Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jeff Chang and Who We Be

"Multicultural," "Post-racial" and "Post-Black"
As a part of the Culture, Power, Difference Speaker Series and Working Group, author and scholar Jeff Chang addresses questions about race and multiculturalism in a lecture entitled Who We Be: The Colorization of America.

Chang explained that he began writing Who We Be with a bit of a chip on his shoulder from having discussions with elders, in which he had to defend criticism of misogyny in hip hop as the culture of his generation. He began looking at the generation that produced his generation, all the while thinking of wanting to write about multiculturalism and "post-racial" society; however, his editor told him it wasn't edgy. And then came Barack Obama's campaign for presidency.

So he began writing about what Obama meant for the emerging generation, and he noted right away the backlash came at him about 'not this America,' or 'save for 2042.' Chang described 2042 as a kind of 'demographic Y2K' when the U.S. would reach a "minority majority."

Obama's campaign led to the question of "how do we see race now?"

Along with the fear of the changing demographic (demographobia) came the return of the Culture Wars from the 60s and 90s. There was a competing narrative of 'Save America forever' vs. 'Great National Transformation.' Or a restoration vs. transformation, a high stakes debate for the future.

Chang looked back to the 60s, a period of political and cultural renaissance. It was a time when "multi-cultural" was a paradox because "American" culture meant assimilated to the dominant culture. In the early 90s, there were pushback against the multicultural phenomenon, leading some to ask "who are we?" To which Chang responds with his book title: Who We Be. He points out the identity politics that came from liberal white Americans who believed there was an attack on Anglo-American heritage (as the political right had railed). 

But hip hop was a pivot point in the 90s, when so many of the youth were non-whites, and hip hop became representative of the mainstream pop culture. This led Chang to say that 'Art makes new kind of politics possible for America.' Still, the backlash came from the disappearing white middle-class who began to turn on their political ideologies for sake of their economic interests--a trapping of the American Dream and the struggle to fight for it in insurmountable odds.

Some thoughts that Chang concluded with were:
If society were becoming a minority, how can we imagine a new majority

He advocated beginning with a culture for justice, especially because polls show concerns about racial relations a high concern for most Americans.

He moved towards abstraction, articulating a wave as representative of the future. Recent elections have created their own kinds of waves of change, but he reminded us that cultural change always comes before political change. Also, he reminded us of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most controversial speech in which he argued that militarism, racism and poverty were the three scourges of society.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Latin America and a History of 'Justifications'

Obama, History & Dreamers

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post writes that President Obama has been critical of U.S. policy:

"America, he has suggested, has much to answer given its history in Latin America and the Middle East."

Here's my thoughts on history, discrimination and the president's policy:

Obama, History & Dreamers from C Medina on Vimeo.

From his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, Eilperin quoted the president as saying, "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

The reporter note Conservative Outrage

"Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R)."

The original article:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chicano Writer Rigoberto Gonzalez at Santa Clara

Craft of Writing and the Dead

The Santa Clara Review hosted a reading by Chicano poet, memoirist, and fiction-writer Rigoberto Gonzalez. Juan Velasco introduced Gonzalez as an exciting Latino writer of the 21st century whose beautiful poetry and prose include books of poetry, children's bilingual books, and non-fiction. He's been a fellow for the Guggenheim and NEA, and is a professor of English at Rutgers University.

Gonzalez read from multiple poems, including "Soldier of Michtlan" (a banned poem), a poem about the plane crash with 28 deportees from Mexico, and a poem that translated from "(The Dead Teach the Living)." In the deportee poem, the verse "no papers necessary/to cross the cemetery" stayed with me. In "(The Dead Teach Us)," the verse "places so plump with pleasure" juxtaposed with the brutal image of a person in a trunk.

 (Me and Gonzalez)
 Following the reading, many asked questions about writing, inspiration and the craft of writing. Gonzalez gave the advice:

  • So much compromise as writer, certain things like writing time cannot be given up. He writes after midnight. His mentor Gary Soto wrote from 6am-10.
  • When you have multiple ideas, you should prioritize where the passion is, treating each story like a child that you make sure is ready to go out the door (instead of letting them all run free).
  • Life advice: don't confuse your career with a life. A life gives back to others.
  • You can't buy into praise because it and awards will stop; you must be the one to believe in your own writing.

Based on the work of Natalie Martinez who contributed to AcademiadeCruz, I asked Gonzalez about returning to his father as a muse. Applying Martinez's argument about being okay with unsettled trauma, and not feeling compelled to 'get over it' or 'heal,' I asked if he felt okay with the open wound?

Gonzalez agreed, but also said that the memories transform with age. With memoir, you mine through rubble, figuring out what happened. Writing about one's life requires psychic distance: 1)temporal/time through distance, 2)spatial--in another place, or 3)activity distance--so much happening since the events.