The Checkbox

Here is one feeling I’ve never been able to properly explain, but I will try to explain it today.

Imagine you are filling out some government forms. Most of the time, on these forms, you are not permitted to check off more than one race box.

When you fill this form out, what is typically an act of regurgitating facts becomes an intentional choice.

“Who do I want to be today?”

“Will one choice influence the outcome of this form more favorably than the other choice?”

Do this exercise once.

Then do this exercise hundreds of times.

Read about complaints about affirmative action and read about how academic institutions identify potential “at-risk” students.

Then do it while applying for a scholarship.

Read the research report about two identical resumes, one with a “white” name and one with an ethnic name, getting vastly different results.

Then do it while applying for a job.

Read the news about North Carolina gerrymandering in order to ensure some districts had fewer black votes.

Then do it while you’re applying for a new voter registration now that you’ve moved to another state.

Hundreds of times, I have had to strategize  my identity; very clearly playing race politics. It weighs heavy on my heart, because in all circumstances I feel like a fraud.

Am I a person of color who uses whiteness as shield against the world’s fury? Should I be ashamed for lying all these years and not embracing my non-white ethnicity with more vigor?

Or am I a white girl who pretends to be a person of color in search of community? Am I a Rachel Dolezal as I cling to my palabok and my tinikling?

I walk this line in which I exploit my whiteness, wearing it like a shroud of safety, and yet, want deeply to be accepted by my people. I look Hispanic, my ancestors have a very Filipino last name, and if we were to go by numbers, more of my bloodline resides in the Philippines than they do in the United States. I want so deeply to belong, but I have not struggled like them. I have not been killed like them. I have not been shamed like them. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of racist comments in my life – how my sex organs are supposed to be different from a white person’s, how, as an Asian, I’m “supposed” to be subservient housewife (or otherwise can “provide services” for “fye dorrah”), how my food “might have dog in it.” I’ve been asked to speak Spanish on behalf of my colleagues (which I can’t really, I am not of Hispanic heritage – what Spanish I do know is from living in Jersey City). The list goes on. But I have always, ALWAYS been able to choose that box on the piece of paper. I have always had white privilege.

That is the biggest difference between me and my friends – the choice of a life in which you aren’t hurt; the choice to hide like a sheep in wolf’s clothing; the choice to forego the struggles in a very selfish interest. They cannot remove their skin or their heritage. Even in becoming “westernized” they risk losing all that brings them joy and love – the flavor of mom’s cooking, the songs from grandparent’s lullabies, silly nursery rhymes to remember names of body parts, celebratory dances, all the dressings of nostalgia. These are small trappings, but what is life but a smattering of scents, songs, and memories? What is even worth living for if we do not have these gems to cling on as we close our eyes to sleep?

Maybe the guilt can go away over time, but in the end, all I want desperately is to belong, somewhere. And frankly, my friends do, too. Maybe in that much we can seek solace.

Where’s the box for that?

 

America’s Intimacy Problem

I don’t give intimacy much thought. Honestly, it’s very American of me to do that. I don’t mean “sexy time” intimacy necessarily, but the actual meaning of intimacy.

Intimate, in the Oxford English Dictionary, has quite a beautiful definition: “Inmost, most inward, deep-seated; hence, Pertaining to or connected with the inmost nature or fundamental character of a thing; essential; intrinsic.” Perhaps you’ve seen it used in the context of home decor. “Her home was warm, and her living room was intimate, inviting, and cozy.” Or perhaps you’ve seen it used as an expression of how deeply involved you are with an academic topic, “He had an intimate understanding of biology.” But the root of intimacy is this – closeness, deep knowledge, and true understanding.

Actually, I think it’s very telling that, by uttering the word “intimacy,” Americans that might be reading this might immediately perceive some kind of sexual undertone to this word. It’s also very telling that intimate situations, such as becoming familiar and close with another person, are often perceived with a stigma of scandal or a requirement of romance. The fact is, intimacy can have a very broad application of its definition which is largely ignored in most American contexts.

