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Adam Burkhart, Section 1 SP 15, Spring 2015

With radio, a barrio finds its voice

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” played once, ended, started again.

The song is the theme music of Breakfast Burrito Club, the morning show of Logan Heights’ community radio station, Radio Pulso Del Barrio.

On a Tuesday morning a little after 9 o’clock, the show’s hosts — Bob Green, Ana Brown and Bucky Montero — milled around the radio desk, checking cables, fiddling with the mixing board, tapping microphones. Their voices were audible on the monitors, but weren’t going out on the internet stream.

Then, looking over Bucky’s shoulder at the computer, Bob found the problem, “You’re not live, Bucky.”

“Oh!” Bucky clicked a mouse.

Ana leaned forward and spoke into her mic, “Is anybody out there?”

SLIDESHOW: Bob Green, co-host of Breakfast Burrito Club, introduces Radio Pulso’s weekday morning show.

 Do it yourself

“The distinguishing characteristic of community radio is that you put average citizens on the air,” said Michael Huntsberger, a professor at Linfield College in Oregon who researches community and public radio.

By that definition, Radio Pulso is a textbook example. Most of its all-volunteer staff has no broadcasting experience, but because of rather than in spite of this, they are creating a radio station with an identity uniquely its own, in a community where identity has long been a basis of struggle.

The station was created last year with help from the San Diego Museum of Art, which awards grants to different neighborhoods to fund a public art project of the residents’ choosing.

Radio Pulso del Barrio broadcasts from a second-floor room in Bread & Salt at 1955 Julian Ave. Before that it broadcasted from a corner of the stripped-out ground floor of the building, a former bread factory now home to an architect’s offices and artists’ spaces.

 

Logan Heights chose to have a radio station, a decision which excited and perplexed Bucky, who serves as president of the station’s board of directors.

“We just started from ground zero, you know?,” Bucky said. “Like, okay, how are we gonna do this, how do we become a nonprofit, how do we get music? It was like basic questions.”

Bucky’s description of her morning show with Bob and Ana — “It’s funny and serious all at the same time” — could describe many of the station’s roster of shows.

An example: Beats Brunch, the noontime Sunday show that got its name from a New Year’s Eve party a few years back that lasted into the following day.

One of the show’s disc jockeys, Alden Medina, explained the next day’s party “was the more memorable one.” Inspiration found, he and his friends took their love of music and “brunch culture” on the air, blending in talk of urban gardening and sustainable food.

That last part, a focus on community service and bringing to light issues and topics of importance, guides the station’s vision. Shows are tried out on a probationary basis, and only keep their slot if they meet expectations in line with Radio Pulso’s mission of community empowerment.

VIDEO: Host of “All Out,” Jesus Villavicencio, talks about growing up gay and Latino and explains how community radio fosters understanding about LGBT issues.

As such, many shows have a socially and politically conscious bent: All Out (LGBT), Ladies First (women and feminism), and El Daily Justice (political commentary).

Interviews with community members, from the greater Logan Heights area and other San Diego neighborhoods and across the border in Tijuana, are a staple of the programming as well. Artists, organizers, urban gardeners, herbalists, acupuncturists, students, drag queens, tattoo artists and playwrights are just a few of those who drop by to chat about themselves, their projects and their concerns.

New movers and shakers

“If we could get the community to feel like it’s their station — because it is, it’s not ours, it’s not mine — then we’ll have their support.” Bucky sipped coffee at a sidewalk table in front of Cafe Moto on National Avenue in Barrio Logan, just across the Interstate 5 from Logan Heights.

She’s conscious of the trend of young artists moving to Logan Heights and Barrio Logan from other communities, drawn by the place’s urban, Chicano and artistic culture.

She’s a part of it. Having grown up in San Diego’s South Bay, she moved to Barrio Logan after finishing out her twenties in San Francisco.

It’s interesting how we all grew up in different areas but we all migrate to Barrio Logan,” she said, “and I think it’s because of that reason that it feels like home and it’s so Chicano.”

She, Bob, and Ana — all thirtysomethings and transplants to the neighborhood — were partially behind the recently exploded arts scene there, now home to no less than 10 art spaces and galleries.

She and friends Milo Lorenzana and Chris Zertuche started The Spot (renamed The Stronghold, after Bucky had left), and Bob and Ana are the remaining team behind The Roots Factory.

Having met San Diego Museum of Art’s project coordinator, Irma Esquivias, as the art scene was just beginning to take off, Bucky was tapped to be involved with the radio station.

But being the steward of an outlet for the whole neighborhood, rather than just her own creativity, is a new kind of challenge.

“That’s very, like, intimidating, and it’s a little nerve-racking for me because there’s a lot of politics around here,” she said. “We call it the barrio politics. There’s a lot of activism, there’s a lot of organizations, there’s a lot of art collectives that have been doing it longer than I have or longer than most of my friends have. So there’s a sense of ownership, you know.”

(Left to right) Ana Brown, Bob Green and Bucky Montero are joined in the studio by urban gardener and organizer “DaleTron,” disc jockey “Josex,” and San Diego City College students Laura Sanchez and Richard Lomibao.

(Left to right) Ana Brown, Bob Green and Bucky Montero are joined in the studio by urban gardener and organizer “DaleTron,” disc jockey “Josex,” and San Diego City College students Laura Sanchez and Richard Lomibao.

 

Chicano: past and present

“The trend is that the community comes first, and I think people realize that,” Bucky said. “We all do it differently, but everybody has that same mission. This is the Chicano movement from the ’70s but in 2015. And now we’re all different, and now it’s like new generations and now it’s like a hybrid of people involved.”

But differences between the old and new generation of Chicanos remain a source of tension, according to Bucky and her friends.

They’re careful not to step too much on the toes of those they refer to respectfully as “the elders,” the generation of artists and activists that established Chicano Park in the early ’70s. But they don’t always see eye to eye.

In the studio one day after a broadcast of Breakfast Burrito Club, Bob opened up about his ambivalence toward the Chicano label.

Bob’s generation, like the first Mexican-Americans to call themselves Chicanos, represents a hybrid of Mexican and American identity. But he senses differences among young and old Mexican-Americans prevent the young from freely claiming the label Chicano.

Younger individuals are sometimes criticized, he said, for not being able to speak Spanish, or for straying from traditional “Chicano” subjects in their art, such as the Virgin Mary or calaveras skulls.

“This older generation, they look at us weird, too,” he said. “They’re like ‘you guys aren’t really Chicano.’”

“We’re not American enough, we’re not Mexican enough, we’re not Chicano enough,” he said.

Bob was wearing a Roots Factory shirt. On the front was a rooster clutching a snake in an outstretched foot. A play on imagery lifted from the Mexican flag, which swaps the rooster for an eagle.

A few people were offended by the design, he said.

That gives him something in common with Victor Ochoa, one of the “elders” who helped organize the painting of murals at Chicano Park.

“When I painted the first skeletons on the wall in the early ’70s, Mexican people would come over protesting that I shouldn’t do that, people were gonna think that we were death hungry or something,” Ochoa said. “Tweaking images has been a fashion for a long time.”

Artistic differences aside, Ochoa would rather the younger generation not lose the intensity and defiance that characterized the Chicano movement’s beginnings.

“The thing that’s important for me to see is that there’s still a lot of effort to regain some of the Chicano attitude,” he said. “I think it’s mainly an attitude of preserving your culture, your community, your family, your identity.”

Of Chicano identity, Bob speaks intensely, defiantly, with attitude: “I’m willing to challenge that, and destroy it, and rebuild it.”

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