Wednesday, May 27, 2009
My posts are way too often tinged with negativity and semi-whininess. So I thought it's about time I post another celebration.
So today at work, I was really bored. I mean, really bored. And that's not something that happens so often when you're a middle school teacher. Some years - it never happens at all.
The reason was that the kids were doing testing (their final round of standardized math testing), so all I got to do today was sit around and watch them test. No teaching. Not a lot of interaction. So little going on, I ended up completing about a million kid word searches that I had on hand (for the kids, of course).
Of course, testing isn't always boring. But my kids have a good thing going these days, and that's their pride. They honestly believe that they can do these tests, they take them seriously, and so they are willing to focus for them. That's not something that happened my first years at the helm, but I've got it going, now.
And it's kind of a problem. Because, when they're totally focused like that - I don't know what to do with myself. I just watch the clock and look forward to "later" coming. Because I didn't choose to teach to sit around and watch kids work silently. Not me.
I chose to teach because I love interacting with kids. I mean - f-ing love it.
And I was thinking about that today (because I had a lot of time to think). Why is it that I love being around kids so much? Especially these middle school kids who so many other folks can't handle?
I thought it through: well, there's their energy. They bring so much energy, I can't help but get a little bit infected by it. They also like to play around - and in such a better way than most adults do - so I get a big kick out of that. In fact, I have my kids calling me out from time to time because I "play too much" (sometimes, I'm actually the one who breaks their long, focused silences because I need to joke around). They're so very unpredictable and ridiculous - and I've never been one to enjoy the comforts of routine or outright predictability.
All good reasons to like hanging around kids. But not enough, really, to love them, right?
And then I got it: I love kids because they are the one sub-set of human beings with whom I can just flat-out get over myself. I don't take anything personally with them. They can insult me or try to be "mean," and I just find it amusing. They can do the most irritating things in the world, and I crack up because it's so ridiculous. They say something ignorant about race, and I just shrug it off and use it as an opportunity to do some real teaching. I don't get all caught up in my own world with them. I can just accept them for who they are - and love them for it. I can forgive them for their actions - because they're just kids, and they're learning how to be people in the world.
And that's not how it is with adults (as hard as I try to react that way). I can't forgive adults so easily. Whereas I don't trust adults to just tell me the mildly painful truths instead of trying to sugarcoat things - kids will just say it. They don't make things more painful by throwing white lies around. They're devastatingly honest (at times), and I love them for that, as well.
And just as I am able to forget myself and just be with kids, I can also get over their self-centered natures. Because they are kids - and kids should be the center of their own worlds. A kid shouldn't care about what's going on in my real world. A kid doesn't need to ask sincere questions - because I should be doing all that with them.
Adults? Yeah, right. Human adults are the most disappointing creatures. So few are any different than those kids in their self-centeredness, in spite of their supposed "maturity." And since they are adults - they just disappoint.
Kids are supposed to be ignorant - they really don't know any better, and so they give me hope. Because they can learn, and change, and improve in how they are in the world. Adults? Too caught up in their own pasts and fears and insecurities to make the right decisions or really change.
And I wish I was perfect enough to feel otherwise. I wish I could just love all these grown-up kids without judgment like I do with the younger versions - but I can't. Sometimes, I can do a pretty good job of it. But too often I'm unable to pull myself out of the picture and just let things be. To not get caught up in my own world and wholeheartedly explore and enjoy theirs. I just end up disappointed too often.
But with the kids? Never. They never disappoint me - and all too often they make me proud. They constantly surprise me and make me laugh harder than I thought possible. They bring out my very best, consistently. When I'm not in the best mood, they snap me out of it quick. When I'm in the best mood, they come join me. Just watching kids do random little things - like talk to themselves, or laugh at something that isn't funny at all, or get all excited about a gift or new toy - just gives me the biggest grin. What can I say?
It's the kids.
I'm about to take some time off from teaching, but there's no way in Hell it's going to last too long. Make my trip - learn and see what I need to learn and see. Then get my ass back with the kids the next moment. That's the only guarantee I have for my future. And that's - honestly - all that really matters, in the long run.
So I dedicate my upcoming trip and all the things I do to the kids. Because.
