Monday, June 26, 2017

Day 13: En Route to Colorado/Colorado Comedy

I will not bore you with details about the drive to Denver, because really there was not much after the historic site visit in Topeka, KS.

It rained a little bit on our way into the state, which was actually a bit welcome because it took a lot of bugs off of the windshield lol.

I like photos of the sky, sue me. And as you can see, it cleared up by the time we arrived the city itself
(I like to say that I bring the sunshine with my bubbly personality but I try to remain humble).

I wanted to get to the venue for the night by 6pm so as to be able to participate in improv exercises open to the general public but time was not on my side.

But that is okay! You just gotta roll with the punches sometimes, as I've grown up that staying upset and pouting is not as productive as my childhood led me to believe. Look! I'm adulting.

So we arrived at our hotel in Denver, and it was pretty nice, to be honest.
--okay maybe my perception of the hotel was influenced by the fact that I found the young woman at the front desk attractive, but I am only human--
We unpacked, and soon afterwards it was showtime! (not for me, of course, but for the show itself)

My boss, Diversity and Inclusion Board Chair at Claremont McKenna College, the incomparable Maya Love '20, is a native of Denver, so I invited her and her friends to the show as well, also giving me an opportunity to conduct some interviews.

From left to right (on the photo on the right): Maya, Nizhooni, Genesis, Damaria.

Back to the show. It was an interesting form of comedy that night. It was a troupe called Hit and Run: Musical Improv, which is pretty self explanatory. They take suggestions from the audience similarly to a usual improv group, but for a title of the musical, and I am unsure but I think also a genre and a beginning location.

It. Was. Amazing. All of five performers on stage and their offstage pianist are so talented, especially when you take into consideration that all that they were saying was off the top of their heads, including the songs!
Sure they were a bit choppy here and there, but they were able to sing in sync and have an intro/hook/chorus to their songs, and I was thoroughly impressed. It might not have been telling much of the community values, but it was an entertaining outing.

Afterwards, it was out to overpriced pizza (gentrification is a trip) with the young women pictured above and my father.

The pizza was not worth the charge but I was hungry so I was complicit in being finessed by this business establishment.

Then it was interview time.

Admittedly, I'd always thought of Denver as some White, mountainous, Patagonia-wearing, coffee-loving, fairly well off enclave that was detached from the issues of those of marginalized identities, but that could not have been further from the reality of the two Denver residents I had the opportunity to interview.

They spoke of deep, intersectional issues. From poverty and homelessness, to gentrification and a changing of the culture, they expressed the visible shifts in their hometown. I also learned about their more personal ventures, from getting people of color more involved in the generally-seen-as-the-embodiment-of-Whiteness outdoors and nature, to the representation of women (especially women of color) in positions of power at local or more far-reaching scales.

I often find myself conversing with people on the receiving end of gentrification and other cultural erasure methods, and they all meet these community-based changes with reluctance. I totally understand why, and I find that Denver is actually a bit of a different case. I say this because it is not just White people moving in and bringing their small businesses that drive up housing costs and such of the like, but also a development of the city. So as they are trying to attract new businesses to bring in more revenue for the city, they are developing and pushing out populations of people that have resided there for a while already (in particular the homeless population).

So now the question is how do we move forward while ensuring that we don't leave already institutionally disadvantaged populations behind?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Day 13: En Route to Denver

Got off to a late start this day, but we were on the road by 10am and even had breakfast on the road, in Topeka, KS.

And you might think that was all there was to do in Topeka, Kansas, but you would be happily mistaken, like I was.

Google's useful location services let me know that I was near the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, so to the historic site we went!

It was interesting to learn more about this landmark Supreme Court case, especially with this school in particular, which was in pretty good shape. One would assume that such was the case because the country is invested in the wellbeing of this building, but even in the pictures of the school when it had students, it was not in disrepair in the slightest.

But that does not sound historically accurate, right? The storyline we are familiar with is that the respective Black counters to White facilities were, without fail, abhorrently inferior. And for the most part, this was true.
So why then, does the actual school of the namesake Brown in the momentous Brown v. Board ruling appear to be just fine?
Well, it was a class action suit, so there were hundred of cases of Black schools in the same counties as White ones that were of far lower quality-- most of these cases were investigated and collected by the NAACP--, and Brown's name just happened to be at the top of the list of those filing for the suit. If you find the legal documents, you'll see that the appellants, those filing suit, ends in "et al.", which is Latin for "and others." The tour guide here really gave a thorough explanation of the history, which I appreciated.

