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Alcohol for the atmosphere: Swarthmore as a wet town

in Campus Journal by

Maybe it is just me because I come from a state where you can walk into a Walgreens and see a handle of vodka next to the health vitamins, but I think Pennsylvania alcohol laws are weird. When I first visited Swarthmore during my senior year of high school, my parents decided to go get something to eat in the Ville while I was visiting classes, and after walking around the two blocks that consist of downtown Swarthmore, they were puzzled by the lack of food options. A quick Google search showed that Swarthmore was a dry town, and that was probably why there were so few restaurants. Due to this fact, they have continued to make fun of me for wanting to go to an urban school and ending up at a school in a dry town 11 miles outside of Philadelphia that looks like it could be in the middle of nowhere.

But this summer that might all change.

Swarthmore 21, a community organizing group, is working to change Swarthmore to a wet town on this summer’s primary ballot. For more on that see: “Swarthmore 21 Causes Debate in the Borough.”

The thing about a dry town is that it doesn’t just prevent stores from selling alcohol: it prevents the town from growing. The mark-ups on alcohol in restaurants are astronomically larger than the mark-ups on food, allowing more restaurants to make a larger profit. An increase in restaurants brings more foot traffic to the town, allowing other stores to open up. Basically, our economy runs on alcohol.

When I chose to come to Swarthmore I knew I wasn’t getting a school that was integrated into a big city or had a huge party scene, and I was okay with that. But now that I am here I miss having a downtown area to wander. I miss walking around on a nice night and seeing couples eating outside of restaurants or kids playing in the fountains. I miss the quirky local shops and restaurants. More than that, I miss the atmosphere.

If you want to know what this is like, just walk by the Inn on any given night. Has anyone else noticed that people at the Broad Table Tavern always look happy? As I walk by the big glass windows I stare in wearily, wishing that the ziti didn’t cost $20. The place is always packed, and the reason isn’t just because the food is decent: it is because it is a monopoly. Regular people that drink and just want to enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner only have one place to go in this town, The Broad Table Tavern. Hopefully this will change soon.

I envision several restaurants opening up, offering students and residents alike places to eat out and laugh over a nice glass of wine. I see families walking through the streets on their way to a nice dinner. I see residents and students enjoying a nice conversation as they wait for a table. I see people walking through the Ville just because it is a nice place to be.

I don’t think my expectations are that out of line. Small towns have charm, why can’t this one?

Philly beat springs forward

in Campus Journal/Philly Beat by

If i’m not mistaken, this will be my third to last CJ piece this semester, which means the year is wrapping up. It’s kind of crazy how simultaneously fast and slow time moves here. So with only a few weeks left and the finals period about to kick in, here are some possibilities to blow off some steam, or just treat yourself.

The other night, I went to Hibachi Japanese Steak House and Sushi bar, which is just up the road. Unless you’re in a large group, it makes for an intimate experience dining with total strangers, embarrassing yourselves as the chef insists on flipping shrimp off the grill and into your mouths. In my case, the family sitting next to us had an extra coupon for 50 percent off your second entree, so I can’t complain.

After that, if you feel like walking, it’s only a five minute walk to the AMC Marple theater, and while I waited for the movie to start, I wandered in and out of Five Below, Marshalls and DSW.

Kong: Skull Island is in theaters now, which if you’re a fan, I would recommend. It’s a good dose of monsters and anxiety and Samuel L. Jackson blowing things up. But if that’s not your thing, Beauty and the Beast is showing, and Get Out is still in theatres, which if you haven’t already seen, you MUST.

If you are a sushi lover and haven’t tried Poké, there is a place nearby in Ardmore called Poké Ono. It’s a Hawaiian rice bowl with cubed raw fish and tons of other good stuff from edamame to kimchi. You can either build your own or order their specials. There’s also a place in Philly called Poké Bowl on 958 N 2nd St that is smaller than the one in Ardmore, but not by much. The one in Philly has better specials, but the one in Ardmore gives you more toppings if you build your bowl.

A great place to unwind and catch a quick exhibit is UPenn’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located on 36th and Sansom. The museum is entirely free and often hosts artists events and workshops. Their most recent exhibition, The Freedom Principle, offered a survey of the visual culture that accompanied South Side Chicago’s avant-garde, post-1965 jazz movement, complete with interactive and sonic installations. Unfortunately, the exhibit ended last week, but the museum will be reopening April 28, so in the meantime, follow them on social media if you want up-to-date info on exhibits and events.

If you feel bold enough to venture out of University City, hit up Bluestone Lane Coffee for a late brunch. They have two Philly locations, one in Rittenhouse, and another right next to City Hall. Be sure to try their avocado toast or coconut oatmeal — both are good as hell.

