Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


i took an old drive last weekend. that is, i took a drive that i used to make several times a year during a certain period of my life. east on seventh standard to the I-5; north on the five one hundred and seventy miles; west on the 152 through the mountains; north on the 101 all the way to the bay.

that was my route to and from the bay area from 1993-1999. i knew those roads like the back of my hand--every truck stop, patches of agriculture, every mountain pass, reservoir, traffic spots, etc. i used to make mix tapes that would fill the hours of my trip. i used to arrive at my destination hoarse from singing the entire way.

i used to enjoy those drives, the time that it gave me to think.

i stopped driving those kinds of long distances once i moved to texas. i didn't have family that i would drive to visit. there were trips to the valley, but those were few and far between. most of my traveling was by plane. the brief and halting flights and layovers from austin to bakersfield never held the same rhythm or inspired the same kind of meditation as my long drives. it probably has something to do with seeing the landscape, now that i think about it.

in any event, i found myself making a long drive last weekend. i had forgotten how tiring it can be in the car, how your eyes grow weary, your shoulders stiffen, and your lower back begins to ache. then there is the helplessness you feel when traffic comes to a halt on the interstate because of an accident.

nevertheless, i found myself enjoying the drive. my mix tapes have yielded to a car adapter for my ipod, and now i can chat on my cell phone with joseph, but much of the experience is the same. there are the almond groves i remember on seventh standard; the seemingly miles and miles of cattle at harris ranch; the reservoir off of the 152; the old farm houses and farms along the way.

these are some of the things that i enjoy about being back in california--the land and the memories that it elicits. these are some of the things that i enjoy about being back home.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

forbidden fruit

one of the nice things about my university is that there are citrus trees all over campus. most of them are identifiably oranges or grapefruits, but some of them, unidentified.

saturday afternoon, i enlisted joseph--who was visiting for the weekend--to haul some boxes of books to my office. (yes, i do know how to exploit my boyfriend). on our way out, i noticed that the oranges on the tree behind my office building had ripened to a deep orange color. i didn't even think about it, just reached out and plucked the fruit off the tree.

i offered it to joseph, telling him that it was probably de-licious, being fresh from the tree and all. he questioned a) whether it had been legal for me to pick it, and b) whether or not it would be suitable for consumption.

i decided to keep the orange for myself and packed him a trader joe's orange when he left for the airport the next day. i ate the orange later in the afternoon. it was pretty good, but not the best orange i've ever had.

anyhow, yesterday i participated in a tour of campus for new faculty. our tour guide made a special point to highlight all the citrus trees around campus, telling us that, prior to the 1950s, the university was a citrus experiment station. she informed us that the university still performs such operations, and that all of the trees on campus are filled with "experimental" fruit. furthermore, the university apparently fines people hundreds of dollars for picking its fruit!

i'm thinking that a) it's a good thing nobody saw me, and b) it's a good thing i haven't (thus far) experienced any side effects from the experimental fruit!

in any event, i can't help but think it interesting that all of a sudden i find myself to be a woman who has partaken of forbidden fruit. ;)


Friday, December 08, 2006

bare feet

i stole this video idea from la xicanista.

THIS is the shakira whose songs i sang at the top of my lungs during my drives from stanford to bakersfield and back during the mid-1990s. before her cross over.

notice that her hair is long. and straight. and black. and she's fully clothed.

i have always loved this song. my favorite line is
las mujeres se casan siempre antes de treinta, si no vestirán santos aunque así no lo quieran.
ten years ago, who could have predicted that i would be an unmarried mujer de treinta (y uno)?

i still haven't crossed over. ;)


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

'tis the season

it always amazes me that just as thanksgiving weekend slips by, christmas suddenly appears.

though winter is somewhat of a fiction in southern california, i returned to find christmas lights and trees and wreaths decking every corner. it's nice that christmas is finally settling in to town. the past few weeks as the sun sets earlier and earlier, and the day hours become darker, i've felt considerably less productive. i've just wanted to come straight home from the office, put on my sweats, make a hot dinner, and cozy up on the couch to talk to joseph or watch primetime (he knows which shows not to interrupt!).

nevertheless, though i had imagined the quarter coming to a quiet winter end, it seems to be becoming more frantic. the last two weeks of the quarter are, apparently, when committees convene for one last meeting and all the departments and centers decide to host holiday potlucks (why doesn't anybody cater?). my schedule is more full now than it has been during most of the quarter.

but it's just a matter of getting through all of the last minute frenzy. soon the quarter will be over, and the students will depart. i will submit my grades and make my own northern departure. i'll have some work to do--planning next quarter's class, working on an article revision--but i hope to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. much more than festive decorations, meetings, or potlucks, that time is what makes christmas matter for me.


Monday, November 27, 2006

hope for future ph.d.s

joseph sent this article to me this morning.

i enjoyed this piece, because the author addresses the following misconceptions about ph.d.s:

* Ph.D.s are unemployed and can't get jobs.
* Ph.D.s are chronically underpaid.
* There are far more Ph.D.s out there than faculty jobs for them.
* The Ph.D. degree is so specialized that you can't get any other kind of job.
* It costs a fortune to get a Ph.D.
* It takes forever to get a Ph.D.

i have to admit that i had resigned myself to the truth of some of these myths, telling myself that the degree was worth the underemployment risk because a) i love to teach, b) i enjoy my research, and c) i like the flexibility of a professor's schedule.

in fact, the biggest misconception that the author addresses is that ph.d.s are hard pressed to find a job. however, according to the article, it might be better to say that it is a challenge to find a job in the academy. there are other job prospects for ph.d.s in industry (e.g., consulting, nonprofit work, research) that, in fact, pay higher salaries than their university employer counterparts.

although i feel incredibly lucky to have my tenure track job, this article makes me feel as if it wouldn't have been the end of the world had i been forced to work outside of the academy. and just in case, in seven years, if i'm not granted tenure, maybe i'll end up with a pay raise. ;)


Monday, November 20, 2006

weekend frenzy

the san jose airport seems as if it has grown out of its allotted space.

the security lines are one long snake. the terminals are couched with mini-restaurants on one side and rows of grey seats on the other, providing only the most essential three foot space to maneuver carry on luggage to the appropriate terminal.

the afternoon sun shines blindingly through the terminal windows. the flight is delayed.

every year i go to this anthropology meeting, knowing that it is what i should do; it's a professional obligation. but i never feel as if anyone notices whether or not i'm there. thousands of anthropologists descend upon the conference city, the conference site. i would say that the presence of most people goes unnoticed, unless, of course, you are an academic superstar.

in recent years, i had been on the job market, which, let me say, made the anthropology meetings much less fun. as a job seeker i had to be on my best behavior and in my best clothes, trying seem intelligent and self-assured when i felt nothing of the sort.

this year was actually quite nice. in terms of professional development, i was able to spend some time with one of my favorite UC anthropologists. i admire his work (and his attitude toward academia) so much. it's still difficult for me to imagine that now we're actually friends/colleagues. i was invited to present on a really great panel this year. there were a couple of "superstars" on the panel (not me; clearly, i'm still a "junior scholar"), and so it was pretty well attended. it was exciting to be in the middle of such a panel. and it seemed that the audience was very engaged, asked a lot of interested/interesting questions.

the other nice aspect of the weekend was that i was able to spend some time with old friends. obviously, there was a good showing of texas anthropologists; the annual anthropology conference functions, in part, as a class/departmental reunion. also, because this year's conference was in the bay area, i was able to spend some time with a couple of old college friends and then the weekend with my sister and her new husband.

the fact that i was able to squeeze in some cumbia dancing inbetween all of that was like the cherry on top. ;)

at the san jose airport, i know that my weekend has come to an end.

southwest does its cattle call--members of groups A, B, C all file into whatever available seats they can find. i settle into an empty seat between two women. we don't attempt conversation. just spend the 45 minute flight reading and writing. before i know it we have started our descent into ontario.

i read somewhere once that the sunsets in heavily polluted areas are beautiful because of the way the pollution filters the waning light. i remember this tidbit of information as i look out the window and see a ribbon of burgundy at the hoizon, pumpkin shades of orange above that, pale yellows, and then the slightest hint of green before the blue of twilight.

the plane touches down y me persigno, grateful for my safe arrival.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

neither here nor there

this is interesting...

You're totally like 58% California!

