Music from La Santa Cecilia
Born from immigrant parents, and proud to be
from the City of Angels, they play music to love life by.
Webpage for Olvera Street: http://www.calleolvera.com/
Webpage for La Santa Cecilia: http://lasantacecilia.com/
Olvera Street the vibrant internationally renowned Marketplace located in the El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument on the general site of the birthplace of the city of Los Angeles offers visitors shopping and dining experiences reflecting Mexican and Latino culture and traditions.
There is Beauty, Not Just the Nonsense
We're born here from immigrant parents, all of us kids who were brought here when we were young. And that feel of a real strong tie to where our parents came from, but also feeling a root and a tie and a love for the States, for being from United States, for having opportunities and for taking advantage of that because I think that's important, that sometimes we only see the struggle of our parents or we see numbers and immigration and all these bad things about immigration and it's not. It's not that because there's a lot of art, a lot of music, a lot of writing. There is beauty, not just the nonsense.
Ten Things to Do with Tortillas
According to Mayan legend, the first tortilla was made as a gift to a king in 10,000 B.C. Since then, tortillas have become a necessity in the Mexican diet, making up more than half of the protein and calories consumed daily by the poor. They are also popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine in the United States.
The festive mood of La Santa Cecilia reminds me of a meal I had at a restaurant on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, which is close to where the lead singer --Marisol Hernandez -- grew up. The restaurant was filled with a kind of aliveness I associate with Latin culture, and its food was delicious. I was in seminary at the time, and a friend who ate with me, a seminarian herself, was a connoisseur of tortillas. She had grown up in Mexico and tortillas were her comfort food. While eating at the restaurant we teasingly challenged ourselves to create a theology of tortillas. We never did it, but hearing La Santa Cecilia on NPR and seeing the picture of them eating on their Facebook page, I am reminded of the challenge. What follows is a feeble attempt to offer the general contours of such a theology, with certainty that someone more talented than I can build upon it and improve it. Or perhaps create something more complex: a theology of enchiladas.
The New Testament tells us humans cannot live by bread alone. Sometimes, when in the presence of homemade flour tortillas, I have doubted this.
It has seemed to me that, in the moment of eating, the tortilla is an incarnation of heaven on earth. It can sound kind of Buddhist, and that’s fine. But I think it is also Christian. Call it the sacrament of the present moment. Or perhaps better, the sacrament of the present tortilla.
Nevertheless, I usually eat tortillas with friends, and I realize that the very presence of friends makes the tortilla's taste better. We humans cannot live on tortillas alone; we need friends and family, clean air and water; health care and employment, education and exercise. It takes a village to make a tortilla.
God as Tortilla Maker
I think God plays a role in this, too. Some people think of God as a policeman in the sky, but not me. I think of God as a cosmic Tortilla Maker who is everywhere at once, and whose hands are made of love. Admittedly, we humans make the flour tortillas, but God makes the heavenly tortillas and these tortillas are as real as the palpable ones.
The heavenly tortillas are the fresh possibilities that emerge in our lives, moment by moment, for making the best of the situation at hand. In times of despair they are possibilities for hope; in times of fear they are possibilities for courage; in times of resentment they are possibilities for forgiveness; in times of self-absorption they are possibilities for getting out of our skin and doing something for others, like making homemade tortillas for them.
But of course these possibilities cannot actualize themselves. The cosmic Tortilla Maker requires our participation for her will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must do something with the possibilities we receive from God and help make them real.
The Need to Mix Tortillas with Other Ingredients
Usually this involves combining the tortillas from God with an assortment of other ingredients that come from our lives. We must do something cool with the tortillas. Sometimes the cool things we do are wonderfully repetitive. Our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers made breakfast quesadillas out of flour tortillas, and we do it the same way. It becomes a tradition, predictable and beautiful. There's beauty in a repetition of the familiar.
But sometimes, like La Santa Cecilia, we develop new dishes with the tortillas. La Santa Celia does this with their music. Describing themselves as kids of immigrants, they combine their roots in Latin culture with rock and world music. They do what immigrants the world over do: they create something new.
Glocalization and Novelty
Anthropologists call this glocalization. It combines local influences with global influences in unpredictable ways. There is a lot of novelty in this, which is one characteristic of the fresh possibilities received from God. The novelty does not sever roots in the familiar, but it adds something new to those roots, albeit with a local flavor. La Santa Cecilia calls it Music and Love from LA.
The members of La Santa Cella are proud -- very proud -- to be from the City of Angels, and from immigrant parents. They know that there are countless struggles in immigrant communities. But It's not all about struggle. As Marisol Hermandez puts in in her interview: "There is beauty, not just the nonsense."
The mystery at the heart of the universe -- the divine Tortilla Maker -- is in the business of making beauty out of difficult situations. She is all about blending different ingredients into wholes that bring life to the circumstances. The theologian Monica Coleman calls it Making a Way out of No Way. Musicians might also call it Making a Way out of Every Way.
A final confession -- some of the recipes from Betty Crocker sound awful to me. I am a vegetarian and I've needed to modify each recipe in my mind. But even then, some of them just don't sound good. Still I am reminded that in the house of tortillas there are many rooms, and that not all -- even if vegetarian -- need to be tasteful to everybody. This is another feature of the divine Tortilla Maker. The very life of God is enriched by diversity: ethnic, musical, artistic, sexual, racial, and religious. Let there be as many different kinds of people as there are items for sale on Olvera Street, all mixed together and each unique, with no one left behind. It's called beloved community. According to the New Testament that's what the Tortilla Maker really loves.
This, then, is the beginning of a tortilla theology. There is so much more to be said. We need to talk about the pain felt by the Tortilla Maker about the way immigrants who treated in the United States and other nations. We need to talk about the power of corporations and colonizers to render all things beautiful into money and profit. We need to talk about relations of beauty and music to justice. But somewhere in the process we simply need to enjoy the tortillas themselves, one bite at a time, in the presence of friends and family, who provide sustenance for life. Humans cannot live by tortillas alone. But I'm not sure we can live without them either.
-- Jay McDaniel