Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Mexican Woman's American Journey

                                                                   

Daniel Cano

                                                                             
Eusebia Gonzalez, with grandchild, Santa Monica, 1947
                                                                           
                                                                               1.
     For this Bloga post, I’ve decided to continue exploring the American journey of Chicanos and Chicanas I interviewed during a sabbatical in 2001. My aunt 'Tonia's American journey, I’ve come to realize, is not just her journey but the journeys of many Chicana elders of the WWII-generation, their triumphs, and their struggles; unfortunately, a journey of little consequence to many Americans.
     Though some might categorize "us" as "one community", we know the differences between growing up in East L.A. or Boyle Heights, Alhambra or El Sereno, the Imperial or San Joaquin Valleys, Buckeye or Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, or any region of this vast, and, one time, borderless land.
     In the Army I met Mexicans [We didn't use Chicano, or even Mexican-American but simply Mexican, since in the 1960's few Mexican nationals migrated to the U.S.] from Kansas City to the Dakotas, and from Des Moines to Detroit. Detroit? Chicanos in Detroit? That’s right. Railroads, mines, ranches, farms, and factories needed workers everywhere in the country, and Mexican labor answered the call, going back to the 1800s. Our elders followed the original path north, the same route used by our Indigenous and Spanish ancestors, El Paso de Norte, and eastward onto the Santa Fe Trail, or west, through the Southwest, where Mejicanos have settled since the first expeditions of 1776, alongside their Indigenous brethren, and not always so peacefully.
     My grandparents just happened to settle in Santa Monica, about 1920, refugees of the Mexican Revolution, and, at the same time, filling the, not so subtle, U.S. demand for labor. My aunt’s story takes place on the Westside of L.A., though it could have taken place anywhere, even back on the little ranch of Mitic, in Jalisco, where it all started. But who controls fate, right?
                                                                                2.
    After recounting her earliest memories (La Bloga 3-21-18), she began telling me about her school days. She attended St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Monica. It was 1934. The nuns assigned homework every night, hours of it, and they'd punish the children who didn't finish. My aunt's teachers, she remembered, were strict, disciplining their students, not only in academics but in their behavior, also.
                                                                               

     She said she was a good student, and good girl, as were most of the kids at St. Anne. She minded her own business and stayed out of trouble. She enjoyed school and believed the nuns treated all the kids fairly and kindly, even if they were strict. Everything was fine, until one day, a friend who attended John Adams public school, told her it was more fun than Catholic school. Besides, there were a lot of neighborhood kids there, too.
     My aunt Toni begged her mother, Eusebia, to let her go to John Adams. She said, "Even though my dad was strict, my mother was really in charge." It's something I've heard many Chicanos of my aunt's generation tell me. "Mom was really in charge, though Dad thought he was." Emphatically, Eusebia refused. Barely 14 years removed from a ranchito in rural Jalisco, in Eusebia's Mexican mind, if children were to receive an education (most stayed home and worked in 1900s rural Mexico), it was the church's responsibility to instill knowledge in a child. Eusebia knew that only undisciplined kids attended public school.
     Toni persisted. For months, the mother and daughter tussled over the problem. "I think finally I wore my mom out."
     Eusebia reluctantly agreed, but on one condition. She told Toni she could go—but only for one year. Regardless of the outcome or how much she liked it, once the year had passed, Toni must return to Catholic school. For Toni, whose childhood requests were often met with a "no", her mother's set-condition was good enough.
     During the first weeks at her new school, Toni couldn't believe her eyes--or ears. She said a lot of the kids refused to do their homework. "They just wouldn't turn it in." It didn't seem like any of the teachers cared. The kids got away with it. The boys picked on the girls, teasing them, calling them names, or flirting with them. Many teachers, it seemed to her, didn't want to get involved "with those kinds of things." If kids misbehaved, it wasn't a big deal. You got sent to the office then back to class.
     What she hated most about public school was the mandatory shower after P.E. "At Saint Anne, we never played hard enough to perspire. And the nuns weren't going to run around with us to make sure we exercised. But at John Adams, they told me I had to take my clothes off in front of other girls. For us [the Mexican girls], no one ever saw us naked."
                                                                                 
