Leaving out my all-time favorites Carlos Santana and John Coltrane, whom I've written about for Sojourners, here are a few cultural artifacts I'm currently excited about. Maybe it's because I've recently turned 40 and find myself doing a lot of recollecting, but after writing this I realized that together these items trace a trajectory through the story of my life.
The Republic of East L.A., by Luis Rodriguez. In this collection of short stories, Rodriguez brings us into the lives of a wide range of characters from Los Angeles' Latino barrio. Some of their stories are inspiring, like that of a struggling Chicano newspaper reporter who solves a grisly murder mystery. Some are exceedingly tragic, like that of a young woman who witnesses the murder of her sister, is gang raped, and has her baby aborted by her addict mother. All of Rodriguez's stories show the strength of a people who insist on embracing life in spite of its painful contradictions. (Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins)
Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by Stacy Peralta, documents the origins of modern skateboarding, born in Santa Monica ("Dogtown") and other gritty, down-and-out beach communities of Los Angeles. In the mid-'70s, a ragtag group of kids called the Z-Boys (which included the maker of this film) took the gymnastics-oriented skateboarding of the 1960s and radically transformed it with close-to-the-concrete moves inspired by surfing and a hard-core street gang attitude. Their in-your-face style of skateboarding, compared to "a hockey team competing with figure skaters," is now being lost in the world of professional contests, lucrative sponsorships, and skating styles that value TV-friendly precision over Dogtown's explosive slash-n-grind style. (Sony Pictures Classics)