Buenas. ¿Todo bien?
If I am any one thing, it is creative. Whether writing, singing, marketing, designing, photographing, dancing, or just having fun with friends; I am a storyteller.
My first mentor taught me to write. My second taught me that marketing is always having an answer. I learned that lesson myself doing beauty photography backstage at New York Fashion Week. To create a world of beauty, tell a story.
Lately friends have been mesmerized by my stories. Watching them respond made me realize that my own story is kind of marvelous.
I have a story that will make you believe in God.”Yann Martel, “The Life of Pi” (2012) 🇪🇸🇨🇦
My dance partner said she was attracted to my spirituality. “Ay bendito,” I didn’t ask for this. Many artists say they didn’t chose this life, but rather this life chose them. That’s what happened to me, and it keeps happening. When I questioned a spiritual mentor, she said it’s probably been happening to you your entire life. Oh. Ya. Wow! But why me?
I think I have a simple, boring life, but my old friends think it’s wild. I’m a culture writer who works hard like a New Yorker, but in beautiful places. I write about Latin culture for the big New York theaters, but from the road in the Latin world because every Latin country is different, and the only way to understand is to live in country with the people. I have learned so much that I could never see looking out a window in New York City. I have become the road itself. Soy calle.
Some of my stories are so fantastic as to seem unbelievable, but I am not a fiction writer. I was trained to observe and document what is there as a technical writer. I grew into an advertising copywriter and creative director.
My friends say I’m labioso, a big talker. I stretch the truth, the way a rapper stretches words, or an editor makes an interview flow, but my story is all true ~ to the limits of my understanding. Some of it goes beyond my understanding.
It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”Gabriel García Márquez interview (1981)
My story transformed when I got on the road around the Caribbean. Maybe I’m crazy. Okay. Now what? But most people who really are crazy, don’t think they are. This could all be my imagination, or it could be a poetic documentation of reality. Anyway, this is my story. (Some names are changed to respect the past.) Paz e Amor!
Keith Widyolar, Editor-in-Chief
New York Latin Culture Magazine
California Boy of the 1970s
I’m an American from Los Angeles who came of age in the 1970s.
I was raised in Chinatown because though my father is Thai, our paternal line is Chinese.
My Dad chose where to live because it had to close to Chinatown. We used to eat in the same restaurant every night, pay by the month, and the waiter and cook would babysit me when my parents went to the theater to watch old Chinese kung fu movies.
So my earliest memories are of a Chinese restaurant, but also of Olvera Street, a historic alley that was turned into a Mexican shopping street in the 1930s.
My mother always says I was the best Mexican Hat dancer. I remember the smell of leather sandals, the colors of Mexican dresses and papel picado, and the mouth-watering fried taquitos.
I was fascinated by Mexican jumping beans. One of my most treasured toys was a Mexican charro marionette.
I used to hate Chinese food, but now I love it. I cook Chinese and Mexican at home.
Most of the world is poor, but it’s not anyone’s fault
Being raised partly in Bangkok, Thailand, I learned that the poor often have richer lives than the wealthy.
Religion is all the same
- Dad, what is that? / It’s a spirit house.
- What’s it for? / The people believe god is in the trees, the flowers, the river, and everything, so they pray to everything.
- But isn’t there only one god? / It’s all the same thing.
My father’s wisdom enables me to flow with any and all religions, including none at all. May you be blessed in whatever way that makes sense to you.
New York City
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere …”
I was brought to New York City during the Dot.com boom. I was the only one of 300 tech workers to move from Los Angeles to New York.
I took a tech company public on the NASDAQ stock exchange as Director of Investor and Public Relations. That was quite a ride. New York was very different then.
One day, the CFO of that company called me up saying he had another project for me. We built Wubba in to the world’s #2 brand of dog toys and were purchased by the #1 brand. Now it’s Kong Wubba.
I started taking pictures and ended up shooting fashion at New York Fashion Week, São Paulo Fashion Week, and in Berlin for legendary fashion photographer David LaChapelle.
Marian apparitions seem silly until you see one yourself. One day my Colombian girlfriend said the Virgin was in the back yard. I went to look and sure enough, there she was on the rock face of the back wall. The entire family saw her. She was dressed like a queen.
My girlfriend said she was a Spanish Virgin and I should write about Spain. After a few days, she vanished.