On the flip side, while I’m reticent to mention this to all you future gentrifiers, 52nd street is the heart of West Philly and also poppin’. But since I know a lot of you will be moving there, I’m gonna push you to at least try to be patrons of some local business, so you don’t mess it up like ya’ll did Brooklyn. For great juices, love, and Caribbean food, hit up Brown Sugar Bakery. Get yourself some oxtail with the green callaloo, or curry goat roti. Get a fresh detox juice with that, stop playing yourself.

Overall, there are countless new events, activities, and spots to check out before the semester ends. Some are closer to Swarthmore, and others are further away – but all of them are worth it.

Order a pizza, and it shall come

in Campus Journal by

Salam sejahtera, saya mampu bertutur dalam pelbagai bahasa dan ia memperkasakan saya — Hi, I speak multiple languages and that empowers me.

As an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia (a country that’s not particularly kind to the children of immigrants), I was brought up to view languages as a currency of sorts, a means to buy your way into another culture’s good graces, be it in pursuit of a higher education, economic gain, or political cooperation. Over the years, my need to learn multiple languages “just in case” seeking prospects overseas became a necessity evolved into a deep respect for and love of the different cultures of which foreign languages are a part. To speak a people’s language well is to gain an understanding of the people themselves, which eases access to their society. It empowers me to know that my multilingualism enables me to connect with an incredibly diverse range of people on opposite sides of the globe.

Well, I’m here now, aren’t I? Twelve time zones apart from (and 20°F colder than) the tropical island I grew up on, there are times when Swarthmore feels so strange to me that it’s like I’m wading through a fever dream. But my command of the English language allows me to reach out to this community, and what better way to connect with people on this campus than by writing for a student publication?

One quote in particular adds to this discussion.

“The most important aspect of knowing another language is that it will permit the speaker entry into a different culture … and in turn the realization of these differences illuminates one’s own cultural suppositions,” said German Professor Hansjakob Werlen.

By unravelling these cultural suppositions, learning another language helps to increase one’s understanding of one’s own culture, and offers a certain insight into the mechanisms of the culture that monolingual individuals in the same society might be less inclined to notice. This is, of course, closely tied up with increased individual growth and wisdom through a developing awareness towards one’s sociocultural environment. Here’s a personal example: there are four different ways to say “you (singular)” in Malay, with varying degrees of formality and familiarity. A greater emphasis is placed on respect for others in Malaysian culture than American culture, and the language reflects that. Yet, there are a stunning number of correlations between both countries. For example, sex and religion are inexplicably invoked whether you’re cursing in English or Malay, one of the countless social phenomena that can be tracked through nuances in speech patterns, turns of phrase or even types of swear words.

This makes me think of another professor’s words.

“The fact [is] that often you’ll discover links that you didn’t expect between your language and the other language … learning a foreign language teaches you ultimately how much more we’re similar, I think, and how much that you just weren’t taught, that you just didn’t learn until you learned [the language],” said Professor and Head of Russian section Sibelan Forrester.

But the pros of multilingualism extend both ways. Whilst language acquisition can empower the speaker, it can also empower those who are spoken to, as it may be seen as a gesture of respect.

“Speaking a foreign language to someone whose language that is, or who also is a speaker of it, indicates your respect for them and their culture, that you’re accommodating them rather than expecting them to accommodate you,”  Forrester said.

 

She continued, “Not only, but especially [with] small languages, languages where there aren’t many opportunities to learn them, if you aren’t in that culture—if you show up speaking it, even not very well, it’s a huge affirmation for the people to whom you’re speaking,” she said.

Swarthmore’s facilitation of foreign language events and student-run cultural organizations may help with that, at least to some extent. Since English is almost always used out of necessity here, hearing someone else make an effort to speak your first language rather than the other way around can really make your day. Or perhaps just a demonstrated willingness to learn someone else’s mother tongue is enough to bring a little positivity into someone’s life: I offered to pick up Bulgarian so my professor would have someone at Swat to talk to, and the smile I received in response was worth every hour I’ll be spending poring over Cyrillic during the summer.

As a linguistics minor, Natalie Flores Semyonova ’19 stressed the importance of language itself.

“I think that languages are the foundation to humanity as this social entity and so being able to harness that in more than one language than your own … just opens you up to so many different experiences and so many different perspectives and feelings and people,” she said.

Werlen agreed, especially with regard to his own personal experiences.

“When traveling as a teenager in Europe, I soon experienced that special empowerment that knowing other languages affords the speaker, whether it was arguing about soccer in Italian or trying to write love letters in French,” he said.

