Blog

The World, the Purpose, and You

“…To live your life purpose
think greater
than yourself.
Think higher
than your thoughts.
Think deeper
than your words,
and wait,
for your purpose to be shown…”

-Jennifer Maulin

 

So, Here I Am
The Author

And then there’s you– our community of young writers and readers

Here’s what I think should be elaborated on in terms of Purpose for the two of us here: Synthesize this syllabus of a blog.
Make this a personal road-map..that just maybe will be the same for you.
To give myself a chance to ask questions about class elements I don’t understand.
What are my expectations in terms of adding to my knowledge base and writing skills?

I initially decided to take this class because it is required by my English major. However, I am extremely intrigued by the idea of experiencing literature through cultures. Hopefully, this class will help me hone in on my literary perspective taking and broaden what may be a narrow sense of perspective when I approach something from a specific scope or lens in writing. I believe that it will be up to me how this course affects my worldview and perceptions. Because of this, I must enter everyday with an open mind and open heart. I believe that this class will help me engage those skills and understand how to read and experience diverse cultures rather than read about them. Furthermore, I believe this class will allow me to cultivate an agency of social change and progression– enable me to engender sentience and deep compassion and thirst for knowledge that others of differing backgrounds than me may possess.

A list of specific techniques I’d like to explore, experiment with, and work at.

Cultural analysis
Blog writing and poetic connection
Sharing and melding ideas with other writers– snap shots!
Expanding my social media presence through literary work
Public speaking and receiving feedback

5 of my identities:

These appear in no particular order…

1). I am from the middle class– clean, semi-rural neighborhood with green grass.
2). I consider myself a female. The feminist gender symbol for female is what I think of for this identity.
3). I am white, and the first symbol I think of is the matrix of domination that I learned about in IES 102
4). I identify as Christian, so the symbol I choose for this identity is the Cross
5). I see myself as a future educator. For this, I see an English classroom with a diverse group of students in it.

 

And here we go.

The Mirrors We Carry

“…A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!”

— Freedoms Plow, Langston Hughes

 

To the Common Core Standards Validation Committee:

My name is Jodi Payne, and I am a current student at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Presently, I am headed toward the MACI program, which would allow me to obtain my Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Integrated Educational Studies with an emphasis in English by 2020. As a future educator, the Common Core Standards are of upmost importance to me, for they will be the backbone of my own curriculum once I enter the classroom. Because of this, I would like to address several disservices the Committee has dealt to America’s students through the narrow confines of the Common Core Literature Standards and the current AP Literature Reading List.
Among the state standards for 11th and 12th grade students is as follows:

“Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.”
(CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9)

This standard, in accordance with the content of the AP Literature Reading List, is deeply concerning. From 1700 and onward into the early 1900s, it is absolutely astounding that a sweeping majority of the authors featured are white, able-bodied, heterosexual men of the upper-middle class. Moreover, the texts covered— that are considered “the classics” of American literature— are anything but inclusive or culturally insightful. Where are the non-white men— Black, Asian, Native American men? Where are the non-white women (or women in general, for that matter)? Where are the pieces centered around the harsh realities of this “foundational” America you are so intent on depicting— realities like slavery, racism, religious oppression, xenophobia, sexual orientational exclusivity, poverty, hate crimes? All of these are heavily present throughout American history, yet they are present only in “token” works. And of these “token” works, many of them are still written by Caucasian men who have arguably abused their privilege in attempting to “whitesplain” the African American story.
There are grave consequences to this kind of negligence. It teaches young black men and women that their history is unimportant history. It teaches them that the only way for their stories to be relayed is through the lenses of white, privileged men who cannot possibly articulate with accuracy or passion the atrocities the African American community has faced throughout the development of America. It teaches the same to young men and women from Asian and Latino and Native American decent— seeing as they are even less documented in the AP Literature Reading List. Furthermore, it conditions young white students to view culture and the beauties of diversity in their country through the narrowed perception offered by these “token” texts of multicultural America. This not only perpetuates the disconnect among populations in extremely harmful ways, it solidifies in the minds of the youth where they belong in the grand scheme of society. How small-minded it is for educators not to hold literature that mirrors multicultural experience to the highest degree of understanding. How negligent it is to look at a diverse and ever-growing United States and provide such a non-inclusive and non-representative group of novels to its students.
If we are to educate the future citizens of our nation in entirety, we must construct a curriculum that supports the multi-faceted, complex make-up of the American public school classroom. I implore the Common Core Standards Validation Committee to review its standards and how they are executed in such multicultural schools. I sincerely plead that the current state of what we deem to be “classic American literature” be reevaluated in such a way that all students can be represented. Only then will teachers truly be able to educate on concepts of true inclusivity and social progression.

The Story I Own But Did Not Write

"...When we are embraced, for who we are
Do you not see? We shall gleam like the stars in the night
Genders, colors, nations too
Leave them sitting in old church pews

Philosophers, doctors, engineers of creation
We shall be side by side, working with you
So smile and behold the new golden age
Suras must die, in the deserts of past sage

Sisters of the sun, the gods, and the wind
The old men of the past must rescind
Glories are coming, so rejoice and behold
Equality is the greatest story a woman ever told..."

