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L.A. Troubadours Remember May Day Melee

Millions of dollars in police abuse settlements have been paid out, the LAPD has reformed its protest dispersal practices but the trovadores, the Spanish speaking troubadors of Los Angeles, will not forget May 1, 2007 in MacArthur Park.

A group of them has released a CD of songs in tribute to the men, women, and children who suffered the pain of police batons and rubber bullets that day by LAPD officers in riot gear. That protest was one of several large marches in the region and nationally calling for the legalization of the undocumented. Violeta Pineda, an immigrant from Mexico City, had marched to MacArthur Park that May 1st. She left late in the afternoon, just as police officers began to move in on the crowd. Police cleared several thousand people by force after a small group of people began to throw rocks and other objects at officers in another part of the protest.

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Pineda called her husband, Esteban Leon, not knowing about the police action. He'd already seen on TV what police were doing. Officers pushed and shoved reporters and videographers and even trampled over the tent where a Telemundo anchor had been broadcasting nationally about the marches. "Get out of there right away," Leon told his wife when she called him from her cell.

She saw the images on the television news when she got home and remembers feeling helpless, frustrated, and angry after seeing the violent end to a peaceful march. She had trouble sleeping. She kept thinking about a girl no older than five years old interviewed by a television news reporter. The girl lifted her blouse to reveal a large welt where a rubber bullet hit her. Many other people showed off similar racket ball-sized purple and red bruises on shoulders, backs and other body parts.

Pineda decided she'd respond with song.

For a decade and a half Pineda and Leon have organized trova concerts in L.A. County. Trova burst out of the Latin American social protest movements of the 1960s. Think of Silvio Rodriguez or more recently Jorge Drexler, who won an Oscar for his trova-style song on The Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack. The concerts have created a gathering place for people who grew up on trova in their home countries. And increasingly their sons and daughters are attending too.

The CD produced by Pineda and Leon is called "Canciones Por Amor y Resistencia."
It's a recording released last October of the concert she organized at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock three months after the marches.

The eleven songs range from cultural affirmation of being Mexican to an embrace of the immigrants' role in their adopted country. The songs were recorded by the core group of performers in the trova scene, Raul Diaz, Armando Quiros, Ruby Castellanos, Ismael Garcia, Jorge Negrete, Tomas Cadena, and Esteban Leon.

The above video is a performance I shot by Esteban Leon of "Nuestros Veneros," the song he played at the concert. A venero is a spring, a source. The Mexican poet Ramon Lopez Velarde referred to Mexican oil as a venero del diablo, a spring of many troubles. The song lists Mexican murals, the pre-Hispanic symbolism of the cactus, and the song of the zenzontle, the Mexican mockingbird. And there are veneros that choke the country: conquest and massacres. "People like us are lynched for trying to earn their daily bread." The song touches on the cultural highlights of Mexico as well as what chokes the country. It's a long, Leon says, about the highs and lows of the Mexican people.

Producciones Tenoch begins a new year of trova performances this Friday, January 6, 8:30 p.m. at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock. The trovadores will perform songs by singer-songwriter, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, the undisputed master of the heartache, woeful, melancholy, ranchera-style songs.

Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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