Project Dissertation

I moved to this fabulous city three years ago mainly to; be near an airport for travel, be able to not trade my stilletos for trainers, and to finish my doctoral studies in four years. Yes, that pretty much sums up my priorities at 30. So now I am ABD with nine months to go and San Francisco is no easy city to ignore. Although, I would argue that each experience that deters my academic writing is really just needed inspiration. Welcome and I hope you enjoy...

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Bilingual, Bicultural, and Dual Citizen. J School B.A., M.A. in High Incidence Disabilities, & ABD in Education.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Volver, Volver, Volver...

We gave thanks for each other. As a family, for the love, and support that has endured the test of will and time, together. We know he is growing frail, and the illness is relentless yet still, there is only hope and life, until there is none.

There are friends and family that feel like milagritos of their own, you have to wonder how you got so lucky to share this lifetime with them.

I miss my friend in Portland, talking on the phone does that.

My friend from NYC was home, because her father may be ill, but she too is hopeful. We drove down Ventura Blvd. feeling like tourists. Then I saw it, the cafe with outdoor seating and a fire pit and we ventured in. In our element once again, we caught up for the next few hours, made plans to visit once again.

At dinner with my parents I chose the table by the fireplace. We discussed their next visit to the city and all the things we would try to do and see. Shared the news about my friends from LA & SF, conveying saludos and promising to return them as well.

Got the farewell text from the airport...

My best friend from first grade picked me up and we laughed and caught up over a cafecito. She is my contemporary hero, for so many reasons she may not even know.

Drove down Ventura Blvd. with my best friend from ninth grade, told me about the Christmas transformation taking place at his home. My NYC friend and I had looked for a tree lot with no luck. Seems they drive to Santa Paula and chop their own down, I mean doesn't everyone?!

Out again with my friend from NYC, decided to grab a drink before Volver. That part of Ventura Blvd. had a hookah bar, but not the drinks we sought. The red square was Russian, very dressed up, formal Russian dining with no bar but a smoking patio full mainly of guys. Walking to the next spot we saw a bread baker making fresh hot pita, and found ourselves in a Lebanese restaurant that was reservation only. Took us in for a beverage since we had no interest in dinner or their Armenian Lounge singer. They brought us marinated olives, fresh hot pita, and pickled beets to go with our drinks. A long way from the blondies pizza and beer we used to dine on in the dorm at Cal so many years before.

The film was beautiful, Almovodar has that gift. When I got home I woke my parents, because I could. I realize that giving thanks is daily, but to have the opportunity to do it over the course of a weekend, when schedules are on hold, computers go unpacked, and everyone is home- is rare.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mi Mexico

Woke up with Mexico on my mind. Maybe because I had been staring at the photos I took of San Miguel de Allende that hang above my computer, instead of working.

Listening to Jose Alfredo Jimenez, again and again. Visited his home in Dolores, Hidalgo this summer, well the outside as it has yet to reopen as a museum. I imagine it should be run much like the casa azul de Frida.

Finally followed up on an offer to work on the digital divide in the Yucatan. Justifying travel by working on an ed tech project. The trip in January sounding like the travel and Mexico fix I need. Vamos a ver.

Julietta Venegas is in concert at my favorite venue the Fillmore. Wondering how I can be there and meet my deadlines all at the same time.

Called home and said I was having Mexico-itis and she new exactly what I was talking about. She was listening to Lola Beltran and reading the Sunday paper with my papi. Laughed when I told her I was craving fresh hot churros from the big hot vats of sizzling oil, like you can only find in front of the catedral, con azucar y canela. She sounded happy, told me that we had plans with my primos that would be in town for family dinner at my Padrinos. Asked also what she should cook for me when I am home, heard my papi say he tivo'd the Latin Grammy's, and I insisted again this trip the tree would go up. The phone conversation between the three of us went on, talking one over the other, switching comfortably from Spanish to Ingles with familiar rhythm and sin pausa... and then she said "mija, go to Julietta Venegas." Love her.

