Archive for ‘borders’

August 22, 2011

on art, trains + borders.

by la rebelde

This summer I started training to become a docent at the Chinese American Museum (CAM) over at the Pueblo de los Angeles Historical Monument — aka Placita Olvera.  Although I ultimately decided that I could not give the time to it that it deserved, I learned so much from the few training sessions I attended.  As a historian, trained by elite academic institutions, it is, to me, imperative to know how people understand historical narratives — people who don’t sit around and read tons of historical monographs written by others who do the same.  I was reminded how difficult it is to put lots of information into a teeny tiny chunk of time.

Back in July, when Manito D and Nicole were visiting, we saw the Street Art exhibit at the MOCA.  It was pretty remarkable.  Over the previous months, I’d read the critiques of the exhibit — particularly how the exhibit did not include many Los Angeles based street artists.  Walking through the museum, the omission was glaring.  Still, it was well-done.  I wish I’d had more time to read about the artists and the history of graffiti.

My favorite was the wall of train cars.  I have always been fascinated by train graffiti.  My ex was a graffiti artist and DJ, and we spent hours talking about it, how he planned his pieces, stories of jumping over fences to get at a train car in a rail yard.  In my MA program, I wrote my thesis on Chinese and Mexican railroad workers and U.S. empire.  Now my book begins and ends with the railroads, although they are not the center of the story.  Mexican workers lived in train cars — boxcars that railroad companies used to house workers, and which, according to reformers and city officials, were part of the “housing problem” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Chinese and Mexican children played on or near the tracks, and recalled the feeling of rattling floorboards as the trains passed by their homes.  Folks who lived in boxcars built homes and communities, despite the poor housing conditions that were available to them.  Train car graffiti just smacks US imperialism in the face by highlighting everyday lives of actual people.  Especially when it covers the corporate signage on the sides of cars, and then those cars travel across the continent.

Patrick Martinez’ pieces (the ones he is standing in front of in this photo) are at the Chinese American Museum as part of their “Dreams Deferred” exhibit.  It is a great exhibit where LA street artists respond to immigration reform.  The same week I went to the exhibit at the MOCA, I was fortunate to attend a session led by one of the curators at CAM, who told us in more detail about the artists and their pieces.  What’s truly amazing about it, to me, is how, in the conjunction with the Museum’s exhibit, called Remembering Angel Island, the art exhibit links Chinese exclusion and current day immigration/border restriction debates.  The Angel Island exhibit highlights the experiences of border-crossing for Chinese, in the midst of border restriction during Chinese Exclusion, in a way that shows their dignity, their experience of crossing the border, of enduring interrogation by US officials, of living in inhumane conditions while in confinement, all so they could make a life, join family members, live.  The artists featured in the Dreams Deferred address current-day renderings of border restrictions.  It is not very different today.

The MOCA exhibit got all the play, because well, it’s the MOCA.  If you didn’t get to see it, maybe you can catch it in another city if it moves.  Unfortunately, it left LA already.

But I have to say, the CAM exhibit is more powerful and more meaningful, in part because it is more politically focused on one topic, but also because it is historicized well.  Both the street art and Angel Island exhibits are incredible. Go see them before they leave in December/January!

(photo via Patrick Martinez | Hustlemania @ Known Gallery)

May 23, 2011


by la rebelde

I recently attended the play, The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Jeff Liu. If you haven’t already seen it, go!  It is playing over at Circle X Theater Co.   There are only three more showings left this weekend!  And it’s always good to support community-based theater.  Plus, you can bring wine and beer inside the theater.

Historians and journalists have presented the events during 1871 that have come to be called the “Chinese Massacre” in many ways, most commonly as the last chapter in Los Angeles’ “wild west” story, just before U.S. whites aggressively asserted so-called “law and order.”  As a recent article in the LA Weekly demonstrates, it is popularly known as LA’s first race riot, and continues to be sensationalized in present-day dime-novel style. If we think of “race” in terms of US-based cultural constructions of race, it may have been LA’s first race riot.  But considering the history of Spanish colonization before the United States occupied this land, and then the fact that the United States still occupies this land, the events of 1871 are a much more complex and part of a longer trajectory of imperialism and violence.

It is an important marker in the historical experiences of Chinese in Southern California — an especially violent anti-Chinese event. Between 18-22 Chinese men and boys were killed, mostly by lynching.  Those who were indicted for their murder were both white and Mexican.  It is also an important marker in the transition from Spanish-Mexican to U.S. rule.  Of course I could go on and on, but you’ll have to read my book for that! (If it ever gets published…if I ever finish writing it…)

The play was excellent!  Although some of it was fictionalized, the main story about the 1871 events was really well-done.  And I think some of the fictional parts were necessary for the audience to understand what was going on historically at the time.   Tom Jacobson brilliantly includes insightful annotations, with information about source materials as well as key information about LA and the region that help the audience to contextualize the story.  Not only that, but he also notes the connections to other “race riots” in LA history, notably the Zoot Suit Riots and the Watts Riots, as a way to encourage the audience to think about the larger history of rioting in LA, even if in vastly different historical moments.  Jeff Liu took great care to make sure accents and representations were well and justly executed.  I wish I knew more about theater, or I would say so much more and I would say it much more elegantly.

