An excerpt from Latina/o Social Ethics Moving Beyond Eccentric Moral Thinking by Miguel A. De La Torre
A major problem facing marginalized communities, and in our case the Hispanic community, is that since childhood we have been taught to see and interpret reality through the eyes of the dominant culture. For those within the community who pursue scholastic endeavors, the success that is to be rewarded with a doctorate is determined by mastery of the predominant Eurocentric academic canon. Hispanic contributions to the discourse are usually dismissed as nonessential in demonstrating academic excellence. This is evidenced by the numerous scholars in the U.S. who have little or no knowledge of the scholarship taking place among Latino/as.
The triumph of the colonizing process is best demonstrated when scholars of color define themselves and their disenfranchised communities through academic paradigms that contribute to their marginalization. Latina/o ethicists are forced to exhibit academic rigor through the use of ethical models that more often than not are incapable of liberating oppressed communities. These scholars are forced, in a sense, to pour liberative wine into the old Eurocentric ethics skins.
To do so, as Jesus points out, causes the skins to burst and the liberative message to be lost. We Hispanics must pour our own liberative wine into our own ethical paradigms so that both can be preserved together and used by our community, which thirsts to drink this Good News. As José Martí, who needs no introduction among Latina/os, reminds us: “Nuestro vino de plátano, y si es agrio, es nuestro vino.”
The view of the ethical landscape from the pedestal of privilege is radically different than the view from the depths of disenfranchisement. This book challenges the prevailing assumption within the discipline of Christian ethics that the present scholarly landscape, rooted in Eurocentric thought, is the pinnacle of academic excellence.
According to that assumption, held by Eurocentric ethicists, the particularity of scholarship emanating from non-Eurocentric communities, as in the case of Latina/o-rooted ethical paradigms, threatens to weaken the prevailing so-called academic rigor. Voices from the Hispanic community may be needed to show diversity and political correctness, but they must be kept at bay lest they actually influence the discourse. The old wineskins of Eurocentric ethics are based on the presupposition that religion as a discipline is rooted in a nineteenth-century European definition of what education of religion should be. Even though our postmodern conversations may have persuaded the academy to reject such metanarratives, they are still enforced, determining who is “in” (academically rigorous) and who is “out” (has an interesting perspective but lacks academic excellence).
Excellence, that is, continues to mean Eurocentrism. Eurocentric thought, unconscious of how the discipline of religion has been racialized, claims to exemplify a color-blind excellence in scholarship for all of humanity. By its very nature, Eurocentric ethical theory maintains that universal moral norms can be achieved independent of place, time, or people group. Such ethical norms created by Euroamerican ethicists are accepted as both universal and objective, and thus applicable to the Latino/a milieu.
To speak from any Eurocentric perspective is to speak about and for all of humanity, including Hispanics. For this reason, Euroamerican scholars can become experts in the particularity of the cultures of Other, that is, those communities that are deemed “less than white.” Ironically, scholars of color have the particularity of their analysis reduced to subjectivity—to interesting perspectives that fall short of rigor, regardless of how meticulous their scholarship may actually be.
Because whiteness is understood and defined as universal, the insights of scholars of color are often institutionally relegated to a realm lacking any universal gravitas. Nevertheless, marginalized communities of color have long recognized that no ethical perspective is value free. The subjectivity of Eurocentric ethical thought can be lifted by the academy to universal objectivity because the academy retains the power to define a reality that secures and protects their scholastic privilege. Reduced to a phenotype-based expertise, scholars of color are expected to dwell exclusively in the areas of study bordered by their race or ethnicity. Experts in the particular, they are neither expected nor encouraged to speak with authority about Eurocentric thought.
Reduced to and trapped within their race or ethnicity, scholars of color are geared to the particular, where they are continually forced to speak to the center, always attempting to justify their right to exist and the importance of contributions they can make to the overall discourse. And if a Hispanic ethicist were to become an authority on Euroamerican ethicists like Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, or Stanley Hauerwas, she or he would be viewed as an oddity if not aping, for after all, shouldn’t all Latina/os just study Hispanic religiosity?
Hispanic scholars who dare to assess critically the works of formative Euroamerican ethicists face having their critique dismissed. The Latina/o scholar will either be accused of conducting a “thin” reading of the primary texts or be caricatured as angry. As tempting as it may be to level such a critique against Hispanic scholars who challenge the Eurocentric canon, it is important to refrain. Even though the Hispanic ethicist may be portrayed as lacking intelligence or simply hostile, he or she does provide a “double-consciousness” that is capable of revealing what those blinded by their privileged status miss.
As a corrective measure, this book will attempt to create new skins for our liberative wine by using the tools and materials indigenous to our “Latinoness.” But before we are able to use our own Hispanic ethic skins, we must explain why the Eurocentric ethic skins are inadequate—why they will burst. To that end, we will read Euroamerican ethicists “with Hispanic eyes,” seeing, maybe for the first time, how dominant groups have historically constructed ethics to suit their needs and protect their privilege.
The first half of the book will attempt to deconstruct Eurocentric ethical paradigms to demonstrate why they are both detrimental to and irreconcilable with the Hispanic social location. When such paradigms bring suffering, oppression, and death (literally and figuratively) to the Hispanic community, they must be rejected. Nevertheless, the best of mestizaje, our cultural mixture, recognizes the European part of our identity and the ambiguity and irony this creates when we deal with Eurocentric ethical paradigms. Hispanics recognize that even what we should reject in our identity is part of who we are as a people. The challenge is how to delineate and reject those parts of Eurocentric ethics with which there can be no compromise or reconciliation (e.g., complicity with the U.S. Empire) and move beyond those segments of Eurocentric analysis with which we can converse.
The second half of this book will attempt to construct a new Hispanic-centered ethical paradigm rooted in our community way of being. The hope is not only to articulate aspects of how we historically have conducted ethics, but also to examine possible future directions. We search for a dynamic ethics that is not only living, but also lived. This is a Latina/o ethics based on praxis that pursues social justice, here understood as creating harmony within social structures by countering and correcting the undue power and privilege held by the few at the expense of the many.
Miguel A. De La Torre is Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. His academic focus is on social ethics within contemporary U.S. thought, specifically how religion affects race, class, and gender oppression. He served as the 2012 President of the Society of Christian Ethics and earned the 2020 AAR Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2021 Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award. Recently, he wrote the screenplay to a documentary on immigration (http://www.trailsofhopeandterrorthemovie.com/) and has written an autofiction magical realism novel. His website is: http://drmigueldelatorre.com/.
Memories of a Mexican Boy From El Paso: Making It at the University of Texas in the 1960s
by Daniel Acosta, Jr.
Prologue With apologies for confiscating a part of Norman Podhoretz’s memoir title for my own use, I knew when I started the three-year B. S. pharmacy program at the University of Texas in the fall of 1965 it was make or break for me. I had no close friends in high school and never had a date. I was not entirely a loner in high school; I talked to my classmates and acted friendly. It was not until my junior and senior years that I joined a few school clubs and became more involved with activities I enjoyed, such as the Science Club and the Chess Club. Academically, I did well at Austin High School; I graduated as one of the top seven students in a class of 330 students—four white males, two white females, and me, the lone Mexican American. In 1963, Valedictorian and Salutatorian students were not selected for the first time in El Paso high schools; instead, the top 2% of the class were honored at graduation. I never learned who was number one. Two weeks after graduating from high school, I was on the bus to take me to my freshman classes in English and American History at Texas Western College in the summer of 1963. The so-called “high school on the hill,” which us Mexicans dubbed the College, was our first real chance to experience the college experience. TWC is really a beautiful campus, if you like the desert with colorful cacti and mesquite bushes and limited trees and grass. The small, jagged foothills of the Franklin Mountains near the campus add to its beauty—and thus its nickname. The architecture of the buildings is quite unique with a strong Bhutanese influence—distinctive, red-tiled roofs. Many of the graduating Anglo students went to more glamorous schools away from El Paso.
Beginning College For the next two years I caught the early morning Beaumont bus on Piedras Street a block away from my home. The bus went south down Piedras to Five Points, where there was a Sears for shopping and the Pershing Theater. Throughout my early teens I spent many Saturday afternoons watching many B westerns and crime movies. In June 1963, now that I had graduated from high school, I was ready for a better class of movies to see. I remember vividly the first showing in El Paso of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at the Pershing. I had read in the El Paso Times that this Hollywood epic was a movie to not be missed—it had Taylor and Burton who were having a torrid love affair during the making of the film. Eddie Fisher, the famous pop singer, divorced Taylor soon after the movie was released. Because their affair was in the news on a nearly daily basis, I knew that I had to see the movie. I got to the Pershing about two hours early to wait in line for a ticket. By the time I arrived there was a long line of people. I saw a group of high school girls who were laughing and waving to their boyfriends to come to the front of the line. “Johnny, did you bring enough money to buy the tickets? Hurry up, we saved some spots for you in line,” yelled one of the girls. As three of the guys pushed and shoved to get to the girls, other people in the line screamed for them to get back to the end of the line. This got the attention of the security guards who rushed to grab the guys and moved them away from the loud and angry people. Eventually things quieted down and people waited patiently to get their tickets. That was my first taste of a so-called mob scene. It was really not that much of a thing; it was only people trying to butt into line. It broke the monotony of standing in line and made me more excited to see the movie. I later learned during my summer school classes, the manager of the Pershing, Mr. Miledi, was a part-time chemistry teacher at the College. Everyone called him “No Bugs My Lady,” a popular ad at the time on radio and TV for an insect spray. I remember seeing him in the fall semester when I was taking freshman chemistry. After leaving Five Points, the bus took a right on Yandell Drive heading west to the plaza in downtown El Paso. In the middle of the plaza was a round, waist-high fountain enclosure, which was dry most of the year. It was a big attraction for kids and tourists because a lonely, foul-smelling alligator was stuck right in the middle of the fountain looking for food to be thrown to him. Of course, there were signs warning people to not feed the alligator, but it was done all the time. I felt sorry for the alligator; I did not look at it while I waited for the Sunset bus which stopped at a medical clinic, a few blocks away from the College. On that bus were many maids and yardmen who worked in the more expensive neighborhoods of west El Paso, near the College. When I come to think of it, my college education really began with my observations of people on the buses I took to and from TWC. Because the Beaumont bus began near William Beaumont Army Medical Center a few miles straight north up Piedras, there were a variety of people who used the bus: people who worked downtown in major department stores, banks, insurance offices, etc., and those people from South El Paso who used the bus to get to work at the Medical Center and at Ft. Bliss—one of the largest Army bases in the country. They were mainly Mexicans who did cleaning and yard work for the Army. Tina, my older sister, became a civil servant, and eventually became the executive manager for the main EEO office at Ft. Bliss. I got to know the bus driver, who always asked how I was doing with my courses. After I graduated from pharmacy school at the University of Texas at Austin three years after leaving TWC, I received a draft notice to return to El Paso for my induction into the US Army at Ft. Bliss. A few weeks into basic training, my platoon had to do some training in the desert, and it so happened that the Army bus was driven by the same driver who took me to classes for those two years at TWC. I could only nod to him because the drill sergeant demanded complete silence in the bus. At least, I knew someone from El Paso during my 8 weeks of training. I had received a graduate deferment to attend the University of Kansas to study for a degree in pharmacology, but the deferment was canceled as the Vietnam War intensified in 1968 and more draftees were needed. Seeing the friendly face of my former bus driver every once and while at Ft. Bliss made my training easier and made it easier to accept my fate if I were to be sent to Vietnam. The country was in turmoil and many student protests were occurring on college campuses. I had thought with my pharmacy degree that I could avoid the Vietnam War and be one of the lucky few to not serve in the military. I was not sent to Vietnam; instead, I served my two years at Army medical facilities in Savannah and South Korea. Several of my Mexican high school classmates were not as lucky as me and were wounded or killed in Vietnam. Minorities across the country were the ones who suffered the most during their service in the military in the 1960s and early 1970s. At Texas Western College Now to the story about my other education to get a degree. After much thought and research about what my major should be, I decided without any advice from my family, teachers, or counselors to pursue a career in pharmacy. That was it; I had made my decision on what I wanted to do; and I developed a plan. To receive a B. S. degree in pharmacy, one did two years of pre-pharmacy coursework at any college, such as chemistry, physics, calculus, English, history, biology, accounting, government, and so on and so on. The final three years for the degree were taken at an accredited college of pharmacy, which in my case was at the University of Texas at Austin after completing my pre-pharmacy courses at Texas Western College in El Paso. The other two colleges of pharmacy in Texas during the 1960s were in Houston. One guess why I chose UT. Even back then Austin was the city to live in Texas. Dallas and Houston did not even come close. After graduation from pharmacy school, I would take the pharmacy board exams, pass them, and become a licensed pharmacist in 1968. Easy—right? The two-year pre-pharmacy curriculum at Texas Western College meshed quite nicely with my plans because the expenses would be minimal to cover, living at home. For some Mexicans like me I felt it was a let-down to not attend a college away from El Paso right after high school; instead, we made fun of the “high school on the hill” and mistakenly thought it was degrading to not go to a “real college.” I was so wrong to think that. Texas Western College was one of the best things to prepare me for the rigors of going to “The University” in Austin, as it is known to native Texans. My family did not have the financial resources to help me much with college expenses, such as tuition, books, bus fare, clothes, lunch expenses, etc. I worked four years through high school as a paper boy and had saved several hundred dollars for my first year of college. I knew that I could not go to a college that was away from El Paso. I realized that if I wanted to attend UT-Austin, it meant working 20 to 25 hours week while I managed a full course load each semester. My next-door neighbor, Mr. Bacon, who I’d known throughout my high school years, got me a job at the Data Analysis Center, which just happened to be across the street from the student union and most of my classrooms. DAC did contract work for the federal government on several defense and scientific projects. I did not know what to expect; most of the guys working there were math, physics, and engineering students. I was a pre-pharmacy major, mostly taking biological and business courses to prepare me for admission into pharmacy school two years later at the University of Texas. As I was going to the water fountain in the main work room at DAC, I heard someone yell out at me: “Hey, Danny. My name for you is now Danny Waters,” Tony winked at me. He told me that he had already seen me get a drink of water twice today and that was now my nickname. I instantly liked him; he was charismatic; and he looked and dressed differently than the rest of us. He wore nice slacks (not jeans) and well-ironed shirts. His haircut was very similar to Cary Grant’s and to the guy who played “Mr. Lucky” on TV. He told me it was a razor-cut, and I could not see a hair out of place. He definitely did not look like a nerdy engineer. Tony was in his senior year, majoring in electrical engineering. It turned out in his junior year he ran for president of the student body, and he won. It was very unusual for a junior to win the presidency and be around when the new president began his term of office. I did not think that Tony really knew what it meant that a Mexican guy had been elected over a white guy. El Paso was definitely a town where whites were more prominent in business and government circles. I never saw Tony use his status with others; we Mexicans at Texas Western College were quite proud of him. My freshman year knowing Tony, when I think back over the years, influenced me greatly. I became prouder of my own Mexican heritage. I was a strong supporter of JFK when he was elected President, and especially, when he appointed the first Mexican American mayor of El Paso, Raymond Telles, the ambassador to Costa Rica. Tony always treated me as an equal and not as a young pimply teenager. When his girlfriend was to start graduate school in geology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, he asked if I could help the both of them move her things to Tucson. I jumped at the offer. Just talking with Tony for that whole trip was so memorable. I was shy and introverted. Intuitively I knew that to be successful socially, professionally, and romantically I had to be more willing to engage with other people and become more extroverted. I began to come out of my shell during my two years of pre-pharmacy coursework at Texas Western College, but without a car and having to take a bus to get to campus every day for those two years I was still at a disadvantage. It became an obsession for me to get a car while I attended college, especially when I would go to Austin for pharmacy school. “Danny, how much have you saved to go to Austin next fall?” asked one of my co-workers at the Data Analysis Center on campus. “I can make it through the first year without working at UT but will have to work full-time in El Paso during the following summer to save more money for the second year.” Actually, my plan was to get one or two jobs in Austin while I was attending pharmacy school for the second year of the professional pharmacy curriculum. I had surprisingly breezed through my first year of classes at UT without having to work like I did in El Paso. I had saved enough money to cover my expenses for my first year at UT. I worked the following summer at a pharmacy in El Paso to build up my savings again. I wanted the extra money from these jobs to buy a car in Austin. Would I be successful? Time and hard work would tell.
