Monday, November 10, 2008

signs, blessings, and things to come

the waiting room was small enough to make us feel familiar. or to realize, at least, that we had to share space until the doctor could tend to our needs.

it was me and joseph; a middle aged man who looked to be asleep in his chair; a woman with a brief case on wheels and a computer in her lap.

i held joseph's hand, knowing that he was anxious about the visit.

suddenly, the man across from us was roused from his half-asleep state. "is that your girlfriend?" he asked joseph.


"i could tell. i could tell there's a lot of love between you." then the man points to the ring finger on his left hand and looks questioningly at joseph. "why doesn't she have a ring on her finger?"

i laughed. joseph reddened as he explained, "we've been talking about it lately."

"your name's joseph, right?" the man had apparently been paying attention when the secretary called joseph to her window for some documents.

"yes, sir."

"joseph," he restated. "that's a biblical name. proverbs says that God will show favor to a man who takes a wife. you want the favor of God, don't you joseph?"

"yes, sir." (who doesn't want the favor of God, by the way?)

after sharing that he was recently married and grateful for the blessing, the man apparently fell back asleep.

joseph and i later joked about the incident. joseph mused, do you think God's trying to tell me something?


two weeks after the waiting room incident, on november 4th, i celebrated my 33rd birthday, a shiny new obama presidency, and my engagement to joseph. whether or not joseph was heeding a sign, i don't know. but i do count my blessings have great hope for the years to come.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

the search continues

i found out on friday that my offer was second best. the bank chose another offer and is keeping mine as a backup.

i'd be lying if i said that i wasn't disappointed. i'd already imagined the kind of furniture i'd need to fill the house's nooks and crannies. i'd worried about where i'd set up my office. and yes, i'd imagined enjoying a cup of coffee overlooking the lovely backyard. but it seems as if this is not my house.

in any event, making the offer has been, as they say, a learning experience.

so now it's back to traversing the town, looking for a place to hang my hat (if i were to ever wear one). i know that my house is out there, just waiting for me to find it.


Monday, August 25, 2008

on houses and love, washers and dryers

i have always said that i will know that i've grown up when i own a washer and dryer.

now that i have finished college and grad school (after more years than i would care to count!), i have a career! also known as an income! the next step--naturally--is to buy a washer/dryer. more accurately, for the past few weeks i've been looking for a house in which to put a washer and dryer.

the housing market crash has supposedly cultivated a strong buyer's market, but i'm not so sure. perhaps it is because my budget is so limited, but i have to say that i have seen some very sad, sad houses all over town.

until this weekend. my real estate agent showed me a beautiful 1940s bungalow. it was well cared for and refurbished where it needed to be without losing the character of the place. it was small, but i was really impressed with the inside of the house. when i went to the backyard, however, i was positively choked up. i never thought myself to be a backyard lover, but this backyard could have turned the coldest of hearts with its impeccable landscaping and well-tended flowers.

it was love at first sight.

that was saturday afternoon. i didn't realize that, following love, there would be stress! loan-pre-approval-writing-an-offer-competing-with-other-potential-buyers-realizing-how-expensive-buying-a-house-really-is STRESS. over the past couple of days i have met (and signed) a mountain of forms (God help me if i've accidentally signed away my first born child!). i got my pre-approval this afternoon, and my offer will be "official" soon thereafter.

unfortunately, this is the first step in what is apparently a long process. who knows if mine will be the best offer? then it will be back to the sad houses. sadder yet because there is still no place for the washer and dryer.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

not the destination

i hit my favorite bakersfield coffeeshop this afternoon. i caught up with one of the baristas i know. it turns out that we graduated from the same high school in the same year, but we never knew each other until i started coming here several years ago. now we see each other two or three times a year and we always chat pleasantly, give each other updates about what has happened over the past four to six months.

it's funny to catch up with someone that way. it's like skipping to the end of the story. she doesn't ever have to deal with the gritty little details of my life's story. she just knows the end end of the story. for example, she asks how my second year as a professor went. i think of how i had to submit my case for a promotion in the fall, applying for postdocs, our department's dramatic search for a new faculty member, the nasty written and verbal exchanges by my colleagues, receiving all of my postdoc rejections, my great experiences with students, how i'm working to conceptualize (and research!) my book.

so i say, "it was a lot harder than my first year." i give her a couple of funny anecdotes and tell her what i'm currently working on, what i'm looking forward to over the next few months.

sometimes i wish that i could likewise cut to the end of the latest episode of my life's story. will i get a postdoc this year? how much of my book will i really write over the next nine months?

but, in real life, i never even skip ahead when i read stories or novels (though sometimes i look to see how many pages are left in a chapter). ultimately, i believe that the end of the story does not matter so much as the journey.


