M: So I guess since you guys were already talking about it, what were you up to here over the summer?
K: I was working on my English thesis, I’m an English and History double major, and it’s on Othello performances in America, from just before the Civil War, to just after the Civil War.
M: What made you interested in that or led you to want to do that?
K: I was in a class last year and we were reading the play and I thought it was really interesting. It’s just an interesting play on race, I don’t know if you’ve read it. But it’s about a Moor, a black man, who is tricked into killing his younger white wife. It’s a very graphic and terrible topic but it was interesting how they talked about race in the play. I also wanted to explore it in 21st century America and see have things really changed, how people see race at this time, and how they interact with the play.
E: How has that affected the way you go about your daily life and conversations?
K: It’s made me pay more attention to certain things. Like it’s interesting talking to African American people and also white people about it, because people react a little bit differently. I was talking to a black friend about it and he was telling me about all the stuff that I never really thought about. It was horrifying…for example, he was talking about how he was horrified at his own skin color when he first moved to the United States from Samoa. He would take these intense showers to “scrub the melanin away.” I never thought about race that way. I’m mixed race, so I’m only a quarter white, mostly Latina. I never really thought of myself as white, but that’s one of the tenants of being white in America: you don’t think about it.
M: What would you say your relationship with your heritage is?
K: It’s kind of weird because I don’t think about it constantly. I think about it more when certain discussions on campus happen on race. I was born in the US and raised in an environment where I didn’t have to worry about defining myself. But when you go to college, you talk to all these people from different backgrounds. It’s like being in this undefined space. I can’t completely identify with the white experience but I also can’t identify fully with the Latino one either.
M: Was there a specific moment or instance that highlighted that duality and where you chose to define yourself?
K: Watching my sister join high school was kind of a defining moment. She obviously has the same genetics that I do, but she was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States. She was too young to remember Puerto Rico that well. In high school, that was kind of her time to try to define herself and she reacted by being extremely Latino and embracing the culture. Almost to exaggerating, you know. For me, that was kind of weird to watch her talk in a slightly different accent as though she had been brought up in a different place than she was. She would only listen to Latino music and hang out with certain people. It felt kind of forced to see that, and I asked her why she was doing that. She said, I’m Latina. But what made her say that? What claim did she have to that? That was kind of the point where I was like, what is fair for us to claim?
E: That’s a lot, and I don’t think there’s an answer for that either.
K: I was thinking like, nowadays, what you are is defined by how much you suffered. There’s this doctrine of privilege and stuff. With what I was talking about earlier is essentially describing white privilege. What exactly is that? There are things that factored into my experience, not necessarily race, but gender and where I grew up and things like that, which affected my experience. Defining your experience by just one factor is not the full picture. I think it’s a mistake a lot of people make.
E: What do you tend to focus on in your background or upbringing that is important in your everyday life?
K: Education was always really important to me. My mom grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is a very poor part of New York. The way that she really escaped that environment was by pushing herself extremely hard in school. She raised me and my sister with the same discipline, that we should be grateful for our education and that we should push ourselves really hard. Being smart was my “thing” when I was younger, and that was a part of my cultural identity. Like, my parents suffered so now I have to work hard, you know.
E: How often do you reflect on that?
K: I actually reflect on that a lot now that I’m a Senior. It’s really hard to find a job right now in English and History, especially a good-paying one. And so, I feel a disconnect from what is traditionally thought of as “education.” I also think it’s because I’ve been talking to so many more people in the poor parts of Williamsburg and Newport News, and I’m realizing that these people have really deep problems. I’m interested in mental health and I’ve talked to a lot of disabled people, and a lot of them have more complex problems than I’m answering by just analyzing a word that [John] Milton [author of Paradise Lost] used. I’m reflecting now, on, why does this all matter? Am I being productive with this, especially if I might not get a job in this later?
E: Senior year is definitely a lot. What do you want to keep with you moving forward wherever you end up going?
K: I guess I just want to be true to myself. It sounds kind of cheesy but that’s kind of how I define myself. Especially in these transitionary periods, from middle school to high school, and high school to college, there are times as a teenager that you want to act like everyone else. But it’s important to stay true to your values. And I guess A) figure out what those values even are, and B) stay true to them and to yourself. I see that in the way I dress. I don’t wear Vineyard Vines or Brandy Melville, or whatever people are wearing. It’s because in high school, I couldn’t wear certain things, like this [points to choker necklace]. That [inability to wear what I want] limited me. So now, wearing what I want and having my own opinions, while still [respecting] other people’s ideas […] is important to me. That was a very convoluted answer to a simple question!
M: That was a very thoughtful answer!
E: Props to you for staying true to yourself, it’s definitely hard. There are so many pressures for people to conform in one way or another, or not continue thinking about what their values are.
M: What do you think holds people back from having more nuanced views or expressing themselves freely?
K: I’d say social pressure. If you’re in certain organizations or clubs, there’s a push to dress a certain way and act a certain way. I think there’s almost this language that gets developed. People talk the same way and use the same slang, and there are certain assumptions about them. You’re kind of assumed to be a liberal if you go to this campus. So, people will casually talk about how “we” stan AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] or “we” stan Hillary Clinton. Just very collective language like that. It’s difficult on a college campus where everyone is talking like that to speak your truth, because there really isn’t an outlet to. I don’t think there’s a club for people in the middle. I don’t know, maybe you do join a Moderates club and you find out that people are secretly really conservative. What do you do then?
E: Yeah, it’s a lot to reflect on in a campus environment.
M: What do you hope to see changed then, like, what would you want for the incoming freshmen after you?
K: I think there needs to be less of a separation between the staff and the students. I’ve talked to the staff about this kind of thing, and they seemed completely clueless about the environment that the students are in. I think there’s this idea among the students that teachers and administration are like, The Man, and that we should rise against The Man. Which, to a certain extent is true. I think people need to listen to each other more, keep a more open mind, and I guess just talk to everyone. That’s how you learn things. Just talk to people. Talk to people you disagree with, that’s how you grow as a person!
E: Yeah! Conversations are great when they’re a conversation and not just a “talking at” someone.
K: I’ve talked to very conservative people on campus that are more open-minded and willing to talk. There are liberal people like that, too. We need to be having conversations, civilly and patiently, for sure. We still need to have dialogue, because otherwise we’re not going to be able to move forward.
E: There’s always an opportunity for someone to acknowledge truth in something, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s a lot. In the spirit of telling your own truth or the Humans spirit in general, is there anything you want others to know about you?
K: Personally? I think that’s all! It’s pretty obvious what I believe if you talk to me. I’m a shy person but still have a lot to say. I’m not a conservative, or even really a centrist, but I think that we should listen to anyone who defends their ideas with reasonable points. I hope this interview encourages people to listen to one another, not just jump at every opportunity to lecture them. I am concerned about what will happen to our generation if we don’t learn to listen.