                                                                                 
     For weeks, Toni pretended to shower. She wrapped a towel around herself and walked along a wall, away from the water, mussing her hair, as if she'd been in the shower. She'd exit the other side. But one day, a suspicious teacher asked why her hair wasn't wet. The teacher guessed what Toni had been doing. She forced her to shower like the other girls. Mortified, Toni had to bare herself in front of the others. "That was terrible." Now, she laughed about it, but still couldn't help recalling how the American girls disrobed and didn't think a thing of it, chasing each other around and playing in the dressing room, romping around happily--completely naked, not caring who saw them.
     Attached to the girls' locker room she saw another room, rows of cots lining the walls. On the days when it was too hot, the teachers moved the cots outside. Toni thought it strange when she passed by because there were American girls always lying around, as if they'd been in a crash or something. When she asked about the cots, someone told her it was for girls who were menstruating.
     Toni couldn't believe any girl would lie there announcing to the whole school something so private. She would rather suffer. But the worst thing, she said, was that the boys knew, and everyday, they would walk by and say things like, "Hey girls, how's the bleeding going today? Do the cramps hurt?" She said, "Can you imagine? Oh, you didn't see any Mexican girls on those cots. It was the American girls. I think they liked the attention or just needed an excuse to get out of going to class." After her year at John Adams, Toni happily returned to St.Anne.
                                                                                  3.
     As a teenager, when she wasn't in school or working, Toni and the girls from her Santa Monica neighborhood would walk east, up Colorado Avenue, past the bean fields and brickyards, to Stoner Park, where the boys from West L.A., played baseball or swam in the pool. It was a three-mile walk one-way. "We walked everywhere. If we wanted to go the show, we would walk from 22nd Street to Third Street and go to the Majestic or the Elmiro Theater. Everyone walked.
     "When my brother Joe got his car, sometimes, he would take us to the beach, but most of the time we walked. Everywhere you looked, kids were walking all over the streets." She recalled a gas station owned by an African American man, some place close to Olympic Blvd. and 15th Street. "He had a jukebox there, and all of us girls would go and listen to the music. We usually walked there because we had to go buy groceries for our moms at a store on Olympic." In the 1930s, a savings of five-cent was significant.
     "One time, oh, I must have been about twelve, my mother gave me a dime and sent me to go buy something for her at the store. I went with a friend of mine. I was showing off, playing with the dime, tossing it in the dirt. When I went to get it, I couldn't find it. We looked all over. I knew my mother would punish me if I told her what I had done. So, I told my friend to let me charge my mother's food to her mother's credit account. Oh, she got so scared. 'What if my mom finds out?' She said. I told her not to worry, since we all had credit anyway and her mother wouldn't even know. So that's what we did, and her mother never did find out. Was I lucky."
     She remembered mostly Mexicans living around the 20th Street area. "We could walk from 22nd Street all the way to 14th Street. The whole thing was Mexican, and I remember we knew everybody. I think there were only a couple of black families, but I don't remember any American families in that area at all. You could walk around at night, and you could even walk in the alleys because there were always people outside. Everybody hung out in the alleys, even older people. It isn't like today where people are afraid to walk through alleys."
     About 1940, Toni's friend from next-door neighbor, Connie Guajardo, was dating “a guy, Rufino Escarcega, from West L.A.” Rufino wanted Toni to meet his younger brother, Mike. Toni didn't like the idea because she didn't know Mike, at all. But she had met Vera, Mike's sister, who urged Toni to date her brother. Mike had a pretty nice car, she remembered, and that alone was enough to impress a lot of girls. Few guys could afford cars in those days.
