Latinos, and Asians, and Blacks…Oh My!

Vivan Los Mejicas: A truly versatile and multiculturally diverse dance ensemble like no other!

Los Mejicas @ 40th Anniversary Spring Show

Where to begin? or better yet, how to begin this piece? For the second year in a row, and thanks to the gracious invitation of my dear niece Erica Mendoza Cortés, a junior at the gorgeous campus of UC Santa Cruz, I’ve made the road pilgrimage up north from Los Angeles with my sister and other family members to see her perform in the university’s one and only Ballet Folklorico Los Mejicas!

Formed in 1972, this year marked the organization’s 40th anniversary, a feat all on its own, and quite a special reunion for some of the alumni of the group, who came back to either cheer the current members and enjoy the 3-hour long show, or even join in a very emotional and special Jalisco performance (alumni from years past, which dated to an impressive class of ’73, Guadalupe Friaz and Deborah Palacios Perez to some more recent alumni from 2011).

Ay Jalisco no te rajes!

While several universities across the country, I’m sure, have Mexican or Latin American folk groups, I must admit, seeing Los Mejicas perform makes knots in my throat and makes me very proud to see a newer generation of Latinos and non Latinos keeping traditional Mexican folklore “a flor de piel,” in other words, alive and kicking!

To say that Los Mejicas are great is truly an understatement, and while they are no Ballet Folklorico de Amalia Hernández, Mexico’s world-renowned, elite national folklorico dance company, Los Mejicas certainly put passion, soul and countless hours of rehearsals in the midst of their academic demands and scholastic responsibilities.  To see Los Mejicas is just as rewarding as seeing Amalia’s company… why? Because, not only are these students volunteering to perform, some with no previous dance experience, but you can tell in their performance and their faces, their pride in being part of something truly special. And to be honest, call me sheltered, I had never seen a ballet folklorico mexicano with an African-American or an Asian face, which to my pleasant surprise was part of Los Mejicas fabric and composition; basically it’s in their DNA, and that my friends, is what makes this group brilliant and unique!

The annual spring show is a journey through some key states of the United States of Mexico (Mexico’s official name); a journey into the customs, and rich cultural and musical diversity found in a country predominantly defined by its iconic Mayan and Aztec heritage and tumultuous history.  One thing Los Mejicas do superbly well is not only entertain, but also educate those who are lucky to go see them perform. The program details in a concise manner each region that they perform, giving the spectator a much better understanding of what it is they’re about to see.

This year the show highlighted some typical and expected Mexican staples, such as Jalisco, Veracruz and Chiapas, but also served on a silver platter lesser known dances from states like Yucatán, Guerrero, Aguascalientes, Sonora and Baja California.

Photo by Rebecca Mendoza

One thing I’d like to suggest, and the only constructive criticism to Los Mejicas is that whoever is producing the show needs to edit and filter out some of the excesses that make the show drag a bit too long.  Los Mejicas are good enough on their own to carry out the show without guest performances by singer interludes (which by the way, unless they’re coming out with a full Mariachi ensemble, should probably not be singing rancheras to a Karaoke mariachi track- I’m just sayin’) or have lower caliber and lackluster dance groups, such as Grupo de Danza y Baile Centeotl de Santa Cruz (major YAWN), who by the way, in my opinion, over extended their stay by performing 3, 4 or 5 numbers that were practically killing an audience who was desperate to continue watching the high-energy and passionate performances of Los Mejicas, the stars of the night.  Remember, less is more and what are you told to do before you leave your house? Look at yourself in the mirror and take one or two things that first catch your eye in the mirror… in Los Mejicas case, the two aforementioned numbers and the introductory narration done for each region before each number… hey, we have the program, so no need to eat time from your amazing performance. All in all, Los Mejicas folklorico company, because that’s what they are, are a fun bunch to watch, applaud and commend for their hard work, selfless dedication and effort to include all races to experience the wonders, and magic of Mexican folklore.  Keep up the good work ladies and gents… your hard work did not go unnoticed, and probably never will!

“Without Men” …and Without Reason!

Without Men Movie Poster

Dios mío! Where do I begin? I would like to preface this blog post by saying that I don’t like to bash or badmouth anything I dislike, but this particular film is so tragically wrong, that I find myself forced  by the spirits of some of Hollywood’s Latino long-gone legends  (Ricardo Montalban, Dolores Del Rio, Katy Jurado, Ricardo Arnaz, and Rita Hayworth) to dissuade you from watching Without Men by director Gabriela Tagliavini.  The film is an adaptation of a novel written by James Canon.

The premise of the film is as follows according to iMDV: The women of a remote Latin American town are forced to pick up the pieces and remake their world when all the town’s men are forcibly recruited by communist guerrillas.

