"LA is only half of me," says Julieta Mendez, who was born in Los Angeles, but whose extended family lives in the tiny Mexican village of Santa María Tavehua in the Oaxacan highlands. "If I don't go back…I'm incomplete."
Mendez is not alone—more than half of the village now lives across the border in LA's Koreatown. All this week, Sonic Trace producers Anayansi Diaz-Cortes and Eric Pearse-Chavez will explore how the neighborhood became a hub for these indigenous Zapotecos—a culture that predates the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Listen to the series on KCRW, 89.9, during All Things Considered at 3:50 and 5:50 PT, or on the newly launched Sonic Trace blog.
Here's Mendez's story to get you started:
And here's what's coming up:
Jocelynda: Koreatown Turns Korexico
Seventeen year-old Jocelynda Salvador was born and raised in "K-town"—but to her it is “little Oaxaca." This year she became the first in her family to go to college. Jocelynda took a recorder to UC Irvine and kept an audio diary of her first month as she transitioned from Korexico to Orange County.
Elsa: Up the Rabbit Hole
For centuries, the people of Santa María Tavehua have sculpted orange clay into pots and plates, cups and bowls for their own use. But since the 1960s, their work has made its way into homes and gardens all over Europe and the United States. Sonic Trace follows one figurine, a trombone-playing rabbit, from the hands of her maker, Elsa Gonzalez, and into the global marketplace.
Nico: Leaving Tavehua
Nicolas Mendez arrived in LA at the age of five and spent most of his life burying his Zapotec roots. Bloods, Crips, Playboys and M18 gangs were Nico's community at Thomas Jefferson High. In the Los Angeles of the 1980s and '90s, family wasn't built on where you came from, but what you did to survive.
Julian: Tavehua, Los Angeles & Tavehua, Oaxaca
Tuba player Julian Gonzalez is the leader of Estrellas Nacientes, a band of LA-born Zapotecos with roots in Santa María de Tavehua. When Julian was seven, his mom abandoned the family and he lost all connection to Mexico. This summer, tuba in hand, Julian traveled back to Oaxaca to find out who his mother was and why she left.
In conjunction with the series, on Thursday the Sonic Trace team will bring their mobile storytelling booth, La Burbuja, back to Guelaguetza in Koreatown. Keep an ear out for more in October.
Credit: Map of Koreatown above from the Los Angeles Times Mapping L.A. project.