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Reflections on 2016 from a twenty-something-year-old brown city queen

It’s 2017, y’all. New year, new me. This brown city queen is back and ready for change, action, and hopeful travels. And 2016 is finally behind us, gently distancing itself from me and my squad, fading away in that awful wide-screen rear view mirror of my two-door 280zx.

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At least… that’s what I feel like I’ve been hearing from friends and family members about 2016.

“It was a bad year.”
“More downs than ups.”
“So ready for 2016 to be over.”

For some, this WAS a terrible year: financially, emotionally, politically, academically, and the list goes on. I can’t speak for someone’s lived experiences. If they said it was bad, then it was bad. Their truth is their truth. I will also argue, however, that at times, we filter and censor our truth, in part cause we have to, another part because we were taught to, and in some distant part we subconsciously just do it. We separate the good the bad from the happy and sad and the ugly. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us about the danger of a single story. One perspective. One angle. One point of view. It’s not the whole story, just a chapter eagerly read or begrudgingly skipped over.

And so, I argue that, in light of some of these really, truly, and genuinely awful crises and situations that have plagued my country and others (e.g. my sadness with Trump as the president-elect of the United States, more black men dead and unjustly murdered, a new President of the Philippines, Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean affecting places like Haiti and Jamaica, and additional examples that vary in their own respective degrees of disgust, disappointment, and drab), there has to be some golden nuggets that have come from such a year, right?

What were those minute, specific, subconscious-like moments that happened on the individual and personal level? 2016 surely had to have some of those for you, for me, for each one of us. When did we experience even the tiniest glimmer of hope and progress, the smallest glimpse of happiness and love, the faintest feeling of success and pride? Or is my optimism kindly mistaken for ignorance and bliss, rooted in privileged ways of being and thinking and operating in classic White supremacy? Is it false positivity or realistic optimism? Which glass is it?

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I prefer, and hope – hehe, my optimism peeking through once again – that it’s the latter. And so, I started thinking. I started asking friends a few questions, not directly seeking answers to how they “really felt about 2016”, but to gauge what truly was salient for folks, and for myself. How often did someone cite Trump in an answer, quote unemployment as a factor for one’s unhappiness, favor the time spent with a specific loved one in all of its romantic, spiritual, and emotional goodness? And it was their answers to these questions that inspired this blogpost, and my need to truly give 2016 some closure.

Because there are some wounds that have to close, some that need to heal, and some that do just that, and yet, they still become those intimate reminders of our past and future, etched and criss-crossed into our skin. How can we make goals, set resolutions, and do better if we don’t know what we enjoyed, what we hated, what made us happy, scared, and angry? We need to know the “whats” just as much as those “whys”. There is a quote from Jose Rizal, a Filipino writer, activist, and hero, which I believe says, “Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makarating sa paroroonan” and can be loosely translated to”Know history, know self. No history, no self.

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So here it goes: a little look into the past and a glass half full for the future. I asked the following questions to my friends, all who responded in their own unique ways, and righteously so:

  • What was your favorite moment of 2016?

  • What is one thing that you’ve learned about yourself in 2016?

  • What is one thing you’d like to work on, improve upon, or prioritize in 2017?

  • Name 5 people who you’d like to reconnect with in 2017. And do it.

To be fair, I won’t repeat their answers out of respect for their privacy. Instead, I’ll use this next section to invite you all to answer them for yourself. Do some self-reflection. Turn on the Acoustic Soul playlist on Spotify, pop open that bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s, and get to it. This is for you and doesn’t have to be for anyone else’s entertainment, but your own.


And in case I piqued your interests, here are my responses to those same questions:

Q: What was your favorite moment of 2016?
A: I will forever remember the day I graduated from the University of Vermont with my Master’s of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. Walking into the Grand Maple Ballroom was my village of 20 who had raised, supported, and believed in me from the moment I got on that first plane to Burlington, Vermont to the moment I honored my forever Queen Ru Paul on that hooding stage. The clashing, colliding, and beautifully mixing of my California family and my Vermont chosen family. The dramatic 10% increase in the Asian American population in the state of Vermont with my bayanihan casually cruising up and down Church Street like we were walking through the pews for Sunday communion. To go from one hood to the next hood. It was a day of joy, love, pride, and gratitude.

