Archive for ‘Friends & Family’

April 12, 2016

The Click Heard ‘Round the World: What my mom taught me about social media

In the world of the Internet, everyone’s a critic. Social media is definitely not immune to criticism and there are folks lining up around the block looking for the opportunity to find fault in our admittedly imperfect e-cosystem. But, for many families like mine, the advent of social media has meant so much more than accumulating “likes”, “followers” or “reblogs”.

My mother is a Filipino American. Born and raised outside the city of Roxas on the island of Mindoro, she was the youngest of six children. She lived with her mother, father, and sister in a small house made up of four concrete walls and a tin roof that flapped in the winds during monsoon season. The four of them slept together on bamboo mats on their living room floor until her sister turned 15 and married. Then just the three of them slept on bamboo mats on the living room floor. My mother distinctly remembers sleeping between her mother and father, but waking up in the middle of the night to find her parents snuggling together while she was moved off to the side. We both had a good laugh after realizing that the same thing happened to me as a child.

From the stories she tells, my mother had the most magical childhood. She recalls swimming naked in clear streams with her classmates, jumping off the tops of waterfalls, and eating beautifully sweet Indian mangoes from right off the tree. She remembered the smallest experiences so vividly, like when she would walk through the rice fields by her family’s home and hear the crunch of tiny snail shells beneath her feet (not my favorite story). The way she tells it, I can’t imagine ever leaving such a beautiful place.

On my trip back to the Philippines with her years ago, I got to relive some of her memories. But, I also got to see a lot of what she left out. She left out just how poor her family was. She left out the tiny corner stands in the neighborhoods where people could buy little sample-sized packets of soap or shampoo because where she lived, buying an entire bottle would cost a half day’s wage. She left out the rocky, muddy dirt roads and the children walking to school who only owned a single pair of sandals. She left out the fact that you have to pour water into the toilet in the house because the only indoor plumbing goes from the water pump in the yard to the kitchen sink. She left out the fact that only one house in the entire village had hot running water (and a pool!). Her life was so happy, she never noticed that she didn’t have it all. As far as she was concerned, she did. I think there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

So, how does social media come into play in this story? Well, my mother lives in the US now. The rest of her siblings, however, still live in the Philippines. If you know anything about Filipino culture, you’ll know that the family unit is very highly valued. The Philippines is much less individualistic than the States, and your happiness and success are pretty heavily based on the good you bring to your family. When my mother moved to the States, their family unit became a bit disjointed. For the longest time, the only way my mother could communicate with her family was through poor-quality international phone calls and balikbayan boxes* of clothes, food, and toys for the kids. She desperately missed seeing her sisters’ faces and laughing with them. Since moving to the States, our family has only been able to afford sending my mom on two trips back to the Philippines. I can’t imagine not seeing my sister for years on end, so I can’t begin to understand the kind of heartache it must cause my mother.

Well, along came Facebook. Mom was pretty slow to join, but after a few years of watching me connect with all of my Filipino cousins, she thought it was about time she get her own profile. We showed her how to use Facebook. We installed Skype on her computer. We made sure we found all of her nieces and nephews and “friended” them. It wasn’t long before checking her Facebook for updates became a regular part of her routine. Just like that, my mother and her family entered into the online world that my sister and I had already been a part of for years.

The amazing thing about all of this is that while I use Facebook to share pictures of my food, my mom uses Facebook to maintain strong, intimate relationships with her family members from all the way across the globe. I guess I take Facebook and other social media networks for granted. It’s easy for someone like me to forget just how incredibly powerful the Internet and social media are.

When we look back at technologies that defined generations, we tend to think of lifesaving medical breakthroughs or mechanical marvels. But the more that I observe and understand the way that humans beings work, the more I realize that the truly defining technologies are those that allow us to communicate better, longer, and smarter.

Now, some may say that social media and text messaging have kind of ruined traditional forms of communication for younger generations. It’s certainly true that kids growing up today will probably never write heartfelt letters to friends in other countries or even use email as anything more than a way to identify yourself on websites. Technologies like these do seem to shape us almost as much as we shape them. But is this new form of social literacy really as bad as all the naysayers seem to think? Look at how far we’ve come from just talking to people within walking distance:

The telegram.

The telephone.

Cellular phones.

The internet.

Email.

Text messaging.

Social media.

