Racism is an American Virus

They’ll write about decolonizing as they gentrify every black and brown neighborhood.

They’ll say “black lives matter” but never when it actually matters.

They’ll talk virality and viruses but never point their microscopes at the virus of racism.

They’ll praise solidarity while looking away when the boot is on our face

or when the arm is around our neck

or when the man is following us as we try to leave,

gun at his hip.

I don’t want your grief

when you do nothing to stop the cause of it.

Representation and rap/rock

My most powerful memories revolve around music and my earliest memories revolve around two songs: Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world”. When I hear the former, I think of being cramped in the back of my dad’s red Ford Escort driving…somewhere. The latter reminds me of the wood paneling of the Woodriver Apartment complex that we lived in in Corpus Christi, Texas. What got me to finally sleep by myself was a boombox that my parents got me where I could pop in Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack, or the top-40 station…well, that and the incessant crying of my infant sister. But I digress…

I inherited my love of R&B from my mother; growing up in Saginaw, Michigan in the 70’s, she was fond of Gloria Gaynor, Chic, Sister Sledge and everything disco (in addition to the compulsory tejano groups becoming any Mexican-American at that time). My mom told me that for the most part, she didn’t like school except for choir, and I would inherit that love of singing throughout my life. As such, when I heard the song “Mowtownphilly” by a group called Boyz II Men, I went deep into a rabbit hole of what would later be called “New jack swing” (a subgenre of R&B popular in the early to mid 90’s). This was years before the internet, so I didn’t know much about these groups other than what was in the liner notes, so I obsessed over the songwriter credits and names like “Tony Rich”, “Babyface” and my personal musical heroes, “Jimmy-Jam and Terry Lewis”. I saw those names on other artists’ catalogs and learned that singers and songwriters weren’t mutually exclusive; that producers often wrote songs and could win awards of their own. In the 6th grade, me and a group of friends covered “I Swear”, which had hit the charts when All 4 One covered it earlier that year, for a choir performance.

7th grade: new school and new discoveries. My older cousin brought me a double-cd that I just had to listen to. It was 2pac’s “All Eyes On Me”. Down another rabbit hole, only this time it was West Coast G-funk inspired rap. I never caught onto the Bad Boy roster, which I think was mostly due to the disco samples. I repped the West Side and devoured artists like Cypress Hill, Kid Frost, Richie Rich in addition to stalwarts like Snoop, Dr. Dre and the Death Row roster. Mostly though, it was 2pac and “Me against the world” is one of those albums that I still find myself digging into as I inch closer to middle age.

I don’t know how an album can feel both comforting and claustrophobic, but “Me Against the World” is that album

After football practice one day, I was in the locker room changing while listening to some tunes when one of the coaches grabbed my headphones, asking what I was listening to. It was Pac’s “Hit ’em up”.

“Does your mom know you’re listening to this,” he asked.

“Yeah, she bought it for me,” I answered.

He didn’t believe me, so he confiscated my discman and told me to have my mom write him a letter saying I had permission to listen to “that” music. I went home and told my mom and she was LIVID. See, I never hid what I listened to from my mom and she never censored my music choices. She wasn’t always happy if there were curse words but she never really cared because she knew I was obsessed. Plus, I got her to actually fall in love with 2pac after I showed her “Dear Mama”. Now I don’t remember exactly what she wrote in that first letter, but I do remember that she proceeded to write a 3 page letter about how I was an honors student who never caused trouble and how dare this football coach judge my listening habits because that meant he was judging her parenting and he had no right to censor what I listened to. I asked her to reign it in, as I didn’t want her telling him off to result in me doing black halos after practice, so she wrote a shorter letter. I took it to him, he read it, and gave me back the discman without a word. I took music seriously and was staunch about listening to whatever the fuck I wanted to.

But by and large, outside of tejano bands, I never really saw any music groups who looked like me and my friends. Late high school I’d started listening to rock music, mostly metal. Yeah, hip hop had some Mexican representation (like Cypress Hill and Kid Frost), but metal was pretty god damned white. Then in high school, a friend introduced me to Deftones’ “Around the Fur”. The opening track slapped HARD and that riff (which would be the first riff I would learn to play by ear) just hypnotize me. Down another rabbit hole I went, but first I wanted to know what these fuckers looked like and…

Pictured: my friend group in high school (aka Deftones)

I felt like I knew these guys personally. Chino, the lead singer, looked just like my cousin Sergio while Stephen Carpenter looked like my classmate Eric. That these So-Cal skater punks could write some fuckin heavy-ass riffs while Chino screamed/whispered his way through their catalog was just the thing I needed in high school. You could sub any of my JNCO or dickies wearing friends in that band and no one would bat an eye. It was the first time I saw brown dudes in bands. Incubus, Sevendust, Fear Factory and fuckin even Coal Chamber had a pretty diverse band (and I even went so far as to rip off their guitarist Meegs Rascon’s move of painting my nails cause it looked cool while playing guitar).

