Where the F**k Am I?

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I jolted awake this morning, opened my eyes, and saw a deer head mounted above my head. I turned to my left and realized one of my friends from school was still asleep in the bed next to me. Only one thought went through my head: where the fuck am I?

You’d be surprised how many times this has been happening over the last two weeks. I’ve been sleeping in many different places for the last two weeks straight—Milwaukee, Chicago, Menlo Park, Stanford, Portland, Dallas, now Canadian, TX—with a brief respite from the constant moving by getting to spend four nights in the same bed in Menlo Park. But since then, I’ve essentially been a nomad, traveling across the country with my one travel bag. (Bold, right?) Many days, I wake up in a different city or state, and today, I woke up in rural Texas.

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A sign in downtown Dallas near my last meal in the city for a while

One of my friends from Stanford, Thomas*, and his friend who’s also a Stanford student, Paul*, picked me up yesterday from downtown Dallas after they drove up from Austin, where they’re based this summer. The two of them are filming a short documentary on the Texas judicial system, and since Thomas was one of the students who I was following for my research project, I was planning on coming down to Austin to visit him for a few days, and then I’d get to meet Paul there.

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But Thomas threw me for a complete loop at the beginning of July, telling me that they would be going up to Canadian, Texas, in the Panhandle to get some filming done this weekend. And I was invited. I’m not gonna lie—I thought Thomas meant Canada, as in, the country north of the United States, which didn’t make sense at first because I knew the documentary was about Texas. But after a few quick Google searches, I found out that there is indeed a Canadian, Texas.

Today and tomorrow, I’m here in Canadian, a small town of under 3000 people in the Texas Panhandle, about six hours northwest of Dallas. It’s a cute town. Very flat. It has a saloon, which is pretty cool. There was live music there last night, but the second that I saw a man walk in with cowboy boots, a giant belt, and a big cowboy hat, I knew I was a little—okay, a lot—out of my element. We’re not in Dallas anymore! But that was okay, because it was all part of the experience. There is no Starbucks in Canadian (please send me a grande blonde vanilla latte ASAP), but there is a local coffee place where I can feed my caffeine addiction. Last night we had dinner at the Stumblin’ Goat Saloon and this morning we had breakfast tacos elsewhere. Tomorrow, many (most?) places will be closed because it’s Sunday.

I was pretty excited to watch Thomas and Paul set up a location today for filming, but it turns out that setting up to film is actually way less glamorous than I expected. It usually consists of me being their test dummy person as they figure out where to position the camera and the lights. I love attention so that was pretty cool at first, but then I realized I had nothing to contribute in terms of how to actually storyboard or film anything. Oops. Hence me writing this blog post while they brainstorm directions for the documentary.

On another note, this is pretty cool. I’ll be getting to see more of Canadian later as they shoot B-roll in the town, which is pretty genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And this is an especially exciting start to my third year at Stanford, where my friends have now finally figured out their interests and are getting to do super cool things here at this institution. For example, filming a documentary in my home state!

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As I’ve been traveling, I’ve been thinking a lot about the end product of my research. Classical ethnographies from the early twentieth century stemming from the structural-functionalist tradition, such as The Nuer by E. E. Evans Pritchard, tended to be monographs that tried to explain how a society is structured and how it functions, hence the name structural-functionalism. But sociocultural anthropology has moved away from that, for the better, and by the 1970s, the discipline moved towards postmodernism. It began studying concepts, such as gender or the state, instead of trying to create essentializing maps of different groups of people. Ethnography became more reflexive, acknowledging the disruptive role of the anthropologist himself. One of my professors who I adore, Angela Garcia, is a medical anthropologist who taught a class I took on the anthropology of drugs. She pays special attention to ethnography writing and writes beautifully, and her book The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession along the Rio Grande is written in a way that reads more like a story than anything else, mixing in the stories of her fieldwork with her own academic theorizing.

I’m postmodern to my core, and I genuinely don’t believe that the goal is to create a defining, universal work explaining why Stanford students do what they do or how (some) Stanford students get ahead. At the end of the day, I want to highlight the narratives of others. I want to go beyond the ivory tower of academia and write something that anyone can read. Throughout these past two weeks, I’ve been gripped by people’s stories and experiences, I’ve felt engaged with people’s lives, and I think I’ve gotten more insight into the inner workings of the university that I attend and have been existing within for the past two years. I want people to be similarly gripped by the stories of others, to feel engaged, to follow this journey through my eyes as both ethnographer and subject, and to come away feeling like I gave them deep insight into the blackbox of the Stanford University undergraduate experience, especially as that relates to perceptions of social mobility. It’s a tough task, I know; I’m only a twenty-year-old undergraduate embarking on his first fieldwork experience.

When I spoke to two recent Stanford students who just earned their PhDs in anthropology, they told me that the creative nonfiction that I’m inclined towards is inherently political and inherently academic and theoretical. It’s something that I’ll have to continue wrestling with through the end of this summer and throughout the next year as I focus on writing, both while I’m at Stanford in the fall and spring and while I’m at Oxford in the winter. In many ways, the “where the fuck am I” question that I ask myself each day isn’t so much about where geographically I am throughout the country, but about where I am in my thought process as a young writer within anthropology.

