The Book of Life: A Review

My family and I were recently invited to a pre-screening of The Book of Life. I have to admit, I was torn between to go or not to go at first. Granted, just knowing that Guillermo del Toro has his magic hand in on this and that MY Diego was cast as the main character made it hard to resist. I was also tempted to check out what Jorge Gutierrez, director and writer, had come up with since his work on Nickelodeon’s El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera. On the other hand, I am so tired of Latino culture being marketed through “mainstream” tactics! Let’s face it, with an estimated 54 million Latinos in the U.S., is there any reason why this film should ever be marketed as a Halloween movie?

The beautiful animation and big names finally moved us to take a chance and take a peek. I was thrown back to see that this movie has more big names than I’ve ever seen in an animated film put together. Not only is there a beautiful diversity in the cast, there is enough talent to make your head spin!

Diego Luna, Kate del Castillo, Ricardo Sanchez “El Mandril,” Eugenio Derbez (the Mexican); Zoe Zaldaña (the Dominican-American); Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Gabriel Iglesias, Angela Johnson (the old and the new school Chicano kings and queens); Hector Elizondo (the Boricua); Placido Domingo (the Spanish tenor); Channing Tatum and Christina Applegate (the Anglo); Ron Perlman (who is of Ashkenazi Jewish decent); and Ice Cube (the Black brother)! Although everyone is just amazing, I do have to add, that only a true G like Ice Cube could bring his character, the Candle Maker, to life and flow with the family vibe of the film as well as he did.

Autistic son and all, my husband, sister and I headed to the theater. And then MAGIC happened! Where do I even start? I kept waiting for the moment when the little sir would have a freak out, or be too scared, or let us know the volume was too high. Let me just say that this NEVER happened. Every now and then we struggled with keeping his 3D glasses on, but considering this child CANNOT sit still for more than 15 minutes, I’ll take it as a win.

What did happen? Despite the fact that our Little Love has limited verbal skills, his reaction to La Muerte, voiced by Kate del Castillo, was an incredibly excited “Pretty!” His non-stop laughing made my heart melt. When the music started I could literally see my entire family’s jaw drop. Husband could not keep his eyes away from the screen the entire time and little love to this day will not stop singing “I will wait, I will wait for youuuu” (at all hours of the day AND night). Heads up for all, if you already LOVE my Diego, wait until you hear him sing!

It is refreshing to know that Gustavo Santaolalla has given this film his magic musical touch. Husband immediately pointed out that he was also responsible for the Amores Perros (starring Gael Garcia Bernal) soundtrack. If you’ve never seen Amores Perros, the Mexican love drama, perhaps you’d be familiar with his work in Babel, The Motorcycle Diaries, or Broke Back Mountain. As a side note on Garcia Bernal, keep an eye out for as he plays an Iranian Canadian journalist in John Stuart’s production, Rosewater.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have ANY issues with the stereotypes, particularly with the exotic representation of Latinas. Luckily, and without giving too much away, our heroine Maria, voiced by Zoe Saldaña, kicks butt! This is always a fantastic message to send to our girls and young women. You don’t have to be the güerita ice queen to be smart, strong, independent, and fierce. The film is simply loaded with beautiful and empowering messages of friendship, forgiveness, bravery and selflessness.

This is a movie, an animated film, in which our brown children can see characters like themselves. One in which they can see the beauty of our cultures and our traditions. This is a gift to parents like myself who didn’t have cartoon characters that we could identify with, who didn’t hear our accents, our beautiful accents, in movies or television as heroes and sheroes. This is a gift to los abuelos, like my own and like my son’s, who hold tradition and authenticity dear to their hearts! Make sure to keep an eye out for cultural icon Frida Kahlo; religious icon la Virgen de Guadalupe; and the pre-Columbian Aztec mother of the gods, goddess Coatlicue.

Thank you. Thank you for making a movie about Día de los Muertos that is not scary, a common misconception about our holiday. Somehow, zombies, witches, and monsters are all acceptable and profitable in mainstream America without them being problematic. Thank you for giving such a well thought out and thorough explanation of what it is and why it is celebrated. Thank you for making a movie that spotlights tradition, authenticity, beauty and talent. But above all, thank you for making a film that anyone from any cultural background can watch, understand and appreciate.

