Thanksgiving Reflections

If I had to chose one word to characterize the last six months it would be ‘change.’  Last August I moved to Sacramento after living in Southern California for 18 years –13 in Los Angeles and 5 in San Diego.  Living in Southern California had become so second nature that about 6 weeks ago, I was on the Southwest Airlines website and started booking a plane ticket to go back to San Francisco for Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t until I started entering my credit card information that I realized I didn’t need to fly home.

It’s during times of transition that you realize what you’re most grateful for.  This year, I’m thankful for the friends who helped me navigate the crazy job market from February to May.  I am lucky enough to be surrounded with people who talked me through cover letters, CV changes, and diversity statements.  They helped me develop a 10 minute (yeah I said 10 minute) teaching demo.  When I screwed up an interview, they gave me the constructive criticism that was integral to helping me land the job I have now.  I had letter writers who re-tooled multiple letters so that they would work for the community college system. I also feel lucky to have landed in an extremely supportive department and institution. There are certainly a ton of challenges to face –some I knew coming through the door and others that are just now revealing themselves, but I know facing them make me a stronger teacher and better person.

On a more personal note –I’m grateful for the friends who checked in and made sure I was ok.  I’m thankful for friends who forgave my disappearing acts and lack of communication during the most inopportune moments. When you move, you also realize that you took for granted the comfort of having friends you call family and the ease of those relationships. Thank you for being my family by choice –I miss you all more than I could ever put into words.

As I sit on the train, heading home to San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family –I realize that I’m so grateful to be closer to home.  Over the last two decades –I didn’t really hold out much hope that I’d be able to move closer to home.   I’m so happy that I can renew my NorCal friendships.  We live in tumultuous times, and it’s not lost on me that  the ability to put down roots and grow is a privilege others do not have.

Please enjoy your Thanksgiving and know that I’m grateful that you are part of my life.

Much love,






Christmas reflections


I haven’t posted to my blog in awhile –but if you know me, it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say.  There’s something about the end of the year that makes me pause and take inventory of the many blessings in my life.  While all of us have faced our own share of personal and professional challenges –it’s the moments of trial and challenge that also teach us the important lessons in life.   These moments have a way of shining light on our support networks (the ones that we knew were there and a few that we didn’t). It reminds us that we are not alone.  For me, the holiday season reminds me to try and see the best in people and presents a moment of renewed hope.  We live in challenging times and in light of the daunting issues that face us as a society, I think it is important for us to find new ways to connect with one another –to learn to promote love, peace, and friendship even in the face of vast differences.   No matter what holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope it is filled with love, laughter and fun.  Thank you for being a blessing in my life.  Here’s to wonderful adventures in the New Year.



How Do We Truly Honor Veterans on Veteran’s Day?

For those of you who know me,  you might be surprised that after a year away from blogging, I decided to jump back in with a post about Veteran’s Day.   Politics aside –don’t mistake my anti-war beliefs as an anti-veteran stance.

I am the proud daughter of a Vietnam Veteran who continues to advocate for the needs of all veterans through his ‘volunteer’ work as the Chairman of the American Legion War Memorial Commission and Vice Commander of Cathay Post.   He has worked with the Commission to preserve the San Francisco War Memorial so that it continues to provide services to US veterans of all wars. Just as importantly, his work with Cathay post advocates for the recognition and acknowledgement of the work and sacrifice of Asian and Pacific Islander soldiers in all wars.

As we take the day to acknowledge veterans, I find myself a bit perplexed.  For the past year and a half, I have worked on a number of projects that taught me a lot about the post-war experiences of veterans  –particularly around the issues of homelessness and mental health.  I look at the statistics and I ask myself –how do we truly honor veterans? Ignoring the needs of military men ,women, and their families, who voluntarily sacrifice their lives in support of our country is a violent act –one that each of us should be committed to improving if we truly want to support Veterans.

