Archive for March, 2008

March 23, 2008

good friday.

by la rebelde

Yesterday. Good Friday. A perfect spring day. Better in northern Nuevo Mexico than anywhere else. Manito and I drove up to Taos to pick up my grandparents so we’d all be in Burque when Sobrino arrived.

The going was slow because so many people were making the annual “pilgrimage” to the Santuario de Chimayó. Families, couples, individuals, all walking along the side of the highway to pay their respects to the dark brown Cristo and the Santo Niño. Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to do the holy week walk. Maybe one of these years, I will. You know, once I get past my nine years of Catholic School trauma and remember to plan ahead for Lent and stuff.

The going was also slow because it was a nice Friday afternoon. And nice Friday afternoons are perfect for cruising in Española. The Santuario and lowriders seem to go together–like in this photo from the Smithsonian exhibit. It seemed like everyone who had a hot lowrider was out—and everyone who didn’t too. It took at least 30 minutes to get from one end of town to the other because even if you didn’t mean to cruise, there’s only one main drag through town so everyone has to cruise. Espa has been called the “lowrider capital of the world.”* (For all you non-believers, see here and here.) My favorite this trip was a glittery light blue ’63 Impala convertible with shiny, shiny rims. I’m no car whiz, but it was amazing!

We weren’t sure if my grandparents heard our car as we crossed over Rio Lucero at the entrance to their driveway. My grampa built that bridge with steel beams and railroad ties, just like all the rio crossings in their barrio. It makes a lot of noise when you drive across. But my grandparents are hard of hearing these days.

I hugged them hello. My grampa even tried to stand to greet me, with his big smile that spreads his wisdom lines across his face. His eyes were twinkling, the way they did when I was a child. He used to swoop me up in his arms and walk over to the entryway so I could ring the bells he liked to hang there. Recently, my Spanish instructor mentioned that she thinks I look a lot like him because our eyes sparkle in the same way when we smile. No one ever said I look like him before. When I told my gramma what my instructor had said, she replied that she agreed and I should be happy because my grampa was “very good looking when he was young—very good looking. You better believe it!” Yea—Gramma’s still reveling after all these years because she got a catch. He did too, she just doesn’t realize it.

We drove back to Burque that evening to meet my papa for torta de huevo (aka the “Lenten special” that I always thought was called “tart” de huevo). Not sandwiches, more like panqueques de huevo…with red chile of course. As I exited at Paseo del Norte going toward the mesa, the sun shone so brightly I was practically blinded. I struggled to shade my eyes, while driving directly into it during Friday evening traffic. Finally at a stop light, I looked over at my grampa who sat pensively in the passenger seat, occasionally trying to adjust the shade on the car ceiling, despite his bad arm (WWII injury). “How are you Grampa? Is the sun bothering you a lot?” “No,” he said. “I just can’t keep the sun out of your eyes.”

The truth is, he has always been and will forever be keeping the sun out my eyes.

Lowrider photo credit: Smithsononian Institution, Photo by Jeff Tinsley, Negative #: 95-3340

* I made a mistake in my original post, which stated that “Espa is the birthplace of the lowrider” and the links did not actually say this. It seems that the birthplace of the lowrider is up for debate. See here. I need to do more research, but the historia I grew up with credits Española for the lowrider. That’s my historia and I’m sticking to it! Muchas gracias to the anonymous commenter who pointed out my mistake.

March 17, 2008

witnessing adolescent masculinity.

by la rebelde

There I was, in my favorite tea shop, just writing away at my current chapter, when a large group of adolescent Asian Am boys came in and chose to sit two tables away from me—some had to stand because there weren’t enough chairs. I hardly noticed at first. In fact, it wasn’t until the yelling and hooting started that I turned to see what the commotion was.

In the past, there have been youtube-watching sessions and card-playing amongst the high school kids who like to hang out there in the evenings and after school. I have to admit, I find them entertaining and a welcome distraction from my writing. Only once have I had to leave because, even I could not write amidst the noisiness. That time, a dozen boys decided to have a boba-drinking contest, which drew a crowd of teenage Asian Americans all cheering them on. I remember thinking, this must be an example of what adolescent Asian American masculinity looks like in the SGV these days. It made me chuckle. And I wondered how different my brothers’ lives (and mine) would be had we grown up in a place with lots of Asian Ams (and Mexicans too).

Today the commotion was prompted by a series of bikini-clad photos of one boys’ cousin on a laptop computer. Lots of loud uneasy laughter and taunting statements that the cousin was a “porn-star.”

As my amigo and I walked toward the parking lot, he suggested that this was common behavior from teenage boys. Funny, he’d said the same thing a few weeks ago, when I relayed a story of how one of the adolescent boys from my apartment complex decided to pee on the side of the building directly across the drive from the window out of which my desk faces—all while his friends stood off to the side pretending not to look. That’s just gross. But not as sexist as what I witnessed tonight. Something tells me some of them never will grow up and grow out of it. But then again, maybe I’m just too cynical.

March 12, 2008

"Native Feminism Without Apology!"

by la rebelde

Please read the press release below and think about signing this online petition in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case at the University of Michigan. More updated info can be found here.

Native Feminism Without Apology!
February 25, 2008

Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure Case


On February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women’s Studies, Dr. Smith’s body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.

Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States’ hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women’s Studies and LSA’s current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM’s administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year.

To Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case. Address email letters to ALL of the following:

Teresa Sullivan, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, LSA,
Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA,
Mary Sue Coleman, President,

March 12, 2008

baskin in sunshine.

by la rebelde

This afternoon was one of those perfect springtime afternoons.