Thank you for giving our kids, thank you for giving ME, an animated film that I can finally identify with in mainstream America.

The Book of Life hits theaters tomorrow, Friday, October 17. Check your local theaters for availability and show times.

CultureStrike to Host Event on Central American Migration

Mexico Migrants

Migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the US-Mexico border in Juchitan, southern Mexico, Monday, April 29, 2013. Migrants crossing Mexico to get to the U.S. have increasingly become targets of criminal gangs who kidnap them to obtain ransom money. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

The pro-immigration magazine CultureStrike in collaboration with Verso Books and Impact Hub Oakland will be hosting “Before the Destination: Migrations from Central America to the United States,” in an effort to shed light on the dangers that Central American immigrants face on their journey to the United states. The multidisciplinary event scheduled for Saturday, December 7, 2013 will feature the work of award winning journalist Óscar Martínez, photographer Edu Ponces and artist Favianna Rodriguez.

Martínez, author of “The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail,” will be doing a reading from his book. In October 2013 he was featured in NPR’s Alt.Latino show for his work in documenting the story of Central American’s who travel through Mexico to the U.S. border on freight trains known as La Bestia.

Ponces is an award winning, Spanish, photojournalist whose work has centered largely on the topic of migration. He co-authored the book “En el Camino: Mexico, la Ruta de los Migrantes Que no Importan (On the Way: Mexico, The Route of the Migrants Who do Not Matter).” Ponce’s exhibit will focus on the experiences of women on the Train, who face additional risk factors.

Favianna Rodriguez

Artist Favianna Rodriguez at the pro-immigration event “Face to Face: Action. Healing. Solidarity” in collaboration with French artist JR and his project Inside Out, on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Photograph by: Natalie Rodriguez)

Rodriguez is an interdisciplinary artist and activist. She is an international lecturer, coordinator of CultureStrike and co-founder of the national organization, Her work will be present via an art installation.

Despite the many dangers of making the trip from Central America to the U.S. through Mexico via freight train, according to The New York Times, the number of American arrests of undocumented immigrants from Central American countries increased from 46, 997 in 2011 to 94,532 in 2012.

The event will take place at The Hub Oakland located at 1423 Broadway Ave., Oakland, Calif.; from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Admission will be free. Register for the event via the Facebook Event page or through Eventbrite.

Mexico Migrants Attacked

A group of Central American migrants read the news of their ordeal from a local newspaper outside of a shelter after they were attacked on the freight train they were riding through Mexico, in Acayucan, Mexico, Thursday, May 2, 2013. The United States-bound migrants had hopped on the train in southern Mexico and were traveling through the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz when attackers shot and cut them with machetes. Some jumped from the train to escape and others were thrown off, said migrants’ rights activist Tomas Gonzalez Castillo. At least 10 Honduran migrants are recovering from wounds suffered in the attack. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

Tu Tienda Azteca: Giving the Fruitvale Community More than Art


Tu Tienda Azteca is located at 3104 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, Calif. 94602. Art work as seen on Sunday, November 3, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Photograph by: Natalie Rodriguez).

Tu Tienda Azteca is located at 3104 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, Calif. 94602. Art work as seen on Sunday, November 3, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. (Photograph by: Natalie Rodriguez)

Tu Tienda Azteca, a Mexican Folk Art store opened in Hayward in 2007 as a collaboration between Oscar Cisneros and his mother, Rosario Cisneros. Oscar is a self-proclaimed, self-taught artist who was born and raised in Oakland. In 2013 the shop relocated to the Fruitvale District in Oakland and along with art, brought a desire to work together with the community.

The Cisneros family not only bring traditional Mexican artwork to the communities they work in, they also share their knowledge with them. When they were located in Hayward they collaborated with Tennyson High School on their Día de los Muertos event. This year, they have collaborated with La Clinica de la Raza’s, Casa Che department’s Youth Brigade in creating traditional nichos, or shadow boxes for their altar.

