I’m back in New York. As itchy as my feet are (and will probably forever be), this place has become “home.” When I entered the house, I began a litany of, “Hello, front door! Hello, place where I dump my shoes! Hello, familiar smells! Hello, rug! Hello, room!” much to the amusement of my uncle and aunt.
Alas, my intention to journal after every session didn’t happen. I got a migraine Day 2 (nothing serious, but enough to make me declare “self-care!”) and I was too busy packing yesterday. That said, I’ve been jotting down reflections during the sessions; I also reflected through writing during the flight home (which was faster than a trip to Coney Island from Jackson Heights).
As usual, I’m relying on the notes provided for the breakdown of the two days1 and am only highlighting matters I want to chew on a little more:
Choosing one’s battles
During the first day, there was someone who counted in Mandarin and when asked what language it was, they claimed they made it up. Many were amused. I was shocked and hotly said to the person beside me (and to whoever else was listening) that it was Mandarin. I didn’t bring it up with the larger group though. I worried about making a mountain out of a molehill, i.e., “It’s just a game. Geez louise!” Also, my Jesuit-trained discernment habit kicked in, “Is this worth wasting breath on, Laura, or is there a more constructive way of achieving what you want to achieve, re: East Asians in America?”
I thought about speaking to the person involved the next day, but upon reading him and the room on Saturday, I felt it wasn’t necessary to bring the incident up (which was only an “incident” for me, the only person with Chinese heritage in the room). Aside from having to acknowledge that the “best” time to speak up had passed, I felt bringing it up would set us back and possibly trap the whole group (who didn’t really have to be involved) in a conversation about race that I was not prepared nor in the mood to have.2 I wish I had said something in the moment though. Because I’m Filipino (albeit of Chinese descent), I’m treated more kindly in the Oppression Olympics because our developing country-ness is so blatant. I feel the Chinese community has a harder time getting sympathy because of the model minority myth. As a result, the many kinds of oppression that Chinese immigrants experience, for instance here in New York City, are overlooked.
Zeroing in on process
The conversations during the second and third day revolved around forming partnerships. We looked at particular elements of partnerships, i.e., collaboration, division of power, and dialogued about them–whether directly, through improvisation, or through images.3 What stood out to me were the following:
- Equitable engagement – “Engagement” has become a shiny word in the work that we do, but it’s important to be critical of the kind of engagement we foster: is it an equitable one or are there bodies that are mere “tokens” because it looks good to have them sitting, but not necessarily speaking, around the table?
- Discovery potential – Collaborative processes are dynamic and the outputs and outcomes, while they can be named early on, are difficult to set in stone. When negotiating a partnership however, “uncertainty” isn’t something some organizations want to hear because of the negative connotations of the word. “Discovery potential” not only sounds more positive, but emphasizes to everyone–at least it does me–the mindset that discovery is also at the heart of the collaboration.4
- Finding the art in it – during Day 2, we improvised a partnership conversation in small groups. They named a problem: youths that were currently homeless and how this state is causing them to drop out of school. It made me wonder if art was the best solution given this situation. (Should art be found in it?) I appreciated how those playing the artists’ side from the other groups pointed out, in their own explorations, that perhaps they’re not the best organization to partner with.
Being a person of color
I need to become bolder: I genuinely wish I said, when Michael asked us what conversations were we interested in having at the end of yesterday’s session, I wanted to have conversations with my fellow practitioners of color and hear about their experiences. It’s not that we didn’t have that conversation eventually, for those of us who were of Asian descent eventually had a conversation at the end of the three days, but it was brief and there was a lot to unpack. For instance, one of them said they found themselves holding back from discussions because the context that was being discussed was different from the context they were coming from and I could relate.
Concretely speaking: while I understand white supremacy and name it, while I can discuss it with fluency, i.e., the Philippines was a colony of both Spain and America; the experiences of Filipino migrant workers point to this, as someone who grew up in the Philippines, I personally just don’t see it as the root of all problems. What do I mean? I’ve encountered some Filipino-Americans and some very well-meaning white people who beat their chests and say white supremacy is at the center of the world’s ills. While I recognize that it’s the system they’re critiquing and not necessarily specific people–I can’t help but make a face. As a postcolonial creature, I’d like to have the agency to mess up my own life, to be the villain of my own narrative. I’m not saying white supremacy has nothing to do with it whatsoever (and white supremacy has many names depending on which lens one is using), but to even have my own complicity in our problems taken away from me feels infantilizing.
And in true Laura fashion, I dilly-dallied at the end of the session because mustering up the courage to talk to people one on one takes some warming up. I finally got the nerve to talk to Michael Rohd and asked him what it’s like to live out of a suitcase for decades because that feels like the life I want. He responded positively, which I won’t elaborate on here. What I want to highlight is engaging in this conversation made me say out loud what it was I wanted, in spite of having my “third world guilt.”
I don’t know if it’s the same for my cohort in the Philippines, but I feel my “third world guilt” keenly. Maybe it comes from my Catholic upbringing. Maybe it comes from being moved by this idea of being “men and women for others” and “preferential option for the marginalized.” Maybe it comes from growing up during a time when the brain drain was fierce (and still is) and the Filipino language was (and still is) struggling. Maybe it comes from being uncomfortable with the privileges I was born with and being sensitive when teased and/or criticized about it. It doesn’t help that when I first came to the United States, the Philippine Fulbright Commission was quite emphatic about us returning from our studies.
It’s not that I don’t want to, but oh God, is the world big and so, so, so interesting. I’m not speaking in the sense of tourist destinations; I’m speaking about the wealth of human experience and cultures. I want to hear stories. Visit grocery stores. Someone in yesterday’s final conversation spoke about “radical curiosity.” I am so very curious about the nooks and crannies of life and while I know there is an abundance of it in the Philippines, the world is wide.
I’ve lost my train of thought. But bottom line is, there was some kind of relief in admitting it, in naming out loud that I want to do the kind of work they’re doing, not just out of this desire to serve, but because it’s what gives me life; it’s these things that make my blood leap.
Am I embarrassed about the fact that I opened up to Michael Rohd about it? You bet I am. But I think I needed to hear it. (And I am but a speck in a very wide universe so I hope I fade into a pleasant but very fuzzy memory. Like, I wish he forgets just how awkward I was every time I was in a situation where I had to interact with him one on one. Shake my head, Laura.) 5
I’m really happy I did this. There’s this thing I call “following my nose.” I’ve followed my nose with this (some would call it impulsive) and I have no regrets whatsoever. I got what I wanted.
I ramble and there’s so much writing that I need to have done before I leave for the UK. I wish I didn’t slack off so much during the period that I did have a lot of free time. I should have written the article I wanted to write then (about decolonizing English). But oh well, towel. Regret, regret. I have time to write in the UK, but let’s get real. Hopefully I pull myself together this week and come up with a draft for that one, which will make it more manageable when I’m in the UK. (I also have two papers due before I leave for next week.)
Some artifacts from both of the workshops that I haven’t uploaded yet:
On Creating Partnerships
THINGS THAT WE CREATED DURING DEVISING