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caliber


staff EDITORS IN CHIEF SOPHIA STEWART MICHELLE PARK

HEAD OF PHOTO GRAPHY KINCSO DOMICZI

HEAD OF DESIGN KAITLAN TSENG

HEAD OF MARKETING JEZELL LEE

WEB EDITOR E V E LY N TAY LO R

DESIGNERS & I L L U S T R AT O R S KEZIAH AURIN EUNICE CHUNG LAUREN LEUNG BRIANNA LUNA ETHELINE NGUYEN CIANNA RAE ORTIZ REBECCA WONG

PHOTO GRAPHERS WILL BRINKERHOFF ANNA CHANG HENRY DEMARCO SEAN FARKAS CARISSA LEWIS ERIK NUDING PATRICIA RIVERO

PRINT WRITERS JENNIFER CO VICTORIA MARIOLLE SALWA MEGHJEE CHARLIE TIDMARSH VANESSA WAN


c o n t e n t s

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the hayward fault

evelyn taylor

unwellbutrin

salwa meghjee

blurred perspective

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the mold we break

falling in awe

but is it poetry?

photo spread

vanessa wan

sean farkas

charlie tidmarsh

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miko fogarty is finally free

spanish in the time of xenophobia

the view from above

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on the pursuit of life

the noose of college debt

southern california

michelle park

jennifer co

sophia stewart

victoria mariolle

photo spread

will brinkerhoff

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a note

First, I want to thank you for picking up this magazine, holding it in your hands, and giving it your attention. You are why we do what we do. Now, I want to tell you that Caliber is much, much more than a magazine. We’re a community, a training ground, and an ideal. We’re a creative sanctuary on campus that has been eleven years

in the making. We strive for quality, encourage experimentation, and celebrate collaboration. We want to create an editorial experience that is unparalleled on our campus and, with your support, we’re doing just that. Caliber cares about people, both those within our pages and those behind our publication. Mostly, we care about you, read-

er. We care about your gaze and your thoughts, your interests and your curiosities. We hope that with this, our eighteenth issue, all our love and passion and fondness for people — for you — comes through. With care, Sophia Stewart Editor-in-Chief

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THE HAYWARD FAULT words by evelyn taylor visuals by anna chang

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f you live in Berkeley, you’re probably aware that the UC Berkeley campus is built over the Hayward Fault, the most dangerous earthquake fault in the Bay Area. The fault is not only at risk of causing an earthquake, also known as “coseismic slip,” but shows its movement through aseismic creep, a very slow shifting of plates resulting in structural damage over a long period of time. The last earthquake on this fault was in 1868, one of the most damaging earthquakes in history. Seismologists predict this fault ruptures roughly every 150 years, meaning the Bay is due for a shake in the very near future. UC Berkeley’s Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal is a campus-wide initiative working since 1997 to retrofit campus buildings that

pose risks to the community when faced with an inevitable earthquake. Around 70% of the current buildings on campus have been rated seismically efficient due to construction in the past few decades, and the program has halved the life safety risks to faculty and students. However, a few buildings still remain in everyday use despite being deemed poorly constructed. Tolman Hall, formerly housing the Department of Psychology and Graduate School of Education, was closed to students in 2011 due to a “poor” seismic rating, and permanently evacuated in summer 2018. The demolition process began with a plan to replace the building approved in 2014, and was scheduled for demolition in late 2018, but the massive structure still eerily remained for several months, a ghost town of sorts compared to the rest of campus. “My hope is every building on campus will not kill people, but that

Berkeley’s ‘Tectonic Time Bomb’

does not mean every building on campus will be usable again after the next big earthquake,” Earth and Planetary Science Professor Roland Burgmann says. Reflecting on his extensive research for the Berkeley Seismology Lab on the Hayward Fault’s behavior, in addition to studies of faults worldwide, Burgmann explained that the fault’s creep is steady but not enough to relieve the building pressure that will inevitably cause a major earthquake. His research team utilizes global positioning measurements and satellite technology to identify which parts of the fault deep below the surface have accrued the most tension. “The key message clearly is that it’s the most urban hazardous fault we know. There’s probably no fault in the world that has as many people, hospitals, and universities along its whole extent,” Burgmann says. “It is a fault that in terms of its hazard, from our forecasting estimates, is especially likely to cause one

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of the next big earthquakes.” Professor Horst Rademacher teaches the lower division course “Earthquakes in Your Backyard” and has done prominent research regarding seismology worldwide. According to his published walking tour of the Hayward Fault, a tour he also gives to the students in his course, California Memorial Stadium was completely retrofitted in 2010. Although it has only been almost a decade since this retrofit, slight damage from the fault’s creeping can be observed in the stadium, such as through cracks in the stairwell on the north side of the stadium. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this massive renovation was updating the most seismically-conscious part of the stadium that was constructed at its birth in the early 1920s; the exterior wall of the stadium was split in half. John Galen Howard, the designer of the stadium, was aware of the fault’s location, and split the stadium into two distinct halves that were meant to move separately from each other along the fault line in the case of an earthquake. The retrofits just a decade ago added a flexible sealant to the expansion joint to maintain this freedom of movement, though its effectiveness has never been tested in a true quake. Another effect of the fault’s creep is the displacement of Strawberry Creek, which runs through campus; the plate movement causes the stream to run along the fault when the water reaches it, and resume its movement slightly displaced after crossing the fault. Hearst Memorial Mining Building was one of the most dangerously constructed buildings on campus, and underwent an immense seismic retrofit between 1998 and 2003. In the early 20th century, Berkeley mining students dug a 200-foot-long mining tunnel (some of which still remains today), which was coined the “Lawson Adit” after Berkeley Geologist and former Dean of the College of Mining Andrew Lawson. While some of the adit has deteriorated and collapsed in the last century, and it has been closed to the public after being deemed unsafe, the UC Berkeley seismology lab uses the mining tunnel to monitor seismic activity to this day. The Haywired Scenario is a study of the potential hazards and effects of this predicted 7.0 earthquake

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on the Hayward Fault. Various research groups and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) discuss seismic hazards and how to minimize damage when this slip occurs. According to USGS, the earthquake is expected to be similar in size to the 1868 earthquake, which was around magnitude 6.5, but will have a far longer rupture length. This means the earthquake would travel beyond its epicenter south of Santa Rosa to below Oakland, creating intensive shaking south towards San Jose. In addition to causing extreme destruction due to shaking, earthquakes historically cause the most damage, deaths, and property loss from their resulting fires. Although no one can predict earthquakes, Burgmann explained that his work in earthquake forecasting examines which parts of the fault are most susceptible to slip, information researchers use to narrow down a window of when the big one might strike. “If we could just understand it, shouldn’t we be able to predict the earthquake?” Burgmann says. “The problem is, in every single case, we only recognize unusual things happening before an earthquake once the earthquake has already happened”. While much of the bay area’s infrastructure has been retrofitted since 1868 to withstand even the largest quakes, there are is significantly more infrastructure, public transportation, and major road bridges that pose a higher hazard to the community. Additionally, the population of the area has spiked from around 260,000 to 7.15 million individuals. Though there is no way to avoid a potentially devastating earthquake on the Hayward Fault in the future, the Berkeley community can hopefully find comfort in knowing that the campus is seismically efficient overall, due to millions of dollars of investments and years of construction. However, seismologists cannot predict when an earthquake will strike, so the Hayward Fault remains an elusive enemy in Berkeley, creeping along until a final rupture. “There’s still a lot of things we can and need to learn about earthquakes and faults, so even if that long term question of can we predict earthquakes will never really be accessible, I think there are important things we still need to discover,” Burgmann says. “There’s definitely lots more we can do.” ◌


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UNWELL BUTRIN: TA KI N G M ED I CATI O N FO R M ENTA L I L L N ESS

words by salwa meghjee visuals by etheline nguyen

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few weeks on the psychiatric medication Abilify, and I am a different person. I am sleeping at midnight, conquering a life-long struggle to set a consistent sleep schedule instead of cycling around the clock. I’m hungry again — after over a year and ten pounds lost on the antidepressant Wellbutrin, I can eat more than a few bites a meal. And I am content. Waking up and facing the task of being alive no longer feels like pulling teeth. I’m teaching myself how to play the piano, I’m cooking new and interesting meals, and I’m discovering newfound social skills, striking up new friendships with people in my classes. For the first time in my life, I’ve caught a glimpse of what life must be like for everyone who is not chronically depressed. And it is a life that, for the first time, feels like it’s worth living. But interspersed in all of this, I am vomiting. Every day. I throw up when I wake up, puke suddenly on the street, try to keep my nausea at bay during interviews and meetings. I try to imagine anything else that could be causing it, not wanting to believe

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it’s the medication that’s finally helped stabilize my mental health, a process that has taken over two years. Abilify was the eighth medication of ten (and counting) that I have taken to combat my severe anxiety and depression. I take medication for a host of reasons, including to combat my general depression, ease anxiety, reduce insomnia, boost the effects of my primary antidepressant, and treat the side effects of other medications. I first sought out medication in my freshman year of college because I felt like therapy alone wasn’t enough. I had come to college depressed but hopeful; however, after weeks of being unable to leave my bed, throwing up from anxiety, and having panic attacks on the bus, I needed a new solution. I began to take the antidepressant Remeron, assuming it would work because it had worked wonders for my twin sister’s depression. I was told it might take two or three different tries to find a medication that would alleviate some of my incapacitating depression. I was told about the “black box warning,” a blanket warning on all antidepressants that details their risk of suicidal ideation. But all of these explanations were couched in language that suggested that while taking medication might take a little adjustment at first, I’d be just fine. If someone had explained the truth to me, that I was at high risk of experi-

encing extreme side effects and had treatment-resistant depression, I’m not sure I would have taken the risk and tried at all. No one could foresee the future or predict that my body and mind would be far more sensitive to medication than the average person. Very recently, during a psychiatry appointment, my psychiatrist put down her notes, clasped her hands, looked me in the eye, and said, “You are a very special case.” No one told me what the ugliest moments could look like — that, while trying Seroquel to help my insomnia, it would cause a sharp increase in anxiety that left me with a racing heartbeat and a full-body tremor, which only worsened when I combined Klonopin and Gabapentin to try to ease my heartrate. That Lamictal would make me lose all control of my bladder, causing me intense shame and anxiety that I might wet myself in public at 20 years old. That Zoloft would make me so anxious that I didn’t sleep for three days during my first finals week, and would catalyze my first bout of intense suicidal ideation. Despite these harrowing experiences, psychiatric medication has also saved my life. After over a year of gradually increasing my dose, Wellbutrin has stabilized me enough to reach a basic level of functioning and make real progress in therapy. The medication acts as a cush-

ion, preventing me from falling into the worst pits of depression. Klonopin has lifted me out of panic attacks and has kept obsessive suicidal thoughts at bay. Seroquel, after a rocky trial period, has let me sleep through the night when Wellbutrin increases my anxiety. I have reached a tenuous state of stability, each medication calibrated to work with each other, a balance achievable only by taking these pills diligently every day. To supplement and stabilize this regimen, I have been trying atypical antipsychotics to boost the effects of Wellbutrin. This has restarted the risky process of trying medications, a process I had hoped to leave behind. After I stopped taking Abilify, I went through a rapid trial period of several different medications, taking a new one each week for four weeks until the process left me in a far worse place than I started. I was physically sick and mentally depleted. I am still searching for a new medication, a magic solution like Abilify. According to the American Medical Association, one in six Americans takes antidepressants, and this number has been consistently on the rise since 1999. On a smaller scale, medication for mental illness accounts for the greatest number of prescriptions for UC students on school insurance plans, according to the UC Office of the President. And this is for good reason — antidepressants can

