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Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

Once at the vanguard of national policy, California plays defense under Trump

by Char Miller on

Xavier Becerra, California’s combative attorney general, has become the Golden State’s face of resistance to the Trump administration’s domestic initiatives, the blunt voice rejecting the president’s attempts to roll back the progressive immigration and environmental policies so central to California’s sense of itself.

At a June 16 press conference, for example, Becerra pushed back against stricter immigration enforcement, saying his office would review conditions at immigrant detention facilities in conjunction with a legislative measure that prohibits local governments from renting out jail beds to U.S. Immigration and Customs. One week earlier, Becerra sent Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke a withering, 11-page letter that flat-out rejected the president’s executive order aimed at delisting or shrinking national monuments his predecessors had established in California.

Yet as eloquent and forceful as the attorney general may be in his defiance, there are limits to the state’s protective stance. Becerra is mounting what amounts to a rearguard action because he has little choice in this age of Trump the Tumultuous.

Viewed from my perspective as an environmental historian, this defensive rhetoric runs counter to the no-holds-barred approach that defined California’s post-World War II drive for economic growth and social justice.

It is as if, for the time being, the California Dream so critical to Becerra’s personal success – and many others’ – has been put on hold.

Challenging Trump

The hardworking son of immigrants and the first in his family to go to college, Becerra finished law school in 1984, was elected to the state assembly, and then served in the state’s Department of Justice before winning an impressive 12 terms to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At each stop along the way, he has been a staunch advocate for the poor and marginalized, those who need a hand up and out. In January 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown (who is playing a similar role as Becerra on an international stage) tapped the politically savvy Becerra to replace newly elected Senator Kamala Harris as AG to become the first Latino to hold this high office in California.

Becerra’s tough-minded approach to his latest job has made him ubiquitous this commencement season. Between May 15 and 23 alone, he addressed the political science graduates at the University of California, Berkeley, those receiving their law degrees at USC and the University of San Francisco, and bachelor’s-earning undergrads at Occidental College.

(California’s first Latino attorney general, Xavier Becerra has taken a defiant – and, by necessity, a defensive – tone vis a vis Washington. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Even as he cheered these graduates’ academic successes, he reminded them of the rough-and-tumble political environment they were entering. Becerra spoke of how he and other state AGs were challenging the legality of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. He affirmed his deeply felt support for the undocumented and asserted that cities could proclaim themselves sanctuaries, free from executive branch interference.

In resisting the Trump administration’s review of national monuments, Becerra wrote what amounts to a legal brief that cited judicial rulings and legislative records and made a strong case for a kind of states-rights environmentalism. Arguing separately against a plan to open up offshore drilling, he said: “Instead of taking us backwards, the federal government should work with us to advance the clean energy economy that’s creating jobs, providing energy and preserving California’s natural beauty.”

California’s cultural clout

The late, great Kevin Starr argued in his magisterial, multi-volume study of California that the state’s particular genius is in offering “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It proved time and again to be “the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.”

Fueled by a generous stream of tax dollars, the state’s educational systems, from K-12 through college and university, were the envy of the world. So, too, were its high-speed highways and highly engineered water systems, as well as its agricultural productivity, artistic energy and technological creativity. California was a state on the move.

(The Sequoia National Monument is one of the national monuments the Trump administration has put under review, which the state is fighting.  David Prasad/flickr, CC BY-SA)

Its benefits were also broadly accessible: Beaches were public, parks and open spaces plentiful, higher education was cheap. Here, democracy flourished, or at least it could do so. Where it did not, people battled to ensure that it would.

Those toiling in the fields of the Central and Imperial valleys, for example, endured oppressive conditions, but gained an important measure of control over their lives and livelihoods through the formation of the United Farm Workers of America. The struggles that African-Americans and Asian-Americans, Latinos, women and LGBT activists have waged for increased rights, solidarity and opportunities did not always originate in California, but they gained political visibility and cultural clout when manifest on the coast. If you wanted to remake yourself, go West.

Setting pace on public health

But all that prosperity took its toll. Clearing the air of the state’s legendary pollution – “don’t breathe too deeply when you arrive in California” used to be the warning – has taken decades. Grassroots activists, dedicated educators and scientists, and some principled public officials fought against entrenched opposition in Sacramento, Detroit and Washington, D.C. to secure what now are the nation’s toughest environmental controls. More needs to be done, but these regulations have had a profound impact.

