Archive for April, 2009

April 24, 2009

surprise.

by la rebelde

When I first started grad school, I was one of those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 22-year-old fresh-out-of-undergrad, annoying first-years. Not much different than the ones I have trouble connecting with now. But I was different than most in that I wasn’t excited to bury my head in books and archives. I’d decided to go to grad school because I thought it could be a way—a way that I was good at—to help make this world a better place. I believed—and still do—that one road to liberation was through learning. History was not simply “an interesting intellectual project,” as many approach it.  Rather, its connections to the present world were/are essential to making history matter—and to imagining a different, better, more just world. When I was teaching, my students challenged me on that point everyday. And while I had a deep investment in making these connections, my graduate training in a field where everyone is disciplined to worry about being “presentist”—especially women, people of color, queer folks, etc. who are more prone to such accusations—made it fairly difficult.

My experience at a small liberal arts school in the late 90s, where there were no grad students, and where struggles for Ethnic Studies—most specifically, for Asian American Studies—was a well-organized student-run project that had been maintained over decades. And it continues now. Because there were no courses, students read on their own, and led classes and discussions amongst each other. The movement for ES was based on students’ visions, which took a connection between community with the academy, along with a critical eye to privileges in their many forms, as its fundamental basis.

So it threw me for a loop the other day, when a colega of mine expressed frustration at not only the presence, but the participation, of undergraduates at a certain ES conference underway as I write this post. Colega felt that undergraduate participation lessened the rigor of her own academic experience at the conference, that panels should be reserved for graduate students and faculty. I argued that undergraduates should always be a central part of the fabric of ethnic studies, that we have much to learn from them as they do from us, that ES should be a place where we challenge these kinds of hierarchies even if we recognize that they are real and powerful.

The conversation left me pissed off and, frankly, surprised. I was surprised, not only because we actually went to the same undergrad institution, with overlapping activist friends, but because the conversation revealed to me that we have a fundamental, somewhat existential, disagreement. After all these years in the elite academic circles, you’d think I would no longer be surprised. You’d think that I would be better able to accept that not everyone comes to it with the same political and personal investments as I do. You’d think that after one of my own institutions’ programs has “reserved” one panel for graduate students to present at its 25th anniversary event, and we’d have to compete for one of four spots on that panel—another incarnation of the same logic that my colega expressed—that I would not be tripped up by the pervasiveness of elitism. I’m surprised by my own surprise, but not surprised by my disappointment. I’m not naïve. But I guess I’m still an idealist, even if a cynical one.

April 21, 2009

hipsters.

by la rebelde

This is my regular spot.  My usual coffeeshop in Highland Park, where the windows are big, the light is plenty, the tables are square, the outlets are abundant and the internet is reliable.  When I first started coming here, the clientele was mostly brown.  Asian Americans and Chicanas/os came here to study, work and hang out.  Now the clientele reflects the changes in the neighborhood.  In a word?  Hipsters.

Usually I grab a table along the wall, on the other side of the cafe, far away from the hipster/hippie corner by the cushy chairs where I can’t hear their conversations.   Today the cafe is crowded and the only table left faces the hipster corner where they are sprawled across armrests, feet sticking up, junk almost visible because the skinny jeans are WAY too skinny.  I still don’t get the skinny jeans trend.  They talk on and on about racism.

Time to turn up the volume on my earphones and hope the population shifts back.

April 17, 2009

the sun always shines…

by la rebelde

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Cristoval Daniel Quintana, 1925-2009

“I miss his hands,” Manito told me a few weeks ago.  Me too.  My grandpa had the best hands.  Big hands that were worn from work and war. Hands that were graceful and precise with their movements, when he was tying fishing wire onto a fly he made out of rooster feathers, or when he would show me how to play jacks on the dining room table, or when he packed our lunch to go for a hike down into the Río Grande gorge.

When I was a little girl, he would come home from working at the mine, his hands black with soot.  I liked to run to meet him at the door.  But he wouldn’t touch me until he washed his hands with some thick dirt-and-grease-cutting gel stuff that he always kept by the sink.  It smelled like car oil.  Then he would swoop me up in his arms and take me to the doorway of the living room in the house that he built out of adobe and vigas from our part of the mountain.  That was where he kept his collection of bells—lots of bells on strings—and we would ring them together.

That morning, as I left mi manito’s casita in ‘Burque to catch a flight back to Los Angeles, I bent down to my grandpa’s eye level so I could say goodbye.  It was the last time I would see him before he left this world for another, some place better.  He was in a wheelchair, barely able to speak anymore, his body tired from years of hard living.  So very tired.

My grandpa gave me many blessings in this world.  And one of the last ones, he’d asked to see us for Valentine’s Day weekend.  Manito had called me a few days before and luckily, I was able to get a plane ticket right away. On some of those nights, when I’d go to his room to check on him, his eyes would be wide open as if he was looking for something, someone.  And I’d press his forehead with my hand to help relieve the pain—at least for a moment—before I held his hand until he fell asleep.  I never realized, not until he was sick in the hospital, that the tables would change, that my hands would be comforting to him as much as his were to me.

“I’m going back to Los Angeles today, Grandpa,”  I’d said, trying to be cheerful.  As I hugged him, he’d said, “The sun always shines in Los Angeles.”

Que descanse en paz and live always in our hearts.