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A well-known fact about me is that I like to critically analyze most things. Where everyone else (read: white liberals) sees a joke, I see a micro-aggression. Where people see a cute romance, I see racialized patriarchy. Everyone and everything exists within a context, a structure. Unless a creative piece or person is actively attempting to work against a power structure, then they are at least passively if not actively reinforcing the status quo. That is my point of departure, and within five minutes of conversing with me, it will become undoubtedly clear that that is the case.

A lesser known fact about myself is that I have a secret penchant for Disney movies. And not as in “I like singing along to Mulan” but as in I literally wrote about Disney movies in my college app essays and had a Monsters University sticker on my pencil pouch. In high school.

The appeal of said movies, aside from colorful musical melodies, was the basic Hero’s Journey, more specifically that at the end of said journey, the hero — formerly the pariah, the outcast, the unwanted — found belonging.

For as long as I can remember, the concept of belonging has fascinated me, perhaps to the point of obsession. Both within my immediate social settings, as well as the broader national imaginary, I had always felt on the outside. This sense of marginalization has been the launching point for all my academic and social interests. My interest in immigration and human rights, racialization, patriarchy, neoliberal globalization all stem for this initial sense of Otherness. It’s that feeling of sitting on the outside (which I later realized was not just a feeling) that has made it impossible for me to ignore marginalizations as the occur both to social identity groups I belong to and those outside of them.

As I began to explore belonging and identity, marginalization and power structures, my ideology began to shift further and further left. At the same time, the spaces on campus where I had originally thought to have found a home in seemed to shift in a direction that excluded someone like myself. This experience proved to be very disillusioning for me. I had long since learned to make some sort of peace with the fact that the United States would not in my lifetime ever easily, readily, or happily include me. However, when that became the case for my intimate social spaces, I began to be much more cynical towards the prospects of genuinely finding community and camaraderie.

Fortunately, this summer has gone a long way in easing some of that cynicism. Recently, during one of reflection sessions, our program leader asked us to share times this summer where we have felt that we have learned from someone during our DukeEngage experience. In response, Jose raises his hand and said that I had been one of his biggest teachers. After which, several of the other members from our group chimed in to agree with what he had said.

I can’t fully convey in words how much healing occurred in that single moment. So often, I have been alienated for who I am and what I believe in and have had my words discounted. Now, a group of people who I had very little in common with chose to listen to me and rendered my words meaningful and powerful by opening themselves up to be changed by them. My voice and through that my being was uplifted and affirmed in ways that I am so incredibly grateful for.

Every discussion, every moment of genuine conversation, has been a point of rejuvenation giving me the strength to continue developing myself and moving forward with the work that I want to pursue. So for everyone that listened, learned, and allowed for me to learn from you, I thank you.