Hmmm... you have some definite memories of this place... maybe you were born here but moved away as a child. Or you live in Fontana. Whatever. Come back someday!

How California are You?

i guess i'm more texan than californian?



i'm actually a little embarrassed that i didn't score higher on this test.

You are 80% REAL Texan!!

You're way more Texan than average. You're parents were probably from here too. We're glad to have you. You probably go to the border for Christmas shopping and are well versed in BBQ, Mexican Food and .. well thats pretty much it.

How Texan Are You?

my girlfriends, olga and laura, both scored more texan than i did! i'm not worthy of their tejana company. :(

and let's not mention it to my sixth generation texan boyfriend!


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

november falling

november is typically my favorite month. i enjoy the fall, even though i've always lived in places where autumn feels more like "summer light."

if i'm very honest, i think that i enjoy november because it's my birthday month. who doesn't enjoy their own personal holiday? even if it does mean another candle on the birthday cake (or, in my case, birthday torte).

but this year it's all gone by too quickly. i spent the days leading up to my birthday doing a "best of," whirlwind tour of austin with my friends while also writing a conference paper.

ten days later (today), i find myself preparing for another departure. same conference paper, different conference. this one in san jose.

i'll come back sunday and then fly to san jose AGAIN on wednesday so that i can spend thanksgiving with my family in northern california this year.

then the fall is over. and there will be two weeks left of classes, and, all of a sudden, my first quarter as a professor will have ended.

that was quick! just blink, and it's passed. kind of makes me nervous for the other things that might be passing me by!


Sunday, November 05, 2006

hiatus and a new home

the problem with taking a long blog hiatus is that, when it comes time to post again, you hardly know where to begin.

well. first things first. i moved to a new city. i now live in one of the less glamorous parts of california. sometimes, it's beautiful. the town is nestled on the cusp of the desert and the edge of the mountains; the landscape is much more striking than what i'd experienced in texas. but some days the smog is so thick, you can't even see the mountains. and you feel a little nervous that you are breathing the same brown air you see at the horizon. and then there are times that you feel like you might be sitting for days in traffic. but that's just southern california, i suppose.

second. i started a new job. sometime during the first or second week of the quarter, i was walking from my office to my class. i could hear the click clack of my heels on the floor; i had my lecture notes and my books in my over-the-shoulder black bag. the students around me--all young, dressed in slouchy clothes and flip flops--were filing into their buildings, their classrooms. and all of a sudden it hit me: i'm a professor!

i have those occasional surges of happiness when i realize that, after all these years of studying, i'm doing what i always wanted to do. there are also moments of anxiety when people talk to me about publications and university service and tenure. but mostly, i've been able to take the job in stride.

i miss my friends in austin. and i miss austin. but everyone assures me that i'm in an adjustment period. that it's just a matter of time before this feels like home, too.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

48 Things You Could Care Less About

i've been shamed into writing and tagged with this meme. i know that this isn't a "real" blog post. but it's a little something. i'll write something substantial soon.


1. FIRST NAME? Jennifer

2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? I believe that I was named after Jennifer O'Neill, a model/actress who was famous in the 70s.

3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? wednesday morning.

4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? yes, unless i'm writing in a hurry.


6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? i think so. but i might get on my nerves from time to time. ;)

7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? yes. i have kept a journal consistently since 1991. it takes me 3-6 months to finish one, so I have roughly 45 of them in storage between bakersfield and my new apartment!


9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? not even if you paid me.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? honey bunches of oats with almonds. yum.



13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? it really depends on my mood. sometimes a thick, gooey chocolate (like ben and jerry's fudge brownie); other times a nice light servng of strawberries with vanilla ice cream from blue bell hits the spot.

14. SHOE SIZE? seven

5. RED OR PINK? red


17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? I'd say my boyfriend, but we talk on the phone all the time and have managed to see each other once a month since I moved to California. So instead I'm going to say my friends from Austin.


19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? blue flannel pajama pants with purple and white snowflakes. purple sweatshirt. light brown slippers with fuzzy insides. (very stylish, i know)

20. LAST THING YOU ATE? flavored rice cakes.

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? lila downs' "border" album.

22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? the closest crayon color to ocean blue (not necessarily aqua).



25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO? face, probably specifically his eyes. then if he's smart. ;)

26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON you stole THIS from? i honestly say that Olga is one of the coolest kids i know.

27. FAVORITE DRINK? i'll give a shout out to olga's boyfriend, bill, here. i love the dessert cocktail he makes at Fino. it has espresso, Godiva chocolate liqueur, vanilla infused cognac, a touch of cream, and a hint of orange.

28. FAVORITE SPORT? probably basketball. i like to watch the playoffs. go spurs!

29. EYE COLOR? very dark brown.

30. HAT SIZE? this is an embarrassing question. my head is typically too big for most hats. :(


32. FAVORITE FOOD? i love indian food. but i also love my mom's lasagna. yum.

33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? i can't bear to watch scary movies. happy endings all the way.

35. SUMMER OR WINTER? summer? i don't know. i like spring!

36. HUGS OR KISSES? hugs.

37. FAVORITE DESSERT? my sister's homemade apple pie. to borrow a phrase from my boyfriend, it is "greatness."

38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? i think Laura should respond, because she is bound to want a break from postdoc-ing.


40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? just stuff for school. chicana without apology by edén torres. next week it will be a reader in latina feminist theology.

41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE Pad? no mousepad. but if i had one, i'd want this one:

42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV? i didn't watch TV last night. i hung out with my family and talked to my boyfriend on the phone.

43. FAVORITE SOUNDS? soft rain (not storms), female mariachi singers who can belt it out, the violin, family/friends' laughter.



46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT? my fingers are double jointed

47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? bakersfield, CA.

48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? olga lydia

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Book Meme

Olga tagged me with this meme last week.

1. One book that changed your life: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. i was 17 years old when a crush recommended this book to me. though i considered myself a voracious reader at that age, i had never read anything written by a mexican american. after this book, i started to seek out other chicano/a literature. also, as a nascent feminist, this book provided the basis for my first college term paper--elements of feminism in the house on mango street. ;)

2. One book that you've read more than once: Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez. i LOVE this book. it makes me laugh and cry every time i read it, but i think that, more than anything, i love the feeling of redemption at the end of the novel.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: probably some poetry anthology.

4. One book that made you laugh: Drink Cultura by Tony Burciaga. i read this book bit by bit at the stanford bookstore when i was an undergrad. his writing is not only witty, but also culturally astute.

5. One book that made you cry: The Chin Kiss King by Ana Veciana Suarez. i read this book years ago and don't remember many of the details, just that it was about the relationships between mothers and daughters. i remember that i was sobbing as i turned the last pages.

6. One book you wish had been written: A Mexican American version of Interpreter of Maladies. does anyone know of a book that illustrates the various experiences of culture, class, and transnationalism of mexicans/chicanos in america?

7. One book you wish had never been written: Who Cut the Cheese?: A Cultural History of the Fart by Jim Dawson. i saw this on display by the registers at Half Price Books in texas. why???

8. One book you're currently reading: just finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: mostly school books, Chicana Without Apology and Chicana Feminisms are next on the list (because I have to teach them this quarter!)

10. Six people to tag: Kelly, Vanessa, Joel, Lo, HP, and Cincy . i'd love to know what all of you are reading. :)


Monday, September 11, 2006


my parents celebrated their anniversary this past weekend.

the story is that my dad asked mom to marry him after one month. she apparently said no the first time he asked. but they were married almost exactly one year after they first met, thirty three years ago.

"how did you know, after one month, that you wanted to marry her?" i asked him recently.