Monday, July 14, 2008

on being a faux historian

i'm an anthropologist by training. one of the things that i love about anthropology is its methodology--participant observation, interviews, writing and coding field notes. ever since i was an undergraduate, doing mini-ethnographies, i have immensely enjoyed my time "in the field."

unfortunately (?), my topic of interest pulls me away from my training. for the past several years, i've been looking at mexican segregation, which has necessitated more historical research than anything else. i have only the vaguest sense that i am doing things "right," but i think that the story is important, so i'm pushing forward.

these past couple of weeks i've found myself muddling through property records--some digitized, others on pages that seem like they will crumble in your hands. i'm looking at old maps--platt maps, townsite maps--trying to create a picture of what a racially segregated community (with some exceptions) looked like. i'm recording the names of people who, according to the rules of segregation--should not have lived on a particular side of the tracks (but they did!).

i wonder who these mexican people were. were they old land grant families? were they wealthy? racially white? and what was life like for them on the south side of the tracks? did they speak spanish at home and english with their neighbors? how did they relate to the mexicans on the other side of the tracks? what about culture?

it's an incredible challenge to piece together an historical portrait of a community, especially when you feel like you don't have all the pieces! some of them come from property records. i had a breakthrough the other day with an affidavit. when the city planner explained blocks and lots on the map, i could interpret the records better and even imagine who might have been neighbors.

i'm scheduling oral history interviews this week with the hope that they will help me to tell the story. in the meantime, i'll be looking at court cases and city commission meeting minutes to try to find more pieces to the puzzle.

wish me luck!


Thursday, July 03, 2008


south texas is mostly as i remember.

this summer the skies are grey and the air thick with humidity. the palm trees bend with the wind, their fronds like sea anemones. i wonder when it will rain. i'm waiting for a good texas rain, with thunder and lightning and sheets of water that pour like buckets.

i remember the language. brown teenagers speaking english, older mexicanos speaking spanish. those in between, speaking both. "oh jennifer, i wish you could meet him. lo quiero mucho."

there are more amenities than when i left five years ago. i used to have to drive half an hour to mcallen to find starbucks coffee. now, there are a few around harlingen (though not all of them have wi-fi!) there is more shopping now, more restaurants.

still, in la feria last night, i joined some people for drinks at the american legion hall. apparently, the bar/restaurant developers haven't spread into the small towns quite yet. but it was a nice time, reconnecting with my old friends in a smoke-filled hall. it was the bartender's birthday last night, and she had cooked a feast for the patrons--barbecued pork and chicken, mexican rice, potato salad, and birthday cake. the bar sang happy birthday to her.

i confess that it feels a little bit sad to be a visitor in a place where i used to live, especially considering that i really loved my life here.

but i've lived in three cities since then, one that i enjoyed, another that i loved, and one that i'm still adjusting to. and i guess that is the path that i chose as an academic. it feels like a nomadic path. maybe even migrant. and so i store up memories of the places that i've lived, feeling the fullness of my heart when i let myself remember.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

graduation day, june 1997

this past weekend was our university graduation. for me, the weekend came with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

i have this picture in a frame in my apartment, but i never really look at it. well, sometime this weekend, it caught my eye.

it doesn't seem like it was that long ago. i look at this girl (me) and i think about all the things that she does not know are coming.

ultimately, i think it's good to have that mystery in front of us. to not know what is next. it's the unknown in our futures that forces us to have faith in ourselves. we might be heading toward some huge mistakes, but we're also heading toward some great life experiences.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

two years

two years
Originally uploaded by lamusa
we dressed up on saturday night--he in a button-down shirt, me in a summer dress. we splurged on a meal at an upscale italian restaurant in town, and we ended the evening listening to live jazz over drinks at the mission inn.

i thought that would be the extent of the anniversary festivities, but was pleasantly surprised when he appeared on monday with a bouquet of red roses (my favorite) and pink spring flowers.

after two years, the milestones are nice.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

just do it--write, that is

writing is on my mind.

a couple of days ago i talked to a friend who told me that she had just submitted an article to be published.

"that's great!" i tell her, feeling a pit in my stomach, knowing that i should be submitting articles to be published.

