NYC songwriter couple sing together in the name of immigration

Katya Diaz and Chris Hierro (Courtesy Break Out The Crazy)

Katya Diaz and Chris Hierro (Courtesy Break Out The Crazy)

Talk about a match made in heaven.

Katya Diaz is the daughter of Puerto Rican opera singer Justino Diaz, and Chris Hierro is the son of Henry Hierro, music producer and Dominican leader of the 80’s merengue band La Gran Manzana.

Katya and Chris are singer/songwriters themselves and met while singing background for multi-Grammy-winning Spanish pop singer Alejandro Sanz two years ago. Ever since then, their love for each other blossomed, and they started writing songs together. Their repertoire has a wide range from country/pop to electronic dance music.

“After reaching out to everyone we know, we decided to just upload our demos to the internet via Soundcloud, and now YouTube, under the name ‘Break Out The Crazy’ and try our luck that way,” says Chris, who produces and accompanies other artists and is currently signed with Peer Aquos Music.

His latest project, with girlfriend Katya, is for a cause they are both passionate about – immigration.

“It was originally suggested by our good friend Anthony Valderrama who, like us, was seeing what was happening at the border on the news,” says Chris. “We are usually not political writers, but Katya and I were compelled by the fact that this was affecting innocent children. I am a father of a 4-year-old boy and will always champion for children’s rights.”

Originally published on DailyVida.com.

Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate talks life on the border

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Renowned poet and professor Alberto Rios has recently been selected by Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona’s Commission on the Arts as the state’s first poet laureate.

“It’s been a wild ride so far,” says Rios about his life, ever since he got a call from the Governor’s office last week informing him of his new appointment. “It was a special feeling…I grew up in Arizona — on the border — so to be a kid from Nogales, in a state that has so many issues regarding language, and so many things — it’s a pretty good story.”

Rios, has published a total of 10 poetry books, three story books and a memoir called “Capirotada.” His memoir about his youth along the Mexico-Arizona border won the Latino Literacy Hall of Fame Award, and he has also received many other recognitions for his work, including the Walt Whitman Award in Poetry. As English professor at his alma mater, Arizona State University, he reached the highest faculty rank when he was named Regent in 1989, and his work is often taught in college curricula.

“Being a professor, I have a lot to say about who we are, and why are we here,” says Rios, 61. “If it’s so bad, why don’t we all leave, but there’s lots of reasons why we don’t.”

Arizona became the 43rd state to establish a poet laureate, last year, in honor of its centennial year of statehood. The purpose of this position, according to Governor Brewer, is to “commemorate Arizona literary artists whose work and service best represent Arizona’s values, independence and unique Western history and culture.”

Probably few know Arizona’s history and culture better than bicultural Rios – son of a Mexican father and an English mother. Recounting his parents’ love story, he says his father ran away from his home in Chiapas, at age 14 to join the U.S. Army. Eventually, he got a GED and became a staff sergeant and ended up in England, during World War II, where he met his future bride. When he got discharged, he was given no choice but to return to the U.S., and Rios’ mom followed him. They ended up in Nogales.

“Growing up, I had cultures in my house that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Rios explaining how they gave him two ways of looking at things and helped him become a writer. “I grew up with an open border.”

And speaking about the “real” border, he remembers the Arizona-Mexico border being more of an imaginary line than it is today.

“You didn’t need papers — the guards were reading newspapers — it wasn’t a big deal to cross the border,” says Rios, also explaining that he had kids in his class who paid tuition and crossed the border every day to go to school in the U.S. “Every holiday, whether Mexican or American, there was a parade.”

Rios says he also remembers, as if it were yesterday, when everything changed.

“It was November 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy was shot,” says Rios, who was in the 5th grade. “One of the first things the country did was close the borders.”

He says phone calls started coming in from parents in Mexico saying they couldn’t pick up their kids.

“I’ll never forget this,” says Rios. “One of the kids who got a phone call started to cry. Then other kids started crying…They had kids on one side of the border and parents on the other side of the border crying. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 in the morning they let the kids go through…For me, I think that’s when the border became something else.”

He says slowly the idyllic, bicultural world he knew became something else. The drug trade started, and people could no longer travel back and forth as easily.

“The border is an uneasy place — it’s more tense, it’s more mean,” says Rios, whose wife is a retired librarian and whose son is an immigration rights attorney.

As poet laureate, he wants to do his part to bring beauty back to the border.

