Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles — the book presentation this Saturday

TYTT draft cover JPEGHey all — An invite  to the presentation of a book that grew out a tremendously successful series of nonfiction writing workshops I gave to new writers at East L.A. Public Library.

The presentation of  TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: East Los Angeles takes place this Saturday (April 26) at 2:30 pm, at the library, which is located at 4837 E 3rd St, (323-264-0155).

The volume is stunning for the variety and quality of the stories: A vet returning home from Vietnam; a janitor in Houston trying to find her children in Mexico; of braceros finding their way north and back home again; a man learning confidence as he woos a woman; a bus rider in Los Angeles; a mariachi singing for a heartbroken family on Christmas Eve.

All by folks who’d never published before: Andrew Ramirez, Celia Viramontes, Olivia Segura, Manuel Chaidez, Jacqueline Gonzalez, Joanne Mestaz, and Diego Renteria.

I call my workshops TELL YOUR TRUE TALE. They attempt to get new writers over the intimidating humps that keep them from realizing their writing dreams, and pushes them to start thinking like writers — all by mining the stories in their lives or those of people close to them.

Hope you all can make the presentation this Saturday, and pass along the word to others who might be interested.

Meanwhile, grab the book at Amazon.com.

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Good Friday in Los Angeles, a video

I was in downtown L.A. and encountered the Stations of the Cross near La Placita. So I made this short video.

Let me know what you think. I’m trying to put out one of these a week.

Share it if you like it … and feel free to subscribe to my Youtube station: True Tales Video.

 

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Escuinapa, Sinaloa – town of bicycles and mangos

I’m just back from Mexico where I spent a few days in the town of Escuinapa.

Escuinapa is in Sinaloa – a state with a heavy burden caused by the drug war and the fearsome cartel that bears the state’s name.

Here’s a video I made with an alternative view of the area. (I’m loving working video for another kind of storytelling, though clearly I’m still a technical babe in arms. Feel free to subscribe to my video channel, True Tales Video.)

I spoke there at a tourism conclave.

It was great to return to Mexico these last few days. I hope to go back a lot more now that I’m no longer with the LA Times.

I was also in Mazatlan, also in Sinaloa, and a couple hours away. Mazatlan is my favorite Mexican resort town, largely because along with spectacular beaches, there’s actually a city with real life going on. Its Old Town is one of the nicest in all of Mexico, and it’s hard to beat the pulmonias (golf cart taxis) as a mode of transportation.

More from there later.

But I was very happy to help present the new book by my friend, Arturo Santamaria, the sociologist who introduced me to the topic of beauty queens in Mazatlan.

De Carnaval, Reinas y Narc0 is about how beauty queens, beauty contests and drug trafficking all work together in Mazatlan and in Sinaloa.

Great stuff. Weird and wonderful stories.

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Leaving the L.A. Times

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Today was my last official day at the Los Angeles Times after 10 years at the paper.

It was a sad thing. I’ve been a reporter for 27 years. I was very happy to have worked at what amounted to my hometown paper.

I’m very proud of the stories I produced while I was there (see below). But I decided it was time to move on, so I resigned.

Journalism, you may have heard, is changing, and I want to see if I can change with it. So I’m heading back to my freelancing roots.

I’ve got a heroin book to finish, then a podcast to start, my Tell Your True Tale workshops to teach, this blog to write — and other stuff. I hope you’ll follow it all as I wrestle with this grand experiment.

As these LAT farewell notes to colleagues have become almost a genre in themselves, I’ll add mine:

Adios Amigos -

Though I’ve been gone for many months writing a book about the (suddenly recognized) heroin epidemic in America, today is officially my last day at the paper.

It’s been great fun writing about Cambodian doughnut kings and palm-tree trimmers, Oaxacan hamburger chefs and stolen tubas, about transgender hookers and hellacious windstorms, kidnappers in Phoenix and Indian toothbrush gurus in Buena Park, about gangster matriarchs on Drew Street and the Mexican Mafia in every barrio around.

Such a great town. So many sublime stories to tell. …

 So here’s wishing you all the best.

 See you on the street, or wherever those stories happen.

 Sam

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The obituary of a woman named Guadalupe

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I was meandering online this morning when I came upon the obituary of a woman who died a couple years ago.

I was struck by its simplicity — the spare way it summed up a life. I’ve removed her last name and re-lined the obituary to highlight its poetic sense.  Hope you like it …

GUADALUPE

March 16, 1913 – March 5, 2011
Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Guadalupe was the mother of 7 children.
She came to the U.S. in 1945 and raised her family in Los Angeles
With her husband, Luis , to whom she was married 77 years.
Up until the last days of her life
She lived in her home on Sichel Street in Lincoln Heights.
She loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren deeply.
All of us will miss her.