     As she talked, I interrupted my aunt to ask if she saw any differences between the Mexican kids from Santa Monica and West L.A. I could see my aunt considering my question. She answered, carefully. She thought the kids from Santa Monica were better educated than the kids from West L.A., especially the boys.
     She said when she met Mike, she saw right away, he, and his friends, used a lot of English and Spanish slang words when they spoke, words her parents considered crude. She said people in Santa Monica didn't talk that way. “In some ways it was cool,” she remembered. After all, they were all entering their teen years, and it was the early days of the early zoot-suit era. Still, she wasn't used to that any kind of crude behavior.
     My father, who was raised in W.L.A. once told me, he and his friends went to the movies every Saturday and were influenced by the tough-talking gangsters portrayed in the movies. My mother, who was from Santa Monica, told me she remembered going with her mother and aunts to see Mexican movies, at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, especially the romantic, rancheras. She didn’t see many American movies.
     The theaters in Santa Monica were a six-mile round trip for the kids who lived near and around 20th Street and Pico. Walking to the theaters wasn’t as easy as it was for the kids from W.L.A. who lived right down the street from the two theaters in town. When I thought about this later, I realized it made sense.
     My father also told me, one time, the kids from Santa Monica lived in a true barrio, in the real sense of the word, their Mexican parents teaching them old country values. In West Los Angeles, the neighborhood was a mixture of Mexicans, Japanese, Italians, and many poor migrants from Oklahoma and Arkansas, farmers, with little formal education, who came West to escape the Dust Bowl. Okies spoke a more ungrammatical, provincial English, a homegrown language, using words like “ain’t” and “cain’t,” and “I seen” instead of “I saw.” Yet, it was also a colorful means of verbal communication, filled with figurative language, symbolic images that made up for its lack of formal vocabulary.
     The Okie and Chicano boys from W.L.A. peppered their language with each other’s words, ate each other’s food, and listened to each other’s music. When I once asked my father about racism, he’d answered, “Naw, hell, we were all poor. What was there to be racist about? We hardly ever fought. We played sports together.” So, there was a distinct difference between the kids in both towns, even though they bordered each other.
     Toni’s friends pressured her to go for a ride in Mike's car. Toni said she felt leery about getting in anyone's car, let alone someone she hardly knew. She went out with Mike and remembered how he shocked her. "He tried to get fresh with me," she said, laughing at the memory, but she didn't offer any details. She said, matter-of-factly, "One thing led to another." After Mike returned from the war, they married, and she moved with him to his family's home on Cotner Avenue, the heart of the West L.A. Chicanada, more Tobacco Road than Green Valley.
     The young couple tried to set up home, surrounded by his mother, brothers, and sisters, who raised Mike after his father was killed in a mining accident, years before in New Mexico. For Toni, the situation was nearly impossible. She had no privacy. It didn't seem to bother Mike. Finally, she was fed up and told him she wanted her own home. It took some persuading, and soon they found a house to rent between two dirt streets, facing an alley. She remembered, "The houses in West L.A., uggg, were just shacks, old, bare wood, no paint, and falling down. Moving from my parents' home in Santa Monica to a house in Sawtelle was like going from a palace to a hut. Even though my parents' home on 22nd Street was also old and made of wood, my father and brothers were always making improvements, painting, adding bedrooms, and an indoor bathroom. My dad had a garden, plants, and flowers. It was very comfortable."
     She told me the houses where they rented near Sepulveda and Santa Monica Boulevards had dirt yards and alleys. Dust would rise whenever cars passed. Few people had gardens or flowers. She said, “It makes me shutter to even think about it.”
     Then her first child was born. "You know how much it cost to have a baby?" she asked me, laughing. "$65.00. And you had to stay in the hospital for seven days. That was a reasonable price. Sometimes it was good to have a baby just to get the seven days rest in the hospital." Then came another child, a girl, and the rented house was too small.
                                                                           
