Archive for December, 2006

December 26, 2006

making chile and telling stories.

by la rebelde

The best thing about the holidays is spending time with my folks in Nuevo Mexico. Since my nephew is with his mom’s family this year, xmas has not been quite as exciting as it was last year. Kids make it so much better. For some reason, the holidays are not as exciting as they used to be when I was a kid and now I depend on other people’s kids to help bring the Christmas spirit. But other things have changed about the holidays too. Now that I’m a grown-ass mujer—even if I don’t always feel like one—I get to be the one in charge of the most important part of holiday meal preparation: making the chile. My grandma is usually the one who makes it, but now that she’s older, she revels in getting to relax while my mom and I frantically juggle pots and pans and too many people in the kitchen at once. My chile gets better every year, but it’s still not as good as my grandma’s.

Yesterday, I sat with my primos and my brothers at the table listening to my grandma tell stories. Grandma is a master-storyteller, and a chingona to the core. (And her stories often get overlooked because my grandpa is also a great storyteller, and since he’s a man, well…you know.) I can only hope that I will be as chingona a master-storyteller as my grandma some day. She is one of thirteen children, the third oldest of eight girls. When they were young, they moved between northern Nuevo Mexico and southern Colorado as migrant farm workers, and when my grandma was old enough, she decided to stay in Taos and finish school rather than continue moving back and forth.

Yesterday she told us about how she and her sisters used to collect photographs of the family. And how one day, there was a baseball game in town and they didn’t have any money to buy tickets. (My grandma is a huge baseball fan. And she likes the Mets, but only when Derek Jeter isn’t playing.) Anyway, my tía really wanted to go the game, so she sold all the fotos of my grandma for ten cents a piece. And there was not enough for my grandma to go too. “Who did she sell the fotos to?” I asked. “Well, just to anyone, anyone who would buy them around town,” she said. I’d imagine that the tourism industry back then was much smaller than it is now. But there was definitely a growing community of pre-WWII hippy-types—you know, just like there is now, white people—especially “artists” from the eastern U.S. seeking a “simplicity” among us, New Mexicans, or doing some kind of “health voyage” to the mountain deserts. So considering all the random photos of nuevomexicanos, both native and hispano, that got distributed around the country as artifacts of the “West,” I wonder what became of those photos of my grandma. Whose coffee table or photo album did they become a part of? Well, one thing I know for sure: whoever bought those photos, unless they knew my grandma and her family in Taos, I’m sure they never knew or understood that the young girl in the photos was so chingona!

¡feliz navidad, y’all!

December 22, 2006

desert snow.

by la rebelde

As I was preparing for my trip to small-midwestern-college-town, I realized that I was very anxious about the cold. Actually, I was more anxious about the shock of the cold, than the cold itself. But as I packed my suitcase, I was reminded about how much I love winter accessories. When I lived in Tejas, I hardly used them and had been so excited about the cooler weather in the upper Midwest that I went crazy buying funky hats and colorful scarves and fabulous coats. Last week in my LA apartment, I stuffed my cream colored down jacket into my duffle bag, along with my rosey scarf and JLo knit hat. Turns out, I brought the warmth from LA with me and was overheated every time I ventured outdoors. What a disappointment! Well, at least I looked cute, even if my attire was weather inappropriate.

Lucky me, the last few days in Burque have been mad snowy! Blizzards. Blizzards, I tell you! And I love it. There’s nothing like desert snow that reminds me of childhood. Even when I was a kid, I was into winter accessories. My grandmother in NYC used to send boxes of clothing for me. Stuff that she would make with the scraps from the sweatshop where she worked. The memory of those Chinese drawstring pants is what I recall the best. But there was a caramel brown wool coat that I loved and which I was only allowed to wear on the coldest of days or on special days—like for church. Hanging in my grandparents’ house is a foto of me in the coat standing in the snow next to a new-born spring calf at my grandparents meadow down the street from their house. Winter in Nuevo Mexico reminds me of ice fishing with my grandpa at Eagle Nest or standing on the bridge at the beginning of my grandparents’ driveway looking down at the icy cold water of Rio Lucero rushing underneath us. Now that I’m pushing 30, and live far away from mis abuelos, I cling to the small things of wintertime that remind me of them. Winter accessories are like snow gently piled on the blades of yucca next to illuminated farolitos…makes ya feel all warm inside!

