Cesar Chavez Blvd Rev 3

Electric wheel humming I cup my hands around the wet clay and focus on the form of the pot I am creating. All of my spare time is spent in the ceramics room, before and after classes and in between. It is fall 1968 and this is my first semester at a community college. I am majoring in art with a minor in sociology. The buildings on campus look like the projects that surround it in East LA. One story, bland, undistinguished.

Sorry to be so politically incorrect, but to be authentic, I am recounting the way it was, in my world, at that time. I was brought up in a middle class neighborhood that was pretty white. In 8th Grade they bussed in Japanese kids from a neighboring town, and there was one, yes one, African American in my high school, which was about half and half White and Hispanic. East LA JC was my first experience as a minority- it was 75% Chicano, 11% black, 9% oriental, and I was one of the others.

The art department and the art students were my world. We spent our days together and a lot of our nights. I was trying new things and meeting new people, completely out of the quiet conservative childhood my parents had created for me. Girl Scouts, Church Camp, YMCA clubs. And feeling like I was comfortable in my own skin and accepted by a new tribe - artists, musicians, writers, photographers. My instructors were all men (in my memory) and all handsome with long hair and mustaches. The guys I hung out with were very creative and charismatic, and very attractive.

I was skinny and young and a few moments past 18. I was finally breaking through my shyness and insecurity, and feeling like a part of something greater. I could sit in the art department just talking to people for hours, or at the wheel, or in a studio lost in my own projects I was giddy sometimes, and scared to death the next moment.

Campus riots and police presence was a common occurrence, but I felt alive, I knew people who went to jail for what they believed, and others who intimidated me by following me to my car. Odd to describe comfort and contentment in the same breath as memories of lines of uniformed officers of the law with billy clubs in front of campus. I guess it was because I was forced by the times to live in the moment.

Traveling gives me that same sort of confidence in my own ability to handle whatever comes my way. Being on the alert somehow makes me feel content. After an initial bout of fear and vulnerability, I seem to become stronger and more assertive. I know how to walk with puirpose, who to look right in the eye, how to remain aware of what is going on around me, even as I explore a new city. I recognize the edge of the “good part” of town, when I’m entering into an area that might not be safe. I have no embarrassment about asking for help from total strangers, and taking refuge in a small shop if I need a moment to regroup.

The traveler’s friend is the small neighborhood café, with outdoor tables, and a cappuccino or a glass of wine, depending on the time of day. Small cafes seem to be owner operated, and helpfulness and kindness to strangers is part of what allows them to keep their doors open. It’s hard work, running a café. I’ve helped out in one, and worked behind the counter in an ice cream shop. Always cleaning, always something sticky on some part of your body. Customers you love customers you hate. The most obnoxious are either the biggest tippers or the stingiest so you always have to smile and be polite. I’ve sat in small cafes in many countries around the world, and at home.

This was before the days of Starbucks, and other chain coffee retailers. Good coffee was assumed, and simple, lovingly prepared food was part of the deal. Sharing these gifts was the reason most opened their doors, not profit. Paying the bills, enjoying the company of friends and visitors was a lifestyle choice, not an investment decision.

I have a friend, an American friend, an ex-pat who has been living below the equator for over 30 years. After moving to this new country, she made her living as a nanny/housekeeper, running boarding houses in property owned by friends and lovers, and a café gallery in a trendy part of town.

©2010 Sharon J Corrigan


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