Dr. Cheryl Howard is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Over the coming months she will be introducing you to more of her students and giving you a glimpse of how a retired UTEP professor spends her time cooking, gardening and crafting. Photos from friend, former student and Borderzine contributor, Raymundo Aguirre, will accompany some of the blogs.
Under this President, there has been a predictable rise in white nationalism, hate crimes, and the soul-crushing violence against Spanish-speaking immigrants and anyone who might sound or look like one. The August 3 attack on the people of our binational community of El Paso woke us up to the realization that legality or illegality was never the real issue; language and skin color was, as the black population in the U.S. has long known. Many far more articulate and thick-skinned than I have dissected, addressed, and contextualized these sentiments and behaviors. I hope to use this space, instead, to address smaller, more hidden behaviors, invisible to most except to those who are targeted; behaviors that the media are not addressing, because they are either complacent or complicit. These behaviors have been termed “microaggressions,” an expression first used in the 1970s by a psychiatrist, Dr. Chester Pierce, and defined by Columbia professor Deral Sue as:
“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Some examples of racial microaggressions include such phrases as “but where are you really from?” or “funny, you don’t sound like a _______.” More examples can be found at the following website. https://sph.umn.edu/site/docs/hewg/microaggressions.pdf. Even better, read Claudia Rankine’s prose/poetry book, Citizen. Linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill coined another term similar to microaggression as she turned her attention to the racialized use of Spanish by Anglos in Latinx communities in the Southwest: mock Spanish. Web sites that examine mock Spanish and its influence include the following: https://www.kibin.com/essay-examples/the-prevalence-of-mock-spanish-in-the-american-media-zbbf20N7; https://www.latinorebels.com/2016/10/20/trump-relies-on-mock-spanish-to-talk-about-immigration-opinion/; https://languagesinconflict.wordpress.com/tag/mock-spanish/.
My understanding of the term is that privileged white speakers can say and do small things that indicate superiority to or derision of minorities without being held accountable. This behavior can be disguised as humor or ignorance or deemed to be irrelevant by the speaker.
MIMBRES, NM — I first fell in love with this Shaker song at an ill-fated wedding in Glenwood, NM, in a small church with an old piano many years ago. All I knew about the Shaker religion was their furniture, not their beliefs. Furniture built to last, unadorned, simple but beautiful. This song, written by a Shaker elder named Joseph Bracket in 1848, has been performed by many artists over the years, including Aaron Copland (Appalachian Spring, 1944), Jody Foster (Kung Fu), Sydney Carter (Lord of the Dance, 1963), Weezer, R.E.M., Judy Collins, Jewell, Toy Dolls, and Yo-Yo Ma at President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, even though it was too cold to really perform it. Unlike other religions that expound a philosophy of “be fruitful and multiply,” Shakers believed in celibacy, which probably explains why there aren’t more of them.
MIMBRES, N.M. — We like to label people outside ourselves and our inner circle of family and friends in neat, non-overlapping categories. This is an us v. them exercise. In order to accomplish our goal, we have to ignore the fluidity and subtlety of identity. We crash through all sorts of logic gates, mixing skin color or other visible personal characteristics with birthplace, language, religion, education and social class, citizenship. Fine distinctions are unnecessary when we are busy lumping people.
MIMBRES, N.M. — Some phrases and meanings of words come into sudden use, mutate and spread geographically, linguistically, and socially, almost like a communicable disease. They go viral. Years ago, words like segue, meme, trope, zeitgeist… were not popular words; they were hidden in obscure academic texts. And then, they went viral. Some words become popular for a while and eventually wear themselves out and became consigned to trivia games.
I crossed the border for the first time in six years, used my current passport for only the second time. The sweetness of Mexico hugged me with glad and colorful arms along with the melancholy of my absence. From my settlement of San Juan, New Mexico, I drove to the Tucson Bead Show for the craziness that this city stages every February. This was only my second time to attend, to spend hundreds of dollars on beads that would become, in the coming year, creations of adornment that make me happy to make and make people happy to wear. Putting Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Governor Jan Brewer, and Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake into a guilty corner, I drove from Silver City to Lordsburg through Texas Canyon and into the metropolis.