Far left: Miguel “Meegs” Rascon, Mexicali born guitarist from Coal Chamber

I saw a good amount of these bands live because, get this, they actually would make the journey down to the Rio Grande Valley and play. No one EVER fuckin played the valley because most acts would go as far south as San Antonio then turn right the fuck back around (and even that was rare as they mostly stuck to Dallas and/or Houston). I saw Coal Chamber open for Slipknot and busted a dude’s nose with my elbow after he kept using my shoulders as his own personal spring board. I pulled a friend out of a dangerously collapsing mosh pit during a Sevendust concert. I saw the band Kittie and they were more terrifying than 90% of bands full of dudes (and I also had a mad crush on their guitarist Fallon Bowman, who cemented my love of brown women). But it was the Deftones and that weird genre of rap/rock/nu-metal or whatever the fuck that first opened my eyes to the fact that people who looked like me could be musicians and I was super happy that they played the Villarreal Convention Center in my town (fun fact: Incubus opened for them that tour so I got to see them right before “Morning View” blew them the fuck up). At a lyrical level, these bands were even broaching subjects like sexual abuse and mental illness, which I still firmly believe was one of the good things that came out of that movement.

But the late 90’s were fuckin weird. That genre that started more punk than anything started to morph into something more insidious, misogynistic and mostly just lame. Sure you had bands like Korn who were ok, but then you also had your Limp Bizkits who were just god awful and made that whole scene just look like one giant frat party. It always made me angry that Fred fuckin Durst’s band got so big when all he did was mercilessly rip off Chino Moreno’s fashion sense AND musical sensibility (seriously: Durst is the Diet Rite to Chino’s Coca Cola). Musical fads shifted and by the early 2000’s that nu-metal scene was largely a joke-and it was, because by its very nature it was an attempt to put a label on what was actually a dynamic and largely diverse musical landscape and almost all of my friends who were into those bands ended up starting their own bands at one point or another.

Because that’s the point of that thing called representation: it’s a moment where you recognize you and give yourself permission to do the thing that you’ve been dying to do. And when you’re a young, pissed off, sad bastard who lives in a place that feels like its the end of the fucking earth, it makes a world of difference when you go from consuming the thing to making a thing. In my case, it was the Deftones and you would be hard pressed to find a better album to listen to than their unassailable album “White Pony”.

Edit: just so we’re clear, I don’t consider the Deftones a part of the whole nu-metal scene and they’ve been very adamant about distancing themselves from those other bands. I only speak of them as a larger entity because they largely broke through around the same time. I would never sully the Deftones’ name by calling them nu-metal because they’re better than that.

A Midwest Death

Her name was “Ms. Scooby” and she demanded your attention.

“But she’s all alone in there at the vet…” my wife said to me. I was a year into my first academic job as an assistant professor of English in Wisconsin. My wife and I already had two cats: Pippin and Merry and they lived with her while I basically commuted between households. I was against it. I had just moved from my first apartment in P-Vegas to a lovely home on 4th street with another academic couple with the most adorable children. I didn’t want to, but like many things in our relationship, I acquiesced (with the lovely permission of Vikki and John P., who owned the house I was living at).

My first year at P-Ville was a learning experience. I was teaching a 4/4 course load with advising duties during that first fall of 2016 (the year of the presidential election, btw). Every two or three weeks I would drive to Indiana to spend the weekend with my then girlfriend (now wife). I barely decorated the two bedroom apartment that I really couldn’t afford…on top of that, we were planning our wedding. After moving to the new apartment, my wife found Scooby at the vet she took our cats to. Over a month-and-a-half period, she kept talking about how much I’d appreciate having an old girl around. We picked a weekend in November and I drove down, we picked her up, and had her stay in our bathroom overnight to keep her separated from the other cats.

Scoob was a great travel companion. This is us on our way back to Wisconsin.

Things we learned from the vet: her previous humans had tried unsuccessfully to introduce her to some new kittens, and Scooby didn’t like it. So rather than try to figure it out, they took her to the vet to get euthanized. The vet refused, seeing as she was in good health, so they boarded her while they tried to find her a new home. She’d been declawed and at 17 years old, she didn’t really jump well. But oh boy could she yowl. As soon as I woke up in the morning, she was yelling at me to feed her. When I got home, she was yelling at me because I was gone all day. I had to go buy a set of stairs so she could climb into bed or onto the couch with me since she couldn’t jump. Sometimes, late at night, she’d yowl for a few minutes straight: I think she was so old that she’d sometimes wake up and not know where she was.

