Faustino Diaz: Trombone master from Oaxaca in L.A.

Faustino Diaz, the Oaxacan trombone master, returns to Los Angeles this weekend for a concert at the Ukrainian Hall, 4315 Melrose Ave., this Sunday at 2 p.m.

Diaz thrilled Mexico last year when he won the International Trombone Competition in South Korea.1511733_908562385837387_4934257276349175473_n

A few days later he visited the Pico-Union District and the music school run by director Estanislao Maqueos, who has used his school to organize Oaxacan youth orchestras.

There, I had the chance to sit down and talk with him about his life, and having to venture out into the world to find his music like a migrant finds a future.

The interview is above and in Spanish.

Check out the concert. Should be good.

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Mexico victim, this time, of the New Kabuki

Twitter has been full of references to history and colonialism and Europeans stealing what rightfully belongs to Latin America.

Dutch airline KLM exacerbated things by apparently assigning the intern to PR. Anyway, somebody at KLM put up a BrUTRLDCMAAIiufphotoshopped tweet with a “Departures” sign next to the figure of a Mexican fellow in a large sombrero and thick mustache. “Adios Mexico” read the tweet that lasted about two minutes before it was taken down, but still preserved online.

Case you missed it, Mexico was robbed of its advance in the World Cup by a shameless flop by Dutch forward Arjen Robben.

It was an outrageous piece of work that any ref ought to have seen. Replays sure showed it. The flop led to a penalty kick that put Holland up 2-1.

Mexican coach Miguel Herrera said “the guy with the whistle” knocked Mexico from the World Cup.

Much as I was disgusted by the play, I don’t see Herrera’s complaint.

That’s soccer. Flopping and absurd playacting are allowed to be part of the game – like fighting in hockey and equally detrimental. I wonder seriously if players aren’t instructed by acting coaches. It’s embarrassing. The other day Uruguayan Luis Suarez bit an Italian, then faked as if he himself had been hit in the head, without penalty. It probably determined who advanced and who went home.

I wonder what it means that a sport so much of the world is crazy about relies so heavily on fakery, histrionics, on the telenovela, the soap opera.

What is clear is that the New Kabuki affects outcomes. Mexico was the victim this time, but I’ve seen Mexican players flop with equal vigor and shamelessness.

215285I’m watching Greece vs. Costa Rica and Greek tragedy is on display. Replays have shown at least three pathetic pieces of Greek faking.

The saddest part is that it robbed the best player in the tournament so far, Guillermo Ochoa, of continuing to display his talent on the world stage.

The noblest guy on the field had to endure a penalty kick that he didn’t handle.

Without any irony, apparently, he was selected as player of the game.

 

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The New Kabuki Theater, aka The World Cup

cropped-719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svg_.pngSo now it appears the Uruguayan yahoo name of Luis Suarez actually bit another player in 2010.

I confess that I hadn’t heard that.

I only saw that during yesterday’s game against Italy, the poor Suarez tried to bite Giorgio Chiellini, in what to me looked like an attempted headbutt on the Italian.

With that, the irrepressible Suarez fell, grasping his poor aching head, and front teeth, which are huge, by the way, as if he himself had been headbutted.

Never, it turned out, was there a better case for instant replay as this sad Uruguayan was somehow allowed to remain in the game. Uruguay, then with 11 players to Italy’s 10, scored moments later.

I don’t have documentation, but I suspect the ridiculous Suarez was later embraced by wife or girlfriend, friends and teammates back in the locker room, instead of ridiculed for this shameless behavior.

The bloated and absurd organization known as FIFA, which just scheduled a summer World Cup in a country with 120 degree heat, is investigating. So I’m quite relieved.

The best Kabuki theater in the world continues in the World Cup, contaminating what is a beautiful display of athletic ability.stock-photo-dental-implant-176798672

Just as hockey is marred by fighting, soccer is irrevocably contaminated with this constant fakery, flopping, and telenovela histrionics. Are soccer players f-ing mamas boys? Weenies? Merest little tap and they go down, writhing in some imaginary pain. Some are beginning to writhe before they hit the ground. It’s a disgrace. I am proud that I have not seen one American do that kind of crap – Not One.

THIS JUST IN: Luis Suarez actually bit two opposing players prior to the incident in the Italian game, I’ve now learned. Amazing he’s still playing at all.

but perhaps we understand better this Buzzfeed piece on how much fans would have won betting on whether Luis Suarez would have bit someone.

And the Washington Post on why athletes bite (emotion trumping reason), a question that hadn’t come up since Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield.

 

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Bulletproof Burial Ground – the Narco Tombs of Culiacan

I made this video recently when I was in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where I walked the grounds of Jardines del Humaya, the cemetery that is the final resting place of dozens of legendary drug traffickers.

It looks like a mini-Beverly Hills. Some of the tombs have air conditioning, barbecue grills, sound systems, even bulletproof glass. A few are the size of a house or two near where I live.

Immigrant village cemetery

Immigrant village cemetery, Michoacan

One had a long banner to a fallen, presumably murdered, brother, swearing to him, “There’s no truce.” (No hay tregua.)

I’ve seen much smaller versions of this in immigrant villages. One thing immigrants do with their dollars is build larger burial places. They do away with the iron crosses of their poverty and build themselves sepulchers with a statue of Jesus or the Virgin, maybe an open bible in stone.

But these are modest in comparison to the Jardines del Humaya.

