Sunday, February 27, 2011

Banksy in L.A.: The Academy Awards Edition

I'm sitting in my living room at this moment watching, like many others around the country, the Academy Awards. One person in town for the event is world renowned street artist Banksy. How do we know he is in L.A.? Because he left his tracks on the eastside of town.

Photo taken from

The blogger, LA Eastside found this Banksy original on the corner of 1st and Soto St, in a part of town known as East L.A. or Boyle Heights. From those not from Los Angeles, this area sits in the shadows east of Downtown L.A. and is home to many Latino immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, cultural centers like Josefina Lopez's Casa 0101 and Corazon del Pueblo, as well as long lasting Mexican-American families like my own. My grandparents moved into a home only blocks from this corner 50 years ago when they first came to the U.S., and my grandmother continues to live in that same home today. This is what I often call, my L.A. As young and beautiful people from all over the country continue to flock to Los Angeles every year, heads filled with dreams of being high, hip, and on TV, there is another L.A., my L.A. that is rich with culture and a long history.

Banksy is currently in L.A. for an Academy nomination for his documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. It's good to know that true artists will always work to bring light to a greater struggle. Banksy may be in Los Angeles to participate in the Hollywood dream, but he is also aware of its reality.

And the reality of street art is nothing lasts, as shown in this post by Melrose & Fairfax blog.

Photo taken from

One or two days after going up, Banksy's latest stencil was tagged by a graffiti artist before the whole thing was cut out of the wall, probably to be auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some seem outraged by the vandalism of Banksy's piece and the cutting of the wall, but I'm sure Banksy is more than happy with this one piece's journey. It is what Exit Through the Gift Shop is about, after all. Banksy isn't working under some naive belief that his artwork will be left alone. But I like to believe that the owners of that building, those who cut the wall, are a hardworking, immigrant family who could use the extra money to send their kids to school. That would make for a nice Hollywood fantasy. Maybe Selena Gomez will play the smart, but sassy daughter who can finally head to Stanford after struggling all through her youth selling oranges on the street in the Movie. Take that Christian Bale.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Applecore (Baltimore): Are Chip n' Dale Mexican?

When I was a kid the classic Disney cartoons--Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip n' Dale--were regular guests at hour house. We had a collection of VHS Walt Disney Home Video Cartoon Classics: Goofy Sports, Scary Tales, Halloween Haunt, Mickey & The Gang, and on any given evening one of my brothers or me would pick which to watch. As a family we guffawed at Goofy's transformation into Mr. Motor bulldozing down a cartooned 110 freeway in a yellow sports car, watched in merriment as Mickey, Goofy, and Donald traveled the open road in a silver airstream, and let our eyes widen like Donald's hungry gaping beak as Mickey shaved the last slice of bread into paper thin translucent sheets for dinner before selling the farm cow for magic beans and climbing the stalk. We practiced our best "Wahahahooee!", competed around the dinner table to see who could eat their corn on the cob like a typewriter like Donald, and memorized lines to make the others laugh, "I smell chocolate pot roast with pisnacho-- with smicshmashmi-- with mishmashmo-- green gravey!" But my all time favorites were the ones starring Donald Duck as he engaged in epic, catastrophic battles of will with Chip n' Dale.

There was something about the escalation of violence between a tightly wound, anal retentive duck and mischevious chipmunks who happily ruin all his well-made plans that tickled me pink. Donald was always so earnest and meticulous about his model trains, toy planes, about cooking a hardy breakfast, clearing his front path of snow. And at the moment he has it just right, Chip n' Dale come in to take a joyride, sneak a tower of perfectly stacked flapjacks, eat all the apples, take all the popcorn. They unapologeticaly take and take from the fruits of Donald's hard work, and even though Donald retaliates, the battle always ends with a red-faced crazy-eyed duck sitting at the center of an atomic sized pile of rubble, and the chipmunks still sitting in their tree.

Recently, I decided to introduce my 5 year old nephew to some of my favorites via Youtube: Out of Scale, Apple Core, and Three for Breakfast. We watched together, and I was reminded of all those years back sitting in the living room with my brothers and our VHS collection sprawled on the floor. He laughed just like I thought he would at all the right spots. And while he laughed, I began to see these old favorites with new eyes.

