Tuesday, December 20, 2011

37th Street Lights: Wonder is Still There

by Jonathan Spindel
The lights on 37th street have been illuminating Austin since the 1980's and this year is no exception. Although several houses have changed owners and the street isn't as bright as in years past, the neighborhood still glows with Austin spirit. Check it out and support the residents who are working to keep the tradition alive.

Lit-up geodesic dome with interactive installation.
House band "Money Well Spunt" plays funky holiday tunes amid a crowd of celebrants and shiny metal dinosaurs.

"Wonder is Still There" -- go out and see it for yourself.

Avoid parking or driving near 37th street; instead, try to come from 38th, find a spot on a side street, then walk through the neighborhood. See map below for ideal starting point.

View Larger Map

Saturday, December 10, 2011

TXF Board in the RGV Part 3: Meeting & Reading

by guest blogger Moira Porter

Sunday morning we awoke and gathered to share a scrumptious breakfast of quiche from City Cafe (McAllen) and fresh fruit.  A brief board meeting gave us an opportunity to discuss fundraising scholarships for young people accepted to UT Austin's College of Fine Arts that would be matched dollar for dollar by the college. 

We welcomed Rita and Beto Conde to the house and settled in for a special reading by the author of the recently published America Down By the River, a collection of short stories and poems by Beto Conde.  Beto's reading took us back in time to El Jardin, a barrio of San Benito, in the 1950s where young boys growing up in the between space of Mexican homes and Anglo schools are mesmerized by the mystery and knowingness of the way the world is, as explained by Chencho the pachuco.  We felt the lush chill deadliness of a single-file line in a Vietnamese jungle.  And were brought back to humanity with Los Vecinos, where the antics Don Bruno arriving home in the middle of the night interrupt a young boy's sleep, and Brownie the German Shepherd, plays a critical comedic role.  With hugs all around, we get on the road. Hasta luego.  Nos vemos. - Moira

Moira Porter is Chairperson of Texas Folklife’s Board of Directors

We really did come to work: we held a board meeting.  Really.

Beto Conde shares his collection of short stories.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TXF Board in the RGV Part 2: Don Chilo's

By guest blogger Susan Morehead

After enjoying a scholastic Conjunto Festival at La Joya High School (more on that in another post,) we lingered to talk with Roel Flores, whose moving paintings of life and work in the cotton fields form the exhibition “La Labor,” and his wife Epifania, whose mother taught her to make perfectly round tortillas, a skill she shared on video with Texas Folklife. Then we reconvened at Don Chilo’s Bar and Grill down the road in Peñitas for barbecue and more music. 

Don Chilo, whose real name is Cecilio Garza, is a singer/songwriter and band leader of such note that he was inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in 2005. He treated the Texas Folklife visitors, whose ranks now included new board member Armando Sanchez and wife Eva of Houston and local board members Amancio Chapa and Betto Ramirez with wife Grace and eldest daughter, to heaping plates of food (this trip was an eating marathon!) and some amazing performances.

Don Chilo and friends took the stage, set the toes of locals and guests tapping, and then backed up several star performers who double as teachers in La Joya ISD: Rogelio Escobedo (trumpet and vocals) teaches junior high students mariachi; Myra Garcia (powerful vocals) teaches mariachi at La Joya High; David Soliz (guitar and vocals), who teaches English in La Joya school district, sang a 1930s Lydia Mendoza song with Don Chilo and stayed late to sing more. Don Chilo’s daughter, Lori Jean, treated us to a song, and a young comedian from the area, Raymond Orta, was so clever and funny portraying his grandfather’s language advice that he ranks as a story teller as well as a comic. His young brother seems to be following in his footsteps. 

We loved the music, the comedy, the food and the camaraderie – and we can’t wait to go back!