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NewsHour interview tonight, and KPCC this a.m.

Pardon the shameless promotion that every writer must do, but I’ll again by on the NewsHour tonight talking about Chapo Guzman’s arrest.

Meanwhile, you can listen to my interview on KPCC’s Take Two with Alex Cohen this morning on the same topic.

 

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The first Chapo Guzman corrido, post capture, with lyrics

This appears to be the first corrido written about the capture of El Chapo. Pretty quick. Pretty rough. Reminds me of some old blues song from Mississippi.

As I write, it’s been up about 20 hours, from what I can tell.

Here are a few parts roughly translated:

“When I heard the news that they’d grabbed Chapo Guzman …

I said it can’t be that the rooster is asleep.

He was the most wanted of the baddest guys in the world,

Captured in Mazatlan, by a corrupt government.

On the news we saw he wasn’t that concerned.

With the capture of Chapo, things won’t change.

Let’s see if he doesn’t surprise them, and he takes off again. …

Although I’ll be behind bars, he says, I’ll remain the king. …

Only he knows what he’s thinking.

But I assure you all that he has a lot of intelligence. …

I don’t know him, but it’s my opinion.

They say he helps people and has a big heart.

Although people may say something different, they know I’m right.

Many people are on his side and they won’t forget him.

The chain is long and this won’t be the end.

Arriba my Sinaloa and arriba Chapo Guzman.

____

Read more True Tales blogposts:

Barefoot Triqui indian basketball players come to Pico-Union

El Super workers are demanding better working conditions; reduced immigration the cause?

Cal Worthington, legendary car dealer is now dead. Se Habla Espanol!

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El Chapo falls … as Time hits the stands

As a reporter, I don’t believe too much in coincidences, especially when it comes to Mexican politics.

So, let’s say that the arrest this morning of drug megalord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, coming just as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is featured on the cover of Time Magazine, with the headline, Saving Mexico is, well … let’s say, it’s interesting.

The man flaunted his impunity and could, presumably, have been arrested many times — say, during his well-known marriage to a young girl in the mountains of Durango several years ago.

Guzman’s no dummy and he probably should have been ducking when he heard of the Time cover, which is rare territory for a Mexican president. Instead Guzman was at a condo complex in Mazatlan, my favorite Mexican resort town, as it prepares for its nationally famous Carnival, which tens of thousands of people attend. He was captured without a shot fired by the Mexican Navy, which is quickly becoming the country’s leading law enforcement agency, having also taken down Arturo Beltran Leyva, among others.

(According to the Mexico Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, Guzman used tunnels and even city drainage pipes to get around Mazatlan. Here, btw, is the press conference, which ends with them walking him before reports to a waiting helicopter.)

Pena Nieto has been roundly criticized for the way he’s waging the drug war. So Guzman’s arrest allows him to seriously recover his image, just as this cover hits the stands.

In the past, each Mexican president was supposed to get one kingpin to take down. Carlos Salinas had Joaquin Hernandez, aka La Quina, the oil union boss. Ernesto Zedillo had Juan Garcia Abrego, of the Gulf Cartel, though he tacked on Salinas’s brother, Raul, for good measure.

Vicente Fox broke with tradition and had Osiel Cardenas Guillen and the top Arellano Felix brothers. Felipe Calderon, who spent his sexenio mired in this awful war, took down numerous, including Los Zeta’s Heriberto Lazcano.

We’ll see how many more EPN has in him. After all, the Sinaloa Cartel still has Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada — who is Guzman’s partner and co-equal atop the organization.

Meanwhile, we’ll expect Guzman to remain locked up this time, and not escape as he did in 2001. Look, also, for him to be extradited quickly to the US, where he faces several major federal indictments for trafficking. (The DEA in Chicago is already saying they want him in court in that city.)

Cynicism aside, though, the arrest of the man Forbes once listed as one of the world’s wealthiest men is only to be applauded. It’s very much like the moment when Obama took out Osama bin-Laden.

Mostly, his arrest goes some distance to showing that the old idea of criminals protected by the regime is passing, however slowly, from Mexican political culture. Next up — a few governors, perhaps?

In fact, it opens the question of what comes next. More violence? Very possible, as groups regroup and fight for territories that were once settled issues. After all, this war really dates to the moment Osiel Cardenas Guillen was captured in 2003 and Chapo figured that was a good time to go after Gulf Cartel territory that he thought was vulnerable — incorrectly as it turned out.

