And I have moved my bloga over here.
Please come visit me!
My grandpa is one of 11 children, the oldest boy of 8, the first of 5 to go into the service. The ones who are still with us in this world are sick too. He was 17, just out of high school. Too many mouths to feed at home. A real familial desire, passed down through generations, to be considered a part of a country that had occupied our land starting a century before. Conquest continues. War is bad. My grandpa has told me this since I was a little girl. And the soldiers are not often taken care of as promised, he’d said (especially the brown ones--and by brown, I mean not white).
He has been talking a lot about his experiences in the Pacific—more so as he’s gotten older. According to the doc, it is common that WWII vets don’t often get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until they are older—not like Vietnam vets or the vets coming back from Iraq now. When asked what he worries about, what he thinks about, what his concerns for the future are, my grandpa answered them all the same: War. War. War.
PTSD is not why he’s in the hospital—not directly anyway. But it is, apparently, what got him veterans benefits—health care that the vast majority of people in this world have no access to. I must have known my grandpa suffers from PTSD, but I don’t think I really thought about it until the last couple weeks. Sure I knew about his shoulder injury—when an enemy soldier hit him with the butt of a rifle. And the shrapnel that’s still lodged near his spine. And the missing lengths of intestine and spleen from when he was shot. (When I was small, I thought it was so cool that the scar on his abdomen can predict the weather!) Over the years I’ve heard a lot of stories more graphic than any war movie I’ve seen. His physical ailments right now have to be medically treated alongside the psychological--body and mind. Familia and comunidad is there for the soul.
I’ve read about PTSD in magazines, newspapers, and books before, but it was somehow abstract, distant from me and my world. I hadn’t realized—not really--that it’d been a part of my life since birth, a part of my grandma’s life since he returned to NM. Maybe I’d been avoiding thinking about it. Because I can't fathom the kinds of things that run through his mind on the day-to-day. Because it makes me so angry--about my grandpa's situation and all the young brown folks who get lured into fighting wars for Uncle Sam. Like bell talks about--“the killing rage.” Only this time it is really about the immediacy of life and death and global imperialism, not just some white girl acting a racist fool on an airplane.*
Who counts as a "casualty of war"? Seems like some are still living. And not all were in the service.
*Okay, I get how these things are related--global imperialism and institutionalized (US) racism. And I'm not saying that racist white girls on airplanes don't piss me off too. I just don't have the energy right now to break it down.
“I’m tilting! I’m tilting!” was all I could say as I gripped the handlebars of mis amigas’ lowrider…I mean, recumbent…bicycle last weekend. Tocaya jogged alongside me on the bike path as I tried to stay upright, both of us laughing our asses off. Since I never learned to ride a bike, my amazing amigas—who I’ve known since our first year of college when we were roommates in the “Latina quad”—decided they would be the patient ones who would teach me…before I turned 31 the following Monday. I’d had other lessons before. A few years ago one my colegas rented a bike for my birthday, but they didn’t have any small enough for me, so I left that parking lot with bruised shins and bruised crotch. Ay.
In the springtime before I turned 8 years old, my parents got me the best bike ever! It was pink like strawberry milk, with a white basket in front and red, pink and white tassels on the handlebars. Strawberry Shortcake—my favorite—graced the basket. I rode it up and down our street—a dirt road with a dead-end—but I was afraid to take off the training wheels. A few months later I got real sick and spent a week in the hospital. “No climbing trees, no riding bikes,” said Dr. Pinkerton who looked like the Pink Panther. “Not until we’re sure you are better.” The next summer we moved and I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on the street because, for some reason, cholos liked to have their drug deals go down right in front of our house. And, well, I was a girl. My brothers got to explore the neighborhood in ways I never did, even though they were younger. In the meantime, I got to read books…lots of books. So I never learned to ride and Strawberry Shortcake sat, rusting in the shed out back.
Last weekend, mis amigas and I decided that if I learned to ride the recumbent, we wouldn’t have to rent one. And besides, it’s the only one mis amigas had that could adjust to my very small stature. After a brief trial run, we changed our minds and headed to the rental place where the hipster dude recommended a cute little pale blue bike—just my size.
I’m not sure how much time passed—maybe 2 or 3 hours. But I learned how to ride. I had great teachers. And while there wasn’t enough time for me to master the ability to ride in a straight line so that we could hit the bike path, I felt the wind in my hair…as I rode circles and circles in a parking lot. I almost fell off a couple times, but I never once fell on my ass!
