V8N4: May-June 2002
Volume 8 Number 4
Table of Contents
His attempt to woo women by buying drinks makes him feel and look like a lecher. It finally dawns on him that this is the kind of bar his daughter might frequent with her girl friends.
Over the past three years, the Latin Rock Showcase at SXSW has become the place to be for rock aficionados of any description, and its success begs a very important question: Why doesn't Austin have a viable Latin Alternative music scene?
Resistencia does not just sell books. If it did, it would probably not be in business anymore.
In art we anthropomorphize things like death and evil into quaint fictions resulting in literature like The Devil and Daniel Webster or music like "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." However, we also create fictions like money and the 7-day week, things that have objectively altered our reality through the organization of time, labor and technology.
Willie Varela had no job, no girlfriend and no direction. Until, one day,with the money he'd earned from taking a job with the 1971 government census (the first one to recognize Hispanics as an ethnic group), he purchased his first Vivitar Super 8 camera. He would put all his pain and uncertainty onto film. Willie Varela had finally found a reason for living.
I thought I saw through the psychodrama-producing, mental self-image trauma inducing, internal bleeding karma-deducing theories of inferiorities of Negro minorities.
When people ask how long I've been growing my locks, it seems my automatic answer has been "about ten years." But it's been about 10 years for the last few years.
On rare nights, I would be left on my grandfather's doorstep with a brown paper bag suitcase under my arm. I'd wander round back to the patches of green grass lawn, to the old oak tree stump, to the overgrown xylosma bushes with zinnias and little gold butterflies swarming around, to a small paint battered Victorian and to the decaying shack -- mi "Papa's" shack. This, in my memory, was the universe.
All the Earth shall be filled with joy.
Though governments auction prophylactic to black markets
While matchstick baby heads and bellies gaze fly
Into clotted saucer eyes an atomic sun.
Though pearled fat farm children smug in
Cardiovascular disease, T.D.'s and Dodges, discard
Silken filaments of flesh (trembling, pin-boned,
Hard-memoried) on the slick doorsteps of veneered
Though free thinkers, loud speakers, prophets, drummers,
Dreamers are shot and brained on sidewalks, their
Tongues nailed to walls in prisons, disfigured,
Starved, beaten, scorched purple with cattle prods
And though lunatics range freely.
Though tribes are suffocated by a cities fall, falling, fall,
Down numbers loose digits all fingers point in curved air
Roil and blame.
Though in the cramped heart of courts, liberty, a
Commodity, is traded, bought and sold for those
Who got caught at the wrong time at the wrong place
Dialing the wrong number on the wrong color telephone.
Though trade winds and air currents blow poison fumes
And brown skinned sweat, all filled with anarchistic verve... lash out
Too many voices raised loud, just, thunder with no rain.
And though poets wearily obsess
Incessantly trace quadrants within parameters
Of barren inner landscapes.
There is nothing that you can do
To deny, control or prevent it
Eventually all the earth shall be filled with joy.
And the desert shall blossom as a rose.
Drone Hummer by Alejandro Aguirre
We are to meet her friends in a bar of sorts, and I am anxious to the point of nausea. Strangers frighten the shit out me, especially when I'm liquored up enough to frighten the shit out of them. As a means of relaxing my stress, I want some lovin' before having to face the horror of introductions, but she doesn't want to mess up her hair. With only an erection and a few cocktails in my system, I leave the hotel with her.
Perhaps they want to make me feel more comfortable by meeting in a Tex-Mex bar and grill. They might sense that I have more in common with the dishwasher than with those I'm to meet. Yet they don't realize that in a place like this, all of the truly Mexican employees are rarely allowed to have contact with the patrons.
With sweat-stained pits soaking through my shirt, I walk in the joint grumbling about my tendency to perspire profusely when intimidated; I suck at poker. In this fairly upscale cantina, I am awkwardly presented to all my woman's friends. "Hello," I think to myself, "I am the typical sweaty Mexican." My hair looks greasy as well; so much for dispelling stereotypes. All I need now is a bandoleer across my chest and a cheesy accent. Shortness of breath speeds my pulse; nervousness runs wild. God, I hate having to meet new people. "Hey bartender!"
After a short while, her friends are treating me as most people usually treat me. The novelty has worn off; they go back to talking amongst themselves. They sense that I am a misfit of sorts and prefer the comfort found in each other's words. I become the white noise found in crowded places: out of focus, difficult to understand and generally ignored after acclimation to the sounds of idle chatter and clinking forks on dishes. The drab whir of the environment camouflages my silence. Some might feel hurt or abandoned at the lack of attention. This suits me just fine: I don't have much to add to conversations anyway; I have no virtues, knowledge or accomplishments. No, rather than contributing, I prefer stepping aside and observing. This allows me to stop, look and listen. It also affords me the luxury of hiding my now slurred speech and cognac laced breath.
The static hum of random people's lives becomes a language that orates a tale to be read aloud in my mind. The spy in me is alive and well, as is the daydreamer. I can make up their lives in my eyes: voyeurism at play. In this place, at this moment, I possess the power of a god, creating mankind in my images, seeing their worlds destroyed only to be rebuilt to suit my pleasure. It is much easier to think up fantasies about people I meet and/or observe as opposed to actually learning their histories. I become the de-meaner, defining others based upon the pasts that I conjure up and not upon what is obviously presented. Their memories are devalued; I base their new memories and contexts in accordance to the parameters of my logic -- my mytho-logic, or logic of myth. Worth is limited to entertainment, humanity is reduced to gestures and meaning is the stuff of legends.
She walks by, looking for a friend that may have stood her up. Who does she think she's fooling? I know she's alone. A prostitute? No, she has that hopeful look of a woman looking to belong; she lacks the distressed look of a hooker that has seen it all and done it all. Her red blouse is loose fitting with just enough cleavage showing to draw the gaze downward. Her make-up and hair done just so, she is dressed for adventure. Wanting to score some blow or give a blow? Passing the same lively group of people (obviously a clique) time and again, she seems desperate to be noticed -- to be accepted -- by them. To laugh, gossip and swap-fuck them all, both the men and the women: whatever it takes to be part of the action. She sits at a distance, but not so far away as to appear alone. Her surrogate socialization begins with fixated eyes and alert eavesdropping. She laughs quietly at the jokes and anecdotes overheard. Growing bolder, she laughs a little louder but to no effect. They hardly acknowledge her, with the exception of one girl's growing annoyance at this intrusion. I am amused by her attempts; obviously her technique is wanting.
