BY SARAH ESTRADA | April 7, 2015
Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, my community shares meals, plays games, and reflects with one another. Even though the seven of us have differing schedules and varying commitments throughout the city of Syracuse, it is during these designated nights and times that I get to know and build experiences and relationships with my community. Yet I still struggle to be fully open with my community about my experiences in JVC so far. Although we as a community share similarities, such as working at non-profit agencies and earning a small stipend each month, I find it difficult to openly reflect with my community. Being the only person of color in my house, it is hard to share stories of racial discrimination and challenges that I either personally face or the community of children I work with at Northside CYO face.
Because I find it challenging to open up and share my experience in a space where I find myself the minority, I tend to forget the significance of my differing interests and my understanding of reality. One of the ongoing challenges I face in terms of relating and sharing aspects of myself is with food. As a child, food and meal-sharing served as a space of developing and maintaining relationships. Whether it was evening meals or large, elaborate celebrations, food brought, and continues to bring individuals together to acknowledge and celebrate each other’s presence. Amidst having designated community meals together as a house and having this aspect help bring us together, sometimes it is conversations about what we eat that highlight our difference.
Noodles are my favorite food. Whenever I forget to pack a lunch for work, I throw a packet of noodles into my bag to boil at work. As a child, whenever I would be running late for school, my father would microwave a Cup-o-Noodles for me to eat in the car. Every once in a while, my Father would come home for his lunch breaks and throw in an egg and some vegetables with his instant noodles to quickly eat before his break time finished. I do not understand why I love noodles so much. Maybe it was also because there was a time where instant ramen was all my parents could afford to feed me.
One day, I cooked a packet of instant ramen noodles in the kitchen of our house. I felt a bit homesick and decided to prepare my noodles the way my father would. I found some leftover cut lettuce, cracked open an egg, and only put in a small portion of the powdered packed that comes with the noodles (because my father found it too salty sometimes). One of my community members came into the kitchen and asked what I was making. I simply told him I was making instant noodles with vegetables and egg. He found my method and process of preparing instant noodles fascinating and asked if I would like to teach him how to make it “this way.” I grew excited to be able to share this important part of my life with one of my community members. Until my housemate started to say how much he wanted to learn how to make “authentic Japanese ramen” and how he was excited to learn how to do so from me.
In that instant, I became a token “Asian.” The significance noodles had in my life vanished in this moment. My purpose was limited to the color of my skin and my identity was generalized and stereotyped to what I ate and how I cooked. Who I became was nothing more than an “exotic different” for one of my community members, to expand his understanding of different “cultures.”
Since then, I struggle to understand and share aspects of myself amidst my awareness of my difference. Although I try not to limit my identity to my ethnicity, I also attempt to not be colorblind to my own self. In an intentional community, it is hard to authentically be and share something that I am not. I might not have grown up having bread rolls at every meal, or always having potatoes or pasta on the table, like my other community members. But, I, fortunately, too grew up having meals and having loving individuals to share it with.
I firmly believe in the importance of having shared experiences in formulating relationships as well as having similarities when it comes to getting to know others. But sometimes, it takes being in uncomfortable positions to better understand who I am, where I have been, and ultimately, who I can be.
Preparing instant noodles taught me how there can be multiple perspectives and understandings.
Living in an intentional community exposed me to six different, and influential opinions and perspectives. What I have learned, six months into my experience, is that I have a perspective. Although I may be different or maybe, at times, the minority, my opinion is just as important and influential because I am a part of the community.
From this, I am still figuring out who I can be. I may not know right away or by the end of my participation in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But all I know is that I can be whoever I want to be. That, and I can make really good instant noodles.
Sarah Estrada is from San Jose, California. She is a graduate of the University of San Francisco with a BA in International Studies and a minor in Philippine Studies. Sarah enjoys watching TV, especially the news, learning new styles of dance, and learning new things. She loves doing chores and loves to travel, even though she is a homebody at heart. As a JV, she serves in Syracuse, NY as a Refugee Youth Program Coordinator at Catholic Charities of Onondaga/Northside CYO.