Why I Stay in New York

I’m back! This post took me over a month to have the courage to publish. I struggled to be gentle, tender and loving to myself as I wrote this as I’m baring the current status of my soul to you, lovely readers, so please, be gentle. 

I unintentionally took a break from my #2017Project during the month of April. March had been full as I curated daily content for the Reclaiming #WalangHiya digital platform. When April came, I didn’t do a great job of setting aside intentional writing time. That, and a lot happened.

Winter, Lent and Easter came and went. I gave up alcohol for Lent. I spent time confronting myself through daily reflection. I decided to enter a committed monogamous relationship. I worked every weekend. I went to Atlanta for the first time and for my first work conference. I started job searching, got an offer, accepted another offer, put my two weeks in and worked my last day last week. In the midst of all this, I experienced intense anxiety and a few mental breakdowns. At one point, I started to tell my friends that I was ready to return to the West Coast. Now, I’m starting to wrap my head around the fact that I am staying longer in New York than I initially expected.

While I was discerning over whether to stay in New York or go home, my good friend and beloved editor, Mary paused me to mull over the following: 1) when life gets difficult, I have a habit of saying I’m going to return to the West Coast, and 2) something seems to keep me here in New York. It doesn’t seem or feel like I’m ready to leave simply because I’m saying I want to move back to the West Coast during a period of desolation.

And despite my anxiety, stress and frustration at the time, I knew Mary was right.

Several weeks ago, I went to a grounding resiliency workshop where I had the opportunity to reflect on how stress and trauma show up in my life after learning about fight, flight and freeze coping mechanisms. Afterwards, we reflected on how these patterns relate and perpetuate systems of oppression. The point of the activity was to grow self-aware of how we deal with the stress and trauma of our lives so that we could respond to stressful and traumatic moments with greater intentionality and resiliency**.

My conclusion:

I fight when I don’t feel heard. I attribute not feeling heard to my identity as a Filipinx American / Asian American womxn. Too often, we’re talked over, ignored, and not heard in conversations. As a result, I’ve learned to speak up, to assert my being and take up space in the greatest ways possible to be heard.

I flee when I feel powerless. I immediately thought of folks like my parents who felt powerless within their own countries, which propelled them to leave their homes — to emigrate. Likewise, I have a tendency to leave situations when I do not feel that I have power or agency to be myself.

I freeze when I feel overwhelmed. I often feel overwhelmed because I take on too much; I often take on too much because I’ve been socialized by my family and society to be a model minority. The model minority is a myth because we have our limits — so of course, I cope with this societal pressure by shutting down.

**Lastly, we learned about resilience as the process of “getting comfortable with discomfort, adapting well, thriving in the face of adversity, trauma, threats and significant stress.”

This workshop helped me to name the habits I have formed over the years to deal with stress and the very reason why I am actively choosing to live in New York: to develop more resiliency.

New York City brings me face to face with people — so many people — people I jive with on an emotional and political level, people who have similar and different lifestyles than me, people with similar and different values and so on. Through the diverse people I encounter and the spaces I inhabit, I learn more about myself: my triggers, my shortcomings, the spaces I need to grow, what gives me life, etc.

The city’s dominant cultural call asks me to shut out this discomfort. It asks me to put on my headphones, avoid eye contact, avoid human interaction. The city tells me to avoid the humanity of the people around me because to encounter another human wholeheartedly — all of their happiness, their pain, their brokenness means having to confront the parts I may play in their brokenness. Through the past year and a half, I’ve learned that I don’t share the same values as New York’s dominant culture. Instead, I am called to actively resist dominant culture on a daily basis through how I take up space, how and when I speak up or step back, through the time I set aside to process and reflect on my actions in a city and country that keeps propelling itself forward at the expense of human souls. And everyday, I’m learning how to continue living out my values despite a culture that tells me to live otherwise.

The nonstop hustle begs me to not notice the humans asking for spare change, the girl getting verbally abused by her partner on the subway, the young person of color getting verbally harassed by a cop, the segregated neighborhoods, or the non-stop gentrification in the name of an invisible growing economy so that the wealthy can maintain their positions of power. It asks me to ride the hustle and be complacent. Though the city begs me to not notice, my values and my upbringing and my heart ask me on the daily to pay attention, to not fall to complacency, to make thoughtful decisions that take into account the impact of my actions and to take care of myself as I check and check and check my being.

This concrete jungle tells me to forget about our connection to nature. I watch people disregard the earth on a daily basis in small ways that are amplified because of the city’s dense population: folks refusing to separate garbage from recycling, folks spitting on the ground, folks dumping waste into nature’s waters, etc. This concrete jungle few small pockets of nature make it difficult for me to see nature’s little reminders:  how flowers remind us to bloom slowly, how animals remind us that life is cyclical, how the sky reminds us that everyday is a new and different day. And again, I am learning to resist by remembering that I learned to value nature through my parents and my education in Seattle. On the daily, I strive to respect and stay connected to nature, to remind myself that though I am a daughter of immigrants who were not part of the initial imperialist move to the Americas, I am a settler on Indigenous land, and to remind myself that this land should be free.

This city asks me to stop believing in God, a higher being, in a divine, in forces that I can’t completely understand or logically describe. It throws crap at me everyday in hopes that I let go of my faith, that I let go of my belief that we are from love, of love and made to love. And though the city pressures me to let go of what grounds most of my family, I feel called to keep relying on my faith to get through challenging times. I make it a priority to go to church to have some routine in my life that provides me with space to stop, reflect and check-in on my relationship with the divine. It grounds me and helps me face tomorrow.

This city and its inhabitants tell me that this is all there is. That life is shit and unfair, that people are people wherever you go (rude, petty, prone to evil, etc.), and so on. And this is where I feel called to not fall for the limitations of the city, to re-imagine our world, to explore ways of living that treat people as humans not numbers and to live out prefigurative politics.

Though it’s often depressing, difficult and challenging to live out here, far away from my family, I realize that New York City holds the grounds for me to learn to be my best self in the midst of extreme adversity. It asks me to live (by making me feel otherwise), to be human (through a city culture that does otherwise), and to overcome (by stepping on me day in and day out).

The city is teaching me how to live through darkness and how to be my most resilient self. It’s nothing like the experience of growing up in the Philippines as my parents did but I often think that this time away from the comfort of my home, my family and my childhood friends is helping me to grow up in a way that I can’t when I’m in Seattle or the Philippines. In Seattle, I fall back into the identity I grew up with: an Filipinx American only child with two strict yet loving Catholic parents. In the Philippines, I am the American-raised niece / cousin / relative.

In New York City, I am not confined to a certain version of AnneMarie. I can explore myself as a spiritual being, a healer, a writer, a creative, a curious thinker, a human. In ever encounter, new space and experience, I witness the parts that are uniquely and authentically me fight to be known in a place that wants to stamp out my counter-cultural ideas.

Too often in New York, I feel erased, powerless and overwhelmed. I fight and freeze all the time and like previously mentioned, I think of fleeing all the time.

Yet, funnily enough, this is why I stay.

This city makes me uncomfortable. It challenges me. It breaks me.

And through that discomfort, challenge and brokenness, I grow. Still I rise.

#WalangHiya #AMAF (AnneMarie as fuck)

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