It’s not unusual for James and me to head out to Santa Paula. It’s a grand little town. It has precious little traffic, fresh sea air, a phenomenal butcher, and a pace that seems to refresh both of us. We were recently at the Rodney Fernandez Gardens. The corn is grown in the middle of this affordable housing complex by residents. Because of its site, Santa Paula being the Citrus City and all, about 1/3 of the houses are reserved for farm worker rentals – they pay about 30% of their income for the housing.
My friend Big X, Xavier Montes, has been teaching in the community for some time and was the driving force behind the De Colores festival that took place in Santa Paula. He is a musician and visual artist who has received the Maestro Award from the Latino Arts Network of California for his work as a culture bearer. He regularly posts images of the students who are a part of his guitar and harp classes. Sweet images really. Sometimes he has taken the kiddoes out for an ice cream or they are practicing and he highlights one of them and their foibles. Other times he expresses mock – well, mostly mock – aggravation, and wonders what he’ll do with those students. All, in a very loving avuncular sort of way.
In order to raise funds for the guitar classes that are free to the students, there recently was a fundraising meal and music. Meal made by La Chef Carmen and her friends, and music provided by seasoned and not so seasoned performers. It wasn’t a formal presentation by any means. But that was part of what was so delightful about the concert. The polish was reserved for each of the songs played. The breeze was lovely so the gaps were bearable.
Perhaps the best part of the concert was seeing the young people who came up to join the masters. At times there would be only this young girl playing guitarrón. Her father told me that this was the first time she had played with adults and she was nervous.
After a time the students came up, individually and in clusters – trying to play with the other musicians. They just joined in as they could where they could. Their attempts were welcomed without a word, the fact the musicians played on was the approving motion.
They were watching the adults, watching each other, trying to get it right.
They couldn’t help themselves and nobody wanted them to stop trying.
It’s a bit hard to see, but young woman to the right never really got in the middle of the group.
But the smile on her face shared the story that was at the core of the work being done by Big X.