DISLCAIMER: I have intentionally elected to commit grammar heresy by de-capitalizing my “Is” in an attempt to further my commitment to anti-egotism. I think that the capitalization of the first person pronoun is both unnecessary and reflective of a hyper-individualistic culture. It must be noted that such capitalization does not exist in many other languages, including Portuguese and Spanish.
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My five years as an undergraduate student at UC Irvine were very challenging; i was as a kid in a candy shop. The challenges weren’t economic, they were personal, experiential. I wanted to get involved in everything because i didn’t know myself or where i stood, let alone what was important to me. (Only now, at age 25, do i really have a sense of how to spend my time, energy, and money, with proper justification.)
I was accepted into UCI on a music scholarship after auditioning at various University of California campuses. Beginning with a highly intense pre-professional performance degree, the Bachelor of Music (BM), i later decided that i was too multifacteted to be spending hours and hours cooped up in a practice room focusing on my skills at the (albeit beautiful-sounding) clarinet. I had too many other interests, and being inside so much was not conducive to my health. So, i decided to change to the Bachelor of Arts in Music, the less intense, more theoretical standard music degree, and completed a minor in Global Sustainability. Had i known or felt at the beginning of my undergraduate career what i knew and felt about 2-3 years into it, i would have most likely double-majored in Sociology or Environmental Studies and either African American Studies or Women’s Studies with perhaps a minor in Native American Studies. I was too swamped with community organizing and activism, as i’d launched myself into the California Student Sustainability Coalition, the LGBT Resource Center at UCI, and later the Real Food Challenge organization. These side projects, which doubtless honed my leadership and communication skills to a great degree, and imparted me with much knowledge about the subjects in question, not to mention a bevy of unforgettable social experiences, ended up detracting from the academic side of things, which is in theory why i went to college in the first place. Truth be told, i got swept up in the fiasco that is the United States’ higher education culture: a hyper-kinetic, frenetic, student organization-saturated, politically charged, leadership-obsessed and frankly overwhelming environment. In retrospect, the dynamism of the fairly diverse American university with (in my alma mater’s case) more than 350 student organizations endlessly vying for everyone’s attention in often highly creative ways, was super-thrilling. It intrigues me to think of how different it would have been had i matriculated in a European or Brazilian university, where academics is paramount and the sole focus for most, and where the number of student organizations is far less… There would have been far less room to maneuver intellectually — to explore different fields in the context of higher education. At UCI i was overstimulated almost constantly throughout the 5 years there, not only vis-à-vis my exposure to such a rich variety of ethnicities, personalities, and ideas, but intellectually as well.
I couldn’t focus.
I didn’t know how to breathe.
Also troubling was that i hadn’t gotten my diet and eating patterns sorted out until 2/3 of the way through the undergraduate experience; this lack of proper physical and spiritual nourishment contributed to my lack of ability to concentrate in class, complete homework, and retain information. An uneasy relationship with caffeinated foods and beverages also disturbed me mentally — but i did eventually overcome it.
So, what did i most get out of UC Irvine? I would have to say that i’ve taken away three main things from the experience:
1) radicalization – at UCI i witnessed, beared the consequences of and fought against the steady, creeping corporatization of public higher education through increased tuition fees; i bore witness to an intense political conflict between the Muslim/Palestinian students on campus and the Israelis; i discovered the fullest meaning of food: a serious of complex relationships that, increasingly, have been distorted, compromised, by a broken industrial food system and corporate consolidation. I discovered how this broken system, spurred by capitalism, has affected the United States population, ecology, my own health and global politics. I began to soak in the reality that the world was and continues to be founded upon deep social injustices, and began to question the essentialism of people who insist that nonviolence is the only solution, let alone the narrative that “love is all we need.” As our protest chants rather bluntly state, “No justice, no peace!”
