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PULP Originals

Kids of the Sun

There is a stigma that exists about the east of Pueblo, Colorado. In the shadow of that stigma is El Centro del Quinto Sol Recreation Center. Felix Cordova introduces us to the Kids of the Sun.

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By Felix Cordova | @FazeisFamous

Editor’s Note: We have changed the children’s names in this article. The quotes are real but to allow the children to speak openly and honestly, we told each child and parent their real names would not be printed in the PULP.

In a place separated by the Fountain Creek and the only access points being bridges from downtown, the East Side of Pueblo is an area that has been burdened with the social stigma of violence and low expectations. There might be a lot of statistics that back that stigma, but there’s much more to the picture.

On paper, Pueblo and the east side have similar characteristics when compared to major metropolitan cities. Crime rate in Pueblo is comparable to Compton, California. Where Compton has a higher murder rate, according to City-Data, Pueblo has higher rates of property crime (i.e. burglary and vandalism). And Pueblo has a higher rate of assaults, such as rape and battery.

Recently, The New York Times released a mapping of poverty in America, and it revealed that the east side, specifically, is among the highest levels of poverty in the country. It showed that about 45 percent of the population, on average, is living beneath the poverty level in the east side, which means about half the families in Pueblo are making less than $22,050 a year.

Then, there’s the school system. The east side has one of the worst rated elementary schools and one of the best rated elementary schools in Pueblo, according to non-profit GreatSchools, but the populations of the schools don’t consist of all east siders.

Parkview Elementary School is on the lower end of the ratings, and consists mainly of students who live in the east side, while Fountain International Magnet School is rated the best in Pueblo, but many of the kids are commuting from other neighborhoods in Pueblo.

For a place that looks so unappealing on paper, there are rays of hope—many of the talented kids can go as far as any other kids, if given the opportunity. Everyday of the week, many of these kids, who show a great amount of potential, are often seen at El Centro del Quinto Sol or simply The Center. El Centro is a recreation center, run by the city of Pueblo located in the focal point of the east side, right off of Seventh street. It’s completely free to the public and offers a variety of programs.

It’s a place where kids can go when they want to feel safe. It’s a place where kids can go to find someone to talk to. It’s a place where kids can make new friends. It’s a place where kids can escape the streets. The Center isn’t the end-all place to escape the crime life; it just happens to be a place where the escape is possible.

Denzel Espinoza, a 17 year old student at East High School, is a hard working student who plans to own and run his own business one day.

He manages to escape the streets by simply just going into The Center to play basketball. Like many here, the ability just to do what other families take for granted impacts the kids coming to The Center.

“The experience in the east side can be bad at times,” Espinoza said. “There’s a lot of shootings and violence, but stuff like that doesn’t really happen at The Center.”

Despite the negative experiences that surround Espinoza, he still focuses all of his energy on school and hopes to keep grades that could land him in a school like Stanford or Syracuse.

“Not all my friends come to The Center, but the ones that do don’t really ever get in trouble,” Espinoza explained.

Espinoza admitted that he’ll hang out with friends outside of The Center and they don’t always have the safest ideas of fun, but says he’s the one that often gets them to change their minds.

There are also kids that have moved around with their parents in search of an affordable place to live and have found their way to the east side.

Eddie Hernandez, a 10 year old student from Park View Elementary, had to make the abrupt change from Pueblo West to the east side, but he looks at the situation with a positive outlook.

Hernandez doesn’t have to go to The Center; he also trains in mixed martial arts at a gym off Fourth Street, but he likes going to The Center. And it’s obvious he’s disappointed when he has to go home.

Even though Hernandez hasn’t been on the east side for very long, he explained that The Center is his favorite part about Pueblo.

“I was living in Pueblo West before we had to move to the east side,” Hernandez said. “But I like it better here. I really like The Center.”

Hernandez dreams of being in the NFL someday, or maybe an MMA fighter, but it order to get there he said he has to join the Air Force first. And like Espinoza, he knows his grades will have to be good.

There are a lot of kids like Espinoza and Hernandez on the east side, but their stories get lost in the statistics. With initiatives like the Eastside Redevelopment Project and the Fountain Creek Project, there’s hope that the area will stand a better chance of being more than just the crime numbers. An addition to the center in the form of a skatepark may also help transform the neighborhood.

Other kids have different opinions of the east side. Sisters Alexandria and Alisa Esperanza used the word “ghetto” to describe their home, but it’s what they like about it.

“It’s pretty ghetto,” Alexandria Esperanza reiterated. “But I haven’t experienced anything dangerous on this side of town.”

The girls’ family thought it was important to make a move out of the east side for their kids to get a better education. Alexandria’s parents moved her and her sister to Cesar Chavez Academy, in hopes of avoiding trouble and crime, while getting a better education.

