The threads of brown identity

For more than half my life I have been confused about where I am from.

I once wrote “FILIPINO” as my nationality on a student visa application form, and had my mother hurriedly correct it before I turned it into the embassy official.

I have memorized how to recount, “My family’s from the Philippines, but I was born in Texas,” to every inquiring stranger since I was a child.

I do not speak my “mother tongue”, and have been asked on more than one occasion to justify this.

I experience a myriad of pride and distaste, when strangers try to connect the dots for me about my own history.

I am inherently upset by the same corruption, poverty, and religious zealotry that probably drove my parents from their home country decades ago. But I latch fervently to my inheritance of unbridled hospitality, familial loyalty, and a universal perseverance to retain culture no matter how far we are spread around the world. In the face of constant struggle, Filipinos exert light-hearted humor and improbable optimism, an ability to laugh at life’s hardest moments. I see this inherently in my own family, and in the smiles of uprooted Filipinos I have met all over the world.

My time spent abroad has taught me the duality of self-perception against global understanding. Being identified openly by my race was something I became more familiar with once outside the comfortable bubble of the Bay Area. In many ways I have taken back the perception of who I am on the outside with the ink I’ve engraved onto my body, with the tone of voice I use when I speak.

But I have found myself asking, what is it makes me Filipino?

And what is it that makes me overwhelmingly more American?

I read somewhere that the best part of a country is also what makes it the worst. In the case of Filipinos and the Philippines, an ability to retain happiness in the face of adversity has also normalized suffering. Like those in heavily corrupted developing countries, Filipinos will retain the status quo that gets them by rather than upending the system, perpetuating immoral societal structures that exacerbate gaps between the wealthy and poor; they remain frustratingly attached to Western influences, the twisted vestiges left behind from centuries of colonial occupation. Maybe in a lot of ways, my own identity crisis mirrors that of my collective kinfolk.

There is a consensus in popular culture about the selfless demeanor of Filipinos; hardworking people whose natural tendency to give care has developed  into an expansive diaspora of Filipinos abroad. Popularly, many Filipinos working abroad raise other peoples’ children, take care of their elderly, tend to patients in crowded hospitals. Just as with all of reality’s dual perceptions, this humble work ethic can also be seen as learned docility, a toxic reframing of our willingness to work in a system of unfair power dynamics.

I have seen how twisted cultural norms degrade a country I’ve hardly spent any time in. I have met many women and men who left everyone they knew to do backbreaking work, away from their families in order to support them.

When I lived in Paris, I stayed briefly with a distant aunt who I fought with constantly over the course of a year. Time has given me the power of forgiveness, because I finally recognized what caused the sharp edge of resentment in her voice whenever she looked at me. Bitterness from years of dealing with an alcoholic husband, of not having been able to raise her own children, from doing the emotional labor for a rich family that did not value her. Even then, this conclusion is very one-sided, observations drawn from such a brief time spent together, one that could never truly reflect the complexity of one woman’s life.

I rediscover new appreciation for my roots everyday. Yet I also find myself finding new reasons to be outraged, to bristle at the fact that an entire people has spent so much time under the vice of colonialism that assimilation now comes second nature. A rejection of indigenous roots, animist traditions that date back further than the tide of Spanish control. And I am unapologetically exasperated at an inability to see institutional Catholicism as nothing but a historical consequence of colonization.

My adolescence took me on a strange journey of acceptance, as I constantly rearranged the way I prioritized my ethnic identity. I have reconciled my hang ups over the years, while simultaneously realizing there are some things I may never make peace with. This especially applies to my perception and understanding of myself as a first world American citizen. I can’t help but balk at every backpacker that drawls on about the beauty of Philippines, their love for a tropical paradise that I never really felt authentically extended to the people living there.

But I digress since this can be said of any exotic country westerners choose to find refuge in. I am quick to accuse myself of the same behavior when I think of my attachment to Nepal.

What has fascinated me about life, especially in recent years, is the resurfacing of themes from my childhood that have manifested again in more nuanced and complex ways. My desire for purpose. My connection to my family. My power as a woman. The origins of my history.

Part of growth is realizing you cannot make homes inside of other people. The obvious secret one forgets is that you never have to feel homesick for the inside of your own skin. Despite our culture’s pernicious reverence for white skin, I have learned to love the darkness of my melanin, how it allows me to soak in as much light from the sun as I please. I have learned to celebrate my smallness, and to venerate that my beginnings trace to a time and a place out of reach from my realm of perception.

