Tag: Los Angeles

Straight Outta That One Place

I’m old enough to remember when hip-hop first broke through. I’m talking about artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slick Rick, and Run DMC. And what about Kid Frost, arguably the first Latino rapper?

Of course, I definitely remember the first time I heard NWA. Those guys were fucking terrifying.



At the time, I had never been to Los Angeles. Now I live here — something I could not have predicted all those years ago. And yes, I have spent a little time in South Central.

Compton today is not the gangsta mecca that is was back in the day. The city still struggles with poverty and unemployment. But crime — especially homicide — has plummeted in recent years.

And for the place that symbolized African American disillusionment, there is some irony in the fact that Latinos now make up about two-thirds of the city.

Does this mean everything got better when Hispanics moved in? Well, that would be an interesting, even bigoted claim to make.

There are, of course, myriad reasons for Compton’s improvement over the decades, but it is undeniable that Hispanics have changed the city in many ways.

Naturally, culture clashes have occurred. It is human nature, unfortunately, for tribalism to kick in when “outsiders” show up. And that’s true whether it’s blacks moving in white neighborhoods, whites moving into Latino neighborhoods, Hispanics moving into black neighborhoods, and so on in every combination of cultural and ethnic diaspora possible.

But again, does the fact that this particular city is a lot more livable than it was thirty years ago mean that the album Straight Outta Compton is a period piece? Hardly — nor is the movie a look back at a distant past that is inconceivable to us.

Events in Ferguson and around the nation are enough to prove that.

The man himself, Ice Cube, says the only change in race relations is that cell phones now exist so that violent confrontations can be filmed.

Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy.


All Waffles Come With a Side of Hatred

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, “Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?”

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

dead snow


In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.


Like a Burst Piñata

Say you open a small business. You run it for a few years, do pretty well, and always pay your debts (especially the rent) on time.

Then you arrive at work one morning to find a bulldozer parked in the pile of rubble that used to be your store.

pinata wreckage

You might get the impression that something was slightly amiss.

Well, recently, a piñata store in Austin was demolished, without the storeowners’ knowledge and with their possessions still inside. The storeowners, who are Latino, say that the greedy landlords bulldozed the store because they could get more money from the tech companies that are moving into the area.

The storeowners had a lease through 2017 and had just paid the rent for the upcoming month. When confronted about their reckless destruction of the store, one of the landlords (yes, a rich white guy) used the term “roaches” to describe the storeowners. Remember that the storeowners are Hispanic. Clearly, the term “roaches” was not an accident.

The incident shows how Latino neighborhoods are literally and figuratively being displaced for upscale residents. There have been numerous flare-ups in Austin over gentrification, with many Latino leaders claiming that rich newcomers are driving out long-time residents. And there have been similar disputes in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, often in Hispanic neighborhoods that are changing rapidly.

And here’s where it gets conspiratorial.

A recent study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified than African American neighborhoods.

Harvard researchers analyzed patterns across Chicago and found that gentrifying neighborhoods tended to be predominantly Latino or white working class, with fewer African Americans.

The study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified in the traditional sense (i.e., young white newcomers moving into the area). And they are also more likely to receive the theoretical benefits of gentrification (e.g., urban renewal and municipal investment). No word, however, on what happens to Hispanic residents when the bulldozers get revved up.

Keep in mind that the same study also implied that there is a tipping point, where the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood either makes gentrification likely or unlikely.

Basically, too many black people keep the white people away.

Why are Latino neighborhoods more attractive to white gentrifiers? Well, there is no hard data on that, and it’s unlikely that a future study will include the question, “Why are you ok moving in next to brown people, but not black people?” Although the answers would be illuminating, to say the least.

The researchers said that in addition to their statistical proof, there is anecdotal evidence that Latino neighborhoods are viewed as more desirable to gentrifiers than African American areas.

For example, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — often pointed to as the prime example of gentrification — previously had a large Latino population. That’s not the case anymore, as the cliché of the young hipster inevitably features a white guy (usually with some bizarre nineteenth-century facial hair, but that’s another story).

In response to this dark side of gentrification, some Latino community leaders in Los Angeles launched the “gente-fication” movement (“gente” is Spanish for “people,” but you already knew that).