But as my wife and I got new jobs this past year, we had a crisis: Scooby was pretty curmudgeonly and didn’t get on well with other cats. Pippin and Merry (especially Merry) were fine, but Scoober was just not having it. My wife’s Nana graciously offered to take her in-she was a fan of cats and had a soft spot for the old girl. So a few months before we moved to the Pacific North West, we drove Scooby to her new home. She eventually acclimated and was doing well up until last week: she had stopped eating and wasn’t drinking much, we’d heard (signs of kidney failure). Then finally, we found out that Scooby crossed the rainbow bridge.

That was her look of love, if you can believe it. Note the crossed paws.

It didn’t hit me at first. But then as the evening wore on, I started to think more and more about Scooby. She was the last thing I’d had left from my time in Wisconsin. She was there during those cold winters, laying down next to the heater to warm her old bones. My wife has talked a lot about mourning lately: we’ve lost quite a few family members in the past year, but I’ve also been mourning in a different way. I’ve moved from a tenure track job to a lecturer position, I’m farther from my family than I’ve ever been before, and all of these changes have had their challenges. Scoob’s passing feels like the death of my midwest self-as busy as my time at Wisconsin was, I loved the people at that school. Now that Scooby’s gone I feel like I’ve moved into another stage of grief. It’s a new chapter in my life and it’s a little more difficult than I’d anticipated to let go of the last one.

But she was a sweet cat and I’m glad that we were able to give her a warm, safe home for her golden years. Rest easy, old girl.

I swear she was sweet. Don’t let her scowl fool you.

When I had it my way

I’d like to say it was my first job, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t. My real first job was working in the fields with my cousins. We’d moved into a pretty nice neighborhood when I was a freshman in high school. My dad, in his infinite wisdom, decided that I was to help pick melons with my family during the summer as a means of humbling me in my country club lifestyle. This, despite the fact that I had absolutely no control over where we lived, but whatever. It was the first time I was “working” and the money I earned went towards some bitchin’ rollerblades. But I digress…

It looked very much like this, except I was in a truck and accidentally hit a dude in the head with one of the spoiled cantaloupes.

The following summer I applied for a job at Burger King. I’d started playing guitar and was eager to move on from the Stratocaster copy that my mom ordered me from a Fingerhut catalogue. I dropped off an application and a few days later got a call that I was going to be interviewed. Like the huge fucking dork that I was, I listened to my father’s advice and dressed up for the interview. You could imagine my shock at the fact that I was the only asshole who showed up in a freshly ironed dress shirt and slacks as I sat in the lobby of the Burger King on Military Road in south McAllen. I was, as always, a polite and deferential motherfuck and SURPRISE! I was hired and ready to be trained. I was excited: I was going to spend two weeks training at the McAllen store then move to a new store opening up in nearby Edinburg.

But HOLY SHIT was I unprepared for fast food. First of all, my trainer told me that they hire men to cook/bus/dishwash and women to take orders and/or cashier. We were the seedy underbelly while the women played the face: no skin off my back though, I didn’t really feel like dealing with people. My trainer, a man who seemed like an actual adult but in retrospect was probably only 5 years older than me, was a cool dude. Speaking mostly Spanish, he taught me how to grab the buns from the steamer, place ’em on the board, and depending on the order, throw the meat, veggies and condiments all together, wrapping in wax and sliding them down the waiting tray. Assembly line production at its finest: we had to make sure to be well stocked with Whoppers that we could slightly modify at a moment’s notice, followed by Western Bacon Chee’s and another “special” that was hot in 1997. The first day was a fucking whirlwind: I struggled to keep up, but my trainer was really patient with me. With the location being right on the border, we were constantly swamped with people traveling in and out of Mexico. A real trial-by-fire. I trained from 6PM til closing, which meant I had to help clean and close the store. Most nights I didn’t get home until about 2 in the morning.

At that point, my maternal grandmother (grandma Mary) was living with us. She had a “boyfriend” who she begrudgingly acknowledged at the time, which meant that my mom, sister and I would mercilessly tease her about him. It also meant that she was up late at night talking to him on the phone, on the one land line that we shared. Our family, two adults in their 40’s, one junior-high aged daughter and a tech savvy high school aged son along with said matriarch, shared a single phone line. Naturally, this meant passive-aggressive battles over the phone. It also meant that my grandmother was up late at night when I made it home. She’d be watching tv in the living room while my parents were asleep and I’d chat with her for a bit. One night, I asked her if there was anything I could bring from “El Rey”, to which she replied, “whatever you want to bring”. So I’d bring a burger, maybe some fries at first. Then one night I brought some breakfast cinnamon rolls (cini-minis, they would later be called), and grandma Mary fucking LOVED them. Thus, I’d bring her a nightly sixer of cini-minis and a whopper junior and fries for my sister on the rare nights I was being nice to her.

