It’s not easy being pocho. To quote Selena’s dad “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time.” Thankfully, there are guys like Abelardo De La Peña around to help with the former.
De La Peña is the director of the Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles (Instituto Cultural Mexicano de Los Angeles), an organization whose purpose is to promote/showcase Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano culture, art, history and other aspects of the Mexican experience. De La Peña has been a member of the board for six years and curates cultural events such as art exhibits, plays, etc. for the Institute.
Some of the Institute’s recent events include Lalo Alcaraz Heritage Month, the first solo exhibit for the artist and creator of comic strip La Cucaracha, an exhibit for tortilla artist Joe Bravo whose work appeared on CBS News, exhibits on the Chicano Movimiento including the Chicano Moratorium and the May Day immigration rights march, Dia De Los Muertos art shows and much more.
The Institute is located in Olvera Street in the former home of the Mexican Consulate of Los Angeles, which now sits on 6th St. near MacArthur Park. The Consulate founded the Institute in 1991 but stopped supporting it when the financial crisis in Mexico forced it to cut back on various programs. The Institute has been a independent 501 non-profit since then.
“We’re in the birthplace of L.A. and it’s a stop for a lot of tourists as well as for the community,” he said of the Institute‘s visitors. “We get people from the community who want to get back in touch with their roots, like somebody who may have been born here in the U.S., second or third generation, and they start looking back to learn about their roots. We give them that opportunity to learn about their culture.”
De La Peña is also the creator and editor of Latino LA, a website dedicated to promoting Latino events throughout LA as well as providing an online outlet for Latino writers and artists to promote their work. He created the website as a personal project were he as a first-generation Mexican-American could explore his family’s culture.
“I like my media in English,” he admitted, “and there were few, if any, media outlets that spoke to me as a English-speaking Latino.”
The website began as an e-mail list between friends and grew to what it is today.
He created the website as a personal project were he as a first-generation Mexican-American could explore his family’s culture.
One of the site’s success stories is author and OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano who got his start in Latino LA years ago.
“He was a student at UCLA,” he recalled, “and he caught on to Latino LA and he asked if he could write.”
De La Peña hopes to expand Latino LA into Latino Cities, which will serve as a hub for promoting Latino events in various cities across the U.S.A. and to give the people in each community a voice.
“We’re looking at what the needs are,” he said, “and we see that within the immigrant, Spanish-speaking community, that’s where the biggest needs are. There aren’t that many opportunities for them to see theater, to listen to poetry, to listen to music.”