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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The End

Writing a book. No more posts. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plans and the Fools

Stupid plans. So here is my father, preparing his departure, saying goodbye, in his own way, to a hard and painful life in the States. Resigned, in his own way, to death and dying in the land of his birth. But the dying he foresees is a peaceful one: somehow, during the summer months, when the rain pours down on the corn, and the wind whips the greenery into a frenzy, the dark earth will open up and swallow him whole, reuniting him with his umbilical cord (attaching himself to it once again), and sleeping in death beneath a welcoming, placental soil—an eternal sleep in his native land, without fear or running. This is the dying he foresees.

Stupid plans—My uncle came to see my father a few weeks ago and burst his bubble. Michoacan is overrun with drug cartels. The town of his birth has been commandeered by the Zetas. They have driven out the police, the mayor, the government, any sign of civility and democracy. They have instituted curfews—everyone is to be inside their homes by 8:00 p.m. They collect taxes from the citizenry, from merchants, and will kill anyone who opposes them or their rule. My father innocently suggested that he was an old man and all he wanted was to work on his house and mind his business: “I’m not into that shit. They should leave me alone.” No, said my uncle, they will kill you for the simple reason that you’re returning—to return to is to be done, to have accomplished what you set out to do, to have money! If you have money, you die. This is not the death my father foresaw. This is the death of wild dogs—of animals who don’t know how to die, who eat their young and their dead.

Now he’s stuck. I can sense the desperation and disappointment. And I lack the words. The immigrant has become an exile, and he doesn’t know what that means.

You can’t go home again, I said. We can’t go home again.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I’ve been invited to give a talk somewhere around here pretty soon. They want me to talk about this “post immigrant” business I’m trying to capture with the stories I tell. I decided, since the host is an organization called the “Institute for Social Responsibility and Ethics” to connect the post-immigrant experience to higher education. I figure I know a lot about both—or enough to be able to pay for this fancy keyboard and this 10 inch screen!

I was thinking about what it is that I’m going to say—something like: education is sacrosanct for immigrant parents; and my parents always encouraged me to…blah blah. (which they did). But then I started thinking about all of my graduations and the type of experiences these were for them—for my parents.

If memory serves me right, I graduated high school is 1994. My mother was there, but she claims she couldn’t see me. My father was at home, and now claims he wasn’t—that he was next to my mother at the stadium where the graduation was held. But this is a lie, because he was back at the house grilling meat and drinking beer (in my honor, of course!). When we got home, about 6 of my friends were waiting for me (3 died over the next 6 months…gangs). My father let me drink—my friends were happy. We drank and ate meat and drank some more. My father was proud of me; but he was also proud of himself. Somehow, his son had “finished” school. There had been nieces that had finished school, but no sons, no nephews. So he could brag. They couldn’t afford class ring, so my mother bought me a gold bracelet that I still have around here somewhere. It had my name on it (it doesn't have it anymore).

My college graduation came 4 years later. Everyone was there: my father, mother, R, A, P, and Jenny…my niece, and a couple of aunts. My mother insists she couldn’t see me. My father claims he could see me just fine. After the graduation we went to Red Lobster. Both my parents were very proud, but, simultaneously, and I could see this in their faces, a bit embarrassed. They didn’t know what they were supposed to be proud about. It was as though they felt someone was watching them and expecting them to say something like: we knew this day would come. But they didn't. This was not foreseen, planned, expected, discussed, projected....I bought my dad a giant beer and told him everything would be fine. My mother’s smile was uncanny, a mixture of pride, shame, and mourning.

Then I got a Masters. This time, my dad stayed home. My mother came. She asked somewhat mockingly: otra vez? Which, when properly translated means: you graduating again? I thought you were done—when will you be done? We had a quick lunch. I went to my parents' house and my father grilled steak. He asked me what was next. I said I didn’t know. He said: as long you’re happy. I said thanks. He gave me $100 and told me to do what I loved.

No one attended my last graduation—the one with the PhD. I didn’t go, and I didn’t tell anyone there was one. I called home after I defended my dissertation and said: lla! My mother said great and told me that my brother’s car had broken down and my sister had to go pick him up and my dad was mad that no one had mowed the lawn and P and A were fighting over bathroom cleanliness. Finally, she asked if I was coming home now, that I had been gone far too long, and it was time. I said I didn’t know. My father got on the phone and said he was proud of the kind of man I turned out to be, even if he didn’t know exactly what it was that I did. He asked me when I was coming home. I said I didn’t know. Then he said: we’ll be here when you do. I said: you always have been. Then he said: not always, but we’re here now. And, good job, mijo.