Pharmacy Building at UT
At the University of Texas I learned about two jobs after my first year at the College of Pharmacy through some hungry and poor pharmacy classmates, who, like me, had to work to get through college. As pharmacy students, it was drilled into our minds by our professors that we were part of the medical profession with physicians and nurses, and we had to show those other two professions that we deserved the same respect they received from the public. A few discount pharmacies were starting to pop up in the 1960s; they were considered to be a negative blot on the more respectable and professional retail pharmacies that had dominated the profession for years. One particular discount pharmacy chain that started in Dallas threw salt in their eyes by opening up their first drug store in Austin. Even its name was insulting and looking for a fight—Ward’s Cut Rate Drugs, which was notably located on Austin’s most famous street, Congress Avenue, looking down the throat at the Capitol a few blocks away. It wanted to hire pharmacy students as employees, and it paid good hourly wages. I applied and got the job. One down, another job to go. I was told about a dormitory for rich girls; the pay was non-existent. Not many students wanted to work there if there were no hourly wages. Instead, a student kitchen worker was paid with meals after the girls ate. If I did not have to buy groceries and cook my own food, this arrangement was right up my alley. I took a kitchen job at the exclusive and pricey Hardin House. I now had my food taken care of each month and I was earning good pay at Ward’s. With these two jobs, I was well on my way in saving money for a car. I did what I always did while I attended UT: go to classes, grab meals when I could, work at two jobs, study, sleep and do it all over again the next day. I had an evening job at the Hardin House and later changed jobs to another girl’s dormitory, starting at 6:30 AM. At both jobs, I closely observed how these co-eds, mainly sorority girls, talked and laughed among themselves as if the kitchen student workers did not exist. At UT, I went to my pharmacy classes in the morning, and in the afternoon, I attended laboratory sections in medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, compounding drugs, pharmacognosy, drug manufacturing, and microbiology. The ultimate senior lab—the Prescription Lab—was a simulated drug store where us pharmacy students learned to read prescriptions, fill the prescriptions, catch any mistakes in the prescriptions, and advise the fake patients/customers on how to take their medications and point out any potential side effects. After classes, I ran back to the dorm to get my free meal before I caught a bus from campus to get to my other job at Ward’s, with its prominent location in downtown Austin. As mentioned earlier, my professors said it was disgraceful and unprofessional to work in a discount pharmacy. Did I really care? I worked there about 15-20 hours a week; I was making good money to get my car. I never thought much about working two jobs. I needed the money to survive so I could live in a city that was the envy of other students living in such cities as College Station—Aggieland; Lubbock—Texas Tech; Waco—Baylor; or my hometown of El Paso—the Miners. I won’t mention the other schools in Houston and Dallas. The problem was that I was not able to enjoy the active night scene my first two years in Austin. Because of my work schedule, my social life in college was not spectacular and if you really want to know, it was sub-par. I did not have a car and that put a real damper on meeting and dating girls. I had a major goal, besides getting my pharmacy degree: get a car and live in style during my last year of pharmacy school. It was the penultimate year that was a bear to endure, but I was getting closer and closer to getting my car.
Hardin House, 2022
The Hardin House
I should talk more about my job at the Hardin House—that exclusive dorm for co-eds that parents paid big bucks to have their daughters fed and protected while they attended the mostly white University of Texas. There were a few Black students at UT in the 1960s. The percentages for Hispanics, mostly of Mexican heritage, were in the low teens. It is now around 23%.
I was hired by the head cook, a wonderful Black woman who deeply cared for her student workers and treated us with respect. I looked forward to working each night to hear stories about her life, and she really liked to joke around and laugh with us.
However, a few months later a dining room manager was hired to run the entire dining experience at the Hardin House, including the kitchen and the fancy dining room for the girls and their guests. When she was in the kitchen, there was less talking and laughing. I eventually had a run-in with her.
Working in the kitchen was sometimes hard and dirty work. The other student workers were at the Hardin House because, like me, we needed the money to attend the great University of Texas, or as stated in the Texas Constitution—a World-Class University! I was the only Mexican student in the kitchen, and the other workers were white and came from small towns in Texas—they did not receive much financial support from their families to make it through college.
As a joke, my roommate, Jim, gave me a copy of George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris, with its classic description of what a kitchen “plongeur” did in the bowels of an expensive hotel restaurant in Paris. My kitchen job at the Hardin House did not compare to Orwell’s experiences, but there were several times I was down on my knees cleaning out the grease trap under the sink and removing clogged food from the disposal so it could start working again. Unlike the “plongeurs,” we Hardin House kitchen workers had a fancy dish washer to help us with washing the many dirty pots and pans and dishes. Mopping up the kitchen floors was somewhat enjoyable because we knew that a delicious meal would be waiting for us after our work was done. The head cook prepared marvelous meals for the girls and staff. I can honestly say that the kitchen was relatively clean and hygienic and did not compare to the filth described by Orwell at the hotel restaurant kitchen.
When it became very busy at mealtime, I was sometimes asked to serve portions of the meal to the girls.
“Good evening, which entrée would you like—the roast beef or the Chicken Parmesan,” I asked with a goofy smile or at least it was a fake smile.
One evening, the manager caustically remarked that these girls did not know how good they have it:
“Here is one girl who asked for a full dinner plate of food, and she barely touched any of the food. What a waste.”
Not realizing it was a rhetorical remark, I replied: “her parents paid good money to have their daughter live at the Hardin House and she can really do anything she wants with the food.”
She glared at me and walked away.
The manager often stood behind us servers, making sure that equal portions were correctly given to each girl. When all of the girls had been served and had finished their meals, the kitchen crew picked up remaining plates, cleaned the tables, and swept up any food scraps under the chairs and tables. Then we feasted on our meals at a table in the back of the kitchen. I tried secretly to sneak out a second dessert to eat later at my apartment, but I was caught by you-know-who. I was instantly fired on the spot; she got her revenge.
My favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, was singing his hit song about the time of my firing:
“That’s Life: You’re riding high in April, shot down in May…”
After I was fired by the manager, I found another job at another rich girl’s dorm; did you really think that I would now have trouble buying my car? The kitchen student workers were allowed to sit in the main dining room at a table reserved for us lucky dishwashers, bus boys, and servers. We had to be more careful with our conduct in front of all those very attractive co-eds.
Dan Acosta and his 1967 Mustang at UT
My ’67 Mustang After two years of working and saving my money, I was nearing the end of my patience with not having a car. I had saved a good sum of money but was still not able to buy a new car outright. I did not want a used car. What made the difference was that I received a full scholarship for my final year of college. It paid to have excellent grades. In the 1960s, to receive the scholarship money the student had to be in good standing and show proof of enrollment. When I showed the foundation that information, I received the check. I could do whatever I wanted with the money—presumably quit my jobs and concentrate on my studies and use the money for tuition and living expenses. Instead, I used the scholarship funds with my savings to purchase outright a cool, sky blue 1967 Mustang, four on the floor—a classic if I had kept it! There was no need for monthly car payments, but I had to continue to work my two jobs to pay my living expenses, which now included gas and car insurance. I filled up the car at Shamrock’s, which gave free glasses for a full tank. I bought the car in the summer before I went back to work at the Hardin House in the fall. I was now ready to party. However, before I could start driving, Jim had to drive the car off the dealership lot because I did not have a license and did not know how to drive a manual. After a monthly ordeal of Jim teaching me how to drive, I took my driving test at the Texas Department of Safety on Lamar Avenue a couple of miles from campus. I passed on my first try. Jim and I were casual friends in high school, and because both of us were in pre-pharmacy at Texas Western College, we decided to room together in Austin to cut down on our living expenses. Unlike me, he dated a girl before I had my first date, and they soon fell in love and wanted to get married that summer. Minnie had a family in San Benito (in the South Texas Valley) and went home to tell her parents about her upcoming marriage. A few days later, Minnie asked if Jim could help her with her possessions she had at home. I was recruited to be the chauffeur and eventually the best man at their justice of the peace wedding back in Austin. The drive was about 6oo miles round trip, via US 77 S. It was my first road trip, and the Mustang performed brilliantly, all done in one day.
Varsity Theater, Austin, 2022
My First Real Date Lest I forget, let me tell you about one more episode I had at the Hardin House before I was fired. Mrs. Stella Hardin allowed only sophomores and juniors to reside in her house. The parents knew that she treated their daughters as if they were her own children, and she had strict rules on their behavior while they lived in her house. A Hardin brochure stated very clearly her rules: This is my house with my rules; if you are to live here, you are to follow my rules. Mrs. Hardin was a gracious woman, a refined Southern lady. I would see her one last time near my graduation date. This last incident involved the breaking of one of Mrs. Hardin’s cardinal rules about no dating of kitchen student workers. One evening, I was able to catch the eye of a cute sophomore as she waited in the serving line to get her meal. One thing led to another, and we exchanged names. She was a much younger sophomore than the other girls, having just turned 18. Starting my fourth year of college I was the proverbial older man—I was 21. Perhaps it was due to my age and my Latin good looks (?) that she finally accepted a date with me. I think she accepted my date offer because every time I called to ask her for a date, her roommates answered the phone and made it clear that she was not in and to stop calling. She was nice to me when I saw her in the serving line, and she finally agreed to talk on the phone when I gave her my phone number. I believe her roommates dared her to go out with that unknown Mexican guy who worked in the kitchen. We agreed I would not go into the lobby of the Hardin House and ask for her to come down from her room. She suggested that we meet me outside at a specified time as if she were going alone to the library. The date was no big thing. We went to a movie at the Varsity Theater on the main drag across the street from the Texas Union. It was the Audrey Hepburn movie, Wait Until Dark, about a blind girl and drug dealers. The only time we really touched was when she jumped out of her seat and grabbed me during the classic scene when the dealers had no lights to find Hepburn in the darkness of her apartment until they opened the refrigerator door, and the room turned all bright. The whole audience screamed. We left the movie laughing and talking, and she complimented me on my new Mustang. She was waiting all evening to show me one last thing. When we arrived at the Hardin House, I walked around the car to open the door. She got out and unloosened the strap on the trench coat that she never took off during the movie and quickly flashed me that she was only wearing a shortie nightgown. She grabbed me and abruptly gave me a brief French kiss, daringly darting her tongue into my mouth for a nanosecond, and then ran to the front door. I never saw her again because it was close to finals, and I was fired shortly thereafter. I guess she won the dare with her roommates to go out with a Mexican. For some of those girls at the Hardin House, but not my particular date, I am reminded of a Beatles’ song. “Baby You’re a Rich Man: How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Marking Time: My Final Year Now that I had my Mustang, I was able to have more dates after my first encounter with the Hardin girl. Actually, the first time I took out a girl in my Mustang was within a few weeks of buying the car. It was with a girl I had met at Ward’s when she came in as a customer. I would not call it an actual date because when I asked her out after work for burgers at McDonald’s, she brought her younger brother without telling me; he was in his teens and had a developmental disability. Unwisely, I let her drive my Mustang up I-35 to Round Rock and then back to Austin. We were lucky that we were not caught for speeding. Later that same night we returned to my apartment complex, which had a swimming pool; not having any swim trunks we jumped into the pool with our jeans on and sat there talking for a couple of hours. After that episode, I knew that I had to be more careful in the selection of my dates. There were a few girls who worked in the cosmetics section at the drugstore, but they had no interest in college. I had a few dates with a couple of them but there was nothing in common that kept our interest to see each other again. There were some female pharmacy students that I was able to know better, but I found out that having dates with two of them created too much gossip to endure and that ended my attempts at romance with fellow classmates. I did not try to get dates with any of those co-eds at my second job. They were older than the Hardin girls, and to be truthful I was somewhat intimidated by their snobbery and arrogance. I know what you are thinking—what about my studies? I would be lying if I said that it did not have an effect on my studies. My going out during the summer and fall semesters of my last year in pharmacy school did reduce my studying time, and for the first time I had to struggle to eke out two B’s and two A’s, after a near perfect two years of A’s in my earlier classes. UT professors posted exam grades on their office doors so everyone could see what you did on a test and what your final grade in the course was. I remember a female student, not a pharmacy student but who was in two of my science classes, asked me just out of the blue why I did not do better on one of my tests. I did not make the highest grade in my physiology class on that one exam. We really had never talked much out of class. But I aced the final exam with a 98. She did not say anything to me then. Not to stereotype people, she was a pleasant, good-looking sorority white girl who I remember dressed very preppy with cute short skirts, stockings, and expensive loafers. I did not wear my Mexican heritage on my sleeves while I was at UT, but anyone born in Texas recognizes who is Mexican and who is not. I am sure that she knew I was a Mexican. In my final semester, I made all A’s in some of the more difficult courses in the curriculum. That made up for that fall semester. I graduated first in my class. Relaxing After putting in a full day and night working and studying, my idea of relaxing and having fun was to listen to two Austin radio stations, KNOW-AM and KAZZ-FM, in the late evenings. KNOW played top 40 songs and KAZZ was the progressive station covering folk, jazz, and blues. I went to sleep listening to these stations. Most Saturday evenings after working at Ward’s, I returned to my garage apartment around 10:30 PM. A fraternity house was near my apartment, and I often heard a rock band playing and frat boys yelling and screaming during one of their Saturday parties after a Texas football game. One night a local band was particularly good, singing Van Morrison’s hit song: “And her name is G… L…O…R…I… A and I’m gonna shout it all night.” It turned out to be a blast of a party with the band singing the lyrics of “Gloria” over and over for about 10 minutes straight. I was tempted to sneak over to the frat house to see the wild orgy scene. But I had to work at Ward’s that weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, and I needed some sleep. A myth spread throughout the Texas fraternity community that the song was sung for more than 45 minutes. As I was drifting to sleep, I heard these lyrics reverberate in my mind throughout the night: “By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising.” I wished that I had had a girlfriend to think about. Closer to the End Late one evening I was listening to a Paul Simon song on the radio. I know what you are thinking, and it was not that song. It was from the album of the movie, The Graduate, Mrs. Robinson. It was my final semester of pharmacy school in 1968. I had seen the movie, and it made me realize I was about to begin my real life after completing my degree at the University of Texas. There was an obnoxious guy sitting behind me at the theater who made wisecracks throughout the movie about how dumb the main character, played by Dustin Hoffman, was, and it sort of ruined the movie for me because I later learned that the asshole was a pharmacy student in one of my classes. For my final two semesters, I got up around 5:45 AM and made it to work by 6:30. KNOW AM played the Top 40 hits and it seemed to play the same hit in the morning when I was driving to work. A particular song that I heard for the last several weeks before I graduated was the one by Dionne Warwick—”Do You Know the Way to San José?” It really got to me because I was getting antsy on where I would live and whether I would work as a pharmacist or go to graduate school to earn a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology? The Vietnam War was really heating up in 1968. My decision was made for me when the government offered draft deferments for admission into graduate school. I took the GRE, applied for fellowship support, and filled out several applications to four or five universities. Then I waited. For the last several months of the spring semester, I was content to wait it out because several of my professors had written excellent letters of reference for me and told me that I would be accepted into graduate school without any problems. However, the year 1968 was a very traumatic time in American history: the assassinations of MLK and RFK occurred; there were major race riots in several large cities; there was the resignation of LBJ because of the Vietnam War; there was the rise of the Chicano Movement; and there were massive protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago to decide who ran in place of LBJ against Richard Nixon. I began to realize how much power and influence the Democratic Party had lost in Texas by observing those rich co-eds’ reactions to the deaths of MLK and RFK. Early in June after RFK had won the California Democratic primary over Gene McCarthy, the news of his death was being shown on TV in the lounge of the girls’ dorm I was working at. It was next to the dining hall as I walked to a table with my tray of food. I heard loud screams, laughing, and clapping by the girls at the announcement of his death. I was so glad that I was leaving UT, Austin, and Texas right after my graduation. My Future Is Decided A month before graduation, I learned that I had received a prestigious, nationally competitive fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which allowed me to use the fellowship funds to attend a university of my choosing. I soon realized that this award was something big because several of my professors were trying to persuade me to stay at Texas for my graduate work. I chose the University of Kansas on the recommendation of my favorite professor, Dr. Delgado, the only Mexican American on the faculty. I would leave Texas later in June right after I had taken my board exams in pharmacy. A few weeks before graduation, I was working a Saturday shift at Ward’s, which on that particular day there was a sale on many OTC drugs and several cosmetic products. I was working one of the registers and out of my right eye I saw Mrs. Hardin at the next register. I tried not to look at her. I thought to myself that even the rich like to buy things that save them money, even if it’s at a discount pharmacy. The interior of Ward’s was not that fancy, and all types and classes of people came into the store. The prices of each product were placed on the shelf with a piece of masking tape right below the product. This meant I had to memorize the prices of the products because there were no price stickers on the items. Anything to save money and time for Ward’s. “Young man, how are you doing with your classes?” Mrs. Hardin pleasantly smiled at me. “Quite well. I will graduate soon with a degree in pharmacy and plan to go to graduate school in Kansas.” I had only seen Mrs. Hardin in the kitchen a couple of times and never thought she’d recognize me a year later. She looked straight into my eyes and said: “Good for you and best of luck in your new studies.” I was at loss for words and simply replied, “Thank you”! She walked out of the store with her toiletries and drugs and that was the last time I saw her. Epilogue My parents, my older sister’s family with her husband and three kids, and my unmarried younger sister came to Austin to celebrate my graduation and send me off to attend graduate school at the University of Kansas. After the College of Pharmacy graduation ceremony, where I received several pharmacy textbooks for graduating at the top of my class—Summa cum Laude, I took my family back to my apartment to eat. My new roommate, Nick, and I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and got several family meals. We ate, talked, and laughed. We also planned to attend HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio the next day after graduation. I had set up my family in a small family-run motel near campus on Guadalupe Street, the so-called “Drag.” It was not fancy, but it was inexpensive and easy to get on I-35 to go to the World’s Fair. I was to pick up my parents in my Mustang. Early Sunday morning the next day, I arrived at the motel and my father was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt getting some fresh air in the gravel-dirt parking lot outside his motel room. It was going to be a hot June day in Texas. A truck suddenly did a U-turn in the near empty street and came to a screeching halt in front of the driveway to the motel. The driver yelled from his truck: “Are you looking for work—you can make an easy $25 for a small project at a building site!” The white builder thought this Mexican man would jump to work for him that morning. My father laughed off the offer and told the man he was visiting his son in Austin. I turned my back on the man and angrily said to myself—this is Texas. The next day I said good-bye to my family and took off for Houston to take my board exams. My next stop was Kansas to begin graduate school. But that part of my life was interrupted by the cancellation of my graduate deferment, and I had to serve a two-year stint in the US Army. And then I started my PhD work in 1970 at the University of Kansas.
