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.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

shuffle me this

my lovely roommate tagged me this meme.

Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?
"Round and Round," Bob Schneider

Will I have a happy life?
"Rowing Song," Patty Griffin

What do my friends really think of me?
"El Gusto," Los Lobos

What do people secretly think of me?
"La Paga," Juanes

How can I be happy?
"Cancun y Yo," Paulina Rubio

What should I do with my life?
"Luto," Aterciopelados

Will I ever have children?
"Shimmer," Shawn Mullins

What is some good advice for me?
"Open Off My Love," Jennifer Lopez

How will I be remembered?
"Shake It Off," Mariah Carey

What is my signature dancing song?
"Ahi Le Va," Juanes

What do I think my current theme song is?
"La Pared," Shakira

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
"El Canoero," Los Super Seven

What song will play at my funeral?
"Dia Especial," Shakira

What type of men/women do you like?
"La Guacamaya," Los Lobos

What is my day going to be like?
"With Or Without You," U2

I'm tagging dcnats and cincy, and laura!!!