Creative, and with vision? Come Downtown and percolate.
by Joseph Villescas
Posted on November 14, 2008
Bobby, Valentin, and I are simply three former expatriates who graduated in the nineties from local high schools, explored the country for a number of years, and created a business in El Paso back in 2007. If you do not already know, Bobby Smith is the visionary restaurateur who launched (post)modern urban coffee culture in Downtown El Paso while bringing music, art, and fair trade coffee beans to the Martin Building on the corner of Stanton and Mills. Valentin Sandoval is an accomplished poet, documentary filmmaker, playwright, and the tender actor that everyone remembers from a series of popular public service announcements and billboards—‘patience, pass it on.’ We have known each other for a while now and we stick together because we believe our perspectives and range of abilities can better serve the El Paso community collectively rather than individually.
If I recall correctly, it all started over espressos at The Percolator (217 N. Stanton) back in the middle of September. Valentin and I were each looking for better spaces to carry out our work in Downtown while Bobby happened to have a dormant theater that had devolved into a de facto storage facility for extra furniture. We had a very unusual conversation that day regarding our respective fields of engagement, and by the end of our drinks we realized that together we could become a very powerful trio on Stanton Street that conducts discussions about the new dynamics emerging in our community through new media. Essentially, we decided to brew coffee and ideology.
Lisa Degliantoni from El Paso Media Group and Reyes Mata from Del Pueblo Press were really the first two figures outside of the café that perceived us as a resource for exploring the unusual cultural cartography of our community. They already knew we were connected to a full spectrum of entities and initiatives, that we were oriented towards the arts and geared for local politics, and that, above all else, we had the focus to promote authentic forms and figures derived from the El Paso region.
Serendipity struck about a week later when Bobby had Beck and MGMT playing an after show in the back of the restaurant, and an El Paso expatriate working to cover the tour for Vanity Fair stuck around The Percolator to talk with us about the beginning of a renaissance in Downtown. [link] That special performance shaped the months ahead because it brought a type of exposure that The Percolator had not yet known. It also caused us to start taking our cameras and microphones everywhere to capture downtown stories, to contemplate divergent El Paso legacies, and to expose regional variables of consideration that were corresponding in greater and greater degrees to the issues being raised in the national election.
The week after the Beck performance, Lisa started broadcasting her show, "Charlando con la Gringa," regularly on Thursdays from the front windows of The Percolator while Reyes endeavored to protect and promote the nascent border hip hop community as well as contest the current subterfuge connected to the quiet redevelopment of our historical San Jacinto Plaza and the surrounding blocks. Meanwhile, I was hosting meetings about issues tied to the presidential campaign, organizing screenings of the presidential debates, and tracking each Margo/Moody debate closely because of the importance of this election for the future of El Paso and the rest of the state.
This is the true back drop for our first video, "Week 1 at the Percolator." [link] Within four minutes we introduce ourselves as well as our initial allies over the unusual sounds of our local border reggae while discussing hip hop and jazz, the growing potency of the Latino vote, the ever alluring connotations of the presidential election, and entrepreneurship within the context of the ongoing (re)development of El Paso. This piece illustrates our desire to catalyze conversations about the significance of local trends unfolding concomitantly with the overarching dialogue about which presidential candidate would be the most appropriate to lead our nation for the next four years.
During the last weeks of October we began to expand our conversation about the importance of the local production of myriad media forms among our friends in the El Paso film community and recorded a number of interviews about what was ahead for this sector. [link] This phase of our partnership was simultaneously colliding with the confluence of multiple factors impacting the El Paso political scene. It was a strange week and a half leading up to that Halloween Friday, and was compounded further by a poignant fatigue we were all feeling due to the uncertainty of the presidential election. The race felt much closer then as you may remember and we were all adjusting at this point to the full implications of the scope of our domestic economic crisis. Thankfully, Bobby had lined up some great acts during those hectic weeks, and some new ideas percolated frenetically in the theater about how El Paso could strategically produce a local media industry for the benefit of our local economy. [link]
Interestingly, one evening near the end of the month we decided to shoot downtown El Paso while we walked to the "Invest in the American Dream Conference" being held at the El Paso Museum of Art. That is where we are headed in the video we released yesterday, "The Fertile Ground of El Paso" [link]; Valentin and I were just enjoying our talk about what could be as we journeyed from the café to the museum. We then sat with Anna Aleman and some other former expatriates, listened attentively to the prayers of Monsignor Bañuelas, and observed Gilbert Moreno and state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh contextualize the objectives of the gathering. After the conference concluded we conducted an in-depth interview with the senator, and agreed to carry it forward the following morning.
That next day Joe Moody held a press conference in the Plazita to announce that Mayor John Cook, Shapleigh, and U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes were endorsing him in his race against Dee Margo for state representative for District 78. From our point of view as sons of this community, it is a profound commitment to the citizens of El Paso to make declarations from this sacred patch of Downtown. Simply put, to us this was an important and historical event. Once we heard that this endorsement would be conducted in the afternoon, we chose to capture Joe’s answers to some tough questions about his vision of the future of El Paso. Based on his critical responses, we decided to formally support the Moody campaign publicly through the circulation of "History in the Making at San Jacinto Plaza." [link].
We held a number of events concurrently during this time in the Downtown theater so that we could collect people’s thoughts about whether our community would sustain this current spike in civic participation after Nov. 4. Throughout this period we were conducting interviews at The Percolator and throughout different venues Downtown because we were becoming consumed by our concern about what would happen next when these two rival political parties were no longer working actively to galvanize support on a ground level. Was all this energy just going to fade away we wondered.
Eventually by the first of this month we had the busiest day of recording so far beginning with (1) a series of speeches and interviews on the importance of civic engagement at the LULAC Youth Conference and continuing with (2) the investigation of a march in remembrance of the immigrants who have died when traversing the border, (3) the recording of a showcase of talent at Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, and (4) finally honoring loved ones at the Día de los Muertos celebration at Café Mayápan. Of all the material we caught on film that day, the seventeen minute interview with Fernando Garcia from the Border Network for Human Rights was by far the most compelling. The first part of this interview can be seen in our "Dia de los Muertos: A Day of Remembrance & a Call for Policy Change on the Border." [link]
Several more short videos and panel discussions are underway between now and the end of the year, and Bobby has some amazing performances lined up throughout the rest of November and December—tonight’s sounds of Boxing Lesson and Lusatania are an impressive introduction to the upcoming shows. The next set of installments from Smith, Villescas & Sandoval will explore youth leadership development, the border wall, the district emerging around First Avenue Lofts, live music at The Percolator, the culmination of the presidential election, and a number of interviews with downtown professionals and ‘creatives’ contemplating the future of our community.
Additionally, new opportunities are becoming available for UTEP students to intern with us in media production and research design in the winter and spring, and a full length documentary is in the works for 2009. To explore these subjects of investigation further, however, you need to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know when you want to come by to percolate about the future of El Paso.
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