Wednesday, March 29, 2006

mediendo la vida

monday in austin was grey, rainy, and dreary.

and maybe things were just feeling dreary because we had received news that the wife of one of our professors in mexican american studies had finally lost her battle with cancer.
my roommate and a couple of other good friends decided to make the trip to corpus christi for the rosary monday night and the funeral service on tuesday morning.

though it was an incredibly emotional and sad couple of days, i'm glad that we were able to be there for our professor. his wife was obviously an amazing woman; people who knew her from corpus turned out in droves for the services and sang her the sweetest of praises. so her death seemed like an especially poignant loss. for everyone.

back in austin last night, a few of us were gathered with our professor for drinks, a soft end to an intensely emotional couple of days.

one of the graduate students there remarked that, as difficult and as tragic as the situation seemed, the positive aspect was that we could see the strength of our community in that moment. it was heartwarming, actually, to see all the people who had driven from austin to corpus--many leaving town at five in the morning to make the ten o'clock mass. graduate students, administrative staff, and professors all came together to cushion his loss with whatever love and affection we could offer.

i couldn't help but recall that just a few weeks earlier many of the same people were gathered for the wedding of another professor. it was an intimate and sweet ceremony in san antonio, replete with the rituals of happily ever after.

and that's just how life goes, right? with joy and sorrow in almost equal measure. but the positive aspect through it all is the strength of our community that assures us that we won't experience any of it alone. and there's comfort in that.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

in the back of the bus

friday afternoon

the sun has finally broken through a grey and drizzly week in austin.
the number twenty one capital metro bus, particularly crowded.
no seats in front.
i make my way to the back of the bus, take out my ipod, and prepare to spend the ride listening to the emancipation of mimi.

as i am untangling my headphones, a black man seated behind me remarks loudly to no one in particular, "austin is too crowded! it's got too many people for a little town."

a white man sitting diagonal from him responds, equally loudly, "it's because of all the college students!"

"and all the illegal aliens!" the first man adds. i am so startled that i can't help but turn my head abruptly toward him. i turn back just as quickly. having just hit "play" on my ipod, i decide to "pause" so that i can eavesdrop on the rest on the conversation.

"oh you think it's bad here," says the second man. "don't go to houston. it's like little mexico there! you can go three miles and only see hispanics."

"you know they work here, but they don't spend their money here. they send it all back to mexico!"

"i heard that last year they sent back X billion dollars!"

the conversation proceeds. the two men talk about how the president is only fighting this war in iraq because the iraqis tried to assassinate george bush senior. feeling "sorry" for those boys over there. because they never even had a chance to get married. have sex! have families. feeling "sorry" for the NEXT president because THIS president has driven us a trillion dollars more deeply into debt. hating the republican party. how it's never done no good for nobody.

i thought it was funny. these two men on the bus complaining about too many mexicans in texas. crowding their cities, changing them into "little mexico," not contributing enough to the economy. i guess i wouldn't have expected that conversation from self-proclaimed democrats, who are also anti-war and anti-bush.

at a certain point, i wanted to turn around and tell them that there are mexicans fighting in iraq, too. that some are "illegal aliens," fighting for their new country. i want to defend mexican contributions to this country. because i think that these men probably have some of the same struggles as working class mexican immigrants.

but despite my ability to translate language and culture, i don't say anything. just ride through. get off at my stop.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

new york new york, part 3


at the recommendation of our hostess, we started the day with breakfast at a colombian bakery. the food was great, as was the coffee. and the ambience, well, one of the patrons made it so special that my roommate and i decided to write a joint blog post about him. and his little dog, too. it was quite the spectacle!

with our bellies full, we headed to the empire state building, where we were going to meet a good friend of mine who moved from texas back to new york four years ago. as we approached the empire state building, olga instructed me to "look up!" and i had a moment right out of An Affair to Remember or Sleepless in Seattle. it was disorienting to look up so high and then to focus back on the street we needed to cross.

we met my friend, EJ, were herded through various lines--security, tickets, elevator--and ascended the eighty plus floors to the observation deck. the city is positively serene 1200 feet from the ground. we could only hear the faintest strains of traffic, but mostly the whistle of wind and tourists (like us) chattering about how beautiful! how small everything is!

after our descent back to street level, we perused a bead store (olga is very crafty) and grabbed a quick bite to eat. then, because i am a big nerd, i insisted that we stop at the new york public library--a stately building with statues of lions perched in front--to poke around.

from there, we walked to grand central station, which is more beautiful than i imagined a train/subway station to be! high ceilings, columns, large chandeliers, it was incredible. and there were all kinds of shops! it was very mall-esque.

