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From the heart of a Las Vegas local

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

I am studying abroad in Cape Town right now, but my heart is in Las Vegas. My mind can’t decide whether to cry or dissociate, pretending that one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States did not just happen in my hometown.  Maybe as a coping mechanism, but also out of necessity to feel closer to people back home, I can’t help but scroll through Facebook posts to ensure that my friends and family are okay and to read how people are responding to the tragedy. Yet, this only makes dissociation even more impossible and makes both tears and rage bubble up inside of me as I witness the way some non-Las Vegas locals are minimizing or misrepresenting the horrors that have occurred.

While I am scrolling through Facebook, searching for hope and reassurance, I can’t help but read posts discussing how this Las Vegas tragedy is “just another example” of the need for gun policy changes. People are posting how ashamed they are at how divided America has become and how the shooting is proof that the country “cannot be reunited.” Around me, I hear other college students discussing how shocking it was that the shooter was “anti-Trump.” When people ask me directly how I am responding to the events, they hardly listen to my response before quickly changing topic, comparing the shooting to the hurricane in Puerto Rico or to human rights issues in India. Instead of talking about the families who lost people they loved, people are talking about how all the bad events as a collective serve as proof that the world is coming to an end.

As a fellow student at a social justice-oriented liberal arts college, I feel it necessary to admit I completely understand why other Swatties and college friends are posting about and addressing the Las Vegas massacre in this way. It is part of a larger problem that is often too painful to acknowledge. When tragedies such as these occur, it is impossible to figure out how to react to an attack of such magnitude. Therefore, people respond through politically aggressive social media posts. Instead of conceptualizing the lives lost, it seems more productive to use the event as evidence that a political party is wrong or as an example that policies need to be changed.

This makes sense; the view that policy change should happen in light of an event that hurt so many is entirely practical. The problem, however, is when the tragedy itself becomes a political game where support and grief for the victims are lost in the equation.

No one means to discount the humanity behind trauma. Everyone posting about or discussing the Las Vegas shooting is doing so with good intentions. It is because everyone wants to help that I feel the need to point out the impact of taking the humanity out of a tragedy.

At least in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, there are so many more productive and empathetic methods of helping a community than using their suffering for political gain. Instead of posting about your disappointment in society, share a Facebook post letting the families and friends affected know that you stand with them in solidarity. Restrain from comparing two disasters with one another because each community is affected by an event differently and has different methods of coping. Reach out to anyone you can from a community through donations or kind words. Practice active listening to show you truly care about how they are coping with an event and how you may be able to play an active role in supporting them. Only after a community begins a healing process should the political implications be more broadly discussed and acted upon to create a better functioning society. What good is a political policy in ensuring security if society can not first come together to practice the compassion and empathy needed to follow that policy in the first place?

As for my home in Las Vegas, I can say I have never been more proud to be a Las Vegas local. The community is resilient, looking out for one another and practicing empathy in ways often not discussed. The day after the shooting, people waited for hours to donate blood to the victims. When a charity requested 80 air mattresses for family members with friends in the hospital, the donation request was fulfilled within hours. A donation fund website was created almost immediately to support those affected and vigils have been held for the community to stand together in solidarity.

These acts give me faith that the world is not coming to an end and that society is not as divided as we are often made to believe. They remind me that compassion and community values are still a large component of societal ideals. However, a large part of this reassurance stems from remembering during events like these, that the first response must always be unification for healing before politicalization for change.

 

On going home and coming back

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

From the moment I first visited campus during my junior year of high school, Swarthmore felt like home. Standing on Magill Walk, I felt an inexplicable wave of comfort and familiarity. I still do. During the stress of moving in and saying good-bye to my family, I was comforted by the fact that my room number is the same as my state’s area code, 302.

Living at Swarthmore has muddled the lines of what “home” really means. I feel at home in my dorm, in McCabe, and in all the buildings in between, yet I still went home for break.