Here are just a few facts and statistics that trouble me:


  • 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities (e.g. Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC)
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans
  • According to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s 2011 Homeless Assessment Report 67,495 Veterans experienced homelessness on the night of the annual homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) count for January 2011[i] (This count may be low because it only reflects the one-night when the survey occurred.)
  • The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans commit suicide every day!  This is a conservative estimate –the data used excludes California, Texas and Illinois who are the first, second, and fifth largest states with veteran populations. The numbers are most likely higher.  That is almost 1 death per hour!
  • According to a 2008 RAND study, nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screen positive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression.[ii]
  • The same study found that about 19 percent of troops surveyed report a probable Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during deployment.  It is unclear what the long term effects of TBI are on veterans because the symptoms are often hard to distinguish from PTSD.

While I could continue to list off a bunch of statistics I am going to stop here.  If we are truly going to honor veterans on Veteran’s Day —it’s time that we start working to help preserve and improve their quality of life.  We pay billions of dollars to profiteering, multi-national corporations who build weapons –but we fail to provide an adequate budget to care for our veterans.  While I’ve focused on mental health and homelessness, I think it is also important to note that we fail to pay our current enlisted soldiers a living wage so that they can support their families.   How is this right?

So this Veteran’s Day, if you want to honor Veteran’s and thank them for service –get educated on the issues.  Honor our Veterans by helping educate your fellow citizens on the real sacrifices soldiers make when they choose to defend our country.

Foodie Lessons: Difference between Korean and Japanese Sashimi

After a long day that began at 5:15am, I was more than exhausted when I returned home a little over 12 hours later. The idea of cooking dinner was the furthest thing from my mind. After scouring Yelp for a few minutes, I decided I would try this Korean Sashimi place that got good reviews and was three blocks from my house. Perfect –sushi would be easy, and not heavy and I’d be home early enough to chill out, watch a movie, and go to bed early. Let’s just say, I learned a huge lesson in the difference between Korean and Japanese sashimi.

I arrive at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and the Korean gentleman welcomed me. After I sat down, in broken English, he explained that the ‘small’ size was $30. I said ok. I assumed that this restaurant served everything like Japanese style Omakase –that it was Chef’s choice. $30 seemed reasonable since Omakase is usually $50 or more. I sat back and waited my order. Not unlike other Korean restaurants the first thing to come was the banchan (side dishes). 2 kinds of kimchi, some crunchy salty baked thing, seafood pancakes, steamed egg, seaweed salad, potato salad, and some other jello like thing that is marinated in soy sauce. In truth, I would have been full with just the banchan.

Now the real surprise begins….

Had I not been half asleep, scrolling through my emails, I probably would have noticed that the chef had gone over to a fish tank and pulled out a live fish (I noticed this much later). The waitress comes over to my table and starts moving the banchan plates around to make room. She then leaves, and comes back with a huge plate of sashimi –beautifully displayed in a spiral fashion. There it was –the whole fish, sliced into sashimi slices sitting on the table in front of me. I looked at her and said, “Oh my God… are you kidding me. This is the small?” She smiled politely at me, nodded, and then left. As I was grappling with how much food had just been placed in front of me she came back with an octopus salad. The octopus was really fresh –I swear you could still see the tentacles moving. It had a red sauce on top of it and was delicious.

Needless to say –this was definitely a foodie lesson –Korean sashimi and Japanese sashimi –very very different things. I left that night, more comatose than I had started –this time from the pure amount of food. I don’t think the picture can even begin to display just how much food there was.

I, of course, sent this picture off to one of my Korean friends who called me laughing a day later. Lesson learned. Next time, I bring a friend.


Starting New in and Old Place

ImageWow…I’ve lived in LA for almost 3 weeks already.  How did that happen?  I’m almost out of all my boxes —I’ve hit that point where I’m tempted to just throw out all the things that still need to be unpacked, but you never know, there might be something I need in there.  Let me see if I can quickly answer a few of the usual questions.

