Thursday, December 29, 2005


one of the luxuries that i grant myself when coming home is to spend a leisurely morning reading the bakersfield californian.

of course, there has been ample news coverage of the mall shooting death earlier this week. a front page story today revealed that sixteen of the thirty-two murders in town this year have been gang related. the mayor frustrated with all of the gang violence, not wanting to have to attend another of of these funerals. she wants to adopt a zero tolerance policy. she announced a community meeting for concerned citizens on saturday morning.

the letters to the editor of late have, of course, been about the mall shooting earlier this week. there have been some particularly disturbing letters, one woman in particular wrote that if the boy who was killed was a gang member, he deserved what he got. one less gang member for the rest of the community to worry about.

more common (and mild) opions reflected were from people who asserted that they would no longer be frequenting the mall.

i was telling my parents this afternoon that i think it's sad that nobody in the community wants to take responsibility for this incident. the gang members can kill each other off? is anyone the least bit curious why these kids are joining gangs in the first place? or the conditions under which they live? or what has led them to this point in their young lives?

why is it so easy to dehumanize gang members?

and then people who will "solve" the problem by ceasing their mall excursions. as long as they don't have to see the problem, as long as the violence does not personally affect them, it can continue.

i don't know what the solution to the problem is. i don't know if there is a solution. but i do think that a good first step would be to see that we can't ignore these kids. we can't wish them away. like it or not, they are part of our community.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

mall shooting

the following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the bakersfield californian tooday.

Shooting shocks mall
19-year-old dies after being shot in chest; suspects at large
By GRETCHEN WENNER and SARAH RUBY, Californian staff writers

Posted: Tuesday December 27th, 2005, 11:35 PM

Gunfire killed a 19-year-old Bakersfield man inside Valley Plaza mall Tuesday evening, creating chaos as shoppers ran for exits and fights broke out, police and witnesses said.

Bakersfield police say a bullet fired around 6:21 p.m. hit a man in the chest, killing him. An aunt at the scene identified the victim as D'Andre Marzette. Police confirmed the information but spelled the first name Deondre.

The shooting occurred after two groups of men bumped into each other in front of Champs Sports, said police Detective Mary DeGeare.

Police were looking for the suspected shooter and a second man Tuesday night. Several people were detained, including one with a non-functioning gun.

The incident may be gang-related, police said. Some of the detainees told officers they had gang ties, DeGeare said. She said the two groups involved in the confrontation knew each other.

Mall surveillance cameras caught the shooting on tape.


The Ming Avenue mall was crowded with post-Christmas shoppers, witnesses said.

"The place was packed," said Randy Martin, 38, who was browsing in The Finish Line when he heard a loud pop. It sounded like glass breaking or something falling, he said.

"The next thing I know, it's like a stampede," Martin said.

People were screaming, yelling and running through the mall.

Store workers and mall guards started shutting and locking gates in stores, he said.

Martin, whose wife, Kim, was shopping at the Gap, jumped through the gate before it closed.

The chaotic exodus lasted about 15 or 20 minutes, he said.

"It was kind of freaky," Martin said of the scene. "Any character you can imagine -- they were running by."

Mall security had used a special code to initiate the quick lockdown, DeGeare said. "It was fortunate no one else was hurt" as people raced to get out, she said.

people outside of the central valley don't actually think "gang-related shooting" when they think "bakersfield." they are more likely to think: "farmers," "republicans," "oil," "buck owens," etc. to a certain extent, even those of us who live here (or who are from here) think those same stereotypical things about bakersfield. unless, of course, we live in a part of town that is marked by gang activity.

the reason that the violence "shocked" us (as the title of the article would indicate) is because it occurred in the mall--a public space where people from several neighorhoods, some gang-infested, some not, converge. all of a sudden, the violence that had previously been confined to particular neighborhoods has become visible, even palpable, to those of us who usually have the luxury of ignoring it.

interestingly enough, the mall was crowded again today. my mom and i went to run errands earlier this afternoon and found the parking lots full, the customer service lines long. nobody that i saw seemed skittish, though i have to confess that i did feel ... unsettled.


Saturday, December 24, 2005


every year we get together--my mom her closest sister, my cousin and her family, me, and sometimes my sister--to make tamales. and every year my mom swears it will be the last time.

making tamales is labor intensive. cooking the meat; shredding the meat; de-seeding the chiles and then soaking them to make salsa; adding just enough salt/chile/baking powder/crisco(yes, we're health conscious! ;) to the masa; amasando bien; soaking and cleaning the hojas. when we finish all of the above, then we can begin the arduous process of assembling the tamales. spreading the masa on an hoja, adding meat, and wrapping each tamal. the tamales need to be placed carefully in a deep pot and steam-cooked for an hour to an hour and a half.

yesterday we made tamales from twenty five pounds of masa. and we were tired. my hands stung from peeling chiles. we all complained of aching backs. our fingers like prunes from handling so many wet hojas.

why, then, do we continue to make tamales year after year?

it's a tradition. making tamales is an important part of mexican culture. it's a traditional food of which we partake during christmas. anthropologists appreciate that aspect of culture. ;)

but on a more personal level, it's also something that my mom and her sisters did with their mom. i like the idea of carrying the tradition to another generation. making tamales gives us a reason to get together, to spend time with one another. to catch up on our lives. to gossip about other family members! to remember old stories.

a tamalada definitely revolves around food and its preparation. it also revolves around family, and strengthening the bonds that already connect us to each other.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

home sweet home

i flew in to bakersfield on a gorgeous monday afternoon. the sky a tender blue dusted by bright white cirrus clouds. the strong outline of the mountains, some already snow-capped.

a winter trip is always much nicer than a summer visit here. bakersfield summers are oppressively hot; this past july/august while i was here, the temperature dipped below one hundred degrees only once. and the pollution stings and obscures the horizon in a brown haze.

but the past few days have been perfect. clear and temperate, beautiful.

and then let me brag about a being in a smaller town. the traffic is next to nothing; the stores are not claustrophically crowded; and you can still get a good cup of coffee. :)

part of my contentment here, i'm sure, stems from the fact that for the first time in a long time, i can just relax. sleep late. spend a leisurely morning with my mom, reading the paper and drinking coffee. shop. bake. cook. it's great.

great to be home!

Monday, December 19, 2005

xmas crossing austin

after my last post, a veritable austin lovefest, i got burned!

sunday night, my last night in town before heading to california for the holiday. i had plans with a couple of friends to go see the trail of lights at zilker park. it's an annual austin holiday event. and in my four and a half years here, i'd never been.

the picture that you see of the tree of lights against the austin skyline is about as close as we got.

we decided that it would be worth it to drive to the park rather than take the shuttle.

well, we drove down barton springs road, admiring all the lighted businesses and fans walking along the street. we got in to zilker park and then we were detoured right out. no problem, we'd go back out on barton springs and head west to mopac. stopped at a red on barton springs, we noticed a herd of bicyclists heading to the trail of lights. it was amazing! men, women, children. many decked out in christmas apparel. some bikes adorned with battery operated christmas lights. how cute! how austin!

thirty minutes later, as the crowd of bicyclists continued to pedal by our stationary cars, it was no longer cute. no longer charming. we were agitated. when we were finally able to head west and get on mopac, we were promptly halted at the trail of lights exit. we waited, trapped in a trail of cars, for a long time. after we exited, the traffic did not cease to be nightmarish.

we gave up. got back on mopac. and as we were driving by the parking area, we saw a lighted construction sign that said, "lot full. use shuttle."

oh well. christmas is in bakersfield anyway.


Friday, December 16, 2005

i heart austin

a couple of years ago, my friend faedah would write and tell me that she had never loved a city the way she loved damascus. she was on a fulbright in syria conducting fieldwork about the old city. i thought she meant the people or the lifestyle. but she insisted it was the city. she wanted to throw her arms around the walls. she loved it.

i thought, how strange to love a city with such ardor.

but tonight, driving north along congress avenue, i let my eyes linger on the city before me--the illuminated outline of downtown buildings, the white christmas lights in the shapes of instruments, the reflection of light on the colorado river, the soft glow of the capital. and i felt a surge of... appreciation. attachment. affection. love.

i was trying to explain this to my mom the other day. we'd driven up to kerbey lane restaurant for brunch before her departure flight to california. she crinkled her nose at the restaurant, and said, "no estará cucharachenta?"

