Thursday, December 20, 2007

The 'Deluxe' Aesthetic - About The Book "¡Cocinando!"



I'd like to tell my blog readers a little something about my book "¡Cociando!: 50 Years of Latin Album Cover Art," published in 2005 by Princeton Architectural Press, NYC. If you go to amazon.com you can flip through the pages, though I encourage the curious to patronize their local independent bookstore or my favorite music stores on the web, descarga.com and dustygroove.com. Just so you know, the book was a labor of love, and I think it appeals to anyone interested in art, design, music, identity politics, pop culture, or Latino Studies. I'll start with a few quotations that explore the notion of "The Deluxe Aesthetic' - a term used to describe the 'so bad it's good' look of so many classic Latin album covers from back in the day...

“Before I started to design Latin album covers, they were usually put together by the printers. They'd get a photo and then put down the type / titles with their eyes closed (or so it seemed to me at the time). The album covers did not have much importance to anyone, it was just some small market. I gave up my job at an advertising agency to devote myself to improving the image of Latinos by combining Music and Art.” —Izzy Sanabria

“[Our] aesthetic forces you to deal with being simultaneously enlightened and offended. [It] display[s] a keen sensitivity to universal fears, fantasies, frustrations, and stupidities. In essence, raunch and taste. Taste that can only be achieved through craftsmanship, dedication to the truth (though somewhat stretched), and polish.” —Walter Velez


I can still clearly recall my first trip 25 years ago to Record Mart, that bazaar of Latin music down in the throbbing womb of the Times Square subway station in Manhattan. Sinuous syncopations coming from that urban oasis echoed along white tiled halls empty of commuters. In the window was a display of albums from the hottest Latin labels: Seeco, Tico, Alegre, Fania, Cotique, Vaya, and Coco.

As a young artist with a love of music, I was immediately drawn to these dazzling records, with their swirling worlds of conga and trombone, flamboyant brown skinned dancers, and swaggering bandleaders. Images of vibrant joy and surrealist fantasy hung alongside troubling images of urban decay and outlaw criminality. I wanted to know the story behind each cover, and I wanted to hear the sounds seductively packaged within. The art set me up, suckered me into paying cash I often didn’t have.

Down in those subterranean record stacks full of mambo and cha cha cha, I was reminded of my father’s wild tales of Cuba before Castro, and of his treasure trove of old and abused Latin records. Gracias a Diós, those LPs came with him on the last plane out of Havana on the eve of its fall, in 1959. Thumbing through the folkloric LPs in Record Mart, I also recalled living on the island of Vieques as a baby, and of later light-filled adventures to Puerto Rico and Mexico with my mother. Back in those days we used to listen religiously to the Latino radio program ¿Qué Tal, Amigos? in our Boston kitchen. These early experiences influenced my decision to become a visual artist and graphic designer, and fueled my obsession with dj-ing and collecting.

Years later, I noticed that names like Sanabria, Besalel, Velez, Levine and Rosario kept popping up in the design credits on the backs of my favorite Nuyorican album covers. I knew it was time for these unsung heroes and their art to see the light of day. This book is a product of those investigations, which began innocently enough but eventually developed into a cause.

When marketing a particular product to a specific demographic, notions of identity are often employed, and Latin music is no exception. It seemed logical to concentrate on this aspect when planning my book. The reader will no doubt make associations and draw some important conclusions. Album art should be seen not as a mute ephemeral commodity enslaved to the demands of the music bursting within, but rather as a window onto a culture’s evolution, identity and inner dynamics. What emerges from looking at fifty years of Latin music packaging is the sense that a growing consciousness of self over time was integral to shaping a continually maturing and ever more vital commercial culture. The covers become more powerful and artistically challenging as the imagery moves away from the outsider view of Latino cultures as unobtainable, titillating, threatening, and hopelessly exotic, towards a native identity that is more in control of its destiny, sometimes honest, sometimes playful and irreverent, but always self-created.