I’m wondering if my experience is unique in this respect. I like to think not, for fear of hurting my own feelings with the thought.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

El Fil

My father is going back to Mexico to die. His American experiment is over; he says he just wants to go home.

My mother called me, hoping I could talk some sense into the man. If anyone has a chance, she insists, it’s me. “Tell him to get a job—he still has a mortgage to pay!” He’ll listen to you, she says.

She has a point. If my father will listen to anyone, it would be me. I am his oldest son. But more importantly, I am the reason why he’s persisted in this country for as long as he has. Now that I am self-sufficient; now that I’ve gone farther down the well than he; now he can leave, and be satisfied that he did something right--whatever that is: raise me or keep me from dying. He can leave comfortable in the thought that all of it was not in vain.

But he will not listen to me. Not this time. We talked about this moment many times before: I’ve encouraged it! His spirit is crushed, and the only way to repair it is to go return to origins—where there is life and, necessarily, death.

I call him anyway. “What about mom?” I ask. But my father is not worried about my mother. Not that he doesn’t care. He cares. It is just that they have grown apart over the past 35 years—miles apart, even if they still live in the same house. Seldom do they argue; never do they kiss. I have never heard him say “I love you,” nor has she. He knows that my sisters will take care of her—she knows that she will take care of herself.

But the mortgage! My father is assuming that my brother, R, who lives at home, will pick up the slack. Or the oldest of my sisters, A, who moved in this year after her husband deployed to Afghanistan. Or my youngest sister, P, who, in her early twenties, should get her life together any day now. No one depends on Jenny.

There’s nothing I can say. My arguments are formulaic and I don’t feel the need to change his mind. There is no reason for him to stay here. After 40 years of working the fields of California’s Salinas Valley, he has lost his job, his benefits, and at 59 years of age, his opportunity to start over. He tells me that he gave it his all. The blood is on the dirt, he says. En el fil. In the field, scattered in drops here and there over thousands of acres, hundreds of seasons, millions of tons of produce, and billions of dollars, pennies of which he has never seen. I can’t replace the blood or the sweat, he says. But I can spill the rest en mi tierra—in my land. I can’t argue with a poet of his stature, with a philosopher of his depth. So I don’t.

Of course, I’ll miss him. But the Valley wont. He is replaceable. He knows this and feels betrayed, scorned, by the land which took his blood, by his own dreams, by himself! I can see it in his eyes. They’re done pretending.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Father, the Chef

My father worked at a restaurant for the first few years after I was born. There’s a grainy color picture of a young man standing next to an old man by a large restaurant window; the young man is holding a guitar and the old man has white chef’s hat. “He taught me how to cook,” says my father of the old man. I ask about the guitar that the younger version of me is holding—“sabe!” he says, which means hell if I know what that thing was doing in my hands. The younger me is filled with optimism and completely oblivious to the fact that his replicant would one day be writing about him; naive to my voice calling him “pa,” which is what I call my father. (Not “pah” or “paw”—I say “pa” in Spanish, so it sounds like a dying man’s attempt to say “please,” in English.) Then he starts on the “Chef” story once again…for the millionth time.

From the time I can remember my father has bragged to my mother and I about his days as a Chef at the restaurant in the picture. My mother has always challenged his claim—citing as grounds for reasonable doubt his unwillingness to cook for us. Whenever a meal would not meet his tastes, he would say stuff like: “When I was a chef I could cook that with my eyes closed” and so on. Once (once!) he made burritos for my mother and I: he cooked beans and meat, put them in a flour tortilla with cheese, and other things (chorizo I think), then baked them in the over. I remember my reaction: there was nothing extraordinary about them. My mother laughed. My father blamed the oven and the lack of tools and condiments. I was happy about them simply because they were filling. And those days—we still lived in the famous Gashouse—eating burritos was a luxury!

So in his story, my father is washing dishes a day after he arrives at my uncle’s house from Mexico. The restaurant is in Anaheim, near Disneyland. My uncle, his brother (not the perverted one from my mom's "affair" story), is the cook. One day my uncle gets sick and my father has to take over the cooking duties. He can whip up scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, hamburgers, and burritos like no other; people come from miles to eat his food. People ask for him by name. He loves the job and hopes to one day be a chef with his own restaurant and kitchen. At some point his friends and relatives remind him that without documentos it will be impossible to do those things. They also remind him that dreams don’t feed families, and soon he is forced to leave his beloved restaurant—he’s told that there’s good field work in the Salinas Valley. So he sends my mom and I back to Michoacan for a few years while he goes north, to Southern Monterey County, in the California Central Coast, where we will join him in the Spring of 1985, and where 25 years later he’ll tell me his Chef story for the millionth-and-one time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And they forced the hand of God…

This is just an amusing story. My mother was telling me a few days ago about how I was lucky to be alive! Not because I survived some horror or escaped a scrape, but because I was not supposed to have been born at all.

