Saturday, May 1, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
For my Core class last year, I read a book entitled Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham. It discusses the uniqueness and beauty of Los Angeles as a city from a perspective that really appreciates it while addressing the issue that Los Angeles’s beauty as a city is usually disregarded. The most memorable and persuasive part for me was where Banham discusses the aesthetics of Los Angeles freeways. I had always thought about them as an eyesore on the city. It was fascinating to hear a perspective that discusses them as something that in fact adds to the beauty of the area. Banham shows aerial shots of the freeways that emphasize the abstract shapes of the architecture and beautiful shots of them at sunset that forces the viewer to see them in a new light. The book also discusses the diversity of architecture in varying areas of Los Angeles, but the part of the book that struck me the must was the discussion of the freeways.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The film, Killer of Sheep, portrays a run down Watts neighborhood through a lens of reality. Unlike the black exploitation movies of the time, which portrayed blacks as ass kicking, jive talking, brothers fighting the man, Killer of Sheep focuses on depicting the reality of living in Watts. What Killer of Sheep did to films like Superfly, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood did to the gangsta genre of the early 1990’s. With the release of Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society, came a perceived notion that life in the hood entailed gun toting, excessive drinking and drug use, gang membership, and Daytons. While there is no doubt that some of these acts do exist, the sheer ridiculousness of the films drive me crazy with embarrassment. Luckily the Wayans brothers were there to parody. Don’t Be a Menace takes parts from both Menace II Society and Boyz N the Hood, along with a few others, and pokes fun at every stereotype presented. For instance, in both movies the characters are constantly holding 40 oz. malt liquor bottles. Don’t Be a Menace takes this further buy covering entire kitchens with “40’s.” Even a liquor store is named “Guns and Forty’s.” While Don’t be a Menace certainly takes a different approach than Killers of Sheep, they are both effective in drawing the line between stereotype and reality.
Buffalo Bill has been a subject of film and television since shortly after his death in 1917, with the silent film "The Iron Horse," in which he was played by George Waggner, which debuted in 1924. Since then, he has been played by a variety of very famous actors, including: Roy Rogers, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, and Stephen Baldwin. His most recent "appearance" was on the Canadian television series "Murdoch Mysteries," which goes to show how wide-ranging his appeal is. Interestingly, Buffalo Bill was also very popular in Italy in the 1930's and 40's, so when Italy found itself at war with American, brochures were published that said that Buffalo Bill was actually an Italian immigrant named Domenico Tombini who was from the same province as Mussolini. Though there is no historical evidence for this, it allowed stories about him to continue to be published, now under the title of "Buffalo Bill, the Italian Hero of the Plains."
Even just his name has been used in many modes of entertainment that have nothing to do with him as a person, for example, the serial killer in "The Silence of the Lambs" is named "Buffalo Bill", and Eminem's most recent album, "Relapse," includes a track called "Buffalo Bill." All of these examples just prove his extreme appeal and popularity in contemporary culture, both in the United States and all over the world.
Monday, April 19, 2010
After the relocation, the Chinese community spent several years looking for an ideal place for new Chinatown. Finally in 1938, the new Chinatown has its grand opening. The new Chinatown was designed to show that the Chinese community was willing to adopt modern ways of living—neat and orderly. With Hollywood style of exotic, the New Chinatown served as a center for tourists to explore the mysterious Oriental world. For the following 72 years, the New Chinatown experienced a slight downfall as a place a interest, but it remains to be a business center for Chinese community as well as a symbol of Oriental world for tourists and filmmakers.
The following is a simply travel guide of the New Chinatown: http://www.experiencela.com/Adventures/Chinatown.htm
When many people think of Los Angeles the first thing that pops into their mind in the Hollywood sign. Most people can't tell you the purpose is currently or once served, but they know it stands for the glitz and glamour that surrounds LA. The Hollywood sign website, describes it as, “a universal metaphor for ambition, success, glamour…” Many do not know that the signs original purpose in 1923 was a giant billboard for the real estate in Hollywood. In 1978 the sign had reached such poor conditions that starlets raised money together to help pay for a new sign. The sign, which was only supposed to stay up a short time as become a landmark in LA. Featured in movies, songs and for general California promotions, the sign serves a new purpose for each generation and will continue to do so. The Hollywood sign even has its own website featuring history, news and events, and even a webcam of the current goings on at the sign… Now, “You can also catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s biggest star from outer space.”
During the Cold War, For East and West Germany, the creation of art and its reception by their people showed a reaction against the legacy of Nazism, and both parts of Germany revived pre-World War II national artistic traditions. The LACMA article about the exhibition and its collections show how this wave of war art "developed distinctive versions of modern and postmodern art—at times in accord with their political cultures, at other times in opposition to them". This exhibition represents in itself a kind of unified identity of war representation, made by over 120 artists, however few are prisoners of war like the internees. But Kuramitsu showed us how the individual art by internees was the best most accurate form of representation of the internment camps. This LACMA exhibition therefore represents this unity of representation by many people and the "Art of Two Germanys" collections reveals the complexity of work that aims to represent the experiences of those who witnessed or were exposed to stories of war. I realized that just like internment art which aimed to reveal the truth, they lie in comparison to the propaganda pictures that were released (which like those we saw in class, are among many media propaganda images and literature published about the World Wars as well) that show the internees in a seemingly happy environment. We are of course familiar with these sorts of propaganda images; those old black and white films that aimed to depict world war one and reassure America and Britain that all was well in the trenches, when the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sasoon actually illustrated the reality and the needless destruction of war.
