studying the city (Annette Koh)

Oct 10

the bitterness of sugar


Tucumán Arde (Tucuman is Burning) Argentina, 1968

The Vanguard Artists’ Group was created by artists outraged by the tyranny imposed by the Ongania dictatorship on the Argentine public and the constant censorship that was devastating the art world.

Tucuman is a province in Argentina, populated by sugar mills and farmers. “Tucuman arde” (Tucuman is Burning) was an exhibition in which the artists commented on the conditions of the people of Tucuman. 


[Exhibit Opening]

In the first days of November 1968, the headquarters of the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) trade union in Rosario was turned into a surprising space: the floor at the entrance was covered with the names of the owners of the sugar mills and their relations with local political power. Visitors had to step on the names in order to walk in. On the walls were the reports and reportages that reflected the situation in Tucumán, bringing out the relation between political interests and the crisis. Films, audiovisuals and photographs were part of the material used. The lights in the rooms were switched off every two minutes as a symbol of the average time it took for another child to die in Tucumán. The bitter coffee served to the visitors recalled the lack of sugar, related to the closing of the mills.

In a Tucumán press document people could read: “The aim of Tucumán Arde is, using the media, to point out the contradictions of the Argentine government and the owner class concerning the closure of the sugar mills in Tucumán and the serious consequences which are general knowledge”. The public could take home the reports and documents that exposed the situation in Tucumán. On 25 November some artists organized the same Rosario exhibition in Buenos Aires. At the entrance a large banner was hung with the inscription ‘Visit Tucumán, garden of poverty’, in allusion to the advertising slogan ‘Visit Tucumán, garden of the Republic’. The jolly music of the local singer Palito Ortega provided an ironic counterpoint to the exhibition. In just a few hours the exhibition was closed down. 


Oct 09


Oct 08

Chinatown’s Kitchen Network -

Coming to America to cook Americanized Chinese food.

Oct 07

workers rights and food justice

I’m excited about all the convergences around food justice and economic justice that have been bubbling up. 

1) I just watched this short clip from a joint garden build by Planting Justice and Unite Here Local 2850 in Oakland. 

Planting Justice and Unite Here Local 2850 Build a Garden! from Planting Justice 

2) This year’s Food Day has “a special focus on food access and justice for food and farm workers.”

3) And Decolonial Pinays, the Center for Food Safety, and the Ethnic Studies department at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa are putting together an awesome event for Thursday October 23rd on campus. You are invited!


Growing Solidarity: Food Sovereignty, Farmworkers, and Organizing

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Interested in justice being served? Join Food+, Decolonial Pinays, Aikea, and the Center for Food Safety for an evening of insightful films and lively discussion addressing the intersection of labor and food production in Hawai’i and the U.S. continent. In honor of Filipino History Month in October, a screening of the film Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers will set the context for us looking at ways to deepen solidarity and work across communities. 

Location: BusAd D103 (Shidler College of Business, UH Manoa)

5:30pm: Food and Introductions
Heavy pupus provided. Potluck contributions welcome
6:30pm: Films and Discussion
featuring Delano Manongs and excerpts from Seeds of Hope and 1946: The Great Hawaii Sugar Strike

Thank you to our co-sponsors and co-presenters: UHM Office of Multicultural Student Services, UHM Center for Philippine Studies, and UHM Departments of Ethnic Studies and American Studies


Oct 06

Real food price changes predicted over the next 20 years. Oxfam graph (downloaded in 2012)
As a depressing follow-up to the Mexican tradition of planting corn outside your house, a chart that shows maize is likely to suffer the most climate change induced price increases. Even without climate change, staple grains like rice and wheat will shoot up to nearly double their current prices by 2030. 

Real food price changes predicted over the next 20 years. Oxfam graph (downloaded in 2012)

As a depressing follow-up to the Mexican tradition of planting corn outside your house, a chart that shows maize is likely to suffer the most climate change induced price increases. Even without climate change, staple grains like rice and wheat will shoot up to nearly double their current prices by 2030. 