In addition to investigating representations of identity, ¡Cocinando! serves to put Latin music packaging into the historical context of the mainstream entertainment industries of North America and Europe, and firmly place it within the realm of graphic design studies hitherto closed to this subject.

Latin music, and the design that presents it, is a unique collision of influences: Caribbean, African, European, American. The title of this book, “Cocinando,” literally “cooking,” seems a perfect metaphor for this inventive cultural stew. When jazz musicians are excited by a particularly hot solo or swinging refrain, they will say the musician was “cooking.” In Latin music, descriptive phrases for everything from a ‘descarga’ jam session to a dance style to sex are couched in culinary terms.

¡Cocinando! is dynamic because it opens a dialog by bringing together so many different flavors and styles: high and low, realistic and fantastic, tasty and bland, trashy and sexy, North and South American, exotic and native, retro and contemporary, no-budget and over-budget, racist and ethnically neutral; all rolled into one deluxe spicy black bean burrito grande topped con una salsa que pica with a little cuchifrito and collard greens on the side.

The book in no way attempts to be the last word on the subject. It is by no means the definitive or comprehensive catalog of the Greatest and Most Important Latin Album Covers of All Time. Indeed, there are many gaps and the reader will note a heavy emphasis on the New York and Brazilian Latin music industries. This is because these are large, well-developed markets and the source collections represented here happened to concentrate in those areas. As a consequence, the background information that follows will of necessity be limited by these parameters.

Not every cover in the book has something deep to say about Latino identity, a concept that thankfully eludes exact definition and as professor Juan Flores points out, tends to be an “ethnic labeling process in the U.S. [that] involves the [erroneous] conflation of race and nationality,” but the book is a compendium of pure creativity that speaks to humanity as a whole. Along the way this author will reveal some of the interesting stories behind the covers and the people that made them.

Ethnic and cultural stereotypes have always been a part of human history, and suffice it to say, Latinos domestically and abroad have had their share. As for what visions of Latino identity seem to penetrate America’s consciousness, the trend seems to be continually moving away from those older forms of identity created by the Anglos to describe ‘Hispanics’ (a translation of the Spanish term hispanos that most Latinos don’t like) from the outside, towards a more empathetic, self-created image of Latino identity that, while it incorporates elements of exoticism, draws more accurately on how the people really see themselves through their own eyes. These trends are reflected in the media, and music packaging is a good indicator of how people see others, see themselves or want to be seen.

The older Latin stereotypes were embodied in early films, music and literature, giving us among other archetypes the ‘Latin Lover’ (Rudolph Valentino), the sensuous dancer (Carmen Miranda), or the ‘Street Punk’ (West Side Story). By the 50s, Latinos had made it into America’s living room, featuring the domesticated machismo and racial miscegenation of I Love Lucy, and the trickster antics of Speedy Gonzalez. From Brando to Kerouac, every hep cat seemed to own a pair of bongos. By the mid-Sixties, Baby Boomers were humming along to ‘La Bamba’ and ‘Guantanamera’ (sometimes disguised as ‘Twist & Shout’ or ‘Hang On Sloopy’). Self-proclaimed groovy people dug the nicely Americanized sounds on Tijuana Brass and Brazil ‘66 records. Cultural stereotypes still clung to Hollywood, but the youth of all ethnicities were being increasingly exposed to each other’s music and customs. At the close of the decade, the Woodstock generation tripped to the profoundly hybrid sounds of Santana.

Album covers provide us with a visual companion to this evolving soundtrack. Contrast for instance the exotic kitsch of Miranda’s fruit bowl headdress and big red lips that adorn her 1940s 78s with the cool sophisticated intellectual approach of the abstract paintings on the Getz/Gilberto Samba Jazz covers for Verve in the 1960s, and you will get an idea of how far domestic visions of the Latin ‘Other’ had come in just 20 years. Santana’s album covers were as arresting and revolutionary as the music, and had a profound influence on Latin album cover art.