"Mi corazon tropeso en la vida, por un carino tal vez muy cruel...y ya que pensando con la cabeza pa que llorar" Don Jose Alfredo Jimenez

Saturday, November 18, 2006


The sun was out and it was particulary warm for mid November...

We found our way to an afternoon drink, then to a cafe for an espresso. Sitting streetside we talked about the wonders of living in the city and how if you had to pick the kindest place in the U.S., it would be San Francisco. We left the neighborhood for veggie cheesesteaks. Explained I was tired of dining- and almost couldn't believe the words as we arrived at the tried and true hole in the wall. Traveling does that we agreed.

Over mint tea, learned that hooka's give you a buzz. I always thought it was the accompanying drinks. Its true though, double apple was a pretty smooth buzz. Recounted a summer trip to New York, where the Egyptian restaurants and clubs seemed to dominate the hooka scene, my favorite was the restraraunt with the sod floor and oil lamps. Learned you can eat the tea leaves at the bottom of the glass. How family owned tea and wheat plantations meant there was always an abundant and fresh supply. Tea grows on a bush, the premium teas are the least strong and the cheapest teas are usually made of dust and dirt particles and the stongest.

We talked more about our travels, how in Dubai you can take an outing to the desert. Where they host a bar-b-q of lamb, the belly dancers and hookas abound. If you choose to stay over, big white billowy tents house comfy beds for an overnight stay. They know their clientele. The world does seem to get smaller and smaller, more alike than different...Looking forward to resuming my travels, I see a Fulbright in my future. The next time I see my friend there will be two countries and international travel to catch up on...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Urban Warriors

A mother came to campus for a meeting today. Walking down the hall her daughter introduced us. I helped the mother prepare some tea and walked her into the conference room where the meeting would take place. In about 10 minutes I learned more than any report I had read. "I come from a family of nurses. I guess being a San Francisco native it might seem weird, but I decided I wanted to devote my life to being a mother and a wife. My husband died of cancer 8 years ago, I never really had a plan B. My eldest son is away at college in Arizona. I was diagnosed with Lupus in February. I am one class away from being a phlebotomist. They say the track marks from all the treatment will go away. Sometimes I think people look at me and think I am just another Junkie." Her daughter, lost a father at two and is dealing with an ill mother at 10, yet all you hear about are her difficulties in school.

On the flipside I accompanied a 10th grader on a campus visit. Cut quickly through the fact that, "no we do not have an appointment, are you very busy today?" A phone call later we were received warmly by the parent resource liaison, that handed us pamphlets on the school then called the student tour guide. The student tour guide did a great job. Took us into the 'college room,' where banners lined the walls. I introduced myself to the counselor and said the visiting student was interested in nursing, so hopefully he could help her with that. Then I asked our tour guide, "what about you? What do you want to study in college?" The counselor had no clue and chimed in, "yeah, what do you want to do?" Law, she said. I remembered reading about the Law emphasis in the pamphlets and said, "oh, she should be in the Law Academy, right?" She didn't even know they had one. When we walked by the Law classroom, I realized they would not be doing outreach, as it was quite full and frankly not diverse. Before we left I gave her my pamphlet, "here girl, you need to get yourself into this honey. They take you on fieldtrips to law schools, link you to a mentor, and give you a paid summer internship." I wondered if the campus would be a good fit, if they would help her pursue her dreams of being a pediatric nurse, knew she did not have a mother or father that would advocate for her, made a mental note to talk to her case worker.

Back on campus another 10 year old had been referred to the office. He has had ongoing difficulty and a recent trauma. I listened when he spoke, "Ever since I was born, things have gotten slimier. I feel like a little worm, climbing up a mountain. Worms can't do that, they can't get to the top of the mountain. That is how I feel, like a worm trying to make it up that mountain. Its impossible!"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

La Matriarch

"Mija cuando cumpla 80, voy estar viejita," She told her eldest daughter on her 78th birthday. The eldest granddaughter requested a lunch to celebrate her Grandmothers 79th birthday. The tias coordinated the emails, the reservations, the home to go to for a cafecito y pastel after. A beautiful luncheon.