After my mother’s abduction and marriage, the next thing was to procreate. My father was to migrate North in the January, so they made a last ditch attempt to conceive in December. The month passed, and my father had to go--after a few weeks it was apparent: God would not ignite me! Frustrated, my mother turned to her mother-in-law, my grandmother, Elodia. Elodia was a thick little woman with white hair and skin made of leather; she spoke with conviction even if she didn’t believe what she said herself. People in town were afraid of her; she was supposed to have made a deal with some Dark forces or to have blackmailed a saint, or what have you. There was a persistent rumor, which I remember to this day, that she could turn herself into all sorts of creatures, like chickens, or birds. There were witnesses. My mother didn't like Elodia; but she had to endure her, since, as my father's bride, there was no other place to go. When, frustrated, she turned to her for help with her difficulties conceiving, she knew what she was getting into.

There was a simple solution to the problem. For nine days Elodia made stew out of possum tails; for nine days my mother had to drink the stew—which she recalls tasted like throw-up. Who knows where Elodia got her tails. But she had fresh tails everyday. The stew was du jour. On the 10th day, my mother says she felt her body reacting. Apparently, the stew worked and before long news spread that she was pregnant. My father wrote my grandmother and said: “I hope it’s a boy,” to which she replied, “It is.”

So even if God didn’t want me here…here I am. But now I feel bad for all those possums I’ve bad-mouthed!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Mother’s Unspectacular Affair*

We had lived in the “Gashouse” for a few months when my brother was born. He was born in October of 1985; I was 10 years old. We’d been back in the States less than a year. My brother’s an anchor baby! When he turned three, he wanted nothing but to be outside, in the weeds, the dirt, mud, and hazardous materials, poisons, and sharp objects that populated the surrounding area around the house—we lived in the middle of a working agricultural farm, after all. My father was gone most of the day—starting at about 5 a.m.—and he would stop by once in a while throughout the morning just to see his youngest boy. I was at school. After lunch, he wouldn’t be seen until he was off work, at around 7 or 8 p.m.

My mother never left the house. She would take my brother out for walks around the God Trees, but she was tethered to the house by the gas leak. My father’s supervisor, the Foreman, began stopping by the house sometime after my brother turned 2 or 3—he got a kick out of him, his cheeks, and his penguin-like way of waddling about. He would chat it up with my mom and bring them treats…ice cream, chips, sodas. After a while, the Foreman would take my brother with him as he did his supervisory things around the ranch. He would take him to see my dad. My brother would ride on the Foreman’s truck—he loved nothing more! The bouncing and the dirt, the speed—it made him laugh and giggle. The Foreman would bring him back after a few hours and the boy would fall asleep on the couch, exhausted. This made my mother very happy.

A few months passed. That the Foreman would take my brother and tire him out was routine. My father expected to see him; my mother expected the break. At some point—I don’t know when—the Foreman began the ritual of waiting for my mother to put my brother down and hanging out with her, in the front steps of the house, talking. He was an average sized Mexican man with a Pancho Villa-mustache that made him look authoritative and elegant. He wore a baseball hat and his pants were never as muddy as my father’s. He smelled like Old Spice and Spearmint gum. He didn’t smoke or drink. He later died of testicular cancer. It was the first of many deaths for that group.

They became closer as they talked. I don’t know what they talked about most of the time. I wasn’t there. I would see him leave when I got home from school. I became jealous once and asked my mom about it. She said she was just talking. She seemed happy. Relaxed. She walked with purpose. I had never seen her like that before. When she argued with my father, it was easier to tune him out. She did. He screamed, but she didn’t care. She walked confidently through the terror.

After a night of violence, my mother pulled me into the bathroom and told me that she was leaving with the Foreman. That he had asked to go with him—where, I don’t know—and that she was ready to do it. That she had a real chance at happiness, and she was going to go for it. That I would see her later…when things with my father calmed down. I asked her if she was having an affair with the Foreman. She said no. But that the long afternoon conversations where enough reason to follow him to the ends of the earth. I don’t know what he told her, but it must’ve been promising.