I’m not saying Americans are incapable of intimacy; far from it. I feel Americans are open and friendly especially compared with other international cultures. But like I once heard from a Frenchman, “Americans are like avocados – soft, inviting on the outside, but their souls hard and impenetrable. True friendship is very difficult to keep. On other hand, Europeans are like coconuts. They are brusque and dismissive at first. But upon breaching the surface, are soft – true, devout friends who stay with you for your whole life.”

I’ve kept this analogy in mind for quite a while, almost scoffing at it with each thought. But his comparison held some weight. I thought more about the delightful openness I face with Americans; and the ease with which I am able to strike up conversation with any random stranger. But I also thought about that “personal space bubble” that all Americans have, and the inability for me, as a woman, to befriend male people without some undercurrent or expectation of something more. My desire to be intimate, while fueled entirely by platonic interests, regularly gets misinterpreted for something more. Part of this is due to the objectification of women (and by transitive property, also their emotions & friendliness), but part of it is also the sheer lack of understanding that intimacy and closeness isn’t just reserved for romantic partners.

Then I reflected on those double-cheek-kisses very characteristic of Europeans. The propensity they had to kiss each other’s lips, friends and family alike. Intimacy, from a European perspective, is not reserved for significant others. Intimacy is for everyone worth the time of day. There is no bubble.

Similarly, looking at Caribbean dance culture, in which songs are inevitably sexual, is still not tied to expectations of sex. Dance embraces the movement and desire to be close, but does not insist that intimacy is reserved for romantic partners.

So, keeping this in mind, how can we think critically about intimacy, and find ways for it to enrich our lives? American culture, while phenomenal in its openness & friendliness, is still severely lacking in empathy and a sense of unity as a people. Where it succeeds in hardheartedness & persistence, it fails in tenderness and compassion. Some say that it is foolish to be softhearted. I argue that it is brave, strong, and rebellious to be soft. By bravely being vulnerable, we are strong. By facing the thought of intimacy as an opportunity to grow roots together–not just as a romantic couple, but as friend, as family, and as people–there comes a plethora of opportunities to learn, grow, and change the world.

And, well, if we were to go ahead and apply our thirst for intimacy wherever we could, our lives would be fuller, richer, and yes, perhaps more heartbreaking. But the best creations and moments of life come from embracing the spectrum of emotion & desire, and by taking a moment to breathe deeply, without fear, with full commitment. If each meaningful interaction we had was filled with the momentum and passion of a thousand French kisses (or even a fraction of that), it would be nearly impossible to deny that you are loved.

Dear Sixteen Year-Old Me

Hey. How are you? Wait, don’t answer that, let me guess… you think you’re “basically” an adult, and you feel like you have plenty of time. You can’t wait until you go to college, because you feel the near-certainty that comes with it: the inevitable independence, the guaranteed increase in knowledge. You’ve overgrown a city that feels like a small town, and your wings are beating against the ceiling of your sphere of understanding, aching to get out.

You’re looking outward, beyond that sphere, anticipating that the grass will be greener on the other side. You’ve always been this way, and it’s probably your biggest weakness. You believe that, “perhaps when I’m twenty-five,” life will make more sense, and shit, YOUR shit, will finally fall into place & be “together.” You look forward, because that is the only direction you’ve been taught to look. The answer to “Are you happy yet?” was always “Perhaps later.” We can’t even blame you, especially when the American Dream has been continuously drummed into your skull as the model way of being; when progress and productivity have overshadowed self-care and self-reflection.

Our society never taught you what it means to be content, because it taught you, first, to hunger. And that, perhaps, is the worst thing society could ever have done. It praised twenty-five year-old millionaires and laughed in the face of the poor. But at least your high school praised intelligence and hard work over socioeconomic status, and prioritized diversity amidst cries of “but it is unfair.” Faces blanched in the face of mandated racial ratio, because there was some misguided notion that increasing the number of minority people would inevitably result in the increase of “less qualified” people. Ironically, that same notion never considered that, perhaps, by decreasing the ratio of white people, fewer less-qualified people would make it through the ranks. But alas, you were born in a “post-racial society” where skin color still holds more weight than grades.