And the answer isn’t coming any time soon.

* names changed

4 Things I’ve Learned from Traveling (so far)

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Right now, I’m waking up in my bed in Dallas for the first time in a while after making a brief stop in the Pacific Northwest to visit a friend from my freshman year at Stanford. This is now day 13 of my travels across the country—and world, kind of… if you include Italy, Slovenia, Israel, and Palestine as “traveling the world.” But after spending some time in Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Menlo Park, California; San Francisco, California; and Portland, Oregon, for my anthropology fieldwork, there are a few things that I’ve learned about people, travel, and myself already.

1. You have to be open to adventure, even when it’s awkward.

It’s a pretty obvious statement, I know. I’m a very extroverted person to begin with; anyone who knows me is well aware of how much I love getting to know people and just being with others. But one of the hardest things about traveling is the constant feeling of displacement and the lack of grounding that comes with that. When I don’t feel grounded, I have a tendency to feel anxious, and that can make it hard to put myself out there in the same ways that I might be able to without even thinking during the school year.

The way that I managed to quell the shifting earth under my feet was by being very intentional about how I planned my travels. Even parts of my travels that aren’t for the purposes of my fieldwork were built with comfort in mind: I made sure that there was always one person in every city who I knew (keeping an extremely wide social network at Stanford was a key prerequisite for this), and I asked to stay in people’s homes instead of in hotels or Airbnbs (also great for saving money!). Beyond that, face masks, an occasional glass of red wine, a good book (currently reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac), and, if worst comes to worst, some anti-anxiety medications, all help.

Keeping the inherent nervousness that comes with traveling down to a minimum has helped me say yes to all sorts of new experiences. It’s how I ended up at a country concert in Milwaukee even though I don’t really like or know country music. It’s how I ended up watching fireworks at a country club on the Fourth of July. It’s how I ended up making new friends in San Francisco and getting to see a piece of the Mission District that I would’ve never known to explore before. It’s how I got to see downtown Portland by bike. And it’s how I’m going to venture into the Texas Panhandle this weekend for the first time.

2. Books are a love language. Read a lot of them.

This is probably partially a product of the fact that I’ve been hanging out with Stanford students and their families, but books have been such a huge part of my travels so far. I decided that I wanted to be able to read more, and after getting into a brief but ongoing Beat Generation phase, I finally picked up Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—both a great book overall due to its historical importance and a great book to read while traveling the country. It’s the first fiction book—although it barely counts as fiction since it’s a roman à clef—that I’ve read in a while, and oh boy, has it been a journey. I’m about halfway through the book as of right now, and it’s a really genuinely fascinating portrayal of what it’s like to be a straight white man in 1940s/1950s America.

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Dog Eared Books in the Mission District in San Francisco, California

Even more exciting than reading the books themselves is how I’ve realized books connect you to others. Reading may be a solitary activity, but books are a way to share knowledge and the human experience with others. In San Francisco this past weekend, I was surrounded by a group of Stanford students who all love to read. They broke all the stereotypes in my head of what STEM majors do in their free time by waxing poetic about different philosophers they like to read and sharing what’s on their reading lists. We even all went to a bookstore in the Mission together. I can only imagine how awkward that whole experience would’ve been if I didn’t like to read; what would I have done while everyone spent so long roaming through the bookstore, taking books off the shelves, and calling over to each other to recommend things to read? And it definitely helped, too, that one of those people had just finished Kerouac’s On the Road as well!

There’s rich anthropological literature about the importance of giving, receiving, and exchanging gifts in the formation of social bonds. Books, in my opinion, are one of the many ways that people—especially students and their families—facilitate this kind of gift-giving. Right now, I’m borrowing a nonfiction book from a friend called Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Culture after he let me look through all his books while he was packing the night before I left the Bay Area. And just yesterday in Portland, my friend’s family let me borrow a fiction book called Euphoria which they thought I’d really like.

3. Planes can be your friends.

My schedule for this summer is pretty intense. It goes without saying that I’m racking up a ton of miles on Southwest, which I’m super excited to use to fund a free trip later! As a college student, I spend a lot of time on planes because I’m usually flying somewhere over Thanksgiving, winter, spring, and summer breaks, and I usually take about one or two trips each year—this past year I went to both Boston and D.C. in the fall and spring, respectively. With so much air travel, I’ve learned that flying doesn’t have to be the completely miserable experience that so many people think it’ll be. I usually try to book direct flights whenever possible, both because it’s less stressful and because it puts less strain on the environment. But for those times when I do end up flying for a while, either because a direct flight isn’t available or even just because the direct flight is really long, I realized that planes are actually great for either reading, getting rest, or working.

