Chicana/o Studies – Publishing an Alternative View Since 1970 – CSU, Northridge


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El Popo Staff has 111 articles published.

TWO GENERATIONS OF “ZOOT SUITERS”: Valdez’s Masterpiece Returns to the Mark Taper Forum

in The Word is Text by
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 by Celina Fernández-Ayala

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Celina Fernández-Ayala

Fifteen-year-old Angel Fernández-Chavero knew nothing about the play that Father Hernandez invited him to see. It was a reward for the teen’s job as a typist for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As a good Mexican Catholic boy, he looked forward to visiting the Mark Taper Forum with his parish priest.

Angel Fernández-Chavero did not anticipate how important this outing would be. The year was 1978, and he was to see “Zoot Suit”.

Famed Chicano playwright Luis Valdez wrote and directed the play. This piece is based on the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder, in which members of the 38th Street Gang were convicted of José Gallardo Díaz’s death. The production focuses on Henry Reyna and his friends’ struggle for justice within an overtly racist justice system.

Fernández-Chavero was stricken by Edward James Olmos’ performance as El Pachuco. “He really had an impact just on my seeing this live show and him just being this character I couldn’t totally figure out, because one minute he’s being this good guy and the next minute he’s a jerk.”

“I didn’t understand for a while how he was Henry’s alter ego. And then suddenly a representative of the Chicano Nation”, he stated.

Angel Fernández-Chavero is my father, and he introduced me to the 1982 film as an 11-year-old. A movie on a school night was a big deal. It is one of my favorite memories.

As a preteen, my father did not expect me to take anything away from the film. New England, my birthplace, is no hub of Chicano culture. Even so, I grew up calling myself a Chicana.

“Whether you would totally understand [the film] or not actually wasn’t too much of the point. I just wanted you to be exposed to it” said Fernández-Chavero. “I hoped you would like it. I hoped that the music or the ‘cha-chas’- or whatever- something would hit you, but that was it.”

I loved “Zoot Suit”. The film spoke to my nascent skepticism about the U.S.’s judicial system. Reyna’s treatment angered me, and I remember telling my father that “there were so many things Henry could have been.”

Despite Fernández-Chavero’s statement that comprehension was a concern, I learned a lot that evening. I never forgot the line about the “blood thirsty Aztecs”. Or my father’s response that it came straight from the court records.

I did not expect to watch the play as a Chicana/o Studies major nearly 40 years after my father. This time, under the current political climate, “Zoot Suit” felt even more personally relevant. The courtroom script could have been pulled from today’s headlines.

After the performance, I concluded that “Zoot Suit” serves today’s Chicana/o/x community as a reminder that racism never dies, but manifests differently each generation. My father added its value as a production about “The struggle of young men trying to figure out who they are and the lies that society’s institutions will tell you. I really think it should be part of the standard high school curriculum.”


Southbay LA Sound: Back-Bone

in The Word is Text/Videos by
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by Mauricio Ruiz


The band’s first step towards becoming Back-Bone happened in December 2012 when Reuben Cortez, Christian Gomez, and David Naranjo left the band Hierba Mala. From that point, the group started collaborating with other musicians from neighboring bands in the area that lead to the induction of Richard Cortez.

Time has left Back-Bone to the members to create the Southbay sound of Dirty Reggae. Back-Bone is based in Carson Ca, of which, the city has witnessed little to none of the specific genre they call Dirty Reggae. This type of reggae is specific to Back-Bone and their creation process of music. Their reggae is not the typical roots reggae, while they try to avoid mainstream fads. The band doesn’t have a specific demographic that they try to appeal to because they want the masses to enjoy their music. Dirty Reggae is Back-Bone’s version of reality music that derives from their own personal experiences. Their performances create an atmosphere where they encounter very little racism and generates positive experiences. The Band is currently working on recording new music to release their album with a complementary music video.


Reuben Cortez, Lead singer of Back-Bone, Mexican-American, says he was very closed minded with the type of music he exposed himself too. Early influences came from classic rock and first wave ska music such as The Specials. Initially, he wanted to play the saxophone but wasn’t given the opportunity, in which, he started playing the trumpet. His trumpet playing lead him to join the local mariachi. Then he sharpened his skills on the guitar taking characteristics from mariachi music such as the rhythms, scratching, redobles, fillings and note selection. The guitar gave him a platform to write lyrics and sing. Christian pushed Reuben to sing because he didn’t aspire to be a singer.

Christian Gomez, Drummer for Back-Bone, Mexican-Honduran, grew up listening to music and watching movies that weren’t appropriate for a child, due to the age differences between siblings. This exposed Christian to a surplus of content at an early age. Learning the drums has expanded his horizon of musicality by being around other musicians with different tastes in music, as well as performance levels. This pushed Christian to try and incorporate every type of music into his creation process.

Richard Cortez, Lead guitar of Back-Bone, American with Mexican heritage, grew up listening to classic rock because of his father. The guitar allowed him to recreate solos he heard from the songs he grew up with. He took great influence to movies and music growing up as well. When asked about his background influence on his music, he said he gained influence from classic rock, not his heritage because he couldn’t incorporate what he wasn’t exposed too.

David Naranjo, Bass player of Back-Bone, Mexican-American, grew up listening to classic rock artist such as led zeppelin. His brothers introduced David to a wide spectrum of music consisting of jimmy page, punk bands, thrash music, Slayer and music from the late 80s. His brothers played the guitar, in which the 9-year age difference influenced him to pick up the bass at an early age. In middle school, he first listened to the song “Take on Me” by Reel Big Fish which lead him to start learning the trumpet and the trombone. He continued to indulge in the Ska/Reggae arena by going to watch Streetlight Manifesto perform live. His heritage had little impact in playing the bass as he would listen to rhythms of the upright bass in Mexican songs. There wasn’t a necessity for him to play the bass until the opportunity arose during the creation of Back-Bone.


@backbonemusic Instagram SoundCloud


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