The Kemp-Kershaw Combo

Despite their run into third place in the NL West, the Dodgers have had a rather dismal 2011 season.  Among the shiny bright spots, however, have been center fielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw.  While both are long shots, both re being discussed as possible candidates for postseason accolades: Kemp for MVP and Kershaw for the Cy Young.

In a casual conversation today with a friend, he wondered out loud how many times had the Dodgers had both the MVP and Cy Young award winner in the same year.  The Kirk Gibson/Orel Hershiser combo of 1988 he knew, but beyond that we only guessed.  I couldn’t get the thought out of my head so when I had a free moment, I looked it up.

It turns out, EVERY single time the LA Dodgers have had the National League MVP they have also had that year’s NL Cy Young Award winner.  This also happened once for Brooklyn.  Rather impressively, twice, the Dodger who won the MVP also won the Cy Young.  This was even more noteworthy at the time since when it happened (‘56 and ‘63) there was only one Cy Young winner for the whole of baseball.

Down below are the years the Dodgers won either award.  In red are the years they won both.

1988: Kirk Gibson, Los Angeles Dodgers
1974: Steve Garvey, Los Angeles Dodgers
1963: Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
1962: Maury Wills, Los Angeles Dodgers
1956: Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers
1955: Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers
1953: Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers
1951: Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers
1949: Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers
1941: Dolph Camilli, Brooklyn Dodgers


2003: Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers
1988: Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers
1981: Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles Dodgers
1974: Mike Marshall, Los Angeles Dodgers
1966: Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
1965: Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
1963: Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
1962: Don Drysdale, Los Angeles Dodgers
1956: Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers

A New School Year

Today I begin my 30th semester as a teacher in higher education.  With any luck, it will also be my last as an untenured, assistant professor.

A new school year always brings with it a mix of emotions and stresses.  One consistent for me for the better part of the last decade is the very specific excitement that comes with the fall semester’s beginning and the fresh crop of students enrolled in my intro-level Chicano/Latino history course.

As a class, it is the very reason I chose my vocation.  The power and meaning that comes with being able to create an academic space that is collaborative, critical, and focused on narrating the diverse experiences of people of Latin American descent in the US is an overtly political act, and a very necessary one.  So much so is this the case in our present moment that it is a point I need only casually make for my students this morning.  As Chicanas/os and Latinas/os living in the US at this time, they are brutally aware of the consequences of “not knowing” and the stark lack of human compassion that is nurtured by this.

When we put it in those terms, however, that politics is inherently about people.  And that is perhaps what sustains me most throughout the year.  What we are going to do today and throughout the semester is not just learn, but build the greater likelihood of a more just, more humane, and more decent future for us all…

one mind at a time.

MONDAY BLUES (08.19.11)

Forty-one years ago today, more than 20,000 Chicanos in East Los Angeles–women, men, and children–protested the war in Vietnam and violent effects it had begun to wield within their community.  You see, though Chicanos represented only about 11% of the general population of the Southwestern states, they comprised almost 20% of the region’s war casualties.  Few families did not have a hijo, hermano, primo, or novio fighting in Southeast Asia.

The largely peaceful protest culminated in a violent altercation between the LAPD and the gathered families, resulting in the death of three people, one of who was the famed Mexican American journalist Ruben Salazar.  (Here is what the LA Times printed just days after Salazar’s death.  Here is an article detailing the more recent inquiry into his murder.)

In honor of the occasion, today’s Monday Blue’s is the 1970 track “Samba Pa’ Ti,” from the album Abraxas, by the legendary Carlos Santana.

The NY Times nos da Asco

I can’t tell you what a sublime and historic moment it is for the NY Times to have a full-length article on the Chicano artistic troupe “Asco.”

Founded in 1972, in the era of the Chicano Youth Movement, Asco were pioneers in the Chicano arts movement, founders (with others) of an evolving collective aesthetic and sensibility which is still young in its lifespan.  As this article explains, and their upcoming show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art demonstrates, they were also important players in the late-20th century urban arts movement in the US.

You can read the NY Times article here.  Their retrospective show–“Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987″–opens at LACMA on September 4th.

