Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Every Dream Must Come to an End

I have dreaded this week for over a year now.  I've known for a while now that my future does not reside in Santa Barbara.  I have found that to be a frustrating truth to swallow.  I love this town.  It isn't for everybody, but for me it represents home.  It is the type of place I want to live at the end of my life.  Even though Santa Barbara itself is wonderful, I think that more than Santa Barbara I am going to miss the people I've come to love here.  Westmont’s most important role in my life was introducing me to people who have changed my life.  Part of my heart will always reside in Santa Barbara.

The biggest challenge I have faced these last 7 months has been trying to figure out life after Westmont.  This challenge (life after college) presents itself very differently to everybody. Many people find themselves returning home for work.  Many of my friends back home are experiencing this.  It works out perfectly for them, as they are close to family and old and new friends.  Some stay in Santa Barbara, and they have college friends or significant others they are preparing to spend a life with.  For me, the next step after college has always been this hulking mass of fog.  I have been staring at it approaching me for over a year.  Those who were walking this journey with me, my friends and family, have stopped behind or gone their own route, and I find myself between them and the misty unknown. 

I feel like I am at a great crossroads in life.  The biggest question in my head is how will I connect everything that has transpired these last 22 years of my life with the future?  For almost a year now, I have felt an inexplicable draw to Washington D.C. even when I knew very little about it.  D.C. feels like a whole new start.  Who am I going to be?  The only things I have besides the shirt on my back are my dreams, passion, and faith.  They have become my torch and compass as I enter the mist.  As someone who clings to certainty, I have attempted to make Washington D.C. into a place of certainty.  I have tried to imagine various future lives that in all honesty are not certain and are probably inaccurate in regards to how my life will actually turn out. 

It was serendipitous that the movie “The Great Gatsby” came out this past May.  It had been some time since I had read the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  However, while watching the film with friends, it hit me like a brick wall that I had become obsessed with an idea just as the character Jay Gatsby had.  D.C. had become more than just a city to me.  It had evolved into my “green light” so to speak.  It was a representation of not just of an imagined future occupation, but who I wanted to become; a powerful, influential, successful individual.  Happy.  What I really was searching for was happiness in a fairy tale future instead of my present circumstances.  Instead of accepting my current state of limbo between a place and life I loved and one that I knew nothing about, I consumed myself with pursuing a Brooks that I deemed better.

A challenge that I have given myself is to embrace the uncertainty, discomfort, and solitude that will come with moving to a new big city.  I am still going to Washington D.C.  I can’t ignore my dreams and passions, and right now those are leading me to one place.  At the same time, I am preparing myself for a humbling next couple of years.  Instead of actively seeking out meaning in power and influence, my goal is to find meaning in loving others.  My time at Westmont has shown me how important having a good support base is.  I started becoming a person I was proud to be at Westmont, and I plan on continuing on that journey even as my surroundings change.

I can honestly say leaving Santa Barbara and the people I have come to love has been one of the scariest things I have gone through.  This summer has been hard on everybody in some way.  I truly believe that the bonds of close friendship and community forged here in this Southern California utopia will surpass geography and time.  I will always regard my time here with great fondness: from freshman year to senior year and my time living in a house with some of the greatest people I call friends.  It has been one hell of a ride.  I eagerly look forward to seeing how each one of your lives falls into place.






I will leave you with a traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Confessions of a 21st Century Racist

I risk repeating a lot of things that have already been said by people much more brilliant than I am, but I found myself deeply moved by the Zimmerman-Martin Case.  However, I do not want to argue for or against the judgment.  I merely want to reflect on the ramifications and reactions of this country’s public.  Also, I hope my parents don’t mind me putting them in the spotlight a bit (it’s okay Mom and Dad, only like 20 people will read this!)

I have been reading articles and blog posts about this case all week.  I was especially moved by this particular blog:  If you have the time please read through some of the posts.  They are very interesting and convey poignant views of the present racial situation in America.

I am not Trayvon Martin.  I never will be.  I am as pale as a full moon and have hair that is redder than Lightning McQueen’s paint-job.  I am probably the least intimidating person you will ever meet.  I grew up a privileged, white, Christian, male in Dallas, Texas.  My childhood looked like the 90s version of Pleasantville.  I have lived in a white bubble my whole life.  I went to a private school that was 95% white.  Those students who weren’t white were well-spoken middle-class kids.  I have never been a friend with a Trayvon Martin.  I’ve never really known one.  I’ll be honest; I get a little nervous around people who come from the “rough side of town.” 

