New article is up (and featured) on Matador: “A part of travel heterosexuals take for granted.”
I’m pretty excited about this one for a multitude of reasons. Some pictures from the adventures in Istanbul below.
Some nights are quiet and others are filled with randomness: dinner with friends from different parts of the world–conversations about similarities and differences. I found out from a Tanzanian friend that they watch a lot of Filipino movies here. Growing up, he appreciated being able to see “slums” there: “There are no slums in America…how is it that other places around the world have them?” Perhaps mutual suffering brings empathy of sorts. And with empathy, we can begin to understand how to help each other.
We also talked about language acquisition, the futile resistance to succumb to the hegemony of the west. Here, Tanzanians are not taught phonics (how words sound and are pronounced) until A-Level, which is at 18 years old. While English is enforced in secondary (11 years old), students are not really “taught.” It’s usually rote memorization.
“What is an ‘adjective’?” shared one British teacher who recently began teaching at a local school. The kids would reply back: “AD-JEC-TIVE!” but not understand what it is. Other techniques employed by local teachers include reading a lesson in English (but not really understand it themselves) and leaving the classroom. After, the students would try to figure out the lesson by themselves.
“I hate English. I hate that I need it,” my Tanzanian friend said. He then told a story when he was in early secondary (12 or so). His friend needed to use the restroom but the teacher would not acknowledge his request because he said it in Kiswahili. So he asked my friend how to say it in English, but by the time the boy made it to the teacher’s desk again, he had forgotten the phrase. Eventually, the boy urinated on himself, in front of everyone.
I shared a story about when I was 3, and a cousin around my same age was visiting from the States. I told my family, “I don’t care if she turns blue, I’m not speaking to her in English,” as my family had suggested. I didn’t know English, besides from what I heard on songs in the radio. Why was she so important anyway, that everyone made such a big deal about her coming to visit us from America?
By the time I entered elementary school, I noticed more discrepancies. I asked my father once, “Why do I have to learn English? Do kids learn Tagalog in America?”
A discussion ensues, about resistance to western influence: “Tanzania can’t survive without participating in the global market. There’s a reason why Kenyans get hired over Tanzanians here: they can speak English.” (Kenyans begin to learn English earlier in school, as a Kenyan friend told me, and phonics is the emphasis in the beginning. A friend from Finland said the same thing.)
“But the Chinese don’t need to speak English, and they still compete.”
“The economic structure is completely different between Tanzania and China. They don’t manufacture here, things that the rest of the world needs to have. And besides, China is trying to participate even more–thousands of Americans get shipped there to teach English.”
But I understand my friend’s point: the struggle in keeping our identities when the world is bent on diluting it, or worse, erasing it all together. Filipinos, after all, know this idea very well since millions work service jobs abroad to send money home because there are very few options otherwise. “We’re the Mexicans of the world,” I used to joke with my friends, but the damage this has done to generations of Filipinos–and other nationalities who export their people–is immeasurable.
Perhaps the inequities are leveling out–that everyone now gets to compete in a global market. Some Europeans friends had mentioned the unemployment rate in the 20 percent range in their country. It could have been their field (most of them are architects), but that’s a staggering figure. The world is not sustainable yet, but maybe we’re shifting priorities.
We have riveting conversations about other things: for instance, how, if everyone in the world had a western-style toilet, we wouldn’t have enough freshwater to survive or how we refer to urination in our home countries (pee vs wee, apparently is the difference between American and Australian English). We talk about politics, adventures during our travels, our idealisms; but mostly, all of us are happy just to be where we are, sharing our lives.
Our first assembly was so cute: parents, babies, and students from across the globe. As far as exposure, really, how amazing that these kids have a chance to inform their identities based on global perspectives.
Today went relatively smoothly–I feel prepared and aware of their needs, and how to get mutually enjoy the process of learning and meeting their goals. During our introductions, some responses from students about our purpose this academic year and how to create an environment conducive to learning: “we need to understand that we can learn from each other and that our differences should be celebrated.” At that age (middle school), I wasn’t that articulate, even though I was aware of cultural differences (moving halfway across the globe). But my experiences from 5th grade on did not promote these ideas of acceptance and compassion. Go IB (International Baccalaureate) schools!