“My idea of the east side is somewhat good,” Alisa said, but “people on this side of town tend to be mean and smoke a lot.”

Alisa is only 12 years old, but she doesn’t think CCA pushes her to get good grades. She continued to explain that she has always strived to do well in school, even though her grades don’t always show it.

For Alisa, it wouldn’t matter where she grows up. Her plans are to work in the medical field because she’s motivated by seeing her mom do so well.

Many of the students are faced with the challenge of finishing school, because their parents and siblings have found decent jobs without having a high school diploma. Alisa seems to be in this similar situation.

“No one around me tells me to go to college,” Alisa said. “Not my teachers or my family, so I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get older.”

Alexandria seems more certain about her future. She wants to do criminal profiling, so she has her mind set on college. She might not know where she wants to attend college, but the fact this eighth grader has her mind on college is unique and admirable. I have to ask myself, “Are we lowering expectations by being surprised that Alexandria wants to attend college when others in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods might take higher education for granted?”

Even though these kids were all interviewed at The Center, was it just a coincidence that they all have positive futures planned out for themselves? I’m not sure. What remains is the sense these kids need to be mentored in the right way and led in the right direction. College or a trade school should be a goal for many here but it is a luxury, not something many feel they can bring to fruition.

There are stigmas that exist with the east side. One where all the girls get pregnant early, eventually resorting to welfare and government assistance. For the boys, it’s a life of gangs and not much else outside of putting their money towards nice cars.

The stigmas seem to be reinforced with the run down look of business buildings off Fourth street and an adult video store located alongside a string of bars.

Then, a block away, there’s an old-looking building with half the letters missing from its sign– The Center looks like it fits in the stigma, but it doesn’t. Inside The Center and on the faces of many of the children, exists the drive to fight the stigmas and to have a better life for themselves. The children know it’s up to them.

When you hear them speak, they understand their future is on their shoulders entirely. Some have loving, caring parents, but without the means to support continued education or to provide them with new experiences other families can offer. Here, fighting the stereotype means having a better life. There are others who have it much harder and are practically on their own with no support.  When they turn 18, they will truly be on their own.

The Center’s purpose isn’t necessarily to solve these concerns but to provide an opportunity for a better life. Even if for only a few hours out of the day, the kids can go to The Center to feel safe and be around friends and adults who want to see them reach their full potential.

For many here, it’s not about finding a way out; it’s about escaping an uncertain and limited reality.

Disclosure: Felix Cordova works part-time at the center. 

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Arts & Culture

Art is Hard with Pueblo illustrator Riki Takaoka

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Takoka, Riki (web)

“I’ve almost quit doing art so many times.”

I’m at a coffee place downtown talking shop with Pueblo artist and illustrator Riki Takaoka. With works currently on display at the Q Pop gallery in Los Angeles, and a recent addition for possible contribution to nationally syndicated contemporary arts magazine Hi-Fructose, (not to mention freelance nominations from Paramount Animation Studios), I figured he and I were in for a quick convo about brushes or pen techniques. I wasn’t expecting that one of the quickest and most accurate caricature artists I’ve ever seen in my life would say he is quitting something he’s clearly great at.

But I was shocked to hear that come from his lips.

Shocked, but sadly not at all surprised. Talk to almost anyone in the so-called creative class, and they’ll tell you a similarly dismal story that usually goes as such;

1) Find something creative you love to do.

2) Take years and years honing and perfecting your craft.

3) Get good enough to be recognized for your art.

4) Ask for compensation for your art.

5) Get chided for daring to ask for said compensation.

image by Riki Takaoka

 

The worst part about hearing that from him is that the illustration work of Takaoka is flat out phenomenal. Blending playfully bold caricatures with a jagged surrealistic quality, Takaoka has developed a signature style and skill set that stands on its own. A style that he points out he has been brewing since childhood.

“When i was a kid, I would draw and redraw the same cover of PSM (PlayStation Magazine) over and over. I was just obsessed with it. I’ve stayed in my room for days sometimes, just trying to push myselfto do better,” Takaoka said.

But all the talent and hard work in the word can’t guarantee financial success in the art world.

When the topic shifts to art as a means of income comes up, Takaoka offers, “Art is hard. Not hard for me to make. It’s easy to make and I love it. Just hard for me to deal with. Or, I guess live off. Deal with trying to live off it. And it’s frustrating to spend hours making a commission piece for someone and then have to beg them to pay for it.”

Unfair doesn’t seem to do it justice. In no other profession other than the creative field will you hear of such a thing. I’ve never once heard of my food service friends offered to be paid by a future profit share, or my wife the hairdresser and stylist proposed exposure for their work as an alternative to actual money. But every day in creative lines of work, artists are at odds with clientele who want assets for nothing or damn near.

“I get that almost every time, everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been. I’ve lived in Hawaii, in Texas, here in Colorado.” he said. “Unless you’re a well known artist, people constantly try to get out of paying you for your work.”