To say that communication is key in the ever-expanding age of globalization is somewhat of an understatement. Here, at our little liberal arts college that emphasizes ethical and social concern, exercises in understanding are especially pertinent in the process of preparing for the “real world” after graduation. But, while learning another language for some global-scale purpose is a noble pursuit, you don’t have to have some cosmically crucial reason to do so.

For example, the reason for Flores’ acquisition of a second language was family.

“My grandma speaks no English, and she’s lived with us since I was born, so I wouldn’t have a relationship with her if I didn’t speak Russian,” Flores said.

We read together and there’s times when we’ll just sit down for three-hour chunks of time and she’ll just talk to me about different grammar rules and read me old stories. Through her and through the fact that we share that, it sort of connects us and also connects me to the culture of Russia.

On the other hand, Werlen cites the ability to read literary texts in a foreign language as a major draw.

“I studied Spanish with my wonderful colleagues here at the college and loved my new power … to read one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, in the original,”  Werlen said.

However, it was his desire to understand the lyrics of the music that he listened to that led Werlen to learn English as a teenager, with a humorous twist.

“I was an exchange student in Wisconsin and I still recall the horror of my very British English teacher when I returned [home] from there with an exaggeratedly pronounced Wisconsin accent,”  Werlen recounted.

Finally, being able to reinvent herself was an added bonus to the study of other languages for Forrester.

“You get to be someone slightly different in the other language. You get be more picky and precise, or you get to be more kind of freewheeling in what you say … so you really gain in richness as a human being,”  Forrester said.

 

In her final comments on why Swatties should pick up another language, Forrester hit the nail on the head with the ultimate motivation.

“Look, you can order a pizza [in a foreign country], and it comes,” she joked.

A Happy Psuedo-Persian New Year

in Campus Journal by

When it comes to observing cultural holidays while at Swat, being away from my home and family has always been a challenge. No matter the occasion, I always find myself defying conventional traditionalism and celebrating a filtered-down, dorm-room-makeshift interpretation of the holiday.

With the vernal equinox comes one of my favorite family holidays: Norooz. Celebrated on the first day of spring, Norooz celebrates nature’s rebirth concurrently with the Persian New Year. It predates Islam, dating back to the ancient monotheistic religion Zoroastrianism in Iran, and is observed across a number of political borders, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and of course Iran.

One of the hallmarks of this holiday is the preparation of the Haft-Seen table. President of AMENA (Arab, Middle-Eastern, and North African Cultural Group) Ava Shafiei described this tradition as a “7 item representation of the hopes and values for the new year” in a email sent to the Swarthmore community announcing the implementation of the Haft-Seen on the upper floor of Sharples for the week of March 20.

These components include seer (garlic) for good luck, sumaq (ground berry) for the color of sunrise, seeb (apple) for health and beauty, senjed (sprouted wheat or barley) for rebirth, samanu (sweet pudding) for wealth and affluence, and finally serkeh (vinegar) for patience and old age. For additional ornaments and decor, sometimes a goldfish, a mirror, or the Qur’an are incorporated to represent life and reflection.

Being half-Persian, for the past two years I have implemented my own homespun Haft-Seen in my humble abode in Willets. My mom sent me some of the components in the mail, like the senjed and samanu, but for the most part I was collecting items from the most intimate niches of Swarthmore student life, i.e. I stole an apple from Sharples and put Goldfish crackers that I bought from Essie’s in a jar, like a true Persian.

I can just hear my Persian grandma joyously clapping her hands, her infinite amount of wrist bangles clanging in symphony, as she exclaims, “Afareen, azizam!” (Good job, sweetheart).

Admiring the absurd amalgam of objects scattered across the ornate Persian sofreh in my dorm room, I am perplexed by a shocking, existentialist thought: I, Yasmeen Namazie, am nothing more than this filtered-down, dorm-room-makeshift Haft-Seen, because 2,000 miles away from my home and family, I am hardly Persian at all. I am a messy, fractured, last-minute, sad excuse for a Persian.

I confided with one of the only other people who resonates with my existential anxieties surrounding my cultural and linguistic inadequacies: my beautiful sister Leyla.

My younger sister and I, while very similar in personality, could not be more visibly different. She has big, deep brown eyes that don’t squint when she smiles; she has a paler complexion that burns red and not brown under the Los Angeles sun and she has fuller, thicker eyebrows.

In other words, this girl is a cookie-cutter Persian.

“I have a very Persian-looking face — you know that,” my sister said to me on the phone.

“But what about you looks so Persian, Leyla?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I feel like just my face does,” she said.

I was asking her about the Norooz festivities back home in LA, and she was telling me about how she enjoyed our Persian-side gatherings more over our Chilean-side gatherings. This was her logic:

“While looking at both my Chilean and Persian side, I feel more connected to my Persian side because I look more like them so I don’t feel as out of place as I do when I am at Chilean parties,” she said. “I don’t really feel Chilean when I am at Abuelo and Abuela’s house.”