Everything seemed to be just the way I left it, and my home life picked up right where it left off. Yet, things felt different. The music on the radio when I drove was different, and I walked out of my house without car keys — a mistake I only made when I first started driving — more than once. My high school, which saw both the best and worst moments in my life, no longer belonged to me, but was more than welcoming when I came back. My teachers lit up when they saw me, my principal hugged me and asked if high school had prepared me for Swarthmore, and I felt almost unnatural talking to my high school friends. I realized that making a home for myself in college meant leaving behind part of what makes my hometown “home”, and part of the person I was when I lived there year-round.

I realized that the person I am in college is vastly different than the person I was before Swarthmore. I have polished some of the rough spots of myself along the way. I’ve left behind some of the stress of navigating social life with my peers and picked up a sense of camaraderie around the college’s academic pressure. Here, I am not the best at everything I do, and that fact has forced me to work harder and be better. I have had to take stock of the ways in which I have changed and grown. I’ll never outgrow my hometown, but I am fundamentally different from when I left. I’ve become an adult here, and sleeping in my childhood bedroom didn’t change that. When I was home, however, I found myself doing the same things I always did growing up. I did the same chores, went to the same pumpkin patch, and ate the same foods, knowing that I was now doing these things as a grown-up. I found myself in somewhat of a surreal paradox between being home, and being away from my home.

The shift in what home felt like lies not only in myself but also in the differences between Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and Dover, Delaware. Going home meant readjusting to the way the world works in my home and my hometown. Not only was I responsible for my usual chores and odd jobs, but I now had to deal with a far less homogenous political spectrum. I played in a wiffle-ball tournament to raise money for several charities at my high school the last Saturday of break, and I was shocked to see a team of high school seniors wearing matching Trump shirts. I asked myself how they could dare to openly support a candidate that has publicly mocked people with disabilities. Worse still, they wore them at a fundraiser that benefited organizations, including Special Olympics, that was in honor of a friend of mine with disabilities who passed away over the summer. I realized that I’ve been spoiled by being surrounded by peers who view the world similarly to me, but the world outside of Swarthmore is different. On campus, Donald Trump is disliked by liberals and conservatives alike, but at home, the local people believe in his agenda. The stark divide between college life and the so-called “real world” has manifested itself to me in the political sphere.

The cultural differences between my hometown and my new college home are stark. At Swarthmore, I sometimes desire more diverse opinions, and at home, I miss the liberal haven of our progressive institution. Navigating my hometown after taking on a new home means I was somewhat of a guest. Seeing the world I grew up in through a different lens meant seeing myself through a different lens. The realization that my sense of self changes depending on which home I am in caused me to reflect on who I truly wanted to be. I thought about my values and the things I took for granted, both at home and school. I sometimes took my parent’s love for granted, and coming home from school after nearly two months away made me realize how amazing it is to have people who love me unconditionally. At school, I take my independence for granted, and going home, I realized how much power over myself I have at Swarthmore. Going home and coming back showed me the best of both worlds, as well as the things I find uncomfortable about both places. I may never be simply a Delawarean again, but Delaware will always be a part of me.

I’m just dirt in the wind, without a home

in Campus Journal by

Thinking about home is my greatest source of anxiety. I crossed the border when I was 3 years old and grew up in North Carolina, but I never quite felt like the US was my home. Despite the fact that I only had vague memories of Mexico, I always wanted to return. This summer was my first time returning and I was surprised by how quickly I slipped into the normalcy of living in Mexico. I had cried for weeks leading up to the trip because I feared that the place I had always considered home would not be what I expected, but it was exactly the part of me I had always felt was missing.

I came to feel at peace in Mexico, but I could not help but to think about what this meant for the piece of me still tied to the US. I left Mexico knowing that I will always be of that place, but feeling more conflicted than ever about my presence in the US. My presence here feels political, my NC ID says that I have “legal presence, no lawful status.” How can I feel at home in a place where my existence is so conditional?

Flash forward to now, in my study abroad program in Madrid where it has been easy to tell people I’m from Mexico when they ask where I am from, and I have started to deny my US identity perhaps more than I should. I was speaking with an advisor at the program about my conflict navigating my identity between two countries and she said to me, “consider that it is possible to have roots in many places because people aren’t like trees and we can do that with our roots.”

