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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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...]

No, American Citizenship Is Not Necessarily Inclusive

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The rise of Donald Trump has induced a collective shudder through much of America.  For many, the GOP nominee is jeopardizing our most cherished ideals, a broad and capacious sense of who could be an American citizen, and norms that forbid open and outright expression of racist sentiment. The last Republican president at least had the decency to insist that Islam is a “religion of peace,” however destructive his policies might have been to actual Muslims, at home and abroad. Liberals and more than a few conservatives find themselves saying, This is not us.  This is not the America we know. Michael Gerson recently penned one of the more impassioned statements in this genre, looking aghast … [Read more...]

Greenberg to Koufax to Valenzuela: Ethnicity, Identity, and Baseball in “Chasing Dreams”

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The 1965 World Series would prove groundbreaking. It marked the first time that two professional baseball teams from west of the Mississippi – the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins – competed for Major League Baseball’s title. More importantly, it was the stage upon which Sandy Koufax weaved the narrative of his greatness and by extension highlighted Jewish America’s connection to the national pastime. Having sat out Game 1 due to its falling on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and then struggling through a less-than-stellar Game 2 outing, Koufax bounced back with magisterial performances in Game 5 and the now-famous Game 7 in which he pitched a complete game shutout, striking out … [Read more...]

A Truth that Had to be Told: Uncovering the History of School Segregation in El Monte

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In memory of Olga Gutiérrez, 1937-2016 The professor started talking about segregation in the South, of blacks, of Brown v. Board of Education … so after class I went up to the professor, and I said, “Hey professor, were you aware of the segregation of the Mexican-American students all over the Southwest, including California?”… He said, “I know nothing about it.”[1] Olga Gutiérrez, a Mexican-American teacher and activist in El Monte, California, was working on a Master’s degree at California State University, Los Angeles. It was 1980, 26 years after the Supreme Court had ruled that segregation, or the policy of dividing children into different schools on the basis of race, was illegal in … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part IV: Compton as bellwether for urban America

Kendrick Lamar performs a medley of songs at the 58th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX273N1

Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”, with its #BlackLivesMatter theme and political overtones, struck a chord with many viewers. In a night of standout performances including the Lady Gaga tribute to the late great David Bowie and the John Legend/Demi Lovato led multi-artist homage to the artistry of Lionel Richie, Lamar sent a clear message to viewers in an election year in which the African American electorate – both in the democratic primaries and general election – will exert a pronounced influence on the ultimate result. More so in regard to his second album, good kid, m.A.A.d.city, but to some extent his first, Section 80 as well, Lamar’s own … [Read more...]