Last week at cross-cultural training: interesting ideas were raised about individualist (i.e., U.S.) and collectivist cultures (i.e., Tanzania, Philippines) and the values that we prioritize. Essentially, work comes before relationships in individualist cultures, while relationships are priority in collectivist cultures. This is probably why I feel like I’m home. There is more to value than making money, but I do value efficiency in a very Western way. Here, it’s very easy to get frustrated, but you’re only wasting energy. Hakuna matata!
One idea that was raised made me question the idea of social change: “In collectivist cultures, rules can be broken if it benefits the larger group.” I can’t remember the example that was given, but it made me think in terms of my identity as a queer woman. I thought about how long it’ll take to overcome the hegemonic beliefs of natives that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of coupling and that women are subservient. From the standpoint of the quote above, currently LGBTIs are not valued due to eons of influence from trade, colonialism, missionaries, etc. And of course, women being given equal rights will not benefit the larger group (because power shifts will occur). This along with suppressed levels of education makes social change seem like an impossible feat.
In other collectivist cultures, like in pre-colonial Philippines, LGBTIs were valued as part of the community. The etymology of the Tagalog word for gay, bakla, is derived from words that mean the “foundation” and “pinnacle,” which also brings up the idea of masculine and feminine energy in one body. They were revered like the two spirits in Native American cultures.
I’m always curious as to how people acquire belief, but also how to reach individuals at a basic human level that breaks down our separations. Things are continually changing; I don’t doubt that we’re becoming more accepting globally. My students give me a lot of hope!
On a typical Wednesday afternoon, I’m in the adjunct office after class. I brought my lunch–a romaine salad with carrots, cucumbers, celery, and a lentil patty that my roommate made–and am contentedly eating it. I have my work laptop open and am answering questions via instant messenger from the marketing associate and new editor. This is a slow week at the scientific journal, as my current project has just been delayed a few weeks due to lack of content from my author. The previous project that I managed the past few months brought in unprecedented amounts for the company. I’m proud but exhausted. I pulled 80-hour work weeks to juggle my workload.
To my right, I have papers from my Tuesday/Thursday class, which I need to grade. I have a copy of my syllabus and am thinking about how to approach my next few class sessions on media studies and then shifting to our humanities unit. I’ve had to restructure a lot this semester, as expected when building a course from scratch. I have the pressure of a class observation soon.
When I arrived this morning, another adjunct was holding a conference with a student at my station. I unloaded the things I carried from home: a yoga mat, a laptop bag, a tote bag filled with essentials–food, travel mug, yoga clothes, books, heels, and overnight pouch with toiletries. I can survive a couple of days if I happen to get stranded somewhere.
I change from my red flats to my black heels and head to the kitchenette to boil water for my green tea. I make my way to class–one of three classrooms. Earlier this semester, I had trouble getting into the routine and actually walked into the wrong one.
The anthropology professor, with whom I’ve had discussions as we switched classrooms, warned me that the projector appears to be broken because he was unable to turn it off. He had forgotten that it was a touch screen command, and we both laugh about technology. He’s an older gentleman, and some of these gadgets are not user-friendly. He proceeds to ask another question about what kinds of writing the English department is requiring out of its students, as an anthropological “critique” he recently assigned is not going so well in his classes.
I respond, a bit hesitantly: “Why yes, I suppose so; the objectives of my course now is to prepare them to be able to analyze texts across multiple disciplines, but how this is implemented in each course obviously varies.”
Our current assignment–a rhetorical analysis–focuses on analyzing strategies in multiple kinds of texts (i.e., journal article, news article, video presentation, documentary, song) but not necessarily evaluating the efficacy of the content of anthropological research. We touch on perhaps how the data was presented, what the purpose of this text was, how to identify what the author was trying to argue, but we cannot know the nuances of whether this is significant or flawed within the field of anthropology or what specific elements students need to cover in order to satisfy the assignment. We are not anthropologists.
Even in an interdisciplinary Writing Across the Curriculum course, the disconnect exists between composition/rhetoric pedagogy and the specific needs of multiple disciplines. We have to cover all bases–teach to improve writing and critical thinking skills–which is generalized and cannot possibly cover nuance. Not all students are going to be prepared to accomplish discipline-specific tasks, but we’re trying to improve their abilities to grapple with these texts and synthesize information.