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Chicago from above

It’s pretty obvious, but planes make for a great time to take a nap. I use a charcoal eye mask to help block extra light, and I end up asleep real fast. Supposedly, this charcoal eye mask is supposed to help reduce the swelling and puffiness that are associated with tiredness, sleep debt, and flying; I’m not really sure I believe that, but I’m gonna go ahead and pretend it does. For flights that are about three or more hours or flights that are timed so that I really do need to sleep on the plane to make sure I’m rested enough to take on the city as soon as I land, I sometimes take generic Benadryl. Fun fact: ZzzQuil (a well-known over-the-counter sleep aid) is actually just diphenhydramine, which is the exact same active ingredient in Benadryl, so you can save a good amount of cash if you buy generic Benadryl instead of shelling out the big bucks for brand-name ZzzQuil.

I also like to read and/or blog on flights since planes give me uninterrupted quiet time. I read most of On the Road on a plane, and I actually wrote this blog post on my flight back from Portland to Dallas! I’m really bad about actually finding time to write—have you noticed the lack of posts throughout the school year?—but luckily, plane rides give me the time to actually collect my thoughts and write. My refusal to pay money for Wi-Fi to check Facebook and Twitter definitely help the writing process. I also try to make sure my field notes are all accounted for when I’m on the plane leaving a location; I’m often pretty busy doing interviews and just observing and participating in others’ lives while I’m in various locations, so the long plane rides give me a lot of time to actually make sure I have the notes that I need and some time to reflect on the key themes of each trip.

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Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, Oregon

4. Things always work out.

My trip to Portland wasn’t actually supposed to happen. My original plans to visit in August fell through after my contact in Portland was no longer able to accommodate my visit, but because I really wanted to visit, I very last minute made alternative arrangements to stay with a different friend. I took a leap of faith, booking my flights before I even had a place to stay—thank God that Southwest lets you really easily change your flights! (Dear Southwest Airlines, you should sponsor me and my burgeoning anthropology career!)

My mantra in life lately has been “everything will work out.” It’s something I’ve had to repeat to myself so many times in elementary school, high school, and now college, and I’ve reminded myself that so many times this summer as my travels would get more and more complicated and random things would come up that I would need to plan around and account for. But at the end of the day, I’m confident in myself. I’m confident that I’ve set myself up for success this summer: my parents instilled in me a strong sense of independence and quick thinking that has saved my ass so many times; my coursework has been geared toward both theoretical and practical skills for how to handle this kind of project (thanks, Stanford, for having multiple classes on research methodology and fieldwork preparation!); and I have the monetary resources to get by should anything happen since I built in emergency funds into my grant budget and have emergency stashes of credit both through various credit cards and a personal line of credit from my credit union just in case I’m in desperate need of a bailout.

I was pretty worried that I’d struggle to get the kinds of data that I’d need for this project, too. My biggest fear was that I’d go through this whole summer and then return to campus having nothing at all because I was blindsided by what I ended up experiencing. What if everything ended up completely irrelevant? But my lovely advisor, Sylvia, reminded me that the best part of anthropology research is when you get thrown for a loop. If everything went just as planned and exactly as expected, what’s the point? That’s why I’m rolling with the punches (see #1 on this list) and trying to not stress about the research aspect too much. After all, this summer is as much about my academic and personal growth as it is about writing a kick-ass thesis.

I’ve learned that preparation is key, and while you can’t prepare yourself for everything, you can set yourself up to handle nearly any situation. And at the end of the day, that’s really all you can do.

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Inside City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, California

So what am I up to now?

Right now, I’m ending Part One of my life on the road (yes, that’s a small Jack Kerouac reference)! In true Kerouacian fashion, here’s what my itinerary looks like as of the time of writing, split up into five parts:

Part One (complete!): Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; the Bay Area, California (specifically Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and San Francisco); Portland, Oregon
Part Two (about to begin): Canadian, Texas (a small town in the Texas Panhandle); Austin, Texas; Newark, New Jersey; Venice, Italy; Koper, Slovenia; and probably Florence, Italy, if I can swing a quick daytrip
Part Three: New York City, New York; Wheeling, West Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Part Four: Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; probably a few other towns in New England where I can do daytrips from Boston; Tel Aviv, Israel; Jerusalem, Israel & Palestine; Bethlehem, Palestine; and possibly a few other parts of both Israel and the West Bank
Part Five: TBD! Strong contenders are Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, since I’ll be back in the Bay Area to focus on writing.

I’ll be blogging throughout the summer about specific locations and experiences I have, as well as my general thoughts on travel and the world through posts similar to this one. I expect the commentary to get a little bit more cutting since I actually have a pretty sarcastic personality that usually doesn’t come across in my writing… that, and I think I was a little afraid to be brutally honest on this blog while in my teen years, but now that I hit twenty all bets are off. It should still be entertaining, though… the anthropology department’s student services officer told me she thought I should start a blog about my life at Stanford since my reactions to things are usually pretty funny.

