La mestiza

I just finished reading Richard Alba and Victor Nee’s Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration for my sociology course on ethnicity. I’m in the middle of writing up a summary and critique on the 300-page book. It’s not a bad book, health in fact it’s a great read if you really want to understand theories of assimilation and the gradual assimilation of past and recent immigrant groups. However, they fall short in some areas.

Alba and Nee believe Latinos who choose “white” on the census perceive themselves a white racially and are probably light-skinned. They don’t provide any evidence for this. Their assumption is that the people who chose white are probably less indigenous looking and are probably not black (e.g., Afro-Caribbeans).

I think this is simplistic. The 2000 census didn’t present us with much options for identifying ourselves racially. Our choices were white, black, American Indian & Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian & other Pacific Islanders. I don’t see myself as any of those, but I still marked something when I got my census form at my dorm room.

I chose white.

And I hated doing so because I don’t feel white and I know others don’t see me as white. I didn’t chose American Indian or Alaska Native because I didn’t want to falsely increase those numbers. Choosing this category also meant that I’d have to fill in a tribal affiliation. Despite wanting to feel more in touch with my indigenous roots, I can’t even tell you the names of the tribes my families come from in Mexico. I didn’t choose black or the other categories because I have no knowledge/evidence that I have black or Asian ancestry.

I chose white… but only because I had to choose something. There’s no mestiza/o option on the United States census.

Three cities, seven days

I arrived in Chicago last Wednesday afternoon and returned to LA on Sunday morning. It snowed one day and was cold and damp for the remainder of my trip. As soon as I left, visit this I’m told the weather got “nice.”

I returned to LA on Sunday morning and found mostly sunny skies, infertility a few wisps of clouds, and 60-something degree weather. I left this nice weather on Tuesday morning.

I arrived in Washington D.C. on Tuesday afternoon. It was cold and cloudy, but not rainy.

Can anyone guess why I love LA?

Identity politics, part I

I don’t know how it happened, sanitary but the Latinos in policy panel had just been taken over by a group of elderly women in the back of the room. They stuck out from the rest of the crowd as they were 40-50 years older than the college kids in the room and the current/former policy students on the panel.

A woman in big glasses started talking about labels. Mexican American? Or Chicano? Or Latino? Or Hispanic? How were we supposed to work on policy issues affecting our community if we couldn’t even decide what to call ourselves?

Oh no. She went there*. The college students up front turned at her and gave a look like, cough “oh no, not again.”

The moderator, a first year policy student struggled to get control of the session and avoid wasting the little time we had left on arguing over labels.

As soon as big-glasses-woman stopped speaking, I jumped in to save the day. Or so I thought.

I told big-glasses-woman that the label(s) people chose for themselves was less important than the work they were doing in and for the community. For the most part, people aren’t going to ask you what you call yourself. You can call yourself Chicano and know shit about the community, have horrible intentions, and do horrible work.

Big-glasses-woman didn’t seem to get it. According to her, labes were very important in the realm of politics. She smugly tried to use her 78 years of age to school me on the importance of labels.

I suddenly forgot the “respect your elders” lesson.

I was frustrated, and pulled out the Chicana/o Studies major card and explained that I know the origin, history, connotations and various meanings of the words. I get it. I’ve taken classes that cover this topic. You can’t teach me anything.

Big-glasses-woman then dropped the labels all together and asked, “where do you live?”


*I really don’t like talking about labels. I got enough of that as an undergraduate in Chicana/o Studies and MEChA. I know very well why I call myself Chicana, why I use Raza and Latino as panethnic terms, and why I eschew Hispanic. If you want to know, I’ll tell you.

What I won’t tell you is that you should call yourself Chicana/o or Mexican or Mexican American or Latino or Hispanic or fulana/o de tal. As long as you’re comfortable with whatever term you choose, know the origins, meanings, connotations and additional baggage that comes with whatever term you apply, that’s cool.

By the way, American Public Media’s Marketplace wants to know what you call yourself and why to help improve their reporting. Fill out their short questionnaire here.

Chicago: Illustrated

Wednesday, gynecologist April 11

Snow in April. Boo.

