Category Archives: Cultura

RIP Sheriff Jose Serna, Zavala County

serna2Believe it or not, at one point in our state’s young history, there was a political revolution of sorts in South Texas. Yes, Mexican Americans were voting…a lot. They had a good reason to vote:  Candidates with which they could identify; a liberal political platform which served regular working people; and a collective hope to effect meaningful social change after years of what could only be described as an apartheid in our own country and state. And a lot of this happened in my hometown during the days of La Raza Unida Party, a political party fed up with the racist and elitist ways of the Democratic Party of the day.

sernacampIn 1972, my Uncle Jose Serna was elected the first Chicano Sheriff of Zavala County. Prior to that, he, along with his wife, Olivia, had organized farm and seasonal workers to stand up to employers for fair wages and better working conditions. They organized fellow Crystal Citians to demand their rights to vote, to get educated, and to have a prosperous life. Their daughter Diana, played a central role in the Crystal City school walkouts as one of the banned Chicana cheerleaders and student organizers. Later on, Olivia would be elected to the Crystal City City Council, then chosen by her peers to serve as Mayor, becoming the first woman in that role. All of this under the banner of La Raza Unida. After Tio Joe ended his terms as Sheriff and took a well-deserved break, he became interested again in 1988, and won again after a contentious Democratic Primary.   His calling was about more than protecting and serving, but about making sure his community’s needs were met.

Tio Joe passed away on November 17, 2015, after a short illness, having lived just short of 86 years. He was my mom, Flora’s,  brother. He leaves to celebrate his life his daughters Diana and Olivia, as well as sons Joe, Jr., Roberto, Jose, Jr., Mario Alberto, and Eduardo–all successful kids in their own right. Roberto and Eduardo continued the political legacy, Roberto as the District Attorney of the 293rd District and Eduardo as Zavala County Attorney; however, all have served their communities well in the fields of law, education, and business.

Of course, my memories began quite early as a five-year old kid who experienced his first political rallies at La Placita in the Mexico Chico neighborhood of Crystal City. My towering Uncle Joe was a commanding presence with his trademark mustache, western bow ties, and that shiny badge. He always gave me “deputy” badges to wear, which meant I had to be the Sheriff when I played cops and robbers with my friends. As a grown-up, I made several trips back to Cristal and I made sure to visit him. Our talks were about politics, especially in 2007, when we were both rooting for Hillary, although that young guy Obama probably had a good shot. We agreed that if Obama won, we’d support him and I’d send him stickers I’d procure from the local Party office.

If I sound like a little kid going through some hero worship it’s because I am. I grew up in a politically charged town that impacted Texas History so much, even Dolph Briscoe called us Little Havana. My parents instilled in me a love and drive for political involvement in a town where we had local heroes that went beyond the high school football field. It was a time of Chicano governance; it was something to continue striving for beyond Crystal City, too.

Lately, I’ve felt a bit disillusioned with politics. The ugly head of hate and fear seems to be growing–even among so-called Democrats–and now is the time for a new crop of heroes that will fight for what is right. Perhaps I’ll increase my involvement in things political, but one thing is for sure, my Uncle’s passing has been a reminder that the work is not done and that the struggle continues.

Jose Angel Gutierrez wrote in The Making of a Chicano Militant: After Judge Gutierrez swore in all of the newly elected Raza Unida officeholders who had swept out the bigoted incumbents, “I was presented with the keys to the office suite and with a can of Lysol by Sheriff Jose Serna, who stated in Spanish, ‘Go spray the county judge’s office, the commissioner’s courtroom, and the district judge’s courtroom to disinfect any redneck germs that may remain.'”


The Jorge Ramos Thing

Ramos Crosses the Borderline

Talk about shock value!

Jorge Ramos did the unthinkable at a press conference:  He started asking questions without being recognized by the guy giving the press conference, thus, pushing the level of Trump assholability to all new highs. “Go back to Univision,” gave many of us flashbacks of being told by bigots to “Go back to Mexico.”

The shocker was that Trump had security escort Ramos out the door as Ramos became relentless and just wouldn’t wait his turn–if a turn was even going to happen. But I think the whole affair lost its shock-value when Ramos was let back in and allowed to ask all the questions he wanted only to get the same ol’ Trump answers. While Trump may have ultimately gotten his way, he went the route of pissing off an entire group of people…again!