 — Prophecy of Sand, Aurore Severo
Femininity. It’s a concept molded and stigmatized and skewed and paradoxically ignored by literature time and time again. Growing up, the books I read instructed me on the ways I should reflect this social construction…and implicitly shamed me in the ways I never measured up to it.
It’s first accentuated through fairtytales and princesses who are well-mannered, who wear flowing dresses, and who find their greatest validation through the brave princes that rescue them from certain peril. I can recall my home library when I was seven years old— teeming with these tales. This was my first taste of how literature conditioned my view of what it means to be a female, to be feminine. They were beautiful. They were respectful and proper. They wore pink and purple and crimson. They sought after their beloved princes, were enraptured by the notion that all would be right in the world once they found true love. I remember resting my head against my father’s chest on the couch, listening to his narration bring these stories to life, kindling the fire inside of me that longed to be like Ariel and Aurora and Snow White— that longed to matter.
The literature I read not only taught me about society’s version of femininity. It also limited me to it. I still remember my first book fair in the second grade. I remember the vibrant catalog that was handed out to every student— the exciting images of stories that had all of us eagerly waiting with marker in hand, ready to avidly circle the book choices we would end up begging our parents to purchase for us. Though I did not realize it at the time, there was a distinctly evident binary within the pages of the catalog. My eyes covered every inch of the bright yellow paper, surveying books I knew were inherently girly, implicitly for me, and those that were not. My red pen wavered over a superhero comic book in the section labeled “For Him: Fiction” and then continued on. I bought a Judy Moody book instead.
Kerry Mason from the Letterbox Library campaign claims that “children’s own book choices are being limited by publishers’ gendered marketing campaigns”. What a staggering notion— that the developing literacy of children, my own relationship with literacy development, has been conditioned and constrained by the bounds of gender and the binary obligations that gender entails.
But it certainly does not stop there. This damaging schema followed me into middle school where I began to read series and magazines about the glories of womanhood. These texts consumed the minds of my friends and me. They introduced pressures I had not yet known, insecurities I had not yet been burdened with. And with every read, I began to understand where the supposed identity of a woman resides.
Makeup.
Popularity.
Designer brands.
Body image.
Sex appeal.
One afternoon the summer before my freshman year of high school, I found myself flipping through the pages of a Cosmopolitan Magazine issue with a picture of a very seductive Olivia Wilde plastered on the cover. The headline read “50 Ways To Seduce A Man”. I was shocked by the title but felt an implicit obligation to educate myself on the ways in which I should learn to please the opposite sex. Never mind the fact that I had never kissed a boy, much less had been sexually active with one.

As time progressed, the glass ceiling of the literary world made itself evident to me in the ways that my gender was systematically ignored in text. In high school, literacy acquisition brought me to the classics— Shakespeare, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway. Through these timeless works, I developed a newfound perception about literature: that which is considered noteworthy is probably written by a man. There were token exceptions like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, though they were few and far between. However, an even more painstaking reality was the vast dearth of female protagonists present in classic literature. Acclaimed novelist and women’s advocate Nicola Griffith conducted a study stretching the past 15 years which documented the gender disparity in major award-winning literature— like the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Hugo Award. Across six major prizes for exceptional literature, 89 total books were awarded— representing both men and women authors quite well. However, out of all 89 noteworthy texts, only 15 of them focused on females as the main protagonist. Instead, public school curriculum chooses characters like Piggy and Jack from Lord of the Flies, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, and Winston Smith from 1984 to articulate those who are worthy of analysis and reflection. This allowed me to see not only how my femininity should be portrayed but also when it was appropriate to portray it.

Even still my relationship with literature progresses, and so does my zeal for a broader depiction of women within it. I am encouraged and motivated by the steps my generation is taking towards fluidity and inclusivity of gender expression, and I can only hope that this will be evident in the literature to come. As a future educator, I desire to create a curriculum that in some way inspires necessary commentary about women and the construct of femininity. As a future mother, I demand that my daughter’s perception of herself never be stunted or damaged by the books she reads. As a human being, I render my own story and the stories of many others as a testament to the work that needs to be done and a call to action that begins with us.

Dear Future Self

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.”

— First They Came For The Communists, Martin Niemoller

 

Dear Jodi,

Hi there. It’s me— I mean you.
You have a big responsibility coming up. You’re going to have to sit with someone and ask that person what it’s really like to be him/her and allow that person to relay the complexities and joys and hardships rooted in his/ her identity and life experiences. Yeah, that’s huge.

First off, do you remember when you were 12 years old and your mom went to rehab for the second time that year? Do you remember how your dad decided to caravan you down to Houston to pick her up, only to find that you were being forced to attend an Al Anon workshop and recount your experiences “living with an alcoholic”? The lady you spoke with during one-on-one time seemed only to be half listening to you…not hearing your true words but sifting through them, attempting to decipher some meaning in them that she already expected to find. And then she used your story as an example for the group, only she didn’t really tell the story you had just begrudgingly confessed to her. I know you remember. It sucked.

And you need to remember this going into the interview process. You will be asking someone for part of his/her story— something real and raw and authentic to that person— and you need to document it as accurately and respectfully as possible.

First, you need to check your privilege at the door. Remember that privilege is an inherently good thing that we all have to some degree. It does not attribute to our character, and it does not make us “bad people”. Do not feel guilt because of it. But privilege conditions us to see our environment and those around us in specific ways that can be oppressive and damaging. This can come across in our preconceived stigmas about a given population, our misunderstanding of culture or social structures, and our language. In the interview process, you can check your privilege by approaching with an open mind and an accepting heart. You can actively strive toward inclusive and politically correct word usage to minimize the footprint of your privilege. And you should start by understanding that your world-views can be skewed and that listening to the interviewee (really really listening) can allow you to learn something new and valuable from said person’s experiences.

Second, it is crucial that you remember Chimamanda Adichie’s warning about the “single story”. Nobody’s culture or individual life can be limited to or surmised a single documentation of experience. It is extremely detrimental for us to let one story represent all we know or all there is to know about a population. Whoever you interview has a unique story to tell about his/her personal experience in a given group. You cannot expect this person to speak on behalf of the population. It is not his/her job to educate you. Likewise, you cannot let a single schema of said population represent the interviewee. This type of thinking can cause you to severely misrepresent both parties. Just as you are more than one story and deserve to be seen as such, so is the other person.