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provide significant relief from symptoms of mental illness, make severe symptoms more manageable, and prevent relapses and rehospitalizations, as the US Department of Veterans Affairs reports. While not fully understood, antidepressants are generally thought to increase the amount of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Commonly prescribed antidepressants such as Zoloft and Prozac are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and target the neurotransmitter serotonin. Wellbutrin, also known by its generic name bupropion, is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, or NDRI. You can think of it like this: the longer a neurotransmitter stays in your brain, the more you can feel its effects. An antidepressant stops the neurotransmitter from being absorbed too quickly so that it has more time to positively affect the brain. Antidepressants have been shown to be more effective than placebos, helping 40 to 60% of users with their symptoms, as reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Antidepressants and psychiatric medications are truly effective, and they are prescribed because their benefits outweigh their risks. I took Abilify for weeks whilst vomiting almost daily because I would rather throw up every day than feel unbearably depressed. While that is an extreme example, many people work with their doctors and decide that experiencing symptoms such as weight gain and sexual dysfunction are worth living happier, more fulfilling lives. However, some view medication as untrustworthy, dangerous, or even as “cheating.” Many people, in person and on the internet, have tried to convince me that my mental illness can be solved instead by meditation,

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exercise, a better diet, prayer, just going outside, or eating more vegetables. Dr. Kelly Brogan wrote in her popular article “Saying No to Antidepressants” that prescribing psychiatric drugs as a first line of treatment is “irresponsible.” She insists that lifestyle changes are more effective, and doctors are just looking for a simple solution. This article has been shared on Facebook more than 2,500 times. A viral tweet by @patthemanager with over 175,000 likes and 49,000 retweets gives a host of suggestions for what to consider before taking “mental illness drugs,” including “make ur bed” and “realize ur loved.” Therapy is noticeably absent from this list. And I cannot count the number of times I have seen a certain photo that is reposted and circulated over all my social media feeds, and has been for years: written over a beautiful forest are the words “this is an antidepressant,” and over a pile of pills, “this is shit.” There is an abundance of evidence that shows that a holistic approach can be an effective way to treat mental illness by combining exercise, nutrition, therapy, and medication. For me, however, the first three are impossible to accomplish without first being on medication to reach a stable and functional point. This isn’t necessarily true for everyone: my freshman year roommate began taking antidepressants shortly after I did, but she found the side effects unbearable and chose to discontinue using them. Two years later, she told me she has found the most comfort and healing in her faith. For me, on the other hand, medication has almost always felt like a necessity. I have often worried about what my friends think of me, especially as I have opened up more about my mental illness. A stranger once drunkenly insisted to me that depressed people

“When it comes to treating mental illness, there isn’t a right answer or a fundamental truth. What works for me is only ever going to work for me.”


should just force themselves to be productive and they’d be just fine, not realizing that I was one of the unproductive depressed people to which she was referring. A very close friend once casually criticized my medication usage, insisting that if I exercised, I’d be cured. I didn’t know how to tell him I couldn’t make the three minute walk to the gym feeling the way I did every day. I don’t know how to be productive, or make my bed, or realize I’m loved and cared for without first restabilizing my brain. In an effort to show that medication is a positive force in my life, I posted a selfie of myself with my medication bottles on Instagram. Later that day, my mother and I got in a blow-out fight over the photo. She didn’t want anyone to know that I was taking medication, that I was sick. She insisted that privacy was important, but I thought it might be deeper than that — that she was ashamed. Mental illness runs in my family, but I didn’t learn that until I was almost an adult through bits and pieces of information that I overheard or were accidentally revealed to me. That argument made me question my willingness to be open about my struggles. Would fu-

ture employers find the post and hold my illness against me? What did my friends and acquaintances think of me? When my psychiatrist told me that I may have bipolar disorder, I panicked, thinking it a far worse and less acceptable disease than depression. When I tell people I have taken antipsychotics like Abilify and Risperdal, I am quick to quantify it, making sure to mention that they’re for off-label use as an adjunct to my antidepressants. I don’t want others to think I might have a “scarier” condition — even if those conditions aren’t so different from what I have and should be just as socially acceptable as anxiety or depression. In spite of the reactions of a few people around me, I am bolstered to continue being open by the multitude of other people who have told me that my candor has pushed them to try medication, or made them feel less shame about their own illness. Serving as the Mental Health Commission’s External Director for the past year, I’ve seen how visibility can have a big impact; when we work to make mental healthcare more visible, available, and accessible, and show how we are unashamed of using those ser-

vices, more people become more comfortable seeking help. I’ve also served on the Counseling and Psychological Services advisory board for two years, and I’ve seen the data: more people are utilizing services every year. I hope that the more people who seek help, the more their friends, and their friends-of-friends, will feel compelled to reach out, too. Many people who have responded positively to my openness still show signs of internalized stigma — they often say medication is a good last resort, a temporary solution, or something they’d support others trying but would never try themselves. I hope they never feel an emotional pain so deep that they’d risk severe or even dangerous physical side effects to combat it. Yet, at the same time, the narrative that medication is untrustworthy and should only be used sparingly only leaves us in the way of more pain.

I am one of only 3.4% of Asian Americans that take antidepressants, as reported by the American Psychological Association. I will likely be on them for the rest of my life because my depression and anxiety are not curable disorders but chronic health conditions. Surely more of us would consider treatment if our cultures and our families were not so against it. Many members of the “subtle asian mental health support” Facebook group cite familial disapproval as a reason for not seeking treatment and for their worsening symptoms. While “Asian American” is a broad categorization, some of the same themes crop up again and again within our differing cultures — family members who have been socialized not to communicate openly, cultures that prioritize hard work over well-being, and the stigma against treating mental illnesses at all because they aren’t viewed as valid or real. By dismissing the efficacy of psy-

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chiatric medication and making their consumption conditional on certain fac tors like trying every other option imaginable, we hurt each other and prevent each other from healing. This is not the opinion of all who suffer with severe mental health issues, or take medication. @ bigpharmaslut on Instagram, who goes by Alissa, has cultivated both a thesis project and a dedicated internet following by detailing her negative experiences tapering off of Paxil, an SSRI antidepressant that can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Through photography, photo manipulation, and even making paint out of crushed up pills, Alissa has critiqued the pharmaceutical industry for being more intent on selling pills than curing patients, and she advocates for the need for more transparency and education before and throughout taking medication. Alissa has darkly humorous outlook on her experiences, telling me she’s “a slut for Big Pharma.” “I wake up and take a pharmaceutical and before I go to bed I take two pharmaceuticals,” she says. “I can’t remember my life before pharmaceuticals.” Alissa brings up issues I have never given thought to. I have operated on the assumption that I will be on medication forever. Truthfully, I have never thought far forward enough about my life to picture a time where I may want to taper off of medication, or where medication will have done irreparable damage to my liver or my heart. But as Alissa recounted her story to me — how she became suicidal during the tapering process, ate so little her hair began to fall out, and suffered from “brain zaps,” a phenomenon that she described as “like you’re getting electrocuted in your brain” — I realized that my inattention to the long-term effects of taking so many medications could leave me in a more dire place in the future. There are many horrifying details in Alissa’s story, including how she was put on Paxil in the first place — at 20 years old, she was put on 80 milligrams of Paxil, 20 milligrams higher than the average recommended dose. She stayed on that dose for five years, until a new psychiatrist told her she would “never put someone [her] age on Paxil unless it was the last line of defense.” Alissa was understandably shocked to learn this information after five years on Paxil. She had nev-


er questioned her doctors: “I had a lot of faith in them. If the doctor said I should try it, [I would think] they’re the doctor and they know best, so I’m going to try it.” This was the impetus for starting @ bigpharmaslut — she had trusted her caretakers, and they had failed to give her crucial information about what she was putting in her body. Ultimately, she felt betrayed “by the pharmaceutical companies and by doctors that didn’t really care about me, but cared more about making money and having someone on medication all the time.” After seeing several therapists and psychiatrists who treated me with contempt, harassed me, and manipulated me, I have a healthy skepticism in regards to mental health treatment — insidiously, the industry is filled with people who take advantage of those who are the most vulnerable. But I have never really harbored suspicion about the act of taking medication itself. Before writing this article, it never occurred to me that it was in others’ best interests to have me addicted to an antidepressant. I never even realized that antidepressants could be addictive. I never realized this because, for a long time, antidepressants were marketed as non-addictive. Antidepressants were originally approved for short-term use for six to nine months, but patients often take them for months, years, their whole lives. There is little data on the effects of taking them for such long periods of time. It is easy to look at this information and feel terrified. I am so far in my