After my Spanish conversation class, I met up with a couple of amigas for lunch at Philippe’s, “the birth place of the French dip sandwich.” I’d seen it on the food network a few weeks ago. “An L.A. institution,” they’d said. It was crazy crowded, but we made our orders and found our way to an open table. We each put a bunch of Dijon mustard in our sandwiches, which made our noses wrinkle and tears well up in our eyes. It was pretty yummy, but not six bucks-yummy–not when there’s a $3 Vietnamese sandwich to be had across the street. At least now we can say we’ve been there.

Afterward, one amiga went back to work while the other and I strolled through Placita Olvera. She was looking for a gift for a friend. Then we sat on the plaza, eating creamy-tart mango con chile, watching the world go by and ducking the little birds that zipped through the air between our heads. The sun was shining and amiga—who’s been away at school couldn’t stop talking about how much she loves L.A. I’d forgotten what it’s like to hang out with someone who loves their hometown that much—especially those big city folks from LA and NYC. They have a whole other kind of exceptionalism, which can be really cool when its not oppressive. If you’ve ever known a die-hard New Yorker, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The whole time I tried to keep my dissertation out of my head. Last night I’d been overwhelmed by my writing and this afternoon I was straight chillin’ at the site of my dissertation story—only a hundred years later. I tried to keep my stories to myself. That’s really hard for historians, because really, we could talk about it forever.

Now back at my desk in my apartment, I still feel the nourishment of sun on my skin. But now I must get back to the writing. And all I want to do is chill with my amigas.

March 6, 2008

on bizcochitos, tomato soup and knowledge-making.

by la rebelde

I was watching an “Ace of Cakes” marathon on the Food Network the other day. In case you haven’t seen the show, Charm City Cakes is a bakery in Baltimore where artist-bakers design these amazing cakes in 3D form, like airplanes and those giant balloons that rich kids like to bounce in at their birthday parties. Very cool stuff—the cakes, not the bouncing, although that might be fun.

They aired the one where they make a cake for a zoo event in the shape of a standing elephant, complete with wrinkly skin. Then, as if it couldn’t get any better, they made one of an old school NYC subway train—those metallic rounded cars, complete with full-on, 6-foot tall graffiti. These cakes seem totally extravagant and expensive and it makes me wonder who the heck actually pays for such fancy cakes for events like a 5-year-old’s birthday party. But I really like watching them construct the sculptures and paint the designs.


Yesterday I spent over six hours at this great Chicano coffeeshop just writing—writing like the wind. It’s funny how a super-productive day can feel really good, even if you leave feeling like you’ll need a million more hours just to say what you need to say. And today I changed my primary focus of the chapter…again for the 4th time in 3 weeks. I guess that’s the nature of a dissertation. And hopefully it will be the better for it.

I only wonder when the stress will subside.


Just this weekend, I was talking with a grad school amiga about how often there are moments when I think, I could be so much happier doing something else—something other than academia. And yet, I keep on, despite the personal and political contradictions that plague my existence as an intellectual and as someone committed to the liberatory possibilities of community-building. She has similar experiences–that’s why she’s my girl.

My struggle lately—or perhaps all along—has been the issue of owning knowledge (which I wrote about here before). I am haunted by the constant need to demonstrate that I, as a historian, am “doing something new” even though one could argue that nothing really is “new” because all studies build on work and ideas that have come before theirs. (And by work and ideas, I mean the broadest senses in which we might think about theorizing knowledge-making and the labor needed to make that happen, inside or outside the boundaries of the academy.)

The haunting spirals into frustration when people who work outside my subfield (gender and Asian American history, for example) who find it necessary to tell me that my topic has “been done” by citing the three texts they’ve read about gender and the three they’ve read about Asian Am history. (Nevermind that I am looking at those subfields together along with other subfields too. And of course, there actually are scholars who have come before me who have looked at those subfields together. Gasp!) This is not the first time that’s happened–when well-meaning folks suggest that I need to “position” (read defend) myself against others who have studied similar themes so as to prove that my entire dissertation does not simply repeat their narratives–and it won’t be the last. Of course, there are expectations that one be clear about one’s interventions in “the field,” that one must write in conversation with key texts. That’s really important, especially for brown/women academics because we always seem to have to defend our existence in the academic world. My frustration arises from what happens along the fissure between asking how you understand your study in relation to a specific theory/argument/story, and the somewhat accusatory, implied question of whether you have read key books in your own field. Perhaps this is a question about colonialism, respect, community and pedagogy (something I learned a great deal about from my compañeras/os in tejas).

But this is not about those people—who actually are trying to help and who gave me some great feedback. It is about the culture of knowledge production in the academy/field that fundamentally reproduces false notions of objectivity despite all the work folks have done to show how knowledge-making is shaped by perspective, that it is socially constructed, colonialist and all that jazz—a culture that encourages people to be competitive and selfish. When it gets to that, it’s not about learning or sharing–it’s about showing off and one-upping everyone else. That’s why I left grad school back in 2000, thinking I would probably never return and hoping I would never be one of those scholars who forgot to learn.

I could go on and on.


My point here is that, even on the good days of writing or researching or teaching—the really exciting days—I still constantly consider stopping this academic thing and becoming an artist-baker-coffeeshop-bookstore-running person instead. I could make cinnamon rolls, pan dulce, bizcochitos, sopapillas, pozole and a really good tomato soup. I could stock books, magazines and artwork that tell our stories. Hopefully people I love, even if I don’t know them, would feel comfortable spending time there. That way, at least I could participate in the creation of a space in which community and learning comes first, rather than owning knowledge. And maybe then the idealist in me won’t be smudged away by cynicism and frustration.