Dreamland Classroom: Teaching, Learning and Historical Consciousness in Jeremy Villaluz's Enclave
By Yinshi Lerman-Tan
In one of the photographs from Jeremy Villaluz’s photography book Enclave, a white Lexus sits in an otherwise empty second-story parking lot in front of a whitewashed brick wall that looks so brittle it might crack (Figure 1). The tops of two houses peek over the edge of the other stone wall that encloses the parking lot. The Lexus faces away from the camera, either apathetic or ashamed. Looking at this picture, one feels a quality of surreal belatedness, like the uncanny feeling of arriving at school an hour after class let out or to a party after everyone else has gone home. A little caption in gray font on the opposite page reads, “Growing up, me and the homies thought Daly City was ‘hella dead.’”
The caption remains relevant to the next photograph in the series (Figure 2). The next photo shows a covered car parked under a net-less basketball hoop in the driveway of a suburban Daly City house. The sun shines down harshly from a corner of blue sky that echoes the trapezoid of blue tarp. Despite being outside, the photograph feels cloistered: the shades are drawn on the windows, the car is wrapped in its cover as if it were hibernating or recently laid to rest.  I can imagine 1950s-style postcards of these two photographs, with bright letters printed across them that read “Visit Sunny Daly City – It’s hella dead!”
These two photographs convey Villaluz’s interest in the eerie deadness and claustrophobia of suburbia, aligning him with photographers like Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson. The sadness of the suburbs in Enclave, however, is tied to an aesthetic of whiteness from an era of segregated housing development and discrimination. Daly City, the subject of Enclave and Villaluz’s hometown, was originally planned as an affordable community for white families in the post-World War II era, as Villaluz notes in his preface to the book. One of its iconic neighborhoods, Westlake, was designed by master planner Henry Doelger, who is credited with designing the “little boxes” that characterize the west and south regions of San Francisco.  Doelger’s Disney-esque “architecture of optimism”  is as classic 1950s Americana as bobby socks, Sputnik, and the drive-in. Doelger’s optimistic homes were a fantasy of whiteness, sold to whites-only until the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. After homebuyers of color were finally allowed in, the Asian-American presence grew steadily and by 2014 Filipinos were the largest ethnic presence in what was by then a vintage American “dreamland.”
Of the 66 photographs in Enclave, more than half are like the ones I described above: street scenes and empty suburban landscapes shot in color. Interspersed throughout these landscapes are the activities that might be taking place inside the buildings pictured: affectionate scenes of family and community gatherings, meals, rest, and recreation, nostalgically shot in black and white. One of these monochrome group portraits shows a classroom (Figure 3) with a caption that reads “HIST 435 exceeding capacity.” Every desk is filled and at the helm is the teacher, hands in mid-gesture and mouth open, in the midst of explanation (presumably of Folk Catholicism, as the washed out PowerPoint slide projection behind him indicates). We only see the backs of the students and sides of their faces since they all look forward, not out of diligence but as if genuinely enraptured in the lesson. The picture, without being propagandistic, captures a feeling of education in action, a moment of communion between students and teacher in which the stuff of the classroom (pencils, notebooks, whiteboards) seems to fall away.
This set of three consecutive photographs—the parking lot, the houses, and the classroom—is one of the infinite triptychs in Enclave. This set is also a microcosm of the project, conveying three registers of Villaluz’s aesthetics. In the first photograph, the Lexus in the parking lot is a nod to the homies, and Villaluz’s recollection about “growing up” in the caption conjures up the feeling of late nights in high school driving around Daly City looking for something to do, cruising fruitlessly for a garage party, only to end up chilling with the homies in a parking lot at the end of the night. The second photo captures the spirit of what Villalluz calls Daly City’s “legacy as a mid-century American dreamland turned ethnic enclave,” in which the Leave It To Beaver-suburban street retains a feeling of past-its-prime white disaffection and also signifies in its new form as a post-1968 Asian-American dream. The last picture establishes the importance of the classroom to Villaluz’s work, and serves the viewer with the realness of culturally-relevant higher education at its best, with a rockstar young instructor Dr. Roderick Daus-Magbual of Skyline College engaging with Filipino,
Asian-American, and brown students about culture and history in his Philippine History class.
