Spring 2023 Issue 5

Page 1



secrets in your hands weigh a thousand pounds; truth in the air hangs as light as the clouds. i used to practice speaking until speaking became my best practice.

2 LETTERS FROM THE EDITORS melanie litwin & amanda westlake 4 LETTERS FROM THE CREATIVE DIRECTORS angela jang & yimeng lyu (anna) 5 MAJOR PROBLEMS, MINOR SOLUTIONS FEATURE • billy zeng & joyce fang 9 BEYOND TRANSLATION VOICES • rohith raman 12 DIAGNOSIS DISPARITIES NEWS • melanie litwin 14 GRANITE, MARBLE, PULP ARTS & CULTURE • diana gateño 18 swallow. (september 1st, 2022) POETRY & PROSE • hami trinh 19 IMAGINE POETRY & PROSE • matilda yueyang peng 20 MUTUAL AID AND SUBSISTENCE CAMPUS • hanna bregman
WE NEED TO TALK OPINION • felipe campano
OPINION • leah cohen


Melanie Litwin

Amanda Westlake

Editor Emeritus

Sabah Lokhandwala

Managing Editor

Juanita Asapokhai

Creative Directors

Angela Jang

Yimeng Lyu (Anna)

Feature Editors

Ruby Goodman

Emara Saez

News Editors

Rohith Raman

Layla Kennington

Arts & Culture Editors

Sophie Fishman

Millie Todd

Opinion Editors

Michelle Setiawan

Clara Davis

Campus Editors

Liani Astacio

Eden Weissman

Poetry & Prose Editors

Neya Krishnan

Priyanka Sinha

Voices Editors

William Zhuang

Sarah Fung

Creative Inset

Ines Wang

Art Directors

Aidan Chang

Audrey Njo

Multimedia Director

Pam Melgar

Multimedia Team

Anika Kapoor

Megan Reimer

Juniper Moscow

Emmeline Meyers

Claudia Aranda Barrios

Brenda Martinez

Publicity Directors

Ava Vander Louw

Sofia Valdebenito

Publicity Team

Anthony Davis-Pait

Emma Iturregui

Aatiqah Aziz

Staff Writers

Edith Philip

Leah Cohen

Billy Zeng

Ava Vander Louw

Sage Malley

Lily Feng

Siona Wadhawan

Hanna Bregman

Erin Zhu

Felipe Campano

Veronica Habashy

Joyce Fang

Bella Cosimina Bobb


Madison Clowes

Hami Trinh

Anastasia Glass

Jasmine Wu

Anthony Davis-Pait

Aviv Markus

Maria Cazzato

Lead Copy Editors

Lucy Belknap

Eli Marcus

Copy Editors

Seun Adekunle

Kara Moquin

Alec Rosenthal

Drexel Osborne

Nika Lea Tomicic

Phoebe McMahon

Ashlie Doucette

Podcast Directors

Noah DeYoung

Grace Masiello


Emily Cheng

Ethan Walsey

Alice Fang

Megan Reimer

Soraya Basrai

Jamie Doo

Qinyi Ma

Eden Weissman

Staff Artists

Emmeline Meyers

Diana Gateño

Olivia White

Lydia Jiameng Liu

Heather Huang

Mariana Porras

Rachel Liang

Chileta Egonu

Zed van der Linden

Nour El-Solh

Matilda Peng

Maria Cazzato

Katie Rejto

Adina Guo

Website Manager

Clara Davis


Felipe López

Janse Schoonmaker

Bronwyn Legg

Mallika Sinha



Last month, I cried in Cohen Auditorium two nights in a row. The first was at a talk by Ocean Vuong, the brilliant, queer, Vietnamese author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. The second was at “Drag Me to Tufts,” the beautiful, joyful drag show celebrating Trans Day of Visibility.

I cried at these events not because I was sad, but because I felt joyful, thankful, and overwhelmed to be queer and Asian in a space where those identities were celebrated. I am grateful to have encountered many of these spaces at Tufts, the most important of which to me is the Observer. This magazine is created with love by and for students of color, queer students, first generation and low income students, students with disabilities—really, anyone who finds themselves at the margins of our campus. The stories, narratives, and poems that Observer staff and contributors publish are often personal, intimate, and deeply vulnerable. In this issue alone, multiple pieces have moved me to tears.

As journalists, we often face pressure to minimize our identities in favor of a farce of neutrality, hoping to be seen as impartial observers, historians of culture but never participants. This, of course, is silly. The Observer has never merely observed; in every story, we are caught up in the narrative, stuck between the pages like chewing gum, our existences too intertwined to be ripped apart. The record we keep—of injustice, community, resilience, strength—is a record of our lives. Maybe it’s a record of yours, too.

Throughout the past four years, I’ve written articles about students dealing with lack of access to food, the Tufts janitors’ fight for a fair contract, and the university’s refusal to divest from private prisons. I’ve edited stories about the movement for ethnic studies at Tufts, the persistent police presence on campus despite student concerns, and the institutional lack of support for DEI. Notice two throughlines here: a university that consistently prioritizes profit over student well-being, and students who refuse to back down.

In the coming years, I hope the Observer continues to speak truth to power, even when administrators would prefer us to be quiet. I hope that we continue to be an outlet where students share their stories, and that they feel proud and empowered when they see their words in print. I want to be very clear about the mission of this publication and what we seek to do: hold institutions accountable and uplift marginalized voices. These two goals are not separate, but deeply, inextricably intertwined.

Thank you, endlessly, to Melanie, Juanita, Angela, Anna, every current and former Observer staff member, my mother, my sister, and the rest of my family, my friends, and our readers. As I leave Tufts, I am grateful to know that even if I did everything else wrong, with the Observer, I did something right.

In solidarity, Amanda




It feels unfamiliar to write in my own voice, to recognize myself staring back at me as I type. I am used to piecing together research and interviews in a way that, while certainly in my own words, obscures the person behind the page.

Now, I am vulnerable, my words exposed. Perhaps there is a power in that.

At the core of my love for the Observer, there has always been a firm belief in the importance of student journalism. Throughout my time at Tufts, this belief has been fortified by the countless times we as a student body have witnessed the voices of the powerful attempt to overtake the voices of the marginalized.

It is unacceptable that, at a school that consistently utilizes rhetoric of anti-racism and freedom of expression, these values are not actually enacted. In this year alone, the pages of the Observer have held stories about students’ experiences with racism and ableism on campus, the “mass exodus” and mistreatment of faculty and staff of color, and the lack of administrative support for ethnic studies programs. None of these situations are unique to the present moment, but rather recurring issues felt deep within the student body and campus community.

At the same time, both recently and in years past, student journalists have been met with threats and an administration that employs manipulative intimidation tactics against us. Articles that highlight the wrongdoings of the university—particularly racism and other direct harm or negligence—are rarely met with any change or visible attempts to do better by the administration, but have been frequently met with a pattern of hostility and accusations of poor journalistic practices. The only logical conclusion I can draw from these experiences is that Tufts, not unlike many American universities, cares more about its reputation than about actually serving its students, faculty, and staff.

call upon our readers, administration, and my fellow student journalists to remember this: journalism is not PR. We do not, and should not, report as a way to protect those with power or to protect the university’s image. We serve the Tufts community, first and foremost, and owe them accurate and informed reporting. We work to make space for those with less power to share their truths because, while the truths of the powerful may be loudest, that does not mean they are fair or right. Strong, ethical journalism has been, and continues to be, a crucial way of holding the powerful accountable. I believe Tufts can do better, be better.

a bit more jaded, a bit more tired now than I was as a wide-eyed freshman, entering college with an ache to write and a desire for community—but I still believe in the power of the written word. I still believe the stories we tell matter. Student journalism matters, this magazine matters, your voice matters.

A final moment of vulnerability: I have cherished my time at Tufts and with the Observer, truly and deeply—not because of the pristine version of Tufts’ reputation that is marketed to incoming students, but rather in spite of it. It is the people that have made Tufts meaningful to me: the entire Observer staff, who pour so much into this magazine time and time again, who inspire me constantly; the professors who have shaped my views of world; Amanda, Grace, Ennis, Mark, Anthony, and every friend who has made my life beautiful these past four years. I find meaning and comfort in the sunrises I’ve watched with Amanda, Juanita, Anna, and Angela; in the knowledge that Juanita will carry on the legacy of this magazine; in the way I’ve started and ended this journey with Amanda by my side.

The Observer has been such a gift to me, something that has defined every semester of my college experience. I don’t know what it means to say goodbye to this magazine. It is a vulnerable sensation, feeling the end of this time creeping so close—yet it is also a beginning. There are more stories to tell, more voices to be heard.

I look forward to reading them all.

With love and appreciation, Melanie


The theme at hand is vulnerability—being at risk of harm or attack. As a layout designer, I regularly find myself confronting the vulnerability of print media. Today, the necessity of reading materials on paper is being challenged more than ever before. And it is a valid hypothesis that, someday in the future, the majority of journalism will stop printing physical copies. But for the moment, we are protected by our history, staff members, contributors, the university campus, as well as all of our readers. Every time I walk by the publications shelf in the Mayer Campus Center and notice the stack of freshly delivered Observer magazines getting thinner and thinner, I see the community that still holds us together.

happily ever after, anna


it is truly so scary to be vulnerable with someone. letting your guard down for the first time is the ultimate test of whether you can trust someone.

it’s been hard for me to be vulnerable to people—i’m still learning, but the Ob- server has definitely created a safe space for us to be vulnerable, and i am so proud of everyone who has been vulnerable this year. look! i’m even being vulnerable right now just writing this.

it takes so much emotional strength to open up to someone—let alone in a magazine for thousands of people on campus to read. being vulnerable is the ulti- mate tool when it comes to writing. you are true to yourself and that’s what makes the observer so raw, beautiful, and authentic. i genuinely love that the observer is a community where you can feel seen, heard, and understood.

i have been so privileged to be a part of such an amazing community this past year.

while i have to say a quick goodbye for a semester, i’m so glad to have met you. with love, angela <3




Editor’s Note: The authors of this piece are both members of the Tufts Asian Student Coalition, are engaged with Tufts Ethnic Studies Now, and are RCD majors and Asian American Studies minors. Billy Zeng is the other co-teacher of Radical Roots of Asian American Boston: In Solidarity and Struggle with Nacie Loh. Emara Saez, the Features Section Editor, is a cofounder of Somos, engaged with Tufts Ethnic Studies Now, and a RCD major and Latinx Studies minor.