A panic fills her eyes as they stand up and begin donning their coats; they are going to leave without inviting her along. Her heart was set on the pretty boy with the crooked smile. Her imagination was filled with carefree moments in his arms, pictures of dinner parties and selecting swatches of cloth to decorate their new little love nest. It is not meant to be. Alas, he is going. She is about to lose her umbilical chord to possibly being cool, to having a group to call her own. Her visions of camaraderie with her new girl friends are slipping their arms into woolen sleeves, paying up the bar tab. There was safety in numbers. Now she appears to be vulnerable, the one ousted from the herd. Isolated, she talks to the bartender. Unbeknownst to her, he is only the bar-back. He's seen her type before and feels no pity. Like me, he believes it is so much easier to be a little cruel at times than to be sweet. After all, at the end of the evening, rose thorns are easier to preserve than rose petals.
She had expected a nice atmosphere, one where people were eager to openly talk to strangers or lone women. Watching Cheers reruns had spawned her concept of a friendly neighborhood pub. But "Women alone are often that way for a reason" seems to be the motto of the evening. Besides, "Coach" is dead and Sam Malone got AIDS. This social circle is closed; applicants better have references, an "in." She has no angle and the bar-back is getting sick of her.
Adjusting his hair, he begins to speculate that his gay friends are both a blessing and an inconvenience. They make him seem cosmopolitan, hip to all the political correctness that is inherent in being a non-homophobic guy. Breast-fed on MTV lactations, he grew up with icons who were either coming out of the closet, gender-benders or abused as children. But he doesn't know that MTV's mammary glands were only reserved for the rich and famous. It is still more acceptable for any rock star to be a transvestite than for an everyday guy to dress provocatively. Plus, it is hard to be chic with a limited budget and no taste. Poverty forces him to find a more creative link between his life and those lives aired on TV. Gay men often have good-looking women hanging around them, and this is his only chance to appear glamorous. Now he has to convince the women that he is straight, a burden of proof that weighs a ton. He fails miserably at this endeavor. Appearing to be a closet fag, he doubts himself, beginning to wonder about his libido's orientation. But approaching it rationally, he concludes that a mouth, after all, is only a mouth, an ass is only an ass and a hole is a hole is a hole. Grooming himself again, he gulps down another Scotch and promptly orders a Martini.
"What am I doing here?" he keeps asking himself. After his failed marriage, he realizes that he needs to get back in the saddle. However, it's been a long time since he has had to even try to get a date, much less a piece of ass. How does one go about it? (At this point, I wish the lonely girl I saw earlier hadn't skulked away.) Buying a new shirt, although he didn't take the time to remove the lint, he took great pains to be as prepared to meet a new woman as a man can get. He flossed, used mouthwash, applied lotion to dry knuckles and even went so far as to cologne his balls. That stung. His discomfort is growing as he begins to notice that this is a relatively young crowd; there aren't too many middle-aged women here. His decaying body is drawing flies.
His attempt to woo women by buying drinks makes him feel and look like a lecher. It finally dawns on him that this is the kind of bar his daughter might frequent with her girl friends. That notion causes the whiskey to stick in his throat. Anger starts to swell up within him. What if some old fucker was hitting on his daughter? Worse yet, what if she accepted his advances? His neck is turning red. His anger soon turns to shame. He no longer sees them as pieces of ass; they are all somebody's little girls. He abandons his drink and hurries out, eyes fixated on the floor, avoiding any contact.
Pokey-bait (as I have now christened him) has been out of the closet for about two years. His sexuality often grinds on other people's nerves. We know you are gay. Yes, we know you are proud to be gay. Now, Pokey-bait, do you want a reward for your forthrightness? This mantra of his sounds more like an effort to convince himself rather than one to convince others. He sounds like a closet heterosexual. His behavior pattern is one directed towards self-destruction: a drug addict sucking cock in men's bathroom stalls (or letting others suck his cock), he hasn't really come to terms with his homosexuality. Feeling like a deviant, he tries to shock those around him by airing his sexual appetites, expecting gasps of disbelief from his audience. His Catholic upbringing is manifesting itself before our very eyes. He doesn't realize that his newfound lifestyle is normal; no shock value there, Pokey-bait. Feeling guilty, doomed towards condemnation, he figures that he is destined to be the biggest sinner of them all. He cries himself to sleep at night. Hidden inside his soul is the belief that God has lost all love for him; why else would He have made him un-normal?
He has lost all hope, living life with the stereotypical attitude that all gays are destined towards hellfire. He finds solace in irresponsibility, comfort in destroying his body. His alienation is manifested in acts of self-flogging and a raging libido that allows diseased strangers to copulate in him. He is the self-professed living damned. Little does Pokey-bait know, he is actually thinking like a straight man. His morality is founded on the beliefs of the heterosexual lifestyle. Latent straight tendencies? It appears so. In the recesses of his bedroom, he will unconsciously lube his fling's ass with the symbol of the cross in the same manner that holy water is sprinkled at an exorcism. How appropriate. Pokey-bait would have made an excellent priest.
Working in a bar had always held some mystique for her. Meeting all sorts of people, being the helpful quasi-therapist and getting paid to do both had sounded so adventurous at first. But she had not counted on cleaning the vomit out of the bathroom stalls, getting fingers snapped at her or having to tolerate a sadistic bar-back. All she had wanted was to make a few extra bucks to help pay for her daughter's expenses. It had gotten difficult for her parents to care for her child; her man had left her a few days after conception. Her tips are ok. And quite by chance, she has found a supplemental pay plan. "Too bad that older guy left," she thinks, "he looked like he needed some." Come closing time, there will certainly be one or two potentials she can woo with her sunken eyes.
Nightly, she feels the filth of drunks running down her inner thighs, scrubbing her crotch for hours afterwards. The semen will float down the drain with her guilt trailing afterwards. It is only a temporary job, until she has enough money saved. A clandestine way of turning some spare cash or some blow. Her only regrets are not being able to orgasm while turning a trick and now possessing a growing hatred of mirrors.