In high school, summers are prime fuckaround-time, which sucked for me because I’d get home so late, wake up at the crack of noon, then would only have a couple of hours to kill before I had to go into work. My friends had the same schedule sans work, so I never really got to hang out with them. It was a pain in the ass, yet…I kinda started to really like the job. As the days week went by, I was slingin steamy burgers with the best of them, and talking shit to my trainer while slappin meat and pickles on buns. Sometimes, when it was particularly slow, one of the girls would hand me the headset and I’d take some orders. After work, we’d shoot the shit in the parking lot after closing: one specific night, my co-workers were smoking cigarettes as we chatted. I asked for one, at which point one of the girls called me a poser (in Spanish), laughing as she said that I would have no clue what to even do with one. A grabbed one from the pack, punched the car lighter in, popped it out and inhaled, exhaling the smoke out of my nostrils directly into her face and saying, “que dijiste?” It’s probably the most badass I’ve ever been in my life. Weeks later, I’d move to the Edinburg location and work for another couple of months.

And to be honest, I really liked the gig. There was something simple about burger slinging: no crazy responsibilities, no pressure to be a stellar student. Just get those burgers rolling and you’re good. My manager would constantly compliment me on how polite and hard working I was and I honestly ate it up. My coworkers were a ragtag bunch of misfits that I got along with very well-hell, towards the end, I was even training another dude to sling steamy buns.

But it was never gonna be permanent. I saved up enough money to buy a Hamer electric guitar with a hum-single-hum, floyd rose configuration that I was dreaming of and with school coming up, the idea of working while being a full-time student didn’t really appeal to me. Again, following my dad’s advice, I put in my two week’s notice: my manager asked me to stay, saying that I could easily work my way up to assistant manager and they’d work around my school schedule. I had to say “no”.

I’d go on to graduate from high school, but it took almost a decade of fucking up to graduate from college, work for a couple of years as a pack-a-day journalist at a local newspaper, until I’d move onto graduate school. But I look back at my time at the King with fondness: what if I’d gone that route and worked through high school and college? What if I’d gone on to manage a BK of my own? Maybe I’d have taken advantage of their “we’ll pay for yourfuckingcollege” program. Who the hell knows?

I was never going to be a fucking chef. But I think about that experience when I go out to eat or pick up food at any restaurant. In a future blog, I want to talk about my adoration of the late Anthony Bourdain, whose “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations” were essential viewing for my mother and I. But he astutely pointed out that, when you look in any kitchen, chances are that those people cooking your food are people that look like me: brown, Spanish speaking people of the Latin-American diaspora. Again, I was a fucking BK cook, not a Michelin star winning sous-chef. But my food, your food, our food that we eat at those taquerias, sushi joints, food trucks, cafe’s and, yes, fast food joints are largely staffed by brown people that will toss off a “chinga tu madre” if you cross them.

It’s why, even here in the Pacific Northwest, I feel a slight sense of ease when I hear some norteño music piping out of the kitchen, or a “que le damos, joven?” from the cashier when I walk into the taqueria down the street. However small, and however brief, I did my part.

On NewThings: Tech yourself before you wreck yourself

There’s something appealing about new tech. It’s one of the reasons I like watching tech reviews and unboxing videos on Youtube. The past year, I’ve been extremely dissatisfied with the Macbook I bought in 2015 – several keys stick while typing and the space bar stutters as well. After hearing about problems with newer Mac keyboards, in addition to the bloated corpse that iTunes has become, I’m just fucking tired of Apple. As part of my contract with my current job I’m getting a 2-in-1 laptop and I’m excited to be able to edit and comment on essays using a pen and touch-screen and am trying to figure out what my new workflow is going to look like. Thus, I’m currently obsessed with 2-in-1’s: I’ve spent the last month-and-a-half looking up Youtube videos and articles about the Microsoft Surface and the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Yoga.

I mean, just LOOK at it. But LOOK!

But this is what it’s always been like for me. Every time I buy some new device, whether it be a phone, video game console, or even a controller, I spend an alarming amount of time smelling it: no joke, I adore the metallic, plastic, sterile scent given off by newly opened tech. Now I’m not one of those people who watches ASMR videos – that’s just not my thing. But the tactile feeling of devices is what I fuckin’ live for.

Which is hard to reconcile with considering how much I loathe tech culture. I currently live in north Seattle and ho-ly shit there are some problems that these huge companies have created and/or exacerbated here; rampant homelessness, astronomical housing costs and overall cost of living. In some of the research I did in the planning stages of our move here, I found that there’s been a lot of backlash over this. The development of things and this constant push to STEM-ify everything without considering the consequences is creating this ouroboros of capitalism – prototype NewThing, create a market for upcoming NewThing, obsess over NewThing, buy NewThing, tire of it…OOH! NewThing2 is coming out!