It is not by happenstance that the EPA owes its existence to a Californian (President Richard Nixon signed it into law December 1970). Or that the Clean Air Acts grant the state the right to institute stricter measures than the federal government (which is why the current administration tried to deny California’s right to set higher standards).

The ground-level consequences of such innovations as catalytic converters is evident in enhanced public health. When I was a student at Pitzer College in Claremont in the 1970s, I almost never glimpsed the smog-enshrouded Mt. Baldy (elevation 10,050 feet), a few miles away. Today, its towering presence is visible 24/7.

There was no way to predict this remarkable turnaround when my classmates and I gathered outdoors for our graduation in 1975. And no way would bluer skies have become commonplace had the state heeded the advice our commencement speaker imparted to those entering a depressed job market in a society constrained by the budget-busting Vietnam War and post-Watergate cynicism. Hunker down, he said, hunker down.

That 1975 recommendation from a California assemblyman to retreat from the world was as wrong then as it is now in our similarly fraught environment. Rather than simply throw up a wall to fend off the barbarians at the gates, however understandable, California needs to reassert the bold, expansive, and democratic vision that has made it California. A prospect that requires a shared and tenacious commitment to the commonweal.

And a sense of agency. “You don’t have to do it by yourself,” Xavier Becerra told Berkeley seniors. “You don’t have to have done it before. But when you get out there with the guts and the grit and the ganas [desire], you can make a difference.”

That’s how dreams become real.

(Originally posted on 6/17/17 at The Conversation.)

Meet the Intern: Miriam Cone

Hi! I’m Miriam Cone, the new marketing intern at TU Press.

If we’ve ever talked before, you probably know that I love reading and writing, so it’s a dream come true to be interning at a press. I’ve wanted to go into publishing since high school (in middle school I was determined to be a vet), but my love of books began long before then. My parents are avid readers, and I picked up the reading bug early on. I was the kid who brought books to school to read in case I finished a test early. When my family went on roadtrips, I’d bring at least three books and finish them before the trip was over.

I don’t read for fun as much as I used to, mainly because I’m a rising junior English major and a creative writing minor. I’m pretty much reading all of the time for my classes. This summer I’m hoping to find more time to read and do some creative projects, when I’m not working at the press, that is.

I also love to cross-stitch, cook and bake, watch cat videos, volunteer with my brothers in Alpha Phi Omega, and add energy to Trinity University’s already dynamic Orientation Team. Last semester I was a co-editor for the Trinity Review, Trinity’s student-run literary magazine, and I joined Trinity Distinguished Representatives to volunteer through the Office of Admissions.

I’m super excited to be part of the team at TU Press. It will be a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to learn more about publishing.

Spurs Nation, the Book

by Char Miller on

Spurs Nation is a much-needed balm, especially now that I live 1,327.3 miles west of the ATT Center, a straight shot on Interstate-10. The fanzine-like book’s soothing words span the distance between my home in Southern California and my former life in south-central Texas, fusing the past with the present.

But the heavily illustrated book also helps bring the present into sharper focus. So I thought the other morning while I was working my way through the sports section of the Los Angeles Times. On Pearl Harbor Day, the Clippers went up against the Golden State Warriors and were destroyed. That didn’t bother me, as I’m not a fan of either team (but I love that their coaches are former Spurs).

What bothered me was this rankling line in columnist Bill Plashcke’s withering, postgame analysis of the Clippers’ collapse: “Everything was in place Wednesday night for a celebrated meeting between the two best teams in the Western Conference and a potential preview for a spring showdown.” Read that again—“the two best teams in the Western Conference.”

The claim is nonsense on so many levels. On this particular Day of Infamy, the Clippers were, in fact, the third best team in the Western Conference, running two and a half games behind the Spurs. Put that stat in the larger context of the two franchises’ histories and Plaschke’s comment is even harder to fathom. In the long run, the Clippers have nothing on the Silver and Black’s record of success in regular or postseason play; the Clips have yet to win one championship, let alone five.

So, yes, I take solace in Spurs Nation and its colorful depiction—in prose and images—of the Spurs’ extraordinary run to date, from the 1987 lottery pick of David Robinson to the loss in the 2016 Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma Thunder; from the grainy photo of the smiling Robinson holding up his jersey (5-0! 5-0!) following the Spurs’ selection of him to the now iconic shot of Tim Duncan, his back to the camera, his right hand raised in farewell as he walks off the court for the last time.

In between these snapshots are a wealth of memories.

