Monday, September 15, 2008

Past issues soon to be posted

Past issues of El Reflejo are soon to be posted as PDF file. And the new issue of El Reflejo will also be added. So, stay tune.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

There’s this Girl In A Coma...

Fernando Romero

n the singularly fluid universe of Girl In A Coma, a world has been forged to fashion a unique sound of modern punk and alternative rock softened with melancholic, swaggering vocals and tightly-fitted with a retro-cool, bad-ass Riot Grrrl! attitude.

Girl In A Coma (GIAC), the all-female band out of San Antonio rocks in the classic guitar-bass-drums paradigm, but still sounds fresh and innovative. Formed eight years ago, the trio comprised of sisters Nina (guitar and vocals) and Phanie Diaz (drums) and Jenn Alva (bass) has awaited the appraisal and recognition of fans and critics alike for almost a decade.

The band’s big break came in 2006 when cable channel Si TV, the first Latino network to broadcast in English, featured them in their documentary series "Jammin." The band was flown to New York to meet their idol, Joan Jett, who surprised them by signing them onto her indie label, Blackheart Records.

"It happened at the right time too. We had always talked about getting signed on the spot, but we never really thought it would actually happen," Jenn, 28, says.

The band released "Both Before I’m Gone" in May 2007. The album debuted on Billboard’s Heatseekers at No. 23. The band has toured with artists including The Pogues, Social Distortion and Morrissey. It was only fitting that GIAC, which borrowed its name from The Smiths’ 1987 single "Girlfriend in a Coma," was asked by "Moz" himself to open up for him in a string of tour dates last Fall and Winter in the United States and Europe.

The band is just now starting to reap the rewards after all those years trying find the right chemistry and gigging wherever and whenever.

While still in middle school, Phanie bonded with classmate Jenn over a magazine cover of Kurt Cobain’s death. Both Phanie and Jenn shared a liking for bands like Nirvana, The Smiths and The Pixies. The pair instantly linked to start bands of their own. One day, at age 12, Nina, a full eight years younger than Jenn and Phanie, played one of the songs she had written for Phanie and Jenn, trying to get their honest opinion on it. The two older band mates had no idea Nina could play guitar, let alone write songs or that she could sing so well.

"I used to watch them a lot and they would inspire me," Nina, 20, says. "I was just writing some songs and wanted to see what they thought about them."

Both Phanie and Jenn were mesmerized by Nina’s voice and songwriting skills that they decided to form a band with her despite the eight year age difference.

"We were both just blown away by her singing," Phanie, 28, says. "But still, I think she has matured. Her voice and her songwriting have definitely grown a lot since."

The decision says a lot about the faith in Nina’s voice and songwriting. Nina has received countless compliments for her warbling melodic voice, rich in alternative rock that is both dreamy and ethereal and coupled with passionate lyrics coded in irony. Nina’s voice has been likened to Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Björk and yes, even, Morrissey.

GIAC also stands amongst a select few of female rock bands comprised by Latinas. There has not been a representation of Latina rock bands who sing primarily in English. Aside from GIAC, the only other U.S. Latina rock band in the public eye is LA-based Go Betty Go.

The members of GIAC assert they have not encountered any roadblocks for being a Chicana/Latina rock band.

"Our heritage is not a downfall, we see it as a bonus really. We just see it as something that opens up more doors for us," Jenn says. "The fact that we’re Latinas or Chicanas is only beneficial for us. It’s not bad at all. We get to be a part of different circles and concerts. We get the best of every world. We don’t see it as something that is excluding us from anything. We’re very proud of who we are and where we come from."

Hailing from San Antonio, influenced by the Tex-Mex culture, the members of GIAC say they like to think they are opening more doors to other Latina-fronted bands.

"We’re hoping to inspire girls to start bands by showing them, this is how you do it," Phanie says.

Currently on tour, the band will take a break late in the Summer to work on their follow-up album and be back out on the road this Fall with Tegan and Sara. Known for incessant touring, GIAC developed a loyal fan base the classical way; doing it non-stop.

"We preach about touring. We tell all the bands back home to hit the road because it’s the most direct way to develop fan base," Phanie says.

"As long as we can stay on the road and people continue to come to our shows, we’re going to continue to do it," Jenn says.