"i'm on a high," she told me. "you should do it."


this afternoon a student came into my office hours asking for advice about how to revise her introductory paragraph. just as i was about to ask her what she meant when she mentioned some social theory, she asked me what it meant.

we started to talk about writing, and i told her that she shouldn't use ideas if she's not clear about what they mean. i told her that i know that the instinct is to feel like she needs to write in an overly-academic way, but that it is more important for her to sound like herself. to find her "voice" in her writing. after all, i'm more interested in her ideas and interpretations than her use of jargon.

she seemed encouraged when she left, and she told me that she was going to "simplify" her paper before turning it in on thursday.


why is writing so fraught?

i think that i feel a little bit like my undergraduate student. i'm afraid that the articles that i'm revising are not going to be "academic" enough, that they will in fact be too simple. maybe i'm afraid that i won't be as successful an academic as i was a graduate student (i'm a great student).

in any event, i can take heart in my friend's writing high and hope that i get there. soon!


Sunday, April 27, 2008

on the wagon

so i've fallen off the fitness wagon. my sister warned me that boyfriends will do this to you. but i didn't pay attention. i was happy and in love. two years later, i'm still happy, still in love, but let's just say that i should have heeded my sister's warning.

little by little, i've been making changes. joseph, in an effort to support me, has also decided to try to be more conscientious about food choices.

today we planned to go to the movies. joseph is a sucker for movie popcorn. he LOVES it, can't see a movie without it. it's possibly more important to him than the movie itself.

in our effort to be healthy, we looked up the number of calories in a large bag of movie popcorn, which is what we typically share. we were shocked to find out that it has nearly 1300 calories. WITHOUT BUTTER. a small bag of movie popcorn, on the other hand, has about 550 calories.

no problem, he (we) thought. we'll just eat less.

when we walked into the movie theater we were accosted by the smell of popcorn. i knew there would be trouble.

in the concession stand line, joseph decided on a small bag of popcorn and a bottle of water. but when the concession guy asked for our order, joseph said, "a smm-edium popcorn."

a smm-edium popcorn?!

poor guy, he couldn't resist. i laughed and told him that i was going to blog about this later.

yum-o! (hi, joseph!).

(image via flickr, courtesy of y entonces.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

something to declare

i used to be a writer. from the time i was sixteen years old until the past year or so, i religiously wrote in a journal, finishing one journal every three to four months! i used to blog semi-regularly. i used to write poetry. i wrote a 250 page dissertation. now, however, i have to scrape the corners of my mind for something to write (or, something to declare, as julia alvarez has eloquently written).

it wears on me, not because i'd like to consider myself a "writer," but because my job requires that i write. "publish or perish" is a common adage in academia. if i can't manage to blog or write in a journal, how am i to produce a well-conceived, well-written academic article?

the other day one of my girlfriends from texas sent me an article that she'd written about a tejana activist who helped organize a protest for educational rights for mexican americans in the early 1970s. i started to read it, and i could sense the passion that my friend had for this woman's story. and i remembered that i used to have that, too.

i used to know a guy in mexico who would tell me that he wrote "cuando le llegaba la musa." i always thought it romantic to be waiting for a "muse" to inspire a person to write. as i got more serious about my writing, however, i realized that it was as much about discipline as it was inspiration. these days it's difficult for me to conjure either one or the other.

right now i'm supposed to be revising an article about mexican american women in farm labor during the 1950s and 1960s. i've been putting off this revision for a LONG time. i don't know if it's a lack of passion or inspiration. maybe it's a good old fashioned fear of writing.

i think that i'm looking a place to begin. maybe blogging a little more can be a place to start.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008


i have to admit that i love the first day of a new quarter, just like i love the first day of a new year, the way that i love writing on the first page of a new journal. to me, those moments always feel like a new chapter of life, a chance to do things a little bit better.

last quarter was dire. i was a miserable teacher. i was a miserable colleague. the first three months of the year were some of my most challenging as a professor.

but today was the first day of the new quarter. i'm teaching one very small class that meets once a week, and most of my other professional obligations (committee work, etc.) ended last quarter. and even though today was a long day of making last minute adjustments to my syllabus, attending a faculty meeting, teaching, copying articles, and configuring the course website, i left campus feeling optimistic.

it is a new beginning.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


i left my house today happy, knowing that i was on my way to vote! i've been pretty excited about the democratic primaries. i'd decided to vote for barack obama.

so i get to the polling place, and the women at the first table tell me that they don't have my name listed on the register and send me to the next table (which was for a different precinct). they didn't have my name either!

i explained to them that i registered to vote in riverside county when i first moved here (at some university orientation event). i had actually voted a couple of months after i registered. i confess that i did not vote last spring and last november, but i was ready to vote today.

this was the same polling place, but, all of a sudden, they don't have my name!

the woman in charge made a phone call to see where i was registered in the county database, and the county doesn't have my name at all! but she did kindly me a registration card. i thanked her and reminded her that i had filled one out a year and four months ago!

no matter. somehow i have become UNregistered. i feel very disenfranchised.

and if barack loses california by one vote, i'm going to be very upset.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

more teaching woes

my friend, F, called me yesterday and asked, "how's your class going????"