"mother!" i replied as we got out of the car, having no other witty comebacks.

kerbey lane is an austin staple. the original restaurant (there are now a couple of other locations) is an old, wood-framed house, brightly painted inside and out with hardwood floors and locally-produced art adorning its walls. it's extremely popular for its pancakes, which are served 24 hours a day. people literally line up on weekends, often waiting an hour or more, to be seated for brunch.

once inside, she says, "i guess it's pretty clean from the inside."

i think that she is annoyed with me because i've been taking her and the rest of my family to strange restaurants all weekend. what's wrong with chili's and denny's?

i try to explain to her. a few years ago, when i drove into laredo for a shakira concert, i was disappointed that the parts of town we drove through looked just like any city, any where. there were starbucks, chilis, sonics... any number of chain stores. but during that brief trip, i didn't see anything that helped me to see laredo's character, what made it unique as a city.

austin is teeming with character.

i tell her, this is what austin is about. the old houses converted into funky shops and restaurants. the work of local artists--for better or worse--displayed in restaurants and coffeeshops. the hipster service industry with their shaggy haircuts and multiple tatoos. the multiple music venues. (every austin girl has to have a crush on at least one musician during her time here. my crush is davíd garza.) the outdoor festivals and festivities-- ACLand South by Southwest are the most well-known, but there are several throughout the year.

i love this city. its originality. its quirkiness.

i could also write forever about the people who have made this place magic for me, but i'll leave that for another post. for now, i'll just say that, if i could, i would throw my arms around this city, in ardent love.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005


as an anthropologist, i'm a big fan of ritual.

a lot of people i know have not participated in their graduation ceremonies. but after six and a half years in this program, i was not about to miss my graduation ceremony. i needed it. i needed the ritual to help me understand that i'm finished. to put on the gown and funny hat. to be hooded.

here is a picture my dad took of my hooding.

note the dimly lit stage. all of the elders, similarly dressed in their robes and tams, looking on as the dean hoods me.

i am one of them now.

i feel like i've joined a secret society. or a cult.

either way, i've crossed to the other side. :)


Sunday, December 11, 2005


i am standing in the wings, chatting nervously to the graduates around me. when did you defend? what department? are you on the job market.

small talk that cannot come to fruition because in minutes we will be crossing the stage. we will be hooded. we will receive diplomas (well, fake diplomas for the day).

i wear the traditional doctoral garb. a black, flowing graduation robe with black velvet paneling. a velvet "tam," which looks like a cross between a french beret and a chef's hat. my blue, orange and white hood is draped across my right arm. i clutch my name card (with the phonetic pronunciation of my last name) in my left hand.

a woman scurries by to make sure that our hoods are folded and draped appropriately. another woman briskly walks by the line, emphasizing that our name cards need to be in our LEFT hands.

the line moves along. i am on deck. when it is my turn, a woman gently pushes me forward. i give my name card to one person, then hand my hood to a white-haired man with bloodshot eyes. he, in turn, hands it to someone else. i hear my name, am relieved when the emcee pronounces my last name correctly. i move in front of the the assistant dean of the college of liberal arts--who happens to be one of my committee members, a friend--and face the stage. i feel my entire body exhale as the dean places the hood around my neck.

a series of hand shakes. the dean. the vice-provost. the guy handing out fake diplomas. my last hand shake actually pulls me off stage, and i am ushered into the wings again. a hug from a familar face. i am ushered into pictures. stand here. turn this way. behind this texas background. behind that plain one. i am ushered back into the auditorium and hugged by the woman who processed my paperwork the day before.

i see my family--dad, mom, sister, brother. friends from california who have flown in for the occasion. friends from texas who've become like family. they are waving. smiling. taking pictures. i walk to my seat, grinning like an idiot, in my jaunty tam and billowing graduation frock. and it's just one of those moments. one of those perfect moments when everything seems full and right.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

wrapping things up

don't judge.

but i'm not *quite* done with my dissertation.

i did successfully defend my dissertation. i obtained signatures from all of my committee members who were present at the defense.

but they asked me to write four more pages.

that was a month ago. i thought i had lots of time.

but i still haven't done it.

and then there's the small matter of paperwork. copyright trainings. electronic submissions. fees. and then, of course, chasing down people to get my last signatures.

it's all due friday.

but my family and friends are coming in for my graduation tomorrow!!!


and stressful.

the next couple of days should be interesting...


Sunday, December 04, 2005

memorials and such

just back from the anthropology meetings in washington d.c.

it was a busy week! i had my out-of-state job talk, then two interviews in d.c. it's been an interesting and instructive experience. i hope that it all amounts to something by the end of the school year.

rather than regale you with job horror stories, let me share some fun pics of d.c.!

saturday morning, before interview number two, my friend faedah and i went on a power walk around the national mall. i wanted to see all the memorials and monuments, and because she used to live in d.c., faedah was the perfect tour guide!

we visited the more well-known memorials, most notably the jefferson and lincoln memorials. however, i'd never had the chance to see the franklin delano roosevelt memorial. unlike the other two presidential memorials which represent the men as larger than life, this memorial represented roosevelt's life and the major events that occurred during his presidency. the path along the granite walls of the memorial represents the different stages of the president's life and presidency, including his election, the depression, the war, and finally his death. there are beautiful waterfalls along the walk. i thought it was really nice, because it not only honored the president, it honored that whole period of american history.

in addition to those memorials in the national mall, we also stopped to visit memorials for the korean and vietnam wars, as well as the new world war two memorial. it was very beautiful, almost majestic. faedah remarked that she preferred the simplicity of the vietnam memorial. the plain black granite and the emphasis on the names of the soldiers. nothing really symbolic, but more importantly, no one anonymous. i think it's important to remember that there are real people, young people with families who die--continue to die--tragically in senseless wars.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

autumn and beyond

some places have autumn.

nearly every day i pass two red-leafed trees that grow in the front of an elementary school near my house. we don't get much of a fall here in austin. the leaves don't often turn gently to yellows, oranges, and reds. most of the time, the leaves seem to be scorched off the trees, fall brittle and brown to the ground. but every so often there is a beatiful yellow or red-leafed tree.

earlier this week, i visited a university in a state where there is, apparently, autumn. i have to admit that i was taken by the trees and red brick buildings.

i mentioned in an earlier post how unsettling it is to be on the job market, but this was a good visit. it was nice to get to know another university in another state. to meet other young scholars who are smart and seem to genuinely enjoy their work. and then to imagine my opportunities in a new environment. and while it was a little stressful to present the best--smartest, most personable--version of myself to the faculty at this school, it was a neat experience to see that they were also putting their best foot (feet?) forward for me! and let's face it. the wining and dining is nice, too. :)

anyway, that's part one of the week. tomorrow i'm off to D.C. for the annual anthropology meetings. i have a couple more interviews there. wish me luck!


Friday, November 25, 2005


top five things for which i am thankful:

5. austin. i love this town. nestled in the hill country. eighty degrees at the end of november. today was gorgeous. the leaves turning, heavy clouds crawling across the sky, sunny and blue. and the town is funky and fun. lots of students and/or hipsters. great shopping, great coffee. and we are in the bluest county in texas. :)

4. job possibilities. stressful, yes. but after two years of a whole lot of nothing, that anyone even wants to interview me is something for which to be thankful.

3. a finished dissertation. after two years of drudgery it feels amazing to be done! it feels great. i'm going to disneyland.

2. friends. i have great friends all over california and texas. i'm especially lucky to have an amazing group of girlfriends in austin. there is a critical mass of us who have all been here for ... well, i won't say how many years. but several years. we've been through a lot together. lots of stress and frustration, but also a lot of laughter and celebration, too. and wine! lots of red wine. :)

1. family. despite the fact that i was not able to spend thanksgiving with my family this year, i'm grateful that they have been there for me, especially through all of the graduate school madness. they've given me lots of encouragement and lots of compassion. and in two weeks, they'll all be here for my graduation. that's definitely something for which to be thankful.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

you can take the girl outta bakersfield, but you can't...

i have one campus visit and two job interviews scheduled for next week.

i have to confess that i'm a little bit shocked. it's hard for me to believe that they want to interview me.

growing up in bakersfield , everyone thought that i was a crazy liberal because i self-identified as a--gasp!--democrat. i thought that i was smart and progressive. i couldn't wait to go away to college.

then i got to stanford. i was one of the most conservative people around. i remember my roommates taking pleasure in scandalizing me, the small town girl in the suite. it was true. i was small town. there were so many things that i had never been exposed to before. so many different kinds of people, cultures, divergent politics, different value systems. i realized later that a lot of the difference between me and the people i met at stanford was that they had money (not that i ever thought that i didn't!). but these people had been exposed to much more than i had. they'd traveled, gone to out-of-state prep schools. their worldviews were much more broad than mine were.

i eventually found my niche at stanford. not among the trustfund babies or the young millionaires, as you can imagine. rather, i found community among other chicanos and asian americans. (i'll leave the class and race analysis for that scenario for a later date).

what does all of this have to do with my job hunt?