Between March 29 and 31 of this year, over 500 students, alumni, and parents signed a letter demanding support for ethnic studies faculty and courses at Tufts. In addition to signing the letter, 130 community members submitted personal testimonials about the importance of ethnic studies to them. Ethnic studies are primarily housed in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, established in 2019. Under the RCD Department, it is possible to major in American Studies, RCD Studies, and Africana Studies, and minor in Asian American Studies, Latinx Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Africana Studies, and Colonialism Studies.


The letter was born out of the dire situation in which the RCD Department found itself this spring. Student concern over the diminishing size of the department began in December 2022 when Princeton University announced that Professor Lorgia García-Peña, current Chair of the RCD Department, would be leaving Tufts to join their faculty at the end of the Spring 2023 semester. She is the only tenured professor in a department of otherwise junior faculty, the majority of whom are women of color. She is also the only professor of Latinx Studies in the department, meaning that her departure from Tufts will leave the department without senior leadership and Latinx studies courses taught by tenure-track or tenured faculty. This presents a problem, according to senior and RCD major Madeline Tachibana, who said, “It’s difficult to have a department that’s only junior faculty because who does that fac-

ulty go to when they have questions? They also need to be mentored, just like students need to be mentored.”

García-Peña’s exit came as a surprise to the university, according to Heather Nathans, the dean of Academic Affairs and associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion in Arts and Sciences. She said the departure “was unexpected news that we got in the winter, which is very sad for the department, and I know it’s sad for her.” However, students feel that the gap in RCD goes far beyond losing García-Peña.

Student concerns increased when course offerings were released for Fall 2023, as there were no tenure-track or tenured faculty in Latinx Studies and Asian American Studies teaching courses for the upcoming semester. There is only one tenure-track Asian American Studies faculty member in the department, who will be on sabbatical for the 2023–2024 school year.


There are only three Asian American studies courses listed for the Fall 2023 semester, including one based in the Department of Child Studies and Human Development, an Independent Study, and Introduction to Asian American Studies. None of the courses will be taught by tenure-track faculty, and none of the courses are upperlevel, which will impact upperclassmen’s ability to complete their degrees.

Yunzhu Pan, a fifth-year undergraduate triple majoring in RCD, History, and Anthropology said, “Students are struggling…to complete the requirements of their curriculum to get the education that we came to Tufts for.”


Within days of courses releasing, RCD students organized a response to the lack of courses and full-time faculty members for the Fall 2023 semester.

These student organizers refer to themselves as the Tufts Ethnic Studies Now Coalition. Nacie Loh, an RCD junior involved in the group, said in a testimonial included in the original letter, “Three years ago, I chose Tufts because of the promise of a growing Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora studies department… I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the constant instability in course offerings and resources available to me as an RCD student because of the lack of institutional support for the department.”

The coalition’s strategy is to focus on the RCD Department as a whole rather than its tracks individually. The student organizers have made solidarity and collaboration central to their advocacy. The coalition includes students from Tufts Pan-Afrikan Alliance, Tufts Asian Student Coalition, and several Latinx Studies minors, who continue to work closely with each other.

However, Dean Nathans maintained that RCD is a priority for the administration. “Institutions don’t take the creation of departments lightly,” she said. “When you make a department, you are making a commitment to developing it, to make it succeed. And so I think that the choice to bring all of these [tracks] together and say this is a department now was a really serious and significant commitment on the part of the university.”

In July 2019, the RCD Department was formed after years of student and faculty advocacy. Throughout the past four years, the RCD Department has been characterized by significant changes in faculty, leadership, and major requirements. These changes have made students hesitant to be involved, despite their interest in RCD.

Grace Acton, a current freshman, said, “I’d love to be involved in RCD, but I don’t want to join a department that’s so unstable. If current seniors don’t even know how to finish their majors, why would I want to start a major that is so up in the air?”


This instability is largely caused by having only one faculty member specializing in each RCD track. Professor GarcíaPeña wrote about how she experienced this in her recent book, Community As Rebellion, inspired by her tenure denial at Harvard University in 2021. She describes the burden of being “The One”—the only professor of each racial identity in a department, used to represent a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She writes, “The existence of The One allows the university to maintain the status quo... The One is the perfect representation of the deferred project of inclusion, a project we know is not about justice or

equity. To have The One allows institutions to say, ‘See? We are not racists. See? We are moving forward.’” Professor García-Peña writes that professors of color are forced to be “the Band-Aids [universities] hope to put on their hemorrhaging racial wounds.” Students, too, feel that a track cannot be represented by only one faculty member. The Ethnic Studies Now Coalition is demanding three faculty hires each for Asian American Studies, Africana Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Latinx Studies, for a total of 12 hires, by 2025.

Current seniors have been unable to pursue their research interests due to a lack of faculty across RCD. Sibi Nyaoga, a senior majoring in Africana Studies and Political Science, said, “One major challenge I had at the beginning of the semester was finding a capstone that really felt like a capstone—something that culminated everything I’d learned over the past three years… There was only one upper-level course being offered, and that wasn’t in relation to what I was interested in. And so I was hoping to pursue an independent research project, and that wasn’t possible… [The RCD Department was not] able to find someone who could adequately advise me in my area of research.”

Current juniors are also left unsure about how they will pursue a senior thesis. Tate Schutt, a third-year RCD major, wrote in a statement to the Observer, “With the departure of my advisor Professor GarcíaPeña, I am struggling again to find a departmental advisor to the senior honors


thesis I have been hoping to complete since my freshman year.”

Dean Nathans discussed the university’s plans to address the immediate shortage of courses and professors next semester. As of the time of publication, the RCD Department has hired one part-time and one full-time lecturer, with hopes to hire a third faculty member between now and the fall. Dean Nathans, in a written statement to the Observer, said these faculty will have “advising explicitly included as part of their loads so that there will be coverage in the interim.” However, these faculty will only be contracted for two years, and students are concerned about whether they will be able to provide adequate support. Acton said, “I don’t necessarily want to be taught by someone who’s just hired for the [short term] and who I am never going to see again.”

According to Dean Nathans, these gaps were not unique to the RCD. “I have seen this with my other departments when they have critical faculty who are going on leave—you fill in what you can and then you sometimes have a year where you just can’t offer every single thing, which is disappointing,” she said.

RCD students, however, do not feel reassured. Loh wrote, “I am frustrated with being told that this is normal. My friends in other departments do not have these issues with the lack of courses and advising opportunities. They do not look at the course catalog and wonder if they will be able to complete their degrees, or if they can write theses because there aren’t enough faculty to support them.”

Schutt wrote, “We are paying just as much tuition as those in well-funded departments like Computer Science and International Relations, and we deserve the same educational opportunities. We cannot proceed without more faculty. Students are being pushed out of the program because of the lack of institutional support.”


In 2019, when Professor Jean Wu retired from her lecturer position in American Studies, some of her previous students offered a course through the Experimental

College titled Asian Americans in Boston to continue the legacy of her teaching and to ensure that undergraduate students had course options in the field of Asian American studies.

Pan said of this student-led initiative, “That’s how they kept Asian American Studies alive when there was no instructor able to teach. That was not a university initiative. That was students who were just so passionate about the intellectual political community that they formed.”

Now, in 2023, the lack of ethnic studies courses for the upcoming academic year has motivated current RCD students to follow in the footsteps of the students who came before them. Loh is preparing to co-teach a version of Asian Americans in Boston, called Radical Roots of Asian American Boston: In Solidarity and Struggle in Fall 2023 for incoming first-year students through the Experimental College Explorations program.

In a statement to the Observer, Loh wrote, “Our class, as of now, is the only class with a specifically Asian American studies lens that is confirmed to run next semester… Although Tufts is not giving the [RCD] department the resources to thrive, we, as students, are also capable of teaching and sharing what we have learned. We will create the education we want to see, and hopefully inspire a new generation of students to understand how crucial Asian American studies and ethnic studies are within this institution.”

Students minoring in Latinx Studies have also created their own intellectual spaces. As a response to the lack of Latinx Studies courses this semester, some of these students formed Somos, a new student zine dedicated to uplifting Latinx creatives at Tufts.

Paola Ruiz, a sophomore majoring in RCD and minoring in Latinx Studies, is one of the co-founders of Somos. In a written statement to the Observer, Ruiz said, “Somos is a space to be in community with other Latinx folks and to learn from Latinx folks… It allows me to actually put into practice many of the things we’ve learned and people we’ve learned from in RCD.”

RCD students have taken it upon themselves to teach the knowledge and content they want to see in Tufts classrooms, but this solution is not sustainable. The same students who are taking on this extra labor are often those who cannot afford to. Alexandra Ward, a senior majoring in American Studies and Sociology, said, “We should

just have the privilege to be students, not students who have to worry about fixing a broken [department].”


Current first-year students have been keeping a close eye on the RCD department and weighing the stakes of majoring in a discipline that does not have adequate support at Tufts. Despite the lack of courses, Rita Dai, a prospective RCD major and current first-year, said, “I want to continue my journey of learning about my history, identity, and how to help my community.” Dai continued, “I understand that because the administration does not care about us, we must advocate for ourselves. I hope to be a part of that fight.”


Similarly, Donovan Sanders, another prospective first-year RCD major, said, “We can’t just come into these spaces and do what we’re told. This is our education. We’re paying for education. It should be what we want it to be.”