While I was at first critical of what I assumed was an absurd reason for enjoying one cultural space over another, I thought about how my insecurities with language and my inability to speak Farsi operate under the same assumptions: if I can’t participate in Persianness, I therefore am not Persian.

This has truly been the perennial struggle for my sister and I, identifying as bi-racial. Our lives are spent searching for points of reconciliation between our two cultural origins, to the extent that even something as mundane as a family gathering propels us into existential crisis. Even while we participate in the functions, eat the foods, and sometimes even utter the phrases, we are in a perpetual state of inadequacy, of “not enough.”

Leyla shares the same sentiments regarding linguistic barriers.

“Not speaking Farsi is pretty big barrier during relative gatherings for Norooz. Even though I do understand the gist about the Haft-Seen and the cultural significance of Norooz, I feel like when they are talking about it, especially in Farsi, I just can’t contribute because I have no idea what they are talking about. They usually have to translate it to me in English which makes you feel a little bit disconnected … like you are not a part of something.” she said. “I feel like knowing Farsi would make me feel more Persian.”

Together, we thought about what voids would have to be filled in order for us to “feel more” Persian or “feel more” Chilean. Learning to speak Farsi fluently? Taking up dutar lessons and embracing ancient Iranian folk music? Living in a remote hostel in the high desert of Chile? All this infatuation with justifying our Persianness and Chileanness was draining and picked at our consciousnesses.

“All I know is that I like being able to spend time with my family and being able to set up the table because it’s kind of like a family thing. You go to the market and you go buy fish and all the elements of the Haft-Seen — you do it together,” my sister said.

It was in this intimate conversation with my sister that I started to realize that perhaps my cultural identity isn’t conditional or situational, nor contingent on locale. So what if Goldfish crackers are the staple of my homemade Haft-Seen?

Assumptions of my sister and my cultural essentialism are not conducive to my understanding of myself as a multicultural person. Instead, there should be acknowledgment that sometimes I may have to negotiate and renegotiate the bounds of my racialness. Maybe I will just be perpetually grappling with my “pseudo-ness,” but at least I am the agent of this process of formation and reconstruction. Maybe next Norooz, I can be comfortable with this “new normative,” even if it entails grass plucked from the Scott Arboretum in lieu of sabzee.

I would like to thank Farsheed Shomloo for taking the featured image of the Haft-Seen for this article.

Learning English goodly

in Columns/Opinions by

Learning English is hard. I really started trying to learn the language when I was in 8th grade. When I was growing up in China, I did not go to an international school, and, at the time, my English class was teaching basics of the language that native speakers probably learned in kindergarten. I wanted to learn more English to prepare for the admissions test of one of the top high schools in Shanghai, so that I could have a better chance of getting accepted. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was even harder than I thought. You see, I was not just bad at English; I was terrible at it. In retrospect, I can’t believe I even tried. I could barely follow what the teacher was saying in class, and he already gave up on me after I consistently ranked near the bottom of my class in every English exam. It also didn’t help that I didn’t like the teacher, since he wouldn’t allow me to join his soccer team.

If it weren’t for a TV show called “Friends,” I probably would’ve failed in my attempt. Thanks to China’s loose copyrights regulations, I watched the show every day. (I eventually watched all ten seasons 7 times by the time I graduated from middle school – that’s 616 hours, or 25 days, of “Friends.”) For those who are not familiar with the show, it is the story of six New Yorkers and their crazy adventures. (At one point, one of the characters was pregnant with her brother’s triplets.) Because of this show, I became enamored with what I thought was the American life – six close friends, sitting in a coffeehouse all day, telling sometimes risqué jokes, and living in the greatest city on Earth, with the company of each other. I thought to myself that one day, I’ll also live in America, have six American friends, and tell jokes and drink coffee everyday.

I didn’t realize at the time that there was one problem with this plan: it’s hard to tell jokes in English. If you don’t believe me, try telling jokes in Spanish or Arabic or whatever language you are currently learning. It’s also hard to understand jokes in English. I still have no idea why knock knock jokes are funny. These may seem like minor issues, but during my first year at Swarthmore, I had a very difficult time finding friends – after all, would you like a friend who can only nod awkwardly at something hilarious you say? In the end, of course, I learned to fake laugh.

But there is a more serious problem: no matter how perfect my accent is or how hard I try, learning the language does not mean fitting into the culture. People always assure me that I will eventually find my niche here, but I still don’t feel like I have. Fitting in a new community is not just an individual act. It requires acceptance on the part of the community members as well. Ask any recent Chinese immigrant, and he or she will tell you how hard it is to get accepted by “White people.” It is this dimension of “fitting in” where language plays a more insidious role.

