March 5, 2012

dancing woman, part dos.

by la rebelde

This weekend I was at the Rose Bowl for a 5-mile run.  My group meets there once a week as we train for a half-marathon.  It is both exciting and daunting, having never run more than 4 miles at one time.

Earlier that week I had been thinking about when I used to run regularly — not since 2007, when I first moved to LA following a summer of regular running with Manito D by the river in ‘burque.  It was during that time, when I was first getting to know LA, that I started this blog.

So there we were, all of us in our team running shirts, warming up together.  We mostly just meet together to stretch, learn about nutrition and injury prevention, or hear announcements and the like.  But once we get started, we are each on our own.  And I am a slow poke among the runners, barely jogging faster than the walkers, so it only makes sense that we each go at our own pace.  I blame my short legs.

As our coach was talking about proper form, I couldn’t help but look over her shoulder at the joggers and walkers who were already out on the path.

And there she was…the dancing treadmill woman!!

I’d seen her almost 5 years ago at the gym and wrote about her on this blog.  She was amazing.  She’d set the treadmill to a slow pace and instead of running, she danced.  I remember looking to the others on the treadmills next to me and noticing all of us smiling while watcher her dance to the music in her ears.

Dancing woman was going slowly up the hill along the path, swaying to the right and to the left, moving along with the rhythms that played through her ear buds.  Arms outstretched.  A little hip hop, a little salsa.  Every now and then, she’d stop and move her hips.  She was really into it.  Dancing, as they say, like no one was watching.  Joggers and walkers kept passing her with smiles on their faces.  I looked to the others in our circle, but no one noticed…or if they did, they didn’t show it.

So much has happened in the 5 years since I last saw her.  I did a ton of research, wrote lots and lots of pages, weathered some academic storms, finished a degree, started a career, went through heartache, found love, made new friendships and cherished old ones.  I have grown as a teacher, a scholar and as a person.  The last few weeks I’ve been contemplating my future, feeling the strain of a tight job market, hoping for a gig that will be nurturing and enable me to reach my personal and professional goals…goals I have articulated and re-articulated over and over, even now.

At that moment when I saw the dancing woman again, I knew I was doing what I need to be doing.  I hope I see her again sometime soon.  Perhaps on another path, when I need reminding that I’m right where I need to be, dancing to the rhythm of the music in my ears.

August 30, 2011

one year ago.

by la rebelde

On this day, one year ago, I filed my pinche dissertation.  Over the last month I have thinking a lot about where I was, spiritually, this time last year.  My soul had been bruised deeply, but still I kept writing, kept reading, kept thinking, kept feeling.  Read. Write. Read. Write.  Everyday.  Make the deadline.  Cite the right books, articles, and arguments.  Prove you are worthy of their approval.

Be the scholar they say you can’t be.
Be the activist-scholar they don’t want you to be.
Be the love you imagine it possible and necessary to be.

On my birthday last year, my friends pleaded with me to take a short break.  “Even just two hours to celebrate over brunch!” I finally gave in.  “But only for 2 hours!” I’d said.  Manito C came to keep me company for a couple days.  He read novels while I wrote.  Friends who live far away called to check in on me, read my writing, helped me hold on to what I had earned.  They are phenomenal.

All you need is a signature.  The only way I finished was to write from the heart.  I’m still learning how to do that.

On this day, one year ago, I became a Doctor.  It was confirmed with the small, but not-so-small, email  from my U, attached to which was a .pdf of a certificate saying I’d completed all the steps, jumped through all the hoops, checked off all the boxes big and small, to attain the degree.  It was the most anti-climactic moment of my entire educational experience.

And then I slept for three weeks.

Today my friend and I were making small talk with a woman at a coffeeshop.  She asked if I was a college student.  Before I could reply, my friend said, no she’s a professor!  Sometimes my friends are more excited about it than I am.  I still feel weird saying I’m a professor.  But I am one.  The woman said I look “too young to be a professor.”  Funny, my abuela said that to my profesora a few years ago. I guess professors are supposed to be stuffy white-haired old men with tweed, instead of spunky 30-something brown women in mini-skirt, hoop earrings and purple nail polish.

Healing is a long process.  Along the way, I realized the process is as much about the events of the last year as it is the historia of my Self, and the recasting of my spirit from a stronger place, a place of love and community.  I’m glad to be here, no longer there, moving toward where I want to be, and creating new stories.