Students believe the fight to improve the RCD Department will be an uphill battle, especially since many demands depend on significant financial investments. According to Dean Nathans, “Each senior line [tenured hire] is a multimillion-dollar commitment because it’s not only the salary, it’s the research funding, but particularly when you bring a senior person you’re usually bringing them in with tenure.”

Dean Nathans described the university’s commitment to building RCD through its initiative to build a more expansive physical space for the department. “We’re doing a major multi hundred thousand dollar renovation to the RCD this summer, so they will have a beautiful new conference space, they’ll have a student lounge area, a kitchenette, and new faculty offices because we anticipate growth. We don’t build new faculty offices just to stack stuff in—that is happening because we know that the RCD is going to grow because we are committed [to] it.”

Yet students are not convinced these solutions will create real change.

Tachibana said, “Tufts administration seems to believe that…committing to funding a physical space will solve problems with the lack of continuity within the department.”

Dai stressed that Tufts has a responsibility to meet student needs on a greater scale. “We hope to hold the administration accountable for the promises they made in institutionalizing RCD as a department,” Dai said. “We want to create a robust RCD department that will provide students and faculty with the resources they need and will last for decades to come.”

Ward said, “I think only changes can be made when you cross those lines that people don’t think to cross, and you need to be a little bit aggressive… This [is] at the bottom of [the administration’s] list. So if you’re not pushing them, they’re not going to do anything. Please don’t be nice to them. They don’t deserve your kindness. They’re grown adults. We’re paying them.”

urgent than ever.

As Dai said, “Our longterm demands are to ensure that the RCD department stays strong and stable for decades after we are gone. We want the administration to acknowledge RCD as a field of study—and marginalized students’ wants in general—as valid and worthy of institutional recognition.” O

“RCD can be a leader to other schools for a department that can do incredible and really urgent work,” Pan said. “Tufts can afford to invest in RCD, and not only can they afford it, I think their future relies on it. It’s not about RCD’s future. It’s about Tufts University’s future, especially with the kind of image it wants to project to its customers.”

Students involved in Ethnic Studies Now Coalition will continue to meet with the Tufts administration into the summer and Fall 2023 semester, and their demands remain more



Ihave always been pretty mediocre at speaking Tamil. Although I am South Indian and Tamil is central to my family’s cultural heritage, I have never been as fluent as I would have liked. Our family’s annual trips to Mumbai only exposed the limits of my knowledge from a young age. Comprehension was never my struggle; I understood the sweet compliments and questions relatives greeted me with, but the words to respond with floated around in my head like alphabet soup.

Growing up, my family spent many evenings at a nearby Indian movie theater. Each week, they sold tickets for only a dollar, which was a deal that we couldn’t pass up on. The theater almost exclusively played Bollywood (Hindi Cinema), and the films I watched while munching on chaat and vegetable pakora bought from the concession stand became my initial exposure to Indian cinema. Tamil and South Indian films were often perceived as “less mainstream” and given less visibility. As a result, I was rarely given the chance to watch them. However, at home, Tamil shows were frequently heard coming from my grandmother Pati’s room at maximum volume, and their tunes filled every crevice of our house. I would sometimes accompany Pati on her cinematic ventures after school, where we would delve into juicy family dramas, gory murder mysteries, or fantasy stories imbued with religious and cultural symbolism. She had to stand close to the TV because she couldn’t hear the dialogue from her rocking chair, and I would perch next to her, frantically trying to pick up every word or squinting at the screen if subtitles were graciously provided. (My dad

eventually got her headphones so she could remain seated, which she loved.)

To be fair, neither of my parents are fully fluent in Tamil, which didn’t really help. They spoke Tamil at home, but at school or with friends it was a mix of Tamil with other languages like Marathi, Gujarati, and Hindi, despite Tamil’s status as their “official mothertongue.” My grandparents were born and brought up in regions that predominantly speak Tamil; for Pati, this was in Gobichettipalayam, a small province in Tamil Nadu. However, this wasn’t the case for my parents, whose Tamil was more informal and diluted. My dad was born in Chennai but moved to Rajasthan at a young age. He spent his adolescent years at school in Delhi, which forced him to brush up on his Hindi. Although his childhood was founded on speaking and reading Tamil, Hindi became a more comfortable medium of conversation for him as he moved throughout India. My mom was born in Kolkata, which gave her basic exposure to Bengali, but her family quickly moved to Mumbai, a city with large numbers of Marathi, Hindi, and English speakers; at markets or restaurants, Hindi and Marathi were more commonly spoken, and the Catholic school that she was forced to attend prioritized English proficiency.

While my parents are exponentially better at Tamil than I am, Pati was always treated as the “Tamil authority” in our house. She was my dictionary for random words and phrases that didn’t make sense to me and eventually became my true connection to the language. In many ways, she motivated me to continue learning Tamil

and speaking it at home. When I called Pati for dinner as a kid, checked up on her after walking home from school, or asked her what she wanted from Chipotle, a favorite of hers, I would often unintentionally refer to her informally or fumble over the pronunciation of certain words. Despite the annoyance I must have been, she would sit patiently and listen eagerly to my broken Tamil, filling in the gaps in my sentences with the little English she knew and complimenting my progress every time. Her love was unconditional; even amid the messy patchwork of Tamil and English that our conversations consisted of, her heart remained open. Even as she had to deal with a stubborn grandchild who constantly teased his older sister and never listened to his mother, she continued to love.

Every morning, Pati would promptly wake up and make a pot of chai for herself and my dad. Chai was central to her morning routine, and I always arose to its rich, spiced aroma. Pati had her own designated cup; it was orange and ceramic, reading “World’s Greatest Grandmother.” I never had an affinity for drinking coffee or tea, and my mom felt that I was too young to


cultivate such a habit. However, I made sure to wake up and join them for chai and rusk whenever I could. With every sophisticated, warm sip, I could feel adulthood seeping in, and I eventually also grew to love its taste. I became a regular in this chai rotation; years later, when I would come home from college, I always received a hot cup of chai from Pati. Regardless of whether I woke up too late or I forgot to drink it, the cup’s location never wavered, always sitting with a stainless steel cover on the edge of the counter for easy access.

Pati was a significant part of my foundation at home. The large chaise in her room next to her rocking chair was a favorite destination of mine, and I would spend hours after school working or relaxing there as she took her evening nap. We often occupied the kitchen together, raiding an assortment of snacks from Murukku and Mixture to Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars to boxes of balaclava and dates my aunt sent from Saudi Arabia. When the COVID pandemic made my senior year of highschool virtual, I spent most of my time lounging aimlessly around the house with her or sitting in our backyard, where she basked in Houston’s heat as I sat in the shade. Though our conversations weren’t particularly intricate or profound and silence often permeated our time together, she was my best friend. She was present from the

moment I was born and permanently lived with my family by the time I was 12, witnessing me grow from an awkward middle schooler into a (hopefully) less awkward sophomore in college consumed by the possibility of growing a beard. (She never liked it, even when it became less patchy. But she never said anything.) She was there when Texas froze over and we lost power, huddling by the fireplace in her shawl and gloves and with my Boy Scouts headlamp on. Whenever I was tired or sad, she sat next to me, even if she didn’t understand why. There was always a bowl of peeled tangerines awaiting my return from school, and she regularly made me thayir saadam when my stomach hurt. She was always there, to the point where I never even questioned her presence. She was a source of tranquility at home and kept everyone grounded.

When Pati started to get sick, I pushed every anxious or negative thought away. While at college, I focused all my mental energy on the next time I would see her, distracting myself from the possibility that I might actually not. I refused to entertain the possibility of home without her, to see her room without the rocking chair, leaving behind mere indentations of its weight on the rug. Yet her health was fundamentally getting worse. The distance of her walks slowly reduced until she

struggled to even make her way around the house without the stability of my hand. She spent more and more time resting in her room with less and less of an appetite, and I brought her meals to her rather than calling her out for dinner like I once did. She still wanted chai each morning—that didn’t change—but my mom became the designated maker when it was hard for Pati to get out of bed. The silence at home without her Tamil programs playing in the background or the sound of her feet as she slowly trotted throughout the house was deafening.

Last summer, I noticed a book on the end table in our living room; it was titled Learn Tamil in 30 Days. My dad later told me he had been using the book to master his Tamil writing skills. As Pati was making her chai and breakfast platter with an array of snacks, I enthusiastically showed her. Though she chuckled at the promise of learning Tamil in 30 days, she was encouraging, as she always was, and told me to read it. After she passed away in December, that book became a grim reminder of my shortcomings as a grandson. Guilt and self-doubt consumed me; in retrospect, I felt I took her perennial love and what felt like her omnipresence at


home for granted. I wished that she was here—at least until my sentences were no longer a string of doubtful and informal asks, until her ears could rest without strain, until I could ask her about her first love or her experiences during the Partition or why she dropped out of school myself, without the burden of translation. I think we would have had even better conversations.

Despite the glaring void that exists in Pati’s absence, I now find comfort in the fact that there are parts of her that remain with me. I recently came across the Korean word “정”(jung). It describes a connection between people that cannot be severed even with time or hatred, often representing an

abounding sense of belonging and community. For me, jung for Pati is found in my Tamil conversations with family while riding the T, her now empty closet that was once filled with rows of hanging saris and boxes of jewelry, the journals that she diligently wrote in, the pictures of us together, and the tattoos my entire family got in her honor. My sister and I often joke about what Pati’s reaction to our tattoos would be. I think she would have initially freaked out with concern and questioned their necessity, but eventually she would have come around out of pure love for her family; love would have guided her, like it always did.




In recent years, diagnosis and awareness of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, have increased—yet many still remain undiagnosed and untreated due to misinformation and inaccessible healthcare and education systems. Those with ADHD must contend with a range of disparities when it comes to managing symptoms and receiving accommodations, including on college campuses.

ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder, with an estimated 5 percent – 7.2 percent of youth and 2.5 percent – 6.7 percent of adults affected. While there is no singular professional consensus, increased diagnoses can be attributed to many factors—including changes to diagnostic criteria and increased awareness of its symptoms, particularly within historically underdiagnosed and marginalized populations, for example those assigned female at birth and people of color. According to a paper published in the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, “Between 2004 – 2006, Black students were more likely than their White counterparts to have ADHD symptoms (12% vs. 7% respectively), but were less likely to have received a diagnosis (9% vs. 14% respectively).”

Many also are not diagnosed until adulthood, as the common stereotype of someone with ADHD, and the presentation most commonly diagnosed, is a hyperactive young white boy. It was previously commonly believed that ADHD only affected children and that most outgrew it as they aged. However, further studies and research have since found that ADHD commonly persists into adulthood.

There is also increased awareness of the fact that ADHD presents differently in different individuals. For instance, though many of the symptoms can be

similar, boys are more likely to present external symptoms, such as hyperactiv ity and impulsivity, while girls are more likely to present internal symptoms, such as inattention. This leads to boys with ADHD receiving more attention and diagnoses than girls.

“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Dis order” itself, senior Lee Romaker said, “I think the label is definitely based on the symptoms of ADHD that manifest primarily in young boys. And I also think it is based upon the symptoms that are the most disruptive for other people, rather than the symptoms that are most disruptive for the person with ADHD.” ADHD encompasses a range of symptoms beyond the hyperactivity and inattention the name implies. According to Romaker, symptoms such as strug gles with executive function, time blind ness, and rejection sensitivity are overlooked,


despite having a “big influence on people with ADHD’s lives.”

For students, this can pose problems for them within the current American school system, including at the university level. Julian Hammond, a senior in the Resumed Education for Adult Learning program at Tufts, emphasized the rigidness of assessments and performance criteria in the American education structure. “You’re tracked and graded and judged on what you’re able to produce, not what you’re able to do,” they said.

This fixation on production can harm students with ADHD, especially if they don’t know why they are struggling with schoolwork. Hammond described having internalized ableist thoughts, such as feeling they were “lazy” or “somebody who doesn’t care enough about things.” This myth of laziness associated with ADHD is an experience many share, existing both internally in their own views of themselves and externally in what others around them may assume. ADHD is also often experienced alongside mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression, further compounding challenges an individual may face and making it more difficult to navigate everyday life.

Junior Tyler Pisinski, co-facilitator of Access Betters the Lives of Everyone, explained that ADHD can affect all aspects of one’s life, despite often being associated with academic struggles. “Though there is more awareness among people our age about ADHD, I think people still think it’s contained to academics when I know in my case it kind of affects multiple areas of my life,” Pisinski said. Xe continued that ADHD affects xyr object permanence and ability to engage with friends.

Hammond emphasized students with disabilities are not the issue; the problem is the overall structures of schools and workplaces that confine people to working in a way that may not be conducive to their learning and growth. Everyone’s brain functions differently. Romaker shared a similar sentiment. “Rather than professors and the university being responsible for creating an accessible school and environment in general, the norm is to create an inaccessible learning environment. And then disabled students have to advocate for exceptions to be made,” they said.

According to a written statement to the Observer from the Student Accessibility and Academic Resources Center office, “Common accommodations [for students with ADHD] include extended time on exams, the ability to test in a distraction reduced space, access to our academic coaching and writing support and extensions on assignments as needed.”

However, in the university setting, it can be challenging to receive effective accommodations for any disability—ADHD included. Hammond found it difficult to obtain such accommodations from the StAAR Center at Tufts, resulting in an added burden of needing to frequently self-advocate. Several students voiced a desire for the StAAR Center to provide more specific information on accommodations, including a list of what accommodations are possible and what students have utilized in the past. Hammond continued that, at Tufts, there is an “unimaginative reliance on precedent. The ultimate response is basically, ‘Well, we can’t do that because it’s never been done before.’”

The StAAR Center office wrote in response to these concerns, “Our work with students is very tailored to their individual needs. Often, we are creating accommodations specific for the student we are working with, which is why you may not see it publicly listed anywhere. Students are always welcome to circle back to us if their access needs are not being met by the specific accommodations provided.”

The fact that many people—particularly those from underdiagnosed populations—are not diagnosed or do not realize they have ADHD until adulthood creates barriers for those seeking accommodations as well. Many hurdles exist to receiving a formal clinical diagnosis, including long waiting lists and insufficient health insurance.

For Romaker, a reliance on out-ofstate health insurance has imposed another obstacle. “Because I have an Ohio-based health insurance, I can really only get tested and diagnosed with ADHD in Ohio,” Romaker said. “I limit my time in Ohio because it’s dangerous for me to live there as a transgender person. And so I don’t really have access to an ADHD diagnostic test.” They explained that, without a diagnosis, it

is more difficult for them to receive needed accommodations.

The inability to receive a formal diagnosis can also be harmful to one’s selfimage. Hammond described how they felt a kind of “imposter syndrome” and selfjudgment, finding themselves wondering, “Am I just not good at doing work?”

However, even when one is diagnosed, the label of ADHD does not necessarily encompass the whole picture. “I wonder about the utility of defining a certain way of being with a word in the first place because it’s just one of potentially infinite variations of neurotypes, of the ways people’s brains operate,” Hammond said. “It’s almost like naming it and classifying it and putting it in the DSM and everything, again almost feels like it puts the onus on us, and not on the collective ‘we’ to change our ways in order to accommodate more people in general.”

Tufts students are currently advocating for a Disability Center to be established, hoping that it will mitigate the challenges disabled and neurodivergent students face in seeking accommodations and other support on campus. According to the studentcreated petition calling for the Center’s establishment, the Center would “provide a space for disabled students to communicate, engage, and find support within their experiences.” This would be one way of working towards a more accessible and supportive campus and college experience for disabled students.

On Tufts campus and beyond, there is a continued need for increased disability advocacy, awareness, and accurate information about ADHD. Hammond said, “The more people are vocal about something, the less that people who don’t experience it can ignore it or claim ignorance about it.” O

MAY 1,


Sebastián de Belalcázar, Christopher Columbus, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. A globe, a sword, a horse. Each on an otherwise empty pedestal, just barely recognizable to those who know the places to which they refer. This is a drawing of three massive men who loom over Colombia, some of its history’s most recognizable icons, but someone has removed its subjects.

SMFA graduate student Felipe Lopez is the one responsible for their removal.

“I set out to see where exactly did that [typically monumental] image come from and what made it powerful. If it was the image itself—the sculpture, well then, let’s work only with the pedestal, the recipient of all that power,” Lopez said.

Hailing from Colombia, Lopez has spent the last few years of his career focusing on monuments’ effects on public memory and the global tensions rising around their presence or removal. His latest series “Where Is Our Power?” works to challenge not only the images and ideologies behind historical monuments, but also their materiality. Lopez hones in on imagery tangential to the figures in these monuments—

their pedestals most obviously, but also their horses, props, and even shadows— and uses them to craft surreal installations using handmade paper and precise graphite drawings, often extending onto the wall. Ranging in scale from two-inch miniatures to several-foot-high wall drawings, the works are understated—almost blending into the white walls of any gallery or studio they stand in.

Regarding his process, Lopez said, “If something important to monumentality is uniqueness, then let’s start talking about repetition. If it’s something that has to be immense, let’s talk about miniaturizing. Monuments tend to be something permanent. How can I turn [them] into something ephemeral, using different media like embossing, or transfer? [It follows] the same line of questioning about power.”

The power held by these traditional grandiose monuments can be overwhelming. SMFA professor and art historian Eulogio Guzmán described how monuments can become “a symbol of what the government [projects] upon as the official history.” This amplification of officially sanctioned narratives complicates monuments

and says just as much about those who erect the monuments as those to whom they are dedicated. This complication has led to controversy around the ultimate fate of colonial monuments—should they stay, as proof of the manufacturing of that historical narrative? Be amended by plaques? Be destroyed? Replaced? Relocated or recontextualized? One response, which Lopez speaks to in his practice, is the concept of “para-monuments” and “counter-monuments.” These are two parallel methods of addressing concerns around existing monuments and potential future forms of public memory.

A para-monument, as defined by Professors Michaela Melián and Nora Sternfeld of University of Fine Arts of Hamburg, “appropriates the form and discourse of powerful monuments in order to turn these properties against them.” Typified by works like “Monument for strangers and refugees” by artist Olu Oguibe, paramonuments take traditional forms—in this case, an obelisk chiseled with golden text—but recontextualize them to question the status quo rather than uphold it. The work honors no singular hero, nor a


specific historical event. Rather, its engraving—reading “I was a stranger and you took me in,” in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish—calls for solidarity with past and future refugees of Germany. Despite its traditionalist form, Oguibe’s monument was deeply controversial when it was installed in Kassel during Documenta 14, with one municipal official calling it “ideologically polarizing, distorted art.”

Counter-monuments take an extra step, with a more combative approach that fundamentally questions the materiality and messaging of traditional monument-making as a whole by using “absence, transience, [and] even invisibility.”

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the empty pedestals that once hosted statues of controversial figures like Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, and Junipero Serra, serve in and of themselves as countermonuments, an effect only strengthened by the recent addition of Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The piece consists of 350 sculptures around the periphery of the large pedestal which once housed a statue of anti-abolitionist Francis Scott Key. The figures are sculpted in steel and vinyl tubing in an abstract style inspired by African folk art. Referred to by King collectively as “the ancestors,” they represent the first Africans kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1619.

In his own practice, Lopez responds to these traditions of recontextualization by imbuing his own representations with meaning through specific material choices. Although he started off the series with drawings, he soon felt the medium didn’t convey the issue properly and shifted towards papermaking.

