Subliminal Ethnicity

Ethnically not fitting in is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. Some are even surprised that I’m of any particular ethnicity. The following essay was published in Fuller Theological Seminary’s student journal, Ember, in 1985. At the bottom of this post is a downloadable PDF version of the original submission and footnotes. Enjoy.

Ethnicity. At my wedding my Pastor made a passing comment to my mother about “How nice it is that Kim and Joe got together, coming from different backgrounds and all,”[note]As if it wasn’t bad enough that I wasn’t being married in the Catholic Church then my well—meaning very—Anglo Presbyterian pastor made that comment … What a way to begin married life.[/note] I’d understood the comment to refer to the fact the Kim and I grew up under different family arrangements and had different educational experiences, and how nice it was that the Lord brought us together. Unfortunately my mother saw it as some sort of ethnic put-down.

1960s, Mich, Joe, Kathie, Dad, Matt and Joyce

[/media-credit] 1960s, Mich, Joe, Kathie, Dad, Matt and Joyce

Even before leaving San Gabriel[note]My parents were born and raised in San Gabriel, CA of parents that immigrated to this country sometime around the First World War. San Gabriel lies in that area of Metropolitan Los Angeles that would eventually be called East L.A., L.A.’s major barrio.[/note] in the 50’s my parents had pretty much acclimated to the larger culture around them. They had been fortunate and resourceful enough to be a part of America’s Post-War Prosperity and any reminder of their “heritage” by an outsider was in some way a denial of their full rights as paying customers on this voyage. They weren’t like some minorities with a chip on their shoulder who lamented their supposed less-than-privileged status. But having chosen that road somewhere between San Gabriel and the fabled American Melting-Pot there were more than a few volunteers to remind us of our ethnic “heritage” and how fortunate we were to be here.[note] In 1977 my father (self-taught landscaper who spent many years digging ditches for college grads who couldn’t landscape themselves out a sand box) made his way into a “White-collar” position at the Irvine Company in the early 70’s. (Can you tell I’m proud of the man?) He took us from Walnut Creek, CA (near Oakland), where we’d been for two years to an little known collection of track homes just north of San Juan Capistrano (in Southern California) called Mission Viejo.[/note]

Having been raised in white neighborhoods all my life, my Ethnic Self-identity suffered from that sense of not really belonging, I’d essentially come to see myself as a white kid with a Spanish surname and an appreciation for good Mexican food. But no matter how well I identified with my surroundings, on the basis of my last name alone, I was always “that short Mexican kid that lives down the street,” or just “Joe Burrito.” Not that I have any problems with being called a Mexican, I am one (I think), I just wonder what they mean by what they say. I mean, I have yet to hear someone refer to another individual, second generation American, no accent, maybe a serving of sauerkraut once or twice a month, as “that short German kid that lives down the street.” There’s a subtlety here that disturbs me.

I am about as “Oreo” a Mexican as they come.[note]An “Oreo” Mexican is a Mexican that looks Mexican on the outside (Black hair, brown eyes, olive skin, etc.) but inside he’s as white as Jerry Falwell (political views not included). What is white anyway? I’ve never seen a White person. I’ve seen some that come awfully close. But if we’re going to be honest with ourselves we might as well confess that we are all just different shades of the same color.[/note] So why the differentiation? Why the preferential treatment, the EEOC quotas, etc.?[note]In my case, five years of undergraduate work at two private universities funded by the State of California to a large extent because of that infamous surname of mine.[/note] To make right the wrongs of racism committed in the past? Then why the almost simultaneous prejudice? Why this persistent distinction?[note]I may have not been refused a seat on a bus or admittance to a restaurant or theater or employment opportunities because of my race but I have had my share of relationships with females end because of a parent’s “concern” over the “unnaturalness” of the relationship. You’d think I was a Cholo or some’ting.[/note] What it seems to boil down to is that we are Ethnically more of what we think we are than what we may actually be. Subliminal Ethnicity. In my white neighborhood I was the token Mexican kid but when we went to San Gabriel I was the “Oreo” that didn’t fit in. Subliminal Ethnicity. The road back to San Gabriel is paved with memories for my parents but for me and my siblings it doesn’t exist, though our white neighbors always seem to assume it does.

