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Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados

2016 marks the 25th anniversary of that “spic band” Los Crudos. The Chicago band who, with their discordant sounds, brought awareness to issues that affected the Latino community. Twenty Five years of performing, speaking out and using music as a way to stand up against oppression from local gentrification to international atrocities. Martin Sorrondeguy wants to mark this anniversary, not just as a music ceremony, but as an event to honor the culture that came and keeps coming out of neighborhoods such as Pilsen and La Villita. And by culture, Desafinados, a 9 day-long event, aims to celebrate underground punk culture by highlighting the works of artists, musicians, writers, activists and thinkers from these communities.

The visual exhibition will include Hector Duarte, Juan Compean, Ricardo Compean, David Naylan Jimenez, Lupe Garza, Miguel Cortez, Magdalena Rodriguez, Nuco Villanueva, Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa, Gerardo Villareal and others. There will also be video screenings, an art fair, a literary night, a punk art panel and queer art night.

Movements are created by many people. Desafinados aims to document what went on in Pilsen and La Villita in the late ‘90s and early 2000s in terms of the political activism that took these areas by storm. An activism that was enabled by artists, musicians, activists, writers, and those wonderful spaces that opened their doors to punk rock en español concerts, art exhibits, political discussions, film showings and poetry readings. Places like Calles y Sueños, Décima Musa, Casa Aztlán, and the many garages and basements that made this possible. As Martin says, “Looking back we can say we did more than just try.” They acted out politics through any means possible. Calles y Sueños was a most influential place to many because José David let people use the space to show movies from “Pasolini” to “Raul Ruiz”, to having music shows and art openings. A place like Calles y Sueños will be cherished for being part of the foundation that radicalized many artists, writers and activists. Places like those mentioned gave many the freedom to be. These times got recorded in photographs, videos, writings as well as paintings, prints and other art forms. From Tras de nada crashing Fiesta del Sol, to the Pilsen 8 taking the City of Chicago to court over gentrification in Cortez vs. the City of Chicago.

Los Crudos are not doing what is expected from a band. They will not revel and play a live show as would be the norm. Instead, they aim to highlight the works of many people who were part of those agitating times. There were many bands, artists, activists, writers that created the “scene” that formed the conscience of those times. Desafinados is going to showcase a story of a community that informed and transformed itself in order to create an alternative culture. Martin thinks it’s important to document the history of Pilsen and La Villita via the music, politics and art that molded it. This is why he’s putting together this event. He finds it’s necessary in order to understand “Who we are and what happened in these communities. Our stories, work and ideas are what gives shape to the areas in which we live.” He adds that “If we only rely on institutions to ‘playback’ the history of our community, we would find that all the creativity and activism has been omitted.”

In order to fight this omission they built their own reality and resisted those parts of culture that get represented and promoted because they tend to be only those that can be marketed, packaged and sold. “As a community, be it Latino/Chicano, queer or any other disenfranchised population, we get marketed with representations that in turn, pins us under stereotypes and it becomes a cyclical problem.” He adds that very little space is made for the ‘other’. The ‘other’ being the one outside society, the one who is different or oppressed by mainstream culture. Out of tune and alive, these ‘others’ are the ones who represent the diverse voices and people on the outside. The mainstream doesn’t touch anything that can’t be marketable. As examples, he brings up queer stories, feminist stories, non- traditional, non-conservative and non-religious stories. And this is where the dissonance in Desafinados comes in. They are those divergent ‘others’ often ignored in society. They are people not in harmony with a social order that does not represent “our otherness,” he says.

According to Martin, Los Crudos had to happen. Their music came out of frustration and a need to make space for the ‘other,’ for the youth that were searching for something different, searching for something that wasn’t offered by schools or other institutions.

The options were limited and “we wanted so much more. We were desperate, and out of that desperation and frustration we created.” Music, songs and art were and are their vehicle to impact people until they listen. Culture, life, society and the world are not harmonious and they began to reflect a raucous existence.

