The Beatles and my boy

My son must have been about 1 when we started playing The Beatle’s 1 album for him. We had it in the car CD player for about 4 months straight when he was 3 and his little sister was 1. They’d sing along with their favorites, even though they really couldn’t pronounce much. An early fascination with the music of George Harrison, through YouTube videos of “The Concert for George” and “The Concert for Bangladesh” (which he was eventually given for Christmas), aided The Beatles process in our family life.

In short, the sounds of The Beatles are burned deep into their brains, in ways that go beyond recall and memory. After a few years of not listening to much of their music in the family car, over the last few months, my three kids have been listening to more of them. We brought the 1 album back into the car again (after a prolonged run of the Hamilton and Moana soundtracks) and, thanks to the movie Boss Baby, which featured the song “Blackbird,” even the youngest Summers Sandoval is grooving to the fab four.

This resurgence of The Beatles in our familial life has re-inspired my son’s obsession with the group and its members, that obsession he had when he was about 2, only now it comes in the form of an 11 year-old who can animate that obsession with Google searches and online music at will.

This also coincided with our purchase of a new family vehicle, a family van to be precise, which came with a free 3-month subscription to Sirius XM radio. After lamenting that there wasn’t a Beatles station on the service, a few weeks ago we started hearing an advertisement for an upcoming Beatles station on channel 18, scheduled to premiere on Thursday, May 18 at 9:09AM, eastern time.

So what did me and my boy do this morning?

We woke up at the crack of dawn, got ready for the day, and jumped into the car at 6:00AM so that we could be driving and listening to channel 18 at the moment The Beatles station premiered on Sirius XM. We stopped and got some bagels (he stayed in the car to keep listening), drove around town, and enjoyed some great music together.

In case you’re interested, the first song they played was “All You Need is Love.”

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Friday Five: Uncle Danny

The Sandoval family said goodbye to one of our own today.

Danny Sandoval was an amazing man. He was a loving father and grandfather, and a loyal brother and son.  He was a beloved cousin and nephew.  To me and my siblings and cousins, he was an uncle.  He was my Uncle Danny. And he was one of the most influential people in my life.

Uncle Danny was a caring and accepting man.  Honestly, he was one the most non-judgmental people I ever known.  He took people as they were and saw in them the good that they carried.  In that alone he made a profound impact on me.

The most enduring memories I will carry about my Uncle Danny are his sense of humor and his love of music.  Like all the Sandoval brothers, Danny was quick-witted and had impeccable timing.  Not only could he make you laugh, but he loved to laugh himself.  Watching my dad and his brothers crack each other up was one of my favorite things as a kid.  To join in as an adult was even better.

Danny was also a gifted musician and a lover of music.  It’s the first thing anybody thinks about when they think of Danny.  He had an amazing voice, one of the best I’ve ever heard.  And he could do amazing things on a guitar.  He was in bands all throughout his life.  Though he was never famous, or never made a living at it, it was his passion.  And he was good at it.  Mostly self-taught, my Uncle could play the boleros he learned from my grandpa as well as the rock and rhythm & blues he loved from his upbringing.

Our love of music and, in particular, the guitar, was part of the bond we shared.  Simply put, he was my guitar idol.  He was also my teacher.  My Uncle Danny gave me my first real pick.  When I was a kid and showed him how I could switch between the G, D, and C chords, he showed me how to play an A chord and then how to make the switch easier to other chords.  When I was a teenager and I had inherited one of my grandpa’s guitars, he taught me how to do an A-minor and an A-7. When I started really working at learning songs in my 20s, he opened a new world for me when he showed me how to play ninths.

I loved to watch my Uncle play and sing, but I also loved to talk about music with my him.  He was a walking encyclopedia of 20th century popular music, especially 60s and 70s rock.  While he had his favorites, he was also non-judgmental when it came to music.  For me, that was always a lesson because it seemed incompatible with being a diehard fan.  But my Uncle had respect for music, musicians, and for the love people had for both.  He didn’t judge what you liked if you liked it because he knew what a powerful thing that was.

