Chicano Batman: Live at OPB

Story at

by and Juan Ramirez opbmusic | March 3, 2017 11:30 a.m.

Los Angeles-based Chicano Batman today released their third album, Freedom is Free. That title is more than a rebuttal to the familiar Iraq war rallying cry “Freedom isn’t free,” but encompasses something of the band’s universalist ideal, that we all want essentially the same things out of life. The quartet of Bardo Martinez, Carlos Arevalo, Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa stopped by our studio before their concert last week, for a set of soulful songs off the new record. They were joined by backup singers from the band 79.5, who are opening for Chicano Batman on their national tour. The tour includes stops at SXSW this month and Coachella in April.

Watch the band’s performance in the player above and listen to the interview below with opbmusic contributor Juan Ramirez, as the group talks about “Freedom is Free” and why they’ve got a superhero in their name.

Audio recording: Zack Carver-Gustin

The Day I Chose To Believe Obama Waved At Me

The Obama era has come to and end. Like many, I have mixed feelings about this past presidency. Obama’s legacy has now been set in stone—per say. He was often criticized by the “right” and rejected by the “far-left” or “woke” individuals, but not many people argued his “Liberal” title. Whether “Liberal” was used in good faith or a bad connotation, he was always the face of the “Liberals”. I recall the first time I saw Obama in person. He was hope, and I, an undocumented immigrant ate it up.

In 2007 a pre salt-and-pepper hair Obama was making his rounds in Los Angeles, California during the Democratic Party primary campaign for the 2008 Presidential election. Then, I was working under the table at a solar panel factory, on the outskirts of South LA. Word got to me that Obama, a democratic contender challenging Hillary Clinton, was going to be at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College or Trade Tech as locals call it. Meanwhile, at the same time that day—by coincidence—Republican runner-up, John McCain was going to have a press conference with the then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the factory I was working at. At the risk of losing my job, I skipped work and decided to meet up with friends at Trade Tech. It was a hot day and lingering around a sea of people could only be bearable if we could actually get to see Obama speak. I slithered through a crowd of Black and Brown bodies. I found a place by the podium, where my flip-phone’s camera could make up an image big enough to know it was Obama in the picture. He spoke, and the crowd went wild every time he paused. I myself began feeling euphoric.

After a moving speech, Obama was getting ready to leave. I quickly walked towards the place he was going to exit – just to see him up close one last time. He left the stage and walked towards my direction. The crowd around me grew almost instantaneously. He was shaking as many hands as he could before getting near me. I wanted to reach out and shake his hand, but at that moment I knew it was going be impossible. I was just going to end up looking like those basketball fans on TV-the ones that get left hanging while the players head to the lockers. I quickly yelled nervously in broken English, “You are the president of the immigrants!” He turned turned my way but we never made eye contact. I was happy. I was sure he heard my voice.

As Obama left Trade Tech a team of secret service security followed him closely. I was still feeling the “Hope” from the speech so I ran towards a street corner where his caravan was going to pass by. When I got to the busy intersection, I could see Obama in the back of his bulletproof limousine with a window halfway down waving at people. Again I yelled, ”Obama, you are the president of the immigrants!” He looked my direction and wave. I chose to believe he was waving at me. I was convinced he recognized my voice.

One of Obama’s campaign promises was to enact a comprehensive immigration reform. At the end of his second term he never met that promise, in fact, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, his administration deported 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, which is more than any administration in US history. Obama was named “The Deporter-in-Chief”. He really cracked down on immigration, but not the way he promised during his first term campaign. He created more families with broken homes. My home was one of them. My father, for example, was deported during Obama’s first term. He suffers from alcoholism and was arrested after being involved in a fight due to intoxication. He was handed over to ICE. I didn’t see him for almost a decade, until Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy or DACA, as an executive order. With DACA I was able to leave the country under parole and visit my dad.

Many undocumented immigrants, like myself, feel uncertain about the future because we have gotten empty promises in the past. Obama’s presidency was not an immigrant friendly one. It took community organizing in order for Obama to take action on DACA. I am grateful for those who were in the front of this fight. I wondered, what if he wasn’t a lame duck president? Had he had control of both the House and the Senate, could he have done more for the immigrant community? As these unanswerable questions scroll through my mind, I chose to believe Obama was waving at me.

