Migrant Dreams and Soccer Journeys

Below a crisp blue sky lies an open field of green. Its perfectly trimmed Bermuda grass is a uniform hue, devoid of light greens and browns. This bed is framed by two sets of rounded goal posts with white nets that cut through space with the precision of a spider's web. Every element of this spatial configuration is deliberate, conducive to its purpose of playing soccer in as perfect form as possible. Under the direction of Juan Sanchez, the Mount San Antonio Community College soccer team has come pretty close to perfection. This San Gabriel Valley based college squad is one of the best the state, winning the state championship four times and national championship twice. Each year, Juan … [Read more...]

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...]

Mateo’s Coins

I was fourteen years old when I first heard the story of my great grandfather Mateo Espinosa. My mother was cleaning out some old photos from a large white box in her closet. There were embarrassing photos of my siblings and I in the nude and even pictures of our deceased pets. While she was searching through these piles of old pictures, she suddenly stopped to admire an old, yellow wrinkled flyer. Looking at this faded paper brought a smile to her face. It was a missing person flyer from 1966 that contained the photo of my great grandfather Mateo Espinosa. In addition to a photo of Mateo, it included information regarding his disappearance, a description of the clothes he was wearing that … [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...]

Welcoming Romeo Guzman as New Associate Editor at Tropics of Meta

We're excited to announce that Romeo Guzman is now an associate editor at Tropics of Meta, and will be taking on a major role in the management and creative direction of the site. An assistant professor of History at California State University, Fresno, Romeo is an award-winning public historian and the founder and director of Fresno State’s Valley Public History Initiative: Preserving our Stories. He has already been a big part of ToM in the past through our collaboration with South El Monte Arts Posse’s East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte project. Romeo's research follows Mexican migrant families and Mexican American youth across the U.S.-Mexico border … [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...]

Born For Love: Juan Gabriel’s Ballads of Solitude, and the Pain of Immigration

It’s difficult to overstate the ubiquity of Juan Gabriel’s voice in the everyday lives of Mexicans, both here in the US and in Mexico, where the megastar’s dozens of hits, some of them decades old, still blare from roadside fondas, urban nightclubs, and the blown out stereo speakers in my uncle’s home in Zamora, Michoacan. From disco, to rancheras, to ballads, and everything in between, Juan Gabriel’s signature melancholic exuberance was at once relatable and alien: relatable in the heartbreak and poverty to which it often spoke; and alien in the unabashedly flamboyant style that came to define him. Perhaps especially because of his flamboyance and the often unspoken subtext of his desires, … [Read more...]