When I started to get into heavy metal, we could talk about AC/DC or Black Sabbath or Metallica, even though those weren’t big for him.  He knew them as a musician, but he also appreciated that they meant something to me.  He could show me what they did or why they sounded how they sounded, to give me something more to appreciate about them.  I always admired that about him.

Mostly, I remember him talking about the guitarists and the music he loved, because that’s what I loved to hear.  And, if my Uncle loved it, I made a point to like it too, because it had to be good.  I remember back in the 80s, when I was in high school, he was talking about Bob Seger to me and one of my aunts.  I knew who Bob Seger was but didn’t think that much of him.  I remember I asked him, “Why doesn’t he make music anymore.”  My Uncle answered, “Because he’s Bob Seger. He doesn’t have to.”  That was it! Even to this day I will defend the music of Bob Seger to anyone.

A lot of this blog is about music.  That’s because a lot of my life has been about loving music.  I work it into my classes and into my family as a result of that love.  That love comes from a lot of places.  It comes from my dad and my mom, from my grandpa, from my childhood.  And a big part of it has always come from my Uncle Danny.

Until the day I die, I will always think of Danny Sandoval when I play the guitar or listen to the music that we loved.  He’s always been a part of my passion for both.  I miss him dearly already, but I am glad that I can feel him in so many songs.

Here are some songs, a little more than five, that I will always associate with his talent and his love.  Rest in peace Uncle Danny…

“Pride and Joy” (Stevie Ray Vaughn)

“Spinning Wheel” (Blood, Sweat, and Tears)

“Whipping Post” (The Allman Brothers)

“Got to Get You into My Life” (The Beatles)

“You’re Still a Young Man” (Tower of Power)

“Vehicle” (Ideas of March)

“Funny (How Times Slips Away)” (Joe Hinton)

“Sleepwalk” (Santo & Johnny)

“Colour My World” (Chicago)

“Take the Money and Run” (Steve Miller Band)

“All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix)

“Long Train Running” (The Doobie Brothers)

“Machine Gun” (Jimi Hendrix)

“The Letter” (Joe Cocker)

“Does Anybody Really Know What Times It Is?” (Chicago)

“Big Love” (Lindsey Buckingham)

“Oh! Darling” (The Beatles)

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (The Beatles)

Fighting Racism in Higher Education

Throughout the last academic year, incited by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and guided by the energy and example of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, students in colleges and universities across the country have increasingly turned to protest. Over the last few weeks alone, student protests at some campuses have reached important junctures, making headlines and creating a powerful moment of possibility.

The New York Times recently provided a cursory overview of some of the more high profile protests and their inciting events. I’m certain this is only scratching the surface when it comes to chronicling racist incidents at colleges and universities as well as student efforts for change.  Sadly, students and faculty at the community of liberal arts colleges where I work (and, specifically, the campus where I was a student) are facing a very similar example of our own this week.

These student protests have mostly been in response to racist incidents at the local level, but they’re not about those incidents, not really.  They’re about a larger and widely shared problem: 21st century racism in the university.

Each has its own shape and mood, it’s own set of assets and liabilities.  But these varied protests each voice part of a unified chorus of what it is like to be nonwhite in the university.  They’re about the lived realities that exist underneath the word “underrepresented.”  They’re about the feelings of inferiority, anger, and frustration incited by life in an institution devoted to whiteness.  They’re about that whiteness, an ideology our institutions do not see and, yet, can not see beyond.  They’re about the expectation for something better from institutions that sell themselves as places that are welcoming and “inclusive.”

Though these student movements are not formally connected, and while each campus has its own particular context to address, it’s hard not to view them as part of a critical moment in higher education, one forcing a reckoning with how our institutions act on issues of race, racism, and “diversity.”  One of the lessons that’s easy to take away from these (not yet concluded) struggles is that most of those in charge of our institutions of higher education are not adequately prepared to effectively hear (let alone address) students’ concerns.

Members of the student protest group Concerned Student 1950 hold hands following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign.
Members of the student protest group Concerned Student 1950 hold hands following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign.

