From Nada to Impresionada

The mural featured at the end of the movie was created especially for the film. Photo by Odd Lot Entertainment.

The film “From Prada to Nada” is a rehashing of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” When their Mexican father dies, sisters Nora and Mary are forced out of their Beverly Hills mansion and in with their aunt in East Los Angeles.

The marketing of the film focused on the materialism of the two girls, especially because they are forced to move to a low-income neighborhood. I feared another attempt at repackaging Latino culture in a superficial film for the masses. Surprisingly, it sweetly and comically portrays two young women learning to embrace their roots and family.

Despite having Latino servants who cook traditional Mexican food and a Mexican father with a big bigote who has mariachi for his birthday, Latino culture hasn’t actually been a part of Nora and Mary’s lives. Moving to East LA with their aunt and being befriended by a tattooed neighbor may be the archetype of Latino neighborhoods, but the portrayal of this neighborhood moves beyond the cholos and helicopters they first encounter. It becomes a hub of Mexican heritage, Spanish language, artwork, and community.

Nora transitions easily to her new home, learning Spanish, and dressing in colorful indigenous clothing. She uses her lawyer skills to take on a pro bono case defending Latino maintenance workers who were unjustly fired and eventually setting up an office to give free legal advice.

Mary takes longer to adjust, at first only identifying herself as Mexican to protect herself from cholas who call her a white girl and to impress her Mexican TA from school. In the end, she comes to accept her identity as something that is a part of her, not as something to portray.

Growing up, Nora and Mary experienced fragments of Mexican culture because of their father, but they did not have a community in which they could see all the pieces fit together and appreciate it until they moved in with their aunt.

One delightful aspect of the film is the featured street art. There is scene in which Bruno, the tattooed neighbor, teaches kids about the art and its significance (even referring to Judy Baca, a muralist and a professor at UCLA), creating the image of a flourishing community that also has beauty.

Another great perspective presented by the film is the diversity within the Latino community: their entrepreneur father, gardeners and servants in the mansion, the undocumented workers in East Los Angeles, the cholo in the low-income neighborhood, Latinos in the university, and the Latino artists. The range of Latino cast members is greater than a similarly mass-marketed film “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”, in which they only seem to exist as gardeners or in Mexico.

The last scene includes a mural with the words “Soy Americano? Soy Mexicano? Que Soy?” These are questions many Latinos—not just of Mexican background—are likely ask themselves as they experience Latino culture in an American society. This film may have felt superficial to some, but at least I cannot deny the depth it presented with those last words.

Three out of four stars.

SB 1070 Casts Shadow on Arizona’s New Anti-Immigrant Bills

New America Media, News Report, Valeria Fernández, Posted: Mar 21, 2011

PHOENIX – The economic shadow cast by one of Arizona’s toughest anti-immigrant laws was crucial in the defeat of five new measures aimed at undocumented immigrants.

It was also a tipping point for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. For the past eight years, Arizona Republicans have supported an avalanche of bills cracking down on illegal immigration. But last Thursday, at least 10 of the 21 Republicans in the state legislature sided with opponents from the business community and cast “no” votes that were essential to the bills’ defeat.

The vote was a victory for civil rights groups in Arizona that launched a national boycott against the state after the passage last April of SB 1070, a law that made it a state crime to be undocumented.

Republican Senate President Russell Pearce, the force behind the bills, now faces a possible recall after sponsoring SB 1070. Pearce wasn’t available for an interview, but has vowed to push for these bills and, if necessary, take them to the voters as a referendum.

The measures sought to prompt a Supreme Court challenge to the 14th Amendment that grants automatic citizenship to children born of undocumented parents in the United States. One bill would have required hospitals to report undocumented patients to local law enforcement; another instructed schools to turn in students who couldn’t prove legal residency.

Most of the Republicans who voted against the legislation had been past supporters of SB 1070. But the economic fallout from that law, in part due to successful boycott organizing efforts, caused them to move in a different direction.

“They’ve been hit in the pocketbook and see the hurt on Arizona’s state economy,” said Roberto Reveles, former president of Somos America and an organizing member of a boycott committee that targeted state businesses in direct action against SB 1070.

The bills might resurface today, the deadline to file a special motion to be re-introduced in the Senate, or they could be presented in the coming weeks on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But the tone of the debate on SB 1070 last year was quite different.

The business lobby was mostly silent then. And the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, a key force in the defeat of last week’s bills, was neutral on SB 1070 in the past.

This time, some 60 state businesses wrote an open letter to Sen. Pearce, raising concerns about the economic impact and damage to the state’s image, caused by previous anti-immigrant legislation in the state.

The letter read, “Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined … It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image.”