Thirdly, you must find a way to love the humanity within the person. You must allow yourself to vulnerably empathize and connect to the interviewee’s humanity and be touched by his/her words. And you must listen not to correct but to understand and to love.
As Tara Bach says: “love has sometimes been described as giving our full, unconditional attention. When it’s really full and unconditional, the love is already there.”
Notice the trend? To love. Love is listening. Love is giving. It’s not an entity. It’s something we actively strive toward, something we practice. May your number one goal in all of this be to practice the art of compassion and unconditional love. May you step outside of yourself in order to deeply desire to know someone else.

I know you can do this. Be confident in your ability to succeed and to be completely humbled by the humanity of another.

Love, Jodi

Through Their Eyes: An Interview Project

“…I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body   
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find…”
— I Look At The World, Langston Hughes

 

 

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Last week, I was scrolling through Facebook on a casual Tuesday afternoon. Among the Buzzfeed videos, Trump articles, and personal updates I sifted through was one particular post that caught my eye. It was a link to an anti-LGBTQ+ petition a Facebook “friend” had posted. The petition encouraged signatures against displays of public affection of LGBTQ+ people on Disney Channel, for fear of polluting young minds. I explored further and found that this individual’s timeline was filled with other hateful attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, specifically transgender people, and she had gained support from many of her non-inclusive friends. I was not only disgusted but hurt and admittedly surprised by such blatant hate. It’s 2017, for goodness’s sake. Could there really still be so many cases of this normalized aggression against LGBTQ+ people?
In the first two months of 2017 alone, “seven transgender women have been murdered” in the U.S.

From 2012 to 2015, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has recorded a staggering 88 homicides of people who identify as LGBTQ+

Currently, the homicide rate in America [ for white transgender women] is 1 out of every 19,000. For black transgender women, that number is 1 in every 2,600.

These are not just murders. These are hate crimes against a specific community of people.

Nearly a fifth of the 5,462 so-called single-bias hate crimes reported to the F.B.I. in 2014 were because of the target’s sexual orientation, or, in some cases, their perceived orientation.

Moreover, recent research has shown that in the United States, L.G.B.T. people are twice as likely to be targeted as African-Americans, and the rate of hate crimes against them has surpassed that of crimes against Jews.

And these injustices certainly transcend U.S. borders as well.

A project called Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring reported that at least 1,700 transgender and gender-expanisve people have been killed since 2008 in Central and South America. It cited 295 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 1, 2016.

From this data, is it clear that we must illuminate the realness of LGBTQ+ exclusion and oppression, especially that of trans people within said community. In order to accomplish this and to migrate from such a cycle, recounting the intimate stories of individuals is essential.To highlight these truths, I interviewed my friend Lee (abiding under a psuedo-name for security purposes) to document a personal experience navigating through the reality of aggression against LGBTQ+ people.

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Lee is an identifying member of the LGBTQ+ community. Lee also identifies as Gender Non-binary and goes by the pronouns “they, them, theirs” as opposed to the binary (male/female) gender pronouns of “he, him, his” or “she, her, hers”. This is one of many pronoun preferences used by the LGBTQ+ community. For further information and a more complete list of available pronouns in use, please visit: https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

Throughout the interview, Lee also utilizes several umbrella terms in reference to their experience as an identifying LGBTQ+ member. A list of these terms is included below. However, it is crucial to note that these are personal working definitions Lee has given, and no term is universally concrete. Other members of their community may define said terms in a manner unique to their own identities as well.

Terms/ Working Definitions:

Trans: term for those who maintain or identify with a gender identity that was not their birth-given sex
Presenting (to present): the physical manifestation of gender identity— clothes, voice, hair, makeup, body shape, etc.
Passing (to pass): to maintain the physical manifestation of either gender binary identity— male or female— and to be socially accepted under this condition
Gender Non-binary: term for all gender identities that do not fall under the recognized male/female gender system of privilege
Gender Non-conforming: gender identity or expressional variance that does not fall under the supposed societal “norm” of identification of one’s birth-given sex
Hetero-patriarchal: term used to describe the extreme gender and sex bias toward male-dominant and heterosexual-dominant society
Cis(gender): Someone who identifies solely with their birth-given sex— male or female assigned
Aspiring Ally/ Allies: someone who actively works to support marginalized communities. This is not a self-identifying label but a condition under which one operates through word and deed
Masc: a gender identity or presentation that reflects masculinity or the expression of that which is socially considered masculine
Femme: a gender identity or presentation that reflects femininity or the expression of that which is socially considered feminine

By doing this interview, Lee said that they understood that I would be asking questions solely about them and their personal experience. It in no way was an attempt to have them speak on behalf of a population but to shed light on things they have experienced through being a part of a marginalized community. All in all, the goal is to discover what it is like to see the world through the eyes of Lee, to create a discourse on the construction of identity, and to reveal what said structure has meant to them personally:

The Interview:

Interviewee: Lee James
Age: 21
Personal Pronouns: They, Them, Theirs
Time and Place: March 12, 2017 at the Chapman University Cross Cultural Center

Jodi (interviewer): How are you feeling today? Did you have any initial thoughts about being interviewed today?

***Lee says they are used to being interviewed and was feeling okay during the day. They shuffle their feel on the coarse carpet and their purple finger nails clack on the plastic armrests of their chair. On their left hand is a wedding band that their wife gave them.***

This might seem like a strange question to start with, but may I ask you for something you like about yourself?

I like my ability to verbalize and express my feelings. I like my ability to communicate. It’s a huge part of who I am and how I’ve grown. Physically, I like my hands because they are the one part of my body I am always able to identify with. They’re also fun to draw.

I love that. Going off of this– this idea of who you are– what does “identity” mean to you?