"i don't remember!" he says. "i guess because she was nice to me."

that seemed simple enough.

later in the day, however, while he, my mom, and i were driving somewhere, he said to me, "i remember now. it's because your mom was a hottie!"

she turned to look at him innocently. "i was?" she asked.

it seems like a small miracle occurs when you meet someone and decide that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. it seems like a bigger miracle when you actually make it through thirty three years together, having brought children into the world and watched them grow into adults, having witnessed births and deaths in your families, seeing career changes, living through sickness and health, and still enjoying your favorite restaurants, your quiet nights at home, the moments you still laugh at each other's cheesy jokes. it's thirty three years of life, entangled with love.

muchas felicidades a mis papás. que sigan disfrutando de la vida y del amor.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

"porque le gusta bailar cumbia..."

one of my dad's cousins celebrated his 70th birthday this weekend. to honor this milestone, his children organized a surprise birthday party last night. there were balloons and candy. catered mexican food and cake. amidst blue and gold balloons, a DJ that played rancheras.

after we had all wished the birthday boy well and eaten our fill, the DJ played a special song for my dad's cousin and his wife. after another ballad, the DJ transitioned into an upbeat cumbia.

now, i love to dance cumbia. LOVE. but had no partner. and besides, there was only one girl dancing with one of her uncles.

then he played a selena cumbia. more women got up to dance, and i thought, i can dance with them. one of my dad's cousins, who was sitting at my table, looked at me and said, "let's go!"

so we stepped and twirled under the low lights and amid the artificial smoke the DJ stand was producing.

back to back selena cumbias and there were all kinds of women on the dance floor, ranging in age from four years old to late fifties. all whooping and hollering and having a blast to bidi bidi bom bom.

the DJ switched to some 70s funk, and many of us sat down to rest and drink water. probably realizing that he gathered the best crowd on the dance floor with cumbias, he started spinning more.

there weren't many more of those moments, however, when there were all women dancing together. husbands asked their wives, nieces asked their uncles, sisters asked their brothers to dance. even my parents were out on the dance floor for a song or two.

all the coupling, of course, made me miss my boyfriend. but, bless his heart, he is still honing his dance skills. i really missed olga, my ex-roommate, who is my tried and true favorite cumbia dance partner.

so i sat through most of the remainder of the evening, tapping my fingers on the table to the cumbia rhythms and tucking my feet under my white plastic chair. i found myself admiring the couples on the dance floor, marveling at the grace that comes with dancing with the same dance partner for thirty years, and imagining that, in twenty more years, that could be me. maybe dancing more slowly, wearing not such high heels, but still enjoying el bailar cumbia.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006


friday afternoon, my parents and i loaded their car with weekend luggage and embarked on a 3 1/2 hour journey north, from bakersfield to watsonville.

it seems that most of the highways in central california that head west are small and curve--sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically--through the mountains. the summer heat begins to break somewhere north of paso robles. and we noticed that right around salinas, a herd of grey clouds completely absorbed the sun.

i'm amazed at how different the northern california coast is from the central valley. the crisp air, the chill after sunset, the gray overscast mornings. i was glad that i had dug through my boxes of clothes for jeans and a couple of sweatshirts (items of clothing that i would never wear during this time of year in bakersfield!). it was a welcome relief from the valley's relentless summer heat and haziness.

i hadn't seen my sister in six months, since her wedding. i had been in texas all that time, while she and her husband had been settling into their new home and their new life together.

we shared meals, watched movies, toured beautiful capitola village and santa cruz. my brother drove over from modesto on saturday, so we found ourselves enjoying a kind of family reunion. just catching up, enjoying each other's company.

if i'd had more foresight, i would have planned to stay another couple of days with my sister and her husband. but i realize that, now that i'm back in california, there will be plenty of opportunities to visit. watsonville is a short (and inexpensive southwest airlines) plane ride away from southern california.

this past weekend reminded me why i've always coveted the jobs at california universities--because of their proximity to my family.

and now i don't have to covet any more. :)


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


i jumped in my car yesterday, ascended into the mountainous terrain of the grapevine, and finally descended into the smoggy los angeles basin, to touch base at my new job.

i got a late start and arrived just before lunch. rather than pester the administrative staff into helping me run my errands right before their lunch, i decided to wait. i'd find a quaint place for lunch around campus and be at the department door by 1PM.

everywhere i drove in the campus vicinity was packed, and there was no parking anywhere. i thought to find the local california pizza kitchen (yum), called and got directions. it turned out that the CPK worker who got my call misdirected me. i ended up back in the neighborhood where i had been apartment hunting the week before. determined, i pulled over, pulled out my map, and tried to figure out where i had gone wrong.

i found my way on the map, but decided that i no longer had time for a restaurant lunch. instead i pulled into a shopping center and saw a taquería. i parked illegally at vons (vons customers only!) since there was no parking anywhere else and had a satisfying lunch--un taco de carne asada y un taco al pastor, por favor.

back on campus, the administrative staff gave me a laundry list of things to do:

move books (that i had previously shipped to the department) to my office
check out office!
get keys
go to parking services for a permit
get university faculty (!) ID card
consult with IT guru who would assess my computer needs

i drove and walked around campus all afternoon. my final trip was to the library, where i needed to find books for the course i'm planning and an article i'm writing. though it was a hassle to check out the books since i am only semi-in the system, i was pleased when the student worker mistook me for a student. i have to confess that even i am having a difficult time wrapping my mind around the idea that i'm now a professor.

everyone keeps telling me how exciting it is to be moving to a new city, working at this university.
it is exciting. but it's kind of overwhelming, too. to be the new girl. to not know where i'm going. to constantly ask for directions. to be turned around. to not really know anyone. i suppose the enormity of southern california, with all of its pollution and crisscrossing highways and traffic, doesn't help much.

but i have to remind myself that, at one time, i was the new girl in austin. and i didn't know a soul. i was completely disoriented, having moved to a new state (!), a new city, and a new university. but that worked out pretty well.

and though it's difficult to imagine loving any place like i do austin, i guess i need to go into this new place with an open mind. and probably an open heart, too.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

being mexican american

when i was an undergraduate, it was an ongoing joke among my family that i was a "born again mexican."

it was true. in college, at the urging of a boy on whom i had a crush, i read my first chicana novel (the house on mango street) and was shocked to find--along with that book--an entire section of chicano/latino studies at the stanford bookstore. there were books on everything--literature, history, politics, social science, art, etc. i couldn't believe that i had never been exposed to any of it throughout the entire course of my primary and secondary education.

i was enthralled. maybe even a bit obsessed. with being mexican american.

twelve years later (yikes!), i complete my Ph.D. in social anthropology, with an emphasis on borderland studies, and a doctoral portfolio in mexican american studies.

two months after my graduation, at my sister's wedding, one of my cousins teases, "so you finally finished your degree in being mexican???"

i laugh. yes, i guess i have.

i've been thinking about this lately because now i'm in bakersfield, which is a fairly conservative town, and people have been asking what i do.

i tell them that i'm going to be a professor of chicano studies.

and then i brace myself.

not for a fight necessarily, but for the questions. and the (mis)perceptions.

saturday afternoon, my best friend introduced me as a professor to a coworker. upon hearing that i would be teaching chicano/a studies, he started to grill me about the issues--immigration and labor, art and religion!

later that evening at a party, a young farmer asked if was going to teach an entire class about césar chávez.

"no... not an entire class," i replied and wondered if he was relieved.

i think that chicano/a studies really is about being mexican and mexican american in the united states. but the truth is that our experiences are so varied that chicano/a studies scholars could study forever and never know it all. i suppose it doesn't help that our culture continues to change with each subsequent generation, with the different regions where we settle, the people we encounter, the kind of education we receive, etc., etc.

i now find myself talking about being mexican american all the time, even teaching it. it's funny because most of the time, i wish people would just let me be.


Monday, August 14, 2006


two weeks ago, at 6AM, i am crying and indignant when an airport worker tells me that i have been bumped to the next flight, which is scheduled to leave in SIX hours.

after much sniveling and whining and generally trying to make everyone feel sorry for me, one young airline worker finds a flight that will deliver me to albuquerque only three hours after my original flight would have.

the airline would pay ($271) for a taxi to drive me one hundred miles to fresno where i could catch my saving flight. i had one hour and forty five minutes to make it.

minutes later, an 80's model ford painted yellow appears and stops at the curb. a 22-year old goth-type girl steps out lightly, asks to see my voucher and springs back into the car as i settle into the backseat.

"do you know how to get to the fresno airport?" she asks me.