As in mainstream American culture, the massive socio-political upheavals and expanding consciousness of the later 60s sparked a change in perceptions of Latino identity, and by association its manifestation in music packaging. Modern Latin music as we know it stars here with Santana on the West Coast and Willie Colón on the East. It was New York music promotion and marketing pioneers like Gabriel Oller, José Curbelo, Izzy Sanabria, Ralph Mercado, and Jerry Masucci in the 60s and 70s who worked from within the Latino community to take back a culture that had been previously portrayed primarily from the outside looking in, through a media controlled by Anglos and their stereotypes. It was an uphill battle sometimes; even in the more enlightened 70s, sexism, machismo, and male-dominated viewpoints often won out. Album covers like Bobby Valentin’s "Se la comió" or Willie Colón’s "Cosa Nuestra," and t.v. shows like Chico and the Man did not necessarily help. As in all aspects of creative endeavor, no matter what a person’s ethnicity or politics, the tension between the two (sometimes mutually exclusive) poles of commercial and non-commercial impulses in the artist are constantly at play in album cover art.

It would be fitting to begin talking about modern Latin music aesthetics here with a definition of a slippery term coined in the busy offices of Latin N.Y. magazine in the early 1970s. The term ‘Deluxe’ seemed to be useful when talking about a prevalent look of the time. It was pronounced Deee-Lux. “Everyone seemed to use it with their own kind of abstract meaning, anything from good to bad to excellent, but generally [denoting:] in bad taste but well executed...Certain uptight Latinos criticized us for being too cartoony, comic book-ish, and bubble gum, they felt these graphics were not sophisticated enough and created a negative immature image of Latinos,” wrote publisher/editor Izzy Sanabria in the 12th anniversary edition of Latin N.Y. (an issue dedicated to art). In that same volume, artist and designer Walter Velez countered that “in order to save time and money [Izzy] created a format which suffered in design quality [but brought] back the old tradition of craftsmanship. To us, normal is only relevant to personal taste so our interpretation of ‘deluxe’ is the very best of the very worst. Deluxe is not malicious, only offensive. It is only offensive to those who can’t face themselves, for deluxe is merely a caricature of the human dilemma.” These Latino illustrators and designers were influenced by the West Coast psychedelic rock concert posters and underground comics, as well as the hippy scene of the Village. An example of ‘Deluxe’ design in this book would be Lo Maximo by Hector Rivera. The Rolling Stones lips and tongue logo is the world famous epitome of the style.

With the notion of ‘Deluxe’ and it’s relationship to portrayals of Latino identity, it is important to note that there was an informal counter-movement, ironically spearheaded by Izzy Sanabria himself, to uplift the status of Latino culture and the graphic packaging of the music (see any of his Ray Barretto covers). This collection of album cover art mirrors that tension brought about by the dueling modes of expression embodied in the work of Latin album aesthetics.

In the early 70s, Sanabria boldly grouped primarily Caribbean-derived, East Coast Latin music under an easy to use, familiar, marketable term: “Salsa.” Salsa’s intense promotion was inextricably linked to album design, and his manipulation of narrative and identity is a crucial part of the puzzle. Renaissance man Sanabria also took over commercial artist Peter Rios’ unprecedented Latin N.Y. magazine (first published in 1968), and completely overhauled it in 1973. With the help of early advertising dollars from Jerry Masucci’s Fania Records, Izzy raised the production values, and created a quality forum for discussions of Latino issues and culture. The revamped Latin N.Y. also served as a training ground and clearing house for budding Latino talent, inspiring a sense of capability and pride in its readership, as well as spawning important media events like the 1975 Latin N.Y. Music Awards and el Barrio’s answer to Soul Train, Izzy's Salsa t.v. show in 1973.