own medication journey that it feels like it would be too late to turn back. But I don’t want to turn back — I remember what life was like before I started taking Wellbutrin, and it is not a life I want to return to. Above all, medication works. Medication has its side effects, complications, and stigma, but fundamentally, putting chemicals in my body alters my brain chemistry in a positive way. I can feel it when I forget to take medication for a few days and grow lethargic and easily moved to tears, or when my nighttime medication kicks in and I can assuage my anxious thoughts and fall asleep. Confronted with all this information, my own painful experiences on medication, and my continued lack of answers, it’s easy for me to see why someone might consider medication to be far too risky to try. For me, however, there is really no other treatment option. When it comes to treating mental illness, there isn’t a right answer or a fundamental truth. What works for me is only ever going to work for me. The narrative that mental illness can be treated with exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes implies that a standardized, one-size-fitsall formula is the truest cure; this is simply not the case. Mental illness, and any illness, takes different forms in different bodies, and every individual requires a treatment plan tailored specifically to them. I truly don’t know if medication is better or worse than the other treatment

options for mental illness. My view on medication changes and wavers with each passing day and each new medication. I don’t think psychiatric medications are simple enough to be labelled as good or bad; what I do know is that medication is a viable option, and often an option with a net-positive value. Depression is more complicated than a simple chemical imbalance in the brain, a series of symptoms curable by a certain set of steps. No one medication will ever fix me, nor any other pathologized approach to treatment. Through my two years in therapy, my journey through several diagnoses, and my time serving as a mental health advocate at Berkeley, I’ve realized that I know very little.When my therapist and psychiatrist, two of the smartest women I have ever met, look at me with confusion, I realize that we all know very little. We are all fumbling in the dark, trying to treat a condition that morphs and shifts and can be take on many different forms and names, caused by biology and circumstance and trauma and bad luck. Treatment looks like a lot of different things, and has led to lifestyle changes that have drastically altered my life. That treatment includes, is dependent on, and succeeds because of the medication I take. Despite the trials, the defeating side effects, the many nights I have spent crying over another failed medication, I still believe in this process. I have seen what a good life can be while on Wellbutrin and Abilify and in really good therapy sessions. I’ll keep chasing it. ◌


B LU R R E D P E R S P EC T I V E a photo spread

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Photo Attributions: 1-3 Patricia Rivero / 4 Erik Nuding / 5 Sean Farkas

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the mold we

BREAK: AN EXPLORATION OF FEMALE ASIAN AMERICAN BEAUTY STANDARDS

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words by vanessa wan visuals by carissa lewis

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ny Asian girl could paint you the same picture of what she has been taught it means to be beautiful –– of who her family thinks she should be; how tall she is, how slender she is, and how graceful she is. “I imagine someone very skinny, pale, has flawless skin, long dark hair, and acts very dainty” -D.N. “Small, slender silhouette. Thin face, long black hair, doe eyes with a thin, pointed nose. Something like out of those old paintings?” -J.F. “She’s pale, petite, delicate, elegant, lovely, and unreachable.” -A.L. But you do not need a lifetime of being told how to look to know what the standard is or where the bar is set. All you have to do is look at any female Asian influencer in media. Look at the leading ladies in Asian movies and dramas, like

Constance Wu or Lucy Liu. Look at K-Pop girl groups like TWICE or Girl’s Generation. They are the proverbial “she” that Asian women are told is the epitome of beauty. And quite frankly, it’s hard not to admire her. It’s hard not to try and be like her through the way she looks, the way she acts, and the way she charms the people around her. It doesn’t help that the media takes anyone who does not fit this mold and turns them into the butt of a joke. Whether it’s the way their bodies do not move the same way or how they cannot maintain a bashful shyness in their demeanor, those who do not fit the mold become nothing more than comic relief. These are the ideals that are imprinted on our skin. It is as if I am tracing them everyday. Though I try to erase them from my skin, it feels like all I am doing is following the lines they make. In every Asian girl’s life, the traces of cultural beauty standards weigh upon our shoulders more than we would like to admit. Days turn into months then years. The burden of living up to what you could manifest for yourself becomes too much to carry on your own, so you go limp and

let the people around you pull the strings and distribute the weight. You let them maneuver you every which way because it is easier than trying to justify every deviation from the expectations set out for you. As a consequence, you turn away from the self you want to be in order to become who they think you should be. “This image affects the way I see myself by engraving an unrealistic image in my mind forcing me to compare myself to that image on a daily basis” -D.N. “Even now the one of the first thing I do in the mornings is look in the mirror and be unsatisfied.” -J.F. “Beauty to me is an intangible concept with tangible features. Science calls it symmetry, but the disjointed video of Skype calls tells me that it’s about the paleness and clarity of my skin, the sharpness of my chin and the largeness of my eyes and the height of the bridge of my nose––all traits that I inherited from the family members on the other side of the call, all traits that they easily

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criticize. It becomes a strange double standard of all of us, finding ourselves wanting” -J.F. I’m not sure when it is we find ourselves again and decide to reclaim our bodies, to accept the burdens attached. For the longest time I could not reason away the negative thoughts I had seeing my thighs expand as I sat down, the imperfections in the outlines of my silhouette, the way my hand filled with flesh as I pinched my stomach. But this is when those years of being

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in the mold of the “she” must now meld with the individual that we have grown to like and cultivate within ourselves — the person we have longed to show others, against all the whispers within the Asian community, against the looks from our family, against the insecurities within ourselves. But I’m not sure when it is we begin to fight against the expectations imprinted in our skin, flowing in our blood, circling the air we breathe. “I personally haven’t fallen under the Asian standard of beauty at any point

in my life. I was always chubby, tan, tall, and not the right type of soft spoken. Thus, I was always very aware of how “big” I was in comparison to my slender, beautiful best friends. I’m lucky that I live in the US though, as the body positive movement grew up with me. As I got older, I started to care less about fitting under the Asian standard, and began looking to fit under my own standard. I still have insecurities, especially directed towards my weight, but it’s easier now to disregard that little voice in my head that tells me that I’m not good enough.” -A.L.


How do Asian American girls negotiate the dichotomy of their two identities? I still struggle with this, trying to be like the girls I see in Western ads, the way they look so comfortable with their bodies regardless of the molds they may or may not fit. I try to adhere to American empowerment but find myself still reading the fine print within their rules: I’m not as toned, I’m not as tan, I’m not as tall. I’m not as comfortable or empowered as I would like to be in my own skin, and nobody looks like me to begin with. The representation is not there, and the cultural understanding is missing. In Asian ads, the girls look like me, they resonate with me, and yet they are not me. They do not have the same body; they do not have the same flaws. Companies know this and try to sell solutions to fix this, and I know fundamentally this problem cannot be fixed with a bottle of face wash or detoxifying remedy, yet I consider them wholeheartedly. I struggle between trying to be confident and own my skin the way it is and following the girls that look like me who discover confidence through corrective measures. In the midst of it all, I wonder how Asian American girls show their family the difference between the two societal ideals and explain their struggle to fit in both. Speaking to many different young Asian American women for this piece, I also noticed a pattern of clashing. Girls found themselves checking off more boxes in the American beauty standard, much to their family’s chagrin. It wasn’t enough to be considered beautiful through a Western lens, it had to be Asian: “When I was younger, my mom used to bemoan the darkening of my skin during the annual summer festivities, when I would spend hours in the sun playing with my friends on the beach or at the park.” -A.L. “Since I have a darker skin tone, most people assume that I am Filipino...as I got older I grew irritated that I was always mistaken for a different ethnicity. When my brothers and I were still in middle school, people didn’t realize that

we were related because they were much more fair-skinned than I was. Someone actually came up to ask them if I was their babysitter. Chinese beauty standards favored girls who had white, smooth skin, and I was constantly reminded about what I didn’t have.“ -J.F. “I think Chinese culture especially is really harsh on feminine beauty. My mom has always told me to dress more femininely and pretty much all close relatives tell you to lose weight because it’s almost shameful if you don’t fit the beauty standards.“ -J.F. I was brought up to care about my appearance. Was my hair brushed? Did my clothes have wrinkles? What kind of image was I giving off? Often times, my grandma would comb my hair into a tight ponytail as she worried about what the other kids’ parents would say if they saw me with a hair out of place. It was so hard to deviate even in the slightest bit away from the Asian vision of beauty that my family, my community, my culture upheld as truth — as law. Hard to stop the surge of pride I felt whenever my mother made a rare approving comment about how I looked. Hard to accept that I cannot erase these rules from my mind. Hard to accept that I must actively remind myself that it is okay to not look like all the girls in the Asian magazines. But most of all, it was hard to know that this was the culture that my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother grew up in with no option of deviating. For them, there was no seed of doubt in a community where body positivity or accepting your flaws were not spoken about. Where the Asian standard of beauty is used to praise girls who meet the standards, or push them to fulfill the expectations they fell short of. Did my mother grow up not knowing that she had the power to shake the restricting expectations off of herself? Did she secretly wish her family would see her, too? See her struggling beneath the expectations they had placed on her? I wonder if my mother ever questioned the importance of fitting into

such difficult standards — if she ever told herself it would be different for her kids, like I do. When did she adopt these beliefs, allowing them to be a part of her autonomous being? Was it hard on her too? Did she ever question accepting this image as the standard for all daughters, the standard of excellence but also of normality? “On another note, I mentioned a high nose bridge in my ideal image of Asian beauty standards because my grandma highly emphasized the importance of it. She made me pinch my nose bridge every time I visited her in an effort to make it even higher. In hindsight, I realize that it’s impossible to change the structure of your bone with this method, but I was also too young and stupid to think otherwise.“ -J.F. “Asian beauty standards affected my life because it is the standard that my own family members uphold for their daughters also. They want their daughters to be “perfect” so there was a lot unnecessary comments and advice regarding my appearance either in my own home or at family gatherings. It affected the way I presented myself in public, being more reserved, speaking less because I did not want to spark a conversation where my appearance could be brought up.“ -D.N. I wonder how hard it is for other girls to hear comments every day about they way they look. How they take the off-handed jabs about the way their clothes make them look fat, how often their mothers joke about putting them on a diet. How hard it is feeling as if they’ll never be enough, another imperfection always waiting to be brought into the light.