He explained, “[Papermaking] felt like the way I could start to draw parallels between the material and those feelings about ephemerality or lasting, soft or hard, those dualities.” He intentionally chooses materials like abaca, a plant related to bananas and hemp, as it was used to make many elements in European ships, including rope. In choosing these materials for his paper sculptures, Lopez draws further connections from these colonial imports to the similarly imposed adulation of the era’s violent leaders.

These forward-thinking methodologies are incredibly valuable in considering both the future and the past of monumental works of public art, where opinions can be deeply divisive. As recently as 2020, protesters around the US destroyed statues of Christopher Columbus—including decapitating the statues and throwing them into lakes—in response to the still-present effects of colonial violence.

“I think this discourse [around monuments] is going to keep happening everywhere. Images will keep misrepresenting people, being seen as unjust. I feel like it’s important to keep coming at it. It’s not only about the images as sculptures, but also what’s our relationship to the images, how do we use them to speak to our identity?” Lopez said.

In many ways, the US has been slow on the uptake. Guzmán noted countermonuments have “been a trend for some time” throughout Latin America, since the rise in state violence across the continent in the 1960s. “It’s not at all surprising that the shift went from these heroic monuments to essentially more abstract, contemplative, almost anti-monuments, so to speak, that really were more about trying to become almost an essence, like repositories for collective mourning,” he said.

In this way, public works like the “Memorial to Victims of Violence” in Mexico not only break away from the typical Western neoclassical style associated with colonial monuments, but also reject their imposed historical narratives by shifting agency over to the public. Created in response to disappearances and political crimes by various political forces in the country, the monument is composed of several textured steel walls marked with names. Acknowledging the ongoing nature of these issues, the memorial is explicitly considered to be in perpetual construction—chalk is provided for passers-by to add names of recent victims, or write messages for those they’ve lost. Guzmán described the experience of interacting with it as a form of ritual, “because of the nature of the surfacing itself, the metal as it corrodes, it creates a sort of weeping texturing, this poetic kind of lament that is taking place.”

This shift towards community consciousness guides Lopez’s next steps as he approaches the end of his Master of Fine Arts and as such, his time at Tufts. “It’s in my mind to see how this can become something which includes a community within a public space, which I feel should be the real function of a monument, or para-monument,” Lopez said of his own work. As for the broader controversy around colonial monuments, he said, “I think we can face these problems in terms of re-signification first, because the fact that they were there in the first place speaks to a history that we do not want to continue. It’s not the idea of history that should be perpetuated, but it’s important to know it was there and that from there we were able to change the narrative .” O


swallow. (september 1st, 2022)

Content warning: suicidal ideation, attempt, overdose

swallow. regret. cry. i’m sitting next to her, we’re in the car together, my mother and i are parked in a sonic drive-through. i forget i took six small blue pills just an hour ago. we talk like usual, mother-daughter kind of gossip, reflective but also a little mean, i don’t mean any disrespect. by the time we get home and i take my shoes off the house is so loud so so fucking loud and i go upstairs, and behind everyone’s back i decide to take everything else. swallow. regret. i don’t cry; regret hasn’t really settled in yet. i slide back into my bed, my room is actually three walls and a railing, sort of like an indoor balcony overlooking the living room. my parents always sleep downstairs in that living room, mostly because of my little brother. he’s claustrophobic and i don’t blame him. (i don’t blame anyone but myself.) i feel the regret now, a hiccup escapes from my mouth. the fear of what’s coming is worsening in my stomach, i’m curling up in my sheets in protest of knowing i’ll have to get up. fuck. fuck fuck fuck. i pause the movie i’m watching, i run to the bathroom. holy fuc—i’m projectile vomiting into the bathtub because i didn’t have the focus to aim for the toilet. it’s terrifying, i’m really scared. what did i just do? i can feel my vision blurring and widening at the same time. i can see more of everything i’d rather hide from, and yet also i feel a little more blind. holy fucking shit, this is what happens when you OD but your body is sane enough to flush out. against my will, my body is keeping me alive against my will. my heart is racing. my pupils are really, really dilating. something something self-flagellation. something something this is normal, maybe not really, normal for someone like me, someone being a little ill. another wave of nausea, another wave of vomiting, a tumultuous sea of regrets. mom, i’m so sorry. fuck.

my stepfather hears all of this and he tells my mother, who is the closest to me, who knows everything i choose to tell her (which is everything except for the fact i’m a boy, and what i just did to myself). my mother sleepily walks up the stairs and i want to cry. my mother is rubbing my back and telling me i should sleep next to her and i do, but by the time i get downstairs i’m running to the other bathroom to throw up in the toilet. my stepfather says nothing but gets up to put some gloves on. no one told him to, but i feel it. no one needs to, as my stepfather is trying to say he loves me. (my stepfather is a quiet person; we don’t actually have verbal conversations. everything we say is meant in what we do for each other.) it’s past midnight and my dad is cleaning up the mess i just made. dad, i’m so fucking sorry. i remember when my mother told me how he told her i was the daughter he was looking for for so many years. and for once, i know what a man does when he truly cares about someone.

i can’t swim, but there’s a sea full of regrets. i’m laying on top of my mother on a two-seat couch and i can’t cry, not even a tear because my eyes are so wide open and my heart’s beating so fast she can probably feel it. but my mother doesn’t know, at least not then, that i did something terrible and not that i caught my little brother’s stomach bug. and then i think about him, if i ever had to tell him. david, i’m sorry. i could never leave you behind, and not like this. i made a promise to myself that i would live to raise and take care of you. i listen to my mother’s breath and slight snoring; she’s asleep, and she shouldn’t know. only a few days later would i admit to her what i did to myself, and isn’t it ironic that i would rather tell her about how i tried to die than the full truth about me? i guess this is the thinnest layer i have to shed before i ask her, mama, can i be your son? because i would love to; i have wanted this for longer than you know, to be your son, maybe even to die so i could be born again as your son. i’ll find you either way, just as i’m in your arms now, like i’ve found the place i need to be. my mother can’t save me, but i can keep myself around just a bit longer for her, my father, and my brother.

i won’t keep them in the dark anymore; i would never want to make them cry.


The grass brims like tears, striving to reach the brightest up at night. How great it is in its fullest creativity, sprouting with magic movements. I want to feel it, but, blankly staring at the moon, it pierces the shimmering white and my attempting hand.

Vibrant, green blades after whose dance the seeds ring, and the echoes travel off from the center like waves. Many times I have tried to caress as lightly as possible only to be ignored. I guess cherishing it is always impossible.

What is nearing with heavy steps, a crowd moving through, stomping this wishful greenery. I look at it bent down and withered, dry and windless.

Then there comes a gentle, life-fermenting air. The grass breeds tirelessly from hidden spells under the brown thickness. It has changed, bursting more vigorously than ever. Keep toiling so I can shut off my vagrant vessel. Strike, strive, and stump; every movement of the slim grassy tips becomes beautiful under the moonlit stage, all the more difficult to part with. So I touch it softly. It is lush and feathery. Later I remember that tint of breeze.

The dancing green softens, biting the spikes out of my arms, and we keep counting the hours until the sun veils its tendency, to the pages left unread, to the many more moments of just it with no I. From the tips of the verdant blades, fixed sparkles ferry a life.




Underlying mutual aid theory and most mutual aid projects is the core tenet: everyone has something to contribute, and everyone has something they need.

This sentiment is true to how Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville approaches its own efforts to provide ongoing support to any Somerville or Medford resident who requests it.

Claire Blechman, a coordinator for MAMAS and Medford resident, has been involved with MAMAS for the past three years since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020. It was at this time that MAMAS began in earnest, providing support to community residents through initiatives, one of which allowed residents hesitant to grocery shop in person to have other group members deliver their groceries to them. Now, MAMAS largely focuses on initiatives like Supermarket Sweep and ongoing programs such as the Gardening Collective and Neighborhood Point People, in addition to an ongoing importance placed on redistributing cash donations. MAMAS has redistributed over $700,000 since March 2020.

Similarly to MAMAS, Tufts Mutual Aid was created in March 2020 in response to the COVID crisis. TMA worked to serve Tufts students and meet their specific needs as a result of the pandemic. Within hours of President Monaco’s announcement that students residing on campus were to move out in a matter of days, then junior Jordan Hillman began the process of organizing TMA. By the next day, the group had already redistributed a total of $5,130 between students, according to a 2020 article

from the Tufts Daily. Throughout its year and a half long tenure, TMA also stocked and promoted a community Food Pantry located at Hillside Community Church in Medford. The organization also offered forms of aid including institutional advocacy and support for systemic change, per information published on their website.

MAMAS and TMA are just two of many mutual aid projects that emerged at the beginning of the COVID crisis. In a 2020 New Yorker article, Jia Tolentino writes that in a time of crisis—such as COVID—“Everything circles a bewildering paradox: other people are both a threat and a lifeline. Physical connection could kill us, but civic connection is the only way to survive.”

Mutual aid is a simple concept, as Regan de Loggans wrote for Briarpatch Magazine in 2021. It’s about “equitably reallocating resources and knowledge.” Essential to grasping this practice of aid is understanding that it functions as a political act and orientation. “Mutual aid is a commitment to anti-capitalism… Mutual aid is not charity,” Loggans writes. Generally, mutual aid networks function as an alternative to philanthropic projects such as non-profit and charitable organizations. In “Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival,” Dean Spade, a professor at the Seattle University School of Law, writes, “Mutual aid projects face the challenge of avoiding the charity model” and they “must also be wary of saviorism, selfcongratulation, and paternalism.”

Rather than charitable nonprofits or community service, where the flow of support is often one-sided, mutual aid relies on community solidarity to maintain its efficacy. Blechman said that MAMAS “disagree[s] with the way the

Nonprofit Industrial Complex works.” Per Spade’s reflection on the concept, the Nonprofit Industrial Complex refers to the “eligibility requirements” that individuals often encounter when looking for support from nonprofits, philanthropies, and other so-called charitable institutions. Spade writes, “Nonprofitization has reproduced antidemocratic racist and colonial relationships between the winners and losers of extractive, exploitative economic arrangements.”