Q: What is one thing that you’ve learned about yourself in 2016?
A: I am both adaptable and resilient, capable of surviving AND thriving in new environments, able to make sense of and take ownership of my high expectations and lived experiences. I am deeply awesome and talented in so many ways intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually; having spent close to three years now in Vermont, the 2nd whitest state in the country, should speak for itself. And while I like to have an end goal one, two, five years out, I know I will make those much-needed adjustments along the way and pick up every penny and quarter of opportunity that lands before me.

Q: What is one thing you’d like to work on, improve upon, or prioritize in 2017?
A: I hope to prioritize my long term long distance relationship with my partner Mark.  Looking back, there were several times in 2016 where my relationship with my LTLD partner took the backseat on my list of priorities. Frankly, work took over, and it still does at times. It’s so easy for me, a type-A, an achiever and strategist, an ENFJ, and an optimistic perfectionist, to get lost in the befores & afters of work. I love my job. It fits me. It gives me both joy and headaches. But I also love him. He gives me both joy and heartburn. And he needs to know that, every single day of the year, in the small moments, and in those acts of grandeur.  I guess I’m ready to make some sacrifices and enter the unknown of 2017. And I know that I don’t want to be alone on that journey.

Q: Name 5 people who you’d like to reconnect with in 2017. And do it.
A: CV. NV. KC. MB. BV. Time to take my own advice and take that leaf of faith.

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Now, these questions (and the answers that came out of them) furthered sparked another train of thought, this time along the lines of gratitude. I try and practice gratitude every single day (both in its recognition of it and in its expression) because I am a firm believer that there are so many things to be grateful for. And yet, by the end of the year, I am always somehow inundated with this overwhelming wave of appreciation and gratitude. Most recently, it’s having had the opportunity to spend my favorite holiday, Christmas, with my loved ones (both family and friends). It’s having the chance to catch up with my high school friends and enjoy moments of throwback jams, evening car rides, talks of future wedding plans and general life updates, and partake in unforgettable “live as we go” and “free for all” moments. It is recognizing the gift in being able to hold the hand of the man I love and feel so secure, so seen, so heard, and so felt through that one touch, that one interaction. I am grateful for the gift of life, for never second guessing my privilege to be alive and well, to be happy and whole. I am grateful for it all and miss every moment I am away from the people who love me, and who I love so unconditionally in return.

Gratitude is not just about reflection, appreciation, and thanks; it is also about fear, about hope, about dreaming, about learning. It is knowing what you’re scared of losing and recognizing that you haven’t lost them yet. It is about appreciating what you have and hoping for the better. We are dreamers, yearning for the unknown, the gift of time. We are learners, soaking in every relevant detail of who we are, where we are, and what we are capable of doing, only to further push ourselves to achieve, believe, and grow. Gratitude is a process of complex emotions that help us make sense of our lived experiences and the context we experience our life in.

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Before you completely throw away 2016 like a moldy vegetable in the trash, may I challenge you to take some time out of 2017 to engage in some critical reflection about the year? What happened? What went well and what could have gone better? What were those small pockets of friendship that are worth revisiting and recultivating? What is there to be grateful for? How and why should 2017 be any different? And maybe, once you’ve finally received some closure, you can wholeheartedly begin to ring in (or resume ringing in) this year of the Rooster with that one cliched yet to-the-point mantra of “new year new me”.

Best of luck, my friends. ❤ 

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The Heaviness of Loss: Losing More Than A Seat in the White House.

keep_your_heart_strong-5227Since the news of Donald Trump becoming the next President of the United States came out, I have been feeling so sick, so unbelievably at a loss for words and action, and so emotionally shaken and disturbed. I have stress-eaten my way to what feels like a black hole in an empty stomach, disconnected myself from social media outlets and text message exchanges, asked God for forgiveness and guidance, and searched the internet for articles to help me make sense of this overwhelming wave of emotions (guilt, hope, melancholy, and anger) — here’s a few of them: it’s time to get to work, why we grieve, the democratic party deserves so much of the blame.

I hate losing, always have, always will. But yesterday’s/today’s loss goes above and beyond my own narrative. It once again has emphasized this country’s inability to shatter the highest and hardest glass ceiling experienced by women, its inability to protect and value the lives of  queer and trans communities of color, and its inability to establish a sense of security and belonging for (undocumented) immigrant communities.