"no..." i say, hardly hiding my surprise at her question.

she gets on her CB and calls her dispatcher. "i don't have a cellphone, and i need you to give me directions to the fresno airport."

i understand this to mean that once we are out of her CB radio's range, we are on our own.

she dutifully writes down the directions as her dispatcher dictates them to her, and we are off.

my goth girl taxi driver averages 90-100 miles per hour, weaving around cars on the two lanes that head north on the 99 freeway. after some close calls and jerky driving, i decide it best to close my eyes and try to catch up on some sleep.

secretly, i am grateful for her speed demon ways; i'm afraid that i will miss the flight and have to travel back with her to bakersfield.

soon we are in fresno and both looking for our exit.
we never see the exit the dispatcher has told her to take.

finally, we come to the northern end of the city to the clinton exit. she says that clinton is that last street the dispatcher has told her to take. we get off the freeway, both of us unsure which direction we should head.

i suggest she stop at a gas station to ask for directions.
she ignores my suggestion.

we pull up alongside a white SUV. a 30-something year old mexicano drives. my taxi driver manually rolls down her window and yells, "hey! hey! is this this the road we take the airport?!"

a blank stare. and he drives ahead.

disgruntled, my driver grumbles to me, "i forgot that in FRESNO nobody speaks ENGLISH!"

i am startled and have to remind myself that i am not in my liberal, PC, austin bubble any more. i remain quiet.

until we pull up to the white SUV again at a traffic light. this time the driver is on my side of the car.

i roll down my window and yell, "oiga! está el aerpuerto por esta calle?"

"el aeropuerto? no. está por la... ah sí. está por la clinton."

"está muy lejos?"

"sí, son varias luces."

my driver looks at me expectantly. "it's way down the street," i tell her.

as we tear down the street, the white SUV catches up to us. i turn my head toward the window and the driver, not a bad looking guy actually, raises his eyebrows at me suggestively. i laugh and shake my head, turn away. no, no, i think. i mean, i guess we did share a moment. i've always been good at playing the damsel in distress. why do men love that so much?

she delivers me to the airport curb at 9AM, the exact time when my flight is to begin boarding. i run through security, and am at the gate just in time.

though i am actually leaving the valley, i know that i've arrived.


Sunday, July 16, 2006


two weeks from tonight, i will most likely be spending the night in las cruces, new mexico.
all of my furniture will have been sold and/or donated to goodwill. my essential belongings--books, clothes, CDs--will have been shipped or packed into the trunk of my car.
our apartment will be empty and clean.
my roommate will be moved in (or at least partially moved in) to her new apartment.
and i will have said my good-byes, my see-you-laters to this city, to the people i love in this city, holding the hope that i will come back for visits.

i hate moving.

california will be great.
i'm so lucky to have this job. especially at a research university. in california. three hours from home.
it's nothing against california.
but i love my life in austin.

it was always going to be temporary. and, to be honest, those first two years, i wanted to miracle myself back to california every day. but here i am, nearly seven years later, wanting nothing more than to hold on.

but i'm forced to keep moving.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the magic valley

i moved to the rio grande valley nearly four years ago, during the middle of a very hot texas summer. though i was moving to my mom's hometown of la feria, i did not have the cushion of family to help my stay. my mother's family had migrated from mexico to texas, and then from texas to california. our relatives on her side of the family live either in mexico or in california.

though my mother had introduced me to her padrinos, a very sweet couple in their 80s, who live in "el rancho" (in english, they call it "the country"), i was basically on my own to make friends and to find community.

i spent a little over a year in la feria doing field work for my dissertation. and while my time there was for research, it became personal. the people i met in la feria helped me to grow not only as an anthropologist, but also as a human being. (grad school sometimes has the nasty habit of making you kind of more "intellectual," less "emotional/sensitive").

the day i left la feria, i cried in the car long after we had left the city limits.

one would think that i would welcome any opportunity to go back. but i have to admit that it's difficult for me. it's hard to be a visitor in a town where i used to live so fully. does that make sense?

i hate how everything changes without me. that people don't recognize me as readily. that i have no place of my own to return to at the end of the day.

and so i rarely indulge in trips to la feria. in fact, i hadn't been in a little over a year until this past week. i begin to forget why i loved it so much there.

but after a few days in the valley, i fall in love again. catching up with old friends, marveling at how everything continues to move forward, to change and stay the same. being in the valley with joseph probably made the trip even more vivid, because he was seeing it all for the first time. it was nice to see how he was falling in love with it, too.

at the end of the weekend, we began the long drive back to austin, me with a lump in my throat, and vowing to return. even if just as a visitor.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

a domestic scene in dallas

we entered through the side door because of construction just behind the front door.
joseph introduced me to his grandfather as our eyes became accustomed to the dim, indoor light.
"a sus ordenes," his grandfather introduced himself.

joseph, his grandpa, and i took seats at the kitchen table while a neighbor continued to work on the floor in the living room. our conversation was punctuated by sounds of electric sawing.

i knew that joseph's grandmother had passed away some years ago, but noticed food on the stove burners. i wondered if his grandpa cooked for himself. joseph's grandfather offered him a bud light and me, a soda. when he opened the refrigerator i saw a tall clay olla and imagined there to be frijoles pintos inside.

we sat around the kitchen table, me sipping my squirt, the men sipping their beers.

his grandfather asks, "asi que ya te casaste joseph!"

no, no, joseph replied, she's my girlfriend.

the grandfather contemplated this for a moment before asking, "y cuando se van a casar?"

we explained that we'd only been dating two months.


we talked about this and that. the grandfather's relationship with his deceased wife, the effort it takes to make a relationship work. then he looks at me and asks, "sabe echar tortillas?"

the "usted" verb form and the use of the verb "echar" momentarily throw me off.

"yo?!" i stammer, my jaw droppping slightly. is he really asking me if i know how to make tortillas???

he goes on to say that this is a different generation. it's easier to go to the store and buy tortillas than to make them by hand.

i tell him that i *have* made tortillas before, but that i usually buy them from the store.
he doesn't seem to judge.

(joseph later tells me not to worry, that i can learn! i tell him that i'm NOT worried because he can learn, too!).

the grandfather is funny and wise, and we enjoy listening to his stories, his advice, and his perspective.

when he walks us out the door, he asks us to invite him to the wedding.


a lapse...historical memory

memorial and sky
Originally uploaded by lamusa.
for someone who just finished writing a dissertation that serves as an historical ethnography, my historical memory is remarkabley poor. i had completely forgotten that dallas was the city where jfk was shot in 1963.

joseph led me around the memorial, past the book depository from where lee harvey oswald took his aim and shot, to the grassy knoll where onlookers saw jfk's motorcade pass.

we decided against paying $8 to peruse the "conspiracy museum," but there were plenty of conspiracy theorists peddling thier literature around the grassy knoll.

through the rain

Originally uploaded by lamusa.
though saturday a thunderstorm spoiled (soaked, really) our afternoon plans, i really enjoyed spending time at the catholic cathedral downtown. erected to honor la virgen de guadalupe, the sanctuary boasted gracefully arched high ceilings and simple white walls adorned with beautiful stained glass windows.

recuerdos de dallas

vista del centro de noche
Originally uploaded by lamusa.
this evening marks a full week since i've been back from my dallas trip.

the city was more lovely than i could have imagined. i found myself enchanted by the city's skyline at night. one evening, joseph and i enjoyed a drink at reunion tower, where we experienced three hundred and sixty degrees of the city at night.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

chicano/as en dallas

tomorrow i'm off to dallas.

not to mourn the fallen mavericks, but to finally acquaint myself with joseph's stomping grounds.

back in april, when i heard news of the dallas megamarch, i couldn't believe that dallas was home to 500,000 latinos who would march for immigrant rights. while the numbers surprised me, i imagined the latinos in dallas to be recent immigrants.

then i met joseph, who is a sixth generation dallas chicano. SIXTH generation.
his speech has a hint of drawl, and he says things like, "you *know* he had a come-to-jesus talk with her!" come to jesus? clearly he lives in the bible belt.
he is polite the way you imagine southerners to be, all "sir" and "ma'am" to strangers.
and he loves tejano music. while you hear other guys his age bumping hip hop in their cars, when joseph turns on his engine, it is puro tejano blaring through the speakers. little joe y la familia, ruben ramos, etc. etc.

joseph is texan AND tejano. and he has invested himself in documenting chicano dallas history. both the history of the community and the history of his family.

he has been educating me about dallas. not the dallas i've seen on television--mostly stereotypes of big trucks, big hair, and rich oil barons--but a dallas that is home to raza. several generations of them.

and, of course, a dallas that is home to joseph.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

happy father's day

in this picture (circa 1979), i bear a striking resemblance to my dad. i actually remember being photographed; i remember wanting to emulate his expression. i wanted to be just like him.

