Tuesday, December 01, 2009

All I wanna do, is a zuma, zum, zum in your boom, boom

It's December and for those of us in academia, teaching/learning, it means it's crunch time with finals, projects, presentations and papers on whatever it is we were learning through out the semester. In my case I had to crank out a 10 minute speech on the DREAM Act, of course, and a another paper for Chicano Studies. There's a good possibility that I might end up failing speech class and if that happens, transferring and graduating are in jeopardy.

So right now the plan is to take it again int he spring with my other classes, which would mean I would have an insane work load with 17 units. But how can you fail speech when you're giving DREAM Act speeches left and right ? Good question. To answer it, the speech teacher is DICK HEAD !! One of those teachers that uses the class to make up for his failings in life or something to that affect, where the teacher likes to control the class because the world outside the class room treats him like shit.

Always making inappropriate personal comments about his personal views and who he thinks is an idiot. Treats the class like high school kids and creates a tense learning environment. I respect his policy on not taking crap from people and expecting certain things from everyone, however, his teaching is horrid and vapid. He's been teaching way too long and is just holding out for retirement. ANYWAY .... Chicano Studies on the other hand is completely different from the speech teacher with the napoleon complex. This class is molding and cementing the foundation I have been working and building on the last few years.

It's insane the concepts and ideas I've been forming and how it's translating into other aspects of my life. Suddenly becoming a Chicano Studies major is something I'm seriously looking into and considering. Last time I posted my 10 page paper on my dissecting and interpretation of the book we used for class, well this time around it's the same formula but with the book, "The Republic of East L.A." by Luis J. Rodriguez. I loved reading all the short stories in the book, especially the one about a guy who wants to be a reporter, straight outta my alma mater Taco Tech, and how he out scoops the L.A. Times in a story that happened in East Los.

I highly recommend the book to anyone as it's a great read or any of his other books for that matter. I've had the opportunity to meet Rodriguez a few occasions already and it wasn't until I read the book that I introduced myself to him. Great guy and down to earth like you wouldn't belief. ANYWAY... here's the paper I turned in. Six pages and it's on the story called, Pigeons. Sorry for ruining it for ya. I had to tie in stuff from class and handouts.

On my last paper, a gracious reader was kind enough to read the ENTIRE thing, word for word and give me a few pointers, which are highly welcomed, so thank you. He gave me a B+, which is what my teacher gave me more or less. I think I did better this time around. Enjoy.

Are individuals a product of their environment or is their environment a product of the individual ? Both are essential and play key roles in the formation and creation of how individuals identify themselves, others, their environment and how they interact with others and their environments on various levels. The short story, “Pigeons” By Luis J. Rodriguez in the book, The Republic of East L.A. highlights some of the issues that arise when families and individuals from similar backgrounds, grow up in different environments, develop dramatically different as individuals and their perception of not only their environment, but of others as well.

The story is centered around two families, the Duran family, which immigrated from rustic shacks in Tijuana to Boyle Heights in East L.A. and the Lujan family, who immigrated from a small village in Sinaloa to West Covina. Rodriguez uses Mexican stereotypes for his characters personalities and type specific traits to describe them, like character of Monte, from the Duran family, wearing Raiders clothing and having a laid back attitude, and Montes description of his girlfriends mother, Socorro from the Lujan family, as an Indian found in the pages of National Geographic Magazine. He also vividly uses “Spanglish”, English and Spanish combined in conversational speech throughout the story and describing the families personal perspectives growing up in two diverse areas of Los Angeles. The Duran family living with gangs, violence with a heavy Latina/o population, while the Lujans live in the middle of suburbia, where the majority of residents are Anglo.

The different acculturation patterns, described by Hurtado and Gurin in their book, Chicana/o Identity in a Changing U.S. Society, as the degree in which minorities adopt main stream values and customs, are made evident by the fact that this is the over all theme of the story Rodriguez has crafted. In chapter one of the book, acculturation is discussed as it is connected to assimilation, becoming like the majority group. Both the families have similar back grounds, yet because they lived in polar opposite cities, their assimilation and development of their personal identities dramatically differ. Their experiences living in their communities and their interaction with others shape their individuality, as explained by the social engagement model, which is used to understand how individuals define their environment in relation to their behavior and motivation.

When my parents brought me to the U.S. at the age of seven, the first place we lived in was Boyle Heights. From there we moved all over the city living in Watts, South Central, Compton, Inglewood and Long Beach until we finally settled back in Boyle Heights. Never having stability and always being the new kid at school was a double edge sword in terms of my personal development because I alienated myself, but adapted. Living in different, yet similar cities with a heavy African American population also created a feeling of being a minority within a minority. Naturally at such a young age, I adopted habits and mannerisms that are attributed to the African American community. I was still an outsider, but I was able to navigate and survive in that environment. It is safe to say that I assimilated out of need rather than that of personal growth, but none the less my environment and my interaction with it played a key role in the development that is still prevalent in me to this day.

The details of the story are told through a conversation the Duran brothers, Monte and Miguel, have at a birthday party for Benita, the daughter of Montes girlfriend Berta, in East L.A. The rest of the family members are talked about and described in minor detail and only explored in detail when adding to the story. The two families backgrounds are explored in detail as the conversation carries on. Monte, through inner dialogue, describes how the projects they grew up in were riddled with gangs and violence on a daily basis. He described the architecture of the facilities, which aided police when looking for criminals and how they managed to escape the gang life by working hard to make a living. This is viewed as normalcy in East L.A. while at the same time, the Lujans grew up on the other side of town in West Covina. Socorro, the mother of the Lujan family reminisces about life in her village in Sinaloa. She describes the serene and holistic setting of her homeland, running around as a child with her brother, carefree and day dreaming to her hearts content. In her later years, family duty demanded that she leave her village and move to the U.S. with her husband and kids as they found success when they opened their own Mexican meat specialty store (Carniceria). Even though she hates their new life, she remains silent and bears with the changes as the family assimilated.