So here you are now, at sixteen years old, half minority and half privileged, and you still don’t know where the hell you fit in the jigsaw of relationships with others. You don’t know if you’re ungrateful for what you have, or if you should ask more of others. You constantly belittle yourself to be better, because that’s all you were taught to do. How else do people make progress if not to improve upon themselves, first?

I hate to break it to you, but at the brink of twenty-five, your shit still isn’t together. And a lot happens between you, then, and me, now.

You switched majors three times in college, and ultimately settled on something that you are passionate about. Most people don’t know what the hell it is you’re talking about when you discuss what your specialty entails, but at least it brings you joy. In fact, most adults don’t really understand each other at all, and it just gets worse with age.

On the romance side, you have to deal with a lot of bullshit before you become me. You eventually break up with the guy you’re dating right now, and the guy after that, because you have very different visions of the future, and ultimately, it’s no one’s fault. Well, it might be yours, honestly. Try to own up to your douchebaggery if you can. You become a jerk at some point. You date a bunch of people in college, but none of them really get you. You’re a fucking weirdo, to be honest, but you’re kind of cute sometimes so guys kind of deal with you. When you finally give up on men, you fall in love with this really hot guy that you think you have no chance in hell with (that’s how it always works doesn’t it). You two are complete opposites, personality-wise, and despite that, you both get along really well, date each other, and become best friends.

Here’s the best part: you marry him after college! He proposes to you on a beach after almost two years of long-distance dating (which SUCKS! But is also worth it). That part’s pretty cute, not gonna lie. You can look forward to that. You both go into the U.S. Army, he does it full-time and you decide to get a full-time job at Microsoft. But unfortunately, your jobs keep you apart.

Also filed under “Awesome people that end up in your life,” you DO have some lifelong kickass friends from high school and college that will stay with you for the rest of your life — like that scar on your hand that you got from washing broken glass.

Hey, if you’re still listening — it’s a terrible idea to wash broken glass. Just throw it away would you?

You eventually quit your decently paying job and move to Hawaii to live with the love of your life. It’s the first decision you make that has nothing to do with career-related success and has everything to do with sappy romantic love crap. It’s the single hardest thing you’ve had to do (other than choosing which parent you wanted to live with when they got divorced, that was tough, too…). But it’s also the single greatest decision you’ve ever made because you finally put your love for someone above making ca$h money or having a job at a prestigious company. (And honestly, your life is fuller for it.)

You go to graduate school, and you get your MBA. You do it because business school always seemed like the logical solution for you (or for people who don’t know what to do next with their lives). The next step after entry-level job is management, right? I can’t exactly say you’ll be passionate about it, but you’ll find some solace in hanging out with a bunch of other people who are your age or older, and who also have no idea what the hell they’re doing with their lives. But at least they’re fun to talk to and drink with!

Oh, about drinking — it’s not all that. It’s exciting at first, getting intoxicated and forgetting everything you’re worrying about. That’s how adults, who don’t understand each other at all, get to tolerate each other. They drink different beverages at different hours to deal with different annoying people. They drink coffee for mornings because they don’t sleep much. (You stopped really sleeping after college, so get ready for that.) Then they drink some wine or whiskey or beer or whatever in the evenings because the day was filled with caffeine-fueled annoying people. So everyone moves really fast, but just as stupidly. You wake up the next day, after a couple drinks, feeling like a truck hit you, and once again needing some coffee before dealing with more people. (Yeah, your tolerance tanks after college, enjoy it while you can.)

Anyway, back to our narrative. At twenty-five you’ll have an MBA and a lot of people will think it’s a big deal. People think that expensive letters before or after their last name are really important (letters like Dr. and PhD and MBA). But honestly, nobody knows you have them, and if you’re a dick to others, people won’t give two shits about your degree anyway. You can’t buy decency, it turns out.

