La Patria: Sometimes You Have to Travel 8,432 Feet Above Sea Level to Revisit Your Roots

Zach knew he wanted a change, a change that could not be found on campus. The next step was figuring out where he wanted to go.

“Going into the trip, people were like, ‘Yo, watch out, don’t get stabbed or don’t get killed by somebody in a drug cartel, get pitched for doing cocaine,’ like that’s everybody’s first thoughts when you go to a place like that. Their first thoughts weren’t, ‘Yo, go to the mountains and see the most beautiful views you’ll ever see or go horseback riding for your first time and be in the Andes mountains and be able to have these beautiful experiences.’”

This is Zachary Trust, a recent graduate of University of Connecticut (UConn), who majored in Latin American studies, speaking about his study abroad trip that he took to Cochabamba, Bolivia. The application process was not easy. He applied to a program called SIT, School for International Training. SIT specifically has a program for Cochabamba, Bolivia, where students engage in the study of multiculturalism, globalization and social change.

While in Cochabamba, his class had a language course, either Spanish or Quechua, along with three other courses that were specific to globalization and its effects on a country like Bolivia.

All their courses involved guest speakers mainly from Bolivia, which were facilitated by their primary teacher, also the director of the program.Trust recalls activists from the 2002 Water Wars who came to speak. They were all responsible for completing an Independent Study Project–somewhat of a thesis–on any topic that impassioned them. Trust ended up making a twenty-minute movie about soccer players and teams in the country. While he was there, he even ended up joining a league.

Trust’s trip is not a typical study abroad one. He has roots in Bolivia. His mother was born in Cochabamba. His abuelito, affectionately referred to by Trust as Bito, otherwise known as José Rico, was a former keeper for the Bolivian national fútbol team. There is a connection he has to the culture, the food, and the people.

He recalls, “I saw these two people, I remembered one of them; it was one of our great aunts and great uncles, Bita’s [abuelita’s] cousins. They were waiting at the airport for me to get there. I said hi to them, and everybody in my class was like, ‘Yo, who’s that, how do you know people here?’ ‘That’s my aunt and uncle,’ ‘I didn’t know you’re Bolivian!’ so I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Even though this was only the second time that Trust had visited Bolivia, he says he never really felt like an outsider. “It helps with our background being half Bolivian. I was in a different situation than most of my peers… as far as like the culture, a lot of the food they [Bolivians] eat there is a lot of the food I’ve had from Bito and Bita, you know?”

Trust describes himself as an outgoing person, someone who likes to meet new people and build relationships. What he discovered was that people in Cochabamba are not much different from people back at home.

“Some of my best friends still live there now. I still keep in contact with them. Like the whole [host] family I stayed with. I was able to meet our cousins, aunts and uncles that I didn’t know before, just because they’d never been to the States and that was only the second time I had gone to Bolivia. That’s a commonality in my life, the most rewarding aspect of anything I do is relationships I build with other people.”

Coming from a middle class neighborhood in Massachusetts, Trust talks about how the community he grew up in was mostly white and his friends were, too. Now, in college, most of his friends are Latino, specifically, Puerto Rican or Dominican.

Trust clarifies, “But I would never hold myself to just being friends with a certain type of person.” He elaborates, “A lot of it depends more on class. I feel like I would relate better with a lower class white person than I would with like an upper class Latino.”

“I think a lot of problems we see, like race and misunderstanding of each other has a lot to do with class. You can see in Boston too. It’s a very diverse place, you have public housing with all Puerto Rican, you have public housing with all Dominican and like Black, Haitian, Jamaican, whatever it is. One of the public housing [complexes in Boston] has the largest percentage of impoverished whites in the country. Poverty isn’t a color. It happens to be that Black and Latinos are the most impoverished people in our country, but it’s not like every single Black and Latino is in poverty. Just like not how every white person in the country is upper middle class.”

Similarly, Trust noticed that class is a huge factor in Bolivia. “Definitely the poor people are looked down upon there. For sure…Your class and race definitely have a lot to do with how you’re gonna do in life and what jobs you can get. Gender as well, women aren’t seen the same as men.”

 Although this is still an unfortunate reality that exists in Bolivia, there are other aspects of his trip that had an uplifting influence on his life.

One was the notion of taking care of people without them having to ask–a kind of unconditional love. In the United States, Trust comments, “A common thing would be like, ‘No, do everything yourself and you get what you earn, and if you’re lazy you won’t get it… [In Bolivia] It’s like ‘Aight, I care for you, I’m gonna do this for you because I know you would do the same thing back.’ Taking that approach to life, you know? ‘I’m gonna give this to you,’ and they’re just like, ‘Wow, if I don’t give something back to you I’m gonna give that something to someone else.’ So it’s either you pay it back or you pay it forward.”

Equipped with his experiences from his trip, Trust has started a fellowship at a private non-profit middle school in Boston for kids from underprivileged backgrounds. The best part? These kids get to go for free. Pretty cool.

Viajar. Aprender. Retribuir a la comunidad. Quién sabe a cuántos estudiantes Zach va a inspirar.

National Call for Action in Solidarity With Black Students at the University of Missouri

On November 13th, Black Bruins participated in the national call for action in solidarity with black students at the University of Missouri. All students, faculty and allies met between Royce and Powell at 1pm for a rally led by the Afrikan Student Union.

 

For months, Mizzou protested a lack of action by administration regarding explicit racially charged and unjust events. A lack of response to the demands led to an eight day hunger strike by graduate student Jonathan Butler and the football team’s refusal to play until the school’s president, Tim Wolfe, stepped down. Following the resignation of Tim Wolfe and these series of events, black students’ lives were threatened with violence, prompting many to leave campus.

