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A Scrappy Voice on L.A.'s Latino Arts Scene

Alternative paper Boca covers those often ignored by mainstream media.

May 02, 2000|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Boca has a chip on its shoulder.

You sense it in the alternative newspaper's content.

You read it in the letters from fans who write to thank Boca for its stories or to say they hiss in the movie theaters when advertisements come on for a certain other big newspaper that has Los Angeles in its name.

You won't find in Boca any of that Ricky Martin stuff the mainstream media call Latino culture for their mainstream audience.

Boca covers up-and-coming local artists who it says don't register on the radar of the bigger publications but who have something important to say to the upwardly mobile and socially aware Latinos whom Boca views as its primary audience.

Boca praises the recently released film "La Otra Conquista" (The Other Conquest) for its portrayal of indigenous people's experiences during the Spanish conquest and loathes DreamWorks' "The Road to El Dorado" for what it perceives as the dehumanization of such indigenous people.

The chip on Boca's shoulder has gotten bigger since its launch two years ago, when founder, publisher and editor Lorie Campos envisioned an alternative newspaper dedicated to Latino art and culture. But Latino life in L.A. extends beyond art into politics, Campos says, citing ballot propositions that would adversely affect Latinos, the hazardous contaminants discovered at the new Belmont High School site, frustrated Latino musicians who can't get airplay on commercial radio stations and the upcoming mayoral election featuring two Latino candidates.

Four months ago, Boca--which Campos financed herself and which will increase from bimonthly to monthly in August--added a Politics label to its Art and Cultura coverage categories.

"I wasn't a journalist before," says Campos, 32, whose Lincoln Heights apartment's second bedroom functions as Boca's production office. "I was just a lover of culture and art from a distance. . . . Our focus has changed. We are trying to say the [things] that no one else will say."

To be sure, Boca, which in Spanish means "mouth," is a work in progress both in vision and professionalism--occasionally, a four-letter word in English or Spanish is accepted into the publication. Features in the April-May issue include a sort of Idiot's Guide to Latino culture, a regular feature with bite that touches on everything from serious politics to inside jokes, and a piece on the bureaucracy artists face in getting their work shown outside their small networks. But Boca is gaining definition, Campos says, with each issue targeted at the acculturated Latino crowd whose members often don't speak Spanish anymore but want to remain in touch with their community and reclaim their distinct heritage.

Other papers "don't really capture the emerging 20-something, 30-something Chicanos here in Los Angeles, sort of with a social consciousness," says Reuben De Leon, 30, development director at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. "It really unites the Chicano arts and literary community."

Editor Embodies the Typical Reader

Campos, a former education lawyer before she started Boca, perhaps best exemplifies the kind of reader she targets.

She's a third-generation Mexican American. Her father is college-educated. She doesn't speak Spanish fluently, but her parents do because her grandmother can hardly speak English.

Campos grew up somewhat detached from her culture. She assimilated; she joined a sorority at UC Berkeley.

"It was a horrible, horrible experience. I just didn't fit in," she says. "I know it was because of the color of my skin."

In its two years, Boca, with a circulation of 25,000, has been a presence at dozens of distribution points throughout Southern California, including colleges and bookstores. Campos says so far it can only afford to pay five of the nearly three dozen people involved in the paper, many of whom have volunteered as contributors after first reading it. She expects at some point, however, to earn more money from it than she did as a lawyer.

"People request [Boca]," says Ramon Pantoja, co-owner of Espresso Mi Cultura, a Hollywood coffee shop and gathering place for the kind of young Latino readers Boca is trying to reach. "I see it more as entertainment-related. They promote local Latino artists, but they don't do the Hollywood thing."

In November, Boca and Self-Help Graphics on the Eastside organized a sold-out concert at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood featuring local acts such as Quinto Sol, Blues Experiment, Lysa Flores and the Mexican rock band Maldita Vecindad.

This year, Campos said she is negotiating with East Los Angeles Community College to bring the event to the Eastside. She hopes it will become an annual festival for the Day of the Dead--a Mexican holiday honoring the departed in early November.

Second Venture into Publishing

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