Despite how much you invest in your future and yourself, you will still spend more time cultivating your professional identity than your own creative and personal interests. You will fall into recurring short bouts of depression and/or anxiety because you never really feel fulfilled and you always feel like you’re overwhelmed or underperforming — either with the high expectations you’ve placed on yourself or with the uncertainty that you can keep up the façade that you “know what you’re doing.” You don’t know if you want kids yet or not, and a lot of people pop them out in the period of time you decide to think about it. You imagine your mortality and your fertility ticking away like a slowly draining bathtub filled with dirty bathwater. It’s not a pleasant thought, but one you must acknowledge anyway.

At this point, I expect you probably think you’re sort of hopeless, because twenty-five was supposed to be the glimmer of hope — Gatsby’s green light in the distance. Twenty-five was the opportunity to redeem yourself and all your stupid angst of growing up. Twenty-five was supposed to be the age of “the grownup.” I mean, I guess I’ve at least appeased your fear of being alone forever and living with a bunch of cats. (Well, you do live with one cat. She’s obese and sometimes pees on your rugs.)

That said, I do have some good news for you.

On the brink of twenty-five, your priorities change. Your life sort of pauses. I don’t know how to explain it, but you have about two seconds to catch your breath before time threatens to speed up and your years start to flash by you, like cars on an interstate (and believe me, you’ve gone from residential road to three-lane highway by now). This is that moment. This is why I’m writing to you now.

I’m writing because I want to tell you that you need to not give so much of a fuck.

Yes, I’m cursing you out, sixteen year-old me. STOP GIVING A FUCK! Or at least manage your “giving a fuck” budget!

The truth is, there are important things you need to give a fuck about. You need to care about others. And not in the way that you smile politely and nod when you don’t believe a fucking word coming out of their mouths. You need to genuinely regard everyone’s well-being as a human right. You need to stand by your minority friends because they have to rebel against a world that doesn’t believe they have a legitimate right to complain. You, as a half-privileged, half-minority female, will feel very affected by the things that will happen in the coming years, because there is a legitimate movement of political bodies that believes you don’t have a say.

I’m here to tell you, give a fuck about that. Say what you feel. Don’t let your fear of a boss shame you into being silent. Besides, do you want to work for a misogynistic asshole? No. You don’t. So fuck it.

Next, give a fuck about what you want to do, and don’t give a tenth of a fuck what other people think of what you do. Unless it’s illegal, but even then, with politics the way it is, you probably will break a law in some state. I trust you. Use your judgement.

Here’s the best news of it all, when you’re at or near twenty-five, you do become a grownup. You still bumble around like a fucking fifth grader and taxes are basically a labyrinth (and if you make one wrong turn with them, you might get arrested), but you do become a gawky-ass grownup. Your boobs don’t get much bigger, and your butt does (unsurprisingly). Your face loses a little weight but you mostly still look the same as you do now. Despite all the imperfections and all the shit you have to deal with, you grow up. How you look, while still sort of important to you (let’s be real), isn’t the center of your narrative anymore; but how you act and what influence you have in the world, big and small, becomes your drive.  I guess we both saw that coming, but you never really knew what that meant until now.

The biggest difference between you and me is this: you eventually realize that the script you’ve been living by has been one you never wrote. You’ve adopted pieces of everyone else’s literature but never wrote your own. It’s ill-fitting. You have shrunken sweaters that fit you better than this life that you’ve crafted for yourself. And when you do realize this, it’s like prying off a soggy, wet t-shirt. The relief is surreal. You realize that there are boundless possibilities. And for once, the uncertainty in that doesn’t frighten you. Before, you were terrified of eminent failure because you weren’t sure you could abide so closely to the idea of success that you held. Now, success has a fluid definition. That doesn’t make you “softer,” but instead, it gives you so many more opportunities to succeed than you were afforded previously.

Make time for yourself. Make time for interpersonal interactions. Make room in your heart for friendship. A manicure isn’t a substitute for human connection. (It does feel nice though.) You may not have your shit together, but you’ll at least know the state and location of your shit. You’ll know what you care about. You’ll know what you value. You’ll know when you need a break. That’s half the battle. And with the love and support of others, a glass of wine, and a good book, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to shit ever really being “together.”