though these days, i am more the spitting image of my mom, i still believe myself to be deeply influenced by my dad.

when i was in high school, i told him that i wanted to learn about politics, and he encouraged me to read the editorial pages of the newspaper. in that way, he told me, i would get to read different peoples' opinions about poltical (or politicized) issues. he encouraged my high school involvement in speech and debate because i would be forced to understand and debate both sides of a particular issue.

though as a younger man, my dad was a democrat, he is now a moderate republican. i imagine that, over the years, it must have caused him some consternation that his eldest daughter had become so liberal. a chicana! a marxist! i don't know how he felt when i told him that i wanted to get a ph.d. in anthropology, but he never tried to dissuade me. he trusted me.

nonetheless, my father, the republican, always keeps me grounded. he quietly sends me articles and editorials he finds in the bakersfield californian or in the los angeles times. offers me a perspective he knows that i probably won't receive in liberal academia. we talk, in the most calm and rational way, about different political issues. he as open as i am to a different perspective. because i consider my dad to be a thinker, and because he has lived a longer and harder life than i have, i respect his opinion.

though i consider myself to be very independent, i am very much my parents' child, holding strongly to their integrity, their values, their stories and perspectives. and i'm grateful to be rooted in that way.

i love you, dad.


Friday, June 16, 2006


went for a swim a couple of nights ago at bartholomew park.
i arrived in a speedo racerback swim suit with goggles and a swim cap in hand, walked around the perimeter of the pool to the lanes they have roped off for lap swimming.

there was anarchy in the rest of the pool.

mostly black and brown children from ages five to fourteen, jumping and splashing, yelling in spanish and english. laughing in the bright blue water as the daylight waned. most congregated in the shallow end. each time i ended my lap on that side of the pool, a chubby mexican boy asked me if i could retrieve a small green ball his friends had thrown over his head and in to the lap lane.

the first time i obliged.
the second time i obliged with a look of exasperation on my face (he was ruining my stride!).
the third time, he said, "it's not my fault."
"i know, sweetie."
and then i witnessed the culprit throw the ball far above and beyond his head!
i told her that she was not supposed to throw anything into the lap lane.
then one of the life guards reprimanded the boy for venturing to the second lap lane (not the one i was in) to retrieve the ball.
"see?" i told the girl. "you got him in trouble." and i returned to my swim, wondering when i became such a cranky old lady.

i wasn't always this way.

every summer that i remember of my childhood, my mom used to enroll me and my sister (my brother, too?) in swimming lessons at siemon park. i think that she wanted us to conquer her fear of the water. and i think she wanted to get us out of her hair for part of those long summer days.

we happily obliged. all of the swim lesson kids would line up outside of the pool and be forced to walk through a corridor of cold water-spouting shower heads before each lesson. the instructors told us it was for us to become accustomed to the cold water so that we'd be more apt to jump into the pool. some of us would sprint through the showers to avoid the shock of cold water. others would creep along the sides of the corridor, carefully avoiding the water. if we weren't wet enough, the teachers would make us go through again.

other than the initial shock of cold water, the swimming lessons were great. i loved being in the water during the brutally hot summers in bakersfield. and my mother was right to assume that it would make me comfortable in the water.

to this day, i love the water. i love the feeling of weightlessness gliding through a swim. i love the silence under water, the peacefulness. being able to focus on the most basic things--my breath, my thoughts.

i see those kids at bartholomew pool, and i remember those summer days that were filled with sun and water. and think that someday those kids will be remembering the same things.


Friday, June 09, 2006

punking out

i've decided not to do the triathlon on sunday.

it is now friday, and i am still hobbling around the office. after my last swim training class last night, i noticed that my limp had become slightly worse.

so this is it for me. when i began the triathlon training in march, my goal was not to win, nor was it to beat my frenemy. i simply wanted to cross the finish line feeling strong. i imagined that, more than likely, i would be tired, but my hope was that i would also feel exhilirated.

i don't think that would happen on sunday. even if i were to jog/walk the 5K, i'd be overcompensating on my strong leg, essentially limping 3.1 miles. in the texas heat!

last night my swimming instructor asked me if i would ever compete in a triathlon if not the danskin.

"i'm only 30!" i responded. it's not as if i have one foot in the grave!

i have to confess, however, that this training has been special. the trainers for the group with whom i've been working, L.A.T.I.N.A.S, focus on creating a non-intimidating atmosphere to encourage women who don't necessarily see themselves as "athletes" to participate in these kinds of events.

and the women involved (frenemy included) are inspiring. they range in age from 18 to 40. some are students, others full time working women; some are mothers; some are single and swinging. all of us are at different levels of fitness. i've had a lot of fun with these women over the past few months, and feel like we've successfully created a fun and supportive community through our commitment to the tri training. we've come to believe in each other. and that has really made this training over the past few months--race or no race--worth it.


Sunday, June 04, 2006


i've been hobbling around for over a week now.

did i mention that i had been without health insurance? i never thought of being insurance-less a big problem; i'm rarely sick. it's only moments like this--when you accidentally debilitate yourself doing a triathlon--that you think it might be nice to have health insurance.

well, one of the perks of my new job is that i was to finally be granted health insurance, effective june 1st. though did appreciate all of the lay medical advice i received, i have to admit that i was looking forward to hearing what diagnosis an actual doctor would give me.

i called a doctor on my plan on may 31st for an appointment the following day.

he looked at my foot and said that it looked pretty bad, but that i seemed rather "stoic" about the pain. (that's because i'm tough, y'all). he wouldn't be able to diagnosis me without an x-ray. in the meantime, he told me that i shouldn't participate in any training.

the next day he informed me that my toe/foot was NOT broken! and that i could participate in sports "as tolerated."

here's the thing: i still can't really walk. i'm limping. how can i run? i swam yesterday, and it was fine. but the triathlon is in ONE WEEK. even if i wake up that morning and my toe is perfect, i won't have really trained for two weeks. can/should a person attempt a triathlon without having really trained during the two weeks before the race?

i have been training for two and a half months! has it really come down to this? *sigh*


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

catty and competitive

i don't know if i've mentioned it before, but this triathlon training has made me a little bit competitive.
i don't usually consider myself a competitive person. but there is a woman in my triathlon training class, and she seems to always be, well, racing me. she's a friend, but, because she's a competitor, she's also a frenemy.

this has not usually been a problem because i've actually been a little faster than her in all the events.
but this woman. she has been TRAINING. i mean, above and beyond. extra sessions. bought herself a tri-suit.
and she's gotten faster.

we had a bike/run a week and a half ago, and i smugly thought that i would leave her in my dust. actually, she left me in hers.

so this week, i have been on a mission. training harder than usual. eating relatively well. garnering my determination. to beat her.

saturday we had a mock triathlon. we were to meet at the race site, swim half a mile, ride twelve, and run three.
i felt prepared.

the open water swim was challenging because the water was murky, and i veered too far left and right at a couple of points during the race. but i felt like my stroke was strong, i was swimming at a respectable pace. but as i approached the end, i saw the woman--my frenemy--just behind me. i finished the swim, and tried to wade through the shallow water as quickly as possible to the shore. in my haste, i forgot about the rocky drop from the shore to the ocean and proceeded to ram my foot into the rocks and fall.

when i looked up, my trainer was snapping photos. i was not amused.
when i looked down, i saw one of my toes crooked and crossed over the other. and it hurt like ... well, you can imagine.
but my frenemy was already out of the water and running to the transition area.
so i hobbled after her, yelling to my trainer about my toe, and gingerly put my socks and shoes on, the bike shorts, the tank top, the helmet (yes, the helmet), and took off. my frenemy had already taken the lead.

my trainer told me to "be smart! if your toe is broken, don't ride!"