I can walk out now. Everyone I've met is unconcerned. The droning sound of idle conversations continues in my inebriated head. No good-byes are necessary; I am too shit-faced anyway. Besides, my girlfriend wants to check out another place. The night breeze tickles the nape of my neck, once outside. I think I'll take a stroll. There are plenty of stories the street has in store for me. This is my reality TV that enables me to have a panoramic shot of my actors' lives with self-assumed accuracy. Outside one of those trendier bars with a line running halfway around the block, I stop to observe my unsuspecting thespians as my girl waits to get inside. My eyes are the cameras, my mind is the script and I am on location. Lucky for me, I can fade into the buildings; I am gray like concrete and ash.
[A son of dentists, Alejandro Aguirre studied Philosophy at Texas A&M and now is generally unemployable. He is a zealous smoker and an emotionally impotent writer.]
Flat Coffee by Mercedes A. Villamán
Woke up in a bad mood
too much gray out the window
the weak sunlight
won't make me squint yawn and stretch out
the heart went on sleeping
like a bored cat.
Not enough birds singing on the trees
not enough trees.
The cup was too hot for my lips
and the coffee was flat
not enough taste to bring out memories
and wake up the soul
not enough stories to have a taste
to engage my mind
and I could tell
this coffee was that new breed
a bean made to grow in all weathers
of coffee trees -- only
no haguas trees
no other trees to keep them company
sheltered them from winds, rains
and too much sun.
I woke up missing the breeze coming
from the mango trees in the back
behind the guavas, the limes and acerolas.
I could taste no songs
or the giggling of coffee-picking compadrès
telling each other last night's bedtime story.
A silent coffee
and I could tell
the hands that picked it
were obedient hands
pulling off every bean the foreman said
good ones and bad ones
and after that
every tomatè and olive and apple
they were not hands
learned on tradition
strange hands they were.
flat metal taste
the beans never met the glades
for their last sun bath
never had time to outgrow the shell
some kind of blade raping
it off without shame
no feet smashing
the skin of the bean
dancing and singing feet
were not going down
tickling my throat
I woke up searching for the crackling moaning of the house
when the morning sun starts licking the wood.
my mother's hose watering
the red hibiscus on the fence.
And mi abuela calling out,
"the café con lechè is getting cold,
wake up muchachos."
This coffee was packed in a plastic bag
not knowing for what.
its smell didn't fill my kitchen
did not wind up the stair
didn't scratch at the windows
nor invite the neighbors.
This gray morning
and the coffee it was flat.
Have You Heard Us? by Cèsar Diaz
"¡Viva Mexico, Cabrones!" This resilient cry resonated from the outdoor stage at The Vibe during this year's SXSW Latin Rock Showcase. With a sold out crowd, the small venue hosted five distinct acts including Monterrey, Genitallica and Kinky, a Mexican electronica group with an infectious blend of Latin rhythms, techno, house, funk and rock. Grupo Fantasma, Austin's Latin jam band, ended the night with an energetic set that had everyone dancing.
Over the past three years, the Latin Rock Showcase at SXSW has become the place to be for rock aficionados of any description, and its success begs a very important question: Why doesn't Austin have a viable Latin Alternative music scene?
One reason is that Austin just doesn't have enough bands to support one. It is true that Austin's only solid Latin act, Grupo Fantasma, has gained a reputation for wooing crowds. In fact, their energetic pull during this year's SXSW show garnered the attention of Tony Hernandez, the renowned Latin Alternative producer and member of Control Machete, a Mexican hip-hop group. However, one good band is not enough to make a music scene.
"It's a proven fact that it takes about 30 or 40 bands of a certain kind of music to get a good one," says Luis Zapata, co-founder of the Latino Rock Alliance (LRA), the organization that started the SXSW Latin Rock Showcase. Founded in Austin in 1999, the LRA strives to promote local Latin Alternative music at the regional, national and international levels. "We basically plugged Texas into the Latin Alternative market. We went to the first Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York. It went really well. People started really talking about Texas for the first time," Zapata says.
Yet Zapata admits there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, the highly lauded summer Latin rock festival, the WATCHA Tour, has by-passed Austin for three years. Zapata simply states, "Their asking price is too high to get any promoters in this area to really get into it." Direct Events, the Austin-based promoters for concerts at La Zona Rosa and The Austin Music Hall, wanted to book the WATCHA Tour for Austin but lost the bid to San Antonio. Zapata explains that San Antonio, which has a broader Latin Alternative music fan base than Austin, has investors willing to pay the price.
Thus, the yearly SXSW music festival and its Latin Rock Showcase are crucial for Latin Alternative artists. While Zapata believes that the festival is an opportunity to introduce Austin to Latino music acts from abroad, he also hopes that such acts are inspiring local, up-and-coming artists to form their own bands. He feels confident that it is only then that there can be a substantial Latin Alternative music scene in Austin that captures the attention of the media.
But unfortunately, bringing bigger international acts that can draw attention to Latin Alternative music has proven difficult. Many of these acts would love the chance to play in the U.S. market, but they often run into red tape or visa complications. As a result, Mexico City's electronic group Titan, Chile's Choncho de Piedra and the Grammy-winning Sindicato Argentino de Hip-hop were no shows at SXSW.
And, even once here, many acts still find it difficult to reach a mainstream audience. Julieta Venegas, for example, the Tijuana-based rockera whose latest release Bueninvento was nominated for the inaugural Short List Music Prize for Artistic Achievement in Music, was forced to cancel a poorly attended show at Stubb's due to its lack of promotion. In an effort to prevent instances like this from happening, Zapata works alongside Roadstar Productions, an Austin-based music production company, to introduce Latin Alternative music to non-Spanish speaking audiences on an ongoing basis. In September, he helped bring Mexican Alt-rockers Zurdok to play at Auditorium Shores alongside the Black Crowes, Blues Traveler and Joan Jett.
