Between Love and Hegemony

In which Daniel bids farewell to the United States of America, as well as his penultimate year of college.

Melancholy_of_Mechagirl

To my dear reader,

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a collection of short stories and poems by Cathrynne M. Valente, all written during or inspired by her time spent as a Navy wife in Japan. It was the last book I read while in Tacoma, Washington, and was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I’ve read in several months. The intricacies of its cultural reference, alongside the wide array of emotions and topics the stories traverse, paint a colorful and fascinating picture of her conception of the nation. In the book’s afterword, however, the author discussed her trepidation in writing about a culture which was not hers, and to which she held so much respect:

“To write of a country, a culture, a world that is not your own is an act, forever and always balanced between love and hegemony. I have tried to err on the side of love.”

Upon reading this, I was suddenly and forcibly reminded of my freshman year writing seminar. It was a class focused on travel writing the act of “othering” – viewing and altering perceptions of other cultures or groups as alien – and much of the class was spent examining writings Europeans and Americans had done on other places. Over and over again in those writings, Europeans and Americans colored their perspective with their own enculturated values and ideals, condemning different societies, exoticizing foreign women and displaying contempt for other cultures.

Ms. Valente has done, I believe, a marvelous job of treating the Japanese culture with respect. Her use of Japanese folklore and religious ideologies is insightful and meaningful, while still remaining accessible to English-speaking audiences. But this book, and that line in the afterward specifically, has remained with me because in two days, I will be departing to study abroad in Italy.

How much of study abroad is comprised of othering, I wonder? Are students from America usually seen as a form of education hegemony? What will never been mine to hold, no matter how much time I spend there? I will be there to study the intersection of Italian music and literature. What will I miss when I inevitably look at this intersection through American eyes?

I once took a composition class outside of Puget Sound with a teacher that was not a lover of world music. “Many modern composers,” he said, “have taken to using ‘ethnic’ music to spice up their compositions… silly, really.” I was initially shocked and upset that he’d said this. By saying that other culture’s music were “ethnic” he was implying that the compositions of European and American composers were effectively “real” music, and that the music of all other cultures was a tool to be used, or otherwise negligible. At the same time, however, he had a point: many composers today do use other culture’s music as a spice for their own compositions.

I suppose that the difference between doing this with love and doing this with hegemony is a question of attitude. Writing music inspired by or based on another culture’s music – much like writing inspired by or based on another culture’s writing – can be done with respect and admiration for that culture, or it can be done with disdain and disregard for that other culture. I suppose that the difference is that love is creating something on that other culture on its terms, and hegemony is creating something on your culture’s terms. As I study music and literature in Italy this summer, I shall try, as Ms. Valente, to err on the side of the former.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Faceless

In which Daniel ponders the grievous misrepresentation of minorities in musical theater.

To my dear reader,

At the end of this previous semester, the Unviersity of Puget Sound’s theater department put on a a condensed version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, wherein the character of Hamlet was played by (and referred to by other characters as) a woman. This, effectively, made her relationship with the character of Ofelia a lesbian romance, an aspect that was never explicitly made note of by the other characters. I was greatly impressed by the work, and pleased that a queer relationship had been made visible to the audience without fuss, but what has stuck with me from that production was one of the hand-written signs that decorated the entrance to the theater. The play’s script had been edited down to highlight certain themes, among them rebellion and social injustice, and so one hand-written sign beside the door said something along the lines of the following message:

If you want to change the world, stop asking for permission.

These may not be the exact words. There is another, similar, anonymous quote that goes “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission,” and it is possible that is what it said. But regardless, what I thought it said got me thinking about the odd relationship between minorities – and more specifically, the queer community – and theater.

There have been many works of literature discussing the subject. These books have generally suggested the same thing: when Broadway was first rising in prominence as a source of American entertainment, it was an enormous draw to minorities (queers, immigrants, Jews, etc.) because such people could not find “respectable employment” and Broadway was not considered a respectable place. What many of these books also suggest, however, is that, despite the huge proportion of queer people that Broadway has employed, queers (and most other minorities) were almost never represented on Broadway because musical theater was a machine that perpetuated white and heteronormative culture.