31 is different than 30. 30 is exciting—it’s almost not even not-twenties. 31, however, is definitely, firmly in the thirties. It’s sort of anti-climactic really. But 31 is going to be a great year, I can feel it already!
* This photo was taken from Mount Tom in western Massachusetts. I don't have a photo of the bike path, but I took this photo looking toward the bike path. I know...I really think ahead with this blog thing.
**I am, of course, reminded of Cindylu’s love for the number 31. I wonder what she will write when she turns 31.
“Lead the reader through your thoughts,” he said. “I don’t want to see the words ‘I argue that…’ anywhere!” Well, shooot. That’s the way I’ve been taught to write and to think since high school—and it’s been a long-ass time since high school!
I’ve been thinking about this piece of advice for a few months now, not sure that I fully understand what he means. I’d asked him when we last sat face to face to talk about my diss. He explained. And like usual, I took notes, listened, and asked questions. But I left not knowing how to digest these new directions for writing.
The thing is, he is an amazing writer. I mean, most academics are good writers—we’ve trained for tons of years to be so. But in his writing, he is engaging in a way that stuffy academics so rarely are. My mom went to hear a talk he gave recently in her town—and she even says so. (Which obviously means it’s true.)
So today I took his book—the first one, the one that used to be a dissertation, the one that I’d read my first semester in grad school way back when—on the bus with me. I read it in spurts, between stops and while watching to make sure the viejitos had places to sit. I thought about my own writing structure as the bus winded through the area where it all happened—the stories I’m trying to tell, the people whose lives I want to know about. It happened there. Here. I contemplated how he molded his argument. And I think I might finally be on to something, I just can’t quite grasp it yet.
Now that I’m back on the dissertation tip, I’m going to have to relearn, rethink and refashion my approach to writing. Maybe this will happen as I write. Maybe it will happen while I'm on the bus. Either way, it has to happen.
They were my favorite, though, because I just hated those pastel blanket pajamas with the plastic-covered feet attached and the zipper that went from one ankle all the way up to your neck. Those were wintertime pajamas. I didn’t even care that there Strawberry Shortcake (who I loved) stitched over my heart. I must have been four years old then.
The worst thing about those pajamas was that it made me feel much too hot to go to sleep. Like summertime in the wintertime. Yick! When we’d finally outgrown all of the blanket pajamas, my mom and mi manito made a quilt of them. Even now, it looks like a hot quilt.
I was not allowed to wear the yellow pajamas in the winter—only those blanket ones. So I’d roll up my sleeves as high as I could and keep turning my pillow over to feel the cool of the fabric, unheated by my skin. My mom and my grandma rolled blankets and laid them next to the adobe walls, so we wouldn’t get a chill in case we rolled into it. The heater in the bedroom where mi papá and mi tío used to sleep, gushed hot, dry air. I always had trouble falling asleep in the wintertime. When I heard the music from the opening of M.A.S.H., I knew I was awake way past my bedtime.
But in the summertime? My yellow pajamas left my feet bare and I’d press them against the wall and feel the chill of stucco-covered earth. And I’d fall asleep quickly.
Almost two years have passed since I moved to Los Angeles. When I decided to make the move, I’d only been to L.A. once—back in 2002 for a wedding. Before that, my knowledge of the city was based on information from movies, songs, books I’d read in Chicana/o and Asian American Studies classes, and the after-dinner-stories told by my Papá and Grandpa.
“There’s a lot of Taos people in Los Angeles,” my grandpa still reminds me, whenever L.A. comes up, which is often. “A lot of our people over there, New Mexico people.” During WWII, my grandpa had been in Los Angeles briefly before his troop was shipped to Burma. According to his story, he was among the troops ordered to beat Mexican youth who wore zoot suits. It was during one of the raids that he was walking down the street when someone called his name. “Hey, primo! What say?” “Nothing, primo. Let’s have a beer!” I guess he decided to have a beer with his cousin and some other folks he knew from home, instead of joining the riots. He told me later that he knew he was caught in a strange position, one that he didn’t agree with—a Chicano soldier. I still wonder what it must have been like for him in that moment.
Over 25 years later, my 22-year-old father came to Los Angeles, wanting to experience new places. He lived in Lincoln Heights and drove an ambulance at night. His favorite memory was of walking from Union Station after work in the morning and grabbing breakfast at a taquería near the placita. He only stayed in L.A. for a year or so before moving back home to New Mexico. That was in the late ‘60s. Even though he hasn’t been to Los Angeles since, I think he imagines it as if it hasn’t changed.