“I absolutely want to talk about these issues – work I’ve been doing my entire life. I’ve always traveled all over the state visiting schools and libraries telling the stories of people’s lives and what this all means,” says Rios. “I try to bring the human side to it all.”

Arizona’s new poet laureate is also working on a public art project and is in the midst of publishing a new poetry book.

“It’s about the southwest,” says Rios. “You have to start somewhere.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Cheech Marin talks about “Born in East L.A.,” 25 years later

BorninLAposter

“Born in East LA” movie poster.

The cult classic film, “Born in East L.A.,” written, directed, and starring Cheech Marin, turned 25 this month. The film is considered groundbreaking for its time, as it was one of the firstHollywood films starring a Latino cast, including Paul Rodriguez, Tony Plana, and Lupe Ontiveros. It also brought issues of Latino identity and immigration to the forefront with a sense of humor.

Marin says when he wrote the movie, at 41, little did he know that it would have such an impact on American society. It was a low-budget film, but it grossed nearly $18 million in box office sales. It also triggered the making of a music video — a spoof of Bruce Springsteen’s famous“Born in the USA” — it is now even being incorporated into college curriculums.

I was surprised at the longevity of it, and how it translated into different ethnicities,” says Marin, now 66, about the topic of immigration in the film. “I learned that it’s a very universal experience — it affected a lot of people. [When the movie premiered] was just the beginning for the biggest wave of immigration.”

He says what inspired him to write the film was real life.

“I was sitting at my kitchen table, reading the LA Times — [an American] kid was caught in an immigration raid, and he was mistakenly sent to Mexico, and at the same time, ‘Born in USA’ came on the radio.”

He says the story kind of wrote itself after that.

“I really never knew what ‘Born in the USA’ was about, so I had to go out and get the record,” says the comedian, who was really born a couple of blocks away from East L.A. — in South Central.

He says it was the success of the song which made his movie being picked up by Universal Pictures a little easier.

“It was really interesting with social commentary weaved in — bilingual issues, issues at the border,” says actor Tony Plana. “It made people laugh and also think. You can’t meet one Latino who doesn’t have a copy of ‘Born in East LA.’”

Plana, who played “the thug” role, later renamed “Feo,” says he still gets recognized from playing that character so many years later. He also remembers Marin as a very gracious and collaborative director to work with.

“He was open to ideas, and finding the socially relevant insight into what we were doing, as well as finding the comedy,” says Plana, who has been in a myriad of productions since then, from the movie “Three Amigos” to the TV series “Ugly Betty.”

He says they worked together to make his underdeveloped character relevant in some way.

“We wanted to create the ultimate Tijuana nightmare,” says Plana who played a character who looked like a rat with slicked hair, parted in the middle and gold teeth and dressed in a little bow tie. “At the time, we had a couple of religious scandals going on, such as Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart — preachers who sinned publicly. We wanted to satirize them a little bit. We turned Feo into a guy who extorts money in the name of Jesus.”

He says they improvised a lot of the lines they actually used such as, “You don’t have to thank me, you just have to pay me.”

Marin also remembers improvising the scene where he’s standing outside of the bar, during one of his random jobs in Tijuana that he takes to make money to cross the border back to America. He says he just made everything up as normal people walked by.

His all-time favorite scene though was the “wass sappening boys,” where he has to teach non-Mexican immigrants English so they can fit in when they reach Los Angeles.

“When I was writing that scene, I kind of imagined what that alley looked like,” reminisces Marin who filmed in Tijuana for six weeks. “It was exactly as I had pictured in my mind.”

Plana says these humorous scenes really struck a chord in the Latino community and the national community.

“It didn’t give you answers, but it showed the interesting complexity of who we are — specifically Mexican-Americans,” says Plana. “Mexican-Americans tend to lose their connection, and Cheech’s character becomes more aware of what’s going on down there and starts to identify with it.”

He says to him the most powerful scene is at the end, when Cheech starts crossing the border into the U.S. with a plethora of Mexicans.

“It’s almost prophetic in a way,” says Plana. “This is going to continue unless we do something about it.”

Marin agrees that nothing has changed a quarter of a century later.

“We haven’t come up with a solution,” he says. “We’re dealing with contradiction and hypocrisy. We want immigrants to come in, because we want cheap labor and a certain lifestyle, and we want to persecute them at the same time.”

The avid Chicano art collector says he’s considering directing another movie in the future.

“It’s such a tough job directing,” says Marin, who continues to act. “You really have to love the subject matter.”