Understanding Everything About the Latino Culture
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by Tomas J. Benitez
Posted on November 13, 2017
And just like that it's time for Thanksgiving again, with Christmas just around the corner, yikes! Now that Day of the Dead has come and gone it's time for the annual family food feast, although the older I get, and even though I've slowed down a little bit, it seems like the cycle of seasons goes by me a little faster. The curse of wisdom and recognizing that the days are less and less numbered and not to be taken for granted. That is just the way life is, it comes and it goes.
But now, it's Turkey Day, although I don't really like to eat turkey. Ni modo. In my family for the past several years our ritual has become this: I pick up my three cousins, actually two plus an adopted roommate, and we all will drive up to Lancaster to Cousin Vivian's house, where there will be a magnificent feast and we will see all the other relatives.
My three cousins, Kiko, his brother Danny, and Danny's roommate Chris, all have an intellectual disability. When I grew up we just called them retarded. We were not being cruel, just ignorant, and we mainstreamed them in all the family functions well before that became a popularized method for caring for retarded family members. I was six years old, and one day my mon pulled me to the side, stuck her finger in my face and said, Take care of the boys. That was it.
Sixty years later, I still have that finger in my face, although she's been gone for twenty-five years. Growing up, all of us cousins from a large Mexican family played with Kiko and Danny just like any other kid, tormented them because it was fun, fought with them because we were cousins, grew up and older with them because they were family.
It wasn't just a one-way street. I've learned profound lessons from them. ONE, retarded is NOT stupid. Kiko is a little more advanced than Danny but both are capable of driving me nuts to this day. They are bright and lord and loquacious; they never shut up! TWO, all life is precious. I cannot imagine life without them, they are my brothers from another mother, and they have enriched my soul. THREE, love is unconditional. They love all of us unconditionally, no matter how much or how little time we spend with them. I don't get to see them as often as before my heart issues, but when I do they are happy and excited and chatty and loud, and just pure happy; pure.
So I pick them up and they wedge into my little Japanese car with their big butts. They are large men; we call them The Big Eaters. From Mid-Wilshire all the way to Lancaster, it becomes a contest of wills. I have a rule, no talking to the driver! And they all ignore my rule no matter. I will play my CDs as loud as I can and they will talk right over them. I tell Chris, the adoptee, that he is my favorite cousin because he talks the least. We all laugh, and then they go right on talking.
We finally get to the house, greet and do the hugs and kisses, and then, we eat. Oh God how we eat! My cousin lays out a feast for kings (including tamales and a ham!) The fellas will talk and talk and eat and eat; we will watch football, play pools, talk, laugh, and eat some more. Danny and Chris will get buzzed on Baileys Irish Cream and coffee; not Kiko.
By night, the guys are fed, semi-loaded, armed with gifts and a few bucks, and we pile back into the car after several hours and head home. On go the CDs, and now, Danny and Chris are happy just to sing along to the music, loudly. Think, dying cows. Kiko will never stop talking but is content to talk to himself because I have stopped answering. Finally, we get back and I drop them off with great relief! And as I drive away, I start to miss them again. They are the best part of my Thanksgiving.
Day of the Dead
by Tomas J. Benitez
posted on October 31, 2017
In recent weeks I've noticed while shopping that the Halloween items are now completely mingled in with a very present grouping of Day of the Dead items. I've seen advertisements for Day of the Dead fiestas, parties, a truck tire sale, and of course, sexy Day of the Dead costumes, to go along with the sexy goblins, sexy nurses, and sexy witches.
You can still buy Day of Dead bread (Pan de Muerto), but restaurants are also offering Day of the Dead dinner specials, including senior discounts, for those of us who may not have as much time as others to decide upon our Day of the Dead meals. Reminds of the time about fifteen years ago, I was in New York City, Times Square, and I wandered into one of the souvenir shops looking for a King Kong climbing the Empire State Building, a gift for my son. The owner spotted me and briskly walked me over to the corner, where there was a kiosk, with Frida Kahlo items on top and Day of the Dead mementos on the bottom. I thought to myself, "Well, I guess we've arrived in America, now what!? It is the way things are in this country, a capitalist democracy made for massive consumption. We take a unique cultural practice, for example, a special recipe from Hamburg Germany for cooking meat, and 20 billion sales later, we have a bland hamburger for everyone!
Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, began in certain regions in Mexico, an outgrowth of both Pre-Columbian and European roots. Like most things Mexican and Chicano (or Hispanic or LatinX or whatever the hell you call yourself), it is a hybrid of a hybrid, of a hybrid, it is the nature of our culture. The candles and altares inside the house came from Arabic practices embraced during the occupation of Spain; the marigolds came from Pre-Columbian burial rites (to masque the smell of death), and so on. The final hybrid began when the Chicano artists in the early 1970's adopted the celebration and made it their own, a hallmark of the Chicano Art Movement.
Most folks credit the artists from Self Help Graphics & Art in East Los Angeles, as well as the artists from the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco. In both cases, it was the artists who adopted the cultural traditions, and began to add some of their own. This is not the same as cultural appropriation because great care was given to the essence of the celebration, which is not about death but about life; a celebration of life, remembered. There was a need for healing in the Chicano community, too many deaths from fratricide and the Viet Nam War, and it was the perfect vehicle to honor our Mexican roots and Chicano art at the same time, to share with our community. Day of the Dead was recognized privately in many homes, but the artists took it public, and it was our gift, to share an important, positive and beautiful aspect of our culture.
There was a lot of preparation and workshops and learning that preceded the celebrations, to insure that folks got the meaning of the practices, and understood the sacredness of Dia de los Muertos. But artists were also willing to expand the cultural intent to include contemporary meanings, from the plight of immigrants to honoring AIDs victims, to political protests and so on. It is the nature of artists to take something and make more with it, but they have always been the first ones to honor and recognize the past as preamble to the future. Nowadays, the celebration has become highly popular well beyond the Latino community and there are plenty of instances when Day of the Dead is exploited rather than treasured.
But at the core remains the artists and cultural centers, and as long as they continue to act with integrity, educate the public, and serve as the culture bearers, Dia de los Muertos will remain a meaningful spiritual and cultural gift for everyone. Following my momâ€™s death in 1991 I created an altar for her. I still do it every year since then, to celebrate her life.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the 2017 World Series; indeed, they are the favorite. Dodger euphoria is in full swing. Dodger paraphernalia is seen everywhere, from street corner vendors to television ads in English and Spanish. Eloteros are wearing their blue L.A. hats as they hawk their wares; bank tellers, grocery store clerks, and restaurant workers are all wearing Dodger shirts in lieu of the usual attire. A trip down Olvera Street will find Dodger stuff mixed in with Day of the Dead, Pancho Villa and Frida images, often blended into one item, â€œDia de los Doyers, with a flowered skull wearing a Dodger hat. Every night the local news stations feature aspects of the coming series; local newspapers are running their special Dodger editions, and social media? Forgetaboutit, it's Dodgers 24/7. Dodgermania.
Significantly, a large portion of the Dodger fan base is Mexicano, Mexican American, or Chicano, with a new generation of Latinex joining the swelling ranks of loyal fans. There are also the righteous holdouts, the ones who invoke the memory of Chavez Ravine, an ugly episode in local history that witnessed the evacuation of several Latino families from their old barrio. The Dodgers wear some of that stink, but the land was long before sold off from a failed federal housing project, and the city invoked eminent domain to make room for the then new Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the homes had been sold and abandoned for years, but a few squatters held on until they were forcibly removed; we have all seen the famous photographs.
Yet before the hue and cry died down, the Dodgers were embraced by the majority of the local Latino community, which has now over fifty years later become the largest segment of the Dodger gate. How did that all happen?