December 21, 2006

a top-shelf tequila gimlet kinda week.

by la rebelde

Last week I traveled to small-midwestern-college-town to defend my dissertation prospectus. Nevermind the defense…the best part about being in town was chillin with my homies! Over the last three years, my small-midwestern-college-town friends had become my community—a family away from family. And they still are. Half of them have now moved on to bigger and better things, so it wasn’t quite the same as before I left. But it was great to spend time with the ones who are still struggling through the bitter cold winters and long dark months. I am SO lucky to have such great friends—in small-midwestern-college-town and elsewhere. In my many years of schooling and many, many moves after high school, I have friends scattered all over the country. A diaspora of friends maybe? Perhaps that’s really arrogant of me—to assume that I would be the homeland… Maybe I’m part of a number of diasporas of friends. Whatever, the important thing is that I have great friends who I love dearly. I just wish more of them lived near me. * sigh *

And of course, I spent some time in my favorite coffee shop spots—okay, well, only one—Eastern Accents. The name is (unfortunately) not made up and, as the name would suggest, there are a number of asiaphiles and liberal white women with adopted Asian (American) children who frequent the place. But its owned and operated by a great Korean family and I think it’s the best spot in town—internet, no undergrads, square tables, good food and good coffee—what more can you ask for as a grad student? And even though I can have Chinese baked goods whenever I want in LA, I had to savor some bi bim bop and ginger tea in the Midwest. Of course, I also had to be sure to get the best tequila gimlet in town, which is at a bar that I usually can’t afford to frequent. Small-midwestern-college-town is home to an unusually large number of asiaphiles and my girl and I were reminded of this annoying fact as we sat at the bar on a busy Saturday night. White dude who had tried to strike up a conversation earlier in the evening came back to invite us to accompany him to another bar. “Let me guess,” he said. “You’re Filipino and you’re Japanese.” Uhhh…wrong and wrong. And why the hell do white dudes feel so self-assured in their ability to “guess” brown women’s ethnicities? “Sure,” I said. What the hell is the point of engaging an ignoramous like that? Of course, maybe it was wrong not to just call his ass out–because then he proceeded to tell us how he loves Tokyo and his father’s nurse was “the nicest Filipino nurse.” Ugh. He finally got the hint when my girl didn’t take her cell phone out to get his number. He was icky. Aside from tofu-skinned white boy, we had a good time. And anyway, it was a top shelf tequila gimlet kinda week. That’s my drink, by the way!

Oh, so about the defense…My anxiety came in waves over the few days prior, but as soon as I started talking, of course, I realized I had spent unnecessary energy worrying. I didn’t even need the little intro speech I prepared because my profes just jumped right in with comments and suggestions. They seem excited about my project, which made me realize that I am too. It seems I had forgotten. A few months ago, when I first moved to LA, I kept telling friends and family that I was never going to move again—that if I didn’t get a job in LA, I’d quit the academic life and find something else to do. I’m good at other things. But what this prospectus/defense process made me realize is that I’m committed to telling the story. I’m invested in telling the story. So who knows what my future holds now–I still don’t want to move to another city again, but maybe I’ll change my mind by the time I finish in two or three or four years.

At a small dinner party thrown in honor of my girl, M, who also defended last week, I had to shmooze with a bunch of professors, and I didn’t even get nervous this time. My friend, P, has said that I have “academic game” meaning I can turn on the intellectual charm when I want to–I never believed him. I admit to getting a little star-struck from time to time, even around profs who I know well. Maybe it was the wine, but I finally felt like I was becoming an academic grown-up. Geez, its about time!

December 11, 2006

a bubble?

by la rebelde

I stole this from kisha, who has the “midas touch.” Me, on the other hand? I guess I am just cuter than a button! (Someone actually said that about me once–outloud and in public.) And, apparently, I’m a romantic. Hmmmm….

Well, I fully admit that I can be naive at times. But I believe in the agency of people, so therefore, anything is possible! A bubble, though? I think not. I’m the daughter of a New Yorker, for god’s sake!

December 9, 2006

asian and "ethnic" hair.

by la rebelde

After letting my hair grow rampantly for the last six months, I finally dragged myself to the salon school a block away from my apartment. By a stroke of luck, they had a new customer deal—hair cut and a facial for $25! Of course, you can’t beat that. And since I live in a community that is mostly Chinese and Mexican (along with other ethnic Asians), I figured it was worth a try. I was assigned to a Korean American student stylist, who did a great job even if it did take a full 90 minutes.

How many white girls have I gone to, who butchered my locks? Countless, I tell you! And quite frankly, I have refused to have my hair cut by white people since circa 2000. Not that white people cannot also cut hair well, the ones who have approached my head just never know which way my hair is going to fall. They don’t understand that my hair is Chinese slick and Mexican wavy and really fine (well, the fine part is from the Spaniards who raped and pillaged back in the day—their legacy is marked on my body, particularly in my hair. Damn that colonialism!).

