Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Report from the Camps, on the border, on the stage. Working in clay.

Today's La Bloga-Tuesday welcomes Guest Columnist Juanita Salazar Lamb in the first of a 2-part report from the U.S. border between Mexico and Texas. Saturday, La Bloga continues Salazar Lamb's report and will have continuing insights as the mystery writer returns to this manda at la frontera.

Juanita is working with gente on the first days they're not in a concentration camp. They're immediately free, no practice to go through, no Group W bench, welcome and you're on your own. Imagine back to 1944 when the Japanese came back to Boyle Heights from Manzanar--the ones who didn't go to Europe--and the transitions they went through, back into Boyle Heights and Issei-Nisei jazz versus be-bop, Nihonjin or pachuco...that's what playwrights Dan Kwong and Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara explore in an important drama developing out of Boyle Height's Casa 0101 cultural centro.

Little Joe and Masao are really old tipos nowadays if they're still around, and their kids are senior citizens, too. Senior citizens will find arts and crafts engagement worth the travel across town to a  CAFAM senior activity. La Bloga-Tuesday recently did just that, to do some pots with clay maestro Wayne Perry.

Juanita Salazar Lamb is an author who lives in Northwest Arkansas. Geographically removed from the Rio Grande Valley where she was born and raised, Juanita keeps her pulse on happenings in the Valley, on immigration issues, and other topics that affect the Latino community. She continues to work on her mystery series featuring Yara Garcia.


Juanita Salazar Lamb

For months and months there has been so much back and forth about the crisis at the border, with each side of the debate (sometimes it seems less of a debate and more a round of name-calling and finger-pointing by both sides), presenting images and advocacy to support their position. You can find a news outlet to support your opinion, and if you haven’t formed an opinion, you’ll possibly find yourself lost in the plethora of images and words published by news outlets and social media.

One image by Reuters depicted immigrants held outdoors in cage-like enclosures, some people lying on the ground with mylar blankets spread out. Other images showed children in conditions seemingly so crowded that there was not enough space for them to rest comfortably. 

Defenders of current policies called foul! and soon there was another round of finger-pointing and blame-laying by all sides.

Disagreements were not limited only to politicians and news reporters. Many of my friends on social media joined in the melee when images and memes were published. Discussions drew closer to home as some of my friends contested mine and each other’s veracity. When I decried the conditions depicted in a specific Reuters photograph, a friend said that those were not the real conditions the immigrants are held in. This friend knew of an immigrant center that had their own dentist for the immigrants, where children were taught English, and they were treated better than our own children citizens are.

Now more than ever I was determined to find out the truth. Finally, on June 25 feeling more confused than ever I decided it was time to find out for myself and posted the following on my social media page (misspelled words and lack of capital letters are all mine).

I want to find out for myself whether the conditions at the migrant detention centers are as portrayed in the news. Some friends say no, that it is fake news. I want to see for myself and then continue spreading the word or stop posting fake news. I'm willing to volunteer at a center in Texas or Oklahoma. I speak fluent Spanish and English and have free time. Pass on my post if you have contacts that can connect me.

I received a couple of leads and several promises for prayers for me. As I searched for organizations that could use my skills, I learned of Angry Tias and Abuelas of the RGV (Angry Tias)(link). Their Facebook page states: “The Angry Tias and Abuelas’ mission is to advocate for dignity and justice for individuals and families seeking asylum at our borders. As they embark on their journeys to destinations across the U.S., our aim is to assure their basic health and safety needs are met.”

I followed the link on their website and completed a volunteer application. After only a few days I was contacted by a Susan, one of the founding members and the volunteer coordinator at the Greyhound Bus Station in McAllen, Texas.

Susan told me about several volunteer opportunities with Angry Tias and we agreed that I would come to McAllen and start volunteering at the bus station. In talking to Susan, I also learned that the Humanitarian Respite Center, operated by Catholic Charities, is the first stop for the people after they are dropped off at the bus station upon their release by ICE. She added that the Respite Center needed certain items and sent me a list.

My husband and I left NW Arkansas on Sunday, July 7, and after spending the night in Seguin, Texas, we continued the next day and arrived in the Rio Grande Valley on July 8. I grew up in Harlingen, only 20 miles from McAllen, and so we stayed in Harlingen. I noted in my journal on July 8:  Made it to the Valley Monday afternoon after driving more than 900 miles from NWA. (We left home) with a nice temp of 68 degrees and fog. Harlingen greeted us with 95 degrees and a heat index of 107.