Fortunately, there are some Latin Alternative artists, particularly those who have a strong fan base in the States already, like rock groups Jaguares and Maná, who have no difficulty with promotions and are actually scheduled to perform in the San Antonio/Austin area later this year. While Zapata sees the popularity of the upcoming Jaguares/Mana concerts as an opportunity room for Latin Alternative music to receive more exposure on the whole, he realizes that the mistakes that led to the Venegas cancellation are bound to happen to less known artists. He is hopeful that other organizations will pick up on the Latin Alternative concert trend and jump in. "Other people are going to be coming into the game and they have the right to. We are just happy we somehow started it. Anything that happens that helps the music I think is fantastic."
Another obstacle for Latin Alternative music in Austin is its lack of radio air play. Most Spanish radio stations stick closely to the format that their corporate sponsors support. And because Latin Alternative music doesn't guarantee any revenue for these sponsors, it rarely gets played. In addition, Zapast argues that those stations that actually do give the music airtime don't have an audience who can appreciate it. Local radio stations KLBJ and Planeta 1560 do occasionally incorporate Latin American music into their regular formats. But KOOP 91.7 is the only radio station in Austin giving crucial airtime to the genre with its Spanish Rock Radio, a one-hour show that airs every Tuesday at noon. Gilbert Guerrero, the other co-founder of LRA, hosts the show.
Zapata and the LRA have big plans for the future. Because of this year's successful SXSW show at The Vibe, Flamingo Cantina, Empanada Parlour and Mercury Lounge have approached the LRA to showcase Latin Alternative acts at their venues. In addition, Zapata will continue marketing every new Latin Alternative release for the Austin area. Several corporations have contacted the LRA about investing in Latin Alternative music, and some major producers have shown interest in investing in an Austin-based Latin Alternative record label.
Zapata strongly encourages those who genuinely appreciate Latin Alternative music to help out in any way possible, including volunteering their talents in designing flyers and posters or simply spreading the word. It's simple things like this that have helped the SXSW shows become so successful. The key is building awareness and, with sold-out shows and increasing media attention, Zapata is on the right track in promoting this exciting musical genre.
"It's going to take about five years to see a significant change. But it's cooking and everything aims that way. It's exciting," Zapata says with certitude.
For more information about Latin Alternative Music, contact the Latino Rock Alliance at (512) 443-6179.
To Live in Teotihuacán by Erika González
I want to live in Teotihuacán
to have the Aztec pyramids
in my backyard
I want tour guides as my neighbors
in colorful houses with wet laundry
hanging on wires --
wet chones exposed under the melting sun
I want to love the imperfections of
people with no credit cards and
dance barefoot in cantinas
where the music is always live
I want to sing with people
who are the color of the earth
until the pajaritos fly away with envy
Cry at church for no reason
and not receive stares.
I want to live in Teotihuacán really live without making a real living
Wear flowers in my hair
create a collage of couples kissing on the streets
and play La Raspa de Limón with children
that have two last names
I want to live in Teotihuacán
where mujeres are strong and feminine
and men are still men
Not Your Average Bookstore by Evan Johnson
Have you ever been to that bookstore in the little red building on South First and West Annie? Housed in three different locations over the years, it's been around for over two decades, which is quite a feat for a small independent bookseller. The unfortunate reality is that it's getting easier nowadays to forget why we once cherished a bookstore of this caliber: because it was charming; because you knew the people who ran it; because they knew the books; because you could walk into it without a particular title or author in mind and not feel overwhelmed. But if you ever visit Resistencia Bookstore, you'll not only be reminded of the value of the independent bookseller but also discover that it is truly one of those humble, unique Austin places -- still thriving today.
Resistencia does not just sell books. If it did, it would probably not be in business anymore. Nor does it have all of the popular favorite titles; it doesn't attract the droves of book buyers looking for Harry Potter or an Oprah Book Club honoree. What Resistencia does provide is a scene. It's a tradition in East and South Austin. And having seen a lot happen and change in both the city and the Latino community, it has many stories to tell.
Maybe you've heard of raul salinas, the longtime local beat poet-activist-teacher-now-elder who spells his name without capital letters. He offers a slangy hip blend of English-Spanish poetry with a heavy street beat and a cause. raul founded Resistencia in East Austin in 1982 after having opened a similar operation called El Centro de la Raza in Seattle in the late '70s.
René Valdez, a volunteer at Resistencia and program director at Red Salmon Arts, the non-profit arts organization that is run out of the bookstore, describes Resistencia's initial focus: "raul wanted to start off a small bookstore that had few titles but had the titles that you can't really get from anywhere else.
"And because raul has a history here, and the bookstore also has a history, and because it does have a community, those entities that care for our organization will come to buy books here because they either can't get it at Barnes and Noble or they want to support our efforts. We have nurses that come to Austin to find stuff that they can't find in El Paso, the home of Chicana and Chicano culture. Even San Antonio has a couple of arts groups, but they don't carry the same titles that we do," she adds.
raul explained his motivation for opening Resistencia in an interview with Suckarepellent.com last year: "There was stuff happening on the west side of town in the little bookstores, but though some inroads had been made, they were still very segregated. People were still afraid to go all out, and I felt the need to do that."
But Resistencia is doing much more than just selling hard to find titles. It serves as a voice for and perseveres in the Latino community. It is surviving the cutthroat bookseller industry and, at the same time, fostering survival, educating, activating, politicizing and serving as something of a center piece for art movements in South and East Austin -- the old Austin neighborhoods, with the real Austin character, history and flair that is increasingly rare.
Valdez says, "Everyone and anyone is welcome into this bookstore, as long as they can respect it like it's their own house, respect the people and respect our work. Likewise, we want to respect people who come in here. It's very important that we're conscious that this place is for cultural exchange. Diverse people come from Chiapas, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, East Austin, San Antonio, California, and they share with the people; and that's what it's all about. What you see here is not flashy, but we do it with what we have and present it in a way that shows we're proud. We try to be accessible to the people, the community, to the activists, to the artists and to people who want to work with us."
It is easy to neglect the importance of history and community in a tech boomtown like Austin these days. We are always looking and moving forward, always building new neighborhoods where there were none before, catering to new groups of people with no local roots or history. That is what dilutes a city's character: the lack of history; the unfamiliarity; a faceless population that is not a community -- a population that appears out of thin air, just before the neo-hip-generic Barnes and Noble appears down the street. And that is not to say anything against Barnes and Noble, which I think is a fine bookstore with a bountiful selection, but you don't go to Barnes and Noble to get what you go to Resistencia to experience. There is something unique going on around Resistencia that I don't feel in this city everyday. It's that something I often boast about to people who live elsewhere, that cultural character thing which is so often hard to put a finger on and so often hidden away from most of us in a place of town we might not normally venture into.