If you’d like to keep up with me, you can be notified via email every time I post if you subscribe in the sidebar. My day-to-day adventures are captured via Instagram stories, so if you have Instagram (or Facebook, since my Facebook friends can automatically see my Instagram stories), feel free to check that out. Yes, you too, Mom and Dad. The frequent posts that probably annoy my friends and classmates should at least indicate to you all that I’m alive. And then of course I’ll be sharing each post on Twitter and my personal Facebook profile, but I’m thinking of restarting the Facebook Page for this blog so that anyone can follow along even if we aren’t actually Facebook friends (yes, you, random stranger, friends of my parents who might feel weird about adding their son on Facebook, and/or current/previous classmates who just want to read my travel posts without being subjected to my political Facebook statuses!).

I still believe in America

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A friend of mine (a woman of color) told me today that she struggled with figuring out how to be patriotic on the Fourth of July. And the truth is, I struggled with the same. We live in a country that was built on the backs of Native Americans and Africans. The state that I currently go to school in, California, is the result of Manifest Destiny, a combination of the hubris that the United States was destined by God to stretch from coast to coast and the racist belief that white Americans were inherently superior to the Native American and Mexican people who resided in the lands that American colonists were “destined” to take over. This country was not built for me, a queer brown person. Only about fifty years ago—literally on the birthdate of my mother—the Supreme Court decided that anti-miscegenation laws, laws that ban mixed race marriages, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, a landmark Supreme Court case that let my parents marry. Only about three years ago did the Supreme Court narrowly decide that I, too, have a right to marry, although that right is in danger now.

The United States of America isn’t perfect. We have a long legacy of racism and discrimination. We fought a war amongst ourselves, mostly over the right to own black Americans as property, only about 150 years ago. We turned away Jewish children who were seeking refuge from the Holocaust. We interned Japanese Americans during World War II because we considered them a “security risk.” That was only deemed unconstitutional about a week ago, in the same Supreme Court case that argued it’s acceptable for the president to prevent entry into the United States from Muslim countries because Muslims are also supposedly a security risk. And we’ve separated children from their families and put them in literal cages after they fled from Central America in order to seek asylum here. Reunification of families has still yet to happen. It’s not that we’ve strayed from our values as a nation. The reality of it is that, in many ways, we never lived up to our values.

But at the same time, I’m not ready to give up on this country. The American Dream may be dead—or maybe it never truly existed for everyone?—but that doesn’t have to be the case. We can still be a country of compassion, a beacon of hope, a true leader for human rights. We can fix the social ills that plague us: unequal access to education, health disparities and lack of access to affordable healthcare, our discriminatory criminal justice policy, income inequality, our unjust immigration laws, and even structural oppression that creates so many barriers to success for women and trans people, people of color, queer people, low-income people, and people living in rural areas. We can work toward a society that we can truly be proud of, one that doesn’t simply worship wealth and the accumulation of capital but rather one that gives everyone a chance to succeed, regardless of who you are, where you came from, or what your background is.

All of this is so much easier said than done. I’m fully aware of the blissful naiveté that jumps off the screen as you read this blog post. All these social ills probably won’t be fixed in my lifetime, but the answer isn’t to give up or grow jaded. We have to keep fighting for a just and equal world.

Frankly, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me that a bunch of wealthy white men who owned slaves signed a document declaring their freedom from the British Empire, which they believed was now trying to exert too much control over them. I don’t really care about the American “Revolution,” which wasn’t really all that revolutionary—it was a conservative movement by and for the elites, not a radical one. But what I do care about is the many people who have come before me trying to make this country a better place; I think of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was hated by about two-thirds of Americans, who literally died so that, one day, someone like me could have equal rights.

As the fireworks went off last night, I sat in awe. For a few minutes, I forgot about the research I was doing (on educational inequality and social mobility), and I was able to soak in the beauty in front of me. As someone who always tries to fight for what’s right, someone who is committed to social justice, it was nice to take a breath. But immediately after it was over, I couldn’t help but think about where I was watching the fireworks: a country club, a location that I only had access to because of a friend of a friend and an institution that has a long history of only accepting very wealthy white men. I wanted to just let myself think of the fireworks and turn this whole research project into an extended vacation of travel instead of actively thinking about inequality every step of the way. But at the same time, if we all did that, who would fight for justice?

I’m a big believer that every single one of us—yes, you included—should be working towards creating a better world. There are so many ways to do that, and each of us have skills and/or resources that we could devote to such aims. Probably unsurprising to most people reading this, I believe very strongly in the power of government and the political process to create change. It’s through government that we can be bold and create a country in which everyone has access to education, healthcare, and housing. We could very easily create a country in which no one lives in poverty—universal basic income, anyone? But at the same time, we have a government that no longer works for us. We have politicians—both Republicans and Democrats—who are beholden to corporate money and special interests instead of you and me, the people who have the power to decide whether that politician should even have a job in government.

