'Ey, esse! Ustedes vatos locos? Com' esta?
I crawled under barbed wire
Swam across a stream
Rode in six different trucks
Packed like a sardine
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Los Angeles is an unusually large geographic area and is therefore big enough for many interpretations of the California experience. While L.A. may mean the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to some and the no-nonsense business of central L.A. to others, there is a California that many forget about over in East L.A.: the Hispanic and Latino population, courtesy of being so close on the border with Mexico.
It is no longer possible to say for sure that this is Caucasian territory. Store signs are in Spanish first and English sometimes as an afterthought. More Spanish than English is heard on the streets. But neither is it fully Mexican; Hispanics and Latinos have partly adopted to English mannerisms and mores. Some, indeed, have been born and raised here without learning Spanish, but speaking a kind of accented English as their parents and schoolteachers spoke it.
The area is a rich cultural playground, half fiesta and half California dreamin'. White catering trucks serve up burritos, chili, and taquitos on the streets, while blasting a horn that invariably plays "La Cucaracha." Any given nearby set of speakers is likely to be playing banda music (old-style with lots of brass, and VERY LOUD), or less likely tamborazo, mariachi, marimba, or salsa. The graffiti art has obvious Aztec influences.
It is this place with which Cheech Marin, of the comedy team Cheech & Chong, most closely identifies. Except "Born in East L.A." is actually a parody song; in case you haven't tumbled, it directly references the Bruce Springsteen classic "Born in the U.S.A." Cheech Marin released the single first, saw it had some resonance, then made it into the movie by the same title.
It's interesting to note that it's a parody of Springsteen's piece, since "Born in the U.S.A." is actually a protest
song (did you hear that, redneck flag-wavers?) about the lousy way America treats its homecoming veterans, specifically the ones who fought in Vietnam. And really, you don't even have to see Marin's movie to get the idea that, in the same vein, it's a protest against how America treats its Hispanic and Latino population.
But enough heavy stuff. The movie Born in East L.A.
, a break-out for Marin's solo career (Tommy Chong is restricted to one scene, as a photograph of Jesus!), is an often underrated and overlooked comedy. It's one of those movies where you forget what a sophisticated satire it is until you see it again. Then you're quoting those infectious lines: "I like your shirt, but I really like your pants. Why don't you take off your pants?" "Looks like a bean in a bean bag!" "Looks like two puppies fighting under a blanket." "You're gonna like these tacos; they taste just like steak!" And of course (all together now) "Waaassss 'sappening?"
Then you wonder why we forget. Why do we forget how great this movie is? And how Hispanic-Americans are an important part of our culture? And how the United States only plays the band for you on your way to
war, not on your way back? And that Bruce was really, really pissed on the behalf of Vietnam veterans, but most pissed of all when Ronald Reagan gibbered on about how "Born in the U.S.A." had a message of hope?Pete Trbovich
May 7, 2009
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