In some small ways, this is untrue. Although white heterosexual love stories were and are the norm of musical theater, it provided an opportunity for queer men and women to earn an income from their “unrespectable” talents (i.e. singing, dancing, songwriting, etc). In particular, Broadway brought the icon image of the proud diva to the forefront of American imagination, allowing for female leads with strong vocals and even stronger personalities to dominate the stage in a way that women have rarely been allowed to dominate in other areas of life. Queer singer and actress Ethel Merman belted out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in Gypsy, and there was no denying her presence.

Ethel Merman

In many other ways, however, this is very true. Looking at lists of the most famous and successful musicals of all time – Phantom of the Opera, Bye Bye Birdie, My Fair Lady, etc. – almost all of them concern a white man and a white women falling in or out of love. In the unlikely event that a minority is represented, it is usually done inaccurately and insensitively, such as when white actress Natalie Wood portrayed Puero Rican Maria in the film adaptation West Side Story.

Natalie_Wood

That alone is ridiculous. Admittedly, such a famous actress may have been necessary to the success of the film, but the entire point of the story is that the male lead is white and the female lead IS NOT. Natalie Wood did not even sing Maria’s songs in the film; another actress was hired to dub it in for her. By casting a famous white actress over a less famous Latina actress (who might have even been able to sing in a musical), musical theater again perpetuated the underlying sentiment that people that are not white and not heterosexual are a tool for those that are. In this case, this story of racial prejudice became, to a degree, merely a tool for pretty white people to sing some nice songs.

Even in rare cases when minorities are portrayed, they are usually done so insensitively and inaccurately. Such an example is that of the 1990s musical Kiss of the Spider Women, which tells the tale of two prisoners in a Latin American jail – one man an effeminate gay man that uses his imagination to escape the brutal reality, and the other a serious, heterosexual revolutionary. The fact that a Broadway musical of the time would explicitly involve gay main character is surprising, yet the trajectory of the story – in which the gay character is manipulated into betraying the revolutionary’s secrets, falls in love with the revolutionary, and dies after being used by both the revolutionary and the police.

Kiss_of_the_Spider_Woman

Throughout this story, the gay man is a victim and a puppet. He dies at the end because he is gay, and therefore at such odds with his surroundings that he must either assimilate or be eliminated. Admittedly, credit must be given where credit is due: a musical whose protagonist is queer is a remarkable and wonderful thing. But the problem remains that the queer community is still being understood on other people’s terms.

Straight people still primarily think of a white gay man when considering the queer community. Queerness is still considered, by much of the world, to be considered a “white man’s disease,” making queerness in other ethnicities a foreign concept. We are still thought of as being divided into cis-gender men and cis-gender women, despite our ranks of non-gender-binary community members. We are still tools to be used, laughed at, and played with, but so rarely recognized as people.

Great strides have been made in recent history to improve the visibility and image of the queer community, and minorities as a whole, in entertainment and media. But we are still being understood as others by mainstream America, and are being understood on their terms. I am asking for this to change. I am not asking for permission.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

I’ll Follow Thee

In which Daniel and his sister, Hannah, explore the wild and wondrous world of the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.Skyrim

To my dear reader,

Video games have never been of great interest to me. When I was much younger, the concept of a simulated world that I could see on a screen but not physically interact with seemed like a waste of time. This is a little counterintuitive, as I was such an avid reader of fiction, but the difference to me was that video games were not known then for being feats of narrative genius. I was also put off by the excessive violence I saw in many video games, which I saw as unpleasant and upsetting.

I feel no shame in saying that the only exceptions I held to this were the computer adaptations of the Harry Potter series and the film Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events. Keep in mind that even I, with my limited video game experience, knew these were not particularly well-crafted games. But I enjoyed them by association with Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, two of my childhood (and quasi-adulthood) fascinations. What really changed my mind was the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skrim.

