Monday, June 27, 2005


for anyone who is tracking my dissertation progress:

this afternoon i finished a draft of the chapter i have been writing about la feria's comunidades de base!!!

it was only supposed to be a revision, but i ended up rewriting the whole thing. i'm sure that it needs some more revision still, but it's a good draft.

now all i need to do is write the conclusion.


there is a light at the end of the tunnel. and it is a beautiful light. :)


Sunday, June 26, 2005

an unlikely che aficionado

about a month ago, my friend C told her father that she was seeing someone new. like any good father would, he launched into a series of questions about him. among the questions: republican or democrat?

"of course he's a democrat," she replied. while telling me the story, she sheepishly tells me that her father is a republican.

"mine too!" i confess.

she laughs and tells me that it seems to be the dirty little secret a lot of us twenty and thirty something liberals carry around with us: republican parents.

we can't do anything about it. we love them anyway.

a few weeks ago, my dad tells me that he's just seen the movie, the motorcycle diaries. he tells me that it was pretty good.

i'm a little suprised that he's enjoyed this movie about the revolutionary "che," but i know that my dad also loves photography. i imagine that he appreciated the movie not just for its story, but also for the gorgeous cinematography as che (portrayed by my boyfriend, gael garcia) and his best friend travel through latin america.

i almost forget that his comments about the film until he tells me that someone from work has lent him a biography about che. he tells me that it's 700 pages long.

he and my mother embark on a summer vacation to a beach in baja california. my dad takes his che book with him to read, poolside. they are gone for a week.

having recently returned from the trip, he calls tonight to catch up. i ask him how much progress he's made on the book. he tells me that he's almost done! he figures he'll finish it up within in the next day or so to give back to his coworker. it's a pretty good book, he says. i've really enjoyed it.

then he starts to tell me some of the things that he's learned about che's life. didn't spend much time with his kids. worked a lot, but refused to receive much money for his labors. he says, "he was really a communist."

he rethinks. well, actually he wasn't a communist like the soviets. he was more of a maoist. he and castro just had to deal with the soviets so that they could help cuba become less dependent on the united states. he muses a little more on that point while i sit in silent suprise.


my father the republican. expert on communist revolutionaries!


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

mount bonnell

this evening olga, faedah, and i went to mount bonnell to picnic and watch the sunset.

it was my first time at mount bonnell, which is in the hills just west of town.

there were a lot of tourists and hikers traipsing around us as we picnicked. mosquitoes nip and pick. but the summer sunset is a draw. the beautiful end to a very long, very hot day. it must be around 8:30PM when the sun finally cedes to the mountains in the west. moments before it hangs heavily orange, red and purple in the sky. the sun is gone before it hits the mountains, engulfed among the haze just above them.

my favorite time of the day is dusk. by looking at the sky, you don't know if the day is just ending or just beginning. the light soft blue and purple. i walk to the best view of the city skyline and see the lights downtown grow more bright as the sky darkens. a few steps down a trail i catch a breathtaking view of the colorado river. it is wide and slow, snaking through the hills, whose green becomes more deep each passing minute. the river so peaceful it inspires onlookers to silence or prayer.

it's not like the ocean in california, loud and powerful crashing against the shore. but in this moment, the river seems just right.


Monday, June 20, 2005

stories that break my heart

now that the transcriptions are done, i am attending to the business of stringing these narratives together. trying to make sense of all the stories.

this is my dissertation. this is a pain in the butt writing project i've been working on for about 21 months (not that i'm counting). mostly i hate it. but i have to confess that this chapter has been personal.

it's about the experiences of mexican people in the catholic church. it is where they have chosen to make their spiritual home. i am a mexican person in the catholic church. it is where i choose to make my spiritual home.

the morning before i left la feria, i spoke with an mexican couple in theie late 70s and early 80s. they were very hospitable and kind. the woman, mrs. z, spoke with special clarity about her memories in the church.

she lived in a rancho outside of la feria when she was growing up. her mother would take the family - walking - to church on sundays at the catholic church in la feria. mrs. z's older brother was abroad, fighting in world war II. there were many other mexican families who also had loved ones fighting in the war. many of these families would also travel from the outlying areas of town to attend mass on sundays.

the custom was for them to enter the church and go to the altar on their knees to show their devotion and to "pagar su manda" (pay their devotion). this was their supplication for the well-being of their loved ones in the war.

when they entered the church on their knees, however, the anglos parishioners would go pick them up. that was not how things were done in the church. that was not their (the anglo) way. they made the mexican faithful understand that it was "ridiculous" for them to be on their knees moving toward the altar.

little by little, mrs. z, recounted to me, people stopped. the anglos effectively shamed them out of their ways of worship.

anybody familiar with mexican catholicism knows that entering a church on one's knees is still practiced in various parts of mexico. it is part of peoples' devotion. a small sacrifice of physical discomfort for a larger supplication.

the church in la feria was never segregated. mexicans were always "allowed" to worship alongside anglos (granted, on a separate side of the church). but they were not allowed to bring their culturally specific religious practices with them. and those practices were lost. lost to them and to their children.

as mrs. z tells me her story, i think i may be re-opening old wounds. and the funny thing is that they wound me, too, even sixty years later.

sometimes i feel like i need to tell these stories; other times i feel like maybe they are best buried.