Yet it takes time and hard work to build the kind of reputation that transcends the fleeting economic and cultural booms. And the people at Resistencia put in their time and effort daily. With the longest running poetry reading series in Austin, they host regular readings, open-mics, political forums, human rights activists, indigenous artists and read-ins. They bring in renowned international artists to speak and read. They have lured established Chicano/a artists like poet Rafael Cancel Miranda, poetry slammer Migual Algarin, CNN correspondent Maria Hinojosa, Zapatista chronicler John Ross and journalists/writers from San Antonio such as Patricia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez. Also, Resistencia provides meeting space for those grass roots organizations that identify with and support the more immediate community, groups like the Austin Cuba Committee and the El Comite en Solidaridad con Chiapas y Mexico, among others. Affordable space is not always easy to find for grass roots organizations with small budgets, and yet sometimes that space is the lifeblood for these groups.
"It's all about working with other groups and people," Valdez says. "We work with other organizations, cultural ones, political ones, arts ones. PODER (People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources) is an East Austin environmental group. They are a very awesome force. We also work with ALLGO [Austin Latino/a Lesbian & Gay Organization] and the Austin Hispanic Writers. We've been here so long we've seen groups come and go, and we know the history too; so we try to be a place where people can come and connect with those groups but also be place where we can speak out against what we don't think is right for our hoods, our city or our nation. We try to be very astute and critical of the way things are."
Resistencia also serves as home base for Red Salmon Arts, which was founded in 1983 to support the arts of indigenous communities in Austin. With a media and publication division, Red Salmon Press, which boasts several titles -- two of which are by raul salinas -- Red Salmon Arts recognizes that the power of publishing can be potent, especially in active communities. Red Salmon Press publishes and distributes community newsletters, neighborhood papers and informational leaflets for various organizations in the area.
One of the press' most "cherished" projects is its collaboration with the Red Salmon Arts' Save Our Youth (SOY) program. SOY ("I am" in Spanish)sponsors writing workshops in local high schools and correctional facilities, and Red Salmon Press transforms the products from the workshops into youth chap books. SOY was one of the first arts programs in Austin to reach out to youth correctional facilities. Its goal is to redirect the energies of "hard-to-reach" youths through creative outlets, cultural awareness and pride. T.he workshops help participants build self-esteem, foster verbal/written communication and develop conflict resolution skills.
raul salinas teaches many of the workshops himself, which only shows his resolve and devotion. Most recently, he and Zapatista photographer Alan Pogue led workshops that had kids take pictures of cultural icons and their families. SOY also just published a chapbook with students from Austin's Del Valle High School called A Collection of Student Writings from Del Valle High School after sponsoring writing workshops for some of its students.
"I think it is important that you try to make something that expresses where you come from or what is a problem in your community," Valdez says. "Being a Chicano myself, I know there's not always a lot of good role models; so that's why it's so important that those types of people -- whether they're journalists, writers, artists, painters, activists -- come to share what they do and who they're involved with. One thing we cherish and try to sponsor and engage in is cultural exchange."
Mirta Toledo, curator of La Peña, another Austin cultural and educational organization which runs a similar program called the Floricanto Literary Festival at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Facility, explains the positive effects of programs like Floricanto and SOY. "I think that in this society we have become so isolated that when you share you become part of something. And somehow in that moment you have a connection with another person, and you have the opportunity to reach to some others with your feelings. It is hard to share feelings for these kids in particular because they are really so isolated, and that is why I think it is so effective."
It is easy to romanticize the scene around Resistencia. But the words of struggle are potent, and the efforts and impact are real, even if they are mostly in the Latino community, even if they are not always appreciated by those outside the loop. The people at Resistencia are not trying to start a revolution. They are not trying to save the world. But they also are not trying to fund-raise their way into a more upscale West Austin community either. They are not afraid to use their resources to support the arts in their community.
"Our direct responsibility is to provide, not only in terms of literature and books that deal with people's histories and voices but also just to give them a space where they can exchange their thoughts, their arts, what they're doing. But we also try to be responsible to them. You know, if someone calls up looking for a certain kind of cookbook, we'll try to get them that book or tell them who to talk to or where to go. We try to be a good resource center," Valdez says.
And let's not forget Resistencia's cornerstone. Red Salmon Arts' open-mic poetry reading series, Café Libro, is the longest running series in the city of its kind, going strong since 1983. It has set a precedent for other bookstores in town, and nowadays you can go to a poetry reading practically every night of the week.
"We try to be local," states Valdez. "That's why we have our poetry open-mic series. Through that project we try to feature local poets. So we'll feature local poets and then open it up for the rest. That's just a way to help them develop their skills. We provide a safe place. We try to be very respectful and humble, especially to the people and how we engage each other."
Resistencia does well for itself and the people who are in the know, indeed. But they are still only a small operation and part of the struggle is getting the word out to the many who have not gotten the chance to enjoy this little part of Austin culture.
Dr. José Limon of the Center for Mexican-American Studies states, "There have been many times when I wish raul could have been funded in some significant way so that what he does could have a wider outreach. I get concerned sometimes that it operates with a circumscribed community, where the general larger public is often not reached. I've often wished there was a way to make him and what he writes and who he works with more accessible to the larger community. It is always entirely possible for anyone to go down to Resistencia, but clearly lots of people don't do that. I wish more people would come down from the larger community."
The Resistencia community is working towards this end. "What we want to do is bring the global issue locally and bring the local issue globally," Valdez states. "One thing we want to do is say, 'Hey, there's a struggle out in East Austin. There's these oil cartels that have been dumping oil into these farms on the east side close to Airport.'
"Or, go down to Chiapas, Mexico (where there's) a struggle for water, land, culture (and) dignity for these people. Who's involved? Oil cartels. Which ones? Well, some have to be Mexican, but some are also American. So what's the difference, other than that they're down there and we're up here? We're in solidarity with their struggle. We're not Zapatistas, but we're on the east side struggling, and we're going to talk about that struggle because it's important."
