Right there in the aisle at Oakland’s famed Fox Theater, the skinny
14-year-old student dressed in formal wear, bowed before the woman. To him, she was music royalty.
This was May 2015. Atlix Catzin Pacheco was graduating from the eighth grade. That’s when he met the mother of his classmate, Luis Manuel Peralta, at Oakland School for the Arts and dropped to his knees. Pacheco had no idea his friend’s mom was the drummer of Spitboy, a punk band he listened to regularly. Not until he saw her at his graduation. He asked in wonderment if it was really her.
Michelle Gonzales was embarrassed. She didn’t expect to meet a fan at her son’s graduation. And it’s been a long time since she was that person Pacheco rocked out to.
“I certainly wouldn't have expected a teenager who wasn't even born yet when Spitboy was a band to know anything about us and to likes us in any sort of notable way,” Gonzales said. “Also, what are the chances that one of your kid's friends is going to like your old punk band?”
Gonzales is an English professor at Las Positas College. Behind the curtain, as her random
encounter illustrates, there are so many more layers to her. Punk rocker. Documentary star. Mother. Wife. Activist.
Also, now author.
All of this encapsulates the depth she brings to her classrooms and the holistic knowledge she can impart. The diversity of her experiences winds up being a resource for her students.
Gonzales can give students examples from her own life about going to community college and transferring to a four year, touring the world, avoiding drugs, tackling major projects, time management and financial planning, cultural perspectives and the heart of advocacy. All of that is in addition to her command on MLA style.
This is one of the best elements of community college education: teachers with life experiences helping the students experiencing life. This is a strength of Las Positas. Gonzales is a shining example.
“The work she did and is doing has changed people's lives positively, including mine,” Lucas Sanchez, a former LPC student, said. “Her honesty, her perseverance, her diversity, intelligence, her music, the fact that she teaches on so many levels outside of the classroom.”
Gonzales being recognized has become a thing.
She has been stopped in public by people while doing book signings. She has also been noticed for her feature in the movie “Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk.” The movie originally focused on Green Day’s rise to global fame. The movie also dives into the punk scene in the East Bay, specifically Gilman Street in Berkeley in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and featured two punk bands Gonzales was in: Spitboy and Kalama and the Karnivores.
“Fame does kind of go to your head. I’m not famous. I am a pseudo punk celebrity,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales is bringing the band back together, so to speak, by rejoining Kamala and the Karnivores. The band is recording 11 songs and sometimes plays small venues for fun.
“It’s been really funny that more people like the band and that we sound better than we did when I was desperately serious about having a band,” Ivy Clift, a a bandmate in Kamala and the Karnivores, said.
Kamala and the Karnivores songs are about women empowerment, feminism in a punk rock way. The band is still relevant because women empowerment is back and stronger with protest walks like the women’s marches that happened in cities around the world in January. The women in the band include an English professor, mathematician, and philosophy major. In the about section on the band’s Facebook page the all female punk rock group describes themselves as playing “angry pop punk love songs that will make you think twice about breaking anyone's heart.” She details women empowerment being apart of her music in her book.
“I was going to be in a punk band, an all-female punk band that stood for something, a band that would write about write songs like “Twisted,” songs that spoke out against mismeasure of women,” Gonzales said in her book, “The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band.”
Gonzales’s experience in a punk band influences her teaching: She is not the average college teacher. She is able to give students advice that ranges from how to respond to being pressured to do drugs to trying to find where you fit in the world. This impacts her
teaching-- she’s been there and done that and can help students more than just telling them it’ll be OK and send them off their way.
“Growing up as a person of color in a small town in the 1980s, taught me a lot about people, how to get along, and how to appreciate people even if they had very different views or life experiences than me,” Gonzales said.
When Gonzales isn’t performing or teaching, she is working on her writing. Before “The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band” was published, she wrote her memoir. She is still working on getting her memoir published and is working on writing an upcoming novel.
Her book, “The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band,” was published in 2016 as a biography of her life on the road - in an all female punk band dealing with sexism, racism and abuse from fans. The book also speaks about being part of something that was bigger than her. The band showed her the world and the different kinds of people in it.
“I was reminded of what I also fought as a young woman of color in the same scene -- where racist cool provided camouflage for the same-old discourse of white supremacy in flimsy disguise,” Gonzales said in her book,“The Spitboy Rule.”