So why did Brown file suit? Well, he lived far closer to a White school than the Black one, so it made geographical sense for his child to attend the school closer to his home, but these laws got in the way of common sense so he decided to join in on this class suit.

This was not the only issue with segregation in schools, though. Among a plethora of other issues, there was also the internalized racism and other psychological effects on students put in these situations. The historic site also had one of the infamous dolls used in case studies and trials of how segregation effects how Black children view themselves and Whites.
For those unfamiliar with these trials, questions would be posed to young children like, "Which is the pretty/smart/nice doll? Which is the ugly/stupid/mean doll?" and all of the desirable traits were attributed to the White doll.

All of this made for a very fulfilling and informative stop along our way to Denver, with major historical significance in an otherwise unassuming area. Really, the acts of these people are probably to thank for my capability to be on this trip and write this blog.

"Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1)." Oyez, Accessed 25 Jun. 2017.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 12 pt. 3/3: Yep Still in KS

At this point we are at Legends in Kansas City.

It is a large outdoor shopping complex that also houses the comedy club we attended that night. 

I was in a bit of a rush to get there by the start of the show because I thought that they were going to be hosting improv exercises that audience members could participate in, but that was actually at the club in Denver the following night. Cut me some slack, there was a lot going on with this three states in three days business lol.

So we showed up an hour early, and decided to get some dinner before the show.

I was excited, seeing that it was an open mic night, because even though I did not sign up to perform, I would get to see how the people out in Kansas City were living their lives and would get a decent amount of information to work with.

And oh dear, did they give me a lot to work with:

They were real people
There was a lawyer, stay at home parents, single parents, people all across the socioeconomic status spectrum, artists, and a number of others, all using comedy as an outlet.

I was not a fan of most of these comics (I just have different comedic preferences, nothing personal) so I am not going to name names or go into any sort of specifics, but I was really listening to what they were saying.

The lawyer talked about lawyering and made lawyer jokes. A guy that immigrated here from Eastern Europe made jokes about culture shock and the language barrier. You know, stuff within the context of "stick to what you know."

There was one lady that I found particularly interesting though. The host of the show hyped her up a bit, talking about where she had traveled to perform her stand up, this and that, etc. So I was expecting a little bit more from her, at least compared to these other people that were just trying this out, hoping to have a good time.

Her jokes detailed her life being poor (her words, not mine) and being a single parent, and for a lot of it the audience was silent. But it was not even the type of silence that could be attributed to her not being funny, but an awkward silence. They could not relate, and they felt uncomfortable being confronted with these socially unfavorable topics that they had probably, more often than not, pushed to the back of their minds to reconcile their own guilt over not doing something about it. I started looking at the people in the audience. Hearty guffaws had turned into shifting in chairs and throat clearing. A large part of comedy is relatability, but there is a significant barrier being put up when we choose not to relate to someone that one may deem as part of a lower social status, simply due to their lot in life.

This is me seeing comedy as potentially elitist and a cause for separation between people. I'd bet good money that these same people would laugh at jokes that are disparaging towards people of lower socioeconomic status-- I say this because I've seen it happen at another venue along this trip--, but when a member of this group comes in front of them and is speaking to them in a frightfully equal arena, the comparatively higher status that they hold in their own perception is challenged and discredited.

And if we are all equal, we really should be doing more to help others, right?

But that's just me postulating.

Soon thereafter the headliner came on, a Black comedian that rose to fame in the 1970s from a tv show on which he had an iconic catchphrase. There was an older audience tonight so I figured there would be a nostalgia factor into how a lot of them took in his set, and it seemed like it did.

I was really not a fan though.

An issue I had with stand up comedy when I came home for winter break was how it was being used to perpetuate stereotypes, with the helpful politics I was learning in school that recognize historically marginalized peoples being discredited and made fun of, so I just found it laugh at these jokes, because I didn't find them funny.

And people are always saying "oh you're too sensitive, it's just a joke!" but if that's the case then we can never draw the line, anywhere. And the line has to be drawn somewhere. But everybody has a different line, so we can't just go around policing lines for other people. Just let each other live.