How hard it must be, knowing the ones feeding your insecurities are the ones you love the most, knowing they only come from a place of fierce and unyielding love. ◌

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FALLING IN AWE A P H OTO S P R E A D V I S U A L S BY S E A N FA R K A S

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but is it poetry? can be, and it can be ironic, contradictory, funny, crude, and purely technical in equal measure. Different poems of course have the effect of wisdom for particular readers, hat does the word “poetry” mean to you? and some poems may perform erudition. Different foods If you are anything like I was as a freshman have the effect of spiciness, different movies are scary, the in college — or if you (forgivably) aren’t world turns once again on its axle. But for whatever reason an avid reader of Semiotext(e), or if you simply haven’t we still insist that a great poem is great because it carries sat down quietly with yourself to honestly encounter a a deep meaning that it is our duty to extricate, a prejugood poem in a while — it may mean: wisdom, depth, dice which occludes any given poem’s actual meaning, erudition, Truth. For whatever admixture of comwhich is always a unique hybrid of sound, shape, plicated cultural reasons, this is the baggage rhythm, image, texture, speed, and, yes, the we have burdened poetry with as an art denotations of the actual words (but form. When a politician delivers a only sometimes: see “Jabberwocky” moving speech that appeals to some or Finnegan’s Wake). For lack of deeper register of humanity, one a critical term, it’s a feeling. So “Both camps turn over again that seems to plumb past the otherthe average reader, accustomed and again in their own ruts, wise banal realpolitik conventions this way to ignore enjambment fighting a battle between two of diplomatic addresses, we call and leap for interpretation, picks trenches that are, in fact, on the performance “poetic.” We also, up the Collected Frank O’Hara, different battlefields.” perhaps paradoxically, reserve the finds no paraphrasable meaning, designation for extreme displays of and re-shelves Poetry in the dusty technical excellence: Lebron James can and austere ivory towers of the popular be poetic, as can Meryl Streep or Daniel imagination. The cycle repeats. We mytholDay-Lewis. In the particular case of basketball ogize away what we don’t understand. — which is often said to resemble jazz — the likening This divide — the asymmetry between popular unto poetry is quite a bit stronger than mere simile to the derstandings of poetry as dealing only in Deep Truths rhythms of music; “poetic” is our catch-all term for both and the actual practice of poetry — has never been so the elevation and the transcending of artifice, the Sublime, stark in recent memory as it is now in the case of Rupi the Rapturous, the Ideal. Kaur, the 26-year-old Canadian poet, who has been conThese are popular misconceptions, and they set sistently setting up and bowling down commercial poetaverage readers up for frustration. There is nothing essen- ry records for the last three years. Kaur, who has, as of tially wise, inherently superior, or universally true about this writing, outsold Homer, read publicly to thousands, Poetry capital ‘P’ in the same way that there is nothing posed for selfies with singer Sam Smith, and begun to inherently spicy in Food. Poetry can be sublime, but sell boutique-y embroidered pillowcases, is so exploprobably not with any greater frequency than a novel or sively successful that her work has dovetailed with her a musical performance of comparable artistic ambition online brand and evolved into something of a global words by Charlie tidmarsh visuals by eunice chung

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entrepreneurial juggernaut. @rupikaur_, the Instagram account where this unprecedented career began, is now strategically interspersed with pictures of herself that are tonally similar to her poems — subdued but meaningful, quiet but definitive, stylish, and always starring the poet herself front-and-center. She also uses this platform to sell “canvas art pieces” — white canvases with a select poem in stark black text accompanied by a line illustration. She is never less than fashionable in silk pants or a sari or denim grunge-wear and a backwards hat, and in this self-presentation she acts as a lodestar for (apparently huge) segments of a younger generation (mine) that gleefully equate style with empathy, wisdom, and creative perspective. For this unabashed curation of a unified self-image alone, some critics (notably Rebecca Watts in the PN Review) have gone so far as to deem the phenomenon a cult of personality, which seems not only unfair but also willfully ignorant of the authentic reactions to the poet’s writing. And the Deep Truth in her work? Well, Kaur makes no bones in the truth-peddling department. Her work is notably devoid of humor, consistently sentimental and confessional, highly unselfconscious, and not formally ambitious whatsoever. The truth is in the literal meanings of the literal words, while form is a secondary necessity — after all, it couldn’t be Poetry without line breaks, could it? There is boldness here, to be sure, though the boldness has nothing to do with poetry and everything to do with the immediacy of the emotional conveyance at work. It takes a very bold poet indeed, nowadays, to write a poem and refer to it as communicating “the human condition.” Kaur is bold if nothing else, and here, in a poem entitled “the human condition,” is what she offers us humans in her most recent collection, the sun and her flowers (2017):

i long for you but you long for someone else i deny the one who wants me cause i want someone else

-the human condition

Most readers will fail to detect even a wink of irony here because there is none. This is a straight-faced admission, delivered with the same frank vulnerability that has come to characterize Kaur’s entire persona. The poem itself has a subtle sense of musical expansion. There’s a palpable asymmetry, a welcome poetic imbalance: “for someone else” is repeated with difference in “cause i want someone else,” and this refrain is neatly mirrored and amplified. If I were feeling generous, I’d also note that the lowercase “i” is more than a stylistic millennial trifle, and actually serves to dampen the authority and assertive force of its speaker. All good things, to be sure, and all things that belie undeniable poetic intentions. Despite this, you are bound to find underneath her posts a large commentariat saying things like, “That’s a nice thought, but is it poetry?,” or the more direct “This is not poetry!,” an indictment that I myself have been guilty in leveling. Positive comments — the majority — tend towards self-recognition: “this is me rn,” or the elaboration of the theme at hand as it pertains to one’s own life, a kind of communal therapy session. So it would seem that the jury is still out, in both critical and popular circles. Millions of fans — mostly young women — find truth in (which is to say, relate to) Kaur’s emotional confessions, most often pertaining to

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self-harm, romantic relationships, immigration, and self when you are the only and body-acceptance. Popular readers who find none of passenger if there is a themselves in these themes are quick to hop on the “not place further from me poetry” bandwagon because there is little to like outside I beg you do not go of those themes, and both camps turn over again and again in their own ruts, fighting a battle between two trenches You might talk about what it means for music to that are, in fact, on different battlefields. be “only a crossword puzzle,” or you might decipher how snow could possibly be the stars’ “calling card,” but you’d be looking under all the wrong rocks while simultaneously failing to experience the sharp wire-crossI’d like to posit the following for the relevant jury’s ings of O’Hara’s imagery and the breathless stumbling consideration: Rupi Kaur does not pose an existential of his lines. “Do you know how it is/when you are the threat to poetry; rather, the fact of her emergence heralds only passenger” only makes sense, only lands, if you’ve a minor crisis for the field of literary criticism. Already been sprinting alongside O’Hara as he thinks this way a waning industry, popular literary criticism (the kind — probably while walking to lunch down Sixth Avenue of reviewing that takes place outside the “poetry estab- — and is therefore only meaningful within the realm of lishment,” which is to say the University, and appears experiencing what the form of this poem does to your in widely circulated magazines and newspapers) has for own brain. If you were to reduce this final stanza down its relatively brief existence held as a raison d’être the to a single platitude, it might well be indistinguishable clarification of unobvious meanings. I maintain that this from a Kaur poem — I won’t even attempt to say that is a hugely important undertaking — poems and novels O’Hara was “wiser” than Rupi Kaur when it comes to can be beguiling and entertaining simultaneously, and love. But good poetry is irreducible. Meaning, here, a good critic not only helps us understand why we are is something akin to but not totally “the reader’s exentertained (and in so doing teaches us about ourselves) perience” of thinking in step with O’Hara’s cadence but also points toward ways of reading a poem that will and watching as the sparks of his imagination sizzle sharpen the visceral aesthetic experience. and dissipate into the void. Poet and critic David Orr What, for instance, can possibly be said to be the ties a nice bow on this whole “meaning” debacle with “meaning” of the final three stanzas in Frank O’Hara’s characteristic pith: “The meaning of poetry is poetry.” “Morning,” which is similar to Kaur in its sentimentality Kaur has punctured that very tautology, a closed but worlds removed from her limpid formal constructions: loop which has produced a beautiful tradition of poetry criticism. Each and every one of her poems does not Last night the stars tacitly say that the “meaning of poetry is poetry,” but were numerous and today rather that the meaning of this poem is some quota snow is their calling ble, interpersonal truism that it would be decadent or card I’ll not be cordial elitist to complicate. It should be no surprise that critics have absolutely nothing to do with her poems. It would there is nothing that appear that their work has already been done for them. distracts me music is For this reason, most of the critical conversation only a crossword puzzle about Kaur’s poetry skirts the writing itself and opts do you know how it is for the easier, but no less important, implications that

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she holds for the economics of the publishing industry, the mid-century New York School era who, consequentand for the representation of young, non-white female ly, smuggled into his poems much of the juxtaposition writers in that industry. This makes perfect sense, because and jar of the visual artists with whom he was tightly it would be quite unthinkable for a critic to apply their associated and admired. This led him most often to skills to a statement like “i long/for you/but you long/ free-verse (by no means traditional) and what is called for someone else.” And so, for the most part, Kaur is a “stream of consciousness” poetry. O’Hara recognized clay target dummy for the sharp-sworded critics who that the real vulnerability operative in poetry is the laying are rightly accustomed to talk mostly about form and bare of the rhythms that words take inside a person’s leave emotive content aside; her poetry is immune to skull, not the application of emotional platitudes to a conventional poetry criticism precisely because it eschews genre which was not prepared to support the weight. serious considerations of shape and sound in favor So we shouldn’t be surprised at all by the Kaur of vulnerability. Poetry criticism has aprevolution. It’s meeting the demand that so proximately zero tools at its disposal many readers have for meaning. Imagine to deal with such frankness, because that you are the novice poetry reader the frankness is never couched in who, encountering O’Hara for the something that even purports to first time and culturally primed “We shouldn’t be surprised be more than exactly what it says. to expect a meaning, could only at all by the Kaur revolution. Kaur herself has been vocal shrug your shoulders and count It’s meeting the demand about the revolution that is afoot yourself yet again as someone that so many readers have and for which she undoubtedly lit who doesn’t “understand” Poetry. for meaning.” the torches. In an interview with Imagine, then, that you pick up the NPR’s Rachel Martin she said, consun and her flowers and are finally cerning critics of her work, “We have relieved to find an accessible meaning a form of art that is highly, highly tradithat has been brought down, like Elijah’s tional — meaning poetry — and then you have heavenly flame, from the elites. Imagine, finally, this other thing which is new and quite non-traditional, that there was in fact no “meaning” hidden away anywhich is of course social media. And so the gatekeepers where, ever, and in all our flustering insecurity we had of these two things are kind of confused at this moment.” been ignoring what was right there on the page all along. Here, she is only half right. The gatekeepers are It’s too much to ask of poetry that it give us a deep certainly confused. As to poetry being “highly, highly meaning. It’s too much to ask of Kaur’s fans that they traditional” — well, only if that tradition is one of suspend their enthusiasm and read some Barthes. It’s breaking, manipulating, and rearranging past tradition. too much to say that Kaur doesn’t write poems, and O’Hara, again, is hugely relevant here. There was nothing it’s incorrect, too. It should not be too much to ask that about the man or his work that suggested poetry to be a we all slow down, take a breath or two, turn the page, “highly, highly traditional” genre; he was a chronically and receive what a poem — not Poetry — has to offer. depressed gay man with aspirations to be a painter during That we all, collectively, get a little more vulnerable. ◌