2) decolonization of my diet, mind – through intense research, both alone and with peers, i realized that the conventional wisdom surrounding diet, nutrition, and health in the United States and many parts of the world was mostly spurious. Specifically, the convention that dietary cholesterol, read meat, full-fat dairy, and saturated fat are harmful is wrong; by the same token, many foods that have been marketed to the world as healthful are in fact harmful: artificially reduced fat dairy products, lean meats, saltless food, and endless super-blended vegetable juicing, to name a few. In this sense, i decolonized my diet, because i read between the lines, began to listen to my body, and started to eat accordingly, in line with our best knowledge about traditional food-ways. My health improved, as evidenced by increased muscle mass, energy, vitality and positivity.
Click here to see the 6 short films that i co-scripted, -edited and -produced with a few peers in 2011 – a project entitled Nutrition by Tradition, which solidified the research and learning we had done up to that point.
I would very much appreciate your constructive criticisms, comments, and/or thoughts, posted in the comment section below…!
3) deeply moving exposure to thousands of different individuals, cultures, foods, ideologies, knowledge and experiences. Here are a few highlights from my vast log of experiences at UC Irvine:
Memory the First. I remember one evening with the Association of University Meditators. We had just engaged in group meditation, and i recall being moved by the experience — or rather, extremely grounded by it. I was moved through the grounding, ironically! My participation in the AUM was one of the first indications of a developing spirituality in me, a Buddhist-leaning spirituality, which came about partly due to the dull-ass experiential crises so many of us experience at the time, but also due to a need to understand how to live, to understand life on Earth as a social human being, and to understand how the universe functions. Fortunately, i was able to develop my own Buddhist mentality for years throughout undergraduate with the generous aid of a Mentor on campus who will go unnamed. By the end of my undergraduate career, after 5 years of guiding me through the ups and downs and frenetic nature of college life, he said something quite priceless: “You’ve made amazing progress in your life.”
Memory the Second. One day I was hanging out in Langston Library, probably during finals week, with my friends. One of them is a first generation Muslim Indian and the other is a first generation baby on both sides: half-Dutch and half-Mexican. We were all huddled about a computer for a culture share. Habiba had put on a music video entitled “Chayye Chayye,” a very famous song from a very famous Bollywood film. For some reason i felt such bliss while soaking up the harmonies and melodies, seated there with my two dynamic, cultured friends – a real microcosm of the richness of cultural diversity i had the privilege of being ensconced in at UCI.
Memory the Third. March 4th, 2011. Hundreds of students, staff and faculty amassed outside Aldrich Hall, the campus administration to protest outrageous tuition hikes and deep budget cuts, part of an ongoing process of privatization in public education. At 14:00 hours, we took to the streets en masse and actually blocked traffic. It was surreal — of all cities in the country, Irvine, California, a bastion of conservatism and corporate monopoly control, a hyper-pruned suburban wasteland, the site of police relocations of homeless people, a city whose only redeeming qualities seem to be a vibrant up-and-coming UC campus and wonderful restaurant scene, was seeing one of its main arteries (Campus Drive) clogged by angry university community members. We ended up occupying two different primary intersections that day — it was definitely one of the highlights of my time there.
Since graduation, i’ve realized just how many gaps exist in my analysis, in my politics. I call myself radical, an anarchist sympathizer, a bioregionalist, and anti-capitalist; however i haven’t read much Marx, Gramsci, Hegel, or Chomsky yet, for example. There are massive theoretical gaps that need to be filled; i need to be able to cite theories and theorists, to back up my assertions not just with good sense, which i think is one of my primary armaments currently, but with theory as well.
That said, the fields that most pique my intellectual interest right now are the above-mentioned, as well as agroecology, permaculture, post-colonial studies, critical theory, anarchism, deep ecology, de-growth, critical pedagogy (a la Paulo Freire), “new” economics, local living economies, decentralized energy systems, “green” building, to name a few.
Man, if i could go back and change one thing about my upbringing, it would be this: never to have played video games to the extent that i did, and instead, to have READ. Reading is going to be one of my top priorities from now on, and therefore one of the main activities i will be devoting much of my free time too…
Anyhow, many thanks to those of you who made it through that rather self-absorbed yet necessary venting post! I’ve been meaning to write about my time at UCI for a long time, and now having begun the process, i feel much better for it.
Again, thanks for reading. Comments are both welcome and encouraged!