On stars, stripes, and dreams

I'm Uncle Sam, That's Who I Am
Photo by Chicago Man on Flickr

[Note: This post has been sitting in my drafts since June, but I figured it needed to be posted, so I finished it up today]

I recently read an article (on Yahoo! News of all places) about the American dream being a myth. I feel that this is undoubtedly true, but perhaps not in the way most people would expect. A myth is a grand narrative; it’s something that people structure their actions around and hope to replicate in their own lives. We’ve all heard variations of the American dream, and all of them basically boil down to this: If you work hard, you can make it to the top.

If we want to talk about the American dream being a myth – about the Dream being a grand narrative that many of us structure our lives around – then yes, this is extremely true. We’re reminded in the way President Obama speaks about America:

And we thought about how far we had come, and the fact that our lives were a testament to that fundamental American ideal that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, America is a place where you can make it if you try. America is a place where you can make it if you try. [source]

But perhaps it’s time to realize the systems that are stacked against us. From the color of our skin to our income bracket to where we grew up… so much of our success can only be attributed to luck and being in the right place at the right time. It’s at that point that we realize that the myth, that the grand narrative isn’t a one-size fits all deal.

I’m not saying not to dream. I’m saying that the myth is so beautiful and we find it hard to see anything else.

This idea of dreaming big, of being able to go from rags to riches – it permeates our media. Look at all of the talent competitions that are currently on the air. Look at the wide eyes of the contestants who hope that they will be the next ones to make it big. And it’s great, and you want to root for them, you want them to move out of their one-bedroom apartment and sell out arenas because they’ve worked so hard, you know?

The same can be said for students who enter higher education.

What happens when you put your all into a system that doesn’t truly look out for everyone’s well-being? What happens when some have access to more resources than others?

Maybe it’s time to rewrite the narrative.

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Of countdowns and postage stamps

Every time I swipe into my tablet, I’m greeted by a red calendar widget that tells me how much time I have left in the States. Today the bold, round numbers declared 37 days. After winter break it’ll be 18 days. After my last day of work on campus it’ll be two. Needless to say, I’m nervous and excited all at the same time – the smaller the numbers get on my calendar widget, the more I realize that this study-abroad-in-France-for-a-semester thing is finally and actually happening.

I picked up my French visa at the post office last Saturday, since nobody was here to sign off on it last week (Sidenote: Going to the post office during the holiday season is not something I can say I endorse). It was funny picking up the unnecessarily large Express Mail envelope that day and looking at the mess of stamps along the side – squares of Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Washington, and various birds of prey stared back at me as I broke the seal.

It’s like one of those paintings – my empty stare will follow you from all angles

There was my passport, and within that was my French visa. As I looked at my photo and lamented my messy hair, I smiled remembering that day in the city. I’m lucky enough to be studying abroad with four people from my French class, which is a pretty sizable number given the fact that there are ten names on the class roster. I remember stressing over the visa application process with my classmates, but it all worked out in the end – I was just so concerned that I might mess it all up or miss an important deadline. Luckily, each step along the way wasn’t so bad. Each item took about a week to complete and to receive confirmation, from all of the CampusFrance stuff to the actual visa appointment.

In fact, the visa process had an extremely fast turnaround. Two of my classmates and myself made our appointments together, and if the tracking on the envelope is correct, we were able to go in for our appointments on a Wednesday and have our visas delivered to our addresses by the Saturday of that same week. Awesome.

Now all that’s left is the packing. Wish me luck.

On boy band fangirling in the age of Twitter

If you follow me on any of my social networking profiles, you should know that in about six days I will be seeing that silly European-manufactured boy band One Direction. My ticket cost me a stupid amount of money – an amount that I am far too embarrassed to divulge. Yes, my dedication surprises me just as much as it surprises you. Or maybe you aren’t surprised, given my deep love of *NSYNC (though the two pop acts should not be compared because *NSYNC is clearly on a completely different level). I don’t know what happened. After their Saturday Night Live performance, there was no turning back. I guess it was kind of something like this, but over the process of a couple of weeks.