I didn’t think much about it, until one day I saw a photo of La Virgen de Candelaria, the patron saint of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and patroness of the African Diaspora. I was shocked because she was exactly the Virgin who appeared on our back wall. Her message wasn’t to write about Spain, it was to write about Mother Africa.
I went to São Paulo to photograph São Paulo Fashion Week for my friend Geova the Brazilian fashion designer in the East Village. There I got to interview Washington Olivetto. The adman is one of the most famous people in Brazil.
Two Brazilian girls talking
is all the music that I need
for I’m a drunken sailor
in a sea of Portuguese.
All we need is the sun, the beach, and our friends …
Tango, Tango, Tango en la viruta de la diosa …
The first time I went to Argentina, Suki Schorer, the former New York City Ballet prima ballerina, and leading expert in Balanchine technique came along.
At her birthday party, in walked Claude Murga, who I knew from New York. Claude is Ministry of Culture. She became my main tango teacher. I have a Buenos Aires tango embrace.
The second time I went to Argentina, I had a photo exhibition at Salon Canning, one of the famous milongas. At the closing party, Claudio Segovia, producer of the seminal tango show, “Tango Argentino” joined us.
I really learned to dance tango in the milongas of Paris. My style is an unusual mix of the Tango Salon of Buenos Aires, and the Tango Stage style of Paris. My master teacher in Argentina is recognized as a master of both styles.
In France, I learned that culture is worth fighting for. I launched Tango Beat, which became the world’s most popular tango magazine. We covered milongas in Buenos Aires, New York and Paris; and tango festivals around the world. Follow your heart to the Tango Beat ®
Las Piedras de El Camino (For X)
Ahora estoy escribiendo mis palabras en piedra, las piedras de el camino. Ellos son las lágrimas de Bochica y la Virgen, la Virgen del amor.
Mi amor, el amor de mi vida, nuestra historia ha terminado, pero ahora vives en todas de mis palabras. Ahora mis palabras son mios, como mi corazón era tuyas antes.
Ahora, mi corazón descansa en una lluvia de lágrimas en un rincón andino, Barichara a la Piedra. Es el pueblo Colombiano más hermoso, donde crecen los grandes árboles entre las piedras del amor, las piedras de el camino.
Adiós amor. Tu escritor.
Keith Widyolar, Barichara de las piedras, 9/9/18
Cuban Yoruba New York
The call of the drum. La llamada de los tambores.
“She’s out of her mind. I don’t know what to do. / Just come over.”
~ ~ ~
- Why do I keep running into you? / I don’t know. I’m a Cuban actress.
- Oh. The world’s best Cuban rumbero is playing in Harlem tonight. / I love rumba.
- He’s babalawo. / So am I.
- Who has your head? / Yemayá.
“Yemayá, Yemayá, o-o-o, Yemayá … Aguanile …”
Con Santa Barbara a mi lado, abran paso: rumba, bomba, plena, salsa.
~ ~ ~
“Look me in the eye and tell me the truth. Do you really believe you were kidnapped by aliens? / Absolutely.” 🤣🤣🤣
~ ~ ~
Happy to be in Puerto Rico, I asked the Yoruba mother goddess, “Yemayá, esperando aqui?” (Yemayá, should I stay here?) Since she is the goddess of the sea, I went to the ocean to receive her answer. As I ran down the beach, I was thinking that I wanted to get healthy again.
The instant I touched the water, I went down. The image of a shark biting my leg off flashed in my brain. I crawled out of the water and two guys helped me off the beach.
I thought I had a cramp, but had torn my Achilles tendon and couldn’t walk for almost a year. I took Yemayá’s answer as a no, and moved to Old San Juan. But it turned out her answer was yes. She kept me in Puerto Rico to get healthy and receive the blessings of the island of enchantment and it’s people. It was a great blessing.
I spoke to my Cuban mentor.
- That was kind of weird. What happened?
- “You’re not Yemayá. You’re Eleguá.” / Who or what is that?”
Jíbaro soy. Camino soy. Elegúa soy. Soy calle. Pa’ que tú lo sepa’.
I love to dance with Atabey / Oyá. She is the wind itself.
Capotillo 42, dembow, bachata, merengue, kompa, Yowa, La Altagracia …
I’ll always be an American from California and New York, but I am a little of all countries and people who embraced me on life’s journey.
It used to take forever
to get to Disneyland
but now I wake up in the kingdom
And that’s what I have to say about me.
“Lo Co-qui” Keith Widyolar