One of the most enduring stereotypes of Chinese living in America is that we either don’t know how to speak English, or we talk with a funny accent. Hollywood reinforces such stereotypes by asking actors to exaggerate or fake a “Chinese” accent. Last year, one particularly racist news segment on Fox news made fun of several Chinese-American seniors who did not know how to speak English on national television, after asking their opinion on Trump and not getting any response. Just last week, when I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a security guard stopped me but refused to explain to me in English what was wrong, or that I forgot to check my bags, because she thought I was just another clueless Chinese tourist. Such stereotypes about immigrants and outsiders are often used to justify xenophobia or racism. According to Adam Cohen, the author of the book “Imbeciles,” supporters of eugenics and immigration restrictions in the early 20th century relied on intelligence tests that favored English speakers to show that immigrants from other countries were genetically and racially inferior to immigrants from England or Scotland. The testimony of one eugenicist in particular, Harry Laughlin, caused one Senator to warn that “[w]e are coming to a pitiful pass in this great country when it is unpopular to speak the English language, the American language.” It’s hard not to see the reflection of these ugly moments of history in contemporary politics.

Xenophobia, understood this way, cannot simply mean fear of foreigners. Laughlin thought the line between acceptable and unacceptable immigrants should be drawn on the basis of whether their racial types are “assimilable.” Again, “assimilable” meant speaking English and being Western European. This is, of course, nonsense. After all, can what he thought were biological features even be described as “assimilable?”  But, by giving his and other eugenicists’ prejudices the credence of a scientific theory, he justified what many Americans already thought was true: these outsiders did not appreciate their language and their culture, these outsiders would contaminate their culture and their blood. As historian Yuval Harari points out in his excellent book  “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” hierarchy is often maintained by a primitive fear of pollution, whether by things or by people. It’s telling that Laughlin calls the “racial qualities” or “hereditary traits” of immigrants the “sanitary feature” of these people.

Would the TV show “Friends” have been so successful if it had been one Asian guy and five white people? I’m not sure. But in the course of writing this essay, I have to confront my own bias as well. What made me think that having American friends is so important? Why couldn’t I just drink coffee with friends back home in a Chinese coffee house? Why did I try so hard to learn the language? I do not regret coming to Swarthmore, of course, but motivation matters.

We also need to rethink how familiarity with English is intricately connected with membership in different communities, i.e. studentship at Swarthmore, or citizenship. There are many “radical” suggestions that we can possibly implement to deal with this issue.

First, we should stop requiring international students to take the SAT. It is unreasonable to expect international students whose first language is not English to read or write as fast as native speakers do while still in high school.

Second, Swarthmore should de-emphasize the English language testing requirement for international students. Many Chinese students, for example, score higher than native speakers on the Test of English as a Foreign Language after spending money on private tutoring. Some minimum requirement is necessary, and for students interested in humanities and social science the requirement can be stricter.

Third, we must stop thinking that being able to speak English is normal. Many international students, for example, are offended by people who compliment their English. I worry that their attitude ignores the fact that being able to speak English is itself a kind of privilege in an English-speaking country.

Finally, this should go without saying, but we cannot mock people who have an accent or who speak broken English. A friend of mine at a well-known business school told me once that a group of second-generation Chinese-Americans mocked their professor’s accent behind his back. I hope this doesn’t happen at Swarthmore.

Swat’s Culture of Athletes Supporting Athletes

in Columns/Sports by

As the Men’s Basketball team completed their final seconds of the Centennial Conference Championship game, the crowd erupted and rushed the court to celebrate the win. This crowd was distinctly comprised of fellow athletes with almost every team having at least one representative in attendance for the victory. Here at Swarthmore, athletes support athletes. The pictures and videos from the Men’s Basketball and Women’s Soccer Championships make this fact visually apparent. This support comes from awareness of events, love of sports, and an understanding of other athletes.

        For some athletes, their awareness of games comes from their teammates, whereas for others it is simply conversations with friends to keep them updated. Events such as this weekend’s upcoming basketball games are well publicized, but sometimes it is easy to forget the regular season games for various teams and that’s when teammates can come in handy.

Women’s Softball pitcher, Emily Bowman ’18 said, “As a team, we keep each other posted on the games that are going on throughout the week, and we try to save seats for each other to get as many people from our team together at a game.”

Coaches often like to remind their teams when other events are as well, to both support their fellow coaches or to set an example for an atmosphere that they would love to have at their own games.

Volleyball setter Elise Cummings ’19 said, “Our coach makes a big point of having us go to other sports teams’ games because she thinks it’s always important that student athletes support each other.”

