Archive for June, 2007

June 30, 2007


by la rebelde

It’s a hot day aquí en los angeles. I write this as I sit at my dining table in front of my fan. I don’t have a.c. but right about now I really wish I did. And I know it will get even hotter as the weeks go by. The best thing about summertime? Chillin’ with the homies. Sippin’ on cold drinks with old amig@s, with whom conversation starts here, right where we are, because we’ve already been through some shiznitz together. Getting to know new folks, some of whom might become old amig@s too after a while. Those kinds of things don’t happen often enough.

When I was in college, the first sign of summertime—the first afternoon over 60 degrees—was signaled by the naked hippies who would dance around in the grass where the student union met the library, doing “contact improv” dancing. We brown folks usually sat on the steps of the union, listened to music between classes, and chatted about whatever was going down at the moment. I used to think there was nothing better than that. But that was in the mid/late 90s when radio hip hop was still good…and having political conversations while chillin next to the boombox or the d.j. booth was my favorite pastime. It meant the summer was on its way and there would soon be relief from the building stresses of the school year. I was a different person then. But I would do that very same thing now, if given the opportunity. (I went to a small liberal arts school in the Great Lakes area with a very large population of funky hippies and a historical legacy of social & environmental justice. It was very cold and dark and high drama there most of the time. So we had a great appreciation for warm weather and sunshine and summer vacation.)

This year I didn’t stop to appreciate the arrival of summer (although I did stop to appreciate the arrival of springtime shoes). Partly because I live in LA, where the transition from spring to summer is not a drastic one. I hadn’t thought about it until someone mentioned it recently, but the summertime is already half way over! Since I’ve been on my own schedule over the last year (due to fellowship funding) and away from the daily grind of academic environment, I paid little attention to the announcement of events that usually mark my time. Like grading midterm exams. Or registering for classes. Or looking forward to the end of the semester so I can go home…or at least celebrate at the bar without guilt before easing back into my work…whatever the case may be. The only marker I have right now, is looking forward to my next fellowship check, which is still a couple months away, but which will come as welcome relief to my rhetorical pocketbook.

The realization of summertime passing strikes a mild fear somewhere deep in my gut about the status of my pinche dissertation. Or maybe it’s more of an annoying impatience. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the two feelings. I am not nearly as far along in my archival research as I thought I would be by this point. Back when I wrote my prospectus, I imagined having most, if not all, of my archival research done by the end of the summer. But here I am, half way through the summer, only one archival collection significantly under my belt, and no end in sight. Not yet.

I remember telling someone a while back that I refuse to define my life by semesters. It was my attempt to resist making academics (my job) my life, rather than the people I care about. And here I am, thinking about the summertime, bracketing it by semesters, appreciating the visits of amig@s who have time to travel in the summer because they are also academics, and thinking about how I couldn’t afford an a.c. even if I really wanted one. I wonder if this profession will always have me struggling against squeezing “life” into semester boxes.

June 27, 2007

pedagogical moments.

by la rebelde

photo of internment camp courtesy of the University of Utah library page.
check out this and other photos at their website.

As I mentioned in my last post, we took a familia trip to the museum this weekend—the Japanese American National Museum. (It might more accurately be called the Japanese American Internment History Museum, but that’s beside the point.) They have a really great exhibit of J.A. experiences of the process of forced migration, including a diorama/model of an entire concentration camp (sans people). Looking at the camp in miniature was incredibly powerful.

I stood next to my nephew, both of us staring at the rows and rows and rows of barracks, built by Japanese Ams who were interned, and the teeny military trucks and watchtowers stationed all around. Manito sent mi sobrino to me—la historiadora—with his million questions. This is when I’m supposed to feel all knowledgeable and shiznitz. Cuz I’m an “Asian Americanist,” ya know?

But I’ve never had to teach kids as young as Sobrino, who’s 8-year-old mind kept asking all the “why?” questions that we adults forget to ask, that we historians are trained to ask. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about answering his questions. And then I was surprised that I was nervous. This is what I do. This is what I’m supposed to be able to do well. But it turns out that explaining things like U.S. imperialism, white supremacy and militarization to an 8-year-old is much more difficult than I thought. Every statement was followed by a “why?” or a “who?” question. “Why were they sent there?” “Why weren’t they allowed to take all their stuff with them?” “Who didn’t want them to be with the other people?” “Who got to stay outside the camps?” “Would they be killed if they tried to leave the camps?” etc. etc. I didn’t want to make any generalizations that he might misinterpret. And his questions forced me to make the story one of agency and specificity. Even in the midst of my own self-consciousness, though, I think he got it.