heading down to the subway, we heard strains of dance music and noticed that there were breakdancers who'd just finished performing. we decided to linger to see if they would start up again. they did, and they were amazing. the moves, the personalities, the incredible upper body strength... toward the end of the show, one of the guys came around with a can for donations. i threw in a couple of dollars, and he says to me, "see my boy over there?" motioning to one of the breakdancers, a white guy wearing a beanie. "he's single."

my friends teased me about it briefly, but at the end of the show, the original guy came back to me and--again--said, "my boy is single. single and available." i was embarrassed and scurried quickly away. but it might be cool to go out with a breakdancer, right?

anyway, we hopped on the subway and headed toward our next stop, the site where the world trade center had been. olga and her new york friends had all remarked how different the manhattan skyline was without the twin towers. that something was clearly missing. i didn't have that frame of reference because i'd never lived in new york, not long enough to be accustomed to a skyline. but that place--the ruins of it--really give a sense of the enormity of the loss. though the official memorial has yet to be constructed, the site already *feels* like a memorial, solemn and sad. we walked around a bit, looking at the pictures, reading the placards, remembering.

from there we walked into century 21, an emormous discount store. felt better as i emerged with a brand new purse. is it superficial of me to feel that shopping really *is* therapeutic???

we ended the afternoon at a small cafe in SoHo, warming our fingers with hot coffee and appeasing our sweet teeth with chocolate croissants.

that evening, we had dinner and drinks at frank's, an italian restaurant in the east village, where the three of us met up with our hostess and another one of olga's friends. it was the perfect place for dinner. good wine, food, ambience, and, most importantly good friends.

we said our good-byes outside of the restaurant and took the train from grand central station back to queens. olga's friend insisted that we take the local train. it was our last night, and she wanted me to see the manhattan skyline one more time. so that, even as i returned to austin, i could carry the picture in my mind.


Monday, March 20, 2006

new york new york, part 2


always forward-looking and prepared, my roommate sent for tickets to The View, months before our new york trip. we received tickets for wednesday's show, which would feature larry hagman and barbara eden for an I Dream of Jeanie reunion.

we dragged ourselves out of bed early and decided to forego our morning bagels and coffee to be in line at the ABC studio at 9:30AM. we were not, however, the earliest birds to arrive. the earliest birds got the best seats, in front of the talkshow and other personalities. we were in the back, but still had an excellent view of barbara walters!!!

that woman has interviewed everyone from J*Lo to Fidel Castro. and we were sitting in the same room as she was! i felt as if i had narrowed the degrees of separation between me and greatness. it was very exciting. :)

after the view, we were famished and in desperate need of coffee, so we hit cafe europa for lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking it off. at central park we noticed the first blossoms of spring on the trees, strolled along fifth avenue and gazed into store windows where i'll never be able to afford anything.

on park avenue we walked by a store i could have sworn was a cosmetics store, its window displays of highly made up women and decor in various shades of pink. but as we walked by, i peeked inside and saw what looked to be a pastry case. that's weird, i thought. pastries in a cosmetics shop?

olga and i decided to investigate and, to our surprise, found that the cosmetics store was actually a french chocolate shop with a very cute, very pink cafe adjacent to the chocolatier. at the cafe, we ordered coffee--their hundred year old blend/recipe at $5 a pop--and shared a pastry. (i actually sent my coffee back because i thought it tasted sour. if i was going to spend five dollars on one cup of joe, i needed it to be toe-curling good! i re-ordered, this time a cappucino that was perfect, except that it cost six dollars!).

i noticed the sun setting only by the softening light, the hues of pink and orange against skyscraping buildings. we ended our afternoon walking by rockefeller center and then through times square before heading back to brooklyn to collect our things.

that night we stayed with one of olga's friends, who lives in queens. met her for dinner at an indian restaurant in jackson heights called jackson diner. we walked in and were welcomed by heat and spice emanating from the kitchen. our waiter, a tall dark and handsome recent arrival from nepal, graciously took our order and made recommendations for us. i asked about the lamb vindaloo.

"is it hot?"