While I’m a huge supporter of all things Latin, I think that Latino film makers in Hollywood with the exception of a very few, namely Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo del Toro and Carlos Saldanha, do Latino films for the sake of doing Latino-themed films… and that my friends, is simply and plainly called pandering to Latinos, which I find as trite and tiring as Lady Gaga pandering to “her” gays, as if she were their savior and only advocate.

Why can’t Latino film makers make films with universal themes that appeal to all?  With Latino actors, or not… but that are stories that anyone can relate to, without the obligatory and blatant Spanish/Latino pueblo setting, roosters and chickens, thick Spanish accents and brightly colored and exaggerated set designs and costumes?  Why can’t we have film makers that will appeal to other aspects of our rich heritage and stop making a caricature of the already tired Latino stereotype in this country?

For starters, the film takes place in some fictional town called “Mariquita,” strike one for gay denigration (this word in Spanish is derogatory for gay).  Second, all the actors speak English with some ridiculous thick Spanish accent, including Ms. Longoria, when in fact they should be speaking Spanish (that’s what subtitles are for; let the bilingual impaired deal with it).  And finally, the writing and the acting leave much to be desired.  The story line is ludicrous and the acting, well, let’s just say that some actors should stay in television, and others should really work on their acting skills.  The script was mediocre at best and plain out ridiculous at worse.

Kate Del Castillo

The ONLY good thing that happened in that movie, was the moment in which there’s an apparition, and I don’t mean of a celestial body, but of the devil herself masterfully manifested in Kate Del Castillo, the ONLY reason I would have suffered through this experience, had the film not pixellated twice (it was filmed in digital format) before I walked out of it. Talk about personifying a character… she actually looked butcher than me and she was supposed to, she was the devil incarnated in her heavenly and womanly self!  Now, that’s what I call acting.

The film had an interesting cast, composed of, shall we say, Retro B-stars such as Paul Rodriguez and Maria Conchita Alonso, to A-Listers such as Kate del Castillo herself, Eva Longoria, Christian Slater, Cameron Manheim, and The Office’s Oscar Nuñez.  I was expecting to see Sofia Vergara, Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, Rita Moreno, Benjamin Bratt, Elizabeth Peña and Esai Morales jump out of the screen as well, since the film practically was oozing “Latinoness” from every angle possible.

Why Eva Longoria would do this film? well, desperate times call for desperate measures I suppose, but Kate del Castillo?  Honey, you’re coming off a tidal Tsunami wave with La Reina del Sur, I’m sure this was your community service for the year and I commend you for it, but quite frankly, you don’t need it, not after your Reina del Sur mega hit, and your previous work in Hollywood, e.g. Under the Same Moon, Julia, Trade, and Weeds!  Don’t do it again…you’re much better than that, and you know it.

I think Latinos in Hollywood need to watch more film makers south of the border to see the universal themes being captured, without the unnecessary use of Latino themes per se… I don’t wear zarapes or “espeak wiss an ascent,” come on guys, it’s a de-service to all Latinos.  We know who we are, and we don’t need to be constantly reminded of the burros and roosters, and the Latino parody that is already perpetuated by mainstream Hollywood.

Give us stories of real Latinos: struggling college students, high-powered attorneys, politicians, surgeons, scientists, and corporate leaders with human interest stories, but above all, give us great story telling, like the great directors of Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema.  Learn from the past and apply it to the complex American Latino of the present… make it believable.

Until then, we will continue to be just that, a caricature, an ongoing joke of what “Mainstream America” thinks Latinos all look like.  Ya basta!  We don’t need it from Latino film makers.

And I’m not all evil.  Favorite Latino films of all time in no particular order: (If I missed some, let me know!)

  • El Norte
  • Mi Familia
  •  I Like it Like That
  • Mambo Kings
  • Selena
  • Luminarias
  • La Mission
  • Quinceañera
  • Under the Same Moon
  • Star Maps

Sobrenatural, así es Gloria!

Gloria Trevi

En la Gloria! Si, así se es como se siente Gloria Trevi en este 2011.  No solo por su nueva producción que lleva ese mismo nombre, y no Gloria por ella, no, que quede claro que el tituló de su última producción es en honor a su madre, cuya fuerza e instintos felinos han siempre ayudado a Gloria Trevi a sobrevivir los obstáculos y controversias que la vida le ha puesto en su camino, así que por Gloria, la responsable de este icono de la música pop en español es como damos inicio al recuento del exitazo de una de las máximas exponentes del pop en español. El primer sencillo del disco fue “Me río de ti” y según ella, el segundo sencillo (Vestida de azúcar) ha tenido que demorarse un poco gracias al éxito y la aceptación que esta punta de lanza ha tenido.