Go see it!

June 19, 2008

amazing gifts.

by la rebelde

It goes without saying, the best thing about traveling for academic purposes is rolling deep—spending time with amigas/os who live far away and reminding yourself why it is you do what you do. On the flip side, if you are a single person who lives alone and is writing a dissertation, the return to solitude can be even more pronounced—in a lonely apartment, the silence deafening. That’s why I watch so much t.v.

The last two weeks were non-stop activity— exciting, relaxing, eye-straining, mundane, frustrating, nerve-wracking, and relieving—in that order.

The bulk of it—7 days straight, in fact—was spent scoring AP exam essays in Louisville. It’s no fun, but I do it for the money—7 days work for 1 month’s rent and utilities is nothing to scoff at. But I don’t believe in AP the way the high school teachers I worked with do. They’re invested because they teach students to pass this test. Those students sometimes end up in my classroom, and oftentimes they are resistant to working on critical thinking skills. “It’s the arrogance of youth,” I’ve been told. “No, it’s not,” I’ve responded. “It’s the arrogance of privilege.” Kids who take AP classes aren’t any smarter than those who don’t. For the most part, they just went to wealthy high schools with mostly white student bodies. But I digress. Seven days spent in Louisville allowed me to refresh my knowledge of Jacksonian America and the Vietnam War. It gave me time with 2 amigas/colegas who I greatly respect. And it forced me to take some time away from my impending dissertation. I took this photo on an evening walk along the Ohio River—the historian in me couldn’t help but think of the many folks who crossed this border-river to “freedom” in the North, sort of like the Río Grande/Bravo.

Lucky for me, I spent a few days with a close amiga in Lexington before heading to Louisville. Although we speak often on the phone, it was somehow different to be in her space, to see where she goes everyday, to meet the people she spends time with. Amiga has been subletting a fabulous house from her friend who is studying away. There’s something about the character of those southern houses surrounded by greenery and flowers–the architecture, the porches, the history. It was a quaint neighborhood, where I imagine many faculty live—definitely not working-class and mostly white (I know you’re surprised about that one). We had a great time, just staying up late talking.

After Louisville, I traveled directly to the Berks conference on the History of Women. It was the first time I presented at a major conference. My amigas/colegas and I stayed with a profe who was generous enough to share his home. He and two Chicana scholars attended our panel. I looked at them the entire time I was speaking and for good reason. During the Q + A, a white man asked a question—or rather, made a comment—about my work, suggesting that I hadn’t used primary documents, that I’d relied on the work of long-established historians. This kind of comment is a straight up diss for historians. He clearly hadn’t paid attention to my talk. I responded by discussing my sources and turning the discussion more toward the difficulty of finding sources about working-class women of color—there just aren’t many out there, especially ones that were created a hundred years ago. One profe responded to his question also by challenging his assumptions. Fortunately other folks asked good questions. I was grateful that the brown folks in the audience had come to support us, and could be angry for me, for us, when I was too nervous, anxious and tired to be angry for myself.

This is how I spent the first two weeks of June. Everyday was spent with good friends—four in total. The nourishment of time spent with amigas, mentors and community was good for my soul. They are amazing gifts. And I often wish I could put all of my amigas/os, who are scattered around the globe now, in my pocket to carry with me all the time.

April 9, 2008


by la rebelde

So, it seems there’s a big controversy over this ad. U.S. “consumers” were threatening to boycott. And the Absolut company pulled it–and even apologized for it. (You can read more about it here, here and here and many other places.)

Has the U.S. apologized for conquest or the millions of other atrocities? I’m just saying. It amazes me how upset some folks get when they are implicated in the historical/present processes of colonization. This ad calls into question the validity of geopolitical borders and brings to the fore how drawing these borders (and maintaining them) is a violent act of state and local forces. I bet the boycotting folks haven’t given up on drinking tequila, let alone their chips and salsa.

I fucking love this ad! I want a poster of it for my…uh, office.
I know it totally upholds the colonial Mexican state too–but still.

*Image is from the AP page.

April 15, 2007

iced or hot? with boba or not?

by la rebelde

The other day I took a walk in the warm southern California sunshine to run errands and grab lunch at the tea shop a few blocks from my apartment. Cha is my favorite tea shop in my neighborhood—they have yummy teas, tasty snacks like calamari balls dipped in chile powder (so good!), and they don’t think it’s weird when I go there. Since I don’t “look Chinese” (whatever that means) I’m often made to feel that I’m crossing a racial boundary where folks seem confused about my presence in Chinese tea shops—Chinese waitresses/patrons and Mexican kitchen workers alike. More on that in another post.

