Hello and welcome to Essential California bulletin. It is Friday October 1. I’m Gustavo Arellano, reporting from Orange County.
The past two years have been fruitful for the followers of a Southern California History Subject it is both niche and ubiquitous: graffiti.
The year 2019 saw the publication of two academic works on the subject, and an anthology of the work of Chaz Bojórquez, widely regarded as the godfather of LA graffiti in general and in particular the stark lines characteristic of Chicano style wall art. Earlier this year, the Getty published “LA Graffiti Black Book”, a collection of 151 graffiti artists and tattoo artists who donated their personalized inscriptions to the august institution.
The last offer in this genre is also, conversely, the oldest: a September reissue of the 1975 table book. “Street Writers: A Guided Tour of Chicano Graffiti” through Arte Povera Foto Books.
It’s a beautiful volume, with black and white shots of an Italian photographer Gusmano Cesaretti interspersed with Bojórquez’s reflections on graffiti and Chicano life at the time. “A Chicano child grows up with all kinds of walls around him,” Cesaretti wrote in the book’s introduction. “When someone is born in this situation, there are many things they can do… they can ignore the walls and fall into apathy. Or he can get violent and try to blow up the walls.
Cesaretti felt that a third option was much more liberating: label them.
The photos are slightly overexposed, to better capture the rawness of his subjects and their lives. Walls, fences and garage doors are covered with placed (tags) to the point where they look like Gilgamesh’s Dream Tablet. “Street Writers” features graffiti ranging from toilets to high school gymnasiums, from little scribbles to intricate gang tributes. Cesaretti captions each photo with prose as sparse as the placas he captures – a typical entry is “Frogtown, Riverside: Tim, 11” with a long haired, defiant youngster in front of a wall of graffiti that is apparently his creation.
Bojórquez, then in his twenties, is our Virgil through a topography of Chicano East in the early 1970s – not only Whittier Boulevard, corn Little Valley and City terrace, Montecito heights and native of Bojórquez Highland Park, of Arroyo Seco section of the LA River to Highway 110. He makes cups for Cesaretti’s camera – but Bojórquez also comes up with an interpretation of his most iconic image: Señor Suerte (Mr. Luck), a smiling skull wearing a fedora with crossed fingers.
“That’s what excites me,” writes Bojórquez of graffiti. “It’s right here. It is not controlled. You don’t get a nice surface like a good artist. Just do it. It’s like being naked there.
You don’t have to like graffiti (I don’t particularly like the shape – I’m more of a Norman Rockwell stan) to enjoy this book. “Street Writers” functions as a collection of art, local and ethnic history, but it is also a time capsule of neighborhoods that are now struggling against gentrification or entirely subsumed by it. Bojórquez even complains about this phenomenon when he notes in his opening remarks from 47 years ago that he grew up on avenue 66 “before he started to get really white”.
The more things change in Los Angeles… but I digress.
Cesaretti continued to a celebrated career as a columnist of Angeleno Chicano life – a 1978 LA Times story said he “knows more about the culture of East Los Angeles than most natives.” Bojórquez, of course, is a legend. So it’s great to see how “Street Writers” documented the two from their respective beginnings, unintentionally pioneering a subset of LA studies that is growing in popularity every year.
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And now, here’s what’s happening across California.
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Secret USC payment had a catch: footage of ex-dean using drugs had to be scrapped. My colleague Paul Pringle’s blockbusters on insolence at Trojanland don’t stop! Los Angeles Times
A minority of sanitation workers say they are vaccinated, which worries homeless advocates. Because garbage collectors and pressure washers don’t want law enforcement and firefighters to beat them in the public service pandejo draws. Los Angeles time
Activists want to rename Pershing Square. General John J. Pershing won World War I for the United States and commanded a troop of the notorious Buffalo Soldiers, but he also pursued Pancho Villa, quashed the Lakota uprisings, and participated in the takeover of the Philippines. THE Tacos
A series of sprawls. How in 21st century Los Angeles can we continue to nurture the strong roots of rasquachismo to produce a new, more inclusive Latin American urban aesthetic? If none of this makes sense, then you absoutely need to read this great personal essay. Place diary
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POLICY AND GOVERNMENT
The moratorium on state evictions is ending soon, but rent relief will still be available. California is slowly trying to get back to the front time – you know, when evictions were rampant because people couldn’t pay the rent. Los Angeles Times
A journey through China: memories, bones and a reinvented past. My colleague, Beijing Bureau Chief Alice Su, has traveled over 4,300 miles across the country to visit cities crucial to the past and present of her ruling Communist Party. Los Angeles Times
Bruce’s Beach can return to the descendants of the Black family in a landmark move signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. The landmark decision to return the oceanfront properties to Manhattan Beach will be celebrated by reparations advocates and social justice leaders across the country for years to come. Los Angeles Times
Marcia Freedman of Berkeley, the first lesbian in the Knesset, dies at 83. After making history in Israel, she moved to the Bay Area and launched a legendary career as an advocate for the rights of women, the elderly and LGBTQ. Before
CRIME AND COURTS
Newsom endorses sweeping law enforcement reforms. The changes include increasing the minimum age for officers to 21 and allowing the removal of badges for excessive force, dishonesty and racial prejudice. Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles is seeing even more bloodshed after a pandemic year of murder. In 2021, the city has already recorded 285 homicides. Young black and Latino men are dying at disproportionate levels. Crosstown LA
“Why am I suing UCLA.” Anderson School of Management professor Gordon Klein explains why he took legal action against my alma mater for libel and loss of financial opportunity. Common sense with Bari Weiss
Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison” at 50: An Oral History. This album will be never get old. Rolling stone
HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
California will consider mandatory water restrictions if drought persists this winter. Oh yes – this Drought. Los Angeles Times
In this one-stop-shop in Santa Rosa you can outfit your entire home in a sustainable way. Advanced Energy Center is located in downtown “California cornucopia. Next city
THE CULTURE OF CALIFORNIA
Do more people need to know about “The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta? “: I am quoted in this great essay on the novel about the original outlaw hero from California. Nature Bay
The United Farm Workers was more than Cesar Chavez. Speaking of Californian micro-stories, I am perpetually fascinated by historiography on UFW. Jacobin
Shohei Ohtani is clear: upgrade Angels or he’s gone. The American League MVP’s shoo-in has hinted at the English and Japanese press that he wants Halos owner Arte Moreno to stop his weak salsa approach to run a major league franchise. Los Angeles Times
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ALMANAC OF CALIFORNIA
Los Angeles: As I drove towards Van Nuys. 88 San Diego: I saw a truck with seven beehives. 82 San Francisco: Each hive had seven bees. 75 San José: Each bee had seven peas. 85 Fresno: Each pea had seven steaks. 91 Sacramento: Steaks, peas, bees and beehives. 89 Bishop: How much were they going to Van Nuys? 83
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