For Latinos, mistreating a media icon like Jorge Ramos was the ultimate insult. Some think of Ramos as the “Latino Walter Kronkite,” while others think of him as just a good news-man who does what he does to get to some truths that people may not want to hear. Right-wing politicians (and perhaps President Obama at various points of his career) have probably thought of Ramos as annoyingly relentless, especially on the topic of immigration reform.

Three-quarters of Latinos are not supporting Trump, while a few self-haters love the guy. Ramos attempting more “gotcha” moments will probably not change those few mindless Latinos. But it made for great social media political drama.

For me, what bothered me the most was Trump’s ability to sound like his white supremacist supporters– “Go back…”




DC Review: Ram Herrera ~ Mucho Mas Que Amor

ramherrera-muchomasqueamor1I’ve got to admit:  When I read the announcement that Grammy winning producer Gilbert Velasquez and Tejano great Chente Barrera partnered up to form VMB Music Group, I expected them to produce some amazing material, but Ram Herrera’s Mucho Mas Que Amor is one of those productions that has staying power.

What do I mean by staying power? Well, in the case of Ram Herrera, it brings back memories of his ’84 Dancebuster album and some of his 90s hey day productions–tunes that are still popular and make much of the crooner’s repertoire. The Tejano artist who got his start as the frontman for David Lee Garza y Los Musicales and made famous Cuatro Caminos still has the voice decades after hitting it big.

After being on big labels during the 90s hey day, he went through a few indie labels and finally arrived at VBM Music Group. I must say that this new production is among his best–from Track 1 on through to 11.

Kicking off with Eres Mi Todo, a standard ranchera, Herrera sets a foundation for the album–all Tejano. The acordeon-heavy Donde Estara will get one on the dance floor. The first single (and videoDC ) is Dime Si Estoy Loco, with a familiar Ram Herrera cumbia sound and with a pretty awesome guitar break.

With these tunes, the groove for the album is set, and the addition of a ballad (Yo Te Amo), another cumbia (Alejate), a country tune (I Wonder If She’s Still in San Antone), and some pretty powerful rancheras (Los Años being my personal favorite), and Herrera and his musicians knock it out of the park. With the help of some great acordeon and some powerful guitar breaks, Herrera’s latest should be a contender for a Grammy. That said, kudos must go to Grammy winning producer Gilbert Velasquez and VMB.

Yo Te Amo, with its trio style, backed by horns, is a beautiful ballad, while one particular ranchera made famous by Selena Amame Quiereme, was made available to Herrera who makes it his own. Rounding out the tunes are Te Necesito, Angel De Mi Querer, and Porque Dios Mio.

Already in demand, VMB released the album for digital download (I went to, but it will be available for hard-copy orders on Tuesday, July 14. Get yours today! You will not be disappointed.

DC Reviews ~ Los Texmaniacs – Americano Groove

grooveGrammy Award winners, Los Texmaniacs, are back with a new studio album–Americano Groove. The new album is bold, offering a variety of music:  Tex-Mex, cumbia, country, funky Latin rhythms, and other familiar stylings in music.  Throw in a star-studded group of guests like Alejandro Escovedo, Kevin Fowler, Joe Ely, Rick Treviño, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and you have the makings of a collector’s item. It truly is an Americano Groove.

Down in the Barrio kicks off the album; a tune filled with social commentary about barrio realities and solutions. Escovedo joins in on this one while the band provides a solid rhythm. Ya No Te Quiero Ver is a sped-up polka
“tell-off” tune that allows Josh Baca to flex his acordeón abilities and Max Baca isn’t too far behind with a bajo sexto solo. How Can a Beautiful Woman Be So Ugly has that Tornado-esque feel created by Augie Meyers’ organ while telling us the story of a heartbreaking woman. How Long Is Patient is a Baca-delivered ballad, with help from Tania Marie, centered around the strumming of a bajo sexto and an electric guitar–a pretty awesome combo.

Country star Kevin Fowler joins the production on Adios Mamacita–a fun Tex-Mex rockabilly tune about a crazy, yet fun, woman. Known for their power polkas, Max and his nephew Josh Baca on acordeon take us back to when polkitas were played with a bajo sexto and acordeon around a camp fire with Muchachos Alegres. Then, the legendary Joe Ely joins in on I Wanna Known Your Name, in another Tex-Mex rocker of a song.

Herido, a haunting ballad about love ending, is aptly delivered by drummer/guitarronista Lorenzo Martinez. Como Te Quiero is a ranchera that has gained popularity at live gigs and was showcased at the 40th Anniversary concert of A Prairie Home Companion. With the traditional conjunto sound with slide guitar thrown in, this tune will definitely be a favorite.