Oct 05


Oct 04


Oct 03

“There is a premium on establishing the capacity to see from the peripheries and the depths. But here lies a serious danger of romanticizing and/or appropriating the vision of the less powerful while claiming to see from their positions. To see from below is neither easily learned nor unproblematic, even if ‘we’ ‘naturally’ inhabit the great underground terrain of subjugated knowledges. The positionings of the subjugated are not exempt from critical re-examination, decoding, deconstruction, and interpretation; that is, from both semiological and hermeneutic modes of critical enquiry. The standpoints of the subjugated are not ‘innocent’ positions. On the contrary, they are preferred because in principle they are least likely to allow denial of the critical and interpretative core of all knowledge. They are savvy to modes of denial through repression, forgetting, and disappearing acts.” — Donna Haraway, "Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective." Feminist studies (1988): 575-599.

Oct 02

Skateboarding As Religion: Sean Wilsey on spatial poetics of skaters -

Skating alone is the purest experience. The flow of skating (what Incarcerated Skater terms “soul skating”) makes for bad watching. Pictures are deceptive. Videos don’t convey anything. How someone looks doing it has very little relation to the experience. A skateboarder moves like a thought.

While skate videos cut from skater to skater doing trick after trick, making the whole enterprise… into something resembling an automobile plant at full capacity, welding chassis after chassis with skater robots. There’s something inhuman about the way this most human and interior of activities has been put on display. The removal of all the trial and error and experimentation.

Slo-mo can unpack a trick and make it beautiful, but the whole point of skateboarding is speed, which makes all the details invisible to everyone but the skater. Video games are better at replicating the feeling of pulling something good—like a long grind—but without the pain and practice that makes a trick more than a trick: the word trick itself being almost a travesty of what can be done on a skateboard.

My favorite skaters of the late 1980s and early 1990s—Natas Kaupas and Mark Gonzales—would skate the Embarcadero just for fun, not for cameras. They were street skaters. They rolled and talked to everyone, then flew back into the city in search of spots. 

Skateboarding is feeling that every flight of stairs is nagging you, begging you to boneless, or ollie over, or railslide down it. Skateboarding is looking into toilet bowls and fantasizing about shrinking down and skating them. It is using the word transitions to refer to curved areas between horizontal and vertical. It is an apocryphal mention in Thrasher of three skyscrapers in Manhattan with transitioned bases (Forty-seventh and Third Avenue; Forty-ninth and Third Avenue; and Ninety-sixth and Columbus)—designed by a skateboarding architect. It is a review of a new California skatepark that says: “As usual, it’s behind the McDonald’s.” 

Skateboarding is observing things minutely. It is tuning the world out: cutting your hand and not noticing till hours later. Looking at the world like a skater means looking down. It means rarely raising your eyes above curb level, constantly monitoring the smoothness of concrete and being alert to the presence of pebbles or grit, experiencing an instant elevation in your mood when you roll through a spot where you’ve successfully pulled a trick, and depression and superstition in a place where you’ve slammed—no matter the grime or beauty of the location in conventional terms. Skateboarding is bringing emotion to emotionless terrain—unloved parking lots, vacant corporate downtowns long after the office workers are home. I remember skating in such places and feeling I was somehow redeeming them from their daily functions, giving them a secret life.

Oct 01

trains as public space

The recent announcement of the Amtrak writers in residence reminded me how much I enjoyed Amy Richter’s book Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity.

She begins with a completely fascinating compilation of late 19th century American media coverage and cultural reaction to the thrilling new experiences of the diversity of collective life through railroad travel. Richter describes how the “metaphor of the railroad as nineteenth-century microcosm operated as a self-fulfilling prophecy, encouraging passengers to view the railroad and contemporary life as reflections of each other.” 