August 22, 2011

on art, trains + borders.

by la rebelde

This summer I started training to become a docent at the Chinese American Museum (CAM) over at the Pueblo de los Angeles Historical Monument — aka Placita Olvera.  Although I ultimately decided that I could not give the time to it that it deserved, I learned so much from the few training sessions I attended.  As a historian, trained by elite academic institutions, it is, to me, imperative to know how people understand historical narratives — people who don’t sit around and read tons of historical monographs written by others who do the same.  I was reminded how difficult it is to put lots of information into a teeny tiny chunk of time.

Back in July, when Manito D and Nicole were visiting, we saw the Street Art exhibit at the MOCA.  It was pretty remarkable.  Over the previous months, I’d read the critiques of the exhibit — particularly how the exhibit did not include many Los Angeles based street artists.  Walking through the museum, the omission was glaring.  Still, it was well-done.  I wish I’d had more time to read about the artists and the history of graffiti.

My favorite was the wall of train cars.  I have always been fascinated by train graffiti.  My ex was a graffiti artist and DJ, and we spent hours talking about it, how he planned his pieces, stories of jumping over fences to get at a train car in a rail yard.  In my MA program, I wrote my thesis on Chinese and Mexican railroad workers and U.S. empire.  Now my book begins and ends with the railroads, although they are not the center of the story.  Mexican workers lived in train cars — boxcars that railroad companies used to house workers, and which, according to reformers and city officials, were part of the “housing problem” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Chinese and Mexican children played on or near the tracks, and recalled the feeling of rattling floorboards as the trains passed by their homes.  Folks who lived in boxcars built homes and communities, despite the poor housing conditions that were available to them.  Train car graffiti just smacks US imperialism in the face by highlighting everyday lives of actual people.  Especially when it covers the corporate signage on the sides of cars, and then those cars travel across the continent.

Patrick Martinez’ pieces (the ones he is standing in front of in this photo) are at the Chinese American Museum as part of their “Dreams Deferred” exhibit.  It is a great exhibit where LA street artists respond to immigration reform.  The same week I went to the exhibit at the MOCA, I was fortunate to attend a session led by one of the curators at CAM, who told us in more detail about the artists and their pieces.  What’s truly amazing about it, to me, is how, in the conjunction with the Museum’s exhibit, called Remembering Angel Island, the art exhibit links Chinese exclusion and current day immigration/border restriction debates.  The Angel Island exhibit highlights the experiences of border-crossing for Chinese, in the midst of border restriction during Chinese Exclusion, in a way that shows their dignity, their experience of crossing the border, of enduring interrogation by US officials, of living in inhumane conditions while in confinement, all so they could make a life, join family members, live.  The artists featured in the Dreams Deferred address current-day renderings of border restrictions.  It is not very different today.

The MOCA exhibit got all the play, because well, it’s the MOCA.  If you didn’t get to see it, maybe you can catch it in another city if it moves.  Unfortunately, it left LA already.

But I have to say, the CAM exhibit is more powerful and more meaningful, in part because it is more politically focused on one topic, but also because it is historicized well.  Both the street art and Angel Island exhibits are incredible. Go see them before they leave in December/January!

(photo via Patrick Martinez | Hustlemania @ Known Gallery)

July 7, 2011


by la rebelde

My jalopy is dead.  It died last week, where the 215 meets the 10.  I was in a pretty good mood because I was on my way home from a reunion lunch with old friends.   And then…the AC suddenly stopped working.  I drove back to Alhambra in 100+ degree weather facing the afternoon sun.  I was drenched when I got home.  Yick!  My mechanic says the AC is connected to more important stuff like…you know, transmission, power steering, etc. The repairs are not worth the value of the car, so he didn’t want to charge me anything.  Thank goodness!

My first car — the one I had at the end of college, that got me through my tejas years — was my all time favorite.  I know…I say “all time” even though I’ve only ever had two cars.  Its name was “Gadget.”  It was a beige 1989 Mercury Tracer hatchback.  I loved that car.  I drove it all over Austin, and to and from ‘Burque a few times.  It was small and zippy, and it could hold tons of stuff.

This one, I’m not so attached to.  It was my dad’s old car — a Ford Taurus boat of a car.  And I’m a small-size person, so it makes the car even more gigantic.  This car got me through three winters in small-midwestern-college-town and five years in LA.  Five years!  It has been good to me, but I will not be sorry to see this car go.  It’s time to drive a car in which I can actually see over the dash!

