Why I Am a “Real” Engineer

We talk a lot about engineering identities at Olin. I would like to offer how I came to find mine. This is not prescriptive nor definitive; I am still grappling with the ways that I shape my identity even as I write this. I offer this because I have had many similar conversations with people at various stages of their identity-forming journey. I am hoping that some of you might read this and relate, or at the very least reflect. 

I came to Olin thinking I was going to be a “woman in STEM”. I took all the requisite math and science classes, and I performed well in them. Thanks to my high school engineering program, I could classify fasteners with fluency and talked about how many “thou” off my lathe parts were. This fit with my image of a “woman in STEM”, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t fully feel like me. I loved my French and English classes and Jane Austen novels. I was drawn to Olin because it proudly proclaimed that Arts, Humanities, and Social Science were centrally important. I was excited that I could be getting a “practical” degree in engineering without letting go of the humanist that I was deep down. I felt validated by the fact that Olin seemed to value this part of me as well. 

When I finally came to Olin, I discovered that I might be an oddball. I engaged with ravenous interest in my AHS foundation (Infrastructure Studies) and gave my all to the DesNat play project, but noticed that the people around me largely did the opposite. What I found most fascinating and important to the real work of engineering – understanding the emotional and societal side effects of things we engineer – was seen as “extra” or “easy” by others, and therefore not worth their time. My first year I was in angry tears many times over this mismatch, and over the fact that I could not force myself to be interested in the “real engineering” that I was told we were learning in ModSim and QEA. 

I thought that with time and practice, I would develop an interest in technical subjects. I followed a vague inclination into Mechanical Engineering. On a whim, I also enrolled in Architecture and Urbanism. This came to be one of the transformational influences of my Olin career. It was my first taste of Design as an identity. In this seminar-style class, design was presented to me in a way that felt expansive, generous, powerful. It was exactly what I had hoped to get out of my engineering education: a field that provided the connective tissue between behavior and culture and environment and built forms, between complex issues and playful solutions. The focus of the class was ostensibly on architecture and urban design, but the real intention of the class was to make us reflect on our identities. We were frequently invited to place ourselves on various spectra: “critique vs repair” or “wonder vs urgency” or “art vs engineering”. It was in those in-between spaces that I started to find myself. 

E:Design was calling to me, but I could not ignore the signals I was getting that this was not a valid choice. Jokes about “fake major” combined with warnings I had received my entire upbringing that I should not turn away from difficult things just because I’m a woman. I thought that being a good feminist meant excelling in traditionally male roles. I had never stopped to ask myself:  is that what the world needed me to be, or what I actually wanted to be? 

After ArchUrb, I was fully convinced that design was valuable and impactful. The next thing I had to grapple with was the fear that by choosing to pursue something that I had an affinity for I was being lazy, a bad feminist, or failing to repay my debt to my parents. I turned to just about every person who would listen for wisdom on this. Some of the soundest advice I got came from Deb Chachra, who said, “Don’t get good at something you hate.” Eventually, I chose to switch to design. 

I might get emotional about this. It is emotionally taxing to be told in so many different ways that you are not valid. That you are naive, idealistic, ideological. I sometimes argue with my peers and myself in order to assert that I am a “real engineer”. The most validating role models I have had are the professors and alumni who lead by example in being absolute badasses in their fields and who hold the “difficult sciences” as equal to the “hard sciences” (to use Deb’s words). 

Design, social science, interpersonal communication, are all coded feminine in many contexts. Why are the activities that touch on these fields not “real”? My definition of an engineer is a connector between the realms of social science, culture, human experience, and “technology” in its broadest sense. Don’t tell me that isn’t “hard” because that is the hardest thing of all. It is squishy and vague and resistant to labeling. And it is valuable. You are valuable. Not because of a neat project portfolio, but because you have an Olin education which gives you the unique opportunity to grapple with the slippery, complicated, beautiful interaction between people and what you make. If you feel a curiosity for those things, don’t shut that interest down. Nurture it. Artificial Intelligence will never be able to do it. 

Spaces at Olin

We, as Olin students, are afforded countless luxuries in the form of communal spaces,; the Library workspaces and machine shops being the most obvious examples. Less obvious, however, are places like the Wellness Room in the Campus Center, or Parcel B just behind the dorms. In addition to simply having access to these things, we also have nearly unrestricted access to them. It’s not typical for a college to give their students 24/7 access to spaces like a kitchen, or bike room – both things that I think most of us tend to take for granted.