I just love kids.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
So let's just drop the disclaimer before I get started: by no means do I condone any "terrorist" actions.* Never will I believe that violence against anybody (including other people's military) is going to accomplish "good." Especially violence against people that have nothing to do with a perceived problem (or threat).
So why would I write that on my post? Allow me to explain:
I'm leaving Portland soon. It's official. My position is open at school, and we've brought a number of folks in to interview. I've started talking to my cousin about heading to China in the Fall, and I'm getting ready to renew my passport and do all the visa stuff. And, as school starts winding down towards the end, I find the reality of this life-change starting to hit me.
I'm really going. Leaving a steady teaching job (that I like) right in the middle of the worst time in the world for a teacher needing work. What am I thinking!? And what am I going to do when I come back to the States?
The answer right now is: I have no idea. I will certainly end up working with kids. But where or in what capacity, I know nothing.
Because this is my big opportunity to leave Portland for good. Lord knows I've fought the lack of sunlight and melanin in the people around me for long enough. I've been bitter, and frustrated, and have felt more isolated than ever should be necessary. I could move to a place where folks actually look like me, and where the "liberal" champions of "diversity" aren't all white, and they actually know people of color on a personal level. I've dreamed about it.
And yet - I'm not 100% set on that. Because this is the thing: Portland is ripe for some heavy impact on a social front. Its appalling lack of people of color (and/or understanding of race) demands a presence and some acknowledgment. Because there are so few of us around to speak our minds and do some educating, each one of us is all the more important for that kind of work here. So when we bow out and leave - it's even more important that somebody else steps in to fill the void.
At school - our kids need conscious teachers of color so badly. There are so many bad teachers out there (not for lack of trying - but for lack of understanding) that it fatigues my mind. And I'm not saying I'm the greatest teacher in the world, but at least I'm aware of social dynamics and how race and culture play out in the classroom.
So when I think about that question of "what next," I find myself in a sort of "terrorist" frame of mind. Specifically - where can I do the most damage (and by "doing damage," I mean "have the most impact/effect")? It seems to me that I can have more of an impact here in Portland, simply because there are so few other people of color - especially those doing the kind of work I do. If I was in the Bay, I'd just be one more drop in the lake (it's definitely still not an ocean, even in relation to Portland).
For example - here I could chair the Asian Youth Conference and really guide the vision and direction. In the Bay? Maybe I could get involved in facilitating somebody else's workshop. At the organization I presently teach for, I have made my voice heard, and can very easily see myself being able to have a little clout in the not-so-distant future (perhaps guiding my superiors towards a more-diverse staff and culture). In the Bay? I'd be starting back from scratch, and with bigger organizations that would be less likely to listen.
When I speak as a male of color to my kids, I speak as one of a very few outside of their own families. In that capacity, I fill a gap that is needed more in Portland than in the Bay.
So - in my mission to disassemble (and then re-build) the current broken education system (especially in relation to racial inequality), where can I hit hardest? Where can I maximize the impact of my efforts?
Two questions that are likely high on a terrorist cell's list.
Because those who have to call upon terrorist actions are desperate. They are in a position of having dramatically less resources and power than those they are battling. They are pushed to extreme action because the fight is so uneven - they cannot win a "straightforward" battle, and so they turn to other means to try to overcome. Ultimately, most terrorists know they will never actually win the ideological war they are engaged in.
No surprise those labeled "terrorists" are usually people of color. They are fighting systems and ways of thought - and they are on the desperate side because the systems and ways of thought with the most dominance and power are the ones led by the white people of the world.
And so I find myself mirroring this thought-process. Where can I strike the strongest blow for systemic change? In an unwinnable, frustrating situation, where am I most able to find the symbolic victories that can keep me going? In most ways, the answer seems to be: in the whitest large city in the United States.
But there's another big question that desperation calls for, and that is: what am I willing to sacrifice? What am I willing to give up to try to make this bigger impact?
And that answer is less clear. Because I don't believe in martyrdom. When terrorists blow themselves up, they enact no lasting change (except hurting the wrong people), and then they can give no more to their cause. Similarly, sacrificing my own mental health and well-being is not worth it to me. That kind of sacrifice results in lowering the quality of work, and more or less prematurely taking yourself out of the game.