For me, identity is a very loaded word. Its definition has gone through several transformations because I grew up in a really strict, conservative Catholic family where I would have associated identity with strict individualism…and this would tie really deeply to capitalism— like you build yourself up and everything is very “you-centric”. Now, it is sort of like I view my identity in how I fit into communities, related to an individual. So my individuality within a community. Thats the more practical definition of the word. I think of it in relation to the communities I’m in….I think of my gender, being a non-cis, person and being in the trans and gender non-conforming community and how that affects me. Sexual orientation identity….I guess it definitely relates back to communities. For example, my whiteness makes me think of identities that give me privilege…so where I fit in each

Based on this distinction between identity and individualism, how do you think society has shaped those constructs for you? Has it been a negative or positive experience?

I would say that the overall society..the dominant society definitely impacted me negatively— being raised as assumed to be a woman was very difficult. Even now, everything is shaped in a binary way, and it still hard to get recognition past the gender binary as far as gender identity is concerned. But in my most immediate community since I began attending college, it has been very positive. Mostly peers, I might add. As far as teachers and adults, I can count the number of adults who have positively impacted me in that way on one hand.

Chronologically…the people in your life that have affected you positively in navigating your identity and your individuality have increased post-entry into college. Can we talk a bit about your time before college and what that looked like in those respects? What was it like growing up with people who maybe didn’t understand or accept the ways in which you choose to express your identity?

The biggest thing is that it clouded me to knowing my own identity…because that is the goal of the dominant cis hetero-patriarchical society…is to make people refrain from adopting identities that are not reflected by the dominant group. So the biggest think was blocking me from what that was. I grew up..the best way I can describe it now is I grew up thinking everybody didn’t recognize themselves in the mirror…I just thought that was a part of life and didn’t question it…I mean, that was a part of life for me, why not others? So it wasn’t blatant discrimination that I was aware of so much because I hadn’t come into my identity yet…it was oppression through blocking me from knowing what my identity is. It forced me to wear certain clothes, present in certain ways, not play certain sports….and then sexuality-wise, I realized I was queer my Sophomore year of high school, and it was the most damaging thing in my life long-term that wasn’t accepted. I had to stay closeted and what that led to was an extremely abusive relationship for five years and that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t endangered to come out. It was abusive because absolutely no one else knew about it, so I had nobody to see what was going on or intercept. So back to the identity question, those five years of constant trauma and really, possibly some of the most crucial years for development in identity— all because of the danger that is presented to queer people. It definitely played a role in my identity even today.

Now that you are in university, what are some ways you have seen not just tolerance and acceptance but appreciation…that made living out who you truly are easier?

Just being exposed to more people and finding a group of peers who are amazing— that’s really where the positive has come in. And maybe two faculty and staff …but definitely mostly the students I have come to surround myself with, and the cross-cultural center.

Is that why you like working here? — Referring to the Cross Cultural Center at Chapman.

Yes! It is like a student union for people of marginalized identities. It’s definitely ground-breaking. As a faculty member said, “Before the center, we had to be the center.” So, we were traveling and finding new spaces, and now we have like a home for the things that we do. And it’s great that it’s here, but it’s really important to take note of how hard it was to get it here. It’s like a “finally” type of feeling surrounding the experience, and it shouldn’t have taken so long to attain. It shouldn’t have taken this long…so it’s important to recognize the journey and not see it so much as this big step in progress from the university. This is all progress by students from years and years and a few key members of the university. It’s not a recognition of chapman as a whole….it’s more like it finally gave up…so the body won. Now, Chapman is going to use this for social capital— like “look at how progressive we are as a school”— and they aren’t going to talk about how Doti said this was going to “ghettoize” the school. They’re not gonna talk about how Chapman as an institution fought and slowed down this process.

Are there other ways Chapman has inhibited the ability for you to express yourself for feel safe in your community?

The one that comes to mind first is that many figure heads of Chapman will use idea of free speech when convenient and totally ignore it when it goes against their agenda.

Can you elaborate on this?

Yeah…like protection of racist comments on a free speech in supposedly inclusive spaces…in the globe area at Chapman where students were expressing themselves, someone wrote a very toxic and non-inclusive thing about a student from a marginalized community… when it was taken to faculty, only the slur itself was removed but the context was still there. Still left up.

Also the All Lives Matter sign that was put up during the Black History Month without consent was just handled so awfully… which, is not directly attached to this subject but is totally valid to talk about because it has to do with other marginalized peoples on campus and also me acknowledging my whiteness and my privilege. The only reason the sign was taken up was because it was an unapproved violation rather than horrendous comment. There was another instance where a student was almost fired from a Chapman on-campus job for speaking out against a bully that attacked this person online. She was brought in and was scolded because her behavior and words reflected poorly on the university…and the person who attacked her online worked for the Panther News.

Do you view this as misplaced freedom to speech or even a reflection of mistreatment or micro-aggressive behavior against certain groups of people?

Oh, completely. The double standards don’t protect marginalized people. An example relating to my own gender identity is that there are not nearly enough gender-inclusive restrooms on campus. I was just physically and emotionally attacked two weeks ago in the AF first floor bathroom. I went to open the door and this lady said “this isn’t your bathroom” and pushed the door to push me back out of the bathroom. Literally shut me out of the bathroom. We are also supposed to have gender-inclusive restrooms on this floor with the Cross-Cultural Center but Dean Price said they had hold ups from certain policies they had to get around…but that doesn’t matter. Other schools have them. They should have planned sooner. They should have been here before the center was even here, and it’s just not an excuse. There is not at least “out” trans-faculty member…it’s really hard for cis people to think about that…it’s in a similar vein to thinking about how white the campus is and trying to imagine…I suppose trying to imagine if you’re a cis-woman and you’re in the business school— most of the professors are “mascs”, so it could be, you know, alienating not to see someone with your identity…so relating that back…not one member of faculty— not one person shares my gender identity…like imagine that you’re a cis-woman and every professor on your campus is cis-man…it’s the same for me— underrepresentation.