When she said this, I thought of my parents and how they have planted roots in the US both literally and metaphorically. My mom often talks about the many trees she planted in our house in Mexico and how she was sad to leave them when we migrated. She refused to plant trees in the US for a while. When we would go shopping for our garden, I would ask her to buy trees, but she would always say in Spanish, “We could plant those trees, but we would leave them when we leave the US or if we get deported.” 16 years later, we now have two peach trees in our yard. The first was an accident, a tree that grew after someone threw a peach seed on the ground. The second, my mom planted so that the first tree wouldn’t look so misplaced in our yard. I was joking when I asked my mom, “but what happens to the trees if we leave or get deported?”

“I’m not leaving unless they deport me. My kids have grown up here and I’ve been here so long, this is my home now,” my mom answered. My dad shares the same feelings. My parents have started to make their home here and while this is also my home, my roots have not fully planted themselves here. My parents have accepted that the US is home now in a way I can’t seem to accept. It has been a little over a month since I left Mexico…and I’m still making sense of it all.

 

I am confronting for the first time that the reason I have not allowed my roots to grow in US soil is because I have never felt welcomed here. Here, I have always been ‘illegal’ and it feels that I am not allowed to exist in a way that is my own. Even in my first years in the US, I knew something was not right. I can’t quite describe what it feels like, but it was something heavy in my stomach and I would have an overwhelming urge to run away and go back to a country I barely remembered. I wanted be with the family I only knew from pictures and quick conversations on the phone. It’s a feeling I did not have in Mexico because for the first time in my life, I felt sense of belonging and happiness I have not been able to feel in the US.

 

Leaving Mexico at the end of the summer was much different than the first time I left. This time I didn’t have to cross a border by foot, I got to comfortably fly back under my own terms and I knew I had family waiting for me when I landed. Unlike the first time that I entered the US, it felt like coming home (despite the hours I spent waiting for immigration to process me), but it still felt like I was leaving another home.

 

I guess what I’m trying conclude here is how much my definition of home has been influenced by politics and how maybe it would be different if I was documented, if I did not have to go through a long process trying to leave and reenter and if there was not a physical border separating me from my motherland. I’m trying to understand how much I want politics to influence me on this.
There’s actually no conclusion to what I’m saying because my feelings about this are not fully developed and I have a lot of progress to make. I’ll admit that I do feel bitter due to the treatment my people and I experience everyday in this country, so part of me wants to rebel and not accept this place until it accepts me, but I don’t believe this approach is making me happy. I want my roots to be okay planting themselves and growing in both places, but one is growing almost by accident because I happened to be born in Mexico and feel happy there, the other is growing because I’m choosing to plant it so that I can start to learn to live between two countries and be happy in both places. I’m trying to understand under what conditions I want to call the US home.

Making a home, despite institutional directives

in Campus Journal/To Serve by

Part of the challenge of college, in my experience, is how to conceptualize school as home and not as a giant machine that is out to get you, as a machine that forces you into its patterns and crams you into its molds. The machine tries to convince you that Swatties at Swarthmore oil only certain of its cogs. Its secret is that it is, in fact, a many-faceted machine with secret cogs!

This idea of Swarthmore The Machine incites a very real, desperate sense of panic in me. It’s something I’ve been working on, first of all by remembering that one of the secret cogs of life here — one of the most essential but also one that we don’t always remember is in our control — is the way we live in our bedchambers. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am living off campus this semester, so using my bedchamber to make a home distinct from Swarthmore’s institutional directions feels a lot easier than when I lived in a dorm. But I maintain that the following discussion is applicable to life in a dorm room, and is especially important as a conscious effort there. In an apartment, the simple factor of distance and the unfortunate presence of dirty dishes in the sink serve as a solid reminder that the Institution isn’t in control of the space; in a dorm, the fire evacuation notice on the back of your bedroom door can force its presence down your throat.