All of these luxuries exist in the way that they do because of one thing: trust. Trust that comes from a social contract between the stewards who build, maintain, and care for these spaces, and the students who use them. This contract is a simple give-and-take, really. Someone puts their time, energy, and money into making a space the best it can be. In return, they trust that we will respect their hard work. For a while, I thought that this give-and-take worked great at Olin. 

Having recently been hired to help steward a space in the Olin Shop, I have now seen the other side of this social contract. In a very short amount of time, I’ve experienced what must be a fraction of the frustration and confusion that a full-time steward feels when tools disappear, or when a huge mess appears overnight without as much as a note. 

I can now see how continuing to care can become difficult when every day, someone intentionally puts their self-interest above the social contract of trust that we have all implicitly signed. 

The cause of this issue could be explained by the “Tragedy of the Commons” framing. For example, one person decides it’s in their best interest to take a tool back to their dorm. As a result, some tools become scarce for others, instead of a common resource, which leads others to follow suit. 

None of this is to say that every student at Olin treats communal spaces horribly. Overall, we tend to do a good job of respecting rules and guidelines. If we didn’t, places like the Shop or the Library would stop trusting us to collectively respect their spaces. 

This article is my plea to you to hold up your end of the social contract of trust. The next time you need to mill something for a project or do some cooking, think about how you interact with those resources. Think of how you can serve the space, rather than how the space can serve you. Take the extra time to fix a problem or clean a mess, even if it’s not strictly your responsibility. 

On Sexism: Bursting the Bubble

Disclaimer: I refer to Olin students in the typical gender binary as “men” and “women”. This is not to exclude anyone in the transgender community. While I believe that gender cannot be split into the male-female categories, the binary is still how many people are perceived. “Men” and “women”, in this case, are useful labels to describe our social reality on the population level, even if they cannot capture the vast diversity of gender expression. If you have questions, please contact the editor.

One of my favorite games growing up was Skylanders. I collected every single Skylander in the first game and spent most of my time playing on my Xbox – I distinctly remember my favorite being Hex (my goth queen). So when McDonald’s came out with the Skylanders: Trap Team toy when I was ten, I was excited. I begged my mom to take me to McDonald’s to get a Trap Team toy; as usual, my mom fed my autism and drove me to McDonald’s after my dance practice.

We walked into the restaurant and asked the cashier for a boy’s Happy Meal. That cashier took one look at me in my leotard and pink skirt and said that they couldn’t give that to me. My mom asked why and they said (verbatim), “She’s a girl, so she gets the girl McDonald’s toy”. My mom asked, once again, for the boy’s Happy Meal toy, and they took our order. I got my Happy Meal and excitedly opened it to see… a Littlest Pet Shop toy. Not my boy Wallop or my dude Pain Yatta. A Littlest Pet Shop character. I didn’t even like The Littlest Pet Shop, not nearly as much as Skylanders. We couldn’t return it because we knew they would give us a hard time. So I went with my dad to a different McDonald’s the next day and actually got a Skylanders toy, probably because they didn’t care as much or maybe because they thought it was for my dad. Either way, still too much of a hassle for a plastic toy.

Looking back, I now realize how much McDonald’s – a place I went to often – completely influenced how I perceive gender, and it probably influenced a lot of other McDonald’s regulars too. I recognize a little bit too much how I have to be very careful about what I tell people what my interests are because no matter what I say, people will not expect it and react too strongly – either negatively or positively. Very recently, I had to explain to people how I enjoy watching sports – not necessarily to watch cute guys get sweaty but because I love the strategy and especially how excited everyone around me gets for a tiny ball being thrown around a field. Notice how I just explained my love for sports? I’ve done this more times than I can count. If a guy said the same thing he wouldn’t have to explain or defend himself – he would just say “I like watching sports” and everyone would think, “Yeah, that makes sense”. They wouldn’t question anything and he wouldn’t have to validate his statements.

