Violence, Hip Hop and Racial Profiling

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Dear La Peña community,

Last weekend, an unidentified shooter fired shots near La Peña Cultural Center while La Peña was holding a Hip Hop show. Luckily no one was hurt. The center had 3 security guards for the event making sure that all was under control. I myself was present and responded to texts from our immediate neighbors. We are very concerned about violence in the area, particularly for our patrons walking at night to their cars and BART. La Peña has striven to be a force for positive change in the area for over 40 years and we regularly communicate with local authorities to improve the safety and upkeep of our sidewalks and streets.

While the Hip Hop show on Saturday did not convey La Peña’s political message and focused more on materialist concerns important to the young people at the show, La Peña continues to be an intergenerational cultural center that features Hip Hop dances for teens and young adults. For teen events, we require parent chaperones and for adult concerts, security. At least one staff member is always present.

A few of La Peña’s neighbors blamed La Peña and the young black and brown men who were at the center, despite the fact that police have not identified the shooter(s). There has been a lively debate on and La Peña staff has been fielding calls and texts from anxious neighbors. To summarize the themes discussed, does Hip Hop music cause violence? Are young black and brown men seen as more dangerous to the South Berkeley community than other young people? Should La Peña continue to book Hip Hop shows? As of yesterday, over 60 neighbors had expressed a diversity of opinions that can be found on To add context to this debate, the October 7th article on the front page of the East Bay Express examines this question from the perspective of Racial Profiling and suggests that white residents are using to call the police on their neighbors and their children, always perceiving them as dangerous outsiders.

My personal belief is that there are very few venues where local teens and young adults can come together in safe spaces. We work very hard at La Peña to create a safe intergenerational space for youth, adults and seniors. Gunshot violence is a serious problem in the United States and Latin America, and has exploded since the 1980s due to the liberalization of small arms restrictions in many countries and the war for the control of contraband drugs. We invite community members to foster constructive dialogue in a spirit of community-building, problem-solving, and compañerismo both on, on our FB page and at La Peña Cultural Center during one of our discussion series.


Aaron Lorenz

Executive Director

La Peña Cultural Center

La Peña at 40: Berkeley cultural institution reinvents itself

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We are so honored to recently be featured in the SF Chronicle, along with a photo of the week, seen below.

La Peña has a rich history – and we are so happy to have shared part of it with the SF Chronicle.  The article features our executive director, Aaron Lorenz, and Paul Chin, current president of the board.

Follow their conversation, trip down memory lane, and hopes for the future!

“It’s a full-circle moment, only not quite a perfect circle. La Peña marked its 40th anniversary this year, and a lot has changed — politically, financially, socially — in those four decades. Now it’s up to him and a small staff of employees and volunteers to chart a course forward for one of Berkeley’s most storied cultural institutions, one that pays homage to the past while recognizing the realities of today.”

Find the full article below.

View the photo of the week here.

A special thanks goes out to Ryan Kost, who conducted the interview, and Scott Strazzante who took the photos.

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We won best venue for Social Justice Performances on the East Bay Express!

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We were recently awarded Best of the East Bay – Best Venue for Social Justice Performances. in the East Bay Express  Shout out to Radix, Smokes Poutinerie, The New Parish, and The Rock Steady, who also won awards!

We wouldn’t have gotten this far without our community! Thank you!


From left to right: Carlos from Smokes Poutine, Anna who is Communications Manager at La Pena and Jocie who is Operations Manager at La Pena


Our award, alongside of the Best of the East Bay issue


From left to right: Carlos from Smokes Poutine, Anna who is Communications Manager at La Pena and Jocie who is Operations Manager at La Pena

Chile at La Peña

During the month of September, La Peña remembers the barbarism of the 1973 military coup in Chile, mourns the deaths, disappearances, and torture of friends and compañeros, reflects on the invasive role of the United States foreign policy in Latin America, and celebrates the militants, solidarity activists, and cultural workers who responded to injustice with their passions and sometimes their lives. On Friday evening, September 11, the Peña community will gather at 6:30 for a shared potluck dinner, ceremonies, music, and compañerismo.

On Saturday morning, September 12, from 10-12am, La Peña will host short presentations and a participatory dialogue: Forty-two years after the coup: Where do we stand?  Topics will include the effects of neoliberalism, current governments and militarism, the cooptation of left politicians, the role of cultural resistance, indigenous cosmovisions and sumac kawsay, ecosocialism, and other radical imaginations of the way forward in old and new forms of community organizing.