"yes ma'am," he said, "it's hot." paused for a heartbeat before adding, "it's hot like you."

i recovered from my momentary shock at his statement and said, "i'll take it." made a mental note to give him a healthy tip.

hot like vindaloo? no wonder i like indian food so much.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

new york new york, part 1

touched down in austin on friday afternoon feeling as if i was going to need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation. since monday and friday were travel days, we only had three days to cover the city.


we began the day with REAL new york bagels in brooklyn, then hopped a subway to wall street. snapped a pic with the wall street bull (?) and headed to the statue of liberty. we found ourselves in a seemingly interminable line, surrounded by--very loud--fourth graders who were apparently there for a class trip.

i admit that we crowded the fourth graders. we needed to get away from them. we managed to straggle on to a ferry before the kiddies could catch up.

a couple of hours later, we'd learned some interesting tidbits about lady liberty and U.S. immigration from our stops on liberty and ellis island.

cold and hungry, olga led us to greenwich village. though our initial thought was to find a restaurant, we got caught up in the neighborhood, the shops, NYU buildings... i smiled into the cold thinking that this was exactly how i imagined new york to be. olga took my arm and i said, "what?" she says, "i'm excited for you to see this next thing."

we turned a corner and were facing washington square park. and saw the famous arch! (otherwise known as the place where sally left harry after their road trip from the university of chicago to new york).

i loved washington square park. it reminded me of the large plazas in mexico--open spaces where people congregate to sit, eat, read, people watch, whatever. just to be in community with each other. i told olga that the only comparable thing we have in california is the mall.

they were actually shooting a movie while we were there. we hung out for a while before our hunger got the best of us. we discovered a quaint italian place called la lanterna di vittorio where we had a lovely lunch. and coffee, of course.

from the village, we walked to SoHo, where we perused shops, including a well-known yarn store called "purl." olga was in seventh heaven. i was gratified by the cheeriness of the store, but more grateful for the brief reprieve from the cold. i convinced her to duck into another cafe for tea so that we could warm up before heading out again.

we saw a pre- st. patrick's day show that evening at paddy reilly's. an irish band that called themselves the prodigals. they were very upbeat and fun, and they served irish candies and cookies as part of their show. what more could we ask for? ;)

after the show we enjoyed dinner at Rice, a fusion restaurant in brooklyn heights. olga's friend took pains to drive of us along the water's edge so that i could snap pictures across the hudson of the manhattan skyline at night. the pictures didn't turn out, so you'll have to trust me when i tell you that the view was breathtaking.

Monday, March 13, 2006

spring breaking

my graduation gift to myself this year--a trip to new york! i'm tagging along withmy roommate, who used to live there.

as an anthropologist, you know i appreciate the "native" perspective. ;)

hopefully i'll have fun tales to tell upon my return.

hasta luego!


Saturday, March 11, 2006

chicana starstruck

as part of the association of writers and writing programs conference this weekend, i was able to attend a reading by one of my favorite chicana authors, helena maria viramontes.

she had her dark hair cropped short and wore a long-sleeved black t-shirt and jeans. she spoke into the microphone quietly at first, but seemed to gain momentum as she delved into her reading. she writes fiction, but her prose is often so beautiful that it might as well be poetry.

i discovered her book under the feet of jesus when i was an undergraduate. the book, which details the life journeys and work of a mexican farm worker family, is incredibly lush, deliberate, and beautifully written. i fell in love with it.

so when i found out that she would be reading in austin this weekend, i had to go.

after she finished at the microphone, most of the crowd dispersed, some helping themselves to drinks from the cash bar, others engaged in loud conversations over the funk band who had begun to play after helena's reading.

i spied helena across the room, talking to some students, and decided to introduce myself.

i walked boldly across the room determined to have a meaningful conversation with her.

she turned to me with a pleasant, albeit curious look on her face.

i began awkwardly, "hi! i just. had to meet you. i'm. jennifer __________."

we shake hands.

"your book. i read. under the feet of jesus. when i was an undergrad. and i. i mean. it's just. beautiful!"

i think that she felt sorry for me because she leaned forward and hugged me. "thank you!"

then she asked, "are you a student?"

"yes! i mean, no! i just. graduated. with a ph.d. in anthropology. and i got a job! at the university of _____________."

"congratulations! i have a good friend who works there."

helena suggests that i invite her to give a reading at my new university.

"i will!" i say, before realizing that i will be the lowest being on the professor totem pole when i get to my new university. am i even allowed to invite authors to come read?

anyway, we talked--helena and i--for a little bit. i even managed to spit out a complete sentence once or twice. she was so friendly and down to earth. at the end of our conversation, she gave me her card in case i wanted to contact her. and then she hugged me again good-bye. :)

and i was completely starstruck.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

jenn's journey

thank you all for the congratulations and well-wishes. it's only fitting that after sharing all of my disappointments, i also share my good news.

i've been hesitant to write because i don't know that anything else can top the great news i reported in my last post.

part of me wants to let the high note linger.

my roommate joked, "that's it. the journey's over."

she's right. this part of the journey *is* over.

it's strange when you achieve something you've worked toward for so long.
when i finished my dissertation, there was all this initial celebration. dinners, parties, pin~atas, etc. and i needed to celebrate because that project--from its inception as an idea to field work to writing--was three and a half years in the making.
but then it was done and over. and everyone got sober, and i soberly realized that finishing my dissertation was not enough; i also needed a job.