According to the debatable information found on the interwebs, this is one of a series of open world fantasy games revolving around a collection of magical worlds, including the country of Skyrim. The premise of Skyrim is built on the unexpected arrival of Alduin the World-Eater, a monstrous dragon prophesized to consume and destroy the world. The main character – which the player can design, selecting from different races (i.e. human, elf, troll, etc.), appearances and abilities – is revealed early in the game to be the Dragonborn, a non-dragon mortal born with a dragon’s soul and abilities. The game is spent travelling Skryim, bettering the player’s abilities and going on quests, all the while learning of how to defeat Alduin.

alduin

I first came across this game this previous winter break, which my sister Hannah has installed and convinced me to try. I was skeptical in the beginning, dismissing the game as silly, but it was not long before Hannah and I were up slaying dragons and collecting ancient talismans until the wee hours of the morning. Begrudgingly, I was enamored.

There are many reasons that I became so enthralled – reasons which I assume I share with my video-game playing peers. Video games provide a world in which impossible things may occur. They allow for easily tangible, single-minded goals that the player is notified when completed. They award the player for achieving small tasks, and mistakes can be done over an infinite number of times until they are rectified.

What I like best, however, are the Followers.

Followers are characters that can be found around the Skyrim who, if you save them or perform a favor for them or sometimes just ask very nicely, will be your companion. They will follow you, carry things for you, defend you and remain by your side until they die or you let them go.

Imagine if life were like that! You could just be sitting in Starbucks, drinking your mocha when someone taps you on your shoulder. “Excuse me,” they say, “but my father has been murdered by an ancient and unfathomable cosmic power and I am on a mission of vengeance. Would you like to follow me on my epic quest?”

The blind faith alone in such an action is staggering! Of course in today’s world, such an action would be foolish, impractical and extremely dangerous. People also don’t go on many missions of vengeance, I suppose. But consider the possibilities! What fun life would be if we could simply pick up chivalrous quests at the grocery store, if we could begin epic journeys at the supermarket!

What I mean to say is that the world seems such a cautious and guarded place, and something about the way that the Followers in Skyrim willingly dedicate their lives and hands to the player’s journey seems so full of possibilities – exactly the reason I like the game so much. The world of Skyrim is complex and intricate, and Followers are just one example of such a world of possibility. As I’ve said, such a world might be impractical, even dangerous. But I’d like to think that one day, I might be sitting in Starbucks, drinking my mocha, when someone will tap me on the shoulder and request my help on an epic quest. And when that day comes, I shall take after those Followers, put down my mocha, and begin something remarkable.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Teach by Deed

In which Daniel considers the mentors of basketball coach John Wooden, as well as his own.

Wooden_Game_Plan

To my dear reader,

I have always had an aversion to sports. There are many reasons for this, among them my small physical stature, my lack of bodily coordination, my distrust of the concept of “teamwork,” and the negative dissonance between social constructions of athleticism and homosexuality. But despite all of these reasons, a figure that has begun to loom large over my life is that of John Wooden, now late basketball coach, literature teacher, and author.

Alongside his remarkable achievements in the field of athletics, including leading the UCLA Bruins to ten championships in his time as coach, Wooden has become incredibly well known as a fountain of wisdom on the subjects of teamwork, discipline and life over all. It is only after reading his book A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring have I truly realized how much he has been an “invisible mentor” – a teacher that I have never met but has continually guided me through his writings and teachings – and all in spite of my initial trepidation.

This got me thinking about the role of mentors within my life, and who they have been thus far. In his writing, Wooden made a point of saying that mentors need not be people that one has necessarily met, but I believe that this principle extends farther: mentors need not even be real people. I have certainly felt more mentored by many fictional people than by the real people in my life, and the effects of this are no less valid or real. Thus came to be the following list of the seven most prominent mentors of my life:

1. Katy Perry

Katy_Perry_Teenage_Dream

“If stars don’t align, if it doesn’t stop time, if you can’t see the sign, wait for it.”

