Mariachi and More: Mariachi Uclatán

The legacy of Mariachi Uclatlán is deeply rooted in the cultural history of UCLA and is currently under the artistic direction of Jesus “Chuy” Guzman, Grammy-Award winning artistic director of the renowned Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano. Leticia Soto, an Ethnomusicology Ph.D. student and assistant coordinator for the Mariachi Uclatlán explains that the organization name is rooted in Nahuatl, an indigenous language from Mexico. “Tlan” means land; adhering it to the name of the university in Mariachi Uclatlán literally means “Mariachi Land of UCLA.” The group has solidified a union between the musical and cultural history of Mexico and the academic expansion of UCLA.

The group’s development began in the 1960s when UCLA granted ethnomusicologists with academic space to form an ensemble in exploration of the Mexican culture outside of Mexico. The current ensemble consists of 13 musicians, all of whom are trained in at least one instrument and vocally.

In the past two years, they’ve managed to assert themselves as an integral part of the Ethnomusicology Department. Guitarist Mary Alfaro explains, “UCLA is the first university to have a mariachi class in the country. So I believe that this group should always be strong. We strengthen what UCLA has to offer.”

Last year, the group was invited to perform at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles in honor of anthropologist Jesus Jauregui’s new book “El Mariachi: Símbolo Musical de México,” which chronicles the origins and the evolution of this music. The group also seeks to fuse the aspects of education and artistic performance in an academic setting. “We can educate our audience through music. In educating our audiences, structures, ideologies, and stereotypes can change,” Soto said.

The group draws strength from its historical significance to this university and also their dynamic as an ensemble. I asked them to choose a song that they felt was definitive of the group. Soto, along with several others commented, “When I think of Mariachi Uclatlán, I think of “Fiesta en el Corazón.” Violinist Vanessa Sanchez added, “Yeah, it’s what we’re all about. A party in the heart.” The success that Mariachi Uclatlán has obtained in such a short time can directly be attributed to their collaborative efforts to expand the influence of their music beyond an artistic level; they seek to jointly fuse love and expand their audience’s scope of appreciation for mariachi music.

El Vuh

El Vuh, comprised of Victor E, E-rise, and Zero, is an independent hip-hop group based in Los Angeles, California.  Their sophomore release, “Elvuhlution,” brings illuminating rhymes based on the philosophy of the Mexica and Maya people prior the Conquest. Named after the post-classic Mayan “Book of the Community,” thePopol Vuh, El Vuh, believes in passing history and knowledge to future generations through their music, releasing wisdom and consciousness that is rarely heard in mainstream hip-hop music today.

El Vuh uses hip-hop to inspire and educate while challenging us to live up to our responsibilities to family and community. Combining English, Spanish, and Nahualt, their powerful music reminds us that the culture and history of Chicanos goes beyond the hostile takeover of Mexican lands and the imposition of foreign languages like English or Spanish.Nahualt words and concepts remind today’s generation of a philosophy that dates back centuries, and of traditions that need to preserved.

For example, in “Red Road Warriors,” El Vuh urges us to “stay moving, like ollin, flowing. My soul sings with life and light, which sol brings. I know things ain’t right throughout these countries: corrupted officials killing young seeds. But we, the people, outnumber their guns.” Additionally, the track encourages a shift from “street pandilleros” to “eagle guerreros”—as a denouncement of gang violence—while also urging us to retain our language and customs, declaring that our lengua “is the gold and that the Spanish never stole.” style=”margin-top: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; “>

In “Native Sisters,” El Vuh pays tribute to the women in our community, expressing respect while apologizing for prior transgressions. The song is particularly extended to las madres solteras and the guerrilleras who persevere and struggle for wellbeing of their family.

Armed with the triumphs, accomplishments, and crimes that surround the centuries, El Vuh lays out what we all should know. Are you listening?

For more information, and to watch the video codex, visit and

DREAMers: Taking the Reins of their Cause

By Maribel Hastings – New America Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One group that has changed dramatically since past immigration battles – with help from the growing influence of social networking – are the so-called “DREAMers”: undocumented youth who would benefit from the proposed DREAM Act. The act would form part of a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, and has also been proposed as an independent bill.

