How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The cultural mashup dictionary: Gentefication

Photo by Texas T/Flickr (Creative Commons)


I first heard the term "gentefication" uttered a few years ago by the proprietor of Eastside Luv, a Boyle Heights wine bar that opened on First Street during the height of the real estate boom and rising fear of gentrification in the historic seat of Mexican American Los Angeles.

At the time, locals were becoming worried (they still are) over encroaching development from the west, including the still-standing plans for an upscale redevelopment of the neighborhood's vast Wyvernwood Gardens apartment complex. In the midst of this, Guillermo Uribe, a young Mexican American investor with L.A. roots farther east, had taken over and renovated the former Metropolitan, a former mariachi bar across from Mariachi Plaza. At the time, the corner's best view was of Gold Line construction.

Some locals were worried about the new wine bar, too. Even as a Latino-owned business, was it a harbinger of higher rents? It has since become a popular gathering spot for a mostly second-generation crowd, many of them professionals with Eastside roots. In an email last week, after reconnecting with Uribe over a KPCC radio segment about Eastside Luv's regular MorrisseyOke nights, he used the term again:

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More MorrisseyOke (Morrissey + karaoke), the audio version

Photo by Mae Ryan/KPCC


What is MorrisseyOke? Why Morrissey + karaoke, of course.

Today's Madeleine Brand Show featured a segment (with me as guest) on the latest incarnation of Latino L.A.'s well-documented love of Morrissey, the pop icon and former lead singer of The Smiths. Every other month or so, the DJ at a Boyle Heights bar called Eastside Luv spins original Smiths and solo Morrissey songs, dubbing down the vocals so that patrons can sing over them.

Then people take turns climbing onstage and belting out classics like "Shoplifters of the World Unite" and "Barbarism Begins at Home," karaoke style. It doesn't matter if it sounds good. It's Boyle Heights, it's Morrissey, and it's one big sing-along pachanga for fans who, like me, were raised on an Eastside soundtrack in which The Smiths figured prominently.

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What is MorrisseyOke? Exactly what it sounds like (Video)

Several months ago, I saw a tweet that about made me jump out of my chair. I don't remember exactly what it said, only that it was from the Boyle Heights wine bar Eastside Luv and that it referred to something called "MorrisseyOke." Which could only mean one thing.

Now, it's no news flash that in places like Boyle Heights (and Huntington Park, South Gate, Downey, Pico Rivera, Norwalk, West Covina, Santa Ana...yes, places where Latinos live), there are some huge fans of Steven Patrick Morrissey, aka simply Morrissey, the pop icon and former lead singer of the 1980s British band The Smiths. Their music played an important role in the soundtrack of my Eastside upbringing, as it has for many others.

For years, writers and filmmakers - heck, there's even a forthcoming book - have documented the love we Latino types have for Morrissey, whose lyrics capture a sense of alienation that many a kid living between two cultures is bound to feel at some point. In L.A., even our local Smiths cover band is fronted by a Latino. Some, like the OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano, have pointed out how Morrissey's songs of longing and angst echo the emotion of classic rancheras sung by old-time Mexican crooners (and to be fair, most of Morrissey's Latino fans in L.A. are Mexican American, though you'll catch the occasional stray Salvadoran or Cuban as well.) 

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Changing times on Boyle Heights' E. 1st Street (Video)

#loveLA from Steve Saldivar on Vimeo.

How do you love L.A.? An entry submitted to KPCC's #loveLA crowdsourced video feature by multimedia journalist Steve Saldivar captures a slice of L.A. in transition.

Next to Boyle Heights' venerated Mariachi Plaza, a 60-year-old mariachi sits for his portrait - which happens to be a mural of his likeness adorning the wall of Eastside Luv, a wine bar next to the plaza that opened in 2006. The video subtly captures the generational and cultural divide taking place on a gentrifying E. 1st Street, where the mariachis who have worked there for decades now find themselves elbow to elbow with upwardly mobile second- and third-generation young Latinos who frequent nightspots like Eastside Luv and the M-Bar.

The mariachi is Rafael Rubio; the muralist is Robert Vargas, an up-and-coming L.A. artist who grew up in Boyle Heights.

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