The idea is that upscale Latinos will stay — or in some cases, move into — Latino neighborhoods and revitalize the area themselves rather than rely on newcomers. The trend has slowly caught on in other cities, such as New York, Houston and Phoenix.

Although results are difficult to quantify, the LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights may be in the midst of a Latino renaissance, due in part to the gente-fication movement. And community activists are attempting to duplicate the neighborhood’s success in other Los Angeles areas.

But the movement has drawn fire for what some claim is an exclusionary, or even racist attitude. After all, if you’re saying that you want a specific racial or ethnic group to move in — whether it’s white, black, Latino, or other — things quickly get uncomfortable.

Where all this will lead is a mystery. Perhaps gentrification will wipe us all out. Or maybe we’ll achieve some kind of balance where newcomers enrich neighborhoods while long-time residents maintain the area’s culture.

In any case, hopefully no more piñata stores will get bulldozed.

It’s About Branding

There I was, ready to enjoy some enchiladas suizas and a generous helping of tequila, when I saw them.

But first, let me be clear about the Mexican restaurant in which I was dining. Years ago, I saw Brad Pitt in the place. He wasn’t around on this night, so I don’t want to implicate him. The point is that this is a popular LA site that teeters on the edge of authenticity (good food in a simple setting) and hipster irony (the kid of place where Brad Pitt walks in to show off his bona fides).

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see a large table of yuppies (tangent: do yuppies still exist?) hooting and hollering nearby. It was a birthday party apparently, and they had their own wait staff.

Now, the waiters and waitresses for our area were dressed casually, in jeans and polo shirts. The wait staff for the private party, however, was dressed, well, more colorfully.

The waitresses had frilly dresses and Carmen Miranda-style headpieces, and the waiters were decked out in campesino attire, complete with huge sombreros.



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Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.


That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.


Keep the Scary Stuff Coming

Whenever I run a contest for free movie tickets, I ask myself three questions:

  1. Does the movie feature Latino themes or tell a Latino-centric story?
  2. Are there any Hispanic actors or actresses in prominent roles?
  3. Is it a horror movie?

For the most part, the answer to #1 is “No, because they don’t make those,” and the answer to #2 is “Maybe, but probably not.”

So I run a lot of contests for horror movies, and as we all know, we Hispanics love those.

As such, I’m offering you the chance to win passes to a screening of The Lazarus Effect, which is about a group of scientists “who achieve the unimaginable — bringing the dead back to life.”

July 2 Lazarus photos by Suzie Hanover400.NEF


You can catch it in one of the following cities:


El Paso

Los Angeles


New York City

All you have to do is comment on one of my posts (including this one) about anything you please. Just make sure to tell me what city you plan to see the movie in, and tell me what names (up to two people) I should put on the guest list.

I’ll announce the contest winners in the next week or so.

Until then, please avoid resurrecting corpses. That kind of thing seldom turns out well for anyone involved.



I’ve lived in Los Angeles, on and off, for about ten years now. I love it here, and I believe it’s one of the greatest cities in the world.

la moon


But like any metro, it has its problems. Many of those can be summed up in the work “traffic,” but of course there are deeper issues as well.

The always-insightful Chris Rock recently addressed one of those problems when he wrote the following:

“There’s a slave state in LA. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in LA that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

I can vouch for the fact that multitudes of Hispanics (not just Mexicans) are constantly serving white people in LA. This issue crisscrosses some of our favorite topics — race, ethnicity, class, wage disparity, egalitarianism, free will, and so on — and it will not be resolved anytime soon.

But while Rock’s slave quote got a lot of attention, I thought his more salient point was the following:

“You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? There’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot.”

Yes, it’s not just that Latinos are a perpetual underclass in LA (and indeed, in much of America). It is that even the best and brightest do not have the same resources and access that most white people — even the no-talents and the mediocre — take for granted.

In essence, it’s tough to stop being a slave. But as history has shown us, not only can it be done, but it will be accomplished, eventually.


The Big Picture

As I am fond of mentioning, I live in beautiful Southern California, where I frequently soak up the sun, hike in the hills, hit the beach, and hobnob with celebrities.