NewThing sucks us all in; its promise creates cults of personality around NewThing creators/disruptors. It’s why people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs can get away with being supreme assholes. Because they’re so capable of making NewThing people constantly acquiesce to their demands and whims, providing tax breaks for their factories, giving them free passes for creating inhumane conditions for their workers. In the rush to find the next NewThing master, Silicon Valley keeps funding increasingly aggressive grifts, from Theranos, to Juicero, and even Bodega. And the BigBrain Bandits of Silicon Valley can’t help but continue shooting themselves in the dicks by investing millions of fucking dollars in the name of “disruption”.

I, for one, CERTAINLY trust this man’s water takes

It’s all a grift and I’m just as guilty of falling for it as the next person. The laptop thing I can at least defend: both my job and my hobby involve a lot of typing and my current device drives me mad. But what about the next console? Or the newest phone? These NewThings always promise so much but end up costing us even more. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rampant sexism, racism and cyberbullying inherent in tech culture. And it’s so easy for kids, particularly young males, to get sucked into these technological cults and transforming them into violent, hateful techno-radicals. It’s honestly frightening and I don’t know how to reconcile these things. I want to be reasonable and like things I like, but it’s hard not to feel complicit in feeding into NewThing culture.

Hard and heavy

In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Luck (quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts) recently announced his retirement, to the surprise of everyone. For those less inclined to watch football this is huge because Luck was, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of the Colts franchise. A Stanford grad and seemingly decent dude, he blindsided everyone by making his announcement before a preseason game.

In most cases, athletes tend to retire at the end of their respective sports’ seasons, usually citing age and declining performance as factors. What makes Luck’s situation so peculiar is that he’s relatively young (29) and in a sport known for its hyperviolence, quarterbacks tend to have longer careers than other positions; Tom Brady, for example, is 42 and just received and extension with the Patriots. For a qb that young to essentially walk away from millions of dollars is reflective of a larger issue in the National Football League–the increasing awareness of how much damage the sport does to its athletes.

My wife and I have been watching the Netflix series “Last Chance U”. I’d already seen it, but didn’t mind watching it again because it’s really good. You see these kids throwing their bodies around, knocking the everloving piss out of each other, in hopes that they’ll eventually get Division-I scholarship offers and, eventually, get drafted into the NFL. Time and time again, these kids (some of them as young as 17) battle through injuries, lifetimes of poverty and socioeconomic struggles, all while saying “all I know is football. I gotta make it.” Your heart breaks when you realize that the odds of a high-schooler eventually making it to the NFL are jarringly slim–just 0.08 percent of high school football players will make it to the pros.

But then, what if they do make it? What’s the cost? Even if, say, they don’t go broke, don’t suffer a career ending injury, what then? They have this to look forward to. And this. And also this. So Luck, rather than have his brain rattled into early onset dementia, retired. And what does he get in return? Hot takes. Crowds booing at him.

Whole lotta “protection” happening here

I grew up in Texas, so naturally football is a part of my psyche. I’m in a fantasy football league, which measures athlete performance by a set criteria week after week. And yet, I’m become more and more disillusioned with the sport knowing just how much it asks of its laborers and how little it gives back in return. I’m part of the problem, for sure and its part of the reason why I’ve transitioned to watching basketball instead–I feel less complicit in the offenses the sport commits on its employees.

Andrew Luck isn’t a “millennial snowflake” – he read his coverage and made the call to sacrifice short term gain for long-term dividends. To treat him as some sort of traitor to a sport or team is disingenuous at best, completely insidious at worst. And if you feel the need to fire off your own spicy hot take, think about people like hall of fame linebacker Junior Seau, who was so debilitated by CTE that he died by suicide after suffering from years of mood swings. This is a symptom of a larger problem within the NFL, one that won’t go away, no matter how many obstacles the league tries to put in front of it. Luck knows the game all too well and made a choice. People like Doug Gottlieb are contemptible ratfucks for giving Luck even a modicum of static for it because they’re not the ones who will forget their family members’ names, or become violently angry at the drop of a hat for absolutely no reason, or will only live until the ripe-old age of 52. Luck made the right call, and I sincerely hope there is a place in hell reserved for people like Gottlieb.

Back from the east

I’m back in Seattle right now after having spent almost two weeks in China. This is the second, and most likely, last year I get to do this and now that the jet lag has (mostly) worn off and I’m back to some semblance of a normal routine, I’m using this time to dwell with my feelings on my experiences – both in China and this past year.

