In the words of Emily Dickinson “My friends are my real estate.”

“My friends are my real estate.” By Emily Dickinson 

It seemed only appropriate that as I sit in a café in Amherst, Massachusetts that I quote one of the town’s native daughters.  While I know that there are multiple ways in which this line of poetry can be interpreted, I will leave the literary deconstruction and interpretation to those more qualified and skilled to do so.  For me, it seemed appropriate to spend a little time reflecting on the time I’ve spent with friends over the past six days during my escape from my San Diego life.  

During this mini-getaway, I’ve experienced a fun snapshot of New England life.  Although I am without a doubt a city girl, I’ve found my time here compelling.  During my break, I’ve spent time with three women that I met when we participated in the USC Irvine Foundation Summer Dissertation Workshop.  At that time, I know all of us wondered if we would ever finish our dissertations and I suspect that none of us knew where in the world we would land if we completed our doctorates.  Now, seven years later we are living lives that perhaps we partially imagined or dreamed about while in LA.  This time has helped me realize how far we’ve come, allowed for a reaffirmation of our friendships, and an appreciation of their families.  This time also allowed us to find new connections to one another and admire what the others accomplished personally and professionally. 

Here are a few snapshots (literally and figuratively) from my trip. 

 

Karaoke Revolution

“Gives You Hell: Karaoke and the Competitive Spirit”   

 Yes, I’ve used the All American Rejects song as the subtitle to this section. Let me set the stage –eleven year old girl takes on the reigning thirty-something year old champ of Karaoke who has “never” been beat in ten years.  The game –Wii Karaoke Revolution; the site of battle –the champ’s living room.  The pre-teen had never played the game, but was the reigning Julian Idol.  The battle was epic.  As the 11 year old’s mom and I cleared the dishes from the kitchen, we notice that the volume of singing keeps getting louder and louder.  Clearly neither singer wanted to give an inch. It’s amazing what happens when the competitive spirit takes over.  As the night progresses, the 11 year old proceeds to give the reigning champ a thorough butt kicking. Loosing only once and that’s because she didn’t know the song and it was in Spanish.  I have a feeling that our fallen champ will be practicing for their next internet scheduled battle. 

 

Love and Happiness

“Love and Happiness:  New Beginnings and Possibilities” 

One reason I traveled to Burlington, Vermont was to meet Naima Huh-Bond, my friend Jinny’s newborn daughter.  Jinny and I haven’t had a chance to visit with one another in years –her job taking her to Burlington, while mine sent me to San Diego.  Life has changed so much for her in the 4 years since she left Los Angeles.  She got married, is now a mother and a step-mother, in addition to working as an Assistant Professor.   This picture was one of my favorite moments. I can’t quite explain what it felt like –but when I look at this picture it makes me smile to see that this moment captures all the love and happiness she deserves.      

  

“Love and Hope: Enjoying the Moment” I decided to bring in a little Ozomatli to honor the fact my friends and I met in Los Angeles and represent so many cultures, races, experiences.  I’m having a bit of trouble focusing because humidity has set in again, and the person sitting next to me in the café won’t stop talking to me –even while I’m typing on my computer. So I am going to end my blog post with some of my favorite moments or quotes of the week: 

1)      Watching Jinny put Naima through her morning calisthenics routine.  

2)      Jinny to me “You can take as many pictures of me and the baby as you want because David (her husband) takes terrible pictures” 

3)      Emi and Evin Gregor to me while waiting to play with Lorena and Steph’s Wii video game.  Emi: “when are they coming back in?” Me: “they’re just having a little adult time and talking, they’ll come in soon.” Evin: “How much more adult time do they need, I’ve asked them to come in like ten times I don’t think they need any more adult time, they need kid time.” 

4)      Evin Gregor on our Ferry Ride around Lake Champlain after witnessing his Aunt Jinny changing Naima’s diaper, “Brown poo: and it all happened on the Ferry.”  (Ok you had to be there to fully appreciate that one” 

 

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Reflections on Friendship, Part 1

Michelle, her youngest son Justin, and I

This past weekend, I spent two days at the “Happiest Place on Earth” (aka Disneyland).  Although I could write a separate entry on the crazy Disney commercialism (that I was not immune to), I wanted to just spend a little time reflecting.  