Chapo’s story is an amazing one, as is the story of all the Sinaloan narcos. He, and most of the rest, grew from the Sinaloan mountains and, especially, the county of Badiraguato, hillbilly kids who rose to control the drug flow through the key points — known as plazas — along some 1400 miles of the 1900-miles border between Mexico and the United States. Sinaloans formed no fewer than three major drug cartels — and they feuded mightily through the years.

I’ve always thought it was one of the remarkable tales in the history of organized crime anywhere.

Sinaloa_Cartel_Plaza_Bosses_2013Some may say that Guzman will only be replaced by another. That’s possible.

Still, I’ve become a believer in the idea of taking out mafia kingpins.

They’re usually kingpins for a reason. They have remarkable organizational talents, great at logistics, and usually combine all that with a psychopathic taste for blood. Managing to smuggle tons of drugs across a well-guarded border using criminals and gang members is a real talent that I suspect few people truly possess. They’re not easily replaced.

I once interviewed a trafficker from Tijuana’s Arellano-Felix cartel. He said the beginning of the end for that now-fractured group came with the arrest of Ismael and Gilberto Higuera, who ran Tijuana and Mexicali for the brothers. The Higueras were experts at logistics, organization, and murder, he told me. The AF brothers relied on these guys and when they were gone, the organization fell apart. Soon Ramon Arellano Felix was dead and Benjamin was in prison, where he remains today.

So, we’ll see.

We’ll see, too, whether this has any effect on the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico, though I suspect not so much.

Meanwhile, the corrido factories ought to be working overtime as we speak.

In fact, Guzman’s power and the barbarism of the drug war he unleashed when he made that fateful move across Mexico to the Gulf states, changed forever the nature of the traditional corrido. It was once a brave genre of music, extolling lonely, heroic men, outgunned and doomed, who nobly faced off against power. Now the corrido is about praising the virtues of colossally rich, well-armed and bloodthirsty men whose power is beyond question. Ads, basically.

Chapo Guzman was a major subject of corridos (ballads) and he appeared to have an army of youtube.com producers churning out videos lauding his achievements.

Here are a few Guzman corridos from the past:

and

Photos: Most Wanted poster; Time Magazine cover, Wikipedia map of Sinaloa Plaza bosses.

Other Reporter’s Blog posts:

Last Arellano-Felix brother killed at birthday by clown.

Manuel Torres — El M1 – killed

Writing workshop in Stockton

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: the first book … East LA

TYTT draft cover JPEGI couldn’t be more proud to announce the first Tell Your True Tale book — now available on Amazon.com ($5.39 for paperback).

The book is a collection of nonfiction stories produced by writers in my TYTT workshop at East LA Public Library in its Chicano Resource Center over the last couple months.

The stories by seven first-time authors — of braceros, mariachis, bus riders and vets — are tremendous, and reflect ELA in a way that I think is profound.

(The book is also available on Kindle through Amazon, for $1.99.)

Tell Your True Tale, for those who don’t know, is my writing workshop, which I’ve given at several schools and colleges. The ELA workshop was the first outside a classroom. TYTT aims to get new writers working on stories about their own lives, or the stories of those close to them. Stories that are true but read like fiction are the goal.

So please take a moment to check out the book, buy it in the form you prefer, and share it with others.

I think you’ll be taken with what you read.

Btw, you can see other stories I’ve cajoled writers from across the country to submit by going to my Tell Your True Tale page at my website, www.samquinones.com.

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NewsHour/KPCC interviews on Heroin epidemic and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

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Hundreds Crowd to Watch Barefoot Triquis in Pico-Union

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The by-now world famous barefoot Triqui Indian basketball players from Oaxaca played their first games to huge crowds at a children’s tournament at Toberman Park in Pico-Union today.

The Triquis, ages 10 and 11, use an impressive warm-up routine, smothering full-court defense and able ball handling to suffocate opponents. They’re hampered only by the fact that their thin arms and small bodies can sometimes barely hoist the ball above the rim.

Still, one local team didn’t score and lost to what I took to be the Triqui’s second string, 10-0. Another team lost to the Triqui first string, 47-4.

As I wrote in a blogpost below, the team from Rio Venado, Oaxaca — some of whose players went barefoot today — comes from a school formed to instill discipline and conserve the group’s languages and traditions. Along the way, it has become a public-relations strategy to call attention to Mexican Indian poverty, and in particular that of the Triquis, who are Mexico’s most impoverished ethnic group.

Basketball being a huge community sport in Oaxacan L.A., the crowds were large and discerning and lined the court. Vendors also lined up to take advantage, selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs and ice cream.