When I last suggested that I should take a train back from Albuquerque, my papá protested. “That area around Union Station is not safe for young ladies,” he’d said…or something like that. Actually, it’s not just Union Station that he thinks is “unsafe for young ladies,” it’s all of Los Angeles. He thought the same thing when I’d moved to NYC several years ago. If he could have his way, I’d live in Albuquerque, which is actually just as (un)safe as Los Angeles, only more familiar. This is clearly a gender issue–obviously, he wouldn’t be concerned if it were one of mis manitos living out here. He forgets that Union Station and the surrounding area (100 years ago)–the site of my dissertation research—is what brought me to Los Angeles in the first place. And I wanted to get to know and become a part of the communities that live in the legacies of the people whose lives I study.
I knew four people in L.A when mi manito and I moved my stuff into my new apartment. Friends told me it was a “brave” move—maybe it was just crazy. I remember thinking, “if I hate it here, I can always pack up and go home.” I can’t front, those first few months really sucked. L.A. is a difficult place to be a newcomer. Now, after two years spent meeting new folks and exploring in the city—in person and amid dusty papers in multiple libraries—it has become more and more familiar. And I like it here.
Someone recently asked me whether I could finally call L.A. my “home.” And I surprised myself when I thought, there’s nowhere else I’d rather live right now…. But on the real, though? I’m not sure I can really call it “home” until I find some of the New Mexico gente my grandpa keeps talking about, who know how to make a great bowl of green chile. If you know some, hook this nuevomexicana up!
The last two weeks were non-stop activity— exciting, relaxing, eye-straining, mundane, frustrating, nerve-wracking, and relieving—in that order.
The bulk of it—7 days straight, in fact—was spent scoring AP exam essays in Louisville. It’s no fun, but I do it for the money—7 days work for 1 month’s rent and utilities is nothing to scoff at. But I don’t believe in AP the way the high school teachers I worked with do. They’re invested because they teach students to pass this test. Those students sometimes end up in my classroom, and oftentimes they are resistant to working on critical thinking skills. “It’s the arrogance of youth,” I’ve been told. “No, it’s not,” I’ve responded. “It’s the arrogance of privilege.” Kids who take AP classes aren’t any smarter than those who don’t. For the most part, they just went to wealthy high schools with mostly white student bodies. But I digress. Seven days spent in Louisville allowed me to refresh my knowledge of Jacksonian America and the Vietnam War. It gave me time with 2 amigas/colegas who I greatly respect. And it forced me to take some time away from my impending dissertation. I took this photo on an evening walk along the Ohio River—the historian in me couldn’t help but think of the many folks who crossed this border-river to “freedom” in the North, sort of like the Río Grande/Bravo.
Lucky for me, I spent a few days with a close amiga in Lexington before heading to Louisville. Although we speak often on the phone, it was somehow different to be in her space, to see where she goes everyday, to meet the people she spends time with. Amiga has been subletting a fabulous house from her friend who is studying away. There’s something about the character of those southern houses surrounded by greenery and flowers--the architecture, the porches, the history. It was a quaint neighborhood, where I imagine many faculty live—definitely not working-class and mostly white (I know you’re surprised about that one). We had a great time, just staying up late talking.
After Louisville, I traveled directly to the Berks conference on the History of Women. It was the first time I presented at a major conference. My amigas/colegas and I stayed with a profe who was generous enough to share his home. He and two Chicana scholars attended our panel. I looked at them the entire time I was speaking and for good reason. During the Q + A, a white man asked a question—or rather, made a comment—about my work, suggesting that I hadn’t used primary documents, that I’d relied on the work of long-established historians. This kind of comment is a straight up diss for historians. He clearly hadn’t paid attention to my talk. I responded by discussing my sources and turning the discussion more toward the difficulty of finding sources about working-class women of color—there just aren’t many out there, especially ones that were created a hundred years ago. One profe responded to his question also by challenging his assumptions. Fortunately other folks asked good questions. I was grateful that the brown folks in the audience had come to support us, and could be angry for me, for us, when I was too nervous, anxious and tired to be angry for myself.
This is how I spent the first two weeks of June. Everyday was spent with good friends—four in total. The nourishment of time spent with amigas, mentors and community was good for my soul. They are amazing gifts. And I often wish I could put all of my amigas/os, who are scattered around the globe now, in my pocket to carry with me all the time.
