Tag Archives: UCLA

Mas Un Mitote, Part 1, by Miguel Roura

29 Apr

MIGUEL ROURA is a writer/Actor/Producer/Activist and a retired LAUSD English Miguel's JC HeadshotLanguage instructor from Boyle Heights.  Since his earliest days during the Chicano movement as a community organizer and educator to his current involvement with CASA 0101 Theatre, Miguel’s life-work has been to contribute to the betterment of his community.  He’s performed shows such as:  Naked Stage Nights, Awkward, Remember La Causa?, Frida Kahlo Ten Minute Festival (No Me Queda Otra), La Bestia Band Theatre Project, Shakespeare Sonnets Night, and the Fall 2014 production of Julius Caesar.

One Saturday in the summer of 1970, I boarded a Tres Estrellas bus and headed south, down the international highway, taking me on my first in-depth exploration of Mexico.

I was part of a group of 150 Chicano students who rented apartments at La Plaza Tlatelolco while attending classes at UNAM –- La Universidad Autónima de Mexico. I came searching for an identity, encouraged by my Chicano graduate student teachers at UCLA, who nurtured me through the first two years, and by my mother’s prodding that I learn the truth about the land of my ancestors. I remember my high school teacher and mentor, Sal Castro, telling us: “Your people founded highly sophisticated civilizations on this continent centuries before the European stepped on this land.” So this afternoon with this group of young enthusiastic men and women, I loaded my baggage on a  coach that took us from Tijuana to Tenochtitlan.

That first day of travel started off full of excitement as we jockeyed for a seat next to someone with whom to share the experience. Once we sat down and the bus started to roll, the conversation focused on the women on the trip with us. Our bus was all male, another was all female, and the third carried the married and matched couples. After the subject was thoroughly reviewed, we took turns sharing why we came on this trip, what part of Mexico our parents were from, and how much Spanish we actually knew. Most of us, whose parents spoke mainly their native language, had that idioma deleted in school by teachers and deans who strictly enforced English-only policies through corporal punishment. Those kids whose parents were second and third generation at the urging of their counselors took French or Italian as their foreign language requirement in high school. After we drank all the beers that the bus drivers provided and we tired of the talking, we each settled into our seat. Images of people and places floated in and out as I sat by the window contemplating the passing panorama.

The words of Ruben Salazar crossed my mind: “A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself….” Looking around the bus, I realized I was part of a new generation seeking to re-define itself. What did I know about myself? Mother from Colima, father from Tabasco, and just like their geography, they were extreme opposites. My parents met, married, and divorced in Tijuana; but they “dropped me” (I was born at Paradise Hospital) in National City, California, ten miles north of the border. They raised me in Tijuana until their divorce when I was five. I went to school, church, and to the bullfights on Sunday; my mother was a big fan of La Fiesta Taurina. When I turned ten, my mother used my dual citizenship to exchange her passport for a residence card. As I grew up, what I knew about Mexico came mainly from her recollections and from the conversations I overheard from her friends over the years. Usually the talk revolved around heartache, tears, and suffering. Through my adolescence I never wanted to accompany my mother when she went to visit her family.

But now I was sojourning with other Chicano activists on this  pilgrimage to the land of the chinampas (floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City). Six hours into our trip, I realized I’d transferred from a luxury Greyhound bus to a transport with no air-conditioning, with one very small and smelly bathroom, and a radio with garbled sounds which gave me a headache. I shared the window with my new camarada, Mangas, a moniker he’d tagged himself: his real name was Richard, a 6’2″ chain-smoking Vietnam vet, who was a little older than most of us. We stared at the scorching, sun-drenched Sonora Desert until it was too dark to see anything. The rocking of the rickety bus lulled me in and out of sleep. Far in the distance a summer storm illuminated the distant mountains with veins of muted thunderbolts.

My mother gave me the thousand dollars I needed for this excursion; money she worked for and saved over the years. In Tijuana she’d been a registered nurse at Salubridad (public health clinics specifically for treating prostitues), caring for fichera (woman who drinks with clients at bars and earns a chip for every drink the man buys, which she later cashes in),  prostitutes, and their clients, mostly American servicemen. When she came to the US in her middle-age years, she did back-aching work: sewing, cleaning, and mopping kitchens and toilets in Brentwood and Bel Air homes.

After ten hours on the road, the driver pulled into the bus station in Culiacan, Sinaloa to refuel and to rest.

 

In high school I had never smoked marijuana. Most of the parties and dances I went to only served beer and sometimes cheap liquor. Moctezuma, our high-school class valedictorian, was the first one I saw take out a joint and fire up. He hung out with college kids and professors, and showed off his high vocabulary, which most of us football players didn’t understand.

But on the first days in the fall of ’68, just before classes started, and the first day I moved into the Brown House, I smoked my first toke. Brown House was a student housing complex right behind fraternity row. The university rented it for ten of the fifty male Chicano special-entry students whom they couldn’t place in the dorms. Toby and I were the first to arrive early that morning. He and I had been members of rival gangs back at Hollenbeck Junior High: him from Primera Flats and me from Tercera. But that was ancient history now.