As Monte succinctly puts it, his family is “puro East Los”, playing on cultural stereotypes about the communities affluent Latina/o/o population. The description of the projects and life there are not only first hand experiences from Rodriguez himself, but also that of internalized oppression. The hand out on concepts and terms describes it as the belief that oppressed minorities believe the dominant's group labeling of them as inferior. The structure of the projects can also be seen as a type of segregation because only gang members and low income families are given housing there. Residents are treated as if they're in faux prisons and are monitored by authorities. In Socorros case, patriarchy plays a dominant role in her chosen silence and bearing with the changes in the environment. In class discussions we had about gender roles, we identified that in the Latina/o culture, oppression of women is common practice. Sandra Ibarra from the East LA Women's Center also reinforced that practice in her class visit/lecture on domestic violence. However, she shows resistance by never learning English and refusing to forget her native language.

Throughout elementary school and all of ninth grade, I lived and attended schools next to the Watts housing projects. At the time, I never realized what that really meant because it was the normalcy. School up to that point did a commendable job of institutionalizing kids in ignoring the plight and decrepit conditions of the schools I attended. Like Monte, I came to accept it as everyday life and like Socorro, I too long for the care free life of the rancho (ranch). For three months before my family made the trek to cross to the U.S. we lived on my great grandmothers ranch while my dad got things ready for the family. At seven years old, I spent my days swimming in the river bed, playing with farm animals and running around all over the place. Having lived both lives, I would choose to go back to the ranch, but I know that eventually I would still end upin a metropolitan area. Last I heard from my mom, that ranch is all but dead of the beauty and life it once had.

As the conversation between the brothers carries on, the different levels of assimilation for each family is made apparent in relation to their environment. Monte describes how the Lujan family, over time changed the pronunciation of their names to a more Americanized form as they also began to lose some of their Spanish speaking skills. Some married Anglos and Monte makes it clear that he is OK with them marrying because he prides himself on not being judgmental. This is because he blames undocumented immigrants for his job troubles, making the community look tacky and referring to them as, “Tijuaneros”. A derivative term that describes people of Mexican decent as poor miscreants who are a plight on society. The conversation escalates as Miguel gives Monte a lecture about how they were called “Tijuaneros” when they were kids and how that made them feel inferior, how they didn't have positive Latina/o role models in their lives and the loss of their community from all the development and gentrification happening around them. The argument finishes as two children are caught killing pigeons for food and Monte uses them as an example of the deteriorating state of their neighborhood. He exclaims that hey have to learn to be American or get out.

It's blatantly obvious that Monte has assimilated and been Americanized to the point that he no longer values his roots and heritage. His claim that he's been unable to find a job because of undocumented immigrants is false founded. According to the report, Latino Policy and Issues Brief: Wage Penalties in Brown-Collar Occupations, from the UCLA Chicano Studies Department from 2003, newly arrived immigrant males living in Metropolitan areas accounted for 29 percent of the labor force. This was predominantly focused on “Brown-collar” jobs, which include waiter's assistants, gardeners, groundskeepers, cooks, farm workers and painters. Since Monte was a foundry worker, he lost his job because of less demand and more automated factories doing his job. The report also says that workers with a 10th grade education and lower tend to make $3,360 less than educated workers. Another report from the NCLR published in 2008 titled, Key Facts on the Food Insecurity and Hunger Among Latino/a Children, found that 12.9 million families in the U.S. are food insecure. This means that the families don't have access to nutritious foods. Some of the consequences of not eating right include children developing language, motor skill, behavior learning and socio-emotional problems. This is why Miguel defends the kids killing the pigeons for food.

Growing up in my family, there were times when just trying to make ends meat was a reality. My parents did their best to make sure we always had food and housing, but things out of their control that included the current economic and working climate. Often times we would turn to eating beans, rice and tortillas for extended periods of time so they could pay the rent. Experiences like that also brought up questions within my self of who am I as an individual and as a member of a larger ethnic group. What I learned at school and watched on T.V. were completely different from what I saw and lived everyday. Essentially, by watching American sitcoms and the Simpsons, I was Americanized to the point that I was able to excel socially and not be made fun of for being Mexican or be called names. I also learned a lot of useless popular culture history that has become invaluable in relating with others about the unique experiences when growing up Latina/o. I retained my roots and culture because of my family, but I assimilated through a paradox of watching T.V., reading comic books and playing video games, creating an anomaly within myself.

An individuals assimilation is tied to their environment, whether it is done subconsciously or not. The intensity of an individuals assimilation and to an extent, Americanization are deemed positive or negative, again depending on the individuals self image and by the recognition of others in the same group. There is no way around it, but it is only after becoming self aware of the process, analyzing it and forming more detailed constructs of one's self image. Not everyone can get to that point and it leads to narrow minded individuals, like Monte who after assimilating, become prejudice against people from his racial group. Perpetuating a cycle of ignorance and hate that prevents ethnic minorities from gaining positive recognition in society.