I may never truly know “what” makes me Filipino. I do know what it is that makes me my mother’s daughter. That I have inherited my father’s good nature. That I have my grandfather’s calloused hands, my grandmother’s enduring spirit. Even if, at the end of the day, I do not speak the language of my ancestors, I have found a deep sense of harmony between the identity I was born into and the one I’ve chosen to create. And maybe, at the end of the day, this is enough.

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My grandmother Rosario.
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My grandpa Andy on the left, in a brown suit. Dated Feb 11, 1979.
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My grandmother and her 3 daughters, including my mother.
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My father, as a young boy.

my architecture

I have learned to precariously balance hope like a poorly built skyscraper,
Made of withered flowers and pencil shavings,
And every childhood dream I gave enough room to breath,
My heartbeat is the rumbling roar of bumblebees and the whispers of hummingbird wings,
My happiness the rose petal pink of a blood blushing sunset,
I carry the history of a far away place in the brownness of my skin, but not in the language on my tongue,
I have spent more time searching for myself outside my own country than in it,
I chase after some meaning in who I am, the same way birds fly south for the winter,
An instinctive desire for movement that I still can’t decipher,
I have created homes out of backpacks and between bookcovers, discovered the deepest of loves in the shortest of seconds,
I fear I love too fiercely for my own good, the same way flames do the forests they burn down,
I don’t know how to be halfway myself,
This uncontrollable storm of chaos and kindness, loveliness and rage,
I have found myself struggling to swim in the shallowest of waters,
Unable to simply stand up to my sea of insecurities,
Life taught me to question everything I thought I knew,
Only to re-learn the entirety of the world, over and over again,
I have learned that loss is just as much a part of life as love,
I have learned that the shape of the world is no different than the clenched curvatures of a woman’s fist,
And I have learned the tricky truth about movement, is that walking too far in one direction only leads you back to the exact same place.
Humans were not meant to live in nostalgia, but to rebuild new homes inside of themselves, like every flower that fought to grow between the bricks of fallen rubble,
So I will seek solace in the solitude inside my own skin,
And I will take this hummingbird heart, my wilted flowers, and every lesson I have learned,
To every new horizon, until I finally manage to run out of ways to rediscover myself.

Hey kid

Hey kid, I hope you realize being cool on the internet doesn’t actually mean anything.

So stop measuring your self-worth in non-existent binary and start asking yourself what really matters.

Do you know the color of your own happiness? Is it a burning red, or a brilliant blue, serene green cascade or a sunset yellow?

Do you know how to be alone without the click of a camera shutter?

Do you know what your identity looks like, when it’s not listed as resume bullet points?

Do you know how loud your heartbeat is in complete silence?

Do you recognize the salt of the ocean in the drops of your tears?

Do you know how to love a stranger?

Do you know how to give to someone who owes you nothing?

Do you know how to be yourself when no one’s watching?

How to learn to embrace uncertainty

As someone who has chosen to dedicate a formidable amount of time to volunteering on a development project, I have been asked many a time to sum up as simply as possible the nature of this work. The world of humanitarian aid is quite complex, in ways that I have even yet to scratch the surface of.

Though I go through phases of posting on social media, I realize I sometimes do little to inform people of the actual work I do in Nepal. So here goes:

In June of last year we finished constructing a 6 room primary school with CSEBs (Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks). This is a sustainable building method that uses soil and a small amount of cement, and can be produced locally by hand with relatively cheap machinery. Our team of paid Nepali staff and volunteers produce these bricks because older, traditional methods of building homes with stone and mud is not earthquake safe, as well as the fact that the more the ubiquitous Bhaktapur bricks 1) cannot be built with re-bar to create earthquake resistant buildings, and 2) contribute to the major deforestation problem in Nepal due to being cured by wood fire.

At present we are constructing a community center using the same building technology, as well as a local orphanage that will house 18 children who lost their family in the earthquake. In partnership with another earth building team called Back2Earth, we are constructing an office for a women’s cooperative using rammed earth technology, which will function as a skills-building and micro-finance center in our district. In the very near future, we will begin constructing an earth bag home for a local widow a few minutes south from where we currently live.