Snow. In April. Boo. Due to the inclement weather, health system my flight was delayed an hour. That wasn’t so bad, because that meant my host, Will, was able to pick me up from the airport after work. We took the scenic route back from Midway to Logan Square along Lakeshore Drive.

Continue reading “Chicago: Illustrated”

Question of the week: Name a Monster

el mostro

I’m blogging live and direct from Tianguis in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Cracked Chancla is running around preparing for the Monstrochikas event. The artist, ed Naomi Martinez, and her mom and sisters (I think) are setting up dozens of colorful cupcakes to match the colors in her Monstrochikas series of paintings.

There’s jazz is the background. Cool art, cool books, yummy cupcakes, free wi-fi and cool t-shirts (and we all know I love t-shirts).

But the best part is the life-sized nameless monster. I want to hug him. I think I will.

La pregunta: What would you name the monster?

P.S. I like Chuy. Naomi’s mom says his name has to be Latino. No Chad or Hunters.

Off to Chicago

Dear Chicago, esophagitis

Why can’t you be warm for my visit? I understood the 19 degree temperature in February, viagra sale but it’s officially spring. I hope by the time I leave on Sunday the snow and rain has stopped ’cause I want to like you, but how can I get to know you if I’m miserable and cold.


P.S. Don’t blame it on Canada.

Fear of forgetting

I’ve been going home every Monday afternoon for the past few weeks. Three weeks ago I returned to pick up some laundry I left to dry in the garage. I took the time to have dinner with Adrian and Danny, website like this avoid papers, condom and have my mom dye my hair back to a brown much closer to my natural color. Last week, sale I went to pick up the correct set of keys. When I left the house in a rush on Sunday, I grabbed the spare set of keys for my car. Without my apartment key, I had to make sure Isa or Adja, our other roommate, would be home so I could enter. Today I braved east bound traffic on the 10 and 60 to take my laptop in for service at Fry’s. Afterwards, I went home and fell in to my routine: take VR for a walk, have dinner and catch up on the chisme.

Last week, my mom popped in my quinceañera video. Back then, my tío Chuy had a videography business. The video begins with the information from my invitation. I forgot that I wrote a 10-line poem made up of 5 rhyming couplets. It was cute and I realized that even then I wanted to wow people with my words. There’s the standard getting ready shots. I apply some lip gloss. My mom fusses with my hair (which is funny because my mom didn’t fix my hair). From there, I’m sitting on the couch daydreaming and start thinking about growing up. The photo montage, to the tune of Boyz II Men’s “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday” is my favorite part of the video. The strange thing of seeing those photos in succession is that I realized there were things that remained constant. My lips always stuck out and I was always with one sibling or other.

We fast-forwarded through the Mass, except for the part where my dad sang. While I knelt next to three other girls on the sanctuary in from of the altar, my father stood in a black tuxedo and sang “Quinceañera.” He seemed calm and cool, but I tried not to cry and ruin my makeup.

And even if I still felt the chills of hearing my dad sing just for me in front of a crowded church, I couldn’t remember what I was thinking. My mom asked as we watched the part of the video where we danced the waltz, “do you remember what you were thinking?”

I tried, but I couldn’t remember what it felt like to have everyone watch as you danced with 14 different boys and your dozen padrinos. I didn’t even feel like that girl was me. I assume that we’re so different, but I probably haven’t changed all that much.

I guess I write because I want to be able to look at photos or videos and remember the feeling. In the case of my quinceañera, the feeling was fantastic, but I know the almost 15-year-old girl was nervous, unsure of herself and likely trying to impress a kid in a lime green shirt.

[Note: I wrote this post early last summer. It’s been sitting in the drafts list since then.]


It’s Easter Week and as Catholics we’re supposed to go to Confession. I didn’t go, patient but here are some innocuous infractions. Committed recently or in second grade.

