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CLYLP 2005

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The author at CLYLP's Capitol Day, 2005.

The author at CLYLP’s Capitol Day, 2005.

“Who are you?” “California’s future leaders!”

In the first half of high school I moved without purpose. The only goal I had in mind was college but no real plan on how to get to college. I knew the college application process from my older brother and the UCLA Early Academic Outreach Program counselors at South Gate High School but I lacked the motivation and drive to do more than just my classes to prepare for college. I was involved with an environmental justice group in Southeast Los Angeles and two mariachis (South Gate High School’s and our own group) and spent the rest of my time in school, reading, playing video games, or (in the second half of my sophomore year), with my then girlfriend.

The summer of 2005 was a strange time for South Gate: for the first time in over two decades, all of its high school students had a summer vacation. South Gate High School’s position as the only high school in South Gate for over 70 years was about to end. South East High School was set to open in September 2005, taking with it about a third of South Gate High School’s students, along with South Gaters attending Jordan High School in Watts and those bussed out of South Gate due to overcrowding. The days of summertime school for two-thirds of South Gate high school students were over. For the first time in my life, I had a summer vacation.

I think it was for that reason that my older brother pushed me to apply to the 2005 Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project (CLYLP) in Sacramento. He knew that I needed motivation I was not going to find by checking out books from the library or staying around South Gate. All I had lined up that summer were two summer school classes to fulfill graduation requirements and a free August.

The CLYLP promised me a week away from home with other students from California, most of us Latino, and learn about college and expose us to Chicano/Latino professionals. My first summer camp.

What I got was so much more. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by soledadenmasa

July 19, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Mariachi & Cinco de Mayo

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This is my last post for LAist.

What It’s Like To Be A Mariachi Performer on Cinco de Mayo

In the grand U.S. tradition of co-opting ethnic pride as an excuse to get totally blotto, this weekend bars and dorm rooms across the United States have been celebrating the Mexican Army’s 1862 defeat of invading French imperial forces (nevermind Mexico’s subsequent defeat and status as French colony for three years). Drinko de Mayo, Gringo de Mayo, whatever you call it, is what Gustavo Arellano calls a “mestizo St. Patrick’s Day.” This weekend will be the only time of year mainstream U.S. will want to be Mexican, putting on fake bushy mustaches, wearing sombreros and listening to Antonio Aguilar lament about being away from his homeland.

Written by soledadenmasa

May 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Remembering Sal Castro

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I wrote a piece on Sal Castro’s death for LAist. Here’s a snippet:

Castro’s message was easily distilled into the message on the podium in the photo above: “No sean mensos (Don’t be idiots). Go to college and graduate!” I still have his business card from when I attended the CYLC eight years ago. On the back is the stronger version of his message: “No sean pendejos (Don’t be dumbasses). Go to college and graduate!”

Read the whole piece over at LAist.

Written by soledadenmasa

April 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Ana & the DREAM Act

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Hector Tobar’s column today in the Los Angeles Times highlights Ana Venegas, an undocumented student who just graduated from Cal State Los Angeles. Ana was a high school classmate of mine and I knew about her situation then, just as I knew the stories of countless more who were about to graduate from high school and were looking to get a job, join the military, or attend college but were barred by their undocumented states. From Tobar’s column:

People like Ana Venegas are said to be living “in the shadows.”

It’s the most annoying of all the metaphors in the immigration debate. And woefully inaccurate.

Venegas, 23, entered this country illegally as a 10-month-old baby carried across the Mexico-U.S. border by her teenage mother. She’s never been able to legalize her status. That makes her “undocumented,” if you’re someone sympathetic to her plight. And an “illegal” if you’re not.

But whatever you want to call her, the one thing you can’t say about Ana is that she’s been hiding. For 22 years she’s lived in the bright sunshine of South Gate, in a neighborhood that looks like a bonsai-tree version of the American dream.

I’m glad to see her story presented in the Los Angeles Times. She stands in for the millions of Americans who would benefit from the DREAM Act and demonstrates the great benefits such legislation would provide.

To read Tobar’s column on Ana, click here.

Written by soledadenmasa

June 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm

#844

with one comment

It’s snowing and I’m listening to doo-wop & oldies right now; both only worsen how bad I feel (doo-wop & oldies make me nostalgic) right now. I need to fall asleep soon. I hope tomorrow is better than today.

I’ve decided to install an app to post all my blog posts to my Facebook account. Get ready to have my thoughts foisted upon you, Facebook friends.