She didn’t leave that night. She never left. But she knew she could…or she believed she could. The Foreman was married. They had no children. He lived in a trailer with his wife. She was pushy and overbearing. He was ready to leave. My mother’s imagination took over from there—anything was possible with the Foreman. My father, whom she had never agreed to marry in the first place, didn’t appreciate her like he did. The spectacular affair lasted months. He never crossed the threshold of the house. He never climbed a step. He just made gestures with words which glided out of his mouth, filtered through his Pancho Villa-mustache, and punctured holes in my mother’s reality.

My uncle, my father’s brother, found out about the affair one day when he was coming to the house to pester my mother. He told her that if she didn’t sleep with him, he would tell my father, his brother, about the goings-ons with the Foreman. My mother said nothing was going on with the Foreman. He cornered her and insisted. I came home just as he was making his move and kicked him out of the house. I think I threatened to kill him. I was about 13, but I think I would’ve tried. Dejected, my uncle told my father about the affair. I corroborated my mother’s innocence and my uncle’s perversions. My father, for once, believed us. But the affair was over. The opportunity had passed. The Foreman died a year later, and so did my mom’s imagination.

*By writing this “memory” down, I am crossing a very thin line that I had drawn for myself a while back. I had deemed certain things un-writeable, and, some, un-recallable. Their sanctity lies in their silence: no one has ever spoken of them before, leaving them repressed in my memory to fester and make me ill. But I near the end of this blog-adventure, and I want to get some things out for myself…just to see them laid out in public, to insert them into the American narrative, if only in this narrative I’m creating and which I’m calling “American.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Then there's Jenny, Part I

There was something liberating about our poverty. We knew exactly where we stood—what we had, what we didn’t, what we wanted but knew we couldn’t have. We knew that little could be taken from us; that death was a price we would readily pay. Of course I didn’t understand this last part. But I understood the rest.

The violence was necessary. It kept the place loud with voices. It made us bleed. And we knew we were human because we bled. Of course, the resentment was necessary, too. The hate. The terror. And this was normal. So when my sister, Jenny, was born we expected life to continue being what it was. There was something liberating about our misery: it couldn’t get any worse.

The cloud of pesticides that slept in our porch crawled into my mother’s womb and made a nest. There it lingered while Jenny was being shaped into her human form. When she was born in late December of 1989, she didn’t cry or scream. A few years later she matured into a healthy 3 year old; twenty years later, she’s still 3…or maybe 6.

This was different than poverty or terror. My mother asked God to explain this to her; she’s still asking. After all, this would be her burden. Doctors figured out early on that Jenny would not grow up. That she would not reason with us about the things she did or wanted or feared. But Doctors didn’t explain this right; they still haven’t clearly explained what it is that makes her who she is. This means that Jenny is alone in the world; that my mother is alone with Jenny; that to misery and terror we add solitude and insanity.

I don’t know what will happen to Jenny when my mother migrates to those unknown lands that Dante talks about. But it makes me sad. My mother is the only one who understands her burden—despite her resistance and her refusals.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


When my father first brought it home, he laid it on the table and stared at it for a few hours…drinking and thinking, maybe praising God (although, as an atheist, his God is the God of his mother, not his own—for if he had a God, He would be the silent type). I walked over to the table to look at it, too. So did my mother, although she had seen one before. It looked like…well, like an ID, except for the holograms and seals and multitude of numbers. It had his name, including that J which refers to his middle name, but which is not really his middle name, but his last name, or the name of his father’s father. It was, of course, green.

Emancipated, situated, defined, constituted: words made relevant for the first time by a document. A piece of plastic with ink, numbers, a picture, and a signature. The signature was his universal seal. It was his document; he had a name; he was a subject. After all of that, he could walk amongst the citizenry without fear. He could demand his rights. He could testify! At least in theory. But he was now different than his fellows, than those who surrounded him, even my mother, whose documents wouldn’t come for another 10 years. This document legitimated his status as a worker, as a legal entity, and, as a man. So long as he carried it, he carried the weight of a matanarrative that said he was not to be fucked with.