Back to the comic. He had a very antiquated way of thinking. Example: he belittled the idea of sexual harassment to whether or not women find their harasser attractive, and a number of other ways of thinking that are best left in the past. This is not meant to be a "holier than thou" narrative, but it's always useful to think about how comedy and what we find funny can reinforce dangerous ideals.

The rest of show was about the same quality as the beginning. There was an inspirational comic who was also a paraplegic but more importantly, was actually funny. (Referring back to my prior statements of relatability, no one in the audience could relate, so how many of those audience members were genuinely laughing and how many were laughing out of pity?)

Maybe I am going too deep, but maybe I am asking the questions that I needed to be asking all along.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 12 pt. 2/3: Continued in Kansas City

Before going any further, I must note that this was the beginning of a stint in this trip where my father and I had to travel to three states in just as many days.

Wild right?

It was. Oklahoma to Kansas (day 1), Kansas to Colorado (day 2), Colorado to Utah (day 3).

I bet you're asking why it had to be this way. Well, there were only comedy shows available in Utah on the Saturday of that week and the Wednesday of the following week, none in between. At least none that I could go to.

So my options were to go about my trip as planned and spend an extra day in Utah to attend the Wednesday show, or truncate my trip the way I did so that I could attend the Saturday show.

Why not take the easy route? Well, that Wednesday was the same day that my girlfriend, Sarah, would have her graduation, and I would not miss it for the world, so we chose to shorten our stay in Kansas and Colorado.

Before I receive cries of misused grant funds, my father decided to pay for our flights back home because he had to go back to LA as well to take care of some stuff from his job, so we probably would have had to put our trip on hold for a couple days around this time anyways.

Also, this definitely was NOT an easy way out of doing my intended job of research with this project. Day 1 consisted of four hours of driving, day 2 was nine hours, and day 3 was eight.

I made a point of booking tickets to shows in all of these states beforehand and trying to set up interviews, but sadly I was unable to get an interview in Kansas nor go to a show in Utah, both serious blunders on my end.

People may ask me why go through all of this just to attend a high school graduation, but for me the answer was always self-explanatory.


Day 12 pt. 1/3: The 96th Anniversary of Day 2 of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots (Massacre)

The intro to this day is for everyone that criticizes "those darn millennials" for always being on their smart devices:

My father was getting dressed and I was packing up, getting ready to take on the day and hit the road!

(okay so maybe I was lying in bed just scrolling on my phone but I was waiting to use the restroom)

I stumble upon a shared article on Twitter, mentioning that that particular day, June 1st, was the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots, which ravaged the predominantly Black neighborhood of Greenwood, where the economically prosperous "Black Wall Street" was located.

I recalled learning a bit about this riot (massacre, if we are calling it what it actually was) when I was fortunate to go on a CMC sponsored trip to the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in D.C., but it quickly took up residence at the very end of my mind since it is not a commonly noted act of cruelty against the African American community.

It's just not taught in our schools, like the initial tragedy was not enough.

Fast forward to later that day:

I am in the Greenwood Cultural Center, there is a cohort of young kids being led in some activity, presumably as part of a summer program.

I am in awe of all that is there, the cultural African/African American artifacts, symbols of hope for the future, and, most importantly, the number of articles (from around the world) speaking of the events of those devastating days in 1921.

I know that I would be remiss if I did not get an interview with someone, really anyone, that worked here and had a greater understanding of the community today than what could be offered from any textbook.

So I walk knock on the door of what is presumably their administrative offices, explain to them my project and what I am doing there, and they said that they will try to find someone.

(Sidebar: sometimes I tell my friends some of the people that I have gotten the privilege to interview and their reply is often along the lines of "woahh how did you set that up???" Most of the time I just ask, ahah, but it helps to have a camera hanging from my neck, it just looks official)

They point me to Bill White, the Director of Development at the Greenwood Cultural Center, and I get the honor to interview this man that is working towards improving a community that has never quite been the same since they were persecuted by what is arguably the worst crime Black people can commit in the eyes of white supremacy: Black excellence.

He told me about the history of the neighborhood post-1921, how some businesses rebuilt and tried to continue with their success, but how many others just left and the neighborhood suffered an intellectual dearth from all these people with successful business models, especially ones that served the community. He also told me about something that shocked me but didn't surprise me, that White Tulsans had almost no idea that this had happened until recent years.

Imagine that. Over a thousand businesses burned down out of hate, scores of African Americans killed, and a community, as a collective, does not acknowledge that this happened in just the prior century.