Dan Acosta is a Mexican American born and raised in El Paso. His grandparents emigrated to the US in the early 1900s. His career spanned 45 years as an educator, scientist, and administrator in academia and the federal government. He recently retired at age 74 in 2019 in Austin and plans to write about his experiences with discrimination and bias during his life and career. He received a B.S. degree in Pharmacy at UT-Austin and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology at the University of Kansas. He has had a few of his stories published in the Sky Island Journal, The Rush, Somos en Escrito, and The Acentos Review.
A Book review of Liberalism and Its Discontents, by Francis Fukuyama
By Rosa Martha Villarreal
There wasn’t a more opportune time for the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s book Liberalism and Its Discontents (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2022) than now with the January 6th Congressional Committee hearings. The events of January 6th, reminded us that our constitutionally based system is not immune to the machination of those who wish to usurp the liberal order, which has been in place since the United States ratified the Constitution in 1788. Today, illiberal partisans speciously claim that they are actually defending the Constitution, but Fukuyama forcefully refutes those claims.
In this book, Francis Fukuyama does not detail the historical rise of Liberalism. As he states, there literally thousands of books which do just that. Rather he focuses on the justifications of an institutional-based liberalism, a system of governance in which the body politic gives it consent to be governed by a strong state restrained by laws because, as Thomas Hobbes posits, the unifying human passion is not religious belief but fear of violent death. Before he delves into the justifications for liberalism, Fukuyama begins his book with an important caveat:
"By 'liberalism,' I refer to the doctrine that first emerged in the second half of the seventeenth century that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction. I do not refer to liberalism as it is used today in the United States as a label for left -of-center politics; that set of ideas, as we shall see, has diverted from classical liberalism in certain critical ways."(vii) [ Italics mine]
Fukuyama states that the justifications of a liberal society are that liberalism:
Regulates violence and allows the co-existence of diverse individuals.
Protects the individual’s dignity or “pursuit of happiness” through self-autonomy. Or, just in case the meaning is still not clear, “the right of individuals to make their own choices.” Thus, no one can impose their beliefs on others.
Creates the freedom and incentives for economic innovation and growth.
Is based on Empiricism, i.e., scientific method in which observation, measurement, testing, and peer review of claims establish what actual reality is. Not selective use of data; not anecdotal evidence; not a priori doctrines; not conspiracy theories nor YouTube videos.
Thus, a classic liberal can be a person of conservative political or left-center leanings.
Fukuyama explains that there is an inevitable the tension between the idealism of classical liberalism and its actual practice. In the last 30 years this tension has been exacerbated by the economic inequalities wrought by Neoliberalism. First of all, economic inequality is not new as economic liberalism has always been predicated strong property rights. Property rights were central to the historical rise of liberalism since the philosophy’s creators and early practitioners were property-owning, middle-class individuals, the bourgeoise. And here lies an inevitable tension since, as Madison posits in The Federalist No. 10, this leads to a rise of social classes and a source of inequity, which subsequently caused the rise of Marxism. Recently, this on-going tension has been exacerbated by Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism, the economic school of thought led by Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, et al, also called the University of Chicago or Austrian School of Thought, reasoned that deregulation, privatization, free trade, and higher immigration would maximize economic growth by allowing a free exchange of good, service, and workers. These changes would result in more competition which in turn would lower consumer prices. The free flow of labor would also contribute to lower priced consumer goods. Neoliberal policies, as Friedman et al predicted, brought a boon of innovation and creativity. These neoliberal policies represented the positions of not only conservative leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher but left-center leaders like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
But as Fukuyama points out, Neoliberalism’s shortcomings have had devastating, unintended consequences. First, the theory is predicated on consumerism, and yes, goods became cheaper and the economy was more efficient. However, jobs were outsourced and wages stagnated. Deregulation of capital controls, which had been instituted in the 1930s, precipitated the financial crisis of 2008. There were also global political consequence in places like Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union where the economic system went from central planning to none, precipitating the rise of corrupt oligarchs and Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. In sum, although less regulated Capitalism did create enormous wealth, it did not create a healthy society for everyone.
"They [neoliberals] failed to understand that markets themselves function only when there they are strictly regulated by states with functioning legal systems that have the capacity to enforce rules concerning transparency, contracts, ownership, and the like." (23)
Additionally, good paying jobs for low skill workers were outsourced and job retraining programs failed to materialize.
"Many neoliberals supported open immigration, again on the grounds that allowing labor to move to the point of greater demand would lead to greater efficiency They were again correct in thinking that labor mobility would improve aggregate welfare, but paid less attention to its distributional consequences and the social backlash it would inspire." (25)
Besides intensification of anti-immigration vitriol, another consequent is the justifiable resentment against the gross disparities in income distribution. Fukuyama asserts that the average workers hurt by these policies do not find solace that workers in other countries or immigrants are better off at their expense. And I may add, I doubt they find it celebratory every time billionaires in over-sized, buffoonish cowboy hats take a ride into outer space.
Fukuyama attributes the flaws of neoliberalism to oversimplification, a religious-like ideological fervor, and a misreading of human nature. On their own, capitalists will horde wealth because capitalists are humans and greed is part of human nature, which is why regulations are needed. Capitalism has overall elevated the wealth of many societies. But even when capitalism can benefit a large number of people, the beneficiaries react emotionally. They value cultural signifiers over affordability, best characterized by not wanting a Starbucks to replace a familiar café; they act in their self-interest; and desire the dignity of work. The backlash against immigrants, the rise of populism, and dangerously, the desire to “return” to an imagined idealized past threatens the very core of our social contract, the social order, the right to human dignity and self-determination as the disenchanted ones are willing to resort to violence.
Adding to the discontent wrought by neoliberalism is the rise of illiberal ideologies on both the Right and the Progressive Left. This is abetted by technology and the flow of unvetted claims, conspiracy theories, and outright fake news. The distrust of empiricism, disdain of facts, and “motivated reasoning,” i.e., finding selective data to support an a priori doctrine, produces a limitless source of charlatans, grifters, and opportunistic politicians.
On the Left, what started as a noble quest for equality for all in the social compact such as the sexual contract, correcting “the most rapacious forms of capitalism” (74) and the debunking of the assumed cultural superiority of Western culture, devolved into an obsession with group identity and irrational policing of speech. While Right-wing politicians demagogue the threat of Marxist Critical Theory or simply Critical Theory, it remains an exercise in the domain of academic political, sociological, and literary criticism. In other words, Critical Theory and Post Structuralism are intellectual exercises and not a mechanism of governance. It is true that Critical Theory is fixated with perpetual victimhood, historical power relationships, and stubborn focus on past wrongs, but it is not a danger to the social order because it does not advocate the imposition of a totalitarian system of governance. If anything, says Fukuyama, Progressive Leftism leans more towards anarchy. Thus, the Leftist program can be annoying if not downright silly, but it is not a threat to the liberal social order.
The existential threat to the civil order and the individual’s right to self-autonomy comes from the Right, says Fukuyama. Although the Right appropriated the Far Left’s disdain of facts and fixation with (in their case, white) identity politics, they never intended to defend the liberal order but preserve their own power in a zero-sum game where the triumphalist narrative of White American Exceptionalism remained dominant even at the expense of depriving some citizens of their full rights. However, if there ever was a constant, said Heraclitus of Ephesus, it is change. Modernity and liberalism disrupted the traditional ideas of “religiously based morality” and especially its regulations of sexual behavior. Fukuyama correctly states that the antipathy to change is not a particularly a Christian phenomenon but applies most of the major faiths around the world. Traditional nationalism, too, has diminished as more and more educated people identify with like-minded people around the world. This cosmopolitanism is disdained by the American Right as un-American.
"In some corners of the American Right, unwillingness to tolerate diversity extends not only to fellow citizens of the wrong race, ethnicity, or religion, but to broad groups of people who actually constitute a majority of the population." (118)
Here Fukuyama quotes Glenn Elmers of the Claremont Institute that even liberally inclined white Americans are not considered real Americans by the Right but rather “citizen aliens” (118). The Right is dangerously willing to use state power and violence to impose their ideological vision of a 19th century America and coerce others into their definition of Americanism. They fail to see that the changes they are so threatened by are manifestations of the political evolution that sought to fulfill the promise of liberalism, which is freedom and equality for all as the Pledge of Allegiance says.
In his last two chapters, “National Identity” and “Principles for a Liberal Society,” Fukuyama refutes the criticisms of liberalism from the Left and the Right.
"Progressives for their part will have to accept the fact that roughly half the country does not agree with either their goals or their methods, and they are unlikely to simply overpower them at the ballot box anytime soon. Conservatives need to come to terms with the country’s shifting racial and ethnic mix, the fact that women will continue to occupy the fullest range of positions, both professionally and privately, and that gender roles have changed profoundly. Both sides quietly entertain hopes that a large majority of their fellow citizens secretly agree with them and are prevented from expressing this agreement only through media manipulation and false consciousness propagated by various elites. This is a dangerous dodge that simply allows partisans to simply wish diversity away. Classical liberalism is needed more than ever today, because the United States (as well as other liberal democracies) are more diverse than they ever were." (146)
Finally, Fukuyama argues that there are no other just governing alternatives to liberalism; that its perceived weaknesses—its institutions of checks and balances that slow the implementation of new legislation, its deconstruction of the old binds of traditionalism and religion, its impersonality--are its strengths. A liberal society creates order while simultaneously protecting its citizen from external threats by “creating a powerful state, but then constraining that power under the rule of law” (130).
More than ever, the principles of liberalism need to be affirmed and strengthened. This takes hard work--freedom isn’t free. We must take certain steps to safeguard liberalism and here is why. First, there is a need for government because it provides critical public services. The size of government is not the critical issue but the its quality and its impersonality, i.e., it must treat citizens as equals. This government, moreover, must be manned by well-educated professionals. Second, a quality government must regulate the economy but not hinder its growth engine and creative incentives in the process. But there must be a degree of regulation and income redistribution to protect against political backlash and unrest. Additionally, to secure the domestic peace, the government and liberal institutions must guard against “state rights” that seek to alienate citizens from their rights by hindering their access to the ballot box, gerrymandering, and, now, forcing women to give birth. Third, free speech needs to be defended because free thought is implicit with speech. However, there are limits because of norms and empirical facts. Furthermore, free speech originates with the right to privacy. There is no “right way to think,” contrary to what the Right and the Progressive Left posit. Finally, the rights of the individual take primacy over the cultural rights of groups because individualism is a universal value and not a construct of Western culture. Rather individualism is a by-product of socio-economic modernity, be it in Western Europe or South Korea. Although we members of groups based on heritage, ancestry and such, we have individual agency, and individual agency takes precedence over the group.
Fukuyama closes his book with the admonishment for the political leadership and its individual citizens to distance themselves from extremism. As the ancient Greeks said: “nothing in excess” (154).
"Moderation implies and requires self-restraint, the deliberate effort not to seek the greatest emotion of the fullest accomplishment. Moderation is seen as an artificial restraint on the inner self, whose full expression is said to be the source of human happiness and achievement." (154)
This book is a timely reminder of principles of the nation and why those principles are under attack and must be defended. Fukuyama reminds his readers that the nation was founded on the philosophy of classical liberalism not a specious White nationalist narrative as espoused by the Right nor the victimhood narrative of the Left. It’s accessible writing and straight-forward argumentative style make for a quick but dense, thought-provoking reading and one that every citizen should read.
Rosa Martha Villarreal, recently retired as an Adjunct Professor at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California, is author of several important novels including Doctor Magdalena, The Stillness of Love and Exile, and Chronicles of Air and Dreams. The name for her column, Tertullian’s Corner, comes, she says, from the time when liberal, i.e., free thinking, people were persecuted by the Catholic Church. So young men (and women) would gather in some corner of a monastery under the pretense of discussing the Church Father, Tertullian. Thus, the tertulia was born.
Venga, madre— su rebozo arrastra telaraña negra y sus enaguas le enredan los tobillos; apoya el peso de sus años en trémulo bastón y sus manos temblorosas empujan sobre el mostrador centavos sudados. ¿Aún todavía ve, viejecita, la jara de su aguja arrastrando colores? Las flores que borda con hilazas de a tres-por-diez no se marchitan tan pronto como las hojas del tiempo. ¿Qué cosas recuerda? Su boca parece constantemente saborear los restos de años rellenos de miel. ¿Dónde están los hijos que parió? ¿Hablan ahora solamente inglés y dicen que son hispanos? Sé que un día no vendrá a pedirme que le que escoja los matices que ya no puede ver. Sé que esperaré en vano su bendición desdentada. Miraré hacia la calle polvorienta refrescada por alas de paloma hasta que un chiquillo mugroso me jale de la manga y me pregunte: — Señor, jau mach is dis? --
To an Old Woman
Come, mother— your rebozo trails a black web and your hem catches on your heels, you lean the burden of your years on shaky cane, and palsied hand pushes sweat-grimed pennies on the counter. Can you still see, old woman, the darting color-trailed needle of your trade? The flowers you embroider with three-for-a-dime threads cannot fade as quickly as the leaves of time. What things do you remember? Your mouth seems to be forever tasting the residue of nectar hearted years. Where are the sons you bore? Do they speak only English now and say they’re Spanish? One day I know you will not come and ask for me to pick the colors you can no longer see. I know I’ll wait in vain for your toothless benediction. I’ll look into the dusty street made cool by pigeons’ wings until a dirty kid will nudge me and say: “Señor, how mach ees thees?”
Riffs sobre el poema “A una anciana / To an Old Woman”
por Rafael Jesús González
Regresando a casa después de mi servicio en la marina estadunidense en 1958, me matriculé bajo la ley GI en la Universidad de Texas El Paso que entonces se llamaba Texas Western State College of the University of Texas. Después de clases trabajaba en la tiendita general de mi padre llamada Casa Gonycia (abreviatura de González y compañía) que vendía artículos de tocador, útiles escolares, juguetes, artículos de mercería y artículos varios en el Segundo barrio, el barrio de clase trabajadora más cercano a la frontera mexicana-estadounidense. De mi experiencia trabajando allí vino mi poema “A una anciana/To an Old Woman” en 1959. Había formado amistad con una cliente frecuente, una mujer muy mayor que a menudo me consultaba sobre la hilaza de bordar para combinar o complementar los colores de su exquisito bordado. Más allá de eso el poema es obra de mi imaginación. No arrastraba rebozo ni tropezaba con su bastilla ni pagaba sus compras con “centavos sudados.” Podía ver bastante bien y nuestras discusiones sobre los colores eran puramente estéticas. Coloreé su imagen para mis propios fines como escritor e imaginé una situación que pudiera o no ser suya para presentar un problema que siempre me había (ha) preocupado: la asimilación.