"it sucks," i told her.

she then launched into a million ways that i could improve my lecture. being a seasoned lecturer herself, F has a million strategies to build rapport with students, to engage them in the lecture, to use technology. in short, she has skills.

yes, the act of lecturing is difficult. but my subject matter is equally difficult. this week i'm supposed to be lecturing about how race and class interact. you know that one affects the other. you know that they work together. you might even be able to point to some examples. but what is the specific argument that you make to students about the intersections race and class.

today i tried to use one of our democratic presidential candidates as an example. i just read an article in The Wall Street Journal about him, and i thought it was an interesting how the authors uses him to signify class division within the black community. according to the article, he just doesn't mean as much to working class blacks as he does to middle class blacks. it's interesting, but unsure of how to articulate the BIG argument around that specific example.

grappling with these issues in a smaller class would be easier because we could have a discussion, but in a class of 90 students, not so much.

that's the thing about being a professor. part of it is the performative aspect of teaching (the "skills" my friend, F, has in abundance). the other part is an intellectual endeavor. you want your students to think critically about issues you discuss in class. however, as a professor, you have to do the intellectual "leg work" to make connections between different bodies of literature. ideally, you present the ideas, and the students take them and think about them. i feel like i'm experiencing a breakdown in how the transmission of knowledge is supposed to occur!

sorry for the rant. only 7 1/2 more weeks of the quarter! bet me that by week 10 i'm going to finally have the hang of things.


Monday, January 14, 2008


this morning when i got to school there was a handwritten note on top of my computer from the building maintenance man. over the weekend, he had tried to hang my bulletin board above my desk. in the process, he accidentally hit a power line. he apologized that there was no power in my office and wrote that he would notify the campus electricians first thing monday morning.

thank God i have a laptop.
and that my internet connection was still working.

i finished preparing my morning lecture on my laptop and emailed it to my office manager to print for me.

when i came back from lecture, this is what the wall in front of my desk looked like.

an hour and a half later, after i'd finished writing a letter of recommendation for a student, but not before finishing my lecture for tonight, my computer battery died. i relinquished my computer to our work study student in the main office, so he could look after it as it charged. i went back to my office for office hours, but fifteen minutes later, the electricians showed up and kicked me out.

my office manager let me into the conference room to work. less than an hour later, another professor showed up and kicked me out because his class was going to meet there.

the electricians were still working (looking for a power board?) in my office, so my office manager graciously shoved some papers to the side of his desk to create a space for my laptop. i finished my lecture notes (he printed them for me), and i decided to call it a day. (until my second class, which started at 5PM).

what a monday! the week can only get better from here...


Sunday, January 13, 2008

teaching firsts

this quarter, for the first time ever, i'm teaching a lecture course. i usually teach smaller classes (around thirty people), but this quarter my department chair requested that i take on this larger course, an upper-division requirement for all of our majors. teaching a lecture course has posed a couple of challenges.

first, i'm still adjusting to the lecture hall. it's not as overwhelming as it was the first day, but it's taken some adjustment. i hate having to use the microphone, i'm still not quite used to all of the classroom technology, and, at times, it can be daunting to see ninety students looking at me and writing down everything i say.

second, the lecture format is VASTLY different from the discussion-oriented classes i'm used to teaching. wednesday's class was one example of having not prepared correctly for lecture. in smaller classes, i can fill the time pretty easily because i'm good at generating discussion about the course materials that i've assigned. lectures are different because there are too many people to really foster a discussion. i have to fill the time talking. i'm realizing that i need to incorporate more visual aids--slides, charts, film clips, whatever. i have to be überprepared.

third, i have a teaching assistant. having a TA is great because she leads discussion section and, thus, fields the majority of my students' questions. she is also responsible for all of the grading, which is a huge help. but! i've never "been the boss" in any circumstance, so it's a little awkward giving directives to someone.

that's the lecture.

also for the first time this quarter, i'm teaching two classes at once. my other course is a smaller class that i've taught several times before. i arranged it this way, so i wouldn't have to teach two new classes at once. hopefully teaching two courses will help me with my time management! ha! hopefully i have time to work on some of my own research this quarter.

