Celebrating Chicano cinema and San Diego hip-hop

S1: Welcome back. You’re listening to Kpbs Midday Edition for Hispanic Heritage Month. We are highlighting artists and creators in the community. It’s been 50 years since the birth of hip hop and it’s since spawned regional scenes and cultural movements across the country. San Diego is no exception with an underground movement that can be tracked back to the mid 80s through the early 90s. The new Beyond the Elements exhibit at the New American Museum pays tribute to that vibrant history curated by graphic designer Mario Lopez. The exhibit dives into everything that defined those early days of San Diego hip hop from graffiti art and clothing to dance crews. And most importantly , it highlights the multicultural and immigrant youth who embraced the movement. I’m joined now by Mario , curator of the exhibit. Mario , welcome. Hello.

S2: Hello.

S1: And Linda Sotelo , the executive director for New Americans Museum. Linda , Hi.

S3: Thank you very much. Glad to be. Here.

S1: Here. Glad to have both of you here. So , Mario , I’m going to start with you. This is actually your first time curating an exhibit.

S2: I met my neighbor , which his name is Kenny , and we used to sit down and draw every day. I didn’t speak English. I was barely learning. We would draw Speed Racer , the Batmobile , Spider-Man , you name it. As we got older now in the ninth grade , we had friends that were doing the whole dancing and DJing , and we got into the whole movement of having a braking crew. And so Kenny became a graffiti artist from there , and he was one of the pioneers of of graffiti art in San Diego. And he wasn’t about tagging or nothing. He wanted to make everything beautiful. He says , Mario , what I put on the wall , it’s going to be beautiful. And that’s where it all started. So what inspired me to do this show is that he passed away a year and a half ago , and he nobody really told his story. I knew him fairly well. And our other friend , which Zade , which is part of a huge part of the exhibit right now , you know , we came up with the concept of doing a fundraiser for for his family , you know , for funeral expenses. And and then from there , the idea of doing the exhibit came , you know , it’s like I’ve been always wanting to do it. I mean , we did when we were , I believe in 87 , we did one in an old standard brand , some paint store. But now this time it was more. Let’s talk about the history of how and why , you know. Right.

S1: Right. So there will be a lot of art music and other audio visual elements from the time period. Mario , walk us through it.

S2: We have two galleries. One is the community gallery , which is more of of the history of what it is. The way I , I wanted to tell my story was it was from the breakdancing that everything evolved from the music. And then it went into the emceeing , which is , you know , the rapping part of it.

UU: Wrap round , round , round , round , round , round , round. Fifth round.

S2: And then taking all this into clothing lines that happen. You know , you have tribal streetwear , you have top to bottom. You have , you know , the wild style technicians. I mean , I’m a screen printer by trade , so I’ve done t shirts all my life. And to me , it’s very important because here are my friends that that could draw. And I was able to put their images on t shirts and now some of them are worldwide. You know , you’re talking about , you know , to dyes one , you know , all these all these clothing lines have made such an impact. So that’s the first gallery , the second gallery. As you walk in now , you see the art. It’s not street art. It’s beautiful aerosol art that’s on the walls. And it’s all San Diego artist. I tried to get a hold as many of the old school guys that I know from the 80s and from then , you know the word spread. I wanted to incorporate some of the new up and coming artists too , and female artists too.

S1: I mean , Linda , a lot of the programming at the New American Museum actually centers on the voices and experiences of immigrants.