MIMBRES, N.M. – Have you noticed all the women on television these days who are wearing sleeveless dresses? Is this some sort of fashion trend started by Michelle Obama, or do women have a higher metabolism nowadays that keeps them warm? Did they turn up the heat in the studio? Are the camera lights that hot? When I was part of the working world, I was always freezing in the conference room.
MIMBRES, N.M. – Every child has a nose for sniffing out hypocrisy and a heart for fairness. Maybe we become more vulnerable to hypocritical arguments as we age. Otherwise, politicians and lobbyists would be exposed as emperors without clothes in a heartbeat. Then they would be shamed and silenced. Or, maybe they continue to believe that if they keep repeating an untruth often and loudly, it will magically become true. And it seems to have become so with a segment of our population that is suspicious of government, any government, but especially government led by a black man.
The Mimbres, NM – OK. I officially can’t take it anymore. I heard Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC’s chief foreign correspondent, say “ma-kismo” (machismo) on air this week. I did a double take. What did she say? What was she trying to say? And she is the FOREIGN correspondent?
MIMBRES, N.M. – Why is it that necklaces, bamboo roll-up shades, and extension cords tie themselves up in knots without any help, and intentional knots are so difficult to learn? Since I started making jewelry, I have tried several pendants that are more masculine, or at least earthy, and I wanted to use leather cords rather than metal chains to complete them. First I took a lesson from Roberto Santos when I made pendants for the drum circle guys. He taught me one way to make the knots so the laces slid up and down to adjust in length. I could do it right then, but I couldn’t do it a few days later when I was working on something else. Next, I took my problem to a luncheon at the Sociology and Anthropology department at UTEP.
Last night a former student suggested I get into the political arena. I responded that art, not politics, was my new life and then I reminded myself of a quote from the poet John Keats: “beauty is truth, truth beauty, /that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Art, however you define it, is a well that never runs dry. It quenches a thirst that no day job could ever do. It expands your world in every dimension, even those we haven’t named. We can’t eat art, or if we could, most of us couldn’t afford it.
MIMBRES, N.M. –There is an old dicho from England, “it takes a thief to catch a thief.” The theme seems to be a popular one. In 1955, Alfred Hitchcock directed a film titled To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Then a series of TV shows emerged with the same premise: It Takes a Thief, Remington Steele, and more recently, White Collar. Not too many thieves here in the Mimbres, but there are lots of critters. I can hear the cows lowing in the morning, the roosters crowing and hens clucking.
EL PASO – On Labor Day I went to the Food Basket, bought a gunny sack full of hot green chile and had it roasted. This is an annual tradition. Looking to the winter and smelling the incomparable smell of roasting chiles today, it has to happen. Even when I think I will pass just this once, buy it when I need it. The smell curls up in your soul; it gets to you, the tradition. I have room in the freezer now. Five hours later, fire-roasted fingers, and a mess in the kitchen, I now have 18 quart size bags of peeled chiles, a gallon bag stuffed with “I’m too tired to peel any more, this one didn’t want to slip its skin, too curly to contend with” and a large plastic container of chopped green. On Tuesday, I pick tomatoes in the garden, gather up onions, jalapeños, serranos, garlic, cilantro, and limes. I put on my apron that announces El Paso/Cd. Juárez as the Mexican Food Capital of the World. Today I am learning to can salsa, from my neighbor Marion who, judging from her open shelf bookcase filled with Mason jars, appears to be an expert. I have purchased a giant canning pot and some new jars at a place called Do It in anticipation of this lesson. All this and my chopped green chile I take over to Marion’s. First, we roast tomatoes in the oven to make them easy to peel, and get the water in the canning pot warming. While the tomatoes are roasting, we go out to her garden to cut basil because, after the salsa is done, we are going to make a batch of pesto, yum. The garden is more than a garden; it is an organic sculpture, carefully tended.
SILVER CITY, NM – Thursday, being adventure day, I packed a picnic lunch and my camera and headed out on Highway 152, accompanied by Carlos Montoya on guitar. Highway 152 begins in Grant County just east of Silver City off of Highway 180, right between Ft. Bayard and the town (not the pueblo) of Santa Clara. It takes you to the terrible beauty of the Santa Rita open pit copper mine. From the window seat of a jet flying over, open pit copper mines look like gigantic hand-built clay bowls.