Equally important, our agriculture program aims to provide a space to practice experimental permaculture technologies with traditional Nepali farming methods. We aim to support local farmers in cultivating more financially viable crops, such as fruit trees and coffee. We hope to empower local farmers by partnering and mentoring them on successfully growing these plants. We have the privilege of learning from hundreds of years of traditional Nepali agricultural practices and implementing them in ways locals have not had the opportunity to try, considering they rely solely on the income from crops they’ve grown for generations (like corn, millet, flour) that produce consistently high yields.

Over time, we’ve also developed an education program, where we engage local primary schools with weekly lessons that give particular focus to sustainability and environmental awareness, as well as creating an environment for young people that encourages critical thinking, creativity, confidence, and teamwork outside the engrained rote style of government teaching.

Whew. Okay, there’s your pretty, bullet-point style elevator pitch.

And it is all undeniably great, life-fulfilling work. My decision to be here, to live in this country for months at a time, to have asked for your support and your money, means that not only have I asked you to believe in this work, but I have asked you to believe in me.

But there’s something I want to be honest about. The truth of the matter is that there is no sure bet everything will go exactly according to plan. Since the beginning of our time here, we have hit road blocks, time and again. Rather than overcoming them completely, we have learned to adapt to the given situation, to let go of attachment to what we thought or hoped would happen, and in this, discovered more fruitful paths for us to walk.

There has, and always will be, a level of uncertainty. This is because we are not here as saviors to help people. We are here to work together, to build a better future for one another, with shared values and shared hard work. It may be us as foreigners who have the privilege to raise money, to work and live here without pay — but it is the intensely humble, always gracious, and immensely kind Nepali people who have chosen to trust us and take risks with us, which has allowed this project to flourish into something deeper and bigger than we could have ever imagined.

While explaining some of the complexities and conflicts we’ve encountered to friends and family at home, I was met with some indignant responses, posed with the question, “Why don’t people want your help?”

Building in the way we have chosen is a foreign technology. Some of the ways we’ve chosen to grow plants seem quite strange. Engaging children in non-structural, play environments is something most village teachers have never been exposed to before. To ask people who have lived a completely different reality, who have only known what it means to work to survive rather than to live for themselves, is asking a lot.

Other times, people have asked me with skepticism, whether we are actually helping people. The truth is, we may not have concrete proof that validates any lasting difference we’ve made in this community for years to come. Development work is not a simple or one-dimensional trajectory. You can come distribute supplies after a disaster (which is still critically important immediately after), but what happens to the people in the years following? How do you create sustainable infrastructures that don’t just give someone a temporary fix, but allow someone to empower and support themselves for the rest of their lives? As you may realize, this is not an easy question to try to answer.

We can continue to measure, as best we can in the coming months and even years, with numbers and statistics. Even then, the human element of it all is a bit more complex than a scholarly report can convey.

In choosing to be here, I have learned to let go of attachment to one desired outcome. I don’t choose to be here knowing that everything will go exactly as we hope. There is a necessary self-awareness in this work, in questioning the motivations for my actions everyday, in being cognizant of what I am capable of, in giving all of myself in a way that is both selfless and self-serving at the same time. There is a fine line between recklessness and bravery, and I walk that line with both appropriate concern and intense contentment.

And if you have taken the time to read all this, you may wonder how any of it applies to you. Yes, you!

Because at this point in time, you may be weighing a plethora of your own decisions. I’ve had countless conversations with amazing people in the 20 days I’ve been in Nepal, many times about how painstakingly consumed we are with wanting to make the right decisions — not just for ourselves, but for our careers, for our relationships, for our families. I have struggled a lot in my life with wanting things because I thought it would give me exactly what I wanted. I know I mention this a lot and at this point might sound a bit like a broken record, but I can’t get over how important this lesson has been throughout the past 2 years of my life. It’s a lesson I continue learning, in different contexts that continue to surprise me, time and time again.

Will that job make you happy? Will moving to a new city help you grow? Will investing time in your chosen passion make you talented? Will that person love you back? Will the work I do here create the lasting change I want to see in the world? The uncomfortable truth is that you will never know before you decide to try. And you need to be willing to, or you’re never going to find out.

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What does it mean to make “the jump”?

People always ask what it took for me to make “the jump”. I’ve had many friends express their admiration for some of the decisions I’ve made over the past year, and in these interactions, intrinsically always attest that they could not do the same in their own life.

I feel a lot that in these moments, there is an innate recognition of my happiness that has caused others to project an idea of what their happiness should look like.