Lente Movil: The Other Side Of My Community

I had the privilege to work with Pepe Moscoso, host of Fusion Arte Radio—Broadcasted out of Portland, Oregon from the KBOO Studios—to Co-produce Lente Movil: The Other Side Of My Community.


Design by Pepe Moscoso

“Lente Movil is a mobile art project that interweaves image and storytelling, featuring stories from the Latino arts community(in Portland, Oregon). This installation project explores the creative life of each Latino person interviewed. This project celebrates the diversity of Latinos to honor our roots and delves into the conversation of creative inspiration.

The passion of each Latino interviewed is something we must be willing to share if we want to inspire others because expressive passion is contagious because of the curiosity it stirs in others.”

Enjoy the presentation!



The Bronx-Based BRUJAS Feminist Skate Collective Heads Out West

Article on Latino Rebels

Brujas, a self-proclaimed free-form revolutionary feminist skate collective based out of the Bronx, recently visited Portland, Oregon, as part of the group’s West Coast tour. Lately, Brujas has been making waves in skateboarding and the millennial Latino online community. I had the chance to speak with them to see what drives them.

“Brujas is about building community in the skatepark and around the skatepark. [Brujas] is about encouraging women, [and] queer people to skate but also within the realm, to bring in radical politics”, Brujas member Antonia Pérez said about the collective’s ideology.


Photo: Instagram @antonia_la_brujita

“We are skating, but also, what are all these issues impacting our community —within the landscape of skateboarding— why isn’t there a dominant presence of women in skateboarding?” she added.

Pérez is one of the earliest members of the collective. She describes her upbringing with a perspective as a woman skater in uptown New York City.

“My brother got his first skateboard when he was eight years old and I was like, ‘I want one too.’ I never saw a girl skateboarding when I was growing up, so my sport was swimming or soccer. In elementary, I saw skating happening, but I thought it wasn’t for me, but I think if had seen girls skating in elementary school, the older girls in my life, I would have felt like, fuck yeah am going to do this,” Pérez said.

When Pérez was a teenager in high school she met Brujas co-founder Arianna Gil, and the rest was history.

Photo by Juan Ramírez

photo: Juan Ramirez

The Brujas name came up when Gil watched a 90’s cult classic skate film called Skate Witches.

“I was like nah, to the Skate Witches. Brujas, because we are some Spanish witches from uptown is a big part of our aesthetics, being Latinas, being New York native. It came up as a joke. We had no intention of being a collective, but we are super committed to what has been built so far, this really big and amazing entity of community organizing,” Gil said.


Photo: Instagram @gnarianna

Gil and rest of the collective agreed during the tour on committing to the longevity of Brujas.

“We been talking about having a huge space for a very long time”, Pérez said.

They dream of having a warehouse community space with an indoor and outdoor skatepark, and that would include a commercial kitchen. They would be making salve,“so that after you skate all day and you have sore muscles you are connecting with something that is very basic that still exists—herbal medicine,” Pérez added. “Herbal medicine or healing is not a bougie white thing. This is reclaiming our ancestry, nuestra brujería, nuestras abuelas that worked with the plants that held sacred knowledge.”

Pérez believes that by learning about native plants, she can empower her community to not rely on pharmaceutical corporations. They would also host book clubs, community healing events, and workshops. Also, they will continue to host their popular massive parties and would expand them to include events like quinceañeras.

“We throw parties so that people can come and have fun together. Because that is radical, having fun, laughing,” Pérez said.

Photo: Instagram @brujas

Photo: Instagram @brujas

As for now, they are launching a limited edition streetwear line called 1971 to benefit people targeted by the prison system.

“Our identity politics and our aesthetics have been put to the forefront in a lot of public relations,” Gil said. “Prison abolition and anti-prison work is one of the few most important movements in the U.S. happening right now. It just makes sense for us to come out forward and really clear as prison abolitionists by designing streetwear.”

Part of the day to day victory of kids of color is dressing well and feel good about how you look. Some people see that as shallow and consumerist, but we care about streetwear because our community cares about streetwear. We grew up in New York, looking fresh as fuck. We see our streetwear as agitational propaganda.

