Friday, January 17, 2014

A Zoot Suit Revival - Week 54

Welcome to One BIG Wedo!  Here I am back at it with another post. So much for retirement! This week had a couple new comers to the blog - Algeria, Czech Republic and Qatar! That's awesome! Thank you for joining. The blog also celebrates readership of 10,000+ page views this week. Help me celebrate by sharing the blog with a friend or two this week!

On April 29, 2012 Dolores Huerta celebrated her 82nd Birthday with a Zoot Suit themed party at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles.  In addition to celebrating Dolores' birthday, the event honored the 70th anniversary of the infamous Sleepy Lagoon Trial which was a precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.  It was a star studded affair with many of the original cast of the Zoot Suit play and film. The Dolores Huerta Foundation sold tickets to the event and encouraged everyone to dress in Zoot Suit theme and wear their dancing shoes.

Dolores Huerta is a labor leader and activist who, along with Cesar Chavez, cofounded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.  Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy of workers', immigrants', and women's rights.  She is a role model to many in the Latin community (Source - Wikipedia).  I look forward to seeing the upcoming movie release of Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Pena, to see if her story is included.

Wikipedia states that "The "Sleepy Lagoon murder" was the name newspapers used to describe the death of Jose Gallardo Diaz, whose unconscious body was discovered on a road near a local swimming hole (later known as Sleepy Lagoon) on the morning of August 2, 1942.  The unconscious Diaz was taken by ambulance to General Hospital where he died shortly after, never regaining consciousness.  The hospital autopsy showed that he was inebriated from a party the previous night and had a fracture at the base of his skull.  This might have been caused by repeated falls or an automobile accident.  The cause of death remains a mystery to this day. However, Los Angeles Police were quick to arrest seventeen Mexican American youths as suspects.  Despite insufficient evidence, the young men were held in prison, without bail, on murder charges. Nine of the defendants were convicted on second-degree murder and sentenced to time in San Quentin Prison. The rest of the suspects were charged with lesser offenses and incarcerated in Los Angeles Jail.  The convictions were reversed on appeal in 1944. The case is considered a precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943."

The Zoot Suit Riots themselves are explained by Wikipedia as "a series of riots in 1943 during World War ll that broke out in Los Angeles, California, between white sailors and Marines stationed in the city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored. Many European American servicemen resented the sight of Latinos socializing in clothing considered extravagant and unpatriotic during wartime. Specifically, the wool used in Zoot Suits was rationed, causing many to wonder how apparently poor young men legally acquired it.  Also, large numbers of healthy-appearing, young Latino males were not in the military, prompting questions of their patriotism." Thus, riots broke out between them. For more in depth details and explanation, visit the complete story on Wikipedia.

Mi Tierra Ballet Folklorico was invited to be part of the event which included performances of all kinds by various groups, including the cast of the Zoot Suit play.  Mi Tierra is known for their performances at the Hollywood Bowl for Mariachi USA, television appearances and celebrity events. Richard was invited to dance with the group for this event. Although Mi Tierra is primarily a folklorico dance group, they were asked to perform Zoot Suit style dancing for the cast reuniting for the party and guests. What an incredible opportunity. The Zoot Suit sound is a 1940s jump blues style of music which is accompanied by Swing dancing.

In 1997, Steve Perry, vocalist and frontman for the American ska-swing group Cherry Poppin' Daddies, wrote a song called "Zoot Suit Riots" for their compilation album by the same name. Here a link to hear the song. Have a listen:

Now I did not perform, nor was this a folklorico performance, I write about it because a folklorico group was asked to perform.  The style of dance requested is very different from folklorico!  Goes to show you that you never know where folklorico may lead you.  Its good to be diversified and adaptable.  Opportunities are everywhere!  On a side note, I have performed once with Mi Tierra for a Colima Festival broadcast on Estrella TV.  Richard has performed with them on numerous occasions.  I've written about it in the blog already, but here's a photo of Richard and I with the group:

The group practiced long hours the weeks prior to the event.  I attended a couple of the practices.  I recall watching the movie, specifically the dancing, to get a feel for what was expected.  Rafael Valpuesta choreographed the dances.  Three couples performed.  Richard enjoyed the experience and he practiced and studied the Zoot Suit swing style at home between group practices. He loves exploring new dance styles, new to him anyway, and learning new dances. His costume came right out of his own closet, he dresses like that regularly. Before the event went live, the group had a run through with event coordinators, including Mike Gomez.  Mr. Gomez commented to Richard that he "liked where he was going with the dancing."

The Zoot Suit movie is a 1981 film adaption of the Broadway play Zoot Suit. Both the play and film were written and directed by Luis Valdez.  In Zoot Suit, Luis Valdez weaves a story involving real-life events of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial - when a group of young Mexican-Americans were charged with murder - and the Zoot Suit Riots (source - Wikipedia). Many consider the movie to be a must have classic in any Mexican, Latin, Hispanic movie library.  Check it out sometime.  I love all the dancing with its swing flare.  Energy, pizazz, fun!

The day of the big event came and I purchased my ticket to the event so I could see the show.  I arrived at the venue with Richard in my Stacy Adams attire, courtesy of Richard's closet, of course. We were dressed to the nines from head to toe. Upon arrival we mingled amongst the crowd of guests which included many celebrities.  Edward James Ramos, Lupe Ontiveros, Mike Gomez, Alma Martinez, Luis Valdez, Pepe Serna, Apollonia 6, Martin Sheen, Sal Lopez, Lalo Alcaraz, Dolores Huerta and many others were all in attendance. Everyone was very friendly, accessible and approachable! Can someone say "photo op!"

Richard and I even got interviewed and photographed by the media!  We were approached because of our outfits by Masa Revolution.  I have no idea if anything ever was published with us in it, but I was flattered nonetheless!  I took a lot of photos at the event, including several of Richard and the group performing.  Check them out!

Of all the photos I took that day, this picture was perhaps the best one of the day!  After posting it on Facebook, I saw it pop up on several other Facebook pages as people shared it!  People liked it!  And to think, I snapped the shot!

I even got a few photos of me with some folks. I went straight for the "A List"!  Here is a picture with Martin Sheen. He was very kind and as I walked toward him he asked me, "Are you hot in that suit?" It was a warm day out there in the sun. I think he was amused with my get up.

Here's another photo of me with artist and "La Cucaracha" cartoonist Lalo Alcarez.  Richard got in on the action too. 

Apollonia was there too, but I didn't get a chance to take a picture with her. Bummer!  Many of you may recall her dancing for Prince and for her video hit "Sex Shooter"!  Check out the video:

All in all, it was a fun filled day of food, fun, music, entertainment and dancing.  Happy Birthday Dolores! Here's a media news release video on the event - check it out!  Can you spot Richard and the other dancers?

Wow, writing this weeks post was fun! Hope you enjoyed it.  Until next time folks - Wedo out.  After Thought: I think we need to incorporate the Zoot Suit Swing dance into our show!  What do you think?  

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