Nov 5, 2017 Santa Barbara — Immersion Memoir

Sunday November 5, 2017

Santa Barbara, California

We arrived a little after noon and the minute I stepped off the plane I could smell it: the undeniable Santa Barbara smell, a mixture of sea breeze and decaying fish or perhaps sewage, not sure. Not offensive, but certainly an assault on my nostrils. Perhaps I am too sensitive, but it stayed with me.

Stayed through the meal at the Beachside Café where the sea gulls flew overhead and the breeze sent Elsa to the car to retrieve our jackets. I remembered a similar scene on my very first visit to Santa Barbara back in the 1990s—was it 1992?—when I met with the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) organizing committee at this very same café.

Perhaps it was the convenient location so very close to the airport and to the campus, or it could be that Santa Barbara folks wanted to impress us for the café is right on one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. I returned to Santa Barbara for the MALCS conference that summer, not knowing I would come back and spend a transformative year as a visiting researcher and director at the Chicano Studies Research Center. In 1998 I accepted a position as a visiting director of what was then the Chicano Studies Research Center—now the Chicano Studies Institute (CSI) at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The great weather and the beautiful environment seduced me immediately. I had visited a dear cousin in Los Angeles back in 1968 after my brother’s death in Vietnam and I had visited San Francisco and San Diego, but I never felt so embraced.

I remember driving in from Laredo early way before the fall quarter started so I could find a place to live and get settled. After a few days living in a motel, I found a small one-room efficiency on Ortega Ridge in Montecito. I had no idea of the lay of the land or what it meant to live in Montecito and not Goleta. The front house was rented by a wealthy woman and her two teenage sons; she was getting divorced and her house had been damaged by mud slides so she was there temporarily. We rarely saw each other as I had the tiny apartment in the back—expensive and too far from campus, but it was the only place where they would accept me with BooBoo, my white persian cat!

My apartment had a huge window and I would sit and sip my manzanilla tea looking out over a lovely valley. Every morning, the bright red bougainvillea and the bird of paradise greeted me as I stepped out and got in my Blanquita, my white Camry, to drive down 101 to Goleta and the UCSB campus. If the traffic was bad, I would take the foothill road to campus.

After checking in at the hotel we decided to walk downtown. Shivers ran down my spine as we strolled down State Street; I recognized some shops and felt déjà vu at every corner. The familiar street names—Cabrillo, Castillo, Sola, De la Vina, Chapala. The smell of the sea breeze and the sweet jasmine smell. The sound of the drummer outside the Marshall’s on State Street. I don’t remember having a Marshall’s or a CVS back in the 1990s, but I am not surprised to find them nestled along the boutiques, the vintage and resale shops, and the fun toy store. We leisurely made our way to the Zaytoun Mediterranean Grill, for dinner with Tejanxs Robert and Magda and two other doctoral students–Aracely and Marina.

I’ve come back a couple of times in the last 20 years, but this time it is bittersweet. So many mixed feelings. Some folks are gone. Others have arrived. The last time I was here was in 2012, also for a MALCS meeting and we also went to the Beachside Café. We went with our host Aida Hurtado and graduate students who are now professors, like Jessica Lopez Lyman. Tomorrow I visit a class—Ellie Hernandez’s Chicana Writers class. Ellie was my student many years ago in Laredo and she has been here since she got her PhD from UC Berkeley. I am looking forward to meeting her students.

I’m feeling blessed to be able to come back! There are no emojis to signify the feeling of nostalgia and joy all mixed up with the feelings of saudade for the past. It feels like a dream. Feels unreal. Feels simply great…and I am full of wonder and awe like a when I find an unexpected and serendipitous synchronicity in my life. Or maybe I am just sleep deprived! We hardly slept after attending the Simplemente Lara event; I was afraid we would oversleep and miss our early morning flight.


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