As and extension of this discussion I would like to find out if along with physical pieces of art, there was any poetry or songs that have been handed down by grandparents to their children about the time spent in the interment camps. Considering we saw that art materials were hard to come by, it may have been very hard to write anything down, but seeing as we have discussed audio recordings and oral traditions of poetry and song as a form of recapturing history in our previous classes about jazz etc, it would be interesting to see if any existed that represent time spent in the camps by these internees.
This editorial from the LA Times is about the Watts Towers. Finished after 33 years of work in 1954, the Watts Towers have become a symbol of Watts and are a National Historic Landmark. However, they are falling into disrepair. According to the article, upkeep for the Towers has been a drain on the city’s treasury for years. Now the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has stepped in to help with their upkeep and to seek private donations. Because of their location in “a poor and gang-wracked neighborhood”, the towers have been saved from the wrecking ball but they have also not enjoyed the potential fame that could have come from being located in a better-off area of the city. Resource wise, the Towers have been forgotten by the city, just like the neighborhood of Watts depicted in Killer of Sheep set more than ten years after the Watts Riots of 1965 was forgotten. The landscape in Killer of Sheep was still not rebuilt after the riots that left piles of rubble that the children turned into their playgrounds. Watts was left to its own devices to pick up the pieces after the riots. Without more funding, the Watts Towers will continue to crumble. Both the Towers and the neighborhood need help to turn into something more than the broken shells left from the Riots and poverty. One group helping is not enough- change inside and outside needs to happen for the advancement of the neighborhood and the Towers.
Though the National Japanese American Memorial, erected in 2000, sought to memorialize the efforts of Japanese Americans participating in World War II and recognize their internment, it was lost among headlines covering election hysteria, and ultimately faded into the background among other monuments. In describing the monument, Washington Post reporter Philip Kennicott (author of the above article) said: “But it speaks in all the usual memorial clichés, and it struggles to find a clear voice.”
This month, however, the opening of the Renwick Gallery’s exhibit, “The Art of Gaman,” at the National Museum of American Art lends a voice to the victims of internment in the nation’s capital. The exhibit features artwork and crafts created by former camp detainees which range from “furniture cobbled together from scrap lumber, simple tools and household goods” to the more traditional forms of art such as paintings and calligraphy. The author of the article focuses on one piece by Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, a painting which depicts the camp’s barracks contrasted against a natural landscape. In describing the piece, Kennicott explains: “Many of the most powerful moments in this exhibition share something with Mirikitani's paradoxical painting: Ugliness isn't foregrounded or emphasized, but contained, contextualized and diminished through integration into the decorative, the beautiful or the normal.”
This description evokes the spirit of “shiktataganai” (“it cannot be helped”) described by Kuramitsu. Internment detainees typically acquiesced to the demands of camp life in order to show their loyalty, and “every effort was made on the part of the captor and captive alike to maintain a sense of normalcy behind the barbed wire” (622). Pieces like that of Mirikitani demonstrate an effort to portray normal life experiences or natural beauty, refusing to let them be overwhelmed by the bleakness of the camps. While the exhibit helps depict the lives of interned Japanese-Americans, I wonder if (and hope) it does more, like the Framed installation at the Long Beach Museum, by examining the issue of identity construction so pertinent to the internment experience.
Contra-Tiempo, based in Los Angeles, is an activist Urban Latin Dance Theater Company founded by Ana Maria Alvarez five years ago. The non-profit company as Alvarez said after the Friday (4/16) Performance is that she implements Salsa as a social movement because a key part of Salsa is the physical resistance of the dance and the idea of resistance that many movements work hard to resist those with an upper hand. The company brings those invisible, unheard on to the big stage. The company outside of performing and dancing they go to public schools and teach dance as a way for kids to express their attitudes of their own community. The main source of the profit of the performances goes to schools in the LA area to support the arts in schools and their outreach programs.
Contra-Tiempo combines Salsa, Afro-Cuban, West African, Hip-Hop and abstract dance-theater to create an intense physical and political performance. The performance I saw by them blew my mind the way their movements held this feeling of entire communities. From their website “Contra-Tiempo is an active and uncompromisingly radical take on the ways in which artists function within communities. Its company members, professional dancers and artists, are also immigrants, teachers, activists, organizers and movers of all types living and working in Los Angeles. Each member lives and struggles within the varied and infinitely complex political and personal landscapes, which Ana María seeks to address in her work.” Alvarez takes community very seriously in both pieces I could see the emotion and physical strife and joy of community she was trying to express for both pieces.
I went to a Contra-Tiempo performance on Friday 4/16 as in celebration of Cesar Chavez Day. The first piece that they performed “I Dream America” spoke so perfectly to our American Studies course. The performance was based off a poem one of their students had written in regards to her Langston Hughes unit in class. The 7th grader wrote a poem as the perspective of her mother who had emigrated from Guatemala intertwining it with lines from Langston Hughes poems. Alvarez got the permission to use the poem to base her 40-minute piece. Her husband arranged and mixed the rest of the music to provide an amazing moving music. From the website, “I Dream America primarily seeks to engage the tensions, commonalities, strains and histories between the Black and Latino communities. Traversing the political landscape of immigration and Hurricane Katrina, "I Dream America" will investigate compassion and peace and paint a disarming and thought-provoking critique of contemporary life and injustice.”