On Saturday, September 19th, 12-2pm,  we will screen the documentary “Special Circumstances” on U.S. foreign policy in the 1970’s, the effects of the coup, and the current legacies of Pinochet. Director Hector Salgado will lead a conversation afterward. On Saturday, September 26th,  12-2pm, La Peña will screen the documentary “Archeology of Memory” on exile and the role of public memory and memorial. Director Marilyn Mulford will lead a conversation afterward. Donations requested if affordable to help La Peña carry on.

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These pictures above are from the 4th Annual San Francisco Son Jarocho Festival Workshops that took place at La Peña from August 11-13.

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These pictures above are from our August 12 event – Factories in the Fields. Did you know that workers just hours south of the Bay Area are getting paid starvation wages? Did you hear that these workers waged a historic strike demanding dignity earlier this year? They talked about these issues and more!


Taiko Ensemble, “Drum Revolution,” led by Kensuke Sumii started off Japanese Obon by calling to our ancestors’ spirits in the afterlife.


Obon Dancing Experience: Japanese Day of the Dead took place at La Peña on August 15.

 These pictures above were from Japanese Obon!


Are You Food Insecure?

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What Is Food Security?

Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum:

  • The ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.
  • Assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).

food security components

Here are some facts you might want to know:

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These are the stats for the U.S. alone. This is why we should be concerned.


Ask yourself these questions:

1. “We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

2. “The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

3. “We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

4. In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)

5. (If yes to question 4) How often did this happen–almost every month, some months but not every month, or in only 1 or 2 months?

6. In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)

7. In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn’t eat, because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)

8. In the last 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)

9. In the last 12 months did you or other adults in your household ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food? (Yes/No)

10. (If yes to question 9) How often did this happen–almost every month, some months but not every month, or in only 1 or 2 months?

Why? These are survey questions used by USDA to assess Household Food Security. If you answered those questions with confidence, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones.

No matter what your results are, we should all be concerned about the current food security issue in the U.S. Food First is having a discussion about food security and a documentary showing of Edible City this coming Wednesday (Aug 19) at 6:30pm.

The event is FREE! So make sure to check out the details here:

Edible City Documentary Showing at La Peña Cultural Center

Free and Open to the public. Donations welcome.

Food and drink available for purchase from Los Cilantros.

In the midst of summer bounty in the produce-rich Bay Area, Food First hosts a discussion on the role of farmers’ markets in achieving food security. Starting off the evening with a brief introduction to Food First, we will watch a clip of Edible City, a compelling documentary about the food movement here in the Bay Area. The film will be followed with a presentation by two current Food First interns, Julie Burton and Erin Raser, on their research findings regarding farmers’ markets and food security in Costa Rica. We’ll leave plenty of time for discussion about how the twin goals of food security and farm security can be bridged by community efforts.

About Food First

The mission of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, better known as Food First, is to end the injustices that cause hunger.

Food First envisions a world in which all people have access to healthy, ecologically produced, and culturally appropriate food. After 40 years of analysis of the global food system, we know that making this vision a reality involves more than technical solutions—it requires political transformation. That’s why Food First supports activists, social movements, alliances, and coalitions working for systemic change. Our work—including action-oriented research, publications, projects and Food Sovereignty Tours—gives you the tools to understand the global challenges, build your local movement, and engage with the global movement for food sovereignty.


Food Insecurity in the U.S. via United States Department of Agirculture

Hunger in America: 2015 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts

Map the Meal via Feeding America

Food Security and Nutrition via Counterpart International



Japanese Day of the Dead (and What You Need To Know About It)

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Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.

–“Obon” by Japan Guide

What happens at Obon?

The Obon tradition includes hanging lanterns, obon dance (bon odori) performances, visiting ancestors’ graves and food offerings at house altars and temples.

When is Obon?

Obon is observed typically from the 13th to the 15th day of August.

Photo Courtesy of Pieterjan Vandaele on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Pieterjan Vandaele on Flickr


What’s the story behind Obon?


The Obon Festival originates from the story of Mokuren , one of Buddha’s disciples who used his supernatural powers to check on his deceased mother. Mokuren discovered she had fallen into the realm of the hungry ghosts, a spiritual place often described as a parallel world of suffering endless hunger. Japan’s hungry ghosts come in two forms: Gaki (餓鬼), who were greedy in their lives and in the afterlife suffer insatiable hunger for one particular object, no matter how strange; and Jikininki (食人鬼), who were selfish among the living and now only have an appetite for the dead, looting graveyards at night searching for human flesh.