So, go forth, spread your wings and go to college. Make the mistakes you’ll inevitably make, and don’t hold them over your own head. Remember others and how much they mean to you. Fight for them when they need you most. Use those experiences to grow your roots.  Eventually, your flowers will bloom in turn. They’ll bloom when you stop caring about what the flowers will look like. They’ll bloom when you’re ready to fully “be” who you are, sans fucks given. The truth is, your past is as important as your future in making you who you are.

And for the love of all that is holy, follow your heart and go to Cornell. You won’t regret it one bit; of that much, you can be certain.  There, your life will really begin.

See you soon.

The Case for Hufflepuff & Inclusivity

Okay, so I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I get that not everyone is. But if you’ve seen the movies you sort of understand the gist of the “houses.” For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me elaborate.

Every person who attends the school of magic must go through a “sorting” ceremony, during which a person’s values and desires are reviewed, and thus, each person is placed into a house based on their personality, goals, and values; not dissimilar to a job interview. Keeping lingo about magic and wizardry to a minimum, the sorting ceremony essentially matches people to a house based on where they’d best fit. There are four houses in the school: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin.

Each of these houses has its own unique and dominant traits.

  • Gryffindor: bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry;
  • Ravenclaw: intelligence, knowledge, and wit;
  • Hufflepuff: hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play;
  • Slytherin: ambition, cunning and resourcefulness.

Throughout the HP series, we see regular praise of Gryffindor (the house of the three protagonists), and a mockery of the other houses (as is to be expected from the point of view of a member of any of the houses). Outside of the series, in the fandom, we regularly see fans proudly claiming their own houses. (If you’re curious, you can find out what house you belong to on the Pottermore website.)

That said, time and time again, Hufflepuffs often find themselves at the butt-end of most jokes for not being the brightest, being “too nice” and otherwise not having any real “skills” to bring to the table. I mean, you can’t really blame the other houses for thinking that way — in an environment where Gryffindor brings bravery, Ravenclaw brings intelligence, and Slytherin brings ambition, it’s very hard to see where Hufflepuff, the house of inclusivity and hard work, really comes in. It has even gotten to a point that many Hufflepuff fans were ashamed to admit that they were, indeed, a member of the house, for fear of being ridiculed for it.

But today, I’m here to argue this: every house and every trait is important to a well-functioning society. Yes, I’m looking at you too, Hufflepuffs. You are important.

(Spoken like a true Hufflepuff. Unsurprisingly.)

It’s understandable where bravery, daring, and chivalry come in. How else to do we set forth and lead? Intelligence and logic move us forward, propel us and build upon the shoulders of those before us. It’s also understandable where ambition and resourcefulness come in — how else do we innovate or dream bigger than what lies before us? How else do we dream to achieve if not by living and dying for their success?

In my eyes, Hufflepuff is the great big knot that ties it all together.

Let’s think about the symbolism related to the house. Start with their common rooms. They’re right next to the kitchens, and are lit with warm, natural light. It’s literally the most welcoming room you could possibly want to be in. Even their house ghost, who is an actual dead person, is called the Fat Friar, the friendliest possible ghost you could find. And their mascot? Yes, it’s a freakin’ badger. And choosing it as a mascot was no accident! Have you seen the honey badger documentary, or this awesome website about the honey badger?! They get stung hundreds of times in the pursuit of honey, and fight and eat snakes. And, if you watch that documentary in full, you will find out that they will attempt to escape enclosures hundreds of times. Hundreds. They are the most stubborn, tough, and persistent animals you will find in the animal kingdom. When we say tenacious, we don’t just mean, “try and try again,” we mean, “try, and try 500 more times because ‘no’ is not an answer.” Tell me that isn’t badass. I dare you!

Even J.K. Rowling herself considers Hufflepuff her favorite house.

