See Me – Interview 1

Michelle4

Me: How is your heart?

Student: My heart. It’s a mix. It’s full of . . . mmm. It’s weird. It’s like a cloud full of thoughts and it grabs on to everything that come to it, but only expresses the good. But sometimes the bad just stays there. And it tries to mix the good and the bad to see what happens, and to see how it can function, so that it can keep nourishing me with things that will help me grow.

Me: It seems like it was difficult to answer at first. Why?

Student: I don’t know. It’s just thinking about it. Because you never think about it until someone asks you.

Me: When do you feel the most powerful?

Student: When I feel . . . When I know. . . I feel connected to my cause. And I know it’s going to benefit not only me, but others. And I know that nobody is going to do it for me, so I have to do it by myself. When I know no one’s there supporting me. It’s just me. It’s just that decision that is you. So that is when I feel more . . .

Me: When do you feel the most powerless?

Student: When there is people around me and I feel that I need them, and I feel like if I do something, they don’t like it, they are going to be separate; they’re going to leave me. I don’t know how, but I feel like when there’s more people, I feel like I might be wrong, and I don’t be right for them. Even though I know that you have to do it by yourself, I feel afraid for showing. And, when also when there is someone really powerful, it keeps you (student creates a motion of pushing down with her hands), and there is nothing you can do about it; or you don’t have the control of the situation.

Me: When do you find that you show your true self? When do you get to show your true self or you get to be the most authentic?

Student: When I’m doing something related to art. It’s like an extension of me. It doesn’t matter how. It could be music, it could be paintings, it could be poetry, it could be writing something, but if it’s art, I feel like that is my mayor honor. And I feel that when you express your feelings, things go away and I can just be me, because it’s just an extension of me.

Michelle2

Me: When do you feel that you are the least authentic?

Student: When I’m expected to say something or feel like something from the world. I feel like, like in school, mostly, I feel like I have to be in a box because I have to do whatever they think for me to do it. And if I don’t do it that way, I’m not going to get the degree or the diploma because I have to do it how is it right for. It has to be in that exact way – how they want me to be.

Me: So would you say that the time or the place you are the least authentic is in school?

Student: Yeah. Not by acting, but by showing my feelings in the work that is requested. Mostly like that.

Me: Who are you?

Student: I feel like I am a breeze that grabs from everywhere. I can’t say that my ethnicity is just Mexican, because my grandparents are from Spain. I can’t say I’m just from here or from there because I feel that I come from different places. My blood comes from different places and I was raised with a white, American, blue eyes, and I came to the United States. And I don’t feel like from here or there. I feel that we are all connected, and I feel like I am a mixture of it all, together. Even though I’ve never been in other countries, I feel that I have that culture and I make it a part of me. And I am, I believe I have a lot of imagination. I dream too much. I am a person that is more vulnerable than the rest because I focus more on my feelings and so then I feel that. . . .I am strong, but I feel that that strength comes from where my vulnerability lies. What makes me the most vulnerable, also makes me more strong.

Me: What do you like most or love most about yourself?

Student: Mmm? When I am with others I feel like they feel a liking toward what I reflect toward them. And I like to be with people. Not just being with people. I like to transmit things, and I am capable of doing it, I feel. That’s what I like the most.

Me: What do you dislike or hate about yourself?

Student: Sometimes I’m too emotional and what doesn’t affect others, does affect me. That makes me angry and sometimes, for me, not being able to do what I want, because what I think I should do and is right to do, sometimes I don’t do it. And that is what makes me the most angry- to know that I have an idea that I want to follow through with, but I stop myself from doing it due to other things. I don’t know if I am explaining myself.

*Post-interview: I think what I really mean is to not be loyal to myself, or to my principles.

Michelle

Me: Are there any things that seem to block you the most from doing the things you want?

Student: Mmmm? Maybe the environment. Where I am. How people believe in how the world should be. Like rich, money and stuff. The illusion of something that is not connected to the earth or others. That’s what makes me freak out.

Me: What makes you strong?

Student: Probably, my own experience of what I have seen, and to know I’m not alone in the way I think. And to know that I can help others. There are others experiencing the same problems or worse, and they have overcome. Maybe the examples I am basing my opinion on, the people who I see and admire, and see how they were able to succeed. That’s what gives me strength – to see the examples of others in history. Not just examples in history. Fore example, I am a very religious person and the examples in the bible and all that happened, those are the things that give me strength, as well as God. I am a very religious person. I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and I feel if I wasn’t a part of that, I’d be somewhere else. In a very distant place and my ideas would be so much different than what they are today. I wouldn’t have as much vulnerability as I have.

Me: What makes you weak for feel weak?

Student: To know there are bad people that can control me. Or there are people who control more than they should. Excessive power. Despotism.

Me: What do you hope?

Student: What do I hope. I desire peace . . . for me. To do something that brings me peace. And to feel peace in the environment.

*Post-Interview: What I fear the most are nightmares that destroy my dreams.

Me: When are you most visible? When do you feel the most visible – that people can see you?

Student: Art (laughs)

Me: When do you feel the most invisible?

Student: When I speak. Because when I use art, I don’t use words, I don’t think, I just play, or I just paint, or I write, but it’s not my voice. It’s more easier to let my feeling go out than when I’m speaking. With my voice, that’s super hard for me because when I think, I just hold (motions with two closed fists toward her heart), I can’t do something. I have to say it and it’s more difficult to translate my feeling in words. Language is . . . it could be beautiful, but if you don’t use it properly, you don’t get the same response.

Michelle3

Me: Are there any other questions you would have liked for me to ask?

