NEWS: Upcoming at the Institute for California and the West

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Western Histories in the Making: 
Graduate Student Presentations

Thursday, August 22, 2019
3:00 - 5:00PM
USC Doheny Memorial Library 240

Julia Brown-Bernstein: "At the Corner of Glenoaks and Arroyo: Collectivism and Cultural Hybridity at the San Fernando Swap Meet"

By the mid 1980s, the swap meet industry reached its height as a cornerstone of Southern California’s LatinX immigrant and working class communities. Swap meets became a viable source of income for newcomers and helped them build social networks. Less than a decade later, swap meets faced racist attacks. Cities permanently closed locations. The mainstream media emphasized crime rates and counterfeit goods. Yet swap meets have persisted. Their resemblance to the pre-Hispanic tianguis market, affordable prices, and familial atmosphere continue to attract millions of vendors and shoppers each year. In this case study of the San Fernando Swap Meet, Brown-Bernstein demonstrates that swap meets are an enduring space of class solidarity and cultural hybridity.

Laura Dominguez: "Courtyard Sisters: Interpreting Progressivism at the International Institute of Los Angeles"

On a January afternoon in 1932, a multiracial assembly of Los Angeles residents gathered in Boyle Heights to dedicate a new building as a tribute to the city's international character and progressive spirit. For nearly two decades, social workers at the International Institute of Los Angeles had served thousands of immigrant women from their perch on the city's eastside. The organization's new Spanish Colonial Revival structure reaffirmed its vow to fashion worthy citizens and to model inter-group cooperation. Laura Dominguez's work explores how this understudied group of reformers policed the borders of Anglo settler imaginations in Progressive-Era Los Angeles and contemplates the built legacy of Americanization in the city today. 

Yesenia Navarrete Hunter: "Performing Requests from Heart Mountain"

Kazuko Hata wrote to his friend and fellow-farmer, Don McDonald, requesting his help in locating belongings left behind in Wapato, Washington. Mr. Hata sent the letter from Heart Mountain, Wyoming on May 4, 1943, just a few short months after his family and neighbors were evacuated from the Yakima Valley. Mr. Hata’s letter is one of 57 that McDonald’s family kept in their family archive. In the span of four years, McDonald received and responded to dozens of individuals as they requested favors, inquired about the harvest, and negotiated the use of their place of worship, the Yakima Buddhist Bussei Kaikan. Rather than read the letters through the logics of resistance or agency, which has the potential for a contrary read of defeat or passivity, Hunter read these letters to illuminate the performance of requesting, or in other words, the ways in which Japanese individuals utilized their connections to allies to make their requests known, express their desires, and advocate for their needs. 

Photo: Women plan International Day program at International Institute, c. 1924, Los Angeles Public Library, Shades of L.A. Collection

In the Country of Women:
A Conversation between Susan Straight and Lisa See

Monday, September 16, 2019
7:30pm, Rothenberg Hall, The Huntington
Free, reservations required:
A reception and booksigning follow the program.

Join us for a discussion with authors Susan Straight and Lisa See
as they discuss Straight’s recent memoir, In the Country of Women.

In the Country of Women is a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women. In inland Southern California, near the desert and the Mexican border, Susan Straight, a self-proclaimed book nerd, and Dwayne Sims, an African American basketball player, started dating in high school. After college, they married and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Straight met her teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write. Once back in Riverside, at driveway barbecues and fish fries with the large, close-knit Sims family, Straight—and eventually her three daughters—heard for decades the stories of Dwayne’s female ancestors. Some women escaped violence in post-slavery Tennessee, some escaped murder in Jim Crow Mississippi, and some fled abusive men. Straight’s mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, is the descendant at the heart of this memoir while other women from Straight’s family reflect the hardship and resilience of women pushing onward—from Switzerland, Canada, and the Colorado Rockies to California.

SUSAN STRAIGHT has published eight novels, including Highwire MoonBetween Heaven and Here, and A Million Nightingales. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Magazine Award. She is the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award for Best Short Story, the O. Henry Prize, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her stories and essays have been published in The New YorkerThe New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesThe GuardianGrantaMcSweeney’sBlack ClockHarper’s, and other journals. She is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. She was born in Riverside, where she lives with her family.

LISA SEE is The New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird LaneSnow Flower and the Secret FanPeony in LoveShanghai GirlsChina Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1. She is also the author of On Gold Mountain, which tells the story of her Chinese American family’s settlement in Los Angeles. See has also written a mystery series that takes place in China. Her books have been published in 39 languages. See was the recipient of the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California and the History Maker’s Award from the Chinese American Museum. She was also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women.

  • 8/22: Western Histories in the Making on Thursday, August 22, 2019 at 3:00pm at USC Doheny Library (DML) 240.
  • 9/16: In the Country of Women: Susan Straight and Lisa See on Monday, September 16, 2019 at 7:30pm at The Huntington. RSVP
  • 10/21: "Frontiers in the Gilded Age": In Conversation with Andrew Offenburger on Monday, October 21, 2019 at 4:00pm at The Huntington.
  • 11/21:  "Imperial Metropolis": In Conversation with Jessica M. Kim on Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 4:00pm at The Huntington.
  • Night in the City: LA After Dark series (more information coming soon)


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