 

The Afrikan Student Union released a statement of solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri. Additionally, they stated their own demands towards the University of California, Los Angeles. These demands were made following the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and Alpha Phi Sorority, “Kanye Western” themed party where attendees wore blackface and mocked black culture.

 

The rally was held in protest of racism and anti-blackness on campuses across the nation. Students, faculty and others gathered in the main entrance of Powell Library to listen to Black community members who have felt oppression at UCLA. Many held signs that stated phrases such as “Black Bruins in Solidarity with Mizzou” and “#StudentBlackout.” Protesters listened to what their classmates and professors had to say, while occasionally breaking into chants and applause.

 

Through the use of awareness, solidarity campaigns and protest, concerned students hope to address the systemic racism within our schools, and our community.

Not Your Typical Trio: Son de Kalavera’s Music Is a Tribute To Multiculturality

Son de Kalavera, a trio composed of violinist Veronica, guitarist Vicky, and guitarrón player Ray, take the stage, surrounded by papel picado and tissue paper flowers. Veronica and Vicky’s faces are painted as customary for Dia de los Muertos. They play with great energy, transitioning between songs, genres, and cultures seamlessly.

Their music evokes nostalgia and tastes like Mexico with a multicultural twist. “¡Pónganse a bailar! C’mon, guys, dance!” yells the guitarist cheerfully as they smoothly transition from “Guantanamera” to “Twist and Shout.” Renown rock-and-roll songs, contemporary songs like “All About That Bass” and the Latin classic “La Bamba” are interwoven with old-fashioned rancheras.

Formed in 2005 by Vicky Olvera, Raymond “Ray” Sanchez, and Veronica Ibarra, Son de Kalavera has become a symbol of cultural, generational, and musical unity. Their repertoire is composed of songs from a myriad of genres and generations.

In their childhood, they were surrounded by various genres of music. They were brought up listening to Javier Solis, The Temptations, and everything in between.

“I grew up listening to Doo-Wop,” Ray Sanchez recalls. “I wouldn’t be able to choose a favorite genre. I like them all!”

The environment they grew up in fostered their affinity for a myriad of different musical forms.

The members of Son de Kalavera attended Sierra Vista High School in Baldwin Park, California. There, they were taught to play mariachi by music teacher Luis Fregoso.

“Fregoso took us deeper into what mariachi music is,” says Veronica Ibarra.” “He brought older songs that aren’t played anymore. He introduced us to another side of mariachi music, one different from what one usually listens to like ‘El Mariachi Loco’ and ‘Volver Volver’. Vicente Fernandez is a big influence for me, but there are songs written way before him that aren’t really listened to.”

Son de Kalavera has received a large amount of appreciation for playing songs from Revolutionary Mexico and the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, inspiring nostalgia in their audience. For guitarist Vicky Olvera, one of the greatest rewards as a musician is the ability to transport her audience back in time and to see the smiles on their faces as they recall pleasant memories.

Throughout the 15 years they’ve played together, they’ve had very unique experiences. As part of a half-time show for a soccer game at the Rose Bowl in 2008, they helped break the world record for most mariachi musicians playing at the same time. They’ve also performed at a sold-out concert with Marco Antonio Solis and Joan Sebastian.

This experience was very important to Veronica Ibarra on a personal level.

“My grandma was a big person in my life,” she says “and Marco Antonio Solis was like her boyfriend. She would call her grandkids her ‘bukis’. By that time, she had already passed away. It meant a lot to me.”

Perhaps their most interesting experience was being hired to play for an event they were told was to be a party. When they arrived, they were instructed to stand in front of lifesize statue of Malverde, the narco-saint, and sing to him. Around them were altars, offerings, and men walking around in robes.

“We were just playing our music to this statue,” remembers Vicky Olvera. “I think that was the weirdest. I remember we were all terrified.”

Son de Kalavera’s music is in a melting pot, a tribute to multiculturality.

“It’s not just about the Mexican side of us,” Veronica Ibarra explains. “It’s about everything else, too.”

Being equally exposed to Mexican and American culture, the two go hand in hand in both their musical careers and personal lives.

The name of their trio speaks of a universal truth: somos de calavera.

“Son de Kalavera,” Vicky Olvera explains, “means that underneath it all, regardless of color, race, sexual preference, or religion, we’re all skeletons underneath. Somos de calavera. We’re all the same. Somos lo mismo.”

Jose Ramirez Art Exhibition at Zona Rosa

 

Artist and Educator, Jose Ramirez, is exhibiting 33 of his paintings until November 15 in the Zona Rosa Coffee shop located in Pasadena. If you visit the exhibition, you may even be lucky enough to catch Ramirez outside the coffee shop selling more of his art with a table filled of vibrant prints and magnets.

 

Zona Rosa Coffee is currently honoring Día de los Muertos with creations by Ramirez and other artists, along with a community altar.  Thus, the petite two story coffee shop is splashed with color and tradition, offering more than just good coffee and beautiful paintings.  

 

Many of Ramirez’s paintings honor Los Angeles people and culture and provoke critical thought about conditions in this city. One of Ramirez’s featured paintings is titled Greening LA.  This piece shows a garden growing at the foot of the Los Angeles skyline.  It alludes to another of Ramirez’s passions, which is gardening.

 

Stay tuned for more on Ramirez and his art of gardening. Meanwhile, make sure to visit his exhibition in Zona Rosa Coffee before November 15!

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.

“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.