Nací y me creé en El Paso, Texas con familia a través del Río Bravo en Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua y la identidad se convertía cada vez más en un problema. El español era mi primera lengua y hasta los mediados de los 1960s cuando me convertí en chicano, era simplemente mexicano aunque sabía que era ciudadano de los Estados Unidos de América. Aun hoy en día cuando se me pregunta, “¿Qué eres?” mi respuesta inmediata es “mexicano” aunque cuando estoy más alerta digo, “Chicano.” Aunque cuando se me pregunta, “Cual es tu ciudadanía” no titubeo en absoluto.
No aprendí inglés hasta los siete en la escuela pública Lamar y a principio no fue fácil. Ya leía y escribía básicamente en español y el sonido impredecible de las mismas letras en inglés me confundía. Estuve en la oscuridad la mayor parte del tiempo. Un día mi madre con mi hermanito me acompañó a la escuela y se fueron a casa de mis abuelos a unas cuadras de distancia. Me encontré en un patio de recreo totalmente vacío, las puertas de la escuela cerradas. Estuve aterrorizado. Caminé de regreso a una casa vacía. Me senté en el portal confundido, asustado, sólo hasta que mi madre y abuela vinieron con mi hermanito y me cubrieron de abrazos y besos. La maestra había anunciado un día de fiesta pero yo no había entendido.
No ayudaba que fuéramos castigados si se nos escuchaba hablar español en la aula, los corredores o el patio de recreo. Si le preguntábamos a un compañero de clase, “¿Qué dijo la maestra?” se nos hacía pararnos en un rincón o nos mantenían después de clase. Tengo la distinción de haber reprobado el primer grado. Sobresalía en dibujo y pintura y recuerdo a una amable maestra, la Sra. Hall en cuarto grado, que me elogió y animó. Pero el director recomendó que mis padres nos llevaran a mí y a mi hermano Arturo (dos años menor que yo) a la Escuela Bailey para niños “retrasados.”
Mi padre lo hizo y el director de la Escuela Bailey que no pudo habernos tenido allí más de treinta minutos, le dijo a mi padre que no pertenecíamos allí y recomendó que nos cambiara de escuela. Mis padres se endeudaron y compraron su primera y única casa para que pudiéramos cambiar de distritos e ir a la escuela pública Morehead donde nuestros problemas desaparecieron. (Dos maestras se destacan: la Sra. Patricia Robinson, maestra de arte que hablaba excelente español e invitaba a algunos estudiantes a su casa para dibujar y pintar. Y la Srta. Mary Hignett, maestra de inglés, con quien hice amigos en mis años universitarios hasta su muerte.)
La escuela Morehead, El Paso, Texas
Para entonces en 1950 me había ajustado, aculturado si quiere; no fui asimilado (lo que para mí tiene la connotación de ser masticado, tragado y digerido). Para mí, el lenguaje ha sido una piedra de toque de asimilación. El indio mexicano yo había sido asimilado hacía mucho tiempo; mi abuelo materno Papanito, don Diego González Sosa a excepción por su color y facciones y su decir que éramos indio no hablaba lengua indígena para indicarlo sino solo un castellano formal. El mexicano mestizo yo, no así. Fui bendecido con padres, Jesús Fidel González de Coahuila y Carmen González Prieto de Durango, (traídos a los EE.UU. a los 13 y 12 años respetivamente) quienes siempre insistieron en que habláramos y escribiéramos tanto en español como en inglés. Tomé cursos en español durante la escuela secundaria y me gradué de la universidad con un bachillerato en literatura inglesa con suficientes horas en literatura española para una doble especialización. En una ironía del destino, he pasado la mayor parte de mi vida como profesor de inglés en universidades y colegios. Resistir la asimilación es una lucha, especialmente en un imperio que impone su hegemonía (militar, económica, política, lingüística, cultural) en el mundo. Toda mi vida he tenido que defender aun mi nombre. Personas que deberían saber más insisten en escribir Rafael, Raphael (la ph no existe en español), omitir los acentos en Jesús y González y escribir González con S. Y algunos han tenido el descaro de dirigirse a mí como Ralph, entre ellos S. I. Hayakawa, un lingüista japonés-canadiense, firme oponente a la educación bilingüe y fundador del movimiento “Solo Inglés” para hacer el inglés el idioma oficial de los Estados Unidos. Por supuesto que la asimilación implica mucho más que el nombre y la lengua materna de uno. Las presiones para asimilarse son grandes en los EE.UU. y se logra grado a grado por lo que sea que uno emprenda: educación, profesión, activismo político, participación social. Pero, como con la conquista de las Américas, se debe resistir. La pregunta es, ¿en que medida? Para mí una línea de identidad que se debe respetar es mi nombre y mi lengua materna aunque reconozco que algunos de mis compatriotas chicanos que más se resisten a la asimilación se les dieron nombres en inglés al nacer y se les enseñó sólo inglés por padres ansiosos por asimilarse para tratar de salvar a sus hijos de la discriminación virulenta, el racismo, endémico de los EE.UU. Dos razones principales por las que vine a la Bahía de San Francisco fueron su sistema de colegios comunitarios. En el Colegio Laney, Oakland donde enseñe durante treinta años, muchos de mis estudiantes hablaban español, ebonics (dialecto africano-estadounidense), cantonés, japonés, tagalo, pachuco, náhuatl, quechua, un idioma maya y otras lenguas demasiadas para listar. En mis clases siempre enfaticé que enseñaría inglés estándar, no como un sustituto del idioma o idiomas que ya conocían sino simplemente como uno más para agregar. En muchos lugares y situaciones, como en su hogar, barrios, iglesia, su lengua materna serviría excelentemente bien. Al mismo tiempo, en otros lugares como la academia, el trabajo, la política, el banco, el inglés estándar sería un instrumento para abrir puertas que de otro modo estarían cerradas para ell@s. Cuídense y eviten los falso dilemas, les decía a mis alumn@s. Cuando se me pregunta si quiero helado de vainilla o de chocolate, respondo que sí, por favor, tomaré de los dos. La resistencia terca, a veces vehemente, a la educación bilingüe en los EE.UU. solía desconcertarme. Cada idioma es un mundo en una Tierra compartida, una forma particular de formar una realidad, una aventura de la consciencia humana. ¿Por qué negar a l@s niñ@s un segundo idioma a una edad en la que pueden aprenderlo tan fácilmente? ¿Por qué insistir en la ignorancia? Ahora me desconcierta menos. El excepcionalismo, como el narcisismo, es una identidad frágil que no tolera la variedad, las comparaciones. Prefiere un mundo en su imagen, su propia marca de realidad, su hegemonía. El excepcionalismo insiste en la “pureza” de raza, de política, de religión, de cultura, de idioma, etc. Celoso de sus propias fronteras, el excepcionalismo no vacila en violar las de los demás. Insiste en la asimilación, o si no . . . Se podría decir que el idioma es el aspecto más importante de la identidad, no solo de la nación, sino a menudo de la clase social. El objetivo de impartir clases sólo en inglés estándar en las escuelas públicas es, por supuesto, la estandarización, la homogeneización y la asimilación que son requisitos del estado nación en el que el angloamericano se considera el estándar étnico. No soy partidario del estado nación; prefiero mucho más el estado multinacional, y por mucho que haya resistencia a él, históricamente violenta y genocida, los Estados Unidos es en hecho tal. No soy nacionalista. Cuando se me pregunta mi ciudadanía, lo más probable es que ahora responda, “del mundo”. O Berkeley (destinado a fronteras, la línea divisora entre la ciudad de Berkeley y la ciudad de Oakland pasa justo por el medio de mi casa así que preparo el desayuno en Berkeley y lo como en Oakland.) Soy habitante de frontera; crecí sin creer en las fronteras. Me gustan las diferencias, soy tolerante con la contradicción, cómodo con la paradoja. Me gustan las distinciones pero también me gusta la mezcla, la difusión, las sombras y los matices. Entendí cuando mi cliente la viejita me pedía hilaza matizada para sus bordados. En cuanto a mi escritura, negarme a sacrificar mi español no menos que mi nombre, me hace heredero de dos musas, hermanas congeniales, y no abandonaré la una por la otra. Nunca sé cual me hablará primero pero en cuanto una me da un verso, una frase, la otra inmediatamente me da su equivalente en la otra lengua, un diálogo, una discusión que afecta a cada versión tal que casi todos mis poemas son piezas únicas en dos lenguas, ninguna versión de la otra. Los editores a menudo no entienden el bilingüismo y preguntan que versión es la traducción de la otra, cual debe estar en cursiva. Parece desconcertarlos cuando digo que ni la una o la otra. Y aun más cuando insisto en que tampoco las palabras solas en el cuerpo del texto. También podría notar que aunque respeto la mezcla, también me gustan las distinciones y que escribo tanto en inglés estadounidense bastante estándar como en español mexicano bastante estándar, cada uno por separado y distinto. Temo que esto no solo habla de mi identidad sino también de mi enseñanza y quizás de mi clase. Así sea el chicano que soy. Pero hay que responderle a la pregunta del chiquillo en mi poema: Demasiado mijo, mucho muy demasiado; too much, much, much too much.
Riffs on the Poem “A una anciana / To an Old Woman”
by Rafael Jesús González
Coming home from my stint in the U.S. Navy in 1958, I enrolled under the G.I. Bill at the University of Texas El Paso which was then named Texas Western State College of the University of Texas. After classes, I worked at my father’s small general store named Gonycia (abbreviated for González y compañía) which sold toiletries, school supplies, toys, notions, and sundries, in el Segundo barrio, the working-class neighborhood closest to the U.S.-Mexican border.
Rafael Jesús González in the Navy circa 1956
From my experience working there came my poem “A una anciana/To an Old Woman” in 1959. I had formed a bond with a regular customer, a very elderly woman who often consulted me about embroidery floss to match or complement the colors of her exquisite embroidery. Beyond that, the poem is a work of my imagination. She did not trail a rebozo nor trip on her hems, nor did she pay for her purchases with “sweat-grimed pennies.” She could see well enough and our discussions of colors were purely aesthetic. I embellished her image for my own purposes as a writer and imagined a situation which might or might not have been hers to present a problem that had (has) always concerned me: assimilation.
I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, with family across the Río Bravo in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and identity increasingly became a problem. Spanish was my first language and, until about the mid 1960s when I became Chicano, I was simply Mexican though I knew that I was a citizen of the United States of America. Even today, when I am asked, “What are you?” my immediate response is “Mexican” though when I am more alert, I will say, “Chicano.” Though when I am asked, “What is your citizenship?” I do not hesitate at all.
I did not learn English until I was seven at Lamar Public School and at first it was not easy. I was already doing some basic reading and writing in Spanish and the unpredictable sound of the same letters in English confused me. I was in the dark most of the time. One day my mother with my little brother walked me to school and went on to my grandparents’ house a few blocks away. I found myself in a totally empty playground, doors of the school closed. I was terrified. I walked back home to an empty house. I sat on the porch confused, afraid, lonely until my mother and grandmother came with my little brother and covered me with abrazos and kisses. A holiday had been announced by the teacher, but I had not understood.
It did not help that we were punished if we were heard speaking Spanish in the classroom, the halls, or the playground. If we asked a classmate, “¿Qué dijo la maestra?” we were made to stand in a corner or kept after school. I have the distinction of having failed first grade. I did excel in drawing and coloring and I recall a kind teacher Mrs. Hall in fourth grade who praised and encouraged me. But the principal recommended that my parents take me and my brother Arturo (two years younger that I) to Bailey School for “retarded” children.
My father did so and the principal at Bailey School who could not have kept us there more than thirty minutes or so, told my father that we did not belong there, and recommended that we change schools. My parents went into debt and bought their first and only house so that we could change districts and go to Morehead Public School where our problems vanished. (Two teachers stand out: Mrs. Patricia Robinson, art teacher, who spoke excellent Spanish and would invite a few students to her home on weekends to draw and paint. And Miss Mary Hignett, English teacher, with whom I became friends in my college years until her death.)
González family circa 1947: parents Carmen (left) and Jesús (right) with sons Arturo (left) and Rafael (center)
By then in 1950 I was adjusted, acculturated if you will; I was not assimilated (which to me has connoted being chewed, swallowed, and digested). For me, language has been a touchstone of assimilation. Mexican Indian me had long been assimilated; my maternal grandfather Papanito, don Diego González Sosa except for his color and features and his saying that we were indio spoke no indigenous language to indicate it, but only a formal castellano. Mexican mestizo me not so. I was blessed with parents, Jesús Fidel González of Coahuila and Carmen González Prieto of Durango (brought to the U.S. at 13 and 12, respectively), who always insisted that we speak and write both Spanish and English. I took Spanish courses throughout high school and graduated from college with a degree in English literature with enough hours in Spanish literature for a double major. In an irony of fate, I have spent most of my life as a professor of English in universities and colleges. Resisting assimilation is a struggle, especially in an empire that imposes its hegemony (military, economic, political, linguistic, cultural) on the world. All my life I’ve had to defend even my name. Folk who should know better insist on spelling Rafael, Raphael (the ph does not exist in Spanish), leaving out the accents in Jesús and González, and spelling González with an S. And some have had the effrontery to address me as Ralph, among them S. I. Hayakawa, a Japanese-Canadian immigrant linguist, adamant opponent of bi-lingual education and founder of the English-only “U.S. English” movement to make English the official language of the United States. Of course, assimilation involves much more than one’s name and one’s native tongue. The pressures to assimilate are great in the U.S. and it is accomplished by and to degrees by whatever one undertakes: schooling, profession, political activism—social involvement. But, as with the conquest of the Americas, it is to be resisted. The question is, to what degree. For me a line of identity to be respected is my name and my mother tongue though I recognize that some of my Chicanx compatriots most resisting assimilation were given English names at birth and taught only English by parents eager to assimilate to try to save their children from the virulent discrimination, racism, endemic to the U.S. Two major reasons for my coming to San Francisco Bay were its community college system and the rich racial and ethnic variety of its people. At Laney College, Oakland where I taught for thirty years, many of my students spoke Spanish, Ebonics, Cantonese, Japanese, Tagalog, Pachuco, Nahuatl, Quechua, a Maya language, and other tongues too many to list. In my classes, I always emphasized that I would teach Standard English, not as a substitute for the language or languages they already knew but simply as another one to be added. In many places and situations such as in their home, ‘hoods, church, their native tongue would serve most excellently well. At the same time, in other places such as academia, work, politics, the bank, Standard English would be a tool to open doors otherwise closed to them. Beware of and avoid false dilemmas, I would say to my students. When asked if I wanted vanilla or chocolate ice-cream, I would reply, yes, please, I will have both. The mulish, sometimes vehement, resistance to bilingual education in the U.S. used to puzzle me. Each language is a world in a shared Earth, a particular way of shaping a reality, an adventure of human consciousness. Why deny children a second language at an age when they could so easily learn it? Why insist upon ignorance? It now puzzles me less. Exceptionalism, like narcissism, is a fragile identity intolerant of variety, of comparisons. It prefers one world in its image, its own brand of reality, its hegemony. Exceptionalism insists on “purity” of race, politics, religion, culture, language, and so on. Jealous of its own borders, exceptionalism does not hesitate violating those of others. It insists on assimilation—or else. Language is arguably the single most important aspect of identity not only of nation but often of social class. The goal of teaching classes only in Standard English in public schools is of course standardization, homogenization, assimilation which are prerequisites of the nation state in which the Anglo-American is viewed as the ethnic standard. I am not partisan of the nation state; I much prefer the multinational state, and much as there is resistance to it, historically violent and genocidal, the U.S. is in fact such. I am not a nationalist. When asked my citizenship, I would most likely now reply, “of the world.” Or Berkeley (destined to borders, the dividing line between the city of Berkeley and the city of Oakland runs right through the middle of my house so that I fix breakfast in Berkeley and eat it in Oakland). I am a denizen of the border; I grew up disbelieving in borders. I like differences, am tolerant of contradiction, comfortable with paradox. I like distinctions but I also like the blending, the diffusion, shades and hues. I understood when my customer the old lady asked for hilaza matizada (variegated floss) for her embroidery. As to my writing, my refusal to sacrifice my Spanish no less than my name, makes me heir to two muses, congenial sisters, and I will not forsake one for the other. I never know which will speak to me first, but as soon as one gives me a line, a phrase, a verse, the other will immediately give me its equivalent in the other tongue, a dialogue, a discussion that affects each version so that almost all of my poems are unique pieces in two tongues, neither version the translation of the other. Editors most often do not understand bilingualism and ask which version is the translation of the other, which should be set in italics. It seems to disconcert them when I say neither. And even more when I insist that neither should be individual words in the body of the text. I might also note that though I respect blending, I also like distinctions and that I write in both fairly Standard U.S. English and fairly Standard Mexican Spanish, each separate and distinct. I am afraid that this not only speaks to my identity, but also to my schooling, and perhaps my class. Such be the Chicano I am. But the kid in my poem “A una anciana/To an Old Woman” must be answered his question: Demasiado mijo, mucho muy demasiado; too much, much, much too much.
