Grapes of Wrath: Paulina Cabrera’s 1968 Summer

My aunt Paulina Cabrera and her mother Maria Dolores flirtingly pose and proudly display a bunch of green grapes. It's 1968, and Paulina has just turned fifteen. She wears a yellow skirt, which she made two weeks before this photo was taken. Maria, known to her family and friends as Lola, is also wearing a special outfit. Both took the photo to commemorate their first day in California and their migration from Tepatitlan de Morelos, Jalisco to Firebaugh, California. Tonia, Paulina’s cousin, took the picture. “Sonrie!” she shouted, as she took a snapshot of the beginning of a mother and daughters’ first summer picking grapes. Paulina was born in 1953 and was the third youngest of ten … [Read more...]

Kickin’ It with Gary Soto: The Tropics of Meta Interview

When the opportunity to hold a microphone during a Gary Soto interview came up, I leapt at it.  Soto, the world-renowned (and I can say that: world-renowned), Fresno-born, Mexican-American author headlines the second annual LitHop literary festival on April 29. We met Soto in the hall outside his museum in Fresno City College's old administration building. Soto drives down from his home in Berkeley regularly to conduct tours there. He introduces visitors to his books, poems, awards, photos, and keepsakes from his childhood. He points out the places he proposed to young women, was rejected, and later  found poetry. Fresno City College Professor Juan Luis Guzmán conducted much of the formal … [Read more...]

Smurfs, Wizards, and the History of Hmong B-Boy Culture in Southeast Fresno

Hip-hop’s founding myth places the culture’s birth at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where on a summer night in 1973 Clive Campbell, aka Dj Kool Herc, held a back-to-school party in his apartment complex’s recreation room. After Herc’s initial reggae offerings fell on deaf ears and, even worse, still feet, he did what any good DJ would do: break out the James Brown. From behind his turntables, Herc noticed that dancers got especially hype when one of Brown’s songs was stripped bare of everything but Clyde Stubblefield’s funky drums. Eventually, Herc engineered a set up consisting of two turntables and a homemade mixer that allowed him to isolated these “breaks” in the song by switching … [Read more...]

It Started Here: Jean Vang’s Journey into Fresno’s Hip Hop Past

Popping is a dance style that originated in Fresno and is characterized by abrupt spastic movements. The dancers pop their limbs in sudden drastic motions while incorporating subtle pauses to accentuate these popping gestures. The origins are often credited to brothers Popp’ in Pete and Sam Solomon who helped create the dance stylings in the 1970’s.[1] The Solomon brothers grew up in West Fresno which was predominantly African American. Latinos and African Americans were often segregated to this region of Fresno, which suffered from widespread unemployment and poverty. The schools in this region were neglected and housing was dilapidated.[2] It was under these difficult conditions that the … [Read more...]

All They Will Call You: A Look at the Lost History of Deportation and a Tragic 1948 Flight

All They Will Call You (The University of Arizona Press, 2017) is Tim Z. Hernandez’s attempt at telling the stories of those whose lives were lost in a plane crash in the Los Gatos Canyon, in California’s Central Valley, on January 28, 1948. And telling these stories is needed. Prior to this account the accident and its victims were popularized in the words of Woody Guthrie, who wrote the words to one of the most popular folk songs ever, “Plane Wreck Over Los Gatos (Deportee).” This response, as needed as it was—Guthrie wrote the poem that would become the song as a way of correcting what he saw as an erasure motivated by racism in newspaper accounts of the accident, most of which declined … [Read more...]

A Blaxican’s Journey through Fresno’s Racial Landscape

In the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc tried something new on the turntables: by extending the beat, breaking and scratching the record, he allowed people to dance longer and entertained them with his rhymes as an MC. After that moment, everything changed. The sound that emerged out of the South Bronx in New York City led to a cultural movement that changed the lives of generations around the world.[1] For Phillip Walker, a mixed race kid from Fresno, California, hip-hop not only served as the soundtrack of his youth, but provided a way to understand his neighborhood and build a multiethnic community. Phillip Ernest Walker Jr. was born on January 28, 1976 in Fresno, California. He is the son … [Read more...]

The Story of Boogaloo Sam as Told by Izel Gaye

We all have that one piece of clothing, be it a fresh new hat or a favorite pair of jeans, that when we slip it on it makes us feel like a million bucks.  You walk a little taller and feel as though your outlook for the day may be brighter simply by adorning yourself in this one item.  For Izel Gaye, a 58-year-old man who has lived most of his life on the west side of Fresno California, that special item is a pair of dancing shoes that were given to him by his friend, Poppin’ and Boogaloo icon Sam Solomon. “When he gave you something,” Mr. Gaye reflected in a recent oral history, “It was like oh boy you better hang on to this… it's got the magic touch.  Then when I put ‘em on I feel like I’m … [Read more...]

Straight Outta Fresno: Hip Hop Dance from Popping to B-Boying and B-Girling

In 1979, Soul Train host Don Cornelius introduced the nation to five dancers who called themselves the Electric Boogaloos. “As you may know, these very creative young men have invented a dancing style that’s becoming very popular, and it’s described as ‘popping,’” Cornelius announced to the cameras. Shortly after their 1979 performance, Hollywood produced a series of breakdancing films that featured actual poppers like Bruno “Pop N' Taco” Falcon and Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers showing off the dance’s characteristic pops, ticks, jerks, and spasms.  By the time kids in Kenosha, Wisconsin marveled at Pop N’ Taco’s spastic, yet simultaneously fluid, dance routines in the film “Breakin’” … [Read more...]

The Last Lecture of My First Semester: My Daughter, Pocahontas

For the past semester, I’ve taught California Studies, a course primarily designed for non-history majors and future K-6 teachers. I ended our time together by sharing the following story: Every other Thursday, I bring my five-year-old to campus. Her mother drops her off, we play in my office for a bit and eventually we make our way to the Madden Library. We’ve done this so much that she knows the exact floor and location of her favorite author: Mo Willems. She carefully selects four, sometimes five books from the stacks and then insists that we read each and every single story about Piggie and Geraldo the Elephant…She is only allowed to take two books home, but I tend to concede to her … [Read more...]

Charles and Ray Eames: How Wartime L.A. Shaped the Mid-Century Modern Aesthetic

During the mid-1990s, while working evenings and weekends on her PhD dissertation on 18th-century Philadelphia, veteran Library of Congress archivist Margaret McAleer found inspiration in what one might consider an unlikely place: the papers of legendary Los Angeles-based, 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames. Ray Eames, who died in 1988, had bequeathed the collection to the library, and McAleer was assigned to organize the manuscript portion of the collection in advance of a 1998 exhibition on the designers.[1] She dove into its endless contents. “I was so inspired by their creativity and passion,” she noted in a recent interview. “They developed unique, fresh perspectives on … [Read more...]