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Mónica Mendoza is constantly in motion. She fronts the cross-border indie band Le Ra (and performs in several other projects in San Diego and Tijuana) and founded GRRRL Independent Ladies, a collaborative that aims to bridge San Diego, Los Angeles and Tijuana-area women and non-binary musicians, and empower them to create and share art. Her passion and prowess landed her a 2017 Best of San Diego People nod from CityBeat, and she has built a reputation inspiring musicians on both sides of the border — and booking their shows, encouraging the steady exchange of music across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly among women.
To understand why the border — and its music — matter to Mendoza, it helps to start with a border crossing decades ago. Her parents came into the United States in order to give birth to Mónica, granting her U.S. citizenship, but continued to live and raise their family in Tijuana.
“I grew up in Tijuana, and have been a frontera person since I was very little,” she said. The border has always played a major role in her life. “I’ve realized how much I want to blur that line that separates people,” Mendoza said.
She developed a love for music in Tijuana (“My dad was a musician, he’d sing ranchera around the house”). But at the age of 5 she was exposed to her older siblings’ favorite music videos, namely The Smiths and other Britpop. “It started to spark something in me,” she said.
Mendoza describes music as a form of activism, simply in that it’s a way that creative people express themselves. “There’s layers of how you can impact a community,” she said. She believes communities using a shared interest as a way to connect can dismantle the societal structures placed to divide. “You start to look at the border wall as an illusion,” she said. “You start to blur it.”
Founded in 2015, Mendoza’s GRRRL Independent Ladies helps bands set up shows, find places to stay, learn the intricacies of bringing gear across the border (she’s been known to bring musicians directly to immigration offices to walk them through it) and the geographic limits of visas in the United States and tourist permits in Mexico.
Mendoza advises U.S. musicians interested in playing in Mexico, or Mexican bands interested in playing in the U.S., to take stock of the gear they’ll need to bring, or seek out “backlines,” loaners from musicians in the destination cities. For American musicians, if the gear is more than one musical instrument — or more equipment than one individual can carry — the safest route is to officially register each item with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, using form 4457 and bringing equipment in-person to a local office for inspection.
Despite the help she provides other musicians, she said she hasn’t completely mastered the system herself.
“I’m still trying to figure it out, I think,” she said, citing trial and error and the privilege afforded to her with a U.S. citizenship. Still, she can offer her experience and understanding of the system’s ever-changing restrictions and enforcements. It’s Mendoza’s way of giving back to the community that helped her, and celebrating women and non-binary cross-border artists.
Mendoza and bandmates Ida Naughton, Maribel Luna and Luis Lopez set off for a tour of their own early next month. Le Ra plays a series of shows (alongside Elis Paprika and Los Hollywood) in the Mexican cities of Puebla, Mexico City and Cuautitlán, beginning April 3. While no stranger to touring, this will be the farthest Mendoza has traveled with Le Ra, the project she affectionately refers to as her “baby.” They launch the tour at Voodoo Stu’s in Tijuana on March 30, with a premiere screening of their mini-documentary.
Listen to “Silence” from Le Ra’s latest album, 2018’s “Limbs.”
Schoolkid Art, Cyanotypes, Architecture and More News for the Culture Crowd
- Through the remainder of the month, over a hundred painted birds are on display as a public art installation in Seaport Village. The project, a collaboration between San Diego Unified students and Oaxacan artist Manuel Molina, first resided in Liberty Station. (Downtown News)
- On Saturday, Siobhán Arnold and Meagan Shien (who together form SIEN Collective) open a new (slightly morbid) exhibition at Art Produce, drawing from several distinct formats: Memento Mori, Vanitas still life, cyanotypes and more.
- Cowboy Bebop plays this weekend at The Ken. In Japanese (with English subtitles) on Saturday, and in English on Sunday.
- This weekend, OH! San Diego, a massive countywide architecture and design tour, lets you pick whichever neighborhood hubs your building-loving heart wants to explore (including the Salk Institute). The free tours are either docent-led or self-guided.
- Local high-schoolers collaborated with A Reason to Survive (ARTs), Urban Collaborative Project and a local artist to develop and install new bicycle-wheel art in a park in Lincoln Park. (KPBS)
- Speaking of ARTs, it’s rebuilding after some major restructuring in 2017. A new executive director, James Halliday, started work in January. Read the welcome letter here.
- I spoke to UCSD’s Luis Alvarez in October about the Race and Oral Histories Project, and you can learn more about the program’s success this year in a new audio story.
- Lake Elsinore’s Walker Canyon attracted unprecedented crowds to its stunning poppy displays this weekend, and ultimately had to temporarily close to prevent damage and overuse. Poppies > selfies. (Desert Sun)
- Chi Ming Studio and Chabad of La Jolla present Chinese ink brush artist Kar Chi Ming in exhibition this weekend, plus free daytime workshops on Monday and Tuesday.
- Procrastinators rejoice: If you missed the early weekend of Balboa Park’s Cherry Blossom festival this weekend, the blooms just keep getting better and better as the weather warms up. Programming continues through Sunday.
- KPBS just announced “Device,” a books podcast designed for those of us with a penchant for science nerdery. In season one, they’ll discuss “Cannery Row,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” “Cat’s Cradle,” “Jaws” and more.
- The San Diego Latino Film Festival runs through this weekend. Read my mini-guide, or check out some more in-depth reviews from local critics Beth Accomando and Glenn Heath Jr.
- Courtney Mattison’s exhibition of marine biology-based three-dimensional art closes at Lux Art Institute on Sunday.
Food, Beer, Wine and Booze News
- Kearny Mesa’s Kilowatt Brewing is turning 4, so it’s celebrating with beer and chocolate this Saturday.
- Spent-grain bread, veggie scrap stock and more ways La Mesa’s Fourpenny House is walking the talk of sustainability. (Edible)
- The newest in a seemingly always-expanding line of Dark Horse Coffee locations will be on the corner of Juniper and 30th. This time, they’ll be selling ice cream with Mutual Friend. I’m crossing my fingers for a vegan affogato.
- Troy Johnson weighs in on two significant restaurant closures in recent months — Urban Solace last week and Cafe Chloe last year — and the tip problem. (San Diego Magazine)
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
- You can’t beat this title: “In the future, everything will be made of chickpeas.” (The Atlantic)
- This deep dive into when Maurice Sendak’s creative process writing “Where the Wild Things Are” details when it switched from being “Where the Wild Horses Are,” which doesn’t sound as cool anyway. (The Conversation)
- This essay on writing and financial insecurity versus the way we glorify privilege-laced residencies and grants starts with this: “When I first read Virginia Woolf’s dictum that ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,’ I was homeless.” (Electric Literature)