I first truly came in contact with Katy Perry’s music during the end of my senior year of high school. I had decided, on a whim, to put her Teenage Dream album on my iPod, and sharing this album with Spencer Orbegozo – a classmate that was destined to become my best friend – was, unwittingly, one of the best decisions of my life. This album became the cornerstone of our friendship, and came to me at a time when I needed something that would propel my into the future. The simple, optimistic beauty of the line “Let’s run away, and don’t ever look back” encapsulates all the joyful momentum that I do not possess, but wish to have. Alongside opening me up to the world of trashy pop (an inexhaustible source of joy for me), Katy Perry taught me to look to the future with hope.

2.Tina Fey

Bosspants

“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.

If there is one mentor on this list that I am most similar to, it is undoubtedly Tina Fey. In her genius autobiography Bossypants, Miss Fey cites strong parental influence, bad skin, and love of musical theater as the driving forces of her life – if that doesn’t describe my life, what does? But more than simply providing me with a famous face to identify with, Tina Fey (and Bossypants itself) demonstrated the ability to laugh at one’s failures and find humor in the endless drudgery of life. Tina Fey taught me to accept my own disastrous self.

3. Uncle Iroh

Uncle_Iroh

“Destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

Being the most fictional of my mentors, it is somewhat more difficult to explain how this character from the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender has affected me. Avatar was only one of many fascinations I held as a child, the others including the works of Lemony Snicket and the Harry Potter series, yet no character in those other stories held as much sway over me as Iroh. Across the TV series, Iroh acts as the protective uncle and gentle guide to the series’ troubled antihero (his nephew), providing comic relief and wise perspective in equal measure. But it was the humanity of Iroh that really struck me. Iroh became angry at his nephew when his nephew was too prideful, became weary from his turbulent life, and became hungry more or less constantly. Iroh taught me not only to love tea, but also life, with good humor and perspective.

4. Tarn Wilson

“Write the book you would want to read.”

When I first joined her creative writing class in my junior year of high school, Tarn Wilson was merely another very nice and intelligent teacher employed by Gunn High School. After I turned in an autobiographical work describing some serious emotional troubles, however, Ms. Wilson called me into her office and had me speak with her to ensure I was emotionally healthy. Tarn Wilson taught me many suprising and insightful things about writing itself, but taught me even more about the act of creation – creating a story and creating a life. Life will not appear, she explained, until you do – not your parents or teachers or friends or even mentors, but you. Tarn Wilson taught me that my life is a story, and I must learn to be its author.

5. Cathrynne M. Valente

Valente

“As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”

I recently wrote a blog post detailing my feelings toward science fiction and fantasy author Cathrynne M. Valente, which can be found here (http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/04/01/an-open-letter-to-catherynne-m-valente/), but to get to the heart of what I mean to say, it is crucial to understand my first experience with her writing. I first discovered her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making the summer after my freshman year of college, and just like Teenage Dream, this book came to me at a time when I very much needed magic in my life. Over and over again in her literary works, Miss Valente has demonstrated a delicate mastery of intelligence, whimsy, humor and sensitivity that I can only dream of one day achieving. Cathrynne M. Valente taught me to find magic in all facets of life.

6. John Wooden

John_Wooden

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

By far the most pragmatic of my mentors, basketball coach John Wooden was introduced to me through my fraternity’s leadership program, the Wooden Institute. What struck me most about Wooden when I learned of him was his dedication to organization. Something that Wooden is famous for is his process of teaching new players the proper way to put on socks. He would ensure that the socks fit on snugly and without wrinkles, and that the laces were pulled and tied firmly, so as to avoid loose shoes, and therefore, blisters. This would ensure greater comfort during practice, leading to more better practice technique and ultimately better training. Many, if not all, of Wooden’s accomplishments demonstrate his commitment to quality, but this simple and tangible action demonstrated this to me the most. John Wooden taught me dedication to performing effective work.

7. Spencer Orbegozo

“There truly is no me without you.”

Of all my mentors, the one with the most powerful, immediate, lasting and obvious impact on me is my best friend. After spending a year in freshman Physical Education together during high school, we overcame our initial dislike for one another. This tentative peace became a tentative friendship, which eventually became the bond that remains to this day. Spencer and I call one another every other weekend, and periodically write letters of extreme length and detail to one another. He has taught me more things than I can count, and more than I’m sure I could actually recall, but more than anything, Spencer has taught me to believe in the worth of oneself no matter how others think. Spencer taught me, in the words of Gladys Knight and the Pips (a band he is fond of), to “keep on keepin’ on.”