In dealing with such a cis-normative climate, what are some ways you have experienced specific barriers by this binary on campus?

I mean, pronouns for one. There isn’t even a policy for trans people on campus to go through people are trans and binary who have the privilege of being able to change their pronouns to an accepted pronoun…they still have to go though so much work to get their papers changed to reflect those preferred pronouns. And if it isn’t legally changed, you can’t change all of them here. Nothing is written out, there’s no protection through the school itself — you have to use California state policies, so it takes longer.
The restroom thing, like I said, is absolutely a struggle.
Getting gender inclusive housing as a freshman is often extremely difficult. There aren’t places on campus to use gender neutral pronouns on campus
Teachers don’t respect the effort to use personal pronouns, sometimes even the ones that are progressive.

***Upon further inquiry, Lee revealed that not a single professor in their educational career had ever asked for their personal pronouns***

“If I’m in a class with someone I know is a good, aspiring trans ally and we are doing introductions, I’ll ask them to go before me and say pronouns. So it’s not just me. And sometimes that will catch on, and sometimes it’s just the two of us. But I have always had to ask.

Could we talk more about the role of allies—specifically cis allies— how would you personally like to see them advocate for you and your community in more beneficial ways?

There was a rally and teach-in put on by the trans community just last week for solidarity. And allies need to show up for things like that. Me along with probably the six other trans people out on campus gave our time to educate allies which is not our job to do, and we took the time to do it. So allies need to go to things like that , they need to educate themselves, and they need to physically show up and break their own binary worldview. Stop saying ladies and gentlemen. Stop saying just he or her. Even though it’s not just about bathrooms, take the time to walk your trans friend to the gender-inclusive restroom. Or go with them into the gender specific restroom if that’s what they want or choose to do. Say your pronouns when you introduce yourself— everywhere you go. That’s a big one, no matter how small the introduction is. Normalize that as something someone should do. And then I would say make sure that you’re humanizing trans and gender non-conforming people. And make sure we’re not just this topic. We’re real. Centralize trans femmes and trans women of color and any solidarity or event you do, any conversations held…8 trans women of color have been murdered that have been reported just this year…donate if you can to go-fund-me-accounts, specifically to black trans femmes— if you are able. If your trans friend is in trouble or experience violence, ask them if they would like the police called. Police in general are not a friend to trans and gender non-conforming people. They usually cause more danger, especially if they’re a person of color, especially if they’re black. Check in with people, not just…you know…I got a lot of people checking in with me after Orlando happened, but it should not take mass murder for people to reach out and care. Just any other bullying or discrimination..stand up and speak out when that happens. Especially for micro-aggressions because that is where people of marginalized identities become demonized the most— is calling out micro-aggressions…because people say “oh, you’re so sensitive”. Things like “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls”…if I were to say something like “hey, that doesn’t include me. That’s not inclusionary’, people usually don’t listen. So that is important for cis people to call out. I mean you don’t want people falsely assuming your gender identity either as a cis person. So it’s the same thing.

Are there any other things you would like to touch on that maybe haven’t been addressed? Any other advice or struggles?

We’ve all been conditioned to see the world in a certain way, so making sure that you are in a habit of checking your own self and your own privilege. Like, it took me a while to stop saying “hey guys”…there’s habits we form. Also cis people need to immerse themselves in these communities. Follow trans people on Facebook and Youtube. There’s an amazing trans femme, non-binary, Indian trans activist named Alok Vaid-Menon that everyone should follow. They give such great talks about the trans community. It’s a great way to get information straight from the source without having to ask someone to labor for you, so that’s big. I would also say don’t refer to people with marginalized identities as minorities because they have been minoritized— always say marginalized.

Wow. Thank you so much for making yourself physically and emotionally available today. I really appreciate hearing your story.

Of course. It was my pleasure to tell it.

Hey Lee?

Yeah?

I like your hands too.

** Lee laughs** Haha, thanks. They are pretty cool.

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Care, Challenge, Change, Repeat

“…I exclude no one I am strengthened by all

My name is Diversity and yes I stand tall.

Recognize me and keep me in the mix

Together there’s no problem that we can’t fix.

I am your best hope towards true innovation

And to many, I reflect hope and inspiration.

Your lives and companies will continue to change

Thus the need for Diversity and Inclusion will also remain…”

— I Am Diversity, Charles Bennafield

 

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz because I think privileged mentality in America about immigrants needs to be proven wrong. I went to lunch with my grandparents last week— both Caucasian, heterosexual, conservative members of the upper middle class who have been conditioned into perspective “whiteness” by their background and their community. During the meal, the concept of immigrants and the historical narrative surrounding them surfaced. It wasn’t long before the conversations was being dominated by sweeping, generalized statements about the immigrant experience. You see, like many Americans, my grandparents are under the impression that all immigrants are the same simply because they are immigrants.

Immigrants first, race second. Immigrants first, rights second. Immigrants first, humanity second.

To believe this is to have a proclivity toward xenophobic tendencies and racial prejudice. And it is far too normalized in the society we live in.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because the Dominican American experience is altogether ignored by High School English curriculum. Out of the most popular novels seen in common English reading lists for high school students, a majority of such “classics” or “noteworthy” texts have been written by heterosexual, able-bodied, white men that feature characters of a similar background. Even among the “token” books that reflect diverse cultures and experiences, not a single frequently curricular text addresses Dominican Americans.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because as a future educator, I cannot excuse this. I have an obligation not to excuse it. And I have an obligation to one day create a classroom library that will reflect the diverse, multicultural backgrounds of my students and will also function as a window that leads them to delving into the cultures of their peers. We cannot continue ignoring what we do not know. Instead, we must authenticate each other in our differences and encourage following generations to do the same.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I think that recognizing the voices of diverse authors is of paramount importance to the future of the writing industry and greater society. There is so much that is wrongfully left out of the spotlight when these authors and their works aren’t taken seriously by predominantly white, privileged culture. Junot Diaz speaks to how he as an author (and person of color) has wrestled with identity in the creation of his work in one interview by saying:

“In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway”

He has also shed light on how realistic fiction can bring to life what would otherwise be dead and forgotten in the a history text book. What history misses in its simple documentation, Diaz seeks target by providing relevant and eye-opening narrative through his characters and their lives.

