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Culture: The Lifeblood of our People

Art imitates life and vice versa...even in da 'hood

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: August 13, 2008


Culture: The Lifeblood of our People


As is becoming well known again throughout every and any circle of common intelligence, education, and civilization (and anybody else who considers themselves a cool, hip, and in the know adult), the arts are one of the very few universal promoters of culture.

One dictionary definition that has always stuck with me throughout my adult life is the one that goes something like this:

CULTURE: "The training, development, enlightenment, and refinement of mind, morals, and taste‘«™."

‘«™pretty heavy, huh?

If you didn't know Mexican food originated in Mexico, Chinese food originated in China, and that buffalo wings really don't come off buffaloes, would you still eat it?

If you didn't know that music and singing were arts that required talent, exposure, and years of practice...would you still listen to it?

What in your mind determines what color or style of clothes, car, or home furnishings you will pick and live with?

The exposure to all of the above is an exercise in culture, my friends.

Culture to me also defines whom I am in reference to where I, and my ancestors came from, and what makes me laugh, cry, sing, look at, reject or accept, and enjoy the many different things and people that make up my world...and how I came to learn things in general.

I learned things starting from my very first day in school from a beautiful Japanese teacher in East L.A., who would serve us our graham crackers and horchata just before our afternoon nap while playing classical music by Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin...names I would learn and appreciate later in life.

I learned things from another beautiful Japanese teacher in the 6th grade who taught us how to square dance, sing American folk songs in unison, read and interpret poetry from the likes of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Arthur Rambo, and encouraged us to write stories after reading the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Will Rogers.

I had a third beautiful Japanese teacher in the 9th grade who taught us how explore the verses of song, and how to create things from paper mache, clay, colored paper, glue, paint, and ice cream sticks...and on the side, she encouraged a lot of 8th & 9th graders to explore and join the Chicano Movimiento of the late 1960's as it was happening. (She was married to a Chicano Movimiento leader)

Growing up in a large Latino family, I attended more baptisms, weddings, quincea??eras, funerals, birthday parties, bar-b-que's, and fiestas than you can imagine, and Mexico Lindo was ingrained in my soul, along with life in the streets of L.A‘«™.

All the while listening to the finest rock & roll, funk, soul, classic R&B, and rock music of the time that was everywhere in L.A., and I had a lot of friends to share it with as I grew up.

I didn't know it then, but I was assimilating, enjoying, and sharing culture while growing up.

At age 17 I joined the U.S. Marines, and traveled to the far east, visiting many different countries, including Japan...yet I found NOTHING anywhere near what I was taught by my beautiful Japanese-American teachers! Talk about culture shock! Exploring Japanese art was an experience in itself, because I wanted to know where these influential women had come from. The answers were enriching, and I find myself owing them a debt of gratitude for enriching my life with culture.

I also met guys from the Philippines, Australia, Ireland, Samoa, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico City, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Africa, Peru, Cuba, and Portugal...all who had joined the U.S. Marines along with white guys from places like Pocatelo, Idaho, and American Indians from places like Wapanucka, Oklahoma, who had never even heard of a Chicano until they met guys like me.

And together, we all gazed open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the wonders and mysteries of the culture of the Far East as young 17, 18, 19, and 20 year old American Marines, learning and coming into manhood during the Viet Nam war years before our 21st birthdays.

We all absorbed as much of their culture as we could, and we tried to express ours in the only way we could at the time...through music, dancing, and socializing. And only now, more than 36 years later, do I see that we were practicing a cultural exchange that has left indelible memories and lessons in my heart and soul...and no doubt left a few in many others who lived during that time.

I have a lot of friends who describe the same kind of experiences (including the time honored tradition of good old fashioned inter-service bar fights) while serving in the U.S. military in Europe.

All of these experiences have formed the American-Chicano culture around me and my friends of my generation, as I see it, and we are better off because of it.

Culture...cultura...refining the mind, morals, and taste, remember?

Sadly, I talk with my teenaged step-sons and many other younger people who have no idea what life is, or can be, outside of L.A, in the terms I've experienced and just described. They admit they have not been given half the artistic exposure I was entitled to during their school years as I had in mine...and because of steady budget cuts of arts programs over the years, I have to sadly agree that they have been culturally ripped off and denied some benefits of life...mainly, the arts and exposure to culture, especially theirs.

I've met young men and women as old as 26 who have not half the exposure to ours or another culture as much as I did by the time I turned 18. They think rap music is poetry, music videos as performance, screaming vulgarity into a microphone as expression, and graffiti on freeway walls or a poster of a rock star on the wall as art.

...what a sad rip off!

The continued budgetary cuts that take from the arts programs in our school systems are both morally and culturally depriving. They deny our present and future generations the gift and practice of creativity, which limit alternatives in thinking and decision-making, therefore making our society ripe for exploitation by the affluent few who have not been subject to such deprivation.

In essence, this contributes to the "dumbing down" of our future population, leaving the perversion of the concept of assimilation and self-taught violence wrought with frustration as the only alternative...

We have to take a step to prevent this, and the moral break down of our society. Anarchy, like atheism, is deep in the lack of art and creativity, yet heavy handed in control.

The dark ages of Europe, Stalin's Russia, and Nazism all have beginnings in the destroying art, literature, and educated culture‘«™culminating in barbaric control.

It might sound way out in left field for some of you, but creative expression is VERY healthy for the mind. What's good for the mind is good for the soul...and the body will follow.

The laughter of innocent happy children at play is a tonic people need to drink in.

The colors of the rainbow, the sounds of sweet music, the beauty of a poem or painting that tells a story, or the power of a well written book is art in motion...and we NEED to keep moving or we die!

All this boils down to the need in our community of artistic cultural centers that go beyond the commercial promotion of business or civic center that smells of politics and personal agendas. Someplace that actually gives a damn about our future generation without any political objective‘«™

In my next piece, I'll tell you of such a cultural center, and a beautiful expression of love, art, culture and community they produced for the citizens of Los Angeles recently...

I know there's a lot of you like me, so kick back and stay logged on to LatinoLA.com!

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al capone of the microphone, and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul.
website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com
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