• Remembering our Mothers



    For me, the hardest thing about losing someone you love is the anxiety you feel as memories become less sharp, smells lose their vibrancy, the colors more dull. I formed a deep sense that I am losing something that felt so tangible only days before. 

    The strongest memories I have of my mother, the ones I hold on tightly to are related to how uninhibited she was. Somehow she raised three fairly introverted children along with my poor father who was petrified over the idea of any attention being drawn to him. Her effervescence, limitless energy, and desire to interact with everyone in social situations was somewhat terrifying to us. Nothing could and did hold her back, my father regularly unable to keep up with her. She was able to read a room and found ways to connect with people and build community. When I was small I loved watching her work a room, I took mental notes on how she was able to disarm people. When she had breast cancer and we were stuck spending hours waiting for doctors appointments, I of course sat reading comfortably and her restlessness led her to speak with most of the women. She listened as they shared there pain and volunteered me to support these women. I did with pride. Their prescriptions were in English despite the fact that many only spoke Spanish. I made sure to thoroughly explain when and how often they needed to take their cocktail of pills. Nothing could hold her back when she wanted to do something and I try to embrace that lesson as much as I can.

    Whenever Mariachis were present she would ask them to play Cielito Lindo. Of all the videos I found online I thought this best represented her personality since I would imagine she would be one of those women screaming at the top of their lungs, knowing all the words of the song. Despite her stage presence and my siblings and I playing instruments to various degrees of succsess she really was terrible at singing, honestly incapable of holding a pitch. But that of course didn't matter to her and she always sang gleefully with a thunderous volume.

    I was in my early 20s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later she finally succumbed to the illness. For those of us whose mothers are no longer around, especially the younger of us, mother’s day can be very challenging. The first couple of years after her death was always awkward. I was in my first quarter in grad school when she died, getting to know my new colleagues. I remember that first mothers day was hard as folks would  always ask about her, my plans, what I was going to do for mother’s day. There faces becoming stone cold as I explained that she was no longer with us.

    Enough years have gone by that I have thankfully been able to avoid those scenarios, however, I had been doing a lot of dating over the last several years and inevitably the conversation turned towards my parents and I was compelled to offer my narrative of what had happened to my dear mother, connecting back to the pain I still carry.

    I love watching people hold their mothers on these occasions but it does sting. I used to volunteer for an organization that always sloppily had a board meeting on mothers day. I appreciated that my friend, the president of the organization acknowledged my situation and of others and said something like, "happy mothers day and those that play the role of mothers." These days I have various surrogate mothers since I miss the warm embrace of my own. We had a lot of years of tension but her love for me, as much as she was able to express it, was always there. I especially love being with mothers that are similar to my own, loud and unfiltered, incapable of holding things back.

    Upon her death one of the harder pieces for me was to change how I imagine my own future. When I was younger I would imagine my mom meeting for the first time the women I would fall in love with, hanging out with my kid, proudly standing by me upon at a graduation. After she passed I needed to start imagining my future differently my hopes and dreams with her absence, referring to her in the past tense. I knew that I would always have that void. It’s been nearly 10 years. When she initially passed I never really thought about what it would feel like after so many years. What the void that initially was so harsh would evolve into. Perhaps thats why I made the short film below. I thought I was making it as a way to process my grief but I think I was also motivated to preserve my memories of her. In particular the former VHS footage of mom dancing at my sisters quinceañera.

    In conclusion during these celebratory days think of us, those that are struggling with our memories, grieving and holding memories all at the same time.