 

Fundamental to this is the way these institutions view “us”–the underrepresented, the minorities, the people of color.  They languish in the conceit that they are “moving forward” and actualizing “progress” simply by opening their doors to us.  Despite the rhetoric, what is painfully obvious is that they do not understand the most fundamental truth related to their “commitment to diversity.”  That truth is this: we do not need them as much as they need us.

“Diversity” was always made to benefit them, of course.  The university who can paint its portrait with the faces of nonwhite students and faculty wears the hue of modernity and progress.  Through our presence we allow them to embody “the future” by helping them distance themselves from their white supremacist pasts.  What’s worse, we legitimate their most addictive myth–that the ivory tower is home to only the best and the brightest our society has to offer.  Our presence is proof of their contention that entrance is now guided by merit and merit alone.  We alleviate their mid-20th century inferiority complex, incited by the Black Freedom Struggle, that forced those who studied in these hallowed halls to come to terms with the fact that they were the beneficiaries of a racist system.

Our most palpable gift to these institutions is the way we animate their moral purpose.  As they admit and enroll us they are emboldened by what they see as their commitment to the “greater good.”  We’re lucky to be here, they tell us.  And how good are they to let us in!  It’s a paternalism the student of the past will be most familiar with, one that makes “diversity” evidence of their “commitments” and inherent goodness.

Of course, our presence in the university is good and it is meaningful.  We know this.  It is one small step toward something better.  It is this knowledge, in part, that fuels the current protests.  Our real and powerful value is also indicative of the extent to which they need us.  They need us to be their mirror, to show them to themselves as they are.  Only then can they move forward as institutions–as communities–and become more like the places they believe themselves to be.

We are here to give them a chance to understand how their ways of knowing, ways of being, and ways of dreaming are not the only ways.

Our colleges and universities are vessels of whiteness, proponents of an unacknowledged project of conversion.  This is the hangover of a history of formal white supremacy in the US, a system where racial prejudice became the rationale of deciding who could have power.  Even when you alter the system, if you do not actively dismantle the ideology, you risk doing little more than cosmetic change.

The palpable remnants of this ideology course through this conversion project to which most colleges and universities are committed.  They see our value only in so far as we are willing to surrender ourselves to that project and become like them.  It’s a tired notion, laughable if not for its resilience.  It deserves to be laid to rest.  If they can learn to listen to us, to see as as truly equal, they stand to be liberated from it too, from the cage it represents.  To be truly free, of course, they also have to learn to be more like us.  That’s its own struggle, to be sure, one that has few success stories.  (At least not yet.)

The student protests now taking place, and taking shape, are about this kind of liberation. But they can not make it come to fruition.  When it comes down to it, you see, that’s not our job to do.  There is no saving to be done here.  They’ve got to save themselves!  We can speak our truth and let it enable a culture of learning, even a culture of crisis.  But we can not make them learn from it.  That is a choice they have to make.  Let our voices be an alarm bell that the time for that saving is now.

What we can do is frustrate complacency and nurture empathic understanding.  That’s much easier said than it is done, not for the processes it represents but for the context in which we now struggling.  I was a “student of color” once, too.  I remember the epiphanies, the anxieties, the disappointment, and the anger.  I remember the frustration, and the exhaustion.  As a “professor of color” in the same institutions you’re in now, I remember these because they are a part of my present.  Daily I come to terms with the fact that they are also part of my future.

It’s from that place, a place of love and caring and respect, respect for what you feel and for what you know, that I offer these reminders:

Take care of yourself and each other.  Protest can be exhilarating and affirming when we experience it as a real community.  It is also tiring and diminishing.  Respect those costs and seek to care for each other through it.  Listen to each other.  Hug one another.  Make space to learn with one another.

Don’t mistake the symptom for the disease.  We engage oppressive institutions through episodes that wound the soul, instances when the realities it produces are unavoidably clear.  Each is easily removed or reprimanded without altering the system itself.  Do not let them think this is about Halloween costumes.  If we do, we lose. In fact…

The system of higher education is nimble.  It is self-critical, liberal, and able to agree with you as it defends the fundamental core of its problems.  Its reflex will be to co-opt your energy and welcome your protest because it is designed to do so by bending to give the illusion of substantive change.  Only vigilance, and an understanding of its inherent flexibility, can provide a check against this survival mechanism.