Photo: Instagram @brujas

Photo: Instagram @brujas

Portland marked the end of the Brujas tour. “It’s been an encouraging couple of weeks out here [in the West Coast], knowing that people are receptive to our message,” Gil said. They even had an impromptu skate session after a surprise visit from legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, who follows them on social media.


Photo: Instagram @brujas

Thousands are already following these evolving radical feminist skaters through their Instagram page. Brujas are now back in New York and ready for their next chapter.

DACA Now: Returning To Mexico For The First Time In 17 Years

OPB Article

Juan Ramirez (left) with his father in Mexico.

Juan Ramirez (left) with his father in Mexico.

Juan Ramirez/OPB

To get us to the U.S., my mom put my two sisters and me on a bus, then a plane and then — during the night — we drove a car across the border. I remember looking around and thinking, “Is this it? This is the U.S.?” It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. All I remember seeing was a big McDonald’s sign at the border crossing.

Seventeen years later, my wife, my daughter and I were crossing the border in the early morning in a five-seat, 1997 Honda Civic. It would be my first time back. My palms were sweaty. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was laughing at the dumbest things. I kept worrying something would go wrong. Like I would have to stay in Mexico. Or I would lose my job because of a delay getting back into the U.S.

At the international border, the freeway ended. Lights flashed. A sign read, “Leaving the USA.”

As we drove over the border, a Mexican soldier with a machine gun waved us through. I remember looking around and thinking, “This is it?’ This is Mexico? Some dude waving at us to come in?”

You know how in the suburbs in Portland there are gas stations and grocery stores everywhere? In Mexico, there are small businesses, mechanics, and tire shops. The next time you hear someone say the streets in Mexico are rough, remember that they’re being literal.

We drove to an apartment building that my uncle Erasmo owns. As we pulled up to the apartments, I saw a thin, short man wearing faded blue shorts, a gray T-shirt, and sandals. It was my dad. His dark skin looked like leather. His eyes looked tired. I got out of the car and we hugged. I could feel my dad’s bones.

In every old picture of my dad, there is a drink in his hand. I tried to talk to him about it, but the conversation never went far. I told him he’s addicted and that he needs to talk to a doctor. He got very mad. My dad said he’s going to keep going to rehab. The rehab my dad goes to is like a cross between a dry-house and a jail. It’s a big building where you stay so you don’t drink. Once a day, you go into a yard to exercise. There aren’t any doctors or counselors or drug treatment experts.

My dad used to live in Tigard. He got deported about eight years ago. He was in Beaverton, outside a taco truck. He was drunk, and he got in a fight. When he got to Tijuana he called me on the phone. I don’t remember what he said. I don’t remember what he promised. I just remember thinking, “Damn, this fool is in TJ? What the hell is he doing in TJ?”

My dad lives with my grandpa in a two-bedroom house. The home has been under construction since I left Mexico in 1998. My dad sleeps in a hammock in an open-windowed bedroom. It’s been 17 years since I’ve been in Mexico. Everything seemed smaller than I remembered. The kitchen counter at my grandpa’s house has gotten shorter. I could see over it now. My dad has shrunken. He only comes up to my shoulders.

Juan Ramirez (bottom row, fourth from right), with his extended family in Mexico.

Juan Ramirez (bottom row, fourth from right), with his extended family in Mexico.

Juan Ramirez/ OPB

In the two weeks, I was in Mexico, it felt like we were trying to make up for the 17 years I was gone. We fished for marlins. We went on a boat tour to see dolphins and turtles. We ate tlayudas, mole negro, ceviche and fried fish. I met new family members. We went to the cemetery to pay respects to those who had passed. I felt warm and exhausted.

One night, I sat down with my grandpa Julio. He’s a retired ship captain and is known around town as a ladies’ man of sorts. He says that at around the turn of the 20th century, four brothers traveled by foot from the isthmus of Oaxaca, crossing hills and desert and jungles. Near what has become Puerto Escondido, the Ramirez brothers settled in the jungle near the beach. That settlement eventually became the town where I was born. I’m proud of our history. But as my grandpa sat and played the guitar, I thought about all those people in the U.S. who will never hear about their family stories because they can’t come back to Mexico. I could see their ancestors vanishing into the hills of Oaxaca, fading out of time, without anyone to talk to about their journey.