According to a document available on MAMAS’ website titled “MAMAS Vision + Agreements,” MAMAS adheres to a belief that “every person deserves dignity and stability in their lives. No matter why someone is reaching out, we do our best to support them.” To MAMAS, mutual aid is, in principle, reliable and ongoing. Blechman also shared,“Tufts students—and anyone in Medford or Somerville—is eligible to receive aid from us. And we always want help, too.”

A mutual aid group’s longevity is not necessarily guaranteed. On September 2, 2021, TMA posted to Facebook they would be “shutting down indefinitely” due to a lack of volunteers, compromising the group’s ability to “continue sustainably.” The absence of TMA may leave an important gap within Tufts students’ ability to support each other’s financial and material needs.

Lux Trevelyan, a sophomore and member of the Tufts Labor Coalition, wrote in a statement to the Observer, “Many members in our student body have access to extreme concentrations of wealth while fellow students face food insecurity and work several jobs.” Trevelyan continued, “True solidarity between students in community with


each other requires material support of each others’ security and quality of life.”

In the wake of TMA’s absence, in a statement to the Observer, junior Katie Moynihan voiced concern regarding how “attempts to create Tufts-specific mutual aid may burn out with student turnover.” Because there is no mutual aid group that is specific to Tufts, Moynihan suggested it might be in “the Tufts student body’s best interest…to support MAMAS for the beautiful mutual aid community that it is.”

In living at Tufts, both on and off campus, Tufts students have a part to play within the wider Medford and Somerville communities. On the relationship between MAMAS and the Medford and Somerville municipal governments, Blechman said MAMAS often petitions “our city government to put money towards the needs of people in general. And we feel that they’re not particularly doing that.”

Likewise, as Spade writes, “Mutual aid projects emerge because public services are exclusive, insufficient, or exacerbate state violence.” Mutual aid projects like MAMAS and TMA emerge from a long history of anarchist thought and struggle against oppression. Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin coined the term “mutual aid” towards the end of the 19th century. According to “Reclaiming Power: Mutual Aid in the United States” by Daniel Parker, Kropotkin’s “analysis of mutual aid has inspired many.”

However, as Regan de Loggans wrote for Briarpatch Magazine in 2021, “Often, people will cite…Kropotkin as the father of mutual aid… The reality is that mutual aid has its roots in community resistance by Black and Indigenous people, who have been criminalized for these exact practices that are now celebrated by the white mainstream.” To this end, by the 19th century, “more than half of Black Americans were part of at least one mutual aid society.”

A prominent example of a mutual aid program that encountered violent opposition from hegemonic institutions is the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, created in response to

“malnutrition in Black communities.”

According to an article by Diane Pien, in 1969, “the Panthers fed more than 20,000 children nationally.”

The Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program in particular is notable not only for its overwhelming success, but also for the targeted and violent response brought on by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. According to an article from NPR’s Throughline, Hoover argued that, because of the Free Breakfast Program, the Panthers were the “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” To Hoover, this justified the FBI’s “attempts to destroy the program” which eventually led to the end of the Free Breakfast Program and most Panther chapters by the early 1970s.

Through the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, the FBI used a variety of “sinister” tactics to dismantle the Panthers’ breakfast program. This included writing “anonymous letters to the churches that served as venues for the breakfast program, hoping to lead them to rescind their offer.”

Additionally, according to an article by Branko Marcetic, the FBI “manufactured a violent and racist coloring book for children that it claimed was made by the

Black Panthers,” in the hopes of leading the businesses that donated food to the breakfast program to cease doing so.

The Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, created in response to “malnutrition in Black communities,” is a prominent example of a mutual aid program that encountered violent opposition from hegemonic institutions. According to an article by Diane Pien, in 1969, “the Panthers fed more than 20,000 children nationally.” Additionally, in a 1969 U.S. Senate hearing, the national School Lunch Program administrator confessed “that the Panthers fed more poor school children than did the State of California.”

According to Spade, “Mutual aid exposes the failures of the current system and shows an alternative. It builds faith in people power and fights the demobilizing impacts of individualism and hopelessness-induced apathy.”

Trevelyan is hopeful for a future at Tufts that includes networks of mutual aid. They wrote, “The alliance between community care and movement building is essential, and [I] see significant potential for mutual aid and redistribution work on Tufts campus.” O



Anxiously watching my phone for a text, I hoped for the best; still, despite my repeated efforts to talk through a recent scuffle with a friend, I couldn’t get so much as a “k.” As a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, Fla., I really struggled when I came to Tufts to adapt to the student body’s dominant culture surrounding confrontation and conflict. All my life, my Latin American heritage heavily influenced how I handled interpersonal conflict and confrontation. As Cubans, it was always very normal to tell a person straight up what was bothering you, how the way they acted contributed to it, and what you wanted them to do to fix it. Fight it out, then hug and make up—or don’t, but at least both parties say their piece. In the best cases, the talk is followed by an apology and a discussion on next steps for remediation; in the worst cases, everything is laid bare in a fight that leaves you thinking long enough to learn from the situation.

However, coming to Tufts two years ago introduced me for the first time to a culture

with which I was very unfamiliar: the White and affluent culture of the American Northeast. For the first year and a half of my time at Tufts, I largely stayed in circles mostly made up of international students, people of color, ethnic minorities, and people from other regions of the US; it wasn’t until I started to make more connections with middle and upper class White students from the Northeast that I began to notice a pattern in my conflicts at school. Time and time again, when these friends and I had disagreements, when someone made an ignorant comment, or even when someone

I was going crazy until I spoke to a therapist who noticed the patterns in the conflicts and suggested that perhaps the issue might be cultural. This idea blew me away, and I set out to analyze it further by asking my friends of color, lower income friends, and friends from other regions and countries about their thoughts. Slowly but surely, the pattern emerged.

might’ve taken more positionally harmful actions—such as racist or transphobic personal offenses—the responses puzzled me to no end. Rather than sit down and talk things out, assess each party’s involvement in the issue, and attempt to work out a solution, it seemed the overwhelmingly common response was to simply cease communication, avoid each other in the hallways, and drop out of each other’s lives altogether. I thought

Everyone I spoke to, including some wealthier, White northeasterners themselves, seemed to share the same experience. Through a combination of ghosting, avoidance, and an aversion to deep reflection on identity and action, northeastern individuals within this intersectional niche of wealth and Whiteness repeatedly showed patterns of avoiding in-depth and vulnerable conversations about actions or behaviors that had negatively impacted someone else. And it clearly isn’t just a regional phenomenon; it seemed from my conversations with others that people of color, some ethnic minority communities, and less wealthy individuals from the same areas in the Northeast didn’t exhibit this behavior nearly as often. Whether influenced by community expectations, familial dynamics, or general cultural values, it seems like the normalization of this kind of avoidance of confrontation and interpersonal discomfort is characteristic of this subset of the population. The sentiment was resounding; from every discussion, it almost seemed as though this common tendency was part of an effort to maintain an “unproblematic” persona who can do no wrong. By avoiding the hard conversations about the harm they caused, these individuals could skirt the cognitive dissonance of a challenge to their character, bypassing the need for any shame, apologies, or critical self-reflection (and thus any effort at remediation). The record stays clean—at least from their perspective.


And it’s not just limited to interpersonal dynamics. In the political sphere, this effort to maintain an image as progressive and socially aware pops up everywhere. In American news media, especially in liberal circles, blanket judgment after blanket judgment of the moral character of other regions such as the American South gets hurled across the map. The region frequently gets dismissed as “backwards,” “racist,” or “homophobic,” while many issues that exist in a similar capacity within the Northeast are assumed to be less severe simply because “the North is more progressive”—much like racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia in Europe are dramatically ignored by Western media while they are highlighted in non-White majority countries like Egypt, Uganda, or China. These are often not only mischaracterizations of said regional cultures, but they also entirely dismiss the marginalized populations that exist there who are actually harmed by whatever policies or circumstances are being pointed to as “evidence” for those claims. To be clear, it is true that the Northeast has been a progressive leader in several recent sociopolitical issues such as trans healthcare and reproductive rights, but there is a distinct lack of discussion on many issues that persist in the North, such as voter suppression, police brutality, and wealth disparity. Despite having many of the same problems surrounding race and class as other regions across the country, the North’s reputation stays clean, repeatedly earning titles like “Best States to Live in” in online articles.

While the region is progressive in some ways, it falls short in others. For example, northeastern states actually tend to fall quite low in standards for racial integration compared to other regions of the country. Perhaps part of this ability to maintain a

progressive image is owed to the fact that the Northeast is much less racially diverse and often wealthier on average than other regions of the country; with a lower proportion of marginalized communities in the Northeast, diluting or silencing the issues faced by these communities is significantly easier and thus keeps conversations about racism or other forms of institutional oppression subdued. Meanwhile, though battles over issues of discrimination and legislative oppression in the South have been making headlines, the difficult conversations are being had—both in the news and in the streets. News coverage of these issues, such as abortion bans and anti-trans laws mostly surfacing in Republican-controlled states, is rightly zeroing in on the oppressive language and harmful changes being put forward by these lawmakers. Equally deserving of said coverage, though, is the resounding public reaction against these changes in these same states, such as through blazing commentary on congressional floors or public protests by students and their representatives. When a problem negatively impacts a large enough portion of the population, and they are able to mobilize, ignoring said problem gets significantly harder. By avoiding negative press, the Northeast is able to hide from its legacy of racism and xenophobia that is still alive and well. Despite its capital city of Boston’s history as one of the most racist cities in the US over the last several decades, Massachusetts, in my experience, still rarely gets brought up when racism in the states comes up in conversation (especially on campus). Texas, in comparison, tends to bear much more of a reputation despite being the second most diverse state in the country. With so much energy put into maintaining

an image of the Northeast as ultraprogressive, very little tangibly stands behind it, creating an echo chamber that redirects all blame and judgment elsewhere. Thus, the Northeast avoids the reputation it deserves much like White northeasterners do: by hiding from discussion of its shortcomings behind a front of progressiveness and faux-politeness.

