Image By: Martin
“Interrogate yourself. Everyday. What is your message of hope?” – Ocean Vuong
My first semester in pursuing my MFA, I got the privilege to hear Ocean Vuong, an exceptional poet, who visited Virginia Tech and delivered a craft talk the following day. He had a soft-spoken voice when he talked but when he read his work, there was a strong sense of passion and intensity.
His craft talk covered the idea of how powerful language is, especially in regards to how fluid language is. It is connected to one’s culture and history. It is a way to connect with the ones around you. Language is ever changing, with new slang being introduced and how words/acronyms can change meaning. For instance, we all know what Lol means, but now it holds more abilities. These days people use it in texts as if it’s filler or a means of trying to lighten the mood. Lol I just bombed the test. When you take the Lol out it has a completely different meaning, where there is more of a sense of vulnerability.
The beauty in language/writing is the idea of permanence associated with it. It’s a way to keep record of lives and thoughts. Although Gwendolyn Brooks and Anne Sexton have passed away, they are very much alive with us when we read their work. Ocean’s quote says, we should interrogate ourselves. We should question ourselves within the world around us and write about this hope we all possess.
I grew up in a town of four hundred people. It was made up Caucasians, of former German settlers. Our parents and grandparents lived in the same town. This was the case for nearby towns as well. All of my classmates were Caucasian, except for one Laotian, and all my teachers were white. In total, 98% of my county consists of Caucasian people. It was a place where if towns had a higher percentage of Latinos they’d switch the beginning of the town’s name with Mexi- because they’d state that it’s a town full of Mexicans. They say the name with distaste as if that town is a disgrace. Words mumbled by people rhetorically saying, “If they can’t speak our language, then why should I speak theirs?” They associated these towns as an “other,” and one shouldn’t associate themselves in a town full of people that are essentially “not like us.” Growing up, you are taught this is completely normal and when kids graduate they go to a university within Nebraska, which is predominately made up of Caucasian students (77%). When they graduate they move back to the same town in which they’ve grown up and to continue on living without any kind of interaction with diverse people. Clearly, this cycle is harmful.
There is white privilege and there is also masculine white privilege. I never played sports. I thrived on academics, video games, and theatre. I had a voice that was deemed feminine. When working in the cornfields, I’d have coworkers tell everyone to not work with me, because I’d rape them. Just this last summer at a friend’s party, I had someone call me a fag—the same person who earlier called me a pussy for wanting to use a chaser when drinking. All of these cases were because I was put as the category of the “other.”
There were/are some people in that small town that still give me hope. For instance, the social studies teacher who preached acceptance and people having rights—the Latinos in the “Mexi-” towns and Jehovah’s Witnesses who have the right to not salute the flag. The boss I worked for who fired the ones who used their words for harm, the family at the party who told the kid I’m part of their family and should be treated that way. These are the people we need more of, the ones who show compassion for people that aren’t like them.
Although I am speaking on the behalf of rural communities, this same message applies across the board. If you aren’t a minority and don’t know of anyone who is concerned about not being heard, then I urge you to broaden your relationships with the ones who you consider an “other.” Shake hands with someone of a different color and laugh along side the female boss of yours. Get to know their concerns. They are human and each of them have a voice that needs to be heard. Listen to them.
Coming to Virginia Tech I have been given the opportunity to write side by side with people of different backgrounds—Appalachian, Bangladeshi-American, Mexican-American, Australian, British, Puerto Rico-American, Cambodian-American, Caucasian, people who are queer, straight, Christian, Jewish. We accept each other with open arms. We accept our voices. We encourage our voices, because we deserve to be heard and we will be heard. We will keep writing. This is our message of hope.