I did not know before what my happiness looked like. Sometime again the future, I know I will lose sight of it, until I go out and search for it once more.

Life paths are not a one-size fits all. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing things that I thought would make me happy because it worked for someone else. And I’ve spent a lot of time mourning the person I didn’t turn out to be, because I was not taking enough time to focus on the person that only I could be.

If we are privileged enough to attempt to do so, we owe it to ourselves to live as authentically as possible.

As anyone knows without me having to say, fulfillment can be found in anything and everything — in being passionate about your job, especially if you’re talented at it, found in a loving relationship, where your companionship encourages the personal growth of your soul, and in crafts and interests — like music, writing, dance, art — hell, even in roasting and brewing your own coffee.

A connecting theme I find in many of my encounters with friends is a hesitation to pursue what they want out of fear. And I’ve been there.

Fuck, I’m still there. More often than I’d like to admit.

I struggled for a very long time thinking the life paths I wanted for myself were out of reach because I didn’t spend enough time laying the foundations early enough, didn’t take the right job, didn’t discipline myself enough to be as talented at the art forms I’d always wanted to pursue.

But that’s the thing. It feels like many of us have allowed mainstream culture to define what it means to be good at what we love. The truth is, doing something you love doesn’t mean you have to be “the best” at it. The idea that the outcome has to be momentous and grand stops people from even trying. And yet, the beginnings of these journeys never are. Sometimes it’s just about giving yourself the space to try, and to discover whether or not you are capable of carving a path that is all your own, or realizing that there’s another one out there that’s even better.

More importantly, many of us struggle with knowing what exactly even makes us happy. That requires asking yourself the hard questions.

Who are you? Separate from the identities constantly thrust upon you in daily life — as a daughter or son, sister or brother, lover or friend. Because in the end, you are all, and none of these things.

Are you comfortable in your solitude? In the silence of just yourself?

It’s not about what makes you happy. When you cut out the noise from external variables attached to status or convenience or expectations from yourself and other people — do you know what lights your soul on fire?

What makes you feel like you’re really living?

Especially in this world where our sense of time and communication is warped by the internet, we’ve become conditioned to look for external validation and affirmation of our actions. That to be good at something, or to be anything at all, it has to have been recognized and documented for someone else, quantified in physically nonexistent computer code. You’re scared no one will hear the tree fall. That you are fully capable of doing or creating or being an amazing, gut-wrenchingly wonderful thing, but no one will ever know.

But I think that the most beautiful, strange, and awe-inspiring things about us, are the things other people may never truly know. The act of being human and having consciousness is a universal, yet deeply isolating experience. The only reality that is real is your own. So don’t wait for anything outside of yourself determine who you are, what makes you happy, and what makes you feel alive.

We compartmentalize each others’ happiness, thinking that we can originate it to one action or one thing that catalyzed it coming to fruition. We attach a sense of identity to singular things, like our titles or salaries or relationships or passions, not recognizing how intensely multi-faceted and complex we are. We don’t give ourselves the space to discover fulfillment and happiness in different places, or once we do, we struggle to peacefully let them go when they no longer serve us.

Living your life to the fullest is not easy,

We are always going to be, at the end of the day, instinctively resistant or fearful of change. I don’t think getting older means becoming an adult, I think it is just the process of becoming more and more yourself. And there is always mourning in this growth, in letting go of childhood, in letting go of previous versions of yourself as you constantly change, in realizing how different and the same you are from the people and places that have shaped you throughout your life.

Growing more into yourself means knowing yourself, means being alone with yourself, means realizing you are not like anyone else. And not letting that knowledge scare you, or make you feel lonely — but enrich you, enliven you, excite you.

“There has never been anything like you, there is nothing else like you, and nothing else will ever be like you.”

I had to learn what it meant to write for no one but myself. I agonized when I was young, to know what I could write to make me successful. I would write white lead female lead characters, would write story lines that I thought would be popular. Eventually I stopped writing altogether, only to rediscover it the way I do now. As a way to breath, rather than to be recognized.

Being your authentic self means being okay with being vulnerable. Open and honest with yourself about the things you want or don’t want, the things that don’t serve you, how you feel about the people in your life, and most importantly, how you feel about yourself.

None of this is simple. I speak from personal experience. People have often asked me for advice, as if I have the key to my own eternal happiness. But I am just as confused and lost as the best of us. I am still up to my ears in debt in student loans, I rely on my parents for support and barely afford the lifestyle I have now. I worry a lot about amounting up to the type of person I’ve set myself up to be in my head, getting easily stuck in vicious cycles I thought I’d grown out of.