Previous publication credits:
To an Old Woman, González, Rafael Jesús. “To the Old Woman.” New Mexico Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4, 1961
A una Anciana, González, Rafael Jesús, New Poets of the American West; Lowell Jaeger, Ed.; 2010, Many Voices Press.
Riffs on the Poem “A una anciana/To an Old Woman”, English Journal, Vol. III no. 5, May 2022, of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Riffs sobre el poema “A una anciana/To an Old Woman”, Uncommon Ground, Seigel, Shizue, Ed.; San Francisco, Pease Press, 2022
Rafael Jesús González, profesor de escritura creativa y literatura enseño en varias universidades antes de establecerse en el Colegio Laney en Oakland, California, donde fundó el Departamento de Estudios Mexicanos y Latinoamericanos en 1969. Cuatro veces postulado para el Premio Pushcart, Rafael fue honrado por sus escritos por el Concilio Nacional de Docentes de Inglés en 2003. Recibió un premio por logros de toda una vida César Chávez en 2013 y uno de la ciudad de Berkeley en 2015. Rafael es el primer Poeta Laureado de Berkeley. Visite email@example.com.
Rafael Jesús González, a professor of creative writing and literature, taught at several universities before he settled at Laney College in Oakland, California, where he founded the Department of Mexican and Latin American Studies in 1969. Four times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Rafael was honored for his writing by NCTE in 2003. He received a César Chávez Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 and one from the city of Berkeley, California, in 2015. Rafael is Berkeley’s first Poet Laureate. Visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was my first real check. I’d worked a summer job before and been paid for odd jobs, but this was my first steady job. Don’t be fooled though it’s not like I was minting money, at $7 per hour and working part-time hours I was lucky to pull down $150. Nonetheless, I’d never felt so proud, real money earned by my hard work. Stocking reams of paper at Staples wasn’t back-breaking work but I earned this damn check and acquired a vast knowledge of copier paper. You only live once, splurge for that card stock.
Soon as my shift let out, I wandered down to the check-cashing place to turn this bad boy into cold hard cash. Maybe head down to Sam Goody or The Wiz, pick up that new Ghostface album. The lyrics are a bit unorthodox but he can put together an album.
Waited my turn in line to cash the check and I was floored when the lady said it would be a 5% fee. Get the fuck outta here! She must be crazy, I thought to myself, Uncle Sam already took a third of this thing without doing anything, now these fools want another five on top of that? “Nah I’ll take that back, thank you,” I said.
My dad had cashed one of my summer checks for me and he rounded it up to the next dollar when he paid out, why would I settle for less?
For anyone that hasn’t had the displeasure of the check-cashing place experience, it’s truly depressing. You’re typically greeted at the door by a drunk or homeless person who graciously opens the door in the hopes that you’ll slip them a few bucks on the way out. After you cross the doors into this palace of dreariness, you’re usually met by the usual band of characters, the local building porter cashing his check and then spending half of it on lotto tickets hoping to hit it big, the much too young couple with a stroller waiting for some money being wired to them so they can buy milk for the baby and on the opposite side of the spectrum is the lady wiring money back home to DR so her family can go food shopping and buy her mother’s medicine. It’s like a diagram box of how crappy life is, especially when you can’t have a bank account. I’ll hop off this soapbox and get back to my story.
My father happily agreed to deposit the check for me and said he’d bring me the cash the next day, my CD shopping spree would have to wait another day. The following afternoon I was off from work and so I went straight home after school to catch my dad as soon as he arrived. From the moment he walked through our apartment door my eyes were fixated on him. Watching his every move to see when he would give me my money.
After about 10 minutes he finally asked, “¿Qué es lo que pasa?”
“What happened to the money?” I replied.
Out of his work bag he pulled a small money envelope, he stretched out his arm to hand it to me and as I extended my arm he pulled it back and asked me to have a seat at the table.
What could it be? Or worse what have I done? Is he in need of money? Will I have to give him a percentage in return for everything I’ve received over the years? We sat down across from each other at the table and he slid the envelope my way. There’s no telling what he’s about to say, so I figured I’d grab it and open it before I’m talked out of it. As expected he rounded the money up, it was already a win. The excitement was overtaking me, physically I was still in the chair but mentally I was on my way to the record store. And then he started, I could tell he was going to preach.
He put his hands together like a Dominican Dr. Evil and stared intently, this is his signature move. I should’ve known a sermon was coming because everything with my dad involved lecturing. Was I better off just giving the 5%?
“Son, you’re starting to earn your own money and I’m proud of you. This is a big step in a man’s life. You’re not independent yet but you’re on the way.” he said.
“On my way? Fuck is he talking about? Is he kicking me out? This is $130, I can barely get an unlimited metro card. I ain’t paying rent,” I thought.
“An important part of life is not just making money, but saving it and investing it, so that one day you’ll hopefully see it grow,” he continued.
“Papi, I’m sitting on a couple of twenties here. I’m lucky if I can buy lunch with this,” I said hoping to avoid a drawn-out ordeal. Guess I’m lucky he’s talking about saving and not about using it to reimburse him.
“That’s where it starts though, sacrifice. You sacrifice buying lunch and you take the leftovers that your mother packs. It’s better for you and you’re not spending unnecessarily,” he rebutted.
“There’s no way I’m taking leftovers with me. ¿Usted cree que yo voy a calentar bacalao en el trabajo? Será para que me boten. Plus what chicks are gonna wanna go out with the dude eating leftover locrio?” I pleaded.
The raised right eyebrow was a sign he was growing tired of my constant interruptions. It was time to change my game plan, so decided I would entertain it.
“Ok, so are you recommending I open a savings account?” I asked, with an inquisitive look.
“That’s a good idea or maybe put it into a sociedad (or susu). You get your money together and buy something that will grow in value. Ahora mismo vamos a comprar unas vacas para la finca. You won’t be ready for this round but we’ll be buying continuously. You put some money into cows and it’ll grow exponentially,” he said.
All I could give back was a blank stare. Open a savings account to purchase cows. God damn cows! The ridiculousness of it just seemed too much. Here I am born and raised in NYC, the financial capital of the world and my father’s investment advice is to buy some cows in a fucking campo back in DR. Not a bond, nor stocks or even a bank CD, but bovine!
“Dad, this sounds like a fantastic idea, it’s a lot for me to process right now but I’ll give it some thought.” It was all I could say, this man was dead serious about this livestock purchase. “I’m going to head out, mind if we continue this another time?” I asked.
He nodded in approval, so I grab my $130 and I was off. Heading straight to the record store and after picking up my CDs I stopped off for a burger and fries. It was a sign that I couldn’t be trusted to own cows, I’d eat all the product.
I never gave the cows another thought. My father either forgot or just decided I wasn’t a worthy investor.
About 6 months later the whole family went to DR for Semana Santa. DR never disappoints: the food, the beaches, the beautiful women, and the ice-cold Presidentes. You haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed a frosty Presidente in the Dominican sun. “Vestida de novia,” as we say. Even our time in the campo was great. Easter dinner was at my grandmother's house and on the menu was sancocho, which is one of my favs. The one thing I noticed absent from the whole trip was my dad’s prized cows. Where was the investment that would literally change this family’s fortunes?
“Papi, what happened with the cows I haven’t seen a single one?” I asked.
“Didn’t work out with the cows. They got sick and died,” he said matter of factly.
“¡Pero dieron justamente para el sancocho!”
Henry Suarez is an emerging Dominican-American writer from New York City. Residing in Westchester, NY with his wife and daughters. His writing focuses mainly on the immigrant experience, growing up bicultural/bilingual, and his journey through fatherhood. https://twitter.com/_suarezhenry
The Tejano Monument, sculpted by Armando Hinojosa, commemorating the impact of Tejano culture and history way before 1836, was installed on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, in 2012.
Twelve things we should all know about Texas
By José Antonio López
Joe Lopez has been writing columns about south Texas and Texas history in general for over ten years, along with contributing commentaries to various newspapers. He recently retired as a columnist for the online newspaper, Rio Grande Guardian International News Service. We plan to publish monthly the “Best of Joe Lopez” featuring his wit, his knowledge and commitment to telling the truth about the history of Texas. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own. (Full disclosure, the Editor of Somos en escrito Magazine is from San Antonio, Texas, but is unbiased in his views about his home state.)
(Note: This article first appeared in the online newspaper, Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, July 2011.)
Ever since the extremist super majority took over the Texas state legislature, they have embarked on a lock-step campaign to push for legislation that can only be described as limiting the freedom of Hispanic citizens in Texas. Their political agenda shows an underlying contempt, suspicion and distrust for any Texas attribute that is Spanish Mexican in nature. For example, a bewildered Texas state senator recently was visibly upset to learn that Spanish-surnamed Texans speak Spanish as their language of choice. Another extremist political leader in Austin complained that “the trouble in the Texas legislature is that there are too many Hispanics”. The question is what can explain their rancor against Texas Hispanics?
In my view, they choose to ignore the common thread of Hispanic presence in Texas since its very foundation. Additionally, they confuse two different problems – (1) illegal immigration and (2) the rapidly browning of the Texas population. They unwisely believe the first problem causes the second. That is a false cause and effect picture. To begin, illegal immigration is wrong. However, it will be solved only when all the affected parties unite to develop a common solution. Now, let’s look at the second issue – the browning of the Texas population.
Very clearly, the core of Hispanics in Texas is Spanish Mexican. So, let us call it what it is. This group is half white (Spanish = European) and half brown (Mexican = Native American). They are the direct descendants of the first citizens of Texas. They are not immigrants. This critical point is what separates our group from our other sister Hispanic groups, such as Cuban Americans and other groups from Central and South America and the Caribbean. Spanish Mexicans were once the majority in Texas and are now poised to once more regain that distinction.
In short, the recent hateful legislation is ill advised and is due to blatant ignorance of Texas history. To that end, and with all due respect to our many supportive Anglo friends who know the full story, the details below are provided.
1. There was a Texas before 1836. Texas was not created by Anglo Saxon immigrants from the U.S. Nor is Texas the English name for Tejas. Both are Spanish names derived from a Native American Caddo tribe word meaning friend. The x sound in Texas is also pronounced as in México, Béxar, and Mexia. Texas was born in 1691. There were over 30 Spanish-surnamed Texas Governors between 1691 and 1821.
2. Beginning in the early 1700s, Spanish Mexican pioneers built thriving communities “Deep in the Heart of Texas” along El Camino Real (San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Goliad, and the Villas del Norte in the Lower Rio Grande). With skills they brought from Central and Northern Mexico, Spanish Mexican pioneers established the original ranchos. These first citizens of Texas also perfected the cowboy way of life in the state. This is why basic cowboy terminology is of Spanish language origin. After 1836, many of these Spanish words were Anglicized, such as ranch, cowboy, rodeo, corral, lasso, riata, cinch, ten gallon hat, remuda, mustang, etc… Unfortunately, movies and heavily Anglicized western novels have been very unkind to the Southwest Hispano Mexican culture. They continue to portray Spanish Mexicans only in minor and passive or negative roles.
3. San Juan Bautista Presidio, the “Gateway to Texas”. In 1699-1700, the San Juan Bautista Presidio was established along the Rio Grande in a pass of the river near present-day Guerrero, Coahuila and Eagle Pass, Texas. The Presidio was the only port of entry into Texas for the many families from Central and Northern Mexico who passed through its gates. Its ruins today serve as a reminder of the close relationship between Texas and (Coahuila) Mexico. Descendants of many of the early 1700s pioneer families throughout Texas have genealogical ties to San Juan Bautista.
4. Compañías Volante were the first Texas Rangers. As Spanish Mexican pioneers moved into Texas from elsewhere in Mexico, Spanish authorities were incapable of providing any more than the most minimum number of soldiers to provide security. As such, colonist leaders organized groups of citizen soldiers based in large ranchos and towns. Each team was then responsible for an assigned territory. Carrying only the most basic essentials, the team could literally fly off to any rancho being attacked by bandits. The lean and mean company became known as the Compañía Volante. Their legendary riding skills clearly characterize them as the Cossacks of Texas. When the Texas Rangers were established after 1836, the key role of the Compañía Volante was largely forgotten in the telling of Texas history.
5. The Emerald Green flag is the first flag of Texas Independence. The color was apparently chosen to honor Irish American Lieutenant Augustus McGee, Lt. Colonel Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s protégée and chief military assistant during the initial part of the first Texas Revolution. Don Bernardo adopted the plain Emerald Green flag as the banner for the Army of the North (First Texas Army). Is the flag a legitimate flag of Texas Independence? The answer is yes. The facts are as follow: (l) Don Bernardo became the first President of Texas on April 6, 1813; (2), he wrote, signed and issued the first Texas Declaration of Independence; and (3) he wrote and issued the first Texas Constitution, modeled on the U.S. Constitution, on April 17, 1813. Oddly, even though it is the mother of all Texas independence flags, the Emerald Green Flag is not one of the six generally accepted flags of Texas.
6. The Battle of Medina fought on August 18, 1813, is the largest battle ever fought on Texas soil, according to the Texas State Historical Commission. Lt. Colonel Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s hope of complete victory over the Spanish forces vanished quickly when he was betrayed by some members of his immediate military staff. Don Bernardo was relieved of command and forced into exile in Louisiana. Under a different commander at the Battle of Medina, the Tejano Army was outmaneuvered by General Arredondo, a more experienced Spanish general. On a very hot August afternoon, the Tejanos were encircled and defeated about 20 miles south of San Antonio, bringing an end to Texas independence.
7. Tejanos did the heavy lifting, sacrificing, and dying for Texas Independence. In the name of self-rule, the suffering of the Spanish Mexican citizens of Texas continued for many years. The year 1810 can be referred to as the birth of Texas independence. It was then that a young Don Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, born and raised on the banks of the lower Rio Grande, decided to light the spark for freedom and liberty in Texas. Coincidentally, there was another largely forgotten act of sacrifice in the name of Texas liberty. Juan Bautista de las Casas, a retired captain and native of Nuevo Santander, set up a revolutionary government in San Antonio in 1811. He was betrayed by accomplices and was executed by the Spanish military commander.
8. The Texas Independence movement did not begin in 1835-36. Sam Houston took over a work in progress. When he and many of the other Anglos immigrating from the U.S. arrived in Mexico, the country was embroiled in a battle between the centralists and the federalists (Tejanos). Initially, the Anglos supported the federalists. However, Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829. That fact displeased the Anglos who wished to retain slaves they had brought from the U.S. As a result, they opted for a clean break from Mexico. Doing so, the Anglos betrayed the Tejanos, who thought (until too late) that they were fighting for a federalist system. How did the Anglos reward Tejanos? They spread lies and propaganda about their loyalty. Facing death threats, Colonel Seguín was hounded out of San Antonio and forced to move in with family in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. He died there, across the river from his beloved Texas. It took officials of Seguín, Texas, over 120 years to realize that indeed Colonel Juan Seguín was a Texas hero. In 1968, Seguín’s body was exhumed and his bones were brought back home.
9. The 1836 Battles of the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto are part of a chronological chapter of Mexico’s history, not the U.S. As mentioned earlier, Texas did not join the U.S. until 1845. The U.S.- Mexico War (1846-48) was fought because the U.S. admitted Texas, a state that Mexico considered part of its republic. Losing the war and fighting for its land, Mexico lost Texas, South Texas, and over half of its sovereign territory, which encompasses the Southwest.