Present at the long table from the top:

The first great grandson Fabian
His mother Marta, then father the first grandson Gerardo

The first son in law Ricardo
The first granddaughter Lorena, then her mother the first daughter Laura
The family guest Rebekka

The daughter Maria
The son Rafael, with his twin toddler daughters Sofia y Alina besides him
The twins mother Linda

Two more granddaughters Erica y Danielle, and a grandson Michael

The grandson Jesus & his novia Lisa

The Granddaughter Angelique

The two daughters Cecillia y Dolores

The beautiful heart of our family Amparo.

My primo leaned across the table and said, "this was perfect, nice and relaxed," I smiled as the mariachi played Pelea de Gallos, "yes, next year, we will throw a big party."

Monday, November 13, 2006


Post presentations didn't skip a beat to move to our downtown hotel...The taxi driver waived our twenty dollar fare. My friend had been in Africa this summer on a grant, made donations to the local schools in Ethiopia. She had been to his city, "How did you see it?" he wanted to know." When we got out he said, "For what you did in my town, thank you."

We skipped the presidential reception to sit at the faux beach bar. Our bartender had a father that was a special education administrator in Chicago, small world. We convinced another first year student it was okay to skip the reception as long as we made it to the university dinner. It felt good to be in the open air. Met some OC businessmen, that assured us no one there called it that. Politics came up and although we stood on different sides what we could agree on was, "the educational system in the U.S. provides the least for students in poor schools." He picked up our tab and arranged to send my friend three computers for her classroom. Double checked with our bartender to make sure they had taken care of him, "absolutely, more than taken care of, thank you."

We walked to the dinner and although we were on time, evidently everyone was on hyper time and seated at the large table. The hostess greeted us warmly. We waited for the next table to be set happily. Taking our place at the kids table we laughed, still amused by the kindness of strangers. We trumped the large table: The hostess moved herself and her guest to our table, the person who followed her with her glass of wine also was invited to sit. While the hyper early folks sat at a table for twenty we sat at a table for six. The wine flowed conversation was easy and the whole evening felt just a little surreal...Oh yeah, and for the third time that day, our tab was picked up. Gracias.

Friday, November 10, 2006


At the conference hotel, I caught up with a former mentor at the poolside bar. We met a Puerto Rican business man. He found out I was working on my dissertation, stopped trying to hit on us and shared instead about his three daughters. The oldest one is being courted by Duke University, she is gifted. I shared with him that Latino's make up less than 10% of students enrolled in gifted high school programs. He said to my mentor, "You do not know this, but in our culture we want to make our parents proud. I know she is making her parents very proud. She makes me proud."

Still I am Latino deprived, I have not met one other Latino conference attendee. Hope to see my friend from Miami today, we bonded over this same issue three years ago.

The server at the restaurant brought me my lunch and I tried to eat it with a fork and finally had to ask if they had tortillas. "Flour our corn?" corn I replied. She new where I was going with my potato tofu scramble and offered me some salsa. "How is the salsa?" oh, I think I will stick to ketchup, "It is not very good," she smiled and took it away.

I was in my room when the cleaning person came by. At the door she asked if she should come back. Switching to Spanish I asked her to please just straighten up the bathroom. She asked me what I was there for. Told her about the conference. She said I was the only one she had met that spoke Spanish. I smiled and said I know. She asked where I was from. I asked her if she had kids, how were they doing in school? Told me she works long days and commutes from Tijuana and sometimes her kids don't put forth the effort in school. I said you tell them you work hard so they can do better, if they have no interest in school then they will be working as hard or harder for the rest of their lives. Her name was Guadalupe, I wanted to give her a hug, but handed her a thoughtful propina instead.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Scheduled to leave in a few hours for a national conference and just not ready.

