Monday, November 30, 2009

Guadalajaratrippin' Pt. 1 - Vexing in Mexico

I just returned from Guadalajara where I participated in the opening of Vexing: Female Voices from East LA, an exhibition tracing the history of Chicanas from East LA who have been defining punk from the late seventies to the present. The exhibit, which opened at The Claremont Museum about a year ago, is now residing at the MUSA (Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara).

I'm not going to tell you all about the International Book Fair, or about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa coughing up a politically correct answer when asked whether or not he liked punk rock (he likes all kinds of music)...seemed sort of odd that he would deliver a speech in a museum surrounded by punk mujeres if he doesn't really like punk but I guess he likes mujeres well enough.

Hmmm, I guess I'm feeling a little mean spirited today. I'm still irritated. My ego took its own little trip when I walked into the rotunda at the MUSA and noticed that there were histories of my two Las Tres bandmates and none of me. This area appeared to be the historical epicenter of the exhibit and although there were pictures of me and other female artists in different rooms, the absence of any written history of my contributions as an OG ELA punkera who was playing punk rock earlier than any of the women in that exhibit pissed me off.

"Did you fly me out to Guadalajara just to write me out of history?" I hissed at curator Pilar Tompkins.

"No, of course not. There are pictures of you in other rooms."

"At Claremont, you at least mentioned The Bags and showed where we fit into this history, but here - there's nothing." Pilar looked upset. I felt like a mean ole bully so I decided to walk away and wait until I could ambush co-curator Colin Gunckel and see if I could get an answer from him. I pulled him aside and asked him the same question. Colin apologized and said it had been an oversight because setting up the exhibit had been extremely difficult. I continued to press the issue. “I think there has been some confusion all along about what this show is trying to be. Is it about female punks from East LA? Is it about The Vex? Is it about the evolution of Chicana music?” My questions and accusations upset Colin. This was supposed to be a fun night. Although I was angry, I consider Colin a friend so I gave him a few choice words, accepted his apology and decided to move on.

Colin and I are remarkably elastic and we had no trouble jumping back into party mode after our little heart to heart. The crowd at the opening was a strange mix of suits and punks; highbrows sipping champagne from flutes eyed the teen punks suspiciously. It was a little tense. My bandmates and I had to run after the waiters to snag flutes off the trays as they tried to avoid us. When I walked back to where the flutes were being filled, the waiter pointed to a nicely dressed woman with perfectly flat-ironed hair and said, "She is telling us who we can give champagne to." I knew the woman. She was one of my fluffers who only a little while earlier had been telling me how happy she was that I was here and how much she respected my work. I had wondered then if she was a friend or faux, now I had my answer.

I showed him my lanyard and pointed to the words "Invitada de Honor" but he blew me off. Grrr... so much bullshit. This time I ran after the waiter and caught up to him just as he approached a group standing near the woman. He started handing out the champagne, deliberately avoiding me. A gentleman in the group handed me his flute and I thanked him with my best smile as the waiter huffed off to bring the approved guest a glass of champagne. Daggers from Miss Flat-Ironed cheered my heart.

Artist and musician Angie Garcia had designed furry panocha patches for us to pin onto our clothes. "Panocha" is slang for pussy in Mexico, and we wanted to put our pussy in their faces so my bandmates and I pinned the faux fur creations onto different parts our clothes. Bassist Sharon Needles pinned her triangular patch on her pants right over her real panocha, causing a few passersby to do a double take. I walked around the room using my panocha as a conversation starter.

"What do you think of my panocha?" I asked one man in a suit.

"What?" he asked nervously.

"My panocha pin, do you like it? He laughed warmly and stopped to talk to me and I was reminded not to judge people by their suits (my own hubby wears one everyday).

A breath of fresh air blew in with the Sirens who were just the right mix of cute, loud and irreverent. They stood in front of the screen where footage of one of their concerts was being projected and rocked out while the paparazzi (me included) snapped away. LOVE THEM!

It's funny but the whole us vs. them atmosphere made me enjoy the opening even more. It reminded me of what we were all riled up about in the early days of punk, this whole gentrification of what had once been an anti-establishment rebellion movement. It made me wish Jessee Zeroxed had been there to throw beer at his own artwork!

