Happy New (Academic) Year!

Today is the start of the 2018-19 academic year at Pomona College!

This year is the start of my 17th year as a full-time professor.  It’s the start of my 23rd year in the world of college teaching (I started teaching at the college level as a TA at UC Berkeley).  Overall, this is my 29th year in higher education.

The kid that began his undergraduate career back in 1990 would have been pretty pleased to know that someday he’d be writing the above paragraph.  Not many days go by that I don’t think and feel how lucky I am to be in my line of work.  I get to learn new things on a daily basis.  I get to write and read.  And I get to spend time connecting young people to their own journeys of discovery.

I’m a lucky guy.

I’m looking forward to this semester.  I’ll teach my “Intro to Chicanx/Latinx Studies” class, my greatest pleasure and the reason I do what I do.  I’ll also teach my “Latinx in the 20th Century” seminar, where we get to go more into depth.  As if that wasn’t enough, in a little more than two weeks, the play I wrote based on my oral histories with Chicano Vietnam vets will hit the stage.  It’ll be a busy start but I got nothing to complain about.

So happy new academic year from me to you!

Monday Blues (9.8.14)

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009) is a “classic” in the Summers Sandoval household. It was the first movie my first two kids ever saw in a movie theater, and became part of our “regular rotation” in the spring of 2010 when the DVD came out.

You might be surprised to learn that relentlessly repetitive viewing has its perks. When the movie in question has some talent behind it (and this one does) you start to discover little bits here and there that would otherwise be missed. Some are clever, some funny, some dramatic and complex. In a movie paying homage to New Orleans jazz culture, some are downright educational.

Sidney Bechet

I had never heard of Mr. Sidney Bechet (New Orleans, 1897-1959) until his name popped up in a lyric to the song “When I’m Human,” featured in the above movie. When I learned more about him, that ignorance became startling. Bechet is one of the fathers of New Orleans jazz. A contemporary of Louis Armstrong, Bechet was a virtuoso jazz saxophonist, known for his amazingly expressive solos. He also seemed to have lived quite a personal and professional life. A taste of his bio can be found at the website of The Sidney Bechet Society.

It’s sad that a Disney cartoon brought this music to my and my kids’ ears, but I’m glad something did. Here’s Bechet playing “Old Stack O’Lee Blues,” a recording from 1946.

Happy New Year!

Today is the start of another year for me–an academic year, that is.

It is an oddity and privilege but the pace of my life has been set by academic calendars for so long it’s now my default position. It’s how I keep my time. I’m a creature of educational institutions, after all. I went straight from kindergarten to 12th grade to college (4 years) to grad school (8 years) to my first (3.5 years) and second (8.5 years) tenure-track jobs. From that perspective, not counting the 2 semesters I was on sabbatical, this is the start of my 73rd semester in education. Put another way, it’s the start of my 37th year of life in educational institutions.

This year I get to teach another semester of my favorite class–Chicana/o~Latina/o Histories. A class that serves as an introduction to Chicano/Latino history, Chicano/Latino Studies, historical inquiry, and being a person of color in college, it’s my lifeblood in so many ways. I’m never more connected to the student I was than when I am teaching this class. It feels like a new year when I do.

I also get to teach one of Pomona College’s first-year seminars this fall. I called mine Race Rebels, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. At a small college like mine, students usually choose my courses after knowing me or hearing a lot about me from others who do. These seminars are unique for the fact that the students haven’t really chosen me as much as having been assigned. That’s a welcome difference, a chance for me to sit with them where we all are equally unknown to each other.

I often say that teaching is my vocation. I still think that and, maybe more importantly, I feel it. But, like any good and meaningful commitment in life, teaching has become an evolving process for me. For me, it’s been about intentional recommitment, constant discovery, and continual learning.

That’s especially true for me right now, as I find myself searching for ways to make what we do in the classroom pertinent to the lives we lead when we leave them. It leaves me feeling simultaneously like my job has never been more needed and, yet, never more irrelevant.

The tension between those two sides isn’t a debate as much as its a window into the struggle of the job. It’s a good struggle. A worthy struggle. A struggle that’s made so much easier by the privilege of getting to work with such smart, passionate, and creative young minds.

So here’s to another year!

Latino SF @ USF (3-18-14)

I’ll be visiting the University of San Francisco this Tuesday to share a from my book, Latinos at the Golden Gate. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Latinos in the city, I hope to see you there!


Latino SF @ SF State (3-19-14)

I’ll be giving a book talk at San Francisco State University this week! Details are on the below digital flier. If you want to learn more about the history of Latinos in San Francisco, then come on by!


“Serving the DREAM”

Pomona College will be hosting an event on DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”) this Friday, March 7 @ 10AM. Two representatives from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal department responsible for the program) will be discussing this program, meant to serve undocumented youth, including the new renewal process. It’s a great chance for local schools, churches, and other organizations to connect to reliable information so they can better serve our families.


“Hispanic Heritage Month”

This weekend my family and I visited one of our local Barnes & Noble stores. The kids love books and, in suburban-landia, this is often where we go.  The free air conditioning wasn’t bad either.

At the front of the store was a “Hispanic Heritage” table, offering some books in celebration of Latino Heritage Month, which begins today. There were a couple of Spanish-language novels, two books on the pope, a handful of translations of popular fiction and non-fiction not written by or about Latinos, and a small handful of books by and about Latinos. Whether or not this was a work-in-progress or not, I couldn’t say, but there was room for about five more stacks of books (using the other table as an indicator).

When I saw this video from the House Republicans this morning, it reminded me of my B&N adventure.

We have a long way to go…

Promise and Reality in Higher Ed

Education, we are told, is the great equalizer in the United States. It is the “key to the American Dream,” and the pathway to a more egalitarian society.

The data backs this up in many ways. The average Latino and African American earns less than the average white American and they are less likely to obtain a college degree. We know that the more educated you are the more you will earn over your lifetime and the less likely you will be to be unemployed. By many measures, education is the key to your individual and group prosperity.

It stands to reason that the promise of higher education to surmount our historic and engrained structural inequalities is only as strong as the institution’s own ability to surmount those inequities as it educates. If education is inherently unequal and inequitable then the effects it produces will also be.


The conclusion of this report from researchers at Georgetown University is that US colleges and universities are failing on that front. (You can read the full report here.)

In the report, researcher find that “The postsecondary system mimics and magnifies the racial and ethnic inequality in educational preparation it inherits from the K-12 system and then projects this inequality into the labor market.” Far from being the great equalizer we want it to be, education is becoming another way to fracture equality of opportunity based on race and class.

This isn’t a surprising conclusion to anyone working on diversity in higher education. It also doesn’t mean those poor or working class and/or nonwhite students who get in and do well aren’t working hard and achieving a great deal.

But it should help fuel the debate about what equality and equity mean for the 21st century. For colleges like mine, I hope it helps us confront the ways we fail to confront the larger problems of equality and equity while we hide behind “excellence.”

Not a Way of Life

“But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked in mortal combat, like the cop and the criminal, both are reduced to a common denominator of violence. The counterstance refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reaching against. Because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority–outer as well as inner–it’s a step towards liberation from cultural domination. Bt it is not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.”

–Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987)

My book arrived!

Look what I got in the mail today!


I’m not sure I have the words to describe how this feels. I’m also sure that those feelings will keep coming and changing with all that it to come in the months ahead.