Monday, December 31, 2007

LUF Co-Sponsored 8th Annual Nacimento Tour

Sunday, January 6, 2007 from 11 a.m – 4 p.m.
This year's tour starts at the Los Angeles River and Gardens Center, 570 W. Avenue 26, Los Angeles, 90065 at 11 am, with registration opening at 10 am. Highland Park's Bike Oven will offer free tire checks and sag support. The Latino Urban Forum, The Rare Times, Wild Women on Wheels (w20ws), C.I.C.L.E., Santa Monica Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition are co-sponsors of the tour.

For the 8th year, the annual tour will highlight mini Bethlehems, makeshift barns and stables, and in one setting, a complete living room reenactment of Jesus' birth and the arrival of the three kings. For many bicyclists, this is the first time exploring the historically and ethnically rich neighborhoods of Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, and Boyle Heights.

Listings and pictures of previous years' tours can be found on .The 2008 map will be available online and at the registration on the day of the event.

The Nacimiento Bike Tour is one of those rare LA seconds when west-sidersand east-siders, Latino and non-Latino, come together and participate in exploring LA's unique cultural traditions and physical landscape in a environmentally friendly way.Nacimientos, or nativity scenes, is a tradition that many Latino throughout Latin America follow during the Christmas season. This tradition takes place in the streets of LA where many immigrants and multi-generational families spend countless hours creating Nacimientos in their front yards, porches, on roofs, as well as in the home.

Nacimientos range in size, complexity, and creativity. Some can be a simple scene of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to elaborate landscapes with tinsel waterfalls, sparkling lights, and hundreds of pieces. Each Nacimiento reflects the creator's devotion to Christmas and can be very personal in nature. For many Latinos, the building of the sets begins the day after December 12th, which is the feast day of Our lady of Guadalupe and they stay upuntil January 6th, when the three kings arrive with gifts for the new born king.

Retro NY Times Article on Nacimiento Tour

On Tough Blocks, Divine Glitter by Patricia Leigh Brown (Dec 22, 2002 NY Times)

IT is the season of the nacimiento, the time of year in Latino neighborhoods when porches and patches of lawn become dazzling home-grown Bethlehems. In East Los Angeles, just as in other Mexican-American communities, the deep creative urge that is Christmas flows like a seasonal torrent into the tin foil rivers and tinsel waterfalls of nacimientos, elaborate homemade Nativity scenes that subsume living rooms and whole yards.

In places like Boyle Heights, the city's easternmost neighborhood and 87 percent Latino, the nacimientos, a Mexican tradition that dates back to at least the 16th century, spring forth in baroque splendor beneath dolled-up ficus trees from which glittery snowflakes dangle. " The children today want $200 toys, which is hard for working people," said Maria R. Sandoval, 56, a home care provider whose simple family nacimiento is encircled by twinkling lights. " This gives them the deep gift of tradition."
The seasonal flurry of nacimientos in first-generation Mexican-American neighborhoods represents "a redefinition of urban space" to James T. Rojas, an urban planner and co-chairman of the Latino Urban Forum, a volunteer group of architects, community members and planners. (The forum will offer a public tour of East Los Angeles nacimientos on Jan. 5; "It's about personal expression and a sense of community, the social dialogue that happens on front porches and over fences," Mr. Rojas said. In neighborhoods plagued by gang activity and crime, the shrines are rarely vandalized. "They are respected," he added. "It's a sacred space."

Masterminded mostly by women, each nacimiento is a portrait of its maker. Thus Christmastime in the Mexican-American precincts of Los Angeles resembles the Academy Awards: no bit of shrubbery shall remain undecorated. In the Pico Aliso neighborhood a mile from downtown, Veronica Aguilar and 16 members of her family have assembled an idealized miniature world in front of their stucco house in which pebbled walkways meander past foil ponds and moss-shrouded milk-crate mountains. A devil lighted luridly by a red bulb animates the sidewalk.
By contrast, the nacimiento of Victoria Vazquez, 84, in Boyle Heights is a thicket of faith and tin foil flickering in a jungle of foliage. "I want people to think it's beautiful," she said of her spiritual Shangri-La, whose wattage fluctuates with the electricity bills.
Her nacimiento, like so many others, is a designated stop in las posadas, a widely practiced Mexican custom that takes place on the nine nights before Christmas. In emulation of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem, neighbors and family members gather to make candlelight processions, usually ending at a church. Along the way, they visit nacimientos and have fiestas that include the breaking of piñatas and lots of tamales, pan dulce and hot chocolate. On Christmas Eve, the niño, or baby Jesus figure, is placed in the nacimiento manger.

On Amber Place in the neighborhood of El Sereno, 200 residents parade around the block carrying papier-mâché figures. They pass the sidewalk nacimiento created, with a competitive instinct, by Donald and Hilda Navarret, a husband-and-wife team who try to outdo each other. Mr. Navarret's blue lights and Mrs. Navarret's stars hover over the manger amid tuberoses, begonias, poinsettias and pine cones dipped in glitter.
The neighborhoods that are home to many Mexican immigrants are also some of the city's oldest and densest. A rarity for Los Angeles, they are pedestrian neighborhoods where art flourishes in street murals, hand-painted storefronts and shrines. The miniature nacimiento scenes are a combination of rural Mexican villages and the Holy Land. "You have to walk to appreciate them," Mr. Rojas said. "It's not like the suburbs where you drive by looking at the nice lights."

Sonia Ibarra, who lives in El Sereno, cut up old plastic window blinds and pasted the strips together to form a house, a fruit stand, a gazebo, a well and, finally, a church with a bell tower. The town of her imagination, with its blue duct-tape river, recalls her home in Jalisco. Her husband, José Guadalupe-Ibarra, 44, a produce shipper, said her handiwork "is like Universal Studios."
"It will help the children not to get lost in life," he said.