“That’s what fiction can add to a historical project: we can imagine the gaps. It is in many ways what fiction is called to do. History tends to draw the gaps out with heartbreaking clarity. Fiction can most readily enter those gaps.” — interview with Asymptote Journal

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I am coming to understand that as an aspiring ally of marginalized communities, you cannot pick and choose the movements and the groups and the experiences that appeal to you while disregarding others. That is not how advocacy works. That is not how cultural responsiveness works. If I really want to “show up” where it counts and work toward creating appreciation for the rich uniqueness of a diverse America, I must educate myself in breadth as well as depth. That means that I must seek to learn about cultures that haven’t been the focal point of major media and mainstream literature. I must not abuse my own privilege by legitimizing certain narratives while remaining ignorant to others.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I want to allow it to stretch me, to grow me, to help me go beyond the bounds of my own literary comfort zone. I want to permit it to instill new passions in me and inspire me to foster new compassion and drive for culture. For quieted voices. For people.

One History Isn’t Enough

“…Patriotism and Religion and National pride
And all of this talk about God on our side
And the marginalization of minorities it is World-wide
And the things that unite us from others us divide…”

–Maginalization Of Minorities, Poem by Francis Duggan

 

In Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the author utilizes Yunior to narrate the stories of several characters— especially the experiences of first generation Dominican-American Oscar De Leon and the dichotomy he faces between his life in pre-dominantly white America and his cultural roots from the Dominican Republic. The narrator Yunior presents the other characters in vignette- reminiscent documentations and follows each character’s perspective generation by generation as the De Leon family immigrates to New York, travels back into the political unrest of Santo Domingo, and returns back to a home in America. This format really reminds me of another book I loved— The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which similarly rejects classic plot to convey how a young Puerto-Rican girl goes through a series of heartbreaks and triumphs as she attempts to socially mobilize and move out of her poor Latino neighborhood. Both works are compartmentalized in a sense, but it really works to illustrate the simultaneous separation and synthesis of experience.

Like Oscar, each member of the family struggles with the unique background and cultural pressures they face from American and Dominican society. Even the narrator himself is influenced by the dual pressures from his competing identities— which can allow him to be seen a credible narrator in many ways while being paradoxically incredible in others. In this way, it seems that the internalization of the Dominican Republic has a “powerful hold on Dominicans wherever they may wander”, despite how American culture demands assimilation of the family.

Diaz discusses a litany of different culturally relevant issues in his book— pertaining to both the Dominican Republic way of life and the white-driven, discriminatory attitude toward immigrants in the society of the United States.

Through his implementation of footnotes, Diaz is able to masterfully document the historical context he places his characters. Though Junot Diaz is very concerned with sharing the stories of individuals, his footnotes tell of political and economic issues which effect the Dominican population as a collective. At the foundation of all of the De Leon family tales is the looming shadow of Dictator/President Rafael Trujillo. In his reign of terror and destruction from 1930-1961, Trujillo created a regime of censorship and communist ideology among the Dominican people. Where Diaz’s characters speak to how his dictatorship affect them on an individual level, the footnotes are a macro-lens in which to view Trujillo in his larger-scale, culturally damaging wake and the events that followed his assassination in May of 1961.

In terms of immigrant life, Junot illustrates how the members of the De Leon family experience blatant racism and discrimination in America— especially in the public school system—in a manner that evident across multiple generations ( from Oscar’s grandparents to his mother Beli to that of himself and his siblings). The De Leon’s live in a poor community dominated by Dominican American immigrants, forced to live in the slums because of how race dictates the socioeconomic divide but required to go to public school with non-bilingual, wealthy, white students who shame them because of their immigrant status. The immigrant experience in the De Leon family is further broken down by the construct of expected gender roles as well. The young females are seen as sex-objects and are exploited by their white male counterparts— simultaneously encouraged to “bed-down” with them for their potential provision of wealth but shamed for not keeping sexual relations within the Dominican American community. The young males feel out-casted by the privileged whiteness they’re exposed to every day, so they join gangs to establish their manhood and societal significance. Either that, or like Oscar, they become reclusive and ostracized by both the white and Dominican cultures they’re subject to.

Diaz chooses a style that deviates from the canonized whiteness of literature, but doesn’t negate it either. We can’t ignore the relevance of “classic” lit, but Diaz’s work does a lot to show how the two can be synthesized. I think this can be seen in the thematic development of his text. Where Diaz lacks plot formation because of his vignette style choice, he makes up for it in thematic connections between the characters and their lives. Though they all undergo oppressive mistreatment, cultural disconnect, and isolation from self and community in intimate ways, the vignettes communicate how their experiences are also inextricably linked to one another. New York Times calls it a character-to character “meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history”. As a mother and a woman, Beli may be discriminated against ways that differ from Oscar’s, but their suffering is linked in such that they share similar identity crises and also contribute in unconscious ways to the reciprocity of their pain. I believe this is extremely brilliant in authorship because Diaz has thereby created a mirror of understanding between his characters and his audience. Though someone like me— white, abled, and middle class— I cannot fully comprehend the ways in which society actively oppresses immigrants and bilingual citizens stuck in their socioeconomic demographic. However, I can resonate with the universal isolation and the reciprocal nature of familial conflict and suffering. Diaz’s thematic elements tie the audience and the characters in his novel together while still establishing how divisive the experience is between the privileged and the non-privileged. That’s a construct that works, or should work, in accordance with the type of literature already pervasively represented and emphasized in curriculum.