Two Popular Musical Masters Pass Away

Nick Ashford and Jerry Lieber have died.  Each was a musical master–one part of a songwriting duo–though neither was ever as famous as the musical giants for whom each penned classics.

Along with his wife, Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford wrote and produced for Motown beginning in the 1960s.  Their legendary career began when producer Harvey Fuqua gave the two a chance to write some songs for his protégé Marvin Gaye.  Fuqua had decided to pair Gaye with Tammi Terrell, who had sang backup unsuccessfully for the Godfather of Soul.  Ashford and Simpson (he the lyricist and she the composer) came back with “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”  They followed that with a string of chart toppers for the soon-to-be legendary duo of Gaye and Terrell, hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I need to Get By.”

Ashford and Simpson would write R&B and pop hits for the next 25 years, from “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” to “I’m Every Woman” to their own “Solid as a Rock,” a chart topper for them in the 80s.

They were part of a particular moment in popular music, when the dynamics undergirding Motown’s commodification of Black musical culture was just beginning to undergo something of a change.  The label, which had made a factory of success out of its deliberate strategy to make “Black music” appealing and marketable to “White America” began to shift to a more “authentic” representation of Black culture without such a concern for palatability.  Ashford and Simpson didn’t lead that charge, but when Motown finally let up a bit, they were part of it.

Jerry Lieber was a Baltimore-born, LA-raised, white Jewish kid who–along with his writing partner Mike Stoller–became known in the 1950s as the writers of a cache of hits representing the birth of popular rock ‘n roll music.  “Hound Dog” (first performed by Big Mama Thorton and later Elvis), kicked off their professional career, which included some of Elvis’ most enduring songs: “Jailhouse Rock,” “Trouble,” “Loving You,” and “Treat Me Nice.”

But they didn’t stop there.  Lieber and Stoller wrote hits for the Coasters like “Charlie Brown,” “Poison Ivy,” and “Yakety Yak.”  They wrote for the Drifters, songs like “On Broadway” and “Stand By Me.”  Jerry Lieber also wrote “Spanish Harlem” with Phil Spector, and “Youngblood” with Doc Pomus.

Here’s Leon Russell doing “Youngblood” as part of a medley he performed at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.

Lieber and Stoller took a lot of heat in later decades for being two white guys writing some of the most indelible “Black” rhythm and blues standards.  As the mainstream public waned in their willingness to ignore their own unchecked white supremacy–a condition which fomented years of white musicians, writers, and producers stealing the creative work of Black artists and never paying them royalties–artists like them became associated with the unsavory past of our popular culture.

The negative attention was not deserved for these two men, however.  As the most successful non-Black writers in popular blues and soul it was not surprising they had to bear that burden, as did Elvis (though he only had to suffer to a small extent in his lifetime).  It was, and remains, a distraction from the real and insidious practices which robbed Black musicians and writers of what was really theirs.

Lieber and Stoller often joked how they were “honorary Black men” for their creative legacy. While the notion is certainly complicated beyond its casual use, their self-assessment (however light-hearted) reflects the sense of love which guided their combined careers–the love Black performers had for their talents, as well as the love these two white kids had for blues music.

Both Jerry Lieber and Nick Simpson were part of the birth of popular rhythm and blues music, a period in US history when non-white cultural production became so ubiquitous as to become known as just “American” culture.  As they witnessed and participated in this special time in our culture’s history, they gave us some of the sounds that will forever make up the soundtrack of daily life.

A Chicano and his Books

Every once in awhile, a young student will walk into my office and immediately be struck by the number of books s/he sees on my shelves.

“Have you read all of these books?,” they’ll ask.

“Yes,” I’ll say.  “It’s what they pay me to do.”

In actuality, I really haven’t.  As a historian, many of the books I have are for reference while working on a  lecture for a class, or a book or an article.  I have “covered” almost every book I have on my shelves, that is, I have read substantial parts of it to identify the argument, sources, perspective, and various elements of the proof.

It might seem odd, but I’m actually not a voracious reader.  I don’t love books they way other academics do.  I love History.  I LOVE Chicano/Latino histories.  I am obsessed with the evolving, scholarly understanding of us and our collective past.  I am also obsessed with California history, the history of social movements for change, and the history of racial inequality in the US.