My hotel room the first night in China. My accommodations were not like this the rest of the time, trust me…

At my (now) former university, I was one of a handful of instructors who had the opportunity to teach for 12 days in Wuhan, China. The university has a partnership with the South Central University of Nationalities (SCUN) and as someone with a background teaching in Tech Writing, I was offered the chance to teach graduate students my first year there. However, I couldn’t at the time because I was too busy getting married…The second year, I jumped at the chance and it’s been very enlightening.

Just outside the dorm I stayed in at SCUN

It’s a strange sensation to step into a country and have your biometric data scanned while seeing all of the cameras around. It’s another thing entirely when it’s all happening in a context where the language is so different from yours. But taking the taxi from the airport, to the hotel, to the next flight, and then to the university, I start to get a sense of just the immense size of this country. My students referred to Wuhan as a “small” town: this “town” has a population of over 10 million and just the amount of buildings, high rises, and apartment complexes is staggering. SCUN itself feels less like a college campus and more like a self-sustained suburb within a larger town.

I’d jog past this building sometimes. I believe it’s the “cultural center”.

My schedule: up at around 5 a.m., call my wife and chat for half an hour, make myself some instant coffee and eat some sweet bread, shower, then head to the “canteen” (cafeteria) around 8. From 8:30-12:00, it was class time every day (except Sunday). The first couple of days I’d just pass out in my dorm and nap for a couple of hours. After that, I’d get up and either a) grab food from the canteen, or b) head out to the shopping center and grab food there. The whole time I’d just have my headphones blasting (usually Bombay Bicycle Club, Tool, or the new Bon Iver album).

The students are extremely friendly: they’re quick to invite you out to lunch when you arrive and are (almost to a fault) eager to get you to try the various regional dishes that stand as testaments to each students’ particular home province. At some point, a student will ask if you “like spicy food”. All I’ll say is be careful if you say, “yes”.

From Summer 2018. The dish I really liked was translated as “black fungus” (sauteed mushrooms).

I know I’m not always the most social person around, but it’s hard to even mimic social behavior when you’re in a completely different social context and can only say “thank you”, “hello”, and “beer” in that language. I took to taking long walks in the evening before it would get dark.

This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.
This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.

Outside of class and lunch, I was pretty much left to my own devices. Dinner meant walking to the store to restock on water and maybe more sweetbread. But mostly, I tried to limit that as it’s still kinda embarrassing to only be able to communicate through points and nods. It gives you a lot of time to think about things. Here I was, 37, teaching graduate students in China. If you’d have told 13 year-old me that I’d be here, I’d have chucked a rock at you.

Outside an art studio that I decided to name “A E S T H E T I C”.

I’ve been going back-and-forth about my commitment to academia, which is understandable given the year I’ve had. I’ve moved from a tenure-track position at my previous university to a full-time lecturer position and, though my wife and I fully believe our current university will do everything they can to find something more permanent for me, it’s still risk. I built three years of tenure and stellar reviews at Previous U and, as one of my best friends pointed out, it’s an ego hit to put that work on hold. That, coupled with the economic anxiety that comes with having to wait months for your first paycheck while living in a city that’s more expensive than Tokyo, makes me question what value there is in this prestige-chamber that is higher education. I don’t want platitudes; I want to get paid, and this shit sometimes makes me think that all those seminar papers, theses, dissertations and applications were just an extended exercise in fucking around. Some sick, masochistic labyrinth of obstacles meant for people who can afford to get paid in praise or esteem. Does that praise and esteem feel good? Of course it does. Does it keep the lights on? Fuck no; if anything, academia does a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re always hobbling to a finish line that never comes.

Cohort 16

I’ll be honest: I’ve applied to several jobs these past few months. My wife has been supportive of this idea the whole way, which is helpful, but I don’t know what this year is going to bring. Right now, I think I’m taking more of a wait-and-see approach with higher ed. This could be the year my publication submissions start to take hold and the teaching rhythm starts to hit a groove. But I can’t help think about any other industry that, granted, would be pretty fast paced and likely higher stress.

This was one hell of a view (by that I mean the scenery, not me). Not pictured: the rest of my sweaty Macho Man t-shirt.

But the students this summer were so kind that maybe they’ve pushed me towards the wait-and-see. So as of right now, I’m still teaching. I can’t say that this’ll be the case a year from now, hell even a month from now. But I think I’d be doing these students, those from Previous U and Grad School U a disservice if I didn’t give it one last shot.

My taxi driver was fuckin next level. An iPhone Megatron, if you will.

The deck is always stacked against you

Recently, my wife and I moved to the Pacific Northwest for work where we’ll both be working for the same university after 3 years of long-distancing it. We got here late June/early July and have (mostly) settled in. Adjusting to living together has been great…except for the financial insecurity.