Remember that they, like us all, are learners.  Ignorance is our start in life.  Ignorance of these matters, at this point in time…that ignorance is made.  It must be unmade.  Do not let this stifle your need to speak your truth.  Do let it guide the work of finding solutions, real and meaningful solutions.

If I did not believe in the inherent value of education, as well as the ability of institutions of higher education to be better than they are, I would not be in the line of work I am in.  Change is possible.  These places can be the places they think they are, the places they need to be.  That takes work.  Real work.

As students, you have done–and are doing–more than your share, even as you know there is much more still to be done.  Let us hope the others come to realize that most of the work rests on their shoulders.  Let us hope they learn to hear and accept their part.

I’m at CSU San Bernardino today

I’m happy to be visiting the students at California State University San Bernardino on Tuesday, November 3, to talk about history and movements.

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If you’re a part of that community I hope to see you later today!

Cocina! Cocina!

IT IS DONE!! It is FINALLY done!!

After 29 days––29 long, eating too many sandwiches, washing dishes in the bathroom sink, not being able to cook more than a salad days––the Summers Sandoval family has a kitchen again!

And it’s better than ever before…

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We have new, custom cabinets on both sides and a beautiful tile counter. We live in a historical district so we tried to keep a lot of the charm and style of the old kitchen.  The molding and built-in shelves aren’t technically historic for the period of our house but they sure look like it to our 21st century eyes.

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We had wall and door taken out, seen here in the far end of the kitchen. It really opened up the space and made it feel like we added on.

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I’m just happy that we can go back to cooking and eating our typical food. It’s amazing how difficult that dietary shift has been for us as a family, adding to the mood swings and short tempers with all the chaos in the house.  The kids have been great about it, though, but not as great as my wife, who had a lot more inconveniences to deal with than any of us.

Here’s to new beginnings! And to Dodgers taking care of business tonight in game 4!

A Weekend of Chicana/o Arts

What a great weekend!

One of the things I love about the weekends is the chance for us to go out as a family and spend time making memories. With the kitchen still in the final days of its rebirth, these days we like getting out of the house and eating. But we also live in an amazing community and region, and we’re only 30 miles from one of the great cities of the world!

This weekend was a reminder of both.

On Saturday, the wife took kid #3 to an evening birthday party at one of those trampoline places. #3 is a megawatt battery of energy who is as physical as they come. Cake and jumping–that’s a win-win in her book.  While they were off, #1 and #2 and I went out to “Second Saturdays,” one of the best things about Pomona.  As the name suggests, it happens once a month in the downtown arts district.  Galleries usually schedule openings or closings that night.  There are vendors, music, and on super hot days like this weekend, a lot of families looking to cool of with the evening breeze and evening shade.

We grabbed dinner and visited the opening of the annual Aztlan art show at The dA Center for the Arts.  The Dodgers game was on, too, but I felt like I could use a little break from the tension of watching it at home, so I decided to DVR it. It was on the big screen while we at our veggie burgers in downtown and after Greinke gave up those homers, I felt like I made the right decision.

The Aztlan art show has been bringing Chicana/o and Latina/o art our community for 13 years now.  The opening is always fun–not only a chance to see some amazing art but also other things, like danzantes.

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The kids loved the Aztec dancers more than the paintings and sculptures, but how can stationary art beat feathers, drums, and amazing moves? After the smoke and sweaty heat of the gallery, we headed out for desert.

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We drove a little farther than we had to for frozen yogurt, mostly so we (I) could hear some of the game on the radio. On the way back home, we caught the 7th inning, including “the slide.” I got home in time to watch the final innings live.

On Sunday, we all went into the city to watch a beautiful outdoor production of the Popol Vuh story of the Maya (or K’iché).  It was done by the Center Theater Group in Grand Park and it was AMAZING!

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It’s a wonderful story made all the more wonderful by lovingly-made masks and puppets, some larger than life.  The color, the detail, and the size all complimented the 100% community production.  It was so much fun to watched the wonder and surprise in my kids’ eyes as the play unfolded.  The 5 year-old (#3) even gasped at one point.