The genuine love of sports makes a general awareness and commitment to attend games possible. While all tend to love and excel at their own sport, they have either come in with a true love of other sports or have developed an interest based on their friends’ sports.

Runner Joaquin Delmar ’18 said, “I have grown to like new sports from my time here at Swarthmore and I love the fact that my friends are playing these sports.”

There certainly are some sports that get more support than other, as component of their style and performance.

“Men’s basketball, both soccer teams, and men’s lacrosse in my opinion get the bulk of our support. It has to do largely with how well these teams are doing and the nature of the sporting event,” Delmar said.

Hopefully this support will continue for the Garnet’s Men’s Basketball team into the NCAA tournament. During the playoffs, more fans typically attend the games. It is safe to say that the bedrock crowd finds its majority in fellow athletes. Within this program there is a strong sense of camaraderie as we are all athletes, classmates and friends.

Defensive lacrosse player Christina Labows ’18 said, “I believe Swarthmore athletics has a good culture. It is balanced in the sense that we celebrate each other’s accomplishments, but recognize that results are not the end-all-be-all of our time as a Swarthmore athlete.”

        This bond within the athletics department does not always carry over into non-athletic realms on campus.

Cummings said, “Within the athletic department there is a really positive culture, but from the outside looking in there is not the best view which is why it is so important to support each other.”

Often, athletes tend to understand each other well, but not all students are on the same page about the commitment to sports.

        “There is a definite disconnect between athletes and non-athletes on campus,” Bowman said.

However, other people who agreed with the initial disconnect also remarked on the efforts that the college has undertaken to make the athletics realm more appealing for certain non-athletes. Some non-athletes are unaware many athletes do get into Swarthmore completely on their own academic merit and it is important to break that misconception that they do not.

“Continued efforts to break the sporty boundary are definitely happening and I think our campus is reaching a point where non-athletes are much closer to athletes. In my three years, I have seen increasing appreciation for the commitment athletes have for their sports and the way they represent our school,” Delmar said.

This growing community throughout the college is key, and the inroads that teams, such as the soccer and basketball teams, are making by competing in playoffs are vital to increase support on campus. Swarthmore athletics have certainly had past disappointments with support, such as when the fan bus to the Men’s Basketball away playoff game got cancelled last year because not enough students signed up. While we need to work to add to the fan base so that we will never have to cancel a fan bus again, at least we always know that there will be fellow athletes at games.

“The athletes at our school are great! Everyone is very supportive. We’re such a small school that many athletes interact with each other in classrooms. We all know each other’s sports and I genuinely feel everyone is supportive of each other,” Delmar said.

Each year Swarthmore welcomes in new athletes, who then commit themselves to this same support system. Hopefully a continued excellence in sports will draw large crowds, but when in doubt, even on a team’s toughest day, they can have faith that their fellow athletes will be in the stands to cheer them on no matter what.

Cultural appropriation in trap must go

in Campus Journal by

Appropriation of black style is and has been a prominent issue in discussion surrounding pop culture. In my view black culture is pop culture, therefore any assimilation of pop culture is an assimilation of black culture. This dynamic of incorporating aspects of African American style is especially prevalent in the music industry; specifically in the hip hop and R&B spheres where many white artists have been accused of imitating the portrayals of the black stars and innovators of the genre. Iggy Azalea, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Robin Thicke, and Taylor Swift are a few of the names that come to mind immediately. Another name that has been added to the conversation recently: Niykee Heaton.

Heaton, who is white, was born in South Africa, but moved to Chicago where she was raised by an alcoholic father and lived with her terminally ill sister. She established herself by doing musical covers that gained popularity from being displayed on Youtube, and the controversial media site Worldstar; notorious for compiling and redistributing black entertainment clips for white enjoyment and profit. Worldstar began as a “content aggregator” for mixtapes. It also featured a lot of softcore porn.

Originally, she started doing covers of popular songs because she had no real content of her own. Trap music comprised a lot of the material she sampled from, likely due to the fact that she was raised in Chicago; the epicenter of trap and drill music.

Heaton, age 19, received the most attention for her video covering Chief Keef’s  “Love Sosa,” a song that is iconic to the rise of trap/drill music. Upon release, Heaton’s performance went viral and almost immediately she received offers from multiple rappers to be featured in songs, music videos, cameos, private hangouts, and parties. The instant rise to fame has to be credited in part to the nature of the songs she sang.  

So basically, if you consider performance of a culture other than your own to be a theft, as I do, then Heaton is the trap music cat burglar. Her entire career was energized by the influence and simulation of trap music.  But in any robbery of this caliber there must be an accomplice…

Cue in hip hop group Migos. The recent release of their new album “Culture” has generated a lot of publicity for the North Atlanta artists receiving several large endorsements before it’s drop. This included fellow Atlanta-based artist — and star of the television show “Atlanta” — Donald Glover. The debut of the album drew much attention to the music Migos had released and been featured on leading up to the project. One such song was Heaton’s “Bad Intentions” remix.

