I saw Danny Hoch's "Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop" back in 1997 and was totally impressed. He left a great memory of a great performer with a keen ear for voices and dialects. Something I like to do when I travel is to pick up on the accents and cadences of people, Hoch is a master at this.
Walking up to the theatre I ran into Richard Montoya of Culture Clash who also have done great work capturing moments in a localized area with their works: "Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami," and "Bordertown." Like Hoch, Culture Clash got the characters, accents and flow of the residents of their chosen locales.
Many people and reviews pumped up this show and being a Hoch fan I was ready to be impressed, again.
The issue of gentrification has been a running theme in my life in general, so I was ready to hear his spin on it to gather some more verbal artillery in my debates and maybe some insights into what else may lay ahead in the near future.
"Taking Over" focused on the people on the victim side of gentrification. Kiko was one of my favorites because he is like my real friend Henry, supper humble and cautious around people he sees as having more than himself. When Kiko goes to calling a production assistant 'sir,' who is working on a film on his block, to get his attention it struck a chord in me on how racial hierarchies are embedded in us and how easy some of us slip into the 'si senor' or 'yes massa' mode to gain favor. Another point that was verbalized by Kiko, and several other characters, was the issue of being invisible to the gentrifying hoards. One black female character says she was able to go into one of their bakeries and walk out with two almond croissants and no one even noticed.
The most impressive monologue was the Dominican taxi dispatcher. Within this Hoch played on Puerto Rican, Mexican and Dominican issues of assimilation, the American dream, language, and tensions. Calling his compatriots 'hicks' for not knowing the city or for being afraid of picking up drunk, gay, white clients was one side of this character who would later scold his son for speaking Spanish to him. He didn't want his kid to be perceived as an immigrant. Deep if you know what I mean. I busted up on his play on the Mexican accent while scolding a cab driver for supposedly selling tacos out of his cab.
Other impressive monologues for me were the French realtor, the Jewish developer and the white girl selling Mexican handbags on the street. Forgot their names, but that is of course not the point. The point is all of them see where they are as something to be changed into what they want or need. They don't want to just be, they want to colonize. The French guy was already looking for the new lands to change, the developer had the plan (including free rent to desirable clients) to create 'the real world' where people are only happy when there is shopping to be had, and the white girl who came for authenticity, but loved the changes she was a part of more than the people already there.
The Williamsburg of "Taking Over" is much like our downtown LA. The development is at the luxury condo level. In the Eastside, we are at the letting 'desirable' businesses have free or cheap rents. We still aren't hosting overpriced cafes, although we do have an overpriced bar.
My hope and my dream is that the Eastside and Los Angeles in general, like it has usually done, will break the mold of what the powers that be have in mind and shape a new model. Mother nature helps us with her earthquakes that shake off those with shallow roots. Our history that is in the air, smeared on the walls and runs invisible to non native eyes always raises its clenched fist of rebellion, or our open hand of "come in, we know you won't last long." We will outlive them. Out-last them by over populating them. Out-funk them and out they will go, to Portland most likely. We aren't an island. Yes many have been pushed out to the Inland Empire, but I believe many will be back. Its like the waves on our coast, there are small waves, then there are big ones. Our numbers on one level and our roots in another cannot be ignored. WE won't be 'si senor' -ing nor will we be invisible.
At the end Hoch summed it, "Stay home." Although he can't stay home, because they don't pay him in New York to tell New York stories, he knows that it really is better at home.
On one level it IS an immigrant story as twisted as it may seem. Latinos leave their homes to get job opportunities or avoid death. Midwestern kids migrate to leave right wing politics and religion, or maybe just boredom. We can't seem to stay home and fix our problems in our own homes. Sometimes the problems are not of our making, and some are just annoyances we build up. Either way we pick up and leave and go somewhere else where we can be who want to be, not who we are. Sometimes we forget the difference, and come up with something new and good, and other times into something bad and destructive.
I heard these words recently and I think they apply: Despite our best efforts, nothing will get done. Despite our worst efforts, what is needed gets done.