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.