Student: Maybe in the future. Maybe when I realize . . . Thank you.

Me: Thank you. If you think about anything else you would have liked for me to ask, let me know.

Student: Can you send me the interview in my e-mail?

Me: Yes. I think it’s very powerful to listen to yourself speak.

Student needed to leave to her next class.  I thanked her for her courage to speak, for her honesty, and most of all, for the honor of allowing me to see a little bit of her heart and soul.

 

SEE ME Project – Introduction

face1

The “SEE ME” Project is an attempt to break down some of the more dehumanizing stereotypes that chip away at our teen’s sense of worth and purpose.  Often the only stories told about them are from the perspective of adults, and very often the stories that receive the most attention are those that perpetuate negative paradigms of youth. The inspiration for this project grew from a yearning to see more profoundly into their heart and soul. I want to have the opportunity to interview youth across all economic, social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, and be a vehicle through which they can safely reveal a part of themselves. There are various purposeful layers to this project.  By reflecting upon and speaking about the most significant parts of themselves, youth can begin to see themselves differently from the way society portrays them. In addition, their stories will confront and counter the more widely accepted  “single story” of the entitled, selfish, irresponsible teenager, awakening a new consciousness for how we should engage our youth. My passion has always been to work in meaningful and transformative ways with youth.  In order to serve them in the best way possible, I must continue to make opportunities to learn from them, and these interviews will yield the content for my own learning.

I  have come up with a set of interview questions that I hope will shine light on more powerful and significant aspects of our youth’s lives.

1.  How is your heart? (Shared by a friend)

2. When do you feel the most powerful?

3. When do you feel the most powerless?

4. When do you show your true self? When are you the most authentic? When are you closest to being/speaking your truth?

5.When are you the least authentic?

6. What do you like/love about yourself?

7. What do you dislike/hate about yourself?

8. What makes you strong?

9.What makes you (feel) week?

10. What do you fear?

11. What do you hope?

12. When are you the most visible?

13. When are you the most invisible?

14. What do you know for sure?

15. What do you wonder? (Question suggested by a student)

16. What are you looking for?

17. What really matters to you? What do you stand for?

18. What is your intention/purpose for your life?

19. What are you listening for or to?

20. Who are you?

21. What keeps you alive? (Question suggested by a student)

face2

The idea of focusing on their eyes came from my own experience and belief that the first step we can take in acknowledging someone’s existence is by looking in their eyes. I originally wanted to photograph their faces, but many of the students did not feel safe in disclosing their identity. In a world in which they are so often shamed and bullied, it is very scary to disclose so much of themselves without feeling raw and vulnerable. However, I still wanted to somehow convey their essence while still honoring their request.  I cropped a few pictures and showed them to the students to see if this version of them would be something they would feel comfortable with – they liked the idea.

You can’t avoid someone when you are looking into their eyes. You can’t avoid their truth, their voice, nor their existence. It is very difficult to look into someone’s eyes and condense every stereotype we have of them into what is reflected through their eyes. You can objectify someone’s nose, or arm, or leg, but the eyes can very seldom be objectified. They reflect our very own existence. In the eyes of another we can see our very own humanity. This concept has been at the core of many indigenous societies around the world. Mayans expressed this concept of connectedness as they greeted each other saying, “In lak’ech,” I am another you, and, “Hala ken,” you are another me. In the Southern African region, Ubuntu, represents the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. Desmond Tutu best describes it as, “My humanity is inextricably wrapped up in yours.” The paradox of this project is that by focusing on their eyes we are forced to acknowledge them wholly, and yet by only focusing on their eyes, we leave out the other beautiful parts of them. I hope that one day, our youth feel safe enough to disclose their truths and their identity without having to compromise one for the other.

face3

A few years ago, when I was still teaching, I facilitated an activity in which I asked student to write down all the stereotypes adults and the media perpetuated of them.  The wrote: Lazy, entitled, rebellious, rude, apathetic, drug-users, complaining, aggressive, angry, dishonest, manipulative, violent, reckless, obnoxious, ignorant, disrespectful, inconsiderate, selfish, careless, troublemakers, disconnected, hypersexed, self-absorbed, materialistic, etc.  Our students feel like outcasts; a marginalized sector of society that is seen as more of a burden than a gift.  Not coincidently, historically, these are the same stereotypical perceptions that have been attributed to racially and ethnically “unwanted” groups.  This is why I found the students’ responses so alarming, along with what I have observed to be a downward spiral of humiliating and abusive treatment of youth in places that should be safe spaces for them such as home, school, community programs, and church.  While dealing with youth has its own set of challenges, as this period of development can be a difficult one for them to navigate due to hormonal changes, exploration of self-identity, assertion of independence, peer-pressure, and other factors, the disdain with which adults approach our youth is a matter of civil rights.  They too have a right to thrive in our society without fear of discrimination repression, and oppression.

In providing teens with opportunities and spaces where they can safely share their stories and have critical dialogue about their experiences, we can support them in dignifying their existence. Through self-awareness and self-expression, they are more likely to experience a sense of empowerment in which they begin to take a greater active role in asserting their decision-making power, thinking critically, speaking their truth, searching for information and resources, advocating on their behalf, reclaiming their identities, and becoming the main protagonists in creating the lives they deserve.  As our youth makes sense of their lives in the context of the world that surrounds them, they begin to discover themselves and their potential as they give name to what they see and experience.  This is how they come to a new awareness of self, with a new sense of dignity, and a new hope.  It takes many seeds to cultivate a forest.  If I can be a drop of rain in that process, I will have served my purpose.

face5

 

SEE

face7

 

ME

Face4