The women from Girl In A Coma are no girls, they’re definite veterans of rock even for Nina who exudes decades’ worth of experience beyond her 20 years in both her voice and songwriting. They carry a very simple philosophy stemming from their humble and poor beginnings.

"All we said we ever wanted was to make a little money, and be happy. What we’re doing, it’s like a minimum wage salary by rock band standards type of thing, and we’re happy doing it. "Jenn says. ¶

...and then, GIAC in Long Beach

Fernando Romero

Girl In A Coma, the Latina trio out of San Antonio came to Alex’s Bar in Long Beach to play their fast-paced, gritty brand of alternative punk rock.

The band’s sound is like The Pixies and early Blondie coupled with the angst of Nirvana.

Bassist Jenn Alva was intense and energetic and the most vibrant of the group as she jumped up and down and back-and-forth on the stage.

Vocalist/guitarist Nina Diaz did the same and sang at the top of her lungs, while her eyes widened as if they would pop out at any moment.

Drummer Phanie D was relentless on drums, providing a beat prompting you to do something - anything.

At the center of it all was vocalist/guitarist Nina, with her stylish, rocker-crooning voice like a cross between Morrissey and Björk. Nina has a voice that makes you lift your head from whatever drink you’ve buried yourself into and pay attention, This was so on "Their Cell," which has melancholy lyrics like "tattooed lovers, they don’t like to reminisce/keep pictures of the ones you once loved." This line, this song is about longing and loss, with infectious melodies and harmonies and her vocals are emotive as if they could reach down into her pathetic, barely-beating heart to rip open the pain from her chest and share it with you.

Fans sang along to songs from the band’s debut album Both Before I’m Gone. The band also introduced a handful of unreleased songs including "BB," "Ven Cerca," and "Slaughter MM," all of which sounded tighter and tougher than the ones fans who have seen the band repeatedly have become accustomed to. Nina’s voice was moving, it was melodramatic and wound up with exasperation, while the band’s rhythm remained alternative punk.

At Alex’s Bar, the trio merged the power of punk and alt rock with pop-y hooks and infectious lyrics, which left the audience asking for more. ¶

Support the DREAM Act

Fernando Romero

he California DREAM Act will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk on Sept. 4, prompting supporters of the bill to advocate for its ratification which would allow undocumented AB-540 students to apply and compete for financial aid at California publi- colleges and universities.

Supporters of the bill urge the Governor for approval of SB-1301, the California DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act which has already passed both the State Assembly and Senate.

The bill serves as a supplement to Assembly Bill 540, allowing students to apply and vie for financial aid at California public universities and colleges without the use of the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). AB-540 students cannot receive government financial aid to pay for college.

The Governor has vetoed two similar legislative proposals in the past, saying undocumented students might take financial aid resources away from U.S. citizens. Previously, the bills included state-funded financial aid such as the Cal Grant. SB-1301 excludes the Cal Grant and targets financial aid administered by individual institutions.

José Moreno, Chicano & Latino Studies professor at CSULB said the bill is about providing equal opportunity in higher education for all students in publicly-funded schools. "I think the bill’s principle is about equity and fairness."

Moreno added that all public schools have a responsibility to educate students regardless of their immigration status. "We expect all our kids to do well in school and we tell them to dream big and to be whatever they want to be. We have kids trying to get a college education and here they are and we tell them, ‘we can’t help you, you’re on your own," Moreno said. "I think that’s morally wrong."

SB-1301 would not call for additional state funds or the creation of a new state program to fund it. The bill would not affect state-funded financial aid and will rather be institution-based. Each college and university is allocated a certain amount of aid and monies from the state and is free to implement them freely; including university grants, scholarships and work study programs.

The Immigrant Rights Coalition, based in Long Beach, will schedule a rally on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Universalist Unitarian Church on Atherton St. and Bellflower Ave.

Annette Quintero, IRC volunteer, said the program will include guest speakers, two testimonials from AB-540 students as well as the collection of pens (to symbolize the 25,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year), letters and signatures to be sent off to Sacramento advocating ratification.

Quintero said the approval of SB-1301 is the right thing to do because it would alleviate the financial burden of thousand of students seeking college degrees. "The previous bill was based on more of a macro-level. The only difference is that this bill will only be an impact at the university level, not statewide," Quintero said.

