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tv   Witness  LINKTV  September 28, 2022 3:00am-3:31am PDT

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man: ruben funkahuatl guevara is... woman: a badass. can i say that? man: reuben funkahuatl guevara is piña mango papaya swirl of culture and history from pre-columbian to postmodern times. and he's mhero. different man: to me, ruben funkahuatl guevara is a cultural icon and also he can sing. different man: he's the best of what this city is. he's hot l.a. fire. different man: he's american hero. different man: a legend. woman: he's a great misfit. man: he's also a cultural theorist. different man: hs just part of that foundation that created this building that we call the chicano experience.
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♪ ♪ announcer: this program was made possible in part by city of los angeles department of cultural affairs, los angeles county department of arts & culture, national endowment for the arts, and the frieda berlinski foundation. ♪ man: my name is ruben funkahuatl guevara, and i'm a chicano
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culture sculptor. ♪ my mother's family came up here from mexico and they settled in a little mexican american barrio in santa monica. it's called la veinte. and my dad came up here to the u.s. on a tour with trio los portenos. he played some pretty important gigs. he did the chi chi club in palm springs. frank sinatra even showed up. used to sit in with my dad's band. later, i caught a show at the sahara and i got louis prima, keely smith, with the wild sam butera & the witnesses. men: ♪ [indistinct] ♪ prima: ♪ tell me you love me ♪ men: ♪ tell me you love me ♪ prima: ♪ hey, marie ♪ men: ♪ hey, marie ♪ prima: ♪ come here, sam ♪ guevara: and the energy and it just--exciting. it was nothing like mexican
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traditional music. i was hooked. [band playing upbeat music] i still appreciated the traditional music my dad played, but i wanted to swing. i wanted to rock, man, you know? i mean, let's face it. i was mexican and american. ♪ man: mexican americans looked down on the recently arrived immigrants, and then the prejudice went the other way with mexicans calling mecan-americans "pochos." somebody who can't speak spanish well. second man: "pocho" was the word that a lot of people from my generation grew up with and it's very, very pejorative. it's garbage. trash. as i sit here wondering, i'm wondering which was worse, being called a pocho or
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a chicano. i think they were both of the same negativity. third man: it was ha to find validation. so, what we did do, we self-validated. we had to wait till we had our own teachers, our own teaching at our own universities, chico studies, before we could self-identify. fourth man: we took a class called chicano thought: mexican-american roots in mexico. so, we started to really learn the history. the fact that we were pochos and we took on the whole thing of--even chicano was a pocho. and that's why we took it on. we took on that word because it bothered people. valdez: you can understand that relatives back in mexico, they werlooking at us as people who abandoned them, who gave up on their culture. man: chicanos in general said if we're not completely accepted
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there in mexico, and we're certainly not completely accepted here in the united states, then where do we belong? maybe we belong everywhere. ["the lone ranger" theme plays] james: you sure there's no other catch to this? jim: no, that's all. ed sullivan:cause these youngsters from liverpool, england. man: why? guevara: when my grandparents got a tv, i noticed that there weren't any mexicans on tv. late fifties, along comes ritchie valens. [playing rock music] valdez: ritchie valens was like a shooting star. he comes out of nowhere. he shines brilliantly for a relatively brief period of time. and then he's gone. [valens singing "la bamba"] guevara: he had this big hit "la bamba," and it was sung in spanish. it w unheard of.