SAN JUAN, NM – Clothes dancing on clotheslines, rusting tin roofs, propane tanks, trailers scattered around along with crumbling adobes, cattle guards, gates to open and close, more vehicles than people parked at the house, folks who wave (or rather put up a hand from the steering wheel) as they meet you going in the opposite direction. ¡Biénvenidos al valle bajo del Rio Mimbres! I have some lessons to learn here. I took the trash to the dump today. For a little more than five dollars a month, you can put most of your trash in your car or truck and drive about five miles, say hello to Frank, and unload you trash into container one or container two.
EL PASO – Lately, I have become a peripatetic professor emerita, traveling in circles among two rural small town areas in New Mexico, and the big city of El Paso that everyone (including me) says feels like a small town. I’ve heard a lot of stories lately. My new neighbor Jamie told me one day as we were discussing wood stoves, about the woman next door to him who banged on his door at three in the morning because his swamp cooler was making too much noise. Turns out, the noisy swamp cooler was the next house over, the place where I now live part of the time. Sam told one about walking down Market Street in San Francisco.
EL PASO – Every year around the fourth of July, I am reminded of a trip I took many years ago to Belize with two UTEP colleagues, engineer Scott Starks and biologist Lillian Mayberry. It was for a NASA grant investigating whether remote sensing (e.g. pictures from satellites) could help predict specific areas where malaria would be most problematic. My role as a sociologist had to do with human behaviors that would be either protective or increase the risk of malaria. After the most harrowing airplane ride of my life, we traveled to many parts of Belize, except the tourist cays of this small country that was originally a Mayan city state. It subsequently became British Honduras and then in 1981 an “independent” commonwealth.
I remember the first time we spoke, more than ten years ago now: my Medical Sociology class in the Psychology building. You were assertive, unlike most UTEP students, and wanted to know what kind of bias inherent in the textbook I had chosen for the class. I believe I told you to read it and then tell me. That slightly awkward beginning grew into mutual respect and affection as we shared ideas and a love of New Mexico, even and perhaps especially, after the class was over. I watched you from afar, as you transformed from undergraduate to wife, mother, and graduate student.
EL PASO – On June 15, 2012, more than a year after President Obama’s visit to El Paso, he announced that his administration would no longer take administrative action against young people who were brought here as children and who have no criminal record. These are the same people (an estimated 800,000) that would qualify for the Dream Act, if it ever passed. Moreover, these kids would be allowed to apply for work permits. Finally, it is a step in the right direction. But, and it is a rather large one, there has to be enough trust that the administrative action would not be overturned, and people would not be deported once they had come forward and self-identified. The following blog by Cheryl Howard originally appeared in Bean Juice Dispatches, an on-line publication created by former UTEP students, Raymundo Aguirre and John Del Rosario. EL PASO, May 13, 2011 – Anchors keep us centered in bad weather, keep us from drifting away with the current or the wind. Dreams are not anchors; they are the wisps of wind or the current itself. Dreams are unfettered by reality.
EL PASO – The title is a quote attributed to Roger Tory Peterson, the guy who wrote all the field guides to birds. He had been asked, or so the story goes, about birds that were seen where they weren’t expected. Rather than dismiss the observation as in error and the map or field guide as doctrine, this quote reminds us that the unexpected does, occasionally, happen. Yes, Virginia, there are black swans. I started thinking this morning about the people I know who are obsessed with birds: the ones with a zillion bird feeders and binoculars and bird identification books that they take with them on trips they take especially to look for birds.
EL PASO – Whether we know it or not, we are curating our lives each and every day. Curators are caretakers and interpreters of things. We have to decide what things have meaning and what meaning they have. We don’t have room for everything in our lives so the things we no longer need or care for are disposed of in some way. We can make a mistake and throw something out that we wish we hadn’t, but too often, we keep things for no good reason and become weighted down by them.