The news soon spread. Cousins, uncles, friends, came to the house to congratulate him and take a look at the thing. A cousin took his out and compared it with my father’s: “see,” he said happily, “mine almost looks real!” He had bought his at the Tropicana parking lot, in San Jose. It was then that I saw the document’s real power. Those that heard Cousin say this blushed—they felt sorry for him and his deception. He was a false man, a fabricated subject, an illusion! Sure, they didn’t say this, but they didn’t have to. Cousin’s subjectivity was tied to his lie. He was committed to it—in social spaces, he couldn’t take off his mask even if he wanted to. He was, in fact, still human; but only in fact. As an “undocumented,” he was still on the fringes of humanity—at least in the US. And they all knew it, or believed it. My father, on the other hand, was documented, written into the archives, into the narratives of the just and the free.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Genius, I

The Salinas River crawls its way through the Southern tip of Monterey County, through the outskirts of King City, avoids Greenfield completely, and heads Northwest just before hitting Soledad. It is a shallow river, filled with more will than water, which surprisingly makes it all the way to the Pacific somewhere by Monterey. This is Steinbeck Country! Of Mice and Men takes place just a few miles from my parent's current home; East of Eden starts off half a mile from where I grew up. Steinbeck’s father claimed to be the first permanent resident of King City. I knew none of this growing up. I learned these things my second year of college, when I first read Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Small towns have this effect: they yank you out of history.

And so I thought I was a-historical. That everything I did was new; that no one had lived like me before. So I did those things which can only be done once; things which could only be done by me. For instance, no one had ever figured out how to grow secret marijuana gardens in public property until I came along. First, I drew a map of places I had found along the river bank where no one had been before; next, I cleared these spots of weeds and rocks, dug some holes in the ground, and planted the tiny plants all throughout the river bank, spread out about 15 to 60 feet. My most ingenious idea was to develop an irrigation system that I didn’t have to monitor. What was genius about this idea was its simplicity: I filled plastic bottles (gallons) with water, poked a hole on the side, and tilted them against a stick near the base of the plant: drip irrigation! I restocked the water supply every 5 to 8 days. About a month into my operation, my father grew suspicious of my late afternoon hikes into the river. He asked my mom what I was doing, and she said, “ask him!” which he didn’t, but I caught him following me in his truck anyway, at which point I took a different route to get him off my tracks and once he caught up to me I pretended to be immersed in nudy-magazines, which I carried everywhere with me anyway; he was embarrassed to have witnessed me spreading out the center-fold in the afternoon air, so he never followed me again, although he never stopped suspecting me of some sort of trickery, of which I was completely guilty. A few months later the plants blossomed. If you looked closely from far away, you could see them radiating green in concentric circles all around them: they were the greenest things around. But, in those days, no one was looking closely. And, besides, I was a genius, and since no one had done this before, no one bothered to look for it. But now that they were ready for harvest I encountered a new problem: how to get them out of the river bank and into my house. My father detested drugs and everything that they stood for. He called them (drugs), “la chingadera esa.” That fucking thing. So he would say things like: “you better not be doing esa chingadera!” Or, “I don’t want you near Ramon; his uncle likes esa chingadera.” He never called weed marijuana or cocaine cocaine…so I was stuck. I was 16 years old, with thousands of dollars waiting for me, and all I had to do was figure out a way to cut it, smuggle it into my house, dry it, trim it, package it, sell it, and not get caught doing any of those things. And I couldn’t trust anyone. Thinking back, if I had put the planning and vigilance that went into this project into my studies, I would’ve been a Rhodes Scholar!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Talking to my father about death, 2

The sadness is spreading. My mother calls at 1 p.m. and says she can’t get out of bed. That she feels like dying. She says my brother feels the same way. What are the dogs doing? I ask, knowing that we know how animals feel by the way they act. My father’s unemployment has run out; he has no job prospects. He gave it his all—he gave it away…he gave it when he had it, and now it’s no longer there to give, so there’s no hope—the work is done. I told my mother I was looking into field-worker retirement communities, where immigrants go to die in peace. She says that you can’t die in peace; that’s what death achieves, not what dying is like. I think she sound philosophical. But maybe I’m looking for wisdom in the sadness, in the helplessness. Maybe there’s none.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talking to my father about death, 1

I think he’s dying of sadness. He’s unemployed, 59, and paralyzed by the failure of his American experiment. He sleeps all day, drinks till midnight, and dies a little each night before waking to find himself alive and un-recognized by his younger self, the one who dared, the one who sought a something long forgotten. My own successes (whatever they are) only remind him that maybe he already did what he was meant to do, to carry me as far as those lines on the floor which father’s don’t cross, and drop me off and see how far I got before I start seeing the lines on the floor myself. And I can’t accept that: that he had no other ambitions, no other dreams, than to open up paths for me! He tells me that a $25,000 IRA he rescued before losing his last job should buy a casket and the hole in the ground where he’ll be buried. I tell him that we have time to discuss this. But he already made up his mind. He’s resolute in his commitment to the impossible, like always.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Getting Even With Pablo*

My mother's cruelty had its limits. She would, for instance, pray for the sick if they were "really" sick and not just "pertending"--she claimed to have an uncanny ability to tell the sick from the pretenders. She would also defend animals of all sorts when they couldn't defend themselves, but so long as they were not guilty of any crimes against her person or property. If animal or person (kin or not) dared cross the line, her fury had no least to me. Pablo benefited from her saintly generosity.