But politics and struggle can be a dangerous mix, especially when inspiring underprivileged, impressionable youth who might see themselves as trapped in the system. Yet Valdez insists that politics are only part of the program.
"Not all reading is about struggles," she states. "It has a lot to do with celebration. It's about musical celebration. We had Quetzal, a nine piece band out of East L.A., and they did an acoustic set. And they had a conga and violin and a bass, and it was beautiful music. And yet it was also saying something about their community and about Chiapas. What people are inspired by is culture, tradition and struggle.
"Contradiction is another inspiration. The contradiction of a mixture of cultures is one thing that a lot of us have to deal with. There's the language itself. We pride ourselves on how we can read English and Spanish and English and Spanish together. That is very Chicano, the way we speak in English and Spanish together. And the English purists hate it and the Spanish purists hate it. But we have our own little subculture and we pride ourselves on it."
So what is the secret to on-going survival for this little bookstore on South First and for the community it serves and supports?
"Hard work," Valdez admits. "It's hard to be an independent bookstore nowadays. We have to work harder, wake up earlier, stay later, but we're doing it because we realize that it's important that people come in so they can walk off inspired to do something for the community. The main focus is just maintaining the space. We want to keep on keeping on with our open-mic series. We want to start implementing some film screenings, some documentaries that deal with groups that know one really knows about.
"Resistencia has a reputation of resistance and of politically speaking. It's not necessarily that what happens here is political but because of raul and his involvement with other movements, the bookstore has a reputation among those kinds of writers and those kinds of artists, for being a place where community members can share their stories and share their arts and have a way of communicating."
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
In a previous issue, I posed questions about the idea of art as fiction and, like most things, finding a few answers has raised more questions. Given that the act of artistic creation (regardless of the medium -- paint, film, words, music) results in a fiction, a personal synthesis of reality, such an act can be very liberating.
Sometimes our fictive abilities just give us symbolic control; sometimes they enable us to change objective reality. For example, in art we anthropomorphize things like death and evil into quaint fictions resulting in literature like The Devil and Daniel Webster or music like "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." However, we also create fictions like money and the 7-day week, things that have objectively altered our reality through the organization of time, labor and technology.
So a question for artists is whether the fiction we create actually alters our objective reality or only alters our view of it. Architects reorganize the physical space in which we live. Radio broadcasts allow a song to be heard around the globe. Rap music playing through humongous stereo systems out of car windows rattles the walls of our houses and make us psychotic. These things affect our objective reality.
Another question for artists is whether the narrative structure we employ to shape our art is something we control or something that controls us. We have inherited many narrative structures through the cultural continuum. Writers have genres like the novel, the play and the short story. Composers have genres like the concerto, the opera and the pop song. These genres shape and delimit the ideas that they express.
On a daily basis we employ narrative forms to create the fictions of our lives: stories, jokes, dialogues and arguments. All may feel spontaneous, but most follow underlying patterns and structural cues. If you've ever had a conversation with a debate team graduate, religious zealot or member of a political party, you know what I mean. The point is that these various narrative structures are so familiar to us that we don't give them a second thought, and that can cause us to limit the way we imagine and comment upon our world. Info-tainment TV, newspapers written at a third grade reading level, shock-talk radio and the like do little to challenge our imaginations. Slogans touted by UFO buffs ("The truth is out there.") and conspiracy theorists ("Question authority.") may have more to do with our imprisoned imaginations than with specific political agendas.
What are the most prevalent narrative structures of our time? This is something of a rhetorical question, but I do think that two structures predominate: the sitcom and the soap opera. As narrative structures, they are seductive in their simplicity. In the former, simple character types deal with mundane plot devices, giving us snappy one-liners that do nothing to actually change the static reality. In the latter, the demons and desires of the subconscious are acted out by characters in an ever-changing hyperbolic landscape. These two structures represent different distorted versions of our world: one static, the other constantly changing. Between them they contain our imagination and limit the narratives we use to describe our own lives. N'est-ce pas?
A further question for artists is how often do such confining narrative structures cross over into other art forms and structures. For example, I often see my life and art as bordering either on being a sitcom or a soap opera. (But then the bandleader pays me, and I push these disturbing thoughts to the back of my mind.) Thus, it might follow that if the sitcom depends on clever, banal phrases and the soap opera on overwrought, maudlin images, then both of these narrative structures describe most of contemporary American mass culture. Blink your eyes once if you agree, twice if you don't.
Willie Varela had no job, no girlfriend and no direction. Until, one day, with the money he'd earned from taking a job with the 1971 government census (the first one to recognize Hispanics as an ethnic group), he purchased his first Vivitar Super 8 camera. He would put all his pain and uncertainty onto film. Willie Varela had finally found a reason for living.
Self-taught, the lone West Texas Chicano filmmaker is a prolific imagemaker. He's made over 100 Super 8 films and videos, and has a large collection of work in still photography as well. He creates because he has to. He's a personal filmmaker, with a need to "capture some beauty in the world, to grasp those sights and sounds that are there for only a few seconds...to do something more than just go to a fucking job and take up space and get a paycheck, then come home and watch television." Admittedly, he is also stuck in that world which "requires one to make a living and to allow one's soul to be deadened."
For Varela, the humble act of expressing a personal vision stands as "an individual testament to 'ultimate expression.' " He elaborates; "In a time when so many want to be famous and rich and powerful and influential, to make short videos about how one perceives the world can appear to be, at least on the surface, a pointless, futile understanding. But that is precisely where its importance lies: to not conform to the mainstream, to demonstrate faith in the beauty of the world and follow through and actually finish and share these works is, I think, a brave heroic act."
In terms of the moving image, Varela is currently working exclusively in video. He enjoys the challenge presented by working with a medium that is "inherently cold, to try and turn it into something human." He also enjoys the expanded possibilities that video has to offer in terms of sound. Using ambient sounds in his recent work, he is influenced by John Cage's ideas of chance and his notion that there is "music everywhere in the world." Varela wants his films to have "a sense of being 'of the world' and the sounds that are in the world." So, rather than impose a song or sound effects in order to evoke certain feelings, he prefers to use a soundtrack that might seem "mundane or ordinary to let a viewers emotions arise more organically".