The two weeks passed. My dad drove us to the airport. I hugged him as hard as I could. I could feel his bones. We both tried to not cry. As we said goodbye, I had these thoughts: I believe my dad believes he will quit drinking. But I also know it’s unlikely. I know that he will stay sober for a while, then will eventually start drinking and then will disappear. He’ll quit his job. Then he’ll sell his clothes for beer, his cell phone for booze. No one will hear from him until he gets into trouble or his health gets bad. I want to believe my dad will stop. It would make it easier to leave.

As we approached the border checkpoint, my palms got wet and my heart raced. I got quiet, sinking into the passenger seat. I had the proper paperwork to get back in, but it didn’t guarantee I could. Lots of things could go wrong. I thought of all them, real and not, while waiting to get to the checkpoint.

When we pulled up, they looked at my papers and sent me to the secondary inspection. While I waited, I tried to picture what life would be like in Mexico. I saw my father and my grandfather and myself. If I stayed, would my daughter one day have to send me cash for rehab? For food? For clothes?

The notice finally came back and I walked out of the building. I handed the officer the paperwork saying it was OK for me to continue traveling. We got in the car and drove up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles. At the border, I didn’t see the big McDonald’s sign at the crossing. My eyes looked ahead.

The Latinos Who Helped Shape Modern Skateboarding

Story on Latino Rebels

Not that long ago I was a victim of clickbait. As I was scrolling down on my Facebook wall I saw an article on Latino Skateboarders. It read, “10 Latinos who are making a name for themselves in Skateboarding”, or something along those lines. As a curious skater and a Latino, I clicked on the link. The article made it seemed like it was a rarity for a Latino to thrive in this sport. I was disappointed that it didn’t acknowledge that Latinos have shaped the sport since the early days of modern skateboarding.

We might think that Skateboarding is the White America’s action sport. Skateboarding, as we know it, began in the 70’s in Southern California. It was meant to imitate surfing on concrete. During this time a group of kids from Venice and Santa Monica, joined a skateboarding competition team called The Zephyr Boys. Among those kids were Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, Two Mexican American kids. With innovative spirit and a different look at skateboarding, they helped shape what we know as skateboarding today.


Craig Stecyk

According to Vans: Of the wall: Stories Of Sole From Vans Original, by Doug Palladini, in the days when skateboarding tricks only included downhill racing and flat ground handstands, Alva and Peralta would skate drained backyard pools to imitate surfing waves. Tony Alva did the first aerial trick when he went off the pool walls. Vans’s “off the wall” slogan come from that historic moment. Eventually Alva helped popularize the sport into a world phenomenon.


Craig Stecyk

Stacy Peralta did the first skateboarding TV cameo in pop culture, appearing in an episode of Charlie’s Angels. He went on to co-created the Bones Brigade skate team, which helped introduce famous skaters like Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk.


Craig Stecyk

Peralta also became a filmmaker. The documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America is among one of the films he has created. The film depicts the origins of two rival African American gangs.


 In the late 70’s there was lack of quality skateboarding materials. Fausto Villeto, an Argentine native, co-founded Independent Trucks Company. Trucks are the pieces that connects the wheels to the skateboard. Vitello’s parents fled Argentina’s Revolucion Libertadora (Liberating Revolution) in 1955 and settled in San Francisco.


Thrasher Magazine

In 1981 Vitello also co-founded the famous Thrasher Magazine. Thrasher Magazine is a skateboarding and music publication. Recently Thrasher partnered with Vice’s TV channel Viceland, to transmit King Of The Road, a Skateboarding competition show. Vitello passed away in 2006.

Mark Gonzales, a native of South Gate, California, was the first person to skate a handrail, thus setting the blue prints for modern street skateboarding. In 1984 he was featured in the cover of Thrasher Magazine. In 2011 according to Thrasher, Gonzales was the “Most Influential Skateboarder of all Time”. Gonzales now resides in New York City with his family and has become a renowned artist.


Thrasher Magazine

These are just some of the Latinos that have shaped this sport. Latinos are part of the history of skateboarding. Skateboarding is not just a White American sport. Skateboarding is also ours. Today, there are many Latino skaters who continue to evolve skateboarding. We are innovative people, we always find ways to make everything exceptional.


Juan Ramirez