This exchange was thought-provoking and affirming that really, composition teachers have challenging jobs. Writing is so closely connected to the idea of learning that when students show an inability to process information in other disciplines, the blame falls on the English department. Learning is a cumulative effort; it involves, collectively, our abilities as educators to build on students’ knowledge, along with the students’ motivations to apply skills and knowledge. Additionally, writing isn’t just about grasping mechanics but also improving skills that are not easily assessed by standardized measures. How well students write, in short, is not the the sole product or fault of the English department.
During class, we hold a peer review workshop on their rhetorical analysis. I’m relieved that the majority of them were prepared with a 5-page draft. Some had trouble in shifting from a typical expository essay, in which they configure some thesis and support it with relevant sources, to an analysis of purpose and strategy. I gave them the extra challenge of determining their own “text” to analyze (i.e., anything from a photo, advertisement, video, song, essay, short story, poem, film, tv show episode, novel, etc.). In this instance, freedom of choice gave my students anxiety. Most come from educational backgrounds in which they are told exactly what to do. They are not usually encouraged to think and expand their approaches with independent critical thinking. A couple of weeks into this assignment, I’m glad that most have caught on.
After class, I eat my lunch back at my station while simultaneously answering emails from both jobs, posting Facebook commentaries about the education bubble, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, and a recent panel/presentation on Asian-American experiences post-9/11 in NYC. I’m processing experiences and getting ideas for class lessons. I’m thinking about the push for utilitarian approaches to education; I’m thinking about my humanist ideals within this space.
A few minutes into my lunch, the department administrator and a full-time faculty member hover at the door. I turn around–mid-chew with some lettuce hanging from the side of my mouth. They do not say anything, after I smile and greet them. They confer for half a minute.
“Hey, would you mind if I brought a student in here to take a test?” Of course not. It’s a shared space, which I happen to like, despite the lower rung on the “hierarchy of importance” that it indicates in the department. I am assigned a computer and a desk (“C”) out of four stations. I’m grateful that I have a station at all.
In the past, I’ve been so lucky to do the majority of my work at student computer labs because it was more convenient than a dusty, cold office where they were drilling into the wall for a period of two months. In contrast, I’ve also had my own office at an honors college, complete with a shared bathroom and view of a chapel and a secret garden. At this college in NYC, I have the choice of three shared spaces, one of which has a spectacular view of the city (pictured above). (I don’t go in there often because I sit and stare instead of do work.)
I return to the kitchenette to get more hot water for tea and to wash my salad container (a takeout container that most people dispose). I’m thinking about waste and sustainability and simplicity. I’m thinking about how much freedom I have that I’m not motivated by money or prestige or security. As I leave the kitchenette, I see the decorated doors and offices of full-timers. I’m thinking about the future, about my next step.
I recently had discussions with friends and other adjuncts about being a full-time lecturer. I commented that I don’t believe it’s the best use of my energies, that I’d be able to deal with the politics. I like being on the periphery. I question my ability to conform. I love teaching and believe in the transformative power of education, but all institutions have agendas I can’t wholeheartedly promote. Sure, it’d be comfortable, but if I were ever concerned with that, I’d be a different person now, embodying a much different space.
I often return to this poem (circa 2007). I see it every day. I feel it–if not the rage, then the guilt of not continuously being enraged.
Today, at The Vagina Monologues performance at Cooper Union Hall in NYC, I remember why I wrote it: as a reminder not to get too comfortable with my privileges as a woman in relative safety in the developed world. It was a reminder that work to end violence against women and girls–despite my every day efforts here–needs dire focus and attention in critical parts of the developing world. It was a reminder of purpose.
When I first met Eve Ensler in 2006 in New Orleans for a V-Day conference after Hurricane Katrina, something caustic shifted in my bones. Sure, I’d read The Vagina Monologues. Sure, I’d heard stories about victims of sexual violence in far away countries and my own circles and communities. Sure, I was aware of the prevalence of sexual violence in the U.S. and worldwide (1 in 3). But it wasn’t until I’d been in that room with such a powerful group of women that I felt I could do something about it.