Moreno said the passing of SB-1301 will be beneficial to California’s economy. "From a moral, educational and economic ground, it makes a lot of sense," Moreno said. "This bill allows AB-540 students to not only be allowed to stay in school, but to pursue their dream, better their lives and contribute to society."

Both Moreno and Quintero are expectant SB-1301 will be signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The bill is economically-sound and fiscally-responsible. It has the support of the UC Regents, CSU Board of Trustees, CCC, the Governor-appointed Postsecondary Education Commission which oversees policy governing higher education in the state, the UC and CSU student associations and the California Teacher’s Association, among others.

Moreno said, " I don’t see what rationale the Governor can have to not sign the bill." Moreno said there may exist an underlying anti-immigrant, xenophobic sentiment evident should the Governor veto SB-1301. "To deny this, it makes me believe it is discriminatory. I don’t know what else it could be, but anti-immigrant and anti-children," Moreno said.

The CSULB professor tied in the California DREAM Act with the pro-immigration movement and cited compatibility between the two. Moreno said the immigration-reform movement is an important social issue that requiring resolution.

Moreno said, "I think the immigration movement is a human and civil rigths issue."

Moreno added that it was especifically true for a demographic of minors who had no choice when their parents emigrated to this country and are now trying to better their lives with higher education.

"The conversation about immigration should be about being humane. Immigration reform is about being just and is also about the dreams of children," Moreno said. "AB-540 students, by going to college, will contribute more to society and the economy and become the kind of immigrant that the country will want." ¶


Yadira Arroyo

I wake up at the sound of the alarm’s buzz, buzz, buzz. The time is 11:30 a.m. on a completely free day. Free from work, free from school, free from friends and maybe even free from family. I hit the snooze button. About ten minutes later, I am grabbing my towel for a much anticipated, summer-morning shower.

In the bathroom, I pull the hair elastics from my slept-in, lopsided pigtails, scrunch my hair with my hands and then lazily undress. When all my clothes and hair accessories are piled on the toilet seat cover to be taken to my personal hamper after I am done, I grab my toothbrush and toothpaste and place them on the dry ledge of the bathtub. I look into the large mirror opposite the shower, as I always do, and think that it may not be a bad day to skip makeup. I run my hands over my face and then look at the rest of my body, not unsatisfied. I squeeze my breasts because they ache ridiculously, then notice that I need to shave my legs and underarms. I grab a razor from the compartment behind the sink mirror to put beside the toothbrush, but as I close the small door, I squint my eyes to get a better look at what I hadn’t noticed before. It’s there on my upper right arm, ugly and evident.

I turn to the long mirror again and look into my eyes; they begin to flicker in every direction as my body plunges bluntly into accelerated thought. Maybe it was an accident, races my mind. I step up closer to the mirror and examine it. The mark’s shape is so easily distinguishable that there is no mistaking how it got there. There are flashbacks from the previous night. I place my left hand over it and squeeze it gently; I feel the bruised pain at each of its perfectly-arranged four points. I stare at the floor thinking of everything it could mean outside the four walls that I find myself hiding in. The shock of such frailty mocks me.

I turn around to slide open the shower door, turning the showerhead on as soon as I step in. The cool water slows the feral molecules that had begun to boil my blood. I breathe. Calm gloom sets in and I begin to sing. I sing a song that carries me as far away from the cause as possible. If this is your venom, I can just as fiercely conjure my antidote. I force myself to bliss.

When I am done, I wrap a towel around myself and look into the mirror once again, my brown eyes tinged with disappointment. This is not my destiny. I take another angry glance at the mark, holding back tears, and walk to my bedroom. Once away from the bare vulnerability of the cleansing room, I dress myself. Covering the cruelty with a striped blouse, I trap the shame in the mirror. If I succumb to weakness now, it is an eternal loss. I finish gathering myself and open the front door. The sunlight once again wraps me in truth as I walk across my front lawn; my destiny remains clutched in my own hands.

Sandwiches de sal

Fernando Romero

I was seven. I remember that it was November because my birthday had just passed. I was sitting on a bench inside the courtyard of Juan Escutia, the primary school my brothers and I attended in Tepatitlan, Jalisco. A Bimbo bread bag rested on my lap as I stuck my hand inside and reached for a sandwich. My friend, Monica, sat beside me. We usually ate together right before we played an intense game of tag with the rest of our classmates.