  • 1994: David Robinson drops 71 points on the hapless Clips on April 24 to snatch the league scoring title from Shaquille O’Neal.
  • 1996: Gregg Popovich’s surprise firing of Coach Bob Hill on December 10. Twenty years later, the controversial move seems so right, as does Pop’s commentary when asked if he would coach the following season: “Next year? I’m not even thinking about next year. It doesn’t interest me. I’m just thinking day-to-day on how to get this team where it needs to be.” Mission accomplished.
  • 1999: Ring One. “The old ABA franchise that couldn’t finally did.”
  • 2003: Conference finals. Malik Rose captured the Game Six crushing of the Lakers, the Spurs’ nemesis: “Once we started to materialize in the third quarter, we started to smell blood, and see blood. So we went for it.” Ring Two followed.
  • 2004: Okay, let’s agree not to talk about what happened when the Silver and Black lost to the Purple and Gold. I remember hiding out in the local H-E-B.
  • 2005: I spent a lot of time in that same grocery store pretending to shop while casting furtive glances at a flickering screen broadcasting Game Five. That’s where I witnessed Robert Horry drain the 3-pointer that kept the Spurs alive. Game Seven brought Ring Three.
  • 2007: Another series, another ring. Michael Finley said: “A lot of people wrote us, as they usually do. But we stayed resilient, believed in the system, and believed in one another.”
  • 2013: “An epic collapse.” A painful read.
  • 2014: Cinco = joy.

The Spurs have had an extraordinary two-decade run. Moments golden and dark—and you need one to frame the other, so that the whole can emerge in its memorable fullness—are nicely juxtaposed in text designed to resemble the layout of the sports section. The words, with all the authority of a Tim Duncan putback, jump off the page right into our lives. 

A Confluence of Civilizations

by Catherine Nixon Cooke on

Imagine 25,000 square feet of colored stones telling a story about people of diverse cultures and civilizations “meeting in the middle” to create a harmonious world. 

I am in love with the vibrant hues—and this message! It’s as relevant today as it was fifty years ago, when Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman created his Confluence of Civilizations mural for San Antonio. 

With a strict Irish father, a devoutly religious Mexican mother, and a grandmother who taught him to look for beauty in his own backyard, O’Gorman grew up in Guanajuato during the Mexican Revolution, and his life involved a fair amount of personal revolution as well. As a young architect, he designed Mexico’s first modern buildings. He was also recognized for his paintings and murals, which today are world renowned. 

Writing the biography of this complex and talented man was both a challenge and an opportunity to learn more about art, Mexican history, and the human spirit. I took several trips to Mexico to research the story; sipped tequila at the beautiful San Ángel Inn, where O’Gorman often entertained his international clients; and met architects, artists, and personal friends who shared insights and stories that helped me bring him to life. I even visited the house and studio that O’Gorman designed for his close friends Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and I sat on the austere twin bed where Rivera slept when he was mad at Frida. 

Now that Juan O'Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations is published, I like to stop by O’Gorman’s famous mural in downtown San Antonio from time to time. It was the cornerstone of the city’s World’s Fair in 1968, and it will be a focal point for the new Hemisfair Park going forward, still telling its great story of diversity and harmony. It’s worth a visit!  

Jump into the University Press Week community!

by Eleanor Gilbert on

In 1978 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation to recognize the importance of university publishing in the United States and around the world. The first official university press was established at John Hopkins University in 1878, and today, nearly 140 years later, we still celebrate university presses’ excellence and academic tradition.

Thanks to the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), established in 1937, more than 140 member university presses can fulfill their commitments to scholarship in a variety of disciplines. Forty-one states and twelve countries house at least one member press.

The AAUP uses the #ReadUP hashtag “to highlight on social media the best of what” university presses “are publishing all year long.” The theme for year’s celebration, November 14–19, is community, focusing on the impact of local authors, local booksellers, and local publishers.

Supporting each other every step of the way, the AAUP, university presses, and independent bookstores participate in book festivals and local celebrations to promote literacy and continued education. In addition, the AAUP’s partnership with the American Booksellers Association Indies First program promotes small bookstores and the university presses that help stock them.


Fun Facts about Trinity

  • Trinity University’s Elizabeth Coates Library has one the of country’s most extensive collections among liberal arts colleges.
  • Since its reopening in 2002, Trinity University Press has won multiple awards and accolades, as well as published almost 100 books since the launch.
  • Trinity University Press is a member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program dedicated to supporting publishers in their efforts to reduce their impacts on endangered forests, climate change, and forest-dependent communities.