So let’s talk about the bedchamber. I use this term specifically because I like it, but also because chamber (instead of room, etc) connotes for me something enclosed, private, and personal. It also notes the importance of that singular, all-important figure: the bed. Everybody likes a different type of bed. It’s a question of comfort and also a question of style. Many questions come into play, of which the mattress is the first. For me, that’s a firm mattress. I didn’t get a mattress pad when I lived on campus, and now I sleep on a futon. This may be a taste drawn from the rock-hard futon I grew up on, slowly compressed into an increasingly dense mass by my growing body. But I will brag here that my bed is generally considered extremely comfortable, something owing to my favorite part of bed-composition: the bedding. I like a million pillows piled up at the head of my bed, to be molded into mountains of varying shapes, and a giant fluffy comforter thrown with reckless abandon across the mattress, a few sizes too big for the bed. I’ve found it’s good practice to also have a quilt and a wool blanket waiting somewhere in the mix for colder or cozier nights.

You can already see that an aesthetic forms here, a combination of an almost vulgar decadence and an ascetic restraint. To pull these disparate images, or feelings, together, I use warm-toned, mismatched sheets that say comfort, that acknowledge they are a little silly and a little impractical, that are faded from half-remembered reading lamps on a million dark nights.

This bed is mine. It’s a combination of different things that make me feel good and safe for different reasons. It’s something I created. I’m certainly not advocating that every bed look like this. In fact, I mean to suggest the opposite, to point out that the variety of choices you make about your bed build up together and create a space that looks and feels a particular way to a particular person —  namely, most importantly, you.

But the space isn’t complete yet, is it? You don’t see YOU yet. And of course there are other ways to make your bedchamber a space you feel you own, a space you saunter out of rejuvenated with the things that you love, that you value, that make you feel like yourself. This is where clothes come into play, as what you take with you out of the room. I’m not talking about daily clothes here, not yet, because they build a larger bridge between the space of the bedchamber and the space of the Bright Clean Friendly Institution outside it’s doors. I’m talking about pajamas, and loungewear, and warm fluffy robes, the items of clothing that let you preserve your at-home emotions when you walk around your room and down the long hall to the bathroom.

I have always loved negligees. When I envision myself at home, what I see is a delicate silk negligee trimmed with lace swishing around my thighs beneath a long wool robe that pools at my ankles. So you see how personal this fantasy of private comfort is. I imagine that most people have different images of what is truly comfortable in a private, intimate portrait of rising from bed to bedchamber. But that is why the style of the bedroom is so precious, and such an important space of resistance to the sometimes soul-crushing world of School, which does not belong to any one person’s style, which moves at a pace and a rule that was made in some place and time that feels very distant to you and the people you may love here. But your style can infuse even an institutional bedroom and make that space a bedchamber, with a bed, with loungewear (I’m sorry, I really like this term, it makes me laugh) —  but also with the other choices. These choices are aesthetic certainly, personal certainly —  they are responses to all the physical and mental desires and needs and fleeting fancies that make things your own. I know for some people, that doesn’t entail this enclosed concept of the chamber — that a wide open door, and a constant flow of friendly faces in and out of a room is what makes it a personal space, a loved space, a home; for others, a bare wall and a plain t-shirt speak home more poignantly than a mess of colors and posters and fluffy garments.

It doesn’t matter what the aesthetic is, what feeling it creates, but I will say that I would recommend that that aesthetic and that feeling evoke comfort and even home, because as we try to make Swarthmore a larger home for ourselves, a little base can give us the bit of ground we need from which to leap.

 

Only a month gone, but plenty to reflect upon

in Acatalepsy/Columns/Opinions by

Fall break has come and gone, meaning many of us have headed home, left the bubble and settled back into cozy beds, eating non-Sharples food. As I slipped into bed my first night home, pulling my comforter over my shoulders, I felt a rush of recognition. That simple act of getting in bed, with all its accompanying details — the slight dog smell, the weight of the blankets, the sudden warmth that contrasts with the cold hardwood floors — instantly brought me back to my life at home.

