Monthly Archives: October 2006

Oaxaca

As a bearer of the name Zero I must at least mention events in Oaxaca this week, although time constraints prevent me from discussing these in any detail. Fortunately, the Unapologetic Mexican posted on these matters both yesterday and today. So did Written Rebellion and the Woman of Color Blog.

In these last two posts and their discussion threads, we can find the addresses of relevant officials to write, lists of talking points in Spanish and English, and links to additional posts and other sources of news on the situation. Solidarity demonstrations were held today in Providence and New York as well as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and San Diego.

There is further coverage at Narco News, and we can watch the entire story unfold in La Jornada. The BBC offers some amazing pictures. The riot police with their shields, seemingly covered in metal and standing in a long, straight line, look like beings from el espacio sideral, or conquistadors. Oaxaca also has a beautiful celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Axé.

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T-Frère

My youngest brother was born after my aunt, who paid for the rest of us to go to college, died. And we do not have the savings she had, and he worked his way through college, here. First, he waited on tables. Then he moved up to installing DirecTV. At that time circumstances dictated that he take certain classes from me. And he is intelligent, and articulate, but he was working long hours, and I never found an honest way to give him a grade higher than B.

He would rush into class at the last minute, still in his cap and overalls, embroidered over the left pocket with his name. And I would see him and do a double take, here he was that delicate child, who used to cut school in hopes of hearing Laotians speak, himself fluent in Portuguese, and Creole, and French, and very academic, and paying high interest on his truck note because he was under 25 and Black, and in his cap and overalls, and sitting as he did although after hours he is very elegant, he was so clearly a working man.

Axé.

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All Hallows, All Saints, Day of the Dead

All academics know that October, not April, is the cruellest month. Every grant, promotion, tenure, and job application deadline seems to press in October. It is one of my favorite months, for the weather, and the deadlines can be energizing and exhilarating. We polish up our plans, we look at past accomplishments, and we review exciting projects designed by others.

What one discovers about other administrative units and institutions when reviewing grants or evaluating tenure and promotion packets, can be illuminating. It can also be shocking. Given that I live in the United States Minor Outlying Island of Louisiana, I am always surprised to be shocked. I tend to think I have already seen the worst. And yet, I find I am still shocked. This may actually be a good sign.

Happy Hallowe’en! It’s a fall holiday with pumpkins and costumes, and the parties are creative, and you do not have to buy presents. It is the best holiday! And we are well into Scorpio, the sign of regeneration. And my student’s dissertation says that identity is not a unitary thing. Rise, owls! Rise autumn ducks and geese, flying in formation across the sky!

Axé.

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White Casket

The radio just played a mountain song, accompanied by a banjo, sung in a minor key. It was first heard during the Civil War, but white caskets are also coming home now.  Activities continue abroad, at black sites.

Axé.

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Huddy Ledbetter

I was born and raised in the country,
Mama but I’m stayin’ in town.

That is a fragment of Pig Meat. Now playing, however, is the Bourgeois Blues, composed around 1935, when Leadbelly also played the MLA Convention in New York.

Two of the Leadbelly songs I have had running in the back of my head for the past few days are “We Shall Walk Through the Valley” and “In the Pines,” which is also known as “Black Girl” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” I have not yet unearthed complete lyrics or background for either, but here are audio samples of both, with very clear sound, from his 1943-44 recording sessions.

Leadbelly lyrics are marvelous, and chilling. Try this, from the famous “Irene, Goodnight”:

I love Irene, God knows I do
I’ll love her all my life.
If Irene should ever leave me
I’ll take morphine and die.

Axé.

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Lupe Fiasco

Now singing is Lupe Fiasco, who is Black, Muslim, from Chicago, and named Lupe. (Which is short for Guadalupe, which is Mexican.)

My student said I would like his music, and I do. But I am also very impressed with his website. Click on the street signs, and see how they flicker.

Axé.

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Take This Hammer

It is time to thank the Unapologetic Mexican and his marvelously creative site for permission to use the images of Emiliano Zapata and of the UFW flag which now appear in my sidebar. If you click on these, you will go right down the rabbit hole, and end up somewhere very interesting. In honor of the UFW we will observe this early picture of César Chávez, from the magnificent Berkeley Sunsite. There is a great deal of wonderful multimedia material on Chávez. I would love to throw away our intermediate Spanish language textbooks, and just use that. Here, for instance, is one corrido de Cesar Chávez. Here is one by Lalo Guerrero. Here is a third one, with some other songs as well. My favorite Corrido de César Chávez is sung by Los Pingüinos del Norte, and we can listen to a fragment of it.

Topics deserving of discussion here today are an interesting memo from a whiteman, a perceptive comment from a Cajun, the example of a cat, workplaces which are psychic echo boxes or halls of mirrors, and the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The weekend is coming, however, and we must sing. Here is Leadbelly’s “Take This Hammer,” some of which we can listen to in the classic recording.

Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
And tell him I’m a-gone, and tell him I’m a-gone.

If he ask you, was I runnin
If he ask you, was I runnin
If he ask you, was I runnin
Tell him I’s a-flyin, tell him I’s a-flyin.

If he ask you, was I laughin
If he ask you, was I laughin
If he ask you, was I laughin
Tell him I’s a-cryin, tell him I’s a-cryin.

