3 L.A. Vignettes: A Turban-Wearing Superhero, an East L.A. Punk Rockera & the City's Poet
El Hombre Increible
Dr. Q, as Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa is known, agreed with me last week that the Mexican comic book hero Kaliman is the patron saint of adults who've spent part of their childhood in Mexico and now live in the U.S. The undocumented farmworker turned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon described his two hops over the US-Mexico border fence as Kaliman-type jumps.
As I prepared for my author talk with Dr. Q at the L.A. Public Library, I turned my house upside down trying to find my only copy of a Kaliman comic . Surely my favorite Spanish language newsstand on First and Soto streets in Boyle Heights would have one. So the day of the talk I stop by and begin browsing... nothing! Ya no lo publican, it's not published anymore, the man at the newsstand said. Waaa??? How could it be that the newsstand had plenty of second hand erotic graphic novels but not a single copy of Kaliman? I looked and looked, and sure enough, behind a cleavage-full edition of Lagrimas y Risas was Kaliman #257, the mind trip in search of the ape-men. Because you see, one of Kaliman's powers is the viaje mental, the mind trip through which he can transport himself to any another part of the world, invisible to others. Dr. Q got a laugh when I began the talk by taking out the Kaliman comic and placing it near our water glasses to watch over our discussion.
In the recording studio Alicia Velasquez couldn't get herself to read me the chapter in her memoir titled "Daddy Dearest." It begins, "My father was a monster. By that, I mean that everything I know about the deep, dark, ugly side of mankind, I learned from my father. He was like a dark sensei, passing on his knowledge through transmission to an acolyte -- me. It's not that he actually did every cruel and evil thing imaginable but that he tapped into the energy which makes humans capable of committing an atrocity." He abused her mother. But empowered Alicia with confidence by telling her, from the time she was a little girl, that she could do anything she set out in life. When I read it, it put into words the memories I carry of my step-father. It can empower others, I urged her. No, I can't, she replied. So I left it at that.
Alicia's new memoir, "Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story," details the time before, during, and just after she co-founded The Bags, one of the seminal bands in the 1977, first generation of L.A. punk rock bands.
There are few living writers who've done more to document in poetry, as Wanda Coleman has done for more than 40 years, what it's like to live in Los Angeles. She grew up in South Central L.A. and was baptized in the Watts Writers Workshop founded after the 1965 Watts Riots. She hung out with the Beat poets of the Venice scene. She told me assemblage artist Wallace Berman was going to publish one of her poems in his Semina magazine but he died before it came out.
Coleman's new book of poetry is titled "The World Falls Away." She stopped by the KPCC downtown studio last week and we talked about L.A.'s Woman's Building in the 1970s, the hugely important recordings Harvey Kubernick made of her poetry and lots of other L.A. spoken word poets' about two decades ago.
One remembrance of L.A. in the 1950s and 60s struck me.
"I grew up in the era of white flight. And even the redlining to keep African Americans out of housing, out of jobs, all of that was going on even then. Immigration being used as a tool to keep us marginalized, to keep our wages down. That was going on when my parents were young and when they first came to Los Angeles."
It's something I've heard plenty in my reporting about L.A. politics and the election cycle story of the status of black politics in increasingly Latino L.A.
"My mother worked in the sweatshops. And often when African Americans wanted higher wages, what they would do is they would hire Latinos at lower wages and then tell African Americans to kiss their behinds, so to speak."
It was a seismic shift for L.A. African Americans. After decades of making economic and political inroads, the influx of large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants diluted the gains by blacks in both arenas.
Wanda makes clear that she has friends across the racial spectrum. The foundation for her fledgling Spanish is the friendships she had with Latinos growing up. She teases out the relationship with Latinos in her poems "Mr Lopez" and "Luz" in a previous book titled "African Sleeping Sickness."
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.