In general, a flourishing resurgence of Latin creativity centered around self-produced projects in the arts and media, bringing people in the community their own radio, theater, art, television, and print media, as they had never experienced it before. Masucci produced several pioneering feature-length films spotlighting Latin music and culture. In 1973, Larry Harlow and Jenaro Alvarez took a pioneering “latin opera” concept album to the stage with Hommy, about a blind boricua who’s special gift was playing a mean conga. New York Puerto Rican (Nuyorican) authors, poets, playwrights, and visual artists like Piri Thomas, Felipe Luciano, Miguel Piñero, Miguel Algarin, Pedro Pietri, and Papo Colo combined pride and challenging ideas to forge a new form of creative expression in an often divisive and hostile atmosphere. Highly creative musicians like Willie Colón, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades were constantly pushing the boundaries of the very music they had forged in the aftermath of the 60s and the death of Boogaloo and Latin Soul. Some musicians, most notably Henry Fiol, were also painters, and actually created their own cover art. Initially makeshift (later institutionalized) spaces like Taller Boricua, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The New Rican Village, The Hostos Center, El Museo del Barrio, as well as casitas like Rincón Criollo and schools like Boys Harbor Performing Arts Center, contributed to an atmosphere of cultural support amongst the decay and neglect of the urban battlegrounds of New York. Political awareness and protest also began in earnest, the most committed, vocal and visible being Spanish Harlem’s Felipe Luciano and the Young Lords.

These socio-political developments also emerged on the West Coast with Chicano culture around the same time, causing a parallel flurry of activity in the arts, politics, and mass media. Cesar Chavez, The Brown Berets, the Justicia movement, Corky Gonzalez, Ruben Guevara, the Brown Buffalo (a.ka. Oscar ‘Zeta’ Acosta, Chicano rights activist and lawyer, the Dr. Gonzo character in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas), and comedian Cheech Marin fought stereotypes and oppression with political action, social programs, or satirical humor, bringing to the people of la raza a new self-awareness and a more public sense of ethnic pride. These leaders took social injustices and civil rights issues to the forefront much as their African American compatriots had before them in the previous decade. Like their East Coast compadres, West Coast Chicano artists and musicians also became more conscious of their roots and heritage, though perhaps not as politically engaged as their activist compatriots. Groups like Malo, Tierra, El Chicano, and Azteca were going through an exciting renaissance and re-latinization process, in turn expanding notions of identity to encompass a pan-Latin agenda and artistic palette. Santana’s influence was being felt on sympathetic bands like the bi-coastal part-Latino collective Mandrill and black band War, from L.A.’s Watts neighborhood.

As the heady creative days of the 70s progressed towards the economic upswing and resurgence of conservative politics of the 80s, this newly self-minted Latino identity began it’s move into the mainstream, cementing itself firmly in place by the 1990s. Salsa went mainstream too with massive concerts, increasing radio and t.v. exposure, crossing over with Latin disco and later softening its more típico elements to bring the ultimate in slickness and mass appeal, salsa romantica. The major labels of the industry finally took notice that Latin culture was not operating on the margins of society, that the music was not just an ethnic genre niche with little commercial potential.