But if this event is not taught in the city where this actually happened, how could we expect it to be included in textbooks on the national scale? And this has only served as another separating factor between these communities. Black people in Tulsa could never forget that this happened. Passed down orally or what have you, they needed to be wary in the following decades of the tremendous spite that White Tulsans could harbor. So this discouraged interactions between communities, and increased racial distrust. And now here we are.

At times like this I think of then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower making sure that his soldiers took many photos of the atrocities of the Holocaust so that there would be no way for the people that committed these crimes against humanity to rewrite history to fit a self-serving agenda.

Afterwards, my father and I took a walk down of what was formerly Black Wall street, with plaques embedded into the sidewalks detailing what businesses once stood there, who owned them, and whether they reopened or did not.

It was sobering, angering, frustrating, and many other emotions but, most importantly, it was necessary.

We later went to the John Hope Franklin Memorial, Reconciliation Park. A native of Tulsa, John Hope Franklin was a great historian of Black existence in America, lecturer, professor, and author. His contributions to the community cannot be overstated, and this memorial to him is a testament to his outstanding work in cataloging the Black struggle.

After this, my father and I drove the four hours to Kansas City, Kansas.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Comedy In Tulsa

A show with professionals, not amateurs trying it out, so I was expecting more from the comedy side but not as much on the "telling of local values" side.

There was an opener, who was local, that talked mostly about this life and at one point mentioned that though he was half Mexican he was "the good kind," a joke similar to something I had heard in heavily immigration oriented Arizona. I was not amused by the rest of his set, but that was just coincidental.

Though it was a full sized comedy club, only 10 to 15 people were actually at this event, allowing for the comedians to get really comfortable with and talk to their audience.

And the next comedian did just that.

He was a Black guy from Cleveland, talking about his experiences and life. I did not think much of his act, I chuckled here and there, until he turned right to me and asked me how old I was. I said 18.
Then he asked if the man next to me was my father, I said yes, and he asked us where we were from. My father replied, the comedian detected the accent, and asked him where he was really from.

That's when the fun started.

No, really, it was fun.

He was doing his usual set, but with the occasional nod to my father and I, especially since we were the only other Black people in the audience and we could relate to his jokes more. He even imitated my father's interactions with me, as in how we would respond to his jokes, and we laughed even harder.

And I don't know how he did it, but it was not disrespectful. I even asked my father, whom the comedian imitated, and he did not feel disrespected. But there are a number of factors at play here:
-we were sitting in the front row and there weren't many people there, he was bound to pick on us
-it was comedy, he was not trying to be malicious or hurt us, just make people laugh, including us
-he never crossed the line or made any personal attacks
-most importantly, he was Black

That last point may come across as controversial, but that is good. We knew that, if anything, this guy respected us like any other decent audience member, but we had a connection because of the amount of melanin in our skin. Not because our lives are similar, but because of how we are treated by society.

This was why I laughed even harder at his jokes, because I knew he understood. Even if it wasn't necessarily the part of my father not being from America, I knew that he knew that Black people do not need to be brought down more, especially not by a member of the community.

In Arizona I saw a white-passing guy make some jokes about people of Latinos and Japanese people, and I just felt annoyed while other white people (and people of some other races) laughed. Because he was poking fun and making a mockery of these people from a position of privilege in this country, making surface level judgments and not caring whatsoever about what the rest of their lives must be like. This is inconsiderate and rude, especially when the actions of these people, which he characterizes to make it seem like they inconvenienced him, are later turned around into a stand up routine in a competition for money.

But this Black comedian in Tulsa got it. His jokes about being Black were funny because they were true, and I know they were true because I am Black myself. Forgive me if I am speaking in circles but this is about community, and there are some things that can only be fully comprehended when you're a member.

The last comic was an older gentleman that had seemed like he had been at this for a while, so I was expecting much of him. Speaking honestly, he made a lot of crude jokes about sex and women and I was taken out of it because that isn't really what I find funny, but it made me think about my own preferences and how comedians need to find a niche.

I appreciate comedy that makes you think about yourself and your world, so much so that you are pondering the joke days later, not because you are still laughing but because it made you think.

And successful comedians have a niche. Something that they are known for that they can build a fan base, tailor made for them, around. They can branch out and go in new directions, but as long they stay true to their style, what made them well-known and well-liked in the first place, they are fine.