To begin, the Mexican and Mexican American community has been playing baseball as long as the mainstream, both here and in Mexico. People often think of soccer as the Mexican sport of choice, and indeed it is, nowadays, but at the end of the 1800's soccer was a sport, played by the elites only, in countries with elitist classes like Argentina and Uruguay, and the masses were not welcome. Instead, they played a game on the streets that was very popular, first in Cuba, la pelota; later, beisbol. It was our game. When Mexicanos came in droves to the US during the Revolucion, they came here already playing baseball. And they were greeted by Mexican Americans left over from the war between the nations, who were living in barrios away from the crowd, but who played baseball in their streets and parks. As the Mexican American community developed, they played ball. They became more American, and in turn, particularly since the advent of Fernando Valenzuela, they made baseball more Latino.
Look at the 2017 World Series rosters, they are littered with Latinos from the entire diaspora, although my favorite, Adrian Gonzalez, will not be there due to injury. What Latinos learned is that they cannot compete with professional basketball players due to height, they cannot compete with professional football players due to size, but a guy who stands five feet five, Jose Altuve, is the best player on the field. It is not the size of dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.
The Dodgers arrived at the perfect time, just as the city was rising anew, and just as the Mexican American community was arising to a new day, in numbers and presence. The game had all along thrived in the barrio, little leagues, factory teams, high schools, the army, pick-up games in the park. A couple of guys made it to the bigs, (did you know Ted Williams was a Mexican American? You can look it up). But not until 1981, with the arrival of El Torito, El Zurdo, El Indio, Fernando Valenzuela, did the game begin to change; â€œLatinizeâ€. The gate has changed too as the Los Angeles Dodgers have become the local heroes; Los Doyers, with a loving nod to the heavy Spanish accent. So as Jaime Jarrin, the legendary radio announcer says, Vamanos Doyers! Play beisbol!
The United States Postal Service’s Forever® stamps series entitled Delicioso, celebrates the influence of Central and South American, Mexican, and Caribbean foods and flavors on American cuisine. Art Director John Parra and graphic designer Antonio Alcalá focused on the bright and playful illustrations of tamales, flan, sancocho, empanadas, chile relleno, and ceviche.. Each illustration was created by applying multiple layers of acrylic paint to textured boards, using sandpaper to reveal the hidden layers and give the designs a worn, vintage look. To learn more about Delicioso visit: USPS.com.
Pacifico Dance Company and Mariachi Los Toros team up to bring the sights of old Mexico alive
By Esmeralda Macial, Staff Writer
It’s a mystic summer night with the moon shining her light down on the City of Angeles. In the night air there carries the sounds of trumpets bellowing, guitars roaring and voices soaring as the Pacifico Dance Company, led by Adriana Astorga-Gainey, and Mariachi Los Toros, directed by Carlos Parra, rehearse for their upcoming Ballet Folklorico performance at the Ford Theatre in Hollywood.
Two groups bound together by the traditional dances and music of Mexico seeking to inspire new generations through visual and audio stimulation of colors, choreography and heartfelt song.
“This is not basic Mariachi music as its roots are indigenous giving it a particular feel – it’s music passed down from generations at a time when music wasn’t written down,” said Parra.
You can feel the heritage in the music and in the lyrics, which helps the dancers transform any stage they perform on into a pueblo in Mexico during las fiestas.
The marriage between the dance and the music gives birth to a culture rich in traditions.
“We perform dances from Nayarit, Jalisco, the Yucatan, Aztec mythology and bring alive the ledgend of La Llorona using the music to share her tragic story,” said Astorga-Gainey.
The Pacifico Dance Company brings out the joys, sorrows, flavors and colors of a country and people continuously evolving through tragedy and victory while paying tribute to its fundamental foundation of native culture, religion and a deep passion for life.
The performance features 40 world-class dancers an amazing stage design and production and the virtuoso sounds of one of the most talented Mariachis to ever assemble.
In addition to performing at the Ford Theatre, Pacifico and Los Toros continue to collaborate and perform across the state and nation. Tour schedules and other performances can be found by visiting www.pacificodance.com and www.mariachilostoros.com