just this: i'm nervous because i'm at the point where i feel smart and progressive. and there are big universities calling. and i'm starting to feel like that small town girl all over again.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

how to be a chicana role model

my very sweet friend, virginia, asked me the other day, "aren't you proud of yourself?" (referring to the ph.d.)

i thought about it and decided that i was happy, but not "proud of myself."

she told me, "you should be proud of yourself!"

then i had this nice moment yesterday.

i volunteered to speak to a group of students who were visiting UT from texas a & m kingsville . i spoke, along with a couple of other graduate students, about my experiences in graduate school; the idea was to demystify the process of applying and getting through a master's or ph.d. degree program.

i walked into the room and noticed that most of the visiting group was mexican american, and most were young women.

the UT organizer of the panel and one of the deans of the graduate school (whose office we were meeting in) were murmuring about me. then the dean asked me, in a whisper, "did you just defend your dissertation?"


both she and the UT organizer congratulated me and introduced me to the group as "doctor n--." all of a sudden, i was grateful that i had dressed semi-professionally for the occasion.

it was a very surreal moment to be standing in front of all of these undergraduate mexican american women in this context. i could feel them looking at me. i could tell that they were thinking, "she's a doctor?"

when it was my turn to speak, i told them about my research in south texas, asking them, "are any of you from the valley?" several hands went up. one of the young women was excited to learn that i had done my research in her hometown. i told her how i loved it there.

and then a funny thing happened. i started to feel proud of myself. i was happy to have done my research in south texas, home to some of these young women. and i was happy to be a mexican american woman, like them. maybe i'm being over-optimistic, but i hope that they thought, if she can get her ph.d., so can i. she's just like me after all (just older!). i kind of started to feel like a ... role model.

here's to being a chicana role model.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


the academic job market.

i've already complained about it here .
how stressful it is to assemble the job packets.
each one a little different.
coming to terms with the fact that there is not a perfect job for you.
rather, you need to try to be perfect for the job.

at this point, the process has become mechanized.
printing writing samples. copying the CV on special paper.
printing and copying coverletters on university letterhead.

dear search committee: i'm writing to express interest in the position of assistant professor in the X department at X university. i feel that i would be an excellent candidate blah blah blah.

cut paste print copy stamp mail

i write these letters and assemble these job dossiers almost without thinking.

the more difficult thing now is trying to wrap my mind around the idea that next fall i could be in new jersey. or upstate new york. or oklahoma. iowa. d.c. indiana. illinois. california. anywhere.

or no where. i guess i could get nothing and stay in austin. which actually wouldn't be so bad.

but just to think of the anywhere. it scares me.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

beto driving

the best thing to do when you have a mild case of the blues is to put on your dancing shoes. :) actually, i put on a pair of borrowed black cowboy boots.

friday night, my roommate and i went to see/hear/dance to one of our favorite local bands, maneja beto. these pics are courtesy of the maneja beto website. notice what the percussionist's t-shirt says.

the event was a fundraiser to help support indigenous radio stations in southern mexico, which drew quite a crowd. i saw people there from the anthropology department who i hadn't seen in ages (i tend to avoid the anthro department), folks from mexican american studies, and other people that i've met here and there. i even shared the dance floor with two of my students--one current and one former.

i have to confess that it was a little unnerving to dance in front of one of my current students. but everyone who knows me knows that i am a cumbia fiend. i love to dance cumbia. and maneja beto has such a great sound.

so i said a pleasant hello to my student and proceeded to cumbia the night away.


Friday, November 11, 2005


what would it take to make me happy?

over the past week, several people have asked me variations of, "do you feel this incredible weight lifted off your shoulders now that the dissertation defense is over?" to which i've answered in a very eeyore kind of way, "not really."

i know! i should be dancing in the streets! i was happy when i turned in the diss at the end of september. remember? but i'm now in the thick of fall semester.

i'm teaching, which is great most of the time. i love to teach, especially my class this semester. but it does take a lot of preparation. this past week i had a gajillion exams and papers to grade. ok, maybe there were just thirty-one. but for those of you who have never experienced the joy of grading, it ofen feels like your life is bleeding slowly out of you.

then there is the not insignificant matter of job and fellowship applications. i've got the basic letters and job materials down, but the postdoctoral essays are something else entirely. i've been fortunate to have professors give me feedback about my research plans, so that i can revise! revise! revise! but sometimes you just want to say, ok. enough with the feedback. can't you love me the way that i am?

and finally, the small fact that the guy i thought was my soulmate emailed me last week to announce that he is getting married. this was the day of my defense, by the way. yeah, that was fun. so that also puts a damper on my otherwise always chipper (ha!) mood. :)

but really. i'm done with my dissertation. i generally really do enjoy my work teaching. and i have one foot out of the graduate school door. what would it take to make me happy?


Sunday, November 06, 2005

using my powers for good

friday night at the chevron.

it is the night of my birthday party, and i need to buy ice.

i have dressed in a silky pink shirt with spaghetti straps, grey pants, and black heels. i've taken pains with my makeup, trying to a achieve a smoky-eyed look. but i am 30. and i am dissatisfied with my outfit; i do not feel as put together as i would like. if only i had the right accessories. and the smoky eyes? i feel like shadows make my eyes look tired.

i grab a five pound bag of ice from outside and walk into the tiny chevron, where there is a long line of people, mostly younger mexican men. it looks as if many have just gotten off work and stopped at the chevron for beer. some with singles; others with six-packs; still others with more substantial boxes of beer.

i am conspicuously overdressed. i am also one of two women in the store. the other is older, in lounge clothes, disshelved white hair, and noticeable whiskers sprouting from her chin.

needless to say, i am the belle of the ball. the guys in front of me are casting glances. i think that one of them even mumbles something to me about the long line. and even though i don't feel as "put together" as i would like, i'm beginning to realize that it's all about context.

i'm the most beautiful girl at the chevron off I-35 on friday night.

i approach the cashier, and he charges me $2.05 for my bag of ice. i hand him my twenty dollar bill. as he begins to count out my ninety-five cents in change, i look up at him through my lashes and say, "you're not really going to give me ninety-five cents, are you?'' he looks at me with an "aw shucks" expression on his face, and hands me a dollar.

"thank you."

it's a small victory. but when you're thirty, sometimes you need to prove that you can be queen of chevron on friday night.


Friday, November 04, 2005


it's become a ritual of mine to go for a pedicure on my birthday. i decided to do it a day early this year, and headed to "funny nails" at the dobie mall.

i sit in the massaging chair while my feet are submerged into bubbling warm water. heaven.
mai, my pedicurist, works wonders on my poor feet, which have really taken a beating since i've been running.
i tell mai that i am pampering myself because my birthday is tomorrow.
congratulations, she says.
and then i did something that i shouldn't have.
i asked her. how old do you think i'm going to be?
she studies my face for a moment. 36?
30, i tell her. mai clearly does not know the convention of guessing someone to be much younger than you actually think they are.
or maybe she does!
i'm sorry! she says, embarrassed.
it's ok, i assure her.
how old do you think i am? she asks.
26. i guess down.
oh no, she says. i'm old. 34. i thought you were older than me!
yes, well. you look very young, i tell her. and she does. like many of the vietnamese women working at funny nails, her skin is flawless, akin to fine porcelain.

36?! hmph. so much for my youthful glow!


Wednesday, November 02, 2005


today i wore a blue button down shirt and black pants, black heels. full makeup. thought that if i looked professional, i might feel more authoritative.

i write my dissertation spiel (the presentation i'm supposed to give to my audience before the question period) in the two hours before the defense is scheduled to occur. but i get to campus with plenty of time to print and make copies of my signature sheets and walk over to the building.

i am the first one there. the conference room has one long table with several chairs as well as seats and a sofa along the walls of the room. i position myself at the head of the table.

people begin to file in slowly. my closest friends take their seats at the opposite end of the table, expecting that my profs will be sitting on either side of me. my committee member, dr. l arrives, then dr. m, then dr. f. more friends and colleagues. one of my committee members has emailed to tell me that she will be unable to attend, so we are only waiting on one other professor.

fifteen minutes pass. dr. l calls the missing prof on his cell phone. dr. m goes downstairs to check to see if he is in the wrong room. my friend, veronica, runs (in her very cute shoes) to the history department to see if she can track him down. no luck and no luck. but sometime during this period, a deliveryman appears with a vase of long-stemmed pink roses for me. from las girlfriends sitting at the end of the table.

dr. l begins making phone calls to the tower. we're trying to have a dissertation defense, but are one professor short of a quorum. what can we do? he disappears downstairs and reappears with the anthropology graduatue advisor, a professor i know by name and sight but have never spoken with.

though he doesn't know me and doesn't know anything about my project, because he is the anthropology graduate advisor, he can sit in for a missing professor during a dissertation defense.

the committee evicts everyone from the room to plan to their line of questioning. i am in the hallway thinking, are you kidding? this cannot possibly count. only three people in there have read my dissertation. someone someday is going to call me on this. my ph.d. won't really count because i didn't have a real defense!

one of my friends overhears one of my professors tell the graduate advisor that this is just a "formality" because my dissertation is pretty solid.

i am relieved, but still upset.

we are invited back into the room. i give my spiel and they start to ask me questions. the questions aren't bad. some of them are challenging, but it does seem to be more of a conversation than an oral exam. after the first hour, the graduate adviser has to leave, and, minutes later, my missing committee member appears telling me that he has a good excuse. he has come armed with his questions. more questions. more questions. i'm tired. it seems that everyone is tired. shifting in their seats and muffling sighs and yawns.

the question period ends and they kick everyone out of the room. i am invited back in after some minutes.