  • Whose Diversity? at the University of Minnesota - A ChipsterLife exclusive

    I spent some time with, "Whose Diversity?" Organizers Idalia Robles De León and Tori Hong. They explained a shocking history of intolerance at the University of Minnesota. The "Who's Diversity?" collective uses testimony to provide a safe space for communities feeling threatened by the prejudice of administrators, classmates and colleagues. In sharing their experiences they have created a space of recognition for one another and thus healing. One testimony describes the crassness of fellow classmates:

    "When can we stop talking about black people's feelings"
    -White classmate after 2 sessions on racial disparities in medical care

    They describe the situation in detail in this ChipsterLife exclusive podcast interview.
    Whose Diversity? At the University of Minnesota by ChipsterLife


     The collective largely grew out of a protest movement objecting to the removal of murals that were made by student organizations devoted to representing communities of color and other underrepresented communities. In their own words:

    "The Whose Diversity? Collective is ready to question the University’s discourse of “success” and “progress” for our campus, a notion that stifles discussion, prevents growth, and disregards how the people from these communities endure exclusion on campus. Therefore, we are calling upon the University of Minnesota administration to uphold its commitment to diversity, and adhere to the demands presented by students who are representative of the communities that embody “diversity.”

    We join in solidarity with other higher education student movements happening across the country that challenge mainstream narratives of diversity, such as: #BBUM (Being Black at U Michigan), #ITooAmHarvard, and the Higher Education Justice Movement in Minnesota."

    The collective announced their presence by protesting the opening of a student center that had taken the place of the murals, the grand opening of the Coffman building. On April 29th activist Tori Hong noted on her Facebook page that she,"got an email from the University of Minnesota's Office of Student Conduct because I engaged in "disruptive behavior" during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the second floor of Coffman. They want to punish me for it. So this is what democracy looks like? Because protests and other such actions have been a tool for historically marginalized communities to have their voices be raised and centered. It has been a tool to challenge oppression. And this is the response that I get because I chose to critique the U and share a different narrative? A narrative in which the University engaged in the white-washing and policing of historically marginalized groups? A narrative in which the U revoked money, staff and the guaranteed spaces of the student cultural centers? A narrative that the U is trying so hard to erase?" 

    The collective held their first panel discussion. You can check it out below along with observing the collecting testimonies in the various formats distributed.


    Finally, the collective has made a list of demands that they feel will begin remedy the situation at the University of Minnesota. They can can be found here.

  • Mujeres de Maiz, Offering Healing Spaces based in Expression to Los Angeles

    Emerging from the excitement and conversations surrounding the 1994 Zapatista uprising Mujeres de Maiz formed to offer an autonomous space for art, healing and fundamentally expression.

    Their work is varied and the links at the bottom will give you an introduction. Their scope includes, workshops, poetry zine's, and a a month of activities in March and May. This Sunday May 18th (I think I said March on the Podcast...oops!)in Los Angeles, in partnership with the Justice for my Sister Collective, they are hosting "Retomamos el Noche". We wrote about it earlier last week. For more information check out our previous post here.

    I spoke with 3 members of the pathbreaking collective: Co-founder Felicia "Fe" Montes, Iris de Anda who has been published in the zine and is with East Side Cafe and one of the newest members Daniella Ortiz Padilla also with the Justice For my Sister campaign. The interview was at East Side Cafe in El Serreno as part of a larger series of interviews I was completing in my native Los Angeles.
    For the most part I think in the interviews I have produced I am able to successfully let the conversation be what it us with a little prodding and structure on my part and perhaps a joke or two. With the women of Mujeres de Maiz I was really taken in by the flow of our conversation and in particular Daniella's comments about her cousin. During the course of our conversation she probably spoke the least but had the strongest impact on me as I was reminded of my own experience's with violence when I was in Guatemala in 2004 learning about the Maya and their insurgency during the 36 year armed conflict (1960-1996). Ever since I had been working through my own trauma having accompanied a community that was massacred by the government. During the podcast I found myself having a hard time finding my own focus while at the same time immediately feeling safe and understood with these women. The hardest lesson from my experience in Guatemala and in considering violence as a whole is the arbitrary nature of it; how disposable the community members I came to know where to the government. Furthermore, during the course of the armed conflict Maya were certainly scene as disposable leading ultimately to the 200,000 deaths that are no recognized as genocide.

    Suffice it to say the conversation was draining for me, in the best way possible. In the end it seems as if I experienced a piece of the healing that they provide for each other. I also generally enjoyed the conversation because we were able to get serious but still laugh and enjoy the content of our words. Overall, they made me miss Los Angeles more then I already do. I hope to be back soon to capture these stories and connect with communities that form out of a need to express our resistance.

    The link for Mujeres de Maiz is here. You can find videos, art, the Zine, and an assortment of other expressions.

    Fe's work can be found here, she is indeed a "Jill" of all trades.

    Iris' work can be found here. You can purchase the book that she mentions.

    At the moment Daniella is not publishing a book or CD but you can find information about the Justice for my Sister campaign here.

    The two videos below are from 2009 performances mentioned during the interview and below that is the sound cloud page for Iris. Enjoy!
  • College Football, Unions and Race



    Here at ChipsterLife we enthusiastically support collective bargaining and have been reading with excitement over the decision by the NLRB to allow Northwestern Football players to vote for Unionization. Don Beto was a member of United Rubber Workers ( I have the parting lighter to prove it) and I have been a leader and continue to be a member of UAW Local 2865.

    For those curious about the ruling and trying to make sense of the court case here is a particularly comprehensive and funny run down from Grantland. In general while the major points of discussion surrounds the big business of college athletics the racial component is overlooked over and over again. To be clear, most of these sports are played by men of color directed by mostly white men. They are asked to continuously surrender their bodies and have every aspect of their lives scrutinized for the purpose of sport and profit for little to no money, while in the collegiate ranks. Forming a union would allow these mostly African American men to have say over their working conditions, their bodies and the terms of their relationship to their largely white overseers.

    On his March 28th Edge of Sports Podcast David Zirin notes the structure of college football, "saps black wealth, it saps wealth out of the black community, it saps wealth out of the people who are creating that wealth, it puts wealth in the hands of others." For the case of Alabama football their profit over the last year was 22 million. That is not say that every program generates that level of revenue. What that figure does indicate is that those profits are not going to the players that are creating it, and by extension into their communities. They are essentially being robbed of the wealth their bodies are generating.

    For those that have ever seen the NFL Combine the image is uncomfortable. The Combine is the greatest showcase of the control exerted over black male college football athletes. With a large number emblazoned prominently over their chest they perform athletic feats; jumping, running, weightlifting, many interviews and finally taking a completely arbitrary Wonderlic test.

    In her elegantly written piece, Megan Livingston in discussing the Combine notes that:

    "Given the fact that 65 percent of NFL players are black, and team scouts and doctors are overwhelmingly white, the images produced at the Combine call forth the slavery comparison at its grizzliest: the sight of scantily-clad, muscle-bound black men being measured under the gaze of white men with dollar signs for eyes brings the auction block to mind whether or not you want to acknowledge it. And beyond the physical examination, there’s the sight of the black male body at work: running, jumping, exerting its energy to its limits for the ultimate satisfaction of the collective gaze of NFL stakeholders and fans."

    The results of the Combine have an unwavering impact on draft position and future earnings. Furthemore, any outward signs of confidence and bravado are often interpreted as "red flags" by NFL executives who cherish control and discipline.