Here at Olin, it’s a bit better than what I’m used to at home. I’ve met so many people who break the gender barrier in so many ways that I’ve felt like my authentic self for the first time in a long time. However, I have still faced a lot of experiences where I had to defend myself on things I love. In fact, many of my negative experiences at Olin have been because of my gender. Very often, I and other women at this school have been in situations where our opinion was not valued, immediately shut down by the “biggest man in the room”, and then experienced another man saying the same exact thing and being listened to without second thought. When we voice this, there’s a pretty good chance they will say something along the lines of, “No way, that’s not possible, not here at Olin.” At Olin where there is a severe lack of women in project teams because there is an excess amount of this sexist and discriminatory behavior. At Olin where Pi Day is taken more seriously than International Women’s Day. At Olin where if a girl shows some sort of femininity she’s taken for a Wellesley student because there’s no way an engineering student can hold any sort of “womanhood” about them but a liberal arts student can. It frustrates me when people who are aware of this say:

“This happens a lot in the industry. You just have to get used to it.”

But why do we have to sit here and listen to a man talk and talk and talk all he wants while we have to fight for our voice? Why can’t we, as an “innovative” campus with the motto “engineering for everyone”, teach people how to respect everyone in the room? Especially when it comes to teaming: no matter how many group projects you put Olin students in, teaming alone won’t teach people to not be misogynistic. They expect us to be the ones to tell the perpetrators that what they’re doing is wrong, but after doing it a thousand times to no avail it gets tiring. Not only that, but us speaking out poses a real threat that women face every single day. If we claim that the person across from us is acting misogynistic, we are deemed insane, crazy, or dramatic, so we stay silent and discretely warn other women who to watch out for in a teaming situation.

This is not to say that every single man at Olin acts in this way, but this is to say that there’s behavior at Olin just like this that goes unchecked. Olin imagines itself to be too progressive, too evolved, too sophisticated a place for sexism to persist and as a result becomes blind to the subtle flavors that still exist. We cannot act as if sexism died with the feminist movement, because then the small things that happen now can grow into larger issues later on for gender minorities everywhere. Maybe if we finally stopped ignoring what’s going on, we might actually see some progress in our community and actually make it for everyone.

May Drunk Horoscopes

♈ Aries: March 21–April 19

  • You will encounter a Man—someone’s boyfriend—in the hallway while wearing nothing but a towel.

♉ Taurus: April 20–May 20

  • You are a swamp creature. They can tell.

♊ Gemini: May 21–June 21

  • USB stick? Used tampon? A crab? Use dryer with caution.

♋ Cancer: June 22–July 22

  • You will not get into your cross-reg. :(

♌ Leo: July 23–August 22

  • Missing Person Alert. Last seen wandering East Hall in a banana suit.

♍ Virgo: August 23–September 22

  • You will snipe Snillary Flinton from the Wellesley bell tower. Pew.

♎ Libra: September 23–October 23

  • Cupcakke is coming. So are we.

♏ Scorpio: October 24–November 21

  • If you lose your passport, check the Plan B bin.

♐ Sagittarius: November 22–December 21

  • You WILL get some dick. I believe in you.

♑ Capricorn: December 22–January 19

  • Drink the Baja Blast whiteboard cleaner. You know you want to.

♒ Aquarius: January 20–February 18

  • Get impeached, dumbass.

♓ Pisces: February 19–March 20

  • You’re doing ISIM week. Have fun.

“We” Are Not Winning The War

A prelude: For months I debated whether to publish this. I ask over and over again: Is the information current? Is it balanced and palatable to every position? Does it have to be April 1st? The answers inevitably return to a resounding “no”.  I must settle with that fact. Moreover, I speculate that publishing this is a way to sidestep people who will disagree with me instead of initiating conversation. I’ve seen these mistakes made in the past. I could simply ignore these hesitations and hit send, but no consideration is a luxury. 

Nevertheless, as guest speakers visit to inform us, and faculty host discussion rooms, I can only view these months as a historical moment for Olin, for which the most recent physical artifacts around the school are the advocacy flyers, whose messages boil away the nuance around the most complicated social issue I am forced to contend with. April is when the conversation has become relevant, and so this is when I will publish.

Preparing for my bar mitzvah, I planned to wrap candies in the Israeli flag as a thank you gift. My mother prohibited it. I didn’t understand at that time, but that was my first experience learning about the difference between embracing Judaism, my religion, and embracing the state of Israel. 