Written by soledadenmasa

January 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Posted in College, Harvard, Random

Bring me my Bow of burning gold

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This post is my  response to the comments I received to the post, “Arrows of desire.” The title of this and “Arrows of desire” come from William Blake’s poem “And did those feet in ancient time.” Now, to comment upon the comments.

loveandhatela,

The issue that I have with telling someone “just live in the NOW” is that I interpret it as telling someone to ignore their past with the other person or others in general, to ignore the position I come from. I don’t know how willing I am to just be in the present if it means ignoring where I come from. It’s the same issue I have with being told “Just don’t be so anxious, just put yourself out there and .” I don’t think it’s just that easy. That’s just how I take it.

This second time around at Harvard does feel better. I feel I’m actually getting something out of going to classes, I feel more collected and don’t feel that my life is a disorganized mess near implosion at all times. I focus on learning, the theories, etc., but when I find myself needing a break from reading or classes, when I just feel like having a bull session or just taking my mind off things, I find I don’t have much of anywhere to turn. It’s then that I notice what’s missing. Like you said, it’s the quality that matters; I don’t feel there is any there.

I feel (and there are a number who agree) that there isn’t the opportunity for great social interaction. Most of it seems to happen at parties, the last place where I want to meet people. I feel that amidst the unts unts unts unts and the chug! chug! chug! chug!, there’s the pressure to find someone for the night and promptly leave her and I don’t play that game. I prefer talking, hanging out and not feeling pressured.

And there is a mariachi group at school. I’m part of it.

EL CHAVO!,

I think it’s less culture shock for me now that just seeing how different my life is when compared to other student’s lives. There have been numerous conversations where people assume certain socioeconomic things about me. For example, I once was asked, “What are your parents in? Are your parents in business, law, etc.?” and I had to kindly mention that we are working class and mentioned my parents’ occupations. There are many more, but I won’t mention them here.

There are times when the differences come up (like when talking about summer, winter, or spring break travel) or how I dress. I’d like to dress like a lot other students to fit in, but I’m just not skinny enough, not White enough, not rich enough. Also, I know that even if I dress like that, I would feel like an impostor in their clothing. A lot of it is presentation and I would feel like a fake if I dressed like them. It’s just that I don’t want it. There are students who come from backgrounds like mine and want to dress in boat shoes, pastel colors, and whatever you imagine would come from Brooks Brothers to fit in. I don’t judge them for that anymore, it’s just too stressful. Everybody changes…

I like talking to other students from the Los Angeles area. Some of them are cool and down, others are happy living in their nice homes in the hills or behind gated entrances, living a life completely different from mine and I often get the feeling they just don’t care to understand how we may be from neighboring area codes but have drastically different lives. To them I say: Let Malibu burn!

cindylu,

I think the PhD student (my older brother told me who you’re talking about, do the initials H.A. mean anything?) had it right, I do think that feeling of “I belong here” is something that’s important at the higher education levels. I have a face and a voice and an opinion and you will acknowledge them and me, fuck you very much.

I mean mainstream in the sense that I want to find some way to connect to other students. The student body isn’t monolithically upper class, it’s a mix of most socioeconomic groups. Without finding a single way of connecting with people, I feel as if I’m out of the mainstream in all senses of the word. While the styles of dress, desires, and tastes may be skewed towards upper class tastes, I think that has more to do with us being college students at a place with a history of that lifestyle and less with a student body that desire it. I enjoyed your Marxist analysis! Jajaja.

Eva,

“I can only say you need to let others get to know you.” Like I said earlier to loveandhatela, I feel it’s too easy to say something like that. I don’t feel there’s much of an opportunity for people to get to know each other at Harvard, for a number of reasons.  While I agree that what you wrote is what everyone ultimately wants, I feel I’ve spent too much time or effort in pursuing it that I don’t care anymore. I have a few semesters left. I’ll just go complete them and graduate. I don’t know what to do or where to go with this… I don’t know how you found this blog (please let me know! I’m interested), but I welcome your comment.

This is my 250th post. Yippee.

Written by soledadenmasa

August 8, 2011 at 2:52 am

Arrows of desire

with 5 comments

I should have graduated from college last month.

That’s the feeling I faced often during the past year at college. You should be graduating in May. Instead, I was finishing up the first half of my junior year, dealing with assignment and summer job application deadlines while trying to have some sort of balanced life. It was strange to see the members of my freshmen class attend seniors-only events while I languished. It reminded me too much of my freshmen year, when I would eat at the freshmen dining hall and see groups of friends and ask myself, “Why don’t I know many of them?” As I walked through Harvard Yard and saw my freshmen class in graduation garb with their families, I asked myself, “Why didn’t I do more to get to know them?”