The presentations are done, powerpoints ready, speaking points too, even been packing since Sunday. Nails done, dry cleaning picked up, shoes from the cobbler too: I just don't feel like it, don't want to leave, yet.

So I called the airline and they assured me as long as I made it to the airport within two hours after my flight I could fly standby at no additional cost. To think all these years I thought I was just getting lucky and not being charged for the upgrade. They actually have a policy for people, umm like me. And thankfully four flights after mine.

A great week in the city period. Where else do you have someone knock at your door and remind you the polling place will be closing in an hour? My LA friends sitting in the kitchen were astounded. We continued with our tequila and made our way down the hill to dinner. It is that very special friendship that effortlessly transcends time and place. Sad to leave the city with them still here, promised to get them in touch with some friends that know the ins and outs about town...

Tired in a good way, feeling lazy in a better way, and amazed still by the grace that gets me by.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Living La City Vida

When the writing is good, the urge to recharge is greater. Weaving some work with the pace of the city...

Deadline met, joined the girls for margarita's at Tommy's Mexican Food. The first place that filled my craving for something like ambiente. A brindis was in order among us for the short story that will be published, the MFA poetry collection that is being edited, and the progress towards the dis. A couple hours later made our way to the Kabuki for Sophias new film, her aesthetic is impeccable.

Faught the urge to wake up early and slept til noon. Sat at the table and worked for hours editing the cv, setting up timelines and calendars, and sent off the evites...

My friend invited me out. On that side of town, you can see the golden gate bridge from the street. La Barca was a pleasant surprise, the owner a very good one, greeted us warmly and gave us glow in the dark straws. It was the tile floor, the decor of the restaurants I frequented as a little girl. To some it maybe kitsch but I love white adobe walls, offset by dark brown wood, and vintage bullfighting posters sharing space on the walls with black velvet paintings. Sang along to Spazmatics the cover band and even sang a verse of Violent Femmes into the microphone. Exited to the next stop in the center of town.

Windows down, music blasting, driving fast down streets with dips and hills. Sliding around on leather seats, singing along to Bob Sinclaires "World hold on..." Knowing- these are the moments to remember.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

To Tlaloc 2

"The writing is good..."

I had to stop her right there, completely missed the rest of her sentence. "I am so relieved to hear that. Thank you. I just want to take that in," I think it was a defining moment in my academic career. You never hear from her students the kind words she has to say.

A compliment from the woman that has no problem sending you and your; paper, article, grant, proposal, or dissertation to the writing center. Her eagle eye willing to read and chair dissertations that essentially are going to be well written, only. A critic, tough editor, but ultimately a writer that wrote with heart, and had a successful career doing so. An elder and in that a wisdom that has to be respected.

What is difficult I told a mentor and friend, "is agreeing on the content." She understood, offered the names of her colleagues in Florida, Colorado, that could speak to the experience of being in the field and Latina/o. In California I will be the 10th Latina/o (the data is not disaggregated) tenured track professor in my field. I might have to share it with my colleague from the program, but nonetheless we will be the 10th, once we clear ABD.

We write different, research different, perceive different: It takes something like courage to know that what feels intuitively racist or biased is. To look at the research critically and subtract it of its deficit laden language, understanding student performance has to do with context. Somedays, you have to wonder if it may not be easier to just enter the field as is, without the struggle.

Then you go to the local panaderia, drink your coffee and see a fieldtrip of little brown students marching in from the kitchen. You smile as you hear them speaking in Spanish about el Dia de Los Muertos and quickly lose interest in el pan del muerto when they see the resident fat cat following them out from the kitchen.

El gatito decides that it wants to sit at your feet, you look down thinking you don't even like cats. When you look up you are surrounded by the students with beautiful brown eyes and smiles asking you if you might know the pets name, "no, no se," you smile. "No?" they seem disappointed so you look around for someone to ask.

Problem solved, you can't wait to get back home, to your writing...the carving of the space, they will inherit.