"The Best Place To Be In Town"

Yesterday was a beautiful warm day with intermittent winds in the LA area. That day, February 17, Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural held it's 5th anniversary celebration in the Sylmar community of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. It was also a major benefit event with the goal of raising $10,000. With a notice to vacate by the end of the month, this was going to be Tia Chucha's last public event in that space.

Our patio area had shelves of books, CDs, T-shirts, and gift items for sale at 40 to 50 percent discount. Local vendors sold hand-made jewelry and art works, splitting the proceeds with Tia Chucha's. Home-made Mexican food sold at a another table, served by the women of the Northeast San Fernando Valley Sweat Lodge Circle. Inside, the coffee bar never stopped jumping--people kept coming for what might have been their last cup of Tia Chucha coffee (at least for a couple of years or so until we find a permanent or semi-permanent facility).

In one corner was a couple of tables and shelves for a silent auction of donated items that included paintings, poetry books, rare out-of-print Chicano First Edition books, signed galleys by authors like Sandra Cisneros, and more. A raffle of a Wii video game console and a Playstation 3 sold lots of tickets. The place was crowded with people from noon until 1:30 AM--we must have had 600 to 700 people in and out all day and night. We even had friends of mine from Japan, including record producer and writer Shin Miyata.

There was also a mural project with $10, $15, and $100 pieces that people could "buy" while several artists later finish painting the panels after all the donations are made.

The first few hours we had events for children--including stories, shadow puppets, comedy, and prizes, hosted by Alberto Ibarra of the Chusma Theater Collective. Other acts during this time included Alejandro LaBorde and his guitar class; children's book writer and storyteller, Rene Collato; The Edgars (a group made up of two Edgars); Trio Amor Y Paz; among others. We also had supporting words from State Assemblyman Richard Alarcon and our good friend, the bookseller and MacArthur Genius Award winner, Reuben Martinez of Libreria Martinez in Santa Ana, CA.

Also Hot 92 radio station set up a booth in the parking lot, thanks to Enrique Sanchez, Jr.

Our Azteca Danza group did two opening ceremonies at the start of the whole day and for the evenings festivities. They also closed with an homage to the four directions near the end. Thanks to Monique Orozco and all the danzantes for this great contribution.

I hosted the evening's events with an opening by Poets of the Roundtable--including Mike the Poet, Sarah Cruse, and the Bustop Prophet. We had amazing performances by groups that were born at Tia Chucha's like the Spanish-language rock band, Noxdiel; the Conscious Mexika Hip Hop group El Vuh; and the Spanish-language traditional and contempory sounds of Hijos de La Tierra. We also heard the guitar stylings of Alfredo Hidalgo and folk songs in Spanish and English by Big Joe Hurt. Local poets like Universe, Gabriela Garcia Medina, Anthony Sanchez, and the Hip Hop power of The Apostles also performed. Special quests included Dramon of West Africa with a powerful set of Djembe drum techniques (he's also Tia Chucha's West African Drumming instructor); Aztlan Unearthed (an encarnation of Aztlan Underground, the Chicano Nation's top Hip Hop hybrid poetry, rock & rap group); Mezklah, well-known compelling duo with guitar and voice; and the feverish Cumbia/Vallaneta group, Very Be Careful, who had everyone dancing--from the babies to the elderly.

We ended with a Fandango in the tradition of Veracruz, Mexico where jaraneros and singers come together to share verses and rhythms as dancers take turns on a tarima with their zapateado--rapid foot movements. This normally continues into the wee hours of the morning (sometimes for days) in the humid temperatures of Veracruz. We went as far as we could, lasting at least until 1:30 AM (although jaraneros and singers kept going just outside our doors for a while longer).

When all was done, it appeared we met our $10,000 goal (and may have exceeded it once we get all our pledged donations). More importantly, there were people who stayed with us all day. We also announced the location of Tia Chucha's new transitional space some 10 minutes by freeway from our present site. The location is at 10258 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91342 (on the 210 freeway between Pasadena and Sylmar, just off the Wheatland exit). The address, directions, and our upcoming events there--including a Grand Opening--we'll be announced on our website at www.tiachucha.com. We will also have a new phone number, but you can try 818-362-7060 for a possible recording on what this will be.

At the temporary location, we will not have a coffee bar nor the same square footage as the Sylmar location. But we will have our offices, some books for sale (mostly online and to institutions), and as many of our events as possible--including our popular Open Mic nights, Film nights, Noche Bohemia Nights, author readings, theater events, musical performances, and many of our workshops (guitar, drumming, DJing, writing, theater, film, Aztec dance, and more). We hope to re-start operations in March.

Moreover, this place will serve as our base of operations for a mobile Tia Chucha's--we plan to have workshops and some events in locations throughout the Northeast Valley, including Sylmar High School in the afternoons--and to carry out our strategic fundraising plan to raise from $250,000 to $1 million in two to three years for a new Tia Chucha's.

We are convinced we can do it. We must do this--the community is deserving of something beautiful and lasting, the likes of which we have not seen in the Chicano/Mexicano/Central American community to date.

It's hard to give thanks to the hundreds who have helped make Tia Chucha's what it is today. We had so many volunteers in the five years we've been here--painting, fixing, organizing, teaching, and more. I want to give a huge thanks--tlazhokamati--to all of you.