Among those who signed the letter were executives from Wells Fargo Bank, PetSmart, Inc., U.S. Airways and Hensley Beverage Company, the distributor of Budweiser Beer. The latter is partially owned by Cindy McCain, wife of Republican Sen. John McCain, and was a target for boycott organizers in protest of the senator’s harsh stance on illegal immigration.

Shortly after a boycott was announced last April, convention bookings went down in the state, with organizations citing SB 1070 as one of the reasons for their cancellations. Early on, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decided to invest $250,000 in the tourism industry to try to restore the state’s image.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said that depending on the study, state tourism has lost somewhere between $15 million and $150 million.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to a very sober decision: We are going to either be on the side of jobs, or immigration measures that don’t do anything to secure our border and would face very serious legal challenges,” said Hamer.

Nan Stockholm Walden and Dick Walden, owners of Green Valley Pecan Company – one of the largest pecan growers in the world, based in Sahuarita, Ariz. – were vocal in their opposition to SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant legislation, saying their business image was impacted by the tough laws.

“Absolutely it hurts us. It hurts the image of America,” said Stockholm Walden, whose company has more than 100 trading partners all over the world.

Stockholm Walden said she was positive that the business community in Arizona was finally taking a stand against anti-immigration measures.

“I think there has been a lot of fear generated by a very vindictive leadership in our state that has promised to punish people, either legislators or businesses that speak out,” she said. “We cannot be silent and complacent and let an extreme minority dictate the way of our state and nation. We are convinced they don’t represent the majority of Americans.”

Several Republicans broke party lines early in the session to oppose last week’s legislation.

Republican Sen. Rich Crandall, who supported SB 1070, argued against the five bills, citing a potential setback to the state’s tourism industry. Republican Senator Adam Driggs, who is an attorney, argued against the constitutionality of most of the measures, saying they wouldn’t survive a challenge in court.

“These immigration bills are a distraction,” said Republican Sen. John McComish. “They could be a detriment to the growth of our economy, and they are something people don’t want us to be focused on. It’s time for us to take a timeout on immigration.”

Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo said Republicans are starting to see the consequences of listening to Pearce. Gallardo is hopeful that this could be a new beginning for bipartisan cooperation, but doesn’t underestimate the influence of the president of the senate.

“Do we want another repeat of SB 1070? Do we want another boycott against Arizona when we are trying hard to rebuild the jobs and the economy? At the end of the day, those Republicans said ‘no,’” Gallardo said.

But the fallout of SB 1070 hasn’t just created a political shift among business leaders and Republicans in Arizona. It has also reinforced the success of a new direction for pro-immigrant and Latino organizers, who have shifted their strategy to that of the pocketbook.

Organizing in Arizona “has grown in sophistication,” said Reveles. “It has matured and it has cranked up in our response to match the level of hateful legislation being pushed in the legislature.”

Raquel Terán, an organizer from the grassroots group, Promise Arizona, that protested the anti-immigrant laws at the State Capitol, said immigrant rights’ organizing had come a long way since the passage SB 1070.

“People have become more a part of the decision-making process, sharing their stories with the legislators, making calls, building relationships with both Republicans and Democrats,” said Terán.

Daniel Ortega, a civil rights attorney and local pro-immigrant activist, cautioned that there was no single factor that could claim victory for the defeat of the bills. The shift that has taken place in Arizona politics, he said, is broader than a single organization or community.

“The shift has come from the fact that we don’t want divided communities. We want to work together and we don’t want a bad image for Arizona,” said Ortega.

La Boquisabrosa Becomes Meatless for Lent

In observance of Lent, I personally vowed to give up meat for 40 days. Today is my fifth day. My future blog post will feature vegetarian-friendly restaurants.  It will be a challenge for me to be meatless since I love meat, but, I will embrace the alternative lifestyle that many live by.
If any of you are vegetarian or just love vegetarian food, can you lend a helping hand by recommending which restaurants I should review? Please email me at [email protected] with the recommendations or any questions you have about my blog.  I always look forward to your recommendations.

Con amor,

La Boquisabrosa

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Chicano Studies Research Center Reopens

Chantal Rodriguez speaks at the CSRC re-opening. Photo by CSRC.

After 40 years of piles of papers, white walls, aged computers and limited space, the Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) decided it was time for a well-deserved change. On March 8 they revealed their newly remodeled site in an event to celebrate their re-opening.

The library’s importance is not limited to its updated appearance.  “[The CSRC] disseminates knowledge to the public; it’s not just functional but a breathed culture,” said library director Chon Noriega.

With newly-painted red walls displaying original art pieces from Chicano artists, books, and new computers, the library can clearly represent the progression of Chicano studies.

Pro Bono architect Fred Fisher, with the help of a young Chicana architect Victoria Padilla- Lima, helped to plan the remodeling of the library. The color red gives one the sense of being in a Chicano library and feeling welcomed, Padilla-Limas explained.