    Granted these young men could make millions in their playing lives but for those that don't its become increasingly apparent that due to the violence of football they are more susceptible to suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury. Reports abound of pro athletes such as Junior Seau taking his own life due to the effects of brain injuries. However what is less often discussed is the likelihood for death for younger players as illustrated by several tragic cases including that of 22 year old Derek Sheely:

    "Sheely had no prior hospitalizations with head trauma, but doctors wondered if he had suffered something called second impact syndrome, in which multiple hits over time culminating in a relatively minor one can suddenly result in massive brain swelling. The syndrome usually affects younger people whose brain tissue is still developing"

    The NFL Players Union has led the way in protecting their players by developing more stringent controls and tests if it appears that a concussion has occurred. This is one of the main focuses for the Union movement. Below is an interview with National College Player Association's (NCPA) Romgi Huma discussing their main points including Traumatic Brain Injury



     The NCPA makes clear that their efforts are not about more money. Like in many other contract negotiations the important component is to have authority over working conditions and make them as safe and just as is possible. The only way to do that for these players is through collective bargaining made available by unionization. It is really the only way for these majority black men to take on the largely white authority and find justice in their workplace, college athletics and the football field

  • Getting to know Chicano Batman, a podcast experience in Los Angeles

    Chipsterlife is currently stationed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000 wintry chills. Every so often we head back to the homeland of Southern California for food, family and in this case a Podcast with our favorite musicians Chicano Batman. I had the good fortune of catching a Chicano Batman show in a seemingly unlikely music venue in downtown Fullerton where they are doing a Sunday residency. The next day they graciously made themselves available for a Chipsterlife podcast session in Chinatown, Los Angeles.

    Before we get to the Podcast, allow me to describe their live performance

    Adorned in their signature baby blue vintage tuxedo shirts their presence is immediately felt with the sounds of clean drums, classic guitar playing and a effervescent pipe organ pumping. Almost as if coming out of a 70s Mexican porn, aside from the lead guitarist, each band member had a coif of long hair accessorized by righteous face fur. The distortion of the lead singer, Bardo Martinez brought me back to the warm up singing of the church choir of my Catholic youth. Chicano Batman uses familiar sounds evoking a strong sense of respect and adoration for the music of their fathers and their own youth. In their own words, “They use the “old school” as a launching pad to express their living spirits while endlessly seeking to capture the essence of many different musical sub-genres and aesthetics, and the references are always clear.” Of course their Spanish dominant lyrics and the peppering of Nahuatl and Portuguese give their music of warmth. One thing I have learned to really respect over the years is how much Spanish for me is the language of home and affection whereas English has emerged as my academic technical language, therefore I was grateful to hear so much spanish, it brought me at ease. I thoroughly enjoyed the backbeat rhythm and a clear drive that invites you to move and groove juxtaposed against a pace that invites you to remember beautiful things. The lyrics have the unique ability of my favorite mariachi tracks to tap into the melancholy but still feel clearly beautiful and hopeful, that bliss is right around the corner. The crowd clearly enjoyed the sounds, responding to the sensual undertones of the music . Music you could love to or just relax too. There set felt well crafted, changing pace when necessary and keeping the audience on different levels

    As for the podcast!

    We recorded the interview in the backyard of Eduardo Arenas' apartment complex on a hillside in Chinatown overlooking Broadway and staring into Twin Towers. Our chairs slowly sank into the soft ground as we let the conversation disarm us. The conversation was rather wide ranging and included Brado slowly rotating his chair, Eduardo conveniently grabbing a sweater from the clothesline behind him and Carlos subtly taking over the interview and interpreting my questions for a better understanding. There is something really beautiful about digging past the surface. As an interviewer there is a magical moment when you can feel your interview subject loosening up and really be present. I hope that after having listened to the interview you can feel the greater intimacy with the lyrics and sound that I have, having gotten to know the band a little better. 

    During the conversation the fellas mentioned a couple of bands. Here they are for reference, Los Angeles Negros, La Santa Cecilia and The Soft White Sixties

    For those just getting to know the band they mentioned as a possible starting point, Itotiani, maybe Frio II and Magma. For more background information about the band take a look here and here. Of course the band has their own site

    Finally, their music videos and streamed music are below.

    Note: Drummer Gabriel Villa was unavailable for the interview due to a prior engagement


    Chicano Batman Joven Navegante Video Directed by Mochilla from Qvolé Collective on Vimeo.



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