The performance put many dances together and after the first two pieces the audience was silent by being so moved by the emotion the dance conveyed it was amazing. The Hurricane Katrina sequence was the most powerful to me. The women had these blue flowing skirts that emulated water so well that at times in the dance they literally conveyed that helplessness of drowning in water and it was so believable it was very moving. I would recommend anyone to go see this dance troop they are amazing. Here is a video of them and a blog.
Considering how the Los Angeles Hollywood system is the biggest and most mainstream mode of cinema today, I am surprised (or maybe not so much) of how Hollywood fails to represent Japanese Americans or even Asian Americans generally in contemporary film. And if it does it nearly always represents Asian Americans in terms of strict stereotypes which are often insulting. The film 16 Candles (1984) is one out of many films I can think of which is racially insensitive and offensive to Asian Americans through its depiction of the character Long Duk Dong. To portray this character in the comedic sideline role is interesting, and I think Hollywood still do this. Why can’t Hollywood ever cast a Japanese American as a central protagonist? Why must Japanese cinema remain seen as an ‘art’ form of cinema? One could argue that Hollywood has progressed a long way in terms of African American characters in mainstream film, however I feel as though Japanese Americans are ignored more frequently. This shows how the media and mainstream Hollywood still influence what we see, or rather do not see, in terms of racial representations and public ideologies regarding race in America.
On a final note I found that the film Conscience and the Constitution (2000) tells the ‘true’ story of Japanese Internment Camps. Although I haven’t watched the film myself, I think this seems to offer a more accurate representation of Japanese Americans than the media of the World War II era portrayed.
When the first film studios opened in Hollywood in the early 1900s, much of the LA area was undeveloped. As film grew into a massive industry, Los Angeles grew into the second largest city in the United States. The city and the industry found a symbiotic relationship, with many Los Angeles residents and recent migrants attracted to the industry by the promise of fame and fortune on the silver screen. Similarly, the industry took advantage of the natural backdrop of LA, with its easy access to oceans, beach, and city streets, to add greater verisimilitude to films that were otherwise confined to back lots.
Thom Anderson documents the ways Los Angeles has been portrayed on film in his documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself. As “the most photographed city in the world,” Los Angeles provided Anderson with myriad clips showing the life of the city – even when it was playing another city. He documents how Los Angeles is portrayed as background, as character, and as subject in different films, including Killer of Sheep. The narrator notes how the city’s economic and racial woes have doomed Stan and his family, stating “The protagonist has a job: he is the killer of sheep. But a job can break your heart, too,” with the message that the city is processing them the way the slaughterhouse processes meat. (Like Killer of Sheep, Anderson’s film has never been released commercially due to rights issues.)
You see, I am half-Japanese and my maternal grandparents were interned during World War II. However, it seemed that my family never talked about the subject, and it was only after my grandfather passed away that I learned of intermnent - for the majority of the Japanese-American community that I lived in, internment was a silent subject, memories of which were not passed on to younger generations.
To help my generation learn about internment and to keep these memories, which still have social, political and cultural implications, I co-founded and played the bass in a community organization called the Minidoka Swing Band throughout high school. The Minidoka Swing Band is based on the Harmonaires, a band that played in the Minidoka internment camp. The Harmonaires, among other bands, played swing music at camp dances and concerts and boosted the internees' morale during the three years they spent in camps.
The Minidoka Swing Band plays at concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest at both cultural and music events, and even performed at the Minidoka Pilgrimage, an annual trip that many internees and civil-rights activists take to the site of the Minidoka Camp in remote Southern Idaho. Recently, the band was featured in the Wall Street Journal for keeping memories of internment from being lost(the link is below).
When I first think of Los Angeles, I immediately think about Hollywood and the glitz and glamour of movie stars. Awards shows such as the Oscars and the Grammys are the way many Americans get to interact with stars. I had the privilege of attending a different sort of awards show the previous Saturday in Westwood. I attended the GLAAD awards. According to their website, “The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives.”. The awards ceremony was a very interesting experience. Adam Lambert, the former American Idol contestant, performed, and Wanda Sykes and Drew Barrymore received awards. I think its important that Hollywood, which undoubtedly plays a huge role in shaping public opinions on social issues, recognizes and appreciates the queer community in media. As we have seen in class through the film “Killer of Sheep” and the discussions about “Superfly,” media has a great influence over how minorities are portrayed to the nation at large. Hollywood has in fact took charge in the fight against Proposition 8 last fall and continues to raise money and campaign while the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger trials (federal court accepting challenge of prop 8) are being held in San Franscisco. For example, director Rob Reiner and his wife, film producer Bruce Cohen (who produced “Milk” and “American Beauty”), and Dustin Lance Black (the screenwriter of “Milk”) all sit on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is dealing heavily with the Prop 8 trial. Since so many people in this nation, for better or for worse, admire celebrities and respect their opinions, it means a lot for them to support queer rights.