And so I don't feel like carrying the Portland burden. I'm done with being the "only one." I'm tired of trying to explain to white people what it's like to never be in the majority.
But there are ways around that. I have been - slowly but surely - building a community of color around me. I have plugged myself into situations that allow me to be surrounded by folks of color (the conference a prime example). I have been pulling folks of color into the organizations I work for, and have stumped hard for more recruitment and work on that end by my superiors. So there are ways to improve on that particular situation.
But, in the end, I don't really know how much difference I'm making, anyway. All of the reasons to stay in Portland are based on the assumption that I've actually been bringing about positive change, and - to be honest - I haven't really seen a lot of proof of that. The conference has been going strong the last 16 years before me. The high school counterpart to my own school still has an appalling lack of diversity of staff. I still have never had a person of color as my hierarchal superior in any work capacity here (and I'm talking many different organizations, and a lot of different levels of "hierarchal superiors" possible). The kids' lives are the kids' lives, and I certainly haven't eased any of their burdens.
And that's when I find myself empathizing most with the desperation of a "terrorist" - that thought that nothing I can do can be enough to fight back against the absolutely humongous powers working against my ideals. Of course, my reaction to that desperation is the difference here - because my "lashing out" is verbal or written (in this blog, in my lyrics) as opposed to physically violent in nature. And yet . . .
I remain undecided. Which is fine, since my trip to China is likely to drastically alter my mind-set and options, anyway. But I still find myself weighing and thinking about my real priorities and what I am really capable of accomplishing. Only time will tell.
Until then, I will continue to examine my options through the perspective of a non-violent, youth-working "freedom fighter;" with a healthy dose of self-doubt on the side. And maybe - just maybe - that will be enough to actually accomplish something.
*And yes, I am fully aware that I likely just submitted my application for my very own "Homeland Security" wiretap simply by writing this post.
Posted by CVT at 5:21 PM
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Look at the image above and play "Count the People of Color." I found two.
I found this little blurb about Alberta Street, here in Portland. This street is pretty much the living embodiment of gentrification in Portland, and a perfect example of the tension between the young incoming, middle-class white hipsters and those who lived here before (folks of color, with less money). If you don't see the irony and/or why this description fills me with disgust, you haven't been reading this blog very long:
What was once a deteriorating and crime-ridden part of the city is now an epicenter of diversity, art and culture* in the Rose City. Trendy little art galleries, novelty stores and unique restaurants have replaced the boarded-up windows. Portlanders of all kinds come to this event. Held in September, it's a lively celebration complete with live music and dancing, food, kids' stuff and a free trolley that rolls right through the middle of everything. Come and see why Northeast Portland is quickly becoming the capital for culture in this town.
* Okay, so I have to comment - apparently, "diversity" means a bunch of white people with intentionally-ugly fashion sense and the six people of color who haven't gotten fully pushed out yet. "Culture" is, of course, the white kind.
Posted by CVT at 12:03 PM
Thursday, May 14, 2009
So I've got this hand coming at me. It's got white skin, attached to a man in a nice suit. This seems like a "professional" situation. I guess I should go for the "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake" with a smile and some eye contact. He responds in kind. Looks like I made the right choice - proceed to conversation.
I've been lax on the writing lately. The conference is past. My brother is married. Interview processes have progressed past my involvement. Time for some "me" time. I've been meaning to catch up on the posts - have a lot of topics in mind. But, instead, here I am - thinking about handshakes.
Why am I thinking about that? Because I just had an interesting day. It started at school, where I had a guest in one of my classes (a hip-hop/spoken word friendly acquaintance of mine). Then my friend who helps out in my Music Production class. Had my performance evaluation (the last one) with my boss, in which we talked about cultural competency issues at work. Then met some folks applying for the position I'm leaving behind. Ended with our big school Art Show (in conjunction with our high school) where I found myself mingling with my students, ex-students, parents, and colleagues from various other programs within my organization. And, in all of that, there were a lot of handshakes.
But - more importantly - there were a lot of different kinds of handshakes.
