Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lessons From Chavez and Huerta

Thank you for the well thought out comments on my previous blog entry. I know that most of you understand where I'm coming from. I don't think either disappointment or anger are childish traits. Many times, they force us to find a new direction.

It's hard for me to write this because I am still upset. I know that I've written before about how this election has personally affected me and my family but for the first time this morning, I realized that I just have to move on. Reading a transcript of Dolores Huerta's nominating speech for Hillary Clinton at the DNC really got to me. Dolores Huerta, who has been through so much and has meant so much to Latinos, helped me remember the many setbacks that the UFW has faced over the years and the long, painstaking road that she has walked to improve conditions for those who have neither a voice nor a vote.

I see now that this is one of those setbacks for women like me, who are tired of being pushed around by a seemingly omnipresent patriarchy. Change is infuriatingly slow and I am not a patient woman.

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta helped the world understand the lack of basic human rights that migrant farm workers were denied. They taught us to look beyond our own concerns and to remember that whenever there is injustice toward others, we must stand united to fight against it.

This time was not our time to break through the glass ceiling and as much as I am saddened for myself and for my daughters, I realize that there is something to celebrate. As angry as I was at Barack Obama for not choosing a woman as his vice presidential running mate, it is time for me to look beyond my own concerns and celebrate the step forward that the Democrats are making by becoming the first major party to nominate an African American for President of The United States. I am familiar with Obama's voting record and as I've said before, it is very similar to Hillary's. While it is possible that he may turn out to be the best choice, I did use my anger constructively and I began to look outside the two major parties. I am currently researching Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's presidential candidate who also looks like a good candidate. I'm not ready to say how I'll vote yet, but I am ready to move on, re-group, and move forward.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Women's Equality Day

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds in Denver, I find it ironic that today of all days, as we celebrate Women's Equality Day, I can't help but feel betrayed by my lifelong party. How could the party leaders ignore the message that we want a woman for President, or at least Vice President? The fact that 18,000,000 registered Democrats cast their primary election ballots for Hillary Rodham Clinton (and not Joseph Biden) is being completely disregarded in the name of "party unity," which is starting to smell more like a compromise to me.

How dare Nancy Pelosi accuse us of wallowing and tell us to "get over it." What part of the democratic process does she not understand? The convention was designed with the purpose of selecting a candidate, not crowning the party leaders’ chosen one. The people tell our elected leaders want we want and how to govern, not the other way around. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that we had a representative government, reflective of the will of the people. I expected the Democrats to understand that there is a larger victory to be won than the upcoming election in November. Putting a party victory ahead of party ideals would be a hollow victory for me and many of my sisters. It would make my party stand for nothing.

Today is a day when our delegates can make a statement. I applaud Gloria Allred, who had the guts to protest at this morning’s caucus by wearing an impromptu gag and declaring that “she was not elected as a delegate to be a potted plant."

I guess you think I'm off on this one. I'm very angry and I suppose there is probably a better way to voice my anger. But I will not simply go along quietly (shut up and sit down) while women are once again written out of the equation. What do you suggest? Women, it's time to take control of our party! There is no way Obama could not get the message that we wanted a woman in the White House, but he chose not to act in accordance with our wishes. Why? Because he is trying to win an election by wooing white, middle class voters who might otherwise go to McCain. The party is doing this at our expense because they think we're going to just lie back and get fucked. Well, I for one am not going to. If we don't fix this trainwreck, I intend to look for a candidate, perhaps among the independent parties, who puts women's issues at the top of their agenda.

Wake up Democrats, is this the sort of change we can believe in? Keep your eyes on the prize, ladies. This candidate chose another man to be his running mate when it was obvious that a very large portion of his party wanted a woman on the ticket. Instead of reaching out to the Hillary supporters within the Democratic Party he chose to reach out to mollify the conservatives within the party and on the Republican side. Where are all my liberal friends? What have you to say about this? Is this a new kind of liberalism?

