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Community News: Mid-City

PICO-UNION : Real Change, Not Just a Song and Dance

October 11, 1992|ELSTON CARR

Memo Flores calls himself Don Regalon--Mr. Gift Giver.

On the last Sunday of each month, he mounts the band shell at MacArthur Park and presents a gift of culture called Jugaremos en Familia , or Play as a Family, to the residents of Pico-Union.

With mariachi bands, marimba music, folk dancers and singers from throughout Latin American, he transforms the park into a stage for a community fiesta.

But for Flores, Jugaremos en Familia is more than just a party, it is a vehicle that unites a diverse Latin American community and celebrates their respective cultures. It is also an outlet for the area's impoverished.

"I wanted to bring families together on Sundays to learn more about our culture and have a good time without them paying for it," Flores said.

Well-known among Latinos as an announcer for Spanish-language radio station KWKW, Flores, 46, came to Los Angeles in 1972 from Guatemala, where he was a physical education teacher and a Red Cross volunteer.

In 1986, Flores approached Adolfo Nodal, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, with the idea of Jugaremos en Familia. Nodal was immediately receptive, seeing the event as a way for residents to reclaim the park from transients and a growing drug trade.

"People were afraid to walk through the park," Nodal said. "Flores knew nothing about the system, but he had incredible tenacity and motivation to organize and present culture in a positive way. He's a folk hero. He gives more than song and dance. He gives a sense of belonging and brings people together."

Each of the monthly shows includes as many as 35 performers who entertain an audience that ranges from several hundred to more than 1,000. Flores receives about $5,000 annually from the Department of Cultural Affairs, most of which is distributed among the performers. The MacArthur Park Foundation, the nonprofit administrator of the site, donates the band shell and sound system for the noon to 6 p.m. show.

"When I started a lot of people said I was crazy, that it would never work. Now that things are going well, those people want to know if I'm getting paid," Flores said. "I always knew it would work. When things are done from the heart with love, anything can happen. I don't get any money for this. People stop me on the street or call me at home and thank me. That is how I get paid."

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