And that’s just what I’ll do.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Words Just Seem to Complicate It

In which Daniel says something nice about Greek Life (and Ariana Grande).

Cover_art_for_single_Baby,_I

NOTE: No opinion expressed here is meant to represent the University of Puget Sound, any of its faculty, students or staff, any of its internal organizations, Beta Theta Pi, any Greek house, or Greek Life as a whole. They are solely meant to express personal views that I hold which may change in the future.

To my dear reader,

Earlier this year, the student newspaper, The Trail, published an article about Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound (which can be read here: http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=12732). While the article was meant to be an impartial assessment of the state of fraternities and sororities at the school, I found the article to be somewhat pointed, implying that certain houses within our Greek system – if not the entire system – are flawed. The article left me with the impression that its writers were looking at Greek Life from a critical standpoint, but not necessarily with the intention of balancing out the examination of Greek Life’s cons with its pros.

I believe this to be understandable. Questioning our systems of social structure and power are crucial to improving them. But reading the article as a member of Greek Life (the fraternity Beta Theta Pi) made me realize that I have spent more time and energy examining Greek Life’s faults and discussing them with the wider community than appreciating its virtues and explaining them to the wider community. Of course there are many deep and enduring problems to correct, but time must be taken to say what is good alongside what it not. And because of the way the chips have fallen, and because the universe is sly and underhanded, there is no better way to do this than through Ariana Grande.

Allow me to explain myself:

During my first three semesters as a Beta – my entire sophomore year and the first semester as a junior – I was extremely skeptical. The concept of fraternities was one that left a sour taste in my mouth, and in some ways, still does. History classes have left me with the impression that groups of primarily white, primarily middle-to-upper-class, primarily heterosexual and almost certainly cis-gender men don’t tend to be terribly nice. Being the ones that most benefit from Western social structures, they can believe their value and worth to be intrinsic, and become very defensive if they feel that is being questioned. I don’t mean to attack people matching such a description; this is merely what history has suggested to me.

Beyond this idealistic skepticism, however, I held the more personal skepticism of the very concept of “community.” Why was I to give trust and respect to a group of people I barely knew out of principle? Weren’t they meant to be earned? I would never expect someone to trust or respect me until they got to know me better – and even then, maybe not.

It’s not that the members of Beta themselves did anything wrong in all that time. They were perfectly nice, well-meaning, intelligent men that wanted the best for the colony. But I’ve always been poor with interpersonal relationships, and I was growing weary of devoting so much time and energy to something in which I had so little investment.  By the end of December of 2014, I had my heart set on leaving.

But the universe, being sly and underhanded, prevented me from burning the bridge then and there because I had already signed up to attend the Wooden Institute, a leadership program run by the General Fraternity. Cursing myself for paying the registration fee, I begrudgingly attended in January of 2015. The universe, being sly and underhanded, brought me to the program so that it could change my life.

Those who desire may read about it here: http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/02/17/darling-were-a-nightmare-dressed-like-a-daydream/

Fast forward to the beginning of the spring semester and I told my brothers about Wooden. I had nothing but praise for it, but attending forced me to voice a complaint about out colony – namely, that I had grown closer to my brothers at Wooden in three days faster than my brothers at Puget Sound in three semesters. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought the rambunctious powerhouse of a person named Jake Ashby to me, insistent on rectifying the problem Wooden had illuminated to me. With all the subtlety of a wrecking ball, Jake Ashby barreled into my life and planted himself as a face both abrasively insistent and endlessly supportive.

But what does this have to do with Ariana Grande, you ask?

Patience, dear reader. All in good time…

A week or so into the new semester, I was hunting through some music that my sister had sent, which included several songs by that Princess of Pop Sopranos, Ms. Grande. I was not immediately thrilled by them, but was entertained enough that I considered finding more of her music. Oddly enough, I had spoken to another Beta, a fellow junior named Rae Hermosillo Torres, about Ms. Grande’s music and how much we indulgently enjoyed her, and so I stopped by his room one day and asked him if he could give me her two albums. Gracious man that he is he obliged with gusto. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought him too into my life as a face both unexpectedly warm and unceasingly friendly.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, right, Jake Ashby, left.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, left, Jake Ashby, right.