1.  How do you like living in LA?

It’s been amazingly easy to adjust to Los Angeles  –I did live here for 9 years prior to moving to San Diego.  Living in Koreatown is great –good food, easy access to public transportation, and amazing access to all sorts of culture.  On my first full weekend here, I went to see a modern hula troop perform for free at Grand Performances –a downtown art performance space.  The extra special added bonus –my amazing friend Zoe called me 4 hours before a concert and says – —“Belinda, I’ve got extra tickets to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wanna go?”  My response, “Are you serious??  Ummm…YES!”  Well it turns out the tickets were on the 14TH row –just to the right of the stage!  Anthony Kiedis is a one man advertisement for yoga  –he looks as good in his mid 40’s as he did 25 years ago.   Such a fun concert!

I feel very lucky to have moved back to a space where I have some really good friends.  They’ve helped make the settling in process so easy –and more importantly given me really positive energy as I let go of the old, and embark on this new journey. 

2.  How’s the new job?

Two words. “Rigo’s crazy!”  Just kidding (well sort of, but he’ll probably never read this and he knows I say that with lots of love).  In all seriousness,  I might just be in the honeymoon phase, but it’s been really fantastic.  Working on “place based,” systems change initiatives is fascinating.  Although I’m hyper-scheduled with meetings (yes more than I was at USD) I’m starting to get a real sense of the long term goals we’re working with organizations to achieve.  In short, place based initiatives means investing resources in particular locations over an extended period of time (10 years or so) in order to improve community outcomes.  In a recent presentation on place based initiatives she noted that her organization (Center for Study of Social Policy) began it’s work 15 years ago.  It started when they heard one specific statistic –that in New York State, 65% of inmates in NY prisons were from 4 zip codes.  She argued that what this simple statistic illustrated, was that if you invested resources long term, in those 4 zip codes, working to improve health, education, employment, etc outcomes in these communities you could decrease incarceration rates and potentially stop cycles of poverty, recidivism, and joblessness.    In short, I’m working on teams that are using that philosophy to help communities help themselves.  While I still find myself overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work, I am excited by the potential and all that I’m learning.  So much of the foundational philosophy and methodology are social science based and it’s nice to be applying my expertise in different ways.   

Anyways –that’s the update for now.  As difficult as it was to leave San Diego –I have to say that the new start in LA is just what I needed.  Ask me in a month and I’ll let you know if I still feel the same way.

Moving Forward –Last Lecture at USD

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

As some of you already know, I am leaving the University of San Diego at the end of the Spring Semester. I’ve lost track of who I’ve told, and who I haven’t, so please forgive the rather generic way I’ve posted this information.

This summer, I will move to Los Angeles and work as a Consultant with The INNOVA Group, Inc. This firm specializes in community based research, strategic planning, and non-profit capacity building –among a myriad of other things. I will work on projects including but not limited to higher education, immigrant civic engagement, homelessness, and community access to health resources. The opportunity to work on these issues in substantive and meaningful ways excites me and opens up numerous possibilities for me.

It has been an honor and privilege to work with all of you —and I want to especially thank my colleagues in the Department of Sociology and Ethnic Studies for the unwavering support. I’ve had an amazing opportunity to work with fantastic colleagues, and some pretty terrific students. All of you remind me that individual effort, tenacity, ingenuity, and innovation, can overcome individuals, environments and institutions that fail to make meaningful commitments to social change and diversity. As I move forward in my personal and professional journey, I feel empowered by the amazing work my colleagues and I have done, and hopeful about the future because of the really phenomenal things I’m watching my former and current students do with their lives. Although I’m moving to new things, I will no doubt make an appearance or two around USD –particularly during women’s basketball season, so perhaps I’ll see a few of you around the JCP.

