Darela Mansiones


I came across this 8 1/2 x 11 photo of my mother while helping her clean the house the other day.

I hope she doesn’t mind me secretly spiriting it away for use on this blog. It’s such a lovely image, she reminds me of Anna Karina or I think Anna Karina has always reminded me of my mother. No one in my family reminds me of Serge Gainsbourg, that’s probably a good thing.

Perhaps it’s the size of the photo or the starlet affectation of her pose that inspired the joke note to my father (her boyfriend at the time) written on the reverse. Or maybe every young woman that grows up within sight of the Hollywood sign harbors a secret desire to be famous.

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Una Palabra Muy Fuerte

Another oldie from the myspace files:


We were eating in Chico’s and this “Hispanic Businessman” type was sitting alone trying to pick up on the waitress. He was putting on airs and trying to teach her English vocabulary. Surprisingly, she seemed kinda interested in his bullshit. He then told her with great authority and seriousness: “La palabra ‘keen’ es una palabra muy fuerte!” I guess he was “keen” on her and attempting to impress her with his colloquial English. It seemed such a ridiculous thing to say but to this day, whenever I hear or say the word “keen” it has to be followed by “es una palabra muy fuerte.” Does this mean I have a mild form of Tourette’s?

The Lucky Banana Pup


My Grandfather Atanasio, like many other Mexican men was a drinker, a gardener and a tinkerer. Often he would combine all three activities into one afternoon. His inspiration resulted in a backyard of mosaics and fountains (a whole post on this coming soon). Although he passed away in the late 70s many of the plants he grew live on today at the old family homestead, including a great big walnut tree – a favorite of the neighborhood squirrels.

In this photo, he is standing next to what looks like a freshly planted banana tree. Generations of this banana tree live on today, each succession of pups churning out hanging bunches of fruit. This small grove of bananas was divided and spread around the garden, at times the trees were on the verge of taking over swaths of the backyard. The trees are easy to maintain but they do need to be kept in check.

About ten years ago I decided to take a pup (a baby banana plant, they reproduce by sending up shoots from underground rhizomes) home and planted it in a pot. I thought I would carry on the banana growing tradition at my home. I never had a proper place to plant it until I moved to my new place a few years ago. The tree grew tall and flourished, sending up 4 or 5 new pups in one year. I looked forward to harvesting my first bunch of bananas, until one morning when my landlord knocked on the door with a request. She asked if I would remove the banana tree. I told her not to worry the roots were very shallow and would not damage the foundation. She then said Chinese people do not like banana trees and it is bad luck to have the trees growing on her property. As to not offend her and my Chinese neighbors and because it was more a demand than a request, I removed the large banana tree and replanted the pups in pots.

I now have a couple of pups in pots I do not need and would like to keep this banana family going. I’m sure my grandfather received his pup from a friend and so I will continue this tradition. If you would like a banana tree for your garden, leave me a note in the comments area.

Why are bananas never lonely?
Because they hang around in bunches.

Hobbs Battery

(please click to enlarge)

It’s rare to have photographs of people at work, that’s why I was quite excited when I came upon this photograph of my Grandfather Atanasio in work mode at Hobbs Battery Company. He is the first worker on the left. I don’t know too much about his work at the battery shop. I know he also worked at a company called Smallcomb Electric.

What I love about this photograph is it seems to have captured the various personalities of these men, they look to be so different from each other. It’s almost as if the photo was staged. Who is the mysterious Zoot Suiter in the hat? Most striking to me is the fellow with the upturned collar. He looks to be a heartbreaker or the workplace snake. There is the double-headed ghost man and the White guy stuck in the shop full of Mexicans, perhaps he was the boss? The curly-headed worker filling the batteries with toxic goo looks to be the clown, the payaso quick with the jokes and biting comments. My grandfather is so fresh faced here, slightly dazed as if he slept in a little too much. He was probably the one who’d tsk Mexican style while waving his hand away in a sharp motion and saying “Ay, estas chingaderas!” But in the next minute would crack a smile and think about the beer he’d be having at quitting time.


My uncle has been cleaning out the last of my grandmother’s things and recently handed me a big Danish cookie tin containing forty years worth accumulation of my grandmother’s junk drawer. In the jumble of rusted paper clips, plastic stirrers and other flotsam was this badge from the Hobbs Battery Company. What a find! I pleaded with my family to never throw any of my grandmother’s things until I have gone through them for this very reason. I imagine this badge was long forgotten.

Hospital Quiet


A photo of my great-grandmother Matilde taken somewhere in Los Angeles, perhaps Echo Park. Her heavy coat suggests the photo was taken in the winter.
Although, she died long before I was born, something about her smile seems familiar and knowing. It’s as if I can tell exactly what kind of person she was through this photo: spunky, warm, mischievous, responsible and independent.
She died in her 50s and quite tragically of a heart attack. It was told to me that this heart attack came after she received a error ridden phone bill of an extremely high amount. Her second husband was never told of the phone bill because the family believed if he knew this was the cause of her death, he would have gone to the phone company and killed someone!
I was told they were very in love with each other.

La Puente Ranch

My great-grandmother Matilde, her sister Trini, my great-great grandmother (and Yaqui descendant) Matilde Moreno Vizcarra, known in my family as “Nana Grande.” Photograph taken on my great-grandmother’s ranch in La Puente. (click to enlarge)

They bought the ranch after World War Two ended as a relaxing country location for my great uncle Hector who had just finished serving a harrowing stint in the Navy, part of the Pacific fleet. Unfortunately, the property was located much too near some railroad tracks and the nighttime rumbling of the trains terrified my uncle – it sounded much too similar to the war noises he thought he’d left behind. He quickly scrambled back to the original family compound in Echo Park. My great-grandmother lived in La Puente the rest of her life.