My parents, who are products of their generation and upbringing, raised me to be respectful to all people.  Both my mother and father are great people.  They would never turn away somebody in need because of their skin color.  My mother volunteers in West Dallas at a school made up of all African-American and Hispanic children and teachers.  My father is a loan officer who has helped many non-white people go from poor, starting out entrepreneurs to successful small business owners.  With that said, I was raised apart from people with different culture or different skin color.  And like many privileged white citizens of Dallas, my parents are not comfortable in the “bad part of town” or in neighborhoods that clearly aren’t majority white.  I would be lying if I said I was not like that myself.  I have been raised this way.

So whether George Zimmerman was attacked by young Trayvon Martin and was justified in self-defense or whether he stalked the young man and was looking for an opportunity to shoot the kid doesn’t matter anymore.  In my opinion, the real issue is that this guy George Zimmerman felt threatened by a black kid wearing a hoodie walking through his neighborhood.  If it had been a group of white teenagers would he have done the same thing?  It doesn't even matter that Trayvon was not a Boy Scout or an honors student, and from his text messages it is pretty clear he was a troubled youth. However, there was no way George Zimmerman could have known this just by looking at somebody. The kid currently being tried for the Boston Marathon bombing was well liked and a good student.

I think about my neighborhood back home: Highland Park.  I’ve seen groups of kids walking around or driving down the alleys at night.  Sure some cops or people might give them hell if they were being rambunctious, but for the most part nobody would give them a second thought.  Then I thought, what would happen if a black man was jogging through Highland Park wearing a hoodie and sweats?  I’m only dealing with a hypothetical here, but my first impression if I saw such a person would be “well you don’t see that everyday.”  I’ve thought a lot about this.  It’s really sad that would be my first reaction.  If it were a white guy, I would not even think about them, let alone glance at them.  However, the fact that somebody’s skin color makes me react differently to him or her means that, well, I’m racist. 

This past fall I did my senior history thesis paper on American racism in the turn of the 20th century, and how it affected American foreign policy in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.  As somebody who has grown up in the “old Confederacy,” racism has played an important role in my hometown’s history.  Thus, the history of race-relations has always fascinated me.  Though until recently, I thought of myself as outside of this issue.  It was merely an academic interest.  Surely, people weren’t really racist anymore.  People of different races were free to swim at the Highland Park pool.  They could use the same restroom as me at a Rangers game.  As I studied the issue more, I came to the realization that white people are still separate but equal from Black, Hispanic, Arab, Indian, Asian, Native American, or any other people with skin color other than white.  We are separated by experience, economic conditions, and culture. 

I don’t know if the authorities at Westmont College had a good sense of humor or if it was merely a modern day miracle, but my freshman year I roomed with a Chinese immigrant student named Ted (that was his English name, his birth name is Geng Li).  I remember my first reaction was that of excitement and pure terror.  I was not scared of living with somebody whose second language was English; I was more worried about my own ignorance.  I realized I had never really spent extended amount of time with somebody raised in a completely different culture!  It was a year of learning for myself and it was a ton of fun.  Ted taught me so much about listening and redefining what it meant to be American.

I was raised in a culture that expects me to succeed.  This is very different than the culture of say a poor Hispanic kid from Pleasant Grove grows up in.  I never saw gangs or was pressured to be in one.  I had parents who got on my case every night to do my homework and would help me if I asked them.  As a small child, my parents made it clear to me I was going to college, and it was the only option for me after high school.  I am very grateful for all of these things.  How many people from Oak Cliff, Irving, Farmers Branch, Pleasant Grove, or even parts of Plano share this experience with me?  I have never been given any reason to not trust law enforcement.  The only time I was pulled over was because the police officer thought I was too young to be driving.  I’ve never been frisked for drugs randomly.  I’ve never been “randomly selected” for extra screening at the airport.  I’ve never been pulled over for evidence that I am an American citizen.  In 2010, black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender.  White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 residents.  Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. The only reason I am not Trayvon Martin is circumstance and genetics. 

It is true that brave people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. have made great strides in regards to Civil Rights.  However, there is still a long road ahead to equality.  Dr. King always acknowledged that.  If there is one thing that I have learned from history, it is that traumatic and violent events or institutions such as slavery have their effects felt for centuries.  The Jewish Diaspora, I would argue, is still showing effects even today.  As Christians, it was left to us by Jesus to be advocates for the weak, poor, and oppressed.  Time and time again the American white Church has failed those who could use their support. 

So that has left me with the question what am I to do about this?  I don’t think the answer is to go into the ghettos and preach the Gospel.  I believe that white churches everywhere should come out and support the peoples’ assertions that racism still exists and admit that it has contributed to the problem.  The time is now for the White Church to begin making amends for the support of slavery and segregation.  I believe my place during this time should be one of submission.  I believe that as privileged white folk, we should merely hear out what the other has to say.  We should acknowledge their experience as legitimate.  I will be working on my personal prejudices.  I will work on rejecting racist views or comments.  I will work on my reactions to people of different skin color.  I hope that maybe through these actions I might become a recovering racist. 