The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth

I forgot.

During the morning of day 10, before driving out to Tulsa, my father and I decided to catch some culture in Fort Worth and went to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth.

The were many works about "Cowboys and Indians" that I, at one point, got fed up with the narrative, but after those exhibits were passe it explored more of the works of art done by Americans and those living in America.

(Left to right then down)
Plexus no. 34 (2016) by Gabriel Dawes
Swing Landscape (1938) by Stuart Davis
Amon G. Carter (2008) by Scott Gentling

Admission to the museum is free.

At the end of our time there, I decided to interview a woman that works there that said she was not particularly busy. She was welcoming and willing to answer questions, but I felt that, given her position, she had to give very diplomatic answers, careful not to say anything controversial that could be misconstrued as being the formal position of the museum on the topic, and possibly cost her her job. And I respected that.

There was not much aside from her contentment with the community of Fort Worth that I was able to get, but she did offer up an interesting response to my question about issues with the community.

She noted that the community she knows the best is the art community there, and it is difficult for newcomers to break into circles and get to know the right people so that they may be able to sponsor them or just help them get their name out there. This conversation about how exclusive and elitist these circles can be was not new to me, but it made me think about how people can self-define what community they belong to.

Sure, there are certain communities that people are going to immediately associate with you based upon solely physical criteria (race, residential area, etc.), but the rest is totally up to you. You can identify with those that share a profession as you, which is part of the driving force behind unions (there would be no unifying force to support collective bargaining if there was an identification of a community to begin with), hobbies, interests, and the list goes on and on.

Then we get into other conversations of prioritizing your communities and how you contribute to them, but it all starts with the social idea of people that share a similar something, really anything, and coming together on it.

I figured this may affect how people view and interpret the news. An ecologist community is outraged over climate change, but those working in manufacturing and shipping may view it as an incidental byproduct of their job, something to support them and theirs.

Communities can be beneficial, toxic, involved, destructive, etc. but we have to know what we want to belong to before we can make any substantial comment on how it works, because observing and experiencing are two different things.

Days 10 and 11: En Route to Tulsa and Tulsa, Respectively

This was a pretty short, straight to the point day.

We left in the hotel in the morning-- which I was thankful for because I had overlooked the fact that I had booked a room that allowed smoking, therefore the room smelled like smoke and was not a fun environment for my lungs, my fault though--, got some breakfast at Waffle House, then we were on our merry way up north to Oklahoma, Tulsa to be specific.

Speaking candidly, it was a long drive, four and a half hours or so, but it was one of our shorter drives so I was glad. We reached our hotel and just chillaxed for a bit.
I, being the homebody, actually antisocial, rooted-in-ideas-not-places, out of the moment person I am, just wanted to stay in the room and order a pizza or something.

My father, on the other hand, wanted to explore the city.

So we went out, navigating to Downtown Tulsa. The buildings were cool and whatnot but there were not many people out-- granted, it was a Tuesday night-- so I just decided to drive around and literally see where the roads took us. I even drove through a little residential area, which, for once (you know what I'm talking about if you've seen the first minute of Jordan Peele's movie "Get Out"), was a good idea.
Because I came across this.

These are photos from the walkway that parallels the Arkansas River, which separates West Tulsa from the rest of the city. Pictured here just after sunset, it was a calming, reassuring, and enjoyable end to a long day.

Afterwards we did some more driving, explored West Tulsa, and then tried to find a food place open past 10pm (spoiler alert: there weren't many). We finally ended up at IHOP.

Pictured are my beloved father and the full on meal (I was already halfway through the red velvet pancakes when I remember I am trying to track my meals) that the waitress doubted I could finish.

I could have proved her wrong but I wanted to save the pancakes for the following morning.


Was super lowkey, and that was on me. I got off to a late start, and really only had time to eat dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant before going to the comedy show of the night.

(More on the comedy show in the next post)

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel room, but not before I made a u-turn to stop at a parking lot and take a few photos of aspects of the city that looked cool to me.

Can you tell that I am a night person?

And the night was ended with some delivery pizza, comfort food for a day marked by being comfortable.

I've Been Slacking...

But I'm back and better than ever!

Okay maybe not all that but I am here. Things have been getting hectic so I have not been keeping up here but excuses aside, I am glad to be back, laptop in hand, typing to my heart's desires. And thus, without further ado, the blog continues!