The GLAAD media awards official website can be accessed here: http://www.glaad.org/mediaawards
Sunday, April 18, 2010
After reading and seeing the art presented in Kristine Kuramitsu’s Internment and Identity in Japanese American Art, I decided to look at art created during/as a result of the Holocaust as people were confined in camps similar to those internment camps we read about. I found the work of artist David Olère and thought it was quite interesting. Instead of using art as a method of release or for just an activity to pass the time he used drawing and painting as a way to document what actually went on in concentration camps; he truly captured the horrific events and the emotions that went along with them. Interestingly enough, many of the pictures involve similar themes to the ones we read about in Kuramitsu’s article; fences, crucifixes, struggling children and families are just a few of the common motifs. The major difference I saw was that a lot of the internment camp artwork revolved around irony (of the “American Dream” or the “melting pot”) while Olère’s work is a much more grim and harsh reality.
To see some of David Olère’s work:
On Saturday, I was online on amazon when I decided to watch a movie on demand. I wasn't sure of what I wanted to watch, but I was in the mood to watch an “inspirational” movie. So I made a list of movies that I had heard about and that I had already seen; Stand and Deliver (1988) was one of them. I decided to watch this movie because it had been a while since I had last seen it, and I knew the story line which revolved around a math teacher in East Los Angeles' Garfield High School, who motivated his students to succeed in school. The movie portrays the harsh realities of the neighborhoods and the public schools of East L.A. such as the poverty and lack of educational resources. As I watched the movie, I remembered the book “Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon” (that I read for my book review) were the writer Eduardo Obregón Pagán describes the conditions of the working-class Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles in the 1940s. The negative images that were attributed to Latino neighborhoods and youth during this time, were depicted in Stand and Deliver which took place during the 1980s. Moreover, the film reminded me of Garcia's colonias which were predominantly occupied by working-class Mexican immigrants and Mexican American youths. In Stand and Deliver, “Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon,” and “The Colonia Complex Revisited,” the neighborhoods are segregated based on class and race and even though years have passed, today this is practically the same. I found a “Neighborhoods” section in the L.A. Times where you can learn detailed information regarding the 114 L.A. neighborhoods that they have on a list, and not surprisingly those on the East part of L.A. are still predominantly Latino and working-class, while those on the West side are white, upper-class neighborhoods with college-educated residents.
L.A. Times “Neighborhoods” section:
To others, however, it seems that since the brutality and bloodshed had a purpose, that of voicing out the frustrations of the conditions for blacks and their lack of opportunity for self improvement compared to whites, it makes more sense to call it a revolt. This was declared in an interview posted on the Findind Dulcinea website with Tommy Jacquette, who was a friend of Marquette Frye (the man whose arrest began the whole event) to the Times in 2005. He further added, “It was a response to police brutality and social exploitation of a community and of a people.”
I have always been the one to accept facts for what they are: facts. But in this case, after discussing the struggles of several ethnic groups in class, from Black to Hispanic to Asian, these two articles made me consider the possibility of finding a better explantion than just accepting what has been stated. In this case, for the people that praticipated in the riots of 1965, I think it would make more sense to call it a rebellion, because they did have a purpose. In my opinion, the fact that it happened in Los Angeles, which was ironically known for having the best living conditions for blacks, causes more speculation as to why the name “riot” has stuck more, which gives the implication that blacks were just waiting for a chance to rise against the government.
Another article in the NPR website included an interview with Alice Harris (known as Sweet Alice), who has lived in Watts for 46 years, and says that there has been little change ever since. She claimed “"Everybody is tense -- no jobs, zero tolerance in the housing projects... people scared of the police.”
This leaves the thought of whether the possibility of another riot (or rebellion) of any scale is likely to happen again in the future. Race tensions are still rather high, and with issues such as immigration and others emerging, I cannot help but think how much people can tolerate in this day in age before forming a rebellion, a social movement with the purpose of making their lives better, not a revolt, which would only keep the stereotypes and tensions alive for who knows how many more years.
Our class discussion of how Killer of Sheep portrayed Watts reminded of a documentary called Crips and Bloods: Made in America. This is a documentary about the gang violence in South Central Los Angeles. I can’t really decide if this is a movie portraying “city of fact” or “city of feeling”. It explains the history of the war between the Crips and Bloods gang as well as how historic barriers created the neighborhood. This movie does a good job of explaining why these people are here by interviewing gang members or former gang members who explain how the destructive cycle of killing and revenge binds them to their territory. However, I do think that this documentary does reinforce the stereotype of South Central as a gang infested community. There are people who are not in gangs in the area, but as this documentary is discussing this prevalent part of the community it characterizes the community, perhaps unfairly. Furthermore, the movie does not address the fact that South Central is turning into a Hispanic neighborhood. But, the documentary does provide a story of hope towards the end as it discusses the ways to stay out of gangs and how to perhaps end the gangs in the future. Below is the link to the trailer and a few interviews with different people involved in the movie.
