On Saturday, early evening, in the darkened Echo nightclub on Sunset, musicians, poets, and performers raised their voices to join the people across the border who've said "Estamos hasta la madre!" Roughly translated, "We've fucking had enough of this drug cartel violence!"
The drug cartels aren't killing their own anymore. Increasingly over the years, the violence has spilled over into families who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. With disgust Mexicans see their elected leaders do little to stop the killing while the big sucking sound from the U.S. vacuums pot, cocaine, and meth from Mexico into the hands of people in this country. Mass marches have flowed silently through the boulevards of Mexico's largest cities. Intellectuals lash out at the partisan bickering of the political parties.
The Echo Park performance was part of Ruben Martinez's Variedades salon series. This performance zeroed in on the madness and beauty of drugs on both sides of the border. The nightclub was set up with cabaret tables and tea lights, the house lights were down, and the show began with Martinez's original songs with a country-western sound. About a dozen performers took the stage at various points and explored references to drugs in music, books, and video. Richard Montoya delivered a piece that was part Pachuco poetry (like that of his father Jose) and irony-rich Chicano comedy. Alexis de la Rocha sang the Warren Zevon song "Carmelita" about a "being all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town."
Martinez invited me to read my own poem about the killing four months ago of Ciudad Juarez poet-activist Susana Chavez. After, I interviewed painter Carolyn Castaño about her series of "Narco Novias" paintings.
East LA native Ersi Arvizu talked about her astonishment of the booze and drug use when she joined the seminal 1960s band "El Chicano" and sang "Sabor a Mi" and "Volver, Volver." Martinez and performer Raquel Gutierrez read from "La Reina del Sur," the seminal novel about the a narco novia mixed up in drug cartel violence.
Video artist Dino Dinco delivered the coup de grace for the night. His "UNTITLED (estamos hasta la madre)" hit the audience over the head with the cause and effect that most of the other performers during the night alluded to: drug use in the U.S. is destroying Mexico.
Dinco's video begins with Peter Fonda in the 1960s film The Wild Angels, demanding to a preacher that he and the other youth, "...want to be free... we want to get loaded! And we want to get loaded! And we want to get loaded!" And the promise, in traditional U.S. Libertarian fashion is delivered as the next images show. Teenagers - clean suburban girls, and boys in YouTube-type videos - snorting coke, giggling while lighting a pipe, and mouthing drug rap songs in the back seat of a car. That's followed by black and white images of a 1930s era film showing Mexican kids, a carnival, and lots of Day of the Dead masks. Dinco then shows contemporary still images from the cartel violence: decapitated heads, piles of limbs, and a victim with a forest of knives planted all over his body.
Yeah, the people's relationship with drugs in the U.S. is complicated. An image of a puritanical surfboard riding various waves of permissiveness and prohibition comes to mind. People refuse to buy blood diamonds. Aren't most drugs tainted by death? Will that lead to a movement to demand sustainable cocaine or register the provenance of that dime bag? Drug violence has pushed its way into the homes of many Mexicans. Here, in spite of so many Spanish names on freeway off ramps, it still feels like a faraway country and a distant place.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday at 2 p.m. 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.