Take a trip down Whittier Boulevard with the Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties, which presents Jon Wilkman’s 2008 documentary Chicano Rock!: The Sounds of East Los Angeles on Thursday, September 4th as part of its Artswalk film series. The sixty-minute film will be screened at 6:00pm and again at 7:45pm in the Center’s media vault. This event is free and open to the public. The Artswalk film series continues on October 2nd with Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin and on Thursday, November 6 with Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps (Inland Empire Premiere).
Chicano Rock! explores over 60 years of music and social change created by generations of young Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles. Featuring rare film, photos and songs from artists such as Ritchie Valens, Cannibal and the Headhunters, El Chicano, Los Lobos and more, the film captures the boundless creativity and struggle for social justice of the Mexican American youth culture.
Rock and roll music is an exuberant, sometimes plaintive expression of the struggle to assert individual identity that crosses traditional social boundaries. In post-WWII America, young people found revitalization in the “wild” music. A culture of rebellion, independence, freedom and cross-cultural exchange emerged. African American rhythm and blues converged with jazz, swing, country, gospel and folk: musicians covered, rewrote and repurposed beats, lyrics, and rhythms to forge something new out of the old.
In Southern California, young Mexican Americans made distinctive rock and roll music, incorporating brass instruments, Latin rhythms, and English vocals. Their sound was characterized by a musical interchange with African American communities in Los Angeles. From layered roots arose an expression of cultural identity that reflected the struggles they faced as individuals in a multicultural nation rife with segregation and ignorance.
From the 1930s on, East L.A. has been a center of Mexican American art and politics, and music is at the heart of its cross-cultural dialog. Through their art, the Latino musicians on the Eastside scene protested bigotry and defied cultural stereotypes. Today, the music serves as a reminder of the power of expression in the face of injustice and the importance of cultural syncretism in the United States.
This post was written by Center volunteer Danielle Kuffler.