In my white neighborhood I was the token Mexican kid but when we went to San Gabriel I was the “Oreo” that didn’t fit in.

And as more groups are swallowed by the Monolithic Caucasian culture it’s important that those of us that are aware of our ethnic heritage (even if it’s just subliminal) retain it and express it for the right reasons. Too often ethnicity has been used as a means of exclusion from being a part of the whole. Even in a setting such as ours where Ethnic groups seem to have a voice in our social policies, if this voice, this platform is just a means to placate the demands of the minorities than we are obviously still not part of the whole. The important thing to me (coming from my white neighborhood and all) is not to see my ethnicity in distinction over again my white neighbor (whose only concept of heritage or history is completely egocentric —patterns of our existential ideal?) but to see it as something greater than I that has had a part in making me the kind of person that I have become. It is a point of unity, a point of community. It is family. For those of us that are Hispanics, it is our common Hispanic experience. And for all of mankind, if we’re willing to face it, it is the common human existence. Subliminal Ethnicity.

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Diving into the Past without Drowning: Day Trip to Laguna Beach (1973)

Diving into the Past without Drowning: Day Trip to Laguna Beach (1973)

Original 8mm Film by Joe Bustillos
Edited by Joe Bustillos & Random Chance
Music by Smartsound Music, “Visions 22K”
Filmed on location in Laguna Canyon & Laguna Beach CA in 1973
Featuring Lynn Tschirgi & cute white puppy

I just spent the last hour watching an 8mm film that I and several others shot in the early 1970s. The film is a collection of footage that I’d gotten from Creagan’s family, the western we’d done in junior high and several other reels that I had lying around and converted to VHS when I did the 1994 “Looking for Creagan McConnell” documentary. I recently had the 8mm film converted again, this time to DVD/digital format. I’d remembered the stuff from Creagan’s childhood and our “Come Against the Rain” footage, but I’d forgotten about all the rest of the stuff.

The forgotten part consisted of footage I’d taken in 1973 during a rare family vacation to Olympia, WA with water-skiing clips, a day trip to Laguna Beach with my girlfriend, Lynn Tschirgi and her little white powder-puff puppy (see the embedded video below), and ended with life-on-campus footage my older sister, Michaela, took at Mission Viejo High School.

The cars, the hair, the clothing, dudes on choppers, hippies with fishing poles walking on the rocks; It only seemed fitting that, particularly the Laguna Beach scenes, were slightly out of focus and blown out. These are moving images that come from an era over 40-years ago. Oh my god, we were so young and that was such another time. But after watching the whole thing, in silence, I feel very lucky to have these reminders of the journey I’ve been on.

With all of scanning of photos and papers that I’ve been doing these past months, I’ve been warned more than a few times that one can overdose on too much nostalgia. That’s obviously true and if I were looking at these things wishing I was back there, that’d be a problem. And this isn’t something limited to the regretful memories of us old folks. Hell, I’ve known a few in their thirties who talked about the “good ol’ days” before they were married, like it’s already all downhill for them. But, for me, this is not the case. I’ve been forced into a transitional mode where I have no idea what lies ahead for me. I simply can’t say that the past was any better than what might follow. In fact, I consider myself fortunate to have so much access to so much of the journey I’ve been on.

The day-to-day grind that I’ve been on, especially the level of concentration and effort for much of my teaching career, tends to afford one very little connection with past accomplishments in the rush to get all the stuff on ones priority list done. And over the past six-months of looking and not finding the next job, one can easily allow ones sense of accomplishment diminish. I mean, if no one seems interested in ones services, after a while one can begin to believe that there’s nothing there of value. That transition can happen really quickly. But I’ve been lucky enough to find scores of articles, recordings and projects that I did as a writer, as a journalist, as a researcher and as an educator, enough to remind me that there’s more here than the need for a wage. Add to all of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to have shared this journey with some amazing family, friends and lovers. I may have no idea where I’ll be in another year, but I’m really glad that I left digital breadcrumbs of the paths I’ve taken along the way.