No wonder then that Americans told so many railroad stories; it seemed as though everyone and everything was “aboard.” In 1886, a brakeman recalled a single train transporting “a corpse in the baggage car and a bridal party in the Pullman, … over a hundred going to the court at Winona, one murderer, two horse thieves and a post-office robber, two secret societies, and besides all this a couple of bright little girls.” Similar (albeit less colorful) lists appear with an almost overwhelming frequency in a wide range of sources, as travelers claimed that a train trip “reflected the comprehensive scope of our national life during the closing days of the nineteenth century.” Or that “a railroad is a microcosm, a trip thereon is an epitome of life.” Yet another traveler proclaimed the railroad car “the epitome of the United States: and praised its ability to reduce “the whole game of national life” to “the dimensions of a drawing-room.” And Whitman lauded the interstate railroad lines as “the most typical and representative things in the United States.”

Rather than portraying the railroad as unifying the nation, such accounts underscored how travel exacerbated the differences that divided Americans. In popular and personal accounts, rail passengers described the cars as places to meet people they saw as different. Respectable ladies might travel beside women and men of a different class, race, or region. In a smoking car, businessmen from New York City could rub shoulders with country doctors or farmers. As previously noted, everyone—northern and southern, urban and rural, immigrant and native-born, black and white—seemed to be aboard the trains. Under such circumstances, the celebrated and democratic large American coach often failed to satisfy Victorian notions of propriety and the importance of privacy. According to one practitioner of the “art of travel,” American railroad cars were especially inhospitable to “the temperament which prefers retirement, freedom from intrusion, dislikes the burden of seeing other people come and go, and is wearied by having its attention constantly attracted by crying children, or newspaper boys, or by many diverse objects.”

[“The discomforts of 19th Century U.S. rail travel - weary passengers settling for the night.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1878.]

But this unsettled (and sometimes unsettling) democratic space would soon be legally segregated on the basis of not only the contents of your wallet, but the color of your skin (emphases added below). 

Using middle-class etiquette to serve individual and community goals, the African American lady traveler used the common language of gender deference to challenge racial segregation. When Anna Williams attempted to board the ladies’ car at the Rockford, Illinois, station of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway in 1870, a white railway official refused her entry and directed her to “the car set apart for and occupied mostly by men.” But Williams had purchased a first-class ticket, so she pressed her claim. The brakeman again refused her entry. Williams sued and recovered a judgment of two hundred dollars. The judgment stated that she had been rudely and unfairly refused the privileges of ladyhood in a public setting and that such an insult had caused her unnecessary disgrace. Upon appeal, the verdict in Williams’s favor was upheld. In Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company v. Anna Williams, the Illinois court ruled that Williams, ‘‘a colored woman, holding a first class ticket,’’ should not have been barred from the ladies’ car. According to the ruling, Williams ‘‘was clad in plain and decent apparel, and it is not suggested in the evidence or otherwise, that she was not a woman of good character and proper behavior.” The court found Anna Williams, regardless of race, to be entitled to the privileges of ladies; she carried herself well and could afford the ticket. Many white passengers and train officials failed to see what the court, in this instance, had recognized—a black woman could be a lady.

[Ejection of African American woman from coach, c. 1860s]

Despite Williams’s victory, the privileges of black lady travelers eventually lost ground in the courts. During the 1870s and 1880s the claims of black ladies were occasionally upheld in state and federal courts, but they were often overturned on appeal. More important, the spread of statutory Jim Crow in the late 1880s and 1890s resolved the legal ambiguities that had enabled black women to assert that gender deference protected them from the insult and danger of riding in the predominately male, mixed-race smoker. The Jim Crow car created a racially defined space for black women and men.

The separation of the races, like the separation of the sexes, “may tend to prevent personal collisions and preserve peace and order.” The Michigan Supreme Court explained that such rules were ‘‘calculated to render transportation most comfortable and least annoying to passengers generally.” In the eyes of the courts, safety, order, and comfort justified racial segregation.

[In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” railroad cars for black people were lawful.]