In order, left to right:
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
I’ve been traveling again—on business...again. Except for those few days I spent with a close amiga in Lexington, I’ve been scoring AP exams and presenting at the big Women’s History conference—the one that only happens every 3 years. All of this has been exhausting and nourishing at the same time. Exhausting because I read hand written essays all day for seven days straight before flying to the conference. And nourishing because I spent the last two weeks surrounded by good friends, mentors and colleagues.
At the end of a long day of conferencing yesterday, I attended a panel in which the very last speaker ended her discussion with an anecdote about Rosa Parks. She mentioned how Parks had often been asked if she knew Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman (at least I think she said it was Tubman, but it was definitely someone of that time period—it was a long day!). The story stuck with me for the rest of the day. In fact, when she said it, I couldn’t hold back from expressing audible horror at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. It’s as if abolition work and civil rights era work had been conflated in time and purpose. But I thought, maybe as a historian, I had been taking for granted the contextual specificity that has been drilled into me.
And then I remembered—this is also a common problem for high school students whose exam essays I’ve read over the last few years. They constantly collapse time when thinking about the histories of Blacks in the U.S. Some make statements that say something like “the Civil Rights movement freed the slaves,” which is, of course, wrong. I’m not saying that abolition and civil rights are not related struggles—of course they are. My concern is more that the contextual differences are not taken as seriously as they are for white history or the more traditional historical narratives that get reproduced all the time. Students don’t usually conflate the U.S. Civil War with the Vietnam War or Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Nixon—even though there are similar parallels involving imperialism and conquest (not to mention masculinity!). When the story is more explicitly about peoples of color, context seems to fall by the wayside more often. Histories of “oppression” are then relegated to a bygone era so as to relieve present-day guilt about atrocities past and present—even if present-day people are simultaneously associated with historical actors.
The Parks story also reminded me of an interaction I had a few weeks ago with a friend of an amiga. After we were introduced, we made polite conversation. He asked about my dissertation. I gave my usual brief description. As a Chicano who grew up in LA and who had taken Chicano Studies courses, he knew the general area my research deals with and wanted to know more. He asked me something about the transcontinental railroad—people always ask about it when I mention I study Chinese Americans, even though it’s no longer a part of my study. It's as if Chinese Americans and transcontinental railroad are inseparable in their present-day racial imaginaries. A little bit later, we all piled in the car and headed out to grab a drink. On the way, we stopped at a nearby 7-11 because someone needed to hit up the ATM. As the rest of us waited in the car, this same dude noticed a group of teenage Asian boys hanging out nearby. “Hey! There’s a bunch of Chinese guys over there. You should interview them and ask them about the transcontinental railroad for your research. They’re all right there!”
Say what?! The TC-RR was completed almost 150 years ago! And, I don’t study the TC-RR, which I had made clear in our earlier conversation. And, those kids might not have even been Chinese. I could go on and on, but you get the point. I didn’t say anything—mostly because I was about to be stuck with this dude for the next few hours. It occurred to me—he may not have known I am Chinese (not that it should even matter). Mexicans in LA sometimes talk smack about Chinese people to me, not knowing I’m Chinese too. I’ve decided that it’s not worth explaining my identities unless I’m actually invested in the person or the conversation. This time I didn’t care. He may have been joking, but it was definitely not funny. And I knew it was about to be a long night.
More about the nourishing parts of my travels to come later…
My advisers have recently critiqued me for “letting historiography overpower my own voice”—as in, relying on established scholars to say what I want to say for me. I get that I should do that. In fact, I didn't want to do that in the first place, but I thought I had to. Anyway, I’m working on developing my writing voice. I mean, I have lots of ideas that I can speak about for hours, but writing it is a different story.
At amiga’s workshop, some folks discussed how they lost their muses. According to wikipedia, in Greek mythology, muses are
"a sisterhood of goddesses or spirits, their number set at nine by Classical times, who embody the arts and inspire the creation process with their graces through remembered and improvised song and stage, writing, traditional music, and dance."But, in my world, is it a person, place or thing? If not a person, does it have a personality? (For some reason it conjures up memories of some movie with Sharon Stone or some other blonde actress who was supposed to be a sexy muse….but I digress.) Would a muse help one with creativity in writing—even a historian? I’m just not sure I ever had one (or many). And if I didn’t know I had one in the first place, maybe I’ve lost mine without my knowing it. And if I didn’t know I lost my muse, it may have been gone for a long, long time.
