One of my favorite musical groups came to the Midwest this month and we caught up with them for their last stop at College of Lake County. Las Cafeteras is a group of musical storytellers from East L.A. that carry on the tradition of Son Jarocho, an Afro-Mexican style that they learned at The Eastside Café. In spending time with them, I was happy to learn that they see music as their means of storytelling, which is the best tool for their real goal. Hector Flores describes the group as activists first, with backgrounds in community organizing that go back a decade. Fame and fortune are secondary to changing hearts and minds of the people who hear their music.
They spread a message that’s in line with ours and were happy to meet people throughout Chicago, Milwaukee and Missouri that are awake and fighting truth to power like they do. Their show had strong cultural, interactive and educational aspects to it, including a song where they ask audience members what they would do if they were President. They invited us all to believe that we could lead the world while also making us aware of the many challenges that we face; the prison-industrial complex, LGBTQ rights and income inequality to name a few. They don’t just lay problems on the table, they also leave audiences with the tools to fix them… It would warm their hearts to know that Illinois passed Marriage Equality while they were in town. Orale!
They stress the revolutionary significance of their music by explaining that the origins of the Zapateado, a stomping style of percussion, came from a time when drums were banned among African slaves to keep them from transmitting stories. The theme of reclaiming banned stories or taboo traditions is ever-present in their music. Before performing their interpretation of La Bamba, they asked the audience to recognize the full name of the artist that made the song famous, Ricardo Venezuela. This reminded us of his sacrifice, as well as the risk he took in releasing a song in Spanish, something that was prohibited by the record industry at the time.
We stuck around after the show for a workshop that they called Racism: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, where they introduced us to catchy ways to communicate ideas that we wrestle with at The CG Project.
Two Worlds, One Hood – This is something we’ve witnessed during moments like Obama’s re-election and through the reactions to Trayvon Martin’s death and the George Zimmerman verdict. It’s a recognition that everyone experiences the world differently. One person’s hero is another person’s villain. We’ve tried to write about this but never achieved the eloquence of those four words.
Two Ears, One Mouth – Simply put, talk less. Listen more. This is the hardest lesson to learn so they make it playful. Your Creator gave you two ears and one mouth because you should listen twice as much as you talk. Listening is their solution to many of the problems that stem from racism. I couldn’t agree more.
The last thing I’ll mention about the content of the workshop is the most crucial. Nobody self-identifies as a racist. It’s important to separate who someone is from what they have done. Telling someone that an action they’ve made was racist is a better starting point for dialogue than calling someone a racist. Furthermore, instead of trying to change racist tendencies in other people, we should acknowledge the prejudices that we carry ourselves and strive to change those instead. That way, you’ll be the pebble that sends ripples across the pond.
They ended the workshop with a writing exercise, lead by Daniel French. Storytelling being at the core of their mission, they wanted to leave us with the power to tell our own stories. The way that they did this was very poetic and it made me think of something I wrote about the cultural renaissance we’re witnessing today. They lead everyone in the room through the process of writing their story and then asked everyone to read them out loud at the same time. This meant that you could scream your story at the top of your lungs and no one would hear it.
In the spirit of Two Worlds, One Hood; I’ll say that the experience could be read both as a cacophony of people blathering about themselves or a catharsis of people liberating their stories. I choose the latter and found the experience liberating. In the spirit of Two Ears, One Mouth; I put my story down and picked up the camera.
I am from an afterthought, cluttered two-car garages and plush chem-lawn grass. I fear stagnation, slowing to a stop and failure. I dream of something I can’t yet imagine, of knowing and believing. I feel most free when I’m where I belong, in transit, with a clear path in sight. – M.Contreras