Though, most Hufflepuffs will never rub in how hard working or awesome they are, because they almost never brag. They value modesty and decency, and most importantly, making sure everyone has a chance to “shine.” So, sure, Hufflepuffs don’t toot their own horns too often. They will, however, toot your horn for you, if you’ve done something good! They are strong advocates for underdogs and believe strongly in making sure everyone gets a fair shot.

That, perhaps, is the most important underlying value of the Hufflepuff house… fairness.

Here’s the deal: in Harry Potter and in real life, people are born into families of different privilege. It’s not anyone’s fault that it happened that way, but it is our responsibility as people to understand that it has happened that way. Hufflepuffs are dedicated to the public good and ensuring everyone is recognized as a person, that everyone has a fighting chance in a world that may not think twice about “fighting chances.” Far from being pushovers, Hufflepuffs are harbingers what is often taken for granted – justice.

Hufflepuffs, jolly, and honey-badger-like as they may be, are exactly what an unfair world needs. There’s a reason that Hufflepuff has churned out the lowest number of Dark Wizards in the HP world; they are focused on welcoming others, on contributing their fair share, and on fighting for those who need the most help.

At the end of the day, where Gryffindor heralds the bravest and strongest, where Ravenclaw celebrates its brilliant thinkers, and where Slytherin celebrates it most driven and resourceful, you will find that Hufflepuff will praise and honor the most loyal and just. Hufflepuffs are the quiet laborers that rally for justice, peace, and open-mindedness… not for the exaltations, and not for any real benefit for themselves… but because it is the right thing to do.

And what is more noble than the pursuit of what is good, and giving everyone who works at it a shot at greatness?

And if that doesn’t convince you…

NYMPHADORA F*CKING LUPIN, AKA TONKS.

*mic drop*

Featured Photo by ChromoManiac

#JCMakeItYours: How A Problematic Hashtag Summarizes Everything About Gentrification

In one of my high school English classes, I had a phenomenal teacher, Mr. Donald Delo. In this class, we had an unusual activity — we would write a speech for someone else to read. Perhaps this was an exercise ultimately rooted in the goal of “easy to read” writing styles — or being able to convey your thoughts as accurately as possible without the benefit of your own voice to cloud the interpretation of what you read. I, unfortunately, had to read a really compelling speech on being overweight and not making excuses for yourself. It really was a great speech, and I think I didn’t do it justice. I had the body of a varsity high school athlete (because I was one) and it just made the whole message look chastising and awful. (Really, I don’t judge by appearances I promise!) Luckily, the speech I wrote was read by someone awesome and as committed to dedicating his own voice to echoing the sentiments of minority folks.

(Shoutout to Norlan wherever you are, hope you read this!)

That speech was about how gentrification is going to ruin everything we loved about our beloved home, Jersey City, and how we have to hold on dearly to what we know and love.

At the time, people thought I was a little “out there” with my ideas — that gentrification really just made our buildings nicer, made our neighborhoods a little safer, and maybe the prices of bagels would go up. But what they didn’t see coming were the far scarier price hikes – the rent soared, people had to physically leave their homes because they were no longer affordable. The high cost of living that was so notorious in New York started to bleed into Jersey City, and people couldn’t afford groceries the same way, gasoline, diapers, whatever you can think of.

Then a Twitter hashtag started to build as the mayor and City of Jersey City enjoyed basking in the rays of tax benefits and growing tax income. Now small businesses were booming and rent is cheaper than NYC. What a great time to market the city on social media!

#JCmakeityours

Let’s really take this apart quickly: “Jersey City. Make it yours.”

“Make it yours.”

You can imagine that Jersey City natives didn’t take always take kindly to this. “MAKE IT YOURS? WHO ARE YOU? YOU JUST GOT HERE? I’VE ALWAYS LIVED HERE AND I NEVER HAD TO MAKE IT MINE! ALSO WHY ARE YOU MAKING IT YOURS I LIVE HERE TOO?” (This is a paraphrase of some more aggressive and profanity-ridden sentiments–in true Jersey City fashion)

How do I know this sentiment is worth considering? That this hashtag is something to think about?