Our class discussion of how Killer of Sheep portrayed Watts reminded of a documentary called Crips and Bloods: Made in America. This is a documentary about the gang violence in South Central Los Angeles. I can’t really decide if this is a movie portraying “city of fact” or “city of feeling”. It explains the history of the war between the Crips and Bloods gang as well as how historic barriers created the neighborhood. This movie does a good job of explaining why these people are here by interviewing gang members or former gang members who explain how the destructive cycle of killing and revenge binds them to their territory. However, I do think that this documentary does reinforce the stereotype of South Central as a gang infested community. There are people who are not in gangs in the area, but as this documentary is discussing this prevalent part of the community it characterizes the community, perhaps unfairly. Furthermore, the movie does not address the fact that South Central is turning into a Hispanic neighborhood. But, the documentary does provide a story of hope towards the end as it discusses the ways to stay out of gangs and how to perhaps end the gangs in the future.
Below is the link to the trailer and a few interviews with different people involved in the movie:
As I was looking for lasting effects of the Watts Riots, I ran into something unexpected: Krumping. I had heard of it before, and even seen it done on the new MTV show The Buried Life. But how do the riots and Krumping have anything to do with each other? Well, Krumping is the new street dance that is hitting big in South Los Angeles. Since the riots, the Southside of LA has always been considered a dangerous and hard neighborhood. Drugs, violence, and crime seem to be the majority of things that go on there, but Krumping could be the new way out.
The people that live in South LA are using this high-energy style of dance as a new way to release any anger or hostility they have. By battling other people, they transform this anger into dance. Many say it has gotten them out of the drug and crime life they had been living, and because of that, it may have saved their lives. One example is Tommy the Clown. He says he used to be in the drug life, frequented jail, and lived a dangerous life. When he got out, he decided to change. He became Tommy the Clown and krumps in a full clown costume. He has moved forward and left the drugs and jail behind, thanks to Krumping.
On Saturday, my dad was here and we went to a Dodgers vs. Giants baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Being there, in Chavez Ravine got me thinking about things I'd heard about that area being a former neighborhood of Mexican Americans and how they were forced out of their homes before the stadium was constructed. So, for my blog post, I decided to do more research and see what I could find about the history of Chavez Ravine.
This area was the home to about 300 Mexican American families by the 1940's. It's not too far from downtown LA, but it was a more rural setting, with hills and park for the children to play in, as well as land for some small animals and gardens. The description of life reminds me of the colonias from Matt Garcia's A World of its Own, because they were primarily insular and self-sustaining. There was a real sense of community for the people that lived there, and a feeling of belonging, as many of the families owned their houses and property. But, in 1949, the city of Los Angeles told them they needed to leave their homes because the city wanted to build public housing. All the families were forced out and displaced with no real place to go. This reminded me of the situation those interned at the Japanese Internment camps from the Kuramitsu reading. They were forced out of their lives and told to report to camp, not knowing how long they would be there and what would be waiting for them when they got out. The feelings of displacement and the sense of loss of empowerment are recurring themes I've seen throughout our readings this year. A government or a big institution comes in and forcibly changes the lives of a group of people - it tends to be a minority group or immigrant population - and the people are left to start their lives over within the context of the institution that has demonstrated control over their lives. One of the tools people turn to is representation. We saw in Garcia's work how the Mexican Players used Padua Hills to help themselves economically, but also through representation. They followed Bess Gardner's direction, but also, through their supposed authenticity, demonstrated a type of person that was "Mexican" and a culture that could be learned from and appreciated by outsiders. The Native Americans used tools like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and early movies to demonstrate a controlled image of themselves; one that was powerful yet peaceful, as seen through the stage shows and then the backstage "real" living environments staged by Buffalo Bill, but executed by the Native Americans themselves. The National Museum of the American Indian, in Amanda Cobb's article, also shows how the Native Americans are engaging in representation and portrayal today, depicting themselves as complex individuals, with a collective narrative that is not as two dimensional as we have tried to make it. The art, done both in the Japanese internment camps, and after, helps to construct both individual histories and collective narratives, and influences how we view the experiences of the camps.
In 1949, the people of Chavez Ravine let their lives be documented by Don Normark, a photographer who captured the daily lives of the people of those neighborhoods. A few years later, all the homes were destroyed and the people were gone; politics of the city raged, and eventually, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were to become the Los Angeles Dodgers, bought the land and build Dodger Stadium which opened in 1962. Now, fifty years later, there is an effort to educate people of the history of Chavez Ravine, headed by filmmaker Jordan Mechner. His film brings together former residents of Chavez Ravine and some of the city officials responsible for displacing these residents in an effort to tell the story. While I haven't seen the film, I found the trailer, and watching it brought up questions in my mind about representation and constructing a collective narrative. I wonder about how these people create the memories in their minds and their histories to find a place for their stories in today's world.
Going to Chavez Ravine today means going to watch baseball. There is no trace left of the 300 families that once lived there. The cheers of thousands of baseball fans have almost drowned their voices out. But not quite. Now, with Don Normark's photo journal and Jordan Mechner's film, hopefully these people will survive the displacement of history.
Site for the film and history:
Trailer for Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story:
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
In his book A World of Its Own, Matt Garcia explores the complex web of interaction present between various immigrant groups and American culture. While he notes the importance of many groups, including the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino, he focuses on the consistent attraction of Mexican laborers to American opportunities and vice versa. Later on, he discusses the Padua Hills Theatre and offers a cautious praise of the theatre’s intentions to bring Mexican culture into a dialogue with American consciousness through the stories, words, and representations of Mexicans themselves. While Garcia notes the importance the theatre held in offering the Mexican Players opportunities to perform and interact with an artistic community, he reminds readers that the white community failed “to recognize the valid artistry of the Mexican performers” (Garcia, 150). Instead, critics and observers tended to subscribe the talents of the performers to a supposed natural and inherent inclination toward art.