Racism is America’s greatest demon; it has been since its inception.  It is time to confront it whether you are Christian or not.  There is good news though.  America has shown promise in the past for change regarding racism.  However, today's racism is not merely political and legal in nature.  If America is to change, all of her citizens must stand together and demand change in one voice.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Waiting For the Next Train

Train stations are like airports except your food options are worse, the ground is dirtier (yum ABC gum!), and it smells worse.  European train stations aren’t too bad.  However, it is impossible to strike up a conversation with a stranger.  Not only because most likely they don’t speak English, but in Europe you don’t idly chat with a stranger.  Everybody has a simple purpose: get from point A to point B.  If you are not part of that process then you can forget it; they will not give you the time of day.  In these places of transition, people retreat back into themselves.  They read a book (or I guess a tablet for the tech-savvy), listen to their iPod, talk on the phone, play games on their Smartphone, or simply withdraw to a daydream state. 

Okay, enough with the literary devices.  This is a metaphor, and it’s the best I can do right now.  This is how my life feels right now.  Though, I will admit the station I’m in is the nicest station I’ve ever (and probably ever will) experienced.  Santa Barbara is “heaven on earth” for many people.  I think the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles perfectly captures the feel of Santa Barbara.  It is hard to leave once you’ve had a taste.  Nevertheless, I believe more than the place, it is the people that will be hard to leave. 

Santa Barbara has been my home for four years and during that time I’ve had my life changed by the people around me.  Some have come and gone, an all too common occurrence in life, but some have been with me through thick and thin.  They are the ones (they’re crazy by the way) who have braved the journey of friendship with me.  I call them friends.  My parents said that I would make the best friends of my life in college.  I feel like I must admit that I feel they are right, though I am open for them to be proven wrong at any point in time.  I plan on keeping in touch with these people as often as I am able.

However, in Santa Barbara Station, even those who I know most deeply have been pulling away in some capacity.  There is a palpable sense of stress and uncertainty with many I talk to.  It is this season of transition.  People have themselves to worry about and it seems that the carefree days are over.  I find myself doing this as well.  I don’t know how to approach this last month in Paradise.  How can I “tie up” my friendships perfectly before I leave and possibly never see them again?  How do you put that elusive “friends for life” stamp on it?  How do you continue a friendship when you no longer share experiences or hardships?  How do you base a friendship off the occasional phone call?  Adult problems.

Maybe friendships are never going to be the same.  What did HE just say?!  What I am learning is that friendship doesn’t have one definition.  Friendship with a person while in college looks different than friendship with that same person in the “Yuppie Years” as I call them.  Ideally there might be the annual meet up or vacation with that small group of friends.  Even when you make new friendships during this time, they won’t resemble college friendships.  People get married, gain more responsibilities, and have less time for friends.  What I’m trying to say is that marriage kills friendships.  Friendship genocide is a real thing y’all!  Just kidding.  Honestly, it will get harder and harder every year.  As somebody who finds a lot of meaning in my friendships, I can already tell this is going to be the toughest transition of my life.  Yippee!

Life moves quickly without asking us permission to do so.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no way I am going to have that perfect goodbye.  I’m not going to be able to say everything I want to say or be able to convey my thankfulness to those who deserve it.  And as much as I want it, I wont get that hero’s farewell like in the movie Big Fish (minus the whole turning into a fish and such though it would be super cool to have a farewell marching band, but I digress).  All we can do in this season of transition is communicate how much we truly care about those who are close to us.  I figure what we are supposed to do is put a smile on our face, enjoy what we get, and try to look forward. 

I’m reminded of the movie The Fox and the Hound.  This last month feels like that awful part where the old lady has to give up Todd.  Talk about waterworks!  I seriously doubt a single one of you can watch it without crying.  I often find myself thinking how crazy people must think I am for wanting to go out to Washington D.C. without knowing anybody out there.  Seriously.  I am going to have 0 friends!  At the same time I know it’s the right thing for me to do.  And that’s why I’m sitting here in the train station waiting to board the next train to D.C. 

So what the heck does all this rambling add up to?  Good question.  I’m not entirely sure myself, BUT, here is this: friendships in our twenties can still be great, however they won’t be as certain.  What I mean by that is you can’t count on that monthly sleep over with your best friends anymore.  Remember when you could stay up all night playing Halo with your roommates?  Yeah, that won’t happen either.  People have separate lives and priorities now.  We have to be deliberate with our friends now and cherish them when we see them.  From now on it will be harder to meet someone that gets you on multiple levels (and most likely if you do find somebody like that you’ll end up getting hitched to them).  But we can make a lot of great acquaintances!  Those best friends you’ve made along the way, they’re only a phone call away.  (1000 points for ending on a sick rhyme!)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 3rd, A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

While it is certainly too early to tell, I hope that when historians look back on this decade they will declare the Egyptians as the reinvigorators of world-wide democracy.  There is a lot Americans could learn from Egypt during this season of Arab Spring. 

