Of love and hate, of passion and rage; of this is how I come to be. A recent graduate with honors, a scholar, an ex-poet, a homeboy- yours truly. Raised in a bourgeois immigrant family of mixed ethnicities I came to this world at a crossroads. A crossroads of belonging and not, between class status and racial shame. Born to a Mexican mother and Korean father, I was never meant to follow the rules. I would describe myself as becoming a political and social dissident at an early age. But unlikely so. Before going on my way to becoming a socialist anti-imperialist by early adolescence ( a bit of joke, but not far from the truth)- I was dead-set on joining, fighting and dying in the US Marine Corps. The strange mix of paths I have taken to where I am today seems bizarre, almost foreign when I reflect on it. Yet it is mine. Fitting for someone about to embark on an 8 month journey across three continents.
In a few short months I will be leaving the love of my life- Chaunẻ, my family and friends, and much else that I have know here at home. I set out to Morocco, Senegal, Nepal, India, Myanmar, and Mexico with nothing but a 20 liter bag and the wits of a homeboy ex-poet.
This past spring as I finished my fourth year at the University of Michigan, completed my honors thesis in sociology, and heard back from graduate programs, I received news quite unlike any I have previous. I was awarded the University of Michigan Bonderman Travel Fellowship. The fellowship is an 8 month journey to at least 6 countries and a grant of $20,000. I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of that. Never in my life did I imagine that after I finished my undergraduate degree someone would literally hand me 20k for the sole purpose of traveling the world, yea right!?! Well, it happened. And I as I write this I’m 100 some days away from boarding a flight from Detroit to Casablanca, Morocco. From there, a train to Tangier. I must admit I am both ecstatic and somber. Leaving will be a sore bittersweet.
A journey like this one could be many things. A vacation along the “gringo trail”, it will not. Not that I can deny the shoes of a mere tourist that I will step into, the likes of the grand tour of old; not that I would deny the privilege of my position in the world, or that of the 20k handed to me to travel. But, as I reflect on why I am taking this fellowship I know what I want is deeper than sights and smells, it’s beyond a vacation and I know it’s more than a trip to party in far away places.
America, to whom I owe so much, and yet who has caged me in the prism of race and has locked me so far from reaching my fullest potential. The chains of a racial society are a straight jacket, an ugly disfigurement to all bounded by them. What that has meant in my life James Baldwin captures when he wrote, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” A rage of consciousness. For me, that rage poured from the space I live, a space Gloria Anzaldua called the borderlands of consciousness. A borderland between all that I am and not. It is not that race has held me back in my own life opportunities, no. What I mean rather is collective, communal, and beyond my own narrow experience- yet intricately bound to my own. Race and the ethos of white supremacy that weaves through everyday life and culture in America has barred me from knowing my brothers and sisters of all backgrounds. I suppose Gloria Anzaldua can describe it better than I can:
“The struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American Indian, mojado, mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo in power, working class Anglo, Black, Asian--our psyches resemble the bordertowns and are populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the "real" world unless it first happens in the images in our heads”
My bordertown is the tension of brown affluence, the garbled tongue of only speaking english, and a deep indignation at the injustices that lay themselves so clearly before my eyes.
In part I hope my time as a fellow is the continuation of the process I started some time ago. The process of undoing that ugly part of what it means to me being a man of color in America. Not disavowing my rage, not leaving the borderlands- I wouldn’t want to do that. No, what I desire is to take what Baldwin and Anzaldua have pointed out so poignantly for us, and to know what it means to have that rage and borderland consciousness as a global citizen standing in my unique crossroads. In traveling as a fellow I hope to take in the people I meet and histories I will encounter into my bordertown consciousness and in-turn transform how I view and move in this beautiful world that we share.
Thus going out into the world as a bonderman fellow I want to capture the multitude of experiences and reflections I have on this digital platform. For myself, loved ones, and anyone else interested enough to read for themselves. I hope to provide a wide breadth of commentary, photos, etc, not just (brooding) political critiques. I also hope to explore food, stories, poetry and more here on my newly minted website.
With that, I end my first entry.