Maybe I didn’t give him enough credit, for having knowledge/expertise himself, for knowing historia learned in many different ways from many different sources. When Manito read out loud the part about J.A.s coming to work on railroad maintenance crews, Sobrino said, “But I thought Chinese built the railroads!” Since my master’s thesis was about railroad labor & laborers, Manito immediately said, “You definitely have to ask your tía on this one. This is what she studies.” Sobrino trotted over to where I was standing and asked me to tell the stories of Chinese railroad workers on the first transcontinental. (After I explained that Japanese Ams also worked on railroads.)

After what felt like a good 10 minutes of interactive storytelling, and before I could even get to it, he was jittery with excitement, “And at the end, the railroads came together, and they met the Irish workers. [smack of the lips] And then someone else hammered in the last nail. [another smack of the lips] And then, they took a picture but they didn’t let the Chinese people be in the picture.” “Yes! Where did you learn that?” I asked. He told me it was part of a documentary he’d watched at school. “What do you think about that—that the Chinese workers weren’t included in the photo?” I prodded. And he said, “Well, I think it was very, very, very, very, VERY unfair!” I agreed.

And then he ran off to crawl around under the display tables.

June 26, 2007

not from l.a.

by la rebelde

Last week, mi manito, mi prima and my 8-year-old nephew paid me a visit in Los Angeles. The last morning of their stay–after a 13-hour day at Disneyland, a trip to a museum and a full afternoon at the beach–we grown-ups sat at the table in my apartment with our coffee and pan dulce, discussing the day’s plans while my nephew watched Powerpuff Girls, the movie, and swung his Captain Jack Sparrow sword around while wearing his Captain Mouse Sparrow ears (he came up with that one). We wanted the day to be a little more low-key, especially since they planned to drive back to Nuevo México that night.

Manito wanted to see SpiderMan Tres in an IMAX theater, because they don’t have one of those in Burque. So we did our online research. We could either drive 33 miles to Ontario or 18 miles to Universal City. Universal City is closer and we planned to have dinner and listen to mariachis later that night in East Los. So it seemed like a good plan.

Here’s where I’m sorely reminded that I’m NOT from LA. And I haven’t lived here long enough to know the basic things that SoCal folks seem to know.

I google-mapped it. And we headed out to the theater, expecting it to be attached to…oh, a mall maybe. When we arrived, we were told we had to park at the bottom of the hill and take a shuttle to the theater. Say whaaat? Manito asked the brown folks at the booth if there was a brown folk discount, because $10 parking is ridiculous when you’ve already shelled out $16/adult ticket for the freakin movie. They gave us a voucher thingy. (Not sure if it was the brown folk hookup, but I appreciated getting my $10 back.) We got on the shuttle, still not knowing what to expect. When we got to the top of the hill, it was madness! Madness, I tell you!

People crammed in everywhere. Young lovey-dovey couples with hands in each other’s back pockets stiltedly strolling along. Kids sitting in water fountains that shot smooth streams of water from the ground. Theme restaurants and teeny-bopper shops. Cartoon characters and movie posters screaming at us. I was definitely not happy about experiencing Disneyland part 2…unexpectedly. We had just enough time to get to the theater. Definitely not low-key.

At least the scenes of Spidey swooping between the buildings of Gotham City were worth seeing in IMAX. And my nephew loved it. Throughout the entire movie, he leaned over to explain what was going on in my ear. Just in case I missed something. The kid has a way of making the situation seem so much better!

June 7, 2007

another day at los archivos.

by la rebelde

I’ve already spent weeks listening to tapes of oral history interviews that were conducted in 1979. Really old cassette tapes on a really old tape player that doesn’t have a volume control. Is this the difference between researching at a public institution versus a private collection? Today I only just finished interview #16. There are 165 interviews in the collection. Yikes! And of course, not all of them are pertinent to my dissertation, but I feel compelled to listen to much more than I should. The historian in me keeps nagging about not transcribing word-for-word, all parts that are remotely related my study. You don’t want to misquote anything, she says in my head. What if that quote will be the illuminating morsel for the story you’re telling? So I keep pressing rewind, play, rewind, play.

I sit for hours in this vault they call a “reading room”—complete with buzz-in access—at an enormous table with other researchers who sit with bent heads over old-ass papers, browned newspaper clippings and dusty books propped on foam stands to protect the binding. The quiet is mind-numbing.

I take periodic stretch-breaks because there are only these enormous (and they are seriously enormous) blue leather chairs. If I sit all the way back on them, my feet stick straight out, like they did when I was a little girl sitting next to my dad in the pew at church. So I perch at the edge of the chair and type, type, type away.

The people whose interviews are most important for my work are of older Chinese people whose parents and sometimes grandparents came to Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th Century—most before 1905. Their sometimes shaky but confident voices sound like wisdom, reminding me of my own grandparents, and how viejitos sometimes tell really great stories, and how much we can learn from their years of living. And so I keep pressing the headphones into my head periodically so that I don’t miss a word.

