I have always struggled with exercises such as this, where a teacher asks me to write from the point of view of someone else; usually with the goal in mind of gaining insight into a particular event or time period by writing in the first person. I usually feel that no matter how hard I try, my perspective will always be cripplingly limited because there are some (many, in fact!) things that I will simply never know or understand because that is not my experience. This is what made reading Ways of Going Home a particularly revelatory experience for me. Zambra writes: “I knew little, but at least I knew that: no one could speak for someone else. That although we might want to tell other people’s stories, we always end up telling our own” (85). This idea is one we have touched upon in class before but reading these two sentences summing it up so succinctly hit me hard. What if Avatar posts were this way of exploring my own experiences and learning rather than an attempt to retell the most “accurate” story of a historically fictional character?
When I was 16, I was in a musical that my high school put on called “Spring Awakening.” I was the understudy for a character who is physically abused by her father. There is a scene in the show where she ends up revealing this to her friends one day after school. We blocked and ran this scene one rehearsal and I distinctly remember my friend who was playing this character bursting into tears after we finished. I thought of this moment after I finished writing María’s post about her father returning home. I was surprised to find myself crying as I wrote that post. There was this identifiable moment for me of really losing myself in this character I was crafting and I responded viscerally to it. This sheds light on that moment in high school for me; trying to embody something or someone besides yourself can still result in emotional responses. And these emotional responses can still about you and your story, even as they mix with a different narrative.
My mom was a labor archivist and my dad is a labor historian, so I have grown up surrounded by the labor movement and unions and protests since I can remember. Radical history for me has been internalized in this way that I have been thinking about a lot recently. My politics and views on society in general have been so shaped by my family and this was very much relevant what I wrote from María’s perspective. Her father in particular is someone she looks up to and yet I experimented with expressing slight alienation, or even simply feeling tired of, ideas that feel implanted from childhood. When we watched “Obstinate Memory,” I left class feeling worn out. It was emotionally exhausting to watch young people on screen realizing that truths they grew up with were completely skewed, and it made me think a lot about the almost scary influence of the people closest to us on how we see the world. This has made me think about objectivity, and how it feels often over-emphasized when studying. Really trying to look at our “biases” (our own perspectives, I would argue, feel inherently biased) and embracing our subjectivity allows us to begin to expand our views beyond them. This is what was so great about the Avatar project for me. Writing these posts allowed me to look over the course of the semester and sort through my understandings in this open yet concrete way that has left me feeling ready to keep learning.