But I stop and perceive the beauty in the lessons learned from these experiences. During my time at home, I took a part-time job working at a restaurant. Though I found myself on the end of questioning and wise cracks about working near minimum wage after spending $80,000 on a degree, I found myself unexpectedly happy with the nature of my job, not confined to a desk, and getting to have authentic interactions with my co-workers and customers daily. Being humble enough to accept and receive the support I do from my parents has brought a new depth of appreciation to what it meant for them to bring me into this world, for them to wholeheartedly support the pursuit of my happiness. And while being forced to confront things about myself I thought I’d overcome is not comfortable, going into that space has led to discoveries I did not ever expect. That deep down, there are things I never gave myself the space to want, because I was always too scared to try. Even now, I have yet to know what to do with these discoveries. But this is my gold, my greatest treasure.

The anxiety over not knowing whether you can trust your own decisions is always the hardest part. But it’s not about making “the jump”. It always starts small. And this decision, the act of taking a small step in an intentional direction — one that you know feels right to you — will be the easiest thing you ever do. You are not the person other people think you are, and you never have to be.

And bringing this all back to how the story started — the universal and intrinsic and very privileged desire to know who we are and what drives us — if you ever thought that buying a plane ticket or writing a book or being alone could help you learn about yourself — then you should probably do it.

In the case of traveling, it is all hilariously easier than you’d imagine. It’s not easily attainable, as anything that requires financial stability never is — but if you have the resources, all you have to do is as follows: 1) buy a ticket 2) find a bed to sleep in 3) let the universe take care of the rest.

You won’t regret it. And even if you do, at least then you know you had the courage to try.

Which is all any of us can do, and owe to ourselves, for the short time we get to exist on this earth.

silhouettes, cigarettes, & other stories 

I self-published my first book of poems, and without realizing it, I accomplished a lifelong goal that I had set out for myself as a child. I remember dreaming of being a writer, and as I aged, I conflated the definition of what that meant as only someone who was published or recognized by literary bodies as an “author”. But to be a writer, doesn’t mean someone else defines you as so. Of course, those stages of traditional success are important, are part of a culture around writing and literature that has existed for hundreds of years. But outside of any desire to have a “legitimate” career as a writer, I am more proud to know that I did this for myself, and no one else.

What it now means for me to be “political”

It is true that I’ve had moments where being home has left me disillusioned. What did it mean for me to come back to a place that is inherently wasteful, where people deliberately shield themselves from discomfort in order to carry on their merry way?

More importantly, I found myself asking the question, “Am I proud to be from this place?”

Every individual human functions within their own constructed reality — and that truth has never been more apparent to me now with how divisive everything in our country has become.

Our Facebook feeds are nothing more than statuses and articles curated by algorithms to match our opinions. I remember when I was in India a week before going home, I decided to read through the timelines of people whose opinions were contrary to mine, let’s say for the sake of research, but more out of a sense of morbid curiosity.

What I found particularly unsettling was the re-appearing archetype I encountered: people who are libertarian-minded, support gun ownership, are openly critical and wary of Fundamentalist Islam and terrorism which sometimes borders on Islamophobic, and highly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve noticed 3 different individuals who I’ve met on different occasions from different parts of the world quote Milo Yiannopoulous, and use the exact same wording of describing BLM as equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t see that as a coincidence.

I also don’t think these people are explicitly racist, or are “bad” people in any sense. They are people that also have perfectly curated methods of consuming news and information, have their own trusted sources, have found their own credible testimonials from people who reinforce the reality that comforts their opinion — it’s not like I haven’t done the same. These people aren’t hardcore Trump supporters (at least I hope), who support feminism and are against rape-culture, and who are generally empathetic of the refugee crisis.

But these are people who are also highly critical of what has been dubbed as ‘coddling millennial Social Justice’, who do in fact feel attacked by the growing social consciousness to be progressive about feminism and diversity. I’ve been condescending about this in the past, but I’ve realized now that doesn’t really do much in bridging the gaps in how we understand one another. So no, this isn’t a defense of conservatism — this is more a dissection of it, in a way that I really just want to understand. In a way that I’ve never tried before.