“I’d rather work on my dissertation, than work on this conference paper,” I told another amiga a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t kidding. I’d reached a point where I felt that writing my dissertation would somehow be easier—because there wouldn’t be the pressure of writing a concise and interesting narrative in 10 pages or less. Or maybe it was because I kept psyching myself out by focusing on the larger project instead of focusing on the 10 pages. Either way, it was not a good situation.
Later on, a third amiga popped up on my gchat to see how my paper had gone and whether I’d submitted it in to the commenter. I had. “How do you feel about it?” she asked. “It’s not my best work…but then again, maybe it is—and that’s the scary thing.”
The thing about being in the dissertation stage is that I know a whole heck of a lot of stuff. I also know good writing when I see it. The process of making my writing good? That’s a whole other story—yet to be realized. At the same time, I know my thinking is so much sharper than it was in years past—I’ve worked hard at that I'm pretty sure that my writing has improved too. But because now it’s my turn to write new stuff, this process has become a bit overwhelming.
The last few weeks have been a writing disaster. But not for lack of inspiration--I like my dissertation topic. For that reason, luckily, I have not stopped writing. And I have not become paralyzed by the academic banter—I refuse to. But I have potentially, unknowingly lost my muse. And if this is the case, then I need to find one (or more than one). So, queridos readers, do you have a muse? Have you ever lost your muse? How did you find it again or keep it from leaving?
Most of the time people figure out that I’m not from Los Angeles because they begin the conversation assuming that I am. They want to know where in LA I grew up (they always assume it’s east of the river). That’s when I have to explain that I’m actually from Albuquerque. It may be hard to believe, but there are a lot of nuevomexicanos in Southern California. We’ve been migrating out here for centuries and the migration pattern goes the opposite direction too. My grampa talks about this all the time. Not all of us who look like Mexicans and call ourselves Mexicans historically came from the region that is now Mexico. I’m just saying.
Just a few months ago, a new acquaintance was so surprised when I said I am not from Los Angeles that she sputtered, “but you have that LA Latina look.” I remember thinking, Dang, already? I hadn’t even lived here for a year at that point! It must be your impeccable eyeliner, my amiga joked later. Very funny, funny girl, I’d responded. “What is the LA Latina look?” I asked. “Well, you know, all the LA Latinas have a little look,” the woman went on. “All the black girls in LA have a little look and all the Asian girls have a little look.” Hmm…I decided not to out myself as Chinese Am too—that might have thrown her for a loop. In case you were wondering, she was “Latina.”
In academic circles, people assume I’m from LA for three reasons: First--because where else would a Chinese American/Chicana be from? Second--because I study the histories of Chinese and Mexican people in Los Angeles. And third—because if you go to school in Tejas or the Midwest, why else would you study LA (as opposed to some city in the Midwest or Tejas)? But the truth is, I came to my project by asking a series of questions about the interrelatedness of Asian American and Chicana/o histories and how those stories took place in the context of overlapping processes of conquest/empire, questions that I have been asking since I was in college (and that was a long time ago). Those questions (and the railroad tracks) led me from Nuevo México to El Paso to Chicago to Tucson to San Diego (briefly) and finally to Los Angeles. Contrary to what some might think, I did not come here because I idealize Los Angeles’ multiracial populations or because I believe in the kind of LA/SoCal/Bay-area exceptionalism that I read about in the books and hear about time and time again in the voices of Cali brown folks who just miss their home.
I suppose it’s good for me to be able to articulate how I came to my project and my relationship to this here ciudad. Funny, when I lived in New York City, no one thought I was a (real) “New Yorker” and my mom grew up there!
Well, I’m not completely alone, actually. My good amiga has been crashing in my study while she completes her comprehensive exams, which she has a week to do. It’s nice to know someone else is around, even if just for a few days. And just like several of my LA friends before her, she’ll be moving up north, to the bay area, in a couple weeks. I’m happy for her, but sad to see her go.
I spent this last semester exceedingly worried about my funding situation for the next school year (which also meant I put unnecessary stress on myself to write faster, but that’s another post altogether). I poured over fellowship and grant applications, hoping that I’d get one so that I could stay in Los Angeles. So that I wouldn’t have to go back to small-midwestern-college-town where white liberals abound and where I too easily fall into the (un)comfortable space of invisibility—privileged invisibility. So that I could feel more settled and postpone the inevitable academic process of uprooting my home and my life just one more year. So that I could continue getting to know the spaces and, more importantly, the communities who live in the legacy of the histories that I’m trying to learn about.