This is all of the 1D stuff I’ve bought over the past couple of weeks. Don’t worry, I would  probably unfriend me, too.

Once I realized I was a fangirl, I decided to poke around the online fandom. I was glad to see some people around my own age who had also succumbed to the stupid charm of this boy band, but they were definitely in the minority. As expected, this fandom is mostly compiled of young tween/teenage girls. I found myself cringing when I read some of their usernames, but it was a bit endearing. They created “families” on Twitter and Tumblr and were building their own fan culture. As a Communication major who enjoys reading about media studies (with an emphasis on fan/audience studies) it was fascinating seeing how these Directioners interacted with each other.

But these interactions, while almost always embarrassing, weren’t always endearing. In fact, I soon learned that within this fan culture, many young fans were spreading some pretty misogynistic, racist, and homophobic things among their groups.  Continue reading “On boy band fangirling in the age of Twitter”

Halfway there

As always, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and it’s time for a year-end reflection. It wouldn’t be a giveguts post without a picture, so here, have a Gaelapalooza photo.

Good times. Okay, so here’s a quick rundown of what I’ll be discussing in this post:

  • Service
  • Activism
  • Student involvement
  • Performing
  • Gender studies and ethnic studies

Alright then, let’s get started.  Continue reading “Halfway there”

On the importance of Manny Santos and Abby Vargas

If you knew me in middle school, you would know from our conversations that I really, really liked Degrassi: The Next Generation. I realize that this is somewhat embarrassing, and that I no longer follow the series as closely as I used to, but my love of Manny Santos still stands.

This photo features a DVD cover with a young Manny Santos with a goth Ashley Kerwin held by a college-aged Justher Gutierrez

Given the fondness I show for my Asian-Americans in the Media class (the class that is a part of my in-progress honors contract), my love of this Filipina-Canadian representation should come as no surprise. I repeat, Cassie Steele played a Filipina-Canadian character. Not a character of Costa Rican descent, like Camille Cresencia-Mills as Daisy Valero in the short-lived Skins (US). Not a Hispanic-American character like Lalaine as Miranda Sanchez in Lizzie McGuire.

No, Cassie Steele played a Filipina-Canadian character. Manny had Filipino parents (accents and all), a Debut, a kitchen with Jufran ketchup… it was really exciting for me to watch, given the limited representations of APA/API youth in teen and tween television programs. Not only that, but given the amount of time she was on the show (nine years?), her character experienced so much growth – something that is hard to come by given the way in which many television shows have taken to keeping minority characters in the second-banana position, not experiencing as much growth as the main characters who tend to be white. Or if they aren’t white, they are almost never APA/API.

And now, Cassie will be gracing our television screens once again as Abby Vargas on The L.A. Complex. The show makes its US debut April 24th on The CW. I believe that Abby is a Filipina-Canadian character like Manny was. It seems to be alluded to in two instances from the first six episodes of the series. In the second episode, a man calls her “A curvy Mila Kunis meets, like, an Asian Jeanne Tripplehorn” and suggests that she could play Vanessa Anne Hudgens’ sister (and Baby V is part Filipina as well). Later on in the series, she asks her friend-but-possibly-more-than-friend if he’s going to take her to Jollibee again. Jollibee. Oh, and her boyfriend in the pilot? API dude.

In summary, thank you, thank you, thank you Epitome Pictures. I expect The L.A. Complex to be huge, and I would like to believe that the show’s success (that hip-hop and homosexuality storyline is going to create quite a buzz in the mainstream media) will also allow for more API representation in mainstream television. I look forward to the day where I don’t have to play Spot the API Character as often as I do now.

Representation with depth is important. It may seem like a small thing, especially since a fair amount of people tend to be dismissive of the impact of television shows, but representation tells viewers that they matter. Not only does The L.A. Complex present us with an interesting API character, but it also benefits from being decently written, acted, and produced – something that tends to be rare in shows with a large teen audience. That’s something worth watching.

The L.A. Complex makes its US debut April 24th on The CW at 9/8c.