Michael Ray
♛ MichaelRay@LoraxCommunity.org
Los Angeles, CA, 2015.

I first walked into Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural over a decade ago, and since then, have met the most extraordinary folks, experienced sacred ceremonies, and shared my vulnerabilities, meditations and spoken word at this, the Northeast San Fernando Valley’s only Bookstore. At its core, Tia Chucha’s means so much to so many people, for me, the place is about communion. Within those walls I’ve seen so many projects, visions, and ideas come to life; my library has also expanded exponentially because of them– my signed copy of Cherríe L. Moraga‘s A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000–2010 is a personal favorite, with the collection Rushing Waters: Rising Dreams How the Arts Are Transforming A Community coming in at a close second.382676_525521507509092_609039781_n

Like a sacred lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera), our relationship has blossomed over the years, as they moved (twice), expanded and Luis J. Rodriguez became the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles; I furthered my education, developed workshops and collaborated with members of the community.

This bookstore, and the socially, politically and culturally diverse spectrum of people it brings together helped me cultivate my identity as a writer, and public speaker. Like many others (including In the Words Of Womyn co-founder Jenuine Poetess), I have shared the inner musings of my notebook at an open mic or two, but the atmosphere of this “Chuchas” is different. Yes, CSPAN’s Book TV conducted an interview with Los Angeles Poet Laurette Luis J. Rodriguez there, and Mike the Poet, cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, as well as Chicana author Cherríe L. Moraga have all featured there–maybe because it really does feel like your aunt’s place. Indeed part of the magic of this bookstore is the community calendar, it is unlike any other, and people come from all over LA (and beyond) to attend Tia Chucha’s festivals, open mics, book readings, danza Azteca, and infamous writing circles. In doing so they are also drawing attention to San Fernando Valley, and learning that it is more than just “that other side of LA.”

Why do they come? Well if not for the author readings, open mics, or workshops, then it is definitely for the books. The shelves of the Tia Chuchas contain a plethora of literature; poetry, LGBTQ , Chicano, bilingual, academic, indigenous, and canonical, as well as Luis J. Rodriguez’s written works and Tia Chucha’s Press Books (now in their 25th year).

In The Words Of Womyn

Although Chuchas is a book store, in the traditional sense, the classes, workshops, and guest features that are hosted there set it apart from other bookshops and their efforts reach beyond the walls, broadcasting a message of art, literacy and hope into other communities. One such example is Jenuine Poetess, a co-founder of the In the Words of Woymn writing circle. This circle began in Sylmar, CA several years back, then expanded to Waco, TX , and is now (in 2015) an international writing circle.

While I have shared the mic with Jenuine before, it was during the  Womyn’s Words & Music Night in 2011, that I knew that she (along with Trini Rodriguez, Tapia Corel, Vanessa Bryon. Tati Rabell, Jonna Volz-Howes, and Linda Alvarez) had struck a chord with the community in a very big way.

You see, I had listened to Jenuine (and some of the other womyn) speak before, I had listened to her poems during open mic, heck, Jen  and I even promoted our chap books together during the celebrating words festival– not to mention collaborated on a spoken word set during Hansen Dam’s 4th of July festival. BUT the voice, tonality, and raw poetic energy that I felt during the WW&MN was unlike anything else. Perhaps the homeliness of the space, the colors, books and  hanging instruments help to make sharing a few heartfelt words easier. Maybe that is why Tia Chuchas’s has always been so near and dear to my heart, because the space cultivates creativity, and is okay people talking about their vulnerabilities, insights, meditation,political views, sexual identities and cultures.

Spoken Word, Interviews, Music & Impromptu Sessions

Speaking of cultures, Tia Chucha’s is an international melting pot, from Argentinean and Peruvian writers, to Aztec dancer, Chican@s and third generation beat poets; young and old, monolingual, bilingual, trilingual they all gather here. Yes, from all parts of Los Angeles county and beyond, musicians, poets, painters, writers, families, couples, trouples, and singles gather here, as spectators, and as performers, dancers and sobadoras. This Tia Chucha’s playlist is a small sample of the pure, raw and unfiltered talent that graces the stage.

A little bit about this play list, the first track is an live recording, courtesy of Vampyrohtechnix Media, and features a February 2015 live set from MRDLA. The set includes both published and unpublished spoken word: Red Tide [feat. DragonKid of Tekal Sun on drums], Flower Bomb, Mother’s Garden, (Rushing Waters Rising Dreams, How The Arts Are Transforming A Community, Tia Chucha’s Press), Haiku 69, Diaspora De L’angélique [READ], Colorful Genderless Light (Excerpt) [Hat tip to The Humboldt Circus].

The tracks which follow include a few words on female empowerment from Tia Chucha’s Alumni Jenuine Poetess; a cumbia track from Cuñao (who also featured on NPR); an interview conducted by bilingual blogger Victor Sotomayor which is immediately followed by his own spoken word in the track “Poema Sin Titulo”– Victor’s also shares an intimate recording of “Valentin” written and recited by Alejandro Molina’s  (M.F.A. in Theater, host of Noche De Canto y Poesia, and San Fernando Valley Mime; Marlon Storm’s signature track Suburbia is reminiscent of Woodie Gutherie, a dash of political-folk with astute social commentary and punk rock fusions. The acoustic celebrations continue with guitarist Matt Vibes aka “Brown Soul” and muralist turned lyricist Rah Azul– I had the pleasure experiencing this impromptu session unfold during the Tia Chuchas 13th Anniversary. March of 2015  marked their 14th year.

Indeed, Tia Chuchas is a gem of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, providing a safe space for people to meet, a venue for artists to be seen, and a shared hub for the community to claim as their own. The honest truth is that people do not always think of literacy, or culture when they think of the San Fernando Valley. At best, there may be a occasional reference to Richie Vallens, but often times it there are crude jokes about “valley girls”, the Pacoima projects, and the massive landfills along Glenoaks blvd. However, thanks to the efforts of businesses like Tia Chuchas, Buffalo Bruces Mercantile, Mike’s Cafe and the House of Brews, the identity of the San Fernando Valley is being transformed for the better. With new murals appearing throughout the valley, especially along Van Nuys Blvd, one cannot help but feel that a San Fernando Valley Renaissance is already happening. If there is a revolution occurring, then the literary oasis that is Tia Chuchas was just the beginning. Especially with grass-roots collectives like El Hormiguero and photographers like Sotolense taking a prominent place in the community. What will the years to come bring? If nothing else, dignity, respect and years of togetherness for the residents of Sylmar.




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2015 A special thank you to Luis & Trini Rodriguez for their many years of dedication to the San Fernando Valley & Literary communities around the world.

For even more poetry events I recommend lease connecting with the Los Angeles Poet Society, which hosts workshops at Tia Chucas and throughout the LA area. Recommended audio includes: From Earth to Sky: Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural Presents a Collection of Word and Song [Explicit]

The-Great-Moon-Contributors (2)

Michael Ray De Los Angeles
Bachelors of English Literature
Humboldt State University.
P:  1.323.592.7649
Freelance Writing, Editing, & Cinematography
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