  1. I donated blood for the first time in a few years on Monday. My motivation? I wanted a cookie. Now I have a bruise where the needled was.
  2. I carry around a brush in my bookbag, but don’t bother to use it. I still believe combing my hair is a waste of time. Friday was the first time all week that I combed my hair.
  3. I’d rather have short hair, but el novio likes it long. To be fair, I like his hair long too.
  4. I’ve seen my roommate about 3 or 4 times in the last month. It seems that when she’s in town, I’m away and when I’m in town she’s in Costa Rica or Mexico.
  5. In second grade, I ditched a reading lesson with Mr. Cantu, the third grade teacher because I didn’t want the 3rd graders to make fun of me. I didn’t know how to use a dictionary or write cursive.
  6. I want to have a party just so I can play Ozomatli’s new album Don’t Mess With the Dragon.
  7. Since Lent began, I’ve had three dreams about eating tortillas. What should I eat to break my 40-day tortilla fast?
  8. I’ve got over 5,000 songs on my iPod, but most of the time I use it, I’m listening to podcasts. My favorites are This American Life, Latin Roll, and PRI’s The World GeoQuiz.
  9. I was really looking forward to enjoying the nice spring weather in Chicago next week, but it seems like it’ll be a cold April. Meh.
  10. I read for several hours at the Coffee Bean in Westwood last night after missing the screening of Volver on campus. Too many of the songs the baristas were playing were also on my iPod. Maybe my music taste is kinda trendy and mainstream. Oh no.

Question of the week: Tough decisions

When I applied to college 10 years ago (!), try I applied to 5 schools: UCLA, allergy UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Stanford and USC. The three UC’s came courtesy of an application fee waiver. My parents shelled out about $50-$60 for the private school applications. I was admitted to 3 of the 5 and at the tender age of 17, I had to decide whether I wanted to go relatively far away for college and attend UC Berkeley, stay close to home and go to UCLA, or stay close to home at an expensive private institution. I visited all three institutions and made my decision based on where I felt I “fit” rather than where I was awarded the most financial aid. I like to say that USC couldn’t even pay me to attend.

Choosing from 3 top institutions was tough at 17. Making a choice wasn’t any easier when I was 23 and a bit more mature. I had to choose from 5 institutions for graduate school.

But what if you were like Diego, a senior from Southgate, and had to choose from 11 of the most prestigious universities?

La pregunta: Where would you go if you received thick envelopes from these universities?

1. Stanford University
2. Duke University
3. UC Berkeley
4. UC Santa Barbara
5. UC San Diego
7. Princeton University
8. Yale University
9. Columbia University
10. Harvard University
11. Amherst College

Congrats, Diego! I’m sure you’ll make the decision that suits you best and you’ll succeed whether you’re on the East Coast or in California.

Como la flor

As Ralph and I waited for our pupusas, approved I stared at the television behind him. We were in a non-descript Salvadoreño restaurant in Echo Park. There were only a few others in the restaraunt making it quiet enough to hear the replay of Selena’s now-famous concert at the Houston Astrodome. Saturday, treatment March 31st marked the 12th anniversary of her tragic death.

I mimicked her slow tempo rendition of “Como la Flor” as if I was singing to Ralph.

“Did you even know her before she died?”

“No,” I admitted.

He looked at me like I was a fraud. Well, not really. But that’s what I felt like when I admitted my pre-1995 Selena ignorance.

In 1995 I was busy getting through my freshman year of high school. All I listened to was KROQ and was pretty much over the banda craze of the early 1990s. I hardly ever switched the dial to any of LA’s many popular Spanish-language stations.

When my 8-year old neighor, Jorge, came over to our house to tell us the breaking news that Selena had been shot and was dead (or dying, can’t remember), I thought “who?” Jorge saw the look of confusion on my face and told me it was the woman who sang “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” I had some familiarity with the song, but didn’t know anything about the singer. Like many other people, I got to know Selena’s music posthumously and through the Gregory Nava film.

I remember watching the film in Ontario at the movie theater where my cousin worked (he got us in free, one of the perks of being employee of the year). I completely identified with the young Selena Quintanilla. My dad used to teach me Mexican songs. He’d translate the lyrics and explain what the words meant. Danny, my older brother, and I were put in singing contests and often willingly joined our dad when he brought out the guitar.