We had a full trunk of donated items for the Respite Center: diapers, baby formula, wipes; underwear, socks, and t shirts for men, women, children; snacks, and tote bags. After we checked into our hotel, we drove to the Respite Center and made our deliveries.


I arrive at the Greyhound Bus Station in McAllen shortly after 9:00 am and Susan greets me and gives me a short orientation. My work there is to review the passengers’ tickets and verify that the itinerary matches their destination and confirm that each traveler has a ticket. I highlight their route on a US map and point out cities where the passengers will change to another bus. I confirm that someone is aware of their arrival and that someone will pick them up. Then I review their immigration documentation and clarify that they understand the next steps in their immigration process. I answer any questions they may have and find an answer if I don’t know the answer. All this I do in Spanish as all the passengers I assisted are from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.

The passengers I meet on my first day have all been to the Respite Center prior. They appear rested, well-groomed, and they are all wearing clean clothes. And their sneakers have shoelaces. I explain to one man and his teen-aged son that they will have a 24-hour bus ride to reach their destination. The man shrugs his shoulders, and says “What’s another twenty-four hours? I’ve been on the road for three months. We would get rides when we could; walk when we couldn’t; until we got here.”

One father, traveling with his 8-year old daughter, was grateful that he and his daughter were not separated during the four days they were in the processing center. He said they were held in cage-like enclosures, and meals consisted of a sandwich, or maybe an apple.

One young girl traveling with her father was lovely and engaging and obviously proud of the ankle-length organza and satin party dress she wore. I thought it odd that she would wear such a dress for the long bus ride ahead of them, and in my mind chalked it up to the fact that daddy must have dressed her. And then it hit me that she was wearing a dress that she had been given at the Respite Center.

Most of the passengers waiting at the McAllen bus station are families, mostly one-parent families; accompanying children range in age from infants to toddlers, to children, and adolescents. One father and son were memorable because the teen boy was so engaged in my discussion with his father. The boy was following along with everything I said, and every question his father asked and the response I gave. I asked the boy is he would go to school, and he said “Yes. I hope so. I want to study.”

A young pregnant woman traveling alone told me she and her husband traveled together, but when they were detained by ICE they were separated. She was released and issued documentation to travel; her husband was held as a single male and not allowed to travel with her. She said that he will appeal his detention but that the process may take five to six months. When she asks, I verify that he will remain in detention for the entire time of his appeal process. She told me that she is not allowed to communicate with him while he is detained. (Side note: current policy is to allow family units (parent(s) and child(ren) to proceed. Single males are detained and not readily allowed in).

None of the passengers I assisted mentioned seeing a dentist.
I worked six hours on day 1 and will be back tomorrow.


Day 2 of volunteering started at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. The Respite Center is situated catty corner from the bus station and is in what was previously a night club. While the Center operates 24 hours a day, the entry doors are locked and can be opened only by a security guard who is stationed immediately inside the door.

On entering the Center, I was first struck by the smell. The smell of hundreds of bodies who are in the Center at any one time; and the lingering smell of thousands of others who have passed through. Keep in mind that the Center is the destination for every person who has been delivered to the Greyhound bus station by ICE at the end of their detention. They come to the Center for their first shower and change of clothes in days, if not weeks. The second thing I noticed was the chaos, with people standing in lines that inched along in various directions. I would soon learn this is choreographed chaos and each line has a purpose and an end.

The front room is cavernous, with walls painted a dark blue. What served as the bar is now an extensive counter where travelers line up to pick up personal hygiene items, diapers, and formula. What was once the dance floor now holds a few tables and stools. 

A counter at the back of this area seats several customer service reps who assist the travelers in making their travel arrangements, and in contacting their US-based sponsor for travel funds. The lines for this service are several deep. To the right of these stations is another area defined by blue plastic chairs arranged in crooked rows. Travelers wait in this area to hear from a second set of volunteers that their travel funds have been confirmed, and so can proceed to the bus station to purchase their ticket and wait to board.
The deeper parts of the former night club house dining area, where I saw cereal and milk served at breakfast. 

