By Frankie Firme
In my quest to seek out and find the Raza at it’s best through music, I am confronted with a set of realities about the Raza that need to be stated and reconsidered immensely for necessary change and adaptation, if we are to survive as a Gente and a credible entity in this new millenium.
First and foremost, we must accept the fact that we are saturated and infected with the curse of drug abuse and class distinction mispercepctions among ourselves, which has resulted in the social abandonement, and poisoning of our young.
Myth: Most substance abusers in L.A. are Mexican American and African American street gang members.
Yet, this is the mentality of Law Enforcement and white-influenced community leadership groups when public policy is considered. Add to this the general apathy and self -imposed resentment from the more affluent segments of our Gente, and it’s no wonder our (minority) neighborhoods are targeted and regularly raided in the media circus known as the news.
This has created the misconception and stereotype that minority neighborhoods are inhabited solely by miscreants, who are not worthy of public services other than police scrutiny, and who are socially inferior, and deserving the sentence of poverty and desperation. When some of our young people do seek treatment and/or public services, they are viewed with mistrust & suspicion, almost with a punitive attitude.
A white addict or alcoholic is viewed as a “Good boy or girl led astray,” or “a victim of hard times”, whereas a Latino or Black sufferer of the same affliction is viewed as an expected consequence of their race & environment.
I know. I’ve worked in the public health field for over 26 years.
The sight of a young Chicano or Chicana, suffering, sick and destitute from drugs and alcohol, actually hurts my heart and feelings. What’s worse is the denial from Raza that it’s an epidemic of our people that keeps our population in check! “It only happens to the gang members from poor neighborhoods,” they insist.
I want to scream out “Stop this shit!” but my Gente continue to destroy themselves, and allow themselves to be destroyed.
When you consider that in the Latino culture, complaining is viewed as a sign of weakness, it’s no wonder injustices have prevailed and perpetuated. A Chicano can go to prison for years for two drunk driving tickets, while there are white guys who have ripped off consumers and elderly for millions in the junk bond market, yet all they got were fines and probation, and today live in the luxury afforded by their ill gotten gains. It is a researched fact that Latinos are the ethnic group least expected to litigate, and are thus overly represented in the prison system. No brainer, ¿Qué no?
Hell, 30 years ago, I had a brief but lucrative stint as a drug dealer. I got most of the best dope from rich white enclaves like Manhattan Beach and Malibu, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. Never got popped, never got hasseled in those neighborhoods, and I’m talking white people who lived in expensive homes bought by drug profits.
They were never suspect, never scrutinized. Lucky as I was, it only took one close call to end this as a career for me, but I was enlightened to learn that some of the best customers of my connections were the high schools and colleges of the elites (i.e. whites). White people I tell this story to still scratch their heads in disbelief. They believe it’s only a problem in Latino and Black neighborhoods. Ha!
Secondly, we have a traditional, albeit misguided, unspoken tribal sense of territoriality amongst ourselves that non-Latinos cannot begin to conceptualize. We carry the “Us vs Them” and “Mexican crab” concepts to unbalanced extremes.
One of the most disgusting examples that come to mind was the shameful way Latinos fought amongst themselves and split the Latino vote in the last L.A. Mayoral race, enabling a laughing white guy (with a “pet Mexican”) to easily win an election in a city that is overwhelmingly Latino, with traditionally ignored Latino issues.
Another example is the way young Latinos challenge each other in the street with the “Where you from?” question. We always seem to be sizing each other up if we don’t know each other.
I work in the professional field, and a lot of the Latino professionals I come into contact with are always suprised that a big, dark-skinned, tattooed, goateed and ponytailed older guy like me can actually exist in their midst articulate and capable despite their misconceptions to the contrary based on my appearance. It seems to irritate them to no end that I identify myself as Chicano, whereas they prefer “Hispanic” or “other”.
These are usually the social nerds and dorks (with some exceptions, of course) wearing Armani suits and driving a Mercedes, who seem to have some retaliatory intentions while proving they don’t favor their own, by overzealously scrutinizing their own if given a position of power. New grads/incompetent cronies in supervisory positions come to mind here, along with the occassional “Rambo” mall security supervisor. Ha! The denial & rationalization reach high levels here.
I am also an Oldies but Goodies DJ, producing and hosting one of the most popular Oldies Radio shows on the World Wide Web. I have been privileged to meet some of the most successful artists, authors, producers and promoters in the Chicano music world, who continue with the music out of love for the music, and the people and times they represent.
Surprisingly, I have received e-mails from different parts of the world, from people who enjoy the music, but who also have questions about the Raza, the concept of Aztlan, and the low-riding lifestyle.
More surprisingly is that most of my critics are Mi Gente, the Raza! People who seem to take umbrage that I’m promoting a type of music that represents (to them) a lifestyle of crime, violence, hard times and substance abuse. Calling it “Thug or Gangbanger music from the Old Days,” these pendejos/pendejas completely disrespect the talent, the devotion, and the sacrifice these artists and their audiences experienced to become part of Americana, not to mention some good times and memories. Being a lowrider who loves to dance and party is really not such a bad thing. We have education & jobs too!
Here again, I want to shout out “Knock this shit off!,” but critics will continue to exist, either out of envy, self hatred or narrow mindedness. It just hurts a little when it’s my people against my people.
Coming of age during the Chicano Movimiento, what I remember most fondly is the way the Raza came together all over Aztlan. Truces among the different barrios, beautiful music, beautiful people, and beautiful times. No pedo, no platos, puro acceptance and Carnalismo so thick, you could wrap it in a tortilla. Educational and social programs that protected and helped the weak, the underprivileged, and the needy. Our people. Livin’ large in Aztlan!
Somehow, our complacency has allowed the gradual erosion of the gains the Movimiento brought, and there’s always the “coconuts who know better” who screw things up with their personal agendas contrary to the common good of the Gente.
We need to come together like that again, Raza. The older generation stands ready to bat clean-up in support of a younger generation that has yet to step up to the plate. (Interesting baseball analogy, using a brown club to hit a white sphere being thrown at you from a mound, with only two outcomes: You hit it and hope to score, or you’re out.)
Until that time, the music plays on. I welcome your comments.
Frankie Firme spins the finest Chicano style, lowriding Oldies on the World Wide Web website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com. Firmemusica@Hotmail.com. Reprinted from LALatino.com July 3, 2003.