While I stayed in Edinburgh for a semester, I tried to reach out to the Jewish community in Scotland. I was not exceptionally active, but I went to one event. It was a Friday night Shabbat service, gathering Jewish societies from universities in the area. It was a pleasant service, and they invited an interesting speaker, a Scottish politician whose job it is to advise on Jewish affairs. He was an elegant speaker. Deceptively elegant, for he wove messages in his sentences that festered discord within me. He spoke about the success Scotland is making fighting hate crimes and hate speech. Then he said, “Right now, we are all fighting a war. And we are winning!” to a standing ovation… but that statement did not inspire applause from me. 

This ‘war’ refers to multiple conflicts, while similar, are separate in their goals. The first war is likely the one you are thinking of, the attacks in Israel and Palestine. The other ‘war’ is that of antisemitism, and the historical prejudices that perpetuate anti-Jewish sentiments. While both are systemic in nature, and the two are heavily intertwined, there are important differences. 

Israel is a country. Its actions should be treated as such, instead of pretending it acts on the will of the Jewish people. I, as a Jewish individual, do not necessarily align with the actions of Netanyahu and his cabinet simply because they head a predominantly Jewish state. My traditions and the way I was raised have little to do with Israel, if at all. My approach to antisemitism is never related to Israel. Not because of my alignment with the state, and not because I  strategically decide against invoking Israel. The fight for Israel is not the fight against antisemitism for me. 

This politician fused these two ‘wars’ together. He used the war in Israel to represent antisemitism at home and abroad. However, victory in one war does not necessitate the victory of the other. This is a common conflation, and a deliberate one. Israel the political body, the US, and other allied countries make this logical leap to expedite political support. They do this also to handwave political criticisms of Israel as bigotry: Align with Israel, or align with antisemitism. But I don’t need to agree with a government’s actions to advocate 

for my religious pride. I began learning this idea when I was thirteen. However, as I sat in the room with over 100 other Jews, I got a strange feeling that the sit-down from my mother is not one shared with the rest of my community. 

I thought I didn’t need to publish this for Olin. As I proofread these words, I speculate that I’m preaching too heavily to the congregation. Surely, I hoped, the people of this institution would equally make the distinction. However, I am confronted with flaws in that assumption. For many Jewish people, Israel is not a political entity, but a cultural entity. When interpreted from this view, an attack on Israel is an attack on the place that honors Jewish history in ways I cannot conceive. In this way, the tie between antizionism and antisemitism is recontextualized. I do not agree with this perspective, but I have learned it must be taken seriously.

After the service, I told a friend how the speaker’s words hit me so hard. Someone walking by missed the context, and asked what words they could have been. Providing the context, I repeated, ‘we are fighting a war, and we’re winning.”She paused, and replied, “No you’re not,” as she put a cigarette to her mouth. 

I don’t know what she meant by that. She could have referred to any of the things I talked about. But it doesn’t matter. I know it’s true regardless. 

Sure, Israel will win the ground war, no doubt about that, but Israel fights another war in the public eye. They are losing support from allies, with public support for Palestine in the US higher than it’s ever been. The UN condemns Israel’s actions, and now the country is under pressure for a ceasefire.‘We’ arenot winning this war.

The war against antisemitism persists, in stranger ways than you may expect. Of course, the anti-Israel voices are chock-full of antisemites, but Netenyahu protects them because he likes it this way. With these enemies, he can maintain the state’s image as the bastion against antisemitism, and he can pin dissent on alignment with Nazis. But there is antisemitism among zionists as well. John Hagee was a speaker at The March for Israel from last fall. He’s a televangelist, and his wikipedia has a whole section about his thoughts on Jews. My favorite line states, “[Hagee] claimed 

that the persecution of Jews throughout history, implicitly including the Holocaust, was due to the Jewish people’s disobedience of God”. It would take another 1200 words to explain why there are such prominent antisemitic zionists, but suffice it to say there’s more evidence to distinguish the two wars “we” are fighting. And we are not winning the war against antisemitism. 

But there’s one more war. It’s a war that I am fighting. I’m fighting for Jews and non Jews alike to thoughtfully continue the dialogue. I have seen the hostility from Oliners that keeps me from initiating more of these conversations. I’ve seen others fight this battle and lose their Jewish community over it. I’m scared to risk that. There are already so few Jews in the world to share solidarity, and every relationship like this is harder to find after one is destroyed. But this is a fight I must face, alongside other Jewish people who are torn between their nation of Judaism and the state of Israel. I hope I accurately described the difference between these battles, and how their conflation harms the success for Jews everywhere. And if I haven’t, well… 

then I’ve already lost this war.