S4: And for us , it’s really about bringing communities together and giving voice to voices that haven’t been heard or or been part of the mainstream storytelling. And , you know , at the end of the day , these stories have connection and human element that all of us can relate to. So over this course of all these years , we’ve given space and time to to stories that haven’t been heard and stories that can take the form of installations in our galleries or can be all kinds of different visual and expressive arts. It can be spoken word. We have a collection of oral histories and archive , a first generation , second and third generation multigenerational immigrants as part of the American narrative , not just as another hyphenated group in a community. So for us , an exhibit like this one speaks to the connection between generations. I’m a kid of the 82 , and on a personal level , for me , it was the introduction to an entire new cultural movement that was happening at the time and its evolution that gave space for many of us that either didn’t have the means to to do other things , but we could certainly listen to the radio and listen to something very unique and be a part of it creatively. And this particular type of of exhibit beyond the elements with everything that our curator , Mario Lopez , has shared , including the ongoing legacy of this , not only in the artist , but also in how it’s inspired other generations to continue doing this or learn from it , or become graphic artist or become , you know , graffiti artists or performers or rappers or spoken word artists or a whole plethora of different disciplines that have emerged from this are inspirational to us , and we hope that it will do the same for all the audiences that are already expressing an interest in seeing it , being a part of it , learning from it. I also just want to make another point in terms of the connection to the overall hip hop scene across our country. Sometimes communities come together for different purposes. In this case , I love to see the connection that is happening , as Mario shared as well. Multi culturally , you know , this this wasn’t a movement that emerged in San Diego just with one particular group , but with a variety of different backgrounds and expressions and languages. And that found a home in a space in a creative and a creative form. So we’re really excited about it. And to see what comes of this and how we can activate other spaces with the work that is being presented here too.

S1: You’re listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I’m Jade Hindman. I’m speaking with Mario Lopez , curator of the Beyond the Elements exhibit , and Linda Sotelo , executive director of the New Americans Museum , about San Diego’s hip hop culture.

S4: I know that there’s there’s been exhibits that have shared and detailed some of the different parts of the movement , but not from the standpoint that we’re presenting beyond the elements , which is such a localized , such a specific multicultural lens. So I want to say the collection that Mario and the. The artists that have participated have been able to assemble is really exhaustive. It’s incredible. And it’s just a series of expressions , videos , objects and new works even that were created in the gallery. So I haven’t seen that representation in that way before , and nor have I seen kind of the connection to the multigenerational immigrant experience for some of the individuals that have been a part of this , the artists , the creators , etcetera.

S1: That’s great. And Linda , what might surprise people when they come see the exhibit ? You know.

S4: I think there’s a lot of things that will surprise people. One of them will be that they might see themselves in one of those pictures. It’s happened already. You know , the there’s stories already about , you know , dads coming in with with a daughter or a son and , you know , all the tales they told them about their hip hop exploits in the 80s and 90s and the kids going , yeah , right. That never happened. You weren’t a part of that scene. And then they walk in and there’s Dad on a video when he was 16 , you know , breaking or as a DJ or doing something else. So I think that’s one aspect , you know , that it’s touched so many people in so many communities at different times. Um , the other thing is that we don’t often see urban art expressions that come from communities really honored in rarified spaces , which museums can be. I know that some artists have gone on to tremendous prominence and fame over the years and highly collectible now , you know , names that are familiar to many and others that have become legendary , you know , with their street art and graffiti art. But rarely do we see them honored in museum spaces in the way that we’re trying to do with our local artists like this. So I think there’s a lot to see. It’s very colorful. It’s entertaining , and it can be shared multigenerational. And it’s fun. It’s entertaining. You know , it’s it’s music , it’s color , it’s expression , it’s poetry.

S1: And this question is for both of you.

S2: Go to Mario’s house. He’s going to show you where the graffiti pits are. Go to Mario’s house. He’s going to tell you where the next breakdance battle is going to be. And then all my friends would come , okay , where are we going today ? Where are we going to go dance ? Where where are we going to go paint ? But I think it’s important because because now you have the kids from culture Shock coming in and they’re breakdancing. I mean , you’re talking about nine , ten year old kids. They just walked through the exhibit the other day and and they were like stolen or , you know , and it’s like they were just wanted to dance. And to me , that that that just puts a smile on my face. Just the change that that it has made. Like Linda was saying , you know , you have some of the old older gentleman or from the crews that that come in and they’re like in oh , I’m taking them back. They don’t want to leave. They’re like , Oh my God , I’m like a kid in a candy store. I do not want to leave. I just want to stay here because I have brought that experience to them that they feel like they’re back in the 80s.


