Friday, July 30, 2004

mars and venus

last week my mom and i began the arduous process of stripping wallpaper from the kitchen and laundry room. after a few days of sweaty, glue-y work, including climbing ladders, scraping and scrubbing the ceiling, my dad convinced my mom to let professional painters take over the project. so over the past few days, gizmo (guillermo), joey and hector have been taping, covering, sanding, and primer-ing our kitchen.

all of these guys are around my age, in their late twenties, also mexican american. i've chatted with them a bit, found out that gizmo graduated from highland high school the same year i did; joey has two kids, gizmo three, hector none. they were a little surprised to find out that i don't have any kids of my own.

at some point, hector asks me if i have a boyfriend. i tell him no. later that same day he asks, "so why don't you have a boyfriend?"

my favorite question. "i don't know," i respond, smartly.

"you're not ugly," he says matter-of-factly.

i didn't know quite how to respond to that. veiled compliment? does "not ugly" = "pretty"?

"maybe i have a bad personality," i suggest to him while he washes paint brushes in the sink. he gives me a long sideways glance like maybe i'm crazy.

crazy! that's probably why i don't have a boyfriend. ;)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


monday and tuesday took me to the central coast one last time before heading back to texas. a good friend of mine from bakersfield now makes her home in san luis obispo, beautiful country between pismo beach and downtown SLO.

it was a short trip, but we tried to make long of it walking and lazing around the beach. i wanted to say good-bye.

that is an overstatement. i never really say good-bye to pismo beach. it is the tiny coastal town my family would visit every summer while i was growing up. those days, we would stay at the seacrest hotel, which sat on the cliffs at the edge of town and overlooked the ocean. from there, we would take the rickety wooden staircase down the cliffs to the shore and walk south toward the pier and downtown pismo beach. my mom and sister religiously looked for seashells along that stretch of beach. i would steel myself up to dip my toes in the shockingly cold salty water. we'd often have lunch or dinner at the splash cafe, where i never ordered anything but clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. my mom would always complain that the chowder had too much of a sandy consistency. they were only weekend getaways for our family, but i remember them as if they were long periods of time when i was younger.

even though we - the children - are now grown and together less frequently, my family still visits the area because my brother is a student at cal poly san luis obispo. we pay day visits to pismo and to some of the other small beach communities along the central coast, still relishing their sun, sea, and tranquil nature.

earlier this week, i made the trip with a friend who has her own family memories making summer trips from bakersfield to pismo. we sat on the beach tuesday afternoon until our shoulders were tender and brown-red from the sun. driving out of town, i savored my last view of the dark line of the ocean against the lighter blue of the sky. said good-bye. for now.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

lo tuyo es puro teatro

today marks a milestone in my life.  after twelve years driving the same faithful toyota camry, i now have a new car registered to my name.  a toyota corolla - very practical, but very new. 

i'm not sure what possessed me to look at the new cars at toyota.  curiosity, i suppose.  when my mom heard that i had been looking at cars by myself she reprimanded me, ay no.  you need to go with a man!

though i felt her comments sexist, i also felt unprepared to negotiate the purchase of a car by myself.  i therefore enlisted the help of my dad, who boasts more than two decades experience in sales.  not car sales, but sales nonetheless. 

our toyota salesman, dustin, a UCLA graduate in sociology, was about the same age as my younger brother, maybe 23 years old.  he assured us that he wanted us to get the best deal possible, ran a credit check on me, and proposed a price for the model i chose.  my dad promptly offered him $2000 less.  dustin looked at once worried and distressed, doubtful that he could make that price work for us, but nonetheless went to see the manager.

the manager, a tall man with thinning hair and an english accent, accompanied dustin back to where my dad and i were sitting.  he also appeared worried and distressed, showed us the list price of the car and beseeching us to understand that he needed to make a profit.  they couldn't just give their cars away for free!  they had to keep the lights on in the dealership, the air conditioning running on these hot bakersfield summer days.  my dad, having noticed the plasma TV screens on the walls and the new construction in the building, told the manager he knew that dealerships received kickbacks for a number of vehicles sold, etc. 

they went back and forth a bit.  there were counteroffers, dramatic pauses, retreats for discussion on both of our parts.  dustin peppered his sales pitch with phrases like, this is one of the most honest dealership i've worked for... you're going to get a good deal here... come on.  let me make at least fifty dollars on this car... you're beating me up.

all of these phrases would have elicited sympathy from me.  i didn't want to be unreasonable and all the haggling - which lasted HOURS - left me with a dull headache and elevated blood pressure.  fortunately, seeing through the theatrical aspects of the sales process, my dad was all business.  in the end, my dad negotiated an acceptable deal and a i drove off into the sunset, well, onto northbound 99 anyway, in my brand spankin' new car. 