Our desire to learn from others has driven us outward. Outside of our backyards and hometowns. We, as a species, have this natural urge to be close, even to those who are geographically very far away. It only makes sense that we would develop something to facilitate this desire for closeness. And though it’s easy  to say that “back in my day” people asked each other out on dates in-person rather than swiping right on Tinder, these jabs don’t negate the fact that entire cultures are being molded online, and many times, for the better. Meaningful relationships are being formed. Love is being shared.

For someone who’s only been alive for less than three decades, I can’t fully appreciate the lengths that we’ve gone to as a species to stay in touch. My mom and her sisters have gone from writing letters and sending packages (some of which were lost in transport and never actually reached their destinations) to talking to each other face-to-face as if they were in the same room. What a wild ride this must be for them. I’m sure as more technologies are developed, I’ll be in for a similar ride.

So, I’ll end with a few questions for you to ponder:

How has the advent of social media affected your life or the lives of those around you? Has it been for the better? If not, why? Will the benefits of social media outweigh the novelty? And what new ways of communicating do you think we and future generations will see?

 

 

*A balikbayan – meaning repatriate – box sent by Filipinos back to family in the Islands. It’s really economically friendly, as the cost to send HUGE boxes are only around $100-150. Mostly, balikbayan boxes are sent via cargo ships, so it does take several weeks. But our family always sends one around important holidays like Christmas and Good Friday. I know we always have two or three boxes being packed at all times in our basement. It’s the same for many Filipino American families, since sending gifts when you’re away from home is pretty standard tradition in the Philippines (wikipedia link).

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June 25, 2015

New Thoughts on Old Friends: Reflecting, Not Yearning

Have you ever had a good friendship end, then find yourself thinking about that old friend out of the blue? That happened to me. I hadn’t thought of this friend in a long time (looking back, it feels like I forgot about him for a while). And then, out of nowhere, he appears in a dream.

In the dream, we’re in a skyscraper with only stairs. No elevator, no rooms, just stairs.  He’s always just out of reach, one or two flights ahead of me. And just as I’m about to reach him at the top, he starts to go back down again. I find myself sprinting, throwing things, screaming to try to get his attention, but he’s always just far enough away. It’s maddening.

So I gave up.

I sat on the steps and cried. It felt like I cried forever. But after some time, he was sitting next to me. He wrapped his arms around me in a warm, reassuring hug in the same way that he used to. He held my shoulders, kissed my forehead and said, “You can stop now.”

When I woke up, I came to a brilliant realization about my former friendship. Something that I haven’t quite come to grips with over the years:

Our friendship ended. And that’s good.

What we had was good. We learned from each other. We grew with each other. We were there for each other. We were really dear friends. But it ended and that’s for the best. We can’t go back to what we had, even if we wanted to. We’ve grown up. We’re not the same people we were when we were friends. We probably wouldn’t get along in the same way as we did.

But maybe it’s better to remember old friends the way they were while you were in each other’s lives. People are constantly changing, learning, evolving. Chances are those old friends aren’t the same as you remember them. You’re likely not the person you were before. That’s how the world spins.

But that change shouldn’t taint your memory of them. It should make it more meaningful.

It’s beautiful, really. That in this universe, for a millisecond in the grand timeline, two completely different people, both still evolving, still moving on their separate roads through life, were able to cross paths and form a bond for even the briefest of times. And even though two straight lines only meet at a singular point in space before going off in different directions and never meeting again… that point in space is special. It’s completely unique. No other point on either of those lines will ever be identical to that; nothing will ever match that intersection in space.

Life is full of those unique intersections in space. It’s silly to yearn for that same experience a second time because the singularity of that experience is what makes it special. We can look back on those moments with fondness, but we need to realize when the moment is over.

I’ve spent a lot of time hoping for my friend back. I’ve spent time chasing down that friendship that meant so much to me, wishing it would just go back to the way it was. But it never will. I’ll never have that friendship again. Even if my friend came back into my life somehow, it would be a new experience, a new intersection in space. It will never be as it was. And therein lies the perfection.

I’m okay with being at the end of this moment. I realize that what I had was meaningful and special to me. I am grateful for the happiness that this friendship brought me. I am grateful to have had the chance to know this person. And most importantly, I acknowledge the finality of it all.

Now, I have the opportunity fully engage and embrace the next unique intersection in my life. And just like all the ones before this, it will be perfect in its peculiarity.