While their function is primarily religious, the Los Angeles nacimientos — which go up after Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and usually come down after Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany — also serve a cultural role. There are some common elements among the nacimientos, including the pilgrims Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus; a figure of the angel, the Three Kings; and often a cave made of mud or driftwood and a mountain with a tinsel waterfall. The figures, along with sheep, camels, cows, pigs, burros and other animals, are procured everywhere from Tijuana to Disneyland.

Many nacimientos are cultural mixed metaphors. In Monterey Park outside Los Angeles, for instance, Pedro Ruiz, a 56-year-old truck driver whose children were born in California, has divided his lawn into two zones: One is a riot of candy canes and plastic "Let It Snow" signs, and the other, a comparatively staid nacimiento. "This is America," he said, pointing to one side, "and this is Mexico," of the other.

Christmas abhors a vacuum, as Jovita Garcia, 71, who lives in Alhambra, proves in her living room every year. Her nacimiento, composed of more than 2,000 figures and counting, reflects the Mexican penchant for miniatures, sensuous surfaces and wild ornamental abandon. A two-tiered assemblage that takes months to construct, completely obscuring the fireplace, it combines heirloom ceramics with materials for the holy grottoes harvested during family vacations — pine cones from Yellowstone, sand and lava rocks from Hawaiian cruises, and tree trunks hauled back in the family station wagon from Sequoia National Park.
From its humble origins on her dining room-table, Mrs. Garcia's nacimiento has become a tableau of mesmerizing proportions, comprising thousands of tiny figures. While her sons-in-law live in fear of her daughters inheriting the collection, Mrs. Garcia prays that there not be a recurrence of the Northridge earthquake, the only quake-proofing she has being her deep faith. Her nacimiento includes tiny penguins, snowmen, swans and boats sailing on mirror lakes. "This is a part of the beauty God has given to the world," said Teresa Thompson, 48, the oldest of her eight children. "Now we're giving the beauty back to him.

Monday, December 17, 2007

On Vernacular Urbanism and Spiritual Space.

About fifteen years ago, several homeowners decided to change the name from Sepulveda to North Hills in an attempt to shake off the negative perception that people have of Sepulveda Blvd. The trivial name change did very little to improve the quality of life for many of the residents (e.g. apartment dwellers) which live immediately east of the 405. The poverty, the landlord abuse, and the image of danger persisted. North Hills’ Langdon Avenue in particular holds some of highest population densities in Los Angeles County. The demographic consists predominately of immigrants and children, plenty of them. Langdon is also home to Langdon Avenue Gang, or simply “La Langdon.” As gang violence reached its peak in the communities of Panorama City and North Hills in the 1990’s, then City Attorney Jim Hahn began pursuing the first court-backed injunctions against gangs--the quintessental in the United States. Hahn first applied this tool in my old neighborhood of Blythe Street in the neighboring community of Panorama City. He would later apply this policy against North Hills’ Columbus Street gang a couple of blocks away, and then ultimately against la Langdon. These areas would also be the site of the first LAPD designed “defensive space” policing methods (e.g. no left turns, street obstructions). While concrete barricades at the neighborhood’s perimeter functioned to curtail auto-oriented drug sales, they also served to forever create the perception of a human hazard in need of containment.
The roadblocks have long been removed but its fringe image in the Valley-based Daily News continues.
Many others however know of another North Hills, a place where neighbors circumvent any type of barrier, and in effect simultaneously transform front-yards into a place of cultural celebration and civic congregation. Like so many other impoverished communities in the L.A. metropolis, this is a site where the neighborhoods’ mothers provide the thrust to reclaim ownership to the street. Nearly a decade ago, the various mothers of Langdon organized themselves to a form a tightly-knit informal advocacy group known as Familias Unidas. Familias Unidas since then continues to play a critical role in assisting the formal governmental and policing structure, despite their migratory status.
To truly understand the spirit and tenacity of Familias Unidas, one must visit the block on the evening of
December 12. On this night more than 500 people, predominately apartment tenants, converge at the intersection of Orion and Langdon to begin Familias’ Virgen de Guadalupe two mile procession around the neighborhood. The multitude snowballs as it continues its passage along the thick landscape of dwelling units. Residents await at the frontage of many of these buildings with their humble roses for the la Virgen Morena. Almost every single Langdon resident, including the cholillos and the LAPD, partakes in this ritual. The streets come alive with the sounds of chants, the sound of tambora or mariachi (depending on the year’s funding), and the vigor of a community affirming their existence. What began as an unrehearsed and unofficial cavalcade consisting of a few women self-directing traffic and snaking across the autoscape has evolved into the fabric of a community’s agency. On this evening, the cars at the adjacent 405 freeway will simply have to wait--the traffic and city will have pay homage to them.
In America’s quintessential suburb of the San Fernando Valley, this ritual is repeated in numerous apartment-lined blocks of the Latin American immigrant diaspora. In Northridge’s compact Bryant Street neighborhood, or simply “Tijuanita,” cul-de-sacs become the natural stage for a tradition spanning back centuries. In Canoga Park and North Hollywood the scene is almost identical. These festivities commence the beautiful celebrations that will continue into January with posadas, and the nativity scenes that begin adorning homes. While designers and planners alike receive APA & AIA awards for creating “ground-breaking” pedestrian-oriented communities, in their own very ways, these neighborhoods have already formulated the template for us to follow. Join us for the Nacimiento Bike Tour in January 2008.

See all the Images from procession:

North Hills Virgen de Guadalupe Slideshow