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A dream of a Latin America that includes Los Angeles: Larry Wilson

A dream of a Latin America that includes Los Angeles: Larry Wilson

Posted by Liliana Castaño on May 13, 2014

Sometimes I have these dreams — no one cares to hear anyone else’s dreams, but this will just take a sec — about a Latin America that includes us.

It’s like that line in a movie, the title of which escapes me now, in which an American character, a Southern California character, says the unexpected thing: “If only we could have been more like Mexico — but we blew it, man.”

That takes me back to a train trip from Guadalajara to the States in 1982. My graduate school classmates and I thought we were tired of being south of the border. But with hours between connections, we all chose dinner in Mexicali over Calexico.

I have mostly been away from these Sunday columns on L.A. art, architecture and urban planning these last three months, on book leave, finishing a novel set in Southern California. In one scene I describe two of my characters when they were in elementary school, working on their classic fourth-grade Mission Project: “They had imagined and created a kind of alternate universe at the San Gabriel Mission in the 18th century, in which priests and the native Tongva and the white settlers learned from each other, took note of mutual strengths and weaknesses and created a vineyard culture of grapes they turned into highly valued wine that through direct trade with Europe and the East Coast created a California so economically and politically strong that it never joined the States, never went Protestant, became a maritime mestizo power, like the island world unto its own the early mapmakers had imagined.”

So Tuesday night, knowing that Wednesday morning early I was heading for a press conference in downtown Los Angeles at which the Getty Museum’s new project LA/LA — as in Los Angeles/Latin America — would be announced, I had another such dream. It was set in an L.A. in which we had not blown it, man, but had created a Southern California that was not only fiscally strong, as the United States is, but spiritually and culturally strong, and close to the natural world, as Mexico and Latin America are, at their best. We weren’t, as the Hopi word has it, koyaanisqatsi — living life out of balance. Our lives were instead in balance. We both knew how to make money and how to not let the making of it overtake our lives. Like that scene in an obscure novel by B. Traven, author of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” in which a craftsman in the Mexican jungle says he will charge more per carving, not less, when a Yanqui trader asks him to make them in bulk and then give a discount for volume.

LA/LA was announced in a cool courtyard behind the restaurant Rivera on South Flower Street, reminiscent of the best urban places in Mexico City. Chef John Sedlar’s staff served little plates of savory flan topped with mole and pinon nuts. Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke in a Spanish that, if book-learned, was somehow less annoying and in a better accent than that of his predecessor. And the plans the Getty set forth for LA/LA, in a continuation of its Pacific Standard Time project, will seed 40 Southern California institutions from San Diego to Santa Barbara with $5 million in grants for exhibits focusing from the pre-Columbian world to contemporary art in a Latin America that properly includes us. One, set for Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, focuses on “renegade” alternative spaces in Mexico in the ’90s. Armory Chief Curator Irene Tsatsos told me at the breakfast she’s interested in artists there “who weren’t in the limelight. The stuff in the margins. The stuff underneath that hasn’t been looked at so closely. There was a lot going on there.”

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