I don't care if Hillary tells her supporters to vote for Obama. I will vote for the person who espouses my ideals. Our delegates need to step up today in Denver and send a LOUD message to Mr. Obama and the party not to take our votes for granted. Ladies, if we do not make ourselves heard we have no one to blame but ourselves. It is estimated that women make up over half of the Democratic Party. We need to make that party responsive to our needs. We will be heard. We must be fairly represented, NOW!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Deleted Scenes - Grand Central Market

I've been writing my blogography or autobiographical stories for the past couple of weeks, but there are some stories which haven't made the cut to my Violence Girl blog, not because I don't like them, but because my editor insists that they don't fit the tone of Violence Girl or move the story along. I've decided to trust his judgement...for now. Here's one of the stories I like to call "deleted scenes."

Grand Central Market

My mom loved to shop downtown. On weekends, we'd take the bus to Broadway or if my dad was around, we'd drive to Grand Central Market to do our grocery shopping for the week. If it was just me and my mom, we'd use the Broadway Street entrance. There, we'd often see an old woman who sat with a little makeshift tray and a pail of tunas (Prickly Pears), selling her sliced fruit. My mom loved fresh fruit and always stopped to have the woman slice up some tunas for us. The woman's aged, leathery hands deftly arched around the fruit, holding it steady, never allowing the spines to prick her as she peeled it with a small paring knife. In a few seconds, the fruit was peeled and cut to resemble a flower blossom. The tunas had the texture of kiwi fruit, the sweetness of a strawberry and a very faint, delicate perfume that rewarded you each time you took a bite.

After finishing off our tunas, we were ready to face the busy market. Each stall had its specialty: there were fruit stalls, cheese stalls, sausage stalls, stalls selling cooked food and much, much more. The main problem for a young kid was the hordes of people who thronged the marketplace. Everyone was pushing to get through, reaching across to get a pinch of this, a taste of that. The thought of buying a pound of anything you hadn't tasted seemed ludicrous to these discriminating shoppers. People shouted their requests to the merchants like thirsty patrons at a crowded bar, trying to catch their attention before someone else beat them to it.

"Give me a bunch of spinach!" "A pound of grapes!" Anonymous voices shouted above the din of the bustling marketplace. It was hard for a little kid to be seen or heard over the shouting, shoving crowds. Every so often, workmen would push their way through the aisles with big metal handcarts stacked high with crates of fruit or vegetables, threatening to mow down any invisible little kids.

One particular day, my mother was trying to get the attention of a fruit vendor when one of the men pushing an overloaded handcart came barreling down the aisle. It was stacked so high that the man pushing it could barely see over the top and there were so many people that he couldn't look around it. It was obvious he was pushing it blindly and recklessly through the crowd, straight towards me. I panicked and let go of my distracted mother's hand. As soon as the man passed, the crowd flooded in to close the gap between me and my mom and pretty soon I couldn't see the top of her head anymore. I felt like I had been swallowed up by a sea of people. My heart started pounding. I squeezed my way towards the back steps, where I knew I'd have a better vantage point and might be able to spot my mother. I stood on tip toe on the steps and surveyed the whole market. So many people!

"Mami!" I shouted out, starting to cry now. "Mami!" Concerned adults stopped and tried to talk to me but I was afraid of being stolen and I pushed them away. I imagined never seeing my parents again and being taken by strangers. I saw people talking and pointing at me as I continued to cry out, "Mami!"

"Alicia!" I heard an answer in the distance. My mom was pushing her way towards me. "Stay there!" she shouted. People smiled at me and seemed relieved. They resumed their previous pace. When my mom finally reached me, I got scolded for letting go of her hand, but I didn't care, I was so happy to have my mami back.

On days when my father went with us to the Grand Central Market, it was a very different story altogether. My dad liked to go into the market using the Hill Street entrance. My mom would go ahead of us into the market and, unbeknownst to my mother, my father and I would sneak a ride on Angels Flight, which was just across the street. Angel's Flight was a very brief funicular ride up the side of Bunker Hill but those red cars with their old fashioned wooden seats were so much fun to ride. You would pass so close to the car coming in the opposite direction down the hill that for a split second you thrilled at the possibility that one of the cars would jump its tracks and they'd come to a head-on collision. At the top of the hill there was nothing, just the whole City of Angels spread out for everyone to look at.