A Book That Looks Like Me– A Snap-shot of Multicultural Literature

“…Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally…”

— On The Pulse Of The Morning, Maya Angelou

 

Activist and author Chimamanda Ngnozi Adichie once said that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” To public high school students who are stuck in an English curriculum that caters to predominantly white, ableist, heterosexual ideologies which conveys only incomplete, single stories: there is another way to do literature.

The problem is that there is a severe imbalance between the two types of texts that appear in English curriculum today— mirror books and window books. Mirror books are those which “reflect back to readers portions of their identities, cultures, or experiences,” allow them to resonate with the situation and the characters, and explore his or her own nature through relationship with the text. Window books provide a lens through which readers can perceive other cultures and people and ways of life that they have not experienced and cultivate a deeper comprehension and appreciation for them.

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in
the books they read, or when the images they see are
distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful
lesson about how they are devalued in the society of
which they are a part” (Bishop, 1990b, p. 557).

Too often, mirror books are rooted in assumptive whiteness and reflects only the experiences of the abled, white student— leaving students of color, students of vast religious backgrounds, students of LGBTQ+ identity, and students with physical and mental disabilities ultimately unrepresented and un-reflected in the texts they read.

Junot Diaz, the author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is one of the many authors that seeks to narrow the gap between window and mirror books for students by utilizing his Dominican heritage and non-white experience to reflect it in his works for young adults. Diaz understands all too well the inevitable pressures that immigrants face as people of color in the midst of an anglo-saxon ideological society while maintaining obligations to a native culture in the home. In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz mirrors these pressures for kids like him and creates a multicultural window for those who are not.

OSCAR WAOOoooo

“If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know it’s probably better you don’t judge.” (Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, pg. 55)

These words address the audience in its privilege, compliments of Junot Diaz’s narrator Yunior. In the text, the author utilizes this cynical, teenage Dominican American male to relay the stories of several characters— especially the experiences of first generation Dominican American Oscar De Leon and the dichotomy he faces between his life in pre-dominantly white America and his cultural roots from the Dominican Republic. Oscar is a nerdy and introverted “muchacho gordo” with a knack for eloquently weaving fantastical stories about heroes and gladiators and superhuman beings. Because his nature causes him to isolate himself within the bounds of his computer games and his narratives, Oscar finds himself double-bound by the expectations of the two vastly different cultures he’s immersed in:

“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.” (Diaz, pg. 22)

On the one hand, Oscar’s intelligence and talent is marred by the perception of his race, separating him from white culture where his inclination toward literary achievement would have been praised. On the other hand, the boy’s lack of sexual encounters and suave and his general slovenliness causes him to be blatantly ridiculed by his family and his community who undermine his identity as a “real Dominicano”.

Aside from Oscar, Yunior presents the other characters in vignette- reminiscent documentations and follows each character’s perspective generation by generation as the De Leon family immigrates to New York, travels back into the political unrest of Santo Domingo, and returns back to a home in America. Like Oscar, each member of the family struggles with the unique background and cultural pressures they face from American and Dominican society. Among these, Diaz creates substantial emphasis on the gender role expectations.

In order to be perceived as an authentic Dominican man, it is expected that strength communicated through violence and sexual activity and providing for the family is a way of life. This stereotype is exemplified in the many boyfriends of main female characters— who often maintain multiple sexual partners, objectify women based on their physic and sensuality, and engage in casual beatings and normalized humiliation of less-masculine members. The audience witnesses this even in Yunior and his biases against Oscar for not living up to the macho standard of true masculinity and the way he also objectifies women in his descriptive commentary. All the while, these men are still oppressed by the socio-economic hardships and internalized racism they experience as brown-skinned, bilingual, and as stereotyped gangsters and criminals.

For women, their worth resides in their cultural glorification as a sex symbol— which degrades the darker their skin tone and the older and less fertile they become. From the time they start puberty, the women in the stories are conditioned to know their importance and only power as sexual beings, which should be flaunted and wielded in order to find a male provider. Beli, Oscar’s mother, comes to know this as she hits puberty and discovers the “concreteness of her desirability which was, in its own way, Power” (Diaz, pp. 94) And even so, as a subculture in intercity New York, these women are subject to rape and violence from their own and from the white males who, if only for a moment, may fetishize their vivacious curves and forget the dark pigment of their skin. If they do not submit to this feminine expectation, they must find protection in other ways by completely abandoning sexuality for hyper-aggression. Oscar’s sister Lola is an example of this:

“Lola, was a lot more practical. Now that her crazy years were over— what Dominican girl doesn’t have those?— she’d turned into one of those tough Jersey Dominicanas, a long-distance runner who drove her own car, had her own checkbook, called men bitches, and would eat a fat cat in front of you without a speck of verguenza. When she was in fourth grade, she’d been attacked by an older acquaintance, and this was common knowledge throughout the family…and surviving that urikan of pain, judgement, and bochinche had made her tougher than adamantine. Recently she’d cut her hair short—flipping out her mother yet again—partially I think because when she’d been little her family had let it grow down past her ass, a source of pride, something I’m sure her attacker noticed and admired.” (Diaz, pp. 25)

Though Junot is very concerned with sharing the stories of individuals, he also provides a skillful historical backbone which effects the Dominican population as a collective. At the foundation of all of the De Leon family tales is the looming shadow of Dictator/President Rafael Trujillo. In his reign of terror and destruction from 1930-1961, Trujillo created a regime of censorship and communist ideology among the Dominican people. His totalitarianism was highlighted by his abuse of puppet-leaders, the National Army, and his own Secret Police who exercised complete control over subjects and slaughtered on command. Each character in the novel has a personal relationship with the toxic control over behavior and social mobility of Trujillo’s reign. This is seen especially in Beli’s story as a young women before traveling to the United States:

“No amount of wishful thinking was changing the cold hard fact that she was a teenage girl living in the Dominican Republic of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated. This was a country, a society, that had been designed to be virtually escape-proof…Part of the generation reaching consciousness in a society that lacked any. The generation that despite the consensus that declared change impossible hankered for change all the same” (Diaz, pp. 80-81).