When you put it all together, I’m not much for a novel, but I intellectually salivate over a new book on the the history of the Chicano Movement, or the UFW, or some other kindred topic.

In any event, every once in awhile I think it is important for those of us who read and write in these fields to remind others that we exist.  What’s better, we know and have books.  Whoever you are, if you’re ever interested in learning more about the varied pasts of the Chicano/a and Latina/o people, I’d be more than willing to point you in the direction of a great book.

Pictured above are some of my shelves of books in the office related to: California history (closest section, all shelves), Chicana Feminism (farthest section, top two shelves), and Chicano/Latino History (the whole middle section, and bottom shelves of farthest section).

Elvis at 34

Elvis Presley died 34 years ago today. What better way to remember the King than to look back at his 34th year of life?

Elvis turned 34 in January of 1969. The once reigning King of popular music had become something of a pop cliche by the 60s, known best for his string of simple but pleasing feature films. In 1968, his now legendary “comeback special” (which aired in December on NBC) reminded the world that not only was the man an amazing talent, but that he still “had it.”

On the heels of his resurgence in popularity, Elvis took to the stage again for his first live performances in almost 8 years. In July, he opened at the International Hotel in Las Vegas for an extended stay, playing his first show to 2000 adoring fans who couldn’t have imagined the historic scope of the event they attended.

In that audience was a young baby named Tomás.

No! Just kidding. I wasn’t born yet. But when I entered this world three years later, the Elvis stage performances which began in those weeks of the summer 1969 had been honed and perfected. In terms of his stage presence, he was never better in his post-50s period than he was from 1969 to 1972. By that time, however, the excesses (food, drugs, and production design) regularly overcame the talent, as the King became little more than a cardboard cut-out of his once great image.

But we’ll always have 1969! Here’s the King in sound and (often) un-synched video from some of those 1969 shows.

Racism, Riots, and “Reality”

When a police officer shoots and kills a person of color, whether in the US or in Britain, most in so-called civil society wait until some sort of formal inquiry or investigation before passing judgment. This is a necessary thing to do from the perspective of any system of authority in a democratic society.

However, the people who plead for patience until “all the facts have been observed,” or who castigate others for “rushing to judgment” before such a process is concluded, and do so while demanding others share their level of faith in the investigatory process must also acknowledge that there are other ways of seeing the situation, other ways of feeling about it.

I don’t pretend to be an expert about what it happening in Britain right now, but I feel my understanding of the same sorts of dynamics in the US does offer me a particular perspective on the ways inequality creates undercurrents of tension and hopelessness which can explode in any “democracy” at particular moments.

While this moment is surely more complicated than few paragraphs of thought can capture, one of the fundamental forces at work is a subjective reality that is not part of the mainstream. This is a reality framed by experience after experience that says when a cop shoots a black man it means race is involved, it means power is using unregulated violence to keep others in check, it means injustice. In this reality whether or not the person of color did something wrong, came from a bad background, or has known connections to gangs is not as relevant as other factors.

Which side it right? The question is as meaningless as any answer you can devise. The significant thing for any society to grasp at a moment like this is that there are competing ways of knowing and understanding what is happening. One might consider for a moment which is worse: riots causing damage to person and property, all with no end in sight; or a reality framed by so much violence, anger, and abuse that mass violence to property feels like a solution.

In any real democracy, the answer to that question should be as obvious as any ever asked.

The Journey

In a matter of mere hours, for the very first time in our lives, my wife and I will be the parents of a kindergartener.

It seems like decades ago that my son was born. While I can remember life without children–vividly–that time feels long past. He feels like he’s been with us forever. I’ve watched him grow from this little baby into this amazing young kid, filled with energy, creativity, wondering, humor, and love. His entire life, a story contained within my memory.

Yet how much of our first five or six years of life do we count among the significant moments of our present selves? It’s so strange to me that all this time that we have spent as his parents is but a prologue to the story of his own life, as he writes it and reads it from a not too distant future.

Whatever he does, however he lives, it all takes on a new direction now. School will be the setting of the majority of his waking life for the next 13 years. It will seem like an eternity to him.

It will seem like a moment to me.

I love you mijo…