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Organize the Hood! An Interview with Bambu | Projekt NewSpeak
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Posted: 2011-02-28
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

The Mexi-Asian Perspective: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both by David A. Romero

For those used to thinking of Asians as a largely affluent “model minority” living in upper middle class neighborhoods, the reality of Asians struggling in the ghetto sounds almost like an oxymoron.

However, as it is with any community, Asians occupy many different social strata and are therefore affected by inner city problems such as gentrification and gang violence.

LA-based emcee, and proud Filipino, Bambu, has a clear solution to these inner city problems affecting Southeast Asians, Latinos and African Americans: organize!

A former gang member and current organizer with Kabataang maka-Bayan, Bambu calls for a day when gangs will turn their guns away from each other and turn their attention towards their true enemies as well as towards building up their local communities.

I first saw the emcee years ago at the We the People Festival at The South Central Farm and was amazed by his slow to rapid-fire rhyme delivery and political zeal. Since then, Bambu has released over six albums, EPs and mixtapes with frequent collaborator DJ Phatrick as well as with a variety of other noted underground Hip Hop producers. Recently, Bambu won “The Freshmen” music video contest on MTVU with his video “Crooks and Rooks.” Click here to watch \”Crooks and Rooks.\”

I was fortunate enough to chop it up with Bambu at the community collective Corazon del Pueblo in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles and discuss his many accomplishments as well as his perspectives on politics, culture and life in the hood.

In the video for “Slow Down” off of your latest EP, …paper cuts…, you can be seen using eskrima fighting sticks. In a recent interview with MTVU you expressed your interest in learning different martial arts. Why do think that it is important for Filipinos to learn the fighting styles of their pre-colonial history? Does this apply for other cultures as well? Click here to watch \”Slow Down.\”

What I think is wonderful about the Martial Arts is that within it a history is strongly embedded. You can learn so much about a people through the history of their Martial Arts — though they may not be publicized as much as Asian Martial Arts, EVERY country has a martial tradition. Yes, I think it is important for every person to know their lineage and their people’s story; and Martial Arts is a great medium for that.
When watching some of your videos such as “Old Man Raps” that depict gang life in Southeast Asian communities here in LA, I am always struck by how the attire of the gang members so closely reflects that of Latino gang members. What are some of the ways that these often impoverished communities have impacted each other culturally? Click here to watch \”Old Man Raps.\”

Well, I think we ALL (Black, Latino, Asian, etc.) share the same history as “foreigners” here in Los Angeles and so we ALL seem to share the same fashion and “look.” Specifically, within the Southeast Asian communities, we just adapted to whose neighborhood we happened to move into… You can see that through differences in Southeast Asian gang fashion for those communities that grew up in predominantly Black neighborhoods versus those who grew up in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. In the same fashion that the need for youth organizations happened in Black and Latino communities, as immigrant people, Southeast Asian youth needed that “banding together” as well. 

You’ve spent years doing community organizing with Kabataang maka-Bayan (which you have cited as “the strongest Pilipino youth and student organization in Los Angeles”)  as well as with other organizations. How does your music allow you to educate, mobilize and reach out to Filipino and other Southeast Asian youths? What are some of the skills that you teach as an organizer?

My music has only given me opportunities to speak on platforms and spread the message to the general masses, but the real work comes from the organizer. The real work comes from the people themselves — the ones who come to the educational discussions, the rallies, etc. My music is a very small part of that, but I’m appreciative of the opportunities it affords me and the organization I represent.
In the song “Crooks and Rooks” off of your last album …exact change…, you talk about uniting “every gang in LA from Southeast Asia: Cambodian, Samoan and Chamorro gangsters.” What do you hope to achieve with this unity of the Southeast Asian community? What are some of the causes of disunity between Southeast Asians?

The “disunity” exists in all communities. I only spoke to the Southeast Asian community in that song because they were the focus of it. But, that division exists in all communities of color, especially when poverty and oppression are rampant. I hope that we all (Black, Brown, etc.) take these organizations (gangs) we’ve created and utilize them to band together and CREATE the social change we so desperately need.
From the album …i scream bars for the children… to the current day with …paper cuts… your focus has shifted a bit from “guerrillas in the Philippine jungles” to encouraging raids on franchise coffee shops that have started popping up in the ghetto. What was the inspiration for this shift in focus? Or, are these struggles against neo-liberalism in the Philippines and gentrification in the hood closely related?

They are all related. The umbrella’ing tyranny secondary to US imperialism affects us all — locally and globally. With …paper cuts… I wanted to focus more on the issue of gentrification because at the time all we heard or talked about was our failing economic system. That’s all. I know that all of these problems are symbiotic in nature and that the root cause can all be traced back to one giant machine.
One of the most striking things about your work is how you range from downright militant to laugh out loud funny in the space of a few bars. What are some of your influences that have shaped this often sarcastic sense of humor?

You just have to hang out with me to figure that one out. I know what to take seriously and what to poke fun at — also, in the same manner that stand up comedians do, if you sweeten a very serious issue, it becomes easier to digest.
Asian Latin fusion food has become a veritable phenomenon. Do you think that Asian Latin fusion food is just a passing trend, or the future?

Hmmm… Good question. Not really a “food” guy, so I haven’t really given a lot of thought to it. I guess it’ll always be around, but because it is “trendy,” for the time being it’ll have exclusivity to those who can afford it. As soon as the “hipsters” find the next “new” thing, they’ll move on and we’ll have a chance to appreciate it. C’mon, $5 taco’s?! Get the fuck outta’ here! $.59 taco Tuesdays and Thursdays in Echo Park!
Who is your favorite Latin celebrity, historical figure, or fictional character?

Cliché, I know, but Emiliano Zapata.
Would you rather date an Asian or someone of Latin descent?

Bad question. I’ll date any woman of color regardless of ethnic background. Hello sisters!
Any last words or shout outs?


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 David A. Romero is a cheese enchilada-making spoken word artist who knows something about Mexicans. A lover of boba and a citizen of Diamond Bar, CA, he also knows a thing or two about Asians. http://www.davidaromero.com/

Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Hit me up below! Or email me: davidaromero@projektnewspeak.com