Visually, Varela brings his knowledge of composition, light, color, movement, and rhythm from 30 years of filmmaking to his latest video work. While the unique affordability of the video format allows him to incorporate into his style the extended take, "the Bazinian way of looking at the world, of just letting things evolve over real time." In this way, through video, he may be coming back full circle closer to his roots in Super 8 filmmaking when film stock was so cheap. Back then, his approach to filmmaking was to "let the 'world' guide him to a finished statement." He would shoot, shoot and shoot. "Then, on the editing table, begin to shape the reels and reels of material that had been gathered."
For Varela, his intuitive styled process of creating reigns over product. He knows a piece is finished when his gut has the "sense that the aura of the piece is in place, that by adding or taking away some images or sounds would upset the balance." And while he wants people to like his work, he is not seeking approval. Instead he is most interested in moving people, in making a connection with his audience, and "That," he says "is really hard."
Willie Varela is the featured guest artist of the Cinemaker Co-op's upcoming Screening Salon Series scheduled for June 1st and 2nd. He'll present a screening of Super 8 films and recent video work, then teach a workshop on the subject of developing a personal aesthetic. He's currently working on an exhibition titled Crossing Over: New Video Installations and Photographs.
The show consists of 3 video installations and a series of 22 large scale photographs he's taken over the last 30 years. It is scheduled to open in late October at UTEP and will travel to, among other places, the Blue Star in San Antonio. For more information about the artist, go to his website at www.geocities.com/film8. Read the complete interview from which this article is based at www.cinemaker.org.
Kumbayah my lord, Kumbayah. Someone's crying lord, Kumbayah.
[you think I missed it),
disguised by the scientific physics of university research departments, brought forth in materialistic reviews by the American Press critics. Nevertheless, I thought I saw through the psychodrama-producing, mental self-image trauma inducing, internal bleeding karma-deducing theories of inferiorities of Negro minorities. [You're fucking up my chi.] You're manipulating my feng shui. My aura is being tampered with. I don't even feel right going to church. And it hurts, being cursed, worse due to birth and it's not by personal choice, nor mirth.
I'm from a small town called Emory, Texas, where you're taught to keep your eyes cocked downward even when you walk. I was instructed to fear darkling spirits, to administer jeers marking like whip rivets, to endure pure shrills until my ears enjoyed hearing it. The years passed in the aftermath of silence, quiet as it's kept. I never wept, only schlepped in and out of alternating ulterior motives and masks. Old folks asked, "What's wrong with that boy?" Every month, I was a different person, in coercion, searching to find myself, battling stereotypical versions which defined myself, and dog paddling above the emersion, which in time, I find, conspired abound to drown myself. And just trying to fucking make it, I emerged tempered like steel and temper-tampered like untaught two-year-olds, yet still lost. The Holocaust of genocidal tendencies taught to teething children can be seen when we venture outward from these walls and are all annotated in research assignments which support the morbid manifestation of mental confinement. Doctorate essays say to continue giving an extra percentage of monetary assistance to welfare recipients whose children are entrapped in special-ed classes. Take the child out and no doubt, you'll be loosing money. The government's kind of funny that way: encouraging us to retro-succeed for minute greed, but indeed,
It is ultimately our families who make that decision, not "The Man." "The Man" has, however, imported uncut dope and supported trumped up quotes, acquitted body-burning, cold-cut throats, created shoddy towns of our most sacred grounds and left my body yearning for enlightening needle injections, pills of severed family connections, blunts of adjunct informational collections, historical mystery corrections and answers for my minds perplexions. It's all quite implorable; perhaps, even too much to ask for. No reparations for us, unlike the others -- others like Asians during World War II, Jews after the World War was won. Even the Egyptians allowed the Hebrews enough to make a golden calf.
But what would we do, my Hebrewian cousins? Would we construct an idol like the Cash Money Brethren out of golden rims and buckskin limbs and jeweled limbs with our reparations? The grilled-out stories of the Brothers Grimm, in ghettotorrian situations? I've been wanting a Cadillac since I was knee high. They've been calling me the Battlecat since I was as nightmarican as a razor-bladed apple pie on All Hallows Eve. You conceive to concede, and I pimp 'til I bleed like Enron executives, except they call me a thug. In other expressions, I'm a word hustler. I hang out on microphoned corners with the soul of Sojourner. My Truth is that things aren't as they seem. They've deferred my dreams and called them schemes and even had me thinking I was a criminal for conspiring against their conceptions. [They thought I would miss it], these
Kumbayah my lord, Kumbayah. Someone's crying lord, Kumbayah.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
'Almost cut my hair
it's getting kinda long.
I cannot remember if I had any kind of plan when I started my locks, my dreads. It's been so long ago that I don't even remember exactly when I started them. For the past couple of years, when people ask how long I've been growing my locks, it seems my automatic answer has been "about ten years." But it's been about 10 years for the last few years. I do have some chronological milestones I can point to, but as hard as I try I cannot remember a significant, official start date, month, year.
Up until recently, it's never been really important to me that I pinpoint the birthday for my locks. If I really wanted to figure out the precise years or month or holiday season I suppose I could just ask my mother. She'd know. The thing that I do remember is my mother's first comment. It was something like, "Good Lord, Harold! What do you think you're doing with your hair"?
I remember offering to run an errand for her on that particular trip home to beautiful Emory, Texas. I think I was gonna jump in her car and go to the store for milk, bread, and eggs or something. Before I got out of the house she suggested -- no demanded -- I wear my cap (crown, hat, tam). I did. Just for her.
I don't think she wanted neighbors, friends, and relatives to see my pointing-straight-up-in-the-sky baby dreads. What would they think? Like I said, nailing down the start date of my lock growing is generally not something I spend time thinking about. But now I really am trying to give my grandfather locks an age. I've been almost cutting my hair for years now. I now want to know how long it's been, because this time I'm gonna do it.
Gasp! Harold McMillan is finally ready to cut his hair!