Let me explain: see, we’re both in higher education. In the corporate/industry world (with a few exceptions), when you’re required to move, the company pays for costs up front. That can include: apartment hunting, renting a u-haul/trailer, dropping a deposit, gas for moving, plane tickets, etc. That’s not the case in academia: we’ll get reimbursed, but not until our first paychecks…in late September.

Right now, my wife is doing some side-work to help with the bills. I’ve been teaching a couple of online writing sections for the past month-and-a-half while doing some side editing and will be flying out of town to teach for my previous institution to make some more money. We even saved up several thousand dollars in anticipation of this move. Even with all of that, though, we’ve got car payments, rent that is outrageous (the PNW is not cheap), cell phone bills, grocery bills, utilities, regular credit card bills, you name it.

Earlier this year, I wrote about academic burn out. This situation certainly contributes to that and, consequently, I’ve been seriously considering going into industry (and have actually sent some resumes out and talked to some people). I do like teaching. I like the neatness of a life organized by semesters/quarters. The new feel of an academic year – there’s a reason I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of education setting. But what sane person wants to work in a field where you’re expected to pay for your costs up front, wait (sometimes months) for reimbursement, and only get paid for 9 months out of the year even though you’re almost always going to be doing some kind of work year-round.

Before graduate school, I was a reporter with a pack-a-day smoking habit and much smaller student loan bills. Before that, I was musician in a touring band while also working as a barista, substitute teacher, junior high tutor, and full-time college student. Sometimes, my life feels just as unstable as it was then.

I want to publish. I want to teach and help students. But I’m 37 years-old. I went through yet another year on the academic job market, which is a soul destroying endeavor on its own, gave a presentation to about 5 people in a 140 seat theater, and had another death in the family, and I’m tired of this.

I love what I do; but love doesn’t pay the rent.

Missing Transition(s): A tribute

Last Monday I received news that my aunt Martha had passed away. It’s difficult to articulate what my feelings were, beyond immediate sadness, because death is one of those fundamental concepts that our brains can’t really comprehend. So mine did the same thing it often does: move the weight of the processing to my subconscious. My wife has been excellent about checking in on me, since I’m basically finishing out my last weeks at my current university while attempting to pack my apartment up for the first part of our move across the country and prepare for her graduation this week. I’ve been doing a lot of journaling these past few weeks and it has been helpful.

But as I’ve started and stopped packing over and over I’ve felt myself a bit…paralyzed. Since I graduated in 2016 I’ve basically been moving every single year, from apartment to apartment. Really every year since I’ve left home, I’ve treated the spaces I’ve lived in as temporary shelters. I rarely, if ever, put any artwork or photos on the wall because I figure I’ll be moving soon. Always moving. Always transitioning. As I look at these boxes in my apartment, I think I’ve been simultaneously unpacking deep seated feelings of my family. Of my friends. Of the ones I can’t visit anymore.

One of my favorite memories
Martha (left), Socorro (Middle), and my sister (foreground) at my cousin’s wedding

One of the things about this transient lifestyle, or one of my coping mechanisms rather, is that I always said, “I’ll get to visit [insert family member] later. Next year…” Then next year becomes two years, then after graduation, then after settling into the job, and so on and so forth.

My great-aunt Nana. My aunt Socorro. My uncle Pablo. My uncle Frank. My grandma Mary. My grandpa Pepe. My wife’s grandparents. And now Martha.

It’s hard fighting my inclination towards self loathing and guilt. Guilt that I haven’t been able to be there for my family during their time of need. Guilt that I never made that visit to these people who have been a big part of my life that I’ll never get back. And the guilt, turned inward, turns into anger. At myself for not having my shit enough together to not be able to do more, to be there more. Fighting that urge to just yell, “GOD FUCKING DAMN IT” and just punch something until I’ve exhausted myself.

I pack up pictures and think back to the summers my family traveled to Nebraska to visit our aunts and uncles. Lot’s of bike rides (and unfortunate bike accidents). A LOT of land. Cookouts, fireworks, and staying up late with my cousins. My uncle Paulo cracking up a Schlitz and being the lovable curmudgeon befitting us Reynoso men. My aunt Socorro sitting back in her chair, laughing (I loved her laugh). Right now, I think of the way both she and Martha said my name. Martha especially, when I’d say something funny, would laugh and say, “Riiickyy…” and the end of my name would just trail away in the air. I always liked that.