But what of the history of the visual expression used to promote the music? Sadly, many of the visionary pioneers behind the presentation of the US Latin music scene of the past go unsung today, unknown but to a few in the industry. They refashioned representations of Latino culture on their own, and did not have to answer to the established media conglomerates. A roll call of designers, artists, and photographers would have to include primal innovators like Izzy Sanabria, Walter Velez, Ely Besalel, Abel Navarro, Warren Flagler, John Murello, Marty Topp, Lee Marshall, and Ron Levine, as well as their inheritors Charlie Rosario, Jorge Vargas, Yogi Rosario, Manny Vega, Joe Wippler, Victor Diaz, Chico Alvarez, Dominique, Drago, Alan Rodriguez, Angelo Velazquez, Francis Melendez, Steve Quintana, Ricky 'Ricardo Gaskins, Pam Lessero, José Exposito, the previously mentioned Henry Fiol, and many others. In some cases, these artists not only came up with holistic all-encompassing concepts for presenting the music visually, but also for presenting the product intellectually, lending creative album titles, forging identities for musicians, stretching and breaking definitions of what were seen as currently acceptable representations of Latin culture at the time. In addition, producers and label presidents like Al Santiago, George Goldner, Ralph Lew, Pancho Cristal, Joe Cain, Jerry Masucci, and Harvey Averne were instrumental in the move to improve the quality of their covers. Many musicians, like Jimmy Sabater, Joe Cuba, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, Henry Fiol, Willie Colón, Hector Lavoe, and Rubén Blades actively participated in the creation of some of the best LP designs, often sowing the seeds of an idea given by a fan or in an echo from a song.

Many Chicanos and Nuyoricans feel a peculiar sense of duality, an “in-betweeness” or “living on the hyphen,” and this floating status, as well as proximity to neighboring Anglo and African American traditions, created a bi-culturalism that played a major part in influencing the music and its packaging, and is still important to this day. The blossoming of U.S. Latino album cover art in the late sixties to the mid-seventies was a direct outcome of a new sense of creative control facilitated in part by mind expanding drugs and influences from the rock, soul, and jazz youth underground/counter culture. The cover art on the outside was increasingly being used to tell stories, to present an overtly artistic message (sometimes spiritual, occasionally political, often satirical or humorous) that represented the music on the inside, instead of serving the merely perfunctory purpose of documentation. Mainstream labels like Columbia, UA and Atlantic followed suit, marketing already bi-cultural acts like Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, and Santana to a crossover audience and treating visual presentation accordingly. These covers from the “golden age” of Latin music did not rely very much on the crutch of “cult of personality” photos (i.e. flattering but non-narrative portraits of the star), an easy, over used solution that led to a down-turn in creative covers by the 80s.

From an aesthetic standpoint, album cover art has for the most part changed for the worse since the “classic” period of Latin music. A deadly combination of digital age factors is to blame: the shrunken canvas that is the CD booklet, the immense pressures of crossover success, the insidious lowest common denominator aesthetic of mainstream marketing strategies, an ever decreasing bottom line as bloated companies with huge overhead try to maximize profit on shrinking returns, the impact of bootlegging, file sharing and CD burning, not to mention the endemic corporate takeover and co-optation of once independent record labels. It seems that the priority is no longer drawing the potential buyer in through the cover; that would be like trying to thread a needle with an elephant. Last ditch efforts include, as professor Christopher Dunn says, “the striking tendency since the 1980s to feature sex[ist] [pinup shots] of nubile women in string bikinis as eye candy for the male consumer” who is no doubt overloaded with choices at today’s point of purchase. Some labels (especially in the UK and Japan) endeavor to produce quality cover art that holds up to the standards consciously set by the aforementioned pioneering artists and producers of the 60s and 70s. It is the smaller ‘indie’ labels that carry on with the most innovative work. Some re-issues eschew original cover art in lieu of something slicker, cheaper, or more “contemporary” in look, while others skillfully employ a retro style echoing classic designs. While Jazz, World and Rock music CD packaging still have their share of innovative or interesting examples, Latin music seems to have been in a slump overall with only a few bright exceptions.