"it's just a ride," i yelled back. it's not like i'd be on my feet or anything.

i caught up with her. passed her. and rode the rest of the way without looking back. i finished the twelve mile bike ride with a significant lead. but when i got off the bike, i realized that i couldn't walk. which meant that i couldn't run! and couldn't complete the triathlon.

so my frenemy arrived after ten minutes and ran. and again left me in her dust. AUGH!

over the past two days, my foot has become more and more swollen and bruised purple and green. and i have been less and less able to walk. i've basically been hobbling around town like a little old lady for the past few days. and today i have been hobbling around office, clutching my lower back and popping advil.

i think the toe might be broken. i don't have health insurance until june 1st. and so i will aguantarme until then. and i am not sure if the toe will be healed in time for the triathlon.

i think that God is punishing me for being catty and competitive. *sigh* even so, i just know that, with a ten minute lead from the bike ride, i totally could have beat her running.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

the graduate

i participated in all the graduation festivities in december.

my family and two of my best friends flew out from california to be with me. my austin friends threw me a party, took me out. celebrations abounded.

graduation was the last thing on my mind at the beginning of may. in fact, my roommate and i had planned a road trip to chicago for graduation weekend (also known as, the week after classes were out).

but then people started to ask me if i was planning to participate in the graduation sponsored by the center for mexican american studies. no, i would reply. i'm going to chicago.

but they continued to ask.

it came to my attention that some of my chicano/a professors were asking about my participation. some of the powers that be.

like a good mexican american (catholic!) girl, i started to feel guilty. my roommate, also a good mexican american girl, likewise began to feel pangs of guilt and gracefully offered to buy a plane ticket to chicago.

i decided to stay.

it was a much more low-key affair. joseph drove down from dallas. i invited my closest friends, assuring them that it would be fine if they didn't attend. they had already done the graduation thing with me after all.

saturday came. it almost felt like an ordinary saturday until mid-afternoon when i put a dress, my special red shoes, and my cap and gown.

in a lecture hall at the university of texas, the professors sitting on stage were some of the most eminent Chicano/a scholars in the country. most of the Chicano/a graduation participants were undergraduates. i hadn't thought about it until just then, but i realized that some of my former students--some of my favorite students--were participating in the ceremony.

after the obligatory speeches, each graduate walked across the stage to receive his/her diploma from the director of the center for mexican american studies while a professor read their bios--their majors, their student organizations, awards they had received, future plans, people they wanted to thank. all of them impressive and inspriring. it was difficult not to feel proud and excited for them to see them complete this phase of their life and poised for the next part of their journeys.

after the undergrads had their diplomas in hand, there were a handful of master's students and two ph.d. students. i was the last person to receive a diploma. the director of CMAS gave me a hug along with my diploma. as i stood on stage, listening to my own bio, i was so happy that my own future plans had been solidified. "jennifer will be a professor next year at the university of ..." and to hear everybody cheer for me. it almost made my heart ache.

after the procession outside, there were pictures and hugs and congratulations. we then processed on over to the other side of campus for a reception with food and dancing to tejano music. my date did not dance, so i stole some cumbias with other professors. i had to make the most of my cute red shoes! (though i confess, and joseph will confirm, that i was hobbling back to the car...)

even though i was sorry to miss the trip to chicago, i'm glad that i stayed. the center for mexican american studies has been an amazing space for me throughout my graduate studies. the staff, the professors, the undergrads, and my fellow grad students have become like family to me. they have supported me, celebrated with me, and have been a dependable constant in my life. they've carried me through to this happy end. i needed to celebrate with them. because i realize that my life here, my texas would not have been the same without them.


p.s. thanks to joseph for the pics!


j E with Braille N N in a heart i F E mosaic R The Letter R O S E

thanks to xolo for sharing.
get yours here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

working girl

the semester is winding down.
submitted my final grades yesterday (two days late!).
will participate in yet another graduation ceremony tomorrow afternoon. it's a chicano/a graduation, and i'm one of two chicano/a ph.d's participating! (actually, i'm just looking for an excuse to wear the muffin hat again).

my last paycheck will dated june 1st.
my new paychecks will not be dated until august 1st.
so i've decided to do what normal people do. i went out and got myself an 8AM-5PM, monday through friday, JOB.
i will be basically acting as someone's secretary for the next several weeks. answering phones, scheduling appointments, dealing with vendors, probably typing, filing, etc. i'm quite qualified for the position. i have excellent phone manners. and i can type like the dickens.

i have to confess.
i do not want to do this kind of work. i want to continue to sit in coffeeshops and brainstorm my next article (or actually write the article i was supposed to have written two months ago). read up on all the latest immigration literature. plan my fall syllabus. and field work! i want to travel to south texas and conduct interviews. engage in participant observation of the emerging mexican american arts scene in the valley.
but all of that requires money.
thus my dilemma.
resolved by answering phones, scheduling appointments, dealing with vendors, typing, filing, etc.

sometimes i wish i were a trustfund baby. or that i would win the lottery (which, i guess, would necessitate me buying a ticket every once in a while). in the meantime, i just do what i gotta do.


Monday, May 15, 2006

anxiety attack

left my apartment saturday morning at 7AM, picked up a friend, and drove south on a nearly empty Interstate 35 south toward kyle, texas.

my triathlon traininers planned a mock triathlon at and around the park at five mile damn.

after half an hour on the road, we exited kyle. a typical small texas town, kyle has an old west type of downtown, the major edifices--businesses, banks, city buildings--wood framed and quaint. there was a group of politicos out at that early hour holding bold-fonted election signs for their preferred candidates in front of one central voting center.

we left downtown almost as quickly as we had entered and found ourselves driving along farm roads, green fields on either side of us, bright wildflowers sprouting along both sides of the street. enormous homes enjoyed acres of land. herds of white goats grazed and frolicked in fields under the watchful eyes of a shaggy sheep dog.

the park was beautiful and green, the water from the damn looked peaceful enough, but i could feel my levels of anxiety rising. i set up my bike and change of clothes in the designated transition area, participated in nervous chatter with my fellow trainees. soon we were wading into the water. it was clean and not too cold. looking down, i saw a small fish dart in front of me.

we were supposed to swim to the end of the dam and circle back to complete a half of a mile. but i couldn't see the end. i knew that i had swum the equivalent of half of a mile in the pool where we had been training, but it's much easier to wrap your head around a certain number of laps. there were no lap markers in this open body of water.

so i swam and swam. slowly. for a short while i was keeping pace with a flock of ducks. (they eventually pulled over on land to walk around and, i assume, rest from their swim!). but i kept looking up, trying to figure out how much longer i had to go. the way back was easier. i felt i could better gauge the distance.

i emerged from the water tired, but dutifully made my way to the transition area and tried to pull a sports bra and bike shorts over my wet bathing suit, a t-shirt over that. i tied my shoes and hopped on the bike. i was a little unclear about the path. the trainers told us where to turn, but there were no markers. i was convinced that i was lost most of the way until i saw people returning from the direction i was heading.

the sun was rising and hot, and i had too many layers of clothes on. i sacrificed my modesty at the six mile mark, stripping off my shirt. despite feeling cooler, the last six miles of the ride were brutal. i could handle the hills and the gravel-y roads, but the wind blew so strongly that i felt i was scarcely moving forward. i arrived at the park again exhausted.

somebody threw a packet of power bar gel at me to swallow before my run, but the idea of eating gel grossed me out. i decided to go with gatorade. parked my bike and began to run. the slowest run. came to intersections--forks in the road--and couldn't remember which way to turn. i made my best guess and ran, hating the dual feeling of exhaustion and disorientation.

sure enough, one of the trainers came riding along and yelled, "jennifer! turn around! you're going the wrong way! turn around!" turn around?

at this point, the friend who had joined me that morning was providing moral support, riding alongside me while i ran and offering me sips of gatorade.

but apparently i needed more than moral support. my breath became increasingly short. and my frustration got the best of me. i felt tears streaming down my face as i ran.

my friend asks me, "why are you crying?"

"because i hurt!"


"every where! and i can't. breathe."

"then stop running!"

that made sense. i stopped. we pulled over to the side of the road. and she instructed me to breathe. and so i did. breathe.
we walked back to the park.

drove away tired and hungry. grumpy. feeling defeated.


