Tia Chucha's 2nd Annual Benefit Event -- an Amazing Evening of Music, Poetry, Aztec Dance, Hip Hop, Comedy & More

All I can say is a great big thank you to Angelinos from all over the LA area -- Chicanos, Mexicanos, Centro Americanos, but also African Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and European Americans -- who came out on a hot August evening on Sunday to help Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural, the nonprofit cultural space and bookstore that I helped create in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Talk about celebrating community and culture!

Like last year, we packed the house at the venerable John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood--despite the fact that UB-40 was playing at the Hollywood Bowl nearby (we could hear the applause and yells from the Bowl from where we were sitting). All the talent showed up on time and came through like the professionals they are.

And we had quite a line up--Tia Chucha's own Aztec Danza group, Temachtia Quetzacoatl, opened the event with their strong energy and spirit. Ernie G, one of LA's leading comedians and a barrio homeboy (a strong supporter of Tia Chucha's) again MCed (and also presented some hilarious lines). He introduced my wife Trini and I as co-founders of the original Tia Chucha's in Sylmar. Trini articulated some important thoughts including that we can't just depend on what we inherit, but that we must consider what we can create. It's the essence of Tia Chucha's philosophy, symbolized by our tag line (which also came from Trini): Where Art and Minds Meet -- for a Change.

I read a couple of poems, including a new one to my youngest sons, Ruben and Luis (who were also in the audience), called "Moonlight to Water."

This was followed by amazing sacred songs by long-time LA performer and community activist Nobuko Miyamoto. Then we had the sketch political comedy of Opening People's Minds and the conscious Mexika Hip Hop style of Olmeca. The next act had everyone on their feet (or swooning): Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. He's the Godfather of LA Funk, the creator of songs like "Express Yourself" and "Love Land" ("Express Yourself" has been in more than 30 commercials, more than 30 movie soundtracks, and has been heavily sampled by Rap artists over the years). Mr. Wright has some 50 years in the music business, and he still can rock and sing with the best of them.

East LA's best young band, Upground, came up next (they were here last year and came back by popular demand). They did bilingual Chicano ska, funk and cumbias. People danced in the aisles.

We didn't just end there. Cheech Marin, of the world renowned Cheech & Chong comedy duo, came up with a guitar and some funny stories. Both young and old laughed and remembered as he eventually led to his famous rendition of "Born in East LA" (borrowed with respect from Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA").

At the end, even Trini and I got up on the mike and sang the chorus over and over again, Although I've lived in East LA for 15 years, including where I first married, where my oldest kids first went to school, and where I first got into writing as a career, I was born in El Paso, Texas. And Trini was born in the Mexican migrant stream town of Martinez, CA (and later settled into the Northeast San Fernando Valley barrio of Pacoima). But we sang our little hearts out. "Born in East LA," is a metaphor about why East LA is so central to Chicano culture and history.

At some point, we were all born in East LA.

Tia Chucha's has had quite a summer so far of benefit events, music/art/writing/dance/theater workshops, Open Mic nights, literacy festivals, youth programming, and more.

Today many independent bookstores, cultural spaces, and art galleries are being forced to close with high rents, high-end developments, and the vagaries of the marketplace. Early last year, Tia Chucha's was forced to move out of our Sylmar space when our landlords practically tripled our rent. We moved into a smaller space in Lake View Terrace to keep the momentum going.

In the LA area alone we may be losing Self Help Graphics, Avenue 50 Studio, Acres of Books, and lately Antigua Cafe was forced to move. In the past few years we've seen the closing of the Midnight Special Bookstore, Luna Sol Cafe, Bohemias Books, 33 & a 1/3 Books, Carlota's Passion Art Gallery, Dutton's Bookstore, Under the Bridge Bookstore, and others.

Tia Chucha's benefit is a big step toward keeping our space alive -- with the goal of finding a bigger and better permanent or semi-permanent space in a year or two. But it's also about safeguarding and expanding neighborhood arts, cultural spaces, workshops spaces, art galleries, and the ever vital independent bookstores.

Again, thanks to the LA County Arts Commission, the Ford Theatres, the LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, all our donors and other funders, our amazing staff, board members, and volunteers, and all of Los Angeles--these are some great audiences. As a poet I agree with Walt Whitman--great poets need great audiences. This is true for other artists and truly community-based cultural institutions as well.


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