After much thought and agony—and a pile of rejection letters—I decided it would be worth taking out loans and possibly teaching so that I could stay in LA. And then I got one! I haven’t gotten the official letter yet, but I got a fellowship that will pay for my food and shelter for one more year. I should be happier than I am, because, hell, I’m a privileged-ass person in this world. But I’m anxious about what lies in store for the next year—whether I’ll find new friends and a larger community. And whether I’ll be able to bust out this pinche dissertation, so I can (hopefully?) move on to a post-doc or a job situation. I guess time will tell. In the meantime, I shall write.
A few weeks ago I turned in a chapter draft to my main profa. She read it right away and suggested that I revisit my prospectus and reorganize my entire dissertation. The draft, she said, was unorganized and…well…not a historical study. Okay, she didn’t use those exact terms, but that’s what she meant. And she’s right. After spending weeks and weeks on this draft, I needed to start over. The truth is, I had no idea how to start writing a dissertation chapter, so I just picked out some of the old stuff I found in los archivos and dove right in. I forgot to tell the story, which is unusual for me because I do nothing but tell stories.
I’d relied on the advice other folks gave me which suggested that I “begin with the documents” and just start writing. Turns out, that’s not very useful advice. At least not for a historian, I guess. I have never been one to outline, so “just start writing” to me meant literally to just start writing. After all, that’s what I did for my undergrad and master’s theses. But a dissertation is an entirely different project. So I rewrote the outline with more specific prose about what each chapter is going to do and what it would discuss.
So yesterday my other co-chair helped map out the how-to’s of writing a history dissertation based on questions and articulation of my “analytical payoff.” I was pumped to get started right away. Then today I met with my newest committee member—someone I’d never worked with before, never even really talked with, but who does work in one of my main subfields. So I had no idea what her mentorship style was like. She also focused on my “analytical payoff” except she phrased it as the “so what?” question—as in, what is the methodological contribution my work will make to the field(s)? Same question as co-chair profe, but I was suddenly overwhelmed. So much so that I flaked and went to the wrong Starbucks for my next profe meeting, missing him all together.
One day—excited to write. Next day—totally freaked out and missing meetings. It’s like I’m on an emotional roller coaster with this dissertation thing, operating sometimes in crisis mode and sometimes just chill. I need to be just chill—as in, working diligently but calmly. I used to be that mujer. I can bring her back. Now off for some sangria before my flight to LA tomorrow!
I arrived (fashionably) late to the party. It wasn’t the kind of party I’m used to. The birthday girl (BG) was in her third trimester, so things were pretty low-key. There was no alcohol, no dancing, but there were cupcakes, which I love!
I’ve only hung out with BG a couple times. She’s one of those LA acquaintances who I like, but haven’t gotten to know very well yet. And she and her husband were the only people I knew there. When I arrived, all dozen party-goers were sitting in a circle on the floor around the coffee table, where all the snacks were laid out. They seemed to know each other already and were in the midst of a vibrant conversation about random topics like pop music. I took a chair next to someone who sat alone on the side.
I’m not usually the super-shy type, but I have to admit, I felt awkward and out of place. Like it was not my crowd, not my niche. The feeling was reinforced when folks started trying to remember happy birthday songs in Spanish, which they’d learned in their intro Spanish classes—exactly the reason I hated Spanish class in school. They meant well, but it was a very, shall we say, multicultural moment. (I should add that there was only one other Latino person there besides me. Everyone else was white or Asian Am.)
After a good while, the hostess very generously tried to bring me into the conversation. She introduced everyone in the room—turns out a lot of them didn’t actually know each other like I thought. Most of them were straight couples—and they introduced themselves along with their couple-ness. “I go with so-and-so.” They laughed at themselves for making those comments—even compared themselves to Ken and Barbie. “Ken goes with Barbie.” Yea, I thought to myself, definitely not my crowd. But maybe they were just reflecting each other’s awkwardness. Quien sabe.
Things got better once we started decorating cupcakes and folks started to move around a lot. I had a couple of really great conversations. And I was reminded that friendships sometimes have to be made, that they’re not always instantaneous. I don’t know if I’ll become good friends with anyone I met there. But I hope to see BG again soon. And maybe a couple of the others too. (As long as there’s no Ken-and-Barbie talk…or Spanish class song-singing. I’m just saying.)