10. The Rio Grande – A Permanent Mason-Dixon Line. The Rio Grande has not always been the political boundary that it is today. The area from Texas to California is called the Borderlands for good reasons. The people living on both sides look identical because they share common bloodlines and history. They are descendants of the same families that were split apart in 1848, when the U.S. conquered over half of Mexico’s sovereign territory. Significantly, the Southwest territory (including Texas) is the only part of the U.S. that was forcibly taken by military force from a sovereign nation, the Republic of Mexico. It should be noted that in the U.S., New Spain is over twice as large as New England.
11. The Alamo is a San Antonio Mission. The building and its grounds are equal in historical stature to the other missions (San José, Concepción, Espada, and San Juan), the Spanish Governors Palace, La Bahia Presidio, and similar structures. These splendid buildings must be honored for their strength, beauty, and the creativity of their Spanish Mexican builders. They must no longer be marketed only because armed Anglo expatriates from the U.S. died there.
12. Irony of Ironies. Lt. Colonel Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s Texas Revolution freed slaves in Texas in 1813. Also, Mexico freed all slaves in 1829, which included Texas. In fact, runaway slaves from the U.S. had already found refuge in Texas as free men and women. However, in 1845 Texas Anglos traded their 1836 independence to join the U.S. as a slave state. For blacks, the Anglos’ decision to join the U.S. was devastating! Free blacks living in Texas were treated as runaway slaves. When caught, they were returned to their previous masters, or sold as slaves yet again.
Finally, the more that non-Hispanics learn of early Texas history, the more they will see that the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas run deep. Continuing to celebrate our rich centuries-old unique heritage is a natural process, because Texas is in New Spain, not New England. Once and for all, anti-Hispanic politicians must be reminded that “looking Mexican” and speaking Spanish in Texas and the Southwest are not sins of U.S. citizenship.
José Antonio (Joe) López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas. USAF Veteran. Served over 37 years in military/Federal Service. When he retired on January 1, 2000, he held a senior civilian management position at the U.S. Air Education/Training Command, Randolph AFB, TX. He is a direct descendant of Don Javier Uribe and Doña Apolinaria Bermúdez de Uribe, one of the families that settled José de Escandón’s Villas del Norte in what is now South Texas in 1750. He is married to the former Cordelia Jean “Cordy” Dancause of Laredo. He and his wife reside in Universal City, TX. They have one daughter, Brenda Jo. Mr. López is a Martin High School (MHS) graduate, Class of 1962; inducted into MHS Tiger Legends, Class of 2019. He has college degrees from Laredo Jr. College and Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, TX. Earned a Master’s Degree in Education. Author of several books: “The First Texas Independence, 1813” (2013), a bilingual reprint of “The Last Knight” (2009)), “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas)” (2009, a novel), “Preserving Early Texas History (Essays of an Eighth Generation South Texan)” (2015), “Friendly Betrayal” (2017, a novel), and “Preserving Early Texas History (Essays of an Eighth-Generation South Texan), Volume 2” (2018). Lopez served for over ten years as a senior columnist for the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service online newspaper and other print newspapers. He is the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, web sites dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history.
Recently I made migas for breakfast. I ripped the tortillas up and placed them in a cast iron pan of hot olive oil and cooked them until they were golden colored. There are a myriad of ways to make migas, a traditional Mexican dish. While the tortillas fried, I chopped onion, garlic and green pepper on an old cutting board mi mamá bought for me years ago.
After the tortillas were crispy, I added the vegetables. I sautéed them for a minute and then gently folded in the eggs and waited for them to cook, stirring the dish occasionally. The best corn tortillas are made from three ingredients, corn, lime and water, but when the lime is fried it lets off a peculiar smell of bitter tones. Eventually the smells of the green pepper and garlic catch up, and the mezcla, the mixture of flavors fills the air.
My mother taught me to cook that dish and many others. When we made migas, she handed me the bag of corn tortillas wrapped in paper and told me to rip them up. If the pieces were too big, she told me to rip them up smaller. If I cut them into pieces with a knife, she said, “No, no, no,” and shook her head. I eventually figured out what size she wanted for them. For some reason I was always determined to learn how to cook from her, so I let her tell me again and again what to do in the kitchen.
She believed in my ability to become a good cook. For her, being a “buena cocinera,” a “good cook,” as I often teased her, was important for many reasons. It meant you could take care of yourself. You could stock a pantry and fill your kitchen with homemade food.
But her cooking was also tied to being a traditional Mejicana, where culture, faith, identity and being a woman, were also a mezcla. She was renowned for her cooking in our small barrio in Detroit. She constantly offered food to anyone who walked through her doors or sat on the stoop. I recall her making me take a full plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn to a homeless man who was sitting outside on the stairs to our building. At that moment I learned, not by words but by action, to serve others, to give freely, even when you have a large brood of your own to feed.
She cooked with her comadres, making menudo to sell after mass. They sold the menudo to raise money for flowers for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To her, cooking was second nature. When I use her recipes, I sometimes look around the kitchen, as if she is here, waiting with a toalla, a kitchen towel, draped over her shoulder, waiting to eat. Cooking was a gift of love you gave to yourself and others.
I am eternally grateful that I learned to cook from her—and that she had the patience to put up with me. I remember being five years old, making tortillas with her. She let me roll small tortillas on her wooden board. She put them on the comal for me. I always let them burn. I loved the smell of the burnt masa. But more so, I loved her turning to me, saying, “You're fired, vayase.” I feigned resignation.
When I was in my twenties, she gave me several of her molcajetes, a tool made of smoothened volcanic stone. In English it is called a mortar and pestle, but there is so much more. It is a touchstone, a memory stone, a portal to the past. When I grind garlic, tomatoes or peppino in the heavy bowl, I feel deep calls to tradition and culture.
I feel my mamá, her comadres, my abuela and tías when I use those molcajetes. I am filled with memories that cause me to yearn for arms that are no longer here, to dial a phone number that no longer exists. I strain to hear a voice that has passed to the other side. I yearn for the smell of her comal, fire—hot, ready for tortillas.
This longing is the hardest to bear. It is the call from the deep that causes such surprise. I know it well. I have seen it in the face of friends as they talk about husbands and wives, abuelos and abuelas, and friends now gone. I have heard that yearning in the voice of my siblings.
Author's brother Gabriel
My brother Gabriel died fifteen years ago. He was bold, hilarious, and opinionated. His eyes flashed like those of a sprite. He was always up to something. One Sunday, he called repeatedly and set me up for a prank. He took a beeper and set it off every time I answered the phone. After seven pranks I yelled into the receiver. His boisterous laugh filled the line, filled the air.
He often called on weekend mornings. I drank coffee as we talked about politics and current events. We talked about our childhood, what had gone right and what had gone horribly wrong. Friends have shared with me countless stories of Gabriel helping them out by fixing their washer, or some other odd task. When I was angry or upset he encouraged me to let things go. There are days I want to hear his voice, to answer his phone calls and hear his mantra, “It’s all good, sis, it’s all good.”
When my mother was alive, we sometimes had a family tradition of reading the same books. Gabriel and I read Tecumseh: A Life, written by John Sugden several years before he passed away. We lived in Detroit, close to the river, close to historic Fort Wayne and we were lifelong parishioners of Ste. Anne de Detroit, which was also close to the river. We knew our parish and the land all along the Detroit river had once been home to the Objewe, Potawatomi and Ottawa—the Anishinaabe peoples.
We often talked about the injustices and crimes committed against Native Americans. Tecumseh gave us a much deeper insight into the history of the Native Americans of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Gabriel was much more expressive in his anger and emotions., and while I felt the injustices deeply, I was much more subdued.
When the Archdiocese of Detroit closed all of the Catholic High Schools in the city of Detroit, students and staff marched in protest from Southwest Detroit to the Archdiocese in downtown Detroit. I was the bilingual school counselor for the only Catholic School in the city that served Latina/o students and families. Gabriel walked with us that day.
I felt a deep loss at the closing of the school. I knew it meant I had to look for employment elsewhere. Gabriel saw it as an injustice against our community and he railed against its closing. I was lost in my emotions and didn’t know how to respond. I felt betrayed by the Archdiocese, but I was also afraid to admit the blow that I felt. We were a Latino/a community, we were Catholic. How could they shut us down? How could they betray us?
But Gabriel was fearless. He wanted to stand up in mass and yell down the priest, but I knew my mother, a leader in our parish, would be mortified and would never recover from the shame. I knew I would feel embarrassed. The Archdiocese was wrong for shuttering the numerous Catholic high schools in the city. It was about money and dare I say, race. But I was a good Mexican daughter, I could not allow him to stand up in mass. Somehow I talked him out of the idea.
I wish I had learned more of how to be fearless from him. I wish I had his strength and willingness to live more on the edge and take more risks. Too often, I let fear get the better of me.
When I think of Gabriel now, I think of our shared love of food and music, of reading and social justice. I picture an angel, not a white angel covered in feathers, but an angel that looks like my brother, brown and strong, with dark feathers and hair as black as coal, carrying a sword and a shield. He does not fly lightly, he flies with a force for justice, while seeking peace.
Author and her brothers
Another brother, Anthony Juan, died in 2019. He was a fierce patriarch and protector. He was rough and struggled with many demons, but he was also a storyteller. He was filled with stories about the streets and his many adventures.
Tony was 15 years my senior. But his laughter and sense of humor were quick. While many people feel hugging and kissing are no longer propio, Tony always insisted I kiss him on his cheek. It always felt like kissing a brillo pad.
He was a giant in my eyes. As a child, I prayed for him often. He gave my parents grief, but their love for him was relentless. He told me he promised himself he would no longer cause my parents sorrow when he saw my father cry over a situation he was involved in.
Tony was an incredible artist. I longed for his artwork. He did it in bits and pieces. At the end of each October at our home parish, I put up a community Ofrenda. It is large and changes every year. I think about the theme over the course of the year. I sit in front of the space it will occupy and I try to think and pray and listen to what it should be, to what it wants to say. The year that Tony passed away was also the year that numerous children from Central America and Mexico died while crossing the Rio Grande River, trying to cross over. As a family we loathed (and continue to loathe) how our people were, and are, treated by the Right and the Left.
That year I dedicated the Ofrenda to the children who had died crossing over. But I also set up a section dedicated to Tony. Pictures of the children covered the top section of the Ofrenda and on the buttomsection was Tony and his art work.
But it was so strange to me that no one brought in pictures of their loved ones that year until the month of November was almost over. Normally hundreds of photos adorn the Ofrenda by the middle of November. But it was almost as if Tony was guarding those children in the underworld. His work wasn’t finished. He was still protecting, still guarding, still doing his work.
Tony created stories wherever he went. One Christmas, he took my children aside and pulled a long blade out of his walking cane. He told them that if anyone ever touched them, that person would disappear and never be found. We knew he meant every word. He left my children with countless stories of boldness and misadventure. Tony loved astronomy. After he died, I had the distinct feeling that a new star had joined the cosmos—heaven was not quite ready for him. I often felt smaller than my brothers. They were large, dark, strong, muscular, very popular in our Southwest Detroit community, with the high cheekbones of my mother and the dark skin of my father. Their hair was coal—black. I was just me. Mousy, bookworm, with a big heart and a thirst for knowledge. But I also sing. So I sang at their funerals. I do not relish singing at funerals, but perhaps they knew they were leaving this earth before the rest of us. They told me what songs they wanted sung at their funerals. I did what I could. But each time I saw Tony, he told me he wanted me to sing “Ave Maria”. And while I sang it at my mother’s funeral and at Gabriel’s funeral, I was recuperating from a head, facial and ear injury at the time of Tony’s funeral. I still owe him that song. Promesa.
My brothers were shadow and light, another mezcla. They danced on the edges with angels and demons and often fell, but they always got back up. They were tenacious traviesos--mischevious to a fault, but they lived unafraid. They loved running and reading, baseball and science. They both had a passion for social justice and helping others.
I have seen enough of death to know the long shadow it casts, but I have also learned of the life it can bring. I am determined to remember the living. In my mind’s eye, my mother was full, a heart and life bursting with healing and love. Her quiet faith and certitude carried her. Her eyes carried laughter and sorrow, and her body showed frailty and strength. A softness enveloped her, it was as if La Virgen de Guadalupe really did cover her.
Wasn’t that mi mamasita’s prayer each time we left her house in Detroit? That La Virgencita would cover us and protect us with her tela? I hold her rosary beads and sit in the well—worn white armchair where she welcomed her grandchildren, where she spent her last hours on earth. It is in a corner of my bedroom, in a window facing west. I watch the setting sun and remember her.
I want to remember the light in my brothers, their passion for justice, for the broken and the poor. I want to remember their loud, boisterous voices. Their houses always had stacks of magazines, newspapers and books on history, science and politics. Gabriel always challenged me to look at my other siblings from another angle, to see with a new view, without hurt or bitterness, to live without judging yourself or others. I want to remember how safe I felt because of them. No matter where I went in Detroit, I knew they were looking out for me. After Gabriel died, I felt vulnerable. I wondered who would protect me. After Tony died, I felt it again. Who would look out for me? It took a while for me to realize my other brothers were there for me, too. When the migas finished cooking I put them on a plate my mother gave me years ago. The smell of garlic, green pepper and lime hung in the air. In the curls of steam that rose from the plate, I saw my brothers and mother, their laughter and grief, their sorrow and healing. I remember that we are all a mezcla of the present and the past.
I look at the plate and think of her and others who have gone on to the other side—my brothers, my tias and tios, friends, and other people I have loved. They left pedazitos de sus corazónes, little pieces of their hearts, here and there, spread throughout our lives, like migas on a plate on a bright Sunday morning.
Elena Dolores Solano was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is one of fifteen children. Her parents were migrant workers who moved north in the 1940s. She is a certified school counselor and works with Latino/a students in the public school system of Detroit. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Ms. Solano has written for many years of her experience growing up in a large Mexican American family in Detroit. In her spare time Ms. Solano enjoys collecting anything old, a Solano family tradition, cooking Mexican food and spending time with her children, her family and friends.
Using e-Enterprise Architecture and Systems Engineering to Stoke the Interests of Chicano/Latino Youth in STEM Fields
by Armando Arias, Ph.D. One year ago, Somos en escrito Magazine published an earlier version of this article by Professor Arias on the subject of Enterprise Architecture centered on a systems engineering approach to designing Active Knowledge Models for institutions of higher education. This article not only revisits ideas from that article, but also builds on the most recent technological developments in the field of Enterprise Architecture/Systems Engineering as well as explores how Active Knowledge Models can support the entire collegiate journey of Chicano/Latino students in American society today.
This is the first aerial picture digitized into an image at the start of CSU Monterey Bay in applying Enterprise Architecture to create an Active Knowledge Model for the purposes of transforming Fort Ord into a university. Professors of engineering from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte were trained to create an EA-AKM model.
It is through the use of e-Enterprise Architecture, an advanced form of systems engineering, that I suggest an overall Information Technology (IT) strategy, while at the same time moving both IT and instructional systems beyond traditional ways of creating, transforming, managing, and administrating institutions of higher education (IHE) through the application of active knowledge models (AKM) all in support of the entire student journey.
The COVID-19 virus pandemic of 2020 caused a sudden cognitive shift in American society in how it is that both traditional state-supported university systems as well as private colleges offered instruction by suddenly requiring online teaching, learning, research and administration almost overnight. The shift to online instruction (namely the utilization of virtual online learning platforms as a lecturing tool, plus a variety of LMS platforms came suddenly and the majority of institutions of higher education (IHE) were simply not prepared, nor were administrators (see “The Chronicle Review: University Leaders Are Failing. The pandemic reveals ineptitude at the top.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 19, 2020, see, https://www.chronicle.com/article/university-leaders-are-failing/248809.
In short, the manner in which the pandemic caused a rapid shift to online instruction and virtual administration is the core example of how institutions of higher education got on with their business of managing their universities/colleges. At the same time and due to the emergency situation, there was a cognitive shift away from following policies and rules about which tasks could or could not be completed online (away from the university), especially since physical plants were closed to students, staff, and faculty. Interesting to note is that the stigma often applied to non-traditional universities (i.e., University of Phoenix, etc.) was swept under the proverbial rug, at least for now.