Friday, May 12, 2006

pies descalzos

crashed a birthday barbecue this evening.
a new professor who is affiliated with mexican american studies invited my friend cristina.
cristina recruited me and olga. i recruited another friend, faedah.
we figured that if we arrived bearing wine, nobody would notice the extra people.

this young professor has a beautiful house. she's painted the kitchen a cheery yellow, her bedroom a tranquil blue. the walls are adorned with mexican art, some rustic, some more modern. atop the long case that housed her CD collection was a collection of small religious articles. candles bearing the image of la virgen de guadalupe, large and small clay virgins with rosaries around some of their necks, patron saints, thick mexican coins.

in the kitchen, she had more food than i've seen at a party in a long time--ribs, chicken, grilled veggies, elotes, spinach strawberry salad, grilled pineapple, coleslaw, etc. and practically a full bar--hard liquor and sodas for mixed drinks, wine, blended margarita waiting in the blender to be served.

half the party sat outside, braving the nips of mosquitos. my party sat in the yellow kitchen and enjoyed our meals, conversation, and the music blaring from the professor's ipod, hooked up to speakers.

as i settled into my margarita happiness, a salsa song began to sound through the speakers. i looked at the young professor standing in the corner of the kitchen, stood, and held out my hand to him.

"what?" he asked and laughed, knowing what i wanted. he took my hand and we made the tiles of the kitchen our dance floor.

i was wearing inappropriate shoes. as he turned and spun me, i felt my shoes slipping precariously on my feet. my toes gripped the soles as we continued to dance. by the second song, i had kicked my shoes off and was happily dancing barefoot in the kitchen with my skilled salsa partner even as the rest of the room was engrossed in conversation.

the ipod granted us only those two songs, but it was just as well. the outside party goers began to drift inside and say their good-byes. my party was also ready to call it an early night. early or not, any night i get to dance barefoot in the kitchen is a good one.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

may day

yesterday at 3PM, my friend, cristina, and i made our way, walking, from campus to the capitol.

the rally had already begun. activists, poets, activist-poets, spiritual leaders delivering their messages to the crowd that was slowly beginning to assemble at the south side of the capitol. and the people beginning to chant, sí se puede, sí se puede, sí se puede...

cristina and i ran into a good friend and joined him on the lawn for shade and rest before the march was to begin. mothers pushing strollers with babies flanked us on two sides. i noticed another small gathering of children, sitting, eating cookies and playing with mini-american flags just in front of me. the UT socialists, a mostly white, tatooed group of young people, gathered with signs to another side.

at 4PM, the march down congress avenue began. standing up, i realized that the crowd had grown enormous, and i began to feel a little claustrophobic. (generally, i make it a rule to avoid crowds, but i knew that i needed to be here). cristina assured me that once we got to the street, there would be more space.

and there was more space. space for this sea of people in white. brown people in white shirts. teenagers. couples. mothers. fathers. toddlers. infants. spanish-speaking people. english-speaking people. students. professionals. laborers. mexicans. all of us. mexicans marching slowly under the sun. past the businesses on downtown congress. past the spectators on either side.

it was a strange feeling to be watched. i found myself waving at people in office buildings. waving to people on the streets. i found myself happy and proud to be carried along in this crowd and chanting:

el pueblo! unido!
jamas sera vencido!

el pueblo! callado!
jamas sera escuchado!

no somos uno!
no somos diez!
somos un chingo!
cuentanos bien!

una gente inumerable enfrente de mi, detras de mi. caminando a lo largo de las calles como olas pacificas.

a woman several feet in front of me carried a sign with a quote from emiliano zapata:

prefiero morir de pie
que vivir de rodillas.

and even though i'd heard that quote before, that afternoon it resonated more profoundly than it had before.

it occurred to me that "viviendo de pie" was what this march, what this movement is all about.

we debate which civil rights should be afforded immigrants. the right to public education. the right to receive federal financial aid to help pay for college tuition. the right to be issued a driver's license.

that was not what drove this march (although there were definitely signs demanding--legalizacion!).

i think that this movement is about human rights. the right to dignity. the right to receive respect. for all the hard work that immigrants do in this country.

hemos vivido de rodillas. we have done the work that nobody wants to do. we have picked fruit and vegetables in the fields, we have washed dishes, we have cleaned bathrooms. we have done all of this in exchange for low wages. we have not complained. because we have wanted better lives, better opportunities for our families. here. in the land of opportunity.

but now we are tired. de estar callados. de ser invisibles.

we deserve respect. we deserve dignity. the most basic of human rights.

and by marching peacefully through the streets on a hot afternoon in texas, we are finally demanding what we deserve.


Sunday, April 30, 2006

choques de cultura

friday night, a new friend invited me to join him at a nearby country club for dinner.

i am not a regular at any country club, but felt that i knew--more or less--what to expect:
a fancy, softly lit dining room.
waiters dressed in white button down shirts.
fancy food at fancy prices.
more white people than not.

the restaurant at the country club basically met my expectations. i felt a bit overwhelmed by the luxuriousness of it all; i'm not accustomed to being served in that way. and my date and i were the only mexicans--and perhaps the youngest couple--in the room. even the waitstaff was mostly white!

once my nervousness subsided, i started to enjoy the atmosphere. a house band played for the dining patrons. i think that the best way to describe their music would be country-ish. that kind of twang, but they played non-country songs, including covers of fleetwood mac and elvis costello. it was fun for me to watch all these older couples spin and twirl on the dance floor. they seemed to lack any kind of self-consciousness, just danced and enjoyed themselves as if among friends.

then there was this very surreal moment.

the band started to play a country version of bob marley's "i shot the sheriff." and everybody was dancing. all of these white-haired white couples, men in their jackets and ties, women in their little black dresses shuffling back and forth, swaying their hips shaking. to bob marley. to "i shot the sheriff."


i looked at my date wide-eyed. we shared a laugh. and i thought, well, he and i are crossing a cultural/class barrier having dinner at this country club. these kinds of choques de cultura happen all the time. sometimes i guess they're just more funny than others!


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the culture question

it's been dawning on me lately that the semester is almost over. that i was down to my last few lectures. that i would only have a few more class periods to talk about mexican american culture.

it was easy to begin. i gave them historical context for the "culture" that we would be examining. i've thrown in some expressive culture--art and poetry. given them a school ethnography. we've read a novel for its ethnographic content. all of these things that i hope have pointed to a mexican american cultural trajectory.

but now it's the end. today was my last lecture (friday is the test; next week they will present projects). and i felt like i needed to say something profound.

the point of the class is _______________________.
contemporary mexican culture is ______________________.

i realize that i have no idea how to fill in either of those blanks.

my last couple of lectures, i have floundered. i have not known what to say.

culture is a mess. mexican american culture is a mess. we're too diverse to pin down. we are of different immigrant generations, different socioeconomic backgrounds, from different regions. some of us are spanish-dominant; some are english-dominant. though most of us continue to lean to the political left, some of us have jumped to the right (ugh).

but somehow we are all mexican american. and we have a culture, ever-evolving.

what can i do but confess that i don't know the answers? but then to tell them that not knowing the answers is the point. it is the reason why i research. and the reason i write. it is the reason i assign them research. the reason i make them write.

because i think we can slowly fill in the gaps. we investigate what is happening in our schools. we critically observe what occurs in our neighborhoods and churches, our organziations. we can provide small understandings of culture that eventually amount to something bigger. and maybe that understanding and knowledge can be transformative.

a teacher can only hope.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

una noche de musica tejana

shortly before the show was to begin, the lobby filled with mexican americans of that generation. the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. the ones who were the heart and hands of the chicano/a movement. they were old friends reuniting, talking and laughing. men dressed in their chicano duds; women still sexy in their cocktail dresses. i was feeling slightly underdressed in my spring skirt and tank top.

at the entrance, a table petioning for support of tejano music. two men selling bumper stickers that read, "don't mess with tejano music."

though i wanted to stay in the lobby to watch the chicanada, my girlfriends were curious about our seats. because the tickets were slightly above our student (or semi-student) budgets, we opted for the cheapest arrangements (still twenty dollars a pop!) and were informed that we would be sitting on the sixth floor. the sixth floor, we learned, was the nose bleed section. we were in row W. the fourth row from the highest row of the ampitheater.

nevertheless, the concert hall was small enough, leaving us a perfectly respectable view of the stage.

the show started at 8PM on the dot with opening remarks from the organizers of the event and the master of ceremonies.

then grammy award winner tejano star sunny ozuna strode onto the stage in a long and elegant zoot suit. accompanied by the mexican revolution, sunny held the crowd in the palm of his hand. his music spunky and upbeat, his joking in between songs... i blushed and let out a yell when he sang, "soy chiquito, pero picoso... soy chiquito, pero sabroso!" members of the audience moving in their seats, sorely missing a dance floor.

