‘Cine Nepantla’ explores multiculturalism

The brown buffalo and the gonzo journalist—Oscar Zeta Acosta (right) sitting with Hunter S. Thompson in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, 1971. Courtesy of latino public broadcasting

By Juan Calvillo

The Vincent Price Arts Museum and the Latin American Cinemateca of Los Angeles held the inaugural program for “Cine Nepantla” on Saturday. The event focused on the concept of Nepantla, being in between two cultures, had various parts including spoken word, poems, music and a screening of the film “The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo.”

The program was about trying to create a dialogue and getting attendees to think critically when it came to the idea of Latinos feeling somewhat lost between the American and their respective Latin cultures. Each part of the program had individuals showing various ways in which they had come to terms with those feelings.

Each performer had a distinct and wholly personal perspective when it came to their art. San Cha, a singer songwriter, sang melodic songs that were about everything from love to drugs to family. Her songs had a hypnotic sound to them especially the ones talking about giving love. The song described how giving all of a person’s self can sometimes not be enough.

Other performers used spoken word to highlight the beauty of Latin American people and the strength of our women. Yosimar Reyes mixed poetry and song in  a piece where he spoke about his mother’s love, her strength in watching over him and the difficulty of being both a son and daughter when it came to his father.

The screening of “The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo” was an eye opener and really drove home the idea of Latinos being able to tell their own stories. The director, Phillip Rodriguez, was unable to attend. Instead producer Ricardo Lopez came to discuss the film with those in attendance. The movie was a dramatic retelling using actors, archival footage and pictures from Oscar Zeta Acosta’s ex-wife. Lopez linked the movie to the program by saying that Acosta, “was all about the in between.”

“The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo” mixes humor with truth as it tells the story of Acosta’s rise from a boy who considered himself a “brown buffalo” to the activist and writer that he eventually became. Acosta’s life was never easy. He constantly saw himself as different from those around him. His identity was also something that confused him and caused him to become the person he ended up as.

Because he was raised with and aligned himself with his white classmates and even spoke too much like them. Latino activists of the time didn’t see him as part of their people. Acosta spent much of his time trying to prove not only to those around him, but to himself, that he was the Latino he wanted to be, despite what he had gleaned from white society.

After the screening, the Q&A section began with moderator Gilbert Cadena and producer Lopez. Xitlalic Guijosa-Osuna, one of the performers of spoken word during the program participated as well. Examining the film Cadena asked the panel and the audience if the things that happened during Acosta’s time as a leader in the chicano movement still were relevant today. Guijosa-Osuna said that there were plenty of things that despite times changing, still went on. “I hate saying that history repeats itself. It just goes on,” said Guijosa-Osuna.

The panel also talked about the need for Latino storytellers, actors and producers in the arts. Lopez said that the reason latinos need to tell their own stories is so that the record is set straight. He mentioned the fact that when Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Acosta in his story for the Rolling Stone magazine, he changed Acosta into a 300 pound Samoan. Lopez reiterated the need for Latinos to be the ones in charge of their image when it comes to telling stories that involve them as a people or stories that are about their culture.

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