Gonzales’s unpublished memoir is different than “The Spitboy Rule.” The memoir focuses more on her upbringing and where it all started for her in Tuolumne. She had a tough upbringing while growing up with a mother who was young and single.
Gonzales’s love for writing from songs for her band to books about her own life carried over to teaching students about great literature and learning to write like the authors they read.
“She’s somebody that came up with an expectation that creativity and artistry would always be part of her life, so when she became a teacher, it was just natural that that would still be part of her life,” Karin Spirn, LPC English professor and long time friend and cubicle mate of Gonzales, said.
Gonzales also teaches her students about the publishing world. She can show her students who want to do the same thing how to do it. She also shows students that if you work hard you can accomplish
anything you put your mind to.
“It’s not that they think I am cool, but that I can relate to students and make them feel comfortable pretty easily even though I’m going to be 50 in two years,” Gonzales said.
In Oakland on a warm sunny day on Sept. 9, 2017, with an English assistant, Kristie Vanderhoof, Gonzales marched for three hours protesting their support for DACA. Gonzales wore a black shirt with writing saying, “NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO FASCIST” with the American flag shown upside down. People were holding signs saying
undocumented students and faculty to help students accomplish their aspirations.
“I felt that LPC needed me, a Latina teaching English,” Gonzales said. “I also felt that students of color here could use an advocate.”
Gonzales believes the work that she does with students on a daily basis is activism.
Gonzales walked in the DACA protest in San Leandro on Sept. 5, 2017 with Spirn.
Gonzales first met Spirn when they were adjuncts at DVC and then were later hired together at LPC.
“Deport Hate Not Dreams” and “Fight Ignorance Not Immigration”. Gonzales had been a little worried and hesitant worrying if others in the crowd or even the police would get violent. People of different races and ages came out to support and rally together to get their voice heard.
Activism is another thing Gonzales isn’t going to let go of any time soon. Whether that means walking in peaceful protests or helping students through Puente program. She is the co-coordinator of the Puente program and a member of UndocuAlly, both LPC programs that help vulnerable students.
The Puente program helps students who are at a disadvantage educationally transfer to four-year colleges. Once graduated the students mentor others to do the same to make a better, stronger community. UndocuAlly is a task force that will work with
She began teaching at Diablo Valley College in 2003 through 2004. Gonzales began teaching at Las Positas College in 2004. Gonzales explained that she didn’t choose LPC but that LPC chose her.
“Full-time tenure track positions are very difficult to come by -- the market is very competitive,” Gonzales said.
“People with master’s degrees in English are often willing to move anywhere for a job like this.”
Gonzales started her full-time tenure in fall of 2005. She feels close to LPC because it reminds her of the area she grew up in.
“Having grown up in a small town with rolling hills dotted with cows, I felt a great affinity for LPC right away,” Gonzales said.
A large wall calendar on her desk or wall features cute photos of Chihuahuas for each month. Gonzales’s calendar at home has to be a Chihuahua calendar because she loves Chihuahuas and has three chi-mixes herself that are all rescued. The notes for each day are scribbled in pen nestled into a tiny square. Each square has valuable white space that is filled with band practice times for both her and her son as well as book signing times and locations.
Gonzales keeps up with her busy life schedule by writing handwritten notes on her numerous calendars. She has a couple at home, at work and on her phone. Gonzales said it’s fun to see your kid doing what she enjoys as well, but it’s work to keep everything in order. She may make it seem like it’s easy to do everything she does on a daily basis but without her calendars it would be a mess.
“Things at home aren’t perfectly clean. They aren’t totally messy, but sometimes you just have to give up,” Gonzales said. “Throw the stuff in the closet and jam it in and shut the door real fast and hope no one comes over and opens it and have an avalanche fall on their head.”
When it comes to teaching Gonzales doesn’t take it lightly. She still is hard on students who don’t get their work in on time or take her class seriously, which would be hard to do. She knows what she is talking about when she is in front of a classroom talking about “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “1984.” Her teaching has made a lasting impression on many.
“I don't think that people know just how much she has accomplished,” Sanchez said. “There's so much greatness she's giving off and still pursuing, it is extremely impressive to everyone.”