Because I live exactly 4,953 miles away from Jersey City at this point in time, taken here year by year by varying circumstances and opportunities; and that stupid little hashtag still bothers me.

I lived in Jersey City for the first 18 years of my waking life, and that has tied me to that place more than I can verbally convey. It’s been about 6 or 7 years since I last lived there, and I can only imagine what it looks like now after the rate it changed while I did live there.

Why does it bother me? Well, the reason is similar to that sentiment above. But maybe even more concise (and I will bold and italicize this because it’s important):

Jersey City is not a place to own.

That’s all there is to it.

Maybe it’s sort of Native American in that respect (which, holy crap that is a problematic thing to say and reference in itself, Jersey City doesn’t belong to anyone and never has despite every single demographic that’s ever tried to colonize it and chances are someone probably drove someone else out at some point way before we got there. Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked.)

The thing about gentrification is that, what often comes with it is the classic narrative of the “white knight” to save the town. And perhaps that’s why gentrification is always two-faced coin. On the one hand, an influx of capitalism infuses the neighborhood with financial resources to build safer parks, healthier options for food, better hospitals, and cleaner environment as a whole. But on the other hand there comes with it a dangerous sense of superiority and ownership; that this land would have been “still impoverished,” if not for this hero group of individuals. That the land and its inhabitants somehow “owe a debt” to the heroes.

Maybe you can blame it on our history books. Maybe you can blame it on Disney. Maybe you can blame it on literally any written account of a city’s transformation. We are brainwashed from childhood to believe colonization is justified and “better” than the alternative. The truth is gentrification is inherently racist and classist, and despite its good intentions.

So now what? How do you navigate this?

If you’re moving to Jersey City: don’t make it yours. It never was yours. It never will be yours. Even if you owned every damn brick in the town, and even if every damn person that used to live there either died or moved, it will still never be yours. The people aren’t yours, and the jobs aren’t yours. Nothing is yours but your own memories. And maybe you’ll stay there forever. That’s okay. It still won’t be yours. But the least you can do is respect the ground you walk, respect the people you meet, and treat every living soul on that soil as if they know the world around you more than you ever will, because to some extent, that’s true. No one owes you anything, but you owe it to everyone around you.

If you grew up in Jersey City: I’m sad to report, it’s not yours either. It, too, will never be yours. If everything burned to the ground, and the people were all native, it still wouldn’t be yours. Only your memories are yours, and that’s precisely why Jersey City means so much to you — because you build a lifetime on this soil. But the least you can do is welcome these awful people who likely have no idea that what they’re doing is racist and classist because they’ve walked through life with massive amounts of privilege and never had to experience racism or classism. At the end of the day, they’re making their own lives and memories, and that is all anyone can ever own. If Jersey City truly is great, it should be our utmost importance to ensure that it stays that way to the memories of every person that leaves this earth. No one owes you anything in return, but that’s okay. You owe it to everyone around you.

#HumanDecencyMakeItYours

What Surfing Has Taught Me About Dealing with Life

When I was 16, I picked up a surfboard for the first time in my life. (Coincidentally, I learned in the very place I’d find myself several years later, happily engaged. But we’re not there yet.) It was much larger than I’d expected, and took a lot of effort to move it across a beach. The wind was less than helpful, resisting all of my my 114lb might. Nonetheless, I took a lesson, and after about 4+ hours of swimming vigorously against waves and currents, falling off the board, and tumbling beneath swells, I ended my day having ridden a grand total of two waves.

This wasn’t the last time I picked up a board. A few years later, I vacationed with my mother again, but this time in Costa Rica. We stayed in a little surf town called Playa Tamarindo. I rented a longboard again for the day, hoping I just might catch a wave in another country. The swells were considerably larger than in Hawaii, where I learned. About 5-10 feet larger. But nonetheless, amateur me couldn’t tell the difference. I attempted and attempted, riding a grand total of one wave, and almost drowning. (For perspective, I was captain of the varsity swim team at the time, and a certified lifeguard. Ironic, eh?)