I was inspired when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young twenty-something Latina from the Bronx, ousted one of the top Democrats in the House. I’m not even a democratic socialist like she is, but the way that she knocked on doors, made individual connections with people in her district, and seemed to actually genuinely care about making this country better was truly inspiring. And seeing people like her engaging in David vs. Goliath battles—and winning—gives me so much hope for the future… and so much hope for my future. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a career in politics, which has been dominated by wealthy straight white men since July 4, 1776. But what I do know is that I want to help make this country and this world a better place, in whatever capacity I can do that.

At this point in time, I think a PhD in anthropology is likely in my future. It’s still too early to be completely certain, but the more that I learn about the world, the more and more that I’m convinced that we need people who intentionally seek to understand others. Economists and political scientists hold a lot of political power in terms of creating policy solutions, but when you’re too focused on the numbers and the quantitative data, you can easily forget about the real human impact that policy has. And that’s where anthropologists (such as myself one day) need to be able to step in. Qualitative research and ethnographic data are so valuable for fixing our society, and I do believe that I’m morally obligated to use these skills that I’m currently being trained in through my undergraduate degree in anthropology (and hopefully a future doctoral degree in the same) to create this change. At the same time, I’m doing everything I can to try to get into a one-year master’s program in public policy here at Stanford and find a way to pay for it—I want to be able to both point out problems with depth and complexity and then be able to present possible ways to actually fix these problems.

I believe that I can help make a difference. And I believe that there are so many other people—including many of my friends—who will have the skills and the heart to help create positive change as well, to create a society in which all are valued and all have the opportunity to succeed and live their lives to the fullest.

And that’s why I’m not ready to give up on the United States. I love what we tell ourselves we are: a country of compassion, a country of freedom, a country where anyone can succeed. Maybe I’ve never truly believed in this country and all the ways that it has betrayed the world and ourselves in terms of our lack of compassion for the most vulnerable and our inability to be a society where anyone can rise above the circumstances of one’s birth. But I always have and always will believe in the possibility of who and what we can be: as a country, as a society, and as a world. And that’s what I’ll always continue fighting for.

The Summer of a Lifetime

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The butterflies in my stomach were flapping faster and faster. I sprinted up the escalator at Dallas Love Field Airport, just barely making it through security in time for my flight’s boarding call. As I sat down in my seat, I pulled out my Kindle, and took a deep breath. And at 6:05 in the morning, the plane took off, and my journey officially began.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.” — Jack Kerouac, On the Road

This summer, I’m traveling across the country—and a bit outside of it as well. Right now, as I write this, I’m sitting in a house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, having just arrived in Chicago yesterday morning. By Monday, I’ll be on my way back to the Bay Area. In the West, I’ll be in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and the Bay Area, California. In the Midwest, I’ll be in Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the South, I’ll be in Austin, Texas, and Wheeling, West Virginia. In the Mid-Atlantic, I’ll be in New York City, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And in New England, I’ll be in Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; and possibly some parts of southern New Hampshire.

IMG_2893.jpgOutside of my Great American Adventure, I’ll also be in Venice, Italy, for three weeks starting at the end of July, with a two-day stop in Koper, Slovenia. And at the very end of August and beginning of September, I’ll be in various parts of Israel and Palestine for about ten days, crossing the Green Line that divides both the State of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
So what am I doing all this traveling for? Ethnographic research. Since the beginning of April, I’ve been working on an extended independent research project that’ll eventually become my thesis. Broadly, I’m exploring perceptions and experiences of social mobility among Stanford students. More specifically, how do Stanford students conceptualize of and experience social mobility within their undergraduate careers? How do practices involved in students’ personal, social, academic, and romantic lives signal their understandings of the possibility of social mobility beyond the university? And how do identity factors such as race, class, and gender affect the types of social connections that students form with each other?

IMG_2892.jpgIn the spring, I did a series of interviews with a variety of Stanford students who I got to know through my dorm, through my classes, and through a variety of other places. And now, this summer, I’m visiting as many of them as I can, seeing them in their home environments—or at least, somewhere outside of Stanford—to better understand the kinds of cultural background and baggage that students carry with them. Overall, I’m interested in questions of the social, understanding in greater detail the blackbox that often is the elite university and shining light on the types of interactions that happen in these spaces, especially as they continue to diversify and people of “high pedigrees” now mix with the rest of us.

Not every location I listed is for my research; some places are some fun stops on the way—Boston being the most notable example of that for my domestic journeys. In Venice and Koper, I’ll be doing a three-week seminar on the Republic of Venice, doing an archeo-historic tour of the Serenissima, replete with a few days of archeological excavation. (I am doing my best to plan a day-trip to Florence too, but I’ll have to work out the details of that in Venice!) And then in Israel and Palestine, I’ll be exploring narratives of both Israelis and Palestinians, understanding their firsthand view of the Israel–Palestine conflict and moving beyond simple reductive ideas of “the Israeli view” and “the Palestinian view.”

Most of all, this is my first opportunity to travel in so long. I’ve never done any sort of independent travel for the most part, and unfortunate life circumstances were responsible for my inability to travel with my family in my teen years. Honestly, I think there’s no better way for me to be kicking off my twenties, and I’m beyond excited.