Saturday, July 24, 2004

summer almost gone

things i want/need to do in the next two weeks before heading back to texas:

go to pismo beach to visit the ocean and my friend, kate
have a bowl of clam chowder for lunch at the splash cafe in pismo
head to the mountains to visit my pregnant (!) best friend, olivia
drive north to watsonville to see my sister
go to watsonville's annual strawberry festival
finish revisions on a paper to submit for publication
buy a new car (wishful thinking)
pack my bags!


Wednesday, July 21, 2004

todo un pueblo

the christmas before my grandpa - Papa - died, we had a get together like we do every year at my aunt mague's restaurant.  located in arvin, the town where my mom's family settled after migrating from texas, the restaurant itself is made up of one large front room where there are several small tables adorned with pink tablecloths and red chairs.  the walls host sombreros, brightly colored sarapes, the local high school football calendar, as well as small brown clay jarritos as their decor. 

that christmas, like many before and many since, my mom's six sisters, her brother, and their families would bring food ranging from beans to rice, turkey, tamales, pies, persimmon cookies, and other holiday specialties, depositing them on the huge stove burners in the kitches as well as on various countertops and tables.  the aunts and uncles enter the restaurant like santa claus, with bags of gifts wrapped in red and green for the younger children. 

that year, a good number of us had already assembled and were partaking of the christmas treats when Papa arrived.  we always received our grandpa, the 86-year old patriarch with the most gentle soul of the family, as our guest of honor at these holiday gatherings.  we all made sure to go and saludarle, hug him, give him a kiss on his aging cheek.  his light eyes always seemed to gleam more brightly seeing us.   

we were taking group pictures that christmas.  this one with all the sisters whose ages range within twenty years of each other.  another with each individual family, some families with as few as three members, others with as many as seven.  one with everyone - all of the sisters, my uncle frank, their children, the children of their children.  there were probably about fifty of us crowded together, trying to fit into the lenses of multiple cameras.  Papa looked at all of us as if he were seeing us for the first time, kind of laughed and said, hice todo un pueblo!  i made an entire town. 

he passed away the following summer. 

the family still gets together at my aunt's restaurant in arvin every thanksgiving and christmas, some easters.  there are other gatherings, as well, for weddings, birthdays, baptisms, baby showers...  this past sunday my mom invited everyone over our house for barbecue and swimming - the perfect remedy for the brutal bakersfield summer days.  i'm always amazed to see the children of my older cousins grow taller every year and my younger cousins having kids of their own.  i think that Papa would also be amazed at the way our family continues to grow.  but i suppose it's a very normal part of life.    

Saturday, July 17, 2004

spotting the ocean

i've been officially landlocked for about four weeks now. 
i was fortunate to leave santa barbara and within days be at another beach town, but in mexico.  traveling around mexico, i didn't think much about missing the ocean.  in semi-urban aguascalientes you just have to lift your eyes to the horizon to see the blue mountains and the earth there green from summer rains.  traveling through oaxaca, we traversed valley and mountain towns, treading both dusty and verdant trails. 
back in bakersfield, the summer weighs maybe a little more heavily than in other places.  though the hundred degree weather causes some people to complain, it doesn't bother me much.  it's dry heat, feels like a blanket sometimes.  it's the pollution that makes me feel sluggish; my eyes water; my skin itches; my breath does not come as easily.  i grow wary of the dustiness, the brown haze covering the mountains.  i find myself praying for rain.
i miss the ocean.  how it changed color and glint every day.  i miss the salty air and cold breeze.  the tender blue sky.  i miss mornings running along the edge of the changing tide.  
my favorite coffeeshop in santa barbara was off the 101 south, heading west on carrillo.  my car would make it through a few curves, heading up the mountains and then, all of a sudden at the summit, a view of the ocean so expansive and blue on the horizon that it would take my breath away.  every time. 
landlocked here in bakersfield, the ocean feels like a luxury.  but from here to the nearest california coast is only two and a half hours by car.  and worth the trip.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