First rental, Cotner W.L.A. 1940s

                                                                             4.
     Toni grew tired of renting and living in such a shabby, cramped house. After the third child was born, she wanted to buy her own house, following her parents' example, understanding the importance of home ownership. "Something about certain guys from West L.A.," she said. "They had a hard time leaving their neighborhood and buying their own homes. They were happy living in rented places, everyone squashed together."
     She said, "Mike wasn't interested in buying a house." He either liked the old neighborhood, or he figured he could buy a house later--rent was cheap--why rush? She said, “Fine, if he didn't want to buy a house, but I went to work and saved my money, enough for a down payment, and I decided to buy a house."
     She said she and Mike argued about it, but, eventually, he agreed. She started looking around the different Westside neighborhoods. New homes and neighborhoods were sprouting up all over the Westside. The first house she saw was on Greenfield Avenue, just east of Sepulveda, close to Westwood. She took Mike to see it. He liked it and wanted to buy it. She realized it was too small for a growing family, and she didn't really like the house. "Mike," she surmised, "wanted the house because he didn't want to keep looking."
     Toni found a three-bedroom house in a new W.L.A. subdivision, a half-mile from the Santa Monica City limit, just off Bundy Drive and Olympic Boulevard, across the street from the railroad tracks, one block from the Olympic Drive-in Theater, three blocks from her sister Josie's job at Armacost Nursery, and a half-mile from her sister, Esther, my mother.
     Shaded by an enormous avocado tree, the home was located in a mostly white neighborhood. She never seemed to notice; on one side, she had a Japanese neighbor, and on the other, a Chicano family. Toni didn't see skin color. Both she and Mike had light-skin, light eyes, and fit in easily. They attended integrated high schools, she Santa Monica High School, and he, University High School, both predominantly Anglo and upper class schools.
     I think it surprised people whenever they spoke Spanish. It did me, for neither of them had an inkling of a Spanish accent when speaking English. Yet, when I spoke to both of them, they were well-aware of the Mexican heritage, and never shied away from acknowledging, or discussing it.
     Mike's two-car garage became his haven. Filled with hunting, fishing equipment, and gardening tools, jazz music floated into the adjacent alley. He stayed up late each night re-loading shotgun shells, new, high tech equipment on his workbench, giving us kids the impression of a crazed inventor. When I finished talking to my aunt, I asked my uncle if I could interview him next. He said, "Ah, I don't remember all that much, but yeah, if you want to." I looked forward to hearing his perspective of life in the U.S., though, I really don't think he'd given it much thought.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books


Festival of Books
Saturday, April 21, 2018 | 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 22, 2018 | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

USC Campus
University of Southern California
University Park Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90089



Description:

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books began in 1996 with a simple goal: to bring together the people who create books with the people who love to read them. Since then, the festival has grown into a vibrant celebration of all of the arts, and of our dynamic, innovative and unique metropolis. Each year, over 150,000 people come to the University of Southern California campus to experience a gathering of writers, poets, artists, filmmakers and musicians like no other. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is the largest festival of its kind in the United States and is The Times’ annual gift to our city.

For parking information, driving direction, public and ticket  transportation visit


Visit

LA Librería
Booth #586




Booth: 510


Publisher and distributor of multicultural and bilingual books in 50 + languages. They can customize book list and school readiness backpack based on thematic units, reading level and languages. www.eastwestdiscovery.com.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Autry Summer Kickoff. liz gonzález On-line Floricanto. Rose Poets Unusual Places

liz gonzález On-line Floricanto: Autry After Hours
Michael Sedano

Autry After Hours from the gente at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park adds razacentric programming to the region’s busy menu of summer fare. The museum has leveraged its ongoing PST:LA/LA exhibit featuring La Raza Newspaper to fashion a series of three low-cost events featuring raza poetry and other arte.

The launch event is a well-attended mid-week social gathering fearuing a floricanto with poets liz gonzález and Luis J. Rodriguez. Music and interactive art-making come with the $5.00 admission. Parking at the Autry is free. The May 16 event is Las Mujeres, and the June wrap-up is Viva el Arte. More information here.

Staff opened the gates at 630 for a 7 p.m. opening reading by  gonzález. That’s an early enough hour that energy-depleted tipos like me are able to catch the opening hour. Throngs arrived in large numbers, clearly CPT isn’t what it once was. Equally clearly, the Autry's P.R. team is on the ball.

The Autry devoted significant resources to La Raza. There's an ISSUU Captions Catalog (link) showing the ample layout of gallery space compartmented into rooms named after six themes. In The Body room, performance artist Artemisa Clark holds several reams of typing paper in her arms, reading from the coroner’s inquest into the police and sheriff killings of Lin Ward, Angel Diaz, and Ruben Salazar.