Los Crudos play punk rock in Spanish because the issues they were confronted with were present in their lives, and were specific to their experiences. So coming from a Latino community, why not sing in a common language? “We found that it was the most effective way of claiming who we were and not cowering or feeling ashamed of our native language,” he says, adding that, “they, meaning the Trumps of the past and present, did not succeed in making us feel less than anyone and we are proof of that.”

The issues they highlighted are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago. He says that there currently is a massive trend where extreme right-wing ideas and activities are becoming the norm in the public arena. And that topics dealing with the economy, education, displacement, poverty, wars, wealth and gentrification remain a huge problem.

“The songs we wrote 25 years ago are still relevant and we still shout them with the same ferocity. We should not lose sight of what we have done and the impact it has made, especially on young people. We need to reclaim what we’ve done because it came from our creative minds.” Neighborhoods across America that are not affluent or middle class are faced with realities that are often hidden or simply ignored. From these disenfranchised neighborhoods comes some of the most creative movements that have impacted pop or mainstream culture, be it hip-hop, punk, house music etc., the sounds as well as the fashion have shaped “who we are today and we need to celebrate our efforts because they are ours,” Martin says.

Los Crudos recently returned from tour. The spic band had a wonderful time touring Europe. He says they played in London, Germany, Holland and all over Scandinavia, and that people were extremely supportive. They “found and connected with Latinos living in European countries and living the experience as ‘illegals’ in a European setting. Playing for all those communities was important as well as fun.” He feels that since they began to play again, they are making connections with many people. Martin is a firm believer in making connections, saying that he wants to connect with ‘Johnny from the suburbs’ because, “if Johnny were to sing-along with us and get behind our music and message, the things that he was taught to fear, such as cities, bad neighborhoods, people of color etc., those fears could possibly dissipate. That is my hope at least.” Their message was never intended for only those who “get it,” it was intended to reach those who perhaps don’t fully “get it.” Los Crudos have always strived to reach people in hopes of getting somewhere, perhaps a deeper understanding of “who we all are.”

The ‘90s and early 2000s were certainly an avalanche in terms of the way many people found ways to protest and speak out against injustice. I asked him what was accomplished by those involved. He explained that every bit helped. “In our little neighborhood of Pilsen we saw that, whether it was Teatro Callejero, Mestizarte, Calles y Sueños, José David, people doing independent publications such as ¿Hasta cuándo?, Polvo, Conexion Rokera, Silencio zine, as well as the spaces that opened doors for the artists and thinkers. Many voices filled up the neighborhood with hope and ideas, and we worked together for change. This all happened, and it wasn’t because of the efforts of one person or just Los Crudos, we were all part of it and it was happening at once, together we made a massive boom.”

Desafinados is going to be a visual documentation of those times. And those participating in it are people who were involved. He says that it is about “those individuals that saved ephemera.” It will also include artists involved and active in the punk scene. The intention is to frame it as art that came from the scene or that affected it. Desafinados were conceived during an evening of talking with friends, of craziness as well as “un vaso de vino.” He says his adrenaline was flowing as were the ideas. And that he wanted to see something big happen in honor of the work we all have done.

His advice to young people regarding becoming politically, socially and artistically active is to do it. Adding, “Do not wait to be legitimized by anyone. Do not wait to be funded! Make your shit happen. If you feel the need to sing, dance, paint, play, or even throw up your fist and scream about something that is unjust, you have to do it. If your idea is unpopular, crashes against stereotypes, is too queer for the machos, fuck em’ and make it happen. There is nothing worse than never making the effort or trying. There are those that should’ve done something and those of us that did, be one of those people. Make art.”

Leticia Cortez is a teacher, writer, activist. She was born in Mexico and grew up in Chicago. She travels the art world, both in her imagination and in her music, book, art and film reviews. She writes political essays, short stories and poetry. Presently she teaches Latin American Literature in English and Spanish at St. Augustine College.

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