Susan Morehead is a founding board member of Texas Folklife.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant: Gateway to Community

by Jonathan Spindel
    I had known about Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant for years, but I never went inside until I started working on a Foodways project on Austin’s Ethiopian community. I knew nothing about Austin’s Ethiopians but I thought Aster’s was a good place to begin. I went to try the food (a truly singular cuisine deserving of its own review -- stay tuned) and made a plan to meet the owners for an interview the following week. When I returned, the owners were out running errands, but their daughter Judy mentioned an upcoming Ethiopian Children’s Cultural Day at the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, an event I couldn’t miss. So began my introduction to one of the warmest, most welcoming communities I’ve ever known.
      I arrived at the church in the middle of the sunny afternoon. Church members in full Ethiopian garb welcomed the visitors. Dozens of children played in the open grassy lawn as the church filled with friendly faces. When the visitors were settled, the organizers welcomed everybody, then the pastor offered a prayer of thanks for the auspicious occasion. Then the children’s choir sang traditional songs and led the audience in a sing-along. 
      Visitors moved between several stations spread about the building. Inside the main hall, visitors learned about Ethiopian history and wildlife, browsed traditional handcrafts and beautiful garments, and learned Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. I made a bee-line for the coffee ceremony, where two women greeted me with a hot cup of the best homemade brew I’ve ever tasted. This coffee is prepared entirely by hand, even the roasting process. The coffee is strong yet subtle, there is no bitterness at all. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee -- it’s no wonder they’ve perfected the method of preparation. (Note: coffee connoisseurs can taste this traditional brew at Aster’s.)
       As I savored my coffee, one church member asked me, “How many kids do you have?” “None,” I said, taken aback. (This event is meant for children, particularly Ethiopian adopted children of American families. The children are encouraged to access their heritage and preserve their customs, all while forming community.) I was only there to observe, and enjoy the celebration. I explained my Texas Folklife project. I suddenly felt self-conscious of this fact. “Welcome,” she said, “We’re so glad you came. God bless you.” All my anxiety evaporated. I was among new friends.
      I understood the deeper purpose of the event: To develop and perpetuate individual heritage, but also to share culture with new communities, thus promoting true human connections and cross-cultural understanding.
 When you celebrate Thanksgiving, remember to cherish your heritage while learning new customs as well. I’m looking forward to my dinner -- we’re going to have turkey mole, barbecue brisket and maple-glazed trout, a feast of culture and cuisine with friends and family I love. So here is my Thanksgiving wish for you: May you share this day with your family, friends and neighbors; reflect on your fortunes and bounties; celebrate tradition and community, however they may manifest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TXF Board travels to the Rio Grande Valley

by Nancy Bless
Our board chairman, Moira Porter and board member Susan Morehead joined Cristina Balli and me on an action packed, weekend trip to the tip of Texas. We took some back roads from Austin, sampling BBQ (Luling), bread pudding (Beeville) and cabrito (McAllen) along the way-- with church spires and court house cupolas pointing our way to historic town squares. Somewhere around Falfurrias the heat, wind, palm trees and cactus let you know you are entering Tejas.

Mark with his work
Saturday began in downtown Brownsville at Galeria 409, housed in a 158 year old building right across the street from the border wall and a US/Mexico crossing point. The wall, at least in this section, is like a wrought iron fence, albeit 20 feet tall. Galeria 409's owner, the artist Mark Clark, produced an "Art Against the Wall" exhibit--at the wall--that featured a 30 foot bamboo and reed ladder studded with thorns, and piñatas in the forms of life sized border patrol agents, one of whom is looking through a pair of (piñata) binoculars. 
Bottom to top: Susan Morehead, Moira Porter, Mark Clark

Mark hosted a lunch at the gallery for us to meet with University of Texas Brownsville History Professor Manuel Medrano and businesswoman and cultural activist Bitty Truan to talk about Texas Folklife and our mutual interests in preservation and promotion of traditional expressions in the Valley. There was lots to discuss as each has tremendous passion for regional culture and history. Dr. Medrano will be working closely with us on "A Place at the Table," contributing essays on the Taquerias of Southmost and on the area's struggling fishing and shrimping industry.

And of course--the best of all is getting to meet artists and see some great art! Mark Clark's own work was a revelation: intense, contemporary interpretations of Mayan mythology filtered through a somewhat wry and loaded (as in thinking about many things) imagination. Bitty, whose late husband George Truan was an artist, has a beautiful home on a Resaca filled with Mexican and Mexican American art. We wish you could have seen it all!

More posts on our Valley coming soon; stay tuned!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Welcome to the Texas Folklife blog! Join us as we attend cultural events around the state, profile Texas artists, and keep you up to date on the latest News of the Folk with information on upcoming concerts, shows and events.