Archive for ‘teaching’

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.

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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.

June 16, 2008

time.

by la rebelde

In order, left to right:
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

I’ve been traveling again—on business…again. Except for those few days I spent with a close amiga in Lexington, I’ve been scoring AP exams and presenting at the big Women’s History conference—the one that only happens every 3 years. All of this has been exhausting and nourishing at the same time. Exhausting because I read hand written essays all day for seven days straight before flying to the conference. And nourishing because I spent the last two weeks surrounded by good friends, mentors and colleagues.

**

At the end of a long day of conferencing yesterday, I attended a panel in which the very last speaker ended her discussion with an anecdote about Rosa Parks. She mentioned how Parks had often been asked if she knew Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman (at least I think she said it was Tubman, but it was definitely someone of that time period—it was a long day!). The story stuck with me for the rest of the day. In fact, when she said it, I couldn’t hold back from expressing audible horror at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. It’s as if abolition work and civil rights era work had been conflated in time and purpose. But I thought, maybe as a historian, I had been taking for granted the contextual specificity that has been drilled into me.

And then I remembered—this is also a common problem for high school students whose exam essays I’ve read over the last few years. They constantly collapse time when thinking about the histories of Blacks in the U.S. Some make statements that say something like “the Civil Rights movement freed the slaves,” which is, of course, wrong. I’m not saying that abolition and civil rights are not related struggles—of course they are. My concern is more that the contextual differences are not taken as seriously as they are for white history or the more traditional historical narratives that get reproduced all the time. Students don’t usually conflate the U.S. Civil War with the Vietnam War or Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Nixon—even though there are similar parallels involving imperialism and conquest (not to mention masculinity!). When the story is more explicitly about peoples of color, context seems to fall by the wayside more often. Histories of “oppression” are then relegated to a bygone era so as to relieve present-day guilt about atrocities past and present—even if present-day people are simultaneously associated with historical actors.

**

The Parks story also reminded me of an interaction I had a few weeks ago with a friend of an amiga. After we were introduced, we made polite conversation. He asked about my dissertation. I gave my usual brief description. As a Chicano who grew up in LA and who had taken Chicano Studies courses, he knew the general area my research deals with and wanted to know more. He asked me something about the transcontinental railroad—people always ask about it when I mention I study Chinese Americans, even though it’s no longer a part of my study. It’s as if Chinese Americans and transcontinental railroad are inseparable in their present-day racial imaginaries. A little bit later, we all piled in the car and headed out to grab a drink. On the way, we stopped at a nearby 7-11 because someone needed to hit up the ATM. As the rest of us waited in the car, this same dude noticed a group of teenage Asian boys hanging out nearby. “Hey! There’s a bunch of Chinese guys over there. You should interview them and ask them about the transcontinental railroad for your research. They’re all right there!”

Say what?! The TC-RR was completed almost 150 years ago! And, I don’t study the TC-RR, which I had made clear in our earlier conversation. And, those kids might not have even been Chinese. I could go on and on, but you get the point. I didn’t say anything—mostly because I was about to be stuck with this dude for the next few hours. It occurred to me—he may not have known I am Chinese (not that it should even matter). Mexicans in LA sometimes talk smack about Chinese people to me, not knowing I’m Chinese too. I’ve decided that it’s not worth explaining my identities unless I’m actually invested in the person or the conversation. This time I didn’t care. He may have been joking, but it was definitely not funny. And I knew it was about to be a long night.

**

More about the nourishing parts of my travels to come later…

November 9, 2007

on youth, small-college-towns and growing up.

by la rebelde

I’ve been working on a fellowship application that asks lots of questions about the kinds of courses you would like to develop for undergrads at small liberal arts schools and how you would teach them. I only have two course descriptions so far. I’m worried that all of my ideas are more suitable for upper-division students, and not for first- and second-years.

I went to a SLAC and I admit that sometimes I tend to think that my undergrad classes were much more challenging than most of the ones I’ve taught as a grad student at big state universities. Maybe it was the culture of debate at my campus. We definitely learned to articulate ourselves—I mean OVER-articulate—and all the time. I assume there are pockets of this kind of culture in large state schools, but it seems fewer and further between. Anyway, I went online to browse the course catalogs of my alma mater–to remind myself what the courses generally look like. (When I was in college, the catalogs were not online, so I can’t even look at the course descriptions for classes I actually took!)