Looking for Creagan McConnell: The Man and The Myths [1994 documentary]

Looking for Creagan McConnell: The Man and The Myths [1994 documentary]

1994 Looking For Creagan McConnell-VHS coverIn 1994 my best friend, Creagan McConnell, announced that he was going to move to Arizona to help his folks build their home. I produced the following video, with the help of many others, to share at his going away party. A second video (posted at the bottom of the page) was also created featuring comments from friends and family who attended the going away party. As should be evident from the content and spirit of the videos, over the years we had a lot of fun together. Rest-in-Peace, my friend, you will never be forgotten.

Filmed on location in Tustin, Mission Viejo, Fashion Island & Anaheim, California in 1994 Video cameras supplied by Tim Booth & Paul Quinby; Additional video equipment by Ben & Josie Bustillos background music: Andy Summers “The Golden Wire” Level 42 “Running in the Family” and James Taylor “Fire and Rain” from the “James Taylor (LIVE)” Theme music: “Island Party” courtesy Smartsound Music at http://smartsound.com

The Producer also wishes to thank: Jennifer Jackson, Don & Margie McConnell, Mich & Paul Quinby, Matt Bustillos, Ben & Josie Bustillos, The Eggers family, Merrilee Harper, Kathie Glassmeyer, Denise Valverde, Kay Streppone & Marie Jones for subjecting themselves to the camera’s gaze and the interviewer’s probing questions; and, of course, Creagan Edward Charles “Rufus” McConnell for leaving his doors unlocked and for living such an “interesting” life. Written, Produced and Edited by Joe Bustillos

Come Against The Rain

This video began as a 8mm film, originally consisting of mostly “dying” scenes Creagan and I filmed in 1971. Over the course of two years it became a Western about two reluctant pioneers, Chuck & Rufus, heading to San Francisco in the years after the Civil War.

Starring Creagan McConnell as Rufus Joe Bustillos as Chuck Matt Bustillos as Clarence Hush Dave Thompson as Street Fighter Pepuce as the killer dog Filmed on 8mm by Creagan McConnell, Joe Bustillos and Dave Thompson Written, Produced and Directed by Creagan McConnell and Joe Bustillos 1971/1972, 1994 & 2015 versions Edited by Joe Bustillos 1994 version Written by Joe Bustillos Filmed on Location in Mission Viejo, CA 1971/1972 Video soundtrack: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Woodstock,” “Country Girl,” & “Deja Vu” from “Deja Vu” Theme music: “Copelandesque” courtesy SmartSound Music at http://smartsound.com

The Producers wish to thank: Don McConnell & Ben Bustillos for letting us transform their backyards into the Post-Civil War American frontier, Don McConnell for original use of the camera and “building supplies,” Margie McConnell & Josie Bustillos for looking the other way while we jumped off their roofs and through their plants.

Looking for Creagan McConnell: The McConnell Send-Off Interviews, March 19, 1994

Spending Time with an Old Friend

Through the Bible Radio

Through the Bible Radio

With the beginning of the school year finding time to spend studying scripture has been a real problem. As I’ve mention some time ago, because I spent so many years studying the Bible I get very little by just reading the text and find that I need to spend time studying, reflecting and writing about my study. Alas, time has been a problem over the past month. Fortunately I recently found a way to download the daily podcasts from an old friend who was my first bible teacher back when I was a 15-year-old kid, back in the 70s. So every morning, either before I leave for work or on my commute to work I have been able to listen to the familiar voice of the late J. Vernon McGee of Thru the Bible Radio.

Previously I had been listening to some daily verses podcast, but the podcast seemed to bounce around the bible and spent more time being “inspirational” and not as much time on the actual text of the passage. So, running into my old friend was a welcomed opportunity. Things have changed a bit since the 70s and I don’t agree with the teaching 100% of the time, but I do respect his systematic approach and scholarship. Granted, I’m usually driving or moving around computers in my lab when I’m listening, so it doesn’t replace spending time with my own face in the text, but I’m certainly happy to have this resource at a time when I don’t have time to even think. JBB

music: Zephaniah 1:12-2:2 – Dr. J. Vernon McGee – Thru the Bible