Archive for July, 2008

July 23, 2008

don’t give it up in the beginning.

by la rebelde

Mi profe recently gave me the following advice: “Don’t give it all up in the beginning. Because then people won’t want to know what comes later.” No, he wasn’t talking about my love life, although it seems generally like good advice in that arena too. He was talking about my writing.

“Lead the reader through your thoughts,” he said. “I don’t want to see the words ‘I argue that…’ anywhere!” Well, shooot. That’s the way I’ve been taught to write and to think since high school—and it’s been a long-ass time since high school!

I’ve been thinking about this piece of advice for a few months now, not sure that I fully understand what he means. I’d asked him when we last sat face to face to talk about my diss. He explained. And like usual, I took notes, listened, and asked questions. But I left not knowing how to digest these new directions for writing.

The thing is, he is an amazing writer. I mean, most academics are good writers—we’ve trained for tons of years to be so. But in his writing, he is engaging in a way that stuffy academics so rarely are. My mom went to hear a talk he gave recently in her town—and she even says so. (Which obviously means it’s true.)

So today I took his book—the first one, the one that used to be a dissertation, the one that I’d read my first semester in grad school way back when—on the bus with me. I read it in spurts, between stops and while watching to make sure the viejitos had places to sit. I thought about my own writing structure as the bus winded through the area where it all happened—the stories I’m trying to tell, the people whose lives I want to know about. It happened there. Here. I contemplated how he molded his argument. And I think I might finally be on to something, I just can’t quite grasp it yet.

Now that I’m back on the dissertation tip, I’m going to have to relearn, rethink and refashion my approach to writing. Maybe this will happen as I write. Maybe it will happen while I’m on the bus. Either way, it has to happen.

July 17, 2008

albuquerque pajamas.

by la rebelde

I picked them out at Zodie’s. Yellow pajamas that I was only allowed to wear during summertime. Yellow pants and a button-down top with flores or something like that printed on it. The fabric had teeny holes, which made them light and airy. My grandma used to call them “Albuquerque pajamas” because Albuquerque is “so much hotter than Taos.”

They were my favorite, though, because I just hated those pastel blanket pajamas with the plastic-covered feet attached and the zipper that went from one ankle all the way up to your neck. Those were wintertime pajamas. I didn’t even care that there Strawberry Shortcake (who I loved) stitched over my heart. I must have been four years old then.

The worst thing about those pajamas was that it made me feel much too hot to go to sleep. Like summertime in the wintertime. Yick! When we’d finally outgrown all of the blanket pajamas, my mom and mi manito made a quilt of them. Even now, it looks like a hot quilt.

I was not allowed to wear the yellow pajamas in the winter—only those blanket ones. So I’d roll up my sleeves as high as I could and keep turning my pillow over to feel the cool of the fabric, unheated by my skin. My mom and my grandma rolled blankets and laid them next to the adobe walls, so we wouldn’t get a chill in case we rolled into it. The heater in the bedroom where mi papá and mi tío used to sleep, gushed hot, dry air. I always had trouble falling asleep in the wintertime. When I heard the music from the opening of M.A.S.H., I knew I was awake way past my bedtime.

But in the summertime? My yellow pajamas left my feet bare and I’d press them against the wall and feel the chill of stucco-covered earth. And I’d fall asleep quickly.

July 6, 2008

two years.

by la rebelde

Almost two years have passed since I moved to Los Angeles. When I decided to make the move, I’d only been to L.A. once—back in 2002 for a wedding. Before that, my knowledge of the city was based on information from movies, songs, books I’d read in Chicana/o and Asian American Studies classes, and the after-dinner-stories told by my Papá and Grandpa.

“There’s a lot of Taos people in Los Angeles,” my grandpa still reminds me, whenever L.A. comes up, which is often. “A lot of our people over there, New Mexico people.” During WWII, my grandpa had been in Los Angeles briefly before his troop was shipped to Burma. According to his story, he was among the troops ordered to beat Mexican youth who wore zoot suits. It was during one of the raids that he was walking down the street when someone called his name. “Hey, primo! What say?” “Nothing, primo. Let’s have a beer!” I guess he decided to have a beer with his cousin and some other folks he knew from home, instead of joining the riots. He told me later that he knew he was caught in a strange position, one that he didn’t agree with—a Chicano soldier. I still wonder what it must have been like for him in that moment.

Over 25 years later, my 22-year-old father came to Los Angeles, wanting to experience new places. He lived in Lincoln Heights and drove an ambulance at night. His favorite memory was of walking from Union Station after work in the morning and grabbing breakfast at a taquería near the placita. He only stayed in L.A. for a year or so before moving back home to New Mexico. That was in the late ‘60s. Even though he hasn’t been to Los Angeles since, I think he imagines it as if it hasn’t changed.

When I last suggested that I should take a train back from Albuquerque, my papá protested. “That area around Union Station is not safe for young ladies,” he’d said…or something like that. Actually, it’s not just Union Station that he thinks is “unsafe for young ladies,” it’s all of Los Angeles. He thought the same thing when I’d moved to NYC several years ago. If he could have his way, I’d live in Albuquerque, which is actually just as (un)safe as Los Angeles, only more familiar. This is clearly a gender issue–obviously, he wouldn’t be concerned if it were one of mis manitos living out here. He forgets that Union Station and the surrounding area (100 years ago)–the site of my dissertation research—is what brought me to Los Angeles in the first place. And I wanted to get to know and become a part of the communities that live in the legacies of the people whose lives I study.

I knew four people in L.A when mi manito and I moved my stuff into my new apartment. Friends told me it was a “brave” move—maybe it was just crazy. I remember thinking, “if I hate it here, I can always pack up and go home.” I can’t front, those first few months really sucked. L.A. is a difficult place to be a newcomer. Now, after two years spent meeting new folks and exploring in the city—in person and amid dusty papers in multiple libraries—it has become more and more familiar. And I like it here.

Someone recently asked me whether I could finally call L.A. my “home.” And I surprised myself when I thought, there’s nowhere else I’d rather live right now…. But on the real, though? I’m not sure I can really call it “home” until I find some of the New Mexico gente my grandpa keeps talking about, who know how to make a great bowl of green chile. If you know some, hook this nuevomexicana up!

Hey everyone, I’ve been asked to contribute to LAEastside blog. It’s bien cool, so check it out! This post is cross-posted there.