Donald in his sailor uniform, with his well-manicured home, multitude of toys, all the necessary conveniences, and the chipmunks living off the land, working on a farm, camping in an orchard, always being chased out, always being blamed for stealing all the resources (Can you say taxpayer money?). These characters suddenly started to look familiar. Is Donald an all-American, veteran conservative? Are Chip n' Dale Mexican?

In the episode, Applecore, Donald owns an apple orchard. At the beginning of the cartoon he is taking stock of his land and picking apples. He is happy out in the fresh air, on the land he owns, ripe, red apples all around him. Then he turns one over in his hand and finds it infested with small bites. He then sees that all the apples have bites taken out of them. Of course, soon he finds Chip n' Dale and battle begins. Donald wants the stealing, loafing vermin off his land, and he will do anything, even resort to chemical warfare to get them out. But who was on the land first? Who do the apples really belong to? Hmmm.

In an episode titled Out of Scale, we first see Donald driving on a miniature locomotive, conductor's hat on his head, through a miniature town and countryside, but it's not quite finished, not quite perfected. He starts planting model trees until he runs into a real tree out of scale with the rest of his plan. He decides to uproot it, move it, and put a to scale miniature in its place. Chip n' Dale, just back from a nut gathering excursion climb up their tree to find it much changed. The tree is barely much taller then them, and before they can even comprehend what has happened, Donald comes and shakes them out of the tree and tries to chase them out. I think of Chavez Ravine, Arizona, and other stories from the southwest. Chip n' Dale illustrate a classic story of displacement.

As I have explored these stories, done all the important research aka watching cartoons (I love being a poet), I was surprised to find Donald a sympathetic character. I actually feel for Donald, all his hard work, his time put in, his youth spent defending our nation as a sailor in the Navy (as his uniform suggests). He reminds me of the older generation, people from my parent's generation who take pride in their gardens, in bricking the front porch, making the perfect batch of lemonade and sitting out on the new porch to drink it. Doesn't he deserve respect? Doesn't he deserve to enjoy the house owns, the life he worked hard to create without chipmunks coming in and stealing his pancakes, using his kitchen, eating his apples? It only seems fair. It took a cartoon duck with an anger management problem to help me begin to understand the motivations of the conservatives when it comes to the immigration issue. It doesn't mean I agree with them. It doesn't mean that I think the militia or SB1070 are right, but I can see where they are coming from. Maybe someone should show those militia a couple of episodes because they would see that creating a war zone never works out well. Just ask Donald.

Here is excerpt from a poem I'm working on inspired by the cartoon:

Out of Scale: The Assimilation of Chip n’ Dale

Chip n’ Dale carve dwelling into trunk,
gather chestnuts, horde berries,
need nothing. They are chipper chipmunks
until a duck steams forward on locomotive
with plans for a model town. A duck
in engineer cap plans a model life.
More tracks must be laid, more houses
tracked, more contracts written up.
Donald pauses, ponders the possibility
of a stadium for goofy sports, serious
money, but development is halted

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Publishing News

I'm excited to share one of my Chavez Ravine poems, "Mud-caked," has been published in the latest issue of The Los Angeles Review. Issue 9 features the work of Bruce Holland Rogers. Other contributors include Dana Gioia and Annie Finch.

"Mud-caked" is inspired by one of Don Normack's beautiful black and white photos that capture life in the now extinct Mexican neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine before homes were torn down for Dodger Stadium. The girl in the bottom left photo is the inspiration for my poem. I tried to give a glimpse of what her life may have been like with a thematic focus on ownership.
Photos are taken from Don Normack's Book Chavez Ravine: 1949.

Excerpt from "Mud-Caked":

Boys can battle for brown-grassed hills,
but they won’t snatch Bunny
—one mud-caked, plump-stuffed bunny—
from her tight grip. When she goes in for the night
she will tie Bunny to a pipe with twine:
her bunny, her patch of dirt, her pipe and twine.
Like a horse at a saloon, she will tie Bunny up
before going in for supper, before her mother can say,
“Don’t you dare bring that filthy thing in,”