No “Estamos” Ganando la Guerra

Un preludio: Durante meses debatí si publicar esto o no. Me preguntaba una y otra vez: ¿Es la información del día? ¿Está equilibrada y aceptable para todas las posiciones? ¿Tiene que ser el 1 de abril? Las respuestas inevitablemente devolvieron un “no” enfático. Debo conformarme con ese hecho. Además, puede que publicar esto sea una manera de evitar a las personas que estarán en desacuerdo conmigo en lugar de iniciar una conversación. He visto cometer estos errores en el pasado. Podría simplemente ignorar estas dudas y enviarlo, pero la falta de consideración es un lujo. Sin embargo, mientras conferenciantes invitados nos visitan para informarnos y el cuerpo docente organiza salas de discusión, solo puedo ver estos meses como un momento histórico para Olin, donde los folletos de defensa son los artefactos físicos más recientes alrededor de la escuela, cuyos mensajes simplifican la complejidad del problema social con el que me veo obligado a lidiar. Abril es cuando la conversación se vuelve relevante, y por eso es cuando publicaré.

Preparándome para mi bar mitzvá, planeaba envolver caramelos con la bandera de Israel como un regalo de agradecimiento. Mi madre lo prohibió. No entendí en ese momento, pero esa fue mi primera experiencia aprendiendo sobre la diferencia entre abarcar el judaísmo, mi religión, y abarcar al estado de Israel. 

Mientras pasaba un semestre en Edimburgo, intenté conectar con la comunidad judía en Escocia. No fui excepcionalmente activo, pero asistí a un evento. Era un servicio de Shabbat de viernes por la noche, reuniendo a sociedades judías de universidades en la zona. Fue un servicio agradable, e invitaron a un orador interesante, un político escocés cuyo trabajo es asesorar sobre asuntos judíos. Era un orador elegante. Engañosamente elegante, porque entrelazaba mensajes en sus frases que sembraban discordia dentro de mí. Hablaba sobre el éxito que Escocia está teniendo en la lucha contra los crímenes de odio y los discursos de odio. Luego dijo: “En este momento, todos estamos librando una guerra. ¡Y la estamos ganando!” ante una ovación de pie… pero esa declaración no inspiró aplausos de mi parte. 

Esta “guerra” se refiere a múltiples conflictos que, aunque similares, son diferentes en sus objetivos. La primera guerra probablemente sea la que estás pensando, los ataques en Israel y Palestina. La otra “guerra” es la del antisemitismo y los prejuicios históricos que perpetúan los sentimientos antijudíos. Aunque ambos son sistémicos y están fuertemente conectados, hay diferencias importantes.

Israel es un país. Sus acciones deben ser tratadas como tales, en lugar de pretender que actúa en nombre del pueblo judío. Yo, como individuo judío, no necesariamente me alineo con las acciones de Netanyahu y su gabinete simplemente porque lideran un estado predominantemente judío. Mis tradiciones y la forma en que fui criado tienen poco que ver con Israel, si es que tienen algo que ver. Mi enfoque sobre el antisemitismo nunca está relacionado con Israel. No por mi alineación con el estado, y no porque decida estratégicamente no invocar a Israel. La lucha por Israel no es la lucha contra el antisemitismo para mí. 

Este político combinó estas dos “guerras”. Utilizó la guerra en Israel para representar el antisemitismo en el país y en el extranjero. Sin embargo, la victoria en una guerra no implica la victoria en la otra. Esta es una confusión común, y deliberada. Israel como entidad política, Estados Unidos y otros países aliados hacen este salto lógico para acelerar el apoyo político. También hacen esto para describir las críticas políticas a Israel como fanatismo: Alinéate con Israel o alinéate con el antisemitismo. Pero no necesito estar de acuerdo con las acciones de un gobierno para defender mi orgullo religioso. Comencé a aprender esta idea cuando tenía trece años. Sin embargo, mientras estaba en la sala con más de 100 judíos, tuve una extraña sensación de que la conversación que tuve con mi madre no es un sentimiento compartido con el resto de mi comunidad. 

