This is going to be a personal post about one of my experiences going through RA training in my dorm and some thoughts I had on the experience.
About two weeks ago while was going through training to be an RA in my dorm, I went through multiple activities that were rather bland. Most of the training was terribly boring and I simply sat in one room after another while people talked at me about a plethora of ways in which college students endanger themselves. During one of these sessions, a rather animated faculty member of my school’s residential life program, who I will refer to as Mr. I, began telling us a story about his family. The story itself was rather touching, but the activity that came afterwards is what I want to talk about.
Once his story was over, Mr. I asked us to take some pipe cleaners that we would be using for a “Culture Sculpture”. He explained that he’d be asking us a question and he wanted us to make a shape of any sort for each question. Once all our questions were finished he wanted us to connect the small sculptures in some way and think of how all our individual answers also connected to each other. For some reason, this very simple activity had a profound effect on me and it’s been sitting in my mind since we went through it. After thinking about it for quite a while, I want to share what each of his questions were and my responses.
Where are you from?
The first question seemed rather simple, but he said that he didn’t want our answer to be geographic. He wanted us to try to explain our background and where we felt that our personality and the person that we are has come from.
Despite his explanation, my first thought on this question was the physical aspects of home I remember. That did lead me into my first little “sculpture” though. I made what I pictured as rows of crops in a field. To me this presents two answers to the question.
Firstly, I come from farm workers and field hands. As far back as I know, my family has worked fields to grow produce. At one point, the fields they worked were family owned fields that surrounded huge portions of cities. As time went on, my family lost most of its land and that changed entirely. In recent generations, my family has moved around a lot and eventually immigrated to this country to find work. Predictably they ended up working in fields as it was one of the only things that they had ever done.
The “sculpture” of rows of crops also represents something else to me though. I come from the seed of hope and wanting a new chance at life. The many green fields I see around my home represent new life to me, and in some way I am a part of that. My parents collected their things and came here hoping to find more fertile land than they had to settle in. My siblings and I are the fruit of their labor.
Who are you thankful for?
Again, Mr. I wanted us to think past the obvious. He wanted us to realize that we may not have to like who were thankful for. The main point here was that he wanted us to think about someone who had helped us shape our lives and really be honest about what that person meant to us.
I took this question to heart and decided that the people I am most thankful for in this world are my parents. When I was younger my answer would have definitely been much different because I could never see eye to eye with either of my parents. They were very traditionally Mexican and expected me to grow up with the exact same views as they had. My mother was always caring and tried to let my siblings and I choose for ourselves, but she was also quick to let me know when I was doing things in a way she didn’t approve of. On the other hand, my father was always very clear that we were expected to be like him. I got beat multiple times through my childhood for everything from telling him that I did not want to be very religious to making it clear that I would rather go to school than work with him.
Despite all that, I appreciate with every fiber of my being that my parents worked to the bone for me. I am where I am today because of how they raised me and because of the opportunities they gave me. I know I may not be exactly the son they wanted sometimes, but one of the reasons I work so hard is because I want to make them proud. If I can show them that all their hard work payed off, I can say that I’ve had a good life.
What do you want to unlearn?
This question is slightly more complicated than the others and required accepting that there is something wrong with with the things I know. As it was explained, everyone has biases and knows of stereotypes that they take for granted. Sometimes it may not even be anything as strong as a full out stereotype that is held against a group of people. The way Mr. I explained it, his example was that of growing up with his mother having dinner on the table when his father came home. He realized that he shouldn’t necessarily expect that situation of his spouse.
Thinking this question through was very rough for me because I had to admit that there was an issue with what I thought.
To give some back story: I grew up in a very heavily Hispanic community. My whole life I focused on school because it was the only thing that I thought I was really good at. That led to me being one of the “smart” kids before I came to college. Being “smart” in turn led to me being alienated from people my age because many of them couldn’t even properly speak English. At first I tried to spend my time helping my peers so that I wouldn’t feel like such an outsider, but after failing at that I took to the culture that had raised me to focus on school. I very much considered myself to be American and viewed Hispanics in a very negative light. I thought of most Hispanics as either intellectually lazy or incapable. I hated being considered Mexican and that the color of my skin made me different from the people I wanted to be like. This led to a lot of identity issues for me and just plain hatred of who I was. I was ashamed of my culture, my heritage, and my family.
I want to shed the negative opinions of the culture that raised me. I am who I am because of everything that was around me as a child, a huge part of that being Hispanic culture and people. I don’t want to be ashamed of who I am and feel like a lesser person just because my skin is brown instead of white. I think that a lot of what I’ve learned at college is that accepting people is important, whether they be different because of the color of their skin or their sexuality. All people are different in some way and some be thought of as equals. For me that means that instead of trying to shed my culture, I want to learn more about it and be proud of the fact that I come from a different background than most of the people I know. I want to accept my roots and accept that they have helped to make me into the person I am.
What is one thing that you love about yourself?
This one was kind of straightforward and didn’t really get much more explanation. He just told us that we should be honest with ourselves and admit if there’s something that we really enjoy about the person we are.
I think that the thing I love most about myself is that my personality is very fluid and all encompassing. I tend to reach very odd extremes with everything from my personality to my hobbies. I think a big example for me of this is that I am a competitive raider in World of Warcraft and a Varsity swimmer for my college. To a lot of people, doing both of those things just seems incredibly odd. I think that it’s a way to keep my life balanced and centered around all the things that I surrounded myself with. I don’t want to just give up on any part of my life, and I’m glad that I have a personality that fits into all the different things that I enjoy.
A glimpse at a bigger picture
Questions for you
Where are you from?
Who are you thankful for?
What would you like to unlearn?
What do you love about yourself?
If anyone would like to give their own responses to these questions, I would love to read them. They don’t have to be as personal as mine either, I’d appreciate any amount of sharing. If anyone would like to build a Culture Sculpture to go with them, I would love to see it.
Regardless of whether you want to answer the questions or not, thank you for taking the time to read this post. These thoughts have just been floating around in my head for a while, so I’m glad that I was able to share them somehow.