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ERI K N UD I N G

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miko fogarty i s f i n a l ly f r e e

words by michelle park visuals by kincso domiczi & erik nuding

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hen most students come to Berkeley for their first semester, the biggest decision that they’ve made up to that point is the decision to come to Berkeley. Choosing which college to attend is often the decision that has held the most weight for them, and from that point on, the semesters they have at Berkeley are all about determining what they want to pursue in life — some want to be doctors, engineers, writers, teachers, artists, and more. For most students here, that process begins at Berkeley. But when Miko Fogarty transferred to Cal in the fall of 2018, big life decisions were nothing new to her at that point. At the age of four, Fogarty’s mom

put her into a variety of different activities — piano, violin, gymnastics, tennis, and ballet. Various activities started to filter out as she grew more and more serious about one: ballet. And by the time she was nine years old, she was committed to pursuing a career as a professional ballerina. Even at such a young age, she remembers the weight of that decision: “I had given so much to ballet at this point that I couldn’t stop.” Ballet is extremely competitive — it requires the utmost discipline, dedication, and drive. By the time Fogarty was 12, she began homeschooling in order to accommodate her rigorous ballet schedule. And according to Fogarty, 12 is when you need to know whether or not you want to go professional in

the ballet world. Otherwise, it’s too late. For Fogarty, the path she was on seemed natural. Her parents were fully supportive of her ballet dreams, and things had been escalating from a very young age. Fogarty recalls feeling that this was just the way things were supposed to be: “I devoted every second of my day to ballet. It wasn’t a hard decision to keep striving for that.” This seemed like the path she was expected to go down — everyone around her was encouraging her to pursue ballet professionally, and nothing really caused her to question this. As Fogarty dedicated more and more of herself to ballet, she began to check off accomplishments on a long list of goals for her career. She won Gold

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at the Moscow International Ballet Competition, travelled the world, and performed on the biggest stages in the world. Her career was on the right track, and she joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet in England. Fogarty was performing in front of thousands of people each night, and had seemingly attained everything she wanted out of her career. But something didn’t feel right. She recalls, “It wasn’t my place on stage — everything we do, all the rehearsal time we put in and the sacrifice that we make is for the feeling we get when we’re onstage.” But for Fogarty, that feeling wasn’t there. Rather than feeling the thrill of a performance and feeding off the buzzing energy of the audience, she felt nervous and anxious. Her favorite part of the performance was when it was over, and she could leave the stage. Fogarty had felt this before, prior to entering the professional world. During competitions, she would feel

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the same kind of nervousness and anxiety, attributing it to the nature of competition. But feeling this way as a professional ballerina made her realize that she didn’t find the joy in ballet that others did. And from there, she began questioning everything. At 17, ballet was her entire identity. And at 17, she began to question that identity, no longer sure that she was on the career path that was right for her. She was on a path that she could have continued on until she was 40. Fogarty recalls a quote from choreographer and dancer Martha Graham: “A dancer dies twice.” This first death, when a dancer’s body begins to change, results in retirement from dance. Fogarty realized that she would have to approach these questions about her identity being tied up with being a professional ballerina sooner or later, whether it was at 17 or at 40. The lack of joy she felt onstage ultimately led to Fogarty’s decision

to retire. These things were mixed with issues of body dysmorphia, eating problems, and an injury she had sustained at 16 that had never fully healed. She had already checked off all the boxes on a list of goals she had for her career. And ultimately, at 19, it was time for her to leave the professional ballet world behind. All of a sudden, the rest of her life looked drastically different. And the transition itself was very sudden. She had made her decision to retire, and her final performance came seven months later in Indonesia. The very next day, she was on a flight back to California to start her first day of school in community college. Though the decision was a major turning point, very few people knew what Fogarty was going through. She had kept the decision to herself, sharing only with her family and a few close friends. The last performance was a whirlwind. She took her warmup time to soak everything


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KI N C SO D O M I CZ I

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“i’m so many different things — a s t u d e n t , a s t e m m a j o r , a n e d u c at o r , a n d a ba l l e t da n c e r . i t ’s s o f r e e i n g to n ot h av e t o b e j u s t o n e t h i n g . ”

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in, thinking, This is the last time I’ll be doing this. I wanted this performance to be for myself. While a life change this dramatic might have knocked most people off balance, Fogarty was prepared. She had spent countless hours mulling over the decision, researching what being a college student was like, and thinking about what she really wanted for her future. By the end of her first week at community college, she knew that she had made the right decision. Though she was secure in her decision, with no regrets, Fogarty’s struggle was far from over. The hardest part came in telling others that she had retired. Fogarty was famous in the ballet world — present in all the largest competitions with a powerful social media presence as well. “Suddenly telling people that I was no longer who they thought I was — that was the hardest part,” she says. “The decision felt right, but it took me about two and a half years to open up to everyone

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about what I was doing now.” There was still fear — fear that she would disappoint the people around her and her many fans and followers. In the midst of all this, Fogarty was taking the time to pursue another passion: health. When she was 12, she read a book called The Healthy Dancer. It was about injuries and then injury profession, and though she didn’t know it at the time, it sparked her interest in healthcare and medicine. She had always loved working with her doctors and physical therapists, and was fascinated with how the human body worked. Flash forward to her transfer from community college to UC Berkeley — she entered in the fall of 2018, majoring in Integrative Biology. She’s eager to get into the healthcare field or research, with much of this passion coming from her ballet career, and speaks enthusiastically about what she hopes the future holds for her. “Being part of someone’s recovery

from injury or disease — that would just be so fulfilling,” she says. She’s taking a full load of classes now, while doing research at UC San Francisco twice a week as well. Fogarty speaks happily about her life at Berkeley, and is reminded of another concern she had going in: that ballet would never be part of her life again. But she’s proven to herself that this doesn’t have to be the case. Fogarty takes a ballet class through Berkeley’s Physical Education department now and teaches private lessons over the weekend. She says that teaching and helping to mold the next generation of dancers is a privilege, and she shares her own insight as a former professional ballerina with them. “I try and make it enjoyable,” she says. “For ballet, you can’t get very far without enjoying it, so I try to personalize the lesson as well.” All of these different things are part of her identity now — and it’s in flux, constantly changing. “I no longer feel like


KI N C SO D O M I CZ I

I’m constrained to this one-dimensional identity,” she shares. “I’m so many different things — a student, a STEM major, an educator, and a ballet dancer. It’s so freeing to not have to be just one thing.” Fogarty is still very involved in the ballet world and is now opening up more about sharing her story. As we go through

our time here at Berkeley, we go through so many different changes, discovering things we didn’t know about ourselves, and making a series of both big and small decisions that transform us into someone different than who we were when we first entered. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly going through transition.

Though our shifts in identity may not be as drastic as Fogarty’s, we are ever-changing and dynamic. When asked about what advice she would give to someone experiencing a this shift, Fogarty says, “At the end of the day, you’re going to be living with yourself forever. And it’s hard at the time, but your life changes forever.” ◌

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S PA N I S H in the time of

XENOPHOBIA o, es pañ o l en lo s ti em p o s d e xen o fo b ia

words by SOPHIA STEWART visuals by ERIK NUDING

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e’ve all seen the videos. Each one is more or less the same; a white person — disgruntled, indignant, petulant — berates someone for speaking Spanish in public. The assailants come in all forms, spanning the spectrum of age, gender, and class. But they will almost always be white. The clips can be hard to watch. In one, a New York City lawyer in a crisp white button-up verbally assaults two women in a restaurant, threatening to call ICE and implying he pays for their welfare. In another, an old woman at an IHOP yells at a tearful mother and her son that “We speak English in America!” Yet another shows a man at an airport calling a young man a “fucking piece of shit” for speaking to his mother on the phone (or, more specifically, for “talking that stupid Spanish round here when everybody else is fucking English-speaking American”). Encounters like these take place in America every day; these are just