Now, for some people, there may be only a few kinds of handshakes - but not for me (and probably not for most people). Nope. For me, there are so many different handshakes in my repertoire, and they are all part of my code-switching toolkit.*
So let's run through them, in order:
So for my "friendly-acquaintance" (a black man), I went for the "Homie Hug." That's when you clasp hands for the pull-in into a sort of one-armed embrace (with your clasped hands between each other's chests). For me, it's a standard for when I run into men of color with whom I'm on good terms, but don't see consistently.
Next, for my co-teaching friend (also a black man, also a hip-hop man), we've got the "Loose-Slide-and-Snap." This is when we're reaching like a handshake, but basically just slap a light sideways "five," then slide hands free, ending with a snap. With most folks, I usually end this with a sort of "hand-grasp," but he always does the snap. Maybe it's an LA thing.
My boss is a white woman. No handshakes there. We're on too good terms for that (and see each other too much). But we don't hug, either. Just friendly smiles as I sit down in her office.
For the incoming applicants, it's formal "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake" all the way. Both men (one black, one white). That's the "professional" thing to do. Period.
With my students, if we bother hand-shaking, it's usually the "Loose-Slide-to-Grasp." Starts like the "Loose-Slide-and-Snap," but ends with a firm arm-wrestling-type grasp instead of the snap. That's for the guys, at least. With the girls, it's more awkward. Because you don't shake hands with the girls. But when they go for the hug, I'm always semi-uncomfortable, because I don't want to cross boundaries. But I don't want to push away, either. So I usually turn it into the "Quick-One-Armed-Side-Hug." Using that one arm to go around the shoulders, buddy-style, with little prolonged contact.**
With the parents, it's usually the "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake," especially with the men. With women, I'll do the "Loose-Grasp" without the shake and toning down the eye contact.
With colleagues, it's a smorgasbord. A lot of hugs with the women - the brotherly "Wide-Smile-and-Embrace" where I start with arms out wide with a smile in greeting, with a warm - but quick - around-the-shoulders embrace. A lot of "Loose-Slide-to-Grasps" for the gentlemen. But this is the category that's trickiest. Because sometimes I go for the "Loose-Slide-and-Grasp," but the other guy is going for the "Homie-Hug" or the "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake," and it just feels all wrong. Or the women aren't looking for a hug, so we do an awkward "Pull-Back-from-Hug-to-Wave" which always looks ridiculous. Sometimes the "Loose-Slide-and-Grasp" ends with a "Homie Hug" or maybe a fist-pound. Maybe we waive all the handshakes and just go for a fist-pound. Or maybe it gets even more elaborate with a bunch of different handshakes rolled into one with a top-to-bottom fist-pound and then a knuckle-to-knuckle fist-pound as a clincher. Or something else, entirely.
Generally, it's more the category of hand-shaker that determines which style I use, but race does factor in it. I'm definitely more likely to use the "Loose-Slide-to-Grasp" with other men of color. I don't know if I ever do the "Homie-Hug" with white guys. If I'm on a friendly level with men of color, I very seldom use the "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake," whereas I use it often with friendly-acquaintance white guys. Fist-pounds of all types are almost solely for men of color, except for a few hip-hop-related white acquaintances.
Regarding the women, it doesn't seem to vary as much. If I know them well, hugs all around. If we're more on acquaintance level, I'm a little more likely to "Wide-Smile-and-Embrace" with white women than women of color, but not by a lot (I'm careful with my hugs). Mostly, it's situational. But I just don't shake hands (almost never) with women I know already.
So - just like that - a whole post devoted to the different types of handshakes/greetings I used in one day of my life. And, obviously, the thought-processes behind it all are rarely so conscious - it usually all happens split-second - but it's interesting to break down. Seems kind of crazy, on the surface, but it really does make a difference on a relationship level. If I just stuck to the "Firm-Grasp-and-Shake" all the time, it would honestly change my relationships to certain people, especially the perceptions upon first meetings.
And that's kind of scary, when you really think about it. Because, if so much can go into a handshake, with no words spoken, how much goes into how we speak to each other, and what we say? How much can go wrong or be misinterpreted?
It puts into perspective how much of a miracle it is that things go as well as they generally do in this world. When so much can go into a handshake - a gesture of greeting and peace - what can go into a conversation?
Sometimes - too much. And that's where successful code-switching and cultural competency come to the fore. When you can have a whole repertoire of ways of interacting (conscious or otherwise) to put people at ease, and to keep yourself at ease around different people, it can make all the difference in the world.