The CSRC currently holds 1/3 of California’s Chicano collections, including original US and Mexico audio recordings.

The Chicano Archive Series has four books in print, including two books by a Loyola Marymount professor Karen Mary Davalos, a speaker at the opening event, whose research was principally done in this library.

A graduate student in the theater department at the time, Chantal Rodriguez, described how the library helped her launch her career. She confessed her hardship at the beginning of the program to unable to find a niche were she felt she belonged.

However, an offer to write a book about Chicano theater changed her life. She published her book in 2011 titled  “The Latino Theatre Initiative/Center Theatre Group Papers, 1980-2005.” Now Rodriguez teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.

Raul Pacheco, co-founder of musical group Ozomatli, spoke about the importance of the role of activism in the arts and that a place like this library helped to preserve this.

Many students and researchers have found their home and life’s work here with this renovation only continuing that tradition. “Most students see the library as a home away from home, now there’s an upgrade to that home,” said Lizette Guerra, CSRC libriarian.

20 Years of Building Hope Through Jobs

Father Gregory Boyle speaks at the Chicano Studies Research Center on Jan. 26. Photo by Chicano Studies Research Center.

Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, spoke of his gang intervention experience at the Chicano Studies Research Center on Jan. 26, as he promoted his first book, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.”

He began his mission as a priest looking for a safe spot for neighboring youth and now Father Boyle is an award-winning speaker, gang consultant to various agencies, and member of the National Gang Center Advisory Board.

Growing up in the Los Angeles area in a large Irish-American family, Father Boyle knows the dangers youth face in gang involvement. He accredits his family support system as the reason for not joining the gang life. “I never would have joined a gang, but that doesn’t make me morally superior,” said Father Boyle.

After receiving his master’s in English from Loyola Marymount University, he received a Master of Divinity from the Weston School of Theology and a Master of Sacred Theology from the Jesuit School of Theology. After doing missionary work outside of the United States, he returned to Los Angeles in 1992 and established Homeboy Bakery, an independent nonprofit organization that provides former gang members with a safe environment and skills to join the workforce. It has expanded to Homegirl Café and Catering, Homeboy Silkscreen and Logo Service, and Homeboy Maintenance. The organization offers services including counseling, free laser tattoo removal, and skill development workshops.

As the largest gang intervention center in the United States, he admits that he and the organization have had their share of difficulties financially, as well as with the public and the police. He has had to endure bomb and death threats, receive hate mail, see his bakery burn in 1999, and survive leukemia, but he still holds strongly onto his mission. “There is no ‘us’ or ‘them;’ it is an illusion,” said Father Boyle in relation to how people may be reluctant to relate to gang members.

The book, which took 20 years to write, is meant for a broad audience. He describes the novel as talking about what matters, “It is a string of stories bound together using vague themes. It is about the lethal absence of hope,” said Father Boyle.

Rather than promote his achievements at the reading, he did as he has done throughout his 20-year career: promote understanding. “Knowing my truth is your truth; your truth is the gang member’s truth,” said Father Boyle.

Art and Activism by Colorful Mujeres

"Hermana de Maiz: Portrait of Felicia Montes" by Margaret Alarcon

“Born of my mother’s corn
I am a movimiento seed of resistance
A red-diaper baby
Chicana feminist since birth
but I never dreamed casually  in the city of Lost Angels
‘Cuz I was ready
from the first day I saw the sun” –Felicia Montes

In 1997, Felicia Montes, studying world arts and cultures and Chicana/o studies at UCLA, wanted women artists to come together at a time where a powerful Chicana/o movement was happening in Northeast Highland Park. This led Montes to ask her professor to allow to her organize an event instead of writing a final paper. Only planned for one night, this event blossomed over 14 years into an organization of called Mujeres de Maiz (MdM).

“I was trying to make [my education] relevant [by] not just writing a paper but trying to do something,” said co-founder Felicia Montes.

The event was organized around International Women’s Day, where a local poetry collective band, In Lak Ech, decided to get together with anyone interested in sharing their work and poetry. “We were only supposed to perform once…but people kept asking. They had never seen the presence of women on stage [like that],” said Montes.

Just as corn is grown all around the world, mujeres of any color ranging from the lands South America, Africa, and the Philippines come together to “network and organize around global, social, and political issues,” as stated on their website.

A multimedia women’s art collective, MdM gives space for female artists who want to express themselves politically and spiritually through art, no matter their level of training.

Corn is peeled to expose its inner core in the same way that these women use their art. They find healing when expressing their inner thoughts and activist ideas to others while creating awareness of transnational issues.

MdM holds spoken word and cultural music performances, and showcases sculptures and paintings. They actively participate in events that support and celebrate women as well as helping to build different collaboratives.