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the select few that have been filmed and shared widely across the internet. Even my roommate, whose mother is from El Salvador, shared his own harrowing story with me. His mother, a native Spanish speaker and employee at Disneyland, was conversing with a coworker in Spanish about a customer service issue when an attendee began to harass her, telling her, “Fuck you. You’re in America, and if you’re gonna work in a public place, you should be speaking English.” What does it mean, then, to speak Spanish in America right now? From a layman’s perspective (mine), Spanish appears to be sociopolitically freighted in a way most other languages are not. A 2018 article in the Los Angeles Times called these viral encounters proof that “Spanish is still polarizing in the U.S.” That word — polarizing — strikes me in particular. How can a language — nothing more than a particular collection of phonological and morphosyntactic and lexical rules — wield such emotional power? Why does Spanish in particular elicit such violent and abusive reactions

from non-speakers? And what does it mean for me, a white person — white like the white aggressors in the videos, like the white colonizers that first violently imposed the language on indigenous peoples — to learn and speak Spanish? Dr. Jhonni Carr, a lecturer of Spanish Linguistics here at UC Berkeley, had many of the answers I was looking for. Carr currently teaches three courses in the Spanish Department at Berkeley, including Spanish 165: Spanish in the U.S. and in Contact with Other Languages. But her familiarity with Spanish’s unique and often troubling role in American society goes far beyond her extensive academic training and research. Carr grew up in San Diego, only a couple dozen miles from the Mexican border. The school she attended was majority Latinx — probably around 98%, she recalls — and she learned Spanish for “communicative purposes.” She had lots of motivation to learn: she wanted to better understand her friends, and she frequently travelled back and forth across the border. Despite not being a native speaker, she went on to


complete a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics from UCLA in 2017. Much of her current research involves power dynamics between English and Spanish in the linguistic landscape of my hometown of Los Angeles. Within moments of meeting, Carr’s genuine passion and depth of knowledge are immediately apparent. She speaks with conviction and breaks down complex ideas with the deftness of a veteran professor. Immediately, she illuminates a crucial theory that gets at the heart of my concerns. Spanish is undoubtedly burdened with a unique social animus. But why? Carr cites the work of scholar Ana Celia Zentella of UC San Diego to answer that question. That answer, she says, is racial. In her research, Zentella came to a startling yet familiar conclusion: “Race has been remapped from biology onto language.” It feels so obvious, but it’s

something like a revelation for me as Carr and I talk in her office. Carr adds, “Racism is no longer socially accepted in mainstream practice, so people are no longer saying ‘I don’t like people from this particular race’ or using racial slurs as much. Instead, people find other strategies to express themselves — that’s why we feel like the attacks on language have gone up.” This explains why that lawyer made the leap from hearing two women speaking Spanish to threatening to have them deported; his animosity was not linguistic, but purely racial. So when the Los Angeles Times calls the Spanish language polarizing, is it really the Spanish language that they’re talking about? Carr says it best: “It’s not Spanish. It’s not the language. It’s about the groups of speakers. It’s about the association of language with race, with socioeconomic status, and a lot of times with cultural values.” This racial explanation also

supports Spanish’s general lack of what Carr refers to as something known as “linguistic prestige.” “In general,” Carr explains, “Spanish just does not have that linguistic prestige that languages like French or Italian or even Japanese have in our society. There are very negative language attitudes and stereotypes associated with Spanish.” This concept of linguistic prestige — determined by our perceptions of the groups who speak a language — helps explain phenomena I have always encountered but never had the language to make sense of. There have been many days, as I’ve wandered through the mall or down a street of shops, that I’ve been struck by the apparel, accessories, and decor that boast French and Italian and, yes, Japanese: a canvas tote with a printed BIEN FAIT, a home decor sign that reads VIVA L’AMORE, a Forever 21 t-shirt embroidered with 気にしない and a translated I DON’T CARE below.

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Even my own experiences in language classes realize that it is about the people, it’s not about the have been shaped by linguistic prestige. In high school, language.” students were mandated to take two years of either So why do attacks on Spanish feel particularly Spanish or French, constructing a dichotomy between prevalent when other languages, such as Farsi or Arabic, the two languages. With this either/or choice, the two are spoken by similarly oppressed ethnic groups? felt pitted against each other, and I first began to take Carr says it has everything to do with demographics. notice of racialized and socioeconomic power imbalance “Traditionally, when two populations come into contact, between Spanish and French. Most students who took a lot of times there are rifts that develop between the French tended to be white and more affluent, and they majority population and the largest minority population, often expressed a strong interest in the language. Those and that’s what’s happening right now.” in Spanish classes came from all backgrounds, and Spanish speakers are by far the largest linguistic most often had little to no enthusiasm for learning the minority in the United States. According to the U.S. language. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, Around the time that I began taking my first high there are 40.5 million speakers of Spanish in the U.S., school Spanish classes, the 2013 science fiction movie making it the second most spoken language by far. Elysium was released, which I saw in theaters. The film Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese) is the portrays a dystopian future where the poor and sick distant third most commonly spoken language in America, live on a ravaged Earth, while the rich and powerful with 3.4 million speakers. So it makes sense that, due have fled to a satellite habitat called Elysium. On Earth, to sheer numbers, there are more (negative) interactions they speak Spanish; on Elysium, French. The movie, with Spanish speakers taking place. “If you think about I should add, is awful. the demographics,” Carr But the dichotomy once concurs, “we just have again presented between more Spanish speakers, the two languages caught and on top of that, it’s my interest. Behind the not just about numbers, It’s not Spanish. It’s not delineation, I see now, is but about the fact that the language. It’s about the the social construction we’re more in contact of linguistic prestige; with people who speak groups of speakers. behind linguistic prestige Spanish.” is simply racial attitudes. I can’t help but “If you think about consider my own role the countries associated in supporting Spanish with each language, speakers and honoring the there’s definitely a racial factor,” Carr chimes in. “In Spanish language. As a Spanish learner who is white, terms of French, a lot of people tend to think of France, privileged, and documented, what is my responsibility although there are several countries in Africa, as well as when acquiring a language as racially, socially, and Canada, that speak French. Then Spanish gets associated politically freighted as Spanish? I often struggle with predominantly in the U.S. with Mexico, so there’s a racial discomfort when using Spanish out in the world. Often, aspect at play.” This isn’t an unreasonable association using Spanish in conversation with native speakers — according to the Pew Research Center, 63% of the sparks instant connection and sometimes visibly puts at Latinx population is of Mexican origin; in California, ease speakers who are most comfortable using Spanish. that number jumps to 84%. With the association between I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I never Spanish and Mexican-ness, Spanish becomes saddled thought possible, just by making the effort to speak with with racist attitudes towards Mexicans: “People now them in their native language. When I worked retail associate Spanish more with Mexico, and that has its two summers ago, Spanish-speaking customers who own racial and socioeconomic connotations.” Behind struggled to articulate themselves in English seemed to languages, Carr reminds us, are speakers, and racist immediately sigh in relief once they realized they could attitudes towards communities of speakers are often freely express themselves in Spanish with me. transposed onto languages themselves. However, not every exchange I have in Spanish Carr introduces a thought experiment to explain: “If is positive — and understandably. There have been Mexico had been France, and all Mexicans spoke French instances in which I fear I have unintentionally offended but looked the same and had the same socioeconomic native Spanish speakers by attempting to converse with status and everything was the same, but it was just the them in Spanish. This is an experience Carr, who is also a language, then we would just remap [negative attitudes] white non-native Spanish speaker like me, has also dealt onto French. It’s really frustrating because people don’t with. “I’ve seen situations where Spanish speakers get

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offended; I’ve had people even say to me, ‘Why are you speaking Spanish to me? I speak English.’ So it’s important to be careful and not lead people to assume that you are disrespecting kept me from using Spanish in public.” Perhaps an even greater personal barrier for me has been the creeping feeling that, as a white non-native-speaking person entering Spanish-speaking spaces, I am not only an intruder, but an invader — a kind of imperialist. Carr assures me that discomfort can actually be a good thing. “The way you sometimes can feel intrusive or, like you said, imperialist — I think that’s good, actually. That’s healthy,” she imparts. “It’s important that we recognize our privilege that we’re learning this language and we’re white people and we’re learning it at this prestigious university and we have access to classes and time to be learning this language. It doesn’t feel

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good — it feels uncomfortable — but I think it’s also really good to recognize that.” Acknowledging our privilege is inherently uncomfortable, but figuring out how to wield our privilege for good is crucial. Of course, that doesn’t mitigate the discomfort I still sometimes feel speaking my learned, ever-evolving Spanish in public, whether it is the fear of making a grammatical error, forgetting a word, or even offending someone. But keeping my privilege at the forefront of my mind does help put my discomfort into perspective. Carr says it best: “I’ve been there, where it’s uncomfortable, you get embarrassed if you make a mistake, and it can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. However, that is nothing in comparison to what people who speak Spanish as a first language face when they are out and about speaking Spanish. We might feel uncomfortable for one moment, but

when we leave it’s all over. Whereas for other people, there are very severe consequences when they speak Spanish a lot of times, up until violence.” So what can be done not only to support the Spanish language, but to support Spanish speakers in the United States? Carr has a few suggestions, the first of which is an exciting and emerging subfield of social justice. According to the grassroots collective Antena, language justice is the idea that everyone has the right to communicate in the language in which they feel most comfortable, as well as the right everyone has to understand and be understood. Language, Carr says, can act as a gatekeeper, a tool of inclusion or exclusion. In her research, Carr found that the language used within the linguistic landscape of a community can physically keep certain people out. From her field interviews, Spanish speakers described


how they felt less inclined to enter a store if there was no Spanish signage visible. Poor translations she found communicated immediate disrespect to readers. Some signs were targeted at certain speakers in particular — a KEEP OUT sign, for example, translated only into Spanish. After speaking to Spanish speakers in majority Spanishspeaking communities in Los Angeles, Carr found residents overwhelmingly wanted Spanish to be presented and treated equally to English. This is simply an issue of access, visibility, and inclusion — language is the vehicle. Language justice, then, is the solution. So how do I enact language justice in my own life? I can support language justice organizations like Antena, which uses writing and artistic practice to create multilingual spaces and communities. I can check in with Spanish speakers I encounter to see if they’d feel more comfortable speaking Spanish or English with me. And, perhaps most unexpectedly radical of all, Carr recommends we simply speak Spanish more. “In general, we just need to use Spanish more,” Carr says. “What this does is help normalize it because right now, when people hear a language that isn’t English, that isn’t the ‘default,’ it’s a surprise, it’s shocking. The more that we use [Spanish] and the more that other people hear it — especially from people that don’t phenotypically or racially look like what they would expect — people are going to understand that this is a valuable thing, and that it’s very valuable to be bilingual.” This concept has been referred to by Román Luján as language solidarity. Carr’s advice is a stark reminder of the inextricably of Spanish from phenotype, from race. Her words echo in my head: “It’s about the people; it’s not about the language.” And yet the two are so interconnected — a

language can only live through its speakers. Respecting a language means respecting its speakers; valuing a language means valuing its speakers; loving a language requires honoring, defending, and supporting those that speak it. Spanish is undeniably encumbered by an undue racial, socioeconomic, and political burden;

there seems to be a new, horrifying video of a white person berating a Spanish speaker circulating around my feed every day. Protecting Spanish in the United States requires protecting Spanish speakers — actively, publicly, and authentically. I suppose this is my own small burden as a Spanish learner, but it’s one that I have to demand of my privileged self. Pa’lante. ◌

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T H E V I E W F R O M A B OV E a photo spread