Moreover, the pandemic caused a good deal of rapid technological change not just for teaching, learning and research but especially for how to manage and administrate institutions of higher education. Interesting to note is that most university administrators were not skilled nor experienced to manage the impact of rapid technological change of this sort. Nonetheless, we (taxpayers, stakeholders, etc.) need to hold administrators of especially state supported institutions of higher education accountable for misspending state funds, especially funds related to IT and their handling of issues directly related to the pandemic no matter how rapid they occur. The pandemic also caused a cognitive shift in how it is that people in American society (and in the world for that matter) think about the value of a college education and to become more open-minded about how to achieve education in systems that are broken as is so aptly stated: “Everybody agrees that our higher education system is broken. They might disagree about what needs fixing first. But everyone is aware of the brokenness.” Michelle Jones, founder of Wayfinding College in Portland, Oregon, see https://hechingerreport.org/as-enrollment-falls-and-colleges-close-a-surprising-number-of-new-ones-are-opening/. I argue that through the application of Enterprise Architecture and active knowledge models we can not only come to see what is broken in systems of higher education, we can also prioritize “what needs fixing first” especially since AKM demonstrates the value every individual brings to an enterprise (university/college). I see this as an opportunity to suggest an even larger shift in how higher education “gets done” through the use of Enterprise Architecture (EA) through a combination of IT and Systems Engineering beyond what most college/university administrators can currently comprehend.
This book provides a blueprint for how it is that EA is the most advanced tool of our time to manage rapid technological change today and in the future. I will layout a blueprint and suggest how IT improvements can remain efficient and accountable to stakeholders (taxpayers, students, and parents). Also suggested is a plan for radical transformation of what constitutes an institution as part of the higher education-system and how to better serve educationally underserved student populations. Let me be clear. I am not here to discuss whether or not the shift to online instruction is being assessed and/or evaluated or whether important workload policies are being followed; we can and should take those topics up elsewhere. Rather, I am here to suggest new ways of knowing the idea of a multi-university (“thinking university-system”) predicated on the idea of a university-system as an e-enterprise where all things in the enterprise are linked and connected at all times in real time. With such an EA design and the application of active knowledge models, rapid changes like pandemics can be managed in the most appropriate manner possible with or without leadership that can see this vision.
Evidence of what I am pointing to and experiencing in American society today is captured in a series of reports published by The Chronicle Store, for instance:
How Will the Pandemic Change Higher Education? Professors, administrators, and staff on what the coronavirus will leave in its wake
The Right Mix of Academic Programs: Making decisions to add, cut, grow, or shrink departments and degrees
The Innovation Imperative: The buzz, the barriers, and what real change looks like
The Looming Enrollment Crisis: How colleges are responding to shifting demographics and new student needs
Active Knowledge Models & e-Enterprise Architecture Can Help Stoke the Intellectual Imagination for Chicano/Latino Students to Enter STEM Fields
I propose the development of a capability for enterprise architecture (EA) for large-scale state university systems that are designated as HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions). IHEs will include those with which I am most familiar such as Texas A&M University, Auraria Higher Education Center, California State University and the University of California. As part of our rendering a smooth IT transformation, our vision is to create outcomes-base special projects, while at the same time infusing active knowledge models targeting those universities in Baja California Norte where we trained in Enterprise Architecture when we started California State University, Monterey Bay. As part of the start-up team, we applied the METIS EA platform as the primary active knowledge model. We are targeting the following Mexican IHE as research and development partners because we have had collaborative success in our former projects while working under the auspices Mexico’s leading social and behavioral sciences institute, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. In brief, we trained faculty from Mexican institutions of higher education that were part of the consortia I brought together in the form of BESTNET (Binational English & Spanish Telecommunications Network), to include Centro Estudios Technica y Superior located in Mexicali and the Instituto Tecnológico campuses located in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ensenada. See https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/7/. Brand new small (start-up) private Latino colleges will also be considered when suggesting new virtual designs, such as Colegio Chicano del Pueblo (Virtual), the InterAmerican University as well as the new Sea Mar Chicano University in Seattle.
Enabling HSIs Transformation to University e-Enterprises Enterprise architecture enables enterprises (herein: university-enterprises) to fully align administrative planning strategies with the technological infrastructures that support all of them. EA facilitates a university-system’s ability to communicate with all components that make up the entire system (academic departments, curricula, faculty, staff, students, and community partners, and much more) all at once in real time. At the same time, it will strategically align with whom it interacts allowing boundary-less information flow, more effective decision support and the alignment of administrative, application, data and instructional and university-enterprise transformation, effective communication structures and practices, multimodal communications, and the effective management of disruptive technologies.
One definition of EA-based active knowledge models is that it is the organizing logic for all university-systems processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization and/or customized requirements of the university’s operation model, again, while remaining aligned with the university’s vision statement. (See basic AKM orientation at: https://akmclient-beta.herokuapp.com).
In 2019, the University of California, San Diego turned out its first strategic plan in the history of the university; it provides a conceptual blueprint that defines the structure, operation, and goals of the university. It is an excellent plan for this vibrant (relatively young) university. As good a Strategic Plan as it is, it is stagnant in the sense that it is not linked to anything that provides real time data. Conversely, by using EA and AKMs as planning tools, the Strategic Plan could become a document connected to its university-enterprise in real time, constantly sensing, interpreting, reinterpreting, adding to and asking “What if?” scenarios of the ever changing landscape from things like budgetary, financial, research, and instructional perspectives to perspectives on core values from the vision statement. It has already been suggested that, in their quest to create “smart campus-communities” plans for said community in Baja California Norte, just 10 miles east of Tijuana (along Carretera 2000) that EA and AKM start the urban plans, see “A High-Tech Campus Community at the U.S.-Mexico Border” (Arias 2023) https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/126/.
What most university administrators don’t realize is that their strategic plans are in fact changing as they are producing the document; you might say “the document is obsolete even before it is completed.” It is important to note that the same goes for all other planning that is stagnant (not linked to real-time data). This would have been an opportune time for UC San Diego to apply EA to its strategic planning. My point is that once realized, EA will change the nature of their planning. A major intent of EA and active knowledge models is to determine how a university-system-enterprise can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives—in real-time—between the relations found in AKM models.
From Federation of EA Professional Organizations, Common Perspective on Enterprise Architecture, Architecture and Governance Magazine, Issue 9-4, November 2013 (2013).
In the past few years, only a handful of major university-systems have developed university-enterprise architecture; MIT applies EA across their system, while the University of California system applies it for partial system-wide administration. That is why UC San Diego did not apply it in the development of their Strategic Plan. This is the case because the University of California views EA as a topic for research and development as an experiment, not quite yet an application, if you will.
Interesting to point out is that in a recent announcement (2022) about changing the name of California State University, Humboldt to a “polytechnic university,” Cal Poly Humboldt will now focus on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). They may now be poised to incorporate EA and active knowledge models as it was only a year ago they were reportedly considering reorganizing the university to cut a number of programs due to financial woes.
Last year (2021), Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a $458-million investment for the expansion of Cal State’s STEM initiatives. In addition to the re-designation of Humboldt, the funding included $25 million to launch a technology hub at Cal State Northridge intended to draw Latinos and traditionally underserved students into STEM fields. (Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2022).
The University of California has developed its own system-wide Enterprise Architecture BoK–Body of Knowledge as a “repository of assets including guidelines, principles, reference architecture and standards, that have been reviewed and recommended for use. System-wide use of these assets increases the interoperability and reuse potential of technology investments made, thus improving overall efficiency.” In addition, EA involves administrative process reengineering and alignment with the technological infrastructure needed for such improvements. Note: This will prove critical as we prepare for the overall impact of pandemics and new conversion forms of university-systems.
The significance of university-enterprise architecture is demonstrated in moving from the idea of a university that adapts new technologies to a new paradigm for looking at transforming it to a thinking system, notably:
Transforming the university into a thinking enterprise through the application of Enterprise Architecture as a tool for IT
Viewing today’s university and its relationship to the regional community as a modern-day landscape or research setting for applied (real-time) research
Engaging the community through transformation and through prioritizing resource allocations between various competing demands for resources (in-real time)
Developing road maps for community engagement and service learning
Developing road maps for leading modernization efforts in this country and beyond (especially in the borderlands)
Developing road maps for acquiring skills and specialties in the workforce required to operate the university for the future
Focusing on the university’s aspects for change
More than ever during the time of a global pandemic, we have the opportunity to rethink the idea of the university and add integrated diversity wherein minds that are connected (stakeholders) administrate behind the scenes through an integrated model for all to see at all times. It is through the application of Enterprise Architecture, IT, and Systems Engineering that act as the infrastructure designed to create real-time “What if?” scenarios that respond to rapid social change, such as pandemics. From a teaching, learning and pedagogical perspective, I am suggesting a new “thinking university system” that will re-make universities as organizations and institutions into a new form of housing the production of knowledge to be taught to future students. It is important to note that I am not suggesting that this design be driven by Artificial Intelligence but will also have real-time (live) ongoing input from humans and algorithms based on human behavior. Important to note is that this approach will not employ a business model as is the case of current universities, hospitals, police departments, corporations, etc., but rather an approach that takes into account the real values and beliefs of its constituents and stakeholders.
Beyond providing new pathways for teaching and learning, this approach will assist in downsizing the physical plant of traditional universities, restricting operating budgets, setting priorities in curriculum and academic specialties and most of all finding new modalities for the actual imparting of knowledge in a professor-student relationship, etc. The new innovative thinking university-system of the future (the one being proposed) will at all times incorporate input of actual faculties in defining the role of the future of universities. Keep in mind that much larger universities (as found in the California State University System) found it difficult to reconcile the new approaches to teaching that were practiced briefly and planned as alternative pedagogical models. In this way, EA can assist universities in transforming entire university systems. It can be applied to complex organizations to create “What if?” scenarios that assist each and every stakeholder know how it is they are a part of the university (enterprise) and how they contribute to the overall vision of the university as demonstrated in the diagram below.
From the Certified Enterprise Architect All-in-One Exam Guide, 1st Edition by Prakash Rao and Ann Reedy and Beryl Bellman (9781260121483).
EA and active knowledge models are vital to all digital transformations and can assist university-enterprises. This design becomes the basis for the idea of a “thinking university” and would definitely call for e-architecting these new processes. [I made the same type of suggestion for the United Farm Workers to restructure their organization utilizing EA (see, Chapter Twelve: Reinventing the United Farm Workers through Systems Engineering and Enterprise Architecture in my book, Theorizing César Chávez: New Ways of Knowing STEM, Armando Arias, Somos en escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2020)].
In that chapter, I point out how I was introduced to EA when César Chávez turned down a rather lucrative offer to help the Boeing Corporation solve ongoing conflicts between union and non-union workers as he was at the height of the UFW Movement and could not assist. Instead, I gained insight into how to construct jet aircraft through the use of EA, that is, applying a model that brought together over two million parts, and thirty thousand people to create one jet aircraft.
The problem you may not find comforting to know is that no two aircraft ever come out the same because parts and human behavior change over the build-out of the aircraft; this is the central idea I borrowed from EA and applied to building out brand new universities as an enterprise unto themselves. Case in point: During the manufacturing of passenger jet aircraft, Boeing could suddenly not acquire copper rivets for wing assembly from Zaire and had to go to Costa Rica for aluminum alloy rivets; the EA model could ascertain costs, weight, aerodynamic, training factors, labor costs, implications to contracts, and much more.
EA has advanced tremendously over the years to a point where I began applying it to the rapid build out of brand-new universities. The relevance of EA and AKM to universities is that:
Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then, proceeding with design synthesizing and system validation while considering the complete problem: Operations, Performance, Test, Manufacturing, Cost and Schedule, Training and Support and Disposal. Systems engineering integrates all the disciplines and specialty groups into a team effort forming a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation. Systems engineering considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers with the goal of providing a quality product that meets the user needs. Definition of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).
Moreover, the benefits of integrating systems engineering and enterprise architecture based on active knowledge models as applied to the build-out of jet aircraft to entire university systems are many. As aforementioned, I first learned about EA at Boeing and at the same time met senior members of the ARPANET project, precursor to the Internet. As a direct result, I founded BESTNET (Binational English & Spanish Telecommunications Network) and we ran parallel human factor analysis experiments by creating communications knowledge models through DECNET as a tool for computer mediated conferencing, learning and group research and development and working together while apart. A more specific description of this type of work can be referenced in the Preliminary Phase of The Open Group Architecture Development Methodology. For more information refer to: http://pubs.opengroup.org/architecture/togaf9-doc/arch/chap06.html.
Advantages of EA Applications to Social and Behavioral Science Students
Enterprise architecture (EA) will:
Take the social science imagination to new heights and new possibilities
Cause a new logic, cognitive and paradigm shift in thinking about social injustices in the community that are social responsibility skills and more than encourage community builders
Impact endowment injustices away from funders that are racist
Impact endowment funding toward interesting projects involving the underrepresented communities
Help stakeholders (from citizenry to students and beyond)
Hold administrators of state supported institutions of higher education accountable for misspending state funds, especially if we define misuse as not graduating students of color in proportion to their standing in their respective regions
Assist in the facilitation of individuals holding social sciences degrees to become supervisors of engineers (Silicon Valley) by learning to speak engineering
Proffer ideas and strategies for marrying social sciences to STEM fields to stay relevant
Align offerings with student and labor-market demand data and analysis on the trends and demographic shifts that are impacting enrollment numbers, including the Great Recession, declining birth rates, and diversifying student populations
Assist colleges/universities to adapt and respond to emerging student needs
Effectively communicate projections (profitability) about innovative cross-disciplinary degree programs in higher education
Provide innovation data to stir “What if?” scenarios and engage stakeholders in data-informed decision-making
Study why financial and demographic pressures have given rise to the argument for innovation in degree programs
Research the context for waves of higher education reform movements
Address the barriers to change on campuses with real-time data
Assist elements for meaningful innovation in the community
Transforming cities into thinking cities through the application of Enterprise Architecture as a tool for IT
View the thinking university-enterprise as a modern-day landscape or research setting for applied (real-time) research
Engage the community through transformation through prioritizing resource allocations between various competing demands for resources (in real-time)
Develop road maps for community engagement and service learning
Develop road maps for leading modernization efforts in this country and beyond (especially in the borderlands)
Develop road maps for acquiring skills and specialties in the workforce required to operate the university for the future
Create a model that at the same time acts as a paradigm for restructuring higher education and infuses Enterprise Architecture, IT and Systems Engineering for planning, administrating and instruction in institutions of higher education.
EA is only a tech-tool to be sure, but it is also the most effective tool to date to cause an ongoing sparkling interchange of innovative ideas between very different types of people and start and/or transform institutions of higher education. Moreover, in all of the technological capabilities that exist today there is no better tool than EA to cause a confluence of knowledge. A Sustainable Design for Higher Education Transformation Active Knowledge Modeling (AKM) and digitalization support the capture and management of enterprise knowledge and data, creating digital models of human mental models for more effective and sustainable design, operations, and cyclic reuse. Human mental models are captured and enhanced by practical collaborative innovation and learning, modelling novel concepts and approaches to products, processes, and properties and methods. Digitalization and AKM capabilities enable cyclic design and operations of instructional science and technology models and work-processes, collaborative innovation and learning, and creation of sustainable instructional, collaborative research and workspace solutions.
Background Active Knowledge Modeling (AKM) were first applied in a university setting in 1994 upon the founding of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) while utilizing the METIS platform, created by Frank Lillehagen, in Salongbakken, Norway. As members of the start-up team to initiate a new university, Armando Arias, Ph.D., Founding Dean/Founding Associate Vice President and Beryl Bellman, Ph.D., Academic Director at the FEAC Institute, co-founders of BESTNET (Binational English & Spanish Telecommunications Network), acquired METIS resources and tools and trained engineers from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), see, https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/4/.
At the same time, Arias and Bellman garnered research support from the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) in La Jolla, California where BESTNET was located for over a decade. Working collaboratively, METIS staff trained faculty/staff from CSU Monterey Bay, BESTNET, COLEF, and WBSI. Together they invested in novel capabilities for modelling reusable collaborative infrastructures, services, and instructional, collaborative research, teaching, and learning workplaces. Industrial solutions for university design based on the prototype for creating new universities through object-oriented enterprise modeling and the applications of communications knowledge management (now the AKM Modeler) were implemented and demonstrated for institutions of higher education, research and development institutions, and university construction industries for the development of brand-new colleges/universities.