I think about impoverished people from rural parts of the midwest who have suffered from economic ruin in the shadows of forgotten America. I think about the black, Latino and Asian people, and especially women who support Donald Trump for president, amongst other things. What reality do they live in that I have completely failed to grasp?

While traveling I had the privilege in taking parts in workshops that revolved around the importance of holding space for people. At times, people share things that are uncomfortable, things that others may disagree with, things that in our normal everyday lives are too “deep” to bring out into the open.

I walked away from those experiences in awe of the power of empathy — what it meant to truly put ourselves in each others’ shoes, if we open ourselves to situations where we can relate to one another without preconceived notions of what we think the other person is like. That has also been a hard transition for me while being home, and one I try to take with me into interactions with everyone in my life, whether they be acquaintances, close friends, or family. Don’t waste your breath on small talk. Talk about the things that matter, and the things that are worth sharing, to make our understandings of each other that much deeper. That much truer.

Now, I don’t expect anyone to love someone pointing a gun at them. I don’t expect anyone to try to love anyone that they feel inflicts violence against them, whether with their opinions or with physical actions. When I think of the last time a strange man tried to put a hand on me, or someone said “Ni hao,” to me while I walked alone on an empty street at night, my first emotional impulse was not love and forgiveness.

But I think a lot about the divisive lines that we’ve drawn in the sand. Whether they were encouraged by a media, that does not necessarily have an agenda meant to polarize, but is only feeding into the emotions/anger/rage that we ourselves now produce based on our logical reactions to the violence in the world around us.

I always find myself deeply disturbed and internalizing of pain, in a way that feels personal, when I realize that there are friends/acquaintances/people around me that actually see the world in a very different way. Which is unfair. And just another consequence of realities being shaped by completely different variables.

More than anything the party warfare of Republicans and Democrats seems so intensely myopic. There are real stakes with this election, the difference between imprisonment or freedom to many. And in the past, I’ve laughed and said things that I felt wholly justified when criticizing conservative movements, because I see their opinions  as violence against me and against people I love and care about. But it’s the likelihood and simplicity of someone I interact with on a non-political basis having similar views. And being able to recognize that they’re still a good person, with good intentions, at their core. Me passing judgement on the fact that I think they’re only trying to make it better for themselves, or intentionally mean to do harm to me, is something that encourages this divide. And in the media and on the internet especially, I find the back and forth vitriolic on both sides. I wouldn’t say in equal amounts (but again that’s just my opinion), and all of it just feeds and feeds and feeds into itself until it completely warps our sense of understanding of the world and all the people in it.

Maybe these ponderings are quite damning; maybe I’m being convinced to dismiss bigotry in the hopes of alleviating my own personal anxiety and tension I’ve built up over the past few months. These are just illogical rationalizations so I can sleep at night, because I’d rather think people who vehemently disagree on an controversial topic can still understand each other as humans and use that middle ground to reach a sense of peace. Or even love.

There’s just so much hate in the world, and it’s gaining traction. And maybe there are people on opposite party lines that you believe truly support and preach hate. But I’m realizing more and more, beyond comments on the internet or the plethora of articles we are inundated with everyday, is that there are people that are just like me that happen to fall on different ideological lines. And our media and party wars have pushed us into further, compartmentalized boxes that label us in a way that we no longer see the things about ourselves that make us the same and allow us to relate to one another.

I’ve lost count of the number of terrorist attacks that have occurred across the world in the past few months. When I wake up to headlines, I wonder if my heart can take anymore pain. And then I am exposed to the differing reactions to that pain — the increasing xenophobia, the hatred, and heartache of those who are lost. And I see how these men act alone, how they feed off the pure violence and hatred that ISIS preaches; it’s become the perfect avenue and opportunity for them to act out their personal desires. I see how angry people have used movements to release their hatred. With Brexit. With Trump. And in a way that I can’t perceive, someone has easily said the same thing about the movements I support, like BLM.

I take a step back. I am privileged enough that I got to spend almost the whole last year of my life out of the country. In that time, I’ve seen worlds and realities that exist light years away from anything I previously knew. Good, honest, amazing people, who live in realities far untouched from the one I feel consumed by everyday when I read the news. But in an insidious way, our problems are still all the same. It’s ignorant to think that ways of life across the world go unaffected by the goings on of the globalized world. Every economic policy, sanction, lack of environmental protection, changing power dynamics between super powers, influx in immigration patterns — everything that happens has a domino affect and creates links of changes that we don’t even really notice until we have the retrospect of time.