Photo Attributions: 1 Patricia Rivero / 2-3 sean farkas / 4 carissa lewis 5 anna chang / 6 henry demarco

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O N

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T H E

PURSU IT

O F

L I FE :

vitality & band-aids

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Lessons from life at Berkeley and following the PMSNC 2019 Medical Mission to Candon, Ilocos Sur. (Philippines) words by JENNIFER CO visuals by WILL BRINKERHOFF

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hree semesters deep into Berkeley and I am tired. Worked into the coma of lower divs and standard deviations, I measure the passage of time in midterm waves and review sessions. Habang may buhay, may pag-asa: as the Filipino saying goes, where there is life, there is hope. But it seems the longer I spend in the Berkeley bubble, the more difficult it is to identify and locate that life, that hope. I’m frustrated to feel empty at a place like Berkeley, always bursting at the seams with conviction –– but also frustrated with how hard it is to troubleshoot that emptiness. I feel purpose in my studies, but that passion is fleeting, and that temporality scares me. Would I burn out before I finish my major? I’m not even halfway through yet. Perhaps I’m pursuing the wrong path... It was in the summer of my freshman year that I agreed to join Pilipino Association for Health Careers (PAHC) on its annual medical mission to the Philippines, this year in Ilocos Sur, Candon. Hoping to get a chance to see my family in the Philippines, I was excited to saturate myself in a whole new environment. But I also harbored a lot of doubts. I was actively pursuing chemical research with no pre-med or pre-health career goals. I also wasn’t sure how I’d fare in such a foreign environment in the provinces far from where my family lived in Metro Manila, unable to speak a lick of Tagalog –– the opportunity for imposter syndrome raged. But the January departure date rounded the corner, and I, still struggling to shake my third semester slump, soon found myself at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport of Manila. Five days, 10 Berkeley students, one apartment, one bathroom (!), 7,000 patients, and nothing that I could’ve ex-

pected. Below is my first attempt at fitting words to all that I experienced, all that I dare say I learned.

On day one, I learn that connection transcends language. It is 8am and I am assigned right away to a patient in the Operating Room. Priscilla, age 69, has a severe mass in the lining of her uterus. If benign, she will leave knick-free. If malignant, there is nothing to be done, as she is already well aware. She will die. There is a 50/50 shot. With only three operating tables available we watch the hours tick by, as patients are wheeled out and return in their anesthetic rests, and I sit next to Priscilla, taking it all in and gearing up for the fact that in mere hours, I would be assisting in the rearranging of her stomach. As someone that still very much cringed at paper cuts, the learning curve would be steep. Priscilla is unphased. I ask her in my rigid English, harsh against her Ilocano lilt, about her family, to which an old iPhone reveals three daughters on a dim lock screen. I ask her if she travelled far, and her worn hands mime the long bus ride it took for her to get here across thin sheets in the post-anesthesia care unit. I ask her if she is scared, and she smiles no,

but her eyes give her away as they flit to the iPhone screen. Her daughters, unable to come from their demanding jobs, are holding their breath too. Priscilla teeters between sleep and her watchful gaze. My eyes meet hers as I roam around the room; our eyes wrinkle with the same warmth. She introduces her friend to me, who laughs at my accent but understands what I am attempting to say. And when she asks to take a photo together before Priscilla goes in, the entire room swells –– we are holding our breath too. When five o’clock finally rolls around, I scrub in to the operating room. I grimace as Priscilla receives her epidural; it takes five tries to hit spinal fluid. Blade meets skin meets cauterizer as the incision is traced, laid down, and seared open. The body is amazing –– a thick layer of yellow fat above muscles and sinews and gleaming rouge organs. The smell of burning flesh makes me dizzy, and I resurface to find the doctor pulling out a huge, steaming cyst, larger than a baseball. I am handed a scalpel to pierce the cyst and the weight of what its contents signify fills the room. And even as I stab the cyst –– brown, free-form sludge fuming and spilling out –– I cannot help but beam when a voice declares: “Dermoid. Not cancer.”

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As Priscilla is wheeled out of the room, not a word is exchanged. But as I squeeze her arm in goodbye and she gets her long awaited rest. We revel in the gravity of it –– of having locked eyes with death, of a connection that doesn’t need words, of how nothing will be the same.

On day two, I’m sewing together a dude’s butt. Hardly the reality I anticipated, as I could barely stomach the stomachs of the day prior. We spend the day in minor surgery cleaning wounds, preparing skin for incisions, and cauterizing and extracting cysts. I watch the brown iodine bubble as it sanitizes the skin for dressing, a fresh set of stitches on every outpatient. Despite the intensity of the previous morning I still grimace at the sight of the deep lacera-

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tions and each first cut, the blood spilling through torn flesh. But when the doctor hands me the needle driver and thread I cannot freeze, and without a word I transition to piercing the skin by myself. I did not anticipate the physical conditioning this mission would involve, and often I ruled out pursuing medical care simply because I didn’t see myself being able to handle all of the blood. But I learned first hand on this mission that even those guttural instincts are something that can be overcome. The dizzying smell of burning flesh that nearly caused me to faint the first day and the throat-clogging nausea of my second morning as they jammed harsh rubber fingers down a man’s swelling knee –– all this I was able to put aside, not by sheer will power, not by some external calming of the nerves, but I suppose by having patience with myself.

Sticking my hands deep into the recesses of the wound, pulling the skin to get a good grab on the needle –– all of this I was not able to do even on the oranges we’d practiced on back home. And above all, being halfway across the country in a civic center office, sewing together the folds of a twenty year old man’s butt with my own two hands, I am perhaps struck most by the what a testament this experience is to human capacity. At Berkeley, I don’t think I have ever been allowed to feel capable –– with grade deflation and rejections, even the knowledge I’d work hard to attain is curved into a dehumanizing set of numbers, and low ones at that. But sitting there, finishing the stitches on our patient’s ass, I realized how the significant role mindset plays in learning capacity. How surrendering myself to the process, being at peace with


my capabilities and areas for growth, made all the difference in being able to overcome what I had believed to just “not be my thing.” How we think about ourselves, how I choose to label and regard myself, with my downfalls and potential, makes all the difference in what I can eventually achieve.

be unable to afford them are a great counter to that, there are certainly some truths in the Band-Aid accusations that cannot be denied. To what end do we spend resources sending miniscule medication to patients who will ultimately only benefit from it for a limited period of time? So it was on the third day that I learned that “right” is not universal. Those in the Band-Aid camp often rightly point to a the lack of mutual understanding on

On day four, my surgery goes very wrong: two punctures in the lung, a nicked artery, and a broken rib –– all for the removal of a kidney stone. And even as blood begins to shoot out of the patient’s torso, our doctor remains calm, moving quickly to orient himself around the wound and cauterize the pierced flesh shut. Equipped only with that which we On day three I meet 47 patients, could fit on our balikbayan boxes here, he almost all of whom are incuts the plastic tubing of operable. “That person is a an IV bag to create a new stroke waiting to happen,” irrigation system and stent the doctor says, as a yet for the patient, placing the another patient is sent knot where it can be easily “ W e m ay o n ly straight to the pharmacy removed once our mission for just half a month’s has gone. I learn that the worth of hypertension operating room is instanh av e b a n d - a i d s t o medication. I sign off his taneous and dynamic, that record sheet: 200 bpm. sometimes you have to offer, but the act This man is just one prepare to be unprepared of the thousands of pa–– to improvise –– and of sticking on a tients in the Philippines have the humility to take with soaring heart rates, life as it comes. band-aid requires dangerous for their dayto-day well being, but u s to lo o k r i g h t also preventing them from On my fifth and final being operated on when day, I am giving a mother at t h e w o u n d a n d more drastic treatments an ultrasound, except the may be required. That mother, polite in a stiff day, we turned away a overall dress, is 17 years ta k e i t f o r w h at large amount of patients old, younger than me. who could not be operI hold my breath as the it is. The wound is ated on simply because day rolls forward, contheir blood pressure was gratulating various young c o m p l i c at e d . ” too high –– something the mothers as we reveal the Filipino diet, all glucose genders of their little ones, and oils, doesn’t make but stumbling as they are easy to avoid. My heart still themselves little sunk realizing we were ones; hardly older than sending them along their way to medicine both sides. How can an American doctor my younger sisters at home. Sometimes, that would only buy them a small amount really prescribe a change in lifestyle when I am ultrasounding a neck instead of a of time, and only if they had properly he does not know the culture and resources stomach, searching for the gland to blame understood the doctor’s rough English that his patient is coming from? How can for a massive case of goiter. Dr. Haller instructions. Medical missions are often we really educate patients on the nature chuckles at the absurdity of it all, using criticized for being merely a Band-Aid of their medication if we do not even this equipment to troubleshoot what is solution in the light of voluntourism –– speak the same language, carry the same very much a neck and not stomach. He and though the many operations we made terminology? I learn that expertise is no tells me how diagnosis used to be an art, possible for patients who would otherwise substitute for empathy. how there would be patient history and