In fact - it does.
* I've talked about "code-switching" in the past. But - in short - it's the ability to adapt to different cultural ways of being on the fly to be comfortable - and make others comfortable - socially.
** For a lot of reasons, I'm paranoid about wrong impressions and contact with students. A major reason is that many of them have had traumatic experiences in the past that make it difficult for them to know appropriate boundaries with adults (especially males), and I do all I can to help them learn and understand those boundaries (and to feel safe).
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I'm not sure of the original intention of this photo, but it kind of hits the nail on the head.
I was going to write a post on the "Swine Flu" (about how much B.S. it is, and how it's a great excuse for racist media to blame "disease" on folks south of the border), but I'm in the midst of some other things and wanted to write on it before it left my mind.
**If you don't read this whole post in detail, please read the last couple sections prior to the endnotes**
I've been part of a few hiring committees of late. One is for the next Program Director of the non-profit educational organization I work for (I asked in on this one). Another is for a summer camp I work for (part of my job description for this one). The last is for my school (some involvement in hiring my own replacement).
And the first two have really hit me.
So let's do this in order.* The initial screening committee for the Program Director was myself and five white women. And I wasn't even asked to be involved in this process - I had to ask the higher-ups personally to be a part of it.
So I have to admit that every meeting weighed on my soul. It was so heavily culturally-biased, I felt like there was little I could do as the "token" minority with so little statistical pull.
And then there were the applicants. Almost zero candidates of color. Probably zero candidates outside of the middle or upper class. Part of it is that this is a non-profit job that doesn't have the money to pay people. So folks that represent our kids can't afford to waste a college education (and loans) on working this job. Not to mention that most of the staff looks like the hiring committee (except me, of course), so why would a person of color want to carry that burden, anyway?
So we're interviewing these folks, and I'm slipping into despair. How can we ever change these things when the odds are so stacked against that change? An interview with all these middle-class white ladies is only going to increase the chances of the success of another middle-class white female candidate. Because an interview is about confidence and comfort and communication. And if all the people around you have lived a totally different life experience than you - how can you feel confident that they'll give you a chance, or be comfortable in their midst, or communicate effectively?
The other committee members commenting on how awkward certain folks seemed, while I'm back in my seat, feeling outnumbered and equally-awkward.
So middle-class white ladies get hired and get more experience. They then apply more for the work. They are reflected in the staffing, so they are more drawn to working there . . . They get hired and get more experience. It's a deadly feedback-loop.
And I'm not saying people weren't qualified - they were (more or less). But it's so damn frustrating to try to figure out how somebody that doesn't fit that mold can break in without being so far above and beyond the rest. The amount of pressure and weight and frustration they would have to be willing to carry to even go through the process is unbelievable.
Because, being a person of color in an organization like this is an f-ing burden. We're the ones who always have to speak up and bring attention to the inherent biases in the systems. We're the ones who constantly have to try to educate people about experiences that they don't even care to think about. I had to ask onto a committee of all white women to try to make a small dent, and they hadn't even considered it until I asked (at least they agreed, though). Just being on the committee saps my strength and makes me want to quit on the whole ridiculous process.
But I'm not willing to give in. If I'm going to talk about it, I have too much pride not to then follow up. But it's so painful.
A little over a week ago, I met with the current executive director, associate director, and my program director (all white folks, of course) to talk about the cultural make-up of the staff.** And I wanted to cry.
I laid it all out: how hard it is to see so little representation; how uncomfortable it makes me, and then extrapolating that to how much harder that must be for the kids; acknowledging the difficulties to recruitment, etc. while demanding more.
But the problem is that it just ends up sounding like I'm asking for hires just because of race. Like I'm making the argument anti-affirmative action people always pretend we're making: that I want folks to hire less-qualified folks of color just because of their race.
And it's so hard to explain that - no - that's not what I'm asking. That it's about making it all fair. About doing the right things to attract the qualified folks of color to even apply in the first place, and then making the rest of the process actually level - like getting some color (the little we have in the first place) involved in the hiring process.
But nobody ever understands. It's a fruitless, unsatisfying endeavour. And it just makes me wonder if I really need to put myself through more of this crap.