Pablo was a baby when my mother first brought him into the house. His mother had abondned him and, my mother said, he would've died out in the cold if she didn't bring him in. As a two-week old he was a small, furry, yellow ball of adoroableness. Because my mother had rescued him from the cold, he thought she was his mother. He followed her around like a normal depenant, although she never sat on him to keep him warm. She baptized him Pablo and loved him like a son.

Pablo grew up fast. He soon became an awkward teenager. His feathers were unevenly distributed, and his color was an off-brown; he looked like a mangled eagle or a recently rehabed vulture. My father came home one day and almost stepped on him; Pablo screamed, my father jumped and avoided falling by holding on to my neck, he chased Pablo all over the house, cursing and throwing whatever he could find in Pablor's direction. Pablo ran to the kitchen and took cover behind my mother's legs. My father yelled: "Let's eat that fuckin animal already!" and "What's he doing in the house?" My mother responded clamly: "Leave him alone" and "you need to watch where you're walking." It was during this time that I realized that he was a part of the family and not just a charity case. More than that, Pablo knew he was my mother's ward. She was his protector.

In a year, Pablo was clucking his way about the house with his chest out and his long tail-feathers, beutifully colored, fanning the air behind him. He fuckin annoyed me. He was a cocky little cock (actually, he was a fighting cock who had never thrown a punch). But my mother wouldn't kick him out, even though he was already full grown. He slept in the porch, in a box with blankets and water. He'd wake everyone up at the crack of dawn, which sucked for everyone but my father who had to go to work, and for my mother who packed my father's lunch. In other words, it sucked for me.

At some point, Pablo realized that I was his competition. He'd stand outside my bedroom door and murmur some demonical verses in his own chicken language. I'd throw my shoes against the door to scare him off; I could hear my mother: "stop that!" and "you're gonna break that door!" and "don't make me come in there!" Fuckin Pablo. I'd get up at about 7 and get ready for school. Pablo would charge me and pick a fight. I'd rush right at him hoping he would't move so I could kick him in the face. But he would run and find my mother, who would tell me to sit the hell down and eat my breakfast. I'd get my backpack and walk out the door. Pablo would walk me to the stairs and watch me leave. We would stare at each other and wish each other ill.

My guess is that he was good company for my mother, who from lack of papers had to stay home and avoid dealing with the inevitable existential boredom which pervades all of Being. Pablo lived with us in the Gashouse for what now seems a good lifetime. One cold December morning it was the silence that woke everyone up. My mother walked to the porch to find Pablo frozen stiff in his luxury box. The cock was dead and I could't help but feel...exhuberant. My mother, I can only guess, was sad about the tragedy. My father, who had come home to pick up a jacket, grabbed him by the tail feathers on his way into the kitchen and put him in a pot of boiling water. By 7 a.m. he was defeathered and cut to pieaces, soaking in a pot with carrots and squash. When I got home from school I had chicken stew. Pablo was tough; his leg muscles strained my jaw muscles. The meat was dry. I asked my mother for his heart and ate it with a bit of salt. It was chewey and tasted like blood and vengance--or maybe life and ipseity. Fuckin Pablo.

*Thanks for the title, Jeremy W.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Illegals, Entrepreneurs, and the Free Market

I grew up in a town where 90% of the people were farm workers; another 3% were unemployed; and 7% owned the farms where the workers worked.* Nowhere was this division clearer than in school, where 60% of the students were the children of the 7%. When I graduated high school—because I did, after all, graduate—all my friends, who had not and could not graduate, were not allowed into the stadium were the graduation was held (because of their respective “affiliations” and their status as unwanteds). The stadium was filled with the 7%ers and their children, friends, and others; my friends, dozens of them, leaned against the chain link fence which kept the haves inside the stadium—they cheered when my name was called. My friends made up the 3%, above.

The 90% (mostly illegal aliens who immigrated from Mexico) were hard-working people who had been coming and going for decades, working the garlic and tomato harvests, paying taxes, supporting large families back in Mexico, all the while struggling to raise their children according to American customs which they didn’t really understand. Those that failed made up the 3%, who, confused and marginalized, took to gangs, drugs, and guns to assert their role in American culture, even if that role was the one reserved for those who justify police presence and prison funding.

Ultimately, the 90% kept that town alive.

