Somebody Please! Part 2

Three veteranos talk about the Gente, the hard times, the music and the barrio

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing editor
Published on LatinoLA: June 10, 2008

Somebody Please! Part 2

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article entitled "Somebody Please!", in which I implored upon the RAZA to stand up, take a look at ourselves and take inventory of our shortcomings, to put our best foot forward and do the best for our children, our communities, our neighborhoods, and ultimately for ourselves.

We got some great response, and the article was re-published in other publications, even being translated into Spanish. It made an impression upon others, and for that I stood grateful to LatinoLA and my people for supporting my stance. I've received correspondence from young people since, thanking me for helping them look at things in a different perspective, and hopefully pointing them in a good direction with some positive change coming about. Power to the people, baby!!

Now, I do it again ... only this time, I ask my Gente to look into the world we have inherited for our children and ourselves, and I ask you all to help bring a dire situation to our "powers that be", before they become powers that were.

First, let's view my impetus for this piece:

On a recent day off, after pitching a serious bitch that gas had just risen to $4.50 a gallon in my neighborhood, hearing on the news that the State of California was about to make one of its most monumental blunders in history by laying off teachers and making cuts in education programs, and along with the many home foreclosure signs going up in my neighborhood, I now saw my neighbor's SUVs and mid size almost-new cars being repossessed on an almost regular basis.

Economic hard times! Where is it going, I thought? Somebody please!!!

The final straw that morning, my daughter-in-law tells me that my grandson can no longer play kickball, tetherball, basketball, or chase pretty little Chicanitas in pigtails on the schoolyard anymore because budget cuts have dictated that schoolyards be closed immediately after school, and adult playground attendants are being laid off. One of us in the family either has to take time off from work (and lose the pay), or ante up for expensive after school daycare, less my grandson "be sentenced" to an office waiting room for the crime of being on the schoolyard after 3:00 pm until one of us bailed him out.

Despite being as angry as a toothless pit bull locked in a full butcher shop, I noticed that the recent saving, scrimping, suffering, and sacrificing my Lady & I have been doing had given me a rare day to live in: our rent was paid, all our current monthly bills were paid, we had food in the 'fridge, I had a half tank of gas in my truck, and lo & behold - $ 40.00 in my pocket a day before payday!! Talk about a homie in good space!!

Feeling somewhat entitled on a rare occasion, I felt I deserved to cruise over to the local market and pick up a couple of steaks and cold ones to surprise mama when she got home from her 9 hour day at the office, after all we've been through lately.

Entering my local Von's market in Sylmar at mid-day, it felt almost eerie that the store seemed almost empty, but the shelves were full. I was grateful for the wonderful air conditioning, but noticed that there were only 2 checkstand workers instead of the usual six. Not a lot of shoppers today.

In one of the aisles I passed through, I noticed this beautiful little Chicanita, maybe 5 or 6 years old, with gorgeous big brown almond eyes, and full eyelashes sitting in the grocery cart as her mother shopped carefully & slowly, comparing prices. Her eyes were soaked of tears, and her uneven breathing told me she had just finished crying.

"Mija, I'm sorry. I'll get you some apples for your lunch when daddy gets his check next week. I don't have the money for them right now," the mother comforted her little girl as she saw me looking at the sobbing child in sympathy. I saw by the mother's determined look at me, which even in hard times reflected a sense of dignity, that my offer to buy some apples would be refused, so I didn't wish to insult her.

(NEVER insult a Chicana ... especially during hard times!)

Economic hard times. No apples for a little Brown girl's school lunch! Somebody please!!

I decide to check out the meat department before I pick up my Coronas.just feeling a little guilty at my temporary luxury status.

While checking out some nice cuts of steak, I notice this older man, about the same age as my father, probably in his early 80's, sticking a large, well wrapped steak down his pants. In his cart were all low priced generic products including milk, bread, cereal, tortillas, and eggs. I knew this man was no street trog, or gangster, or wino, or drug fiend, because I know what they look like ... and he wasn't one of them ... and he wasn't just stealing for himself, judging by the products in his cart

...he was just an older Latino shopping to feed his family ... and he couldn't afford meat.

Economic hard times. My people have to steal to survive! Where's it going and why?

The man knew I had seen him, and quickly walked away from me. I could see the tears of shame in his eyes, but he kept his hidden treasure hidden with a defiant, almost desperate look on his face.now I'm getting mad at the world.

