Driving in Northridge is like driving through any Los Angeles valley: flat with long, hot blocks of street that bear no sign of gentrification. It’s a welcome dose of realness in a colonized L.A. At five o’clock, people in the ‘hood are just starting to wind down their dollar-driven day. Buses unload tired bodies onto street corners and abuelas carry home the night’s dinner. This is the San Fernando Valley, where Puro Pedo Magazine creator Jake Prendez and the San Andreas fault line live restlessly, waiting for the right moment to shake shit up. A college recruiter and advisor by day, Prendez, 32, spends most of his time on the Cal State Northridge campus, working on his graduate thesis about political satire in the Chicano movement for a Master’s degree in Chicano Studies. A cholo-turned-activist (the best kind, right ladies?), Prendez uses his political consciousness and cultural pride to create a ‘zine he distributes in little raza shops throughout L.A. that serves as a different form of protest: articles expose issues affecting the community from a Chicano/a point-of-view while making gente laugh. Lighter stories include “10 Signs You Know You’re Dating an Insecure Pendejo” and “Art Laboe to Retire: Says He’s Tired of Blowing Kisses to Cholos.”
Born in Hemet, California, a small town in Riverside County, to a Mexican mother and Italian father, Prendez moved to Seattle when he was 5 and although his blue eyes, light skin and father’s last name (Oatman) masked his Latino roots in a predominantly white neighborhood, at 13, Prendez started to culturally affiliate as Mexican. At first his classmates didn’t believe him, then they started to hate. Rather than fight back, Prendez did what any rebel would and formed a clicka called D.S.O.B. (Different Shades of Brown) with other kids of color who were of Mexican, Peruvian, African, Cambodian, Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese descent. I sit down with Prendez, who wears an ‘I’m with Pendejo’ T-shirt, inside his office that’s adorned with cholo-style art, framed Puro Pedo magazine covers and baseball collector’s items to pick the mind of this conscious comic.
Remezcla: What spawned the idea to create Puro Pedo magazine?
Jake Prendez: One of my biggest inspirations was Lalo Alcarez’s Pocho Magazine that he did with Esteban Zul. I remember reading it back in like ‘94 and it was the funniest shit I’ve ever seen that talked about political issues. When it ended, there was nothing. In the movement, people are very serious and that’s cool–there’s work to be done. I was a hardcore MEChista and all my roommates were MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) chairs and national liaison reps. We had this really hardcore house and I was always getting myself in trouble with the comedy. It was like, “Mijo, no!” I’m really politically conscious, but I was always trying to figure out how to fuse that knowledge with humor. When I first moved to L.A., we started a magazine on campus called Y Qué? The guy I started it with was kind of an anarchist, so didn’t really appreciate my humor. I wanted to do my original idea, so I hit up the funniest people I knew form Berkeley, UCLA, Santa Barbara and Northridge and we put out the first issue.
RE: How was it received?
JK: It just got shitted on. The MEChistas wanted me to write an apology in the next issue saying we weren’t affiliated with MEChA because one of the articles made fun of sororities and fraternities and some frat guy got mad. We said “No, you should be backing us up”. These were my friends, so I thought it was a failure. It was drama. I’m a very sensitive person. You want everyone to love everything you do. The goal isn’t to piss people off, but to make them laugh.
RE: Why did you keep publishing?
JK: Other people were like “What are you talking about? The MEChistas from UCLA and the people from the community love it.” I still trip when people say they know the magazine. I thought my mom only read it. I was just at UC Riverside for a lecture and when I was signing in they were like, “We love the magazine!” I was like, “Really, you’re making me look cooler than I am.” You put out your thing and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
RE: What’s the process for putting out an issue?
JK: We go into a writers’ circle and everyone just shares ideas. One of the writers, she’s a chola, says instead of the Blue Man Group, let’s do a Red Man Group and stuff like that. People write their articles, email it out and we add little jokes to it. Tezozomoc Vásquez works on the layout, Nico X from Teocintli did the “Luchando Contra El Imperialismo” cover for the last issue and Votan from Nahui Ollin designed the cover for the current issue.
RE: Who else is involved?
JK: Cindy Mosqueda, who does LoteriaChicana.net, Ralph de Unamuno, who’s moving up north to be a Chicano Studies professor, Niko Centino from Santa Barbara, my wife Esbeydy Cruz de Prendez. There’s about 14 staff. The magazine would be nothing without them. It usually takes two months to put out an issue.
RE: What’s up with the name?
JK: We wanted people to know it was a satire magazine. We didn’t want people reading this and getting offended.
RE: What are some of the issues you address in your magazine?
JK: Gentrification is a major issue. Pretty soon we’re going to have to start tackling Chipsters—Chicano Hipsters—man. I’m so in love with Suicide Girls and hipster women are so freaking hot, especially Chipsters, but it’s really what they bring. They come into barrios first to see if they’re safe and start opening expensive bars and then developers come in and build high-rise condos and stuff. The next wave don’t really want Mexicans there. The crack down on taco trucks needs coverage and those panaderia calendars. In Mexico, they were going around beating up Emo kids. Now they have a reason to cry. Morrissey and the Chicano community, SB1108, an Arizona bill that wants to ban Ethnic Studies and any clubs that are race specific. The target is MEChA. It’s a supplement to the Patriot Act. They’re saying anything un-American that teaches dissent and is critical of Western civilization shouldn’t receive public funding.
RE: What are some of the magazines you read?
JK: I remember I used to subscribe to Hispanic when I was like in junior high and my political consciousness grew me out of that. Now I read magazines more for layout purposes, for artistic elements. I’ll see an image of a face with text around it and be inspired. I read The Onion online. We’re similar, but there’s really nothing out on newsstands that talks about issues affecting us. We have a niche.