Using Garcia’s focus on the arts, I looked at another immigrant group’s artistic legacy in Los Angeles, the Chinese. The Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles offers visitors a chance to explore the Chinese impact and history within California. At the same time, it aims to give voice to the often- silenced personal experience of Chinese immigrants. In this way, the museum, like the Padua Hills Theatre, seeks to illuminate the different understandings of the American experience in the words of the people themselves. Currently, the museum has an exhibit entitled “Hollywood Chinese.” This exhibit looks at the representation of the Chinese in and the contributions of the Chinese to American films. According to the Executive Director of the museum, “this exhibition will help to inform our communities about the transformative role of race and media and the immense power it continues to have in shaping public perception of Chinese American identity” (Press Release, 2). In this way, the exhibit, like the Padua Hills Theatre, attempts to open up a new understanding of immigrant cultures by exploring artistic representation.
Link to CAM exhibit information page:
The last time I visited the station, I was surprised to read on a tiny plaque in Patsaouras Plaza a bit of the history of Union Station – not just 20th century history, but specifically the history of the Native American tribes who had once occupied the land in the 19th century.
The little information I found on the web was about the Tongva and Chumash people who occupied most of the now-Los Angeles area. The first Spanish settlers arrived in the area in 1781, and by 1841 had conquered the estimated 5,000 Tongva by building missions (for example, the Mission de San Gabriel in 1771) and destroying one village in particularly, the Yang-na village by the Los Angeles River. By 1841, the remaining Tongva survivors were scattered and living on Mexican land grants. The estimated 20,000 Chumash were attacked as well, and today only a few hundred of the tribes’ descendants remain today.
The cycle of injustice and conquest continues today. I should note the plaque I read did not include the following information – apparently, Union Station was built in 1915 on land once called Old Chinatown, where a significant Chinese population lived because they were strongly discouraged from living in other parts of the city. The residents were given a 45 day notice and ousted from their homes by the government in an (ironic) attempt to move the city’s center from the El Pueblo neighborhood it once occupied because the old area had become too racist and violent. According to the LA Conservancy,“…the city needed the station”.
The island has a rich history and has played a key role in Los Angeles history. The indigenous people of Catalina were members of the Southern California Tongva tribe, and archeological digs estimate the first settlement beginning in 7000 BC. The first European to discover Catalina was the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed on the island in the mid 1500’s and christened it San Salvdaor after his ship. However, the island was later renamed Santa Catalina in honor of Saint Catherine.
After centuries of private Mexican and American ownership, Catalina was deeded to Los Angeles County ,and has since become a prominent vacation spot for Southern Californian residents. The island offers variety of water sport activities, hiking trails, and historic landmarks, including WWII barracks, the Wrigley Casino and the Zane Grey Pueblo.
Source: Santa Catalina Island, Ca.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
As a typical American girl of Generation Y, I grew up surrounded by representations of life as presented by Disney. Aladdin, Peter Pan, and Pocahontas present three of the most vivid and memorably ethnic characters, and our reading of “Representation: Indian Wars, The Movie” reminded me specifically of Pocahontas and Peter Pan. In his article, Deloria studies portrayals of Indian culture in early American film through The Indian Wars and similar movies from the early 1900s. These representations focused on ideas of “masculine conflict” and “feminine passivity” that seemed to attract filmmakers and viewers of the time period. And though it is easy to read about and see these early films (like we did White Fawn’s Devotion) and laugh at their primitiveness, naïveté and basic racism, it’s interesting that as children we were allowed to see (usually many, many times) things like Pocahontas and Peter Pan without anyone saying boo. The same themes from the early 1900s are acted out by the Indians in Pocahontas’s tribe and the Chief and Tiger Lilly in Neverland, but we’ve allowed them to pass under the radar as less offensive and usually a whole lot more acceptable for the malleable minds of little children. I’m not saying there’s much we can do about this—after all, Disney will probably never change no matter how many years go by (hello, Princess and the Frog)—but I find it funny how little has changed in our country’s idea of what is and is not politically correct, though we assume we’ve come a long way.
--A great link on the most racist Disney films: http://www.cracked.com/article_15677_the-9-most-racist-disney-characters.html
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Kristine Kuramitsu’s “Internment and Identity in Japanese American Art” really got me thinking about the different experiences of immigrants thru World War II. On a broader scale, I came to realize that I know very little about Japanese-American history, except for what I learned close to three years ago in the last history course that I took. In addition, I have rarely been present at Japanese or Japanese-American cultural events [with a few minor exceptions]. This ignited my search for exhibits to expand my knowledge and broaden my gaze in terms of the different groups of people that contributed to the United State’s cultural past and steered it to it’s state as modern-day America. However, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.