*I did not make or decorate this cupcake. It was bakery-bought by the hosts.
So, it seems there's a big controversy over this ad. U.S. "consumers" were threatening to boycott. And the Absolut company pulled it--and even apologized for it. (You can read more about it here, here and here and many other places.)
Has the U.S. apologized for conquest or the millions of other atrocities? I'm just saying. It amazes me how upset some folks get when they are implicated in the historical/present processes of colonization. This ad calls into question the validity of geopolitical borders and brings to the fore how drawing these borders (and maintaining them) is a violent act of state and local forces. I bet the boycotting folks haven't given up on drinking tequila, let alone their chips and salsa.
I fucking love this ad! I want a poster of it for my...uh, office.
I know it totally upholds the colonial Mexican state too--but still.
*Image is from the AP page.
It’s rare for me to get much work done whenever I go home. There’s always so much family stuff going on, it’s hard to buckle down and focus. This time was different. I had two deadlines. So I dragged my computer and all my paperwork to the coffee shop, while my grandparents, Sobrino and Manito did other stuff.
There was a Costa Rican man about my father’s age who I saw at the coffee shop every time I went. The last day, he arrived later than I did and took the only available seat left—next to me. He asked if I was a student at UNM. I explained that I go to University in the Midwest and was in town visiting familia. He asked about my degree and what I study. And when I said I was working on a PhD, he went on about how important it is for young women of color to get an education, that knowledge is something that can never be taken away from you. It’s the sort of thing my dad used to say back in the day. And it was kind of refreshing to hear that from a stranger. Had I forgotten? Had I gotten so caught up in worrying about funding, finishing the next chapter, post-docs and the looming job market, that I forgot to enjoy the process of learning?
I have to admit, I am often weary about talking to men I don’t know. I’m conflicted about being friendly and polite, especially to elders, while being guarded in case they’ve got shady motives. He told me about his daughter who’s a college student now, and how he just finished med school after working in a different field for a really long time. Then he asked if I was married or had a boyfriend. “No,” I’d said. And then thought to myself that I’m tired of this question, tired of men who cut conversations short once they find out I’m working on a PhD, tired of being made to feel like I chose my education over having a family. My guard immediately went up again. It seemed like too personal a question from a stranger, but its one that the elders always ask.
Before I could say anything else besides “No,” he said, “Don’t worry about those idiots who can’t handle how smart you are. They’ll weed themselves out pretty quickly. When the guy who can handle it sees how passionate you are about your work, he will never let you go. So you must always remember to live your life with passion!” Wow. Did he read my mind? Sometimes strangers can be so surprising. I’m not sure how much I believe all that, but it would be nice if it were true.
That night at dinner the fortune in my cookie read, “Today is the day you let it go. Your chance will come.” I don’t usually believe fortune cookie fortunes, but maybe the universe is telling me that I should be more open to talking to strangers.
I’ve been trying to be healthier these days. You know, lose about 10 pounds, exercise regularly, eat better…the usual. So, my mama, the dietitian/health-nut calculated things out and informed me that if I want to lose a pound a week over the next couple months, I can only eat between 1000-1200 calories a day because I’m so short and I’ve hit the big 3-0. I don’t think I generally eat badly, but 1200 calories?? That’s not very much! After she informed me of this bad news, she helped me choose my meals for the next day—1100 calories, including oatmeal, fruit, salad, crab cakes, bread, black bean soup and egg-less egg salad made from tofu. (btw-it only tasted okay because my mama made it and Chinese people know how to hook up the bean curd!) It wasn’t very much, but I guess I’ll get used to it over time.
She also bought me a gift—a workout video that came with two 2-pound weights to compliment my regular spinning classes. We tried it out together. And now, a full two days since I left, my legs are still sore. Hers aren’t. Dang, I just can’t keep up with her!
Yesterday. Good Friday. A perfect spring day. Better in northern Nuevo Mexico than anywhere else. Manito and I drove up to Taos to pick up my grandparents so we’d all be in Burque when Sobrino arrived.
The going was slow because so many people were making the annual “pilgrimage” to the Santuario de Chimayó. Families, couples, individuals, all walking along the side of the highway to pay their respects to the dark brown Cristo and the Santo Niño. Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to do the holy week walk. Maybe one of these years, I will. You know, once I get past my nine years of Catholic School trauma and remember to plan ahead for Lent and stuff.