But, of course, I do. And that brings me to my OTHER hiring committee. This one is me and two white women. And due to my busy schedule, I cannot be directly involved in the interview process. And that really worries me. Because now you've got the folks of color coming into an interview with no indication of representation in the organization. Folks that are confronting the same kind of mind-numbing sense of "other"-ness of the rest of their life as they interview for a job - without at least one browner person to help mitigate that.
And there's no real way around it. I'm trying to get myself some phone-time with these folks, but their impressions on the other two-thirds of the hiring committee will be happening separate from that. So they could very well flounder or not be able to connect in their person-to-person interviews, giving a negative taste (understandably) to my hiring counterparts. So even if I do connect with them on the phone and then make my appeal, it comes off as the token person of color trying to get another "unqualified" person of color hired as de facto "affirmative action."
Because the interview process is so inherently biased towards white folks, but the "white-as-norm" mentality makes the same white people doing the hiring unaware of it on any sort of intuitive level. And so they think the interview demonstrates "qualifications" to an objective degree. When, really, it's a test to see how well you can follow middle-class, white cultural norms.
Which, in some cases, is a necessary qualification for a job. But, in others - like working with and actually relating to kids of color and/or those in poverty - it's mostly irrelevant. And yet - it's probably the primary factor in most hires (past a certain level). Am I starting to get my point across?
It's one more hidden handicap for folks of color in this systemic game called white privilege. The hiring committee can say, "we interviewed a number of minority candidates, but they just didn't interview well," and then their hands (and consciences) are clean. When, really, it's not so different from interviewing some folks you don't know for a job, then saying they just didn't connect on the same level as that guy you went to high school with.
Nobody would hesitate to say that the latter situation is unfair and perhaps even unethical. And yet, nobody seems to say that the same thing happening with people of color interviewing with mostly-white staff or committees is anything but "equal."
Let me give you a stark example to finish off my point:
What if the middle-class white woman candidate had to interview with a room of five black males who grew up in the inner city? And she was competing with another black male who grew up in the inner city? The white woman doesn't get hired, and that's when the cries of "reverse-racism" would come flying - even if the woman had a horrible interview due to being uncomfortable, etc. while the black male connected and really seemed confident in his interview.
Now tell me that the odds aren't heavily stacked against the candidates of color in this business.
That's what I thought. And that's why my ability to hope is really taking a hit these days. Nothing's ever enough . . .
* I'm going to be purposely vague in a lot of this out of respect to the applicants and the organizations I work for.
** My focus was on racial background, but I talked about economics, as well.
*** And before anybody starts telling me I hate white women - in my line of work, it's heavily-weighted towards white females. It just is. And that was who was on my hiring committees. If it happened to be all white men, or only Latino females, or all anything else, all the same reasoning would apply.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I haven't posted in two weeks. Because I've been busier than I've ever been at any other point in my life (I think I really mean that, too). But the biggest part of that came to a head yesterday: the Asian Youth Conference.** After all the stress and late nights, working on the weekends, waking up in the middle of the night remembering something to do or somebody to contact - it's over.
My part in the conference was as Program Coordinator***. What that entailed is that I was basically in charge of most of the things in full view during the actual conference (as opposed to the "behind-the-scenes" fundraising, food, t-shirts, things like that). So I developed most of the workshops and recruited and trained the facilitators to run them. I scripted and was responsible for the smooth running of the Opening and Closing programs. I brought in the midday entertainment (a mostly-Asian b-boy "breakdancing" crew). And I did all the scheduling for the day of (including assigning 500 students and their chaperones to workshop rotations, trying to give students their preferences while simultaneously mixing them with other schools but making sure they had their chaperones with them).
Now - I'm not listing all those things to brag about how impressive I am (although I am). But rather, I want to make my responsibilities clear, so you can imagine the level of stress that was on me going in and throughout the day. Because it basically went like this: if anything went wrong on the day and caused the conference to be a negative experience for anybody - it was my fault. A kid didn't like their workshop? My fault because I designed it, or didn't train the facilitators well enough. A kid didn't get the workshops they wanted? My fault because I assigned the rotations. The Opening Program was weak? My fault because I scripted it poorly, or didn't coach up the student emcees well enough, or didn't have the right music or video or PowerPoint queued up. Workshops run out of worksheets? The b-boy performance suck or go wrong? We get off the precise schedule and have workshops start backing up or kids not completing their activities? Co-facilitators not work well together?