Still, I didn’t know how I could help, besides organizing fundraiser events or writing poems or speaking for equality whenever a situation presents itself. I didn’t immediately dive into humanitarian efforts after that. I had an MFA program to finish. And life-things to figure out and pursue. I would stay in the periphery of action for a while. And I would be OK with that for some time.
Eve’s speech after the performance today was powerful and convincing, as she breathes to inspire action among us all. She began talking about her work in the eastern Congo, in which she established The City of Joy where abused and exploited women are transcending their previous situations and empowering other women. The eastern Congo–Eve emphasizes–represents the confluence of all societal forces that have led us to this present reality–colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, racism, sexism, etc. The battle is fought for us here by countless women–gang raped, repeatedly, tied to trees for weeks–as a form of fear tactic/control, in order for militias in nearby countries to extract minerals and resources to feed our iPhones and plasma TVs. How can we not feel an overwhelming sense of moral duty to eradicate these atrocities?
But there is continued progress. Eve talked about the significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the like–the revolutionary energy that is circulating the globe. This energy was also mentioned by the producer/director of the forthcoming PBS series Half The Sky (Maro Chermayeff and Jamie Gordon) during a showing at Barnard a couple of weeks ago. (The multimedia campaign is based off of the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.) We seem to be at the precipice of significant change globally. We are more aware now than we have ever been–of both the issues and our very own agency.
After the performance, I was telling a friend–one who is actively doing something by promoting literacy and “education in action” in the eastern Congo via The Mama Project–that I perpetually question whether I’m doing enough (per that poem) because the heartbreaking stories of these women feel so far and foreign, despite my awareness of them.
Most of my efforts have been arts-oriented–and not the activist kind. In fact, over the years, I’ve been griping about the dilution of agency of my poems–as I became entrenched in academic spheres. Today was a significant reminder of where the intersection of my energies felt the most active and powerful, where I need to return.
The very act of writing that kind of poem, the times I’d read it in public, the act of writing about this now–these actions are cumulative toward awareness and agency. The goal is to continue to transcend, to do more.
As the Year of the Dragon progresses, lots exciting changes have arose for me in this city of dreams. This semester, I will be teaching again–this time at the City University of New York. I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to do so and even more grateful for the freedom in being able to teach a course without a textbook! It’s a Writing Across the Curriculum course that emphasizes rhetorical analysis (or the ability for students to understand a piece of writing for its craft—how it was put together). Initially, I thought that I would use theme of social inequality, as I did a year ago in St. Louis, but there were a few limiting factors: 1.) that course had three textbooks, which I didn’t bring with me, 2.) I only have two weeks to design the course this semester, 3.) the curriculum was somewhat repetitive and didn’t fully execute the potential of a solution- or action-based approach.
This semester, I’ve decided to explore the cultural relevancy of happiness within the fields of social sciences, media studies, literature, and philosophy. I’m incredibly excited to teach, learn, and interact with students again. As in the past, I’ll be using this space to write and process my thoughts and experiences regarding pedagogy and ideas that are relevant to our lives as humans.
As if this news isn’t exciting enough, I also had an opportunity to connect with a young, world-renowned, New York Times-bestseller novelist, who encouraged me to “write books that people will read,” (i.e., non-literary). I’m not sure the direction of my craft, yet—I haven’t seriously considered the commercial fiction route—but I’m grateful to have been able to witness this genius at work so far. Creativity at its peak, transcends genre–in all art forms.
Furthermore, I’m excited to be involved with global tolerance, which promotes communication with a conscience. I am amazed, every single day, to discover the amount of ground-level and high-impact work that is being done to promote global consciousness and humanitarian efforts. Please consider joining gtconnect to share with individuals doing incredible, powerful, work. We are all agents of change, even if we are currently not in a place of freedom to be able to do exactly what we want. As long as the intent is there and followed by action, we can progress toward our ideal sense of self and community, which impacts the world, little by little, and eventually changes our current “reality”—that is, a world in which not every creature is happy or free. When our internal values are in synch with our external actions, change continues to happen. Our dreams and ideals are nothing, if we don’t follow through with action.