But, car-shopping is a big ole pain in the booty!  This is the first time I’ve shopped for one as a real adult.  Cars are freakin expensive, y’all!   Wish me luck.

June 20, 2011

all of us.

by la rebelde

That’s me and Manito D in the photo.  Last weekend, my abuelita threw a giant graduation party for my prim@s, Manito D and I in Taos.  She invited 250 of our closest relatives and friends to celebrate at the Taoseño.  The Taoseño is an important building in our family because back in the day, it was a bowling alley, and my abuelit@s owned it for a short time during the 1950s.  Now it’s a favorite gathering place for family functions because the bar area (where the bowling lanes used to be) is big enough to host large parties.  They also have pretty tasty enchiladas.  Can’t go wrong there!

Anyway, I hadn’t had a chance to *really* celebrate finishing the pinche ph.d.  I’d gone out for drinks after my defense, and friends treated me to nice dinners here and there, which was great!  And I love them — I have great friends.  But I pretty much spent the next few months mulling over the mean things some profes said about me and my work.  Critique on your work is one thing, but critique on your integrity is another.  Yeah, still getting over that.

So the celebration was soul lifting because it was my family, my elders, who told me over and over how proud of me they are, how big an achievement it is for me, for us.  I definitely could not have done it without the hard work of those who came before me, or without the love and support of friends and family.  The degree isn’t about me, it’s about all of us.

Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t had a chance to read all of the beautiful cards I received that day.  Two, in particular, got me all teary-eyed.  One was from my older primo David, who is a healer.  At the party he came up to me, hugged me and told me that my grandpa is proud of me and watching down from heaven.  And he gave me a bendición.  I wish I had been able to talk to him more that day.  The other was from my good, good amiga, Nicole. She has an amazing gift for words that I can only hope to emulate:

“What I wish for you on this day of family celebration is that the difficulties lift for a moment so you can truly see/feel, as I do, just how much you have accomplished, how your life and work honors your family, your elders, your community.  Be proud of yourself, and everything you have done to get to this place.  You lift all of us with you.”

I will be forever thankful.

June 13, 2011

tortiller@s at sunrise.

by la rebelde

One morning during the weekend of my abuelito’s funeral, over 2 years ago, Manito D and I got up super early to go to my Tía Rafaelita’s house.  It was still dark outside when we pulled up in the driveway.  Tía Rafi, of course, was already up and looking beautiful as always.  I can only hope that I will look as wonderful as she does when I turn 92.

Tía had invited us to join her, her novio, Manjo, and my older prima, Eva, for breakfast.  As the oldest of thirteen, my tía had been responsible for much of the cooking at a young age.  She is still the best cook and baker of all of them.  And over the week prior, she visited my abuelita daily, always with a cake, or a pot of pozole, or chile and beans, in hand.

That day, she’d invited us over, so that she could teach us to make tortillas.  Now, we’ve made tortillas many times before.  In fact, Manito D has become quite the tortillero extraodinaire over the years.  Tortilla-making is a favorite activity that he and mi sobrino do together, whenever Sobrino visits, which unfortunately is not very often these days.

We stood in front of the oven watching the sun rise, a soft yellow glow over the sage-brush-covered llanos from the kitchen window.  Tía pulled tin canisters and bags from the pantry and began throwing handfuls of ingredients into a giant bowl.  Her voice still sings in the way that the voices of viejitos in northern New Mexico do.  Spanglish, always.  I could barely keep up, she was moving so quickly.  Before I knew it, she had 4 comales going at once and was expertly flipping tortillas, warm and fluffy and fragrant, with an energy I’d never witnessed in person, but only imagined.

After an amazing breakfast consisting of the usual — papitas, huevos, frijoles y chile, and of course, tortillas — we sat in the living room with our cafecitos.  Manjo had been talking non-stop.  Like my abuelo, he was a WWII vet.  He told me that he had recently been declared “legally blind,” but that many people didn’t believe him.  From his shirt pocket, he pulled out a tattered letter from his doctor and handed it to me.  Sure enough, the doc said he only had less than 8 percent vision.

Not before too long, Manjo got up from his chair and said it was time to go home.  His house was just up the street from my tía’s.  I motioned to Manito D to walk with him home.  But Manjo, insisted, “no, no, it’s not far and I go home by myself all the time.”  We hugged him goodbye and Manito D sat down, as Manjo walked out the front door with his white cane outstretched ahead of his steps.  Before we knew it, he folded up his cane, shoved it in his pocket, and hopped in his truck and was roaring out of the driveway!   We laughed until our sides hurt.