Rick Treviño proves he’s still got it with the country tune Big Night in a Small Town. Los Texmaniacs add in what can be called a cumbita raza, Mentirosa, with its barrio slang, and Lobos-esque style and harmonies; not to mention a searing guitar solo by David Hidalgo. And the album ends strong with Polka Palitos, again, done in the traditional bajo/acordeon style of the old days with a strong full conjunto ending.

The album was produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, a legend himself. There’s an obvious tell of his involvement with how easily various non-conjunto instruments are mixed in. More than the obvious risk-taking in doing a different kind of Tex-Mex album is the feeling of how fun it may have been to record this project. To have been a fly in the wall of that studio.

Anyway, look for the album online. Since I really wanted the liner notes to this one, I found it at Wal-Mart this morning. Get your copy today!

5/1/15 – Tonite! Tomas Q. Morin and Paul Otremba at Brazos Bookstore

FB Event

Come hear Tomas Q. Morin read from his recently published translation of Pablo Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu and Paul Otremba read from his recently released book, Pax Americana.

Today, 5-1-15 at 7PM

Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, 77005

Well, I’m excited about seeing my friend, Tomas. We’re both SWT (Texas State) grads and haven’t seen each other in 17 years. I knew him when he was a student serving as a tutor for Bobcat athletes and I was their academic advisor. Here’s his professional bio:

Tomás Q. Morín’s poetry collection A Larger Country was the winner of the APR/Honickman Prize and runner-up for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award.  He is co-editor with Mari L’Esperance of the anthology, Coming Close: 40 Essays on Philip Levine, and translator of The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda. His poems have appeared in Slate, Threepenny Review, Boulevard, Poetry, New England Review, and Narrative.

Paul Otremba’s Bio:

Paul Otremba is the author of two poetry collections, The Currency (Four Way Books 2009) and Pax Americana (Four Way Books 2015). Born and raised in Minnesota, Paul studied English and Philosophy at the University of Minnesota before receiving his MFA from the University of Maryland and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston.

Paul has published widely in journals, including The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Literary Imagination, Forklift, Witness, and multiple appearances on Poetry Daily. In honor of his poetry, he has received scholarships and a fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a Barthelme Memorial Fellowship, a Krakow Poetry Seminar Fellowship, and a prize from the Academy of American Poets.

His essays, poetry reviews, and food writing have appeared in Tikkun, The Houston Chronicle, Spoon Magazine, and in the anthology American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics. Paul is an Assistant Professor of English at Rice University.

So, come check out these fine poets.

DC Reviews: David Lee Garza y Los Musicales ~ 2715

dlgnewDavid Lee Garza y Los Musicales recently released their 27th album in the year 2015, hence, the name of the album. Released on David Lee’s DLG Records, the album introduces new vocalist, Cezar Martinez, to David Lee Garza’s vast fan base.

The album also features guest vocalist and legend, the iron-throated Jessy Serrata. Also featured is Christian/Tejano vocalist Jorge David Marroquin.

Garza is known for launching the solo careers of numerous vocalists, including Ram Herrera, Emilio Navaira, Jay Perez, Marcos Orozco, and others, which is actually something of which he is proud. In an interview last year, Garza stated that he is always in search of a new vocalist, but not necessarily one with the legacy sound that put Los Musicales on the map. And Martinez is a vocalist with his own unique voice and able to deliver the tunes chosen for the album.

What hasn’t been lost is the legacy sound of Los Musicales. Te Compraron Con Dinero kicks off this ranchera-based album con ganas, but it is the first single, Traigan Mas Botellas, that sounds like something out of an 80s edition album–and that’s a good thing. Las Cosas Que Tiene La Vida, with its smooth latin intro, transitions into another danceable ranchera that will keep boots on the floor.

My favorite tune, thus far, is one I recall hearing on a Guti Ramirez album back in the 90s–La Apasionada. Con Dinero No comes a close second with its harmonies and musical change ups. Se Te Olvido, Secreto de Amor, and Sufre Sin Llorar round out Martinez’s debut, with the latter showing off some chops on the jazz organ.

Jessy Serrata, on his second project with David Lee, delivers on En El Jardin Del Amor. Marroquin joins the production on a beautiful Christian bolero tune, Si No Hablas Con Dios.

While Martinez gives us a strong performance and shows a lot of confidence with highs and lyric delivery, the main ingredient to Los Musicales has always been Los Musicales. They’re among the best musicians in the industry and have never disappointed on a production.