The remainder of the semester occurred as it did. There were trials plentiful, and enough tribulation to bury me alive. I drowned my sorrows in half-price Frappucinos during Starbucks’ Frappucino Happy Hour, and spent more nights without sleep than ever before. I fought valiantly to keep my grades high and less valiantly to take care of my health, and generally panicked about things that didn’t matter. But at the end of the day, the universe, being sly and underhanded, gave me two brilliant albums by Ariana Grande, a group of brothers at Puget Sound of which I’ve grown tremendously fond, and a blog on which I can write about it all. At the end of the day, I remember walking back to the Beta House after all my classes and rehearsals were done, exhausted and worn out, with Ariana Grande’s “Baby I” playing on my iPod, glad that I was heading home.

This is not all to criticize The Trail itself or to say that The Trail’s article is not valid. It is filled with completely accurate points about the state of Greek Life and ways in which it needs to improve and became more safe and inclusive. Sexual assault is absolutely a problem that must be solved; Greek Life must be made inclusive to minorities; the gender binary that Greek Life perpetuates must be faced. I don’t want to say whether it’s all pointless or good or bad. I don’t have enough experience, knowledge or wisdom to say if Greek Life is intrinsically problematic or not. Nor is it my place to say. But I don’t want to discuss only the faults. I don’t want to just say what’s wrong when good things are happening too.

All I’m trying to say is that maybe there might be something good about Greek Life. I’m trying to say that Beta is, in all truth, the most positive force that has yet occurred in my tiny life. But why should I say anything when Ariana Grande could do it for me?


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

everything

I’ve had so many thoughts bouncing in my head today. That after a massively full semester, I’ve had the most struggles and breakthroughs in my head today. Much like how I came upon the revelation of the true meaning of commencement, I didn’t realize how very much even with two more years to go there is much beginning in my life.

Junior year is the time for students to go abroad, I will not be among those students and to know my friends will be gone now until January or even from December to August.

To moving off-campus now that I don’t have to live on campus. I need to find and set-up my own bed, dresser, desk, do I even want those things or more in my room? How do I eat? There must be labeling of all things, I mean I’m sharing all the public spaces with 6 other people, friends yes but even I know from experience living or spending extended amounts of time such as vacations with people can stretch limits.

Ron Thom emailed us today to share he will be retiring at the end of next (2015-2016) academic year. He’s also our 13th President and will retire after his 13th year.

Some of my friends have even decided to not come for summer. They are sowing their oats at their respective campuses summer programs, volunteering or taking those steps to potentially move away from Hawaii permanently.

These may seem like trivial things in the future, or that defining moment where I see I had to be a big girl and make decisions about my independence, about how to deal with stepping out. And that’s scary, and it’s still two years until I will be thrown out to the real world (literally and figuratively xP)

To commence

The 2015 Commencement Ceremony will be on Sunday, we will say goodbye and wish well 622 of our former classmates, friends, coworkers, significant others, flings, acquaintances and wonderful people. Ironically enough that same day will be two years from my high school graduation. reconciling both these revelations in my head is insane to even consider. Two years ago I couldn’t have imagined how much my life would have changed, how much I would love Puget Sound and on my way to figuring out my way.

Two years since high school, two years until college is over, so much can happen in two years. I thought between high school to college was a momentous moment, but this middle ground of college is the deciding point. Am I committing to my major or adding a major/minor, getting those credits I need? Do I want to study abroad? How am I building up my resume for after college? After graduation there’s no obvious socially demanded path that I have to take. Even more going to Puget Sound I now my education here is just another step to being myself, doing what I love in the future for a living, Yes, that may leave me struggling and lost for awhile but gives me the strength to figure out.

