SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS:
Richie Velasquez (AKA Richie Ramone) is one of those people that make me glad I’m a punk. None of this mealy mouth, “punk was a phase when I was a teenager” garbage. Richie is punk to the bone. No mohawk, no visible tattoos, a good job in hotel management and just a couple of hoops in his eyebrow and nostril to give a slight sign that there is something more than meets the eye in this guy.
Richie reached out to me after seeing my facebook ad looking for punks in Honduras to interview for “Punktology”, the documentary on the worldwide punk movement.
After some emails back and forth, Richie picked me up at my hotel in San Pedro Sula (SPS) and took me to an authentic Honduran spot for a tipico (typical) and delicious meal, the best I’ve had on this trip so far. I highly recommend the grilled pork-chop and plantains by the way.
Richie is completely bi-lingual, educated by an “American” school thanks to his dad having worked for the United Fruit Company (AKA Chiquita Bananas) for years. And while he was born in San Pedro Sula and now calls it his home again, he also has lived in several countries including Panama and Costa Rica.
It was in Costa Rica that Richie first fell in with punk music, playing in several bands as well as surfing and getting involved with Roller Blading, an extreme sport that is less polluted by money and much more underground than skateboarding has become.
It was clear from the moment I get in his car (he had Bad Religion tune jamming) up until the interview that punk is a big part of Richie’s life. We discussed all the different bands and how San Pedro Sula, Honduras is a very conservative city with bands playing cover songs from Bon Jovi at the local TGI Fridays passing for a music scene.
There was an emo scene among teens in SPS a couple years back and Richie said the local press came out to warn parents about the dangers of “emo”. We both had a good laugh at that, but it underscored Richie’s point that Honduras’ society doesn’t seem to tolerate subcultures very well, with people actually discriminating against Richie because of his face piercings (tame by any standard in the U.S., Europe or even many other Latin American countries).
During our interview, Richie spoke of his frustration at driving two days to Costa Rica or El Salvador to catch a punk or metal show. I compared that to my complaining (some on this very blog) of having to go by train to Brooklyn to catch punk acts, or drive an hour to New Jersey to see Social Distortion because they aren’t stopping in Manhattan.
He talked about how tough it is to be a punk rocker all alone in a city of young people that listen to Reggaeton, Electronica or consider Lady Gaga edgy. I can empathize just a little as there are times it seems NYC is the worst music venue on the planet with Jay Z and Beyonce singing that really horrible and contrived song “New York” on the radio constantly. And while I sometimes do have to dig, research and stay alert, at least I can find punk music in NYC without driving for 2 days.
Richie is a well read, well spoken and very intelligent punk rocker and while he may be holding down the punk scene seemingly by himself in San Pedro Sula, he is pure punk and as he said “punk til he dies” so there is no better person to represent.
He readily acknowledges the controversial role the United Fruit Company has played in his country’s history, both good and bad, and he is somewhat forgiving of his fellow citizens’ musical taste due to ignorance and preoccupation with a little thing called survival (Honduras is the third poorest country in our hemisphere).
The U.S. certainly doesn’t have either of those excuses (well maybe ignorance, but it is a more willful ignorance).
After our interview, I had a really good feeling. It’s always good to speak with punks about our mutual love for the music, lifestyle and philosophy but it was especially refreshing to speak with Richie. It helps that we were able to converse in English and it made me even more determined to get better with my Spanish, thinking of all the great conversations I’m missing out on because of MY ignorance.
7 days in Honduras and a grand total of 1 interview, but it’s quality not quantity that counts, and in this case Richie’s interview was spot on quality. I sure hope I had tape in the camera! I’m joking, I did… I think.
Stay tuned for excerpts from Richie’s interview as soon as I get caught up back in NYC.. so soon alright.. soon.. I promise man! Relax.
In the meantime, in case you may have missed it, you can entertain yourself with this segment we produced on the legendary punk band IRA from Medellin, Colombia where there is a rich history of punk rockers and which I’ll be visiting again in early July for the big “Rock en el Parque” concert in Bogota.