* * *

I ate alone most of my freshmen year, always self-conscious of how much I believed I stood out against the rest of the freshmen class. It was pretty clear that I didn’t come from money; I owned only one cheap black polyester suit, didn’t know how to deal with silverware or how to carry myself in formal occasions, had no idea how to operate in a college classroom or how to fit in to the mainstream. It was the first time in my life I felt I had to deal with mainstream America. Before college, I had spent my whole life in the cocoon of being part of a very visible Other. I was just another Mexican, born to immigrant parents, who lived in a working-class neighborhood and went to below-average public schools in cities where no one is supposed to succeed in the terms of the mainstream culture.

I thought all that was scrawled on my clothing. I thought it was evident in my accent when I spoke. I thought it was clear when others spoke of books or television shows or movies or museums I had never heard of or had only read about in books or encyclopedias. I thought the nopal on my forehead was so big I’d have to walk with my head in my hands everywhere.

My life was upended when I received those fat packets in April 2007, inviting me to attend esteemed institutions of higher learning in the United States. I knew I would be part of a handful of students like me. I knew that I would be one of the standard-bearers or defenders of where I came from: “No, we’re not all ‘illegals.’ Speaking Spanish doesn’t mean I’m not assimilated or don’t want to assimilate. Yeah, we somehow make do with annual wages that equal the yearly cost of attending Harvard.” I never felt as if I had more to contribute to the discussion. When someone needed the “ethnic” perspective, there I was, ready to pipe up. I knew that my role has always of being the poor ethnic and that if I were ever to offer any more I would be punished, summarily!

And I relished it. I relished it because I began to believe that that was all there was to me, that’s all I could contribute. Without that, I had no other thing to talk about. How could I talk about traveling in Europe or my favorite restaurants in Manhattan or the connections with other students when my family has only been in this country for twenty-five years and all those other names are only dreams? The only perspective I felt I could contribute was that of the “ethnic.”

But I also hated it. I sought to be more than that, I wanted to be mainstream. I wanted to like the popular music of the day, see the same movies, share interests and have someone with whom I can talk about them. It’s probably because of that that I watch movies often (fortnightly, which is a big difference from that period of time when I didn’t watch films at all), because that’s the easiest thing to do. Movies can be easily forgotten, whereas it takes more effort to form opinions about music. When faced the mainstream and not having an alternative, I sought to be part of it, to be accepted by some part of it.

* * *

The desire to fit in to the mainstream was the overarching sentiment of the past year at Harvard. If I could at least make some friends, create some disparate assembly of persons or be accepted into an already-existing group of friends, I’d be part of the mainstream in some sense. If I could form those friendships, it must be because I have something to contribute, right? Why else would I be part of a group? Alas, that feeling of belonging never came around. There were never invitations to hang out, to go watch a movie, to go window shopping or walk along the Charles River never materialized. The dinner or drinks invitations were few and far between, most of them coming from the same two people. Another year where I spent most weekend nights in my room, secretly hoping for my cell phone to light up with a phone call, a text message, SOMETHING that would lead me to leave my enclosure. But it never happened. I always wondered who I could contact about hanging out, but most people who came to mind where people who I knew were working or sleeping at the time or with their significant others. I was at a loss as to what to do. Those nights were often filled with reading, problem sets, laundry, or YouTube sprees.

Back in high school, I knew that my restlessness or loneliness was really bad when I got the urge to visit a bookstore. To this day, that strong desire to visit a bookstore returns when I’m feeling restless. This past academic year, I knew my restlessness got really bad when I would leave my room in a huff on weekend nights with a desire to walk around Harvard Square. I would walk to the Square, then walk around the different storefronts, through Harvard Yard and surrounding college buildings, and down to the Houses by the Charles River. I don’t know what I sought; maybe to run into someone and exchange a few words or to have someone ask how I was. Maybe I walked around in the hopes of running into someone I barely knew who I would invite me somewhere and I’d have the time of my life. Or maybe I walked around in the hope of finding someone as forlorn as I was and we’d talk it over, reveling in our hope for better times.

The situation in the House was the same. I was invited to a number of House events and made sure to attend as many as I could, always in the hope of meeting new people and leading to an interest in each other. Instead, I once again was the quiet stranger, sulking away in the back because I didn’t know anyone. I envied everyone: How do they know each other? And so well? What’s their secret? Is there some sort of secret to platonic or romantic attraction that I don’t know of or possess? That devolved into: What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I talk to them? Why don’t I just go up and introduce myself?

I spoke about this with one of the administrators and she confided in me that she’s heard my name bounced around by other students. Instead of feeling happy that there people who know my name, I was disgusted because I was confronted with the fact that strangers know who I am, yet I don’t know who they are. How did this arise? I’ve wanted to meet you all, at the very least have someone to whom I can say good morning or sit together for lunch or dinner. Instead, I’m in the corner of a table, eating alone and carrying a disposition that I know tells others that I don’t want to be bothered.