Every weekday, my mother would get up in the morning and make our lunches for school, which usually consisted of sandwiches. She would prepare them, put them in the same bag the bread came in and then walk us to school. Once there, she would hand over the bag to the school nurse, Susana. I was the one entrusted with the duty of retrieving the sandwiches because my class was closest to her office.

Monica ate out of her lunchbox. She took out a ham sandwich, a small carton of milk and a bag of chocolate cookies. She assembled her food on the bench in a uniform, parallel fashion; like the streets of a city.

She asked me if I wanted to play jump rope after we fi nished eating, but I didn’t answer her or even bothered to look up because I was too distressed and saddened by my lunch.

I looked at the sandwich like a painter inspecting his artwork of oil on canvas. I squinted, trying to fi nd something, but didn’t even know what. I fl ipped the sandwich over, under, to the side; nothing. The two pieces of white bread were simply slathered with a coat of mayonnaise and sprinkled with salt.

Inside the bag, were another four sandwiches, one for each of my brothers. They all had the same ingredients; mayonnaise and salt. Like the bearer of bad news I would have to make sure they got to where they were supposed to.

The bag mocked me. But for some strange reason, I wasn’t even surprised that there was no ham or even a slice of cheese gently resting between those two pieces of white bread. I knew my mother had not forgotten how to make sandwiches and I knew for a fact that it wasn’t Friday during Lent, but I still took it with an almost matter-of fact attitude. By this age I already knew we were poor and that sometimes, going hungry was just a matter of fact.

Monica looked at me; I looked back at her. In her eyes, there was a dance of light from the refl ection of the beaming sunlight upon the asphalt. Her face, a smattering of speckled freckles, spelled out disbelief. She wanted to say something, but didn’t know what.

She asked with skepticism as she ogled the salt on mayonnaise, “That’s your lunch?”

“Yeah,” I quipped. “My mom made it.”

A sense of shame overcame me and I started to put the sandwich back in the bag.

“Aren’t you gonna eat it?”

“Nah. I’m not hungry,” I lied.

I felt a shooting pain in the recesses of my stomach. I wanted to make up an excuse, to tell her that my stomach was full and that I had eaten earlier in the day; that these mayonnaise and salt sandwiches were just snacks. But the truth was that the shame overcame me. Today, I figured I’d go hungry.

She didn’t understand; I didn’t understand either. All I knew was that my parents worked hard. They worked como burros, as my mother would say, to provide us with a good education. Inevitably, “ends meet” sometimes became critical.

I stood up and walked away. I wasn’t mad at Monica or anybody, but I just did not feel like joining in the playground games. The remainder of the lunch period, I stood pressed against the fence, like a lone wolf; bitter at the idea that any child, for any reason would skip a meal or ever go hungry. I was always a worrier for the poor.

The nuns who ran the school used to say that God had a special place for poor people; that God was more merciful. But like everything else the nuns said, and partly because I was just a kid, their message was simply lost on me.

And on that afternoon when I went hungry, the worries of my childhood superseded all that was me. As I walked home, I chewed on stalks of grass. I heard my stomach growl. I climbed an orange tree and stole an orange from some unlucky person’s house.

Even then, I had a way with words like a struggling poet. I wanted to tell stories of what I saw and how I lived, of those meager streets of houses and buildings, of unsightly characters who roamed the streets. I thought a lot. I wondered what it must be like to live in a house with a big front yard and sprinklers that twirled, and of moms who baked pies and left them on the window sill. My mind reverted to food again and again.

I thought about the streets of Tepa. We lived on Calle Allende 71. From school I would usually walk down Avenida Moctezuma or Lerdo. Both were parallel to one another and if one kept on walking downhill, one would reach La Plaza Morelos, where my parents would take us every Sunday for Mass and to a taco stand at La Plaza afterwards. At that time, I didn’t know that those streets would have such an effect on me. Calle Allende became Atlantic Avenue and it was all still the same, but different.

When I got home, my parents were still at work. The afternoon was still young. I went inside and heated up some tortillas on the comal. I slapped some cheese on the tortilla and ate. I felt guilt, remorse and shame for taking food that my mother may have needed later on; for the rest of us.