hopefully i find something to blog about besides teaching for the next ten weeks!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008


this morning, about half way through my lecture, i looked at the 90 students in the lecture hall, and i thought, "would it be the worst thing in the world to send them all home?"

have you ever felt like that while teaching/lecturing? you've come to the middle and you're just out of energy and maybe even out of things to say.

i was talking about thomas jefferson and his internal conflicts as he grappled with the fact that slavery was a contradiction to the ideals of his new republic. i talked about how he justified slavery by espousing the idea that blacks were intellectually inferior, but still had to concede their "humanity."

fun stuff, huh? how could i not have wanted to talk about it for a full hour?

lecture is *hard.* mostly i feel like today was a flop, but there were moments when i felt like i might have said something insightful. i take comfort in the fact that i still have 27 more lectures to go this quarter! 27 opportunities to redeem myself. :P


Sunday, January 06, 2008

project 365, part 2

the following are my favorite pictures from the latter half of the year.


i took this picture while visiting joseph in dallas this month. we went to the old red museum to brush up on some dallas history. :) joseph looooves himself some dallas history.


one of my last nights in austin, my girlfriends and i went to see bob schneider perform at threadgill's. i love bob. and so does olga. we had a great time dancing the night away!


this month i went to pay a visit to my sister and brother-in-law in watsonville. my sister now works for a tomato company, so she always has these beautiful tomatoes on hand.


i took this picture at a coffeeshop in east LA, where they had an altar set up (a little bit early) for día de los muertos.


i took this picture for msabcmom. she and her class had sent "flat stanleys" all over the state, country, and world! i showed flat stanley a fine time in riverside. this was one of my favorite pictures of the month. i liked the texture of the highlander bear.


joseph and i went to see the festival of lights at the mission inn in downtown riverside this month. it was so hard for me to get a good picture of the lights. even at the end of the year, i'm still trying to figure out the settings on my camera! this was one of my better shots that night.

so there you have it: my 2007 in a photographic nutshell. here's to more kodak moments in 2008!


Saturday, January 05, 2008

first week of school

yesterday was the first day of school.

the few days before the quarter begins are always a little stressful. you have to research course materials, write your syllabus, copy your syllabus, copy all the articles you want to assign to the class, and prepare for lecture.

this week was even more complicated because my department just moved into a new building. this has meant that:
  • all of my books and files were in boxes
  • some of my furniture was missing
  • the furniture that i did have needed to be moved around to fit (the smaller) office space
  • the building has no heat until next week
  • the copy machine is on the fritz.
ok. i'm not sure that the copy machine problems were a result of the move, but it was just one more thing to frustrate me this week.

finally, friday morning arrived. i got lost on my way to the classroom where i was supposed to be teaching. it's the first time that i've taught in a lecture hall, the first time that i've taught a lecture, and i was disoriented. when i got to the lecture hall, i thought, ok. it's not the most enormous space i've ever seen. i did, however, have to wear a microphone for my students to hear me!

and i have a teaching assistant.

it's all a little overwhelming.

in any event, it's been a bit of a rocky start to the new quarter (new year?), but i'm sure that everything will be going smoothly in a few weeks.

happy new year!


Thursday, January 03, 2008

project 365

at the beginning of 2007, one of my new year's resolutions was to take one picture a day as part of a photo project i'd heard about called project 365. i usually write (in my journal, on the blog) to document the various moments of my life. i thought that this photo project would be a nice, different way to remember this past year. i also thought it might help me improve my photo skills!

for those of you who followed the project on flickr, you know that i was extremely dedicated the first half of the year. the second half, i faltered. it turns out that my project 365 is more like, project 320. ;) in any event, i wanted to share my favorite pictures from each month.


these happy face cookies are from smith's bakery in bakersfield. every time i go home i like to have one. i thought they looked pretty cute on the bakery tray, waiting to be purchased. :)


i took this picture in boyle heights, just outside my friend's apartment. i thought this mural was great.


joseph sent these roses to me at the office in march. it was one of my sweetest day that month.


i took this picture at central market when i went to austin this month. i think that we were grocery shopping for my friend cristina's birthday party. i snapped this pic in the produce section. i liked the way the light was hitting these chiles.


this accordionist is part of a local band named "mula." they performed at the ethnic studies senior award ceremony.


i took this picture while on vacation with my family this month in cancún. this pier was just outside the hotel where we stayed.

more pics of the past year to come!