And for that, I am angry. It is the sort of anger that stems from self-disappointment and self-loathing, the mentality that I could’ve and should’ve done more to mobilize communities to vote (for HRC) and to dehumanize the Trump experience. It is the kind of anger that has forced me to prioritize my own self-care at the cost of supporting some of my own beloved students and colleagues: to leave the office early, work from home, disengage in certain conversations, and simply rejuvenate the shattered soul first and foremost. This is the same anger that has caused me to feel so isolated, so alone, and so devalued, especially working at a predominantly White institution and within a predominantly White office space and office culture. This is the anger that has forced me to stare at the ground because sharing glances with another human being is like sharing all of their pain and exhaustion as well. This is the anger that is fuming at the mouth because such statements and feelings of optimism and hope is so linked to White supremacy, White privileges, and White fragility, and has become oppressive buzz words for this hurting brown soul.

 This is my anger. It is my reflection in the mirror asking me, “WTF is next?” This is the anger that comes with losing. And today, we have lost so much. We did not just lose a highly revered and powerful AF seat in the White House, we have lost pieces of our identities, both collectively and individually. We already knew that America was, and still is, a messed up institution that for years, has promoted some racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, and other discriminatory tendencies against the “other”. This isn’t news to the underrepresented. But we have lost a piece of our identity as to what it means to productively contribute to this country, as to what it means to be affiliated to a specific political party and the values associated with each, and have redefined what it means to be an American citizen.

Trump is not and will never be my president. He has, however, left a scarring precedence on this “great” nation and will only continue to divide us further and entrench us in disrespectful politics and dangerous outcomes. But he is THE president for the 59,815,018 people who voted for him, and that will forever haunt me as I walk the streets, enter a restaurant or a bar, apply to future jobs and colleges, and as I leave my house everyday and decide how much of myself I will reveal to the world in those 24 hours. Out of fear, out of safety, out of resilience, out of hope for progress and radical change, I am not sure who I will be over the next few days. These are the little pieces of my identity that have been taken. I am not sure how I will show up for my friends, family, and colleagues. I know how I want to show up and what I need to do to move forward, but it is an uphill battle for me, for all of us. Take time to heal, to gather your thoughts and your pockets of self-love and affirmation, to store up every ounce of resilience and truth, to take your daily dose of radical justice and liberation, because we will need it over the next several years. But please, this is a reminder to myself and to others out there hurting, don’t take too long, don’t linger too deeply in the guilt, the anger, the sadness, the grief. We have work to do. There are 59 million people whose minds, hearts, and souls need changing … for they have chosen the side of the oppressor.

There is a new movement coming, I can feel it. A new wave of political unrest on the bend (from UC BerkeleyOakland, UVM and elsewhere); a coalition of activists, scholars, and practitioners organizing for survival and accountability; a community of individuals who will be resilient together. White folks keep your folks in check. People of Color, check in with your people and create time/space for healing. We all need to do the tough and challenging work, and make an effort with our respective communities. We cannot simply look for the easy answers. We cannot be okay with mere symbolic gestures of hope and faith. Each day from here on out has to be intentional, critical, and better. Ironically, now is the time to make America great again. Actually, let me rephrase: American wasn’t and isn’t great; it has always been flawed and divided, rooted in White supremacy and systems of oppression. But it can definitely be better. So let’s rise up. Put on your pant suits and let us make it better.

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To close, here is a poem that I had written in September and edited in October, regarding the violence against our Black men in our country, and against other underrepresented communities. Perhaps it is even more relevant now given the state of our country. So I ask you: How do you heal? How do you turn your emotions into productive outlets? How do you reflect and stay resilient? I channel my anger through my words, through poetry, through art, through collective wisdom and healing.

This piece is entitled: Dear Violence.

Dear Violence,
For once, will you listen?
I know what you can do.
I know what you are capable of.
I know you by name, by voice, and by face.
And yet,
You know nothing about me
Besides the color of my skin.

You are stubborn, ignorant, and aggressive,
Fueling your selfish desires and bruised egos
Set in your ways to cause more harm than good.