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valdez: all of a sudden, you have not just kids who grew up listening to spanish, maybe speaking spanish, but you also have their fair-skinned counterparts who suddenly are just totally intrigued by this song in a language they can't understand. but it's certainly something that they can dance to. it's got a rhythm. guevara: ritchie valens was called the little richard of the san fernando valley. little richardas my idol, too. that's how i started singing. man: ♪ my beloved one ♪ ♪ my beloved one ♪ men: ♪ my beloved one ♪ ♪ you were the one, you... ♪ guevara: i decided i wanted to form a doo-wop gro. i put together a group in high school with my buddy pablo amarillas and we formed
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the apollo brothers. we were doing gigs around, you know, high school and dances, parties. and later out of high school, we got signed to a label. unbelievable. man: ♪ 'cause there's a riot there's a riot there's a riot in the park oh...there's a riot in the park ohhh, oh... ♪ guevara: after we released our first record, we started performing in concerts on the radio, even tv. we weren't making any money, but it was pretty exciting for a couple of 19-year-olds just out of school. after a couple of years, things weren't moving forward for us, so, me and pablo split up, but i kept on singing solo. and around this time, my motr
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is working as an actress in hollywood, and she worked with some pretty big stars, like anthony quinn. so, she had some connections and she got me an audition for "shindig!" which is the hottest rock and rl show around in the mid-sixties. man: howdy-hi, shindiggers, and welcome again to america's first and favorite musical show of its kind--"shindig!" man: ♪ let me hear the choir sing ♪ woman: i saw him on-- was it "shindig!"? i was like, "that's ruben?" it was wonderful to see. guevara: ♪ her a diamond ring and if that diamond ring don't shine he's gonna take it to a private eye... ♪ so, here i am on "shindig!" with my rock and roll idol bo diddley. ♪ can your monkey do the dog? ♪ women: ♪ doo wop ♪ guevara: ♪ can your monkey do the dog? ♪ women: ♪ doo wop ♪ guevara: ♪ can your monkey do the dog? ♪ women: ♪ doo wop ♪ guevara: ♪ can your monkey do the dog? ♪ women: ♪ doo wop ♪
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guevara: ♪ well, my dog can monkey just like you can your monkey do the dog like i do, like i do? ♪ it was surreal. it was great. bo diddley was great. we shared our dressing room together and... it was cool. ♪ whoa, whoa, yeah ♪ ♪ ow!...yeah ♪ martinez: in a place like l.a., we are not nearly as visible as we need to be. so, the work of making us visie, that's rt of the movement, and ruben guevara has been doing that since he was a kid on the scene playing "shindig!" with bo diddley. bojorquez: ruben put our face on the music we would see on tv, and don't think it wasn't noticed. guevara: there was just one catch. they wanted me to change my name to jay p. mobey. i don't know. you know, i didn't
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want to change my name, but i figured, hey, ritchie valens was ricardo valenzuela. so, i became jay p. mobey. announcer: tonight, "shindig!" proudly predicts stardom for a great new discovery-- mr. jay p. mobey! [crowd screaming] guevara: ♪ don't cry no more wipe away your tears don't cry no more, baby wipe away your tears 'cause i know, i know that lovin' feeling whoa, yeah ♪ i was torn about it, but i was young and i wanted to make a name for myself. i just never imagined i'd have to do it with a made-up one. i quickly learned one thing. in hollywood, you're a product amd not a person. soon after that, the show was cancelled, and thankfully, so was that stupid name.
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♪ ...don't you cry hey, hey, all right ♪ [crowd screaming] miyamoto: we have been told and we have felt that the only way we were ing to be accepted was to be american. so, the colonization of people and feeling like if i act more american, if i dress more american, if i speak more american, i'm going to be accepted as an american, i'm going to have more opportunities because i'm ameran. ♪ guevara: i heard a frank zappa record called "cruising with ruben & the jets." at first, it kind of offended me. and then i read the liner notes and it said, "the present-day pachuco refuses to die!" i thought, "huh. how does this guy know about pachucos?"
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so i went and i checked him out. [rock music playing] i went to the concert and then i got it. ruben and the jets was rock theater. man: ♪ shoop shoop... ♪ zappa: just bear in mind some of the important things that you have to discuss with these people. one of them might be... man: ♪ shoop shoop ♪ zappa: mothers. man: ♪ aah! ♪ zappa: others. man: ♪ aah! ♪ guevara: so, i was impressed and i decided i wanted to go backstage and congratulate him, to meet him. i walk in and i tell him, "hey, frank, thank you for doing doo-wop, doing all this crazy acid rock." and i said, "by the way, my name is ruben, and used to sing a little doo-wop back in e day. he just looks at me and says, "uh, ruben, huh?" man: and what i love about that was not, you know,
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him saying to zappa, like, "you're fake" or "you're appropriating." it was like, "hey, i see that you love this and you're making this kind of tribute, but i'm from this culture and i know these seets and i know this music and i know these people. why don't you let me become part of that performance?" and so he became really part of a kind of--i see it as like an extended zappa performance that then took on a life of its own where his musical career took on a new chapter. ♪ woman: when i think about ruben guevara's group ruben and the jets, i really hear soul in there. it's rock, but it's also got, like, definite soul influences. bojorquez: it wasn't doo-wop. it was rock and roll. it was hippie doo-wop. it was kind of like summer of love doo-wop, you know, a million scarves doo-wop.