all about my mother

My project of the past couple of days has been to write a paper proposal about my dissertation methodologies.  The call for papers asked for "war stories" about first time field experiences.  I don't know about war stories, but I know that my research story has interesting roots.  They're my own roots actually.  I chose my mom's hometown on the Texas-Mexico border as my anthropological field site.
My mother raised me with stories about growing up in segregated South Texas.  Her family had immigrated from Mexico to the United States in the mid-1940s and spent nearly twenty years in the Lower Rio Grande Valley before making one last migration to California, where wages were better and racial divisions less stark.  Thirty five years later, I made my first migration to South Texas with my mother.  Driving along the city’s grid of streets, she transposed a history of Mexican/Anglo segregation on neighborhoods, businesses, churches, etc.  To hear stories about segregation is one thing; to see inequalities mapped onto places is much more powerful. 
Two years later I moved to La Feria.  Without getting into the particulars, it was a wonderful year for me, both in terms of research, but also in terms of life.  And it was meaningful for me to be able to spend some time treading the same paths my mother and my aunts and my grandparents did in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  I relished meeting people who remembered my grandparents.  I met a gentleman in his 80s who told me that my grandpa - Don Pablo - had taught him how to play the guitar.  I guess it's comforting for me to see that even when people leave a place, they leave behind memories and shared experiences.
In any event, I spent a good part of the past couple of days thinking and writing about auto/ethnography - the ethnography of one's own group or an autobiography with cultural relevance or anything in between!  And I've been writing about my mother and her family and the reasons that drew me to La Feria. 
Last night, tired from the writing thought process, I told my mom, I'm tired of writing about you!
She smiled smugly and said, I can't help it if I've led such an interesting life!
I rolled my eyes and she added, Well, why don't you write about you?
It occurs to me that I am.  After all, her story is also mine.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


people often tease me about hailing from a "one cow town" or, alternately, a "wannabe texas." bakersfield does have its roots in agriculture and oil and, although the city population hovers around 300,000, it feels like a small town. the city is surrounded by farm land that grows almost everything imaginable - cotton, tomatoes, different citrus, watermelon, almonds, roses, etc. - and is nestled by the mountains at the southern-most end of the san joaquin valley. although that presents a pastoral picture, residents can scarcely see the mountains, especially in the summer, because of the brown/grey veil of smog at every horizon.

despite california's reputation as being a very liberal state, bakersfield votes solidly republican in most elections. letters to the editor in the local newspaper reveal residents' support for the u.s. occupation of iraq, unsympathetic sentiments toward immigrants, and a low tolerance for "non-conservative values" (whatever that means). of course, there are dissenting opinions and debates in these same editorial pages. last spring, the furor was about whether to ban toni morrison's book, the bluest eye, from the kern high school district because of its "pornographic" nature.

as a person who leans more left, politically speaking, some of these hometown values, opinions, and debates annoy and often frustrate me. nonetheless, there is something very comforting about being here. (i mean besides my family!) there is something that still kind of tugs at me.

in bakersfield, political correctness runs at very low levels. people say what they mean to say; there is no polite confusion. you may encounter someone who is racist/classist/sexist/homophobic, but they are usually not pretending to be otherwise. unlike more liberal places i've lived, rarely do i encounter pretentious or pompous people in bakersfield. in other words, what you see is what you get. you may not like who you meet, but at least you know who they are.

i see people - friends and family - my age and younger who forgo college to become truck drivers or managers at local stores, join the service and/or become police or correctional officers. they have been working forty hour a week jobs for years even if they are "only 30." people marry and have kids. they want families. some have already divorced. sometimes relationships are a struggle. sometimes jobs are. sometimes it's family illness and lack of insurance. sometimes it's just life.

sometimes bakersfield makes my life of books and writing and academic debate seem small. or maybe it's the small-town perspective i carry with me. in any event, bakersfield has made it difficult to feel at home anywhere else.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


things i brought back with me from mexico:

1 Julieta Venegas CD (not pirated)
1 hot pink rebozo
1 strawberry shaped magnet made of hojalata
1 hanging angel mobile (hojalata)
1 miniature nativity set (hojalata)
1 engraved candle holder of barro negro
1 brightly painted owl carved out of wood (alebrije)
1 wooden pot holder
6 huipiles (shameless, i know)
1 man's longsleeved dark blue and white embroidered shirt
1 blue T-shirt with "Mexico" emblazoned below indigenous figures
8 recipes for traditional mexican cuisine
1 stomach ailment

i thought the stomach ailment was food poisoning, but since it's lasted about a week now, i decided to take it to the doctor. he thinks it might be e coli.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

creating my own dramas

our last official day in oaxaca was saturday. after spending the morning power shopping at the mercado and missing two buses, callista and i boarded the 2PM autobus that would deliver us to the TAPO bus station in mexico city at 8:30PM - exactly half an hour before the wedding was scheduled to begin.

the morning market shopping and the six and a half hours on the bus had left us disheveled, sweaty, and tired, but upon arriving at TAPO, we grabbed our luggage and scrambled to find the taxis. the driver told us to lock our doors as we would be passing through some "disagreeable" neighborhoods, but we did arrive in good time at the holiday inn near the zocalo.