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The best part, of course, was being with other Angelenos–mostly Chicana/o families, single folks, couples–watching such a visually-moving piece of community theater that was culturally relevant to the audience.

We’ve been locked in the triple digits for days now but our memories of this weekend won’t have much to do with the weather–or the various emotional meltdowns of 3 kids (or their parents).

Helpless Stupidity

Baseball might be the stupidest thing in my life. Why should a bunch of grown men playing a kid’s game matter so much? Why should another adult–who has three kids, work, and a home to worry about–care so much?

There are lots of ways I could answer that, justify it, explain it, but at the end of the day, none of them really makes the whole thing less stupid. But it is what it is. And, more importantly, I am bonded with millions and millions of other people in my stupidity. It is bigger than any one of us.  It is historic; its cultural.  It is a collective stupidity.

The Dodgers are doing alright at the present moment, and that makes me happy. If they make the playoffs this year, they’ll have to do better than the San Francisco Giants.  That’s pretty much the only way a team from the NL West is making the postseason this year, since both of the Wild Card berths are looking like they’ll go to teams in other divisions.

And that’s why this recent series against the Giants mattered so much.  That’s not logical, of course. Statistically speaking, every game against every team matters as much as the next. Win more than your divisional opponents and you make the playoffs.  But that’s the statistical reality of it. When you incorporate the bigger picture–the big stupid picture–certain games mean so much more than other games.

The Dodgers swept the Giants this week, and with that got one step closer to the playoffs. We went into this series 3.5 games ahead of San Francisco. To exit it 6.5 games ahead of them, in the first week of September, is pretty good. Add that to the fact that the Dodgers aren’t really playing all that well these days, and it makes them seem even better positioned since the team isn’t quite playing at its potential.

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If the Dodgers win the division, it would be easy to write the story hinged around this past series. You’d say that this is when the division was won. After these three games, even if the Dodgers played .500 ball from here on out, the Giants would have to be 21-8 in the remainder f the season just to force a tie. Of course, it’s not beyond this Dodgers team to return to playing at or below .500, and then there’s a nice four-game series against the Giants again in the last week of the season.

See, drama and stupidity. The kind of stupidity that requires stories and the weighing of possibilities to help you deal with the stupidity.

Here’s another level to the stupidity of it all. While sweeping the Giants and pulling ahead to a more comfortable lead in the West makes me irrationally happy, and the fact that we’re doing that with a team not quite firing at full force makes me feel like there is potential for more, another part of me is less enthusiastic because we’re getting close to making the playoffs with a team that isn’t playing the way you need to to win in the postseason.

While I’m always glad to see a Dodgers team make the playoffs, that doesn’t always bring with it the same level of excitement year after year.  Some years–many years–they really don’t have much of a chance.  Of course, every team in the postseason has a chance to win the World Series, and that slight possibility is what keeps me glued to the TV and, often, sends me on an emotional roller coaster.  But if I don’t think they have a chance to make it very far in the postseason, some years I wish (I think?) they’d wouldn’t make it.

I actually think losing in the regular season hurts less than losing in the postseason.  Maybe it’s not really about “hurt” as much as frustration. And lord knows the Dodgers have provided me with a heaping pile of that in my lifetime.

Since I was born, the Los Angeles Dodgers have made the postseason 15 times. That’s not a bad ratio, by any stretch. They won their division thirteen of those times (1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013, and 2014) and they made it as a Wild Card two more times (1996 and 2006).

The thing that matters more to me, though, is that in that same timeframe they’ve won only two World Series championships, one in 1981 and another in 1988. (LA’s three other championship seasons were in ’59, ’63, and ’65, before I was born).  Two of fifteen. That’s just better than a 13% completion rate for them in the postseason. That kind of sucks by my standards.

This is the stupidity I face over the next month. Excited as all hell that my team has a real shot at winning the World Series and, at the same time, anguished that my team has a real shot at losing in the playoffs or, worse, in the World Series.

At least I’m not alone.