We usually spent just a few minutes at the top before riding back down. Our first stop when entering on Hill Street was always the juice stall. Into a big blender half full with ice, the juice man would put freshly squeezed orange juice, a scoop of a mysterious white power and a raw egg. He'd whip it up, then pour us the tall, frothy concoctions my dad and I loved. In those days, raw eggs were freely consumed. I remember my mom and dad ordering egg shots from the same juice bar. Into a small glass, the juice man would break a fresh, raw egg. My parents would then add salt and chili and swallow them in one gulp. That was one treat I never indulged in.

After orange drinks, my father liked to eat Chinese food. My mom hated Chinese food because it wasn't Mexican food and, being a creature of habit, she only ate and cooked Mexican food (the only exception to this was my mother's pathetic attempt at spaghetti - a soupy concoction of limp noodles swimming in tomato sauce straight from the can, covered in melted jack cheese. I loved it!). I have a hazy memory of my dad sitting at a Chinese cafe counter on the lower floor of the market. He loved Chop Suey and Egg Foo Young and he'd always let me taste his food but I never got my own order, because my mother said that I didn't like Chinese food. My father exposed me to new and exciting cuisines by allowing me to have tastes of his own food, usually the first bite. He worked all over Los Angeles and was no doubt exposed to all sorts of unusual food from different cultures.

Even though my mom insisted on maintaining the ethnic purity of her cuisine at home, she eventually allowed a chink in the "no Non-Mexican Foods" armor by consenting to take me and my sister to Taco Bell, which appealed both to her ethnic pride and her sense of economy. Of course, this put us on a slippery slope which inevitably led to McDonald's and Burger King. My mother practically died with a 99 cent Whopper in her hand.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My New Form of Therapy

Let me start off by saying that I don't consider myself a writer. When my husband suggested that I start writing autobiographical stories with the intent of working them into a book, I tried to put him off by insisting that I am not a writer. He pointed out that I had been writing a blog for the past several years, albeit sporadically, so I allowed that he had a point and I decided to try. He hinted that writing these stories would be good for me and that the process would help me to better understand myself, even if they never got published.

Sifting through long forgotten stories of my childhood and writing on a daily basis, I have become obsessed with following the threads of my memories, one leading to another. I start pulling on a single, seemingly trivial strand, but then I discover that it's attached to a larger strand; that one in turn is attached to an even bigger one. Sometimes, I find have I have tugged a whole, long forgotten piece of my past into view, one thread at a time.

I find that I doubt my own memories, wondering if my mind has confused situations or invented places that never existed or were in different times and places than I remember them. Was there really a carousel at Lincoln Park? Didn't my father like to eat Chinese food at a little diner on the lower floor of Grand Central Market?

I spend most of my weekdays - the days when I write - walking around like a zombie, my head filled with images and scenes from over forty years ago. Some of the darker stories still have the power to break me. I had to leave the supermarket the other day because I couldn't stop crying, thinking about one of many terrible incidents involving my parents. That day was emotionally exhausting and I realized that forcing myself to write these memories is a form of catharsis for me, in much the same way performing onstage with the Bags was.

Not all memories are dark and heavy. Thanks to my mother (once again) who saved all of our old family photos in albums, I have the ability to flip through pages of my history. Yes, there's the neighbor family just as I remember them; there's the old carousel at Lincoln Park, it did exist. The photographic images spur memories and then I sit down to write the stories as fast as they come to me.

My work in progress is called Violence Girl and you can read it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Violence Girl In Progress

No new post for the Diary today, as I am still furiously writing and posting my online autobiography (hopefully to become a graphic novel) - Violence Girl. Please read the latest installment at my Violence Girl blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Put On Your White Bonnets, It's Cine Time!

I grew up watching Spanish language movies. Peliculas de La Epoca de Oro (films from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema) were the ones my parents liked best. They'd seen them all before, but would never tire of watching Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Libertad Lamarque, Pedro Armendariz and Sylvia Pinal on the big screen.

Pedro Armendariz and Dolores del Rio in Los Abandonadas.