A few months later, my prima Eva passed after a long battle with cancer.  And just a few weeks ago, Manjo got very ill.  He had been in the ICU at the veterans hospital for weeks.  Manito D went to see him and they’d talked for a while.  To my surprise, Manjo always asked about me, even when he wasn’t completely lucid–your sister who lives out in LA.  For some reason the viejitos always ask Manito D about me, even if they don’t always know who Manito D is.  Strange.

Early morning phone call from Manito D today.  Manjo passed away last night.  Our elders have been leaving so often lately.  And I am just so grateful to have shared these small, but joyful, moments with them over the years.  From them I have learned so much.

A Manjo y Prima Eva, I send my love to the heavens and cherish the love and warmth you gave us in this life.

[Okay, you got me — this photo is of sunset, not sunrise.  I am just not enough of an early bird to get a good photo of sunrise…or to remember my camera when I do get up early.  I still think it’s an amazing sun photo, even if it *is* taken through a bug-splattered windshield.]

June 2, 2011

damsel in distress.

by la rebelde

HOOP SKIRTS AND TRAIN TRACKS Pictures, Images and Photos

It was a beautiful LA day.  I was sitting on the steps in front of my building, suitcase and computer bag in tow, waiting for my friend to pick me up to take me to the airport.  I’m looking kind of fly because, well, I felt kind of fly that morning.

A young Asian American woman, maybe in her early 20s, came out with the cutest little white puppy. I’ve been wanting to get a dog for a really long time, but haven’t because I travel too much.

She was taking him for a walk, but he was not on a leash.  As soon as they came out of the gate, the puppy ran, exploring everything in sight.  She ran after him.  Or more accurately, she hobbled.  She tried to run after him, but couldn’t because she was wearing some ridiculous flip-flops.  You know, the kind that certain women wear when they only want to be looked at, but not actually have to walk anywhere.  To her credit, she was still in her pajamas.  Despite her calls to it, the puppy, of course, kept running away, even out into the street.  She just kept crying, “Oh no! Oh no!” over and over again, literally pouting that the puppy did not just miraculously come back to her.

Now, I know I’m being a little judgmental, seeing as how I know nothing about this woman. She just acted so…helpless.  Maybe it was the shoes.  But hello, put the dog on a damn leash!

Suddenly five Latino men came out of nowhere.  And I do mean nowhere.  (I’d been sitting on those steps for at least 10 min and hadn’t seen anyone.)  One ran after the puppy.  A truck stopped in the street and two more got out to chase the puppy.  Another stopped the traffic.  And still another got out of his car to join the chase.

After a few minutes, the puppy came up to me and I petted it.  I begrudgingly gave it back to her.  The truck of men rolled by really slowly and gave us the up and down.

Really, guys?  Really?  I know it’s nice to help people who are in need of help.  But seriously, that damsel-in-distress thing is what gets your attention?  Disappointing.

[Image By Bluefox_09]
May 31, 2011

dreaming in color.

by la rebelde

It’s not often that I remember my dreams.  If I do remember one when I wake up, the memory of it is gone after about an hour or so, as if it drifted out of my head while I was busy eating breakfast.  Strange.

There are some that I remember quite vividly, and can still recall them as if they were real.  One I blogged about before.  Some of my more life-like dreams have recurring characters, who are not actually in my life.  One, in particular, used to visit me often.  He is brown and beautifully sexy…and faceless.

The first time he appeared, I was 27 or 28 years old.  The dream took place far in the future and I was in the midst of an argument with my mom.  She had grown old and was suffering from some kind of illness–Alzheimer’s maybe?  We were arguing about cleaning the house, only, the house wasn’t our house.  It was my tía’s house with the 70s-style wood cabinets and copper decorations along the ceiling to compliment yellow floral wallpaper.  One minute my mom was lucid, the next she was not.  We’d just eaten canned peaches from a gigantic costco-size can and were about to put the extra in the fridge.  I took a plastic container from the cabinet.  But she started obsessively opening utensil drawers, insisting that the extra peaches should be stored there.  Before I could do anything about it, she poured the whole can of peaches into the drawer with the spoons and spatulas.  A huge drippy, sticky mess.  She went on as if it hadn’t happened.