Diaz recounts much of this historical context in his footnotes, where his narrator Yunior’s scynnical voice is alive and well. The bitterly sarcastic youth describes the “El Jefe” Trujillo as someone who “came to control nearly every aspect of the DR’s political, cultural social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master” (Diaz, pg. 2). Historically, Trujillo was not unaccustomed to murder in mass amounts either. Arguably, his greatest atrocity was his massacre of the innocent Haitian citizens living in the DR in October 1937 after the Haitian government executed several of his secret intelligence agents. In his retaliation, he wiped out approximately 20,000 Haitian men, women, and children. Even after his assassination in May 1961, the memory of the dictator still struck crippling fear into the hearts of the Dominican people— so much so that many still believe his ghost curses the families of defiers, bringing them bad luck (or “fuku” as those in the book would say) for years to come. And this is presented so blatantly in the stories Yunior tells. As depicted by several of the characters in the Diaz’s vignettes, many were brainwashed by power and fear into supporting Trujillo, and those who defied his rule were either tortured into submission or seldom seen again. This is illustrated in the brutal mutilation of Beli when she is found out by the Secret Police to be pregnant with the love child of “The Gangster”– the brother in law of Trujillo himself. Only by her strong will and a suspected divine intervention did Beli live through the beating. And never did she dare to cross to cross El Jefe again.

Junot Diaz’s piece The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is valuable, has been necessitated, by the lack of multicultural understanding and representation in young adult literature. More marginalized students need to see themselves reflected in books— must be able to see the very real things they struggled with from their own cultures, from their own family dynamics, from their own experiences with forced assimilation and cultural disconnect. It is also crucial that children from the largely represented cultures are given the opportunity to examine the hardships of their peers through the windows stories provide in this way as well. Diaz knows this intimately. In one interview regarding the Pulitzer Prize he won for the tale he tells about the De Leon Family, Diaz states:

“I try to battle the forces that seek to “other” people of color and promote white supremacy. But I also have no interest in being a “writer,” either, shorn from all my connections and communities. I’m a Dominican writer, a writer of African descent, and whether or not anyone else wants to admit it, I know also that Stephen King and Jonathan Franzen are white writers. The problem isn’t in labeling writers by their color or their ethnic group; the problem is that one group organizes things so that everyone else gets these labels but not it.”

In accordance with this, his book seeks to “resist the singularity of perspective that is often used to establish authority” and promote power that is already existent within literature and within greater society.
We must stand arm in arm with authors like Diaz and the stories they have to share— to be multiculturally inclusive in the world of writers and the worlds they create through text. The single-story narrative, the rationalized tokenism, the blatant absence of faces in the books that look like the students who read them is something we can no longer tolerate. This is why we read stories like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Because it makes a difference. Because it has to.

Looking Toward The End- Snap Shots of a Final Stretch

“Don’t be downcast, soon the night will come,
When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.

Don’t be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain fall, and snow fall,
And the winds come and go.”

–On a Journey, Herman Hesse

 

For my final project, I would like to construct the poetry compilation that reflects the feminine experience from multiple cultural perspectives, especially those that are regularly marginalized in America.
As I’ve been thinking about my audience, I have been reflecting on my high school experience with poetry. My Junior and Senior year of high school, I was on a committee that created a monthly poetry magazine comprised of poems submitted by students at the school. Over the course of publishing dozens of issues, I saw many poems— usually about dating, home life, people’s heroes and passions, comedy, and nature. There were even a few riveting poems about mental illness and LGBTQ rights. However, I don’t remember reading any poems that communicated multicultural experience— which was probably due to the fact that most of the students that went to my high school were from white, middle class families. I perceive this lack of representation and knowledge of other cultures as a problem, so I would like to compose this poetry collection for the students that attend my old high school.

Rough Draft points to include in “About Me”:

— Who am i? Name, background
— Talk about some things I am passionate about that relate to this blog: people, diversity, telling and hearing stories, traveling, fighting for unheard voices, exposing my own privilege and the powers that dominate over other people.
— Why poetry? Because it is art, it’s expressive, it allows people to be heard in a way that moves people— appeals deeply to the pathos. And it is so different from other forms of writing that people are used to engaging with.
— What is the purpose of this blog? I am in no way claiming to know the experiences of those who are not like me. The point is only to explore these experiences, to dig deeper into them and care enough about them to give pause, to reflect on them. I view myself and my platform of privilege as a camera that allows me to act as a lens through which to look at the world. My intention through this blog is to do that— to be a lens that lets people see multicultural experiences, to give voice to them without claiming to know them intimately.

Coming Together– A Poetic Final Word

This last piece is very near and dear to my heart, so I’ll keep the description brief.

The final snap-shot, the final poetic response

This is a culmination of self-authored poems that navigate the female experience on college campus. Each poem is coupled with a picture of the person who has claimed the experience and a personal question that inspired a response…which I wrote through poetic verse.

I hope this can be utilized as a final look at how poetry can be seen as a snap shot within and without the classroom– how it can speak to numerous experiences. And most of all, how important it is for such diverse experiences to be shared.

Enjoy:

 

Questioning The Female Experience At University