EL PASO – I can’t help thinking that joggers should pick up trash along their chosen route. It’s a small thought, only a little serious. Of course, runners are going too fast to do that, and carrying a bag would slow them down or make them lopsided. Still, it seems like a shame to use all those calories and all that energy and not accomplish something more… than image, than a cardio workout, than discipline, than a shin splint. Seriously, runners have very high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, ranging from one in five to three out of four, depending on the study, time frame and seriousness of injury.
EL PASO – With Mother’s Day upon us, I am reminded of how mothering skills are acquired. Most of the world thinks mothering comes naturally, including women, until they have their first child and feel completely helpless. Pregnancy does convey some sense of connectedness to what will likely become a beloved child. Your body is invaded for nine months, so whether birth is the culmination of incubated love, or the relief of having your body back, it is truly a shocking miracle to be holding your first child. What you don’t yet know is that this tiny thing, now outside yourself, will engulf you for the rest of your life, and until you learn how to swim in these waters, the “you” that once existed may drown forever. In some countries and in some families, there isn’t even an expectation that your prior self is important enough to resuscitate.
EL PASO – Interrogation. Education. Why does a good one cost so much when we pay teachers so poorly? If education is only about training for a job, why not revert to the apprentice system? What are we teaching our children and is that what they are learning?
EL PASO – We usually wait until people die to celebrate their lives, children’s birthdays excepted. How short-sighted of us. Bobby Byrd, poet and co-owner of Cinco Puntos Press (CCP), just turned 70. His wife, Lee Merrill Byrd, also a writer and CCP co-owner, planned a surprise (?) party for him just as she has done for at least the past three decades. Upon graciously approaching the microphone to speak to his audience of well-wishers, Bobby noted, “I see that all my lives are present here this evening,” or something very close to that. He went on to mention the various groups of people represented: the guys he played basketball with at the “Y,” his neighbors, fellow soccer coaches, fellow writers and coworkers, muckety-mucks, etc.
EL PASO – There is a strong cultural current in the United States that disturbs me. It is a current in direct conflict to our espoused national values of justice and equality. The current is anti-intellectual, homophobic and prone to violence. I think it is dangerous for us to maintain these dissonant dialogues without resolving them. Here is what I perceive around me.
EL PASO – No, not the New York/New Jersey football team, the 1982 alternative rock band, or the 1971 George C. Scott movie. Even better, they are civil rights heroes among us, standing up and moving for what they believe in. March 31 was César Chavez day. A year ago on this day, I marched in honor of César with Erasmo and Sally Andrade, both long-time advocates of social justice. Erasmo died March 30, 2012.
EL PASO – Some people like everything new. They don’t like the idea of wearing clothes, sitting on couches, or driving vehicles that others have used before them. I don’t understand these people. Another group has become so obsessed with the past that they spend their lives looking for particular items from particular countries or centuries or companies deemed to be of value. I don’t understand these people either.
EL PASO – Geography begins at home, with skin, with blood, with bones. We are road maps to our own accumulated histories, the places we have been, decisions we made. Check the blood: antibodies to things that didn’t kill us, vitamin deficiencies, rheumatoid factor, genetic markers, ancestral clues. Check inside with X-rays, ultrasound, MRI and CT scans: deformities, broken bones, pregnancy, slipped disc, torn cartilage, gallstones. The skin, the largest organ: a history of sun exposure, too much alcohol, acne, chickenpox, smallpox vaccinations in persons of a certain age, stretch marks, surgical scars.
EL PASO – Have you ever reached in a jewelry, sewing, or tackle box and found a tangled mess? Sometimes I feel like life is more like a skein of yarn after the cat has played with it than an orderly sequence of years. We keep making the same mistakes and picking up things we need that are stuck together with things we don’t. Most of what we have is unusable or inefficient because it is in a jumble. Whether it is a heap of dirty clothing, collections of junk, or bad habits that have outlived their usefulness, we can’t find the time or peace of mind to straighten everything out. We roll through life and, like a magnet, pick up whatever we roll across.
EL PASO – It’s getting lighter earlier and staying lighter later. Soon we will have even more light in the afternoon and less in the morning. Daylight Savings Time will provide it. The position of the sun is moving from the south to a more direct east-west position. In El Paso, the winds will start to blow and it will get warmer.