December 19, 2013

Breaking the Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the worst things about coming home is seeing and hearing just how ignorant the people around me are when it comes to offensive and prejudiced language. Since coming home on Friday, I think I’ve heard at least a dozen racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist comments made in regular conversation.

These aren’t blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist people either. These are my friends and loved ones — people who are incredibly intelligent, loving, and compassionate. That’s why it saddens me so deeply to hear offensive language, stereotypes, and slurs being tossed around with no regard for people’s feelings or well-being. These people have the capacity to speak without offending. I don’t understand why, in the grand catalog of humor, someone would need to stoop so low to make jokes that target, objectify, and ridicule an entire group of people. They should know better…

Being basically the only minority I know in my group of friends (and the only semi-liberal queer feminist in my family), the burden kind of falls on me to speak up. Not saying it should be that way, but that’s how it always seems to end up, isn’t it? Naturally, I’m forced to be the representative of every oppressed, targeted, marginalized social group ever. I’m getting a pretty good idea of how Atlas felt. But, if I don’t do anything about what’s happening, nobody will. Everyone around me is completely content with the current social standards (though, I’d assume that this is the default setting for those in the favored majority).

It looks like I have plenty of work to do as a bystander. It might not make me many friends, but I’m through giving others my silent consent. In the past, my speaking out against offensive language with my friends and family has resulted in people resenting me, so I’m expecting the same kind of backlash moving forward. Around here, people treat “political correctness” like a dirty word. That mentality is part of the problem and really stunts my efforts to affect change where I live (it was much easier back in Portland, OR). People hear one word about social change and they just start to tune you out. It’s a good thing I have the rare gift of persistence.

If people really want to shoot the messenger, I don’t mind biting the bullet. What’s important to me is that people begin to think critically about what they say and how it affects the people around them. People have gotten way too comfortable using offensive language around me and I’m done sitting silently while they make my skin crawl and my ears burn. It’s time we started holding each other accountable for our words and actions. And that’s precisely what I’m going to start doing.

Prepare yourself, Utah. I’m comin’ for ya.

August 27, 2013

And I already miss you.

I cried myself to sleep Friday night.
I left home Saturday afternoon.
I finished moving in Sunday night.
I had my first class Monday night.
I’m writing this Tuesday night.

That’s four days. And I already miss you.

I think a lot of people – myself included – would think that I’m a little too clingy when it comes to my partner. I’m very attached and long distance for the past three years has caused me to experience some of the worst emotional roller coasters in my life. It’s been an uphill battle, and it’s taught me a lot about myself and the things I value.

I keep looking back on my last day with my partner. It was a great day. It was our date night. We went out to this restaurant we’d never been to before and tried a sandwich made famous by Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. And then we watch The World’s End (which was amazing, if you’re looking for a review).

By the end of the night, we were both yawning uncontrollably and ready for bed. For a moment, I forgot that we didn’t live together and I walked up my driveway expecting him to just follow me inside. Then it clicked in my mind and I had a bit of an internal breakdown. I flopped onto the driveway and stared up at the stars for the next 15 minutes. He came to lay beside me, no questions asked. I didn’t talk much during that time. I wouldn’t have been able to without choking on my tears.

But I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him that I’m going to miss him. I wanted to tell him that he’s home to me. I wanted to tell him that every time I think about how long it’ll be until I see him again, I get a lump in my throat and can’t breathe, much less speak.

It’s a couple days late, but I guess I can tell him now:

James,

If you’re reading this, know that I love you. I’m so proud of you and everything you’re working towards. Your work ethic and determination amaze me. I want to grow up to be like you. The time I spend with you makes me a better person. If I could hop in a car and come see you, I would drive all through the night. I’d show up on your doorstep with a bouquet of fruit flowers, a bottle of whiskey, and the 8th season of Supernatural. And I’d make you miss all of your classes to watch it with me. If I could, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight (within reason; you can go to the bathroom by yourself, I think).

I know that what I’m doing here in Portland is what’s best for me, my family, and for us later on in life. And I know that I’ll appreciate the time I’ve put into this. I know that my education is teaching me to be passionate and take pride in my work. But that doesn’t make it any easier to be away from you.

I hope that I’m making you proud. And I hope that when this is all over, I’m able to take good care of you. You deserve all the kindness, respect, love, and generosity that I have to offer. And I plan on giving it you.

And I already miss you.

Love,

Kris