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Grand Performances celebrate Latino and Chicano culture

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Grand Performances is leading off its 30th anniversary of bringing entertainment to downtown L.A. with the inaugural event of a series celebrating Latino and Chicano culture. It's called Evolución L.A.tino, and it kicks off on Friday with a screening of "Prejudice and Pride." 

Prejudice and Pride trailer

From performance art to comedy, Evolución L.A.tino's lineup of seven different events throughout the summer all explore racial and social issues through the scope of art. The series is part of Grand Performances' larger lineup of free events at California Plaza in downtown L.A. 

Evolución L.A.tino performances

June 10: "Prejudice and Pride" 

The series kicks off with an 8 p.m. screening of "Prejudice and Pride," a documentary that charts Chicano identity through '60s and '70s activism. The documentary is the fifth episode in a PBS series called "Latino Americans: 500 Years of History." 

June 18: Soy Africano  

A night of music pairing West African trademarks and Latin sounds to highlight the influence of Latin music in West Africa. The event starts at 8 p.m. and vocalists include Afrisa International’s Wawali, Son Mayor’s Alfredo Ortiz, Chicano Batman’s Bardo Martinez, Thalma de Freitas and Lazaro Gallaraga, plus surprise guests. 

June 24: Su Voz, Su Canto

Performances of songs and spoken word poetry beginning at 8 p.m. led by Martha Gonzalez of East L.A. band Quetzal.

June 26: The Three Louies 

Three different Louies will bring performance art, comedy and social satire focusing on the absurdities of life. The event starts at 7 p.m. and features Louie Perez of Los Lobos, L.A. Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, and journalist Luís Torres.

June 30: Making Escabeche with Ernie Miller

Learn to make Escabeche, a spicy pickled carrot and jalapeño veggie dish. You get to take home your own jar of the tasty stuff after learning to make it with Ernie Miller. It starts at 7 p.m. Bring a 16 oz. water bottle and don't forget to RSVP at  

July 30: Se Mueve: Aquí

Enjoy an 8 p.m. show of spoken word, movement and performance art from local L.A. artists Rafa Esparza, Maria Garcia, Yesika Salgado and Yosimar Reyes as they dive into "Brown" creativity and identity. 

Program curator Leigh Ann Hahn joins Take Two to talk about the lineup.

Interview highlights:

You’ve been with Grand Performances for 25 years. How have culture and LA evolved in that time? 

Quite a lot. But more than arts and culture, I think that downtown, where we’re located, has really seem some phenomenal evolution. You know that moment on Bunker Hill where you could sort of shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anybody at 9 o’clock at night to where now downtown is a vibrant live-work space with a lot of culture, amazing food, cocktails, lots of arts? Just a great place to be for families as well as just the community at large. 

What have been some of the highlights for you over the past few decades? 

I think the Grand Performances has sort of claimed a fame through the decades. It has been bringing artists from around the world to Los Angeles because our programs are free and we tend to be a little bit more experimental, and our goal is present the performing arts traditions of the many different communities that make up this city. We’ve had the opportunity to introduce a lot of artists and different art forms from around the world because we don’t have to worry about selling seats. The Hollywood Bowl has 18,000 they have to sell, so there’s very little real opportunity for a lot of experimentation there. Grand Performances, I think, has played a really important role in bringing new and different voices to our city, in spite of the fact that many of those artists have been well established in their native countries or in their parts of the world… We’re privileged to be able to present artists that are not well known. It’s an opportunity for people to come and take a risk. 

This year, the focus is on Latino and Chicano culture. Why that and why now? 

We all know that Latino culture is an ongoing and important part of the makeup of our city, because we are now well above 40 percent Latino in Los Angeles. I think to actually acknowledge that in a very specific and thoughtful way is really important... To look at the Latino community and some of the political challenges, the cultural challenges that the Latino community has and shares with us as a broader population is just an important thing. I don’t think that we have never not presented Latino culture. It’s been an ongoing part of Grand Performances' trajectory and the things that we do. This year, we’re actually saying ‘This is important’. ... I don’t think you can be in Los Angeles and not be a little bit Latino. 

One event that jumped out at me is The Three Louies. Tell us about that. 

I think of it as us having the opportunity to sit on the sofa and listen to them having a personal conversation. I think it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be fun. I’m hoping for personal revelations. These three gentlemen have known one another for a long while and I think it’s going to be one of those full of chisme, just a lot of fun. They’re just going to tell stories and we hope they tell stories about one another — you know, an inside glimpse. 

Now — food. Food, food and food. Talk to me about food. 

Primarily, we’re going to be looking at the art of making escabeche, which is that wonderful relish that is on every single taco table in the city. It’s a relish that’s made of carrots, jalapeños, onions and bay leaves. Ernest Miller, who is part of the slow food movement here in Los Angeles, is going to be conducting this workshop for us, and each person that comes will have an opportunity to put together a little bucket of the makings and they’ll take it home and it’ll ferment on their counter and in a few days they’ll have a batch of really great escabeche for their eating. We do have a limited number of people that we’re going to be able to accommodate at that one so send us your RSVP. I think for us to try and pretend that culture is only the high arts or only the art is putting our head in the sand because Los Angeles is a city of food. I think talking about food is a very important part of the arts.

What do you hope people take away from this season? 

I hope that people walk away inspired to have conservations with their neighbors, to shake hands, to smile instead of just walking with their head down or their faces buried in their phones — to interact with people and to try something new. We all talk about wanting to be experimental and we all think that we like to try new things. When I want to have a meal, I go to the places that I know. I encourage people to try something new. The beauty of what Grand Performances offers is because it’s all free, all you’re really risking is the time and a little bit of transportation effort. When I first came to Los Angeles, I was really excited to move here, because as an Asian-American woman who grew up in the mid-West, I stood out a lot and I came to Los Angeles because I wanted to be able to blend in, and I think that’s one of the beautiful things. You come to Grand Performances and you’re part of a crowd, you’re part of a mixed community and you are part of Los Angeles.