As I sat and watched my bestfriend, Michelle with her two sons, Shawn and Justin –I was struck by how long we’ve known each other. Not counting the fact that we had mutual friends in gradeschool, Michelle and I have known each other for 22 years.  Clearly, there’s a lot of history there. Despite the fact that we’ve lived in different cities for the past 18 years, we’ve somehow managed to stay in touch. Granted, some months –or really years are better than others. We’re both mid-career professionals that have traveled different roads to get where we are today. We’ve clearly grown into different people, but you can’t really expect friendships that you started when you were 14 years old to be the same when you’re 36.  I know that there are parts of our lives that remain a mystery to the other –but it doesn’t really matter.  As I watched her with her sons this past weekend, I still saw all the qualities that I admired in her as a friend so many years ago.  She instills in her boys the importance of values and principles, the importance of respect and discipline, while simultaneously giving them the space to just have fun.  Above all else, she gives them unconditional love. All these things will help these boys grow into strong young men. As a friend, I admire her more today than I did 22 years ago, and learn so much from simply being around her.

I’ve thought a lot about what we teach our youth –and I don’t necessarily mean from a pedagogical perspective (although as a professor I think about that too.) 

Rigo, my goddaughter Nadya, and I

When my friends, Rigo and Rosalba, asked me to be the godmother to their youngest daughter, Nadya –I felt (and still do) an immense and humbling sense of responsibility.  Maybe this feels different to someone who isn’t single without kids. I realize that when I participate in Nadya’s life –that in the absence of her parents, that I also teach the values, principles and beliefs that they hold dearest to them.  Maybe the real humbling thing is realizing that you’re part of their family.

Friends represent our family of choice –the people that we interweave into all aspects of our lives. Those that we choose to love and value.  I was reminded recently when watching a clip of the late John Delloro –that sometimes in families we love each other a lot, and sometimes we bicker and fight  but it doesn’t matter, we’re still family. We can argue one minute, and defend the other’s honor the next.   bell hooks reminds us in her book, All About Love: New Visions that,

Being part of a loving community does not mean we will not face conflicts, betrayals, negative outcomes from positive actions, or bad things happening to good people. Love allows us to confront these negative realities in a manner that is life-affirming and life-enhancing  (2000, 139)

The important thing is that despite the craziness and madness that easily separates us, when we value and have a little faith in one another, that friendship can overcome anything –distance, life changes,  and any number of other differences that arise over time.

For my friends who are reading this, whether you live near or far. Talked to you in the not so recent past or yesterday. Please know you’re in my heart and that I am a better person because you’re in my life.

I am Ethnic Studies!

 

 “Why have Ethnic Studies, can’t they include that in American History?” “What’s the difference between Ethnic Studies and Sociology?” “Why are people of color the only ones who get special classes? Shouldn’t we teach classes accessible to everyone?”

 These are just a few of the questions that friends, students, and acquaintances asked me over the past few weeks, particularly in light of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to sign a law that bans Arizona’s schools from teaching ethnic studies programs[i], and the Texas State Board of Education’s adoption of curriculum that deleted the histories of racial, ethnic, religious and gender groups from their history and social science classes.[ii]  Despite being annoyed or frustrated when confronted with these questions, I realize that they exist because of the misinformation about Ethnic Studies.  What we see, as my colleague and friend Nicole Guidotti Hernandez notes, is the false conflation of “a field of intellectual inquiry and racial separatism.”[iii]  This is problematic for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that Ethnic Studies arose out of a need to rewrite the existing canons of existing disciplines that failed to integrate the lives, experiences, and perspectives of marginalized groups.  Claims of ‘ethnic chauvinism’ by proponents of Ethnic Studies bans stems from a lack of knowledge or informed understanding of how students and society benefit from the research that stems from centering these silenced communities. Although I could write much more on this particular topic, others have written and commented on the importance of Ethnic Studies far more eloquently then I can.[iv]

Instead of answering the aforementioned questions with an answer informed by both historical and social science research, I realize now that sometimes it’s best to answer these questions by saying, “I am Ethnic Studies!” Of course, the person I’m saying this to usually looks at me with a quizzical look on their face and asks, “What do you mean?”