June 4, 2007

seven random-ass things about me.

by la rebelde

Okay, so I tagged a couple of amig@s in recent weeks. And I’ve been tagged back by Olga over at bloga yo la tejo with this meme. I did a similar meme a few weeks ago. And it’s hard because I tend to be an open book about a lot of things…um, I talk too much about myself. Anyway, here’s my attempt to dig up some stuff!

  1. Mi manito used to call me “Sava” when he was a toddler because he couldn’t pronounce my name all the way. Mi papá is the only one who still calls me that—and most of the time he just calls me “Sav” for short. (In northern nuevo méxico, words that other mexicanos would spell with b’s are often spelled with v’s, so I don’t know how you would even spell this right. Although my actual name has a b not a v, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was a v instead?)
  2. My favorite television pastime is watching sitcoms, even if they’re bad. I just think they can be so damn funny! My favorite as of late, is Girlfriends.
  3. In 2001, when I decided to move to Tejas for the second time to rekindle my relationship with academia, which I’d left in an angry frenzy a year before (following my first year of grad school), my grandparents bought me a cute little silver 13” t.v. I dragged that t.v. set with me to small-midwestern-college-town where it fit perfectly in my series of teeny apartments. A few weeks ago when he came to visit with my other manito and mis prim@s, mi manito surprised me by bringing me the 24” (i think) flat-screen t.v. from his guest room. Now my amig@s can stop teasing me about my teeny t.v. And maybe they’ll be more inclined to watch t.v. at my place when they come to l.a. Hopefully I won’t become a couch potato!
  4. My study area is my favorite room in my apartment. Unfortunately it’s also the room I avoid the most.
  5. I eat the same things over and over—variations on the turkey sandwich (finally with green chile now! also brought to yours truly by my amazing lil bro), oatmeal with raisins, sautéed chicken & asparagus or baby bok choi with rice, egg & cheese bagel sandwiches and beans & red chile. I do this because I’m lazy (hate grocery lists and hate doing dishes) and I’m single (don’t know how to cook for less than 5 people, which means if I cook, I’ll be eating the same thing for a week). But I am quite bored with my dietary patterns.
  6. For the last few months, I’ve been considering getting a texture wave because I’m convinced it will make my hair less flat and take less time in the morning. But I haven’t had a perm since circa…the ‘90s and I’m afraid of major hair damage and/or looking like an electrocuted poodle. I’m also worried that it will be a physical manifestation of some kind of self-hatred/internalized sexism that I haven’t come to terms with yet.
  7. Jennifer gave me the idea for this one a couple months ago. I could write a really long post about it, but I’ll try to be brief here: At my high school in West Virginia (my family moved there from Burque back in 1991 and I lived there for the longest 4 years of my life), the mascot was the “Mohigan” which was a play on the name of the yearbook, but more importantly, a racist caricature of native peoples and a legacy of the ongoing violence of colonization. The marching band there was like a lesser version of high school football in Texas (if you’ve seen Friday Night Lights, you know what I mean. Great show, btw!) The majorettes in the marching band were ranked like cheerleaders: majorettes were like varsity, mohiganettes were like j.v. Both wore knee-high white boots with corduroy pocahontas-like mini-dresses, in red or blue with white fringe or in white with red or blue fringe. Each wore beaded headbands that held up the single feathers that stood vertically on the backs of their heads. And the head majorette even wore a floor-length feather-head-piece in red, white and blue. They twirled batons, did leg kicks, and looked cute in front of the band during parades and on the football field. That’s just one example of the institutionalized racism I experienced during my high school years. (Don’t get me started on “slave day”!) Anyway, here’s the random thing for this meme: When I was a sophomore, I tried out to be a mohiganette. I don’t know why I didn’t make the line—maybe it’s because I was not “popular,” not rich, too short, too chubby, or too brown—the teenage version of myself thought it was all of the above, especially the last. I didn’t doubt the athletic/dancing abilities of those girls—preparation for tryouts was an intense workout. And I didn’t envy the adolescent body-image issues that must have been heightened with having such a public and sexualized position in the school community, not to mention the rumors that there was a weight limit to make the line. By senior year, I was glad I didn’t make it and more happy to wear the woolen uniform with coat tails and white cottony q-tip hat. I liked the girls in the piccolo line. And I liked to put my piccolo in my pocket during field rehearsal. Now, I’m glad I didn’t make because I never put on one of those fucked up costumes. Unfortunately though, I still remember how to do the dances to the fight songs. Don’t even ask… I will not demonstrate…unless the moon is just right and you’ve bought me several tequila gimlets!

Phew! Why can’t I list seven random-ass things about myself without telling whole narratives? Maybe it’s a professional hazard. Anyhow, I tag kisha kisha bo-bisha (bad-ass chica with a plan) and angie la dissident brown chick (cuz I know she’s needing some procrastination time away from those prelim exam lists, while she sips her tea/coffee in our beloved small-midwestern-college-town).