S4: I mean , I love the idea that young people are coming in , children use of all ages and are able to see themselves reflected in the individuals and in the movement in ways that they’re not represented or reflected in other art spaces. You know , they they can look at the craftsmanship that the detail , the beautiful selection of materials and the thoughtfulness around the creation of all the works that these master artists , which is what I call them , you know , in which they are , and when they see that reflected in someone that sounds like them , looks like them , came from similar places , had similar experiences , it’s inspirational. They begin to think about possibilities for themselves , and we can only hope that they see themselves reflected again in places in spaces that haven’t been necessarily welcoming and opening in the past. As we look into the future.

S1: I’ve been speaking with Mario Lopez , curator of the Beyond the Elements Exhibit , and Linda Sotelo , the executive director for New Americans Museum. The exhibit is currently in its soft opening. It will officially open to the public on Friday , September 29th , and run until December 31st. Thank you both for joining us today.

S3: Thank you.

S2: Thank you. And I can’t wait for you to come see it.

S1: Still ahead , we’ll talk about the Latino Film Festival and its role in representation.

S5: You know , I think that’s really important. I think that’s why the festival locally here in San Diego has been so successful , is that idea of commitment , you know , commitment to community.

S1: Kpbs is back right after the break. You’re listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I’m Jade Hindman as we continue our coverage of Hispanic Heritage Month , we want to highlight Latino creators who’ve made an impact on San Diego arts and culture. I’m joined now by Ethan Van Tilo , executive director and founder of the Media Arts Center. He also founded the San Diego Latino Film Festival , which celebrated 30 years last March. Welcome , Ethan.

S5: Yeah , thank you for the invite. Is very wonderful to be here with you. And really a special month for all of us. Every year is really exciting to highlight the Latino community.

S1: It is. And I want to start with your background in movies.

S5: It was my second year at UC Santa Cruz. You know , I’ve always been an organizer all my life. I organized , I had cumbia bands and different musical groups from , you know , high school on. And so just organizing , which is kind of a part of my my nature and so I went to UC Santa Cruz. I started a band up there and started doing music up there. But then also just when I was given this opportunity to put on a film festival , I just took it on and I got some friends together , volunteers , and we drew the actual poster. The professor , Amanda Valdez taught me how to write grant proposals to different departments at the UC Santa Cruz. How do you write a press release ? All this stuff that I had never done before. He also connected to me with various Chicano filmmakers that I still work with today. Paul Spinoza , Montezuma Esparza , Jesus Trevino locally , Isaac Eisenstein. And so at that moment , I started to like learning the process of how do you organize the film festival ? How do you get funding to do the film festival , how do you market it ? And then I’m just the type of person that I can do it once , right ? And so I had to keep on doing it year after year. And , you know , think that’s really important. I think that’s why the festival locally here in San Diego has been so successful is that idea of commitment , you know , commitment to community and you just can’t do it once. You need to do it annually and be there for the community. I think now the festival will be celebrating our 31st year in March of 2024 , and I think the community now relies on it and , you know , takes vacation and expects it. And and not just , you know , the Mexican or Mexican American community , but people from Chile , Latin America , all over , you know , Latin America , Spain and Mexico kind of rely and on celebrating one’s identity and culture. You know , every march here in San Diego.


S5: And they were not only , you know , fighting for social justice issues here in the United States , but they really saw that , you know , that there was not any representation in mainstream news and then , of course , in Hollywood. So they were fighting for to tell their story and in that case , to really promote the ideas of the Chicano movement. So in the late 60s , it started early 70s. Luis Valdez had some early films , Jesus Trevino then in the mid 70s. And then so you started seeing these Chicano film movement that came to be. And then over over the years , it’s definitely grown and been , you know , increased over the years. It’s wonderful to see now all the wonderful representation that we have both online and in theaters. But still , there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And so what you see , first and foremost with Latino experience is , number one , I think Latino directors , actors trying to portray a more accurate representation of the Latino experience , combating the negative stereotypes that we see in mainstream TV or or in Hollywood or the news agencies , especially in this border region that where we live in think we’re constantly trying to show something else that that mainstream , you know , news will show. And I think it’s trying to get an accurate portrayal of like , what is the border experience all about ? What is the migrant experience for immigrant experiences that’s all about also independent cinema from Latin America , Mexico , or even here in the US. You know , it’s really based on storytelling. And I think , you know , so much of Hollywood is based on special effects and , you know , like huge budgets and stuff like that. So any time when you see a wonderful film by Alfonso Cuaron , Carlos Carrera , you know , these are amazing films that first and foremost are great storytellers. And I think that’s why , you know , Hollywood in recent years has celebrated these films and they’ve won Oscars. Guillermo del Toro , for example. It’s because of the wonderful storytelling that goes far beyond just like special. And big bangs.