after sunny's performance, senator gonzalo barrientos, a major proponent of tejano music, took the stage. he spoke to the audience about how thirty five years ago, student activists--many of whom were present that night--worked tirelessly for chicano/a civil right and for the establishment of a center for mexican american studies. tejano music was the music of their movement.

he invited sunny ozuna, little joe, and ruben ramos on to the stage and presented each of them with texas flags that had flown over the state capitol building. he unfolded each flag and draped them over the shoulders of the three musicians. the crowd roared while the three musicians disappeared, smiling and waving, into the wings of the stage, texas flags adorning their backs.

after this display of texas nationalism, little joe y la familia took the stage by storm. little joe, who wore a dark suit and white tennis shoes (?), began his set with a traditional rendering of the song, "america the beautiful," which he dedicated to all the men and women serving the U.S. in the military overseas as well as all of the veteranos.

the audience yelled for their favorite songs, and, little joe belted them out in a strong and beautiful voice. my favorite was his tejano version of the famous josé alfredo jimenez song, ella. in addition to the typical tejano numbers, little joe also devoted a good portion of his time to some jazz numbers, including an unexpected cover of frank sinatra's "my way."

for the final act of the evening ruben ramos, el gato negro, and the mexican revolution graced the stage. their sound a big band tejano fusion of norten~a, country, tropical, and popular music. and el gato negro dancing and singing into the audience, its members extending hands to touch his hand or a piece of his white suit even as he deftly continued to move his feet and shake his hips to the rhythms of the band.

and there were tributes and there were encores and big music for hours. and even from the cheap seats we could see the glint of the movement.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

new season

the past few days have held texas summer.

the highs have hovered near the hundred degree mark. but more than that, the air, thick and muggy, makes simple acts--like walking--more slow and deliberate. a thin layer of sweat graces my skin even before 10AM as i walk from the bus stop to my office. forgetting my sun glasses during an afternoon drive leaves me squinting in the white light, cranking my air conditioner up another notch, yearning for an an afternoon nap in a cool, shaded place.

and this is just the beginning.

i know that i've become a texan because i find myself constantly talking to people about the weather. the other day i was walking in to our apartment and my roommate was walking out. "it's HOT outside," i greeted her. "i know," she said.

i walked into my favorite coffeeshop yesterday afternoon and tell the barista, "i was going to order coffee..."

"but it's HOT outside," she finishes my sentence for me.

i enter rooms and comment on the weather. "not as bad today as it was yesterday!" and "nice breeze outside."

as if the weather were another character in our lives. tempermental during this time of year.

last night, coming back from an evening swim, i was driving north on the expressway that hugs the green hill country to the west of austin. dark hills and heavy clouds were suddenly and strikingly revealed by periodic flashes of lightning in the distance. once i arrived home, the lightning storm yielded to a rainstorm, a dramatic rush of water beating outside my windows. it ended almost as suddenly as it began, leaving everything quiet and clean in its wake.

the relentless heat and these summer storms offer a kind of high drama that makes texas, texas.


Monday, April 17, 2006

easter blessings

i bought an easter dress.
olga knit me an easter shrug.
the only thing missing was an easter basket, an easter egg hunt, confetti eggs.

not true. what was missing was my family. my parents and my brother all convened in watsonville to spend easter weekend with my sister and her new husband in their new house.

here in austin, my roommate and i made our way to the morning easter service at our lady of guadalupe. there was an amazing energy in the sanctuary that day. sun streaming through the stained glass windows, musicians and choir members warming up, families squeezing into pews, the small roar of easter morning conversations.

lent was over. and somehow, it really did feel like a celebration.

after mass, olga and i made a quick coffee/pastry pit stop and then headed home to cook. we had invited some of our close friends to our apartment for easter brunch. olga made veggie/sausage frittata; i made waffles with fresh strawberries. along with the side dishes, we had champagne and orange juice for mimosas.

after everyone had their fill, we watched two wallace and gromit adventure short films. i'm not much for cartoons or animation, but these were great--very funny and smart! we all really enjoyed them.

dutiful academics that we all are, we spent the afternoon studying at a local coffeeshop. ok. mostly i just read blogs.
then olga took me to freebirds, where finally, after forty days, i was able to partake of a steak burrito. red meat! i missed you!

we winded down the evening watching some like it hot over our steak burritos.

talked to my family in california during the evening.
realized how lucky i am to have family in both places.


Monday, April 10, 2006

making history

every semester, with each new batch of students, i am reminded of the historical erasure that occurs within our school systems when it comes to mexicans in american history.

my students are shocked to learn about segregation and discrimination in the southwest. moreover, they are surprised to learn about the movement that happened in texas. a movement occurred in their hometowns. a movement in which some of their parents, aunts, and uncles participated.

this semester we talked about the history of mexican american activism. the crystal city walkout the emergence of la raza unida, the activism, the incredible stances that chicano/as took against discrimination and racism all inspire my students.

we have all been inspired recently by the demonstrations across the country to protest H.R. 4437.

about a week and a half ago, i received an email informing me that students at UT Austin would be organizing a walkout and protest on April 10th, to stand in solidarity on the national day of action for immigrant justice. the walkout was scheduled to take place that monday at 11AM, the exact day and time my class would be meeting.

the same day i received the email, my students asked me if i knew about the walkout. i told them i did, and it provided a good opportunity for us to talk about the proposed legislation as well as all of the anti-immigrant sentiment that seemed to have taken hold of the nation lately. after a long discussion, i told them that i'd be walking out that day, as well. we could just say that we would be "holding class" at the rally.

as a teacher, obviously i cannot and should not force my politics upon them. i told them that i would not be taking roll that day; there would be no punishment for *not* showing up to the protest. maybe, as the teacher, i should have tried to remain more impartial, but after our lengthy discussion about the issue, i felt like protesting was the right thing to do. how could we not?

so today about two thirds of my students showed up to class, and when the bell rang, we walked out together. many of them had made signs. at the rally, many were waving american flags. i could sense that they were nervous and excited. one girl told me that her mother had told her to "be careful. remember kent state!"

she said, "i didn't even know what kent state was!"

these students had no memories of the civil rights movement, the chicano/a movement, the anti-war movement (protesting vietnam). and many had not--prior to my class--been taught about the history of chicano/a civil rights. but they were here today in austin. a new generation of students taking a stance against injustice. and i knew that they would remember this moment, this history that they were making--a personal, political history that no one would be able take away from them.


for more perspectives, pictures, and reflections on today's demonstration in austin, see olga, bill , and cesar.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

incredible hulk(ette)

saturday morning at 8AM. i have driven to the southern most part of austin. headed toward the hill country. noted the green rolling hills and the wildflowers now in spring abundance.

yawning, i pull my borrowed bike out of my car and re-attach the wheel, head over to the group of women with whom i am training.

still in a sleepy haze, i am in a mild state of denial when i hear her say that we will warm up for ten minutes and then ride the velloway (about three miles) once, get off of our bikes and run a mile, then ride around the velloway again, and finish with another mile run.

i feel myself slowly become more awake and aware as i pedal through the cool morning breeze. the velloway bike path has its share of difficult hills, for which i adjust my gears accordingly. after riding for about twenty five minutes, i abandon my bike with the trainer and start to run.

running after biking, not so fun. my legs feel as if they are recoiling. i run the slowest mile of my life, pick my bike up, pull on my bike helmet, and start to ride again. the second time around the velloway neither more easy nor more difficult than the first. when i meet the trainer again, i hang back and drink water, stretch my legs. i pretend not to know that i have to run another mile before my morning training is finished.

then the woman next to me asks me, "are we supposed to run again?"

"i dunno," i say, feigning ignorance.

she proceeds to ask the trainer, who responds, "yes!"

i take another swig of my water, strip off my sweatshirt, and begin to run. i am breathless and sweaty and tired. forcing myself forward under the sun. i speculate that it will take me forEVER to finish this run.

but then something happens. about halfway through the path, a surge of energy. my strides lengthen. i can feel the muscles in my legs propel me forward. feeling a little bit like the incredible hulk(ette), i want to run faster. i see the end of the trail and begin to sprint. i finish strong.

saturday marked the end of my third week of training for the danskin triathlon in austin this june. it feels a little impossible right now. and exhausting. and overwhelming. but i guess that's what training is for! wish me luck.