For students who hail from more openly confrontational cultures, adjusting to this new style of nonconfrontational interaction is rough; learning to avoid people in hallways or letting text conversations die off unfinished is a real challenge to the way we’re brought up. Ignoring what’s on our minds leaves us frustrated and without an outlet for the harm caused, whether it’s a simple interpersonal conflict or an instance of discrimination. This forces the individual who suffered that harm to reflect and repeatedly revisit the situation for an answer they will never come to on their own, which in the end still leads to the same outcome: an end to a relationship that in most cases could easily be prevented with a genuine apology and a willingness to put in the work to grow from the situation.

Every region has its shortcomings and room for improvement, and similarly we as individuals are all constantly growing and learning from our mistakes. Being able to listen to the people in our lives when conflict arises and talk things through is essential to solving small problems now so we have the communication skills to solve big problems later. The message to those who were raised in this culture of avoiding confrontation is simple: don’t fear vulnerability—lean into it. Most problems in life can be fixed with an “I’m sorry” and an open ear.



Each morning as I walk to Tisch Library, I pass the iconic statue “Colossal AcornHead.” If I walk toward the academic quad, I am confronted by the ever-changing painted cannon, another iconic symbol of public art at Tufts. Public art can include murals, sculptures, memorials, integrated architecture, or landscape architectural work. According to Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture Diana Martinez, “[Public] art can be didactic, an expression of power, an expression of intention—as with most things, it depends on context.” From the Joyce Cummings Center to the Tufts University Art Galleries, the spaces we interact with on the Tufts campus and the symbols we associate with the institution reflect the values Tufts chooses to put on display.

Tufts’ first on-campus gallery was Gallery Eleven, launched in 1952 in the basement of the Cohen Arts Center on the university’s Medford campus. The gallery was dedicated to exhibiting the work of Boston-area artists and artists affiliated with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts. In 1991, Gallery Eleven

expanded into a new visual and performing arts space, the Aidekman Arts Center, which includes the Slater Concourse, Tisch Family Gallery, Koppelman Gallery, and Remis Sculpture Court. Tufts and the SMFA formally merged in 2016, linking two long-term exhibition programs into one unified, cross-campus entity.

When asked about the formal merger of Tufts and the SMFA, Martinez said, “Very directly, it offers new opportunities to diversify our public art—two SMFA graduates, who are also artists of color, received commissions to install two beautiful artworks in Cummings Center.”

In the Fall of 2021, Tufts opened the Joyce Cummings Center, a technology-focused facility designed to manifest Tufts’ pedagogy towards the community and society, fostering spaces for heightened collaboration and innovation. The building houses the Departments of Computer Science, Economics, and Mathematics. Three new installations commissioned over the summer of 2022 in the JCC embody an intersection of creativity and analytic intellectualism meant to intertwine the three departments through artistic expression. The three pieces, “Fractals Transcending,” “The Poetry of Reason,” and “The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence” span multiple floors of the Cummings Center and multiple mediums.

The selection committee for this project, made up of faculty representatives from various university departments, prioritized Tufts and SMFA alumni who could create artwork embodying ideas of connectivity and collaboration—values the university has attempted to center with the design of the Cummings Center. Dina Deitsch, the director and chief curator of the TUAG, was in charge of commissioning artists for these works. She said that after reviewing a long list of artists, the committee met repeatedly to narrow down the list to three artists and projects. The resulting projects are the work of Bostonbased artists Jamal Thorne, Yu-Wen Wu, and Polymode Studio.

These new installations indicate an astute awareness of the way public art at Tufts can serve as a bridge between the past and present, encouraging social awareness and inspiring a creative campus culture. However, works displayed on campus in the past have not always presented an inclusive picture.

Deitsch founded the Tufts University Public Art Committee in 2019 as the result of two calls to action. The first was the need for maintenance of current pieces on campus, such as the bronze Jumbo statue that sits outside of Barnum Hall. The second and more important goal was the creation of more inclusive and equitable representation after two murals in Alumni Lounge were removed for portraying an exclusionary and whitewashed version of the founding of the university.


Deitsch explained that the committee realized there was no governing body to oversee public art at Tufts and ensure equitable representation. She said, “We know very clearly that representation on campus, who was on the walls, really matters to everybody… If you walk into a room and you don’t see any portion of your identity reflected in any way, what does that mean and what does that say to our community who’s living here right now?”

The committee is staffed with faculty representatives from a wide range of departments and schools within the university. These representatives think about how to organize art, the process for commission, and what representation looks like. Daniel Jay, the dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and an adjunct professor of drawing and painting at the SMFA on the Public Art Committee, said, “Having diversity displayed on our walls is a vital opportunity to create an environment where our students can see themselves succeed and become leaders in whatever they choose to do.”

In 2020, the Tufts University Public Art Committee was tasked with thinking critically about whose history and images are displayed throughout Tufts campuses as part of President Tony Monaco’s antiracist initiative, launched on Juneteenth of that year. The committee embarked on a public art audit to consider the impact of artwork in Tufts public spaces with the objective of ensuring that public spaces reflect values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in conveying the rich history of Tufts.

Martinez, who is a part of the committee, reflected on her biggest takeaway from the public art audit. She said, “There are very, very few pieces of art on Tufts’ campus either depicting people of color or by people of color. We knew that going in, but it was still surprising to see how stark these numbers actually were. When does public art contribute to feelings of exclusion or inclusion?”

Outside of artwork vetted by the university and showcased in gallery spaces and planned public installations, spontaneous works such as the cannon are iconic symbols for Tufts students and faculty. Martinez said, “I think the cannon is a rare instance of interactive art… I am personally fascinated by the fact that students keep spray painting on the surrounding trees and curbs. In a sense, it demonstrates the difficulty of containing a certain kind of energy. It registers a desire to expand beyond a site of contention sanctioned by the university.”

The cannon is not the only instance of student work functioning as public art that is not institutionally controlled. Ed Hans, a dual-degree student, said, “We have a standard that certain things are allowed and certain things are not for what you can represent in your art. If you literally go to the MFA and look at the things that are allowed in that canon of art, you will see genitals, you’ll see a lot of things that would not be allowed in any official work at SMFA or even student work.” Hans reflected on what public art means to community members beyond what the university allows. They said, “The space you’re in, and what it looks like, is a reflection of who has the power to make that space. And when it’s the university,

Martinez also inquired about the powr paradigms of display at Tufts. “Is it possible to argue that an environment is inclusive if there are only portraits of white men hanging on the walls? I don’t think that installations [at Tufts]…were created to have an alienating effect. Rather, they reflect a distinct reality—that women and people of color rarely occupy positions of power,” Martinez said. “Can a more inclusive art program help people of color envision themselves as leaders who belong in positions of power? Or will this simply conceal how power is actually working at Tufts?” O




Ameeting I had with some development officials in the Tufts fundraising office a few weeks ago began with my least favorite question: “So, what year are you at Tufts?”

Like many students between the class years of 2021 and 2024, I took a year-long leave of absence during the height of the COVID pandemic to avoid paying exorbitant tuition fees for Zoom school and accepted a job organizing with the Democratic Party of New Hampshire. This was a life turn that my freshman-year professor of political science recommended to me. This professor also kindly served as a professional reference for me in the application stage. I have a lot to be grateful for with regard to the faculty at this university for giving me such helpful guidance and career support during an incredibly tumultuous time.

Feeling thankful for my professors is pretty much where my gratitude toward this university ends.

According to my student ID, my email signature, the name tag I was assigned at a Tufts fundraising gala a few weeks ago, and the emails I routinely receive from the registrar asking me to register for a graduation I cannot attend, I am supposed to be graduating this spring. According to the credits I’ve amassed on SIS from, for lack of a better term, busting ass for six semesters, I should be graduating next fall. However, according to a series of cold and robotic emails I’ve exchanged with the deans of this school, my graduation timeline is contingent on the receipt of 8 full-time semester tuition payments (or some creative, but additionally expensive, solution such as studying abroad or over the summer).

While understanding that residency is meant to describe fulltime enrollment rather than proximal residence, it is pretty ironic for an institution that only guarantees

housing for four semesters to have an eight-semester requirement known as the “residency” requirement. But I digress.

Many institutions have similar requirements, also called “residency” requirements, but they tend to differ in one key way—these requirements refer to how many credits a student has completed across any number of semesters, rather than how many semesters they have spent as a fulltime enrolled student. According to most universities, these provisions ensure that a majority of a graduating student’s credits were earned at the university that is noted on their degree, as opposed to transfer credits or prematriculation credits. Basically, in order to legitimately obtain a degree from a particular school, you should be prepared to take most of your courses at that school. This seems generally reasonable to me.

What strikes me as highly unreasonable is the requirement that students must not only complete 120 semester-hour units at Tufts and the various distribution and major requirements, but that students must complete those SHUs over the course of eight full-time semesters. It seems especially unreasonable that even if students can complete those requirements in a shorter amount of time, as I (and many other Tufts students) have, they still must pay for eight semesters.

A full-time semester at Tufts has a SHU cap of 18 credits, which can be raised slightly higher upon petition. This means Tufts students should plan to take an average of 15 credits per semester. However, a student can easily complete 120 in seven semesters, or even in fewer semesters with the assistance of pre-matriculation credits, credit over-enrollment, or summer community college classes. All of these options are generally cheaper

than completing a full-time eighth semester at this university, one of the most expensive in the nation, with one of the most competitive adjacent housing markets which features yearly skyrocketing prices.