“There’s been times where I haven’t drawn for three months straight,” he added, sounding a bit dejected. “Because sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it. But it’s one of the only things I know how to do well.”

I asked him about his experience living and working out of Pueblo.

“It’s a nice place to live. It’s affordable. I can walk around and not feel stressed out about having to have two jobs to survive,” Takaoka said. “But the problem is no one wants to work with each other. Not everybody, but too many.”

Even though the art scene here is by no means perfect, he was quick to add, “but it is getting better I guess. And bigger. People doing more. Taking chances.”

In any other line of work, the odds of failure facing people would break most people. But not Riki.  At the end of our conversation, I asked if he considered quitting forever, which got a sly grin. “I can’t quit, I guess. Maybe I’ll just stop for a while. But not completely. At this point it’s like handwriting to me. Period. It’s almost subconscious. It’s the way I see the world. And deal with it.”

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Arts & Culture

Land Lines : PULP Artist of the Month

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Denver’s Land Lines occupy a truly unique headspace upon listening, which can only be described as “Fresh off the boat from Chilligan’s Island”. The Mile High trio, comprised of Martina Grbac (cello/vocals), Ross Harada (drums) and James Han (electric piano/organ), seamlessly meld vintage-modern baroque music with pop shimmer and gloss, like having a dance party at the symphony. Musically, Land Lines is at times is sparse and introspective, with clever and brooding lyricism, only to then turn that right on its’ ear as with bursts and blooms of  thundering pop force, (which contains equally clever and brooding lyricism). On their newest album “Natural World”, dark and moody synthesizer tones playfully buzz and pulsate to and fro over drums that are the audio equivalent of a saunter and sashay. But the lively pluck and eerie hum of the cello (compliments of Martina Grbac) is what sets this band apart from the pack, providing an melodic orchestral punch that cuts through the dense sonic layers like a Hattori Hanzo sword.

 

for fans of /// Portishead • Lady Lamb the Beekeeper • Beach Fossils

hellolandlines.bandcamp.com

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Music

The Local : BRIDGES

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BRIDGES may easily (and quite erroneously) get lumped in with every other current metal/hardcore band playing out today, but this does them no justice. Shifting between the audible snarl and massive attack of hardcore and metal to delicate and downright pretty alternative minded exalt on a dime, BRIDGES, in a very big sense, play simply heavy music. Not heavy in the classic metal distorted-and-detuned-riffs kind of way, but heavy in perhaps an emotive sense. There are elements of hardcore and modern metal, yes, but the real strength behind this band is that their music largely defies any easy categorization, instead using the 60+ years of combined innovation to bring about one of the most well versed and original bands currently in Colorado.   

On a whim, I asked them to quickly list the bands that they had played in or currently part of. They easily listed over a dozen, with some being short tenures in young acts fresh out of high school with others spanning for multiple years, tours, and record label heat.

But what really amazes me about BRIDGES is their reverence for each other. In all my time spent hanging out with bands (both my own and other), I have never encountered a band which seems to enjoy the presence of each other more. They bring the act of playing music back to a core that often falls by the wayside; Simply enjoying it.

I spoke with BRIDGES on a dimly lit porch, beers flowing, on a windy night Tuesday, November 10th 2015.

PULP/ Your previous bands all kind of sound like a lineage tree of Pueblo metal and hardcore. After hearing all that, how does it feel?

 

Matt (Herrera/guitar) / I think it’s really cool. I’ve always been fortunate that with all of the bands I’ve been in were with friends. Just playing together, getting along outside of music. And now, we’ve all been in other bands when we were younger. I met Joe and Adam when they were both probably like 14 o4 15, and now I’m playing in a band with them? I never would of thought.

 

Tyler (Boyce/Vocals) / But I can say that out of all the bands I’ve been in, this has been the most fun to be a part of. On a writing level and on a friendship level. It’s just always good.

 

In some of your previous bands, there was some label heat and contracts and business stuff. Are you dealing with any of that stuff now?

 

Tyler/ It’s definitely a lot easier with BRIDGES. With my old band, some of the guys got so sucked into wanting to “make it” that we were writing too fast and putting out stuff that wasn’t ready, and wasn’t as good as it should have been.

 

Matt /  Well with (previous band) Son of Man, it ended the way it did because by the end of it, it wasn’t any fun. It was all business. I want to try and take a more organic approach with this band. I want to still be busy, but not push anything that isn’t ready or right. Instead of worrying about obligations and the business of it, I want to focus on writing the best music we possibly can. Everything is so saturated right now in our genre. I don’t know exactly what our genre is, but it’s hard to stick out. I’d like to push our own thing, and not falling into a mold. My favorite bands have always been ones that are heavy, bot not in the usual way, you know?

 

How do you feel like BRIDGES differentiates from other acts out now?