There were plenty of movie theaters in the 'hood that showed these movies and it was our one splurge as a family to go to the movies on dos por uno night, a buy one - get one free special, usually offered on a different night at each of the theaters we frequented. My mom and I would split one admission, then my dad would wait outside for another solo male to come along and he'd split the admission with him. In order to cut costs even further, my mother would pack half a dozen bean burritos, wrapped in foil along with some canned sodas and bags of chips or Fritos. Once inside the darkened theatre, she would produce all of these from a seemingly limitless bag of tricks, like the one Felix the Cat carried. If we were out of tortillas, my mother would make white bread bean and cheese sandwiches. These were a tasty change of pace and probably a uniquely pocho cuisine.

As soon as the lights went down, we'd start passing our feast around and before long, we were transported to an impossibly glamorous black and white version of Mexico. It was escapism at it's finest. In those days, you got to see two or three movies at a time when you went to the cine (cinema). Sometimes, there were even live acts who performed in between the films. The Million Dollar Theater in Downtown L.A. was famous for its "Variedades." There, on weekend afternoons, we'd watch the first movie then be treated to touring singers, actors, jugglers, comedians, dancers, ventriloquists, gymnasts, mariachis... you name it. The word "Variedades" means variety and there was certainly plenty of that. Young men and women would walk up and down the aisles with large trays strapped around their necks, selling cigarettes and BonBons and candy. It was a total experience.

The Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles.

The Million Dollar Theater was a grand old movie palace with beautiful alcoves and balconies. One weekend afternoon, we were seated in the balcony. I was getting bored of the movie and asked my mom for some change to buy a toy from the vending machine in the ladies' bathroom. Those machines used to stock all kinds of goodies, from small plastic toys to entertain fidgety kids, to lipstick, combs and emory boards. To keep me out of her hair, my mom gave me the change and let me go back to the bathroom to get myself a little toy. When I went back to the bathroom, I discovered not one but two vending machines. The second vending machine didn't have a glass front showing all the different goodies that could be purchased which puzzled me, but as I stood there wondering, a woman came up, put her coins in and was rewarded with a little white paper bag.

Aha! I figured it must be a grab bag type deal. I knew from shopping with my mother who often bought grab bags of fruit and soon-to-expire bread at the market that you could get more for your money if you were willing to take a chance. I was excited by the prospect of getting a really special surprise treat, so I put my money in the machine and turned the knob. Out came my little white paper grab bag. I tore it open and pulled out a small, white pillowy looking bonnet. It had two straps that didn't quite fit around my head so I was disappointed that I couldn't put it right on.

I ran back to the balcony where my parents were seated about five rows up. I stood at the bottom, front and center, waved the sanitary pad in my hand and called out to my mom, "I didn't get a toy! Look what came out!" My mother was mortified and rushed to me as some people suppressed snickers and others glared at me. My mother whisked me up and out of sight but when I asked her why she was angry with me, she couldn't quite say except to tell me that "Those things are for ladies!" When I asked how they were used, my mother couldn't tell me. The mystery of the little white bonnet would remain unsolved until 6th grade, when my teacher at school would show my class a film about it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

East L.A. Bobsleds

I've been blogging for many years now and during that time, I've told bits and pieces of my life story in various posts and interviews, but I'd never seriously thought about writing my autobiography until fairly recently. My husband had been after me for some time to write life stories that could be worked into a novel, or more specifically, a graphic novel, which is a format that I am particularly fond of. I had actually begun writing some of my memories down expressly for this purpose when I went to the latest Comicon and it dawned on me that publishing a graphic novel based on my life might actually be possible.

In the punk spirit of doing it yourself and jumping into the water before you've fully learned to swim, we've decided to post my autobiography (or autoblography, since it will appear as a blog) as a work in progress, in hopes that those who read it will find it worthwhile and interesting. Perhaps a comic book artist is out there who would find the challenge of illustrating and lettering my little stories intriguing. I am hoping to find someone whose aesthetic and graphic style matches the material. If you think this describes you, please contact me by email at

So begins the saga of Violence Girl, which can be found on

I will continue to post on Diary of A Bad Housewife about my usual interests (which is to say, anything and everything) but my Violence Girl blog will only feature excerpts from my autobiographical stories.

