Understanding Las Lunas Locas

By Annette Cruz

Sophia Rivera is a 3rd generation Chicana who is a Program Coordinator for a creative arts afterschool program at the YWCA of Pasadena. Sophia grew up in Pasadena herself, now she facilitates and organizes arts programming for middle school and early high school aged girls.

Karineh Mahdessian is a Social Worker at Children’s Hospital for teens and young adults who are living with HIV/AIDS. Karineh was born in Iran and moved to the US when she was 10 years old.

Karineh and Sophia first met in March 2014 at a Mujeres De Maiz workshop held at Eastside Café in El Sereno. Mujeres De Maiz (Women of the Corn) is a non-profit based out of East Los Angeles and was founded in 1997. Its mission is to bring together and empower diverse women and girls through the creation of community spaces that provide holistic wellness through art, education, programming, exhibition and publishing.  

In 2014, Sophia had just moved back home in a deep depression after leaving a graduate program in Texas. Sophia was looking for a writing community. She knew that she needed to write again and she wanted to do this in a community of womyn. When Sophia met Karineh, she felt safe and shared her story with her. Karineh suggested she attend In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW) at Tia Chucha's Cultural Center in Sylmar, CA.  Sophia thought she would love to have something similar closer to home.

Four months later, in July, 2014, Iris De Anda and Cat Uribe opened Here and Now Healing Center in El Sereno.  Karineh asked for their permission to hold a writing circle there and they said yes. Over that 4th of July weekend, Karineh and Sophia met in front of the Santa Catalina library in Pasadena to brain-storm ideas, formulate a mission statement, and set their intention for the group. They put out a call for womyn and they showed up.

Las Lunas Locas has grown drastically from the initial few who attended the first writing circle to almost 300 participants. In 2016, they published an anthology entitled I (w)rite to live, and they perform at various literary events.  Las Lunas Locas have been the featured poets at El Sereno’s Dia de los Muertos Festival, both in the pedestrian tunnel and at Hecho en Mexico.  This community of womyn and self-identified womyn come together and gather in the circle to write every Monday night-and just to be.  The have evolved into a tight-knit community of womyn writers who cheer and support each other.  They are mothers, daughters, healers, social workers, and teachers from many different communities. They are writers who identify as writers and womyn who have never written before in their lives. They still meet every Monday for their writing circle at their new location at Avenue 50 Studio.  The group will celebrate its third year of existence Friday July 21st at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park from 7:30p-10p. This Anniversary Party is open to the public.

What is the significance of the name Las Lunas Lucas? Why the moon?

Karineh: We knew we wanted to have our writing group on Mondays and we also were cognizant that often womyn are considered wild and crazy especially when we gather, and of course there is the correlation between the moon and feminine energy, and really it just fell into our lap.

What are the goals of Las Lunas Locas?

Sophia: I think the goals are to: write, rite and right – whatever that means to folks individually and then we bring it back to the circle. I would also say that personally and I think Karineh shares this sentiment, one of our goals is creating and maintaining a brave and safe space for all womyn to access as much as possible; a space to hold for womyn who want to write and be themselves with other supportive womyn.

Karineh: Inevitably, we have evolved into so much more than that--many Lunas have formed relationships and collaborative partnerships with each other, we have adventured into road trips and have shared our love for writing and healing with the greater communities that we are involved with.  

What is your general background? At what age did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Karineh: I was born in Iran and we moved to the US when I was 10 years old.  I have always loved languages. My brain knows about five of them and I learned English by reading Nancy Drew books.  I grew up in a house in which my parents read and one of my early memories is of my mother writing poetry in Farsi. I kept middle school diaries and when I seemed to have grasped a better handle of the English language, I began to write more seriously.  My parents did not know what I was doing with my writing until I had my first feature at Tia Chucha's in 2013.

Karineh has a Masters in Social Work from USC.

Sophia: I am a third generation Chicana.  I was born and raised in Northwest Pasadena, went to college at San Diego State and then some grad school in San Antonio, Texas. I come from a long line of storytellers, but it was specifically my great-grandmother whom I was very close with, that inspired me with stories about her parents being murdered, then coming to the U.S. during the Mexican revolution, being married off at a very young age to living in Boyle Heights, and eventually making a home in segregated Pasadena. Her life story seemed to have so many missing pieces and I thought one day I want to find a way to write her whole. Writing for me was a way to remember and make sense of everything. I started keeping journals in the fifth grade and I knew I wanted to be a writer in middle school. I had so much to say but was really shy, writing made me feel bold.

Sophia’s professional background has always been in higher education and academia, however she made the decision to take a step back. She chose to leave a PhD program to re-evaluate and heal from some of the traumas that come with an academic career and what academia can trigger. “I feel like I owe this different perspective to Las Lunas and all that this writing circle has done to help heal myself and my writing,” she said. She plans to go back and when she does, she knows that her approach will be different.