Performance Art is a hard row to hoe. I looked for documentation on the performance and went wanting. Clark, if this is she in the foto, reads in the room while people come and go speaking of the fotos, noting the few spoken words they catch, turning to a foto and sharing, “my grandma was there.” The performance is all the love song this artist gets. That, and the reduced muscle strain the more pages she sheds.

Next After Hours will need better signage. A hand-printed sign tacked to a wall lists the readers. Near the appointed hour, with little fanfare, liz gonzáles takes the spotlight.


Quickly people seize one of the twenty stools. Standing listeners gather, positioning themselves to see and hear, clustering to allow passersby and at least one photographer to wind around to find an open space.

Bringing the exhibit’s “previously inaccessible” fotos to public, the museum claims these fotos speak to “the joint roles of photography and activism in the ongoing struggle for human rights across the globe.” Except at the Autry, where “No Photos” rendered the exhibit property protected from independent photographers. Tonight, the “no photos” rule is abandoned.



For background on the “inaccessible” history, see these two La Bloga columns.


liz gonzález Illuminates Autry After Dark

La Bloga is happy to share poems liz gonzález read for her Autry audience. The poems come from gonzález' forthcoming July publication, Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected (Los Nietos Press July 2018) (link)




The Summer Before 9th Grade
By liz gonzález

Before I lassoed my first tongue-kiss
and my longhaired boyfriend ignored me
in science class the next day,
before I ran for Valentine’s Queen
against my ex-best-friend
and we broke out flailing Chihuahua claws,
yanking hair, yelping cuss words
in front of the principal’s office,
I woke to the trill of tin bells,
strapped on two-inch suede platforms,
clonked four and a half long blocks
through heat waves rising from the sidewalks,
held down my neon orange and lime
miniskirt and climbed the bus
headed for San Bernardino Main Library.

The click and slide of card catalogs
played funkier grooves
than Tower of Power ’s “ Bump City.”
Crackling book spines
engraved with golden curlicues
excited me more than a boy girl pool party.
I couldn't wait to plunge the crinkled pages inside.
All morning, I squeezed hard backs
between Dewey Decimal neighbors,
helped text hunters explore shelves.
Whenever the mean librarian couldn't see me
behind the oversized section,
I snuck a read.

On scorching afternoon rides home,
books pointing out of my backpack
like a fisherman's net after a good day's catch,
I made a pit stop at Esperanza Market
on Mount Vernon Avenue where the butcher
wrapped-up a pickled pigs' foot for me.
With my legs sweat-stuck to the plastic bench seat,
I gnawed that pata to the bone,
cooled off with Robert Frost’s poems.
The bus slanted up Fifth Street to Foothill
while I dove deep into songs of tinkling brooks
and leafless woods until my stop
at the bench on Meridian Avenue.



Poetic Response to La Raza exhibit, Autry Museum, 2018 (In-progress)
By liz gonzález

I. Another Report on TV about Chicanos Protesting

Chicanos, Mama and Grandma spit,
like it’s a dirty word. They’re an embarrassment
to our people. I stop playing with my Barbies
and scoot closer to the screen. Teenage girls,
brown like me, are marching on a main street.
They look like soldiers in their khaki uniform jackets—
utility belts cinched at the waist, pockets above
and below. Brown berets tipped to the right.
They stand straight, straight faced—tough.
Their cat eye make-up, styled dark hair,
three-inch chunk heeled boots add to their power.
An army of Brown girls.

I want to be like them
when I grow up—strong and cool.
I don’t understand what
they’re fighting against or for,
but I know they’re right.



II. Protest Signs and Headlines
Then and Today Selected




III. What We Do When We’re Not Working for Social Justice and Equity

We tear up the rented dance floor at our cousin’s backyard party while Brown

We help paint the community mural on the wall at the corner market while Brown

We groove at Saturday jams at the band shell in the park while Brown

We race bikes up a steep street after school while Brown

We live La Vida Jota at the Chicana / Chicano Conference while Brown

We scarf down tamales, con carne or vegan—nopal is vegan—at our girlfriend’s kitchen table while Brown

We visit the La Raza exhibit at the Autry with our old friend from MEChA while Brown