The song has a visual accompaniment that was released in July. If you haven’t already seen the video go and check it out right now; it’s very well made. The camera work is on point and the plot isn’t half bad either.

The release date of the Heaton-Migos collaboration video is important in the context of the timely success of  “Culture,” which includes the national hit “Bad and Boujee” as well as several other popular songs. In simplest terms, the feature could be viewed as ploy for publicity on Heaton’s end.

The scene opens with Heaton and the Migos walking away from a successful bank robbery. The Migos are all dressed in black with their faces covered by scarves and masks. Heaton is the only one with her face exposed: she is the leader of the group, while they are all henchman. At the same time, this subtle difference highlights the effect of the male gaze on the video-making process; selectively displaying only the woman’s physical exterior as relevant.

Heaton displays a repeated affinity for the rappers throughout the video. She’s hypnotised and particularly enamored with Quavo, arguably the star of the group, but continues to show physical affection and sexual attraction to all three artists. Each time she seduces a member of the group she collects a portion of their money from the robbery.

The whole song is about money, actually. First she criminalizes the Migos by leading them in the attack on the bank. She seduces each one of the Migos one by one and eventually causes them to turn on one another. The video ends with the Migos committing an implied triple homicide/suicide.

Heaton’s presence in the video is a representation of greed. Each time a Migo falls for her trap, he is stripped of his wealth and instead ingrained with the seed of envy; prompting him to confront his partners presumably about the lost money. It is this consistency that forces me to consider whether or not Heaton is ever really “present” in the video. If watched closely, the viewer will notice that the Migos only ever look directly at Heaton when one of them is alone with her. To me, this suggests that she is simply a symbol for jealousy and the power that money has, corrupting even the closest of allies.

In several scenes of the video Heaton is shown wearing heavy lipgloss and box braids. These particular style of hair and makeup are iconic looks for black women in America. Heaton also coopts popular trap music elements, particularly in the use of weapons and money as props. The prominence of these elements in trap visuals is due largely to their relevance in gang culture and life in the ghetto. If it weren’t for the presence of the Migos in Heaton’s videos, these aesthetics would seem completely out of place in contrast with Heaton’s own whiteness.

It is only the Migos status as trap rap artists that enable Heaton to use these aspects in her performance without receiving harsh criticism: she uses them for their stature to establish her own credibility within the genre, and a larger  culture that is not hers to claim.

This leads me to my main point about Heaton’s place — not just in the video — but in regards to the constant phenomenon of appropriation. Heaton makes herself a shining beacon for white artists reping a culture that’s not theirs. It’s not only her selection of genre that makes this apparent, however. It is in the emulation of certain traits and appearances that are iconic to women of color.  She has augmented her body to match the new standards of beauty that have always distinguished black women. The altered lips and surgically-enhanced curves reflect characteristics of black women that have been constantly degraded and slandered. Attributes that are considered unattractive in women of color are seen as far more appealing on white women.

“I would much rather my music be true and have someone on it because I have a connection with that person, not because I paid them a lot of money to do a feature on it.” Heaton says when discussing her own music and incorporating features from other artists. So I guess Heaton feels some level of connection to the trio of gangster rappers from Northside Atlanta. I guess.

This is my beef with Heaton. There isn’t exactly a fine line between appropriation and appreciation of a culture, but any artist must still be able to gauge where they stand in the conversation. In an Interview with the Huffington Post, Heaton credits “the hip-hop, urban community” — referring to the Worldstar community — for jumpstarting her career. She’s been writing her own content since she was 5 years old, but the content that viewers took notice of was her performances of songs made predominantly by black male artists.

“I was going to open mics… and it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said of her initial struggles with finding an audience for her authentic performances.

Well if you can’t beat them you might as well become them, right?

Wrong.

I’ve always viewed music as an expression, and an important part of expressing yourself is being genuine. Heaton seems to have lost sight of that.  Though her original content may not have been as popular as the work she covered, at least she kept it real.  She sung about her difficult childhood and the pain she experienced in her youth. She opened herself to the world and that is where true art is formed.  Once she began to rely on voicing the experiences of others, she lost sight of what it truly means to be an artist.  This isn’t as relevant an issue now that she’s able to make music of her own, but she has continued the practice of incorporating styles and images that she had no hand in creating.

