The first week I was on my own, I was in New York for a week doing orientation. I was excited about all the new people I was going to meet and all the curriculum I was going to learn to better myself in this year of service and how to make this year productive . Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that week of orientation would be about white supremacy and racism. The second day of orientation we dove right into the topic of white supremacy, it was weird honestly. I was uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable because this was a new topic to me, because it wasn’t as a person of color. As a person of color I have to go out into the world with my head held high on my shoulders and my ears opened but immune to the comments being shouted at me either on my body or even because the color of my skin. I was uncomfortable because being in a room that was ninety-five percent white and being one of five people of color in the room made it uncomfortable. Made it so awkward because you could see the shame and guilt on everyone’s faces. When we talked about white supremacy and racism I fell silent, I felt I could not speak, not because I didn’t have thoughts forming in my head, but because I was afraid to say how I actually felt and my own experiences with white supremacy and racism. I was afraid of being looked at with those eyes. What I mean by “those eyes” is the guilt felt and often times filled with petty eyes, that people not of color give you when they feel bad for you. But this is besides the point, I wanted to take the time to write this blog because I wanted everyone to know what a true honor it was to be apart of something so beautiful. Being in a room of people not of color trying to better themselves and make up for their ancestors past mistakes, made my heart warm. I think about that orientation a lot. That orientation gave me hope that I had been lacking because of the world we live in today. And it still does, knowing that the people in that room are trying to fight alongside me to help stop injustice action, racism, white supremacy, etc. That we won’t stop and our voices will continue to be heard, we will fight and stand up for what we believe, now in this year of service, but also for the rest of our lives. Thank you YAV orientation for giving me that hope back. For reminding me why I am here and why I continue to fight for what I believe in.
A month before I left Asheville, I made a decision to do a second YAV year. It was in no way an easy decision. As soon as spring hit, I began to think seriously about the options that laid ahead of me for the next year. I was supposed to have been using the whole year as a “gap year” focusing what came next after college and what interested me. I went into Asheville, hoping that it would possibly even lead to a future job or career path. As I got closer to the end, that dream became more and more of a reality as several options to stay came my way. Job offers, Americorps years, even options to go to my Illinois home for the year. None of them seemed right though. I was convinced that as much as I wanted to stay in Asheville, by staying, I would be taking an opportunity away from someone else. Also, I had came into Asheville knowing that the experience would only be a year and so in some ways, my subconscious was ready to move onto whatever came next. My heart may not have been ready, but every other part of me seemed to be- my muscles for instance were counting down the days as we entered June and they didn’t have to carry heavy sofas and prove themselves to old men who looked at me sideways. Going home also seemed like a step back- I had convinced myself that moving forward into the future had to mean a step forward. So, when a representative from the giving’s department of the PCUSA church came for a visit and asked us what came next in continuing this knowledge of faith in action, only one answer really made sense. In discerning my call last year, I started thinking about seminary, but am not yet ready. I need more hands-on experience and learning. There is so much of the social justice world that I am just beginning to get a flavor for. A year on the border stepping FAR out of my comfort zone, seemed like the perfect opportunity for change and growth. With a half an hour left on the clock to submit my application, I had committed to a second year.
The commitment has taken a while to sink in.
I left Asheville feeling like I was prepared and fully expecting the challenges ahead. However, writing this two weeks in, I can tell you that everyday here so far has proven me wrong. Although I am doing a second year of service through the PCUSA Missions Agency, the comparisons between my years end there. I am living with 5 women again, but they are completely different from my roommates last year. My current site supervisor may be friends with my past one, but their guidance styles are very different. Last year, I had a job where I was constantly on the move and lifting furniture; so far this year, I have had a lot of office work and sorting in the nice air conditioning. Last year, I had my car and relied on that privilege more often than I should; this year the temptation is gone, and my primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. The years are drastically different and although everybody was telling me not to compare, I did not realize how much I was doing so until I came face to face with the pre-conceived notions I carried. I am almost two weeks into the year and apart from realizing that it is different from my first, here are some other things I have discovered and learned about Tucson in particular:
It’s hot here but it’s a “dry heat”. It took me two days to realize that means dehydration becomes a problem as the heat inevitably sneaks up on you. I am living in a house in the midst of a neighborhood with a lot of U of A students. Our yard is full of “goat-heads” (or how I always knew them- sand burrs). To avoid getting flat tires on our bikes, we carry them anywhere there is not pavement. There is no grass here in Arizona, just cacti, gravel, and sand. The lady at the post office was joking with me yesterday and called Arizona the country’s largest beach without the water. My bike ride to work is about a three-mile ride through downtown Tucson. Two days into the year, we took an 8-hour intensive bike course where we had both a written and riding portion. I am certified in all biking endeavors but my “quick-stop” could use some work as the practice portion sent me flying over the handlebars. Helmets are not fashionable, but I learned in that instance they are in fact necessary. So, I am learning to adjust and live with it- my bun however is not so becoming bald may be in my future. My work placement this year is at Keep Tucson Together (KTT). It is a nonprofit organization that helps in providing legal assistance for members of the community that need representation in legal hearings, aid in filling out and filing court documents, and help understanding their current situations and figuring out options. The team is comprised of a few full-time employees but mostly it consists of retired lawyers and other volunteers (we are all volunteers as I am often reminded) who are looking to provide hands on assistance and help wherever they can. My job so far has been in going through and organizing client’s files and getting used to the “a# system”. I am quickly realizing how although it is not required, being able to speak Spanish in the workplace and community would be tremendously helpful. I start an intermediate level Spanish class on the 9th and as a house, we are reading and practicing vocab words together.