S1: And , you know , you founded the Media Arts Center in 1999. Can you talk more about the work you do there ? Yeah.

S5: So the San Diego Latino Festival started growing over the years. We started as a small student film festival in 1994 was the first time , and it was about 1999. Then we decided , you know , we should form our own nonprofit and the nonprofit organizations called the Media Arts Center , San Diego. And it has a broader mission of not only presenting the San Diego Latino Film Festival , but also educating youth and young adults on how to become their own storytellers and filmmakers. So in 1999 , we immediately got a small grant from the San Diego Foundation , got some equipment together , and we just immediately went into the community and to try to get youth that otherwise wouldn’t have this opportunity to tell their stories and to use this technology to tell their stories about their neighborhood and really just get excited about learning and education. And so we would go in affordable housing complexes and partnerships with a project , or we would the County Office of Education’s Migrant Education Program and teaching youth , mostly immigrants , second language learners , refugee youth on you know , how to produce their own short stories , pre-production , production , post-production. And it’s amazing. You take these youth through the process and they do the videos in their own language and they tell important stories about their neighborhoods or issues that really affect their lives that , again , that you wouldn’t see in just in a soundbite in news media , for example , or that you wouldn’t see in Hollywood. And we’ve produced or the youth have produced thousands of videos over the past 23 years since we started the actual nonprofit. And many of these videos have screened internationally at film festivals. They’ve been used as tools for social justice issues or community meetings about gentrification or community health. And so our education programs , everything that we’ve done since 1999 , have really grown over the years. And , you know , we’re throughout the county still working with various youth and young adults.

S1: You’re listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I’m Jade Hindman. I’m speaking with Ethan Van Telo , founder and executive director of the Media Arts Center , about his work and impact on our local arts scene. Ethan , you’ve done a lot of work in the community promoting the arts in San Diego among people of all ages. You mentioned that the Media Arts Center also has a lot of youth oriented programs where they can get involved in the filmmaking and production process. Tell us more about that. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. So we started the first program was called the Teen Producers Project , and that’s for youth , maybe 13 to 17 year olds every Saturday , 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. youth can come in and learn about documentary filmmaking or even short narrative filmmaking. And we really take the youth through the process of pre-production , production and post-production. They work over maybe 12 months , approximately on Saturdays and then at the end of the session they’ll have the chance to screen their movie on the big screen with their families present. So that’s for the teen programs that we have. We also have a programs for younger youth. We call them our youth , media and tech camps. They follow kind of the vacations around the school. So summer programs , November and December , fall and winter programs , spring programs in April. And those are for six year olds to 13 year olds. So if you can imagine 20 plus youth around here in our center making films and videos , making stop motion animation , and they do it all in one week and then they get to screen it for their families as well. Also for young adults , we have a wonderful program in partnership with the San Diego Public Library. It’s a work readiness initiative where the young adults actually get paid to do a six week training. We have professional filmmakers that work with them and they produce local documentaries or short films about their community , and then after they finish the training , they’re then put in into paid internships at local libraries. And so , for example , they’re at the local library and Logan Heights , or they’re in the downtown Central Library and they’re producing videos and helping the library tell the wonderful stories about all the wonderful programs that they’re doing at their library. Additionally , we work with various schools like Hoover High School , and then also we work with migrant education up there in the northern county of San Diego. So a lot of different programs , a lot of ways to get involved. We encourage everyone to go on our website and and check it out and , you know , and not just learn about filmmaking , but learn how to use the technologies that , you know , we all need for either home or school or eventually for work , because it’s really important that we all learn about digital storytelling and media literacy.