See you soon.

I guess I’m 20 now?

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As I sit in my bed, curled up with my laptop, admitting to myself that I have no chance of falling back asleep, I’m overcome with a strange, deep anxiety. I’ve been alive for two whole decades now. In many ways, this strange fear of growing up is probably a sign that I’m still young. But at the same time, has it really been twenty years since I was born?

It’s been a wild ride thus far, probably far more than most people really need to experience by this age. But looking back, I can confidently say I’m really proud of all that I’ve managed to do up to this point and all I’m about to do, at least in the near future.

This past year alone, I feel like I’ve finally become comfortable enough to be myself. About a full year ago, I came out on this blog after nearly another full year of being out to my parents, close friends from home, and everyone I knew at Stanford. I’m still learning to get rid of the internalized self-hate that was instilled in me from over a decade of Catholic education—the education was great, but can we do that without teaching our children that there’s something wrong with them for being who they are?—but that coming out post was one of the biggest, scariest things I’ve done.

On the note of religion, I began to pay more attention to my own spiritual needs. I found a spiritual home at Stanford’s Memorial Church and their University Public Worship, a non-denominational Protestant ecumenical service whose services have included beautiful sermons by our deans of religious life, who hail from Anglican, Episcopal, Reform Jewish, and Muslim traditions. And lately, I’ve been finding an interesting and accepting home within the Jewish community at Stanford, mostly thanks to a close friend who I took an anti-Semitism class with in the fall.

I rekindled my love of writing. After spending the past year writing small pieces of prose poetry and flash fiction, partially as a form of self-therapy, I wrote a 50,000-word novel draft in the month of November. It was pretty bad, but I did it. And then I wrote a full-length short story this spring that I’m incredibly proud of called who made the sun rise. And then I declared a minor in creative writing!

My academic life has never been better. I finished spring quarter happy and fulfilled, having learned so much more than I could have ever expected to learn. I finally feel in control of my academic life. I spent most of my time in small seminar-style classes—my largest class was eleven people!—and then I would sit outside in the California sunshine reading and writing for my classes. Grades are imperfect measures of success, learning, and fulfillment, but the contentment with my academic life translated to a 4.0 for spring quarter, bringing up my overall GPA to a place where I’m actually happy with. I’ve never felt more validated in my decision to study anthropology, and if the future permits, I’d like to keep going—ideally even getting my PhD in social/cultural anthropology within this next decade of my life.

I’ve acknowledged my role as a mentor for others, which has been the weirdest thing to wrap my mind around. It shouldn’t be all that weird; after all, some of my friends who are now rising seniors have been people who I’ve leaned on for support and mentorship in trying to navigate the often confusing, overwhelming, and difficult place that is Stanford University. And I guess for some of my friends who just finished their freshman years, I was able to provide at least a little bit of that same help and support. Beyond that, I’ve continued to take up positions of leadership within the communities that are important to me, such as the Pilipino American Student Union. And starting this next year, I start a two-year position on the Asian American Activities Center’s Advisory Board, in which I’ll deepen my commitment to supporting the Asian American community at Stanford by working directly with Stanford administration to advocate for our community’s needs.

Most excitingly of all, I’ll be spending the summer traveling… nearly entirely on Stanford’s dime since this is all part of my anthropology fieldwork. At the end of this month, I leave for Chicago. Other places I’ll be this summer: Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City, West Virginia, and more. Oh, and also Venice, Italy; Koper, Slovenia; and various parts of Israel and Palestine. And then by January, I’ll be studying abroad at Oxford University (yes, the one in England). I’ve been denied the opportunity to travel for so long due to difficult life circumstances, so I’m excited to take the world by storm. What better way to kick off my twenties?

And just as I’m planning on spending some time to feed the wanderlust that I have, my commitment to others and to social justice remains just as strong—I guess that really was a carryover from my Jesuit education! The purpose of my travels is to investigate experiences and perceptions of social mobility among Stanford students, a micro look at a much wider issue of educational inequities and the barriers that certain types of students face, even after getting into an extremely selective academic institution such as Stanford. I used to think that I had to make a hard choice at some point between helping myself live the life I want and personally working toward creating a more just and equal work. But as time progresses, I’ve been finding that this dichotomy is false—I can do both, and I will.

I’ve always considered myself someone who makes things happen. It was why I loved Scandal so much when it came out; I identified so strongly with Kerry Washington’s character, whose early catchphrase was “it’s handled.” In many ways, that’s the way that I’ve lived and approached my life up to this point, especially at Stanford—tell me what needs to be done, and it’s handled. I honestly thought I would’ve burned myself out by now with this attitude, but I feel like my flame has only gotten stronger. And for that reason, I’m even more excited to see what the next decade holds—what social problems will I work toward fixing? Where will I devote my time and energy toward? Maybe this feeling in my stomach isn’t anxiety after all. Maybe it’s actually excitement for all that the future holds.