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lifestyle embedded into a doctor’s treatment plan and identification. He tells me about how in the States, we have made the procedure cheap and fast, using imaging and medications to isolate variables and mass produce treatment –– a system that is neither cheap nor fast in the developing nation of the Philippines, where each of those tests are much too expensive for results that are much too vague to forge any “fast” path to care. I think of the doctor from the previous day, wavering as she had to declare a mass cancerous or not in a woman’s breast, and in doing so, having to remove the breast entirely for fear of being wrong. In the States, she relates, loads of diagnostics and chemotherapy are run even before there is an agreement to operate, just to see if the mass is malignant. The room revelled in the gravity of having to make such a quick, real-time decision, with such large-scale implications on the patient, who had actively requested that the entire breast be removed if there was any fear of cancer –– knowing that there would be no chance of getting it treated once the mission left Candon. I see how our definitions of efficiency have failed these populations. I see that there is more to this problem than can be fixed by doctors. As fleeting as life can be here at Berkeley, life for those in the Philippines is much more tangible in its vulnerability. Health care in the Philippines varies wildly between urban and rural areas, and in sum, yield a Universal Health Care Index of 58, much lower than the USA’s comfortable level above 80. And according to WorldBank, the life expectancy in the Philippines is still 69 years, nearly a decade lower than that of the US. The Philippines is a country rich with pride, dignity, and strength embedded into its identity –– but when we talk about life as an indicator of hope, it is not merely referring to the quality of life that we are privileged to worry about over in the States. Through natural disasters, turbulent leadership, and a history of hardship, we are talking about hope for security, hope for stability –– hope for survival. This is a dichotomy I got to look in the eye as a medical volunteer coming

from the Bay Area. My existential crises about my major and internships pale in comparison to those of my family members scrambling to play their cards right to get my cousins into the right medical care and safer neighborhoods, or the families who are not as fortunate and are reliant on missions such as this one to advocate for their health. And how much is this paradox exacerbated when we think about the lack of medical professionals in the Philippines against the great amount of Filipino practitioners we see in the States? Those in a position to help are migrating elsewhere, migrating to us. Medical missions are easily romanticized in light of the “voluntourism” movement, but there is an undeniable beauty to what we are setting out to do –– a collection of lives, dropping what they’re doing and coming together to perpetuate hope. As we continue to navigate this trouble of Band-Aid solutions, I’d like to echo how that hope goes both ways –– not simply to the patients who are direct recipients of our services, but on the perspective it will yield to those of us fortunate enough to get to go on this mission. To indulge in the initial metaphor, yes, we may only have Band-Aids to offer, but the act of sticking on a Band-Aid requires us to look right at the wound and take it for what it is. The wound is complicated. It holds pain, the physical pain of bodily injury, and the emotional pain of being helpless in treating it. It holds privilege, my privilege as one with Band-Aids to spare in the first place, and who was raised by the very people who now need that Band-Aid. But if nothing else, the wounds holds life. This opportunity to engage with the wound and understand it holistically means I will proceed with that perspective and, furthermore, humility. And that propagation of care and energy to go out of our way to understand each other, engage with one another’s realities and step away from our own: that’s how you cultivate life, and to that end, perpetuate hope –– for both parties involved. As volunteers, we are coming from a position saturated with complexity: to

be in a generation characterized by diaspora, by movement. We are at the cross section of two sets of privileges, two sets of traditions, two sets of normals. And though there is no rule book for approaching this homeland from which I’ve been raised too far from to really call home, I am reminded that empathy is a universal language. Empathy to recognize that medicine is not universal and that authority is circumstantial. Empathy to realize that just a few changes in chance would have put me on the other side of the coin, coming to missions like these to receive that medicine. Empathy to recognize that my role as a volunteer is a condition of circumstance –– this mission is not and will not be reduced to an exercise of superiority or pity. It is in this vein that that this mission was a source of hope, and to that extent, life. Anima. I am humbled to be reminded of, if not blatantly immersed in, how big the world is, how vast the scale of existence is. And perhaps it will only be a temporary Band-Aid to my emotional conviction. But it reminds me that though my personal heartaches are valid and true, they are symptoms of forging meaning in what is ultimately a giant world, full of people tasked to do the very same thing. It is a reminder to me that life is complicated. That there are no universal approaches to understanding or improving it––that impacting our world will need scientists as much as surgeons as much as politicians, and that somewhere in that mix there is a niche for me that I get to take my time in forging and claiming. It is empowering and overwhelming all at once –– and part and parcel to bearing our shared wound. As we proceed to navigate our personal rain storms, be it physical or emotional or somewhere in between, let us remember that coming to terms with our wounds, looking them in the eye and validating their existence, even if we only have a Band-Aid, is undeniable in its impact. It is a testament to our strength, it is a testament to our resilience, it is a testament to our life. And where there is life, there is hope. ◌

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THE

NOOSE OF COLLEGE DEBT

words by Victoria mariolle visuals by henry demarco

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hen I opened my acceptance letter for UC Berkeley, it came in an email. This added an extra weight of anxiety because there wasn’t that telltale sign of envelope size. When I opened it, I distinctly remember yelling as a burst of electronic confetti filled the screen. Everyone in my household ran towards me and, upon hearing my garbled “I got in,” we all jumped up and down together, hugging and yelling. In the midst of this hopeful excitement, the other shoe dropped as I began to leaf through the acceptance packet. Among the smiling faces of students with their arms slung around one another, the price tags began to pop up. The lists of costs were delicately placed

between Berkeley’s impressive rankings, symbols of the university’s institutional excellence, and beaming faces seemingly inviting you to join them, all designed to overshadow and distract from that overwhelming sum. Berkeley’s price tags were piling up at a staggering rate: $500 for orientation, $385 for parking, a couple thousand for books, and the big ticket item — the $14,000 cost of tuition. As a commuter student, my own expenses were minimal compared to those who have to pay for campus housing, meal plans, and university health insurance, but I was still taken aback by the cost of my education. In my experience, going to college was not so much of a decision to make as the natural next step in preparing for my career. It seemed like a fair exchange — pay for college through student loans and immediately repay them once I got a job upon

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It felt to me like the government was making a colossal mistake. How could they enter into a contract with someone who was barely an adult?”

graduating. What I didn’t expect was how alone and powerless I felt once the theoretical value for my education was finally assigned the explicit numerical value of $30,000, a value that would compound with interest — a number that was legally bound to my name. I felt overwhelmed and extremely unqualified to take on such a financial responsibility. As a 19 year old who still babysat, it felt to me like the government was making a colossal mistake. How could they enter into a contract with someone who was barely an adult? While I was grateful to have a means to fund my education, I felt like a bad investment. Like many other college students, I was first introduced to personal finance

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when I was confronted with my student loans. College Board reports that an estimated 60% of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow money to fund their education, and the average debt per borrower has increased to more than $25,000. This means that 60% of the student populace, some of whom are just 17 and 18 years old, now have the responsibility of a debt upwards of $25,000 — that’s the price of a luxury sedan. In high school, I idealized college as the ideal time for exploration and self-discovery. But the freedom that seemed emblematic of the college experience soon became strangled and weighted under the impending loan payments that would begin six months after graduation. After

signing my name on the dotted line of my loan contract, I felt that I now had to shift my priorities. I spent less time exploring clubs that I would enjoy and more time applying to student organizations that would enhance my resume. Instead of pursuing intramural sports, I donned a blazer and carried a stack of resumes to countless job fairs. I came to the realization that the trajectory of my college career had become wholly oriented toward obtaining a job for the specific purpose of being able to pay off my debt. Not to take professional risks and wait for the right opportunity to launch my career, but to take any job at all that would ease the pressure of my college loan debt. My four years at college have become


contextualized by the omnipresent pressure that I will soon have to pay off my student loans. Does this internship pay? Will it lead to employment? Will these clubs look impressive on my resume? The general consensus from students I have spoken to is that our debt cuts down our college exploration; the decisions we make as students become filtered through the reality of our loans. This transactional approach to a college education is furthered by the economic reality that stagnant wages and the economy-wide reduction of benefits makes independent living for graduates feel much more out of reach. For millenials, moving back in with our parents after graduation has become the new norm —

not out of laziness or a lack of ambition, but rather because the cost of living is higher than our salaries. Previously, the cost of rent would comprise one-third of an individual’s salary. This would leave two-thirds of disposable income to save, pay debt, or buy groceries. Now, graduates are struggling to even cover their basic costs of living, let alone set aside funds for loan payments. The heightened cost of living is part of the reason that graduates move back in — that is, to dedicate their paycheck to paying off their debt instead of paying rent. In their paper “Determinants of Consumer Bankruptcy,” economists Ian Domowitz and Robert L. Sartain found that for the “50% of new college graduates

[who are] unemployed or underemployed, the first loan payment may come due before their first paycheck is received.” Even more frightening is that student debt is the only form of debt that cannot be “discharged through bankruptcy,” making it the only form of inescapable debt. Most significant in Domowitz and Sartain’s findings is how easy it is for students to fall behind on their debt. Half of students either don’t have a job or have a job that does not pay a living wage, which could easily lead to a couple missed payments that have the potential to spiral. And if the debt doesn’t spiral, even one missed payment could drastically decimate one’s credit. These factors have the potential to have a lifelong impact, which terrifies me.

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When it was time to sign my loan papers, I had a full blown panic attack. I remember the hyperventilating, the crying, the globs of snot that all came out full force under the crushing pressure I felt knowing I was signing a document that would follow me for at least a decade. I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive family that not only believes in my ability to succeed, but also assured me that they could be my safety net. However, many of my classmates do not have the same luxury, and the prospect of not obtaining a job by the time loan payments start six months after graduation is a very real, imminent danger. This immense pressure has negative psychological effects on indebted students that can manifest into physical reactions. In a 2017 Student Loan Hero Survey of students with college loans, researchers discovered that 60% feared their debt would spiral out of control, 72% reported headaches due to loan stress, 60% reported muscle tension, 50% reported stomach problems, and 74% admitted to self-isolation for reasons like feeling embarrassment for having to rely on their parents for financial support. The responsibility of student loans can easily become an all-consuming stress that evolves into physical reactions. Being knowledgeable about

your loan agreements and constructing a personal payment plan can not only help alleviate physical symptoms, but give the you, the debtor, a sense of control over the situation. What changed my own relationship with my student debt was exercising control through knowledge. I sat down with my parents and composed a list of questions to ask different banks. These questions included whether would I be penalized by making early loan payments or what the reasoning is behind different interest rates. I researched other people’s experiences with different banks and chose one to apply to. I learned that each time you apply to a bank with a cosigner, like a parent, your credit score takes a hit. Before going through with my application I had a long, in-depth discussion with my loan officer, going through all the different plans that were offered before selecting the one that I felt was right for me. Once I become employed, I plan on making a spreadsheet and calculate the highest percentage I can afford with my other bills to pay down my debt in an efficient manner. Student loans have become something of a necessary evil, but through this loan process I have learned that much of the anxiety can be quelled by knowing exactly what I’ve been forced to sign up for. ◌

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southern california: OUT OF DROUGHT AND INTO COLOR A P H OT O S P R E A D VISUALS BY Will Brinkerhoff

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website : calibermag.net facebook : Caliber Magazine instagram : @calibermag

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Cover photo taken by ERIK NUDING While Caliber is a part of the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley, the content of the magazine does not reflect the opinions of the ASUC in any way.


CA L I B ER M AG AZ I N E I S SU E 18 | spri n g 2019

Profile for Caliber Magazine

Caliber Magazine - Issue 18  

Caliber Magazine - Issue 18  

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