In the four months I’ve lived in this city, I’ve met incredible people who are promoting GLBT rights (Q-Wave) and establishing literacy programs in the Congo (The Mama Project). There are also teachers and artists and writers and dreamers who are part of the solution. And prior to moving to this city, I’ve come to know countless spirits who are doing the same. I’m continually amazed and inspired. It seems clear that our current state of consciousness involves full awareness of the inequities in the world, and our young minds and souls are getting to work to eliminate them globally.
Original post: DREAM SCHOOL COMMONS
Over the last few years, I’ve taught in a variety of classrooms: developmental courses at community colleges, adult-education accelerated programs, traditional athletics-motivated universities, and an honors college. Past students wondered about the purpose of taking English composition courses in college. Common retorts from them included, “I already know how to write,” “Who cares about grammar?” “How will this academic research paper help me in the job market?” Students, it seems, are more utilitarian these days: how was this writing class to benefit them in the real world?
We would discuss writing as a way to learn, which in the abstract sense will always be the objective—no matter what degree they are pursuing, we as humans will always learn new things and writing is a tool we can use to process our experiences and improve our critical thinking skills. Writing, in this sense, has value. But for practical students with microeconomics or organic chemistry on the forefront of their minds, learning to write better is not necessarily priority.
At times, the only answer I could give them was “Because it’s required.” As an idealist who routinely questions purpose, I needed a better answer. What is the purpose of taking rhetoric and composition, if students already know how to communicate effectively and do not plan on going to graduate school wherein extensive research papers will consume their life?
As an instructor, I tried to see their needs and structure the class so that it was at least somewhat relevant to their daily lives or eventual goals. Certain classes warranted relevant writing projects: in a technical writing course, my students wrote proposals and feasibility reports. Because this course was directly correlated to their technical degrees, the purpose was straightforward: to prepare them for the workplace. Other courses, such as developmental ones, also seemed to have a clear objective: to further develop their literacy in preparation for the rest of their college courses.
The purpose of writing courses becomes a bit murky when the level of literacy does not diminish the student’s ability to learn or when it is not directly relevant to the student’s degree. The issue of “need” no longer applies, so it feels as if we are wasting each other’s time, simply to meet a requirement. Of course, for the most part, these classes end up being of some use—research writing skills, further developing their critical thinking skills, etc. For the freshman composition instructor, however, it’s a daily battle for students to put in effort.
In thinking about ideals regarding post-secondary education, how can we improve our approach to required curriculum so that it addresses the current needs of our students? What value are we adding to the lives of students?
Over the years during my infrequent visits back to my hometown of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, I have noticed that waste management seems to be an ongoing battle. As a child, I remember trash being dumped in empty lots in our subdivision; thick smoke consumed the air when the trash was set on fire. We knew of no alternative ways to dispose of our trash, nor of the environmental impact of burning residual waste.
In 2002, returning home after almost a decade of being away, I noticed an increase in population and, of course, trash. Our once gray-sand/dark pebble beach in Bubog was littered with plastic bags and disposable cups. Last year, when I visited briefly, nipa huts/cottages with videoke machines lined the shoreline. The trash was still not managed enough. Upon returning last month, I found more dilapidated cottages (now with inhabitants and their animals) but also new buildings were being developed: a 24-hour café, some bigger cottages that will be turned into giftshops. Still, trash seemed to have increased.
On this rainy morning, the day after we snorkeled the mostly pristine White Island, off the coast from San Jose, we drove some 30 minutes away from town to visit the municipal landfill, where the Global Village Association (GVA) education/feeding program was being implemented. The municipal officer who spearheaded the waste management program (under my uncle who was the mayor some years ago) drove us to the site.
The misty green mountains stood in contrast with red clay mud and flattened mounds of colored cellophane bags, hard plastics, broken bottles. There were a few human scavengers, as well as some pigs and goats.
We were told by the municipal officer that prior to their efforts to decrease the amount of residual waste (and subsequently, scavenger families who search through the rubbish for resalable materials), the mounds of trash and the flies that hovered were insurmountable, so much so that you couldn’t stand on it (like we were doing) or have a conversation without flies going into your mouth.