So, it’s about time everyone added another to their Tejano collection, and David Lee Garza’s 2715 needs to be at the top of the shopping list.

Chavez Day-Houston [Photos]


Parade Grand Marshal Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee


State Rep. Sylvester Turner visiting Chavez Day prior to his campaign kick-off for Mayor.


¡Que Viva!


Leader and Activist Maria Jimenez honored for her years in La Causa.


CM Robert Gallegos mentioned that the Cesar Chavez Parade was among the first events he attended when he launched his campaign for District I.


Part of the crowd.


Constable Heliodoro Martinez of Pct. 6 working the crowd.


The Congresswoman had kind words for Tejano Association for Historical Preservation and Cesar Chavez Street activist Benny Martinez.

It was a well-attended event that must continue to grow. It was great to see Chavez High School students enriched by this celebration, as well as Pct. 6 Constable Martinez challenging the students to get involved as the struggle for civil rights is far from over.

Some kudos must also go to Sylvester Turner for showing up, which is more than I can say about the other announced candidates. As CM Robert Gallegos stated, a couple of years ago, this was the first event he attended and look at him now. One cannot expect votes if they don’t show up. And here’s a secret:  People who show up to these events celebrating activists actually vote–or are willing to listen.

Congrats to the TAHP and all involved for a great event.


Saturday, 3/28/15 ~ Cesar Chavez Parade-Houston

I’ll be roaming around with my the DC-Cam, so if you’re around, let me take your pic! Congrats to Maria Jimenez on this great honor.


Low Voter Turnout: A Discussion

So, I attended the League of Women Voters-Houston’s discussion on low voter turnout. It was an interesting discussion featuring Mark Jones from Rice U., Dick Murray from UH, Hector de Leon from the county, and Mustafa Tameez, a local political wiz. The problem is when you have a nonprofit group trying to discuss voter turnout, the conversation tends to become partisan, or at the very least about issues.

From the get-go, Jones gave us a lesson: People vote based on age, education, and income level. The older, more educated, and better paid one is, the likelier they are to show up at the polls. But if we are to see an increase in voter turnout, it will take an increase in Hispanic turnout.

As it stands, 55% of Hispanics are registered to vote, but in 2014, 23% of Hispanics voted, while 44% and 39% of whites and blacks, respectively, voted. Jones stated that millennials didn’t vote, and the younger generation didn’t vote either. Jones didn’t feel that there could be an increase in education or income levels any time soon, so he suggested more competitive races. But in Texas, that’s been impossible, even at the local level, such as the DAs race of 2014. So, he suggested what has been working in a large number of states: No excuse absentee voting. Pointing to a large percentage of people who receive mail-in ballots returning them to vote here in Harris County, Jones believes that it could work if offered to all voters.

Back to low turnout, Jones stated that it is consequential in Republican primaries. Since the state is Republican, all decisions of who gets elected statewide are being made in the Republican primary. He also mentioned that low turnout is consequential in local bond elections where few voters decide on millions and billions of bond dollars. He suggests perhaps requiring a threshold of voter participation to legitimize the results.

Professor Murray stated there is a pattern of lower and lower turnout. He also stated that he expects turnout to drop for the 2015 city elections, but he has not seen that kind of decrease in Presidential general elections.

He pointed to the obvious regarding presidential campaigns that they maximize resources in important (battleground) states. He also stated that we are seeing less state competition and less county competition. Much of this is based on where voters reside, and that even at the partisan level, voters seem to want to reside in areas in which they find voters that are politically similar to themselves.

Another problem Murray sees is that we have too many elections which seem to suck the oxygen out of the political process. Another is the lack of information for voters to make voting decisions about candidates.

Murray suggested that the state needs to become competitive at the presidential level. That while the state is solidly GOP, Gallup recently found that there is only a 3% difference in how Texans identify themselves. Further, he pointed to the eventual candidacy of Hillary Clinton as a motivational candidacy that will increase turnout in various groups, especially Hispanics. In 2008, Clinton won Hispanics handily in the Dem primary. Add a Hispanic Vice-Presidential candidate (Castro) and you might have the makings of a competitive Texas in November 2016, according to Murray. He also added that if the GOP Anglo candidate adds a Hispanic to their ticket, it would become ever more interesting.

de Leon put numbers to the commentary from the academics in the room. He found it important to find out who is not voting and who is voting and start from there. A few of the stats found something interesting: The less one made, the more likely one was to vote straight party. He also mentioned that low Latino turnout was concentrated in areas which were represented by a Latino/a state representative. Not sure if he was blaming officeholders, but he did state that since minority voters usually vote in Democratic precincts, that there is no way there could be voter suppression by the other side.