Where do we draw the line? Is it enough to verbally credit the community that generated the content, or is there something else one must do in order to be allowed to use the portions of culture they’ve keyed in on? Sure, Heaton has a few claims to the culture she simulates.  Her troubled upbringing, the city she lived in, and her own perception of beauty; all factor into her understanding about her role in the music industry and her decision to utilize the culture she’s been exposed to. I think it’s important, however, to factor in the degree to which she has come in contact with said culture. But the question remains, does she have the right to use the forms she observes from oppressed people in her own work?

Some solidarity with the community might help, and a vague shout out to hip-hop simply will not suffice. What Heaton and artists like her must realize is that hip-hop grew directly from the trials of Black people in America. It seems that time and time again, artists are willing to flat out copy the practices of marginalized peoples for the sake of making money.  I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but part of me sees the video as Heaton celebrating her victory in profiting from black culture.  

Browning America: Into the alterity of mestizxs

in Campus Journal by

In the colonial lexicon of Latin America during the 19th century, mestizos were perceived as subordinate iterations of the white, European self. This class in the caste system consisted of people of mixed Spanish and indigena lineage, occupying the intermediate space of colonial society: not white enough, not brown enough.  

Mestizaje describes this process of interracial mixing and its cultural entanglements. By 1825, mixed bloods constituted 28.3% of Spanish America, according to Pew Research Center, and continued to threaten Spanish sovereignty.

Out of the precepts of colonial Latin America, however, mestizaje became less of a cry for assimilationism and more of a call for unification. It was instrumental to the new, Latin American states as a nation-building ideology to reject subaltern constructions of the colonial caste system and invigorate new diverse, social realities.

All history lessons aside, the concept of mestizaje has shifted once more in the contemporary era, evolving to be more than just a function of the state. It has become a social movement that has generated complex aesthetic dynamics and the recombination of structural realities.

This holds true even in the United States; according to another study by the Pew Research Center in 2008, 1 in 7 new marriages in the US were between two spouses of different races or ethnicities. Not only is this kind of relationship becoming more common, but also more normalized. In another study, Pew found that as of 2009, 83% of millennials approved of interracial dating.

And while the growing prevalence and acceptance of mestizaje shows prospects for changing social norms, mestizxs, or multiracial peoples, face new psychological conundrums. Here, we depart into the alterity of the contemporary mestizxs.

“I am not 100% anything.”

This is what Jordan Reyes ‘19 said to support his multiracial identity. With a mother from El Salvador and a father from California, Reyes was raised with an array of cultural influences. I asked him how he was able to reconcile his diverse racial and cultural origins.

“It’s hard to do so because I didn’t have a lot of El Salvadorian influence growing up. More than anything I had a lot of Cuban and Islander influences growing up,” he explained. “We lived in Miami for a couple years which is a highly Cuban area.”

For Reyes, he parallels his disconnect with his Salvadorian identity with his detachment from the cultural “aesthetics.”

“I can point out more aspects of my Mexican cultural identity; things like food, music, dance, history, art. I just don’t really know what makes up my El Salvadorian identity,” he said.

In confronting his multiracialness, Reyes finds that his challenges primarily manifest in linguistic barriers.

“Spanish was my first language, but after my mom came to this country, she was harassed a lot for not speaking English properly — she thought it was really important for her children to know English and to speak it without an accent. I was thrown into English classes from the get go,” he said. “After that, I kind of stopped speaking Spanish altogether.”

Growing up, he was targeted as being “not Mexican enough” for abandoning his Spanish proficiency. He saw the legitimacy of his identity begin to dissipate.

“You are not legitimately Mexican, you are not legitimately El Salvadorian, you don’t have a legitimate Latinx identity,” he said, echoing the sentiments of his childhood friends. “Yeah, I am El Salvadorian; yeah, I am Mexican. I take pride in both of them. I remember feeling like I always stuck out from my Mexican friends at home because I knew a lot about salsa and merengue and other cultural aesthetics.”

Similarly, he grapples with the idea of a “legitimate” cultural or racial identity in itself. Is there a set criterion that delineates inherent “Mexicanness” and “El Salvadorianness?” In what ways does this criterion manifest itself?

“Thinking about legitimacy in terms of who you are and what you are: does knowing more make you more?” he questions.

“Speak Spanish? Check. Have brown skin? Check.”

From Reyes’ experiences with his own interracial complexity, we see that interracial mixing describes more than just the hybridization of cultural practices and fusion of disparate communities. It describes the psychic status of the multiracial person, grappling with contending narratives.

“We are not exactly what used to be, and we are not exactly what is here now. There is growing consciousness of an ‘other’ and recognizing that I am that ‘other,’” he said.

While terms like mestizxs and mestizaje are entrapped in colonial vocabulary, in the contemporary era, the alterity of the mestizo class persists, even in the United States. Its story is fraught with visceral fears of displacement because of their failure to conform to either extremity of their racial and cultural identities.

“What am I? I don’t know.”

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