Womb Geography

Your son’s father is on Fresno PD’s MAGEC’s list of gang affiliated, even though you only can see the dog paw inked on his shoulder haphazardly. When he gets pulled over by the police as he’s driving you to dinner, you can hear the son you share holding his breath in the back seat, tiny air filling his cheeks, his hair cropped in shiny black curls like he’s an angel baby. You wonder why they call a gang task force MAGEC. If they could ever make boys like your son turn into smoke. You met your son’s father at a roller skating rink in Clovis. When you get dropped off there with your friends, there are brown boys hanging on outside the wall of the place, like they’re Christmas decorations. … [Read more...]

South of Shaw: Introducing Straight Outta Fresno

“Pretend,” we instruct our students, “that you have been hired by Fresno City to make postcards, visuals that capture and represent the city, its history, its people, its spaces.” “Now,” we continue, “do your best to draw some postcards.” They dutifully scribble lines that look like City Hall, the historic Warnors Theater, the Fresno arch and the Christmas Tree Lane in the Fig Gardens neighborhood. The more skilled and adventurous students draw portraits of elected officials and Fresno State’s President Joseph Castro. Despite our students’ ethnic and geographical diversity, they tend to depict and reflect a top-down version of both history and the city. Yet, in more casual conversations, … [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...]

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...]