I look for this guy and find him comparing prices of toilet paper in another aisle. Foregoing my Coronas (sorry, Babe!), I pass the man up and stick a $10.00 bill in his shirt pocket. As he looks at me in disbelief, I tell him, "I'm sorry for what you're going through, but it gets worse if you get caught," and I walk away as fast as I can, lest his dignity force him to return my contribution ... which I would have refused, of course.

Leaving the market, I felt an overwhelming sense of rage ... of anger ... of resentment over the status of my world brought on by the greed of others and the ignorance of others more.

As I usually do, I put on some music to soothe my soul ... and as usual, the Godddess of Ritmo brings out the right song from one of the 6 CD's I have in my truck player.

At the right moment, TIERRA's classic jam "Barrio Suite" blasts out at me, talks to me, and inspires me, and most of all, calms me into a sense of responsibility as I drive home with my steak and no Coronas.

If you've never heard it,"Barrio suite" is a masterpiece of poetic 1970's social outrage commentary, outstanding musical arrangement through at least 4 genres, with a mellow and harmonious ending that leaves you with hope, first released in 1971. Like Thee Midniter's "Whittier Boulevard" of 1965, "Barrio Suite" became a Chicano anthem for the post VietNam, post Movimiento Generation ... and it is still relevant today!

The opening lyrics, written by Stevie Salas, tell you, "I never had no money, was born in the Ghetto Brown ... with poverty schools, and insensitive fools, all trying to put us down," reach out and grab your attention. I felt a surge of anger for my grandchildren, who have NO clue about what's being taken away from them, and what they may never have

The musical arrangement, written by brother Rudy Salas, reflects the Mexicano~Chicano in us all by starting off with a faux-ranchera brass roll, rising to a hard contemporary jazz roll, leading into Latin Soul, with a bridge being a combination of all three, and ends with a mellow Chicano Oldies style chorus of "I was born in the barrio, and in the barrio I will die ... Come alongand make it happen" just after Stevie's imploration to "... feed the poor!".

The message and the music makes it a treasure for the times, and could have been written today.

This musical treasure could not exist had Rudy and Stevie not being introduced to the art of music as young boys ... and again, I feel a surge of anger that music and art programs are the first to go in school budget cuts, denying my grandchildren the beauty my world once afforded my generation.

Damn! Was I pissed! I found myself rewinding the song and saying to myself "Yeah! Damn right! Sing it, Stevie! Play that guitar, Rudy!"

After awhile, I think, "After 37 yearsI wonder if Rudy & Stevie Salas still have that fire in their hearts, now that they're on top of the Chicano music world?"... hmmmm ... I decide to make a couple of social phone calls. Both the brothers take time to talk to me & LatinoLA:

Steve: "Hey! I remember that time! We had just changed our name to TIERRA, and like a lot of the upcoming bands like TOWER OF POWER, or EARTH, WIND, and FIRE, we wanted to make a social statement through our music, which we found was a powerful vehicle. Prior to the Movimiento, it used to really bother me that all the college preparatory courses were offered to the Caucasian and Asian kids, while all the Latinos were offered the auto body and fender classes, or woodshop classes.

That didn't prepare us for anything in the world, they were drafting guys for Viet Nam who didn't go to college, and that's what I was thinking when I wrote the song. I wanted to anger people, not into doing stupid stuff like gang banging or violence, but into realizing that education is our way out of poverty, and into taking action, like going to college and getting good paying jobs, and raising your kids to be responsible.

Only through education, and peace with each other, can we achieve the level of respect that we, as Chicanos, deserve!! I don't mean to offend anybody, but CHICANO is a title that to me reflects a struggle through time and our society where the struggle gains respect among our people. These pendejos that run around shaving their heads, shooting and killing each other, disrespecting our women and our RAZA with their vulgar rap lyrics ... they aren't CHICANOS, and I don't address them as such.

THEY should be taking over for the RAZA, making the social statements like we did, making a difference like we did, and bringing the rip offs to the Gente's attention like we did. Hell, gas is unbelievable! WE let that happen! Car insurance is unbelievable AND mandatory, and WE let that happen! You have insurance, you use it, and you get cancelled or your rates are raised. You get caught driving without insurance, you get a ticket, you get fined, and now you have to get more expensive insurance. What are you gonna buy gas with? WE let that happen! How?