"congratulations," my advisor tells me. you passed. they have some minor revisions. four more pages of a conclusion.

everyone is signing forms.

congratulations, dr. n (that's me!).



i'll fill in some of the gaps of the weekend later, but i wanted to share that today is my DISSERTATION DEFENSE. one o'clock, central standard time. any prayers, lit candles, wishes of luck, and/or any other positive vibes you can send would be greatly appreciated.



Sunday, October 30, 2005


lots of things to share about the weekend in san diego.


after my frolick with the jellyfish on friday afternoon, i went to the rehearsal dinner/picnic in mission bay. mike, veronica's fiancee (now husband!), had ordered food from all of his favorite san diego restaurants. there was everything from pizza to mexican food to sushi. a couple of my friends tried the "spam rolls," spam wrapped in white rice and seaweed.

we stayed out there on the waterfront until long after the sun set. it was at that point that i remembered how COLD descends on the shore after the sun disappears. i would have suffered much more in my t-shirt had it not been for veronica's mother, who had come prepared with enormous coats (presumably for all the texans. when did i become a texan???).

although a bunch of us had planned to get dressed up and hit the town after the picnic, we were all pretty exhausted from our travels that day. not to mention jetlagged. so we just had a couple of drinks at the hotel where the rehearsal dinner was being held (i had hot chocolate, yum!), swung by the airport one last time for my roommate, who was coming in late, and went back to our hotel.

didn't sleep until catching one more glimpse of the ocean at night. it blends dark blue into the horizon. mostly you just hear it, kind of a soft and hollow roar.


sleep blissfully late. which actually means that we wake up around eight in the morning, since we are still on texas time.

my roommate and i agree that our best plan of action will be to roll right out of our beds for a hearty breakfast, and then to continue rolling on to the beach. which we do. have a leisurely breakfast at a cafe around the corner from our hotel. we seat and sun ourselves on the outdoor patio and delve in to our breakfast burritos and the morning newspaper.

we poke into a few of the shops around town, appreciating the surfer girl aesthetic that many of the shops seem to offer. we choose not to buy any surf diva apparel because we don't want anyone to think that we are posers. :)

then to the beach. it is another perfect day. i roll up my pant legs, kick off my chanclas and begin to trod through the thick sand toward the ocean. the water is cold on our feet and the sun warm on our backs. olga regales me with questions about the beach and surfing. do surfers wash their wetsuits? they can't just hose them off! what kind of bird is that? a pelican? i don't know! i'm just a wannabe surf diva.

i find the tiniest sand dollar in the world and put it in my pocket. olga drops a rock on a jellyfish that we are both too scared to touch. we walk and walk, let our rolled up pants get salty wet, until it's time to go back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding.

the wedding that afternoon in balboa park is both beautiful and moving. mike and veronica have managed to plan a ceremony that incorporates elements of her mexican american and his japanese american cultural backgrounds. the ceremony is catholic-esque, a retired priest performing the ceremony. they incorporate a lazo ceremony from the mexican catholic tradition, where the bride and groom are essentially tied together, the priest blessing their now bonded lives. then a sake ceremony, where the bride and groom and each set of parents partake of the same sake, symbolizing the unification of their two families. when the ceremony is over, they walk back down the aisle to the songs of a full mariachi band.

the reception is similarly infused with their different cultures and also senses of style and humor. mike has chosen the Rocky theme song for the introduction of the bridal party. there are tiny sake cups at our tables as wedding tokens that say, "i got lit at mike and veronica's wedding." veronica's mother makes an eloquent toast in spanish; mike's grandfather leads a banzai toast. the evening's dancing is to cumbia, 70s funk, old school hip hop, and spanish pop.

i dance until my feet blister and ache.

the wedding celebration wonderfully unique and happy.

Friday, October 28, 2005

shiny happy san diego

i got off the plane today and felt like i was in callifornia. the san diego airport has enormous windows, seems like from roof to floor, that reveal palm trees and pristine blue skies. the air is crisp and cool, the sun warm on your skin, the constant ocean breeze tangles your hair.

the stretch of beach adjacent to our hotel in la jolla is gorgeous. clean sand, the water a deep blue etching a sharp line against the horizon.

walking on the beach i saw this amazing jellyfish washed up on the shore. i'd never seen a jellyfish this big before. you could actually see the shellfish that it had eaten because of its transparent insides.

i'm giddy at the beach and can hardly believe that only 24 hours prior the tension in my neck and shoulders as i was trying to run all my last minute errands was causing my head to throb. here i am practically skipping along the shore. i am irrationally happy.

there is something amazing about being by the ocean. being next to something so enormous and beautiful and forever.


Thursday, October 27, 2005


this past week has been bad. grad student bad.

i confess that i have been neglecting my students. don't get me wrong; when i'm in class, i try to convey the ideas at hand in the clearest possible way. i listen, i try to engage them in dialogue. but i wasn't looking at the big picture. namely, i'd forgotten that they are scheduled to take an exam next week. (i usually try to prepare them mentally or scare them into studying). i found myself scrambling this week to write paper topics for them and a to create a review sheet. i'm generally trying to be the teacher that i know that i can be if i make the effort.

these past few days i've also been trying to submit job and fellowship dossiers. seven of them. that was madness. the basic elements of a job dossier are:
x a coverletter--generally two pages, single spaced. though each coverletter has the basic same elements, they all have to be tailored to the university at hand--research or teaching--and to the department (e.g. anthropology, american studies, latino/a studies, chicano/a studies, ethnic studies, women's studies, etc.)
x a curriculum vitae. this is like an extended resume; it should hover around five pages.
x a writing sample, which should be around thirty pages. i've been submitting chapters of my dissertation.

some universities want more. they want sample syllabi of courses they would like you to teach, they want a written teaching philosophy, student evaluations of your teaching, graduate transcripts... some want more than one writing sample. they will ask for two or three. the postdoc applications want a statement of research and an abstract of your project and your first born child... you get the picture.

i had seven of these applications to turn in by thursday evening. it all had to be in the mail by the time i left for san diego friday morning. i got five out. i'll have to express mail one of the more demanding job dossiers on monday, after completing my teaching portfolio. and then there's a postdoc i'm applying to in san diego. i have to revise my statement of research, which, by the way, i just finished writing wednesday night. i don't know if i have the mental distance to revise it yet, but i'll have to. i'll submit that online tuesday. why kill myself with those last two things if i successfully completed five applications this week and there will be more to submit come mid-november?

they're both positions in california, which is where my family lives. i'll take whatever i get next year, but it would be nice to nearer to rather than farther from home.

so i'll run myself a little ragged for a little bit. i'm looking forward to a weekend in san diego to cushion the stress.