I don’t want no bread and lasses,
I don’t want no bread and lasses,
I don’t want no bread and lasses,
It hurts my pride, it hurts my pride.

Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain
And tell him I’m a-gone, and tell him I’m a-gone.

One of the prisoners I work with at Angola is from Leadbelly’s area. He has his same accent, a similar voice, and even some of the same locutions. I never expected to hear such speech from a living person, but there it is.

Axé.

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Nice White Lady

Yesterday in class I learned that there is a rap lyrics database, the Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive. This fascinates me because while the electronic sound of rap is not my favorite, I am interested in rap lyrics and narrative structure. Now I can read them, like poems and stories.

Rap styles, as we know, are rooted in particular places. Straight Outta Compton. West Bank Rap. The teenager who used to live across the street from me was shot dead by a schoolmate one fine afternoon a few years ago, right in the middle of his grandmother’s living room. When he was alive, I knew many more rap lyrics than I know now, because he would broadcast them to the neighborhood from his front yard. The two fragments I remember best were a code-switching Chicano one, “Jacarandosa, jacarandosa, today you tell me one thing y mañana otra cosa,” and a “It was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing!”

At that time, I had a friend who was convinced I should leave academia to become a rapper. I actually composed, performed, and published a rap song, which started out:

She was a nice white lady with a diamond ring
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

This was about some denizens of NOW, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and my local department of Women’s and Gender Studies, who did not want any lesbians, persons of color, radical feminists, transgendered people, or punks – and certainly not any ‘dyed-haired women’, unless the dye job looked perfectly natural – to be abortion clinic defenders, against attacks from terrorists including Operation Rescue.

The argument made was that the face of pro-choice America needed to look conservative on television. I am convinced, however, that this was not the actual motivation.

There were a lot of fun, topical lines in the rap. These were about how the police department had built a chain link fence around one of the clinics, which kept the terrorists, but also the non-conservative feminists and some of the clients, away:

Outside the fence, the cops made us pay
But the Nice White Lady doesn’t dress that way
And she said, women, don’t betray our cause
Go shave those legs and put on bras.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

The fencing-in of the Nice White Ladies kept them safe from physical attacks. Clients, and Women, had to deal with the terrorist types directly, while police protected the Nice White Ladies.

This fragment was on race:

And I knew she was wack cuz she fainted when
I showed up with my date and we both had a tan.

I think of this now because of the heated discussions I have seen lately, about how feminist women should and should not dress. My own view on this, of course, is that freedom of dress should be extended to everyone. But one of the arguments made seems to be that the more closely you resemble a Cosmo Girl, the more radical you actually are. I am sorry, but this is poor reasoning, and whoever is teaching that, is a poor scholar.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing!

Axé.

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Three Burials

I saw The Three Burials of Melquíades Estrada earlier this week, and liked it. I did not think I had a great deal to say about it beyond what has already been said in the voluminous press it has generated. I could have said something about this voluminous press, yes. I could have said that the official website of this film is worth visiting for the sake of the music it plays. I could have said a few things about South Texas desolation, which I have viewed in person, about white ‘American’ consciousness, or about machismo in general. I could have mused on the oblique connections between this narrative and others with which I am familiar, wherein the characters embark upon treks for meaning to remote Mexican villages – and find there the shards of their own deaths. Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo is one such, and Danny Anderson has written an excellent introduction to it. But all of this would have been mere talk.

Looking at the news today, however, I realize that I do have something serious to say about the film. Norton, the green Border Patrol agent who beats up the people he apprehends and eventually shoots Estrada, is a regular kid, a recent high school graduate from Cincinnatti. See the film and observe his character, think about what he is up to, and how he justifies it. Where might he have learned these attitudes, do you think? Then – no matter how fully you support our troops, or even their mission, or how well aware you are that economic circumstances and lack of information are what lead many into the military – consider that our troops are being Norton and worse, on the daily. It is their job. It is not doing them, or us any good. It goes without saying that the crimes which are being committed abroad as you read this, including those being committed by the students I look forward to welcoming back home, are unhealthy for their victims.

Norton’s adversary, Perkins, ultimately becomes a role model, and leaves him a horse. Fewer of our troops than you would like to believe, do not have adversaries as kind, role models they can reach out and touch, or anyone at all to leave them a horse. This matter is very serious. It has already had grave consequences abroad and at home. It will have more. I am informed, however, that it would be possible to remove all troops from Iraq in ninety days.

Axé.

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Eight Amazing Images

Now I have been asked to post eight images which amaze me. Every image I have amazes me, so I have chosen these practically at random.

cathedralzac.jpg

Cathedral of Zacatecas, Mexico.

techialoyan.

Calendar round from the Techialoyan Codex.

comingsoon.jpg

Poster for the ultimate war movie.

Swamp

Swamp in Louisiana.

Li River

Li River, Quilin, China.

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon.

Harbin

Lining up for water in Harbin, China.

forro

Forró band, Pernambuco, Brazil.

Of all these photographs, the one which most amazes me is that of the Li River.

Now I am supposed to tag five people. I will tag eight, but I do not expect them to comply. I tag Wet Bank Guide, Tasneem Khalil, Paper Chase, Mel, Guyanese Terror, Credo, Bint Alshamsa, and Aramaic Carpenter Reel.

Axé.

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