It was difficult to ignore the culmination of our globalized economy. Here I am in the middle of a beautiful, tropical mountain/farming area, but on the ground by my foot, there is a brightly imprinted plastic SIM card container, complete with the barcode and cellphone number. It’s hard to not think of our dismal future, when our current solutions have minimal impact and the negative influence of globalization continues to snowball.
I turned to my partner and said, “The only thing different about the U.S. is that we are able to pay enough money to get our trash shipped to developing countries.” (In some of these developing countries, scavengers must pay to rummage, exploiting the already exploited, the most impoverished.) It’s true. Our cozy lives are not affected by trash on the beach or on the sidewalks because our municipal taxes pay for trash collection.
After seeing the dump site, we went back to the GVA hut where a couple dozen children were awaiting their Saturday meal of rice, tomatoes, and dried fish after brief exercise to a popular dance song. (A bit ridiculous/sad from my perspective, but some enjoyed it.) Some of the younger kids looked somewhat malnourished, but there was still fire in their eyes. Some wore tattered clothes, while others had nicer ones. (We were told that the year before, there were many more children/elders who would come for these Saturday meals. The reason for the decrease, again, is the decrease in trash available for rummaging.)
During their meal, we discussed solutions: what alternative livelihood or trade can be offered for these families? The idea of using the trash to somehow make products was thrown around. Somehow connecting these people with nearby farms who hire part-time help during harvest season was another option. Emphasizing education seems to help, but the municipal officer said that most of these children were unable to finish high school because they would be forced to work in order to live.
It’s hard not to want to help improve the situations these children find themselves in. The municipal officer remarked on how he feels obligated to help develop San Jose because he grew up here. He could simply leave and find himself a comfortable job elsewhere, like Puerto Princesa in Palawan, where things are more developed. I’m glad to see that there are people with good intentions and the will to try to improve San Jose.
After the dump site, we visited the eco-center/waste management center where they are making compost from the biodegradable waste. As I feel hopeful that these efforts are being implemented, that despite the money/power-hungry politicians that seem to run rampant in this country of my birth, there are sprinkles of good-hearted, optimistic, resilient Pinoys who are not afraid to be agents of change.
Last week during dinner, some childhood friends and I were updating each other on our lives. I was talking about my love, as well as some other friends who are educators, spiritualists, activists, artists, and one friend asked, “Why are your friends so deep?”
“I mean, really…activists?”
Her inquiry caused me to think about the people with whom I surround myself. It served as a reminder that my immediate circle of friends are pretty incredible. But perhaps people just aren’t giving themselves enough credit. Maybe you volunteer at an orphanage. Maybe you organized a neighborhood potluck. Maybe, you give spare change to the war veteran standing with a sign at the corner. You may sing about your emergence from heartbreak. Maybe you created a visual representation of a recurring dream. Maybe you wrote a novel.
Being an agent of change simply means that you aren’t passively letting your current situation be reality. Because we oftentimes cannot easily get out of harsh personal situations, it’s difficult to see beyond ourselves and to transcend our tragedies and failures. We let our outlook on life affect how we interact with the world. We stop being kind. We stop believing in ourselves and each other.
Wherever life takes me, I’m certain that I will continue to help promote positivity and belief in humanity. Today, I may only be able to open the door for you or have a conversation about healing, but tomorrow there are infinite possibilities for more.
At 12, I questioned faith and renounced Catholicism, which I deemed to be imposed on me. I was told by parental figures that I would go to hell. I didn’t care. To me, hell was following something blindly, just because I was told to. For a while, I only believed in science: What cannot be proven does not exist. I’ve since learned that science only knows truth through a limited perspective, that answers merely beget more questions. I’ve studied other belief systems, astrology, metaphysical teachings. Not one system held all of the answers–rather, all of them do.
What’s important is having belief in humanity and our power. I believe in interconnectedness of ourselves and the universe. Our predominant thoughts will manifest. Thoughts turn to action, and we must be the agents of change, as Gandhi stated, that we wish to see in the world.
Though I haven’t yet had time to process all that’s transpired recently, I received some much needed clarity on purpose, power, meaning. A growing consciousness emerges, and I feel more in tune with the universe/myself.