Dear violence,
I need you to know,
That your racism is disguised as patriotism
Bleeding red white and blue in a country that is so colorblinded by pride
That it fails to recognize
That the deepest wounds are the ones self-inflicted,
The ones killing your own people
The ones where the only things that are bleeding
Are the black and brown bodies who are so damaged, so broken, so emotionally shaken
From the everyday dissonance of hating and loving the color of their skin

THESE are the darkest and deepest of all wounds
The kind where we can’t even embrace ourselves with self love
Because internalized oppression tells us to keep our hands up
Exposing the vulnerable layers of our determined resilience, authorship, and courage.

Dear violence,
If actions can speak louder than words,
When will my tears be enough for you?
They have pooled together yearning for change,
exhausted from the relentless waves of strife, frustration, and deaths,
They have carried the pain of a thousand cranes,
And the weight of a thousand papercuts
With only one wish:
To experience the sunrises and the sunsets of tomorrows.

Dear violence,
When will you be satisfied?
Your thirst quenched and your belly full?
When will it be enough for you?
Because there is nothing left to give.

 

The Legend of Giants: Celebrating Filipino American History Month

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Did you know? The month of October is Filipino American History Month.

As we near the end of October (and thus, Halloween), I think one way to celebrate this month is to recognize and appreciate the history, resilience, and accomplishments of the Filipino American community. Another way to celebrate Filipino American History Month is to pay homage to the giants standing in your own backyard, the ones rooting for you from your corner, the heroes that get remembered, but the legends who never die. For me, that’s my mum. I don’t always say mum, but it just sounded fun in that last sentence. But I tend to go with mom, mother, ma, and sometimes nay (short for nanay in tagalog). Here she is below in such a rockstar outfit (exact day and year, TBD). So if you think I slay the game, just know that I get it from my mama.

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Now, in thinking about how I wanted to highlight her narrative as a way to ground this month in love and appreciation, I asked her to provide me with some details about her life in the Philippines and what it was like to be a kid there. Side note: the ultimate project I would love to do is to create a visual and written documentary about my parents’ love life and relationship. They did long distance at some point (woof!), exchanged love letters and notes, and raised three stellar boys and put us through college. I believe in the power of storytelling and its ability to create community, vulnerability, and compassion. In my role as an educator, I sometimes forget that storytelling isn’t just about me sharing my story with my colleagues or with my students. It is also about learning from the stories and wisdom that came before me. It is about preserving the generations of stories that have so deeply influenced my personal values, ethics, perspectives, and behaviors. It is about transforming fairy tales and legends into a book of personal truths and revelations.

And so this next part of my blog is therefore a brief story about my mom, a story about her growing up in the Philippines before she came to the United States in the 70’s:

My mom grew up in the Philippines in a small town of Maasin. There was what they/she called “market day” that happened every Monday and her relatives from the barrio (or neighborhood/town) brought their produce from the farm to sell in the market. They had sold things like bananas, sweet potatoes, cassavas, coconuts, and all other kinds of vegetables: “I loved market day. I loved to go with my mom because I got a treat too like banana cue.”

She said it was a 2-hour trek to the town and most of the time they balanced the produce on their shoulders or sometimes on carts pulled by water buffaloes (called kalabaw or caribou). Fun fact: I actually had a chance to ride on top of a caribou when I visited the Philippines 6 years ago. See my old friend below.

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Back to her story: Her mom, my lola (grandmother) had what she called, an “open door policy”, so her relatives and friends would stop by to have coffee or ginger tea to fill their stomachs. My lola would then go to the market extremely early in the morning to buy fish and vegetables. She would then make soup so everyone that stopped by can eat before they headed home. Now that I think about it, this is probably where I get my sense of giving, hosting, and community building, and definitely where my mom gets her love for being around her sisters, her nieces and nephews, and close family friends. It is apparent that in my family, and even in parts of my own life nowadays, we sometimes give more to others than we give to ourselves.

