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Hello (México) Brooklyn, Part I: Red Hook

My assignment is Brooklyn. Within that assignment I have to choose 1 hood out of 3 possibles. Although I began my research mission in Sunset Park, I ended it in Red Hook.  A couple of my fellow classmates scoffed when I mentioned the Hook. “It’s a dead industrial zone,” one said. “Oh, that’s where the Ikea is,” snorted another. Maybe they were both right.

My first time ever stepping foot in Red Hook took place this past Sunday. I got off the G train (I like the way that sounds…the “G” train) at Smith St. and 9th. It was raining off -and- on that day. A table was set up on the wet concrete outside the subway. Veronica, as she told me her name was, sold chopped fruit and agua de mango y de piña on a table covered with a red cloth. A man and two children, probably her family, played soccer with a plastic bottle as the G roared above. Veronica was even selling the pin wheel looking chicharron I snacked on so many times in Mexico City. Was I still in D.F.? Nah, I was in Brooklyn, baby.

Just a short 10 minute walk from the train, family day was going down at Red Hook Park. A local soccer league was kicking up dust, despite the clouds and drizzle.

Busting out my camera to snap flicks of the vatos playing futbol, I had to ignore the fact I was arousing suspicion. Who is this guy snapping fotos? I got dozens of the “who the f*** are you?” grills. But like my man Tone says about being a true reporter, sometimes you gotta be a dog.

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Machete vs SB1070

I enjoy seeing popular entertainment take a stand against injustice.

Last week, Robert Rodriguez released a mock trailer for his upcoming “Mexploitation” film, Machete, and aimed it directly at the home state of SB1070.

One thing that popped out at me was the Jessica Alba  line near the end:

“We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”

It also struck a chord with a lot of Spanish-language media. And that was perhaps because it sounded like a line from a 2001 Los Tigeres Del Norte song, “Somos Mas Americanos“.

“Yo no cruce la frontera, la frontera me cruzó”

Here are the translated lyrics to the song.

Of course, me…I immediatley thought of  the Malcolm X line:

We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, the rock was landed on us.”

You can see it below. As you do, think of what’s going on in Arizona, and the plight of poor people who go there for work, for better opportunities; and then think about what SB1070 is trying to do. Reminds you a little of Jim Crow. Doesn’t it?

Here’s the Denzel version (starts at 07:18-07:32)

Shouts to Cypress Hill for cancelling their May 21 show in Tuscon in protest.

¡ Ask a Jeweler !

I’ve been clearing out photos from an old laptop and came across this 2008 snapshot. Many southern rap fans probably know TV Johnny Dang from his appearances in Slim Thug or Paul Wall videos. I talked to him for this piece I did back in ’07.

Looking at this photo again, though, TV reminds me a lot of an acquaintance, OC Weekly writer Gustavo Arellano. Not sure this qualifies as a “separated at birth” post. You decide.

Gustavo, as you can tell from his column and complete grip on  the OC immigration debate, is a Mexican journalist. TV Johnny is Vietnamese jeweler to southern rap stars. The thing they both share, other than having parents who were born in other countries, is being very successful in what they do.

Cholo Rap: From California To Neza York

Pabellon Lindavista, Ticoman, Distrito Federal; October 18 2009    Photo Courtesy: Isela Martinez

Pabellon Lindavista, Ticoman, Distrito Federal; October 18 2009 Photo Courtesy: Isela Martinez

A hard-core rap concert takes place in a mall, just upstairs from a movie theater. No police presence to speak of and very light, but focused security.

Mexican rap (if it’s any surprise) thrives with its own sub-genres. You get the political message from a group like Advertencia Lirica, aging thug wisdom from MC Luka, the spirit of hipster D.F. gets a boost from Mood-Fu, and Pato Machete keeps heads nodding in his post-Control Machete years.

Nothing I’ve heard from groups like Kartel Aztlan or Cartel de Santa prepared me for a showcase of Chicano-style rap that I saw Sunday headlined by Kartel de las Calles along with acts like Neza’s El Plata Ramirez.