Mustafa Tameez, though, did some truth-telling:  Rich, old white people vote, and minorities do not. He went further by talking about one actual reason that this blogger has been mentioning:  People no longer believe in the political system. Further, he stated another fact:  Most in the room were political junkies and that we needed to see beyond our lives and toward the lives of those not voting–actually connect with the non-voters.

Many in the room have also worked campaigns and we know what campaigns are about:  Finding likely voters and targeting them multiple times. Seldom do political professionals think about the non-voting public, and it was refreshing to see a pro admit that in this kind of discussion. Frankly, I got sick of the campaign game because no one wanted to be bold and work the low propensity voters, but that’s for another post. I won’t hold my breath that this will change, though, at least as campaigns go.

Basically, Tameez stated that all of us can do more to help people feel like they are part of the system. I’ll go further and state that campaigns need to do more, too.

So, it was an interesting discussion. The Q&A, though, turned to the partisan, which isn’t hard to do when we’re talking about voting, politics, and especially issues. Professor Murray mentioned what we’ve found in polling:  For Latinos, the top issues are usually Education, Jobs, Health Care, and then immigration. I’ll add, though, that immigration becomes a top issue when Republicans begin to attack immigrants and Latinos, or a Democrat makes promises or executive actions regarding the issue. And that’s how a discussion about Latino turnout becomes a partisan one because even the academics in the room agree that Latinos are mostly Democratic.  I will add that Latino voters react to both sides based on how they act–on the campaign trail and while in office–too.

There wasn’t any discussion of the political back-and-forth of campaigns and how prospective voters react to the media wars. Perhaps that is where we will find something else to discuss:  Messaging!!!

I’ll agree with Tameez, though, that many feel that the political system is the problem. I go back to my what one of my mentors once told a group of Latino activists:  If you have a problem with the system it’s because it’s not your system. Meaning, those who developed the political system didn’t have certain people in mind.

Those words have stayed with me for over 20 years. And in those 20 years, it’s been difficult to find a solution that falls somewhere between an armed revolt that changes everything and the wholesale electoral removal of all incumbents who have made themselves comfortable in this political system that thrives on low voter turnout.

More to come, I’m sure. Thanks to the League of Women Voters-Houston for getting the ball rolling. It was great seeing a packed room for this very important discussion.


Chuy Garcia Makes The Run-Off in Chicago

Chuy Garcia, the Cook County Commissioner who forced Rahm Emanuel into an April 7 run-off, is a pretty good candidate. A Durango, Mexico native, he is the son of a bracero whose family ended up in Chicago in 1965. Garcia served his community while going to college–an honest to goodness community organizer. After serving on City Council, he was the first Mexican American elected to the Illinois Senate and was re-elected, only to be defeated by a Richard Daley-supported opponent. After his defeat, he returned to organizing in his community. In 2010, he was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners and was re-elected in 2014.

On Tuesday, after being outspent by the corporate-supported Emanuel 12-to-1, his grassroots campaign earned him 34% of the vote to Emanuel’s 45%. It was a complete embarrassment for Emanuel who boasted some pretty big political bosses on his resume. Emanuel even got an end-of-campaign endorsement from President Obama.

“Today, we the people have spoken. Not the people with the money and the power and the connections. Not the giant corporations. The big-money special interests. The hedge funds and Hollywood celebrities who poured tens of millions of dollars into the mayor’s campaign. They all had their say. They’ve had their say for too long. But today, the rest of us had something to say.”

One must wonder if President Obama and/or Bill and Hillary will get involved deeper in the run-off campaign. Certainly, it wouldn’t look good for Hillary Clinton to side with Emanuel over Garcia. Frankly, I think it best for that little group to stay out, or be bold and side with the right side of history.

One thing is or sure, Emanuel will once again sell out to the highest corporate bidders, so Chuy Garcia needs your help. Donate to his campaign today.

Let’s face it, this blogger has never been a fan of Chicago’s current Mayor. Didn’t like him under Clinton, in Congress, and especially under Obama. Didn’t like it when Rahm Emanuel attempted his own brand  of “comprehensive immigration reform” with Colorado bigot Tom Tancredo. Beyond Obama, I think Emanuel was behind the Term 1 delays on CIR. And to know he’s also the most bought politician in the Chicago Mayor’s race just makes me ill. That Chicago can make history by electing its first Mexican-American Mayor would be monumental.