Essays, issue 7: apr 2016
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‘parts of how i came to be here, pieces of why i want to teach’ by Yvonne Gail Estolas Bermas

0) My parents immigrated from the Philippines to Chicago at separate times for school and to find better work opportunities. I grew up in a whiteandblack house that my parents owned, close to extended family, family everywhere. This is the one time in my life I remember feeling a sense of support and true belonging to a community, and it was filipinx. Barriers to finding safe space again are linked with folks’ inaccess to equitable living conditions. I recognize these issues are created and violently enforced by structures of capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, settler-colonialism and stigma around mental health, postmemory, sexuality, spirituality, vulnerability; and that we must educate ourselves about how these things co-exist and dictate our lives in order to resist and transform.

but like, what does that even mean?

3) what am i doing. we talk about building capacity of the filipinx community. capacity. community. i’m lost in the agitation and still(-)rippling with the momentum of a sense of duty to reclaim/remember ties to the sacred earth across saltwater and indigenous knowledge. and mothers! but our Mission is convoluted and our Work is based in money and based in marketing and there are regulations and fine prints and there is professionalism and networking and hierarchy of labor even in activism. one part of my Internal Process for Work is deconstructing harmful experiences i’ve had so that others/youth/descendants of youth can thrive; but also i need guidance, i want to learn from peers and elders and share in our ancestral wisdom, i want to be supported facing ancestral/intergenerational traumas, i want to understand.

      1. i still search for community (within and outside the community) (how many communities)
          1. intersectional harmful experiences, many perpetuated by filipinxs and mirror what i grew up internalizing
            1. 9-5 triggers
            2. more structural resistance to change
                1. how to practice compassion while anxious
          2. how to be heard while being myself
            1. how to feel strong while being myself
            2. how to repeat and not feel like a machine
      2. this shit doesn’t make sense 70% of the time. it feels so heavy. all of me is tired of intellectualizing/explaining, exploiting word Keys that prove the worth of my experiences and instincts. all of me is tired of questioning myself. ⟶ burnout  ⟶ deliberate isolation ⟶ reflection  ⟶ cycle 

how to heal?

0.5) in kindergarten they said i had an eating disorder. i didn’t want anyone to see my mother’s Wonderbread sandwiches. i longed for tray lunches of junk and chocolate milk because that’s what everyone got. i had to eat at a separate table, with sue, my monitor, a large white woman with a deep voice. “eat your sandwich.”

0.6) i was assaulted by peers in the bathrooms in the corners in small handwritten notes and never felt empowered to seek help. there is so much memory that my spirit/soul is protecting me from, and for a long time i hated it (forgetting), it made me feel less-than, but i’m learning to trust myself.

0.7) as an adolescent i was repressed, lonely, and deep in mental health issues that were silenced by my biological family. “don’t say that. you should be grateful.” i am grateful to be well.

0.8) i spent 2 years of my life silent in public because i was scared of being wrong, i was scared of being right and being smart-asian, i was scared of being seen and being different and having the outside shun me. “that’s the first time you’ve ever said something” “wow, you talk” “it’s always the quiet ones.”

0.9) when i’d hurt myself it usually wasn’t to disappear. just small burns into skin. when i’d hurt myself i’d feel like i was mine. no one outside of me could tell me what i was or what i felt. i felt pain, and it was a unification of everything, all my pains, it was an ugly truth that no one could take from me.

0.95) it was easy to love fast in the dark in a drink eyes barely open spinning spitting dancing manic. it was easy to coo in warm sometimes-embrace, body delicious ephemeral satisfaction, even if none of us were there.

0.955) last year i found a friend whom i love and who loves me, deep breath listening to my eyes, which i’ve caught trying to see better. different kind of easy, different kind of hard. thankyou’s and thank me’s holding each other.

1) when i’m in groups now i vibrate a little. i feel pounding in my chest that goes down to my stomach and i think about gathering my breaths but i get why they’re confused, there’s so much happening. am i in the room? it’s terrifying because it hurts to hold memories in the hollow middle space, what am i feeling, what’s on your mind, every person is beautiful, this is a learning environment, tu eres mi otro yo, i want you to feel safe, i want you to be safe, i need to speak, thank you for being well, there’s not enough time.

how to heal?

how to cope?

2) “we are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness” -thich nhat hanh

        1. how to struggle alongside
        2. how to be inclusive
        3. how to learn, grow, share
        4. how to start

Yvonne Gail Estolas Berma (she/her) is a soft-spoken love listener and a pair of filipinabrown hands making and holding in Chicago.

Illustration by Sula Collective artist Angie Anzai.

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