I was sitting at a window seat doing dissertation-related reading while I ate lunch, when an older Mexican man came up to read the menu posted outside. Viejito tried to open the door, but before I could motion to him to go around to the entrance at the back, he threw his hands up in frustration and stomped away. That sucks, I thought. He kind of looked like a younger version of my grandpa. But a few minutes later, he came in and sat a few tables away from me. He already knew what he wanted—the grilled chicken with rice, corn and salad. The waitress, a young Asian American woman, took his order and asked if he wanted something to drink.

Viejito: I want coffee.
Waitress: What kind of coffee would you like?
Viejito: Do you have coffee?
Waitress: Yes.
Viejito: Then I’d like coffee.
Waitress: Iced or hot? With boba or not?
This made me chuckle out loud a little. It’s just funny!
Viejito: I thought you said you have coffee.
Waitress: We do have coffee. Hot or cold?
Viejito: Just bring me some coffee.
Waitress: Okay, I’ll bring you hot coffee.

I breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t push the boba issue and went back to my book and my almond green milk tea. But then Viejito called the waitress back.

Viejito: Change my coffee to a soda, would you?
Waitress: We don’t have soda here, only tea.
Oh no. Here we go again!
Viejito: No soda?! Okay, just bring me the coffee with milk and sugar.
Waitress: Sure, I’ll bring milk and sugar on the side.

Viejito asked for chile with his meal just like I did. Guess I’m not the only one who crosses the boundaries.

March 14, 2007

crossing state borders.

by la rebelde

You know those welcome signs that they post over freeways when you drive across state lines? Like, “Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!” (Okay, so that’s not the WV state slogan anymore because it was derogatory, but you get what I’m talking about.) I had a friend in college who used to take pictures of all of those. So whenever we drove to the conferences of the East Coast Chicana/o Student Forum, he’d bust out his camara and snap as our car sped under the sign. I never did that, but there are many moments when state-border-crossing was quite memorable.

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Last August, as mi manito and I drove along I-40 from Burque to Los Angeles, we passed a sign indicating that we’d have to stop at a check point in about 5 miles at the California border. We, of course, thought it was a border patrol check point. Even though I was born in the states, the border patrol just freaks me out. As papá used to say when I was a kid, “They can deport you just for the color of your skin, or your last name.” Well if that’s not enough to strike fear in a child’s heart, I don’t know what is. So we turned down the music, stopped singing along with the playlist at the top of our lungs, and mentally prepared for the stop, both of us more serious than before. In the passenger seat, I put on my chanclas, which I had taken off over the course of the drive. We pulled up to the stop and this blonde white lady came to our window and cheerfully said with a slight twang, “Hi there! Are you traveling with any animals or plants, fruits or vegetables?” Say what? Manito was stunned. “No,” we said solemnly.

Manito said it took him a moment to realize she was speaking in English because all the other times he’s been stopped, the border patrol dude (and it had always been a dude, not a chick) was Mexican and only spoke to him in Spanish in order to get him (my brother) to respond only in Spanish. Well that’s just a dirty rotten trick, I tell you! But I digress… After driving on for about a mile, we both burst into uncontrollable laughter, manito poking fun of me about putting on my chanclas. (Actually, manito says “champlas” instead of “chanclas,” but I have no idea where the heck he got that from.) “What were you going to do if it HAD been the border patrol? Run away in your champlas?” he teased. Pues, of course! My first instinct is to run, and running in chanclas through the desert seemed better than running barefoot. (And hopefully they wouldn’t shoot me down with their guns.) Just another day in the militarized borderlandias…except this was just the California-Arizona border, not the U.S.-Mexico border.

Anyway, that was a really long way of saying that I got this map thing from Kisha, and I think it’s kinda fun!

It reminds me of those silly get-to-know-each-other games I make my students play at the start of the new semester. They’re annoying, but if they’re done right, they can be really useful introductions to the course. I always begin with the game, “2 truths and a lie,” which I make into an exercise about the interpretation of primary documents and so-called “objectivity.” I always go last and list the same 3 points. One of my “truths” is always that I’ve lived in 6 states and it’s the one that my students always think is my “lie.” (Truth be told, I never give a “lie.” If I ever teach enough in the same school, they might figure it out. But the mechanics of the exercise and its pedagogical uses is an entirely different post all together.)

Now that I moved to El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, I’ve lived in 7 states! So with all that moving around, I’ve visited a lot of places in the U.S. And no, I did not count the states that I only drove through–just the ones I actually visited.