Strange, excessive, lurid. I felt as if dropped into some foreign kingdom. These are the new Pharoahs.

I made this video with the help of my anonymous guide. I hope you like it. Feel free to subscribe to my Youtube channel – True Tales Video.

 

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Tijuana, my kinda town

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Tijuana lately. I love that place.

In many ways, it’s the least Mexican of cities, but in a good way. True, it’s got none of the colonial architecture that tourists love in the Mexican interior. The town has only been what you’d call a city since the 1960s.

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Tijuana, Avenida Revolucion

It was a blank slate in many ways. Which is good. For neither does it have the stifling and controlling economic structures that keep those outside from rising, and which are part of life in so many cities in Mexico. There’s a more meritocratic vibe in Tijuana, due to its newness and its proximity to the US. For those reasons and others, it has a very large middle class.

That middle class is changing, has been changing, the town in many ways. One is way is through high tech. There’s a real entrepreneurial effervescence nowadays, with lots of young people looking to tech as a way of starting their own companies, and not just some mom-and-pop tiendita either, but enterprises that provide employment for many.

That’s the idea anyway. It’s early yet. A lot to see, a lot can happen – or not. I’ve been writing about it for a website in San Diego: Xconomy.com/san-diego. Here’s a story on opera, high tech and Tijuana.

And another on a kind of incubator for new tech ideas. And finally, a piece on Startup Weekend in Tijuana, an event to prod new ideas into actual businesses.

Headed now out to Drew Street in northeast Los Angeles to see how one of my favorite gang neighborhoods is faring.

More on that later.

Tijuana Velvet 2012 - 65

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Immigration reform probably dead along with Eric Cantor’s career

Eric Cantor, the Republican congressman and leader of the majority in the House of Representatives, was defeated by a tea party member, a college economics professor, in the Virginia primaries last night.

One effect will probably be to end any attempt at immigration reform for the foreseeable future, and possibly the end of any Republican ability to woo Latinos, as well. Thus perhaps also killing any chance they have to win the presidency in 2016. Who knows? It’s early, but these seem like plausible outcomes this morning of last night’s results.

Cantor had supported the idea of giving immigrant youths citizenship, which was a main reason why he lost in his district that was recently remapped to become even more conservative.

I can’t see how many House Republicans would line up behind any kind of immigration reform that the president and Senate would support. I’m no Washington pundit, but it seems to me that the idea will most likely die again.

Cantor’s defeat was a remarkable event given that he was a national party leader and that he was well-known for raising huge amounts of cash. It came in a political season when establishment Republicans beat several tea partyers – Sen. Mitch McConnell being the most notable example.

Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see what this does to the Republican Party’s standing among Latinos.

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Dispatches from the frontlines of America’s addiction

The Addict's MomAs I’ve spent the last year-plus writing a book about the opiate abuse epidemic in America, I’ve come across some remarkable people in times of frightening stress.

Along the way I encountered one of the most poignant pages on FB. It’s called The Addict’s Mom, run by Barbara Theodosiou, a Florida PR consultant and mother of two addicts, one in recovery and one in jail. She set up the site a few years ago feeling that no one could understand her but another mother of an addict.

The site now has 12,000 members. They are American mothers who write in the rawest, most honest terms about the arguments, jail, kids who lie and steal from grandparents, prison, their children homeless, raising their children’s children, mortgaging all they own to send their kids to $40,000 rehabs, the joy of seeing a child 200 days clean, and the terror of the late-night phone call, or policeman’s knock on the door.

I hope to be quoting some of these posts, without names, simply because they, like poetry, evoke stories you can imagine in full. (Note: AS=Addicted Son.) Here’s one that I’ve broken out from the original prose into verse:

I have found myself planning my AS’s funeral in my mind.

Recently I have even found myself praying for God to at least take one of us because the pain is just too much.

And then I step back and ask myself what kind of mother could pray for death for one of her own children !?!

I feel horrible even putting these words on paper but i just need to let it out.

I am tired of fighting this fight.

I am tired of seeing my only son destroy himself.

I am tired of all the arguments with him.

I am tired of living with fear of getting that ‘phone call’.

I just don’t know how much longer he can survive at the rate he is using .

 

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Cartel leader dies free and of natural causes

Juan Esparragoza, known as El Azul (Blue) because his skin was deemed so dark it looked blue, has died of a heart attack, the intrepid Rio Doce newspaper, of Culiacan Sinaloa, is reporting.http://riodoce.mx/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/el-azul.jpg

Esparragoza,   65, was within the very highest eschelon of the Sinaloa Cartel, though he assiduously avoided the spotlight.

His death is notable for that reason, but also because, as so rarely happens in the drug world, he died free and of natural causes.

The Cartel was already rocked a while back by the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Esparragoza apparently died attempting rise from a bed a couple weeks after an auto accident in which he injured his spinal column. So sources tell Rio Doce.

He was from the now-legendary county (municipio) of Badiraguato in Sinaloa, a place that has spawned many of the top Mexican drug cartel leaders, including Guzman. For a while he was the FBI’s second most wanted man, after Osama bin-Laden.

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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 mosaic of East L.A. it presents, as well as 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 excavate new stories from unheard communities as they help new writers over the intimidating humps that keep them from realizing their writing dreams, and push 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

Virgin of Serrano St (2-12) - 14

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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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Storytelling, Virgin, Writing

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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