Later, The Sirens, our band (Teresa, Judy, Sharon, PK, Angie and I) and our other droogies all followed pie-eyed piper Colin Gunckle over to the Pulp Bar where the smoothest tequila and coldest buckets of beer awaited us. It wasn't long before we were all shouting "Panocha! Panocha! Panocha!" and the barkeep had to come over to our table. Instead of shushing us, she handed us Sharpies and asked us to go autograph her bathroom walls, which we did happily. Halfway through the second bottle of tequila, jet lag hit us so we said our goodbyes and went back to our hotel rooms to get some sleep.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

Playing Pet The Panocha in Guadalajara. Video courtesy of Danny Hound Dog.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Raising The Dead

Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated with all the preparation and excitement of Christmas in my house. While not strictly related to Halloween, in the U.S. the two holidays have become associated by virtue of their proximity to each other, but they are not the same celebration. Dia de los muertos takes place on November 2, the Catholic feast of All Souls Day (which is itself an attempt by the Church to syncretize the pre-Christian practice of communing with the dead at this time of year.)

Dia de los muertos is a time to reflect on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. The traditional practices are also predicated on the belief that for as long as we remember and honor our dead loved ones, they are still with us. To demonstrate our affection for those who have departed, we build altars and decorate them with photos, personal belongings, favorite foodstuffs and trinkets. We sprinkle marigold petals (the flower of the dead) and light candles to guide the spirits of our relatives home. We set out specially baked pan de muerto and brew hot mexican chocolate with cinnamon so that the aromas will entice the spirits to come and visit us. We decorate our homes with whimsical sugar skulls, calacas and calaveras to make light of death. Sometimes, we dress ourselves up in calavera makeup.

Greg and Alice in calavera makeup: "Hasta la muerte, 2009."

The photos below are from my family's Dia de los muertos altar for this year. I decided to build an altar for my parents, Manuel and Candelaria Armendariz and decorate it with some of their favorite things.

The altar for my mom and dad.

My parents and I used to play Loteria when I was little, so I covered the fireplace with Loteria cards. As I was setting this up, I remembered my father calling out the Loteria cards with funny sayings and rhymes. One of his sayings was "El caso (cazo) que te hago es poco," which was a pun meaning "I'm not paying attention to you."

El Cazo (tub) rhymes with el caso (attention). My friend Gabi wrote me and told me that Loteria cards used to scare her and I realized that some of the images might be scary for a little kid: la muerte (death, pictured as a skeleton), el diablito (devil), el valiente (a man brandishing a machete), la arana (spider), el corazon (a pierced heart), el borracho (drunk) staggering out of a bar...fodder for nightmares, but in my world, Loteria cards meant the family playing together, placing little beans on the game cards and calling out "Loteria!" By the time I was five, my father taught me to play poker, but I digress.

One of my dad's beloved ranchera records by Miguel Aceves Mejia is near the bottom and his old wooden cane (that was later used by my mother) is there, waiting for his return. My papi's old carpenter's mathematics manual is open in the foreground. You can't see them, but there are dried marigold petals sprinkled all over the altar. He loved the sweet Jarritos brand soda pop and would buy it by the case, probably not the best thing since he was a diabetic.

Altar para my padre.

In addition to his favorite soda, I set out his favorite Argus camera, a bottle of Tres Flores brillantina, muertitos playing billiards (like he used to) and Pan de Muerto. I scanned an old photo of him from Mexico and put that in a frame.

Altar para mi madre.

For my mami, I also scanned an old photo of her in Mexico and framed it. I set out a mug of Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate, Jumex canned juices, mazapan (candy), a miniature dining table displaying delicious foods, Pomada de la Campana for aches and pains, her dangling silver earring collection and one of the scandalous periodicals she loved to read. I would have put out a Whopper Jr. from Burger King but I am vegetarian.

This tradition really does raise the dead because the whole time you are planning and building your altar, you are concentrating on your loved ones, breathing life into memories while thinking of them. Last night, as I whisked the foaming hot chocolate into mugs, I watched from a distance as my husband explained the significance of the articles on the altar. My daughter watched him in wrapt attention and it made me feel like our whole family was somehow together because my daughter, who had never met my father and had only briefly known my mother, was getting to know them for the first time. My husband put the final touch on our offerings by putting in a DVD of "A Toda Maquina," a classic Mexican film with Pedro Infante and Luis Aguilar and a favorite of my mom and dad.

"I'm pretty sure they won't be able to resist this," he said. We curled up on the sofa to watch the movie with our hot chocolate, pan dulce and our daughter by our side, happy to be sharing this moment with each other and with the spirits of my mother and father.