I do need to point out the unique contribution of my wonderful companion (my wife, the mother of my youngest sons, my best friend, indigenous elder, and fellow revolutionary), Trini Rodriguez. She managed the retail operations of Tia Chucha's for five years (which consisted of a coffee bar, bookstore, performance space, and cyber cafe) without no pay and sometimes 80-hour weeks (she also had to learn on the job, something I'm amazed to say she did at great odds). And the rest of my family (Andrea, Catalina, Ruben, Luis, and Ramiro) for being there every step of the way.

I want to thank Enrique Sanchez, our partner in this endeavor, including his wonderful family who worked here as well--in particular Luz, Esperanza, and Nani. I want to thank my fellow board members of the non-profit sister organization, Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural, who also voluntarily created from the ground up an amazing arts/music/writing/dance/theater/film workshop center. They are Angelica Loa and Victor Mendoza. Also our able program coordinator, Michael Centeno, and his film company partner, Andres Rubalcava, both of whom have been here since the beginning and have provided invaluable help, sacrifice, and knowledge.

We also have to thank our wonderful staff over these years, including Melissa, Silverio, Vanessa, Ray, Alicia, Joaquin, Marisol, Wendy, Nancy, Joe, Yuri, Yesenia, Carmen, Luz, Esperanza, Nani, and others (some have moved on, but we have nothing but love in our hearts for them). And people like Osvaldo--who did our first business plan--and Tito and Mari, who helped us visualize and set up everything in the first months of our planning.

I want to thank our collaborators--LA Commons, the Ford Amphitheater, Young Women's Circle, Tonantzin del Valle, Earth Company, Tres Chingazos Theater Collective, Chusma Theater Collective, Music LA, Sylmar Park, Sylmar High School, former Councilman Alex Padilla, Tia Chucha Press, Dos Manos Records, Xispas Magazine, among others. Also individuals and groups like Juan Pueblo, Mateo Hernandez, Monica Herrera, Hector Herrera, Licha Herrera, Cesar Castro, Luis Ruan, Adriana Guzman, Dolores Villanueva, Andrea Rodriguez, Mark Vallen, Quetzal, Upground, Blues Project, and so many others who have given of their time and energy to offer their time, teachings, funds, and art.

Over the years, we also had funding support--our first big funder was the Liberty Hill Foundation out of Santa Monica, CA that gave us three grants in the first three years of our existence--a million thanks. Also the Border Book Festival, which organized a fundraiser for us before we opened our doors in 2001 (in particular Denise Chavez and John Randall), netting $16,000. Also the Solidago Foundation (thanks Diane Cohen), the Youth Can Service, and the Middleton Foundation for their support of our early workshops in film and art.

Funders for others workshops, publishing, and events projects through the non-profit Centro include LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Toyota Sales, Attias Family Foundation, Not Just Us Foundation, among others.

Individual donors include Suzan Erem, Mel Gilman, Cynthia Cuza, Janice Witt, Cecelia Sorenson, Dave Marsh (of Rock & Rap Confidential and the Sirius Radio show "Kick Out the Jams"), John Densmore of the Doors, Charles Wright, the Luis & Trini Rodriguez Family, and many others (sorry I can't name them all)

We are most grateful for the donation in 2005 by the popular rock performer Bruce Springsteen, who never forgot our first meeting in 1984 when I was a struggling East LA poet/former steelworker and he was on tour for the "Born in the USA" tour helping de-industrialized communities, like those in Southeast LA, with funds and his presence. Thanks my friend--you are a man of true conscious and commitment.

I also want to thank my friend John Trudell, the Native American poet/leader who donated materials and his time for two events here; Tom Hayden, who arranged a C-Span TV crew for a wonderful talk he gave here on LA gangs; Alex Sanchez of Homies Unidos--gracias, carnal; Tony Hernandez and Caroline Maxwell; Fabian Montes of Homeboy Industries; Mike Garcia of ValleyCore; Tony LoRe; Enrique Perez; Frankie Firme; Hector Gonzalez and Steven Chavez of Rampart Records; Angel Cervantes; our accountant Victor Cervantes; PBS-TV (Realidades); Margarita Escontrias; David Sandoval; Lee Ballinger; Sher and Matt of C & C Printing in Pajaro, CA; the Mechas of Mission College, Cal State, Northridge, Valley College, Cal State LA, and others; Jose Maldonado; Margot Pepper; OmeAcatl; Robert "Picos" Beltran; Freddy Chavez; Orland Bishop; Michael Meade; Ruben Guevara; Fidel Rodriguez and his wife Xol; and the many instructors, teachers, speakers, presenters, poets, singers, bands, performers, and others who have been in and out of our lives over these years.

Also KCET-TV and the Union Bank of California for honoring Trini, Enrique and I in 2003 with "Local Heroes of the Community" awards.

And the many friends we have in the media--print, TV, and radio--who gave us amazing coverage, including those in the LA Times, La Opinion, LA Daily News, LA Weekly, Pasadena Weekly, City Beat, Whole Earth Times, People (En Espanol), North Valley News; the San Fernando Sun; KCET; Val Zavala and "Life & Times in LA"; Telemundo; Univision; KTLK-AM; Power 106; KJLH; and more, including the fantastic friends we've had at KPFK--you've been the best.

Remember--we are not closing down. We are not dying. We are only going through a transitional period. We will create an even better, bigger, and more phenomenal space in the Northeast Valley--perhaps two or three years from now.

Meantime, please check our website for our events schedule beginning in March at our new temporary location: www.tiachucha.com

And don't forget to come to our May 19 "Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung" literacy & arts festival in Sylmar Park. And "Tia Chucha's Benefit Night" on July 29 at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood--it's a 1,200-seat theater and we plan to pack it!


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