#ZackMorris is special & especially relevant to talk about
at a Pilipina/o Graduation (#PGrad) Ceremony: Commencement Address
Jason Magabo Perez
I delivered a version of this commencement address at the University of California, San Diego Pilipino Graduation (#PGrad) Ceremony on Friday, June 11, 2010. I was surprised by how much cultural capital #SBTB still carried in 2010; & in 2014, I’m still surprised as #SBTB reruns as hipster-geek throwback on channels like E! & MTV2.
I thought about sharing with you a few words of wisdom. I thought about what kinds of words might make you happy & free.
The word that makes me most happy right now is: SUPPOSE.
(I shall explain later.)
I thought about words that might alleviate your anxiety of transitioning into the REAL world? You see, that’s our problem, somehow we’ve been convinced that school prepares us for something else, something beyond our
present lives, something grander, a fictional, nonexistent something, something intangible, something supposedly better, something not quite yours. It’s as if school is a holding cell for something better to come along. & by the end of it all, almost never ever does this stupidly expensive education— which is costing more & more each quarter (Thank you, #Governator & #UCRegents et al.)—prepare us to love our selves, families & communities better.
Imagine this: we have always been well-prepared for today. Always always always.
When preparing this speech, I also considered sharing with you the fact that I have chronic asthma & eczema, & that I haven’t been able to afford health insurance since I was 22 years old, & that my educational loan debt is very modest, a small amount, a mere $112,181.92 as of 4:12PM today. But wouldn’t my sharing of such information have been a pessimistic view of graduating college? I mean, these speeches are expected to be inspiring, di ba? (Good thing I won’t mention any of that today.) Now I might not have health insurance, but, I do, however, have free asthma medication. Gratis.
How? you ask. Well, I say, my mother is a nurse. My eldest brother: a respiratory therapist. Two of the many things they have in common are that 1) they both care for my failing lungs & skin & 2) they are both what white people might call, thieves, & what working-class brown people might call, can I get me some, too? My brother & mama acquire things for my health. Only the samples. Shamelessly. (So, take that, you profit-seeking capitalist pharmaceutical vampires!)
This speech, in a way, is about survival.
The title of this speech is: #ZackMorris is special & especially relevant to talk about at a Pilipina/0 Graduation (#PGrad) Ceremony.
What an insult, no? To infect your special moment with popular culture? & of all characters: #ZackMorris, the hella blonde prankster heteropatriarch of all hella blonde prankster heteropatriarchs? For non-denominational god’s sake, #ZackMorris (who, mind you, is played by an undeniably beautiful Mark Paul Gosselaar, who performs #whiteness so gotdamn well that we forget his mama
is Indonesian!) didn’t realize he was ‘part’ Native American until his Native American surfer-mentor died & didn’t even acknowledge that his arch-nemesis-turned-best-friend Slater was Chicano! But think about it: ZACK TO THE MORRIS. #ZackMorris: Mad skinny jeans. #ZackMorris: Clunkily huge high-tops. #ZackMorris Good hair & effortless popularity.
(Yes: I’ve seen the way some of you dress these days. & I see how some of you be combing your hair.)
When #ZackMorris graduates from Bayside, after having had to perform in a ballet as a swan to make up one measly credit, before he has everyone—
[all ~29 graduates of a public high school, which is either ridiculous or tragic or both, tragic because the high school dropout rates for (immigrant) communities of color are high; it still ain’t the standard for our youth to breeze through high school on the IB/AP track & go off to a university such as UCSD; many of our youth are still tracked into prison or the military; & if our youth do, in fact, make it to a place like UCSD, they might find themselves & their dear friends mocked & harassed & threatened by #ComptonCookouts, nooses in the library, sexually harassed by Koala journalists & white fraternities, & simultaneously neglected & patronized by the administration]
—so...before #ZackMorris urges the grads to toss their caps in the air, Mr. Belding awards Zack his diploma & says: You know, son, You’ve got something very special inside of you. I hope I’m around to see it when you let it all out. I cried for #ZackMorris that day. Not because I was inspired, but because Belding’s words were/are so cruel. Belding is really very mean here. I was under the impression that #ZackMorris was pretty gotdamn special. #ZackMorris had a cell phone when cell phones were the size of bricks.
#ZackMorris had graduated against all (read: no real) odds. & #ZackMorris had loved & lost #KellyKapowski.
& #JessieSpano. & in an unprecedented interracial romance, #ZackMorris loved & lost #LisaTurtle in one 30-minute episode. Again, Belding tells Zack he has something special & Belding can’t wait for it to come out. #ZackMorris has it. But he is not it.
How sad it is to always be told that big things are coming your way, or that your special-ness shall blossom soon, or that you might have screwed up a lot in the past, but you’ll be special later, it’ll come out of you. But it hasn’t yet. You have the potential. You’ll get there. You just have to wait. How sad it is to be told that your future is like...really...like...really bright. You, however, are not bright. How sad it is to be told to remain patient in your essential nothingness. (Be patient in what we make of you for us.) DAMN THAT!
You, all of you, are special. Now, yesterday & in the future. & the future can be shaped by the radical love & compassion we have for our families & communities right here/now. & the unwavering commitment to social justice we have right now. What I beg you to do tonight is to turn to your parents, &/or to those who you respect & love & live & die for on a daily basis–to lola & lolo, to manong & manang, kuya & ate, & sincerely & humbly ask them this one simple question: How do you do it?
