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In Print

La Vida Local

Urban Latino Cultures/
La Vida Latina en L.A.
Edited by Michael J. Dear,
Gustavo Leclerc and Raúl Villa

Sage Publications, $24.95

Want the inside story on foto-novelas – wildly popular Spanish-language comic-book-style melodramas? How about the scoop on paleteros, the immigrant ice cream vendors who elevate their aging trucks into folk art with brightly painted decorations? Or the tortured history of the unofficial patron saint for illegal immigrants?
Michael Dear, an urban geographer at USC, and his collaborators have captured these and many more artifacts of Los Angeles Latino arts and culture in a stylish new book, Urban Latino Cultures/ La Vida Latina en L.A.
Through the eyes of 35 photographers, artists, poets, historians, performance artists, architects and scholars, the editors explore the past, present and future of Los Angeles’ majority population.
“This is not a bunch of scholars talking about a group of people at arm’s length,” says Dear, who is director of USC’s Southern California Studies Center (SC2). “We’re listening to what people have to say about their own community – we’re listening directly to their voices. And they’re telling us a fabulous story.”
Like the one about Chavez Ravine – the idyllic Mexican-American village that was bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium in the 1950s. Or ruminations on what it’s like to grow up in Pico Union or be a descendant of a Spanish land grant family. Or photo essays vividly illustrating how hemmed-in life can seem in the garment district and how interminably long the wait for a welfare check feels at the Department of Social Services.
“The book is a record of a cultural revolution,” Dear says. “This is clearly a pivotal moment in Southern California and other places where Latinos are be-coming a majority and they’re reasserting their political and cultural identity. This book is a record of that moment.”
Prominent contributors include Berkeley-based architect Robert Alexander Gonzalez; Chicano artist and activist Tomás Ybarra-Frausto; prominent Latino performance artists Luis Alfaro and Theresa Chavez; PONCHO magazine co-editor Lalo Alcaraz; award-winning Los Angeles-based filmmaker Carlos Avila; conceptual and multidisciplinary artist Harry Gamboa Jr; and poet, journalist and performer Rubén Martínez.
“We wanted people who could portray Latino life in L.A. in its full complexity,” Dear says. “This is like a Who’s Who of the Latino avant-garde in L.A.”
The collection was produced with support from SC2, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and the L.A. City Cultural Affairs Department. Besides Dear, the book’s editors are Gustavo Leclerc, a SCI-Arc faculty member and a founding member of the Adobe-L.A. artist collective; and Raúl Villa, associate professor of English and American studies at Occidental College.

-Meg Sullivan

The Red Leaves of Night
by David St. John
Harper Flamingo, $23

In this collection of more than three dozen poems, USC creative writing professor David St. John explores the realms of possession and loss, rapture and despair. Likened by one critic to a verse-weaving Henry James, St. John’s poetic narrator guides the reader through a mosaic of experiences, unflinchingly aware that the trajectory between opposite states is brief.

The Swineherd and the Bow:
Representations of Class in The Odyssey

by William G. Thalmann
Cornell University Press, $47.50

The improbable antics of gods and mythical heroes aside, The Odyssey doesn’t describe an actual historical society, argues USC classicist William G. Thal-mann. Instead, it paints a selective, idiosyncratic and contradictory picture to serve ideological ends. Drawing on findings in archaeology and anthropology, the author considers the evolution of Greek culture through the late 8th century B.C. He explores the epic poem’s portrayal of “vertical relations” between slaves, dependents and aristocrats, and “horizontal relations” among the gilded elite. The timeless epic tracing the voyage of Odysseus, Thalmann concludes, had an agenda: to spin an idealized vision of a hierarchical social organization that bolsters the world-view of the aristocracy.

Flow (compact disc)
by Richard Smith
Heads Up, $16.99

Richard Smith's sixth release mines the polished vein of "smooth jazz" - a style the USC veteran guitarist helped define. Pushing the boundaries into pop urban contemporary and hip-hop genres, Flow offers a high-voltage twist on Miles Davis' seminal "Milestones," as well as original compositions by Smith, who is chairman of the USC Thornton School's studio guitar department.


Book photograph by Rick Szczechowski

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