our check-in was made slightly frenetic by visions of mexican women speaking english and dressed in evening gowns hailing taxis to - what one of the bellboys told me was - a wedding. callista and i bounded up the stairs (ok, really we just took the elevator, but i'm sure i pushed the button more than once) to our room on the fifth floor where we proceeded to tear open our suitcases and makeup bags frantically trying to simultaneously wash and dress up. we emerged from the hotel about twenty minutes later looking surprisingly well put together.

the wedding was held at the museo de josé luis cuevas, an amazing colonial-style building right off the zocalo with an enormous patio and two stories of brightly painted orange-red walls. we drank cocktails, socialized with friends from texas, partook of a delicious dinner, danced and had a wonderful time celebrating gilbert and kora’s marriage.

feeling the weight of the day upon us, callista and i retired relatively early (~1AM) while the party was still in full swing. panic, however, set in on the way home in the taxi when i discovered my wallet missing from my purse.

callista, my wallet isn’t in my purse, i told her, feeling my stomach churn.

let's go back to the wedding.

the taxi driver, informing us that this is going to cost us more money, turns his cab around. distressed and thinking about how i'm going to manage without money for the next couple of days, i tell the security guard that i've lost my wallet. we search underneath our table to see if it’s fallen on the ground. it hasn’t. viriginia and tom tell us that they haven’t seen it either. tears begin to well up in my eyes as virginia assures me that i'll be ok. it’ll just be a matter of canceling credit cards tomorrow, but i am safe and i still have photo ID and will be able to board my flight back to california. i nod, still crying a little. yes, i know. I know.

making our way to the exit, callista and i are met by the museum manager, who seems almost as distressed as i am. i assure you, we only hire the most trustworthy people here… are you sure the wallet did not fall out in the taxi? he sends employees to search the cab. they return empty handed.

he asks if i want him to make an announcement over the microphone. i glance over the dancefloor and see everyone smiling and twirling, laughing. no, i tell him, i do not want to ruin this wedding.

the wedding won’t be ruined.

, i say again.

the manager tells me that he’ll have his staff look around. i tell him that we’ll go back to the hotel to make sure i didn’t inadvertently take it out of my purse before leaving. i hope it’s there, i tell him.

here is my card, he tells me. please call to let me know if you find it there or not.

i am sullen on the way back to the hotel while callista murmurs comforting words to me. we turn the lights on in our room and see everything as we have left it. clothes strewn all over the beds, makeup littering the bathroom counters. i see my passport next to a pile of clothes on my bed and just underneath it, my wallet.

Friday, July 02, 2004

aching quads

10:40PM, internet cafe, last night in oaxaca!

the aching quads are from scaling monte alban yesterday. though i´m in pain now, i have to admit that it was worth the hike. they say that monte alban was built as a holy center on a mountain top overlooking the pueblos of the valley below. the view of village houses dotting the countryside flanked by green mountains is breathtaking. within the ruins, we scaled a small pyramid, saw an ancient ball court, passed by the remains of building where they watched stars, where they danced... it was amazing.

later that afternoon, after having visited el ex-convento santiago in cuilapan - an amazing never-finished dominican monastery built in the the 16th century - we decided to go to a local craft village, arrazola. This village´s special craft were wood carved figures called alebrijes.

after making two bus changes along bumpy not necessarily paved roads, our 15 year old bus driver delivered us to the entrance of arrazola where we were met by two eleven year old boys - ramon and josue - who asked us if we wanted to see some wood figures. we could go to the craft market, ramon told us, but the shops there were *very expensive* and he knew a better place where we could watch the artisans work and choose from *three* rooms of wooden crafts.

ramon and josue (who had surprisingly cool, gelled, spiky hair for an 11 year old ) thus became our guides through the city, taking us from craft house to craft house, as well as to the local catholic church (at my insistence). the church in town is painted the color of an orange creamsicle and is under renovation. we slid along the the slick floor to the altar and then back. as we exited the church, jean told us to look up at the mountains. i did and saw monte alban right before us! ramon told us that they used to be able to walk directly up the mountain to the ruins, but that recently they had built a wall or a fence to prohibit unauthorized crossing to the ruins.

as he was explaining this, a middle-aged woman approached and asked us if this was our first time in oaxaca.

yes, this is our first time here, jean and i said.

do you think that you'll come back.

oh yes, we've really enjoyed it here.

well you should come back, she says. either by yourselves. or next time with your husbands!

jean and i suppress a collective sigh.

yeah! next time we'll bring the husbands.



for a different take on our adventures, check out callista's blog.

dos mujeres, un camino. you know what i mean.