Yaqui Deer Dance

As mentioned in a previous post, a few weeks ago someone asked me if I was Native American and I answered as I often do,  most people of Mexican heritage have some indigenous heritage. I think they meant Indian from north of the US border but like lots of indigenous folks, I don’t recognize these borders when it comes to culture. I was told my maternal great-grandmother was Yaqui Indian and my mother says she remembers hearing Yaqui words as a child. So in honor of my indigenous heritage, I present this video.

Yaqui Deer Dancer Yes, that is a deer head on his.

The clip is of an important ritual tradition called the Deer Dance. The festival where this dance took place was intended to bring Yaqui tribes from both sides of the borders together to celebrate their culture. There is some debate as to whether it was appropriate to film the ceremony and post the clip on Youtube. As the dance was a demonstration and not a ceremony, it seems approriate as a method to educate others in Yaqui culture.

Yaqui: Danza del Venado en Sonora, Mexico

Yaqui prefer to call themselves “Yoeme” and their homeland is “Hiakim.” It is their homeland name that most likely gave rise to the term Yaqui.

The Year In Books: Los Angeles History


Last year’s ode to 2007 was full of fun, music and good times – this year my 2008 highlights all have to do with text: books and the internet. It’s all I’ve had time for this year. (Full-time work has been the bane of my 2008 existence, crimping my lady of leisure lifestyle and forcing me into the rigid schedule of the rat race. I would have probably adapted to this new lifestyle if I’d had more experience with the 40 hour workweek but I’m happy to say this was my first year enduring this drudgery. Why did the Haymarket Martyrs settle on 40 hours a week? Couldn’t we have taken it down to 25? There’s a project for future anarchists!) Enough of my whining, on to books!

Los Angeles History

I started the year brushing up on Los Angeles history. Of the six or so titles I read and perused, my favorite was Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise.


“Since ancient times, great cities have been shaped by their environments. But cities have also exacted their price. In these astute and very necessary essays, leading experts who are also good writers tackle important questions regarding the origins, rise, present circumstances and future sustainability of the second largest metropolitan region in the nation. No one can understand the City of Angels and its attendant communities without reference to this pioneering book.”
—Kevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, University of Southern California, Author, Americans and the California Dream series

My favorite chapter was The Los Angeles Prarie by Paula M Schiffman. Did you know that much of Los Angeles was difficult to traverse owing to the thousands of squirrels and ground animals that honeycombed the ground with holes and nests? Grizzlies also contributed to soil disturbances by clawing up great mounds of earth as they searched for buried food: mice, grubs, roots etc. Bears played a pivotal role in the early ecology of Los Angeles, so much so that without them, it’s impossible to recreate a pre-European Los Angeles environment. As for the Tongva, they practiced what’s been termed as “paradise by design” – a careful manipulation of plant and animal life that suited their needs while sustaining the reproduction and balance of life around them. It was all pretty good until the Europeans came and enslaved the Tongva, wiped out the grizzlies and paved the river. Thanks, guys!


Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past by William Deverell is another Los Angeles history book worth mentioning. There are so many good passages I can include here but this one best sums up the purpose of this book:

Los Angeles matured, at least in part, by covering up places, people, and histories that those in power found unsettling. Los Angeles became a self-conscious “City of the Future” by whitewashing an adobe past, even an adobe present and adobe future. That whitewashing was imperfectly, even crudely, accomplished – adobe yet showed through – but it was nonetheless a way by which White Angelenos created distance (cultural and personal) between themselves and the Mexican past and the Mexican people in their midst.

Here’s a bit more:

Los Angeles is not so much a city that got what it wished for. It is a city that wished for what it worked diligently to invent. And that inventing in part entailed what this book is about, the whitewashing of other stories, other cultures, and other people’s memories on the landscape.

It’s this whitewashing and reinventing of Los Angeles by those who chose knowingly or unknowingly, to erase the history of Los Angeles’ Mexican and ethnic past, that led to the creation of a new project this year: LA Eastside.

Happy New Year!

Favorite Video of the Week: Quebradita

Over at LA Eastside there’s been a long discussion on 90s culture in Los Angeles. Commenter Metro Vaquero linked to the awesome video above of a parking lot turned dance floor in the Valley. Quebradita was crazy popular in Los Angeles during the early 90s. It was the first time in my life where listening to your parent’s music was acceptable and dressing like a Mexican was something to be proud of. The tejanas and botas are still in fashion today. And I still dream of one day dancing Quebradita…

Los Angeles and My Family

Trini y Enrique, Los Angeles 1920

It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered my family had been living in Los Angeles much longer than I thought. I always assumed it was my great-grandmother Matilde who decided to move west after my 32 year old great-grandfather Zacarias died from turberculosis (a disease most likely related to his working in the Arizona copper mines.) Apparently, Matilde’s mother, known in our family as Nana Grande had already been living here in Los Angeles and according to family hearsay had also been running a boarding house in New York City. I can’t imagine this last part is true because the rumor concerns some salacious rumors of secret offspring and such and furthermore, how in the world does a Mexican woman of limited economic means move between Sonora, Los Angeles and New York in the early 1900s? I suppose it’s somehow possible.
As I slowly make my way through the old family photos, I see “Los Angeles” on a great number of them, such as this photo of my great-great aunt Trinidad and her husband Enrique Porter. I often wonder what life was like for them? My grandmother has told me countless stories of discrimination and yet, it seems she and her family easily intermarried and mixed/socialized with non-Mexicans. Not too much has changed in this city.