Mama, how do you have time/energy to cook & freeze sinigang & sweet spaghetti with #SPAM for us & work fifty- three-hour shifts as a nurse & clean the houses of rich white people for extra cash & call me every other night to make sure I’m good?
Pops, how do you mop that floor for lifetimes, scrub them toilets, carry them rich white peoples’ luggage, deliver that mail day in & day out, maintain your blood pressure, & have brain surgery, & still love Mama & us the way you do?
Manang/Ate/Auntie, how can you calmly pick strawberries
& sing karaoke & electric-slide when there are mobs out there, in Arizona, in Texas, in Utah, in Arizona, in Arizona, in California, in San Diego, in the United States of AmeriKa, that do not want you here, that do not want you to live because you are without a measly piece of gotdamn paper? How do you do it when all you have is your flesh & fantasy, your blues & blue jeans? When all you have are your hands? HOW? HOW? HOW?
& if you don’t get an answer, it’s okay.
Here’s one: She / is special. He / is special. They / are special. We / are special. Every. Single. Day.
My #lola, who we called Nanay, who passed away the year I finished grad school, whose name was/is Fortunata (truth is: we were/are the fortunate ones) used to drink a lot of Miller Light & eat uncooked corned beef straight from the can, which, sorry to break it to you, aunties & uncles, could be a typical college meal for some of your kids.
Nanay would often say: SUPPOSE you will gonna go walk with me to the 7-Eleven. SUPPOSE I will gonna go buy you a gum. Or a tsokolates.
Nanay was imaginative / wise / special / emancipating: Will gonna go buy: Doubly futuristic, extra futures, ano? Will go & gonna go. Always ahead of her time.
& what a word, di ba?
Nearly every statement was imperative. Nanay was 4-feet-8-inches of uncanny special-ness. Nanay would command us to imagine. To rethink our situation. To imagine the pleasure of walking to the store beside her. Oh, & Nanay knew we’d enjoy it. Because Nanay believed we were special. & that we deserved to walk beside her.
As soon as we begin to imagine that we can heal from our pains, those inflicted inter-personally,
historically & institutionally, as soon as we SUPPOSE that we will be someday be free, we begin the process of our liberation.
We shall SUPPOSE. We shall imagine.
I leave you with another brief meditation on language. My dear friend Joy de la Cruz, who many of you have learned about through her creative-political work or through stories about her or through the #UCSDCrossCulturalCenter internship named after her, passed away the year I graduated UCSD. She was in her sixth or seventh year as an ethnic studies student. JOY / never graduated. JOY / understood what life was about / what living was/is. &
JOY often contemplated the details:
Friend, she once said to me as we were walking down Library Walk, do you know a Tagalog word for Congratulations?
Um, I said, hmmm, no.
She said, I don’t think there is one. Isn’t that sad? she said. Yeah, I said, it is sad.
(But it is also okay.)
JOY is a state of being. & in certain moments of JOY, I ponder Tagalog & Spanish—no offense to Ilocanos or Visayans or anyone else not down with Tagalog imperialism. When we thank someone for their consideration or labor or favor or insight, we say, Salamat. En español: Gracias. Walang anuman, we reply. No sweat. No problem. No anuman, which is like a derivative of ano, which is like what. No whatness. Or, Ehhh, it was easy. In español: De nada. Of nothing. It’s nothing. Don’t trip. We don’t seem to say, You’re welcome.
We don’t expect you to be explicitly grateful because we assume that you know that we are doing what we are doing for you because we believe you are special & that you should know for yourself that you are special. Extra-ordinary. Hella ordinary, & wonderful. It takes no effort. No anuman. We are inherently, to the tongue & bone, community- centered-&-driven & radical & special. We shall all serve our people better someday. I hope you & I & we all continue to figure out better, more responsible, more dignified ways to serve our people. Yes: We do this work every single day; & I know: we already do so much for our families without a second thought. Hopefully, we can continue to offer our labor to more families in our communities, to more communities of color, to Native communities here.
So, SUPPOSE tonight is about ALL of us. SUPPOSE you are special just as you are. & SUPPOSE being special isn’t just about feeling good about & loving the hell out of yourself. (That’s narcissism.) SUPPOSE being special means that you are only you because of your ancestors & SUPPOSE being special means your ancestors deserve/demand better from/for us. SUPPOSE that you have the extra-ordinary ability to be you for you & to be you for us.
It is quite simple. Don’t be #KellyKapowski & wait to be special by finally giving in & marrying Mr. 86 girlfriends #ZackMorris, who Belding believes isn’t even special yet. It’s so much simpler than that. Just SUPPOSE it is so. SUPPOSE,
for yourself, for me, for us, that YOU (with/for all of us) are extra-extra-ORDINARY .
Jason Magabo Perez is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016), This is for the mostless. (WordTech Editions, Forthcoming 2017), & You Will Gonna Go Crazy (Kularts SF, 2011), a multimedia performance which was funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant. Perez’s writing has also appeared in Witness, Eleven Eleven, Mission at Tenth, & The Feminist Wire. Perez received an MFA in Writing & Consciousness from New College of California & is an alumnus of the VONA Writing Workshops. Currently, Perez is completing a dual PhD in Ethnic Studies & Communication at UC San Diego. In September 2016, Perez will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor of Fiction Writing at CSU San Bernardino.