Understand that I was raised not to care! To care for something meant that I would eventually be betrayed by that same thing, was the message I received as a child. I processed and internalized it, applying to everything. The goal was to be aloof from everything, good or bad, and to present myself as aloof. I’m the opposite of aloof: I’m aware of how I act and how others perceive me but do nothing to change it because I’m still motivated by the desire to be aloof!

There is a group of students of the same year that I feel are talking about me when I pass them. The stares I feel I get from them, the looks, the hushed voices, the sneers terrify me. I don’t know them, yet I feel they’re making fun of me. Do I think myself important enough that complete strangers make fun of me? And then I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all in my head. If only I would meet them at some event and we’d talk and finally meet. Maybe then I’d shake the feeling of being ridiculed by these strangers whenever I walk by them.

What I worry the most is about my family visiting for Commencement next year. There is a week of events for parents and students to attend, endless lunches and dinners and functions to celebrate those graduating. I’m really worried that my parents will come and I won’t have anyone to present to them, that I will spend the whole time answering the question, “Where are your friends? When do we meet them? Who are your friends?” with non-answers. The prospect of not being able to answer these questions scares me more than career failure or a drastic negative change in my fortunes because it will invariably be attributed to me. It will all be my fault. And I really hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t want it to happen. I can’t let it happen.

* * *

The changing seasons serve to remind me of what I’m missing out. Fall reminds me that I don’t know anyone who would take a walk with me under the colorful canopy of the New England fall. Winter reminds me that I have never, EVER made or thrown a snowball, made a snow angel, ridden a dining hall tray down the snow-covered stairs of Widener Library, or shaken a tree to drop snow. The warming Spring tells me that I have never had a picnic on the banks of the Charles River, there is no one with whom I can sit on the Widener Library steps and talk about nothing, that there is no way for me to enjoy the warming weather. Every season is cruel, crushing me and keeping me in my enclosure.

* * *

You need to put yourself out there. You need to get out of your comfort zone and just introduce yourself to strangers. Introduce yourself to everyone near you in the first few classes of the semester. Sit with people who you see eat alone often. Help a stranger out and ask them their name. You need to make them want you to be around them, Diego. Without that, you’re stuck in the same position as you were. Yeah, it means you’ll get rejected some times, but you’re better off for putting yourself out there you won’t feel as anxious when you go to someone else. Hell, it may be all it takes for someone to want you to be around them.

Maybe.

Will you apply some of these things to your life? You have a lot to offer others and there’s no reason for you to be like this, Diego.

I’ll try to apply it, but my worries about rejection often get in the way of action.

But you won’t know that until you’ve done something.

Ok.

We should seriously consider medication.

* * *

In a May Saturday I left my room around 1 pm for lunch. I walked to a small sandwich place I like, then decided to walk to the Charles River because it was a nice day. As I reached the Charles River from Harvard Square, I decided it would be good to walk along the banks towards Cambridgeport, at which point I would return to Harvard Square. With each subsequent bridge I reached I told myself, “Keep walking.” I didn’t stop this walk until I reached downtown Boston. I had walked almost seven miles in about two and a half hours. It was a great way to spend a few hours, but I was saddened because I couldn’t talk to anyone about it or invite someone when I would next go for such a walk.

* * *

Being in Boston has taught me what it is that I love about Los Angeles. It’s not that it’s home, that I feel I fit in. It’s that it’s here where I feel mainstream. The very cocoon that enveloped me during my childhood does extend to those with college educations. It’s in Los Angeles where I can somehow bring the two together without feeling like a battle rages within me. Here I am the Mexican and the educated individual. Here I feel I can be taken seriously, not just some “ethnic” that has only one role to serve. I can move around more freely with my identity. I can be the schmuck who drives around the industrial lands of Southeast Los Angeles and I can walk around downtown Los Angeles in a suit and not feel like an impostor. I feel I fit in at the bookstores in Santa Monica and coffee shops of Los Feliz, or can at least expect to be treated as if I fit in. I don’t worry about being mainstream, I act as if I am.

* * *

In the past month I’ve been asked a few times if I am still writing on this site. I seriously considered shutting this down, but felt that I wanted the option of returning whenever I wanted. I don’t get as much joy of writing as I once did. Indeed, I now often feel anxious about publishing what I write because I worry about it being thrown back at my face. I no longer care. I am more expressive through this blog than through the spoken medium. Strangers and acquaintances have the option of reading this and I am not worried about this one bit. There is a sort of freedom that comes with publishing something and not returning to it, knowing that my deeply personal feelings about certain subjects are out there for anyone to read. I need to be more open with others. Maybe this is just the beginning.

Written by soledadenmasa

June 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm