Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Day 9: Memorial Day in Fort Worth

A day for remembrance for those that fought and died for us. A day to be grateful and appreciative for those that made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, but more importantly those that inhabit it.

Noting the occasion and how many businesses were going to be closed for the day, I decided to look up what would be going on in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area to commemorate.

After more lounging around (told you I was addicted sleeping in and the lifestyle that comes with it), we hit the road for Dallas, about a half hour from our hotel in Fort Worth. We went to a local restaurant, Rodeo Goat, and decided to go to a nearby fireworks show.



But when I tell you the park hosting the show was crowded...



That is a far away shot but from a moving car it was decent enough. So there was hardly any parking and we decided to call it a day. We were both tired and I personally am not a big fan of fireworks.

This was a short post so here are some more photos of Downtown Dallas:


(yes there are still dead bugs on the windshield I'M SORRY)

Day 8: Fort Worth

This day got off to a slow start. It was gloomy outside and life on the road was starting to catch up to me. I slept in for the first time since the trip began, and it has been an addiction since. 

After a late start to our day, my father and I decided to get lunch at a local Applebee's in Burleson, Texas. Realizing that I had yet to interview anyone yet, I took this as an opportunity to look for potential additions to this project.
I saw a table of four elderly African-American women enjoying their meal and thought that they could offer some meaningful insights into the community and they would also be a new cultural perspective added to my greater analysis.
I was really careful with my approach, noticing that this was likely a gathering of friends and they might not want to spend their time chatting with some random kid. I asked if they would be willing to be interviewed once they were done eating, and they say it was okay with them, so I returned about 20 minutes later after I had finished my meal as well.
I did not ask to record them because I was already asking much of them by disrupting their get together. Only one of the four women was really willing to speak to me, which is fine, but I fear that the others may have harbored slight disdain for my bold approach.
Anyways, she offered up very thoughtful comparisons to trends she notices today and what she lived through, having resided in Southern California but also Alabama during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. She spoke of how she and those she knew were "being hosed down, dogs sicked on [them], and [they] still have some burn marks." This paints the world she comes from and with how readily she brought this up I got the impression that these are events fresh in her memory that heavily influence how she views today's world.

She also spoke about her childhood in Loma Linda, California, admiring the work done by activists like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but how it was a major culture shock when she first moved to Fort Worth, which was less diverse than what she was used to, and noted that a lot of what she viewed about the place was "rigid", from their church and style of worship to their general lifestyles. She lives in a more diverse area now, though, but does emphasize how there are many opinions and types of people that one may encounter in Fort Worth, which she still considers a "nice place."

She had an interesting take on terrorism. She mentioned that, as a Christian, it was a sin to commit suicide for whatever reason, but she also stressed that terrorist attacks like that are not what Islam is about, and how these people are of far more use alive than dead.

"People need to be alive to tell their story. People like Blacks and Jews did not have much of an option but they still fought for their lives sand now serve as triumphs of the human spirit. That is what makes them memorable. Those that kill themselves in this fashion are more likely to be forgotten as an individual. I feel bad for their mothers, having these beautiful babies that go and throw their life away." She cited that a major issue for this may be a lack of education, not in a formal sense but more along the lines of teaching people to know their worth and value as human beings with something to offer the world.

I also interviewed my server at this Applebee's, a young white guy who considered himself a nerd while growing up. He was a military kid that moved a lot growing up, but had spent some time in Fort Worth before and had now been back for about a year. He also said the community was friendly, with familiar faces willing to say hi outside of their usual places of interaction. He said that there is a generational divide in the community about how people feel towards Trump in the White House, with older residents being more encouraging while younger ones not really willing to give anyone a chance. He considers this to be due to technology. We can now access information faster and in this new age that is constantly advancing, Trump offers a return to a time that was simpler for these older folks.
He also noted that young people are more inspired nowadays. Not just in Fort Worth, but also back at his high school in Wisconsin, where 12 of the 97 students in his graduating class joined the armed forces. Young people are tired of hearing a lot of what is going on to the United States are because of the United States and they want to do something about it. This is something I am beginning to notice as well. These methods include:
-joining the armed forces
-contacting local representatives
-organizing and participating in protests
-starting petitions
-rallying
-working on campaigns for their favored candidates
And a number of other ways to get involved and hopefully influence our political system. A lot are productive and better the person while also benefiting the country, others not so much. And education is the major difference between a major political action being inspirational or deplorable.

Uhh Day 7 (?): Texas, the drive and the show

I left New Mexico with high spirits. Things were going well and I was getting a nice little streak going with interviews. Next stop: Fort Worth, Texas.

Though I know it is necessary to keep an open mind throughout this experience, I was wary about this next stint of my trip, especially Texas. Though I've never spent much time in the South, I knew that caution was of high concern, and my fears were not alleviated whatsoever when a friend of mine, who is born and raised in Texas, warned me of staying out late due to a recent spike in hate crimes.

Regardless, I pushed these thoughts aside and embarked on this next leg. We made our first stop in Claude, Texas, near the border with New Mexico and a pretty rural place. We got gas and stopped for food but it felt like a very uninviting place. We did not see a single person of color, and even my father detected slight hostility from one of the workers there (there could have been a number of reasons for this behavior, but that does not make it any better). I do not want to give the sense that we were in imminent danger, but my intuition was telling me that the sooner we got out of there, the better.

(Horses!)
After that minor tense moment we were back on the road. We made one more stop for gas before arriving at our hotel at around 7:56pm.

But we had to go to a comedy show at 8pm.

So we just pulled out of the parking spot we had just pulled in to. After a confused search for parking in Downtown Fort Worth, we saw a show by a comedian named Sledge (sadly could not find his name) at Hyena's Comedy Nightclub.

               This is when I learned another something about comedy. People like hearing jokes about themselves, but mostly if it is from someone that identifies with them. The comedian was a native of Texas, so he made a number of jokes about "rednecks" and "being from the country", at one point he even said "we all know a guy like that." And I think a part of this is a sense of pride that only allows itself to be taken in jest by one that belongs to the same group as them, because then it is more like to just be a humorous, astute observation instead of an baseless attack with malicious intent.

It seems like there may also be a sense of elitism within this style of comedy. There was not a single political joke made, which was a good move on behalf of the comedian, knowing that he is in a Trump voting state. But on the point of elitism, people are going to be up in arms if someone that they view to be socially inferior or below them detracts from their status through comedy. It disrupts the social order, which explains a likelihood to only be willing to accept  jokes about a community from one who actually belongs to it.
I am just postulating, but these trends do not just belong to this community of people in the country. As a Black person, I am exponentially more likely to find a joke about Black people funny if it is told by a Black person, and especially if it is a joke derived from a true story of theirs. Because then it is relatable. There is not the same idea of elitism as I had mentioned before, but rather protectionism against outsiders to the community that poke fun at it without having to live through the struggles of being a member. Almost as though being a member of these particular communities is a prerequisite or right of passage to have a substantial joke about the community that, once again, might really say something worthwhile.

Santa Fe Comedy Show

Well, about half of the posts on this blog thus far have been about New Mexico, but this is going to be the last one (for the time being).
This past Friday I went to a show in with my father and friend Alejandra, it was at Open Source Comedy in Albuquerque.
The headliner, Nat Towsen, was from New York but his two opening acts, Ann Gora and Curt Fletcher, seemed to both be from New Mexico, if not just currently living there.

Though this project, at its core, is about political ideology being conveyed through comedy, I learned far more about comedy and why people find certain things funny than politics itself.

There was a joke or two about the current healthcare bill currently being put through Congress but politics was hardly the focal point of any of the jokes that earned the heartiest guffaws.

One opener had a witty style, quickly adding humorous details to an otherwise common scenario, before calmly delivering a often-dirty punchline. This was just about his entire set.

The other opener seemed to be going for a more relatable approach, announcing a general fact about her life before putting a funny twist on the way things pan out situationally.

Note that these are not styles or tendencies or even jokes particular to Santa Fe, but tried and true ways of going about stand up comedy.

The headliner spoke to me, though.
And I'll tell you why.
Some comedians' bread and butter are dirty and/or offensive jokes (my father and I both got called out, at separate times, for the two Black jokes one opener made, solely because we were the only Black people in attendance), and, frankly, I've become less of a fan as I have grown up.
This is for a number of reasons:
-sometimes I just don't find it funny
-other times I feel like it promotes harmful stereotypes
-there is a moral dilemma in what my laughing at a joke says about my opinions towards that community
-I'm offended

Whatever the reason, I just prefer jokes that don't attack someone's identity one way or another.

But the headliner did the opposite of that. He focused totally on himself. His struggles and why he is the way he is, even taking jabs at his physical appearance. And the best part is this approach was like he was inviting the audience to laugh along with him, because he certain had his fair share of chuckles onstage.
This was great because his comedic style enabled me to laugh without feeling guilty, and laughing uninhibited is the best feeling, in my opinion.

I felt like he spoke to me because he mentioned similar, stronger tendencies to overthink life and situations and it put a light touch an personality trait of my own that often irritates me.

He was also a very socially aware comic. And this part of his set is where he really won me over. This project was born out of my view of comedians as societal commentators, and what he said about the struggles of people of marginalized identities in popular media was insightful and funny, but most importantly true.

Comedy for the sake of laughs is all fine and well, but using that platform, which is often accepted with open arms and a smile, to say something worthwhile is truly special.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Plight of Chief Bennett J. Baur

Bennett J. Baur is the chief public defender for the state of New Mexico.

Just a bit of background so we are all on the same page, a public defender is an attorney that is appointed to represent people in court that cannot afford their own lawyers. These defendants have a legal right to a lawyer via the sixth amendment, which requires "assistance of counsel" for all accused persons in "all criminal prosecutions," this implies the right.

New Mexico is a state that relies heavily on its revenue from oil and gas to fund many of its governmental processes. With a recent slump in the prices of oil and gas, New Mexico has been losing money, meaning less money from the state budget is allocated to the Law Offices of the Public Defender, despite the fact that crime has increased in several counties, namely the city of Hobbs Lea County, where the number of felony charges had nearly doubled since 2011 (New York Times, Santos).

Baur has stated, according to a report by The NM Political Report, that an "overworked and underpaid public defender office could not provide adequate representation," and that "doing so would violate the constitutional rights of the defendant," (NM Political Report, Lyman).

With all of this on the table, Baur told his lawyers in October of 2016 to stop accepting clients in Hobbs, for to represent them poorly due to staff constraints is against their rights. This also sent a message to the court and prosecutor systems which had also been dealing with budget issues. Soon thereafter Baur was found in contempt of court by a district judge and his offices were forced to take on new cases once again (New York Times).

Baur and his lawyers, however, switched up their strategy. Now, they ask the judges to dismiss these cases without prejudice, though this means that "the cases could still be filed later on," (NYT).

There is a lot about this dispute that must be noted:
-public defenders serve poorer people that cannot afford counsel, meaning this is disproportionately people of color, for whatever societal reasons.

-perceptions of criminals and "tough on crime" laws make people reluctant to see their tax dollars go to the office of a public defender. A quote from lawyer Tom Clark in a different article by the NM Political Report depicts this honestly, saying "'who wants to give money to defend child molesters,'" and that is tricky aspect of our legal system (NM Political Report, Lyman). The system is all or nothing since it is based on equality, otherwise we delve into a time-consuming dialogue about semantics and who truly is or is not worthy of a lawyer.

-PUBLIC as well as GOVERNMENTAL FAVOR has always been towards the offices of the district attorney over the offices of the public defender for similar reasons as mentioned in the last point. New Mexico state budgets from all the way back to 2003 show that the district attorney received, on average, 26% more funding that the public defender, even as budgets increased for both (NM Political Report).

This should not be a discussion about how we perceive crime but rather how true to fairness do we want our criminal justice system to be.

Baur has also suggested that we "look at the things we consider crimes," implying that lower level crimes should be more easily dismissed with a warning or a fine than becoming a full blown case that further backlogs these lawyers, especially if they did not hurt anyone (NM Political Report).

New York Times - https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/us/new-mexico-lawyer-shortage.html

NM Political Report - http://nmpoliticalreport.com/133076/chief-public-defender-held-in-contempt-after-turning-down-cases-says-office-cant-afford-it/
                                 - http://nmpoliticalreport.com/134096/overloaded-public-defenders-office-was-years-in-the-making/

I had the honor of getting to interview Chief Bennett Baur during my time in New Mexico and really appreciated his thorough view of the criminal justice system and thoughts on Santa Fe.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Notable New Mexico

video
I'm not even at the comedy side of things yet, but I want to point out a few things about New Mexico that are worth mentioning, in regards to this trip and life in general.

A few additions to the video:
-sports teams' names, I should have said
-we drove past a sign that said "ENTERING NAVAJO NATION" a few minutes before taking this video
-for a while we had been driving past decrepit billboards saying "INDIAN JEWELRY" and various other items featuring the styles of Native cultures
-I was condemning this practice, as it appeared to be exploitative of these peoples, after a history of relations already characterized by the dehumanizing of Native Americans by colonizers, but I am not certain who is responsible for these billboards.

Interestingly enough, though, that video is far from the narrative I saw regarding Native Americans in Santa Fe, at least.
Starting off, the Santa Fe Indian School, with part of the entrance to the school pictured here in a photo I got from REL Southwest (http://relsouthwest.sedl.org/news/items/2015_07_23_SFIS.html)

This Indian school serves tribes from the western half of the United States, allowing students to dorm on the campus. Most remarkable about this school, though, is that it allows its students to learn about their own culture and language. They still adhere to state standards for their curriculum, but they find a way to personalize the education for every student from each of the 19 Pueblos, or Indian tribal nations, that they serve.
Despite all of their immersive education and focus on looking forward, SFIS does not shy away from its tumultuous past. In the "About SFIS" section of their website, under "History", they talk about the initial intent of SFIS from its establishment in 1890. It was "established by the federal government during the Boarding School era with a charge to assimilate the native child." They did so believing that this assimilation would "remove the cultural and individual identity of the children providing the opportunity to impart new standards for living the American way of life."

"Kill the Indian to save the man," - Gen. Richard Henry Pratt, who creating the first Indian boarding school.
(http://www.sfis.k12.nm.us/about_sfis)

Though times may have changed with the Indian New Deal becoming part of President Franklin Roosevelt's own New Deal and SFIS is now a place that celebrates Native Americans and their respective cultures, we must not be focused on putting our past behind us.

It is through this active acknowledgement of our inhumane past that we can objectively realize which is the wrong direction for our trajectory to go. We must be cautious of any sign that is reminiscent of state-sanctioned and socially-accepted inequality, for it is never too late for us to start living accordingly to the values and beliefs that this nation was founded upon.
For our founders did not even do so.

Also, Alejandra showed us to a spot in Downtown Santa Fe, right in front of the Palace of the Governors--which used to be the house of the governors of New Mexico--, where Native Americans were welcome to peddle their wares (/sell their goods) as long as they had a proper permit to sell. That had a number of items laid out, from jewelry to bookmarks and many other everyday items. I even bought this beautiful turquoise necklace from one of the sellers.


(Giving credit where it is due, I included his business card, feel free to hit him up if you like what you see)
This is great example of the government allowing these people to be visible and create a life for themselves without it being some sort of spectacle. You could chalk this one up to capitalism, but hate and prejudice are forces that can only be overcome with love and acceptance, so there are a number of steps that had to be taken before we could even get to this point of open, public transactions. There is still much to be done though.

I really wanted to get an interview with some of these vendors because, as hinted before, I have been trying to diversify my interview pool, and I was quite interested in what these people had to say.
There was one guy, of the Navajo Nation, he was amicable and friendly but declined, citing a former experience with an interviewer that only used the interview for his own person gain. I understood his caution, betrayed trust hurts enough already, but to open up to a stranger only to have your words misconstrued is enough to deter someone from interviews for good. I felt sorry for the man and decided not to bother him further.

I next pursued an interview with an elderly woman, whose pueblo I am regrettably blanking on right now. She obliged to an interview but said that she was not allowed to talk about her customs or traditions. That was totally fine with me and I figured it would be best to interview her off camera. She noted that she had been coming to Santa Fe from her hometown for over 50 years, and she loved it there. There was a prevailing tone of content with the way Santa Fe was and not wanting to change anything about it. Granted, she said she would only come to the city 1-3 times a week, but over the course of 50 years there is a lot to be seen and done. This is different from the usual traditionalist narrative that we usually see with a reluctance to adjust to a seemingly imminent change and already brooding anger over the changes already made, but rather a satisfaction with the way things are now, even though they have definitely changed a lot over her time there, and not wanting to change.
This woman intrigued me, primarily because I could not box her up and figure her out. Which is good for the purpose of this project.
Back to the two young, professional, white men that I interviewed in Arizona, the sentiment I got from them felt like apathy and indifference. This is different though. They had only been where they were at for 2 years while this woman had at least 50. Places hold a certain value in these circumstances, and the look in her eyes told me that she was fondly remembering the good times she had had in Santa Fe, and it seems like, essentially, that is the same Santa Fe she was looking upon when I was interviewing her. Still traditional, still family-oriented, still proud of its peoples, but, without a doubt, change.

Speaking candidly, I fear change. I fear the future and growing older and the unknown and inevitable events that I have no control over and have no idea when they will happen. But, I do not get caught up in this. I try to enjoy the now so that I may be fortunate enough to look upon my past with half as much fondness as that woman did when I was interviewing her. I could worry about change, but it is all the more empowering to grab a hold of myself, prepare, and make change fear me.

Day 5: THANK YOU ALEJANDRA (Santa Fe)

I need to start with a huge thank to my friend and recent CMC alum,  Alejandra, for showing me around her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She gave my father and I the ultimate tour of the city, with a personal approach to how she has seen it develop and change, for better or worse, over time.
Santa Fe actually stole a bit of my heart, but how could it not?

But the beauty of the city belies a struggle to maintain tradition, defy gentrification, and keep the community together, among other priorities. What I quickly learned about Santa Fe was that it is a small - medium sized city, with big city appeals. It was described as a good place to grow up and a good place to raise a family, and that people never really leave Santa Fe, because it's home.
There are a number of families in Santa Fe that can trace their residence there back for centuries, and they do not really plan on leaving anytime soon.
But why?
Well, there are a number of reasons. Santa Fe has amazing sunsets, a great appreciation of the arts (with a mile of road dedicated to just exhibits), entitlement (those that identify as Hispanic and have been there for generations testifying to their right to land from the original colonization by the Spanish kingdom), and so much more.
It's charming.
Its size makes travel not too much of a hassle bu there is still so much to do in this city that is still growing.
A major political issue, that I learned from chatting with Alejandra's uncle, who is a politician, is the newcomers that change what has been fundamentally known as Santa Fe but also bring much needed-revenue with them. Do they deserve a heavier sway in this intended-to-be democratic system because they subsidize a disproportionate amount of the public affairs? Should money equal power when it comes to a local government?
I am not calling for a restriction of democratic rights, but we see these issues really coming to the fore, particularly recently, as the ideas of the traditional, well-established, Hispanic, Catholic conservatives in the south part of Santa Fe clash with those of the progressive, newcomer, White liberals.
All this from just a day guided by Alejandra, she could really start her own tour guide business.

Also, the food was -two thumbs up-. New Mexican food is not Mexican food, along with Tex Mex. New Mexico has these red and green chiles that are only prepared that way in that statement and it is delicious. Just don't eat it for all over your meals in one day, thank me later.

As mentioned prior, Santa Fe is only 1% African American. It was pretty visible, to me at least, how invisible African Americans seemed to be there. I did not pay it much mind until someone assumed I was not from this country and another mistook me for, presumably, one of the other Black people he has met (I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there have not been many). I take these microaggressions in stride because they come from ignorance but it does serve as a reminder to shed our presuppositions.

Other than that, I got to interview a STATE SENATOR (there is a citizen legislature for the state so he also works as business owner) and almost got to interview the MAYOR of Santa Fe but things fell through (it was my fault for taking so much time but to just have the opportunity is an honor). None of this would have been possible if it was not for Alejandra being an amazing host who gave up so much of her time to help me with this project.
And this was just day 1 (okay it's only out of two but that is still a lot for one day).




Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 4: En Route to Santa Fe, pt. 2/2

After brunch it was time to hit the road. I decided to tackle the first half of the drive and get it out of the way.
Not soon after leaving the restaurant we were in an area that only had one lane going in each direction and I was wondering what I had done. But I bought gas and trudged along.
I drove through the beautiful Tonto National Forest in Arizona, which was beautiful, but extremely scary.
(This photo is not of the forest, even though the forest did have some desert-like areas to it, I am just not sure which photo is from where lol)
So, my father had to play cameraman for the day, and he definitely did a bang-up job. I'm an extreme amateur too so there is not anything I can really say about his skills anyways.

Sidebar: When I initially planned this trip out, it was supposed to be just me, but now I realize how I would not have been able to do this alone, and how great it is to have a loved one with me.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of this day of driving, but this is the kicker. Three miles into the drive and nearing the 230 mile mark where my father and I would have switched driving duty, I got onto the Interstate 40 FWY in Arizona. The GPS told me to take it straight to Albuquerque, NM.

It was 233 miles by itself.

That's when I figured, "Alright, father has been doing all the driving thus far, this will be his day off." And I trudged along some more. I stopped in Grants, NM to buy gas, since I only had a quarter of a tank left and was not trying to run out of gas in the middle of the interstate.  I had not realized how tired my legs were from the then-four hours of nonstop driving and how badly they needed the stretch. There, I saw one of the CLEANEST GAS STATION RESTROOMS that I had encountered in my entire life. (I took a photo but fear that it is gone now, on that I will explain later). I was shaken to my very core, and thoroughly impressed. And, more importantly, I met Martin, the gas station attendant.

At first he seemed to be a bit wary of me, as though I might steal something, but I quickly disarmed his suspicions with my charming smile and charisma (ay, let me hype myself up, don't laugh). Who knows what he was thinking, but admittedly I have become hypersensitive to how people look at me at first meeting. It is in those first few seconds when you figure out if someone is going to be cool with you and just treat you like a fellow human being, or immediately judge you based on your skin color and treat you like a criminal. Maybe I feel like I detect things that simply aren't there, maybe I pick up on people's implicit biases that they don't even realize. It does not matter, I am not here to demonize Martin for a quick look that I've suspected from hundreds of others. Also, New Mexico is about 2% Black/African American, according to suburbanstats.org, so even though that isn't an excuse, his limited experience with Black people might have influenced how he saw me initially.

I really enjoyed talking with Martin. He has lived in Grants all of his life and could give me so much helpful information about the people and government there. He spoke about how he grew up, the wealth gap, the opioid epidemic, coming of age, and the economy. It was during his interview where I started to realize a number of things:
-I had interviewed only White/mixed White/White passing people thus far. It makes sense because America has a majority White population and other races tend to cluster in larger cities, but I am lacking in the crucial discussion of race in America that affects so many.
-People admire hard work. It inspires them. We like to look up to people that are self-made, it gives us hope that we can do the same if we just work hard too. And it makes sense, it appeals to the American ideals of individualism and earning what you deserve, based on how hard you've worked.

That was not all that came up in my interview with Martin, but he made me realize how much of a reality some issues that I hear about on television but never really pay much mind to are to people. I am just so detached from them. I thanked Martin for the interview, bought gas, and headed back on the road.

We got into Albuquerque around 8:12pm, and it was another 50 miles to get to Santa Fe. We arrived at about 9pm. It was tedious but I learned why New Mexico is called "The Land of Enchantment". Just look!

Nothing beats a New Mexico sunset.

(Ignore all the stains on the windshield, nobody ever told me that bugs would fly into it. I was caught off guard. Cars 1 Bugs 0)

Tired, I pulled up to our hotel and just wanted to check in and sleep.
Lo and behold, they had no record of my reservation. There was an issue with how I booked it via a 3rd party hotel booking site. After 30 mins of talking to the manager, calling the hotel booking site, having the manager call the hotel booking site and giving the phone to me, me giving the phone back to the manager, and the hotel booking site having to fax and call the hotel manager (even though they were just talking on the phone???), I got into my room.

But I was hungry. And so was father.
Off of a recommendation from a recent CMC alum and Santa Fe local, Alejandra, we went to Cowgirl in downtown Santa Fe. What immediately stood out to was some writing that was on the sidewalk. I am not used to "graffiti" (if it is even considered that, I don't know what was the allowance for the person to produce this work) like this.

Also, as soon as we walked in, an older White woman said to me and my father that it was nice to see us. At first I was curious as to why my father knew this random White lady in New Mexico, then I figured that it is just a friendly place. Having now spent a day here, though, I think she might have just confused us for other Black people (you'll see why later). Santa Fe's percentage of Black people is half that of New Mexico as a whole. Refer to the earlier statistic.
We ordered to go so that we could eat in the hotel room, and I soon realized that I had time to conduct another interview. At first I was planning on interviewing the young woman that had taken our orders. Speaking candidly, I judged her before we even began as being oblivious and not really aware of much that does not concern her. When we went into a quieter area to conduct the interview and I explained to her what my project was about, though, she said that she would not be a good fit. Why?

She was from The Kingdom of Tonga.

Yet another example of why we should not judge a book by its cover. She was honestly really sweet and great in helping me find a coworker. I am ashamed for not giving her the benefit of the doubt, and know better for next time.

Her coworker, Mary Anne, was an amazing person to interview. She really opened up to me and I got a feeling that Santa Fe was just the type of person where this type of sharing is encouraged. People are proud of their backgrounds here, generally speaking. I could dedicate a whole post to just her, which I might do, later, but here comes the part of the night that really hurt.

After going to the hotel and eating, I wanted to transfer the files from my phone (which had been used to record the travels and interviews of the day. Long story short the files that ended up on my laptop were corrupted and I had already deleted them from my phone.
I'd lost Mary Anne's interview.
I was distraught.
I decided to work on something else, a video I had been working for the Youtube page.
It was somehow corrupted as well.
I went to bed.
I woke up to my father earnestly working to try to retrieve the files, searching all over the internet for some way to fix this issue. I appreciate this more than he could ever know, even if it is/was fruitless.


Day 4: En Route to Santa Fe, pt. 1/2

Knowing the drive would be 7hrs/460mi long, I was dreading it. The plan was for me to take the first half of the drive, and my father to take the latter half.
Began the day pretty lowkey, bidding my cousin and her ridiculously photogenic family farewell and getting brunch (that's what I call it when I skip breakfast and go straight to lunch, usually around noontime).
                                       

We at the Original Chop Shop in Old Town Scottsdale, a pretty White area. It was reminiscent of Santa Monica or Abbott Kinney, somewhere young, hip, and trendy. It was full of young people in stylish attire, and it even had the rustic look that is popular with these new trendy eateries.
I knew I had to interview someone. Near us I saw to young dudes in business casual attire, probably on their lunch break. They looked like young urban professionals (or yuppies, as some may know them) and I was feeling apprehensive about approaching them. So that only reaffirmed the idea that I had to interview them. If I'm too afraid to even talk with them, how are other people supposed to connect with them? So I asked them a few questions, I did not want to take a lot of time from people on a lunch break. I'll expand upon this later but I got a feeling of indifference on their thoughts on the community of Scottsdale and where they live.
There were a number of questions of mine answered with something along the lines "It's fine, I guess, I'm not too worried about it."
Things to consider about these guys, David and Ryan, though:
-They're from out of state. They've known each other for years and went to school together at Mizzou, and have only been in Scottsdale for a couple years.
-They're young. If they're only a couple of year out of college then they're probably around 24. They have A LOT of life left to live and experience. As a young person myself, I'm 18 as of the time I'm writing this post, I know that there are a number of activities and ideas that a young person wants to occupy their self with, and that is expected of them, they need to really figure out what they're about before they can settle down and really figure out they're trajectory.
-They have presumably stable, good paying jobs. One is a sales rep and the other a sales manager. These are jobs they got right out of college. There are a number of issues that they aren't preoccupied with because it does not affect them directly, and they are physically removed from it because, as they said themselves, they "live in a pretty safe area."

It is easy to not worry about issues when they are not your own. We need to be exposed to others who may have drastically different lifestyles than our own, and often times they are not that far away. It is difficult for me to sympathize with something if the only interaction I ever have with it is a video I see on my Facebook News Feed that I watch halfheartedly, feel bad about for a moment, then forget all about 10 secs later. Or, arguably worse, share it on my feed (I constantly do this) and get the idea that I am actually doing something to help the cause.

People often say that all the tragedies we see on news nowadays desensitizes us from these gross injustices and makes us care less and less over time. And that is partially true. But also,
-Sometimes people need to be shocked into action. And people need to be aware. If the alternative means that these resources designed for informing the public about the world we live in would ignore that these events are actually happening, then I am glad that we have these stories of our fellow humans to help us be more cognizant of what is going on.
-There is no substitute for firsthand experience. People can get involved in a number of ways, one of the most notable ways is volunteering. You don't have to organize a political rally to help whatever cause you believe in, but every cause could use some support, ESPECIALLY if they are trying to go against the status quo. This could mean going against the power wielded by big business.

I'll continue with the rest of how this day went on the next post.

Small City vs. Medium City

Visiting Quartzsite, AZ was a fantastic experience where I got to meet real people, but as soon as I had exited the freeway to enter the city I knew I had made a choice, in choosing this location, that would skew my research.

Quartzsite, like I mentioned in an earlier post, is a town that people (for a majority of the year) travel through, not to. I want to stress that this is not an attempt to belittle the town or the purpose that it serves to the millions of people that drive through it in the course of a year, but it is small to the point that it is bound to have a number of trends that are anomalies. Or so I had assumed.

Aside from how religious the community may be, homogeneously or just an abundance of faith, they have the same worries as working class people from larger cities.
-Businesses are shutting down. People are losing jobs. How can they live if all they see are dead ends and already limited opportunities decreasing even more?
-Health Care. People get sick. Some businesses cannot afford staff because they cannot afford the health insurance they would have to pay them, on top of their salaries. So there are people that need work, businesses to need workers, but this issue is keeping that demand from being supplied. We need a comprehensive system that works for the American people, because people are not going to stop getting sick anytime soon.
-Change. People really care about their communities, especially in these smaller, tighter-knit cities and towns. This means they are cool with marginalizing a few if it means the status quo is kept and the majority are not forced to face change. A fear of change is directly linked with a fear of the unknown. What's going to happen if we, as a community, ______? There is no real way of knowing until it is actually implemented. This is why the public needs to be in the know, for misinformation can spread like wildfire in these small communities, and when that happens it is nearly impossible to shift the idea of what is the truth.

And many others.

I was thinking that interviews in a smaller city would not be good for this project and I would give them less thorough consideration, but that is what nearly everyone else has done. At all levels, except for local. So the local government has near unchecked reign because no government (state or federal) above them cares enough about their constituency--because the constituency's votes hardly affect the election of these higher up officials-- and these people are forgotten.
I need to consider these people. These people are also Americans, we may be different but that is what makes our collective whole better.
I have also been going to slightly larger cities, slightly-less-than-medium sized cities where I am beginning to meet people who say that phrase I have been eagerly waiting to hear "I've lived here all my life, born and raised." And yet, I hear similar issues. We have a lot more in common than you'd think, you just have to be willing to listen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Power of Human Contact

(I initially planned on titling this "The Power of a Handshake" but I did not want to come across as ableist. Plus we, as humans, can relate and connect with each other beyond physical means)

I always end my interviews with an extension of my hand, hopefully reciprocated in a handshake. Of course, if I detect that someone is physically unable to engage in that contact I will not bring it up. But I always want to end my interviews with thanks and a handshake.