My mom goes on to say that they “were taught to respect [their] elders, to ask for blessings, to say please, thank you, [and] excuse me.” Respect in the Filipino culture is everything. It is not simply an act of doing, it is a way of being. From your kuyas and ates to your distant family friends — aka your cousins who aren’t really your cousins by blood, but you never really knew that until you got into high school — you show, give, share, and respond with respectful behaviors and attitudes. As one of the youngest kids in my family, I could never ride in the front seat of a car if my brothers or older cousins tagged along. I was always expected to pass out the dinner plates and utensils to my family members and guests during family gatherings. I was always told to do something, whether I wanted to or not, and most of the time if I was “good”, I would do it. That’s just how it is in Filipino culture. When you’re the bunso, or the youngest, you’re kind of at the bottom of the food chain. Let’s just say that with years of being at the bottom, I believe it taught me how to be more independent, how to deal and navigate through situations that weren’t particularly enjoyable, and how to advocate for myself and my needs. It has also taught me to be okay with failure and disappointment; to be okay with not being the best, but to be my best self; to be okay with not being the “hero” idolized in so many heteronormative television shows and books, but to realize that we all need saving in some way, at some point; to be okay with asking for help; to be okay with relying on the expertise and wisdom of one’s family and culture.

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My elders are my Filipino giants. The ones whose footprints have left joy and success etched into the dirt of the rice terraces and whose shoulders carry the hopes and dreams of a stubborn and determined community. These are the giants who have turned their roots into veins, never forgetting that their history flows through their blood. They are my mom, my dad, my aunts and uncles, my lolas and lolos. They are the things of legends. The kind of legends that I will write in hard-covered books and read to my kids just before bed:

“Anak, what story would you like to hear tonight?

The tale of the brown star-crossed lovers destined for greatness, but separated by the Pacific Ocean?

Or the one about the Filipina mother of eight whose love and kindness also feeds an entire village?

How about the one with the social justice warrior prince? He who uses his words to slay the dragons of everyday racism and uses his emotions to move an entire country?”

“Dad… How about we read them all? Maybe I can write my own too.” 

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In closing, my mom said this,”I had such a wonderful childhood full of unforgettable experiences. Babe, just correct my grammar. It’s past midnight and I’m sleepy…”

My mom is a one-of-a-kind individual, human, mother, and woman of color. She has demonstrated what it means to be resilient in order to persevere through challenges and high expectations, to be compassionate and respectful to yourself and to others, and to find the sweetness, the happiness, the fulfillment in every story, in every person, in every interaction.

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I may not have the same exact stories or experiences that she did when growing up in Maasin, but I do have a similar feeling of being loved, of being surrounded by family, of being taught these values of respect and optimism, and of remembering my childhood as an enjoyable one. And for that, I am both privileged and humbled.

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To close, here is a little haiku I wrote earlier this month. It is entitled, “Oh, I am brown.”

I am a product
Of brown love and excellence.
I know no limits.

Happy Filipino American History Month, everyone. I hope your October was as excellent and as beautiful as the culture and the people that I so deeply love and respect.

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Dear #uvmhesa16: A letter from a friend.

Dear #uvmhesa16,

This is a letter to you all, my cohort: the fabulous 15* and the incredible 11. It is a recollection of the good, the ugly, and the better; an affirmation for each other and ourselves; and a call for continued action, reflection, and learning.

10659099_10152369967134211_3577835168481427568_o.jpg18 months later and we are all at such a crucial junction in our academic, professional, and personal journey. We are at a crossroads with our wants, needs, wishes, and goals. We are experiencing a transition from familiarity, comfort, and consistency towards perhaps, more uncertainty than we’d like at the moment. I intensely dislike goodbyes and see-you-laters, and I do not do well with things “ending”. I think it’s okay to fear, reject, or ignore its inevitability. And I also think we need to start recognizing, understanding, and accepting the ambiguous interlude for what it is, because let’s face it, the show must go on.

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With that said, I truly and deeply hope this letter encourages you to take that leap of faith to become vulnerable with yourself and each other, and to say, do, and feel everything that comes with such unapologetic vulnerability. So here’s my nostalgic list of thoughts, memories, and feelings jumbled into a word cloud of personal truths.