Brazilian music, in all its diversity, is less well known in America, and if very little tribute has been paid to US Latino, Cuban and Puerto Rican album cover art in print, Brazil’s covers have been almost completely overlooked in the US.
The story of Brazilian music and its visual presentation provides an interesting counterpoint that parallels that of the US Latin market but also differs in several ways. The basic roots of Brazilian culture are similar to those of Spanish speaking New World cultures (particularly in the Caribbean) in that they feature the dynamic contact and intermingling of Iberian, African, and indigenous strains tempered by the lingering effects of colonialism. Seminal designer Alex Steinweis did a wonderful album cover for a 78 r.p.m. record (Columbia Records, Leopold Stokowsk's "Native Brazilian Music") that illustrates this trinity of Brazilian racial roots in stark graphic terms with three stylized human heads in silhouette - one red, one white, one black. The impact of centuries of slavery, genocide, forced acculturation, and endemic poverty coupled with the dominance of the oligarchy, the military, and aggressive global finance and industry cannot be underestimated. In visual terms, this commingled history translates into a culturally rich bed of invention, appropriation, and synthesis that often subverts these repressive forces.

Historically speaking, Brazilian artistic expression has been informed by the sometimes opposed and often mutually invigorating strains of popular and avant-garde cultures for the last hundred years. Varying strategies for dealing with notions of exoticism and authenticity were developed in the 50s and 60s by artists and intellectuals. One might argue that in Brazil a stronger more radical tradition of domestic vanguardism informed the arts in general, and this had a tremendous effect on the country’s music and music packaging in particular. Over time a self-awareness as a national entity evolved in an environment where marginalized underground innovations and dispersed regional native cultural traditions received a gradual infusion of mainstream support. Eventual upper class participation, co-optation by the intelligentsia, and investment of industrial capital then resulted in greater domestic control of cultural production and the forging of a new national identity.

The economic and political scene in Brazil of the 50s and 60s was even more intense and extreme than in the US, and as the military coup of ‘64 hardened into a repressive reactionary regime during the upheavals of the late 60s, artistic expression became increasingly more difficult. Starting in the second half of the 1960s, in response to the worsening situation and influenced by similar movements around the globe, Brazilian intellectuals, student activists and emerging young artists were the catalyst for a major cultural shift. Although united in their opposition to the regime, members of the political left and cosmopolitan aesthetic vanguards fought bitterly amongst themselves. An increasingly radicalized polemic opposition arose in all aspects of the culture between experimentalism and political engagement, participation and alienation, nationalism and internationalism. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro enjoyed a brief, prolific flowering of conceptual, interactive art and music, experimental theater, and film.

Musically speaking, the central figures in this renaissance were Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Jorge Ben, Maria Bethania, Os Mutantes, and Gal Costa. The artists/intellectuals Rogério Duarte and Hélio Oiticica inspired this group with their new ideas, and produced album covers for their records. Veloso and Gil took the term Tropicalism to describe their music from an art installation Tropicália (1966-1967) by Oiticica, describing their sound as “free” and “all inclusive,” blending Hendrix and the Beatles, concrete poetry, found sounds and electronics, with Brazilian music of all genres. Tropicália aesthetics therefore seemed to promulgate a far reaching cultural cannibalism, a mixed use of kitsch and pastiche, irony and sincerity, simultaneously looking to the past and streaking into the future in a thoroughly post-modern way. Though earlier musical forms (bossa nova, jovem garda, and iêiêiê) had broken with tradition and authority, it was not until the counterculture begot the “universal sound” of Tropicália that the graphic representation of this music was truly transformed.
By 1970 many young Brazilian artists had been aggressively compromised, silenced, or forced underground by the regime through censorship, intimidation, arrest, incarceration, torture, or exile. Their lyrics and album art of necessity had to code any critiques of the regime in ever more subtle or hidden ways. There would be no great mass festivals for Brazil’s ‘Woodstock generation,’ but their countercultural manifesto and rigorous aesthetic vision reverberated throughout the 70s and beyond in Brazil, reaching most US fans in the 80s thanks in part to some dedicated American musicians and timely domestic compilations.

