Saturday, December 26, 2009

One More Reason Why LA Raised Writers Like Hector Tobar Are the Future of the Los Angeles Times

There are many excellent writers at the Los Angeles Times, but few as gifted as Hector Tobar and none who are better connected with our city.

His column today is about his memories of celebrating Christmas while growing up in Los Angeles. And, once again, he proves that only a life time of first hand experience can provide the particular kind of local coverage that binds together the people of Los Angeles - and attaches them to the paper that provides that coverage.

Effortlessly, Tobar reminds those of us who grew up here what our lives used to - and what it's like to live in LA today while also allowing newcomers to our city to learn about who we are - and why we are the way we are.

So, of course, until recently - the Times felt he should spend most of his time writing about national and international affairs.  Most recently,  the Times even sent him to run their Mexico City operations while they imported young reporters from around the country to write about LA.

And we all know how well that worked.

So read the first part of the below story below - or just click the link at the top and read it all at the LA Times website.  But first, let me add a little personal note to his story about how interconnected all of Los Angeles is becoming despite what the experts are claiming.

My family first came here with the English at Jamestown, Virginia, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, the Puritans on later ships,  the Dutch in 17th Century New Amsterdam,  the Germans in the 19th Century - and a Scottish Grandmother in the 20th Century.  And a little American Indian got added along the way.

And that pretty much summed up my family tree - until they came to LA.  And now, if all my cousins were to get together - there would be a mixture of white and Indian and Asian and black kids running around - most of whom with ancestors who came over on Mayflower.


An L.A. Christmas blends many traditions
'Every celebration is different,' my mother says, 'but each is beautiful in its own way.'
Hector Tobar
December 26, 2009
This is a time when some people want to leave Los Angeles.
They dream of heading off to snowy locales-- Manhattan, frosty Alpine cabins, picturesque New England towns.
"I feel left out," my 13-year-old son says after hearing a radio report on the blizzard descending on the Midwest this week. He's never actually had a "white Christmas," but he knows what they're supposed to look like: ice on the windows, frozen sidewalks and falling snowflakes.
Blue skies and sunshine set the scene for my son's holiday show on his last school day before break. He and the other kids sang carols on our school's little outdoor stage in weather headed toward a daily high of 81.
They sang about "dashing through the snow" and "walking in a winter wonderland," and celebrating a Hanukkah where "in the window you can see the glow of my menorah on newly fallen snow."
The list of songs about California Christmases and Hanukkahs isn't long. One by the Disney-created Cheetah Girls includes the forgettable line: "We never made a snowman, but we're working on a suntan."
You won't catch me caroling that anytime soon.
And yet I refuse to believe that sweating Santas and lighted palm trees somehow make my Christmas less authentic.
Christmases with tamales and temperate weather are the only kind I really know.
My L.A. Christmas memories are bittersweet. Like a lot of L.A. kids, I had one of those childhoods in which people were always entering and exiting, thanks to divorces, remarriages and untimely death.
The cast of characters was never quite the same from one year to the next. Even the food was always changing. The one constant was the jumble of it all -- with different cultures celebrating side by side and blended together.
My parents arrived from Guatemala in the 1960s. Santa Claus wasn't the powerful global brand he is today and the bearded St. Nick was foreign to them. So was the U.S. custom of Christmas presents.
In Guatemala, the climax of the holiday season is Christmas Eve, when, at the stroke of midnight, people leave their homes to hug their neighbors. Guatemala City fills with the sounds of thousands of firecrackers.
For my parents on those first lonely Christmases in L.A, there were few friends to hug and no firecrackers. "It took me years to get used to that silence," my mother tells me.
We lived in East Hollywood and I remember one or two chilly nights out on Hollywood Boulevard watching the Santa Claus Lane parade pass a few blocks from our apartment. Santa Claus cruised over the asphalt on a wheeled sleigh with an escort of horses, cheesecake elves and some movie or TV star like Ernest Borgnine as the grand marshal.
Then my parents got divorced and my mother remarried. I moved to the Eastside and I learned what a Mexican American Christmas looks like. I was about 10 when my step-grandparents, the Velascos, taught me the joys of turkey dinners, tamales and football games on the crab grass. At their East Los Angeles home, I got my first Christmas stocking.
I was an awkward adolescent when my father remarried into a Jewish family. I soon got two new siblings and went to my first Hanukkah celebration. The Gelfands took me into their Lakewood home and I watched my little sisters light the menorah.
I was a teenager when I gave away my mother at her third wedding. Then the Dotsons took me into their home for a WASP Christmas; my new relatives were Whittier natives, and they wore tartan scarves and sweaters with reindeer on them. At their house, we drank cider and ate pie.
"Every celebration is different," my mother says, "but each is beautiful in its own way."
I'm thankful to all those Los Angeles clans -- the Velascos, the Dotsons and the Gelfands -- for accepting me, a stranger, into their families at various awkward moments of my childhood.
To me, their different celebrations all conveyed the same message: things might change, young man, but the adults around you will always try to build a peaceful home for you.
Looking back, I was lucky to be born in L.A., a city filled with newcomers and transplants.
People here are more used to sharing and mixing their cultural rituals.
When I got married....
And now click on the link above to get the ending of his story.....

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