It’s thaaaaaat time of year, again. I definitely understand the shift from getting excited about one’s birthday to really dreading having to say you’re another year older. Anyway, change is inevitable, so here we are. I do feel like my birthday gift came a little early this year, that is on January 2nd, the Trojans battled until the end and came out on top. I hugged my dad so hard and then definitely shed some tears (mostly releasing the pent up stress I carried for 3.98 quarters of the same). After starting out 1-3, I’m so impressed with the coaching, the teamwork, and the unwillingness to give up. Even if it’s only football.

Before the game started, I met my friends Darlene (affectionately Darlo) and Veronica (affectionately Vero) and stayed with Darlo’s family for a while as we counted down until the gates opened to the Rose Bowl (our natural habitat). As my dad and I walked the almost three miles to find them, I noticed some Penn Staters tailgating with a Confederate flag on their pickup truck. Admittedly, my face scrunched up in disapproval before I fully registered what was before my eyes. And I started thinking about how strange and unique this humongous group of people was that came together, at least physically, to watch a sporting event.

My dad likes to be overly friendly to visiting fans. Having traveled to many games, we have witnessed our fair share of mean, rude, drunk and nasty people before and after games, win or lose. No one likes getting trash talked, at least, I certainly hate it. My dad and I walked most of the way from the train station to the stadium with a family from the Jersey Shore, decked out in their blue and white jerseys. After we parted ways eventually and passed that pickup truck, I thought about what the two schools represented in this space- their locations, their atmospheres, their populations. USC lies in the heart of a densely populated uber-metropolis. Penn State is more than an hour away from a midsize city. USC is a medium-sized private institution that brags about their international population, and Penn State is a massive public school, about 3/4 of the students are white. Both schools’ NCAA football programs are considered in the top 5 of all time, and for the most part, both schools respect each other as historic rivals. Statistics aside, frankly, as I looked around I noticed how ethnically diverse the USC fanbase seemed compared to Penn States’. This isn’t a judgement, simply an observation.

I spent my week off reading, because that’s how I veg. Since the election, I have committed to exploring genres and authors who have written notable works in the past few years on identity-based politics. It feels like a tiny step in the right direction when I feel “frozen” in terms of social action. Reading by no means represents direct action to dismantle or tear down, but my thought process was that by sharing my own mistakes and reading about those who share theirs, I could take some small steps to avoid committing microaggressions, or be more thoughtful in my language. On the plane to LA two days before Christmas, I finished Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, a sociologist’s reflections and learnings about spending time among working class whites in rural Louisiana. The book has been a conversation piece in my circles lately. I wanted to read it because Hochschild states that her mission with the study was simply to try and understand a group of people who live in a very different world from her, and subsequently, consider politics quite distinctly. I think that’s a solid mission- it echoes goals of some interfaith communities, not to change minds, but to educate and understand, to find some common ground.

Hochschild interjects a few times throughout the book that she vehemently disagrees with her newfound friends on many issues- taxes, welfare, and the “right to choose”, among others. I found myself wondering, “how could this person have spent five years with people whose views make her terribly uncomfortable?” And yet, I believe that’s exactly where I need to push myself. Perhaps it wasn’t appropriate then, and would have led to unnecessary trash talk- but what would it have looked like to start a conversation with the pickup truck driving, Confederate flag touting Nittany Lion?

I’m going to keep reading, but recognize that only through some difficult conversations will I actually begin to educate myself. I think my toolkit as an interfaith dialoguer and someone who strives to sustain a meditation practice is helpful, yet not something to hide behind. Another year older, and hopefully, just a little bit wiser. Fight On!



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