Some students are eligible for a waiver from this burdensome hurdle to graduation. Students who were enrolled full-time in Fall 2020 can be exempted from the residency requirement and complete their degree in six full-time semesters. I cannot state with certainty what the reasoning from the office of Academic Advising was, and, to my understanding, Tufts has given a statement to The Daily that can best be described as incoherent and vague. Essentially, Dean Lowe noted that attending college during COVID was an unusual challenge, and this waiver was introduced to somehow ameliorate that experience. Personally, my (perhaps cynical) take on this waiver is that Tufts’ policymakers understand that students who paid full tuition for a semester of Zoom classes with virtually zero extracurricular activities perhaps overpaid for an underwhelming collegiate experience. As such, the waiver is a refund of sorts—if you overpaid for bad education, you can get out of paying for one or two semesters.

But what about students who opted out of Zoom school and decided to take a leave of absence during the pandemic to avoid shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to be locked away in Harleston Hall for four months? Were their undergraduate experiences not also affected by the pandemic? Did they not also suffer pitfalls in their education due to COVID? Did they not also return to a reduced-capacity university that often failed to meet the standard of education Tufts promised to them in admissions packets, during tours, and in their promotional materials?


I understand the COVID-related policies the university put forward were relatively effective. I understand everyone in the offices of the Tufts administration was ostensibly doing their best. However, I cannot help but feel that some of us are being totally left behind by these policies.

I have been asked several times in the last year and a half why I am fighting so hard with the administration to graduate. Of course, there are the obvious reasons—the huge financial burden of tuition, the desire to work full time as opposed to arranging my work schedule around my class schedule, and the freedom of mobility to leave Somerville. However, there is also a reason I often fail to accurately describe, but that any student on an alternative graduation timeline recognizes: the feeling of being left behind. Watching all of your friends walk across the stage at their various commencement ceremonies, watching them pick up their caps and gowns in the campus center and register for Senior Week events and discuss their post-graduate jobs and knowing that you would be there, too,

if not for an arbitrary requirement that hardly denotes whether or not you have earned a piece of paper that says you have proficient knowledge of Sociology.

I am particularly frustrated by the way Tufts promotes and highlights the civic engagement of its students while using it as a reason to extract additional tuition payments from students who choose to take time off from school to be civically engaged. I know for a fact I am not the only Tufts student who took a leave of absence during the Fall 2020 semester, which notably coincided with the presidential election that ushered Donald Trump out of the White House. I am proud of the work I did in 2020, working 80 hours a week for the New Hampshire Democratic Party for minimum wage because I was told by everyone around me that it would be the most important election of my lifetime. Following that, I continued to work in service of my community, fighting for justice and equity across the Granite State. Administrators love to hold myself and other students like me up as shining examples— until we request accommodations for extraordinary circumstances.

This Tufts graduation requirement is exclusively endorsed and promoted by the administration, who are the most distant figures from undergraduate students in the Tufts community. My professors have been wonderfully supportive of me as I attempt to navigate the residency requirement, generously allowing me to complete my senior honors thesis on a spring-to-fall timeline in the hopes that my petition for graduation will be approved by next December. I have been allowed to enroll in courses that I need to graduate despite SIS insisting I have an additional semester of time to complete them. Professors have offered sympathetic ears during office hours as I explain my desperation to graduate and move on with my life. I hope that someday— preferably sooner rather than later— the Tufts administration may share that empathy for students like myself. Until then, I have no choice but to continue to be a nuisance and relentlessly pester the academic advising office.



“History is written in blood, Mallika.” That’s what my father tells me. I feel the warmth of my hand clasped in his, the creases of his weathered skin reminding me of the multitudes of experiences his life contained. We are walking in Gopalganj, the home of my father and grandfather and his grandfather before him. The walls, once brilliant white, have faded, time taking its toll on the resolute structure. I trace my finger over them, feeling the pads of my index accrue dust and dirt and centuries of experience in a matter of seconds. These walls have been washed and repainted countless times by people who shared my blood and my name and my skin—but could never have imagined where I’d end up.

The house is rectangular, with a large aangan—courtyard—in the middle. My grandfather sits every day, his leathery hands gently cradling the metal fire pit at the centre of the aangan, his jaw slowly working through the last vestiges of his paan—areca nuts and betel leaves—a vice that has stained his teeth blood red.

I am nine. My mind cannot comprehend the universe behind the history written in my blood.

I have always underestimated the importance of geographical proximity. My Hindi is better when I am in Gurgaon, speaking to my aunts and uncles and cousins. My reading comprehension magically makes leaps and bounds, and all of a sudden I become immersed in a culture that is uncouth, cacophonous, storied, and wholly undignified. It is mine. From the golden beams of sunlight that bear down upon us, causing beads of sweat to trickle down our faces, to the constant humdrum and noise of 1.4 billion people struggling to coexist—

everything reminds me of where I came from. The moment I feel my plane leave Delhi’s airport, I feel my connection fade.

Connection with something that has no taste, smell, texture, or touch can be tenuous at times. That was what I thought as my plane soared into the sky. The further I go from my homeland, the more distant I feel my connection becoming; it is a dangling thread straining with all its might to hold on, in danger of unravelling at any moment.

I felt the undoing of my ties to India every time I moved to a new place. Going from India to Hungary, my first memories were of questioning myself and my identity. Why didn’t I look like the German and Hungarian-speaking children who filled my preschool? How come my skin shimmered like cocoa butter under the dappled summer sun while theirs glimmered lily white? Why was I different?

Like a plant uprooted from its natural habitat, my roots curled around nothing, trying desperately to look for nourishment where there was nothing but arid air.

Moving from Hungary to Romania at age 6 meant—yet again, upheaval. Although I enjoyed going to the British International School, all of Miss Jessica’s talks about embracing diversity could not fill the gaping hole in my heart. You never realise the value of your home until you leave it.

Moving back to India for Grade 2 meant going back to my phuas and mausis and aunts and uncles and cousins. It meant spending Diwali not explaining to others what it meant, but rather being with my cousins and watching the reflections of fireworks glimmer in their eyes as we stood there, knowing this moment would

be shared between us forever. It meant that I ate daal every day at school, and I didn’t have to tell anyone the difference between lentils and pulses (it’s a rectangles and squares situation).

Culture is a strange and fleeting thing. It can be found in the community of mischievous third graders with too much time on their hands, who climb trees and bother adults and generally get up to no good. Culture can be found in the tender hands of my mother, who used to have steaming hot second lunches (critical to childhood development) waiting for me every day after I brought my sweaty, exhausted body home from school. It can be found in the festivals and joyous celebrations that bring hundreds of people together to rejoice in our limited time on earth, and the strange and incredible things that can happen during that time, from love to hate and everything in between.

Moving from place to place can be soul-crushing. Moving from India to Singapore in sixth grade was like being taken from a pool where I had finally mastered freestyle and then being dunked in the Atlantic, with rip tides and currents and sharks coming from all directions. It was scary. I was scared. I became invisible, losing all culture so that I could blend in, to not embarrass myself with my pronounced Delhi accent and over-enunciated ‘t’s. I tried to approach others and found myself frozen, helpless and suspended in water as I slowly sank down. I had been still for so long that I had become a background prop.

I suppose if the path of my life were to be considered a wave, this would be the trough. The string connecting me to my culture was a hair’s width apart from tearing and leaving me untethered, with no


space suit to help me breathe in the nonexistent atmosphere.

My father must have felt quite untethered when I came to him, crying and telling him I wanted to blip out of existence. Not to die, but simply to erase myself and never have existed at all. No trace of me left behind.

I felt the salt in my tears burn my cheeks as a trail was carved down my cheeks, the quiver of my lips as I stood in front of him. I felt the Singapore humidity cause beads of sweat to intermingle with my tears, saltiness intensifying on my tongue.

“Beta….” My father used a term of endearment, and I felt the weight of my tongue like an anchor in my mouth.

We stood there for a while.

Eventually, he stood up. He smiled at me, and went into the kitchen. Crestfallen, I followed him in, wondering if I was going to be punished? Yelled at?

My dad grabbed some cheese. He told me to find biscuits in the cupboard, the little packets of Parle-G that my mother bought from Mustafa’s and hid from me because I could devour twenty of them in one go. Mystified, I followed his directions, and found myself following him out the door. Although light pollution had dimmed the brilliance of the sky, some constellations were still visible. The Big Dipper, simple enough to jump out to me, was right there, comforting in its presence, and if I squinted, I could make out Orion’s distinct shape, his torso meeting his arms elegantly. My father spread out a chequered blanket on the dewdrop-crowned grass, gesturing for me to come sit.

“You know, the Greeks made all of this up,” he said. I glanced at him and nodded. We had learnt about the constellations already in class.

My father fixed his gaze on me. We had the same nose, I realised, straight and a little rounded with a small dip by the bridge. The same little crookedness in our front two incisors.

“History is written in blood, Mallika. And so is culture. Your great grandfather was one of India’s founding members. His blood flows through your veins. You can’t forget your history, beta…It’s literally flowing through you at all times.” Even

though I had heard these words before, they felt new.

I blinked. I suppose he was right. We continued munching on cheese for a while.

I’ve realised there is power in the vulnerability of our connections to each other, and to our culture. Culture isn’t a fleeting mirage in the sky—it’s an active choice. My mother chooses to make lunch for me, my aunt chooses to have everybody over for Diwali every year, and I choose to honour my ancestors every day.

Culture is tangible and real—it took me a long time to realise this. Culture is the tang of mangoes from my grandparents’ mango tree, juicy and sweet and ripe with history; culture is the plainful, melancholy twanging of a sitar in my music class and the ink of madhubani painting and the comforting earthy smell of mehendi on my forearms and the wrinkles on my grandfather’s warm hands.

I cherish my culture, and because of that, I am connected to it. No matter how far away I go or how vulnerable that connection becomes, the string will never become unravelled because at one end of it is an extraordinarily hard-headed, stubborn woman who refuses to let go, knotting and twisting and writhing until she is wrapped in the sights and smells and sounds of it. I choose to be connected, to share my cultures and to share in the cultures of those I love, be it through food or music or love itself.

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