Sí, la Trevi es sobrenatural en todo el sentido de la palabra y basta solamente con ver la portada del nuevo disco para saber que no solamente se encuentra en la Gloria, sino que vive quizá el momento más eufórico de su vida, con un centro y un compás que nace de su núcleo familiar y la felicidad que encuentra en su nueva vida matrimonial, así como el de su etapa de madre de ahora tres hijos, con quien comparte quizá los momentos mas íntimos de su vida.  Y esa felicidad es mas que evidente en Gloria, la portada es sólo la ventana de una producción que derrama ilusión, amor, pasión, positividad y sobre todo un nuevo amanecer; esa evolución artística y personal que sólo seres como Gloria pueden compartir con su público.

Gloria Album Cover

Gloria es un disco, muy divertido, muy completo, muy ecléctico y muy rítmico. Háblanos sobre la inspiración de este disco y como seleccionaste las canciones?

Gloria Trevi: Fue dificilísimo, porque primero fueron miles de canciones compuestas por mí y por otras personas, un taller de composición que hice con varios colegas; a la mera hora ya cuando tenía 100 canciones seleccionadas de miles, fue bien difícil llegar a 23 y cuando estaba en 23, lo que siguió fue amputación wey. O sea, era muy difícil sacar canciones de esas 23. Lo que me consoló fue decir– sabes qué, no es el momento, no es el concepto, aunque suene bien, el concepto de este disco es Gloria–, en el momento en que yo estaba organizando este disco, yo estaba con mucha incertidumbre, mi mamá estaba con su problema y realmente me era difícil concentrarme hasta que me cayó el veinte de que mi madre se llama Gloria y Gloria es lo que todos nos merecemos. Entonces dije– este disco se va a llamar Gloria y no por Gloria Trevi–, porque cuando estoy en el escenario y canto “El recuento de los daños”, o canto “Pelo suelto” o “Todos me miran”, o “Cinco minutos” y la gente se vuelve loca y grita y baila y se entrega, ya no son mis éxitos, son sus historias. Entonces siento que sus historias tienen que ser de Gloria y es por eso que puse este nombre.

La portada del disco, bueno soy acuariana, soy súper idealista y quiero juntar elementos.  En este disco hay una canción que se llama “La noche”, por eso parece de repente un atardecer, y otra que se llama “Despiértame”, que es una de las canciones de este disco, pa’ llorar y puede parecer un amanecer.  La actitud de “Sobrenatural”, o sea, quise juntar muchas cosas en la portada que tengan que ver con cada una de las canciones de este disco.

Para leer la entrevista exclusiva completa que hice para la revista Padrisimo Magazine, favor de visitar el sitio web de Padrisimo!

A Latina with Soul- And She’s Bi (Bilingual and Bicultural)!

NUEVA LATINA

Karen Rodriguez on American Idol (Season 10) is Bilingual and Bicultural!

There is no doubt in my mind that American Idol’s 10th Season is perhaps the most talent-charged and exciting season yet. The contestants this year are truly talented young singers and choosing my top contestants has been perplexing at best, and challenging at worse.  Also worth mentioning is the great chemistry that is unfolding on national television between the debutant judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez with veteran judge Randy Jackson; guess Idol can survive without space cadet and messy Paula Abdul and cranky yet brutally honest Simon Cowell, who knew?  But what’s even more exciting about this new Idol serving is that we finally have  a worthy Latina on the show, who seems to slowly but surely be coming out of her shell and is showing America that she can really sing, not only in English but also in her native Spanish language.  While I must admit that at first I was a bit concerned with her “Selena-esque” tendencies, I’m glad she chose to do Taylor Dayne’s Love Will Lead You Back as the tune from the year she was born.  What I love about Karen is the pride she has for her culture and heritage, and while it may seem that she over does the Latin thing at times, well, I’m glad she’s doing it.  Latinos are the largest minority group in the U.S., and Karen is letting the rest of White and Black America know that we’re not invisible and that we can be as American as Chevy and apple pie, yet be bicultural and bilingual.  So tonight, Karen did just that, and just as everyone thought she was belting out Taylor Dayne’s tune in English only, she ensured to throw her Latin signature with Mexican pop diva Yuri‘s Spanish lyrics of her own version Quien Eres Tu towards the end of the song.  Karen may be the Nuovo Latino, but continues the rich tradition of bilingual performers that came before her like Desi Arnaz, Richie Valens, Gloria Estefan, Mellow Man Ace, Los Lobos, and Carlos Santana to name a few.  Karen, you make us all very proud, so “echa pa’lante” girl!  (Other faves to look out for: Jacob Lusk, James Durbin, Stefano Langone, Pia Toscano, Naima Adedapo and Casey Abrams).

Taylor Dayne
Yuri