Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Alberto Pulido

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Alberto Pulido, PhD, is professor and chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at USD. He answered questions from Inside USD about his remarkable documentary on lowriders, his passion for ethnic studies, and the one person — dead or alive — he would like to meet.

Q: You recently engaged in a kickstarter campaign for your documentary on lowriders. What was that experience like?

The kickstarter campaign proved to be a very challenging but rewarding experience for me and our production team. It required a major “paradigm shift” for understanding the world and building community. We had to be both ambitious and creative in an attempt to raise monies for a project that you hope resonates with others. Evidently we did it correctly because we had a successful kickstarter campaign and we are so appreciative of the many people (including friends, colleagues and administrators from USD) that supported our dream and vision for documenting San Diego lowrider history. It restored my confidence in people who truly believe in supporting the arts and the creative spirit! A big thank you to all!

Q: How did you come to research lowriders and the movement itself?

Our documentary “Everything Comes From the Streets” came to life through my association in working with the community for several years and Mr. Rigo Reyes, who has been a lowrider in San Diego for close to 40 years and an original member and co-founder of the Amigos Car Club. Rigo was compelled to share the story of the early pioneers and founders of the lowrider movement in both San Diego and the borderlands of Tijuana. He recognized that many of these members were passing on and were taking their rich stories and contributions to lowrider history with them. As co-producer of the film, Rigo provided important guidance and direction with framing and helping us tell this critical history.  I took the lead in writing a grant with Cal Humanities that was funded and we were able to bring on board Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Kelly Whalen (originally from San Diego and now works out of Oakland, California) who provided an important vision for our film.

Q: What led you to sociology initially?

Since I was a child, the values and story of community have always been central to my life and self-understanding. As someone who grew up along the border here in San Diego, one of my first jobs was at a family-owned grocery store where I met so many people and saw their life challenges and triumphs in their daily lives. I came to appreciate how important people were for a better understanding of ourselves and our communities so I came to appreciate the rich diversity of our world and valued what my mother would always say: Cada Cabeza es un Mundo (roughly translate to “Everyone Marches to the beat of their own drummer”). There was a real strong ethic of openness and acceptance in my community. I feel this is at the core of sociology and ethnic studies.

Q: Who or what has been the biggest influence in your life?

Two major influences in my life have been my mother Velia and her father Antonio – my grandfather. Both of them instilled in me the value of education as I grew up in the agricultural community of Oxnard, California. However, this was no ordinary education – but rather it was the culturally specific value of educación that took on such a very different and transformative meaning for me throughout my intellectual life. Educación is all about educating the whole person – the mind, body and spirit – instead of simply the mind – as we tend to emphasize in the North American educational system. Instead, to educate what the Latin American (Uruguayan) writer Eduardo Galeano describes as El Sentir (Feelings) and El Pensar (Thinking) aspects of ourselves. This Sentipensante-self is integral to our educational identity as thinking and feeling human beings – the whole person. It represents who I was taught to be but more importantly who I have become as an educator. It arose from within by the time I began to attend college and I incessantly sought to find it within my mentors and teachers throughout my educational career. By the end of the journey, I discovered that all my paths for becoming a persona educada that had been instilled in me as a small child led me back to my community, my elders and myself.

Q: If you could meet with any person, alive or dead, who would it be?

In 1938, Ms. Juanita “Jennie” Amador died near Oxnard, California in nearby Camarillo, California in a Mental State Hospital that is now the home of Cal State Channel Islands. Jennie was born in Morenci, Arizona in 1912 and arrived in Oxnard in the 1920s and met and married a Mexican immigrant by the name of Antonio Lopez with whom she had four children. Jennie was my grandmother and her life and her passing remains a mystery for me and the rest of my family. I have spent countless hours of research attempting to reconstruct her life story and continue to run into dead ends. It almost feels like in some mystical way Jennie does not want her story to be told. Even the community she was born in was destroyed and a more contemporary version of Morenci currently exists. I would love to met Jennie and ask her about her life to learn more about her story and about family ancestry that remains fragmented in my life and in the lives of my kin. Like with ethnic studies – I wish to provide the Amador clan that we know has roots in New Mexico a voice – a sense of place and meaning in this world that at present remains clouded in mystery and in the unknown.

— Melissa Wagoner

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