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Paper #1

Kismet's picture

I believe that it takes a village to raise a child.  We develop our identities mostly from our environment and the people that surround us, be they family or otherwise.  Now, at the age of eighteen, I have finally left the village that raised me, but it will never leave me.  The experiences I have had are the very fabric of which my personality is comprised.  I have been influenced by all of the people who helped to raise me, for better or for worse.  Like many people I was primarily raised by my parents - two lower-middle-class Roman Catholics of Irish descent, who have been working exhausting jobs for the same industrial supply company for about thirty years each.  

My mom’s side of the family is smaller and much more distant.  She grew up in a small town in Northern New York, about a twenty minute drive from the Canadian border.  Her parents are both deceased, she has barely any connection to her older brother (due to a long-standing feud), and her sister lives four hours away in Albany.  My dad’s family, on the other hand, has been a constant in my life.  His parents, two of his brothers, and his sister live about a half hour from us, and about five minutes from each other.  His third brother lives in Sag Harbor but often comes down for family parties via private jet, courtesy of his boss, who is a millionare real estate mogul.  My close-knit family came together often for birthdays, barbecues, Sunday lunches, and sleepovers for my sister, myself, and my cousin Cara, who has consistently been my partner in crime.

My sister and I also had a group of best friends who lived on the same street as us.  I was the youngest of the seven of us by a year, but I was only excluded from the group during activities that they deemed me “too little” for.  For example, I have never seen the entirety of “Grease” due to being exiled during scenes that earned the film its PG-13 rating.  Regardless, the neighborhood girls played an enormous role in my childhood, as they were my constant companions.  Their parents were my parents, their siblings were my siblings, and their troubles were my troubles.  Growing up on my street was being raised by ten Italians and my two Irish parents.  At the time this ethnic difference seemed very real and present.  It wasn’t until I entered high school that I began to notice how homogenous the village that raised me was.

My school was almost entirely white, largely Italian, and socially conservative on all fronts except those involving the legalization of recreational marijuana.  Howell High School was often referred to as “Howellbama” by neighboring schools, due to the high population of Confederate flag-waving “rednecks” despite the fact that we lived in Central New Jersey.  Up until this past spring, our school mascot was the Confederate Rebel.  Years ago, there was an enormous Confederate flag painted on the side of the school.

I was accustomed to hearing racist, homophobic, and sexist comments or jokes made by most of my class of 600.  I’ve heard some similar jokes from my uncles, and some harsher comments and slurs from my grandpa.  I learned from a young age that parroting these remarks to my uncles made them laugh and pat me on the back.  The neighborhood girls found most of the jokes rude, but they would often imitate “ghetto accents” for fun and give each other “black” nicknames.  Mimicking this behavior earned their approval, too.  

By the time I reached puberty, us girls had begun to notice that men didn’t always treat women the way they should.  We would talk about jerks that cheated on their girlfriends in songs we heard on the radio and vow to never let it happen to us.  We joked that if a man ever hit one of us that we would all beat him to a pulp.  Sometimes we would also talk about how creepy it felt to be ogled by men.  When I was fifteen, I got a job as a cashier at a burger place nearby.  One of the neighborhood girls, Jenna, also got a job there.  She has been my best friend my whole life, and we were thrilled to be working together.  When I was being sexually harassed by the men we worked with, she was the only one who knew.  She urged me to tell our manager, and when our manager ignored my complaint, she helped me write an email to our boss.  When the men escalated to assaulting me she took as many shifts with me as she could, to make sure I was never alone with them.  Our boss ignored my complaints, too, even when Jenna revealed that she had witnessed the events.  Then, Jenna helped me write my letter of resignation (without 2 weeks of notice out of fear) and she, too, quit a week later.

Suddenly I became sensitive to the sexist comments and jokes that seemed to echo through the halls of my school and across the table at family parties.  I began to shut out friends that made such remarks - first quietly, then aggressively.  Soon I began to question the other social wrongs around me.  I came to realize that just as I was so often attacked as a result of my identity as a girl, other people were constantly attacked because of their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other such identities.  I began to recognize the privileges others had over me, eventually leading to me recognizing my own privilege.  

Since then, I have been working on unraveling the years of misinformation and prejudice that I was unknowingly raised on.  Dissolving my ignorance is a slow and often painful process.  In her short story “Report from the Bahamas” June Jordan wrote, “If she deserts me and ‘my cause’ where we differ, if, for example, she abandons me to ‘my’ problems of race, then why should I support her in ‘her’ problems of housewifely oblivion?”  This quote resonates deeply within me.  It parallels my realization that although my problems are very different from the problems of others, both are equally valid and deserving of support and understanding.  Issues of gender, class, race, and sexuality are rarely the same, as Jordan explores in her writing.  However, they are all connected, and only through intersectionality can we all remediate our troubles.  The village that raised me may have been wrought with injustice, but it produced someone that wants to restore balance, no matter how difficult it may be.