Why am I talking about this? Because when looking for a great metaphor about life, there was very little guesswork involved thanks to living in Hawaii. Surfing has taught me a lot about how your experiences can shape your behavior, and how your behavior can shape your experiences. The trick is accepting that both of these will happen.

So! Without further ado, here are five amateur surfing tips that apply to dealing with life:

1. When the wave is most certainly going to come down on top of your head, don’t fight it. Dive deep.

It’s easy to get terrified when something is going to go wrong. Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and sometimes you’ve put yourself in a situation you can’t escape from. The best you can do is dive deep and let it all wash over you. Accept that you can’t change the world around you, but you can adapt and learn. You have to simply own the situation and don’t let it own you.

2. Swim over the top of swells if you can. Don’t let the little things hamper you. You’ll get caught in them if you wallow in the shallows. Spend your energy instead on getting where you need to be.

There is nothing more annoying than wasting energy on things that aren’t worth your time. If it doesn’t help you get to where you need to be, it’s wasting your time. Learn when to distinguish the petty from the important, and leave those that don’t support, or help you, behind.

3. Mind your hubris. The ocean is powerful and can drown you. Know that you are not invincible, and to ask for help. Even the experts can struggle. It’s okay.

Sometimes you get caught in a riptide, and it’s really bad. You don’t think you can get out of this one, and you can’t breathe. You’re not a bad person because of it. You simply need help. You are only human. And the ocean–and life–is big enough to ruin even the strongest of us. It’s okay. Don’t drown in your shame. We need to look out for each other.

4. You can find your wave, but the wave will never bother finding you. The best wave is the one that isn’t that obvious. Take your chance on the swells that feel right.

You can wait your entire life to find the perfect opportunity, and it will never come. Maybe if you’re the luckiest person in the universe, but let’s be pessimists for a moment here. Most of the time, you’re going to look for the best you can get, and running with it. I promise that waiting will leave you really, really bored.

The best opportunities, though, tend to be less obvious. You’re never really sure of them, and to be honest, you can’t really make up your mind until the last second. But no one else will see what you see, and maybe you’ll feel like an imbecile chasing it for dear life. But in the end, the real losers are the ones who never took a chance. In the end, success is a decision you make, not a result.

5. Once you catch your wave, ride it with abandon. But don’t be upset about swimming back out if you fall. Surfing is not an end state. It is a process.

Finally, you have done something and you are goddamn successful! You are blazing past everyone, and you are living the dream. But like all dreams, they eventually end. Either by time elapsing, or by a mishap and sometimes a wipe out. It’s easy to be ashamed that you’re starting from the beginning, working twice as hard to get back to where you once were. But that’s the thing about surfing and life. It’s not really an endgame at all. Getting through it all is a process, and always will be. Success is a decision to see opportunities in that process rather than drown in the mishaps; to pursue when you can, and accept when you can’t. All of it is an exercise in trusting yourself to do the right thing when you need to. And once you’ve done that, all you have left to do is ride the wave home.


Not to say I’m an expert at any of this “life” stuff, (and certainly not an expert at surfing by any means… I’m literally just a beginner, and by no means a “surfer”) but this perspective has helped me deal with the fact that life is bigger than me, and that I have little control over it. That fact is exactly why life isn’t ever going to be boring or predictable. Whether or not it will be enjoyable, though, is entirely up to me.

I think the odds of that are far greater than my odds of actually catching a wave.

And those odds are alright by me.

On “Being Yourself”

I think the hardest part about “being yourself” is owning yourself. When you’re doing well, everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone has advice and wants to claim they guided you there to the finish line. But when you fall and fail, your decisions are your own. No one claims ownership but you, since, you’re the one accountable for all you do. People are quick to prescribe an action for you, but at the end of the day you live with your choices. The question usually is,  “Are you going to fail?” But I think we ask the wrong questions of ourselves. What we really should be thinking is, “Where would you like to be whether you fail or succeed?” Success is desired, and perhaps more optional than we think it is, but direction is mandatory. Follow your bliss, and let those voices dissolve in the wind behind you.

There is nothing more terrifying yet empowering to hold your future in your own hands.