After choosing my room, making my bed, and reading the first chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the early afternoon, I took a walk to the patio to stretch out. Toby was lying down in a couch with a headset and a peaceful look. He asked me if I had heard of Hendrix. I said no. He handed me the headset. He lit a joint, took a deep drag, and then handed it to me. I imitated him but instantly choked on the contents, coughing out the smoke which had made my lungs explode. My eyes watered as the spasm subsided. Thereafter, I lay back to hear and feel the electrical impulses that oscillated in my brain and tingled down my body. With that I became a toker.

Being an only child, I was always hungry for friends. Smoking a joint became a gratifying communal experience. Those were the times of sit-ins. teach-ins and love-ins, rallying at Royce Hall and occupying the Administration Building on Mexican Independence Day 1969. Smoking a joint broke down racial, economic and gender barriers. It was cool to do! People got happy when they knew I had joint to share. Scoring an ounce of weed for the ASB president got me many benefits.

End of Part 1/2. To be continued.

Advertisements

“Reborn” at Berkeley in the ’60s, by B.B.

21 Dec

B.B. lives on the West Side of Los Angeles and is a retired librarian. She studied writing at UCLA and Santa Monica College, and found her style—short, personal essays. She has been an activist since her college years, and is now trying to decide which activities she wishes to pursue in retirement.

 

I come from a liberal Jewish family in Denver, but unlike some kids, I wasn’t a red-diaper baby.In the 1960s I attended UCLA. One of my memories from that time is that women students who wanted abortions had to travel to Mexico. A friend of mine got very sick after an abortion in L.A. When the school board found out why she was sick, she almost lost her teaching job. Earlier that year my roommate, the same woman, came back to the dorm and said, ”There are pills you can take to avoid getting pregnant.” This was an eye-opener and I soon hAbortion Symboleaded to my doctor’s to ask for a prescription. I was nervous that he wouldn’t prescribe them since the idea of women having sex outside of marriage was still not widely accepted. My mother, for example, had said, “There were girls ‘like that’ in my day, too.” However, he wrote the prescription without incident, perhaps resigned by this time to college girls.

I was also involved in feminist consciousness-raising groups and even worried that I’d be too hostile to my boyfriend. After graduating from  UCLA in 1962, I transferred to Berkeley, where I was “reborn.” Berkeley was like the center of the world to me then. Every social movement seemed to be happening there, from women’s issues to sex and drugs, from the student movement to civil rights.

Berkeley Protest
I was arrested at Sproul Hall in Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement2 and later spent a couple of weeks in Santa Rita Jail [in Alameda County.]  I could have just paid the fine, as many did, but I wanted to see what jail was like. Bettina Aptheker3 was in there at the same time. The women prisoners slept in  a big dorm and worked at repairing men’s clothes. Jail was interesting. Many of the women were minorities and poor. For us, it was a choice to be in Santa Rita, but not for them.

At the time of my arrest I was a student teacher. Max Rafferty4, superintendent of education in California at the time, denied some of us a credential because we’d been arrested. We took it to court, and through the ACLU and other attorneys we did win our credentials. (I have many of the documents from that court case and was recently asked to donate them to the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley, where other Free Speech Movement documents will be housed.) I finished the teacher-training program, but after winning the credential fight, I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher!

L.A. Public Library

I lived in Berkeley almost ten years. I went to graduate school to become a librarian, but there were no jobs. In 1972 my sister urged me to come to Los Angeles. “No way,” I thought, but two weeks later I found myself there. I took my first job at a private, special education school as a librarian. The teachers were all graduate students so I felt as if I was still in Berkeley. (Later I worked at the L.A. Public Library for thirty years—until 2013—and was happy working with a diverse public.)

In 1977 I adopted my newborn son. Medically, it was the right thing for me to do. Although I’d had several serious boyfriends, I was single when I adopted. I loved being a parent. I was friendly with other single women parents and joined single parenting [support] groups.

Notes:

  1.  Red Diaper Baby:  a child whose parents were in the Communist Party U.S.A.

  2. Free Speech Movement: a student protest which took place during the 1964–1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Michael Rossman, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented in scope, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students’ right to free speech and academic freedom.[Source: Wikipedia]

  3. Bettina Aptheker: an American political activist, feminist, professor and author as well as a former member of the Communist Party USA.

  4. Max Rafferty:  Rafferty was an educator who opposed busing, sex education and the New Left. His books condemned progressive education and urged a return to the fundamentals. For example, he wanted schools to focus on phonics, memorization and drill, and to discontinue “life adjustment” approaches from education. Among his controversial actions as school superintendent was his attempt to stop schools and classrooms from using books that he considered obscene, such as Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and Leroi Jones’s Dutchman. He threatened to revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher who used such works. Politically, he was known as a spokesman for the ultra-conservatives. [Source: Wikipedia]