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Oppressed voices

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Society can allow people to feel isolated and alone in their struggles. Here is a collection of narratives, calls to action and advice for those in similar circumstances.

Culture dissonance

There is a phrase in Arabic, aweeyeh, which means a strong, empowered woman. It is not spoken positively, but rather in jest and is meant as a warning, “be quiet, you are too outspoken”. The woman mentioned in this article is part of a Muslim community and asked to remain anonymous due to the fear that her family and community would punish her if they discovered her views.

So, for the purposes of this article, we shall call her “A”. According to “A”, her particular community can be quite strict.

In the Quran, the Islamic religious book, the rules are not divided between genders. However, “A” states that her culture specifies certain rules for certain genders, with females receiving stricter treatment.

“I’ll be like, ‘Mom this doesn’t make sense, if you were following the religion you would be telling my brothers the same thing but you aren’t doing that’,” said “A”.

“A” is expected to follow rules that have never been enforced when it comes to her brothers.

“A” is not allowed to date, as she is expected to have an arranged marriage. But if she were to find a man on her own, he must be Muslim and fit all of her family’s strict standards. Her brother, on the other hand, is not only allowed to date but lives with his girlfriend.

As a woman in the community, her dress code is very limited. She once posted a photo on Instagram of her wearing shorts that are typically socially acceptable. However, in her culture, these shorts would be considered scandalous and she was warned by a cousin that her aunt had seen the photo, and could potentially inform the community.

Other rules she must obey are no drinking, no partying and no staying out late, as it is considered a sin. Her brothers are allowed to do all of the above, yet will condemn her for the same actions they commit.

“A’s” family is quite well known within her community, so there is always an underlying fear someone will notice she is not complying with their rules.

Once away at college, “A” felt this pressure lessen and has begun the path of finding who she is away from her community’s strict rules. Growing up, “A” agreed to all she was told to do. But once she had moved out, she realized she hadn’t really known who she was when she was living at home.

“When I moved out I was just like ‘oh my god, everything is so different’,” “A” said. “I’m not used to this, I don’t know how to act, I don’t know what to do in certain situations. And I think that’s really harmful for someone. You should have that experience.”

According to “A”, to be a woman in the Islamic culture, you have to be really strong and not care what others think of you or you will be stepped on. She mentions that she knows a few girls who feel a similar way about the culture, though not many are outspoken about it. “A’s” advice for girls in a similar situation was “education, education, education”.

“For me personally, I always knew education was my way out,” “A” said. “It’s honestly the best decision I’ve ever made. Knowledge really is power.”

Vietnam to U.S.

Hung Hunyh, business major at UC Berkeley, was born in Vietnam. But at the age of four, he was diagnosed with ASD or atrial septal defect. This is a disease in which there is a hole in the upper chamber of the heart. Without surgery, this condition could result in death by the age of 12 or 13. In Vietnam, there was no technology that could treat the hole, so the entire family was forced to move to the United States for the life-saving surgery.

At the time of the Vietnam War, Hunyh’s grandfather fought on the side of the U.S. However, when the war was over his grandfather was incarcerated for five to seven years, and when he was released, the government granted him and his family refugee status in the U.S.

Once in the U.S., their refugee status only lasted a few years after the successful surgery and their green cards expired. The cost of citizenship renewal came to $12,000 in total and was a large financial burden on the family. As a result, Hunyh and his family, with the exception of his nine-year-old sister, were undocumented for 16 years.

For Hunyh, the most difficult aspect of being undocumented was navigating the governmental system. From a driver’s license to flying, to finding a job; there were numerous obstacles.

At first, his family lived in a very white-dominant neighborhood, but after some time, they moved to a Southeast Asian community out of fear being deported.

“My parents said we need to move to somewhere more southeast Asian because we’re scared, we’re undocumented and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hunyh said.

Being undocumented, it was a struggle and burden for Hunyh and his family financially. It was difficult to find jobs, resources, and opportunities. But the hardest part for Hunyh, was just not knowing what the next day was going to look like. Trump’s election and the subsequent political climate instilled more fear in Hunyh as a foreign student.

This was also all on top of the fact that he was away from his parents who did not speak any English and a sister who would be left behind if they were deported.

“The biggest thing is be faithful and hopeful in what you do. Stay rooted in whatever your purpose is and why you are here in the first place,” Hunyh said as advice to others who are undocumented. “To be honest, as scary as it sounds, just live on a day by day basis and surround yourself with community because during these times, you don’t have anything else but community. … What we have is each other and that’s what you need to be rooted in if you want to tackle this issue.”

Hunyh also states that once you work hard and do everything in your capacity, things will work out for you. He also emphasizes staying close to family and loved ones.

As for what needs to change, Hunyh states, “I definitely think we need some reformation when it comes to policy changes and we need our administration to understand that we are built on the backbones of immigrants since it’s been founded.”

For Hunyh, his biggest hope is that one day the administration acknowledges the fact that this country was built by immigrants and that this was native land that was not ours to begin with. He hopes that this comes to mind when the topic of accepting immigrants arises.

“That’s what makes America, America,” Hunyh said.

Transitioning

Giselle “Gee” Hernandez is a 20-year-old business major at College of San Mateo following his dream to become the man he was always meant to be. Growing up, Hernandez did not quite know how to identify himself, though he knew he did not think or act like the girls from a young age, and so kept quiet.

High school came along, and he met a girl who had feelings for him, and who he had feelings for in return. At this point, Hernandez assumed he was gay and so came out to his family as such. But as time passed, Hernandez felt this label did not fit him. He had cut his hair short and began wearing more masculine clothing within his senior year.

“I was really happy,” Hernandez said. “I have short hair, I started dressing more I guess you can say masculine, and it just made me really comfortable. It made me happy.”

After graduating high school, Hernandez mentioned to his girlfriend that he did not think he was gay, but actually transgender and had not felt he was in the body he was meant to be in. He often would try to wear hoodies rather than shirts and hide his breasts, as he was uncomfortable with the femininity.

Coming out to his friends, they were very accepting. But his family was a bit more difficult, as they were strong Catholics. Though it was not apart of their beliefs, they still accepted him. Gee recalls his mom telling him that at the end of the day, he was still her kid and that she just wanted him to be happy.

There were some people along the way he had lost after his coming out, many of which said awful things. But he knew there would be people who would not agree with his transition.

On March 16, 2017, Hernandez began his first day of testosterone. He now continues his testosterone which he administers through a needle, though there are also other methods. He states that after six months, one is eligible for top surgery and after a year, one can have bottom surgery. Due to it being a year, Gee will be having his top surgery early May this year.

Since coming out, Hernandez describes feeling incredibly happy.

“Emotionally it’s just one big smiley face,” Hernandez said. “I’m so happy. It’s hard to put it in words, but all I can say is I feel so blessed and fortunate to be able to express who I am, be who I am, be who I always thought I was, who I always knew I as and not to hold back any fear.”

As advice for those considering to transition or are currently transitioning, Hernandez says be you and don’t hold back. While people in society may have their opinions, he says you only have one life and to live it for yourself.

Through this collection, participants were given a voice as well as the opportunity to help others in similar situations. They shared similar themes of staying true to who you are and perseverance against all odds.

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Oppressed voices