Pensé que no necesitaba publicar esto para Olin. Mientras corrijo estas palabras, especulo que estoy ya han experimentado estas ideas. Tenía esperanza de que la gente de esta institución haría igualmente la distinción. Sin embargo, me enfrento a fallos en esa suposición. Para muchas personas judías, Israel no es una entidad política, sino una entidad cultural. Cuando se interpreta desde este punto de vista, un ataque a Israel es un ataque al lugar que honra la historia judía de maneras que no puedo concebir. De esta manera, el vínculo entre el antisionismo y el antisemitismo se recontextualiza. No estoy de acuerdo con esta perspectiva, pero he aprendido que se debe tomar en serio. 

Después del servicio, le conté a un amigo cómo fue que las palabras del orador me impactaron tanto. Alguien que pasaba por allí y no tenía el contexto preguntó cuáles podrían haber sido las palabras. Dando el contexto, repetí: “Estamos librando una guerra, y la estamos ganando.” Ella se detuvo y respondió: “No lo están haciendo”, mientras se ponía un cigarrillo en la boca. 

No sé a qué se refería con eso. Podría haberse referido a cualquiera de las cosas de las que hablé. Pero da igual. Sé que es verdad de todos modos. 

Claro, Israel ganará la guerra terrestre, no hay duda al respecto, pero Israel pelea en el cual está involucrado el público. Están perdiendo apoyo de aliados, con un apoyo público a Palestina en los Estados Unidos más alto que nunca. La ONU condena las acciones de Israel, y ahora el país está bajo presión para un cese de hostilidades. Nosotros no estamos ganando esta guerra. 

La guerra contra el antisemitismo persiste, de formas más extrañas de lo que podrías esperar. Por supuesto, las voces anti-Israel están llenas de antisemitas, pero Netanyahu los protege porque le gusta así. Con estos enemigos, puede mantener la imagen del estado como bastión contra el antisemitismo, y puede atribuir la disidencia a la alineación con los nazis. Pero también hay antisemitismo entre los sionistas. John Hagee fue orador en la Marcha por Israel del otoño pasado. Es un telepredicador, y su página de Wikipedia tiene una sección completa sobre sus pensamientos sobre los judíos. Mi línea favorita dice: “[Hagee] afirmó que la persecución de los judíos a lo largo de la historia, incluido implícitamente el Holocausto, se debía a la desobediencia de Dios por parte del pueblo judío”. El artículo tarda otras 1200 palabras para explicar por qué hay sionistas antisemitas tan prominentes, pero basta decir que hay más evidencia para distinguir las dos guerras que estamos luchando. Y no estamos ganando la guerra contra el antisemitismo. Pero hay una guerra más. Es una guerra que estoy luchando. Estoy luchando para que los que son judíos y que no son continúen el diálogo de manera reflexiva. He visto la hostilidad de los estudiantes de Olin que me impide iniciar más conversaciones como esta. He visto a otros que lucharon en esta batalla y perdieron su comunidad judía por ello. Me da miedo arriesgarme a eso. Ya hay tan pocos judíos en el mundo para compartir solidaridad, y cada relación como esta es más difícil de encontrar después de que una se destruye. Pero esta es una pelea que debo enfrentar, junto con otros judíos que están divididos entre su nación del judaísmo y el estado de Israel. Espero haber descrito con precisión la diferencia entre estas batallas, y cómo su confusión perjudica el éxito de los judíos en todas partes. Y si no lo he hecho, pues…

Pues ya he perdido esta guerra.

The Damnedest Mango 

you always cut the mango wrong

      without peeling off the skin

      slicing it square from the top

you always cut the mango wrong

      getting your knife stuck in the seed

      pulling your knife out of the seed

      cutting your palm with the knife

you always cut the mango wrong

      never telling me how much it hurt

      instead telling me

      how “they don’t grow mangos like they do back home”

you always cut the mango wrong

      watching your blood seep through the mango 

      lamenting and pleading 

      “But kanna, please, I’m trying my best” (meanwhile, the yellow fruit turns vermillion)