Monday, October 24, 2005

jennifer needs

my roommate recently told me about a blog meme going around. the blogger is supposed to type her name + needs into google. i did this out of curiosity to see what "jennifer needs," according to google. most of the hits refer to the more famous jennifers--lopez and aniston. but they might apply to the lesser jennifers, as well!

according to google:

1. Jennifer needs a cold shower.
2. Jennifer needs this Diva Publicity like she needs a hole in the head.
3. Jennifer needs a smack daddy.
4. Jennifer needs space.
5. Jennifer needs to keep on improving.
6. Jennifer needs the earth energy in her life to learn how to ground and be more practical.

i like the last few. though i may indeed need "a smack daddy," i believe a greater need might be to "keep improving." and if all that earth energy works itself out for me, that'd be great, too. ;)


Friday, October 21, 2005

cumpliendo an~os

isn't she lovely?
i won't tell you how old she is today; my mother has always been very young at heart.

she's had an amazing life. she and i were talking the other day about how her life, in many ways, has come full circle. she comes from a farm working family and spent many of her teenage years working in the fields, migrating from south texas to new mexico, arizona, and california, and even some sojourns to the midwest. i grew up with her stories about working in the fields. about the snake that slithered across her feet when she was picking cotton in missouri. about the chicken coops they slep in while they worked in indiana. the cold mornings in new mexico. the cold and fog of watsonville picking apples. how she and her sisters would emerge covered in grape juice from working la gondola. then, of course, they would shower and be ready for their dances!

years later, settled in california, she would meet and marry my father, who also work in agriculture. he used the GI bill after returning from vietnam to pay for his college education, an education that affords him an office position. agricultural sales. as such, they travel together once a year or so to agricultural conferences. growers, brokers, salespeople, and their assistant instructors converge to rub elbows, make connections, talk shop, and so forth (i don't really know what goes on in these conferences; i've never been invited!).

anyway, i remember once my mom telling me about one of these conference she and my dad had gone to. i think it was in atlanta. they were having dinner in the ballroom of a hotel. she described how they were all seated for dinner, the lights dimmed, and that the tuxedoed wait staff emerged carrying silver platters. all at once they uncovered the platters to reveal the cuisine of the evening and began to serve the guests.

it was something else for my mother. she couldn't help but think, i used to work for these people. IN THE FIELDS. and now i'm sitting next to them having dinner at this elegant place.

full circle.

i guess, at times, it's been a poor life. but i think that it's always--at some level--been rich.

happy birthday, mom. i love you!

(you know you secretly love that i write about you.)


Thursday, October 20, 2005

murphy's law

i wake up late. go for a late run. am running late to school. i'm supposed to catch one of my professors in the "morning" to get his signature on a form i need to turn in for my dissertation defense.

i deposit my computer and backpack in my office and run to the history department, feeling agitated because i've not had breakfast. i am at his office just after 11AM. he signs without telling me that my dissertation is great! fine! i need that encouragement in my weakened state.

instead i go in search of breakfast tacos. sold out at the sandwich truck. no longer being sold at the campus "convenience" store. no longer being sold at the campus coffeeshop. no breakfast tacos on campus! i secretly feel this is a conspiracy against mexicans at UT. i opt for a slice of veggie pizza.

i go back to my office. i have not done the reading for my class. this does not necessarily spell disaster for students, but because i am TEACHING the class for which i have not done the readings, disaster does seem imminent.

i spend the next hour frantically reading the past week's worth of material that I HAVE ASSIGNED to the class. and i'm thinking, why did i give them so much to read??? i finish most of it but have no clue how i'm going to facilitate discussion.

i spend $2.60 on a cafe americano that i am convinced will help me to focus and be brilliant. it is weak and watery. i drink less than half of it and am not quite feeling brilliant when class begins at 2PM. as i speak, my students look at once confused and bored, which does not seem possible, but apparently it is.

a painful hour and a half later, i run to get my last signature and turn in my documents to the office of graduate studies. the woman points out a mistake i have made on my dissertation formatting, but nevertheless enters me into the computer database. now the university knows. i will be defending november 2nd.

back in the office i revise a job letter and assemble other materials to send to the university of very far away from my home. i finish, but the campus post office is closed.

i take the bus home, get into my car and spend the next forty minutes in traffic heading downtown. i have not eaten since 11:30AM; it is now nearing 6PM. i am anxious and frustrated. i see a parking spot a block from the post office and make a last minute decision to take it. i maneuver quickly toward the sidewalk and HIT THE CAR i am parking in front of. hit it. a nice shiny toyota four runner. silver. big scratch. BIG.

unethically, i run to the post office. mail my letter and come back to the scene of the crime. i leave an apologetic note with my phone number on it.

starving, i think that i will stop by this taco stand on the way home, but have no cash. i pull into a wells fargo and hit up the ATM for cash. the machine informs me that it will have to use my OVERDRAFT protection to fulfill my request, do i want to continue?

i don't continue. i would rather be hungry and poor and agitated all the way home.

i come home and hear strains of marc anthony on the stereo. my roommate's boyfriend is in the kitchen cooking dinner. eggplant parmesano. they are sympathetic and feed me. one of my students writes me a nice email. i talk to my parents. i feel better.

but i still want to sleep. to wake up tomorrow on a different side of the bed.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

an omen?

i have a dissertation defense date.

it was, perhaps ridiculously, important to me that i defend my dissertation before my birthday, which is november 4th. i'll be turning 30, which feels like a milestone; i wanted to have the defense behind me before i turned 30.

it's considered a courtesy to give your committee members a full month to read your dissertation before the defense date. thus, my hustle to turn in the diss on september 30th. shortly after handing my dissertation over to my committee members, one of them emailed me and told me that the soonest he could attend a defense would be the week of october 31st. it occurred to me, then, that i would be cutting it close to my self-imposed deadline.

i had to find the magic day and time that would work for all five of my dissertation committee members, who teach and have other university obligations. i just wanted it to be before friday, the 4th.

i got my wish, and was able to schedule the defense for november 2nd at one in the afternoon.

shortly after i announced the date, another committee member emailed and said, "You would pick dia de los muertos!" day of the dead.

i'm now left wondering what kind of omen that is...


Friday, October 14, 2005


i came back from south texas on sunday night, and i was hoarse. i'd been fighting a sore throat with teas and vitamin c since thursday, but i didn't rest as much as i should have over the weekend. by monday morning i had full-blown laryngitis.

the doctor checked my ears, nose, and throat, felt my lymph nodes, and declared that i had a cold. instead of swollen bronchial tubes, i had swollen tubes in my voicebox. (well, ok, i don't remember if that was her scientific explanation, but that was the gist!). she told me that because it was a virus, there were no antibiotics that could help me. i just had to rest and be quiet.

be quiet. hmph.

i called in sick to work for later that day. i called in a guest lecturer for my class on tuesday, and i rested. well, i was restfully grading papers, but it wasn't so bad. it was kind of nice to absolve myself of most of my responsibilities for the week. i missed a couple of fun outings with my friends, like the día de la raza celebration last night--lots of music, dancing and fun, but that's ok. it feels nice, allowing myself this period of convalescence. it feels like an indulgence.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

son~ando en south texas

saturday just after seven in the evening. cristina and i are driving west along a farm road just outside of elsa, texas. the sun is setting behind grey clouds that have threatened, but not delivered, rain that afternoon. that western stretch of sky iridescent in its glistening golds, pinks, greys, and blues.

we are heading to a coffeeshop in mission, texas, where a south texas acquaintance of mine will be reading from his collection of poetry. he's invited me to read. if i want. i carry two poems folded neatly in my purse, but am undecided.

my other friend, cristina (from brownsville), meets us at jitterz, a bright spot amidst mission stripmalls. its brightly colored walls are adorned with paintings, photos, and other locally-produced art. daniel, the featured poet of the evening, thrives in the spotlight, playing with words and rhythms, and joking with the audience.

i unfold my poems on stage and am self-conscious about how un-funny they are. one is about an ex-love, the other about a mother whose son has recently returned from iraq. but everyone laughs at the joking way i introduce them; the audience smiles and claps appropriately when i finish. i am happy.

we escape before the third set (!) of poetry and head to mcallen for food and drinks. our first stop is the republic of the rio grande valley, where we seat ourselves at a table in the outdoor patio. we order an appetizer, a meal, and a dessert. a full course meal between the three of us. wine and margaritas for each. there are introductions and updates, confessions and stories--funny and sad. the restaurant is closing, and cecilia (cristina's sister, my friend) calls; she is coming to meet us. we decide that our next destination will be españa.

it is nearing midnight, and españa does not sleep. the patio is filled with latino glitterati, drinking and smoking, their conversations a varied music sharpening the soft orange light of the space. we snag a recently abadoned table, and a server comes to change the linens while we settle in. champagne and wine, another margarita. on the rocks.

we give cecilia the update on the poetry. question the politics of the poets. we talk about writing--the process, the politics, the audience. we talk careers and flailing love lives. our questions, opinions, and declarations bubbling like the champagne in cristina's glass.

i realize at some point during the evening that this is the perfect moment. here at españa as the hours become small. enjoying the company of my beautiful and opinionated friends, our futures uncertain but our dreams close.