this has been my third year on the job market. i have received DOZENS of job and rejection letters over the past three years. but now. i have stumbled across my holy grail.
and there has been plenty of celebration--drinks, dinners, drinks (did i already mention that?), mariachis. and i still catch myself grinning into the sky from time to time, like the cheshire cat.

but i'm starting to feel the tiniest bit of anxiety. wondering what the next part of the journey will bring.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

a lenten miracle

i planned to spend tuesday morning with a friend at one of our favorite coffeeshops.

when i arrive i notice that i have missed a call and have a new voicemail message.
it is from the same area code as the university in california where i interviewed a couple of weeks ago.

i listen to the message. it is from the department chair. he asks me to call him back at home.

my mind is racing. why is he calling me from home?

i thought this: the chair was very kind to me during my interview. he is probably calling me, privately, to explain to me, gently, why they haven't chosen me for the position.

but then i think aloud, they can't reject me until the other woman signs her contract. and she couldn't have signed so quickly... or could she?

my friend tells me, "just call him back!"

so i do. he makes polite small talk with me. "how are you? how have you been doing?"

fine fine. i tell him that i have just come back from my sister's wedding.

"oh so you were just in california!"


awkward pause.

"well, i'm sorry that it's taken me this long to get back to you," he says. "but i wanted to ask you if you're still interested in the position?'


"ok. well, the faculty was very impressed by you."

"ok." (i didn't really know what to say to that. thank you?)

"so i'm going to go ahead and talk to the dean, and i'll call you back in a day or two."


"so i'll call you back in a couple of days to see what kind of offer we can make you."

"are you making me an offer?" i ask, tentatively.

"i have to talk to the dean," he says, quickly. "unofficially yes. but i'll call you back. in a couple of days. bye."


a little stunned, i want to be happy, because i think that i've just been offered the job. but not really.

nevertheless, i sprint across the parking lot (i'd been talking on the phone outside) and into the coffeeshop and give my friend an enormous hug.

"i think i got the job!!!!" i say. "kind of."

i recount the conversation to her, and we decide that it would be best not to say anything to anyone until i have been given "official" news. i don't want to raise my family's hopes and then have them be disappointed.

so i wait. one day. two days. on the third day, the chair calls again. we have a remarkably similar conversation.

hello how are you? how have you been? are you still interested in the position?

then, after an eternity of talking around the subject, i ask, "just to clarify. have you chosen ME for the position?"

"yes!" he says. "we would like YOU to fill this position."

forgive the pop culture comparison, but have you all seen the movie legally blonde? during the first part of the movie, everyone ridicules reese for being blonde, not smart enough to be at harvard, etc. finally, she decides to apply herself, to prove everyone wrong. and there are these coveted legal internships. the professor is only going to choose four people. the students gather around the list of names that have been posted. the first three choices were expected.

then one of the students says, "that only leaves one for--"

and reese interjects, wide-eyed, surprised, and wildly happy, "ME!!!!"

it's an amazing moment in the film. her reaction, incredibly raw.

but that is exactly how i felt on friday when he told me they had selected me.


y'all. i'm going back to cali!!!


Thursday, March 02, 2006

un favor

i got this idea from cindylu.

i'm curious to know how my blog readers would describe me. even if you are not a regular commenter, please consider contributing to my johari window. it only takes a second!

thank you!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

lenten role modeling

it snuck up on me again this year.

but today is ash wednesday.

i let my students out of class five minutes early and cancelled my office hours so that i could make mass at noon.

one of my students approached me as i was erasing the blackboard and asked if i was going to the university catholic center. i tell her, yes, and she says, "i'll go with you."

we walk across campus together, me in my black pumps, she in her sneakers. it doesn't occur to me to be uncomfortable while we are walking. not even when we enter the sanctuary and bless ourselves with holy water. it's when we take our seats and kneel to pray that i begin to feel awkward.

this is not a separation of church and state issue for me. it's just that my practices of faith are generally very private.

i go to church every sunday by myself; my family is all in california. i've become accustomed to praying with no one watching. singing amidst people who don't really know who i am. and i've come to appreciate my religious privacy. it helps me to focus on the Mass, on my prayers.

but this afternoon, i felt extremely self-conscious praying and singing alongside my student.

i have to think, though, that this is the reason it's important for me to be a university professor. i want my students to see me teaching their university classes and to think that we are similar. we are mexican american. we are women. we are catholic. and we are professors.

so i swallowed my discomfort and participated in the Ash Wednesday celebration alongside my student.
and afterward i accepted her invitation to accompany her for a lenten lunch. ;)