One end of this area serves as the clothing distribution area, where donated clothes have been sorted by size and gender. Travelers stand in line to request needed sizes and hope that those items are available. On the day I was there, the Center needed women’s size small and medium pants, leggings, and slacks. Also in demand were men’s size small and medium shirts.

To the left of the dining area the kitchen and pantry are accessible to volunteers only. On Day 2 I assisted in packing sack lunches for travelers. The lunch bags designated for air travelers received one bottle of water, four small snack packs (chips, cookies, granola bars, crackers) and a package of two ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread. Lunch bags for those traveling by bus were packed double of each of item. 

 The day I was there the sandwiches were made by a group of religious Sisters Ellen, Joyce, Caroline and Judy from the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur and other volunteers. I assisted Michelle, a novice from a different religious order, to pack the lunches. As soon as we packed the bags and placed them in groups of 20 in a grocery-style cart, they were wheeled off to be distributed to travelers preparing to leave.

After packing lunches for about one hour I went to the Greyhound station to begin assisting travelers as I had done the day before. Today among the most memorable travelers were a father and daughter from Guatemala who along with Spanish, also speak Queche Maya. The teen daughter dreams of becoming a doctor. She was among the teens who was engaged and followed along with my explanation of their itinerary and their responsibilities to report to the Immigration Court on their assigned date.

One young man I assisted had been held in a cell for 40 days, in isolation with only one other male. He told me he had access to a private toilet area but did not have shower or bathing facilities. He cleaned up as best he could with wipes or towels. He was a young man with great faith and was so appreciative of everything he had been given and how he was treated. He stated that on the 40th day an officer came to this cell and asked, “are you so-and-so?” When this young man answered that he was, the officer told him he was free to go and opened the cell. He does not know what happened prior to that, or how that day was different from any other day. He was just thankful to be free and now about to be on his way to join his family. “I want to live a good life, a quiet life. I want to have a good life. I thank God above all else for bringing me to this point.”

A mother traveling with a baby said she and her baby were held by ICE for four days. They slept on mats on the floor in cages with many other people and the place where they were held was very cold. She tried to keep her baby warm, especially during the night, but she was cold the entire time. 

The officers would come in and turn the lights on and off at all hours. They were all awakened several times during the night, sometimes to be offered food, sometimes told to get up for no apparent reason. She said that the night she slept at the Respite Center was the first time in days that she got a good night’s sleep.

Again, none of the travelers I assisted who shared their stories with me mentioned seeing a dentist.


Day 3 was a slow day at the bus station.  By 9:30 on other mornings most of the seats in the waiting area of the Greyhound station...
THIS Saturday at La Bloga, read the conclusion of Juanita Salazar Lamb's report from the processing stations at the border.


Humanitarian Respite Center gift registry on Walmart.com. This registry is up and ready for orders. I’ve included the items listed on the most recent list from the Respite Center, and they will ship directly to the Respite Center’s warehouse.

Direct Donations – Mail or ship your direct donation to
Catholic Charities Respite Center
700 N. Virgen de SJ Blvd
San Juan, TX 78589

In addition to the items listed on the gift registry, the Center is always in need of travel size toiletries for men and women.

Volunteer – Volunteers are always needed. You don’t have to speak Spanish as there are many tasks that need to be done. Volunteers are welcome to serve for as little or as long you can. Contact the respite center at 956.702.4088.

Angry Tias and Abuelas of the RGV – This is the group that coordinates the volunteers at the bus station. Contact the through their Facebook page, link.

On the Stage, Aftermath of a Concentration Camp at Casa 0101
Michael Sedano

Kwong anxious to get the show on the road, acknowledges Guevara's story as the inspiration for the play tonight.

A roster of United States playwrights giving Asian, Black, and Raza presence on the United States American stage must include August Wilson, Luis Valdez, Ntozake Shangé, Philip Kan Gotanda. Theirs is no small accomplishment, given restricted opportunities our culture affords any artist, much less “minority” work, on the live drama stage. Wilson, Valdez, Shangé, Gotanda have seen their writing hit main stages in LA and New York, a couple of movies. They’ve won Obies, Tonys, Pulitzers, an Oscar nomination, fat checks.

That’s also the roster of Asian, Black, and Raza dramatists of note.

Guevara deflects praise for the evening's entertainment to his colleague.