While change is inevitable, I think it’s important to look towards the future and not live in the past. I am focused on setting goals, making moves, creating new paths, and being open to new opportunities and possibilities.
With love and admiration,


Home for the Holidays: a Reflection on Immigration Reform

This semester I challenged students in my upper division Immigration class and lower division Introduction to Sociology course to reflect on the idea of ‘home.” During this time of the year, we focus on ‘going home for the holidays.” We wax nostalgic about our traditions and proclaim that ‘home is where the heart is.” These sentiments give meaning to our social lives and remind us of the importance of family and friends. It’s my belief that special occasions,–whether religious holidays, birthdays, or cultural celebrations are moments that remind us of who we are and where we come from. What most of us forget, is that the ability to come together in community and communion is a privilege that not everyone is privy to because of poverty, illness, homelessness, or as I note to students their immigration status.

Immigrant rights activists, and immigration scholars constantly remind those around us that the border wall not only keeps people out, but also traps individuals within. Historically, immigration to the United States ebbed and flowed. Migrants came to work in the U.S. during peak seasons, and returned home afterwards. Today, when immigrants leave their country in search of better opportunity, they do so knowing that returning home may not be an option. Migrants are now separated from their families for five, ten, fifteen years or longer. For those who pay attention to pundits rather than facts, they believe immigrants come to “Take American Jobs.” If we look beyond vitriolic argumentation and focus on facts we find that immigrants are often forced to leave their home country because multinational corporations with the help of US government sanction economic agreements such as NAFTA, destroyed the infrastructure and economies of sending countries. We are complicit in the collapse but fail to take responsibility for creating the poverty-stricken conditions immigrants need to leave from in order for their families to survive. Furthermore, US corporations actively recruit undocumented workers because they need immigrant labor to survive. As we’ve seen in the most recent Alabama Anti-Immigration debacle –they’ve created an untenable situation for their agricultural industry because immigrant workers left the state. If immigrants were in fact taking ‘American’s jobs’ wouldn’t it logically follow that out of work American’s would be streaming in force to the fields?

These social and political conditions further exacerbate separations, and force migrants to reimagine and reconfigure home. In her book, Borderlands, Gloria Anzuldua says, “ I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry “home’ on my back.” This is a candid reminder that in the absence of their physical and geographic home, migrants develop strategies for celebrating and honoring home even while they’re away. Ketu Katrak notes that migrants constantly think about “the possibility of living here in body and elsewhere in mind and imagination.” These memories are strong and provide a foundation for immigrants to maintain a sense of belonging and power in a world that so often casts them aside. Furthermore, as Maura Toro Morn and Marixsa Alicea remind us –these memories inform how 2nd and 3rd generation migrants construct understandings of home and homeland. These narratives of transnational lives are powerful and remind us that immigrants (documented or not) create the same emotive, imaginative, and cultural ties to home that we do.

For me, the irony –and really the great tragedy, is that we’ve created a system in the United States that forces undocumented immigrants to choose between the economic survival of their families, and their desire to be present. We’ve created a situation in which they are an invisible but necessary workforce in the United States. They’ve also become ghosts in the lives of their sons and daughters. Their children can feel that they are present, and even know who their parents are, but their parents remain just a spiritual presence who can be felt and heard, but not often seen.

Immigration reform should provide all migrants with the ability to acquire timely visas. Currently, the average wait for Mexican’s and Filipino’s to sponsor siblings or other loved ones legally is more than 15 years. This is created by the severe understaffing of visa processors in the Department of Homeland security and an antiquated quota system. Policy has not kept up with economic demands –and while many complain we must acknowledge that our economic livelihood depends on immigrant workers.

So as you sit down to break bread with your loved ones for Thanksgiving, please pause for a moment and thank the immigrants who work in the meat packing industries, agriculture, and garment work. If it weren’t for them, there would be no turkey on the table, certainly no fruit, vegetables, or grain. And, the fact that we’re all able to dress to impress is because immigrant workers stitched together the garments you’re wearing. The time is now to create an immigration policy that allows migrants to work, and to be home for the holidays.

Sending all of you blessings and joy this holiday season.