Monday, April 23, 2012

Colorful Maps Reveal All

Ahh the new Blogspot is terrifying. I'm sorry this didn't get posted earlier.

I want to go back to one of the articles we read early in the class, Henry Yu's "American Studies in a World of Pacific Migrations." The first heading in the essay says, "Is Anybody in L.A. Actually from Here?" and he then goes on to say that the celebrities that people associate with LA are "fueling an impression that nobody is every actually from Los Angeles" (531). I think this is a really interesting point. People talk about a New York or Boston or Chicago accent but what is a Los Angeles accent? Is it one that hints at English being the second language? The Garcia, Kuramitsu, Yamamoto and I'm guessing the Costanza-Chock (I haven't read it yet but the word "immigrant" is in the title) articles all deal with people who have immigrated to the west coast. I think one of the spectacular things about LA is that it really is such a melting pot. When you drive through the city, there are constantly signs that say "Little Armenia," "Little Tokyo," or "Historic Filipinotown" not to mention the overwhelming amount of road names that are clearly of Spanish origin. This study found in 2008 that over a third of LA County's 9.9 million inhabitants are immigrants. I was surprised to read later in this study that as of 2006, less than half of those immigrants were Mexican (page 18). Los Angeles is known for having a lot of Mexican immigrants, but in reality, it is filled with people from all over the world. I have cousins who were born and raised in LA (yes they're actually from there!) but in all their pictures with their friends, the group is really diverse. I only wish I could have grown up with that kind of diversity (or any diversity for that matter... thank you suburbs).

Here's a screenshot of an NYTimes interactive map on race of Los Angeles:

Here's one of Chicago:

Maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see, but it looks to me like Los Angeles has a lot more overlap of colors and that Chicago's are more blocked out. I'm really happy we studied LA and looked at articles that talk about people with all sorts of heritages. It is encouraging for people like me who grew up with limited daily exposure to different cultures and ideas!

Claremont Then and Now

Okay, so I have absolutely no idea why this didn't post on Friday (or why Blogger has suddenly adopted such a strange format [perhaps there is a correlation between the two]), but here goes nothing:
Reading Matt Garcia's analysis of the "Colonia Complex" at the start of the 20th century, I couldn't help but be reminded of the immigration-debate-related events that have transpired in Claremont this year. Surely we are all familiar with this piece: (the New York Times is having a real field day with the Claremont Colleges recently). While I am largely unqualified to speak to the legal elements of the case, this article, when it first came out, made me think about the invisible lines that divide our college "community" and how that relates to the official and unofficial ghettoization of Mexican Americans throughout Southern California. I certainly knew that Mexican American neighborhoods existed, but it wasn't until I read the Garcia that I learned that many originated as a result of the citrus industry and workers' needs for community solidarity - or that such areas have existed and still exist in Claremont. As a Pomona student, my off-campus experiences are largely concentrated in Claremont Village, a white middle-class enclave if I've ever seen one. Walking to Arbol Verde, I saw an entirely new side of Claremont, one that made me aware of my own privilege and question my dominant understanding of the Pomona College worker firing narrative. While I don't have a solution to the problems facing the displaced workers or the college community as it stands today, I feel that the Garcia helped me to better understand the nuances at work. The push-and-pull between the wish to assimilate and the need to keep Mexican American ways of life alive and culturally autonomous is analogous in its complexity to the battle between the impulse of many undocumented workers in this country to lay low and take what they can get for fear of deportation and their strong desire to assert their rights and stand up for what they know is wrong. Another interesting tidbit I gleaned from this article is that, even in the 1920s, there were Mexican American students attending Pomona College. This complicates the history of race at the college as I see it, and makes Isabel Juarez's quote in this article all the more resonant.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crash and Race in the Media

Our discussions about the portrayal of race in films—especially "Killer of Sheep”— lead me to want to look into films that explore race in the LA setting. There are many, many films that take place in LA. However, the first one that came to mind for me was “Crash” by Paul Haggis. I would like to focus on this film because it explicitly makes a point to discuss race. I first saw this film in High School as part of US History. At the time, I thought it was amazing. I felt as though it asked the right questions and presented issues in an accurate and compelling way. However, in returning to “Crash” after our discussions, I am not sure that it does as good of a job as I had previously thought. 

In trying to create a story that emphasizes how so many different races interact, it ends up creating caricatures of races instead of fully developing what it is like to identify with a certain race while living in LA. For example, Daniel (Michael Pena) is a Hispanic locksmith. He is presented as arguably the most sympathetic character in the film. In contrast to the Padua Hills Theater, as the sole representation of a Mexican male in the film, he does not display the “fantasy heritage” described by Garcia. However, the depth of the character would have benefited greatly if Haggis would have explored what it is like to be a Mexican male living on the border. Even though border culture is an important to many people living in LA, it is not discussed at all in Daniel’s story line.