Friday, October 07, 2005

viva la maquina

friday night in the rio grande valley.

it is just after seven o'clock and we are rushing out the door, us women attending to last minute primping--lipstick and earrings--while cristina's dad waits, ready, in the car. we are there in less than five minutes, twenty minutes before the game is scheduled to begin, but i sense that we are late.

there are cars parked along the road to the stadium and packed into the parking lot; we maneuver into a makeshift space on the football practice field.

a cold front--a northern wind--has arrived in the valley that day, delivering a chill as the sun fades on the horizon, casting a pink glow on the wisps of clouds across the sky, now a tender twilight blue.

yellowjacket fans swarm the stadium in clothes that are black and every shade of gold (from muted yellows to shiny metallics). smoke and the smell of fajitas float along the breeze as we wade through the crowd of people, many of whom cristina and her family know. we are fortunate to have seats in the reserved section just to the left of the fifty yard line.

the stadium lights are almost too bright even though there are still strains of sun in the sky, and a string of headlights continue to stream into the parking lot. the announcer prepares the crowd in a bass that resonates through the stadium. the sound system projects an engine revving. cristina leans over to me and says, excitedly, "that's la maquina."

all at once the 'jackets burst onto the field, and the crowd begins to roar.

they are larger than life.

it becomes obvious early on that the 'jackets will dominate the game. i decide to head to the snackbar just before halftime to grab a fajita taco. half an hour later, i am at the front of the line, and the tacos are sold out. *sigh* me quedé con el antojo. nevertheless, the anthropologist in me is satisfied watching trendy high school girls and tall, gawky high school boys flirt in awkward ways; young mothers yanking along their michievous and smiling toddlers in their mini-yellowjacket apparel; handsome young mexican american men (my age), their wedding bands gleaming as they buy a family's worth of pizza, frito boats, and soda.

the game is a blowout; the 'jackets trounce the tigers 46-7. we stay to the cold and bitter end, long after the mercedes fans in their orange apparel have abandoned their team. we stay along with other jacket fans who continue to yell, "viva! la maquina!" and "no mercy!" even when we know it is impossible for the tigers to come back.

nothing quite like football in the valley.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

my sister

even though my sister is four years younger than i am, sandra has always been lightyears ahead when it comes to what magazines call "beauty and fashion." fortunately, she likes to impart her beauty and fashion wisdom to her less savvy older sister.

once upon a time, i was going to my senior prom. i had a pretty dress, a makeup appointment at the mall, and a handsome date. it was very exciting.

as i was getting ready, sandra, who was in eighth grade at the time, took one look at me and said, "you're NOT going to the prom with those eyebrows."

i protested slightly, but she commanded that i "lay down" and hovered over me with her tweezers.

"ouch! that hurts!"

"no it doesn't! it feels good," she said, decisively.

as she angled and arched my eyebrows, i asked her, "how did you learn how to do this?"

"magazines! duh!"

and so it was that i was able to go to my senior prom with my pretty dress, my mall makeup, handsome date, and arched eyebrows. thanks to my sister.

since senior prom, my sister has been there for me in many other ways. as a fashion consultant she tells me when my jeans are "killing my outfits" and takes me shopping. as a friend, she is my shoulder to cry on whenever i face a professional or personal disappointment.

in february my sister will be getting married, and i will be her maid of honor. it really will be an honor because not only is she my sister, she is one of my best friends.

happy birthday, sister. :)


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

scary (exciting)

i received the following message from my dissertation chair yesterday:

I received your dissertation. Congrats. The only thing you need to
do now is set the date.

a lot of people have congratulated me during my dissertation's various stages of "finished." but this is the first time my chair has congratulated me. seems silly to revel in it, especially considering that the rest of my committee has yet to congratulate me (or even read the diss!). but this really feels like something to me.

now i need to set the date! yikes.


Friday, September 30, 2005

put a fork in it...

... because it's DONE! :) well, done as it needs to be for now.

my goal was to have the dissertation finished by the end of september. i need to give my committee members a month to read it before my defense. and i wanted to defend before my THIRTIETH birthday (yikes). birthday at the beginning of november means that the defense needs to be at the end of october. which means that i had to finish and turn it in. today.

last night, my roommate, olga, suggested that we go to a coffeeshop to work.

i'm not really a "night person." so i was bleary-eyed and kind of resentful toward my advisor for the revisions she suggested i make. many seemed like too minor of details. olga diplomatically suggested that my advisor was probably just trying to make sure that i had all my bases covered. i don't know whose side she's on, that roommate of mine! ;)

anyway, i finished everything but the table of contents last night. did that this morning. ran to kinko's and was told that they would have it to me by the end of the day.

the end of the day????

i admit that i played damsel in distress with the nerdy kinko's boys and told them that i *had* to turn it in today.

we can have it to you by 3PM.

but it's friday, i pout. my profs will probably go home early today.

ok. 1:30PM. we'll call you if it's done any sooner.

thank you so much. (batting eyelashes)

they had it done by 12:45PM. :) i should also mention that they didn't charge me tax.

sometimes it's good to be a girl.

a girl who's done with her diss!!!!


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

will i ever finish my dissertation???

the diss trajectory:

october 2003. santa barbara, ca. begin to write. produce very rough drafts of four chapters over five months.

late february 2004. receive the final of many job and fellowship rejection letters. fall into a pit of despair. eat chocolate chip cookies, drink coffee, and visit the ocean to feel better. stop writing.

march 2004. austin, texas. am encouraged to postpone my graduation another year. to slow down, regroup, etc. i stop feeling guilty for not writing.

summer 2004. various cities in mexico and bakersfield, ca. dissertation thoughts accompany me through my travels. it nags me mildly. i ignore it. do not write a word. i am defiant.

fall 2005. austin, texas. am prepared to write the last chapter of my dissertation--the big *theory* chapter. write pages and pages. keep some, scrap some. i apply for jobs and postdocs again. i teach mexican american culture to an unsuspecting group of anglo kids from small towns in texas. by the semester's end i have about 25 pages, but am utterly unsatisfied with all of it. decide (or rather, reconfirm) that i hate theory.

christmas break 2005. bakersfield, ca. one month reprieve from writing.

mid-january--mid-march 2005. austin, texas. decide to throw away the "theory chapter." will instead write a "theory essay" and place it, with great care, into my introduction. more writing and throwing away pages. my ideas are terrible and brilliant and then terrible again.

late march 2005. one evening at quack's coffeeshop, i finish the theory essay. it is not brilliant, but coherent. i realize that i am probably a month too late to finish in time for a may graduation. self-loathing and regret ensue.

april 2004. my advisor confirms the human impossibility of finishing this diss for a may graduation. another trip to the pit of despair. i try to keep writing. not extremely motivated.

may-july 2005. austin and bakersfield. i revise, rewrite, and create chapters. i declare that i am finished with all major writing.

august 2005. austin, texas. i am happy to line edit the diss. no more major work. i turn it in to my advisor at the end of the month.

mid-september 2005. my advisor and i meet. she has "minor" suggestions for revision. it should take me only a week or so.

a week or so later, i'm still making the "minor" changes, which include labeling my maps and graphs, checking my bibliographic references, making sure that i am consistent with my english/spanish translations, smoothing my transitions. i put off the less minor changes til the last--identifying major anthropological works to cite in my diss, cross-checking the legality of segregation, writing a brief analysis of contemporary race relations in la feria.

people keep congratulating me for "finishing" my diss, but seriously. i feel like i could be revising forever. like i'm getting closer and closer but never seem to arrive! it's like when you have a number and keep dividing it in half. the number gets smaller and smaller, but never approaches zero.


infuriating, isn't it?


Sunday, September 25, 2005

barco de los refugiados

thursday morning i woke up and found that my mom had left a message on my voicemail while i was sleeping.

call me when you wake up, she said. it's about sonia.

sonia is my mother's cousin's daughter--in other words, she's my cousin. i met her in guanajuato about ten years ago, but she now lives in houston with her husband and their daughter.

i returned my mom's phonecall, and she told me that sonia and her family needed to evacuate houston and had no place to stay.

i gave her your phone number, she said. i think that she's going to ask you if they can stay with you.

i thought about our mid-sized apartment and our tiny bathroom, and i have to admit that i panicked. making no promises, i told my mom that i would ask my roommate. generous as she is, of course she said yes.

minutes later, my phone rang again and it was sonia. i told her that i had already talked to my mom and that it was fine. she could stay with us.

¿son ustedes dos y luego la niña? it's the two of you and your daughter?

oh, my sister, eva is here visiting, too. and then something about someone else.

