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.