Sunday, April 4, 2010

Festival en el Barrio Viejo: A Barrio Exorcism

Posted By on Sun, Apr 4, 2010 at 1:39 PM

While I watched Joey Burns of Calexico spit gritas into the microphone at yesterday's Festival en el Barrio Viejo, I couldn't help but think that he was finishing an exorcism of Tucson's demons—an exorcism long overdue—that started back when the festival gates off Cushing Street opened a little before 1 p.m. yesterday, April 3.


Why an exorcism? All last month I spent two Sundays going to the Fox Theatre with my mom to catch the El Cine Plaza series, a wonderful community event that practically filled the Fox with people like my mom, people who grew up in Tucson's barrios and regularly went to the old movie theater—El Cine Plaza—for Spanish-language offerings. The afternoons at the Fox featured clips and movies with old-time Mexican films stars that my mom grew up with at El Cine Plaza ... now a memory, a ghost.

Before each movie began at the Fox, they showed a three-part documentary made by Daniel Buckley with interviews of older Tucsonans, including some of my mom's high school and nursing school classmates. The documentary, Cine Plaza and Downtown Barrios, showed interviews about barrio life and the old theater, and especially focused on when the theater was torn down, along with a major portion of Barrio Viejo. The demolition occurred in the late 1960s, all in the name of downtown redevelopment. They would have torn down more, if not for the work of several activists, who finally figured out a way to slow "redevelopment" down.

During the documentary, I heard a few tears, and I saw many people in disbelief remembering what happened. I thought about an interview I did not long ago with a local architect who complained about how people constantly remember the destruction of Barrio Viejo and use it as an excuse to not move forward.

I doubt that those people who complain about the destruction of Barrio Viejo have any power to keep Rio Nuevo from moving along. They certainly aren't the people who have collected the millions of dollars handed out in this latest round of downtown redevelopment.

I wish that architect had been at the Fox — maybe she'd understand that those events that destroyed a neighborhood occurred not too long ago.


Anyway, it was at the end of the Fox event, aftertaking in Buckley's fantastic documentary videos, that I realized our problem: Tucson is cursed. It is an El Cine Plaza curse and a Barrio Viejo curse.

What we need is an exorcism, I thought.

I'm hoping that Festival en el Barrio Viejo was that exorcism, or at least the first part of one. During the last day of the Fox series I saw Joey Burns munching on popcorn, probably there to support his friends Sergio and Salvador performing before the last show. I noticed he stayed for the documentary, and I'd like to think those gritas he shouted, while not unusual coming from the lead singer of Calexico, meant a little more for Burns. For some reason, they meant more to me. I hope his cries went all the way down Meyer Avenue to the bulldozer working on the new section of the Tucson Convention Center.


Viva Calexico, and viva Barrio Viejo. It was a great day of music. I hope it happens again. I think Tucson needs it. Sometimes demons are hard to get rid of, but closing the streets for the day once a year could help us drive those demons away.