I heard Rafael Anchia speak not too long ago. He’s an impressive politician from Texas—a Democrat from the 103rd district. Some have high hopes for him. He called illegal immigrants “entrepreneurs” who must raise “venture capital” (the money it takes to cross the border) in order to fund a “start up” (the journey to find a job) which they hope will thrive in a difficult and risky economic environment where death is very much a possibility. Speaking to a large group in the Silicon Valley, Anchia’s message resonated with everyone there. He asked: in these times, wouldn’t it be better to have more entrepreneurs rather than less?

Republicans, when they stop inhaling glue long enough, have begun to see the economic benefits of illegal entrepreneurs. They question the value of less illegal aliens on the very foundations of our free market system. I hope this kind of thinking continues. But there’s a lot of glue!

Friday, July 2, 2010

On the Road

I'm taking this show on the road! I'll be presenting a paper on all of this nonsense (the theme of the Blog, that is) in Oregon (Society for Philosophy and the Contemporary World) in two weeks. Here's the "Outline"--the paper itself is long and more nuanced, with arguments and such.

"Philosophy and the Post-Immigrant Fear"


• The specific purpose of this paper is to explore and then expand on Jorge Gracia’s reasons for the apparent lack of Hispanics in US philosophy (i.e., in his 1999 book: Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective). I will narrow my focus to a specific sub-group of the philosophical Hispanics Gracia considers, namely, “homegrown” US Hispanics. This group, Gracia says, are entirely missing from the “established” ranks (Gracia mentions 6 established Hispanic philosopher in the US, all foreign born). Introducing a first-person phenomenological perspective, I propose an explanation which I think captures my experience as a homegrown US Hispanic, one which has given rise to a sense of identity which I can only describe as “post-immigrant”; those who share in this identity, I suggest, desire but hesitate engaging philosophically with their own experience as post-immigrants, particularly when the post-immigrant is one who is also a degree-bearing member of the philosophical profession. The reason for the absence of homegrown Hispanic philosphers who are also willing to engage issues related to their circumstance as Hispanics boils down to what I call, “the post-immigrant fear.”

Section 1: From Marginalization to Avoidance: Gracia on Hispanics in US Philosophy

• Of 316 philosophy programs surveyed in 1992, the number of Hispanics who are either full or part-time faculty members is 55; in 1995, there are 68 full time and part time Hispanics in those programs. Generalizing to the number of programs represented in the American Philosophical Association, this means that in the mid-1990’s, 2.2% of all philosophers teaching in the US are Hispanics; the Hispanic population in the US at that time is roughly 10%.

• Gracia: “First, why is it that there are so very few Hispanics who have become established in the profession in the United States? Second, why is it that those few who have become established are foreign born? Third, why are there so very few Hipsanic Americans in the profession at all? Fourth, why is Hispanic philosophy ignored in the philosophy curriculum? And fifth, why is it that Hipsanics-American philosophers are not attracted by, and perhaps even avoid, areas that have to do with their identity as Hispanics, whereas African Americans and women do not?”

• For ease, I call the first question the establishment question; the second question is the foreign vs. homegrown question; the third is the numbers question; the fourth is the curriculum question; and the fifth is avoidance question.

• Gracia: “My suggestion is that one reason behind all these facts is that Hispanics in general are perceived as foreigners; we are not thought to be “Americans.”..[Moreover] Hispanic philosophers are marginalized in the profession, and Hispanic issues and philosophy are regarded as alien to the interest of American philosophers.”

Section 2: Homegrown Hispanics and the Post-Immigrant Experience

• The concept of “post-immigrant” refers to individuals who are not themselves immigrants but for whom the immigrant experience itself is a historical, epistemological, cultural, or in any way existential reality. That is, a post-immigrant is the son, granddaughter, niece, or brother of immigrants who were born in Latin America, suffered the migration North, and settled as immigrants in the US. Thus, post-immigrants will usually be the children of immigrants, and not immigrants themselves who have somehow overcome their situation—thus, a post-immigrant is not a person who was once an immigrant and has left that label behind through the proper legal procedures, and is now a citizen or resident.

Section 3: The Post-Immigrant Fear

• The post-immigrant fear is the fear which keeps homegrown Hispanics in the profession, especially those who have come north and have crossed the socio-economic lines which define our immigrant experience, from writing, speaking, and teaching about Hispanic issues or Hispanic philosophy—it is what justifies our “renunciation” of the possibilities of such engagement. It is the fear of disenfranchisement, of exclusion, of arrest. It might be unconscious, or not something of which we are always aware, but it structures our very experience. Some of us will not admit the fear, since the admission says that we lack the intellectual courage which philosophers require in order to pursue truth to the bitter end.

