Dear Public: Introductions and Beginnings


I arrived at Barcelona on July 20th, a little over three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog but truly, I’ve been too scared to do so. I’ve always both loved and dreaded the idea of public writing. Writing to a public, making my writing–myself—public. I suppose I see the very act of transforming my thoughts into words on a page synonymous with the conventional fear of being naked in public.

I’ve written many things that have been read by others, of course. An independent research project submitted to academic conferences, a 60-percent-of-my-grade seminar essay sent to classmates for critique, two Thomas J. Watson Fellowship essays, a 105 page thesis read by the head of the Sociology & Anthropology Department. All terrifying and important feats, but as I wrote each I was cloaked by guidelines, expectations and deadlines, all wrapped under a tool-belt holding my liberal arts jargon and identity as a ‘student’. The closest thing I’ve done to public writing was a bi-weekly column Dorm Dive I wrote for The Phoenix, where I featured Swat students, their dorms, and their idiosyncrasies. This column was another student’s baby, which I adopted when they became a busy senior, so although I made it my own, I had the safety of an existing structure.

My point is, I find comfort in writing as a student but not quite in writing publicly as simply Mayra, even if it’s just for my own self-reflection or to share with friends. And it isn’t just about the lack of format. It’s also about choosing what and when to write; which boundaries to set and what others to do away with completely; how much of myself to let roam and where should I strive to go, if anywhere at all.

Really, it’s fear. Fear of being wrong, misunderstood, careless, perhaps even offensive. Of going too far, not saying it right, or worse, just being irrelevant.

I’ve burdened myself with too much self-doubt and in the process, silenced myself. Made myself wary of my own voice.

I remember my first class with Giovanna Di Chiro, Race, Gender, & the Environment, where after the first written assignment she told me to place myself in my writing more. Don’t be afraid to use ‘I’, she said, urging me to reimagine the way knowledge could be produced. To make myself—me, Mayra—visible. Then this past spring, I read Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals for my posthumanism class. Her words left me scarred.

Your silence will not protect you.

It may be no coincidence at all that I am conducting a Watson project that centers around the visibility of women’s voices. I’ve set out to to listen to women’s survival stories. Stories that share knowledge that arise out of individual lived experiences. Stories that have the ability to hold memory and generational wisdom. Stories that highlight women’s voices, privileging a particular type of narrative that is often overridden. I wrote in my Watson application that for all of these reasons, I believe listening to women’s survival stories is an inherently transformative process.

So, I have to write, make myself visible, go public, so as to declare this statement over and over again.

I can’t fully embrace this project while suppressing my own voice any longer. So I promise to catch you up on what I’ve done since July 20th in the days to come and to continue writing and sharing stories for the following year. Unapologetically so.

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