KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"
Today, we hear from singer, songwriter and musician Ceci Bastida:
"The first time I visited L.A. was when I was playing with Tijuana No!
"I'm from Tijuana, so Los Angeles wasn't that foreign. The city has such a Latino presence that it didn't feel like an incredible change. It wasn't like San Diego, which is closer to TJ but just seems so different.
"None of us lived here - we were all based in Tijuana. You did need some sort of work visa to do shows here, but we managed without them. I'm not quite sure how. I was very young back then so I didn't really think about those things.
"People here responded well to the band so we kept coming back - we even recorded the last Tijuana No! record here. It was all really an interesting experience. We got to play with a lot of bands from L.A. and be part of benefits and interesting shows; we were very lucky in that way.
"I left that band in around 1996. I was kind of done with them - I think mentally I was somewhere else, musically I was somewhere else. I went back to Tijuana and I went to school. I studied history at the university.
"Then, probably ten or so years ago, I moved here briefly. I came because I was playing in a band from here and I thought it was a good opportunity to take a look at a different city in a different country.
"The band sang in English, they weren't Latino, and they were on a label that had a lot of faith in them - it was a completely different experience from my previous band.
"But nothing really happened. I thought I'd stay and see what I could do - but it wasn't much. I had a tourist visa but I didn't have papers to work. I was able to get a job with this woman who sold purses on the Internet.
"I had been playing with Tijuana No! since I was fifteen - I'd never actually had a 'job' job. So even though selling the purses was pretty awful, it was a useful experience learning how things work here and realizing how expensive everything is.
"I did this for almost a year. I realized that I was very fortunate to have a tourist visa, but I was still sort of paranoid about people finding out I was working and having a phone line in my name - all that stuff made me nervous.
"I realized that I was just here, I wasn't really doing anything fulfilling. I wasn't writing music. I was basically working all day just to deal with the rent for the apartment where I was living in Echo Park. I wasn't very happy.
"I did like the neighborhood. At first, some girlfriends of mine who lived here thought Echo Park was dangerous, so they didn't visit me much. But I just found it really nice and mellow and sort of charming. I had a great roommate, too.
"I have a friend, Julieta Venegas, who is a very popular singer in Mexico. In 2000, she asked me if I wanted to do some shows with her? I did, and soon she said, 'My whole band is in Mexico City and I would love for you to be here.'
"That just seemed like the right thing to do. So I left the country after a year and I went to Mexico City for the next three. I started touring with her - it was a lot of work and it was great.
"Around six years ago, I got married. It was hard - Josh lived here. It just made more sense for me to move back. For the next couple of years, I was able to meet Julieta wherever her shows were happening.
"By 2008, I realized I wanted to focus more on my own career. I was ready to start writing again and do my own thing. Living here, and having papers and being in a different situation, I was able to do that. I left Julieta's band.
"I recorded my album [Veo La Marea] here I've been playing around here and it's just been a very different experience. I've been writing to try to record another album for next year and hopefully start playing out again around March or April.
"When I first came back from Mexico City, we lived for a bit in West Hollywood, close to Guitar Center and that area of Sunset Boulevard. It was a different vibe. Even though there were nice things about it, I thought it was very chaotic and it didn't really feel to me like a neighborhood.
"The one thing that I would always complain about L.A. is that I had this need to feel like I was part of a community - and I didn't feel that way here. Everything requires a car, you can't move around the city the way I was used to. It was a bit of a shock in the beginning.
"One thing that was always hard for me was that if you want to see anybody, you have to make an appointment. In TJ, everybody just drives by your house and honks the horn and you go out or they come in. In Mexico City, it was the same thing. People would ring the doorbell at 9pm and just come up and have a drink. It was very relaxed.
"I love being able to walk places and Los Angeles makes it a little hard to do that. The idea of having to get in the car, get on the freeway and take an hour to go to another part of the city still drives me nuts. When I go to Mexico City or to other cities with good public transportation, everything doesn't feel so separated. I feel like everything is too separated here.
"Other than that, I think L.A. is a great city! I mean, otherwise, I don't think I could be here. My husband and I now live now in Montecito Heights. I love it. I love the Eastside. I feel more at home. And it's not just because it has a bigger Latino population - it's a very diverse neighborhood. It just feels more like a community. And even though I still need a car to move around, it feels different from West Hollywood and from that life. So yeah, I'm happy!"
-- Ceci Bastida
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
- Departures References:
- Departures: Community -- Punk Stories
- Departures: Chinatown -- Ann Summa and Jeff Spurrier on L.A. punk rock history
- Arrival Story: Alejandro Cohen -- Dublab co-founder and musician
- Departures: Highland Park -- Rise of the Inner City, mention of Montecito Heights
- Departures: L.A. River Field Guide -- Biking, Arroyo Seco Creek, mention of Montecito Heights
Photos: Courtesy Ceci Bastida. Desert photo by Sal + Saul
This post originally appeared under the headline, "Arrival Story: Ceci Bastida"