Another outlet to contribute to women’s empowerment in the arts is their magazine publication “Zine.” “Not a lot of publications are out there consistently outreaching…so it was important to have that,” said Margaret Alarcon, a member of MdM.

As Alarcon recounts her decision to join MdM, she said that it has helped her empower her gift. An illustration student at the Art Center College of Design, she had a dream of a woman of corn. She decided to paint this image, which later became the symbol for the group.

Before MdM, Alarcon saw herself as an isolated artist; alone and unsure how to share her art with others. MdM gave her the validation and the empowerment she needed to share her creations. In her biography, Alarcon describes her art making as bringing new meaning and healing to her life. Now she is the core organizer for MdM.

The women plan to make MdM a nonprofit organization that will give the group more structure. However, they want to be cautious to preserve the grassroots atmosphere. They wish to have a place where women can express their ideas and form other groups in Los Angeles. “[This would be] very beneficial to the women who are trying to make art,” said Alarcon.

Just as the Mayans saw corn as sacred, MdM views women that same way. Both women and corn com in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

“Empowerment, consciousness, and healing,” are the words Co-founder Claudia Mercado uses to describe who they are and their contributions to the community. They outreach to women of color who want to combine their artistic kernels to help grow the organization that celebrates women, the arts, and activism.

As Montes wrote in her poem “Overcompensating Xicana Complex,” these women are planting their “seeds of resistance.”

Brown Paper Bag

By David Velazquez, 20, Oceanside

Infinitesimally thin, brown, paper bag.
Wrinkled, grease-stained, paper bag.
Everyday you bear the realities of my impoverished family.
Revealing to no one the paroxysmal nature of hunger;
A sandwich with no mayo, no lettuce, no tomato.
Ink-tainted with the calculations of a family’s debt—
Every first of the month, the bag gets lighter but never empty.
Blood-stained from their fight last night—
Their brutish yells, my enduring torment.
If only hugs could be kept in my brown paper bag.
If dreams! If love! If—
Mom do not lament. We will be ok, the child says.
Brown paper bag, infinitesimally thin, wrinkled,
Ink-tainted, blood and grease-stained.
Brown paper bag, speak!
Let ‘em know.
Brown paper bag, it’s just you and me.
Brown paper bag, you are my plea.

Long-Awaited Incan Artifacts Welcomed Home

Artifacts from an Incan civilization are being returned after almost a century of American possession. After a long dispute, Yale University is returning some 5,000 relics to Peru’s Machu Picchu. The artifacts were discovered in 1912 by an American explorer, containing things such as stone tools, human and animal bones. BBC reports that Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, even wrote a letter to President Obama to help persuade the university to return the artifacts.

Scrubbing Out Car Wash Industry Dirt

Rodolfo Perez, Contributor

After nearly four years of hard work with sleepless nights, papers and reading assignments, I find myself months away from graduation. But, I have to say, one of my greatest satisfactions as a student didn’t come from the classroom. It occurred recently during my work with a labor justice campaign in Los Angeles. I got involved with the Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) Carwash Campaign, which has been fighting for the rights of car wash workers.

In the process of helping with the campaign’s community outreach efforts, I met Juan Torres, a car wash worker from Los Angeles. Despite being only 28 years old, Juan has worked in the car wash industry for 11 years.

The working conditions of the car wash industry are dangerous, and often times workers find themselves unprotected by their employers. One Sunday afternoon, Juan was washing a car when he slipped and the vehicle he was washing ran over his left leg. He was taken to a nearby hospital to treat his broken leg, but he was never the same. He is in constant pain and now must use a cane.

“The pain was so intense that I [took] seven Advil to numb it. I couldn’t tell them at work that I was hurting because they could fire me,” said Juan. Along with not having medical insurance, he suffered many other forms of abuse as a car wash worker. For example, he never received a wage increase in the 11 years he worked there.

According to the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, car wash workers often work up to 10 hours a day, making approximately $3 or $4 per hour without any overtime compensation. Juan joined CLEAN to organize against these labor injustices. He heard about the CLEAN campaign the way many others do: from fellow car wash workers.

Juan still has not received proper compensation for his injury, and he is very active in the CLEAN car wash campaign. Through pickets, he helps inform the public about the injustices occurring in the car wash industry. More importantly, he reaches out to other car wash workers and informs them of their rights. “I don’t want others to go through what I went through, I want show them there are people out there that care. That they are not alone,” said Juan.

Though he has been through much, Juan’s fighting spirit keeps him going and has made him a role model for me and for others in the campaign. I challenge all UCLA students to take their education outside the university walls to build better communities. I will graduate with a much deeper understanding of the suffering that occurs outside of UCLA because I worked with CLEAN and because I met Juan. I can only hope other students at UCLA meet the Juans of their community and learn from them.