Imagine this. You're in line at the Wendy's, waiting to order a chocolate Frosty. You feel, first, a nonspecific sensation somewhere around your heard and shoulders. Disregard it. Then there is that uninvited warmth you feel when someone invades your "personal space," but doesn't actually touch you. You're in line at Wendy's, that's normal, maybe, so you don't have to look around and tell them to back off. Dammitt, next thing you know, the over-friendly high school cheerleader, with the long straight hair, from Alpine, Texas, has your dreads between her fingers and is twirling and twisting -- then she speaks: "Excuse me sir, but I ain't never seent hair lak iss up close and I jes had to tetch it. I hope you don't mind. Do y'all worsh hair lak att?"
I tell her no. I do not wash it with water, at least. We Rastas work at mixture of ganja-herb-juice, mashed sacred avocado and healing Blue Mountain coffee paste into our dreads every night. We then smoke a big fatty and mediate while listing to Bob. Keeps us connected to I and Eye and Jah, Rastafari.
The cheerleader from Alpine removes her fingers from my hair and minds her own damn business. Works every time, I swear.
The thing about having dreads, now in 2002, is that a lot of folks have them. Used to be kind of novel here in Austin. A few locked-up heads have pretty much always been here. Folks from The Islands, Africa, South America, reggae musicians, and a hand full of real Rastas have called Austin home for years. Then there are those of us who are Black folks from Texas or Arkansas who are decidedly not -- not trying to portray ourselves to be -- Rastafarians.
Specific and personal motivations for growing dreadlocks vary, of course. At some level, if it is nothing else, having a head full of kinky, uncombed, twisted hair tendrils cascading from ones scalp is indeed a fashion statement. If you ain't Rasta, face it; chances are pretty good that your dreads fall into the category of "fashion dreads."
"But what is the motivation for this particular fashion statement?", one might reasonably ask. Being the reasonable person I am, I assume the answer to that question to be as individual as the folks who sport the various versions of planks, clumps, sistah curls and twists, thin locks, mats, and dread-fades. It depends on the individual. In my experience as a dreadhead, though, I keep finding that many folks in the non-dread world assume a whole set of character and personality traits about me (us) simply because of my non-combed mop head.
I am walking down the sidewalk on the Drag, headed to Metro for my late afternoon injection of strong java and youth culture. In front of the Baptist church there are five new arrivals for the "My folks live in a big house in North Dallas, but I live on the streets in Austin to be cool" Club. Youth #2, a mohawked, skinny boy with multiple piercing and tattoos, who wears a black t-shirt with the image of Bob's head floating in a cloud of smoke, fatty at his lips, and text that reads "Legalize Freedom," see me coming. He stands up, as if to offer a handshake and hug to an old friend. Youth #2 makes eye contact with me, offers his hand and says, "whatsup, my brethren? Care to share some of your bud wid I and I. It's cool."
To this kid my long, graying locks are the same things as me having a sign on my forehead that reads, "I've got good pot and I live to smoke it on the street with you." Sometimes I do think, if I were a serious, smoke-all-day, everyday pothead, I'd probably have a lot less gray hair right now. But I'm not. That ain't me.
Years ago I had a six-inch tall Afro. Then I had cornrows. Then I had long braids (that started in my cornrows), three of them, running down my back. Then came the stop-combing-your-hair-and-dreads-will-follow period. The rest is history. My longest, oldest locks now reach all the way to the small of my back, to my waistline.
Through all of those changes, at first it always seemed that I was doing something to be different from the norm, trying to be other than that that was expected for the mainstream. And, at the base of all of those changes of fashion, there was always this thing of trying to hook into an esthetic that was somehow not based in what Middle America deemed appropriate for a young Black man. I grew dreads because, at the time, it seemed like an expression that was reserved for Black folks (or kinky-haired anybody) only, Black folks who were very intentionally not headed to the whitewashed cultural wasteland of corporate Middle America. I allowed my hair to lock-up because most of the folks around me would not or could not do it, even if they tried. And when the inevitable questions of why would I do this to my hair came to me, it was an opportunity to answer in such a way that advanced a cultural/political agenda. There really was a reason for growing dreads that had absolutely nothing to do with being part of a fashion trend. It was about partaking in an esthetic that was very specifically Black, global, Pan African. Now anyone who has $200 and three or four hours to sit at the barbershop can have their very own fashion dreads.
So, you might ask, am I talking about cutting my hair for some cultural/political reason? Am I pissed that Youth #2 assumes I am a pothead or that the cheerleader from Alpine wants to touch my hair? No. I love my dread locks still. They're just too long and hence take too long to dry.
I'm cutting the length of my hair (yet keeping my dreads) for a very important reason: My mother wants me to. And after all that she has done for me, it's really a very, very small thing to do just for her. Happy Mother's day, mom.
Verities by Ricardo Acevedo
On rare nights, at rare times, I would be left on my grandfather's doorstep with a brown paper bag suitcase under my arm. I'd wander round back to the patches of green grass lawn, to the old oak tree stump (ax firmly embedded), to the overgrown xylosma bushes with zinnias and little gold butterflies swarming around, to a small paint battered Victorian and to the decaying shack -- mi "Papa's" shack.
The shack leaned as if the spinning of the world had left it windswept and weather-beaten. Duck pens tucked under the raised floor made it seem as if the shack itself had given birth to the quacks and earthy aromas that filled the air. An obstacle course of feathers, duck pellets and properly tended groupings of mi Papa's necesidads lay between the shack and the main house. This, in my memory, was the universe.
"Que paso, mi nieto? ¡Ay, Gloria! (my mother)" would explode from his railroad barreled chest while he stare-smiled past me at his primer gray Chevy side step. Jumping it to life, he filled my eyes with dreams of sunsets and cacti. Soon, mi abuelo would be weaving between the lines on the highway, filling the potholes of old desert roads smooth for our flight to the chocolate mountains. There, where the breeze could animate the brush and tumbleweeds would race jack rabbits into hiding, we entered a place where the sky would loosen our heads.
In broken but precise English, my grandfather described distant lightening storms as "the sky taking pictures."
We contorted ourselves to catch their reflections in our shuddering eyes. He talked to me about the green stubble on the face of a mother in the change of life, how heaven's light illuminated her wounds as grace and how humans paled before her divinity. Maria of earthy passions was proud of her flowering and deflowering year after year.
It would take me years to exhale.