The DREAMers didn’t come here by choice. They were brought to the United States as young children, or were victims of the broken immigration bureaucracy. The DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support, would grant them a path to legalization if they completed their studies or joined the military.

Each year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools across the country.

Over the past decade the DREAM Act has been proposed in Congress as its own bill and as part of other immigration bills, including the failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007.

After the failure of the 2007 reform bill, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) proposed it as a separate piece of legislation, but couldn’t secure the 60 votes required for debate.

Juan, a student and member of the DREAMActivist network–and one of the bill’s potential beneficiaries—believes that the 2007 setback sparked the creation of a more organized national movement.

“I think the main difference between now and 2007 was our decision to use the tools at our disposal and saturate every media channel possible to put a face on our cause, to humanize the issue,” Juan told America’s Voice.

It’s a movement that relies on volunteers — not an easy task, since the majority of the DREAMers, in addition to being undocumented, lack the resources to make frequent lobbying visits to Washington. But they have succeeded in halting deportations and they are present in every corner of the country. Their fight has been depicted in films such as Papers, which has been shown in various cities.

United We Dream is the coalition of local and national organizations advocating for the DREAM Act. Dream Activist is “United We Dream’s interactive page,” explained Marisol Ramos, co-founder and board member of the coalition and the New York State Youth Leadership Council.

The network aims to explain to the public and Congress that legalization doesn’t just make sense for humanitarian reasons, but also for economic competitiveness, as it would allow the US to tap an enormous quarry of talent.

Juan emphasized that the United States already allows undocumented students to attend elementary school, middle school and high school. “It’s like planting a fruit tree and then leaving the fruit to rot. They’re not benefiting from their own investment,” he pointed out.

Ironically, while the government promotes programs to encourage minority students — particularly Hispanics — not to drop out of school, it doesn’t legalize those who want to continue studying, or have completed their studies and want to work.

The DREAMers have established an organizational model that has enabled them to mobilize their cause without central offices or a budget of millions of dollars.

“Almost 100% of our work is voluntary,” declared Ramos, who, in addition to her regular workday, dedicates another seven hours of work to promote the DREAM Act on social-networking sites.

For Ramos, the setbacks of 2007 “confronted us with a cruel reality, but we’ve matured politically and we’ve made ourselves better activists.”

Walter Lara, whose deportation was suspended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told America’s Voice, “my case is a good example of the DREAMers’ organizing capacity.” Compared to 2007, “there are definitely more organizations, they’re using the Web more than ever, they’re interacting effectively with other groups, and they’re taking advantage of every opportunity in social networks and traditional media to promote their cause,” he declared.

But the debate surrounding the DREAM Act has been complicated.

Part of the opposition comes from those who always complain about undocumented immigrants being “rewarded.” Others oppose certain provisions in the DREAM Act, such as the one offering legalization in exchange for military service.

And still others argue that passing the DREAM Act separately would hurt efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. The same would be true of legalizing agricultural workers, they say. Without those two sectors, they worry that there won’t be the political will to consider the rest of the undocumented population.

But Ramos noted that many of the parents or relatives of the DREAMers are undocumented, and the wisdom they’ve gained in the process “has made them better activists and they’re ready not only to promote the DREAM Act, but other causes as well.”

“In the long term, this will help any cause,” Juan concluded.

The DREAM Act has been reintroduced in the current session of Congress.

In the Senate, it has been introduced as S. 729 by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). The bill has 32 cosponsors and has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The corresponding House bill, which has 105 cosponsors and counting, is H.R. 1751.

Morning Glory

Nonchalantly resting in one hand,

A quarter and two dimes.

The other in full demand—

A warm breakfast in no time.

Soft music aims to woo,

Newspaper at a perfect angle,

A bite mark or two,

Deforms the once impeccable bagel.

Delicately dabbing his lips,

Trades the paper for the phone.

Beaming, takes another sip,

Connected, he’s never alone.

With a grin, pauses to admire

His suit—crumb and wrinkle free.