I was in Nazareth, Israel on January 28, 2011.  I remember watching with wonder the BBC news coverage on the small analog television in a tiny schwarma shop.  What I was witnessing I had only seen clips of on the History channel growing up.  Revolution: a people taking the future of their country into their own hands.  I instantly became obsessed with the Egyptian revolution.  I quickly educated myself on Hosni Mubarak and his oppressive regime using Wikipedia on my iPhone.  For the remainder of my time abroad that semester I watched and read about the developments.  I remember being extremely skeptical of the military taking over.  I thought there was no way the military would actually allow elections because historically the military never gives up power.  I mean, hello, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Edi Amin; I could go on!

Then Egypt held elections.  Real legitimate elections.  The reported overall turnout was 62% country-wide.  That’s unheard of.  The last time the US had a voter turnout like that was 1908.  Egypt had done what few countries in history had done.  They had overthrown a dictator, had temporary military rule, and then peacefully held elections.  Has that ever been done before?  Meanwhile, American media was obsessed about who had been elected: the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi.  I was not really sure what to think of the Muslim Brotherhood.  I knew they were Islamist, but it’s almost impossible outside of Turkey for a secular government to be formed (or so I thought).  However, I had high hopes for Egypt.  I really thought Egypt was on the up and up.  Morsi was democratically elected, but he quickly failed to reach out to any group that was not associated with the Muslim Brotherhood; something that can’t be done in a parliamentary system.  When he rushed through a questionable constitution, granted himself “unlimited powers to protect the nation,” and declared he could legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts I began to worry.  Morsi was beginning to look a lot like Mubarak. 

And so people were unhappy, which led to today, July 3rd, 2013.  Here’s my take.  Morsi, while democratically elected, failed to form a representative parliament.  His cabinet and other leadership positions were given to only Muslim Brotherhood supporters.  He refused to reach out to the minority groups (which by the way still took around 49% of the popular vote in the elections).  Post-revolution, a leader cannot do this.  In order to enact true change from the previous regime, all the people must be included.  On top of this, Christians were being targeted by extremists.  Violent crime levels were the highest in modern Egyptian history.  The infrastructure of Egypt was being neglected.  Morsi was failing to actually keep Egypt running.  If the same thing was happening here in the US the people would flip out too.  Morsi supporters were calling for more time.  My problem with that argument is what difference will that make?  If the man can’t competently lead a country in one year, what difference is 3 more years going to make?

Now the media is calling this a coup.  In reality, they are only half true.  The military has overthrown Morsi.  Okay, yes that is what happens in a coup.  However, they have given presidential power to a judge, and already appointed powers to the coalition and youth groups.  This does not happen in a coup.  The military didn’t seize absolute power last election (that I can tell), and so I doubt they will do that here.  Besides, the military is filled with ranks of sons and fathers of the average citizens.  Egypt’s social culture has encompassed all citizens.  Revolution is life now. 

Hopefully, Morsi supporters will choose to engage with this new road map rather than fight it.  The Muslim Brotherhood should not be prevented from putting forth another candidate.  Representation must win the day, no matter what.  Egypt must avoid civil war if they want their country to prosper.  Finally, the United States needs to stay out of Egyptian politics.  This must play out on its own.  Once things settle, diplomacy can continue.

So what can we learn from this?  First, Egyptians refuse to let partisan politics dictate their government.  They have shown this today.  Over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries American politics has gotten more partisan.  Politicians can't even come to an agreement on our country's budget anymore!  There are a number of culprits behind this partisan phenomenon (gerrymandering, extremist groups, American media, etc) but this type of governing is simply not sustainable.  We need change.  The last time our country was this divided we fought a Civil War.  This will not happen now but the seriousness of the current situation is just as present.  Second, American citizens have gotten lazy and apathetic concerning our government's well-being.  Citizens don't act like they have a say anymore.  People are more concerned about their jobs and their immediate microcosm of life.  However, for better or worse, our government's well-being effects each and every one of us.  American's do not necessarily need to be protesting on the streets, but they need to be educating themselves on the issues, they need to be emailing their representatives, they need to be concerned.  Washington D.C. has discovered that it is not being held accountable anymore.  Lastly,  politics in America has become entertainment.  The last election felt like a long and crappy TV show.  It doesn't seem serious anymore.  So much money is spent on fanfare and smear campaigns, that there is hardly any substance to politics presented to the public anymore.  It's no wonder people don't give a rat's ass about politics anymore in this country.  Egypt stands as a lesson to the Western world.  Our destinies are in our hands if we want them to be.  This partisanship has to end.  We will determine the breaking point.