Bridging Two Homes at Starbucks: From Udaipur, India to San Francisco

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Syona Puliady

B.A., International Studies ’17

Syona traveled to India as a participant in the 2016 summer cohort of the Privett Global Scholars program.

It’s 2 a.m. and I am sitting in a 24 hour Starbucks writing a final paper on something I didn’t feel extremely passionate about. I have been awake for quite a few days now, and I don’t recall ever being so stressed in my life. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and the last thing I want is to talk to anyone. But as always, whenever one asks life for something not to happen…it has to happen.

An elderly woman sits in the chair across from me. She eats a bagel while her eyes linger on me. I don’t want to be rude, but I am also so overwhelmed by my schoolwork that I don’t particularly want to engage in conversation with her either.

“Hello,” she says after exchanging a few minutes of silence. I mumble back “hi” and give her faint smile.

“Are you Indian?” she asks. I hesitated. This has always been a complicated question for me, and I generally have never enjoyed attempting to figure out an answer. Burdened by many negative stereotypes the West has constructed about India coupled with my family’s deepening resentment for it, my relationship with India has been slightly more than complicated. Having spent a majority of my life struggling with my ethnic identity, it has always felt strange trying to package all of these sentiments into a single, easy to digest sentence.

“Well…I guess so, yeah,” I started, “I was born in the States, but the rest of my entire family was born and raised in India. I suppose one could say I lived there a bit—but I’m not sure that I consider myself Indian.” This is my short, extremely rehearsed version of my complex ancestry and heritage.

“Oh me too! I lived there for a little bit, I think I was in…Bombay? I don’t remember now…I am actually from Ethiopia—but I loved India. Even though I don’t remember much of it, I will never forget all of its colors.”

I laugh. I begin to tell her more about my own personal loves for India. We both came alive in this conversation about our short lived experiences in a place on the opposite side of the globe. My schoolwork lay abandoned on the table between us as we both fondly recalled our favorite parts of India. My new friend was fixated on the colors.

“There are just so many colors! Everywhere you go, everything you see—it’s all so colorful!” she closes her eyes tightly, as if she is attempting to recreate her childhood’s imagination of what she had once seen. “Those colors…I think they are only so beautiful because they mimic the vibrancy of life in India,” she says to me. And I couldn’t agree more.

I bring this story to you because it was a moment in my life that really struck me—it was something so special to me that I carried the memory everywhere I went while traveling and working in India. It was only because of this conversation that I could finally see the beauty of my own motherland. Everywhere I looked and everything I felt was so full of color, full of vibrancy, full of life.

This conversation carried each and every memory I collected in India back with me to the U.S. It was so powerful to me that it could delicately bridge the gap between my two homes without causing more confusion within me. While this memory occurred before I started my journey back to India, it definitely set a precedent to how I would come to terms with going back to something that had always left a sour taste in my mouth.

I definitely tend to forget that there is still so much for me to learn, here in the United States. People seem so curious about life in other countries, that it seems as if we forget that many of our curiosities can be found here—right at home. But even on a more global scale, I’m always taken aback at how little I seem to appreciate the intimacy of human nature and companionship. I always feel so lost in the fast pace stresses of everyday life that I often forget that some of the best moments can be as simple as a conversation between two strangers at two in the morning.

 

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Resiliency – as an Act of Political Welfare

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 Nolizwe Nondabula, Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator

   Engage San Francisco, USF Campus-Community Partnership

 

Reflecting back on my journey with USF’s Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I definitely did not see myself continuing a relationship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center after graduation in Spring of this year. My first year in the program was a critical time as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum and the conversation between police and state violence on Black people made national headlines. My focus as a graduate student was on racial justice, which meant taking classes with an emphasis on racial policies, interning at Race Forward, and working with the Brown Boi Project and PolicyLink.

When I wasn’t in the classroom or in the office, I was on the bus to Ferguson, waking up Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf, and shutting down the Bay Bridge. I was angry and determined to interrupt business as usual until folks knew that all Black Lives Matter.
And while my body told me to slow down, I refused to listen. The urgency I felt from the movement told me to find a way to balance my activism life with my academic life. And though I carried the magic of my ancestors, I soon realized that I also carried the weight of those that came before me.

As I began my last year of grad school, I burned out…hard. My anxiety was at an all-time high, I was tired of being tired, and the desensitization of Black death made it harder for me to attend class, go to work, or get out of bed.

Through the guidance and support of my tribe, I made appointments to see my therapist (and stuck with it) and I thus began to unpack my personal journey around mental health and trauma. This journey is not easy but as a Black Queer Woman living in the United States, it’s necessary. Said best by Audre Lorde, womanist, writer and civil activist,  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political welfare.”

I believe that we will win this fight for equality, but we need the presence of everyone in the movement to do so. So what happens if, as another tactic, we focus on the resiliency of our communities? Both individually and collectively? In pursuit of my own healing, I’ve recognized my need to lean into the discomfort and stigmatization around trauma so that I can plant my seeds of affirmations and self-love.

So when I was told about the position of the Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator as part of USF’s Engage San Francisco Campus-Community Partnership, I felt like I was planting another seed towards this continuous journey. Engage San Francisco is very hyper-local in its focus and is asset-based in its philosophy so I have had the privilege of witnessing community magic bask from within, while building relationships with different stakeholders. I’m honored to be a part of spaces where the collective passion and eagerness serves as the foundation to produce community-identified goals in the Western Addition.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.23.12 AM.png

Within my position, my focus is on the emotional well-being of Western Addition youth. I work closely with Western Addition service providers, community members, city agencies and USF staff and faculty in crafting a shared vision of behavioral health. Last week, Engage San Francisco, in partnership with Rhonda Magee, USF Professor of Law with a Social Justice focus, started a 7-week course on Mindfulness and Compassion Based Skills for Stress Management. Classes are free and open to Western Service Providers and community members. And if the amount of vulnerability I’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, then I can only imagine how transformative this course will be for those enrolled.

I’m grateful to be a part of the conversation on youth wellness in the Western Addition. I look forward to learning from existing community partnerships while holding on to the fact that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. Because, in the end, we are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

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