One of the most formative experiences for me in 2015 was visiting the Philippines for the first time. In those 3 weeks, more than connecting deeply with my ancestral roots, I learned to appreciate at a visceral level what my parents did for me, in order for me to have the utterly amazing life I have now. I am the manifestation of my parents’ American dream. I may not necessarily be proud of America, but I am proud to be an American. And my duty as an American isn’t just to vote tomorrow. The problems that continue to divide this country will not go away after Tuesday Nov 8th. Maybe I am just another overly idealistic optimist who will continue to be disappointed by the trials of history. But I will not stop believing that there is an inherent goodness in people. I will not stop working for a better America. And most of all, I hope that you won’t either.

A final word on a new beginning

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Throughout traveling, I always end up leaving parts of myself behind in different places. And at the end of a journey, I’m always a little overwhelmed by how much of me is missing, and how much more of me I discovered along the way.

The parts of myself left behind are not lost, they are breadcrumbs, bookmarks for each chapter spent in a different country to mark a particular point in time across the linear passage of my life; where I can remember exactly where I was, exactly how I felt, and exactly who I was in that specific moment.

What I’ve learned is that travel doesn’t always have to be an exotic backdrop to your personal adventures. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be about you at all. It can be about everything you experience within a place — the ability it gave you to observe a world that, at first glance, appeared unlike your own.

Our lives are more or less a consequence of geography and history; we speak different languages, prioritize different cultural values, worship different gods (if any at all), and are born into vastly different social and economic circumstances.

And yet every place in the world has their own definitions of God, duty, love and happiness. Though we become convinced that the ways in which we’ve defined these things divide us, we don’t realize that attempting to define them at all is what connects us universally to being human. And upon closer inspection, you come to learn how these subjective meanings, when it comes down to it, are really not that different at all.

The forces pulling me to come home, to see the people I love and who I miss dearly, remind me that though time appears linear, our lives create a cyclical pattern that continues expanding outward. That you can revisit the same place in the world as a completely different person, while still remembering exactly what it felt like when you were there before, is a testament to how time can feel like a flat circle.

The feelings that so acutely overwhelm me remind me why it’s just as important to honor where you come from as much as the places you go. Home is what establishes the lens in which we see the rest of the world. What begins as a bias can become an invaluable tool, once you step outside of the culture you know and realize how intensely unique each individual person’s lived experience really is.

In all its ugliness, there are still people in this world who block their ability to truly empathize, who cannot bring themselves to walk anywhere in someone else’s shoes because they don’t yet have the courage to take the first step.

It’s difficult to not become discouraged and jaded by the world when you see how hard it is for people to love and understand one another – how sometimes it’s hard even for you to accept people that stand far away from you across ideological lines.

But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. If I’ve learned anything in the past 322 days, it’s this: don’t let your heart become hard. Let life change you, in all the best ways possible. Always hold yourself accountable. Always love yourself. And always love others, even when it’s not easy.

As the old adage goes, this next voyage does not mark the end of my journey, but the start of an entirely new one — one whose uncertainty and grace I will gladly embrace, in hopes that I, and therefore the world, will become better for it.

For a friend

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I laid down beneath the rain
while the sun disagreeingly continued to shine
I watched raindrops bounce off the bodies of leaves and tree trunks
like crystals falling from the sky
How easy it is for us to get washed away,
when we’re unable to take shelter from our own storms,
It’s strange how that happens
How fleetingly we can disappear, 
like a storm after its passed
If we’re all just flickers in the explosive fire,
Then you were the single brightest spark in that flame,
bright enough to blind,
with such passion and fathomless humor,
a tenacious energy for life,
and a mischievous smile,
That I will always keep close to my heart
You changed the direction of my life for the better,
taught me how to line the path beneath my feet 
with intention and an unyielding desire for justice
How quickly time has passed since you last graced me with your laugh,
Something I will regret in the days to come,
but I’ll always remember,
the late nights filled with our laughter,
and all the lessons you instilled in me,
about confidence and perseverance,
friendship and what it means,
to always be your biggest and best self
I just wish your last lesson wasn’t teaching me,
what it means to miss a friend who isn’t coing back,
So many will miss you beyond belief,
but true friendships never really leave us,
the same way stars still shine for millions of years long after they’re gone,
your’s will be one of the brightest in my sky,
for the rest of my days.