Sunday, June 27, 2010

Local Monuments: The Practice of Appreciating the Stars

"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course...Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television." - Paul Hawken, Commencement Address, May 2009

On my last day in San Diego, I found myself busy running errands, cleaning, strategizing a way to pack the cars, and generally feeling equal parts stress and sadness. I decided to grab a quick lunch and picked up a sandwich, intending to eat it in the car on my way to my next task. But then I remembered the above portion of Paul Hawken's commencement address, which I had read only a few days before, and I pulled over.

If this was my last day in a city I love, I needed to see something in it. But what? There's so much to see! Funny how I've lived in San Diego for seven years and never once had that thought. In fact, in the last year, my husband and I have traveled to Sonoma and Seattle and Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree to sightsee. We never once thought to sightsee in our own backyard, although there is much of beauty to take in.

Perhaps because I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, the story of a young Mexican cook whose life intersects with those of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky, I decided to finish my half-eaten sandwich at Chicano Park, a local monument that is literally beneath the Coronado Bridge on the city side and, thus, a five minute drive from my front door, though I have never once been to see it.

The park is located in Barrio Logan, a historically chicano and Mexican-immigrant neighborhood, settled before the turn of the century, and it came about in the 1970s, after a nonviolent takeover of the land by the people of the neighborhood in opposition to Caltrans' plan to build a highway patrol parking lot on the space promised for the construction of a neighborhood park. Chicano Park holds the largest collection of outdoor murals in the entire country, and they depict various elements of chicano culture, history, politics, and spiritual beliefs; the effect is one of resistance to historical oppressions and neglect. There are depictions of Latino revolutionaries and visionaries, such as Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevarra, Fidel Castro, and Cesar Chavez, as well as depictions of artists like Kahlo and Rivera and Christian imagery of the Virgin of Gaudalupe and Mother Teresa. Perhaps the most striking image is of an Aztec warrior, wearing an elaborate headdress, carrying a decorated shield, and pointing north. 

For me, the fact that the murals are painted on the pillars of the Coronado Bridge, which was constructed to run right through Barrio Logan in order to offer Coronado residents and tourists the option to drive directly onto the island instead of relying only on the ferry to cross the bay, is the most inspiring part of the park. Instead of accepting its prescribed position as a second-class community, the neighborhood residents declared their beliefs, their cultural contributions, their history, and their worth on the very structure that sought to make these things invisible.

Through a little Wikipedia research, I learned that the bridge was only the proverbial icing on the cake in terms of the state and federal governments' transgressions against the people of the Barrio Logan community. The US military built a base at 32nd Street, effectively taking over all access points to the bay, and the state of California opted to build Interstate 5 through the center of the neighborhood, which encouraged the establishment of industrial sites within the neighborhood. But, nonetheless, on the day that I visited the park, children chased each other around the playground, a couple sat talking in the Mayan-style kiosk, teenagers skated on the sidewalk, a man read at a picnic table, and a girl walked around taking pictures of the murals and sculptures and statues and felt overwhelmed with inspiration.

I hope I don't forget the joy I found in seeing a local monument -- not only is it impressive to see beautiful things, but there is something uniquely and personally gratifying about knowing that you live in a place that values and displays such beauty, that offers it up, for free, to people who want to appreciate it. I'm glad that I am one of those people who had the chance to appreciate Chicano Park, and I plan to be one of those people who appreciates the local sights -- wherever local is for me -- from now on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Oops" Moments with the Movers

1. I accidentally packed up my Yankees jersey in one of the boxes we won't see for a month or more. Though I've had it for over a year, I've actually never worn it for fear of the rampant Yankee-hating that is a staple of every city's culture outside of NYC. I was looking forward to sporting Mariano Rivera's number in sports bars all over NY this month in hopes of creating the illusion that A) I am a real New Yorker and B) I know something about baseball.

2. I took the Lord's name in vain (twice) in front of a mover who introduced himself as Reverend Jarret. I apologized both times, and I'm now praying that he won't "lose" our stuff.