That’s why “Masao And The Bronze Nightingale” at Boyle Heights' Casa 0101 Theatre, a play by Dan Kwong out of a story by Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, marks an important and necessary addition to the roster of United States American theater and playwrights. This particular work, “Masao And The Bronze Nightingale," will emerge from readings and try-outs to stand as an essential work of 21st century drama.

The playwright and a Casa 0101 sponsor
This isn't a review but a foto essay of an enchanting affair with history, performers, Japanese, raza, and black lives recreated on paper, an ungreat time no one wants to make happen again even though, as the play illustrates, our gente are always great.

The reader held her emotions in character, quietly demurely read in the
constrained voice on a 20th century immigrant old-world Japanese woman.
A few seconds later the actor tears up and pulls herself together.
A Japanese family is home from Manzanar. Not Tule Lake where trouble-makers went, so crusty Dad’s anger isn’t exceptional. He simmers with rage, at the concentration camp, at red-tape to resettle his own home, at his son’s exit from Issei to Nisei life with a large helping of Chicano, all the black people who've occupied J-town. Little Tokyo won't ever be the same. As it was, the Issei were losing ground.

Masao absorbed Chicano pachuco cultura when he was back on the block, jammed in a be-bop band with Little Joe, and has trouble being Japanese. That really pisses off his dad and others take note of it as well. They love Masao the person, not some cultural identity.

Dan Kwong listens, doesn't often show how it's hitting him Takes a note now.
No such thing as a small part and Roberta Martinez proves it as the wise Mamá.
Carnalismo activates the characters' relationship, it's the magic elixir that fights the poison of alcohol. At first, their connection holds almost like it was yesterday except two years have passed since soldiers marched Masao at the point of a rifle. 

It’s also several years past the hysteria of zoot suit riots. The plot can use the symbol without having to defend it--that's the power of one play!

The readers include Scott Takeda, Samantha Lawrence, Greg Watanabe, Yoko Ibuki, Jose Garcia, Roberta Martinez, Ronnie Alvarez, Troy Williams, Miya Kodama, Eddie Padilla. I'm going to single out the best as Scott Takeda, Samantha Lawrence, Greg Watanabe, Yoko Ibuki, Jose Garcia, Roberta Martinez, Ronnie Alvarez, Troy Williams, Miya Kodama, Eddie Padilla. A couple of them have the best roles, of course.

When this period play gets staged, Masao’s opening scene drapes are going to set fashion trends all over LA and Japan! Reet pleats and drape shapes dai ichi firme ese.

Little Joe’s papa, a warm understanding embracing soul, just like the two mamas are mamas, is a tailor whose reputation comes from his zoot suit creations. Papa's clothing is one of the nice touches that will enliven the action for eager ticket-buyers, as will the musical component to develop. 

Consider the amalgam of things happening on stage: Jazz, zoot suits, torch singing hot chanteuse, Miles Davis, love, separation, reconciliation, Chicanismo, Carnalismo, universal fatherly love, pendejo sons can be baka. But in the end, love and hybridity work.

Don’t say ho-hum, MOS, LCD, same old themes and characters on every hip sitcom played down to a vapid couch papa. Mentiroso! These characters with these feelings and experiences so explicitly felt out loud, do not make it to the main stages of subscription houses. Places like Los Angeles County-subsidized Bunker Hill, where diversity is mostly confined to a six dollar taco, demand an elevated product. Here it is, East, across the river in Boyle Heights. 

You know they're going to fall in love, but just how...he's supplicant to her imperiousness. He wants to meet
her in shadows so they won't be seen. He's happy when he owns up to it.

Jump off the Gold Line at Mariachi Plaza. A short stroll down First Street to Casa 0101 (link). Free parking behind City Hall on the corner across the street from the police station. There’s another reading coming August 25.

There’s no lowest common denominator in the story of identity and identification in flux. The first-generation father holds onto the past that drives him into deep conflict with his future. His next generation son already moved on and he's helplessly further enraged. Thankfully, the wise tailor has a sharp needle. And Mama knows her way to another mother's heart.

Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara wrote the short story Kwong has turned into dialog
and some lucky Director will turn into a career-maker.

OK, so some of the plot will work around to doing stuff a bit differently in the next edition. The three woman roles suggest hidden power, so it'll burst out. A ver. Can Kwong do it without a "she'd never do that" deus-ex-mama?