Buddha suggested Mokuren pray to a group of monks, who were returning from a summer pilgrimage on the auspicious 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Mokuren’s prayers were answered, and his mother was released from the realm of the hungry ghosts. Upon her release, Mokuren remembered his mother’s acts of kindness and danced for joy. That very dance has turned into the Bon dance, one of the most lasting cultural symbols of this festival.

Why do they hang lanterns?

Lanterns and candles are hung in front of houses to guide ancestors’ spirits home. At the end of Obon, people put floating lantern in the river to guide the spirits back to their world.

Photo Courtesy of Guilhem Vellut on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Guilhem Vellut on Flickr



To honor Obon, La Peña presents you:

Obon Dancing Experience: Japanese Day of the Dead

On August 15, Drum Revolution, Sakura Ren Minyo Unit, Shoko Hikage, Sakura Ren Awa Odori will perform at La Peña.

Employing Japanese percussive, string, and brass instruments as well as singing and dancing, the three distinctive Bay Area groups will  reproduce a modern version Japan’s night of Obon.




The World’s Best Festivals

Japanese Language Blog

Photo Courtesy of Markus Koljonen on Flickr

The Bilingual Advantage

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Konnikova on The New Yorker wrote a piece discussing learning two languages: Is Bilingualism Really An Advantage? Even though results are different from expected, the researcher, de Bruin, believes the true edge of bilingualism could go beyond task-switching and executive control.

So what are the advantages of being bilingual?

Here are some of them according to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and, ahem, my personal experience.

1. Being able to learn new words easily.

Navigating through two languages has helped me learn more languages. A lot of languages are interconnected or heavily influenced by other languages: my understanding of English absolutely played a huge role in my French class, and my ability to read Chinese made my life a little easier while reading Japanese Kanjis.

Photo Courtesy of Presidio of Monterey on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Presidio of Monterey on Flickr

2. Being able to use information in new ways.

Knowing two languages means you have access to two different cultures and people from different countries. Creativity requires a lot of brainpower, but since people who are bilingual do it every day linguistically, they’re slightly more familiar with the process.

Photo Courtesy of Temari 09 on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Temari 09 on Flickr

3. Good listening skills

You learn a language by listening, and being bilingual means you have twice the practice other people did? (Disclaimer: Personally, I’m not very sure I’ve mastered this–still working on my listening skills.)

Photo Courtesy of nofrills on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of nofrills on Flickr

4. Connecting with others

I’ve gotten a decent amount of free gifts and good restaurant recommendations from trying to speak French while I was traveling in France. Need I say more?


I believe that knowing two languages fluently really expanded my vision and my experiences, not to mention it also made my life much easier. As a cultural center that celebrates multiculturalism, La Peña encourages children to learn more than one language in a fun setting. This is why it provides a Spanish-immersion World Music and Dance Camp this summer (Aug 3-7). I hope you would give your kids a chance to know another language, and of course, another culture!

Sign up here!



Here are the details for the camp:

August 3-7, 2015
A Spanish-immersion World Music and Dance Camp
9am – 3 pm
$275 including snacks, and excursions.

Mundo Musical Summer Camp is an exploration of dance and music traditions from around the world, with instruction in Spanish!

Students will experience Puerto Rican Bomba, Mexican Son Jarocho, Afro-Peruvian song and dance, and more!

Open to children ages 7 – 12. Some proficiency with Spanish will enhance your child’s learning and enjoyment.
Limited spaces available. Contact Hector Lugo to sign up.

Bomba drumming and songs

Through drumming, singing, dancing and storytelling, children will learn about Bomba, a 300-year-old Afro-Puerto Rican tradition, and its connections to other Caribbean musical forms. Activities are designed to help children develop musicianship, body coordination, expressiveness, and bilingual literacy skills in a fun and supportive group environment.

Son Jarocho – Zapateado, Small Percussion, Canto, Verse Writing, Fandango

Join La Peña Resident Artist María de la Rosa and members of her music collective, DíaPa’Son on a summer time trip through the Mexican Caribbean Gulf.

This class will concentrate on creating children’s choreography centered around the cajón. Children will learn how to play the cajón, the most important Afro-Peruvian percussion instrument, as well as some traditional songs, dances and footwork!

Lots of fun!

Sign up here!

Anastasia Yip
Development Intern