Saturday, June 11, 2005


today i only had one interview, with an elderly nun, maria.

after the interview was over, i stayed talking with sister maria for a while longer. she tells me about how she entered the convent when she was about to turn 17. she said that she always knew that she wanted to be a nun. at age sixteen, maria went to a house where she knew there were nuns living and told them, "quiero ser religiosa." loosely translated, i want to be religious.

the mother superior then accompanied maria to her house. maria's mother answered the door and when the mother superior informed her that maria wanted to be a nun, the mother fainted. apparently she was ill in bed for the next week or so. when maria's father arrived, he was indigant, telling the nun, "usted no se la puede llevar. no es una perra como para llevarsela!" you can't just take her! she's not like a dog for you to take!

when everything settled down, maria was able to convince her parents to join the convent and has been happy in her decision to be a nun ever since.

she asks me about my story. where do i live? i explain to her that i'm in austin now, but that i had previously lived a year in la feria. and that in between there was a year in california, where all of my family lives.

"no estás casada?" she asks.
"no," i reply. i'm not married.
she thinks for a moment before asking, "¿nunca has pensado entrar a un convento?"
have i considered entering a convent?
i think for a moment before answering. "la verdad es que siempre he sido muy volada con los muchachos como para entrar a un convento." the truth is that i've always been a little too boycrazy to enter a convent.
"ah bueno, pues no. no entonces no," she says quickly.

though wouldn't it make my life easier?


Friday, June 10, 2005


staying in elsa with cristina's family. from here it is about a 20-25 minute drive to la feria.
i take the backroads because i hate the traffic on the expressway and because i love driving through "the country" or, when my mom lived here, "el rancho."
heading east i pass fields of languid sugar cane, graceful in the wind. south toward la feria bright orange-red fields of sorgum, others tall and flexible stalks of corn. few other souls on the road. it is empty and free. i would like to keep driving even as i approach la feria's city limits.

the interviews yesterday went well. i'm still not sure if i'm getting all the information i need, but peoples' stories, as always, are very powerful. i listen closely. i try to understand. i realize that it is good for me (therapeutic) to focus on other people, not so much on myself. especially not now.


Thursday, June 09, 2005


cristina and i made the long drive down to the valley yesterday. breezed through austin and san antonio and then the southward stretch toward the tip of texas, interrupted only be a few small towns.

when olga and i drove to dallas last january, heading north on I-35 we started to see less of these bumperstickers:
Four More Wars!
Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot
Mission NOT Accomplished
Buck Fush

and more of these:
W The President
Bush Cheney 2005

not very creative, those republicans.

the land seemed to grow more arid and flat. i noticed that with each stop we made to gas up, each starbucks break (there was only one!), the speech of the people around us grew slower and thicker.

i'm a californian. i confess that i have a lot of preconceived notions about texans. big trucks. texan flags. gun racks. i imagine that they don't fancy brown people too much. i know all about those meskin-lynchin' texas rangers.

so i started to get a little nervous.

of course nothing happened. we arrived safely in a suburb north of dallas, where we stayed with olga's family. but i was happy to get back to austin.

the drive to the valley was just the opposite. south texas is lush and green. the farther south we ventured, we encountered more billboards in spanish. our stops to gas up or for a dairy queen break (only one!) were met with people whose speech fluidly mixed english and spanish.

we sat across from a mother and father whose 8-year old little girl was already a deep brown-red from the sun, her black hair short and shining even under the indoor lighting. all at once, i remembered how much i loved summers in bakersfield, in the sun, at the pool. my mother squeezing lemon in my hair to bring out its red highlights even as i grew more brown.

what i'm saying is that, for no particular reason, south texas feels like going home.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

last ethnographic chapter, faith, and politics

i'm working on my last ethnographic chapter. it was the first one that i wrote, nearly a year and a half ago. i wrote it before i knew what kind of structure my advisor wanted my chapters to have. and before i knew how i needed to limit the scope, blah blah blah.

in other words, the chapter is a mess.

i've been to the benson latin american library (the best library on the planet for anything remotely latino/a or latin american) and have gathered pertinent materials. the chapter is about the comunidades de base that formed in la feria at the beginning of the 1970s. i'm arguing that these groups, which formed within the mexican origin community of the catholic church, were integral to the town's process of racial integration.

they started out as bible studies, but expanded and began to promote popular Mexican Catholic practices including las posadas, a mass to la virgen de guadalupe, el dia de los muertos, etc. in creating a distinct cultural space for themselves in the church, i'm arguing that members of la feria's comunidades de base helped to broaden the scope of membership and belonging within the larger community of la feria.

anyway, the literature surrounding comunidades de base is great. they started as part of the liberation theology movements in latin america, but spread to Chicanos in the US Southwest. i cannot get over how political the priests, nuns, and lay people have been. local parishes and dioceses have taken strong stands supporting farmworker boycotts and generally promoting social justice.

what strikes me in some of the literature that i've been reading - and some of it has been theology - is the connection theologians make between faith in God and political convictions that support social justice movements.

honestly, i find it thrilling. it's exactly how i feel about my faith and my politics. i am baffled by the religious right who want to cut social services to the poor, who want to end affirmative action, who believe that we live in a just society where everyone can achieve what they want if they just "work hard enough." my christianity is about humility and understanding that the riches that i have (limited though they are) are a blessing, not a reward. my christianity is about loving the marginalized in our society and wanting to serve them.

don't get me wrong. i'm not saying in any way that i feel like i'm the perfect representative of *that* christianity, but it's something to aim for. certainly something to believe in.

so i have to be thankful to my dissertation this week. for renewing my passion about faith and politics. if only i could transform that passion to words on pages!