RE: Have you always been a comedian?
JK: I’m not the best organizer, I’m not the greatest leader, but I’ve always been funny. I was the class clown, probably spent more time getting kicked out of class than spending time in class, but when an event doesn’t go good or we’re scrapping with the Republicans, I’m able to cheer people up by telling some jokes. I can make people laugh.
RE: What were some of the struggles you’ve endured?
JK: I always tell people it’s easy being Chicano when you’re in a school that’s 99% Chicano, but try being Chicano when it’s you and all of them. I said to myself, I can do two things: hide my Mexican side or become super Chicano. I read any book I could get my hands on about Chicano culture. One of the first books I got was Viva La Raza by Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez. It was hard getting through junior and high school. I just found out a few months ago that I have dyslexia. I thought I was stupid. I had low self-esteem. I sucked at math, reading, spelling and had these teachers who would teach in the coatroom when you had problems with certain subjects. I was in the coatroom the whole time. People with dyslexia find ways to cope and always feel like they’re cheating their way through.
RE: How did you get through college?
JK: It was just one of those fortunate coincidences. I was up in the multicultural services at Bellevue Community College [Washington], ready to drop out, and one of the women started advising me on what to take. She helped me pick out classes and was like, “Have you thought about starting a Latino organization?” I started what became MEChA. For the first time in my life, people believed in me, so I really believed in myself. It sounds bad, but a lot of what I do now is for revenge. I was a little cholito. There’s two things teachers don’t like: gangsters and class clowns. I was both. By the time I got into community college, I was like “You know what, that’s not Chicanoism. Chicanoism is helping your community.” I made a separation. One of the reasons why I haven’t erased this tattoo [points to three dots on his hand] is so I always remember where I came from. I had teachers tell me I was going to be shot and killed before I entered high school so it’s kinda like “In your face! I have a master’s degree now, what? Wu-Tang!” [laughs]
RE: What’s your family like?
JK: I’m fourth generation. It’s funny ‘cause I kinda Chicanaized my mom. I give my dad credit because when I was going through it, he was very supportive. I really appreciate that he didn’t say, “What about your Italian side?” Politically, we get along. I was the first to go to college, so they didn’t know how to do it. They were great moral support, but they couldn’t help me get into college. A lot of our people might have the knowledge and skills to go to college, but not the resources.
RE: What are some of your other passions?
JK: I just started painting a year ago. [Shows me some amazing work from his MySpace photo album]. I paint what I want to: The Beatles, The Clash, Frida. I haven’t painted anything I’m willing to part with yet. I took a class and that got me going. That’s one of the reasons I went into education. I want to be that person at community college who helped me. I do Sal Castro’s Chicano Youth Leadership [featured in Walkout] two to three times a year. You meet some talented kids. Those students who walked out a couple years ago were so inspiring. They didn’t use our rhetoric. They didn’t boycott. They organized through MySpace. If these students don’t sell out by the time they’re in college, we’re going to be okay.
RE: Who, comically, are you feeling?
JK: Chicano Secret Service and Culture Clash have great comedic minds; people who have clout and power. We got to be true. I love George Lopez’s standup comedy, but the show’s really watered down. Any white person could’ve written it. I was raised on comedy: The Jerk, Mel Brooks and a lot of standup. I watch movies for an escape and I want to be happy escaping reality, so it’s always comedies. It was ingrained in me and I picked up timing and other techniques.
RE: How do you draw the line between comedy and just being wrong?
JK: I think one of the rules of comedy is that you don’t pick on those less fortunate. You can pick on a big cholo because he can kick your ass and it’s fair, but don’t pick on a little kid or a day laborer. That’s our people too. You don’t separate yourself. One of the things I really appreciate about George Lopez is that he makes fun of Mexicans and Chicanos as one of us. He doesn’t separate himself. I hope I don’t offend people. The joke might be about queer identity, but it’s about the homophobia, not about the gay person. The joke is on the -isms, not making fun of people. I hope people understand that.
RE: Where do you kick it?
JK: I’ve been in L.A. for about 5 years now and when I first came out here I was hitting up all the Chicano shows, El Vuh, Aztlan Underground, Upground, every Chicano event, the South Central Farm. Now my life is getting busier. I have two kids [9 and 11] in Seattle, so I fly up once a month for a weekend. I talk to them on the phone every night at 8. I first got married when I was 19 and it lasted about four years. I got remarried a little over a year ago. We hang out with people from Puro Pedo and MEChA.
RE: How long do you anticipate doing the magazine?
JK: I don’t see an end to Puro Pedo. I see expansion. I want to bring in some really dope graphics designers, talented writers, and people who are going to hook us up with printing services. I’d like to write a movie. I’m actually going to take a screenwriting class with Josefina Lopez [Real Women Have Curves] over at CASA 0101.
RE: Tell me more about the thesis you’re writing.
JK: I actually changed my topic from multiracial identity to Chicano satire. The cool thing is that I’m the first person in the program to make a film because of my dyslexia. I’m kinda like a guinea pig. I hope I don’t fuck it up. I’m going to interview Luis Valdez and the original members of Teatro Campesino, George Lopez, Culture Clash, Chicaboo. I’m trying not to make it male-centric. I want the woman’s voice too.
For more stories like “Aztlan’s Next Top Chola”, “Activist Caught at Wal-Mart While Drinking Coke” and “Local Militia Protects Echo Park From Hipsters,” check out Puro Pedo Magazine online at http://www.puropedomagazine.com and for free at:
1511 W. Sunset Blvd.
Echo Park, CA 90026
2701 E. 4th Street
Boyle Heights, CA 90033
5052 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
Antigua Cultural Coffee House
4836 Huntington Drive
El Sereno, CA 90032
10258 Foothill Blvd.
Lake View Terrace, CA 91342