And for a moment, looking at the catalog and the website, I felt a little nostalgic. As I’ve written in this blog before, I hate libraries. Still I have fond memories of laying on those colorful couches under the sky-lights, with my books scattered all around, flirting with silly boys/my then-boyfriend, discussing topics that, at the time, seemed SOOO important and life-defining.

There’s something about these teeny schools. They’re super privileged and really white and really rich. And except for professors and administrators, you rarely interact with people outside the 18-22 year old range. I remember it as a more carefree time, when I was more innocent, more optimistic, and very dramatic. Ooooh, I do not miss the drama. But I miss being excited about learning new things—everything seemed new then. I miss my less cynical self, who was more open to discussing ideas, to exploration, to love. I had struggled before. I had felt pain. But I hadn’t yet been crushed.

Of course, things can sometimes seem rosier in retrospect.
And I’m a grown-ass woman now.

I’m applying to these teaching fellowships because I need to eat next year. And because I like to teach—that’s why I went to grad school in the first place. But I’m anxious about the possibility that I might end up in a small, white, rural town with nothing else but the college. I’ve seen single/separated young women of color faculty end up in those places. They were amazing teachers and scholars, but they seemed lonely, isolated, and I’m wondering if they went more than a little stir-crazy. If I feel at all like that in LA, where brown people abound, how will I feel if I end up teaching in a small college town?

It’s all very daunting. I never imagined that I might one day be a faculty-type person. And who knows if I’ll even get an offer. But the whole thing has made the twitch in my left eyelid come back. It hasn’t been around since I was grading finals while preparing for comprehensive exams!

August 8, 2007

what are you?

by la rebelde

Mi manito took my 8-year-old Sobrino to the movies, during fiesta time in northern nuevo méxico. At the theater they ran into young girl from a nearby town, still decked out in her dress and crown, clearly proud to have been named queen this year. (btw-fiesta queens are usually seniors in high school—17 or 18 years old.) Manito introduced Sobrino who was standing next to him.

“So what, did you have jungle-fever?” she asked Manito.

“You did not just say that to me in front of my son!” he responded, making his annoyance clear.

“What are you?” she asked, turning to Sobrino.

“I’m Mexican!” he stated defiantly.

She was taken aback by his confidence. “Oh yea? Well, what’s your mom?”

Sobrino looked up at Manito, unsure about how to respond. “It’s okay. Be proud of who you are. Tell her about your mom.”

“My mom is black,” he said.

“See, I was right!” she exclaimed, self-satisfied.

This was the story Manito relayed to me a couple weeks ago. He was real pissed. As was I, upon hearing the story. This was, after all, a fiesta queen. And if we understand correctly, she was chosen by her peers and her community to represent her town as queen. She must have good grades and speak well in front of a crowd. To paraphrase Manito, that’s a bullshit way to represent. Oh, and also freakin’ racist. Yea dude.


When I was a kid, I always hated the “what are you?” question. And hearing about Sobrino’s experience makes me more angry than I felt when it has happened to me. Actually, the “what are you?” question bothers me less now than it did then, but that may be because these kinds of questions tended to surface only when my classmates saw my mom. Otherwise it probably didn’t occur to them that I’m Chinese Am too—until I started going to Chinese School (which only lasted for a year) or when they saw my middle name. I didn’t know how to respond to it. Even now, it surprises me—making me take a brief moment of stunned silence before I respond. And I usually have to decide whether the person is actually ignorant, an asshole, or just careless with his/her words. I see the multiracial issue taking shape in other ways in my life, but not so much in these overt ways anymore.

Manito and I discussed the pros and cons of different responses to the “What are you?” question. And whether stating the obvious—“I’m a human being”—can be misunderstood to mean that you are not proud of who you are. Or if asking the same question back—“what are YOU?”—does any good. Because if the person is pendej@ enough to ask it in the first place, they probably are too pendej@ to understand how fucked up it is.

The fact is, the “what are you?” question denies your humanity. It is more a statement than a question. Most of the time there’s an underlying judgement of sex that mixture implies. And after that, it depends on how the conversation goes. Maybe it’s the half-this-half-that thing which I HATE with a loathing indescribable. Or maybe it’s the oh-mixed-people-are-so-beautiful thing (which I tend to think is true, but that’s probably also linked to some kind of arrogant, leo-ish sorta thing–and then again, who isn’t mixed anyhow?). Or maybe it’s the oh-what-an-interesting-mix or the aren’t-you-just-a-model-of-the-American-melting-pot bullshit. Whichever way the conversation goes, it will most likely make you out to be only partially human (and therefore either an animal or not of this earth), and will probably mathematically divvy up your body parts across the globe, reifying all those socially constructed, geopolitical boundaries.

