Everyday, I have breakfast at the Makris. Buttered flapjacks, a small glass of orange juice, and coffee, no sugar. Even though I have only a few dollars in my pocket and instant oatmeal at home, I need to eat out. I need to sit among strangers, sipping coffee with my head in a newspaper or a book. I need some sort of habit to keep me tethered to another day of work and school in Berkeley. [!]
I get into an argument with Sara; she says there are no rights and no wrongs. I agree that right and wrong are social constructs but I'm troubled with the idea that there is no right and no wrong. What is genocide? What is child pornography? What is slavery? I pick at Sara until she surrenders: ok, maybe there are many rights and many wrongs.[!]
Finally awake, Atossa squints at me, her face pinched and suddenly old. In a voice like cigarettes and bourbon, she declares, You won't even believe what I saw last night.
On the freeway, a car flips over too many times before finally resting on its back, bleeding gas. She runs to see if the driver is still alive. Checking the wrist for a pulse, she realizes that the head of a handsome young man, eyes open, lies only a few feet away.[!]
I asked him, Would you respect me less if I decide not to finish school?
Frowning, I answer before he can open his mouth: If you did, then I couldn't respect you anymore, seeing that you need a piece of paper from an academic institution to affirm my intelligence and strength of character. Our friendship should be proof enough.[!]
After watching Blossoms of Fire, a documentary on a matriarchal society in Mexico, at the Fine Arts Cinema, I discovered that Sara had lost my bank card somewhere in the shadows of the theatre. Waiting for her in the lobby, I sat, bemused, feeling complicit in something I couldn't even begin to examine, as white women wrapped in embroidered shawls and flowing skirts, with their hair braided and looped a la Frida Kahlo, walked past, laughing.
I'm reminded of my earlier discomfort, of sitting in the dark in my 7-dollar seat, eating my 4-dollar popcorn and sipping my 2-dollar Coke, surrounded by the laughter of a mostly white audience as footage of elsewhere, of fiestas, weddings, market exchanges, and marching revolutionaries, unfolded.[!]
Later I indulged in a tantrum: throwing my California State I.D. on the sidewalk, I gazed at it, hissing, I can leave, can't I?
Sara, I can leave Berkeley, with a suitcase and nothing else, if I wanted. I could leave everyone and everything.[!]
Will she leave?
She knows she can't.
If she did, she'd always be looking over her shoulder, looking for them. [!]
Every day is fraught with moments that remind me of my dependency on the State for my identity, on the official approval of my identity:
Can you verify that you were born a U.S. citizen on this date to so-and-so? That you are female, with brown eyes and black hair, and that you live at this address? Does your face match the photograph on your identification card?
These details are important: I am a young female Asian university student of an assumed heterosexuality born and living on American soil.
Rendered unimportant are memories, needs and desires. Tangled-haired and dark-eyed histories are forced underground. Can you photograph phantoms? Can you catalogue your emotions on 3X5 index cards? Do you have videotapes of the moments you received your scars? (Some people do, and sometimes juries view them, and sometimes even the videotapes aren't considered sufficient evidence of a violent moment, of a crime.)
Can you register your apathy, your ennui, your hypocrisy?
Your anger and frustration and sadness and joy are intangible; the State can't file them away nor can it recognize them. [!]
You can't see my hands trembling as I write this down. I have to convince you that I'm frustrated and angry and sad and sometimes joyful. Without my papers, my words are all I've got. But this is all of me, unequivocally.
Writing helps me to maintain faith as those intangible elements—of myself, strangers, and loved ones—are written and recognized, even as—and because—the institutions that affect my life—the State, the Bank, the Corporation, the University—refuse to recognize them.