Earlier, during the school year, I was chatting with a friend of mine, Nirel, about how I find it much easier to have conversation with people when I realize that we are all the same. I, like many others, have dealt with insecurities in the past, but I was mistaken to think that it made me less than when compared to others. We are all humans, we all have concerns, we all have needs. And, particularly with this project, everybody has life experience that they can offer.

Thankfully I have yet to have any issues with people refusing to participate in this simple gesture, but I know that some people out there who would. That deep seated fear and misunderstanding of others is unacceptable and something that I am working to change. Who knows how far this project may reach, but you only need to touch one person to start something bigger than yourself.

So I give a handshake. I want this to mean "thank you," "peace be with you," "have a nice day," "I wish the best for you," and much more.

I appreciate every person I interview. And every person that declines, whatever their reason may be. When we can putting our prejudices behind us and respect people more then we can collectively see how equal we all are and want to be treated.

Heartbreak and An Apology

I am fatigued.
I only slept four hours last night (habitual sleep pattern issues) and drove the 460 miles from Scottsdale, AZ to Santa Fe, NM. I conducted a few interviews today.
The past few days have near nonstop and I have not given myself much of a break.
In an attempt to free up space on my phone to do more video recording, I copied the files from my phone onto my computer in the file where I keep all the media for this trip. Without checking to see if the files actually played on my computer first, I deleted them from my phone.
Now, I get a corrupt file notification when I try to play them. I am convinced that a lot of what was done today is now lost. An interview that is now gone was conducted just a few hours ago, and I wish you all could have met her.
So I am sorry, to that woman, who opened up to me and I let down by being careless with the handling of her interview.
To you, for letting you down and inhibiting you from getting to see more of the wonderful people that I have been blessed to meet.

I am discouraged.

I do not plan on ending this trip, but my faith, confidence, and strength have all been greatly shaken and I seriously doubt that I am qualified to make this project work. To really make it mean something and have a lasting impression on people. That is all I want.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day 3: Arizona

A very long day, and probably one of the shorter ones that I will have in this trip.

Did not feel like all that much was done, but there was about 300 miles of driving done. Went from Scottsdale to Peoria to visit family friends for a bit. Then drove 140mi to Quartzsite, AZ to meet people and conduct a few interviews. I met Mary, who runs the Hi Jolly Outpost, which I assume is tied with the Quartzsite Yacht Club restaurant in some way, and she was a sweet elderly woman who obliged to be interviewed on camera and was a pleasure to be around. Then went to the Hi Jolly Cemetery, it was an interesting view. Then went to Silly Al's Pizza, which was near empty. It was the time I had gone to a restaurant where the waitress told my party to sit wherever we wanted and she would come to us. The food was pretty good. Then drove 140mi back to Phoenix to catch a comedy show at 7:30. Finishing the day back at the home of the family friends in Peoria.

INTERVIEWS:
-Definitely an interesting experience.
-Met cool, real people who gave me really insightful information into these communities.
-Quartzsite is a small town adjacent to the 10 FWY, near the CA/AZ border, something I did not account for. There is a lack of population permanence with this, for example, Quartzsite's population rises during the winter months for a number of reasons like snowboarders staying so that they can go to nearby mountains, or others whose usual professions are so lean during the winter months that they have the free time go there.
-Very few economic opportunities in city during summer because it is too hot to do much of anything during the daytime, so it has to be done in early morning or evening/nighttime. This repels tourists, so there was even a restaurant that is set to remain closed until October, when people start to return.
Very religious community, but with a multitude of faiths. Giving passersby the ability to worship in their own faith, but even some houses of worship are unable to draw enough people during this time.
-Encountered a bit of a juxtaposition, Mary the devout, older Christian woman and was charmed by the small town life, and Krystal, a younger woman working at Silly Al's, who was disenchanted with what was encompassed by the small town lifestyle. Though actually from Blythe, CA, she mentioned that these small communities tend to lead to more religious fervor and homogeneity, so misinformation can spread and be treated as law without much opposition.

STRESSES:
I am worried about this project. All this traveling is making me more tired than I anticipated and I need to keep to a fairly strict schedule. I am also worried about a number of other issues:
-Doing right by my interviewees. I was always upset when I heard that certain things people say are purposely edited to change the meaning and cast people in a certain light. I do not want to advocate for a certain political bend or agenda for this project because the project is not about one side or idea being an protagonist and the other an antagonist, it is about the people as protagonists and our situation of being lumped together in this democracy as an obstacle, but one that can be overcome. I do not want to mislead people, so I need to be particularly deliberate with how I present the information that these people willingly give to me about themselves and their community.
-I am still insecure about my place at college, and I can feel myself being subconsciously motivated to have this as proof that I do belong at CMC, or even just college in general.
-Driving. There is a lot. My father is using his vacation days to help me out here but it is not fair to him to make him drive hundreds of miles a day. So I drive a bit, but I have a lot going on mentally that the fatigue is only made worse. But it is worth it.
-What am I going to do with all this information? How am I going to present it? I keep realizing things about what I am doing that make me uncertain of where I am going with this.