My book does not have many representative covers from other Latin American countries with rich traditions of their own like Mexico and Argentina, but it does include several Cuban examples, both from before and after Castro’s revolution of 1959. Aside from some indigenous themes and representations specific to the island’s domestic scene, early Cuban covers tend to share similar over-all aesthetics with other Latin albums of the day, with low production values, racism and stereotypes just as prevalent as elsewhere. Since the post-revolutionary era in Cuba represents a crucial break with the past in many ways, it is important for ¡Cocinando! in that it bears some resemblance to the previously discussed traumatic breaks in the Brazilian and American scenes that occurred several years later, with one crucial difference: the break with the past was sponsored by the state, not by the youth.

Though Cuba’s revolution had started out with many idealistic and freethinking participants, the enthusiasm changed to acquiescence and forced silence as Castro’s regime solidified it’s power base and became more oppressive. As in Brazil, many free thinkers were feeling the eye of Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

In the 60s, Cuba’s music, like every other aspect of it’s post-revolution era culture and economy, developed with little US contact, switching from the old American teat to another, in this case a heavy subsidy from the U.S.S.R. In spite (or perhaps because) of this, a strong graphic art scene developed as part of Castro’s political propaganda machine. Many movie and political posters, as well as album covers, were produced with powerful results. On the one hand, some Eastern European influence was felt, and on the other, there was an emphasis placed on promoting visions of self-sufficiency and taking pride in indigenous culture. There were many limitations put on artists and designers, not the least of which was (and is today) a severe lack of materials and a restriction of creative freedom. Cuba’s graphic arts did more with less, and there are many hidden messages in the imagery. As ex-patriot Cuban designer Félix Beltrán notes in the catalog to ¡Propaganda!: “Castro got together with all Cuba’s intellectuals and said ‘Within the revolution everything is possible, outside of it, nothing.’ This was directed to all the artists–painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers and writers. Everything was permitted as long as there was not an attempt against the revolution. Since the revolution was not immaculate, and had its abuses and contradictions, this message became a straight jacket.”

The US has a way of mass marketing the trappings of revolution and making it acceptable, sucking out the original meaning and threat, and selling it as either creation myth or canonical history. Today you can see a Mid-Western American youth eating at a Mac Donald’s in the Mall wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Many of today’s kids the world over are down with the pop aspects of Latin culture, from applauding the crossover success stories like Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera and Marc Anthony, to viewing the Latin Grammy Awards on t.v. in growing numbers, with the ubiquitous faces of movie stars like Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Edward James Olmos and Benicio Del Toro showing up on the covers of glossy magazines at the supermarket checkout. Martin Sheen followed in Anthony Quinn’s footsteps and came out of the closet to claim his mestizo roots, John Leguizamo had a comedy show on t.v. and a hit act on Broadway. Leaving its nurturing N.P.R. nest to conquer the world, the hugely popular and unstoppable phenomenon that is the Buena Vista Social Club was like the Dances With Wolves of Latin music, cutting through the palm tree curtain and bringing el Otro into your living room via the white go-between. The films of Leon Ichaso, the poetry of Martín Espada, the art of Pepón Osorio, and the music of Conjunto Céspedes among others provide an antidote to some of the more commercial or bloated offerings on the market. Events like Latino ethnic pride parades, the domestic availability of two major Latino t.v. networks, and countless new Latino oriented radio programs, magazines and websites are catapulting all sorts of images into everyone’s store of mental notes every day. The media seems to be committed to putting this culture to the forefront.

¡Cocinando! hopefully provides a historical back story about the evolution of Latino visual presentation and makes a tasty addition to this continuing process of presenting our multiple identities and rich cultural heritage, especially as it is manifested in the U.S.A.

Many thanks to my editors Mark and Scott for their expert help with making the manuscript better and stronger, special thanks to designer Deb Wood who I collaborated with, and also to the people working hard to promote and sell the book (Katharine, Russell), as well as Penny, John, and the staff in general at Princeton Architectural Press for believing in me and helping make my book become a reality. Finally, thanks especially to Kevin Lippert, whose guidance and vision has made PAP my favorite press for design.

©2007 Pablo E. Yglesias

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