Without hesitation or tire,

Uses the window to preen.

Preening, he does not see,

The litter overwhelming the street.

Preoccupied, he does not feel,

The wind ravaging the trees.

Looks at the window,

Without looking out,

Everything down below,

Taints his route.

Struggling to light a cigarette,

On the outside looking in.

The only meal he could get,

Homelessness his sin.

A history wrinkled on his face,

Sputtered gray in his hair,

Forgotten by the human race,

Not worthy of a prayer.

The Cookie Village Peeps

Anyone who has been in the Westwood Village area knows about the special dessert comprised of a large scoop of Dreyer’s ice cream sandwiched between your choice of freshly baked cookies.  In fact, there are people who travel miles just to satisfy their sweet tooth with it, and at a mere dollar and 5O cents, who can blame them?

On any given night, the line to Westwood Village’s Diddy Riese ranges anywhere from five to 30 feet. Upon seeing the line, anyone would dread the wait for that delectable Diddy Riese ice cream sandwich, but surprisingly it moves reasonably quickly; and for that we can thank the staff comprised of seven Latino men.

The Diddy Riese men (names withheld at the owner’s request) provide non-stop service by making hundreds of custom-made ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cones, brownies or Hawaiian shaved ice and keep the store orderly by restocking ice cream buckets and new batches of cookies, all while manning the cash register and answering the phones. They cater orders ranging from one to over 100 dozen cookies during late-night shifts as late as 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays as suppliers of sugary goodness to students in need of a study break. Judging by their workload, it seems unimagined that our Diddy Riese peeps could even bother to think about being pleasant to customers, but they still manage to be polite offer bilingual service.

Sure what keeps people coming back for more is the tasty ice cream treat, but the service and hard work that these men put in is worth admiration. So for their incredible work ethic, courteous service and their ability to juggle 20 things at once, we would like to spotlight the staff of Westwood Village’s Diddy Riese.

Printed Winter 2009

Upground: East LA Band

For a crowd of curious students, some devoted fans, and one or two skaters who had the guts to show how the music made them feel, Upground performed an amazing set at UCLA’s Worldfest 2009.

Upground was born and raised in East L.A. It is composed of eight members that play a variety of different instruments. Aaron Perez plays guitar and alto saxophone, Joseph Quinonez plays the trombone, tenor sax, and flute, Eric Carillo plays alto sax and percussion, Danny Estrada plays guitar and sings. Anthony Medina plays keyboard, Chris “Bolillo” Manjarrez is the bassist, Adolfo Mercado Jr. is the drummer, and Everado Garcia does vocals and trumpets. Together, these talented individuals create a fun and positive mix of ska, reggae, cumbia, punk and many other genres along with Spanish and English lyrics.

“Most of us met up in high school,” said Perez after their set. Quinonez added that many of the original members had been in different music programs, such as marching band, and those “from around the neighborhood.” From 1999 to 2003, the band experimented with different sounds and different members under the name Upground Rage, when they “were trying to sound cool like Rage Against the Machine,” as Estrada put it. Then in 2003 they dropped the “Rage” and changed their vibe from politically driven to culturally inclusive. “We play for everybody,” Perez said.

The band performs original music written by all the members as well as a few cover songs of their favorite artists. Estrada joined the interview just in time to list them off with Perez. They included Tito Puente, Bob Marley, Rage against the Machine, The Beatles, Led Zepellin, The Scadalites, and local artists such as Quinto Sol, Quetzal, and Ozomatli. “I like Lady Gaga, too,” Estrada added.

“Overall we try to have a more positive perspective, fun vibe, a nice party mood,” said Perez, “Being down the establishment, but having fun while doing it.”

Their lyrics include narratives that connect to their generation, but there is always room for experimentation. “We’re always down to play at colleges,” Perez said. “We’re all like peers, so to speak.” Many of the members are college students.

For up-and-coming Latino bands, the members of Upground offer advice from their own experiences, “Stick to your roots, don’t try to make your staff popy,” Estrada said. “Keep it about the music, don’t let it all go to your head.”

Printed Spring 2009