I didn’t share aloud my cajita. The cajita was a reflective assignment that allowed us to use a box, or similar container-like object, to share and convey our identities, values, beliefs, and memories. It was a representation of who we were, are, and will be, and allowed us to reflect upon our experiences as aspiring student affairs professionals. And I vividly remember that day, where I was sitting, and what I was feeling. I remember choosing not to share my cajita, my meaningful object, my story. I learned two things from that day. The first: story-telling is a powerful way to build trust, vulnerability, and community. It is a beautiful way to develop group-rapport and self-empowerment. Secondly, I wasn’t emotionally ready to share. I was losing a friend, colleague, and confidant that evening and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. In general, I just wasn’t ready. And despite being an ENFJ, I wasn’t ready for what the first five months of graduate school would do to me. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. But more importantly, I learned that it was okay to be messy, to struggle here and there, and to not always have to perform at 150%, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Two words: JAEs Place. Holiday parties, impromptu game nights, affinity spaces, group projects, and mimosas on the porch all happened at one common gathering area: Jeff and Eric’s Place. This apartment was more than just a “place”. It was a home, I believe, for the both of us, and even perhaps, for a few members of our cohort. It was a home that brought consistency and camaraderie into our lives. A place that nourished our hearts and minds (and stomachs), and rejuvenated our spirits for the next long, long, long day of HESA. Although one of us will be leaving this special place by the end of the month, the memories at JAEs Place will always remind us what a home should be, what a home can be, and who will always be family.

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I wished I realized it sooner. I wished it didn’t take me so long to realize that I was projecting both my expectations and insecurities onto my peers. I recognized, rather late in the game, admittedly, that expecting perfection from myself was one thing, but expecting perfection from my peers was an unrealistic, exclusive, and oppressive expectation. I believed that graduate school was a time to “show up”, to bring one’s A-game both in and out of the classroom, and to go big or seriously, go home. I was frustrated by the lack of emotional intelligence exhibited by my peers. Ironically enough, it was not until my second semester of graduate school in which I was able to associate my intense feelings and reactions with having a very different kind of intelligence than I was used to hearing about. Additionally, I am embarrassed to admit that I operated under the notion that unlike undergrad, getting a Master’s degree was not a time for self-discovery and identity exploration.  Wow, was I wrong. Graduate school was a time to explore, discover, and actualize, but only if we took the opportunity to do so. Individually, we can make all the time and space needed to engage in some sort of identity work — we can even move mountains if we put our heart and soul into it. But collectively, we also needed each other. I needed my classmates to take the time, to allow the space, and to help move those big ass mountains with me, not for me. There is no perfect formula for graduate school. There’s no perfect recipe for success. And despite Master Yoda’s words of wisdom saying, “Do or do not. There is no try.”, I think all we can do is try. My cohort and I are in a galaxy far, far away from perfection, but hey, if we can try to bring out the best in ourselves and in each other, well, then I am a firm believer that there is a new hope — cue another sappy Star Wars reference, hehe.

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There are perhaps two memories that for many of us, may be rather unsettling, but ones that I go back to often because of how pivotal they were for us as a cohort. Let me first setup the context. I think about Spring 2015, our second semester in HESA. This was going to be a long and cold winter, something that none of us, including the Vermonters and especially those damn Californians, had seen coming. It was the first time we had a full course load for the whole 13-15 weeks of the semester and not to mention, classes that were scheduled into the late evenings. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into when it came to TVC Production Week or our HESA Interview Weekends. We pushed ourselves that semester to go above and beyond whatever we did in the fall. And we had two moments that simultaneously “broke us” and genuinely pushed us to become better than our very best.

The first: properly using American Psychological Association (APA) style writing in our papers and assignments. I think it is fair to say that we as a cohort wanted to become better writers. We wanted to be academics, to be scholars. We wanted to prove our self-worth that we could not only make it through graduate school, but we could do so successfully and brilliantly. And despite the fact that we were so empowered by this model of cogenerative learning, or cogen, we definitely needed some guidance. Although there may have been feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, and even some shed tears at the time, we needed that gentle reminder to become those better writers. It was the catalyst we needed to further our academic rapport and excellence. And I think it goes down as one of the most teachable moments in the history books for #uvmhesa16.

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The second, and probably still, the most controversial moment for us as a cohort: the discussion on affinity spaces and more specifically, affinity spaces for White students during “insert specific time and place at UVM”. I choose to be somewhat vague in this description because it could very well lead to another intense discussion that I frankly do not have the energy to entertain at the moment. Maybe another day.

As I think back to that day, I remember the anger, the tension, the tears, the confusion, the lack of appreciation and empathy, and the “wait-what-did-you-just-say” expressions on some of our faces. Oh, how we had struggled. In hindsight, it was a glorious moment. We became better educators that day. We learned that we were individuals who needed context, individuals who had questions with no answers, and individuals who were simply at various points on the social justice spectrum. If we reopen that discussion with just the 11 of us, I wonder where it would take us now. Food for thought.

