The framing for my whole life up until my second semester first year of college was all in the progress narrative.
I remember being in first grade at Dover Elementary. My grandmother used to walk me three blocks from my aunts house, and I remember when I had my first crush on a boy who spun me too quickly and let go. This resulted in a bump the size of a giant plum on my head, and I still remember hiding that bump during bath time when my mom came home late from work, exhausted, but with so much patience and love for me.
I also distinctly remember giving my first speech, wow these things start young, when I practiced spelling the words success for weeks trying to simply memorize exactly what it was without any understanding of what it meant. It was calculated, simple, and at some point thoughtless. S U C C E S S. Coming from Richmond and having this deep sense of craving for accomplishment and perfection meant that so much of what I was supposed to do in order to succeed, meant leaving everything behind and disconnecting from everything I knew. What do I mean by this? Well, for me, it meant hearing from consultants and advisers that I should assimilate more and just pass. Pass for who, you ask? It is particularly in this question that I find my love for politics.
When they asked me to just blend in it also meant blend out certain parts of myself. I started learning Spanish, which quickly replaced my Mien. I knew which side to place the forks, spoons, and knives, and did not know how to put on any of the Mien clothes that were sitting in an old luggage tucked away in my mom’s closet. I was told that my parents would be so proud of me if I could just make it out of this city, and make it to bright lights and city dreams turned realities. When we say make it out, where are we going? It is particularly in this question that I find my love for politics.
So you can imagine what it must be like to grow up with a world boxed and labeled specifically for you, and what it must feel like the moment when you run into the edges and realize there is nowhere else to go. You hit empty, and lost. You search for meaning and purpose and come to realize that there aren’t enough pieces of encouragement, not nearly enough advice to fill the voids because you, you are caged. It is only when you hit the boundaries do you even know they exist. It is only you who can let in the darkness and lightness. When you are standing, at the crux of freedom and restraint, what do you do? It is particularly in this question that I find my love for politics.
This isn’t a blog post about being trapped and giving up. It’s a blog post about me and everything that I touch, face, interact, and connect with. This story is about where I was, where I am, and where I go. This story is about my first time walking into a space that would change my life, the way I stayed up late with a community trying to wrap my head around hegemony and neoliberalism. It is about the way I learned about patriarchy and I understood the first time a boy let go of my hand, and the last. It is about the way I knew I would have to redefine success not in the bookends that were given to me. This story is about community, and love. This story is about resiliency, and strength. This story is about learning the importance of the head, the heart, and the hand.
So here we have it, why environmental justice matters to me? All I have to say is that it is the place that you live, work, and play. For me, it could have easily meant outside of Richmond in the big city. Yet, I recognize that what left me feeling empty in the crowded streets were people I loved. And those people were living with fear of oil refinery explosions, and health impacts so severe they’d change life forever. You never forget the way tears trickle down your face as you hear from a loved one that it is cancer. You can be the first to graduate from college in your family thinking you’ve been given incredible opportunity by people invested in educational access and equality– and you can imagine that you would feel blessed and thankful and like you’ve finally made it. However, what equality is one that is given to some and not others? Equality yes, equity no.
When I imagine where I live, work, and play in this very moment… I see something different that what I had imagined back when I spelled out success in first grade. That it is a place that matters– a place that has community, and family. And that is something worth protecting, because the success that leaves all of that behind is not one I am interested in achieving. So what matters to you, and why you do exactly it is that you do? It is particularly in this question that I find my love for politics, and where I find my love for being an activist interested in the intersectionalities of many oppressions. I am choosing to fight for healthy communities. That is my practice, what is yours?