The following journal articles by Arias and Bellman provide additional insights: Object Oriented Enterprise Modelling & Distributed Cognition at a New University: The Case of CSU Monterey Bay, describes in detail how METIS was applied in starting a brand-new university, see, https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/7/; Creating a New University Through Object Oriented Enterprise Modeling, focuses more on how EA modeling infuses the strategic planning process to create an overall vision for the university, see, https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/5/; and, the article, Agile Learning, New Media, and Technological Infusement at a New University: Serving Underrepresented Students, describes how METIS is applied not only to starting a brand new university but also in serving underrepresented students, see https://works.bepress.com/armando-arias/20/.
Since the founding of CSU Monterey Bay and as the application of the METIS platform industrial digital markets matured, only one new small-scale application was initiated at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In early 2022, we held a series of meetings, with active knowledge model scientists in Norway. As a direct result and infusing the lessons learned, we started reanalyzing use-case modelling which used the early version of the AKM Modeler, METIS. The initial focus was on use-cases for transforming Fort Ord, the world’s second-largest U.S. military base, into a university. In short, we learned about the practical needs and challenges, as well as potential capabilities and outcomes of AKM modelling. The mutual innovation, operations and learning included quite a few lessons learned for all parties. The figure below shows the scope of work for some of the roles of the project teams.
METIS platform chart, created by Frank Lillehagen, in Salongbakken, Norway.
Any sector implementation effort should start with a pilot project. We are viewing the case of CSU Monterey Bay as our pilot project, and scoped use-cases involving selected domains for higher education, collaborative partner and clearly stated outcomes/deliverables, and cyclic design and operations. Designing use-cases and modelling roles and instructional workspaces, and collaborative workplaces and research needed for sustainable operations is cyclic innovation and learning for all involved. Teams will serve the purpose of the mutual learning among partner roles and AKM modelling experts. Early prototype solutions and practical use-case demonstrators are produced, removing doubts and creating proven approaches and methods, and a solid understanding of the AKM modelling and meta-modelling concepts and challenges.
Active Knowledge Models for Higher Education In order to ensure sustainability, AKM models must be developed for institutions of higher education, related research and development industries and the public sector. These models must embrace societal laws and technologies, practices of markets, communities and societies and partner dependencies. Innovation projects should find partners that can be Sector-specific Platform responsible operators and appoint partners that will be market and society responsible for AKM outcomes that cause social change by design.
Opportunities for Research and Development for Institutions of Higher Education: Platforms, Components, Outcomes-Based Teaching/Learning and Services Institutions of higher education are invited to form platform design and operation teams composed of administrators, faculty, staff, students, IT builders, users, and operators. This novel opportunity, created by advances in digitalization and AKM modeling offer collaboration, interaction and cyclic design and operations across life-cycle disciplines. Novel capabilities and services in fabrication, commissioning and operations will enable sustainable and profitable outcomes-based solutions and services.
1. The core AKM platform is adapted to applying AKM’s modelling tools. Most categories of knowledge models and meta-models are initially modelled by the Open Source AKM tools and can later be developed and applied by collaborating customers and leading partners. 2. Most sector-specific AKM models will be developed, supported, and managed in a sector-specific AKM e-architectures. 3. Utilizing e-architecture tools will be designed for digital data services, capturing, ingesting, and managing big data, performing analyses, and developing new methods. Users will collaborate to create their real-time product and process monitoring tools and will develop special methods and services to be integrated and delivered to their sector. 4. Active Knowledge Modelling – for novel object types, properties, and outcomes-based services. Users will be offered AKM models, meta-models, and services to capture new concepts, properties and values exploiting partner and supplier knowledge and data. Sustainable methods will be delivered across sectors. 5. Active Knowledge e-Architectures – generic, as well as sector- and educational-specific e-architectures will be developed over the coming years. Each sector will build best-practice reference e-architectures (based on lessons-learned) for each respective project in support of the delivery and operations of responsible deliveries that meet clearly stated outcomes.
Future Vision for Active Knowledge Models What I am proposing and at the same time envisioning for the future of transforming Hispanic Serving Institutions is the creation of web-based visual collaboration arenas for teaching, learning, research and development and administration of a new form of university-enterprise enabled by evolving sustainable sector platforms and customized active knowledge models designed through the application of e-architecture platforms like METIS. AKM teaching and learning workplaces and services will integrate and extend the use of AKM-driven ICT systems.
In a similar fashion as we did when starting-up CSU Monterey Bay and while working in collaboration with El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Mexico’s premier social and behavioral sciences institute, we will once again be positioned to begin immediate research and development in the application of active knowledge models and e-Enterprise Architecture. We will propose a pilot project for reorganizing higher education in the State of California (University of California/California State University) and also in both private and public university systems in Baja California Norte: Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior and the Instituto Tecnológico. The initial core AKM Platform will be composed of open generic digitalization tools and to be applied through binational collaborations.
We will collaborate to design Hispanic student services, and teaching, learning and research solutions, that are bicultural, bilingual and transnational, especially designed for serving educationally underserved student populations.
Armando Arias, Ph.D., was part of the start-up team and founding member of California State University, Monterey Bay, where he now serves as a professor in the division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Global Studies. He is the author of the international award-winning book, Theorizing César Chávez New Ways of Knowing STEM, Somos en escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2020, in which he shares a critical analysis of STEM studies, portraying his views as César Chávez would have had he gone on to earn a doctorate in science. He has served as a start-up team member for more than a dozen new universities in the U.S. and consulted on the founding of new universities in Japan, Mexico, Europe, and Africa.
Some things are innate in us: breathing, walking, blinking. Over time, we develop habits that feel instinctual, even though they are learned from mimicking the people around us. Despite my mother never explicitly telling me what bulimia was, I learned from watching her. She taught me how to force my fingers back and tickle punching bags until our stomachs call for a truce, how to let it out, how to etch in my brain that my daughters will learn to do the same too because it’s tradition at this point.
The average person takes 66 days to develop a habit, but how long does it take if the habit is already inside you – waiting for you to cave in?
When I was in fifth grade, my biology teacher taught a lesson about owls and their pellets. She told my class that pellets are just regurgitated balls of fur and bones and that owls usually swallow their prey whole. So, when they eat, everything that can dissolve does. Everything else stays in their gizzard where it will compress into a tiny brown ball. Then, they cough it up. I didn’t really understand how owls were okay with that: eating then throwing up habitually. It wasn’t until my mother showed me how she did it that I finally understood. The first time I heard her throw up, I ran downstairs and tried to help. I pulled her hair back until I realized that she wanted it to happen (and was forcing it). Her fingers kept going down her throat, in and out, and I backed away as she gagged with no release. I remember thinking how I’d never seen that much saliva before as she drooled over the toilet. She never looked up at me or talked to me about it after. My mom never told me how or when she learned to purge (I never asked), but once, I was at my grandparents’ house for dinner, and my grandmother ran to the bathroom after we ate. It was just the two of us at the table, so I followed her in case she needed me. The lock of the bathroom door clicked, silence, then the voiding came. I heard her gagging and the soft plops of chunks hitting the water. That noise sounds like home sometimes. The nerves in my stomach let me know this wasn’t her first time. I realized in that moment that women in my family do nothing more than empty themselves.
How long does it take to not digest a mouse?
How long would it take if the mouse were a whole box of pizza instead?
My mother has got it down to a science: 30 minutes after eating or immediately after an argument with my father. I have clear memories of her running downstairs with tears in her eyes after hearing them yell for an hour and her being locked in the bathroom for a few minutes. My first time was at Olive Garden. I was 11 years old, and my cousin was having a birthday dinner. I had a soup that was made with kale, potatoes, and spicy sausages, and a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. I don’t remember how, but I finished my food way before everyone else. Maybe I scarfed it down and swallowed it whole like an owl would. I chugged a glass of water and excused myself to the bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t know I was going to do it until I was on my knees and already rolling my sleeves up. I tried pushing my stomach at weird angles to make myself nauseous (that didn’t work; that’s not how stomachs work). So, like my mother, I shoved two fingers down my throat and gagged. My eyes watered, and I made an embarrassing noise, but nothing came out. I did it again. My throat burned, and in front of me sat bright reddish pink slime and little pasta worms, floating. I kept going until there was nothing left in me, and I was cramping over the toilet. As I flushed, I wondered if owls felt pain when they coughed pellets up (they don’t; they’re supposed to make themselves vomit, we aren’t). I ran to the sink to wash my hands and my mouth. Looking in the mirror, I convinced myself that I looked skinnier as I dried my hands off. Dinner went back to normal, and the scent of sour tomatoes hasn’t gone away since.
Why does dry heaving smell minty?
Ask my mother and me; it is a flavor too strong to ignore, but not strong enough to become a mask. At some point, your body stops fighting the heaving. Everything you touch starts smelling like it could burn you: acid, bile disintegrating all that it touches. You’re sour. Pieces of you and remnants of your quick bathroom trips leave a stink that cannot be washed out with detergent. Once, I was sitting in a field with my mom on a picnic. Is it still called a picnic if the only thing brought to consume is water? We picked some flowers to pass time, and I found feathers of a bird scattered across the field. I grabbed them and showed them to my mom, but she told me not to touch them because they were dirty and smacked them out of my hands. She told me once that our touch was permanent, and I didn’t understand what that meant until we rolled the picnic blanket up, and it smelled like fermented tomato sauce. I always wondered if owls notice when their feathers fall off, or if molting was as important to them as getting periods is to us. Out of every girl in my middle school friend group, I was the last to menstruate. My backpack always had 2 pads and some liners in it, even though I didn’t get my period until freshman year of high school. Each of my friends told me about their bloody stories: how and when they noticed that their pants had been stained by womanhood. I didn’t have the courage to tell them that I hadn’t experienced any of that yet (and I wouldn’t for 3 more years). We are what we hide.
Mantling is an instinctual habit that owls have where they use their wings to cover their food in order to survive. They hide smaller birds from hawks above, and mice from snakes below. I watched a documentary once about mantling. As their wings spread and their heads bowed down, I realized that we all mantle at some point in our lives. I used to stuff candy wrappers and empty bags of chips under my bed. Every night, as I laid down to sleep, the sharp scents of expired chocolate and stale Fritos welcomed me back. The crackling sounds of plastic sounded like accomplishment. My mother and I aren’t good at a lot of things but hiding has been a pride of ours for as long as I can remember. We push things away often: why I got my period so late, my appetite loss, my suicide attempts. My mother hides her insecurities with tummy teas that make you shit water and skipping meals with me (only to find bowls of old food in her room once she leaves). I hide my anger in shame and long sleeve shirts when it’s too hot outside and locked doors – even when no one else is home. My grandmother hides her feebleness by baking cakes daily and sharing them with her neighbors and never saving a slice for herself.
Is that mantling too? If you throw up and it goes down the drain, does the shame go with it? Much like in a pellet, there are things that will not go away. The bones and fur stay solid for a reason. The dissection of an owl pellet can tell a person a lot about an owl’s lifestyle: what it ate, how often, and where it came from. Unlike owls, the food we eat (or don’t eat) is not all there is to know about our lives. You cannot know of my generosity from the clear, syrup-like fluid floating atop the toilet water. You wouldn’t know what loving me is like from the recurring neon-green chunks dripping from my lips or my chin.
Why do we keep flushing pieces of ourselves away?
I think my mother knows the answer, but I am so afraid for her to find out that her habit isn’t a secret anymore, so I stay silent and keep my questions to myself.
Vanity is a queer human who was born in Massachusetts and now living in Virginia. She attends Hollins University with a double major in creative writing and psychology. She has worked on a child development research lab and one of her college’s literary magazines. As a child, Vanity read horrifying stories by Stephen King and found a passion for cultural horror stories while trying to find representation. She stays busy by finding novels to read on TikTok and procrastinating on her essays and exams.
The Art of Jacinto Guevara: Documenting Unique Latino Culture
by Ricardo Romo
First published in Ricardo Romo’s Blog, Latinos in America, November 19, 2021. Reprinted in La Prensa Texas, November 26, 2021.
The seventies are remembered as a monumental decade for most Americans. In the early years of the decade President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade dominated the news. Earth Day, Godfather movies, and disco music fascinated young people. The advent of the computer revolution marked a major change in society.
Latino writers, artists, and intellectuals hung out at these iconic eating places, such as Josephine’s and Liberty Bar, near downtown San Antonio. Above is a Guevara painting donated by Harriett and Ricardo to the San Antonio Public Library. Photo of the painting, Ricardo Romo, 2021.
For Latinos, the decade included significant events as cities across the Southwest experienced school walkouts, and California farmworkers won important union and legislative policy victories. Talented youth introduced Chicano poetry, plays, and film, and universities developed Chicano Studies classes and programs. Chicano artists who grew up during the seventies witnessed great transformations as they saw for the first time a flowering of their own artistic cultural creations. Jacinto Guevara of San Antonio emerged as one of the fortunate individuals who rode the early waves of this artistic movement. His story provides some important insights into one of the most significant eras of Chicano artistic creativity. From an early age Jacinto Guevara discovered that art represented an important means of communicating. Guevara came of age artistically during the early 1970s while attending Belmont High School in East Los Angeles. At the time, few Latinos went to museums but most grew up surrounded by commercial art, usually in the form of billboards and posters. Significantly the early expressions of Arte de La Raza appeared in public art.
Self-portrait painted by Jacinto Guevara showing his interest in conjunto music. Photo by Ricardo Romo, 2021.
Chicano art originated with the mural movement in California. Art historians place the birth of Chicano art between 1968-1973. Guevara was a teenager when Chicano artists painted a mural at the headquarters of Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers Union in Del Rey, California. Some of the earliest Chicano murals originated in the heart of East Los Angeles, in close proximity to Guevara’s home.
When Joe and John Gonzalez decided to convert an abandoned meat market into an art gallery, they recruited two future Chicano art stars, David Botello and their brother-in-law Ignacio Gomez, to paint what UCLA art historians have identified as the first public Chicano mural in East Los Angeles. Muralism became the most prominent creative development of Chicano art.
Guevara enrolled at California State University Northridge [CSUN] in 1975, a time when colleges throughout Southern California were reaching out to East Los Angeles students. Guevara had seldom gone to the San Fernando Valley, home of the Northridge campus, but he liked CSUN’s Chicano Studies Program which was in its sixth year. He majored in Ethnic Studies and took classes with famed Chicano historian Dr. Rudy Acuña. Guevara loved music and joined the mariachi band headed by Professor Beto Ruiz. Guevara became a frequent art and cartoon contributor to El Popo, the Chicano student newspaper founded in 1970.
Jacinto Guevara in his Eastside San Antonio home with a recent portrait. Photo by Ricardo Romo, 2021.
After graduation from CSUN in 1980, Guevarra painted on a regular basis and also joined several musical bands. During these years, while Guevarra remained an early aficionado of the emerging Chicano murals in his community, he focused on his drawings and canvas painting. He bought one of his first canvases for three dollars and spent a half day cleaning it. Guevara worked at his art but could not seem to make the right connections to get his paintings in galleries and had a difficult time making a living as an artist. An invitation in 1990 by the established B-1 Galleries in Santa Monica offered him some hope. He was invited, along with several of the leading East Los Angeles artists, including Frank Romero, Wayle Alaniz, and Paul Botello to exhibit his paintings. Although Latino art was gaining in popularity, few of the paintings sold. After that show, Guevara began to think of leaving Los Angeles and was attracted to San Antonio because of the city’s thriving Chicano culture.
Guevara captured abandoned urban buildings in a city in transformation. Photo of Guevara painting, Ricardo Romo, 2021.
Guevara found the San Antonio weather suitable for his preference of open air painting, or what the French called “plein air.” Some of his favorite subjects included abandoned railroad stations and warehouses. He delighted in finding unique subjects for his paintings, such as icons and buildings in San Antonio that most observers had overlooked. Many of his paintings reflect the older sections of the East and West side of town. He looked for old houses, residences that did not necessarily catch the public’s attention. These residential structures were simple, but attractive. He told me that these houses “weren’t necessarily pretty.”
Guevara painting of an Eastside San Antonio home. Photo of the Guevara painting, Ricardo Romo, 2021.
In 2016 Lewis Fisher published Saving San Antonio: The Preservation of a Heritage. It told a story of the San Antonio Conservation Society’s organized efforts to save historical houses from destruction. Guevara is also “saving San Antonio” through his paintings. His work captures the essence of the city, areas where not all the houses and buildings are spectacular, but they contain meaning and beauty for their owners. Guevara’s structural portraits, such as that of the 1880s building, “Liberty Bar,” which became a hangout for many Chicano artists, capture a heritage that makes San Antonio unique.
Ricardo Romo is an author, educator, and Latino Art connoisseur. He has degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BA) and UCLA (PhD).