Poor Little Poor Girl

Growing up poor in East L.A. during the early 1960's didn't bode well for one's future success. It certainly didn't put you on the fast track to rock stardom, especially if you happened to be an overweight, unpopular, eyeglass wearing, Spanish-only speaking daughter of Mexican immigrants like me.

When I first sat down to write the memories of my early childhood, I was shocked to realize how much of it was a blank. My memories of that time are like shards of a broken mirror or a movie, cobbled together from film clippings left on the editing room floor. Instead of a neat, linear montage of stories, my memories grudgingly crawl back to me: my mother, battered and bleeding, standing in the bedroom. My mother, covered in blood, kneeling on the floor. My father in a violent rage, spitting his false teeth out of his mouth as he screams curses at my mother. My father, commanding me to spit on my kneeling mother. Past and present collide and as I recall more details and images, my stomach begins to hurt. I feel the urge to vomit. Nearly fifty years later, long buried memories of my caustic childhood still have the power to bring me to my knees.

The first house I lived in was on 8th Street in East L.A. We had moved from this house to another house on Ditman Avenue by the time I entered kindergarten, so I don't have many memories of it. Our second house on Ditman was tiny, even by the standards of a poor barrio in East L.A. and it was completely infested with brown German cockroaches. The funny thing was that even though our house was too small to have a dining table, we did have an upright piano, which I think my dad must have gotten in trade for some of his work.

My dad was a self-employed carpenter, which meant that sometimes he worked a lot and other times he didn't work at all. He had printed up some business cards, advertising his services and he'd carry them around with him, posting them on public bulletin boards and that was how he sometimes found work. My mom didn't work outside of the home and she cooked, cleaned, sewed and looked after me and my older sister. Both of my parents immigrated from Mexico, although my mother had grown up in Los Angeles and my father had come over as an adult. They met on a bus in Mexico. My father was coming home from work, sweaty and dirty from a day of labor and he sat down next to my mother. They started a conversation and eventually my father said, "I'd ask you out to the movies, if I wasn't so dirty," to which my mother replied, "You're not dirty." My father always laughed when he told this story, recalling that he was, in fact, extremely dirty - so he knew that my mother liked him.

When I was older, I accidentally found my parents' marriage certificate, showing that my mother had been eight months pregnant when they finally got married. I confronted my father with it, joking with him by saying "You didn't want me." It was obvious that he'd waited until the very last minute to marry my mother. He replied, "I always wanted you, I just didn't want to get married."

My earliest memory is of being at Hollenbeck Park with my father. We are sitting under a tree. I am very young, maybe three years old and there is a vague sadness connected to the memory. My father is trying to cheer me up. My mother is missing. She is in the hospital, and hasn't been home in days. The memory fades there, but usually another image of the same park appears.

I am older now, 6 or 7 years old. There is a bald spot on the hilly part of the park. A group of children have flattened large cardboard boxes and are riding them down the dirt slope like toboggans, kicking up clouds of dirt. I muster up my courage, grab a discarded box and join the strangers, who don't seem to notice me. I push off and feel the rush of excitement as I race down the hill. Some of the children get a much bigger box and climb onto it, one behind the other. The boy in front pulls his knees up to his chest, the others stretch their legs out in a V and pile on behind him, in a choo-choo train style. They have made a cardboard bobsled, but it's a bust. It crawls too slowly down the hill, looking like a big centipede as the kids try to propel the box with their legs akimbo. It's back to single-person toboggans, or doubles on luges. The more adventurous kids go down head first, face up or face down. We take turns, speeding down, adding tricks as fast as we can make them up. I am a coward and I ride seated, holding onto the upturned sides of the cardboard. My tricks are simple: legs stretched out in front of me, then legs bent to my chest, but nobody cares. Nobody's looking at me. They're all planning their next trick, or enjoying their current one. The heat of the summer day and the activity has made the kids sweaty, providing something for the flying dirt to adhere to. They all look like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. Mothers start coming over to put an end to what will surely mean an extra load of laundry. My own mom waves me back, she's been sitting under a tree with my older sisters, reading Novelas de Amor and Confidencias. The fun is over, but who would have thought that a few spontaneous moments of makeshift play with a castoff cardboard box, a dirt hill and a bunch of kids who were having too much fun to bother picking on me would be one of my happiest childhood memories?