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For my twentieth birthday this year, I’m asking for everyone to donate $20+ to my friend Brooke’s fundraiser through St. Baldrick’s. Three years ago from tomorrow, she was diagnosed with leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant in the same month that my younger brother Jude had one (September 2015). Today, she’s been accepted to medical school at Mount Sinai in New York City, and she’s raising money to support young adult cancer survivorship and research around graft vs. host disease.

Even if you’re unable to donate $20, every dollar counts. She needs to raise $10,000 to set up a Hero Fund (and she’s making great progress so far!), so please support this life-saving research. And if you donate, please let me know! I’d love to thank you personally.

Donate here!

Thank you for your support!

Pride.

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As I looked out the window of the car after spending the day at a Filipino Community Center in San Francisco, I was greeted with a sea of rainbow flags, a sight I had never actually seen before. To be fair, there is probably no other city in the United States as LGBT-friendly as San Francisco—although I hear Portland and Austin are close behind—but regardless it was almost shocking to see a city that so openly supported LGBT pride.

What a weird dichotomy it was to be there for a day during LGBT Pride Month and then to return to Texas just weeks later. What a weird, uncomfortable change I felt when I went from being open about who I am to going back to a life where I haven’t been open.

For some of you, especially those of you who I haven’t seen or heard from in a while, it might come as a shock to hear that I am in fact gay and always have been. For others, you may have always assumed or guessed but never actually heard with certainty from me. And then for those of you who I’ve only come to know through Stanford, it may also be surprising that I even have to write this post at all, especially since I’ve been so open and honest about my sexuality (in all that word entails) from day one of New Student Orientation.

This is more than just a coming out post. This post is an acknowledgment of where I began and a celebration of where I am today. This is a post about pride in myself and everything that I am and have come to be.

A painful past

As early as preschool, I remember having “crushes” on boys. At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant—I thought everyone felt the same way. In middle school, questions started to arise about whether or not I was gay—something to this day I still find genuinely ridiculous because I was literally twelve years old. At that point, my parents had already begun to tell me to act certain ways, to break down any hint of flamboyance I carried out of fear that other children would bully me. I ended up internalizing all of these comments, and it didn’t help that years of conservative Catholic schooling taught me to hate myself—one of my teachers was very clear in saying that homosexuality was a choice and that being gay would lead you to hell. I was fervently anti-marriage equality (who knew internalized homophobia could lead to a thirteen-year-old having such strong opinions on the subject!), and I found myself actually trying to “pray the gay away” a countless number of times. But middle school wasn’t the real problem; it was high school that was.

In high school, my sexual orientation was something I carried with me in secret. In my freshman year, I held my head low and tried to attract as little attention as possible, mostly out of fear that people would treat me differently because of what they (correctly) perceived my sexual orientation was. I was afraid of being associated with anything even remotely related to homosexuality, but the most I was willing to do was to change my profile picture to a red equal sign when the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that made same-sex marriage illegal in California. The most unfortunate thing about it all was that all the fear I had of other people finding out was justified.

A rough high school experience

By my junior year of high school, I was already a very political person, having spent the summer before doing a policy debate camp in Austin and campaign work for the Wendy Davis campaign. I reached my apex of peak notoriety that October when I published an editorial in the school newspaper writing in support of her candidacy for governor, and while the comment section on that article blew up entirely over the issue of abortion, the repercussions I faced were not because of my political opinions but because of who I was.

For months, I felt fear walking down the halls of my school. I was targeted on Twitter for weeks, facing the brunt of it on Election Day 2014 but still getting messages into January. During our homecoming football game, I was even yelled at from the stands, completely unable to see who the group of people were that were harassing me. The friend I went with had to immediately bring me off campus, and I spent an hour that night crying on the phone to my debate coach.

As far as I had seen, no one was targeted and sought out in the way that I was, even though there were other students who openly supported that campaign. The only thing that made different from those other students was that I was brown and gay.

My senior year was the first time I heard someone refer to me as a “fag.” The person who said it didn’t realize I was behind him—or at least, I hope he didn’t realize he was behind me—but he said it with the same group of people who had been harassing me since my junior year. The most ironic part of it was that it was said on the way to a school Mass. After immediately reporting the incident to the assistant principal of student affairs, I spent the day away from classes, horrified, hurt, and afraid. It’s important to remember too that much of this coincided with me dealing with the fact that my brother was a cancer patient, so as I was juggling one form of trauma, another one was being created.

My senior year counselor and freshman year English teacher had tried to help me not feel so helpless and hurt that day, but he mentioned that he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to do anything if some of those same people came for me online after graduation. I didn’t think that was an issue, but lo and behold, right after the election of Donald Trump, I was targeted yet again. A slew of anti-gay slurs were used against me by someone I went on a medical mission trip to Guatemala with, someone I had viewed as my friend, and others told me “good luck” in the Trump era, because I’d “need it.”

