Latin Heritage Picks: Love & Rockets, This Fool and Art Laboe


As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close this week, we’ll continue reflecting on our culture and entertainment through the Angeleno lens –as we always do. Sanctioned months, weeks and days spotlighting movements and identities are meant as reminders to the masses that we all have our struggles and stories, but of course, we should strive to support them all year long. As culture and entertainment editor at LA Weekly, this has always been the goal. That said, here are my picks spotlighting Latin expression right now as the entertainment and media worlds move on to the next.

The new season of KCET’s culture series ARTBOUND has premiered and once again, the show looks at important creators in Southern California. In particular, the episode delving into Love & Rockets, the influential comicbook, is a must see. Long before Gen-Z embraced the term Latinx as a gender inclusive way of transcending patriarchal traditions, the zine and subsequent books were highlighting and celebrating queer and alternative characters of Latin descent in Los Angeles.

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s bold and beautiful art and words spoke to a lot of young Latin people in L.A., in particular those of us who gravitated toward punk music and fashion, even as we had pride in the old school aesthetics and history our heritage. This meld made L&R’s characters perfect representatives for Y-Que, the long-running Silver Lake clothing and curio shop owned by Rae and Jimmy Chavira, my relatives and where I worked for well over decade.

The family store is now in Los Feliz under new ownership, but back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the store was decidedly driven by local Latin culture (hence the name). We sold a mix of rockabilly and punk accessories, Mexican folklore home goods and botanica essentials like candles and incense. We also sold zines and Love & Rockets was one of our staples. Reading and selling this comic literally helped shape who I am today and I’m not alone.

Jaime Hernandez drawn ad for Y-Que in LA Weekly circa 1985. (Lina Lecaro)

Maggie, Hopey and Izzy were simply the coolest chicas ever. In Love and Rockets: The Great American Comic Book, directed by Omar Foglio and Jose Luis Figueroa (which premiered last week on PBS SoCal and is online now), I learned things even I didn’t know about the creators and the characters. They started with sci-fi inspirations before getting into obvious influences like Archie, which they infused with DIY music attitude and ethos. The film celebrates the bros’ beginnings and their evolution, reflected by the fictional yet authentic people and stories they created. It also shows the sheer gorgeousness of their imagery and process.

Marking its 40th anniversary this year, Love & Rockets influenced a generation –ironically we’re dubbed X, though most of us over 40 don’t prefer to use the letter in our identification. Whatever the labels may be now and moving forward, it’s heartening to know that this film exists as historical documentation of this lifestyle, moment in time and point of view, which a lot of us share with the Hernandez brothers regardless of race.

It’s no surprise that the Hulu comedy This Fool, has more than a few Love & Rockets refs. The Los Angeles Public Library recently hosted “Los Bros Hernandez” –with Jaime, Gilbert and their brother Mario (also a collaborator)– in conversation with the show’s star Chris Estrada. Watch it above.

The show is one of the most true to life depictions of Latin neighborhoods, families and interactions we’ve ever seen on television. Estrada plays Julio, a 30 year old man who still lives at home with his family. When his cousin, Luis gets out of jail and comes to live with them, the frustrated millennial becomes more confused about his path than ever. The pair’s prickly dynamic is the best part of the show, especially when they spar at Julio’s place of work, Hugs Not Thugs, a criminal reform non-profit.

If you are Mexican-American, you will likely recognize all of these characters in your extended family. In fact, everyone feels like a real person; well-meaning yet flawed. Though it makes some strong points about social issues, class and race, it’s never bogged down by them or didactic in tone. It’s mostly a silly and sweet look at how even people who come from the same circumstances can follow different paths based on their choices. The inter-generational dynamics and dialog are sharp, heartfelt and funny as hell. The first 10-episode season came out this Summer and we hope a new one will be on the way soon.

And finally, when it comes to Latin culture in L.A. (we’ve coined it “L.A.-tin” life), no one was more of a champion for music and the connection it created for us than Art Laboe. The DJ, best known for his dedications and “oldies” playlists favored by cruisers, gangsters and Angelino elders, was a legend. He was also a very nice man. We got to meet him at one of his “Block Party” concerts a few years ago and the thing that hit most was how small and frail he was; we hadn’t realized he was in his 90s. From his early days at KRLA to his more recent stint with KDAY, his voice was soothing and substantial up til his last breath. Mostly, it was full of affection and respect for the sentiments of his listeners, many of whom came from low income and working class non-white neighborhoods. He wasn’t Latino himself, but he was “one of us.”

Gustavo Arellano’s recent column in the L.A. Times connected the dots on how remembering and honoring Laboe and the way he brought us together has been somewhat cleansing in the wake of the L.A. City Hall scandal. The council members ugly words have brought a lot of shame on our community and stoked division, already a big problem around the country. The fact that it all came out during Hispanic Heritage Month shouldn’t have necessarily made it worse, but it definitely dampened faith in those who represent us. Still, we have hope that music, art and entertainment created by Latin figures consumed with love, not hate, becomes more powerful moving forward.

 

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