It’s been a week since my undergraduate commencement. One week since myself and 763 other members of my class walked across that stage to receive our diploma holders. It’s strange.
I was fortunate enough to have so many of my loved ones there, from my high school English teacher to friends from back home to my wonderful, wonderful family. There were far too many leis, embarrassing sandal tans, and lots and lots of photos. It was an amazing and terribly exhausting day.
2013 is drawing to a close. This is usually the time when end-of-the-year “Best Of” posts and promises of New Year’s resolutions accumulate on RSS feeds, applications, timelines, and the like.
As a reflection post, consider this a hybrid of those two things – a look back on the highs of the year and the lessons they brought. It’s a journey through the past twelve months with the promises weaved in. It’s bound to be a doozy.
This is a post about identity. It’s a bit complicated and I don’t know if I have all of the theoretical terms down, but maybe that’s the point.
My study abroad experience in France came to a close about two weeks ago. If you’re interested in reading about my experience, feel free to check out the blog I updated here: http://iaufrance.weebly.com/justher.html
During my time abroad I ran across this blog post entitled “Race and Study Abroad,” written by a USC student who studied abroad in France. Then I followed the comments to another blog post by an Asian American student studying abroad. I was simultaneously touched and bothered by these posts; I was touched because they shared their experiences so openly and angered that these experiences had happened in the first place. But this was not new to me. After living in France for a couple of months, I had experienced more microaggressions (and some not-so-micro) than I was used to.
Needless to say, people calling out your Otherness? Pretty exhausting after a while. And dehumanizing to boot.
I alluded to this in my previous post, but it bears repeating: After all of these icky things happening again and again, it really just hurts and you want to find a way to make it stop – or just relieve some of the pain. And that’s when you seek out a community who gets it. Myself and a handful of Asian/Asian American students found solace in each other and it was so comforting to have that safe space to just talk freely about the nonsense we were dealing with. I think that sense of comfort and safety made it that much more difficult for me to step outside of that space. In other words, I knew I could trust the people in this group – I wasn’t sure I could say the same about everyone outside of it.
The biggest lessons I got out of my study abroad experience had nothing to do with conjugations or historical landmarks. Rather, they had to do with my identity and how others perceived me. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I blend in pretty well, almost to the point of fading into the background. I don’t get noticed much. France was a different story.
It took me a nine-hour time difference to realize that my face, my body, my gender, my identity as a whole does not exist in a neutral space. It took me an entire semester in Europe to realize the power that can be gained through community.
I’m hoping I can bring these lessons back to my own campus. I hope that I continue to grow. I hope this experience has changed me for the better.
“You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (1968), Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s no secret: I love talking about issues of identity. My two great loves at the moment seem to be race and gender. It’s fascinating stuff, and pop culture often provides us with a myriad of incidents to discuss. But lately, after spending a few months abroad, it seems I’ve become more and more aware that these -isms don’t only occur on the entertainment blogs – they’re happening right now, in our daily lives. It happens when some of us are asked where we come from and “California” isn’t a good enough response. It happens when people suggest that your “no” wasn’t clear enough. It happens when people try to label you instead of you defining yourself. This stuff happens. It’s happening in France, it happens in the States, and I’m positive it happens everywhere.
It happens. It happens and it builds up and it weighs on you and before you even realize it, it starts to hurt. So what do you do?
You scream. And shout. And let it all out.
(Literally, figuratively, whatever works for you)
But really, all will.i.am and Britney Spears collaborations aside, screaming is a form of expression. It indicates that something has happened. It indicates that you’re feeling something, and more often than not, that you need support. I’m finding that right now, with all that I’ve learned and encountered, I cherish these support groups and safe spaces a great deal.
When I’m not talking about resisting the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, I’m probably gushing over some pop culture darlings. More often than not, those darlings end up being the mid-to-late 90s boy band phenom *NSYNC.
If those previous two sentences were news to you, then we probably aren’t very close friends (but on the plus side, you now know everything you need to know about me, so now we can be really close friends).
In the two decades I’ve spent on this earth, I’ve been lucky enough to run into people who understand my profound loyalty to this pop group. There are people who have come into my life and understand why I proudly displayed my *NSYNC buttons on my messenger bag for a large part of my sophomore year of undergrad. There are people who have entered my room and smiled at my poster instead of laughing at it.
But still, others shrug off my love of *NSYNC as a strange mix of pathetic and endearingly eccentric, which makes me afraid that not everyone really, truly gets what this group of males means to me. If they did, they wouldn’t jump at the chance to say “The Backstreet Boys are better!” (debatable) or “Justin was the only talented one out of the group!” (he isn’t).
When those blasphemous phrases are uttered, I often find myself at a loss for words. In most cases I am able to swallow my protests, eager to uphold the relationship in spite of such poor judgement from my so-called “friend.” However, I can no longer bite my tongue. As 2012 comes to an end, I feel that I have maintained this silence long enough. I am coming in with trumpets sounding, declaring to all that will listen, “I am a strong, powerful woman of color and I will express my love for a 90s boy band as I please!”