The last time I got a good cut for a comparably low price was when I lived in NYC. I used to go to this great Japanese hair salon in the east village. Everything in New York was so convenient! When I moved to Tejas, it took me a while to find a great hair stylist—she was hapa and she was great, but then she moved and I was again stuck with randoms. In small-midwestern-college-town, I came across a salon that had the following pasted on their door: “We specialize in Asian and Ethnic hair.” The salon owner was a fabulous Dominican woman from NYC who specialized in cutting curly hair. My hair is clearly (and unfortunately) not curly. She even said, “Gosh, you don’t even have ethnic hair!” Whaaaaat? “I am ‘ethnic’ so therefore I have ‘ethnic’ hair,” I responded. That was a weird interaction—as if having straightish/Asian hair means you aren’t “ethnic,” which I assumed meant brown as in not white. What does “ethnic” mean anyhow? But the cut was amazing and it grew out so well. She is quite the miracle worker. Every time I got my hair cut, I walked out of the salon looking like a rock star. During my first visit to her, she was cutting my hair mad crazy-like. “Don’t you know I’m a historian?” I asked. “So what…you trying to be funky?” she responded. “Actually, I’m cutting your bangs like Halle Berry,” she went on. Well, sheeeeit. If she could make me look like Halle Berry (mind you, I never asked to look like Halle Berry), I was never going to get my hair done anywhere else! And for three years, I didn’t. (I also didn’t look like Halle, but that’s hardly the point.) And I didn’t even really mind that she insisted on calling me “Elisa” (not my name) despite several corrections on my part. That’s how much a good hairstylist is worth.

So I must admit that I was secretly (well, as my friends know, it was not-so-secretly) holding out until I visit small-midwestern-college-town again. But alas, I had to come to terms with the fact that I live in LA now. And there must be people who can work with my hair here. And while this weekend’s cut is not nearly as good as it would have been had I held out for small-midwestern-college-town, its probably the best I could get for $25.

December 6, 2006

mis archivos in the floppy-free zone.

by la rebelde

Last week, the night before a big fellowship application was due, I sat at my ‘puter frantically writing the last of several required essays—on previous research. It was then that I realized just how unorganized my files are. After seven years of graduate education (yes, it really has been that long), I have written quite a few research papers and theses. And now I had to sum them all up in 700 words or less. Are they asking for grad students to enter existential crisis mode?

The early research was no problem, since, lucky for me, I’d applied to said fellowship before (twice, actually—and twice rejected), so I had a copy of an old application—though poorly written—that I’d submitted back in 2002. The most recent was quite another problem. Over the last few years, I’ve blossomed into a non-organized person (different from unorganized, because there is still a slight organization to the madness)—quite the opposite of my prior years of filing bills and course materials religiously. My last research paper was nowhere to be found. (It dealt with “whiteness” and “masculinity”—gross!—that’s partly why I hated that paper and may be the reason it has vanished.) In my laziness, I never unpacked the boxes marked “files” when I moved. That night, as I frantically searched for the pinche paper, I found countless folders filled with documents—ah the documents!—that I used to write the paper, but not the paper itself. After wasting a couple hours in my search, I redirected my attention to the disks.

Then I realized that I could not even access the computer file that held the paper—it was on a floppy disk! I was reminded of the sign posted in the entry-way to the computer area of my school three years ago: “This is now a FLOPPY-FREE zone.” I remember being really pissed because I had missed the technological upgrades to the jump-drive/online information storage methods and was unable to print out that day’s response paper. Of course, I had left it literally until the last minute because I was, still am, and will probably always be a procrastinator. And since my old computer crashed over a year ago, I no longer have a floppy drive. I could not even access the file. This, of course, seemed incredibly ridiculous in the wee hours of the night, as I stared helplessly at the very pretty rainbow-colored floppy disk storage containers on my shelf that I had dragged with me 2,000 miles across the country. So I sat down to write that portion of the essay entirely from memory, surrounded by a halo of manila folders containing the history of my graduate (and undergraduate) career on paper. The halo is still there—almost a week later. I have developed a new skill of hopping over it toward my desk. And I have not touched mis archivos since.

I fully admit that this situation does not bode well for a historian, who is supposed to love los archivos and who is certainly not supposed to leave them strewn about on the floor. Frankly, I must admit, I am not a fan of “the documents.” They’re dusty, hard to read, and are usually housed in dark, inhospitable places. They require one to sit alone with one’s thoughts, despite the other researchers who sit nearby, pouring over their own dusty paper and thoughts. I’m not good at, nor do I ever want to become good at, working in isolation. It defies my sense of collectively produced knowledge-making. Sometimes it feels like this makes me a bad historian. But maybe I defy being forced into a box along with the documents! Regardless, I am still committed to the treasure hunt that is archival research—because it allows us to tell the stories of nuestras comunidades, the stories that don’t get told but which must be told.

So when I become a veterana historian (or I guess when I die) and I donate my “papers” to some brown people collection, I will not envy those who will have to organize my pinche documents and put me into a box like all the veteranas who came before me. Maybe by that time, they won’t accept “papers”—only information stored on teeny-tiny electronic devices.

p.s. the following day and just hours after i submitted my online application, my internet decided to stop working. i spent 2 entire hours on the phone with a tech dude, who had the same name, same voice and same accent as the last boy i dated. unbelievable. and a little disconcerting. my gay boyfriend J said, “well, you do live in california now, girl.” i think i should take it as a positive omen. don’t you?