Section 4: Conclusions

• The situation which Jorge Gracia described in 1999 has not changed much over the past 10 years. According to the National Science Foundation, 103 Hispanics received a doctorate in some field of the Humanities in 1988; this number doubled in 2008 to 206. These numbers are slightly higher when compared to Asians, African-Americans, and Native Americans. However, they are dismal when compared to Whites, who received 2564 PhDs in 1988 and 3009 in 2008. This means that just a couple of years ago, in 2008, Hispanics made up only 6.8% of all PhD recipients in the Humanities. The numbers of Hispanics who received a doctorate in philosophy are much lower. According to the same data, out of the 401 philosophy doctorates awarded in 2008, 10 went to Hispanics—that’s 2.5% as opposed to 2.2% almost 20 years ago! So, 10 years after Gracia published those alarming numbers, Hispanics in philosophy are still largely underrepresented in proportion to the numbers in the overall population.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Menu—September 3, 1987

Breakfast: 3 white-powder doughnuts; tall glass of milk.

Lunch: Cafeteria food, Santa Lucia Elementary School (Chocolate milk was surely involved)

After school snack: hot-dog franks with ketchup, cooked over the stove flame, burned, and cut into pieces for dipping in ketchup.

Dinner: beans and tortillas with Tapatio sauce while watching tv in the living-room, waiting for my dad to come inside the house; he’ll be out until the beer runs out or he gets hungry.

I was thinking about this last night because I’ve come to the conclusion that I have horrible eating habits. I blame my chilldhood. But I would’ve starved without this menu. It’s not that my mom was neglectful; we were just poor. We had nothing. The powdered-doughnuts were a luxury, but they were still cheaper than cereal. I was lucky I went to school—at least there I would get to eat a stale hamburger with soggy fries and green jell-o. My mother would try to make with what she had, but she only had what we could afford, and hot-dog franks were cheap and, if I ate a bunch of them, very filling. Sometimes, when we had eggs, she’d mix them in to the franks—delicious! Other times, she'd mix them in with nopales (which is a slimy green cactus plant), which I hated and never ate. On these occassions, I coocked my own and drowned them in ketchup and had a feast.

I’m trying to eat better these days, but everything is harder and less tasty than hot-dog franks with ketchup.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Cauliflower is beautiful to look at. It tastes great, too. If you boil it, cut it to pieces and put some salt, lemon, and chili powder all over it, you have a great snack—tons of fiber and absolutely delicious! You can also eat it raw. My father taught us how to eat the stem raw. Just peel off the thick, green, skin and sink your teeth into a sweet tasting vitamin bomb. He said that if we only ate the stem, everyday, we’d live to be 200. And we had a lot of it. Our house, the Gashouse, sat in the middle of a hundred acres of cauliflower fields. My dad was the guy who watered it. It greened up the world. I saw nothing but green from my window. And on windy days, all you smelled was green—it even ate the gas leaking from our stove.

Before the “flower” blossoms, the bugs are killed off. My father would drive around the fields putting up signs with a skull and cross bones that said: Peligro! This meant that we were not allowed to go into the field. A helicopter would wake us before sunrise: I could see the guy’s goatee from my window. He would spray the Peligro over the green. The Peligro was a white mist that smelled like….it smelled like meth! After a few days, my father would take down the skeletons and we were free to roam the fields and cut stems.

As soon as the white head of the plant grows bigger than a fist, it is wrapped up in its own leaves. A rubber band keeps the head inside its leafy cocoon. Illegals do that part of nature’s work. Bees are overly qualified. Days later, another crew of unwanteds comes and cuts the head off, wraps it in a plastic bag, and sends it to your kitchen. After all the heads are gone, a tractor comes and razes whatever is left. The next day the sun cooks whatever is laying on the ground. The air smells like rotting flesh. But it is not overbearing. It is a comfortable smell of death. It became familiar to us, like the Peligro and the green.

Those fields are our killing fields. I’ll tell you how later, even though it matters little to question the methodologies of death.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Fences. Rivers. Minutemen. Deserts. Guns. Deceit. Arizona. And now Landmines. I don’t know what to say about this. A patriotic American in New Mexico wants to put landmines on the border to keep "illegals" out and American greatness in. Obviously, this guy lacks the imagination, creativity, and entrepreneurship of those he's trying to blow up. I'm sure there's a guy in Tlazazalca, Michoacan, right now working on a teletransporter.

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