As is often true about basketball in L.A.’s Oaxacan community, the event and the Triqui team became about something transcending sport, to include immigration, assimilation, poverty, and more.

“The reason these kids are better than ours is that we want to give our kids everything we never had when we were growing up poor, so we give them everything they ask for” and spoil them, said Enrique Perez, who sells cemetery plots in Inglewood, lives in West LA, and came from Oaxaca 20 years ago. “These Triqui kids have to earn it.”

Also, Perez went on, “here when you tell a kid to do something, he won’t. He calls the police. The kids in Mexico obey. So they’re more disciplined than ours.”

The team still had three games to play when I left and will finish the tournament next Saturday.

Don’t miss it.

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`Macho Prieto’ Dies — the most sung-about hitman in many a year

Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza, the alleged chief of hitmen for Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, himself the alleged co-leader of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, has been killed in Puerto Penasco, Sonora.

Inzunza, 42, was from Culiacan, Sinaloa and better known by his nickname, El Macho Prieto.
He ran operations for the cartel in Mexicali for the cartel, which had wrested the town and plaza away from the wounded Arellano Felix Cartel that controlled it for two decades before the early 200s.
The US government had deemed him one of its most-wanted drug traffickers and the Mexican government had offered a reward of 3 million pesos for him.

 

Apart from allegedly running a ruthless hit squad responsible for some 80 murders, including a dozen policemen, El Macho Prieto had what I thought was the distinction of being the hitman with most songs written about him, perhaps in the history of organized crime — mostly from singers in the Movimiento Alterado. The MA is a movement of singers, based here in Los Angeles, whose lyrics are as bloodthirsty as the people and killings they describe from the drug war down in Mexico.

The MA guys just loved singing about El Macho Prieto, as you will see if you do a Google search, as I just did, for “macho prieto corridos.”

As you can see, it took about five minutes for someone to write a corrido about his death and put it on youtube.com.

 

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Barefoot Triqui Indian BB players in town

 

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The barefoot Triqui Indian basketball team, from the mountains of Oaxaca, is in Los Angeles for a couple weeks.

The team of 10 and 11-year-olds from the village of Rio Venado, Oaxaca was welcomed with a brass band and a press conference at Casa Oaxaca in Mid-City.

A full schedule awaits. A tournament next two Saturdays. Visits to UCLA, USC, Disneyland, and the Lakers. As well as meals at several of the many Oaxacan restaurants that have proliferated in Pico-Union and West LA in the last 10 years.

The team formed out of an academy set up three years ago in Rio Venado, with a focus on bringing education to the isolated Triquis in the mountains of Oaxaca.

Since then, the boys, playing barefoot, have become something of international stars. They won a tournament in Argentina. They’ve toured Orlando and played the San Antonio Spurs barefoot in Mexico City, winning 10-4.

IMG_5957The Triquis (Tree-Kees) are considered among the poorest indigenous ethnic groups in Mexico. (Los Angeles has few Triquis, but they form a large part of the Central Valley agricultural labor force.) For years, the Triqui region has seemed stuck “in the 18th Century,” said Sergio Zuniga, the coach. “Their dream before was to finish elementary school and go the U.S.”

The academy formed to change that, with Triqui teachers. It adopted the attitude of making do with what it had available, which in Rio Venado doesn’t include tennis shoes. One thing that was available was basketball, which is a huge sport across the mountains of Oaxaca.

“In Mexico, we don’t teach the culture of competitiveness,” Zuniga said. “What we’re doing with these kids is teaching them competitiveness — that they learn to win and lose.”

Since then, the image of shoeless four-foot Indian basketball players has captured the imagination and sympathy of people across the continent.

The team amounts to a public-relations strategy to call attention to the long-forgotten Triqui region, where average education is four years. The Indian-taught academy spent its first 18 months without any help at all. But as the team garnered attention in the Washington Post and CNN, the Mexican government has supported it, promised to build houses for the players’ parents and pay for the kids’ education, including college.

“The idea for the school wasn’t to place blame [for the Triqui situation], but simply to act,” Zuniga said. “With Indians, we’re forming winners. This has astonished people [across the Americas] — how Indians are changing their history.”

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Alejandro Escovedo don’t need no six-string basses

photo (1)Last night, in the middle of a 90-minute set in West L.A., Alejandro Escovedo hunched over his black electric guitar and splayed his feet as if he was up against gale-force winds.

 He leaned into his lead guitarist and a schoolboy grin spread across his face.

I think the song was Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane.” But I can’t remember any more.