I found my search over when I went to one of the centers of the type of information I was looking for. At the Japanese American National Museum in Las Angeles, CA., there is an exhibit that has been there for 11 years: “Common Ground: The Heart of Community”. Including over 100 objects that range from art to artifact, the exhibit chronicles over 130 years of history that I have yet to learn.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Santa’s workshop—Inside China’s Slave Labor Toy Factories gives us a precious perspective on factory workers’ workplace environment in China. In the video, the workers told the interviewer that they usually had to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. There was no minimum wage—the more you work, the more you get. If you work only the normal shifts of 8 hours, you could only get ￥200，or $30 each month, which is even less than the social security aid in major cities. Therefore these workers had to work overtime “voluntarily” so as to earn enough money to make a living. Besides low wages, the workers suffer from unbearable hot environment at workplace. In the video, the narrator claimed that it was “difficult to breath” in the factory. There are also safety issues in the factories. In spite of its obvious delinquencies, the factory was seen to abide the ethic code by its customers every time they visited. In addition, there was no worker’s union in the factory to help workers strife for their rights. The commonly existence of this kind of factory in China certainly made Roger believe that he has done his best for the welfare of his workers.While workers in Roger's factory are essential parts of Mardi Gras, they do not enjoy being that particular part of the festival.
On the other hand, the factory in this video has its own difficulty: customers always want to get goods in a very short period, which could only be achieved with overtime working. To fulfill the requirement so that they can continue to get contracts, factories have to encourage their workers to work overtime to accomplish the task. Had the customers grant longer production period, the overtime could be largely avoided.
The video also inspires us to reassess the cost of globalization which was mentioned in our discussion. It is true that globalization makes goods cheaper. But the cost to the development country is substantial. The factories, committed to finish tasks on time to win future contracts, force their workers to work overtime by setting low wages for regular work time. Also as a result, the pollution to the local environment is conspicuous as mentioned in the video. In short, the industry chose developing countries to maximize profit. However, the industry takes its toll on the workers and on the environment in developing countries.
Link to the video:
Monday, March 29, 2010
This article “Houses of the Future” from The Atlantic focuses on the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The author highlights five different houses that have been built using modern materials and ideas as part of the effort to rebuild New Orleans. These houses, and the housing projects that have produced them, have originated from independent neighborhood projects, created by “an assortment of foundations, church groups, academics, corporate titans, Hollywood celebrities, young people with big ideas, and architects on a mission.” These new developments are rising next to houses that were destroyed in Katrina and at the same time they differ from and are influenced by their surroundings. Many on the housing designs take inspiration from traditional New Orleans housing staples- porches are nearly always included. They also try to prevent devastation from happening in the future- some houses are elevated or feature roof access in case of an emergency. Most of these projects also use green technology to reduce their environmental impact.
I connected this article to Trouble the Water. The people in the film complained that the government did not send enough help to New Orleans during Katrina and they also did not send enough help to rebuild afterwards. The evidence from this article proves that. In New Orleans, “depending on whom you talk to, government at all levels has been passive and slow-moving at best, or belligerent and actively harmful at worst.” Because of this, independent entities have some up with their own plan to try and rebuild after the disaster. With so many ideas, New Orleans has turned “into something of a Petri dish for ideas about housing and urban life.” Hopefully all these ideas will continue to take root in New Orleans and neighborhoods will be revitalized so that Katrina’s effects can be reversed.
As Clyde Woods describes in “Katrina’s World,” the Bourbons ruled France and its colonies, including New Orleans, for nearly two centuries. One of the hallmarks of their colonial rule was the Code Noir, which has been seen as a progressive document ensuring that slaves in the Louisiana territory were treated more humanely than their counterparts in Anglophone North America. Of course, this humane treatment only extended to the replacement of “the rack, mutilation, and dismemberment” with such tactics as “being branded with the fleur-de-lys” (431).
One notable policy of the Code Noir was the ability of slaves to purchase their freedom. In “Calas: The Rice Fritter That Freed the Slaves,” Francis Lam discusses the role of the cala, a rice fritter originating in Ghana and similar to the more famous beignet, in the history of slavery in New Orleans. Because work was forbidden on Sundays, some slaves supposedly sold calas on the street on that day in order to raise funds to buy their freedom. The tradition of selling calas on the street continued past the end of the Code Noir and outlived slavery in the United States, only ending around World War II.
As a result, calas are deeply entwined with the history of free and enslaved blacks in New Orleans. In fact, calas were not only sold by slaves, but by free blacks as well. And some slaves were selling at their owner’s behest, earning money for their master rather than their freedom. One of the most prominent cala chefs, Poppy Tooker, repeats the comment “I think if you have the calas tradition in your family and y'all think you're all-white folks, you have to look a little harder.” As Lam concludes, this intermingling of cultures is what makes New Orleans distinct among American cities.
Vibrant in color and garishly adorned with beads, shining rhinestones and feathers, the traditional costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians celebrate the bounty of life and serve to lay their claim to the space around them. They are physical manifestations of the process that brings them together in camaraderie, sharing skills, attitudes, and traditions as they build their elaborate suits. This year, however, Indians have a new goal in mind: making money.
In Campbell Robertson’s article Want to Use My Suit? Then Throw Me Something (NYTimes), he explains a recent movement among participants in the Indian ritual to seek copyright protection for their suits. Frustrated with the pictures snapped of their costumes each Mardi Gras, proponents of the copyrights hope to receive financial compensation for the photos. One photographer who Robertson interviewed, Christopher Porché West said, “What they really need to do is self-exploit. If they want to make money from their culture, they should find a way to commodify it and bring that to the market.”