You get the picture. As far as I was concerned, I was responsible for 500 Asian-American high school students maximizing their opportunity to be together in Portland (where that just can't ever happen), making sure they got to share a little bit, connect and feel a bit less alone, and to have a positive experience doing it. If that didn't happen? All my fault.
And so I happily report back: it was a success. A complete success. Sure - not everything went perfectly (usually due to technical difficulties, but kids always have something they're not full happy about), but the kids and adults had an overall positive experience, and those that can want to come back.
After all this theorizing in my head about what things could/would look like, it felt amazing to get some chances to stop for a second (most of the day I was running around like a headless chicken, in half-panic mode) and actually, physically see some cool things, like: a whole bunch of Asian kids in a room sharing their experiences, talking about stereotypes, clapping and cheering for each other, and laughing all at the same time; kids running full-steam around a block of classrooms as their new Asian teammates from other schools cheered them on; students sharing their surprise that none of the Asian kids in the room played a classical instrument, liked math or science, or even played tennis; 500 Asian youth crowded up near a stage bobbing their heads to hip-hop beats and screaming and cheering like crazy for other Asian youth doing back-spins and freezes and becoming heroes in the process. We gave out scholarships. Students got to talk to college reps about going to school. They learned about other scholarship and financial aid opportunities. They spoke up.
And I'm so proud to have been a part of all that. To have contributed to it. I get almost weepy thinking about it. In the Portland Metro Area, where it sometimes feels like the only Asian people are the ones working at the handful of Asian restaurants, 500 high school students of Asian backgrounds all spent a day together. Just looking at the packed bleachers full of Asian kids cheering for each other and their accomplishments . . . It was all just something special.****
So all the stress, all the work, the frustrations - most definitely worth it. Months and months of planning and meetings and work for one whirlwind day - worth it.
And, on top of all that, I got to have my own experience of having this little community of Asian adults all working together to plan this thing and make it happen. We all went out to dinner afterwards (got to eat Chinese food as it's supposed to be - in a large group, all sharing various dishes, talking loudly), and I couldn't help but grin as two members of the committee slipped into Thai for a minute, only to have our Chair threaten, "If you keep that up, I'm going to speak in Vietnamese about you for the rest of the dinner" (and he did, for a minute). I talked to a few of them who had spent time in China about my impending trip. When they asked about my language skills, they asked which dialect my mom spoke (knowing that there actually is no such language as just "Chinese").
So let's just say I definitely got my own non-monetary rewards for this work (I'll be the first to admit that nothing is truly altruistic - nothing).
The only negative? Once again, I'm hesitant about leaving for China (a decision I officially made clear to my school, so I will not be teaching there next year). I have so many ideas about next year's conference. I want to be involved. I suddenly have Asian community in Portland. I'm building things. And I'm going to leave. But - again - it's a hard choice. More bad timing for good things, as I don't want to leave this particular aspect of my life here.
The heaviest blow? Last night, the Chair announced his intention to step down (still being part of the Planning Team, but with less responsibilities) and asked me to take his place . . . It's an opportunity that's hard to pass up. One I'm ready for (and it seems like events have been heading towards this).
A lot to think about. But I'm going to let that sit for a while - no immediate hurry. Because - for right now - I just want a couple more days to revel in the positives and the here-and-now. And that is this: I was part of a special opportunity for Asian-American kids in my community, and it was a success.
And that's all I have left to say.
* Note - the image above is not actually from my conference.
** That's not the actual name of the conference, but I don't want folks looking it up and coming here, thinking that this blog is officially affiliated with the conference in any way. It isn't. This is my personal blog. The conference is part of my professional work, and doesn't necessarily reflect any of the opinions expressed on this site.
*** We haven't updated the website, so if you find it and think that the name listed as PC on the site is my real identity, you'd be wrong.
**** I should note here that - when a random slide of Obama went up - the crowd went CRAZY. Say what you will about his policies and the change he has/hasn't enacted - that man's election changed the world for youth of color in this country.