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.