Funny. That fiesta queen (who’s probably related to us in some way because everyone from that area is) didn’t ask Manito the “what are you?” question. And Sobrino didn’t say anything about being Chinese too. The thing is, when the “what are you?” question comes up, it’s only a moment–but it’s a moment with strong ripple effects.

So, how to prepare mi sobrino to respond to this question and questions like it. It will surely come up in his life again. And you’d think that his papá and his tía, being multiracial people who have thought a lot about this sort of thing, would have an answer. But we don’t. Manito’s response, not because Sobrino is multiracial, but because he is brown (meaning not white), is to foster a sense of pride. He wants Sobrino to know and love his familia, to understand our histories and cultures, to feel as comfortable with himself as possible, so that he can confront other obstacles. Maybe that’s all we can strive for.

August 4, 2007

check marks.

by la rebelde

I’ve gotten some great responses on my previous post about commenting on student papers. And I’ve been thinking more about check marks and whether or not they are useful.

Despite the disdain I expressed in the post, I have to admit that I’ve used check marks on my students’ papers before. But I am always clear with the students, when I return their papers, that check marks mean I’ve read that portion of their papers, that I am following what they are saying. This is not ideal of course, but it is what graduate student teaching assistants must do when they are grading…oh, 50-200 essays over a week or two. I am usually guilty of writing too many comments, of spending too much time on giving feedback and trying to synthesize their arguments, at the expense of my own work while grading. I know that sometimes I just have to get through the essays, but I often feel badly when I can’t give more meaningful feedback. Except with final exams, because I know they will most likely not pick them up.

When I was working on my MA thesis several years ago, I had a profe who provided no analytical feedback, but only wrote check marks and circled punctuation mistakes in my citations (despite my note informing him of a glitch in my Endnote program, which I would certainly fix by the time I submitted the final draft). His most substantial comment was that I needed to beef up my footnotes, so that I could prove to him that I knew the literature–that I had done my homework and could demonstrate that I was a historian, not someone in American Studies. Pretty ridiculous, I know. I asked him, point-blank, if he had any suggestions for my analysis or my argument. He sidestepped the question. I remember feeling that his red markings on my pages were only condescending and patronizing. (This was also because of some horribly mean and sexist remarks he made about my ability to finish on time–which I didn’t and he made sure of that. But that’s another post that I may or may not ever write.) Luckily, I don’t have anyone like that on my committee now.

Four years later, I am much more confident and knowledgeable about my work. At this point, check marks, along with words like “yuck,” only mean that the reader is not engaging with me, my ideas, or my writing. And maybe it’s a matter of differing approaches to mentorship or pedagogy. Perhaps, just because I would give more substantial feedback for my students and colleagues, doesn’t mean I should expect everyone to give the same. I’m still thinking about that one.

I guess what I am wondering about is the usefulness of check marks on graduate student work–particularly work that is done at the a.b.d. stage. Isn’t the purpose of feedback at that time supposed to address questions of engagement with the field, structures of arguments, rigor of analysis? Or is this a bigger question of mentorship? If being a good mentor–in whatever capacity–is one’s goal, how does one approach feedback on papers? And to take that one step further, if it is part of one’s political convictions that creating mentorship relationships is a necessary process for building community in an academic setting (and beyond), especially for people from marginalized groups, what is our responsibility to our students and peers when it comes to giving feedback on writing? What do you think?

August 3, 2007

yuck.

by la rebelde

I think the word “yuck”–and other words like it–should be banned from professor comments on student writing.

Seeing this word scrawled across my writing brings on a series of thoughts: “Say whaaaat? You said yuck because… You don’t like my word choice? I need to explain more? I should scrap that whole sentence? Aw hell, I got no damn clue!”

So should check marks. They are even more meaningless. It’s not constructive criticism, nor is it useful.

Dang! I can’t read anyone’s mind–I wasn’t blessed with that gift.

I’m just saying.

