Sticking With Your Roots, From the Tamale Festival to the LA Weekly Protest [Mary Prankster]

There’s nothing more important than staying true to your roots. How else are we going to stay grounded in this crazy, chaotic world in which a reality-TV star and con man is our president, the effects of global warming are decimating the planet one disaster at a time, and LA Weekly is being taken over by a nerdy weed lawyer and a fistful of right-wing dingbats? HELP!

Jamaican civil-rights activist Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” I’m Guatemalan, Mexican and Irish, and aside from the fantastic Chicanx- and Irish-literature classes I took in college, I know nothing about my heritage except that people from these cultures are generally Catholic, like to drink and have been severely oppressed for hundreds of years.

My Guatemalan grandmother didn’t teach my mom and her sisters Spanish, and my Mexican grandfather didn’t teach my dad and his siblings español. In fact, both grandparents dropped their cultures to become more “American”—whatever that means. Thus, I grew up doing all kinds of Anglo things, despite being 50 percent Hispanic. We celebrated Christmas sans the tamales and ponche; I went to Catholic school in South Orange County, where I was pretty much the only brown girl. I don’t know any Latin music (minus the Gypsy Kings) or dances. And we celebrated Cinco De Mayo as Mexican Independence Day; I only realized a few years ago that May 5 is actually when the Mexican army sealed an unlikely victory over the French forces of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, so it’s not their independence day. (I then informed my mom and dad of our collective idiocy.)

I’ve found myself rooting in other cultural ways. For example, OC Weekly and LA Weekly are the publications that gave me my start. Without my deep alt-weekly roots, it’s likely you wouldn’t be reading this column right now. I’ve also gone out of my way over the past five years to connect with my Latinx heritage. And the stars aligned last week in such a way that I dove into both: I went to the Tamale Festival in Placentia, and I protested the staff layoffs and horrid new ownership of the LA Weekly outside its Culver City offices. How often do you get to kill two birds with one stone like that?

I hopped aboard a school bus filled with hungry families at Valencia High School and was dropped off at the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Melrose Street. A little girl with hair spouting from a barrette atop her head squirmed like a worm in her mom’s arms as she screamed, “Tamale! TAMALE! TAMALE! MAMA, TAMALE!

“Welcome to the Tamale Festival and las pasadas,” read a sign at the entrance.

Santa Claus sat in a majestic red chair, with a line of borderline-hysterical children waiting to meet him, while the La Ranchera 96.7 booth played jams that had people grooving in the street. A massive group of people circled a stage on which Chinelos danced, as people stomped and clapped. With their costumes, the Chinelos resembled masked animals with exaggerated, colorful hats topped with feathers and oversized garments that were a combination of a poncho and a dress. The tradition, which blends indigenous and Catholic customs, is popular in the Mexican state of Morelos.

I stood in line to purchase three chicken and three pork tamales from Raffa’s (formerly Rubalcavas). The howling wind almost caused the vendors’ canopies to catch flight.

*     *     *     *     *

The next morning, I prepared a breakfast of champions: a tamale and a waffle. I needed the extra strength for the protest held on the steps of LA Weekly. A white coffin with vintage covers of the Weekly inside sat at the entrance. Nearly 40 people stood around it while members of the #BoycottLAWeekly team gave eulogies to their beloved paper, which was massacred on Nov. 29.

“This is about our neighborhoods,” former LA Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss told the crowd assembled. “This is about our community, and this is about an invasion. You’ve seen it at every level, and this is happening at the local level, and it’s real. You can’t ignore it.”

In case you haven’t yet heard, former OC Register geezer Brian Calle and LA-based cannabis attorney (who uses a 7-1-4 area code) David Welch purchased the LA Weekly with the help of many GOP campaign donors under the company name Semanal Media LLC. They laid off nine of 13 staffers and have since made an embarrassing spectacle of themselves. (You can catch up with our coverage here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) The situation is shady, and we still don’t know who all is involved with Semanal Media. But hundreds of people in Los Angeles are livid about the deal, thus the boycott.

Rebecca Haithcoat, onetime LA Weekly assistant music editor, addressed the crowd, saying the Semanal Media guys are depending on the boycott to back down and give up. The Weekly‘s former senior music writer and longtime freelancer Katie Bain passionately spoke to the audience about how Semanal Media dissed the writers who provided coverage for years. “Don’t forget how that makes you feel,” she said. “If there’s anything you don’t forget, don’t forget that they insulted you from the start.”

As people protested, word got out that the only staff writer not fired by the new owners, Hillel Aron, agreed to be the interim editor-in-chief. Thanks to lots of people investigating the purchase, it’s been revealed that Aron knew Calle before the purchase and knew he wouldn’t be among those who lost their jobs.

The protesters could see people watching them from the third floor of the building. That’s where the editorial department is located. But it doesn’t seem as if they’re doing much these days. It’s sad to see a place where you had laid roots die. R.I.P., LA Weekly. We will miss you.

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