In addition Tu Tienda Azteca has also been busy with Día de los Muertos celebrations such as The Unity Council’s yearly community

Tu Tienda Azteca at the Dia De Los Muertos Fruitvale Festival

Oscar Cisneros of Tu Tienda Azteca and his assistant’s work at the Unity Council’s yearly Día de los Muertos Festival in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, November 2, 2013. (Photograph by: Natalie Rodriguez)

celebration and hosting workshops at the store. On Sunday, October 13th, they hosted Miguel Quintana, a sugar skull artist from Puebla, Mexico who had a live demonstration and sale. Local artist Leanne “Elrod” Rodriguez also recently hosted a “Glitter 101 Día de los Muertos Edition” workshop. Workshops are open to the community.

By making a purchase at Tu Tienda Azteca you are not only supporting local artist and merchants, you are also supporting community enrichment for the youth.


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Artist Max Kauffman on Oakland and Beauty

Artist Max Kauffman on Oakland and Beauty from Natalie Rodriguez on Vimeo.

Artist, Max Kauffman, premiered his solo show, “Your Vulnerability Makes You Beautiful,” at Loakal Gallery & Boutique on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The opening was a part of Oakland’s First Fridays Festival of Art and Culture. Nastia Voynovskaya curated the show. Born in Chicago, Kauffman believes that the Bay Area is a “hub of artic culture,” and that there is beauty in Oakland’s “toughness.”

Citlalli Odette Coria: Dancing “underdog” from Oakland

Citlalli Odette Coria is a 14-year-old dancer from Oakland, Calif. Her inspiration lies in her environment, her friends and family. She began dancing at the age of seven, competing at the age of 10, and taking private dance lessons at the age of 11. She has competed approximately 15 times and placed first several times. She finds beauty in her city, where other’s may not see it and considers herself to be the “underdog” when she shows up to competitions where others who are there to compete come from “nice places,” while she comes from a city with a “bad” reputation.

Oakland dancer, Citlalli Odette Coria, Talks About Accomplishments and Confidence from Natalie Rodriguez on Vimeo.

Her short hair flares out. Although her black, thick-rimmed glasses compliment her style, they may be one of the tactics a shy, 14-year-old girl uses to hide curious, glowing eyes. She applies her red lipstick with great care, looking at herself through the side mirror of a car in her family’s driveway. When she speaks, she does so with conviction and when she dances, the world is her own. Dancing she says has given her confidence. Confidence to speak and the confidence to dress as she pleases. She’s one of the middle children of Fidel and Dulce Coria and has three older siblings and a younger one.

She began dancing at the age of seven, which is her youngest sister’s age. In 2008 she began competing at the age of 10.  When she began taking private lessons at 11 she says that her competitions “began getting serious.” Coria has been taking lessons from the same instructor, Amy Lee Danya for years. “She has been teaching me from day one, she was my first dance teacher and I’m so thankful [that] she is still my teacher and friend,” says Coria.

She doesn’t remember how many competitions she has participated in, she estimates “about 15” in total.  “She was going to go to nationals,” says mom, “but she hurt herself.” Nationals were going to be held in Disneyland this summer and Coria did not attend due to an injured hip. “Being silly” is what mom says Coria was doing when she injured herself. With every trophy and award that Citlalli shows, mom knows exactly what competition it was from and when it took place, despite the fact that she is multitasking in the background.

She’s not quite sure where all of her trophies are. She knows they’re safely put away. “To be honest for competitions I don’t really give much feeling for my trophies I mean there a remembrance of what I accomplish but it doesn’t really define my feeling over dance.”

Competitions Citlalli has participated in:

Nexstar National Talent Competition 2011, First Place

Kids Artistic Revue (KAR) National Dance Competition, Placed First twice

Show Stopper Competition 2013, Double Platinum award

Oakland, Calif., is a city that receives a lot of negative attention. In a 24-hour period three people lost their lives, victims of violence on the weekend of August 17th. Coria describes her neighborhood as “beaten down” with “closed down factories,” garbage, and graffiti. However, despite the negatives, she manages to find inspiration in her city and is grateful for the colorful graffiti, which she says, adds a “nice texture” to her neighborhood.

Dancer, Citlalli Odette Coria, Finds Inspiration in Oakland from Natalie Rodriguez on Vimeo.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that the physical activity of children and teens has many health benefits including building healthy bones and muscles, improving self-esteem and reducing stress, Coria agrees. The Dana Foundation has found evidence that dancing has effects on the brain that can enhance learning in academic subjects as well.

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