July 20, 2007

future historian.

by la rebelde
I sat at the steering wheel of my papá’s car, driving north on US 285 through the small towns along the Río Grande. My grampa sat in the passenger seat, holding tightly onto the handle on the door. My 8-year-old nephew and my gramma sat in the backseat. We just passed Española and were headed toward the beginning of the canyon. It’s a familiar drive between Burque and Taos. As we passed by the Oñate Monument, my gramma pointed out the $2 million (more than that actually and in tax dollars!) bronze statue that was erected in Don Juan de Oñate’s likeness during the 1998 cuartocentenario (400 years) “celebration” of Spanish colonization of Pueblo peoples in what is now the U.S. state of nuevo méxico. That asshole really WAS a “war criminal” (as the Pueblos that protested the monument/celebration stated), not to mention ruthless, horrible jackass. Heeeell yea!

This is the statue of Don Juan de Oñate that stands in front of the Oñate monument in northern nuevo méxico. I hear the seam where they had to reattach his foot is still visible if you walk up to the statue. But I haven’t seen it and I’m trying not to go there, if I can help it.
I borrowed this photo from here. You can read more about it here and here.


Anyway, gramma brought up how a group of native people cut off Oñate’s right foot—the foot of the statue, that is. And of course, this sent my nephew into a series of questions of the “why?” variety. Too bad I didn’t have this quote from an article covering the story:

“We took the liberty of removing Oñate’s right foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters of Acoma Pueblo,” read a statement sent by the group, which later sent to news outlets a snapshot of its hostage foot. “We see no glory in celebrating Oñate’s fourth centennial, and we do not want our faces rubbed in it.”

I tried to explain how the cutting off of Oñate’s foot demands that history not be brushed aside. How it reminds us that master narratives are constantly recreated and reinforced, and that they legitimize colonization thereby reproducing it. Now the story of Oñate’s foot will be forever tied to the narrative about the monument, forcing all of us to recall the bloody, violent history of when Oñate ordered the right feet of Acoma men be cut off. I tried to explain to Sobrino how this awesome, symbolic act of resistance rewrote of the historical narrative without using the jargony words. Geez, it’s much harder than I thought!

Anyway, that night at my grandparents’ house, I asked him to bring me his book so we could read together. (His bedtime story–my brother’s trying to replace video game time with other, more constructive activities.) Out of his orange backpack, he pulled an old Reader’s Digest edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, originally published in 1943, and climbed onto the couch-turned-bed next to me. It is one of mi manito’s favorite books and one of the many, many Reader’s Digest books my grandparents had collected over the last few decades. Recently, they reorganized their living-room and all the books ended up in boxes out on the porch, waiting to be donated. I think manito rescued this one from the boxes, not to mention, the elements.

I turned to the page where mi prima had left off the night before and began reading. I’ve never read the book, except for the 2 chapters I read that night. They were about this little boy, who was still breast-feeding even though he was too old to be still breast-feeding. In fact, his demand for breast milk deprived his younger sister of breast milk. So his mother painted her chichi black with scary red teeth on the nipple and scared him off the teet. Personally I found this rather amusing. But my nephew was concerned about why a mother would scare her son so much…and possibly give him a heart attack. “Well, he was pretty young, so I’m sure his heart was strong enough to take the scare,” I said. Sobrino was not buying it. And soon he changed his questions back to the Spaniards.

In fact, he wanted to know about British and French colonization too. Somehow he made a connection between this story of a mother trying to ween her son of breast-feeding and colonization. I’m still trying to figure out what that connection was, how that young mind thought to link these two stories together. “Why didn’t we just fight the Europeans away with our spears?” he asked. (By “we,” he meant native peoples—Sobrino’s mother comes from a black-native family and our Chican@ side is mestiz@ with Pueblo roots except we are defined by the state as “Hispanic” which puts us in a position of privilege in many respects, but that is another, very long post.)

Let’s just say I did not see that coming! I think I know too much to give a succinct answer to such a huge question, one that historians have been asking for a long, long time. I tried to break down the us-and-them thing. Not sure he got it. Sobrino asked why the European colonizers came here in the first place. But he wouldn’t take “world domination” as the reason. I finally had to tell him just to go to bed. It was very late. We’d talk more about it another day. Before he got under the covers, he exclaimed, “This is fun, Tía!” he said. “And interesting too!”

Ahh, the child just warms my heart. Between this day and our visit to the JANM, I’m convinced he’s a young historian in the making. Now if only he would read more, instead of playing those horrible video games!

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.

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.