I was picking up right where I left off. This was the life I associated with high school. It felt like a million past nights; the feelings transcended time and space. Yes, I just spent a month in school, but if I closed my eyes in that moment, college seemed like a dream. My here and now was so familiar, ready to be linked with countless memories that were easily accessible and at the ready. The lives of my parents and sister seemed relatively the same as before. Work and school dominated the weekdays, and the weekends were always in demand, disappearing to viola concerts, sport practices, play rehearsals, errands and catching up on sleep.

Everything was at once comforting, familiar, nostalgic, but also stagnant. It was the same monotony and small-town life that I was eager to leave only a month before. Slipping back into this second skin, I had to wonder, is this what people aspire to? Do people want to settle into routine? Do people just want a life they can predict and depend on — a home to consistently return to, something unchanging in the midst of an accelerating world? It is evident from history that just because it’s the way things have always have been, “familiar” is not necessarily synonymous with “best.”

Change is such an essential part of life: jobs are lost and gained, the weight of death is only lightened by new births. Humans are creatures of habit, attempting to defy the natural order and attain peaceful organization. At Swarthmore, my week-to-week schedule varies so much depending on what events are going on. One Monday will never be identical to the next.

Going home is so strange in part because I am entering a sphere entrenched in routine. Not to say there are no variables to the weekly template — at home I made sure to change up my life, stave off boredom, go out and do things — but there is not the rich abundance of activities and the wild loveliness of college. College is a new place in which I’m a different version of myself. And going home makes this internal change salient.

Before beginning school, I had scoffed at the notion of an October break. A full week? So early! It seemed ridiculous. No other school had a long break, and after only a month, it seemed much too soon to come home. I wouldn’t even be homesick. Little did I realize that time has a very different way of passing at Swarthmore. One month is so miniscule when considering the four years spent at college, but it feels like eternity when you’re constantly busy surrounded by friends and fun. Swatties are accomplishing and learning more than they even recognize. It is a community that constantly stimulates, and the students rise to the occasion. In a place so rich with resources and draped in luxury, it isn’t a far stretch to say it’s “too good to be true.” Especially as a freshman with unprecedented independence and excitement, I can say that I love college. Yet, when days are so jammed with activity that a morning feels like a separate entity from an afternoon, a break is welcome.

Come October, students start to yearn for their hometowns. I was surprised by my own eagerness to return to the quaint 01036, suffering through a seven-hour bus ride that turned more into eight and a half — a small price to pay for a warm bear hug from my mom. Home is where the heart is. Home is not only Hampden now, though. Swarthmore, Mertz and 19081 are also home.

Each student has their pre-Swattie existence, a unique history that they bring to campus. These enrich everyone else’s experience at Swarthmore, but inevitably they will remain just that, stories that tell who they were and how they came to be, but don’t reflect who they are and who they will become. College is a limbo state, a festering of change, clashing of ideas, existential crises and late night quandaries. It’s odd seeing an upperclassmen in your hall dressed up to go to a job interview because that brings the real world so tangibly close.

Going home for October break leaves me incredulous about all I have done and learned in such a short time at Swarthmore. It is the shocking realization that I am already a different daughter than the one my parents dropped off at campus that first day. I am sucked so easily back into my home world, and it is instinctive to feel I’m back in high school, but I consciously know it isn’t so. College is not some wonderful world I imagined, it’s my new reality. A week is just enough to get my fill of familiar and then return to the home that I am building for myself 250 miles away. A home not yet well-known, but one that is entirely my own, that will bridge me to a future of familiars chosen by me, for me. In the day-to-day shuffle the collection of minute changes in how we think, interact and exist can be overlooked. Sometimes there is the “ah-ha” epiphany about our identities or opinions, but usually it is the everyday, constant yet subtle influences that over time reshape who we are. We go home and laugh when relatives exclaim, “You’ve changed so much, it’s been too long!” Little do we realize how accurate these statements are. When you are in a place  as progressive as Swarthmore and constantly challenging what you believe and who you are it doesn’t take long to begin transforming — as little as one month. College and home are worlds apart, separate families, but come together equally in importance and influence in what makes each of us who we are.

Growing Up As a Permanent Alien

in Asian Persuasion/Columns/Opinions by

Growing up as an ethnic minority in many different places meant that I never quite fit in, no matter where I was.