We make love while Brown

We drop by the Chicana owned bookstore on the way home from work while Brown

We attend the college graduation of a DACA client that our immigration law practice helped out while Brown

We slow dance with our honey at our 50th wedding anniversary party at the VFW hall while Brown

We check out the Chicano Poet Laureate’s reading at an arts event while Brown

We hang out at the Latinx craft brewery with our Black, Indigenous, Asian, and White friends while Brown

We breathe while Brown

We love while Brown
Live while Brown
Love while Brown
Live while Brown
Viva La Raza!



liz gonzález, a fourth generation Southern Californian, grew up in the San Bernardino Valley. She is the author of Dancing in the Santa Ana Winds: Poems y Cuentos New and Selected, forthcoming from Los Nietos Press (July 2018). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published widely. Her work will appear in or recently appeared in Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, Inlandia: San Bernardino, City of Los Angeles 2017 Latino Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide, Voices from Leimert Park Anthology Redux, The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles, and Wide Awake: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond.

Her recent awards include a 2017 Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, a 2017 Arts Council for Long Beach Professional Development Microgrant, and a 2016 Incite / Insight Award from the Arts Council for Long Beach.

She directs Uptown Word & Arts, promoting literacy and arts, is a member of Macondo Writers Workshop, serves on the Macondo 2018 ad hoc advisory board, and is a creative writing instructor at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. lizgonzalez.com




Pasadena Rose Poets: Poetry In Unusual Places

 Toni Mosley, Gerda Govine Ituarte
Pasadena Rose Poets bring poetry to unusual places. Sometimes those places turn out to be unusually hard to find parking. That was the situation one recent Wednesday noon when Pasadena’s City Council opened its Chambers to Gerda Govine Ituarte and the Pasadena Rose Poets (link). The group observed National Poetry Month in the picturesque site.

The luxurious space has become familiar ground to the Rose Poets, who read a poem to open every council meeting. One elected remarked on the body’s calmed civic engagements since the poetry started.

Despite the delayed start, sporadic interruptions greeted a poet, apologetic parkers stressed at their arrival because poetry is important and they missed out. The long walk on a hot day, and having to negotiate a film crew blocking most entries added to the relief of sinking into an upholstered cushion in the cool.

Parking ticket revenue is like poetry to the city. Important, to the point the meters have strict enforcement by roaming bicycle time minders. My meter was soon up so I had to abandon my chair between readers. I hope the poets weren’t too dismayed by the shrinking audience.

Govine reports a video in progress of all four “unusual” readings. La Bloga will share its location when the video becomes available. Visit the Rose Poets Facebook page for current information.

Special Guest Toni Mosley

Carla Sameth

Gerda Govine Ituarte


Monday, April 16, 2018

XI International Conference on Chicano Literature and Latino Studies


XI International Conference on Chicano Literature and Latino Studies
Xánath Caraza


The XI International Conference on Chicano Literature and Latino Studies, organized by HispaUSA and the Universidad de Salamanca, with the collaboration of the instituto Franklin-UAH, will be held in Salamanca, May 28-30, 2018.

This conference draws attention to the different interpretations of the concept “Latinidad” at the present time, also looking towards the future.  Therefore, “Latinidad” involves the blend of cultures recreating different identities, often forgotten in an exercise of permanent reconstruction.


Durante más de dos décadas un grupo de profesores, académicos e intelectuales españoles y norteamericanos han venido estudiando de forma conjunta la realidad de los hispanos en Estados Unidos.  Es precisamente fruto de este encuentro por lo que surge HispaUSA.  Una asociación sin ánimo de lucro, cuyos fines son estimular, fomentar e impulsar el estudio y la investigación en todas las áreas relacionadas con la cultura y la sociedad hispana en los Estados Unidos; así como fomentar la interrelación entre el mundo hispano de Estados Unidos y España.

HispaUSA tiene su sede en el Instituto Franklin de la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, un centro que desde 1987 ha impulsado el estudio de Norteamérica así como la colaboración institucional entre Estados Unidos y España.

Este 2018 en Salamanca del 28 al 30 de mayo se lleva a cabo la XI International Conference on Chicano Literature and Latino Studies.