From high school we were just moving on to college in some form or the real world in some small steps right there. Commencement signifies the official end of the social norms of our education system, of the opportunity for us to truly be free to chose where we want to be, how we want to be and who we want to be. To begin the rest of our lives. Congratulations Class of 2015 on the start of the rest of your life! For me, I can’t wait to enjoy two more  years until the beginning of mine.

commence verb. begin; start

The Anthropocene

“How can we name such tall mountains after things so small as human beings. Decolonize the mind” – Winona LaDuke

Our very own Mount Rainier, which you can see from the UPS campus on a clear day, was originally named Talol meaning “mother of waters” in the Lushotseed language spoken by the Puyallup tribe. Since Ojibwe Native American environmentalist and activist Winona LaDuke spoke at the Race and Pedagogy conference last semester, her words have stayed with me as I’ve explored the Pacific Northwest’s natural environment.

Last semester I took an Intro to Backpacking course where we learned the basics of camping. We learned to cook with an MSR whisperlite stove, tie strong knots, how to use a compass, topography, and plan the logistics of a trip, wilderness ethics, but of course the most important part was simply enjoying  nature in a respectful way. Outdoorsy stuff is quite new to me as someone who has spent most of her life in the city, but since hiking through the Andes on the trail to Machu Picchu last semester I haven’t been able to get enough of it. This course was a lot of fun and a good way to begin a life-time enjoyment of the outdoors.

At Puget Sound we celebrated Earth Week just a few weeks ago. One of the events was a demonstration of how much waste our campus produces a week, which I can imagine to be A LOT. It reminded me of the Anthropocene.

I first heard about ‘the Anthropocene’ when I visited the Deutsches Museum in Munich with my good friend Joscha. It is essentially the age of humans. An new geological era marked by innovation, industrialization, and massive, irreversible, environmental destruction. The exhibition covered topics such as urbanization,  human-machine interaction, and of course explored the consumption of insects as a future alternative for human nourishment. It really made an impression on me, made me more aware of the actual impact of our everyday sustainability efforts, and also just how deeply the course of humanity has left a footprint on the environment. If you have the chance to check out this exhibition I highly recommend it.

 

 

10700193_10153199209469622_3290594553325456057_o

Goat Ridge, South Cascades, Washington.

 

 

Unlock Your Genius

*This is a blog post I wrote in the middle of the semester but forgot to publish.  I can say that in retrospect, this semester was a challenge. Not only possibly the toughest in my college career but the most rewarding.

This last semester, it’s been a challenge to maintain a balance, with a challenging course load, extra-curricular activities, and lectures, while also planning for post-grad life with job applications and interviews.

In February, my friend and I started a show called “No más” on our college radio station KUPS, dedicated to advocating for the detainees of the Northwest Detention Center (the 4th largest detention center for undocumented immigrants, in the country). More about this in a future post!

I also had a role in Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”, a play for women’s empowerment. It was the first time I ever acted on stage, and I’m really proud to have been part it. The great thing about going to a small school is that there are plenty of opportunities to be a part of performance groups without any prior experience necessary, whereas in a much larger school you might have to audition and compete to get a part. In the past I’ve also danced at the Hui O Hawaii’s (Hawaiian club) annual Lu’au, and the Repertory Dance Group ((RDG). All of which require no prior experience!

Again, this semester I’m taking some of my dream classes with some spectacular professors.

My favorite is an International Political Economy class called “Tourism and the Global Order” where we’ve explored tourism and its social, political, economic, and environmental impact. Some of the topics we’ve explored in class are volunteer tourism, cultural authenticity, the effect of tourism on elephants, and how class and status are conveyed through tourism. The main take-away from this class is that tourism is imperfect. It has its trade-offs, and one should not moralize or be preachy about it.

In my Spanish seminar “Utopian Spaces in Latin-American Literature” focusing on the concept of utopia and magical realism in the novels Los pasos perdidos by Alejo Carpentier, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García-Márquez, and Waslala by Giaconda Belli. This has been a really great class. I feel like I developed my Spanish writing skills in a way I had not in other classes.
The Economics of Underdevelopment. A challenging class and heavy on the excel but also accessible and relevant. From micro-finance institutions, education, and market failure, the poverty trap, this class is a must for people interested in development work.