I was born in Harbin, China but moved to Beijing when I was just one year old because of my parents’ career goals. They started their own small business which took them all around the world. That meant that I either travelled with them to countries like South Korea and Japan, stayed with a nanny in Beijing, or spent time with my grandparents in Harbin. I was constantly moving from one place to another, never knowing what it meant to “be home.” When people asked me “what are you” in China or Korea, I never knew quite how to answer.

On the one hand, I am Korean by race and ancestry. My great-grandmother on my father’s side was born in North Korea and immigrated to northeast China seeking a new life. Her husband was a military officer for the South Korean army. My grandparents on my mother’s side were born in South Korea and moved onto a plot of rural farmland just outside the city of Harbin. My grandfather was originally a village leader back in Korea but became a farmer because land was available in northern China. Long story short, I was Korean by descent, but because my both my parents were born in Harbin, China, I was Chinese by nationality and spoke Chinese as my mother tongue.

My parents told me I was Korean, but that I should tell people that I was Chinese if they should ask so as to avoid being marked as different and potentially being discriminated against, or at least to avoid the stereotypes Chinese people have toward Koreans. My parents’ Korean friends insisted that I was Korean and Korean alone, and that I should speak Korean at home as my native language. My Chinese teachers bombastically proclaimed that all their students, myself included, were being raised to become patriotic, loyal citizens of China. My Chinese classmates and friends did not understand the dual nature of my ethnic identity so I simply told them I was Chinese like them.

Immigrating to the United States when I was seven years old did little to help my prepubescent identity crisis. In June 2000, I moved to a very Korean neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles near Koreatown and attended a diverse elementary school. There the American teachers told me I was American, even though I was still a Chinese citizen and only a permanent resident in the United States. Though Korean students represented the majority of the school, I never quite fit in to the Korean-American social group and the distinct culture they had developed. It probably did not help that I could only understand Korean but I couldn’t speak it. In fact, my inability to speak English or Korean and my Chinese nationality provoked a great deal of bullying from my Korean classmates. I actually identified much more strongly with the few Chinese students at school, and when I moved to a largely Chinese-American community in Arcadia the very next year, I felt much more at home.

While I was a sophomore at Arcadia High School, I was naturalized as an American citizen. Most of my friends back home are ABCs, or American-born Chinese. I suppose that makes me a CBKA – a Chinese-born Korean-American. I remember taking AP U.S. History in high school and reading President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech to the, largely Irish Catholic, Knights of Columbus, declaring that “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism . . . a hyphenated American is not an American at all.” Being a double-hyphenated American, I felt like Mr. Roosevelt wouldn’t have thought of me as very American. He went on to proclaim that “There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.” I had enough trouble reconciling being Korean and Chinese at the same time; how could I suddenly become “American and nothing else?”

To this day, though I proudly call myself an American when people ask me what I am while I am abroad, they are never quite satisfied with this answer. When I go back to China and South Korea, people responded to my answer with a look of confusion. “Where are you really from? What are you really?” they would ask. I always dutifully explain that America is a place, not a race, but deep within, I knew I wasn’t just American and had to appreciate that I had ethnic roots elsewhere. I knew I wasn’t simply one-third Chinese, one-third Korean, and one-third American, but some strange cultural amalgamation of the three. Perhaps the beauty of America and being an American citizen is that no cultural identity is imposed on us, and the diverse ethnic mosaic that comprises American society permits, even encourages the free will to choose one’s cultural identity in a way not possible in places like China and South Korea.

Today I am still struggling to understand who I am and how it relates to heritage, race, culture, family, ancestry, nationality, and citizenship. Perhaps I will never find my one true “identity” in my Korean heritage or Chinese upbringing or American values, but maybe I will somewhere in between them. Though I never quite fit in perfectly in any place in which I have lived, perhaps my position as an outsider provides me with an outsider’s perspective on cultural values and norms that many take for granted. And even though I can’t call any one place “home,” if home is truly where the heart is, perhaps I have many homes. Right now it just happens to be Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

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