Well, in truth, I have rarely hobnobbed in general, and even fewer times with anyone who could remotely be called a celebrity. But we LA residents do see A-listers out and about on occasion.

Very few of those stars are Hispanic, as I’ve pointed out before. But now we have statistical evidence that Latinos are not getting their shot at the silver screen.

A new study shows that over the last six years, there has been “no meaningful difference in the representation of characters from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Since 2008, the number of Hispanics onscreen rose from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent. Latinos are about 17% of the American population, so Hispanic representation in film would have to triple to even be close to reflecting reality.

In fact, another study found that there are actually “fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today than there were seventy years ago.” Ouch…

Now is a good time to point out that Hispanics (including me) are avid fans of the cinema. In fact, Latinos bought more than one-quarter of the tickets to movies last year. And we don’t even want to get into how much we support certain genres (e.g., horror movies) more than most people.

But there was one positive note in the report. Surprisingly, Hispanic females were more likely to be featured in popular films than were white females or Asian females.

Still, even that comes with a caveat. You see, “Hispanic females were also more likely to be shown either partially or totally nude onscreen than any other race [and] seem to be more hypersexualized than their female counterparts from other groups.”

Yes, when it comes to American movies, Latinas are both underrepresented and underdressed.

Of course, the idea that the entertainment industry would objectify a Latina is ludicrous.


Yup, just plain crazy.


Small Screen Quartet

I live in Los Angeles, so updates about the entertainment industry count as local news. As such, I couldn’t help but notice the following item:

In a “first in U.S. English-language television history,” four Latinas are headlining their own series. Cristela Alonzo stars in Cristela, Callie Hernandez is in The Club (both on ABC), Gina Rodriguez is in the CW’s Jane the Virgin, and NBC’s Shades of Blue stars our old friend Jennifer Lopez.


Now, I have no idea what these shows are about, or if any of them are remotely good. For all I know, they will all be cancelled a month into the season.

Regardless of their fate or pedigree, however, it is unquestionably a positive development that Hispanics are getting more representation on television, and even better, that starring roles are becoming more plentiful. And yes, that’s true even if JLo is involved (just kidding, Ms, Lopez; you know we all love you).

I’ll try to check out these shows when they come on. In the meantime, I will continue pitching my own idea for a show, which is about a gritty, truth-seeking Latino blogger who is smart, sexy, and devilishly handsome.

What can I say? The idea just popped into my head.

Shakin’ All Over

Last week, for the second time this month, we had a significant temblor give our house a shake. We live in Los Angeles, so this kind of thing is not unexpected. Our one-year-old son, native Californian that he is, even slept through the last one.

But I’ve noticed something more than a little off-putting about the nation’s reaction to California earthquakes. Message boards and internet commentary usually light with people proclaiming their earnest wish that all of us out here in California, well, just die horrible deaths.

Some of the comments I saw included, “Too bad it wasn’t the Big One,” and “Waiting for California to slide into the ocean. Goodbye, weirdoes!” and “If only earth would finish the job and slide that festering leftist infection into the depths of the Pacific.”

It doesn’t seem to work the other way. When tornadoes hit Missouri, I don’t see commentators wishing that the entire state be blown away. And when hurricanes hit Florida, there is often an outpouring of goodwill and wishes for those in the storm’s path.

But California? Well, I guess we deserve to get swallowed up by the Earth.


Of course, a lot of the animosity is directed toward our state’s undocumented immigrants, which if you believe right-wing media, currently account for 90 percent of the population.

The rest of it seems to be a combination of petty jealousy over our good weather, disdain for Hollywood celebrities, and vitriol aimed at our state’s frequently liberal policies.

But regardless of your political viewpoint, I would add that if the thought of thousands, perhaps, millions of your fellow Americans meeting a sudden, violent death is something that fills you with glee or smug satisfaction, then there is very little difference between you and Al Quada.

In any case, we here in California are not pleading for you to stop picking on us. We would just like the haters to acknowledge their irrational anger and stop pretending to love America (while despising its largest state and wishing destruction upon all who live there).

And to be honest, we are concerned about the next big earthquake. We’re worried that all of you will drop off into the Atlantic.


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