It was something I had never expected, that people would actually implicitly and explicitly wish for harm against me. On the night of the 2016 election itself, I was denied the opportunity to come out to my parents on my own terms when my mom had called me, expressing fears for my physical safety now that Donald Trump had been elected. I thought she was just being overly worried, but considering that there were people who truly hated me so much just for being gay, she had turned out to be right. It’s for that reason that I’m truly thankful to be at Stanford and in the Bay Area, places where I’m more likely to be safe from anti-gay hate crimes.

Being open at Stanford, but still struggling

Coming to Stanford, I chose to do the only thing that felt natural to me: not hiding my sexual orientation in the prison-like closet that I kept it in high school. It was a new experience to make friends who, for the most part, wouldn’t treat you differently because you liked boys and not girls, to be around people who weren’t (at least openly) weirded out by the idea of me going on a date with a boy.

The only thing was that there seemed to be an inverse correlation between people’s initial tolerance levels and their actual understanding of the struggles I had gone through to get to the point where I was. Some friends were shocked that I hadn’t come out to my parents before I left, especially since I knew they’d be loving and accepting, but no one really understood how difficult it was to actually do that. Others questioned how I could hold on to any of my religious beliefs (of which I still consider myself nominally and culturally Catholic, even though I staunchly disagree with many of the Catholic Church’s moral positions), never really understanding—and sometimes even invalidating—the solace that I found within the social justice aspects of Catholicism, as well as more liberal interpretations of Catholic theology I had been exposed to through my high school’s theology department. Not many understood the pain of not being able to come out to your family on your own terms and instead having an election take that away from you, and few really knew the pain I carried each and every day from having slurs hurled at me by people I knew in high school.

To this day, I still struggle when people—often friends and classmates who I like and care deeply about—make innocent-seeming but still problematic comments implicitly associating homosexuality with physical and emotional weakness, even though—after all I have been through throughout my entire life—I am the furthest thing from weakness. Other times it’ll be comments that make being gay sound like a choice when that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Rarely do I have the mental energy to call them out, for fear of being seen as overly aggressive or that I’m just trying to be “politically correct.”

I know and have seen firsthand that implicit bias factors into the way people treat me. I’ve felt the emotional barriers placed between me and others solely due to my sexual orientation, and I’ve seen noticed how some people would be uncomfortable with physical touch around me. And likewise, I’ve noticed how my own internalized homophobia—self-hatred stemming from the involuntary belief that all the homophobic lies, myths, and stereotypes that society says about me are true—has led me to keep people physically and emotionally distant, out of fear that I’d be seen as “coming on” to them even when all I had wanted was a deeper emotional connection in our friendship.

Pride.

Even though being gay can often feel like it makes dating and building deeper friendships more difficult at Stanford (partly because it does), I’ve never felt this much pride in who I am than now.

I’m proud of how I had the courage to begin coming out by the end of my senior year of high school, even if that was only to two or three people.

I’m proud of how I wasn’t too afraid to be myself the second I came to college.

I’m proud of how I’ve stayed resilient even in the face of personal anti-gay attacks and others—whether those were teachers, classmates, churches, or society—telling me there’s something wrong with me.

And I’m proud of how I’ve finally written this blog post, having put it off for over a year now knowing full well that the second I post this, some people will choose to view me negatively, even though nothing about me has changed.

Today, I’m happy to be spending my very first LGBT Pride Month feeling what I should’ve always felt about myself: pride.

Notes from Stanford: Looking back on my freshman fall quarter

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Well, I did it. I managed to survive my very first quarter as a college student at Stanford—and I really do mean survive. I always knew freshman fall was going to be a struggle because I’d be trying to adjust to living on my own, meeting new people and making new friends, taking my first college-level classes, and generally trying to make the most of my Stanford experience. But I really didn’t expect the sheer amount of “struggles” I ended up facing over these ten weeks!

In a nutshell, the whole quarter can be summed up in one sentence: this quarter, I learned a lot about myself. Yes, I learned a lot in my classes, and I learned a lot from the many new people I met, but at the end of the day, the most valuable thing I took from this quarter was all that I learned about me.

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Outside the Caltrain station in San Francisco

Coming into my own skin

I walked into my first day at Stanford pretty sure of who I was, what my values are, and what I wanted from my college experience. But it was only a matter of days before all of that broke down, and I found myself spending much of the quarter just trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

It’s actually a little shocking to look back and see how much I’ve changed since high school, but at the end of the day the thing I wanted the most from my Stanford experience was personal growth, so in another sense it’s comforting to see how much I’ve grown in just the past quarter.

In high school, I considered myself a pretty strong introvert. I was definitely able to speak to people and to make friends, but I wasn’t particularly social—if anything, the thought of long periods of social interaction just sounded completely and utterly draining, which sometimes comes as a shock to people who know me (because I really do love to talk). But just this past summer while I was doing an internship at a Dallas children’s hospital, my boss (who’s known me for the past six years) said that I’d probably stop considering myself an introvert once I went to college. I didn’t believe her, but she ended up being completely right.

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Dorm trip to San Francisco

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