With the tortilla rolled up and cheese gushing from the corner of my mouth, I went out to the patio. My stomach did not feel as empty. My brothers were home by now. In the patio, Ezequiel, David Alejandro, Valentin and Gonzalo were all playing marbles and making bomb sounds
on the cracked, uneven pavement.

My twelve-year-old brother Ezequiel, as the oldest, always took it upon himself to initiate the name of the game; he had the temperament of a mule, but could sometimes be fair and reasonable.

“So what you guys wanna play today?,” Ezequiel asked with indifference.

We all kind of shrugged. When it came to games, our options were always limited. We would either make up our own games or construct our own toys. Fun times ranged from catching tadpoles at a nearby pond, to making forts out of cardboard boxes. Playing with matches was at the top of the list for fun, until some way, somehow, when I was in kindergarten, we accidentally set my parents’ mattress on fi re. We got the punishment of a lifetime for that one.

We needed to kill time until my parents came home from work. My stomach grumbled. I could sense my brothers’ did too. Valentin said we should play outside. At nine, he was already a vagabond and always wanted to go outside.

“I have my soccer ball,” Valentin said. “Let’s just go outside and play soccer.”

“Can’t,” eleven-year old David interjected. “Mi Amá said no. Remember?”

My parents had gotten too many complaints from the neighbors for our alleged terrorizing of the neighborhood. My parents said to stay inside until they came home, which was usually less than hour after we got home.

David had always been the quietest, but he loved a good fi ghting. If there was anything he ever liked to do, it was beat up on his little brothers.

“Okay, then where’s the frisbee?” Ezequiel asked.

“I know! It’s over there,” Valentin said as he pointed to what seemed like the box where we kept a lot of our stuff.

I was closest to the box so I walked a couple paces to where Valentin pointed and looked inside. I only saw a pile of toy cars and some coloring utensils.

“Nope! No sir,” I said with a wrinkled face, being no one’s fool.

“Not there, stupid!” Valentin snapped. “Behind it.”

There it was. I picked up the frisbee and tossed it to Valentin. It probably sounded more fun in our heads than it actually was because no one seemed animated enough to play.

“This sucks! Let’s do something else,” Ezequiel said.

“Yeah! This is dumb. I’m goin’ inside,” David said.

We stood outside for awhile. Gonzalo, the youngest at fi ve, sat on the ground, took some chalk and started to draw on the ground.

Man, that looks like fun, I thought.

At that moment my mother came home from work. We all went inside to wash up in the kitchen sink. She said dinner would be ready soon.

Every one of my brothers went into the living room to watch the Wonder Years, dubbed in Spanish. On the television, Kevin Arnold and his family sat in their dining room table in white clothes eating. Later on, my father came home and plopped himself on the living room couch, beaten from a job that made little money.

My mother and I were in the kitchen, steam covered the glass windows from her cooking. My mother scurried back and forth making dinner. I wanted to talkto her about school and what had happened during lunch. But most importantly, I knew Christmas was coming up soon and I wanted to ask her to get me the most coveted toy there ever was. Sure, for Christmas I wanted for Baby Jesus to be born and for there to be happiness and peace in the universe, but most importantly, what I wanted was the toy sword the leader of The Thundercats used. I wanted Lion-O’s sword more than anything.

In those days, it seemed that my mother was always at the stove, her pale skin glistening as the steam team rose.

Amá,” I started. “For Christmas…can I get a…umh.”

I didn’t even get a chance to finish.

“What is it?” she asked. “ You know what? Not right now, okay? We’ll talk about it a little bit later.”

I said okay. I knew “later” would never come. I knew enough that in Mexican culture, later, or “mas al rato” usually meant a week, a month, a year or maybe never.

The sun had set before my mother called everyone to dinner. We sat there: my mother’s eyes looked exhausted but had a vibrant glow as she scanned the table of six faces before her. Steam silvered the room while she said grace; my brothers with their heads bowed made ugly faces at the vegetables on their plates. I gagged too, but eagerly ate big rips of buttered tortilla that held scooped up beans with melted cheese.

Like every other night at dinnertime, the house grew louder. A sense of insomnia descended upon the house. By now, we were accustomed to a life of surprises and evenings with festivities, even on non-festive days.

Finished eating dinner, I went outside. The air was cold. The hunger pangs were lulled. But those pangs in my stomach have followed me like a shadow; a reminder of who I was, where I’ve been and where I’ve come from. ¶