The caló-speaking Nisei jazz musician in love with a black club singer is maybe akin to a Walter Mosely plot, but Easy speaks only English like the Bronze Nightingale, who breaks up scene after scene with well-planted humor based on fun elements of language and speech. Kwong and Guevara are masters at this talk. When they get the timing and stage business installed, wrap your sides in Ace bandages. Masao says something yearning. Nightingale says something encouraging. Masao goes ¡Órale! Nightingale goes English, please. Masao goes, All Reet!

It's a subtle echo and tribute to a scene in Valdéz' Zoot Suit and it goes off without a hitch, summoning all that pent up good feeling from the long-ago musical, installing it right here in Scene 3 or 2.

The actor is a baseball fan. Litle Joe would be too cool to dress like a payaso. The actor's role and nonverbal appearance jar an observer's comfort zone. He plays Little Joe with heart and soul, this vato. Ignore his look today, can you?

You had to have been there. And you can be at the next one. Boyle Heights has been in the crosshairs of gentrification for a while now, hasta the story made the NY Times. This play delves into enduring elements inside the heart of the city. On the outside, wow, Boyle Heights is on the move. One former local, returning after years, just to attend the reading, remarked how different and changed the old neighborhood has become. He was alienated by his old stomping grounds.

There’s still a lot of Boyle Heights out there, take a walk or cruise it low and slow with the speed limits and safe driving practices because there’s a lot of heat around and pedestrians who need to get across more than you need to be unaware. 

On First Street driving from the river, you’ll see a classic burger stand, Casa de Musica where mariachi buy their strings, dead storefronts that beckon gentrifiers with surprisingly high rents, storefront churches that can afford the rent, a pretty good restaurant in Casa Fina (sister establishment to Casa 0101), Eastside Luv Wine Bar y Queso, nightlife for the local cognoscenti, or so I hear.

Home Girl Café used to be here, but they moved up by Terminal Annex. Boyle Heights is always changing, from the time Masao got home from the camp, to the next table reading in August. 

Dan Kwong and Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara keep fine-tuning "Masao and the Bronze Nightingale," so whatever changes from this second table reading will amaze people at the third reading. 

Once "Masao and the Bronze Nightingale" get to the big main stages, polish up the Tonys and Pulitzers and be among those who said, “I saw it when this phenomenon barely started.” The play has joy, drama, anger, resolution, and there'll be music. Ay, the music! Think “Hamilton” six years ago, but with stuff you already know from Miles, the Headhunters, Little Joe--can you imagine Hiroshima with that eight foot Taiko? That’s Masao and the Bronze Nightingale.

Chairman of the Board at Casa 0101 and reads his parts superbly.


Clay in my Hands
Michael Sedano
These are the assistant's hands cutting clay chubs that will become hand-pressed pots.
What does a Senior Citizen with time on his hands do when there's a hands-on clay demonstration with artist Wayne Perry (link)? When Los Angeles' venerable Craft and Folk Art Museum CAFAM (link) is sponsoring a free half-day event, this Senior Citizen gets moving. Venerable! When I was first out of the Army, my wife and I would drive across town from Temple City to The Egg and the Eye, a café with an art gallery. The place is still there, now grown into a full-fledged professional art space. It's wonderfully original, e.g. yarn bombers wrapped the place in a knitted skin.

Writer Marisela Norte staffs CAFAMs portals, observing and today, making a pot.
Several of my tablemates talked about being shut out of several paid-admission
clay classes. CAFAM maintains a busily active schedule of membership and
at-large activities. 

CAFAM is generous with materials. Perry fashions a coiled pot with big fat
salchichas and encouraged crafters to take more mud.

CAFAM brought in a full house for today's program. One of the museum's initiatives to support aging people through craft inspiration, today worked. The explosion of creativity at a table multiplied by a whole patio full of mud workers yielded tall, flat, two-piece, smooth, scarified, eccentric, wildly imperfect yet there's something to point at and say "I did that!" CAFAM will dry and fire the vessels, holding a culminating exhibition later in summer.

Perry's an Eastsider. We touch bases on gente we know and we share a number
of friends and acquaintances. I'm working on a speculative project involving a
photographic mural. I asked Perry about creating photo stencils with ceramic paint and covering a huge architectural façade with Chicano writers, poets, artists?
Stencils are old tech, he explains. If that project ever gets going, I know a professional.

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