 It is interesting to look at the representation of African Americans in “Crash” in contrast to “The Killing of Sheep.” In “Crash,” African Americans are portrayed in many different ways. In fact, African Americans may be the most well represented race in the film when considering the many different types of characters and many different levels of socio-economic power they posses. However, when African Americans are presented in this film, they are still presented as archetypes. The two men who steal cars for money are greatly demonized. The movie producer is criticized for being too white. And, officer is bigoted towards his Hispanic co-worker. Nowhere, is the middle-class father, making a living for his family present in the film. I think it is important to acknowledge that a large audience did not embrace “Killer of Sheep” in the same way that "Crash" was so widely viewed. This could in part be because the characters in "The Killing of Sheep" were seemingly average and therefore less interesting to the modern viewer. Finally, I would like to acknowledge that Native Americans are never acknowledged in this film. For a film that promotes itself as a story about race, it actively ignores one of the longest racial struggles in American history. This leads me to a complex question that I do not—and probably never will—have the answer to: Is being represented in the media inaccurately better than not being represented at all?


German- American Detainment

I did not blog on this but I thought this was pretty interesting as well.  German Americans were also detained (though much fewer in numbers) during WWII.  The following is a propaganda video about a German camp and a website that discusses the topic:

Detainment Camps as Historical Landmarks and their Websites

For this blog post I browsed the website of Manzanar, a Japanese American detainment camp located in California turned National Historic Site and run by the National Park Service.   In addition to information about visiting the park the website is filled with photography, history, and information and about detainment in general.   The largest section of the website is devoted to archives of the individual stories of detainees.  I additionally looked at the website for Auschwitz, a Nazi Death Camp located in Poland.   While exploring these websites I specifically looked at the ways in which the curators dealt responsibility to the respective governments who ran each camp.  While the atrocities and conditions of Auschwitz can in no way be considered comparable to the detainment that occurred in Manzanar it was still interesting to see the amount of responsibility taken for the intrusion of liberty in both situations.  I found that on the Auschwitz website the curators had no problem in affiliating full responsibility for the misdeeds with the Germans.  They did not shy away from using words such as “murder,” “genocide,” and “victims.”  They discussed in depth and “owned” disturbing topics such as medical experimentation and the systematic murder of prisoners.  I was surprised (and impressed) that the website used the term “German” very often in discussing the turpitudes of the camps instead of limiting the scope of responsibility with the term “Nazi.”  The Manazanar website on the other hand focused much more on the day-to-day life of prisoners with a focus on lifestyle instead of imprisonment.   At the beginning of the website the idea of a liberty violation is touched upon but is not a major theme throughout the website.  Both websites are very extensive and very interesting.  I would encourage anyone to go check them out sometime.



Saturday, April 21, 2012

Common Ground

I have no idea why this didn't end up posting before, but here it is again.

The exhibit “Common Ground: The Heart of the Community” at the Japanese American National Museum chronicles Japanese American History from WWII to the present, using artifacts, documents and photographs. However, what drew me to relate this exhibit back to what we talked about in class was the prevalence of personal stories. For the exhibit staff, interns and volunteers worked to create 30-second videos sharing their personal relationship and stories that related to the objects in the exhibit. For example, one man looks at the barracks on display and reveals that it was the barracks next to his and that “people actually lived here.” Another women discusses how seeing a chocolate tin reminded her of the times she and her siblings would search the house (pre-internment) for the hidden chocolates. These videos show, like Ms. Kuramitsu discussed in her own article, although the Nisei weren’t necessarily in the intern camps, the stories and feelings passed down were theirs and affected their identity. For due to the prejudicial restrictions, many immigrants put all of their hope into the Nisei and worked for their success.

As Kuramitsu says in her piece “an ethnic community is never a monolithic entity but a group that is, by definition, connected by some set of memories and experiences.” This connection to each other and relatives from the past generation is shown in the videos. Unlike in the article, this exhibit views the objects from a historical context instead of balancing the objects between history and art. Also, it serves to empower the group because now they are in control of telling the story of their condition versus an outside government group.

Here is the link to the videos.

Chicano Male Unbonded

For one of my out-of-class lectures, I went to go see artist/activist Harry Gamboa Jr. speak about his work. Gamboa Jr. was one of the key players in a performance art group Asco, a Chicano artist collective active in Los Angeles in the 1970s, who created radical works of art to highlight the lack of representations of Chicano art. In addition to Asco, Gamboa Jr. has continued to work on numerous solo projects. While all of his work is powerful, I was most struck by a photography series that he started work on in 1991. The series is called Chicano Male Unbonded and you can see the photos here: Gamboa Jr. began the project in response to a security message that was sent to him to the effect of "Warning: Suspect in the area. Chicano male, 35-50 years old." When he got that message, Gamboa Jr. started considering all of the wonderful men he knew in his life who fit that description, and would now be interpreted as "suspects." The photography series consists of 150+ photographs of Chicano men, all of whom contributed in some way to Gamboa's own understanding of his Chicanismo. The photographs include well-known Chicano Studies scholars, such as Rudy Acuña, as well as personal role models for Gamboa, such as his own father. Each subject is photographed at night from below, so that the subject appears to be looking down on the viewer. This series effectively highlights the absolute absurdity of such warning statements, and of the vilification of men of color. Parallels could also be drawn between this series and the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the continued racial targeting of young men of color by police across the nation.