Pictured: Lovable curmudgeons

So I’ll continue cleaning, packing, decluttering and getting rid of the stuff I don’t need. But right now, while my family mourns, I’ll keep those memories of late summer Nebraska nights. I’ll hold onto them and think of playing card games and fighting my uncle as he tried to cheat by looking at my cards. I’ll think of the smell of big breakfasts in the morning and maneuvering around countless grandchildren. The infamous wedding where my sisters and cousins literally outran the bartender while absconding with bottles of liquor. Right now, those are the things that I need.

An old pic of my wonderful uncle Frank with my cousin Christy

I don’t know if any of my cousins read what I write and I really wouldn’t blame them if they actively avoid it. But on the off chance that they do, I want to say that I love you all. To Christy and Cassie: your mom meant the world to us all and we’re richer for having been a part of her life. To the Whipple, Vergil, Reynoso, Dominguez, Molina, Garza and Ramirez families–I will continue to send all of my adoration and love your way. I hope, however small, it can be of some comfort. And especially to Lisa, Mary and my dad: lean on each other and on us.

Academia and Empty Rooms

It’s been a long year, and I’m tired. As most of my friends know, I’ve been on the job market for the past year and, after holding down a full-time, tenure track job, maintaining a long-distance marriage, my partner and I are now looking forward to living together and starting this new chapter in our lives. But I still can’t help but feel disillusioned with the state of the academy.

I’ve been teaching in higher education since 2009, when I first entered graduate school. Started with 1 class a semester while a full time student, increasing to 2 classes, then 2 classes and administrative duties. At my current job I teach three classes a semester, plus advise a student organization, not to mention the myriad department, college, and programmatic meetings. That’s tiring, yes, but it’s the research that has me questioning whether it’s even fucking worth it.

I’m a border boy. My hometown of Weslaco, TX sits across the river from Mexico. My grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandmother) were born in Mexico. I have memories of South Texas as a child: large swaths of citrus fields, dirt roads leading into my family’s neighborhood, the sweet smell of burning grapefruit peel from the nearby TexSun factory, outhouses instead of toilets.

High school: noticing a lot more of my peers are from Mexico (we would refer to them as “fresas“). More planned communities and outlet malls. My dad, an accountant working for a multinational company and working both in the US and in Mexico, telling me that the largest amount of credit card purchases by Mexican nationals in the US was at La Plaza Mall in McAllen, Tx. One summer, I work for several weeks with my family picking melons in the hot Texas sun. After graduating from college, I work for a couple of years as a reporter and two experiences stand out to me: 1) I take a kayak with a local activist and paddle up and down the Rio Grande, and 2) I get a tour of the “Levee Barrier” in Granjeno, Texas: a concrete and steel reinforced barrier that the Department of Homeland Security swooped in to build in 2007 post Katrina.

Graduate school: I research this stuff and write about it, with my colleagues telling me it’s a fruitful path of inquiry. I mention the “checkpoint” near Falfurrias, TX and my cohort seems shocked that such a thing exists within US borders. Amazon proposes delivering via drone and, while people were up in arms over the very idea, I remember the drone footage I saw as a reporter back in 2007 and chuckled at the fact that no one seemed to give a shit then. I meet, become colleagues with and present in front of other Latinx scholars. They support and give me feedback and I finally think I’m ready to share this with a wider audience.

2014. The Rhetoric Society of America Conference in San Antonio, TX. The theme is “Border Rhetorics”. I felt it a perfect place for me: it’s in my home state, I live and breathe the border, and am excited to present in front of as many people as possible.

Presentation time: 7:30 A.M. the last day of the conference. At the same time as many of my fellow Latinx scholars. 2 people in the audience, 1 of whom is my friend. I look at the “performance” of borders in the other presentation titles with better slots: “Borders of Writing”, “Borders between this sub discipline and that sub discipline”. “Bordering the writing center”.

My friend Adam will be forever in my debt for coming to thiswhen he didn't have to...

This past spring: the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve got a “featured” spot with one of my friends from the NCTE Latinx Caucus. Friday morning, but at 9:30 this time. I change tactics: I decide to change my topic to what this blog is about–presenting work about brown people by brown people and feeling defeated when no one listens. I think, “NOW people will listen…”

What a "spotlight panel" looks like.

I was foolish to think it would be any different.

This thing, this border thing has been gobbled up and spit out by academics trying to shore up their cv’s. They did the same thing with critical pedagogy, they’re doing the same thing with “decolonization” and critical race theory, and they’ll keep consuming these (O)ther theories and spitting them out when they’ve outlived their usefulness. And the scholars of color who have worked hard to bring these theories and experiences to the forefront will be left behind, because academia doesn’t give a shit.

I start to blame myself: maybe I need to be better about publishing. Maybe it’s my fault for not promoting better. Maybe I need to be more craven. Maybe I need to work harder to network. Maybe….maybe…

When you are Other, your otherness will be used against you. One way or another.