By Brent E. Beltrán
In a broken down alley, between Newton Avenue and Main Street just off Cesar Chavez, adjacent to Ryan Bros. Coffee where Chuey’s Restaurant and Cantina once thrived, lays a factory whose workers create ideas with their bare hands and phat minds. A welcoming place where roots grow through creative souls. Roots that provide my working class community cultural nourishment. Artistic soup for a culturally hungry people.
This place, known as The Roots Factory, was founded through sheer heart and determination by Roberto Hernandez (aka Bob Green) and Ana Morales (aka Ana Brown). Since January 2011, these Chicano renaissance artists have used the factory as a weapon in their struggle to bring art to the masses of Barrio Logan and beyond. If Chicano Park is the parent of Barrio Logan arts and culture then places like The Roots Factory, Voz Alta and The Spot are it’s prolific children. These three arts organizations form a symbiotic cultural trinity producing vast quantities of much needed artistic happenings.
Prior to opening as The Roots Factory, dynamic DJ couple Bob Green and Ana Brown, both 30 years old, created Phat Roots, a line of culturally and politically conscious t-shirts and posters. While working as volunteers at Voz Alta they acquired the skills and knowhow needed to create and manage a cultural space. Needing a space of their own to produce their t-shirt line they founded The Roots Factory only two blocks away from Voz Alta. At their new space they recognized the need for not only producing their own work but also helping other artists share their work. They branched out and started curating art exhibits and promoting concerts and organizing events such as día de los muertos. And now they are branching out again with the Barrio Film Festival.
I had the opportunity to sit down recently with Bob and Ana to discuss The Roots Factory, their various projects and the upcoming Barrio Film Festival. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
On founding The Roots Factory
Voz Alta was kind of a crash course in running a space. After two years of helping, volunteering we found this place. Our first things were to try to grow our business as a tshirt company, and posters and do art. We thought we might as well open our space to everyone and be like a public space. A creative space. From everything we learned at Voz Alta it was pretty easy at that point for us to open our doors. We had already grown our name as individuals.
When we were printing our clothing we called it Phat Roots. Our designs were based off a lot of historical figures, old Native American designs. Mayan, Aztec and other indigenous designs were something we were into. When we opened our shop we said, alright this is the roots factory. This is where we were going to produce everything. We just dropped the Phat. Factories aren’t the greatest thing. Lets take over the factory, that concept, and try to produce something that is positive, that is productive instead of something that is hurting us. Even though we sometimes work like a sweat [shop]!
We put it all on the line. Me and Ana don’t have any other kind of job. It pays the bills. We are able to get by. We get a lot of help from people that come to the shows, buy art, t-shirts. We DJ and take odd jobs. We do design jobs, live screen printing for businesses. We always try to stay afloat. It’s good. It keeps us hungry. This is it for us. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be in any other situation. I wouldn’t want to search for some random job I hate. I’d rather just struggle. The struggle is beautiful for me. It keeps us humble. And keeps us focused on what really counts and matters. The juices are flowing. We get really juicy in here.
We’re going on three years coming in January. So this being our second year and going into our third we’re like, we have to do something that stamps our whole mark on this game. Either we’re just gonna keep going and be another space like everyone else or we’re gonna be leaders and push something towards a new movement.
On the Barrio Film Festival
We had been talking about planning the film festival for two years. Film festivals happen all the time. We wanted this to be something that is really about the community, from the community. Something raw and organic. We wanted something from right here. Something that really represents us.
We try to have a balance [of films]. We know a lot of these films are by first time film makers, amateur film makers and student film makers. There are some really good films. There’s a rawness. We’re also showcasing some older films by older Chicano filmmakers. [Former San Diegan] Paul Espinosa who filmed and directed A Ballad of an Unsung Hero [released in 1984], the story of Pedro J. Gonzalez and also Uneasy Neighbors [released in 1990]. We’re gonna screen both. We’re also gonna screen the Chicano Park documentary [released in 1989]. We got ahold of Mario Barrera one of the original filmmakers of that. He’s coming down to give a presentation. A lot of the youth probably haven’t seen [these].
It’s a first time festival so we’re still trying to figure it out. It’s all out of pocket. My parents hooked me up a little bit. They kicked down a couple hundred bucks. A couple other people threw in a couple hundred bucks. There’s definitely no major funding at all. We’re spending our rent money on it. The locations, we’re gonna give them money too. We’re gonna kick down money to The Spot and Voz Alta. They’re in it just like us. Independent spaces. There’s no money for us out here. It’s hard for them too. For us as independent spaces we need to create events like this so we can stay afloat. It’s not like we have a budget where all we do is put the festival on and have all year to plan it. We had one month really to put it together. Three months to put the word out to get films. Plus, scheduling día de los muertos and our three year anniversary in January.
We’re kind of getting ourselves into something where we have to do it again. Everything we learn from this first year can help us prepare for the second. It’s something that has a lot of potential. It’s definitely a ton of work. We’ve been doing this ourselves. Just two people. We’re gonna try and get more people involved. And try and make it bigger and better next year. It’s definitely been a task. We’ve been, honestly, stuck here everyday the last couple weeks. Just stuck on this computer, phone, email, printing stuff out. It’s been crazy but necessary.
It doesn’t get much more grassroots, do-it-yourself than the firme folks at The Roots Factory (as well as their siblings Voz Alta and The Spot). They are an important part of the vitality and renaissance that is taking place in Barrio Logan. They are not a nonprofit organization though, they are a community organization, so it is difficult to find funding for their projects. Yet funding is what helps keep spaces like this alive. And they always need help. If you feel their work is a necessary part of making San Diego the amazing city it is then consider contributing in some way. Cash donations always help but there are always other ways including attending their events, donating time and resources, purchasing their t-shirts and art. But cold hard cash works too. Consider donating. Though you can’t deduct any donations from your taxes giving to them is good karma. So consider throwing a few few bucks their way.
The Barrio Film Festival takes place at The Roots Factory, Voz Alta and The Spot. Tickets are only $5! For more information on the Barrio Film Festival check out the website www.barriofilmfest.com. There you will find a listing of the films, a tentative schedule (subject to change) and a link to purchase the official film festival t-shirt. Buy a shirt. It’s the best, immediate way to help fund the festival and The Roots Factory. Also, in conjunction with the Barrio Film Festival, The Roots Factory will be holding an art auction on the festival’s first day. Many notable San Diego area artists have contributed their work to make this auction possible. Stop by and bid on the available works.
To contact the festival organizers directly send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ana Morales at (619) 366-9006.
Brent E. Beltran is a third generation pocho that lives next door to Chicano Park in San Diego’s Barrio Logan. He’s the former publisher of Calaca Press, is married to his dreaming heart watcher and is the proud father of a baby dinosaur. He’s an MMA watching junkie who likes to get his nerd on by seeing superhero and sci-fi movies/tv shows while he’s not shouting at Republiklans for being blatant assholes and Democratas for being spineless chumps. He can be contacted through his Twitter handle @CalacaVato.