This year we're asking our musically and culturally inclined friends to write our evening programs. Here's Tomas Benitez on Quetzal.
The Chicano Movement enjoyed a revival in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s due in large part to the resistance to the immigrant bashing Prop. 187 in California and the Zapatista Revolution in Chiapas, Mexico. For a 1970’s Chicano dinosaur like myself, it was an inspiration to see a new generation of young Latino students and activists take to the streets and mobilize to advocate for their community and people.
At the vortex of all the ‘reborn’ self-empowerment and assertion of ethnic identity was a wave of cultural artists and performers. Painters, dancers, poets and writers, comedy troupes and teatristas all convened to reflect the spirit of the times. But it was the bevy of new musical groups who seemed to best define the new wave of creativity, and none more so than Quetzal.
Fresh from their sojourn to Chiapas, they returned to East L.A. with a sound that was forged from folkloric traditional styles and their own genius. The second floor hall at Self Help Graphics & Art was a beat up, very under-lit, acoustic nightmare of a venue, but they took that stage and brought the light with them, filling the room with their infectious music and songs of love and liberation. It was a magical time and place to witness and remember, as they invented a musical thread that wove together several generations of people across nations, cultures and borders.
Like the ancient Mexican god Quezalcoatl, they went away for a period, promising to return one day. And indeed they did, coming back with a fury. As they matured their music got even better, like a fine wine, with their success culminating in earning a Grammy in 2013. Yet even today the still have the vitality, soul and spirit of their roots and culture in each song in their repertoire, having now become the masters, as well as mentors to the numerous other bands who build upon what they started. And in the true artistic spirit to never stop creating the new, their path has led them on a long, wonderful journey, still with the promise that the best is yet to come.
Tomas Benitez is the former Executive Director of Self Help Graphics and nowadays writes and lives in East Los Angeles.