THE COMEDY SHOW:
Did not come into it expecting much, but it was okay. Some comedic styles did not appeal much to me, though made the crowd roar with laughter. I'm not a judge or anything so I do not worry much about this. Laughed the hardest at the jokes made by the youngest comic there, how much does that speak to him and his comedy and to me and how I interpret it and deem it funny?
-Premise was about "Who has the worst day job?" so I was expecting it to be a glimpse into the lives of these people, but this was one of the later rounds in this competition so they were just doing sets.
-A number of jokes about Mexicans, but Asian people as well. One white guy was mocking being a cholo. Another talked about being mixed with Mexican, and how he selectively only chooses to reap the benefits of the culture.
-Jokes about Arizona becoming more progressive. One interaction between a comic and an audience member, "I'm not going to bring up anything political." "Thank God!" "'Thank God!' Yeah that was a Trump supporter." Then discussion about Donald Trump's various activities in and out of office.
-Numerous jokes about race and ability, also one about the massacre of Native Americans. I found these to be in poor taste. Comic I liked the most had jokes centered around dating but also, arguably, ageism, so I am realizing my own biases and why I have them.
-Noticed different sections of the room laughing when it came to jokes about class and race. A lot of racial makeup jokes in a "I'll use the fact that I have a Mexican parent as material but not really speak much about the current issue with the state I live in." demeanor.
This ended up being a lot. You deserve a few photos for reading/skimming/skipping to the end of this.

Day 2: En Route to Scottsdale

This is all being written retroactively as I am currently in Arizona and traveling back west a bit to go to the city of  Quartzsite in La Paz County.
The first day of traveling was LONG but not too bad. Once you get past the usual LA gridlock, driving long distances is actually bearable (but then again I'm not the one driving lol). We made stops in Palm Springs and Blythe for restrooms/diapers and gas, respectively, and I was able to interview a grocer at Smart and Final in Palm Springs.

Didn't get into Arizona until late, maybe 1am or so. Father saw a pastor friend of his and I was able to ask him a few questions. He also obliged to being featured in this project! Finally arrived at my cousin's in Scottsdale at 2am and pops hit the hay almost instantaneously. As soon as I arrived in the residence itself I realized that I had not eaten much of anything for the duration of the 7hr drive. I was worried that I was going to have sleep for dinner but soon realized that I was in a house with food, made myself two sandwiches (butter and strawberry preservatives) along with water (there wasn't much milk left and I was raised well enough to know not to finish someone's milk as a guest in their home). Then I slept.

Spent most of the morning asleep, eating, and getting dressed. Got a lot of thinking done:
-I'm really taking personal offense to people belittling what I'm doing. "Your road trip thingy," "Ahh, I'm not a Trump supporter so I guess you cannot interview me." "That's what you're doing, right? Finding out why people voted for Trump?" No. This is not about Trump. Or Clinton. Or whomever. This is about America. I'm purposefully not going to ask people who they voted for, for two reasons in particular.
1. As soon as I ask that they are immediately going to feel like I am judging them one way or the other or feel self-righteous for voting the way they did and try to persuade me that what they did was the right decision. This is not something that I am concerned with whatsoever.
2. People viewing these interviews or reading about them will instantly have certain stigmas and presuppositions in mind about these people before fully hearing them out, leading them to align the way they do.

Also, I came up with some particular questions that could be of use and have relevance in each conversation:
-Who are you?/How did you grow up?/ What leads you to where you are now?
-Who did you idolize or look up to when you were growing up and why?
-Describe the community we are in right now for those that do not live here.
-What are some pressing issues facing the community? What is your take on it?
-Politically active community? Thoughts on current presidential administration?
-Can you name two things, either one material and one social/not physical, or two of either, that you find necessary and are most essential to you being happy with your life?
-Economic issues in the community?
I hope for this list to continue to expand the more I meet people.
Stay tuned.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Day 1: Los Angeles

Okay, so maybe this isn't me officially on my trip, but it is an important part of the process, and if there is anything that I have learned in my 18 years of living, it is to #TrustTheProcess. It is currently 4:30am, and I am doing all the last minute dotting of i's and crossing of t's. I do not feel any general excitement or trepidation yet, but I figure it will come with time. Packing is all but done, and I am listening to some classic Big Time Rush.

We should be leaving at around 10am, and everything is falling into place nicely. I feel prepared, although there are still some reservations and comedy clubs that I need to look into, but at times like this I refer back to a quote from Thomas Jefferson, "I'm a firm believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

Currently, I am not expecting anything much from the first day on the road. I will be staying with my cousin, Theresa, and her family in Scottsdale, AZ, and just hope to get settled in and gather my wits about me. I hope to go to a city in La Paz County, AZ at some point, but I will figure that out soon.

General Trip Expectations:
  • Father - Son bonding: We'll be sharing a car, adventures, laughter, and experiences. Should be interesting.
  • GREAT MUSIC: I got aux 24/7, quit playing.
  • Understanding of leisure time: People attend these shows for fun, as a way to decompress after a long day or week, so what does the type of material they are presented with say about what they are most comfortable with? Especially when it comes to it being somewhat of a restorative experience.
  • Pain: People feel betrayed. No one trusts politicians (and understandably so) and my questions will aim to reach the nuanced base of our political affiliations and culture of 'settling' when it comes to elections.
  • Comedic diversity: Every comic has a background that they can bring to their humor, and I look forward to not only watching but also engaging with these comedians to learn about why they do what they do, why they do it that way, and what have they learned about their audiences.
  • Not a pop, but an expansion: I don't think people can ever pop whatever bubble they live in, it's human nature and it gives us a sense of security, but I hope to expand my bubble to better understand and be cognizant of what this country encompasses.

We're going to have some fun, y'all.