I was upset — frustrated about the immediate situation, and scared about what was happening to her health and how we (mis ‘manitos and I) would care for her in her older age.  But I had no idea how to talk to her because she could not hear me.  Faceless brown guy swooped in, hugged me, and took me to the other room.  We sat on the couch and he held me until I calmed down.  He told me it would be okay, that he would be with me, mis ‘manitos, and my mom as we struggled through this rough part of our lives.  I remember waking up feeling like things would be okay, like all the stress in my life was surmountable because I was not alone.

He came to me several times over the next few years.  One amiga used to call him “peaches guy.”  And just this afternoon, I shared the story with a different amiga.  Feeling a little bashful and silly, I asked her, “Do you remember those dreams I used to have with the peaches guy?” I thought she could not possibly remember that. But she did.

He has not visited me in at least 5 years…until this week.

Maybe the spirits of the universe have been trying to tell me something.  This time, I guess I should pay better attention to what’s going on with me that warrants such a nice visit.

May 23, 2011


by la rebelde

I recently attended the play, The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Jeff Liu. If you haven’t already seen it, go!  It is playing over at Circle X Theater Co.   There are only three more showings left this weekend!  And it’s always good to support community-based theater.  Plus, you can bring wine and beer inside the theater.

Historians and journalists have presented the events during 1871 that have come to be called the “Chinese Massacre” in many ways, most commonly as the last chapter in Los Angeles’ “wild west” story, just before U.S. whites aggressively asserted so-called “law and order.”  As a recent article in the LA Weekly demonstrates, it is popularly known as LA’s first race riot, and continues to be sensationalized in present-day dime-novel style. If we think of “race” in terms of US-based cultural constructions of race, it may have been LA’s first race riot.  But considering the history of Spanish colonization before the United States occupied this land, and then the fact that the United States still occupies this land, the events of 1871 are a much more complex and part of a longer trajectory of imperialism and violence.

It is an important marker in the historical experiences of Chinese in Southern California — an especially violent anti-Chinese event. Between 18-22 Chinese men and boys were killed, mostly by lynching.  Those who were indicted for their murder were both white and Mexican.  It is also an important marker in the transition from Spanish-Mexican to U.S. rule.  Of course I could go on and on, but you’ll have to read my book for that! (If it ever gets published…if I ever finish writing it…)

The play was excellent!  Although some of it was fictionalized, the main story about the 1871 events was really well-done.  And I think some of the fictional parts were necessary for the audience to understand what was going on historically at the time.   Tom Jacobson brilliantly includes insightful annotations, with information about source materials as well as key information about LA and the region that help the audience to contextualize the story.  Not only that, but he also notes the connections to other “race riots” in LA history, notably the Zoot Suit Riots and the Watts Riots, as a way to encourage the audience to think about the larger history of rioting in LA, even if in vastly different historical moments.  Jeff Liu took great care to make sure accents and representations were well and justly executed.  I wish I knew more about theater, or I would say so much more and I would say it much more elegantly.

Go see it!

May 17, 2011

what was missing.

by la rebelde

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether and how to come back to blogging. I stopped blogging regularly because I got caught up with my pinche dissertation. It was a rough time, rougher than I ever expected. The last year of grad school was the roughest year in my life, in fact. Not that I expected it to be a walk in the park, but really, I was put through the wringer in a way one of my mentors called “unprecedented.” Back when I slumped on blog posts, a good friend reminded me that my dissertation should not take away the joy of writing and the importance of putting words on the page about things that matter. That was over two years ago.

The other day I had a writing meeting with a friend/camarada who is finishing up her own pinche dissertation. We exchanged intros to our pieces and then had a trans-pacific video chat. (Thank goodness for the internets!) She pointed out that I need to trust my story-telling voice, because it’s good. “You know, the one you write with on your blog,” she said — another reminder that story-telling is the reason I started doing this history work in the first place. I didn’t go to grad school just because I thought history is “interesting.”  I went because I believed — I still believe — that telling/knowing our stories and exposing the functions and consequences of power and imperialism are necessary for liberation.

This is where I have to begin from now on — to write from my heart, from my gut.  What was missing during the last nine months of dissertation writing was me. It’s definitely time for a comeback. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else. But it’s long overdue.

By the way, I’m glad to see that some of my favorite bloggers are still around. If any of you are still following me, know that I have kept up with your blogs even if I haven’t commented very often.

peace + love.