All I remember was the pure exhilaration on his face, which I took to mean that he still sucks a ton of joy from the simple act of playing in a band and getting it to thunder like a herd of African wildlife.photo(1)

I took my wife to see Escovedo at The Mint on Pico Boulevard (great place!).

He was backed by the Sensitive Boys. This was a real garage band – which is all any rock musician with any balls should aspire to. I mean, the drummer had only four drums. (Thanks, man!) The guitarist had two guitars. Same with Escovedo. The bassist – bless his heart — had only a four-string Fender.

The gear didn’t matter. What mattered was the spirit. The idea that all you needed was your own heart, and jagged point of view, and love of fun.

Escovedo knows how to choose a great cover (“All the Young Dudes”), but he’s not an oldies act. Just a survivor.

He made his life in a young man’s game and, more than 30 years later, continues to create within it. He’s got a bunch of albums of his own songwriting.

Escovedo is one of the few from the original wave of punk rock (1977-81) who’s still making music. He was in the SF punk band, the Nuns, then Rank n File. Moved to Austin. I think since the late 1980s he’s been crafting his own career as a singer-songwriter who plays acoustic guitar but whose big love is for a nasty old pawn-shop electric turned up loud.

But I don’t know his resume.

All I know is that mostly folks who started out with him are all dead or gone on to other things. Or they’re in the RocknRoll Hall of Fame, which amounts to the same thing.

Punk rock was a joyous moment, an essentially American thing. It told a bunch of kids who grew up on a rock music that was now fat and pompous: You know what? Screw Emerson Lake and Palmer.

You don’t need stacks of amps and $5000 guitars and walls of drums. Screw the elites. You can get up there and do it, too, if you have the spunk.

Hell, you don’t even need to know how to play.

And you damn sure don’t need one of those pretentious six-string bass guitars.

All you need is three chords and the hunch that you need to make life on your own terms. Record your own 45s, book your own gigs, print your own posters. Everything’s up to you. Just don’t ask permission.dead kennedys

That is healthy stuff for a kid to hear. It was for me. It changed my life, though I was never in a punk band. (I did promote my own punk shows, though. Even hired the Zeros, fronted by his brother, Javier, a time or two.)

Any pop music genre is born in times and circumstances and doesn’t easily survive their passing. Punk was no different. It died long ago. The blues died, too — years ago. People can still play it. They still play Dixieland in New Orleans. Doesn’t mean it’s vital any more.

But if it’s worth anything, that music will leave a residue of attitudes that helped create it.

Like gum stuck on a shoe, one piece of punk’s residue is Alejandro Escovedo. Now with “more miles than money,” to quote his lyric, the independence of his spirit doesn’t seem to have flagged much.

Last year’s “Man of the World” is the best straight-ahead, raspy garage rock song in years.

Last night, his “Rosalie” hit me as one of the purest love songs I’ve heard in a while. I’d heard it before, but not live, which helped, though I can’t say why. Maybe it was just more raw, like the feeling. It’s a true story of a boy from San Diego and a giphoto(5)rl from El Paso who met one day, fell in love, and spent the next seven years writing letters to each other until they saw each other again.

He filled the spaces between songs with stories of his family – parents and their 12 kids – coming out to Huntington Beach from San Antonio for vacation, seeing the beach and literally never going back, and of years later waiting outside the Whiskey to see the New York Dolls.

Then he sang another love song: “Sweet Jane” – it was to Lou Reed. “Sing it for Lou” he yelled, as the four chords to the song churned on and on through the night.

We did.

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Saudi Arabia expelling illegal immigrants

I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now.Saudi Arabia map.png

The kingdom of Saud apparently is suffering from unemployment. Many immigrants from the region are there illegally, and working. Tons of folks — 300,000 Sudanese alone, and thousands of Yemenis.

So the Saudis are giving them the boot — 28,000 in three days. Police killed an Ethiopian fellow who resisted arrest.

I’m getting all this from al-bab.com, a blog billing itself as “an open door to the Arab world” — which is well worth reading. Terrific blog.

Yemen, SA’s neighbor and closest cheap labor source, is worrying that remittances will drop, according to al-bab.com.

Immigrant street sweepers in one Saudi town struck in protest and Saudi officials took up their brooms in a symbolic act. Meanwhile, sweepers have been issued IDs to avoid them getting scooped up and sent home.

Yemen, meanwhile, has been expelling northern Africans, Ethiopians mainly, al-bab.com reports. These folks apparently going through Yemen headed to Saudi Arabia but couldn’t get in, so they stayed. Now Yemen is sending them home.

It’s all so reminiscent.

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