¿así que son cuatro adultos y la niña?

no te preocupes, yeni. podemos dormirnos en el suelo o lo que sea.

i'm nervous about four and half extra people in our apartment. my roommate and i talk about it and decide that it will be probably be best for us to let them stay in our place, and we will stay with friends. we have plenty of friends in austin; they don't have anyone.

i am frantic. frantic in my office hours. frantic in my class. i think about cleaning the apartment, about washing sheets and towels. i worry that i don't have enough towels. a category four hurricane that is about to hit the galveston/houston area. i remember katrina and imagine that we might be giving up our apartment for the next month.

while i am running errands, making copies of our key, and so forth, my mom calls me. noting my freneticism, she tells me to calm down. i think too much. i can send them to california if they won't be able to go home for a while. i should go have a glass of wine.

a drink sounds like a good idea. so i pick up my roommate from work, and we decide to treat ourselves to a good dinner with another friend at one of our favorite indian restaurants.

we clean the apartment with our bellies full. i do laundry, come home, and wait. they arrive at 4:30AM after having been on the road for thirteen and a half hours.

when i open the door to let them in, i notice--even in my half-asleep state--that there are FIVE adults and one niña. no matter. they can use our apartment however they need to.

they stay only two nights. they have brought more food than we have in our entire apartment. they are equipped with maps and their own vehicles. it seems as if they explore more of austin over two days than i did in my first two years here. after dinner last night, they get word from their neighbors that the electricity is on; water is running through their pipes. their neighbors are, in fact, having a party and want to know when they are coming home.

we go home, and despite newscasts warning people not to return to houston yet, they are packed and ready to go in ten minutes, and leave me standing on my doorstep waving good-bye.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

natural disasters

when i lived in california, i never feared natural disasters. everyone i know in texas thinks that california is ever on the verge of falling into the ocean. that the "big one" (earthquake) is going to set all those crazy hippie liberals afloat on their own island.

honestly, it never occurred to me until i moved to texas, but i have to admit that i kind of like the idea of california as an island.

since moving to texas, hurricanes have become more of a reality to me. when i was living in the rio grande valley, periodically there would be hurricane watches and warnings. i noticed that people would go out to buy bottled water and canned food (ravioli, tuna, and so forth) to prepare, but i didn't understand why. i always imagined that i would ride the hurricane out in my bathtub. then someone explained to me that i would have to be evacuated way before the hurricane got to my bathtub, and that afterward there would probably be no electricity or running water.

no hurricane ever did hit while i lived in the valley, and i was able to continue to live with my vague hurricane notions.

then katrina hit. that was enough to horrify me into really understanding the impact that a hurricane could have. in austin, we are likely to have hurricane-related storms, but we seem to be, more or less, safe. in fact, people come to austin to take refuge from hurricanes.

now there is rita. just on the heels of katrina, it is already causing an intense anxiety around here. a million people are evacuating the houston/galveston area. all at once apparently. the highways are packed. there are stories of people moving only 10 miles after four hours in their cars. to save gas, others have turned off their engines and are pushing their cars along the highways. everyone seems to be evacuating the gulf coast. nobody wants to get caught in a katrina situation.

even though this storm is not supposed to affect me in any serious way, i feel anxious, an impending sense of chaos.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

switch hitting

i've felt overwhelmed at the prospect of continuing my political rants.

right after i posted last week, george w addressed the nation about his plan for rebuilding new orleans. my instinct was to blog immediately. but i decided to go to sleep instead. :) now i've waited a week to respond.

i have to say that i found it interesting that he chose to tackle the race issue. it's been a week already, so i'm not sure that i'm getting his rhetoric right, but i think that he said something about the need to help people who were poor and that the roots of their poverty were in racial discrimination. that they hadn't had the same opportunities as all americans should have.

this was an interesting choice of words for a republican. the rhetoric bush has typically used has been about people who have "worked hard" and "earned" their living. he has not typically taken into consideration the historical roots of peoples' poverty. (or racial discrimination that continues today for that matter. i won't get into that because W didn't go that far!).

i have to say that i thought it was nice that he acknowledged the roots of racial oppression. furthermore, in his plan for reconstruction he mentioned business loans for minorities, education and training for those who needed it, childcare for people participating in education and training, and land available for qualifying low-income families.

is it just me or is he beginning to sound like a democrat?

despite the digression into democratic rhetoric, W maintains that there will be no tax hikes (or, maybe as his father would say, "no new taxes") to pay for his great reconstruction plan. where will the money come from? i guess that remains yet to be seen.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005


my roommate mentioned in one of her blog entries that it's difficult to write about the aftermath of katrina in part because so many people are writing about it. she wonders what new or original perspective she could add. i agree; it seems that many people are writing and saying what i want to write and say.

i've written about katrina because i felt like i needed to say something about the way our government reacted (or did not react) to it. this kind of national tragedy affects the way that i think, certainly the way that i feel. i was horrified at the delayed evacuation of the people stranded in new orleans. i felt angry and hurt about some of the racial aspects of the whole mess. that's why i had to write.

it has been good for me to be in austin and to see the incredible response of the community to the people who have come from new orleans. there have been mass mobilizations of people volunteering at the convention center, donating myriad items to the evacuees, helping in a million small ways. i hope and pray that, as the immediacy of the tragedy fades, that we don't forget about the people who have been displaced, who are trying to integrate themselves in new communities.

i was suprised and happy yesterday to hear that bush had actually assumed responsibility for the government's failure to offer aid to the people who were stranded without food, water, etc. in the wake of the hurricane. i believe that he admitted this failure because of critics who questioned the ability of the federal government to react in case of a terrorist attack on the infrastructure of a major city. bush assumes responsibility because it is his job to protect us against terrorist attacks.

that kind of responsibility is undoubtedly important. and maybe this is asking too much, but i wish that bush could have taken a moment - just a moment - to reflect on the fact that the people who were hit hardest by the hurricane were poor and black. and then to question why. why they were most affected - stranded in their "shelters" from the storm - and why it took so long to offer them help.


Monday, September 12, 2005

relating to hair

a friend of mine, who has been helpful coordinating the drive for black hair products, sent me the following link:

it explains more about what people are doing in austin to help with the katrina evacuees.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

reprieve from katrina rants - i've been tagged

my roomie blog tagged me yesterday. i'm sure it'll be a welcome reprieve for those of you sick of my rants. ;)

ten years ago...

i arrived in guadalajara via aguascalientes, beginning a study abroad program. my roommate was rachel, a fairly militant white feminist who had recently shaved her head, but was liberated from shaving legs, underarms, etc. she taught me how to smoke cigarettes.

i traveled a lot through the central part of mexico. aguascalientes, guanajuato, mexico city. that fall i fell in love with mexico. and i fell in love with a couple of mexican men. i wrote lots of love poems.

when i came back from guadalajara i declared anthropology as my major and continued my junior year at stanford. i lived in casa zapata, where i met some incredibly smart, political, witty, hilarious chicanas.

five years ago...

i grudgingly returned to austin for my second year of graduate school at UT Austin. my first year as a graduate student in anthropology was like a baptism into academia by fire. i was pretty convinced that i didn't need it. my parents pretty much made me come back to "at least finish [my] master's."

my roommates were EJ, who was in her second, equally traumatizing, year of law school and anjum, who was in her second year of graduate study in biomedical engineering. our hyde park apartment was great. close to a ready supply of coffee (at quack's) and ben and jerry's ice cream (at the pronto food mart!).

graduate school still seemed to be more pain that it was worth, but i found community with other chicana grad students - olga, becky, laura, veronica, cristina, and virginia (honorary member). we relished the company in our collective grad school misery. more than that, there were the weekly coffee dates and dinner parties, where we began to share everything from food and wine, to political and academic rants, to chisme and laughter. they were, by and large, my reason for coming back to grad school a third year!

one year ago...

i returned to austin after two years away, the first in la feria, the second in santa barbara. my return to austin was fabulous, rooming with my good friend, olga, and reuniting with my girlfriends. i was resolved to make the most of austin, which included spending as much time as possible with friends. dancing lots of cumbia, hitting live shows, celebrating birthdays, engagements, academic and other milestones. oh, and i was trying to finish my dissertation, too!


i am enjoying a rainy day in austin. went to mass this morning at a church where i finally feel very much at home. later this afternoon i'm going shopping for a gift. time permitting, i'll work on some revisions for an article i've been trying to write forever. later this evening we'll celebrate my friend faedah's birthday with tex-mex food.


we'll see!