S5: About giving access to equipment to community members , students that otherwise wouldn’t have this chance , because when they go to high school , a lot of these students are taking remedial classes or just kind of basic education. So we wanted to get the cameras into the hands of the youth that otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity. So , for example , when we work with youth in Logan Heights or Sherman Heights , strong short videos about health , the health issues that are taking place , Logan Heights , for example , all the industry that’s there and you know , and the youth and the families that are suffering from asthma or other related issues with health. Sherman Heights , for example , strong video about gentrification and the families that are being displaced by the gentrification and Sherman Heights City Heights , the youth in partnership with City Can and and a lot of different organizations do these wonderful videos about the importance of having a space for youth to play and to skate and so that you know , they fought for a skate park. And so by using the youth stories and they produce their own videos , that that video went on to be shown , you know , via news outlets and also to policymakers. And then ultimately they got a skate park in City Heights. So you see those kind of issues that are coming from them. And that’s what’s really important about our organization in general , is we want the films and videos and productions to come from the community and the neighborhoods and not not us dictating on what they should produce or what we should screen.

S6: Yeah , it’s like they’re.

S1: Producing really impactful stories. You know , we’re deep in the age of streaming. You touched on this a bit , but what makes film festivals so special as an in-person experience ? Yeah.

S5: So , you know , obviously during the pandemic we all just got so used to sitting on a couch and , you know , accessing Netflix or Hulu or Amazon , whatever it might be. And it’s incredible the amount of content that’s out there. But somewhat sometimes it’s actually too much content and it’s kind of hard to find specific content that you might like. And we believe in the art of curation , for example , you know , just like a going to a museum , you know , films should be curated. There’s a person behind it , not just a , you know , computer or an AI or algorithm that’s telling you what to see. There’s actually , you know , human beings that are curating these films. And there’s we have a selection committee that helps curate the movies. And so , number one , we believe that I think we can continue to help the community , like find stories that they wouldn’t otherwise see on the big screen. And then the actual act of going outside of your house and going into a movie theater , seeing it on the big screen with other people in the audience , hearing people laugh and hearing the surround sound. It’s just incredible. I remember the first film I saw like post the Pandemic. It was just like a reminder of , Oh , how special this really is. And so not only do we encourage people to come to our San Diego Latino Festival in March 2024 , but we actually run an independent cinema , a movie theater here. It’s called the Digital Gem Cinema. We’ve run it almost ten years and we have a brand new space here in downtown San Diego and Park and Market and partnership with UCSD on the second floor. You can come here every day. And there’s one. There’s a film every day , every every two hours , a different film celebrating independent foreign films. And currently we’re screening a Chilean film , for example. So we really believe it’s important that people come out to the cinema and , you know , reconnect to the world of film the way it should be seen.


S5: It’s called The Digital Jim Cinema in downtown San Diego and Park in Market. Currently , we’re screening a film from Chile. It’s called Eternal Memory , a beautiful film that’s actually running until September 27th. So they have some time to see it next week. We have also American Homeboy Chicano documentaries that screens on September 22nd. And then on September 29th , we have the great Gael Garcia Bernal in a film called Cassandra about the famous Mexican wrestler. He even has a special cameo by Bad Bunny. So lots of films to see here in the digital Jim Cinema.

S1: I’ve been speaking with Ethan Van Tello , executive director and founder of the Media Arts Center. Ethan , thank you so much for joining us.

S5: Yeah , thanks for your time and see you at the movies. See you there.

S1: That’s our show for today. Don’t forget to watch Evening Edition tonight at five for in-depth reporting on San Diego issues. We’ll be back tomorrow at noon. And if you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast on all platforms. I’m Jade Hindman. Thanks for listening.

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