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Receiving the Building Bridges Award as a cohort (not everyone, however, is featured below). What a truly humbling honor and privilege to have been recognized as a community of builders during the ALANA Student Center Banquet. Thank you to our HESA faculty for nominating, recognizing, and believing in our awareness, knowledge, and skills to build community and honor family.

To my cohort, we did it together and I thank you all for each moment of kindness, compassion, and support that you so graciously sent my way. I know we will continue to build bridges, roads, sidewalks, and provide accessible forms of transportation (aka encouragement and support) to the community of students that we work with and serve. Wherever you all go next, remember that we may be these so-called builders, but even builders need their chosen family too. Take time to find, create, and nourish yours.

Every morning a new arrival…

Be grateful for whatever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Rumi, The Guest House

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In graduate school, I discovered what it truly meant to have community. A community of scholars practitioners, lovers and fighters, activists and reactionists, and friends and family. I am particularly grateful for the Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) community here at UVM and in Vermont. I honestly would not be just one-week away from graduation if I did not have each of you here. Thank you to Trina Tan for not only recruiting me to come here, but for telling me the truth about the challenges that come with being a person of Color at a predominantly White institution and being in one of the Whitest states in the country. More specifically, thank you to Jeffrey Tsang, Rose Del Vecchio, and Lian Boos. The patience, love, and laughter that you have gifted me throughout these last two years have allowed me to feel seen, heard, and validated. I am, and will always be, grateful for your presence and voice both in and out of the classroom. Thank you for letting me learn from you and lead with you.

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Being in Vermont with chosen family and affinity has also helped me further recognize the multiple truths within community and community building. Having an APIDA community is not the same as having a community of Pilipina/o Americans. And too often, I found individuals here at UVM and within Vermont who assume that my Pilipino American narrative is the same as other Asian Americans. It is not. We share similar experiences, challenges, and cultural norms, but they are not synonymous or interchangeable for one another. Because of this, I am so grateful to have found a few members of the UVM community who live, breathe, and know what it means to be Pilipino American. Thank you to my UVM Pilipino community for helping me reconnect with a little piece of myself that at times, slipped away through the cracks. This particular community may be small, but it is powerfully loud in voice, spirit, and excellence. And I am honored to continue to build, shape, and share this community with you all some more.

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So…  to my lovely cohort, the incredible 11, my forever classmates and colleagues, my final request for us is to remember that our journeys do not end here. We may be able to #checkthebox now, but we have so many other/new boxes, isms, privileges and systemic barriers that we have to check and address, especially now given our new privileges and forms of capitalism as educators with Master’s degrees. Do not forget who you are, where you come from, and where you hope to go.

The sky is the limit. And once you reach that limit, because I know each of you can and will, remember to look back at your travels and appreciate just how far you have come.

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Congratulations to you, to us, and to our unequivocally spirited #uvmhesa16 cohort. This may be the end of an era, but it is also the start of the next. And we are here to rewrite history. To celebrate herstory. And to share ourstory. We are changing the game, redefining what it means to be a student affairs professional, and creating space to allow kindness and vulnerability to guide our thoughts and actions. How truly powerful we are and how powerfully scary that is.

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In closing, please, please, please enjoy these last few days or weeks with each other. Say thank you, put aside the baggage or take it with you and laugh with each other about it, and cherish every single creemee or sunset that we get with each other. Let us role model what vulnerability can look like outside of the classroom. Let us lead by example and show folks how to have fun. And more importantly, let us celebrate for making it through TWO YEARS of graduate school because oh.my.gosh., we did it.

Finally, don’t ever change … unless you’re already a social justice expert. *cue sarcasm*. Have a great summer. K.I.T. And may the spirit of APA be with you, always and forever.

Continue to be annoyingly amazing,
Eric G. Carnaje

Soon to be: Eric G. Carnaje, M.Ed.
UVM HESA Class of 2016

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*includes the incredible 11 (Alex, Lian, Eric, Graham, Rose, Dan, Jo, Joey, Andrew, Atiya, Jeff) plus the lovely four members who will always be a part of this community of scholar practitioners: Kat, Katie, Catarina, and Liam.