Rapper Plata Ramirez performing in Ticoman, October 2009

Rapper Plata Ramirez performing in Ticoman, October 2009

This was gangster culture as pop culture that I was witnessing (there was one vender selling Nike Cortez, Joker Brand bandanas, Dickies pants and dark sunglasses — a certain type of Mexican-American Apparel and the look of the SoCal cholo.)

Hip-hop culture is being used here to create an identity where rasta, emo, goth, punk, or sporting tight jeans and a colorful scarf just won’t cut it.

KDC rap crew take a breather after a quickie performance. Ticoman, D.F.; October 2009

KDC rap crew take a breather after a quickie performance. Ticoman, D.F.; October 2009

Concert-goers came from nearby places such as Naucalpan, Iztapalapa, Ecatepec, La Raza, and of course, Neza York (Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl) taking the bus or train in to commune with their peers.

Entrance to Pabellon Lindavista in Ticoman (D.F.) where the rap show was held. October, 2009

Entrance to Pabellon Lindavista in Ticoman (D.F.) where the rap show was held. October, 2009

There were young men and women with bandanas, jerseys emblazoned with “Los Angeles” in gothic text, “Sureño”, or the always ominous number “13” (as in the Mara kind) scrawled on their shirt backs, their necks, arms and hands.

Writing about the globalization of thug culture and cholo culture in Mexico is nothing new. I’m actually glad it’s been covered before.

Cholos grew out of Chicano, or Mexican-American culture, and found their greatest expression in East Lost Angeles.

Cholo style was most definitely a result of the Mexican immigrant experience in the southern U.S. as opposed to a style found in Mexico itself.

Wrote Jeremy Schwartz in a blog post about noted Mexico City photographer Federico Gama’s pictorial on Neza York cholos in the late 90’s.

Gama’s is a fascinating piece of work and you can see more here, following his bio.

Fans show their approval with distinct hand signs, or just mimicking L.A. gang culture? Ticoman, D.F.; October 2009

Fans show their approval with distinct hand signs, or just mimicking L.A. gang culture? Ticoman, D.F.; October 2009

It can seem like aping the culture created in Southern California, but without the high potential for danger associated with venues exclusive to gang-friendly crowds. Still, how can you judge how peer groups want to express their identity? Besides, with every “carnal” or “güey” that I heard, I realized this was Mexico’s young generation making cholo rap their own.

Rapper Tetos gave a controlled performance. Ticoman, D.F.;October 18, 2009

Rapper Tetos gave a controlled performance. Ticoman, D.F.;October 18, 2009

Here’s Teto’s set.

Plata Ramirez had good energy:

Sombras Urbanas also did their thing:

For more on other performers that played on Sunday check out:

Nasion Sureña Mexicana (NSM)

Loco Nueces

Kraneo

Don KFE

And for more info on cholo rap on it’s home turf, check out:

Chola rappers

Surenorap.com

Chicano Rap Mag

Looong list of Chicano rap artists

And what some of the smarter folks have to say about it.

IF that’s not enough, download this mixtape for healthy dose of Mexican rap:

At the Movies: Illegal Immigration and Los Tigres del Norte

"EL NORTE": Zaide Silvia Gutierrez in a scene from Gregory Nava's 1983 movie.

"EL NORTE": Zaide Silvia Gutierrez in a scene from Gregory Nava's 1983 movie.

“The flood of Hispanic immigrants into American communities for work helped provide cover for traffickers looking to expand into new markets. Shelby has long been Alabama’s fastest-growing county, and the number of Hispanics grew 126 percent from 2000 to 2007.”

Hispanic“? You gotta love that all-inclusive word.

The quoted passage at the beginning of this post is taken from an alarmist piece that ran in the Associated Press recently, detailing a quintuple homicide in Alabama that authorities have been investigating since August 2008. Officials are pointing fingers at the Gulf Cartel.

As most of you already know, President Obama was recently in town to talk drugs and the border. With so much on his plate already, illegal immigration and the problems along the Mexico/U.S. border are just pieces of the puzzle millions are looking at him to solve. Good luck, my dude.

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