The comments in the article brought to my mind the questions raised by Lipsitz’s piece concerning the Mardi Gras Indian ritual’s role as a counter-narrative. It’s clear that the influence of commercial culture has altered the folk tradition, but it also demonstrates the ability of a marginalized group to introduce their values into popular culture. Still, now I’m left wondering, does the Indians’ opposition to the pictures challenge a form of exploitation?... or does it simply highlight the unequal resources and opportunities which define life in New Orleans society?
link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/us/24orleans.html?scp=1&sq=new%20orleans&st=cse
However, the tourism industry deeply affects New Orleans' residents. I found a paper, written by a Tulane Universiy (in New Orleans) scholar, right before Hurricane Katrina on how gentrification affected and continues to change New Orleans' French Quarter, or Vieux Carre. Before commercialization came in the 1950's, the French Quarter used to be a diverse neighborhood, a social mixing spot for French-speaking and English-, speaking New Orleans residents, hence the name French Quarter. The neighborhood was also quite diverse, with a 20% of the neighborhood African American (p. 8). The neighborhood, while pleasant to live in, also had relatively inexpensive property values.
Basically, during the 1950's and 1960's, the city's elite, such as wealthy whites, businessmen, and Bourbons, thought that it would be a good idea to commercialize and sell the city's culture to tourists. While this brought a lot of new jobs and money for New Orleans residents, it also transformed the French Quarter into the romanticized image of the South many Americans, including myself, associate with the ciy. Property values rose, forcing many locally-owned businesses out. The lack of basic necessities, such as grocery stores, and high property values forced many of the less affluent residents, both white and African American, into different parts of New Orleans (10).
Due to this gentrification and commercialization, the population of the neighborhood dropped, especially within the African-American community (the population of African Americans has dropped tenfold since gentrification began), and most of the neighborhood is now made up of souvinier shops, jazz clubs, bars, and hotels. While to many outsiders, the French Quarter retains it's diverse, exotic past, to many long-time, New Orleans residents, it is a hollow shell, commercialized shell of it's former self.
This article reminded me of Woods' article, Katrina's World, that we read on Bourbonism, and how "New Orleans excels at a form of tourism that packages the lived experience of historically oppressed communities for the comfortable consumption of the privileged." (Woods 447).
In its latest movie, the Princess and the Frog, and in its theme parks, Disney characterizes New Orleans with ornate riverboats, jazz music, Mardi Gras, and voodoo. While there is much to be said about the riverboat and voodoo aspect of this portrayal, for the sake of length I will focus on the music and Mardi Gras aspect of the portrayal.
The Princess and the Frog film is set in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1920s, a time "when jazz was thriving" according to Disney's press release. Disney had a lot of stake with the movie, because it was not only Disney's 1) return to 2D animation but 2) portrayed a real city and 3) featured the first Disney African American princess. It was in Disney's best interest to stay true to New Orleans, and it intended to do so. Regardless, when John Lasseter chose Randy Newman to create the music instead of acclaimed composer (popular with Disney) Alan Menken it created quite the stir. Lasseter chose Newman partly because Newman had more eperience with pop/jazz-ish music than Menkens did. Besides, Newman was born in New Orleans and frequented the New Orlean’s Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Of course, Disney didn't question whether or not New Orlean’s really was the birth place of jazz, but neither does the general population. In addition, the Mardi Gras Indians article we read mentioned that most jazz musicians were males, and Professor Huang mentioned that females only joined the music scene as pianists. While at Disneyland, I noticed that all of the musicians were male and in the movie they are all male as well. I suppose this stays true to form, but I'm not sure whether it was intentional or not.
Since Disney had a lot at stake with the movie, it was attentive to detail and tried to portray New Orleans accurately. The animators of the film were sticklers for detail and visited New Orleans, interviewed residents, and checked their facts as much as possible – they even made sure to draw the clock on the St. Louis Cathedral with a IIII roman numeral, just as it can be found in real life.
In terms of historical context and race relations, however, Disney didn’t do the best job. As we read in “Katrina’s World” the 1920s were a time for bourbonism and conservatism in New Orleans. Many Black Louisianans migrated to East St. Louis to escape oppression, extreme racial tensions, and to find jobs. In addition, 1927 was the year of the Great Flood and the late 1920s the time of Huey Long – although Disney may have gotten animation details right, the historical context is not quite right.
But of course, this is entertainment. No one wants to see a movie where Tiana’s restaurant is flooded right after she opens it…it still is a bit strange though. As Professor Huang mentioned, we do not live in a post-racial society. It seems kind of silly drawing this connection...but I couldn't help but notice that at Disneyland, the "ethnic" Disney princesses are grossly under-represented and none of them have their own rides. In addition, Disney's New Orleans Square was portrayed as a fun, musical place serving Tiana’s gumbo. There were colors everywhere, and a mardi gras dance. The entire place was decorated with mardi gras beads, and every time I looked at them I was reminded of Mardi Gras: Made in China and the factory that produced the beads, a factory which probably does not advertise itself as the happiest place on earth.