May 20, 2009

Mexican arts center ‘saves lives’

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Mexican Arts Center ‘saves lives’ from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaSocialbrite isn’t just about social tools, it’s about stories — stories of people and organizations that are making a real difference in people’s lives.

One of the best ones I’ve come across in the past year is the story of Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center. Instructors there teach young people — chiefly in the Richmond/San Pablo area east of San Francisco — to connect with their heritage through music, dance, arts and crafts and more.

This six-minute testimonial I put together includes a clip of Los Lobos performing a benefit concert at the center and my interview with Los Lobos lead singer David Hidalgo, who talks passionately about how the center “saves lives” by giving kids an alternative to drugs and violence.

The people connected with the center — founder/executive director Eugene Rodriguez, Claire Bellecci, dance and music instructor Lucina Rodriguez — are an amazing group: dedicated, passionate and fun to hang with. (By the way, it took me a few weeks to learn how to pronounce Los Cenzontles! it’s from the Aztec for the mockingbirds.)

But what’s especially striking is their musicality. Los Cenzontles is not just a 501(c)(3) nonprofit but a kick-ass band that has toured with Los Lobos: Lucina is lead singer and Eugene plays bass guitar. The group’s Songs of Wood and Steel is a masterwork — I’ve worn it out in my car CD player. Love the fact that you can support the group buy buying one of its CDs, DVDs or T-shits at its online store.

A word about the video at the very top: I just completed a 10-week course in video production taught by Final Cut Wizard wiz Jason Blalock at Diablo Valley Community College, not far from Los Cenzontles, for the insanely inexpensive tuition of $35. I pieced this together from the footage and photos I shot over a number of months (with a couple of additional images used with permission). Especially enjoyed spending time chatting with the teenagers about their cultural roots.

Take a look, I think it came out pretty well.

Eugene, Claire and their team have put together a terrific social media-friendly catalog of videos (performance videos, mashups of Mexican soap operas done to the band’s music, etc.), created an impressive YouTube channel, been friended by Los Lobos on MySpace, but it really comes down to individuals like you supporting their efforts.

Support the center by donating or buying a CD, DVD or T-shirt. Please spread the word — this video and this post are licensed under a Creative Commons BY license, the same free-sharing arrangement as on Wikipedia.

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Download the original video in high-quality H.264 from Archive.orgJD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.