 

Matt/ Well. Bands have started to, and I even hate saying this, but using dance moves and choreography.  It’s so stupid.

 

What does that mean? Like dancing with guitars?

 

Matt /  Yeah, like head banging and spins and stuff. It used to be, when a band was getting into the music, it was just something that happened naturally. In Son of Man, really we were all just trying to keep up with (SOM bandmate) Mo. But I get it, when I was younger and in a band, we did tons of stupid shit. I mean, it was the late 90’s. We all loved Korn and Limp Bizkit, so use your imagination. (laughs) But it totally sucks when people and bands are more worried about a dance move or a look than what they are writing.

 

Josh (Ewing/bass) / Every time we jam, it’s all organic. (laughs) When you start choreographing it, it seems fake and more like going through the motions than having fun.

 

BRIDGES has always been a more sonically adventurous band to me. You’re heavy, but it’s more in layers rather than in riffs. Is that something you try to do on purpose?

 

Matt/ We’ve always made it a point to not write the same way twice.We all love different things; Clean parts, and having melodies and parts that go places, rather than just the same riff over and over. There’s no point in having two guitar players who are playing the exact same thing. We even talked about writing a pretty and clean (guitar tone) song at some point. It’s always better to try and work toward something new. It’s exciting.

 

Tyler/  And that’s one of the thing that initially interested me about trying out for the band. Like you said, there are layers to it. And it’s very intricate. You can dissect it, and you can find so many different types of music in it.

 

Joe (Johnson/Guitar)/ It’s just nice to have the people to do it. We’re all open minded.

 

Do you think Pueblo is hurting for an all ages place to play?

 

Matt/ Oh, totally. I think it has taken Phil’s (Radiator) being gone, and kind of ripped out without a choice, for people to realize that it is hurting. Sure, they’ve re-opened now, but they’re not all ages. It feels like there’s this big gap, but it’s slowly being filled back up. We played a show at the Daily Grind a while back, and we got to play for a bunch of kids who wouldn’t have otherwise got to see us. There’s an untapped youth market here in town, but there’s nowhere for them to go see bands play.

 

Tyler/ Another thing, is there are now finally young bands still in high school that are starting to pop up. But this scene isn’t what it used to be. Everyone we know now is older, and no one really kept going. Where are these new bands supposed to go?

 

Matt/ It’s a bummer because I’ve never even heard of these guys, and there’s nowhere to check them out. We’ve only played Pueblo twice in the last year.

 

Any reason for that?

 

Tyler/ It’s hard to find places where you can play. It’s hard when no one wants to invest in Pueblo. Everyone thinks that Pueblo is this s— hole, and it is a small town, but I love it here. I’ve seen and met a lot of cool people, and there’s a lot of cool things happening here. But nobody chooses to get up off the couch to see them. and yet everyone complains that there’s nothing to do. That’s the saddest part.

 

Josh/ There’s a lot of great stuff here that fails due to lack of support.

 

Matt/ There’s so much negative stuff being said and reported about our city, it’s just nice when people can get out there to other places and show them that we’re not all gang bangers and drug addicts. I mean, we all make jokes sometimes, but I want to share that there are good people and good things going on here. When bands come down here to play, they all say it’s great, you know?

 

With the band all coming from such different musical styles, is writing the way you do more difficult?

 

Tyler/  When we write stuff, we all kind of write with it too. Someone has an idea, and we all try to make it fit with how we see it, and still make it into something we’re all looking for. We all compensate for each others’ styles in that way. It’s a team effort.

 

Josh/ I think it helps that we all try to have an open mindset with writing. No one ever comes in and says “I have an idea and it has to go exactly like this.”

 

Do you feel like it makes it more unique that way?

 

Matt/ It makes it more real, and definitely gives it a more unique identity. It’s great. It makes it so that we can’t make anything cookie cutter. It’s good to be able to do that. More rewarding that way.

 

Tyler/ I also think it’s maybe why we all get along so well too. There’s never anyone jumping down someone’s throat about not playing something the “right” way. We just want to make something that we like a lot and can be proud to show people. We put a lot of time into it, and when we get any kind of good feedback about it, to say that it gave them some sort of feeling or emotion, that’s the coolest thing about making music. And makes us happy.

 

Josh/ And it’s totally applicable to anyone doing any kind of art. If you’re doing it the way you want, not under anyone else’s guidelines, and attain results that they’re proud of, especially if it’s someone telling you they love it, definitely makes it way more rewarding.

 

Is that part of the reason you guys play music to begin with? For that feeling?

 

Josh/ Oh, definitely. The core factor of it comes down to I love to do it for myself. I love playing music and playing it with my best friends.

 

Tyler/ Exactly. The best part, is you get to show up, hang out with your best friends, and make music that hopefully you can all enjoy and get behind. If not, why are you doing it?

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