Spotlight in Brown
Ruben Molina's labor of love, for our people and our music
?Orale, Mi Gente! This is the first of what I hope to be a regular monthly article spotlighting Chicanos & Chicanas who have taken a personal step to make things "Chicano" stand out and be noticed in a positive light. The uniqueness of the Chicano culture cannot be overstated, yet with the exception of websites such as this one, we are sadly underrepresented outside of our respective circles, to the world at large.
Published on LatinoLA: June 21, 2004
Refusing to be melded into the generic "Hispanic" pool for the political correctness or convenience of non-Latinos, individuals who assume the mantle of CHICANO or CHICANA walk a proud path blazed by warriors, leaders in the arts, entertainment, sports & business fields, and most recently the political & intellectual arenas. Fully aware that we must struggle against racial barriers , stereotypes, and scorn from even some of our own brethren, CHICANOS have always taken "Mexican-American" to a higher level.
Bear in mind, this is not a new struggle, and I welcome all opinions to the contrary, respect & intelligence being the only conditions for consideration.
I harbor no malice towards anyone of another culture, but indeed, welcome you to my world in hopes that enlightenment is but one result of my efforts.
Here then, is one CHICANO's take on Brown success:
I first met Ruben Molina in January of 2003, at Thee Midniters' reunion concert at the Hollywood House of Blues. I was an invited guest, amongst many others, of that good looking, over 45 and still kickin', Southern Califas Chicano crowd, circa 1960's -70's.
We had packed the house, representing "the in crowd" of L.A. Chicano music lovers getting together for a good time and rekindling of friendships & memories.
Lil' Willie G and the guys sounded so good as always, and there was a host of Chicano music celebrities and entertainers mingling with us everyday Gente. It was a great party.
Promoting my show, I was mingling with the crowd, passing out flyers and making contacts when I came face to face with this square shouldered, serious-looking, Chicano veterano coming straight towards me with purpose. Making eye contact, we simultaneously broke into smiles, introduced each other, and exchanged flyers. He complimented me on my show, and informed me that he had just finished publishing a book entitled "The Old Barrio Guide to Lowrider Music" and invited me to check it out. Our brief conversation on Chicano Oldies impressed me that this guy knows what's up, not to mention that we both came from the street and spoke the same vernacular when it came to Oldies & Chicanismo.
Right off, I liked this guy, and I knew we would become friends. I still tease him on how he got so much attention that night not because of his book, but because of his resemblance to actor-comedian Cheech Marin. (Ha! Cheech should be so lucky!)
I lost Ruben's number a few days later, and hence, my opportunity to meet with him as soon as we had wished. By a stroke of luck, Spooky Esparza of Orange County's CHICANO Magazine called me a few weeks later to excitedly tell me about a new book he had picked up called "The Old Barrio Guide To Lowrider Music." "Man, Frankie...you gotta check this homie out! He sounds like you, and his music sounds like a year's worth of playlist from your show!" Spooky said. He had recently interviewed him for his magazine, and like myself, being a promoter of all things Chicano, Spooky hooked us up, but quick!
Ruben & I met at a Denny's in La Puente a week later, where he presented me with one of the first copies of his book. What was supposed to be a quick 15 minute meeting and a hand off, turned into a 2 1/2 hour "homeboy platicar" session. We talked about Chicano street action in L.A., cholas, cars, music, dances, groups, artists, The Chicano Movimiento and the Viet Nam War. Man, it felt like I was sittin' on a porch in the 'hood with a tight, firme Homie. (Those in the know can appreciate that last comment).
Born & raised in East L.A., Ruben is well known as "Flaco" from the notorious Frogtown Barrio. Looking to escape the revolving door of drugs, crime & incarceration in L.A., Ruben joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving three three years during the Viet Nam war era before being honorably discharged. He attended East L.A. College and Pasadena City College, earning his degree in engineering.
Although he has been retired from street life for many years, Ruben still has "veterano privileges" and respect, allowing him to visit freely amongst the homies with no fear. This status, only understood by a few, was an impetus to Ruben's founding of Mictlan publishing.
A record collector for many years, Ruben told me how he had been approached by a writer from San Francisco who had the novel idea of writing a book about Chicano Oldies but Goodies music and the lowriding culture of Southern California. Seizing upon the moment, Ruben relates how he had harbored a mild resentment towards the music world for only publishing books on Surfer, Rock, Country, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, and Alternative Rock music as representative of Los Angeles, while ignoring Chicanos and their "cruising music". He set up a week end where this writer was to have come down and toured different Barrios, to interview different homies and get a taste of lowriding Oldies but Goodies first hand. After a brief tour of the San Gabriel Valley's Bassett-La Puente area, this writer (not of 'hood orientation obviously), became so intimidated by the Gente that he dropped the idea and caught the first plane back to 'Frisco, leaving Ruben's resentment to blossum into an idea he had never considered: He would write and publish the book himself!
Operating on a shoestring and a burning desire, Ruben delved deep into his 35 year plus record/tape collection, and memories of back in the day. During his lifetime as an avid collector, Ruben had met other collectors , as well as many renowned artists of his beloved Chicano Oldies world. With no financial backing other than his own wallet, and the purse of his lovely wife Maricela's, Ruben began a four year trek across the country, seeking out the artists and audiences he knew were not lost to oblivion. Another motivation for his mission, Ruben says, is that his book is also a monument to a generation of Chicanos who existed during a tumultous time in American history, and their numbers are dwindling without so much as a mention of their contribution to American music & dancing.
Originally titled "Grinders, Tear Jerkers, and Drinking Songs", Ruben changed the title after much debate with his wife Maricela. Ever supportive, Maricela probably saw the world wide implication of the book, as she perceived other readers besides the 'hood Gente. "Not that we're bad people", Ruben relates, "It's just that there's always the critics who look for something to sneer at, and outside of Chicanismo, that title would probably support a stereotype, discouraging readership. Not everybody would get it, know what I mean?" Indeed I do, Carnal! Indeed I do!
The book "The Old Barrio Guide to Lowrider Music 1950-1975" is a testament to Ruben's labor of love, for our people and our music. Despite working full time and raising his 2 children, Ruben was able to publish his book under his five year timetable, a remarkable feat when you consider Ruben had no formal writing, editing or publishing skills training under his belt.
Talk about heart! The book is now in it's 2nd printing, and has traversed the country in its popularity, as well as having made it's way to England and other European countries. Ruben has also produced some of the sweetest, rarest, Oldies CD's anywhere on earth, and proudly gives one free with evey book ordered on line. He recently finished a year long speaking tour promoting his book, while searching out rare & hard to find ballads recorded during the Vietnam War era. His latest CD "Does Anybody Know I'm Here? A Soldier's Plea" is fast becoming a favorite among U. S. servicemen & their families.
It's BROWN thing, baby! CHICANOS bringin' it to you! Gracias Ruben. It is indeed a pleasure to have made your aqauintance, Homie! Si se puede!
Next month: A Texas Chicana takes on the Texas Music Industry, on her terms!
Note: Ruben Molina is a frequent guest on The 2nd Time Around Show, and can reached thru his website at www.Mictlan.com
Frankie Firme spins the finest Chicano style Oldies but Goodies on the 2nd Time Around Show, every Thursday at 6:oopm, L.A. time, only on www.kclafm.com