of the people who require assistance do not speak English but are referred to legal services that are in English. This language barrier is not limited to the courtroom; the need for language assistance extends to all areas of the legal system. The paperwork needs to be filled out in English and in trial the judge communicates in English. There is paperwork that is translated in other languages, like Spanish, however the legal terminology is not easy to understand. This system was not built so that an average person could maneuver it, especially someone who only received primary schooling, like many of the litigants. Additionally, there are difficulties in communication because, many of the people of color that come in cannot write or read. Yet they are expected to engage in civil litigation regarding matters that are often legally and factually complex, such as child custody, child and spousal support, and property division.

How are people supposed to be self-represented if they cannot communicate effectively with the court?

Many litigants who try to receive services at free service centers are there because a friend or family member referred them about the center, not the court. Still, when a case gets complicated it is difficult for people to attain free legal help and much of it needs to be dealt with by attorneys. Attorneys are expensive and there are few who offer services at low cost, which means that one way or another you still have to pay.

Self-represented individuals are often dealing with emotional and financial stress and further issues but they have no other choice than to represent themselves The majority of people of color who need free legal services are being affected by other racial structural issues. Some people need free services because they do not have jobs. Some people do not have jobs because they are undocumented and cannot get hired. Some people do not have money to pay because they just got out of jail or prison.

Furthermore, many legal self help centers are composed of volunteers, this is an issue because some of them are low income too. This is essentially reproducing the same system of oppression and poverty. The argument can be made that volunteer services are nearly putting a bandaid over a very big wound and do not serve as a long term solution. Courts need to invest in or be given the funding to hire actual workers to do the job that volunteers are doing of assisting self represented people of color. This will also increase the number of people that are being assisted. Because services are not often provided by lawyers many people are more likely to lose claims and pay for stuff they could have avoided with a lawyer at their side.

Additionally, people who are already struggling to pay fees have to take time off their jobs to go to a center to receive assistance.

These are reasons to why there is so much distrust for this legal system. Some people rather avoid going to court to fight for custody/visitation than be in an environment that makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. This is not equal justice and we cannot call this a “justice” system if people do not have accessibility to the same representation.

Immigration Update and The Birth of a Collective

As a fine mist of rain fell on the corner of Albany Street and Pico Boulevard, there was a small collection of twenty-somethings running up and down the street with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. The symphony of cars kicking up water as they beat down West Pico Boulevard played an appropriate backdrop for signs reading “Immigration Legal Update;” everyone was determined to reach their destination despite the danger in traversing their path.

The event known as the Legal Immigration Update was held on an overcast Saturday morning, January 10th, 2015, inside the First Evangelical Free Church in Pico Union. The event was the brainchild of a collective of UCLA students with various affiliations like Gamma Zeta Alpha and Union Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios (USEU).

The formation of the collective was uniquely interesting in that the organization affiliations were, for the most part, white noise since it was a community organization, Jesus For Revolutionaries, that opened up the space for organizing. Started by UCLA Chican@ Studies, Professor Robert Chao-Romero, Jesus For Revolutionaries is a non-profit organization that works on intersection of race, social justice, and Christianity.

This group, however, focused on a more specific goal, as elaborated by UCLA student and organizer Jeylee Quiroz, “We came together because we were concerned about the lack of information about the previous executive orders and the recent upsurge in migrants escaping rampant violence in Central America.”

On the day of the event, a handful of community members were drawn by the presence of executive members of CARECEN, a local organization that works to empower Central Americans by defending human and civil rights, for legal guidance.

After discussing the history of Central American immigration, the significance of the current status of immigration reform, and intersectionality between immigration and the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) community, attendees were encouraged to participate in a group dialogue about the next steps for action. The ideas shared were diverse in their approaches. One member called for the creation of a podcast to inform and interact with the community. A member of CARECEN suggested a program to train students to assist with Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) applications once the application opens to the public.

In this hour-long discussion, facilitated by students in USEU, lawyers, students, and community members engaged one another in hopes of generating a clear plan of action. While time constraints prevented a consensus from manifesting, the organizers of the event expressed their gratitude and reenergized commitment to their original problematic (further elucidated by the dialogue.)

As the organizers helped to clean up after the event, there was a palpable sense of exhaustion and yet, ironically enough, a hunger for more. In taking down the signs on the corner of Pico and Albany, the organizers could not help but remark that while the clouds were still looming overhead, at least the rain stopped.

Readers looking for more information or a way to be involved in the work of this innovative collective can contact the collective by e-mail at legalimmigration2014@gmail.com.