you always cut the mango wrong

      trying to cut apricot instead

      like everyone else

      just to please me

you always cut the mango wrong–

El Mango Condenado

siempre cortas el mango mal

sin pelar la piel

cortándolo cuadrado desde arriba

siempre cortas el mango mal

atascando tu cuchillo en la semilla

sacando tu cuchillo de la semilla

cortándote la palma con el cuchillo

siempre cortas el mango mal

nunca diciéndome cuánto te duele

en lugar de eso, diciéndome

cómo “no cultivan mangos como lo hacen en casa”

siempre cortas el mango mal

viendo tu sangre filtrarse a través del mango

lamentándote y suplicando

“Pero kanna, por favor, estoy haciendo lo mejor que puedo” (mientras tanto, la fruta amarilla se vuelve bermeja)

siempre cortas el mango mal

intentando cortar albaricoque en su lugar

como todos los demás

solo para complacerme

siempre cortas el mango mal—

Opinion: The Excavator

You would think that in your senior year, you wouldn’t expect the volatile shock of not belonging – a small thing that everyone seems to snicker at that has the floor crumbling out below you, the smiles around you jilted, the accents foreign.

That happened to me the morning I walked into the dining hall and saw the sticky note mural of an excavator with the heart around it. Let me try to explain why.

An excavator is a construction machine that has an immense variety of usages. It is used in digging holes and trenches, landscaping, demolishing houses, dredging rivers, mining, and so much more. I’m stating this dry obvious stuff because I want to note something important here – the excavator acquires different meanings, especially depending on who decides what is being excavated.

To me, the excavator didn’t represent whatever it represented in the sticky notes. Whether that was some sort of wonderment at seeing our well-disguised infrastructure buried below the ground, an appreciation for the sheer power of the machine, a kind of engineering curiosity I never got the memo about, or something else – to me, none of those feelings rushed up. What did rush up was a hot steam of fear, a fear of violence. What stops the excavator from turning around and clawing out West Hall? From clawing out me? What happens if someone falls into that hole? 

I agree that I’m being stupid, oversensitive, irrational – and that is emotional baggage I would have kept to myself if it wasn’t for the sticky note mural with the heart around it. A heart that signifies love, intimacy, acceptance, “this is us”.

Now imagine a heart around a drone. Cool? Maybe for some people, drones are awesome. We love them at this school. You can use them to film cool videos, to automate in cool ways, to just feel the joy of seeing something in the air. For others, particularly those who come from communities where drones are routinely used by military and police forces for following people, shooting people, etc. – not so awesome.

Now imagine a heart around a missile. I mean, why not? Our school’s resource allocation certainly seems to condone it. Missiles are security. They can vanquish savage, extremist populations abroad. They ostensibly keep lots of people safe from all sorts of threats. The trajectory calculations are fascinating. Heat-seeking technology is so cool. But this feels a bit more uncomfortable, doesn’t it? We wouldn’t say that particularly represents the ethos of the school. It’s okay to develop technology to make missiles, but that doesn’t mean you would put a heart around it.

That’s the context of the excavator for me. To countless communities, especially Black and brown, especially low-income, around the world, the excavator means violence. It means displacement. An excavator strikes terror in the hearts of I’m sure millions, if not hundreds of millions (or billions) around the world.

Me, personally? I haven’t ever had an excavator staring down my home, digging up my mountains, or tearing down my forests. But I think the moment that got me feeling so incredibly lonely was the realization that – wait, almost none of these people have seen a road dug up before right next to them. It’s not a common occurrence in many Oliners’ lives!! Which is mindblowing to me. Roads in Bengaluru, where I grew up, get dug up all the time. I’ve been minorly injured falling into a dug-up road. People get majorly injured all the time. A road being dug up is something disappointing, something common, certainly not something to be fascinated by. Have people not had pipes break or things leak or roads dug up or regularly seen a drill or utilities workers in visible action?

Every day, I have to expand the scope of things I need to take for granted in this country in order to fit in. This one completely caught me off guard. I’m sure things break in wherever you call home and you’ve seen roads being repaired, holes being dug, etc. But it doesn’t seem like you’ve seen it enough to feel resigned toward it, fearful of it, just anything but fascinated and endearing.

To wrap up, I guess I should clarify that my point is not that we should take the mural down. Or that it never should have been there. If it brings joy and a feeling of home to some folks, we should celebrate it. But I do want to interject with my own annoying qualification that these symbols that can seem harmless and quirky do have other interpretations. The excavator gets to be adorable for reasons that don’t exist in a political vacuum.