I am the granddaughter and daughter of immigrants from China. Both my parents arrived in the United States before the age of six. This picture (above left) is of my maternal grandparents and was taken on their wedding day over seventy years ago.  Both grandparents died before I was eleven years old.  Although I have memories of them, I was too young to appreciate their story, history, and experiences, or to even comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifices they made for their family.  In truth, this picture haunts and motivates me personally and professionally.  Trying to fill the space left open by that absence of knowledge is at the core of my work.  What I do know about my maternal grandparents is that my grandfather left China and worked the fields of California, presumably sometime during the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. He entered the United States as a “paper son”[v] or in today’s parlance an “undocumented immigrant.” He worked as a migrant farmworker, traveling the state planting and picking seasonal crops.  While he worked the fields and earned money to support his family, my grandmother remained in China taking care of my aunt and mother.  Although my grandfather returned intermittently, my grandmother was responsible for maintaining the family. The family was not reunited until after the early 1950’s, when they migrated to the United States. Approximately four years after they arrived, my uncle was born.  Growing up in San Francisco, my mom’s family opened up and ran a laundry. My mom recalls that after school she and my aunt would regularly finish their studies at the laundry and then be expected to help out. 

So, why am I Ethnic Studies?  This truncated and clearly overly general retelling of my maternal grandparents’ experiences point to the type of histories traditionally absent from textbooks.  The United States was built on the back of immigrants. Our growth, development, and prosperity is attributed, in large part, to contributions of individuals like my grandfather who worked in the agricultural industry –and then later on worked in the service sector.  Left out of traditional accounts of the history of immigrants in America is family separation resulting from immigrants leaving to come to the United States in order to economically support their families. Where are the stories of the women and children that were historically left behind?  Or, in a more contemporary sense, where are the stories of the children left behind with grandparents, aunts, or uncles while their parents support them from abroad? What does this do to family relations?  Finally, I think that when you look at the success of their children and grandchildren, we can begin to understand the intergenerational implications of the sacrifices that my grandparents made. Yet, despite all that progress their grandchildren are still seen as ‘the other.’  I, for one, am still asked, “Where are you from?” When I answer, “San Francisco” inevitably they say, “No, I mean what country are you from?” When I (purposely) answer, “The United States” the interrogator usually fails to realize that despite the fact I am a citizen, they consider me an outsider, an “other”, an individual who is not a citizen of the United States.  The legacy of these subtle forms of racism and xenophobia are the reason why Ethnic Studies remains important. Ethnic Studies creates the space to honor our collective histories, to bring attention to the rich, diverse histories that make the United States the country that it is.  This does not preclude “traditional” disciplines such as history, literature, or sociology from integrating these topics; in fact, I believe most scholars will tell you that Ethnic Studies has created the intellectual discourse necessary for diversifying most disciplines.

All of our stories are important –and that is what Ethnic Studies privileges.   While my own history, and the desire to recuperate the missing stories of my family’s history has lead me down a road where I teach and research about work, labor, immigration, race relations, and Asian American Studies –it is my hope that students that are exposed to a more inclusive and diverse curriculum will be motivated to learn more about themselves. By finding and seeing ourselves in the pages of history –perhaps we can learn to better honor and respect one another.  I am Ethnic Studies –and so are you.  


[i] Barr, A. (2010). “Arizona bans ‘ethnic studies’ Politico. May 12, 2010

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0510/37131.html

[ii] http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/124374.html

[iii] Guidotti-Hernandez, N. (2010) “In Arizona, Both Racial Exploitation and Resistance Run Deep” in MS Magazine Blog. May 17, 2010 http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/17/in-arizona-both-racial-exploitation-and-resistance-run-deep/

[iv] For those who are interested, I recommend listening to this Anderson 360 clip where Michael Eric Dyson discusses the ban with Tom Horne, the superintendent of public instruction for Arizona who was the author and major proponent of the Ethnic Studies Ban.  http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/13/must-see-ac360-az-ethnic-studies-discussion/ 

[v] For a definition of paper son see: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist11/papersons.html