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you know. men: ♪ and everything would be all right ♪ bojorquez: he represented that-- also that chicano freedom. you know, that new neo-chicano. guevara: i put a band together and started writing some songs with frank. we had some pretty big gigs with some pretty big names like t. rex, three dog night, doobie brothers. we even played royals stadium. kansas city. over 40,000 people. that was trip. but there was this one club in new york, max's, kansas city. and the marquee, it read bruce springsteen and the e street band, bob marley & the wailers, and ruben and the jets. not bad company, man. man: ♪ boom boom boom boom ♪ ♪ boom boom ♪ guevara: so, frank and i were working on the second album, and we decided to call it
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"con safos." "con safos" is a term that is part of pachuco, chicano graffiti culture, and it means "exempt from danger." and it was the first album cover by a major record label to feature chicano graffiti art. bojorquez: the biggest art that was happening at thatime was album art. so, i liked the album covers. kun: everything about this record. i mean, obviously, the songs are fantastic. you can really hear the, you know, the doo-wop influence, the early r&b influence. you know, the cover art is so important. again, like, positioning him in place, right? standing underneath the sign of soto. against a wall where there's tags, right? so that this record becomes an additional tag. the songs become kind of sonic tags on the wall of los angeles. miyamoto: he was making decisions about how he wanted to present himself. even though he wanted to push ahead within the music industry, that takes a kind of,
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you know, cultural bravery. ♪ man: hey, fellas, you wanna go cruising? men: yeah. man: come on, come on! ♪ i got a '52 chevy with... ♪ martinez: it's a holistic way of looking at life d art, that it's all a performance. you're always on stage. that's been his project, putting us on the map and tracing the contours on that map and showing us who we are to ourselves and to the rest of the world. men: ♪ ah ah ah ah ♪ ♪ ah ah ah ah ♪ guevara: so, during this time, there's problems with the band. they just weren't geing
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the idea of rock theater. so, the jets were starting to implode now, and our manager tells me that--that they're banned from every holiday inn in the country. things were starting to fall apart. and the jets crashed and burned. [men singing doo-wop] man: ♪ cheer up to love ♪ men: ♪ ah ah ah ah ♪ man: ♪ and to be loved forever ♪ men: ♪ ah ah ♪ ♪ guevara: so, after that, i decided i wanted to go back to school and continue with experimental theater, but this time, talk t the mexican-american experience. i took some chicano studies classes and i wanted to see firsthand the pre-columbian
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mayan ruins. my mission was to reconnect with my mexican ancestry. i sold my car and took a train to guadalajara. i wanted to go check out the ancient ruins of palenque and chiapas. i was looking for the bus station, and i asked this older gentleman in the street for directions. he asked me where i'm from. i say, "los angeles." he lks at me like i'm some kind of lowlife and says, "oh, you're one of those american pochos." i tell him, "no, i'm chicano." he says, "even worse. chicanos don't have a culture. they're mongre." i was so shocked. i didn't know what to say. [dog whimpers] ♪ valdez: there's always been mixed descriptions about
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the origins of the word "chicano." there's always been mixed opinions about what it really means. when i was a kid, the term "chicano" was t very favorable. it's not that your mother would say, "ah, you dirty chicano." it's just--it was just a word that didn't come into the culture. martinez: ruben guevara comes into chicano, chicana art history making in the middle of the movement, the chicano, chicana movement, and one of the main points of tension at that time was between what we call cultural nationalism and a more anti-nationalist hybrid view of history and culture, and ruben guevara captured the spirit of that across the span of his career. ♪
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guevara: in 1971, i take a trip to san francisco and i caught this theater piece. it was a mishmash of theate music, dance, all these different ements all mixed tother. that sparked an idea. so, that idea evolved into my first performance theater piece. it was called "who are the people!" a gospel rock cantata. and i wrote it as a anti-vietnam war statement. miyamoto: so, we were fighting a war that really didn't serve us, and then we were hearing the sounds and music of, you know"what's going on? what's going on? what's going on?" and that really stirs the imagination of the artist people, you know. i'm saying, "what can i say to add to that?" guevara: it had a message. i called it kind of like primal theater.
