I recently attended a conference. A few months ago, I had not an inkling of knowledge to even conceptualize the existence of conferences, let alone how to navigate such spaces. My experiences are not unique. This pattern recreates itself. We see it in the reproduction of social class. As I daydreamed (or theorized, as I like to call it) in my identity class the other day, I wrote this in my notebook: More necessary than actual resources are the sense of entitlement and knowledge required to benefit from them.
To anyone who has read my past blog posts or who has experienced my self in its essence, here is another brief (and quite possibly, the last) glimpse into the mess of my feelings—
Although I could look around and see people who looked similar to me, I did not sense visions of people who truly looked like me. A topic that came up often was the challenge in collecting demographic data and the need for disaggregation of the statistics.
It was highlighted that certain communities, namely Cambodian and Vietnamese tend to be low-income and in need of more resources. I felt this. I am part of this.
Someone mentioned that making it up there, achieving success in the academy, is selling out.
I am still figuring this out.
I had the honor of meeting Jeff Chang at a book signing. In accordance with some of my vocalized concerns, he underlined this: It is not enough for us to vouch for someone by the sheer fact that they too are Asian—we must essentially be critical in seeing what someone stands for, if they stay woke or if they stay sleeping.
Is it enough for me to be in a space with others whose skin tones reflect mine? Is it enough to be in a space with others whose ancestral roots lie nearby–yet far–from my ancestral roots? Is it enough for me to attempt a smile at someone who far surpasses me in the social hierarchy? Because we check mark the same racial category on the census? Even though he is a man who takes up much more space than me, a small Asian woman? What is enough?
How do I navigate spaces as a young, petite Vietnamese American woman? True, there is a power and command to a naturally quiet voice. My guitar teacher from years ago once told me this—that a quiet voice, a quiet sound automatically draws people to a quiet, draws them to lean in and listen.
The hopeless romantic in me soaks up this sentiment. And the real living person that I am knows this is not the entire reality. Its truth exists merely within a vacuum.
The theme for the conference was Asserting our Voices. And did I feel heard? Did I find my voice? The quiet sounds that blur out of my mouth were illuminated—this is who I am. This is the space that I occupy. A little bit. A challenge I find is in trying to take up more space, assuming a sort of hegemonic masculine behavior, to speak louder because that has been associated with power.
I do not want to yell to be heard.
(And this is not hyperbole. Oftentimes, when people complain that they cannot hear me—I adjust my voice in such a way that feels like a yell emerging from within me.)
It was actualized for me. The reality that The Structure continually recreates itself, in any space that we should come to fill regardless of volume, regardless of time.
And as of late I have been feeling this once again, a familiar feeling I now have the language with which to articulate that I did not have years ago—being neither here, nor there.
by ELAINE LE
image source: (http://thefindmag.com/art/art-hyuros-inner-thoughts/)