3. I keep all of our past Halloween costumes in a Rubbermaid container, and, for lack of a better storage option in our tiny San Diego apartment, I keep that container under our bed. Well, when Reverent Jarret lifted up the mattress to find a box full of feather boas, a cop costume, a jailbird shirt, a pirate hat, a flapper dress, and various other get-ups, he undoubtedly thought that we were more exciting than we actually are. I left the room immediately and tried to avoid him for the rest of the day.

4. Cali chewed a hole in our Aerobed, so we'll be spending the next two nights sleeping on the hardwood floor.

5. We seem to have severely overestimated how much crap will actually fit into our cars, so the post office is the first stop tomorrow morning.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

To be a part of a community means to be present in multiple social circles at once, to have ties that bind across each of these circles and connect you to these various individuals and groups in multiple ways. For example, you know you are part of a community when you and a colleague discover a mutual friend or when you find out that your husband's friend is dating your colleague's cousin's friend's sister. In other words, when you can successfully play "Six Degrees of Separation (or Kevin Bacon)," you're in.

But getting in is tough work -- especially when you have no blood relatives or former classmates or childhood friends to call upon to help you tie those knots onto each circle. In the beginning, I was just me (or us, depending on whether or not my husband was deployed). But now, seven years later, I can say that I am most definitely part of a community here in San Diego. I can also say that being a part of that community is my single proudest life accomplishment.

I suppose I feel so proud because of the sheer determination that it took to make my place. I mean, quite frankly, making new friends is awkward. There are long silences to be filled between sips of wine, and I am wholly convinced that it takes more moxie to ask someone out platonically than it takes to ask someone out romantically.Asking someone out romantically is easy -- TV and movies have provided us countless examples of methodology and approach. In asking someone out platonically, however, you're definitely treading new ground.

" you want to get together for lunch sometime...or drinks...or something? I mean...not in, like, a lesbian way, but...just, like, to hang out?"


I am also not a naturally outgoing person. In fact, for most of my life, people thought I was a snob because I was so quiet. (Since my dad is an aspiring truck driver and my mom is a dental hygenist, I'm going to go ahead and rule out the possibility that it's on account of my wealth that people made that assumption.) But coming to San Diego as a new college grad with no friends or family within a 1000-mile radius helped me to become outgoing. The learning curve was steep, but I climbed it, and I am so thankful that I made that climb because when I look at all of the different human connections I've forged over the years here, I know that I have grown and changed as a result of each one. I am not quiet and shy anymore...thanks to my community.

My husband and I threw a little farewell picnic in Balboa Park yesterday, and I could not have been more moved by the turnout of friends, neighbors, colleagues, and teammates who came to wish us well. When people think of making "Bucket Lists," I think they tend to imagine backpacking across Europe or skydiving or swimming with dolphins, and while I don't doubt that those sorts of exotic adventures are fulfilling  and exciting, I have this piece of advice for Bucket List writers: Move far away, at least for a little bit, and make a community. It makes for the most exhilarating adventure and the most incredible sense of accomplishment this world has to offer.

So, here's to making new circles and to rediscovering a place in the old ones. We'll find you yet, Kevin Bacon...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

JBJ: Words of Wisdom

My feelings for Jon Bon Jovi have always fallen somewhere between sacred reverence and girlish crush – which is perhaps why I am willing to give him the intellectual benefit of the doubt when I consider his choice of song title “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” I like to believe that his choice of interrogative vs. declarative sentence was Purposeful and Significant.  I like the idea that he is not exactly saying, “Yes, you can go home,” though the question seems to have that connotation. He also isn’t saying that you can’t -- he’s simply asking, “Who says you can’t go home?” Because I’m asking that question myself right now as my husband and I prepare to leave southern California after seven years of being San Diegans to resume our status as native New Jerseyans (and possibly become New Yorkers), I am intrigued by his query. This blog is an attempt to nibble away at the edges of that question.