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and it got great reviews. i decided this was the direction i wanted to go in. man: chicano culture is a very widespread culture that has a lot of different parts in there. you can't deribe it in one breathr even one sentence or in one day or a month or a year because it keeps changing. that is the essence of chicano culture. it takes whatever is put in front of it and incorporates it into their-- their definition. valdez: i think that being a chicano has got to be an option. it's got to be seen as a choice, not as something that you're stuck with for all eternity. i don't feel like i'm betraying my lino rootif i'm able to go out and have some french coffee or to eat sushi or to have chicken and dumplings. why should i deny all of these wonderful opportunities in life because i identify myself as
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chicano, latino, whatever you want to call it? g: to be a chicana, for me that's knowing that my language is valid, that it's beautiful. to speak spanish in the united states is normal because we were part, like, especially here, this was part of mexico, and we spoke spanish before you all came over here. so, feeling like my place in the united states is not only valid but for you to deny it is you denying your own history. guevara: couple of days after my encoter with that old y in guadalajara, i made it over to palenque. man, that place really blew my mind. i felt this intense connection with my ancestors. a journey in my family, all leading up to my life at that moment. i decided to climb the temple of the inscriptions. and as i'm climbing, all these
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questions start coming up in my head like, what does it mean to be a chicano artist? how can i make a difference with my work? what should i be doing with my life? then i kind of had this epiphany. a chicano artist would be someone who uses creativity to contribute to their culture and help shape it, kind of like a sculptor. huh! that's when i knew. i knew what i was gonna do and i knew what i was. a chicano culture sculptor. so, i come back to l.a. and i create my first piece of chicano sculpture-- the song poem "c/s." it's an abbreviation for "con safos." and i address the racism that was experienced by mexican- americans and japanese-americans
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during the forties. l.a. [drum beating rhythmicly] my city of the angs. we came to work your fields of plenty. we made you rich. you paid us pennies. we laid your railroad over ails that once were ours. we taught you how to mine your gold, rope your cattle, and irrigate your land. wait a minute. your land? "con safos." what's that strange writing on the walls of l.a.? con safos. won't you lien to what the walls have to say, l.a.? what they're saying is, [speaking spanis
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hey, long live l.a. [snap] ♪ kun: whenever i, like, think about the greatest l.a. songs, and people are like, you know, "if you could put together your top 20, you know, mostmportant songs about los angeles?" "con safos" is always on that list. to me, that is just a quintessential los angeles song, and it's quintessential on the one hand because it was such an important piece of the chicano movement. it was such an important commentary on the history of los angeles as a mexican city. it's quintessential also because it's a song about marking up the city. i mean, "con safos" as a tag, right, as a wall tag of saying, "we are here." so, i see that-- the song almost as a kind of musical tag, as a sonic tag of
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saying, "i'm gonna leave my mark on this city." you know, because it's basically, it's just like a history lesson, and it's just like, "let me tell you the history of chicanos. let me tell you the history of conquest and let me tell you the history of colonization. let me tell you the history of indigenous life and how it relates to mexico and how that relates to los angeles. and i'm going to do that in the style of the spoken word poet but also in the style of the doo-wop singer but also in the style of, like, little richard, and you're never gonna get bored, and it's gonna be dogmatic but it's also gonna be poetic." marin: "con safos" is a c/s. con safos with safos, whatever the interpretation of safos means. it means no boundsies. you can't--you can't cross this out, because if you do, everybody who's in the con safos side is gonna talk to you about it. you know. bojorquez: that was something that belonged to us. it was something you put on your graffiti. "con safos" means anything you do to this world, we're gonna do to you. so, do not touch this world.
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this is ours. you do not belong here. this is our territory. guevara: viva los angeles! viva mi tierra! hey. long live l.a. ♪ guevara: ♪ debo bom, bom, bom bom, bom, bom, ba-ba-ba ber-ber-ber, ber-ber-ber... whoa, say, can you see by the dawn's early light... ♪ i come back fr mexico and i'm working in this record distributor downtown, and richard foos comes in. he had a record store he was starting up called rhino records, and he was also starting up a label. he knew about my background, that i was with the jets, so, he asked me if i would record a doo-wop version of the "star-spangled banner" and "america the beautiful" for the u.s. bicentennial. foos: ruben and i first met in 1976. i had just started my record
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label. i had a record store. for our second record, i wanted to do a doo-wop version of "the star-spangled banner." it was the bicentennial and kind of wanted to poke good-natured fun at the seriousness of our national anthem. guevara: and i thoht, "yeah, that'd be great." to turn those anthems into a parody, you know, kind of chicanoize them. i said, "yeah, let's do it." ♪ ...does that star-spangled banner yet wave ♪ and it was the last o-wop record by latinos ever recorded in l.a. forget about that. men: ♪ and the home of the... ♪ ♪ debo bom bom bom
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bom bom bom, ba-ba-ba-ber ber-ber, ber-ber-ber... ♪ second man: ♪ whoa, say does that star-spangled banner... ♪ [fireworks exploding] [marin singing indistinctly] we're gonna have a bad band. we had 'em eating right out of their hands. ah, we're gonna be big, man. really big. be bigger than ruben and the jets, man, i betcha. shoot. guevara: so, around this time, cheech and chong are the hottest comic duo around. and somehow, "the star-spangled banner" record got into the hands of lou adler, their manager. and i'm set up for an audition for his new movie "up in smoke." ["low rider" by war playing]
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marin: ruben was, since i met him, we were kind of buddies, you know, we hung around. we had the same kind of background and music and l.a. we understand the whole chicano thing, so, we started hanging. valadez: i would laugh when i would see him in some of the early cheech and chong film. you can hardly recognize him. man: here's [indistinct]. [cheering and applause] guevara: but for the audition, i'm in the back seat of a car with tommy and cheech and had to improvise with them. the hardest part was not cracking up, man, i'll be telling you, but i got the gig, as a backup sician in their band. [upbeat music playing] man: ♪ my daddy, he disowned me 'cause i wear my sister's clothes


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