What advice would give to young people of color who have literary aspirations?

Karineh: Read a lot. Write more.  Find like-spirited people and ask them to be part of your tribe. Take risks with the writing. Write what you know.   

Given the current political climate, do you consider your group to be political and do your consider your writings and performances to be political acts?

Karineh: Many of us in Lunas acknowledge that the personal is political a la Audre Lorde; therefore if one of us writes about her family dynamics, we recognize it as political.  After the 2016 election, many of us gathered to write realizing that our gathering was a form of self-care and resistance.  As an example, we have participated in fundraising and readings in which we wanted to bring awareness of what was happening at Proyecto Jardin in Boyle Heights.  

Are there any plans to take the group to the national stage?

Karineh: We are planning our Southwest Tour which will engage us in conversation with at least the Southwest.  We are currently working on a panel proposal for Split This Rock Festival in April 2018 which will take us to DC.  

What are some of the successes for Las Lunas Locas as a group?

Sophia: Our three years of existence, that in and of itself is a blessing. As folks that do not own a physical space, that is run on donations which enables us to rent spaces to meet, it truly means a lot to be able to make home wherever we go because it is the Lunas ourselves that help to create the sacredness of all the spaces we have been and will be. I think also, the opportunities we have been given to share our work all over California, from our tour in the Bay to readings all across Los Angeles. As well as our incredible anthology that we put so much love and sweat and tears into making it happen. Now we are about to embark on a southwest tour this September and it feels like Lunas knows no limits.

Karineh: Our biggest success has been our commitment to show up for ourselves every Monday that we have written.  March of 2016 Lunas embarked on a 4-day Bay-Area tour in which 26 Lunas participated in readings, many of whom had never shared outside of the circle.  May of 2016 we held a weekend retreat in which 14 Lunas attended. December of 2016 Sophia and I edited I (W)rite to live, an anthology of 50 Lunas in which we partnered with a non-profit.  September of 2017 we will embark on our epic 10-city Southwest Reading Tour.  

What has been some of the biggest challenges at maintaining Las Lunas Locas?

Sophia: Making sure that we are doing our best to keep Lunas a safe space, also navigating the realm of being a circle that doesn’t necessarily have a permanent space that is our own and therefore we have to then come up with funds to pay for rent. Which at the same time, I feel absolutely grateful to the spaces that we have been able to call home because not only have they allowed us to call their spaces home, we have also had the opportunity to support these necessary spaces.

Karineh: For me, the main challenge has nothing to do with the group necessarily.  We do not have our own space. March of 2017, Here and Now changed ownership and we thought it was a good time for Lunas to move. Also, any time a group expands, the challenge is to maintain its integrity and safety.  

Given the very heated debate regarding gentrification and non-representational art infiltration, what advice do you have for local artists who are interested in contributing to the creative landscape of their communities?

Karineh:  In wanting to contribute to a creative landscape, it is imperative to be aware of histories and context and approach the work from a place of cultural humility.  

How has forming Las Lunas Locas influenced your life?  Writing or otherwise.

Sophia: Incredibly so, I know that I wouldn’t be the writer I am at this moment and I wouldn’t be the person I have become. I have access to a safe circle where I could be all that I am, have what I have to say, write and be acknowledged with so much love. Lunas has changed the ways I see myself, as a writer. In fact I am published writer because of the encouragement, space and time of the Lunas. I am forever grateful. Las Lunas Locas have transformed the ways in which I move in the world as a womyn. There is a fearlessness now that exists because I know that I have community and a circle of womyn that are home to me.

Karineh: For the past three years, one of very few things that has brought me joy into my life has been Lunas. Lunas has saved my life in ways nothing else could have.  Often, the only place that I feel safe is in the circle.  Lunas has given me purpose.  It makes my life worth living.  And I write consistently every week.  I have challenged my own writing because I have witnessed others' process.

Given all your amazing accomplishments, are there still projects in the dream bank?

Karineh: For our 5 year anniversary, we would like to plan for a womyn's conference similar to the Gathering of Latina Writers which recently took place at Plaza de la Raza.  An out of this world dream would be to have our own space. It would also be extraordinary to participate in the International Festival of Poetry in Colombia.  

How can the community help/get involved?

Karineh: For anyone interested, we meet every Monday night at 7:30 pm at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park.  We also have a closed Facebook group and a public Instagram in which each Monday night we share the writing prompts for those unable to join us physically.  