We didn't share our ideas with each other that could have made a difference! We lost our sense of community, or barrio. We just accepted that life in the barrio was meant to be poor & poverty stricken. NOT SO! I have NEVER equated BARRIO with gangs or poverty, and I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in East L.A. To me, the barrio represented the Chicano community and neighborhood, where everybody knew everybody ... and respect was earned based on what you did, not what others before you did. My brother and I never set out to be legends ... through our struggles and survival it just came out that way ... I'm proud of that and I'm not ashamed of being an educated Chicano from the barrios of East L.A. But I'm angry that the rich powers that be have gotten away with so much, making us all suffer."

Rudy: "Yeah ... that was one of our biggest songs in the beginning of TIERRA, around 1971. I remember wanting to make the music go in different directions, like the dreams of our people, so I wrote the music combining 4 different genres with horns, calling it a 'suite' instead of a medley. That was a fun time, and I'm honored to know that the song still strikes people in the heart.

But Man!...these younger guys don't get it! We went through a lot of struggle and hard times to get where we're at ... and as Chicanos in the music world, it is always a struggle to survive, but we, along with other Chicano artists at the time, opened a lot of doors that these youngsters are allowing to close by keeping the gang and violence crap going, insulting people with their vulgar rap and hip-hop lyrics, and basically showing a lot of disrespect ... and in showing disrespect for others, they disrespect themselves.

We as a people are still being dumbed down, and we're still in an unpopular war! Those that do not learn from history are destined to suffer from it...and here we are! It bothers me greatly that art, music, and culture programs are the first to be cut. Why? I mean, when we're gone, who's gonna be the next TIERRA of their generation? As musicians & artists, we are the storytellers, the makers of dance, the keepers of the culture, and there's a certain sense of artistic responsibility to that!

Even though my brothers and I grew up in one of the toughest & most violent parts of East L.A., we weren't gang members. Sure, we knew all the tough guys, but my parents made sure they gave us direction away from that. My blessing was music. We weren't rich, but we were together. That's what we meant in the song when we say "I was born in the barrio, and in the barrio, I will die". That was NEVER meant to be misconstrued as an identification to gangs or a violent lifestyle.

Like the feeling & emotions of another song "A place called home," the barrio is not a specific place, but a spirit and feeling in your heart. It's where you come from, and where you come from should reflect a sense of pride. It gets me mad that schoolyards & school programs are being shut down ... and that nobody seems to notice till it's too late that the streets and the gangs and the violence associated with them NEVER close! It gets me mad that gas prices are outrageous and economic hard times are getting worse, because soon other people will have to resort to crime & violence to survive. Remember, the kid you starve and under educate will the gang banger that will grow up to rob and hurt you one day."

And with that, I felt recharged again, thanks to los Hermanos Salas, some good friends of mine that still have that fire in their hearts, and are willing to share.

I ask that we take up the anthem again, start the intelligent and non-violent means of writing, calling, and e-mailing our elected officials, letting them know that if they want to be re-elected into their plush & well paying jobs, they need to start taking care of us again,..

I ask that we contact our school administrators and imbue upon them the future of a poor investment of cutting art & after school programs. Remind them that the streets NEVER close, and that's where we are delivering our children to on a platter. Let's not be na?»ve and hope that cell phones, MP-3's, and other electronic games & gifts will keep them home & out of trouble.

I ask that we take up the responsibility that many of brethren fought & sacrificed for many years ago: To be respected, to be acknowleged, to have pride in ourselves, our families, and our communities. Don't let the powers that be financially "starve" us into poverty, crime, hopelessness, and the bottom of society. Poor kids grow up into angry adults that will ultimately inherit the world.

The streets NEVER close! Somebody please! Make that fact known!

.somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear a haunting Latin trumpet blaring, and the harmonious voices of 2 brothers singing " ... I was born in the barrio .. and in the barrio I will die."

Note: "Barrio suite" ~ words by Stevie Salas, music arrangements by Rudy Salas- 1971- available at <a href="http://www.tierramusic.com">www.tierramusic.com</a>

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone & the Hitman of Wes Coast Chicano Soul, heard daily on <a href="http://www.eastLArevue.com">www.eastLArevue.com</a>
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