Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

I got a few end-of-year newsletters from different families which I found interesting so maybe I’ll share some of what my 2018 was like and what I expect out of the new year.

In January during fieldwork I was able to figure out that 2-3 languages previously classified as Southern Zapotec are actually Central Zapotec, and what group they belong to.

In February I started working on a Northern Zapotec language at the ENAH with a new group of students, most of whom are from Zapotec families.

Around March my daughter had her first serious boyfriend. We’d been a family of 2 people for 12 years by then and it made me start to imagine a future in which our family may someday grow by one or more people.

In April we had the 8th edition of the COLOV, a conference I started in Berkeley in 2004 and which has grown into a biannual gathering of people interested in Otomanguean languages and their neighbors. It is always gratifying to see something grow.

In May we visited my favorite sister-in-law in Guadalajara before she moved back to the US. We learned that our favorite restaurant was no longer. It felt like the end of an era.

In June I helped my daughter deal with her first major break-up. Instead of binging on Ben and Jerry’s we redecorated her room and signed up for Salsa and Bachata dancing lessons. I deem this strategy a parenting success.

In July my father died and I was able to make it to Kansas in time to be with him in that moment. It was an incredible experience being with him and my sister during that time. He suffered from mental illness (like a combination of major depression and mild psychosis) his whole life and because of this we hadn’t had a very close relationship but in the end it was very meaningful for us to be with him and we realized that he had always loved us and did his best. It seemed to also mean a lot to him that we were there. He hadn’t expected to see us again and we meant the world to him—later when we turned on his ipad all that was open in his browser were webpages where he was cyberstalking us and admiring us from afar. I was alone with him in the moment of his death, as I had been with my husband twelve years earlier, and I seem to be becoming intimately familiar with this part of life. My sister and I really loved going through all his old letters and things. He was quite a letter writer and some of the drafts he held onto are quite entertaining. This experience allowed me to reconnect with part of my identity. I am from Kansas. My ancestors were farmers. My father’s last home was WaKeeny on the high plains. I found something special there. It’s not just fly-over country. After I drove back to Kansas City I took his clothes to the Salvation Army on Johnson Drive in Shawnee. I remember going to eat at the Ponderosa Steak House with my father and grandfather, whom I called Pop-Pop, when I was very little. I imagined having a different perspective on time, being able to sit in one place and watch time go by, not for minutes but for hundreds of years. At one point, before Johnson Drive was paved, you would see the Shawnee come, fleeing the European Americans who invaded from the east and pushed them west. Then you would see my great-great-grandfather from Germany pass by and head further west to start a farm in what for a time had been Indian Territory. Later you would see my grandfather come back from the west with my grandmother and live nearby, coming to Johnson Drive to eat or buy groceries. You would see him with my father going around doing landscaping for businesses and selling firewood. Then I would show up and we would go to the Ponderosa Steak House and Pop-Pop would tell me I was the sweetest girl in town. Then you wouldn’t see Pop-Pop anymore. Then sometimes you would see my father, perhaps desperate, perhaps disoriented, always trying. One day I would show up in my car as a teenager and go window shopping in a Pier One they put in not far from where the Ponderosa used to be. Then you wouldn’t see me anymore for a long time. Now you see me all grown up, coming with my father’s clothes to drop off at the Salvation Army. Will Johnson Drive ever see me again? Maybe, I don’t know. That land has seen a glimpse of my family history for five generations but that history is winding down, at least my line of it is. Languages, cultures, families, people, ecosystems, solar systems…everything that is alive will someday die.

August saw me lying in bed contemplating these realities of life and watching Star Trek for a couple of weeks and then starting classes again at the ENAH. For the first time I organized one of our annual visiting professor courses, this time by Lyle Campbell who gave us a wonderful week on language change and language classification.

In September my friend Yuni came to the ENAH to give the undergraduate program’s invited professor course of the year and she gave us a great week on phonology. At the end of this week I had a party and got the most drunk most people there had ever seen me and we danced and I sang rancheras, poorly. It was perhaps the funnest day of 2018. A student strike began at the ENAH.

In October the strike dragged on. Despite the school not being open, the strike created more work than normal with constant meetings about the strike. I didn’t go to all of them, but it still got in the way of making progress on papers and such. I still don’t know what I think about the strike. I think that the list of demands the students made was a good one. The problems they pointed out are real. Many or perhaps all of the improvements they suggested I would support. On the other hand many important things that were underway before the strike were abandoned. Deadlines were missed. Some people and programs would have gotten scholarships and didn’t. Some students who were starting their first semester at the ENAH ended up leaving disillusioned with the school. Our winter break basically evaporated so that time could be made up at the end of the semester. From what I’ve seen no substantive changes that were promised by the administration during the strike have come about. Poorly organized post-strike meetings have not accomplished their goals. These things make me think that either 1) I was right at the time to oppose the strike and in the end it brought more harm than good or 2) I was wrong to want the strike to end and it should be dragging on still until the demands could be met. At the end of the month I met a dry-humper on the metro and decided to press charges to teach him a lesson.

In November I took a quick trip to Sonora to present a paper at a two-day workshop and I met some people who were very important in the life of one of the best friends I ever had, Emiliano Cruz Santiago. I spent a lot of time in court with the dry-humper. I went to Tucson for Thanksgiving with my best friend and my daughter turned 18 there. She got to reconnect with her uncle who was born in Agua Prieta and has lived in Tucson since it was a “pueblo” with people riding on horseback through town.

After running away from Christmas for the last 12 years with trips around the world and such, my daughter declared that she wanted a real Christmas with presents and all. Even though we were sick over the holidays, we really enjoyed spending time together. We watched “A Wonderful Life” all the way through for the first time ever.

I begin 2019 with a sense of optimism. This year I will be co-teaching a course with Michel Oudijk, who I regard as the greatest Zapotecanist historian. This course will have us working with Zapotec students every month in Oaxaca. I am excited thinking of all the new people I will be meeting. Since I’ll be in Oaxaca once a month I’ll be able to do more fieldwork and hopefully advance more of my projects. I’m expecting good things and I’m wishing you a happy new year too.