Upcoming events:

July 21—a fundraiser reading to celebrate our THREE YEAR ANNIVERSARY at Avenue 50 Studios
July 29--Lunas feature/fundraiser in LONG BEACH
August 20--backyard fundraiser and reading at Cat Uribe-Abee's house
August 25--Lunas feature at ALIVIO
October 25---NOHO Lit Crawl

El Sereno Chalk Festival this Sunday April 30th

We are bringing back one of our favorite community events, the El Sereno Chalk Festival!  Inspired by one of our first supporters award-winning chalk artist, and El Sereno resident, Ester Petschar, we wanted to create a day of art where kids can be free to create art while seeing artists at work in the chalk art competition.  Still at Wilson High School this year, we are including live entertainment and the County of Los Angeles Library MakMo truck.  With the continued support of our local Neighborhood Council, we are able to supply the kids and artists with free chalk.  Local businesses supply the prizes for our chalking winners. Our Mercadito de Arte also returns with a pop up shopping experience, and the Community Booths provide information and crafts for continued family fun. 

Music flyer chalk festival.jpg

CampEsca at Cal State L.A

July was a busy month!   Partnering up with Cal State L.A., El Sereno Community Arts was able to launch a pilot program for our STEAM camp this year.  With the assistance of our board member Phillip Thomas, who is a professor at Cal State L.A., we were able to bring local school children to the university campus to learn both art and computer programming.  The kids were divided into two groups. Ages five to ten learned the Scratch program developed by MIT, while the eleven to fifteen year olds learned how to make an APP.  Both groups were able to learn about different types of art and created manual and computer generated art pieces. This was a great beginning to a program we would like to expand into a full month of learning activities in 2017.



The Ever Evolving Mondo 59420

From Art on the Streets to Gallery Walls                                         by Angelica De La Torre

Armando Bobadilla aka Mondo 59420 sits comfortably at Holy Grounds coffee house in El Sereno.  The outdoor seating area is as serene as his demeanor.  He immediately states that all questions are open for discussion, and he welcomes them all.  Most street artists relish anonymity, but this is a new age, and Mondo is no typical street artist.    

Professionally he has spent over 20 years in the financial corporate world.  But, it was back in the fifth grade that another student from New York exposed him to art in the form of graffiti. He was hooked.  “I got chalk and drew it on the floor everywhere.  And I just kept drawing from then.  Anytime someone would ask what kind of gift I’d want…I wanted paper, colored pencils…I was done with toys at that point.”  

From chalk he moved to permanent markers and whatever was available.  With not much options or support to channel his artistic expression, he resorted to stealing supplies. “The hardest part was that I was a teenager and I couldn’t buy it.  My parents wouldn’t buy it.  So of course I would steal from garages, my uncle’s garage.  I’d find a can in my parents’ garage, but then we would start to get it from the stores.  And unfortunately we had to steal most of it.”

No matter what the limitation, Mondo transcended to keep exploring his art.  “I have no choice but to paint and create.  Even if I didn’t share it with anybody, and kept it in my own room, and was the only one that would be able to look at it, I wouldn’t stop.  But, I would say that the first time that I showed in a group show in a coffee house in East LA was really a tremendous situation.  Where I was able to sit and watch people look at my artwork, and that told me that, you know, even strangers can see that it’s, you know, decent work to look at.  And I thought that’s pretty cool.  I guess it gave me some type of answer that I was doing something that was making sense.”

Mondo’s transition to acrylics began at East LA College, where one of his professors motivated him to continue his arts education.  An important theme that surfaced and continues to present itself is Dia de los Muertos.  Skulls have a certain attraction for him.  He explains that this comes from a need to strip away facades, all societal influences, as everyone looks the same as a skull.  But Mando also admits that death has been on his mind for the past year. Getting instantly emotional he recounts how his wife Melissa has had to endure two surgeries these past few years.  It was a time of uncertainty and fear.  But he embraces these reminders of the brevity of life and transforms them into a positive creative force.  “It expresses to me that your situation can go on forever.  You don’t have to worry about this situation where you are living in the physical.  I believe in the metaphysical, because that’s where love comes from.”

His family has become a big influence on his creativity, but his history with street art always resurges.  When asked about artists he follows, he quickly references many street artists such as Crayola, Revok, Riff and the Seventh Letter crew, although he also appreciates Brian Mashburn and Bob Ross.  Street art has definitely changed since he started, Mando explains. “People are willing to pay graffiti artists tons of money, to do their graffiti.  Slick from K2S, he opened up a graffiti shop in Gardena.  But, he still gets paid to go to Basel, to go to different parts to do his style.  Before you wouldn’t have a fine art touch to graffiti, but now if you look at like Crayola, he has a fine art touch to graffiti.  So at this point, I love the evolution.”

Mondo looks positively to the future.  His dream is to retire with his wife, and thrive as a painter.  He states that his wish is simply “to live a very easy going life, that’s all that I am looking for, but I think that is asking a lot, because art isn’t that easy....but I think that anything is possible if you have the energy to try.”   

Mondo 59420's work is currently showing at Holy Grounds Coffee Shop.  He also collaborated on the show "Being Ernest Shackleton" at AWOL gallery, which was covered by the LA Times, LA Weekly and Curbed LA.  He is featured live artist at the El Sereno Dia de los Muertos Festival on Huntington Drive.  

All photos provided by Armando Bobadilla