The third photograph in this triptych, the classroom, is the most important: it activates Villaluz’s entire book and brings it into focus. The picture invites the viewer to consider all of the spaces of Daly City as a classroom for the homies, for family, for a community considering its own migration history and the encroaching threat of gentrification. For instance, if you open to beginning of the Enclave, the third photograph of a birthday party suddenly comes into focus as an arena for discourse not unlike HIST 435 (Figure 4). Both photographs are horizontal and shot in black and white, and each shows a group of people gathered around tables and chairs listening, talking, and engaging. Both spaces are unremarkable architecturally, but they are activated by the cultural and communal activity that takes place inside of them. Further, we learn from Villaluz’s caption in the back of the book that it’s a party of educators and their children for Dr. Arlene Daus-Magbual, a college instructor and co-director of Pin@y Educational Partnerships, whose home “has been integral to meetings that, amongst other things, have transformed local education...”
Even the photograph of the Lexus in the parking lot, when compared with the image of HIST 435, starts to read like the classroom. The car faces the white space of the brick wall like the history students face the projection screen at the front of Dr. Daus-Magbual’s classroom. The photo of the parking lot is composed almost mathematically with its enjambed geometric shapes and intersecting planes, rhyming with the repeated rectangles of the whiteboards, vents, lights, and screens in the classroom. Even the the white paint lines that demarcate the parking spaces start to read like chalk lines on a blackboard, a vintage version of the black dry erase marker on Dr. Daus-Magbual’s whiteboard urging students “15% OF YOUR GRADE REFER TO SYLLABUS: Community Event Opportunities.” For Villaluz and for Dr. Daus-Magbual, the classroom and the community reflect each other. 
Enclave’s interior and exterior spaces are the places where Villaluz came into consciousness about his own connection to the wider experience of Pin@y diaspora. In this sense, Villaluz’s photographs cast him as the student of Daly Cityand of the generations that came here before him. In a recent panel, Villaluz described the ways in which he realized his parents struggled both in America and in leaving behind the place from which they came—a realization that many American-born children of immigrants have in adolescence (see Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat).  In alternating between dead architectural spaceand alive community space, and between empty and full, Enclave almost reenacts Villaluz’s own experience of realizing the burgeoning richness of his own hometown environment, that even he used to think was hella dead. This experience, of waking up to one’s own identity and family, is not unlike the transformation that might occur in HIST 435. There is even something magical about the feeling of awakening of Enclave’s movement from colors to monochrome; one feels like the Dorothy of Daly City, stepping from the warmth of sepia into Technicolor and back again. However, unlike Dorothy, Villaluz’s yellow brick road is a parking lot and the wizards of Daly City are the aunties and uncles who can give you a new heart or brain by regaling you with stories about coming to America.
In addition to being the student, Villaluz—perhaps more convincingly—is a teacher. I think Sunny Vergara puts it best in his foreword to this publication when he says that Enclave is “didactic in the most positive sense of the word,” referring to Villaluz’s extensive textual captions and the legibility of the project. Villaluz makes Enclave’s lesson clear: Daly City is a vastly important site of Filipino-American life and culture, a living archive of the Manila to Milbrae migration experience that, despite the threat from encroaching gentrification, is still vibrant, hopeful, and local. As a photographer-scholar, Villaluz deftly makes legible and comprehensible his range of incredibly complex material: the history of American photography from Robert Frank and Walker Evans to Lee Friedlander and Gregory Crewdson; the segregated history of American urban spaces; and the contemporary narratives of globalized identity, migration, and cultural memory across vast distance. (The metaphor of photographer as teacher and scholar is apt in the case of Villaluz, who has a degree in Asian-American Studies and an MFA in Studio Art, and is an instructor at San Francisco State.)