Biology. Which for someone who isn’t a science major and hasn’t taken a class since high school, is death (at least for me). But I am lucky to have had a professor who is really really awesome and I feel like I’ve taken away a lot of essential knowledge from this class . For my extra credit creative project I wrote and illustrated a children’s story book about the Beatle’s exploring the organelles of a eukaryotic cell, entitled “Across the Cellular Universe” of course, following the lyrics of the song.

The great thing about going to a small school is the resources available to you. I have been to the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching several times throughout the semester for help with Econ and Biology, as well as for help writing my papers. The tutors and writing advisors are excellent.

This is only a brief reflection of my academic engagement this semester. I honestly don’t think I could have had a better experience anywhere else.

What do HISP majors do?

The Hispanic International Studies major, also known as ‘HISP’ is not a very common major at UPS. I personally know only 3 other people in the major! Despite that I think that HISP’s interdisciplinary nature is especially applicable to doing good socially-inspired work within the borders of the United States and transnationally into Latin america , Spain, and even little known Hispanic countries such as the Philippines.

The major consists of 8 units of Spanish language, literature, and culture; 3 units of Politics & Government; and 3 units of Economics and/or business. These are some of my favorite classes I’ve taken in the major.

  • Utopian Spaces in Latin American Literature
  • Central American Literatures: On Margins, Banana Books, Wars, Diaspora, and Disenchantment
  • The City and the Novel in Latin American Literature
  • The History of Colonial America
  • The Economics of Underdevelopment
  • International Organizations
  • Human Rights and Law
  • International Marketing
  • Populism in Latin America
  • Tourism and the Global  Order
  • The Business of NGO
  • Intro to Comparative Politics
  • Oral Communication Abilities
  • Pre-Colombian Art

At Puget Sound, one of my favorite classes has been Central American Literatures taught by Professor Oriel Siu. We explored literature that interrogates the workings of power and oppression, from the Popol Vuh, to indigenous Maya denunciations of military dictatorships, and the “modernization” brought about by the Bananeras in Central America as a marginalizing project. This course was also a safe space for me to explore my identity as a student of color at Puget Sound, and as a mestiza Filipino-American coming from a country that has also suffered a history of imperialism by Spain and the United States.

One of the classes I enjoyed most when I was studying abroad at the Universidad Católica de Chile was Pre-Colombian Art. In this class we explored the following themes: the “othering” of American art and Shamanism, the myth and ritual in the art of Andean cultures such as the Selk’nam and Tiwanaku among many others, the art of the Maya and Aztec of Mesoamerica, and finally, the manifestations of these art forms in contemporary Western art and syncretism. From this I took away an appreciation of diverse artistic forms from pre-Hispanic America and learned to understand them in their historical and cultural context.

Through the major I have been able to study the history of Latin America and Spain, from Pre-Colombian America, to studies of Modern America: from the construction of the metropolis and its representation in the Latin American novel, the social processes of modernization from Eduardo Galeano’s Las venas abiertas de América Latina, to the politics of populism under Perón, Fujimori, and Velasco Ibarra to Chávez. I have supplemented these studies with my emphasis in Global Development studies, where I have incorporated my interest in Latin American studies into discussions, and for my IPE class ‘The Business of Alleviating Poverty’ wrote a paper entitled “The Role of Civil Society in the Protection of Mapuche Indigenous Rights in Chile’s Transition to Democracy.”

Some of the most interesting paper titles I’ve written this year:

  • Can FIFA’s Corporate Social Responsibility Put an End to Racism?
  • The Role of Civil Society in the Protection of Mapuche Indigenous Rights in the Transition to Democracy
  • Rigoberta Menchú: her living testimony and the Mayan Renaissance
  • The Psychomagical Family Tree: a Comparative essay of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film “La danza de la realidad”
  • Is it Really “More Fun in the Philippines”? Reconstructing Place Brand

 

IMG_8596

At the Spanish Matters Colloquium with the great Guatemalan scholar Arturo Arias and my favorite, Professor Oriel Siu