Saturday, September 10, 2005

katrina, color and class

it seems that this has become a blog about katrina.
but, as my roommate and i were discussing this morning, it would be almost frivolous to write about anything else right now.

i've already mentioned that austin has converted its convention center into a makeshift shelter for the evacuees from new orleans. i understand that people are living communally. sleeping on cots, showering in shifts, sharing toiletries, etc. i've also made reference to the fact that many of the people currently housed at the convention center are black (thus the need for the black hair products).

there is another evacuee story, however.

thursday morning i was waiting for the bus to shuttle me to school. there are mostly graduate students who populate the nook of my neighborhood; the women waiting for the bus with me did not seem to be exceptions. just as the bus rounded the corner i began to catch strains of conversation between two of the women also headed to UT. one was asking the other how she liked the neighborhood so far. she loved it. if she had settled into her apartment ok. she had.

they sat next to me on the bus and continued the conversation. i caught the newcomer recounting her journey to austin weeks before. she and her roommate had evacuated new orleans when the hurricane warning was issued. it had been like other hurricane evacuations. even though they had avoided interstate 10 and took backroads, the trip to austin proceeded at a snail's pace for most of the way to houston. not so bad from houston to austin.

she had been to the red cross for what, it wasn't clear to me. but she had drawn a number to be seen in the thousands. there were too many people there. "there was no way they were going to get to my number by the end of the day," she said. "they just told me to go back tomorrow. so i'm going to go back today after class."

i am not going to say that it was not traumatic for this woman to have to leave her home in new orleans. it must be devastating to realize that your home, your entire town has been wiped out. but i coudn't help but think about the vastly different life this young woman - this evacuee - is living compared to her counterparts who are currently in the austin convention center.

she lives in an actual neighborhood, probably in a cute duplex (like mine). she has been able to transfer to UT - thanks to the generosity of the university and the state - to continue her degree program. she takes the bus to school and attends classes. her life is probably certainly different than it was in new orleans. but she's obviously preserved a certain degree of routine and normalcy.

the difference. this woman is white. she had a car in which to evacuate the city when the hurricane warning was issued. she had a destination, perhaps a place to stay in austin. maybe because of her student status, she has financial aid for school, probably for rent. food. the basic necessities to make it on her own.

while i'm happy that she has been able to transition so smoothly to a new life in austin, i can't help but be shocked at the difference between her journey from new orleans and the journey of others. of those who were trapped in the superdome, for example. or of those who were evacuated from somewhere else to the far corners of the country. who are living in shelters. who are living communally and dependent on the generosity of others for their basic necessities.

their journeys are clearly marked by their color and their class.

i am so grateful and proud to live in a community that has been so generous in helping the people who have been displaced by hurricane katrina and the damages in her wake. i would be remiss, however, not to notice who has been hit the hardest, not to question why.


Friday, September 09, 2005

black hair products

days after i said i would, i went to the store to buy black hair products for some of the people stranded at the austin convention center, many of whom are refugees from new orleans.

i went to the "ethnic" hair product section. honestly, i didn't know what was what. i noticed perms and gels, sprays and lotions. i wasn't sure what to buy.

i'm no expert on hair products. anyone who knows me recognizes that my hair is fairly low maintenance. it is stick straight, requiring only some light gel to keep the bangs out of my face.

the ethnic hair section overwhelmed me.

so i looked for help. i thought that i would ask someone who worked there, preferably an african american, for suggestions. i realized then that most of employees seemed to be latino.

the next option, which was considerably less comfortable for me, was to ask a fellow customer for help. but i was determined to buy these products.

i tried to intercept a woman pushing a cart down the aisle.

"can i bother you for a minute?" i asked her.

"no," she replied and continued wheeling her cart down the adjacent aisle.

strike one.

i approached another woman carrying a few groceries in her hands.

"can i bother you for a minute?"

she stopped and listened. i rambled about the convention center and black hair products and could she help me? she nodded and followed me to the ethnic hair section.

a fountain of explanations. this one is for perms. this is to make your hair shiny. this is to hold your curls in place. this one is good. so is this one. i buy the cheap ones; they work just as good as the expensive ones.

as my uncertainty faded, i thanked her for her help and began to gather medium-sized containers of conditioning gel.

still talking products, she stayed with me a little longer. maybe checking to make sure i'd made a good choice.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


austin has become a small haven to help the people who have been evacuated from new orleans.

the parking structure behind brackenridge hospital has been set up as an emergency medical care facility.
the convention center downtown has been converted into a kind of shelter.

there are a lot of calls for help. it's difficult to know what to do, where to start.

i've been thinking about buying hair products for the evacuees.

this may sound strange, but a friend of mine sent an email this weekend about the need for black hair products. certain kinds of combs, gels, etc. apparently, most of the people who are at the convention center are black and are not receiving the right kind of toiletries (specifically hair care products).

while it may sound like vanity to some people, it makes perfect sense to me. i was just re-reading a piece by this chicana historian, vicki ruiz, who writes about the mexican women organizing in the 1930s. these women were subjected to such harsh working conditions that, at a certain point, they were shelling walnuts, cracking them open with their bare fists. yet, at an organizing meeting, an anglo male historian writes that they were "amusingly dressy," that perhaps they had been to the beauty salon too many times.

vicki ruiz contests the bemusement of this anglo male historian, observing that by dressing up, these women were asserting their individual integrity, not surrendering their self-esteem to the harsh conditions imposed upon them.

maybe it is vanity. but maybe it's also dignity.


Friday, September 02, 2005


i have to admit that i did not pay much attention to the impact of hurricane katrina for a few days after the fact. i was too busy yammering about my wonderful retreat and my class and my poverty (ha). i don't watch much news on TV and we don't subscribe to the newspaper.

then on tuesday my hairdresser asked me if i had seen the pictures of the aftermath of the hurricane on the news. i lied and told her that i had. she told me about the devastation in new orleans, that she and some friends had planned to be there for halloween but now it looked as if that weren't going to happen.

my sister emailed me the next day and asked if had seen the news. she wrote that it seemed as if the world were ending.

my roommate then started commenting to me about the news she was reading online about the hurricane. horror stories about a brother shooting his sister in the head for a bag of ice. women being raped in the the superdome. looting. people desperate for food and water. for their survival.

this summer i read a book called _blindness_ by josé saramago. the book was about a mysterious disease that ovetook a city that caused people, one by one, to go blind. at first, the government rounded up the blind people and placed them in quarantine. because the government wanted no contact with the contaminated people, they placed food for them at a distance and ordered them to organize themselves to deal with distribution of food, burial of dead, managing disease, etc. the novel focuses on the anarchy of the blind on the inside. their struggles for power, struggles to resist being dominated, the violence that ensues.

the blurb on the book's back cover says something to the effect that this novel exposes the darkest parts of the human heart.

now, as a i watch the news and see the images of new orleans, hear the horror stories, i can't help but compare it to saramago's _blindness_. i admit that i want to turn off the TV and ignore the news, just as i wanted to put that book down while i was reading it. this is more horrifying because it's real. the desperation and the mayhem.

it seems unfathomable that anything this devastating could happen to a city like new orleans. it is firmly fixed in american culture and history. but we watch the events unfold and realize, as my roommate said, that that city is never going to be the same.

the new horror that has set in over the past day or so is my realization that the government has been slow to respond. i just read a letter that michael moore wrote to president bush. he asks, where are the helicopters to help rescue people? where is the national guard? what about the money that was supposed to help reinforce the structure of the levies that broke and flooded the city?

all of it has gone to iraq.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

coming down the mountain

i'm still feeling pretty good from the retreat. but i'm definitely coming down from the mountain top.

there was my course packet to be taken to the printers. the syllabus i *still* have not finalized. the article i'm supposed to be revising for the end of the month.

despite all of the above obligations, i decided to take a job as a writing consultant. i'm still going through the paperwork and scheduling process. i have to admit that i'm a little nervous. i'm not an english grad student. i'm just a lowly anthropologist whose not-so-secret ambition is to write. but i've done a lot of peer editing and critique. it should be fine. more than anything i wanted a little monetary cushion.

can i whine a little bit? i'm so tired of being a poor graduate student. i want to go to ann taylor and buy cute outfits, buy books at full price whenever i want, CDs. i want to pamper myself with a cute haircut and a pedicure and eyebrow wax. is that extremely materialistic of me? don't answer that. i'm such a bad marxist!

ok. i'll just have some cheese with my whine. better yet, some wine with my whine. ;) you know karl would do the same thing. but i think that his preferred drink was vodka.


Monday, August 29, 2005

adoration community theology service

i went on a women's ACTS retreat with my church this weekend. i thought that i would have some time to be quiet, meditate, re-center myself, etc.

well, this weekend was nothing like that.

what is the english equivalent of "escarbando?" i felt like we did a lot of inner-escarbando. trying to scrape out what hurt. i don't think that the point was to find resolution. but there was reconciliation. and relief.

and community.

i went on this retreat not knowing a single person. in retrospect, that seems rather brave of me! but i wanted to meet some people from church. all the women on this retreat were from such different walks of life. ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s; married, single, divorced; kids, no kids; working class, middle class. all of us totally flawed and struggling in our own ways. and yet, by the end of the weekend there was this really intense connection between all of us.

it's hard to articulate. and, to be honest, i'm forbidden to talk about a lot of what happened this weekend! it's something meant to be experienced rather than spoken about.

what i can say is that i'm grateful for what i found this weekend. from the inner-escarbando to scraping just beneath the surface of a very diverse group of catholic women to find that, in all of our flaws and struggles, we're very much the same.