Two weeks in, I can see where my time in Asheville was an asset to my learning and how it can in some ways contribute to my year this year. However ultimately, these are two VERY different experiences and being able to live each of them has been a blessing and has helped in understanding just how diverse God has created this vast world. I am excited and obviously nervous to continue embracing each and every challenge, difference, and change that lies ahead.
I have always been a girl that loves her board games. Board games, card games, I LOVE games. I usually have a knack for winning and playing games is sometimes the only time my competitive side shows. Especially, if it’s a game I am used to winning, like Disney Scene- It or Rummikub. Then there are the games that I know I don’t win but still like to play. These are games like Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. Risk was one of my favorites growing up, I used to love gathering around a table with my brother and all of our cousins around the holidays and spending HOURS on end prepping for world domination. I loved the intricate little soldiers, and cannons, the men on their horses. For those that haven’t played, the game is all about strategy, alliances and of course the end result and how you win is to concur the world. There are three types of militia of different point values and a map of the world colored by continent. Your job is to spread your army across every continent and take over the countries from other players on the board by rolling high numbers on dice. Playing this game enough times, I now have the perfect starting strategy: put all my troops in Australia first, then, as the game progresses, branch out from Australia into Egypt, over to south then central and north America, then spread across Asia and finish in Europe. Never EVER start in Europe. It is a tramping ground that is easily taken as there are no secure borders of protection. People can come and attack you from all sides of the map. Its best, to skirt on the sidelines, but everyone else is also trying for that strategy.
I usually last about halfway through a game. I am not the first person to be defeated, usually people leave me on the board because they know I am not a threat and they take the real competition out first. I usually make it through “alliance and treaty time” the time of the game where people build partnerships. “I ‘PROMISE’ not to go after you here if you help me take this piece of land from so- and – so over there”, or like in Monopoly, “I’ll give you this region if you can just help me or let me have this section here”. In a game where the ultimate goal is to be the last one on the map, its clear that getting there alone is hard. You don’t always have the support or militia you need. The tricky part of the game, however, is when these alliances start to break. It’s all fun in the beginning with people promising things to each other but halfway through it gets chaotic and tension arises. “HEY! You PROMISED I was safe here. What are you DOING!!!”, “SORRY, sorry, it’s a game, don’t freak out- you knew this wouldn’t last forever- You should have built up your militia and been ready!” Playing with my cousins, this is usually where I stop. We have a lot of competitive people in the family who despite this being “just a game” feelings get hurt and tension gets the best of us. The game quickly turns into- how fast can Katie destroy herself and exit the game and avoid the conflicts. All the girls are usually dominated at this point and are ready to play Barbies or House, something less violent. Its funny how a board game meant for children, can influence so much of life and enforce societies stereotypes and “values”.
You may be wondering why I have spent most of one of my first blogs on Tucson, discussing a children’s game. It’s a valid question; I was curious as well when this game was on my mind the whole plane ride here. See, I was reading some of the pre-required readings on the plane (that I failed to read over the summer) and this game, kept coming back to my memories. For the next year, I have committed to being a Tucson Borderlands YAV. I knew coming in that a lot of the learning that I would have to do with life and culture along America’s “border”. A lot of the articles we were supposed to be reading, dealt with history of the border and how colonization happened very quickly and all at once. One article in particular, “Tohono O’odham Nation- History and Culture”, did a very good job in summarizing how abruptly a people can become displaced from their land and culture without so much as a warning or conversation. Like when you are sneaking your troops around the borders in Risk, instead of facing the conflict in Europe head on and in the open. The article tells a quick recap of how the indigenous people (Tohono O’odham) have lived on the land we Americans now consider the boarder for years before it was such. As colonization started happening, the people were promised not to have to worry, they wouldn’t have to change, they would be given special rights and license to maintain their “rights” as citizens. However, as time passed, the line was drawn and the promises made became blurred. Much like in the children’s game, it is hard to keep hold of promises when things are constantly developing. The world around us is always changing and more structure needed to be in place, the special identifications for the Tohono O’odham people eventually no longer mattered. Due to national security, our boarders had to be enforced so “outsiders” didn’t become a problem. The “middleman” had to be cut to assure the “enemy” didn’t stand a chance. If it helps to think of things outside of a “game” perspective for those that didn’t spend their holidays plotting domination, reading the article I also starting thinking of the well known and taught Native American peoples history and the struggles there with colonization. Here I was again, reading examples of other peoples being pushed out of their home, their heritage ripped away by newcomers who pushed for the “betterment of society”.
Why do we find it necessary to teach our children about war? Why do we feel the need to establish competitive behavior, violence, mistrust, and strategic sneakery in our youth? Does learning how to “build and maintain an army” have to start so young? Let’s also note but not get into right now the gender roles displayed on who has the power and patience to maintain their armies. Reading these articles, I started to wonder why I saw the game as fun. I always lose interest and know what’s coming in the middle. Why do I play in the first place? The game continues to teach me that developing a strategy, maintaining borders, building alliances, and communication are important. It’s the key to winning the game. However, the untold and unnoticed lesson that we are also instilling is that it’s okay to break those alliances, hurt feelings, and break the trust, for the well being that this is just a game. The innocent bystanders aren’t your friends, neighbors, or innocent people. They are pieces of plastic, alien- like figurines, not human beings. In order to “win” and be the best you can be, you must be able to step on other people’s shoulders and make your way. I find it eerie how my brain can link an article to a children’s game and my brain can draw so many comparisons. I find it scary that I can see where so many life lessons and social structures get formed, without ever taking a second to realize what’s happening. I find it horrifying how fast we can turn on people and focus on the “betterment” of the game, of the country, of the world. Pushing people’s feelings to the side and getting wrapped up in “end goals”.