The going was also slow because it was a nice Friday afternoon. And nice Friday afternoons are perfect for cruising in Española. The Santuario and lowriders seem to go together--like in this photo from the Smithsonian exhibit. It seemed like everyone who had a hot lowrider was out—and everyone who didn’t too. It took at least 30 minutes to get from one end of town to the other because even if you didn't mean to cruise, there's only one main drag through town so everyone has to cruise. Espa has been called the "lowrider capital of the world."* (For all you non-believers, see here and here.) My favorite this trip was a glittery light blue ’63 Impala convertible with shiny, shiny rims. I’m no car whiz, but it was amazing!
We weren’t sure if my grandparents heard our car as we crossed over Rio Lucero at the entrance to their driveway. My grampa built that bridge with steel beams and railroad ties, just like all the rio crossings in their barrio. It makes a lot of noise when you drive across. But my grandparents are hard of hearing these days.
I hugged them hello. My grampa even tried to stand to greet me, with his big smile that spreads his wisdom lines across his face. His eyes were twinkling, the way they did when I was a child. He used to swoop me up in his arms and walk over to the entryway so I could ring the bells he liked to hang there. Recently, my Spanish instructor mentioned that she thinks I look a lot like him because our eyes sparkle in the same way when we smile. No one ever said I look like him before. When I told my gramma what my instructor had said, she replied that she agreed and I should be happy because my grampa was “very good looking when he was young—very good looking. You better believe it!” Yea—Gramma’s still reveling after all these years because she got a catch. He did too, she just doesn’t realize it.
We drove back to Burque that evening to meet my papa for torta de huevo (aka the “Lenten special” that I always thought was called “tart” de huevo). Not sandwiches, more like panqueques de huevo…with red chile of course. As I exited at Paseo del Norte going toward the mesa, the sun shone so brightly I was practically blinded. I struggled to shade my eyes, while driving directly into it during Friday evening traffic. Finally at a stop light, I looked over at my grampa who sat pensively in the passenger seat, occasionally trying to adjust the shade on the car ceiling, despite his bad arm (WWII injury). “How are you Grampa? Is the sun bothering you a lot?” “No,” he said. “I just can’t keep the sun out of your eyes.”
The truth is, he has always been and will forever be keeping the sun out my eyes.
Lowrider photo credit: Smithsononian Institution, Photo by Jeff Tinsley, Negative #: 95-3340
* I made a mistake in my original post, which stated that "Espa is the birthplace of the lowrider" and the links did not actually say this. It seems that the birthplace of the lowrider is up for debate. See here. I need to do more research, but the historia I grew up with credits Española for the lowrider. That's my historia and I'm sticking to it! Muchas gracias to the anonymous commenter who pointed out my mistake.
In the past, there have been youtube-watching sessions and card-playing amongst the high school kids who like to hang out there in the evenings and after school. I have to admit, I find them entertaining and a welcome distraction from my writing. Only once have I had to leave because, even I could not write amidst the noisiness. That time, a dozen boys decided to have a boba-drinking contest, which drew a crowd of teenage Asian Americans all cheering them on. I remember thinking, this must be an example of what adolescent Asian American masculinity looks like in the SGV these days. It made me chuckle. And I wondered how different my brothers’ lives (and mine) would be had we grown up in a place with lots of Asian Ams (and Mexicans too).
Today the commotion was prompted by a series of bikini-clad photos of one boys’ cousin on a laptop computer. Lots of loud uneasy laughter and taunting statements that the cousin was a “porn-star.”
As my amigo and I walked toward the parking lot, he suggested that this was common behavior from teenage boys. Funny, he’d said the same thing a few weeks ago, when I relayed a story of how one of the adolescent boys from my apartment complex decided to pee on the side of the building directly across the drive from the window out of which my desk faces—all while his friends stood off to the side pretending not to look. That’s just gross. But not as sexist as what I witnessed tonight. Something tells me some of them never will grow up and grow out of it. But then again, maybe I’m just too cynical.
Native Feminism Without Apology!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2008
Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure Case
On February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women’s Studies, Dr. Smith’s body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.
Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States' hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women’s Studies and LSA’s current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM's administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year.
To Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case. Address email letters to ALL of the following:
Teresa Sullivan, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, LSA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA, email@example.com
Mary Sue Coleman, President, PresOff@umich.edu