Villaluz’s aesthetic of education taps into the historical relationship between photography and the American classroom. Beyond picture days and yearbooks, American photographers have long been interested in schools.  For example, comparing Villaluz’s HIST 435 photograph with turn-of-the-century American photographer Francis Benjamin Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute adds another valence to Villaluz’s use of black-and-white (Figure 5).  While Villaluz depicts college students and a teacher of color in a 21st-century, post-Brown v. Board era (though arguably still segregated or re-segregated), Johnston’s photographs depict freedmen’s schools from the post-Plessy v. Ferguson era of Jim Crow and segregated education.  Comparing the two photographs is fraught, since Johnston’s photograph conveys the long and painful history of the American classroom as a historically white and racist space. Around the time she photographed these schools, Johnston also photographed United States Admiral George Dewey in a public relations campaign after his naval victory in the Battle of Manila Bay, which resulted in America’s violent possession of the Philippines in the era of American imperial expansion.  In a way, Villaluz’s photograph of HIST 435 strangely echoes or reverberates the histories documented by Johnston’s camera—of American racism, colonialism, and segregated education—but is also the antidote to it.
Villaluz celebrates Daly City as a new kind of American dreamscape, in which the mid-century suburbs constructed for whites-only are reclaimed as spaces for celebrating immigrant culture and Pin@y pride. For example, Villaluz has photographed Mario Ciampi’s quintessentially mid-century school, formerly the Olympia School (for white children) in the 1950s, and now the Westlake School for the Performing Arts, a site for Pin@y educational initiatives and excellence in the arts.  These spaces and places are encoded with the histories of segregation and the white supremacy which erected them, and yet, Villaluz’s vision for them is a hopeful one. The streets and buildings of Daly City should not just be aestheticized, nor could they be sterilized of their history; instead they are reborn as the spaces of that carry the past with them and look forward to a future.
This hopeful future, and commitment to a new generation, is most palpable in Villaluz’s gorgeous pictures of his son. Throughout the book, Miles plays with toy airplanes and cars (like the ones that populate his real world in Daly City), eats, is hugged and gives hugs, looks out windows, and is curious and in love with the world around him. In this subseries of pictures of his son, Villaluz seems to say the world, and this city, is yours.
 Perhaps a nod to Robert Frank’s photographs of covered cars in Malibu and Long Beach.
 Keil, Rob. 2006. Little boxes: the architecture of a classic midcentury suburb. Daly City, CA: Advection Media.
 Ibid., 81.
 Villaluz’s caption reads, “While I often take interest in Daly City’s romantic legacy as a mid-century American dreamland turned ethnic enclave, it’s incredible to see blocks of older homes directly butt up against a new housing developments that promise an updated, and maybe an even more aggressive, version of the same dream America was trying to sell us in the prior decades.”
 The importance of classrooms to Enclave is supported by Villaluz’s wider oeuvre: his website features a series of photographs of teachers and students from Pin@y Educational Partnerships engaged in activity and discourse.
 Jerome Reyes, Jeremy Villaluz, and Dawn Mabalon. “Artist’s Drawing Club: On Air with Jerome Reyes.” Panel conversation, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, September 22, 2016.
 For a more contemporary comparison, see Catherine Wagner’s classroom photographs.
 "History Class, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama." Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, Library of Congress. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fbj/item/98503043/.
 These schools have since become HBCUs, but at the time of their founding they were affiliated with and championed by Hampton graduate and Tuskegee founder Booker T. Washington, who favored a separate-but-equal respectability politics. Ralph Ellison attended Tuskegee in the 1930s, and wrote about his experience in Invisible Man and other essays
 Wexler, Laura. Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism. Chapel Hill: University ofNorth Carolina Press, 2000.
 Rob Keil. Little boxes: The Architecture of a Classic Midcentury Suburb. (Daly City: Advection Media, 2006),
116; Jerome Reyes, Jeremy Villaluz, and Dawn Mabalon. “Artist’s Drawing Club: On Air with Jerome Reyes.”
Panel conversation, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, September 22, 2016.