The events in this post took place a month ago! Fun!
I landed back in the Bay on a Sunday morning. Come the following Wednesday, I was nearly late for a flight out to Detroit, Michigan, but on the plus side, I spotted Helen Zia next to me in security and acquired a zillion creeper points for awkwardly saying hello.
“Who is Helen Zia?” You ask. Short answer: Helen Zia is an Asian American author, journalist, and lesbian. She wrote the book, Asian American Dreams.
While I was in line with her and so stalkerly called her out, I stammered out a bunch of bullshit “I have your book! I’ve read your book!” Sounds generally sweet, right? WRONG! Blatant lies!
Somewhere in the world, in a place that is not my house or my mom’s house, there is a copy of Asian American Dreams with a personal inscription to “Mayka” from Helen Zia. In it, she generally wishes me well and tells me, “Let me know if you ever want to write a book” and lists her email address. I was gifted this book even before I saw myself as a writer. I still have not read the book yet. Oops.
Anyway, one layover in Chicago and many hours later, I was getting directions from Brooklyn for Legends sports bar in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Did you know that not all airports are constantly bustling at all hours of the night like in San Francisco and JFK? It’s true. Detroit was desolate at 10-something at night, but thankfully, we scored some ho-hum “red wings” (Get it?) and a couple of glasses of wine at Legends. After a spell, Halfie (He’s .5 Asian, for your information.) arrived with his girlfriend’s seafoam green roller and we were good to go.
At this point, you are probably wondering why someone would make a mid-week trip to Detroit. What is in Michigan that would possess three young adults from the Bay Area to take time off of work?
Our friend’s education, that’s what! P. Hood was getting her Masters in Public Health at the end of April, so we booked – impressively, way way in advance – flights out to Ann Arbor back in November. I don’t think I need to stress how remarkable it is that in six months, not one of us spilled the beans that we would be surprising P. Hood at her graduation. Three of us were in on landing on her doorstep, and inevitably we had to get in touch with her family as well. Her mom was in on it, her sister and father were in on it. P. Hood had no idea who her sister was meeting up with in Michigan the week of her graduation and why her “uncle’s family” was taking the time to come out. Answer: It was us! We were her “uncle’s family.”
A couple of weeks before our lame flights (I don’t like daytime flights. Such a waste of time. But you can’t be choosy when it comes to spending frequent flyer/credit card miles. Sigh.), we learned that the University of Michigan’s commencement speaker was going to be President Barack Obama. I thought I read the info wrong, or maybe somehow P. Hood’s mom was misinformed. In either case, the scheduled appearance turned out to be true!
Not only did we successfully completely surprise P. Hood, but we were also about to experience the President of the United States speak. And it just so happened he’s a president I voted for and he actually has public speaking skills and doesn’t say things like “strategery.” (I throw that one around from time to time. It makes me sad when people don’t realize I’m not saying a real word.)
As far as the speech, it seemed to directly address this growing issue of political and social apathy in the college-aged demographic, particularly warning today’s fresh new citizens not to fall prey to petty partisanship. It was a bit of history repeating, as evidenced by Michigan’s airing of the clip from Kennedy’s speech where he launched the Peace Corps – a speech that he gave in that same Big House decades before. It’s a sucky time for most, but what Obama wanted to emphasize was mobilizing responsible, thoughtful U.S. citizens. He spoke against getting swept up in the sensationalized This Side vs. That Side of it all, which I’m all for, and yes, his very presence was inspiring.
On reading the letters he receives: “I’d say there’s a good solid third calling me an idiot, which is how I know I’m getting a good representative sample.”
On progressive thought and practice, not for the sake of being progressive, but for the sake of being wise with time and investments: “With the change of circumstances, institutions must change to keep up with the times.”
On an aside, turns out Obama must be hot on my tail, because he went to my hometown of Fremont last week! He visited Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer. I’m down with that.
Not having gone to a big school (Seems impossible for a school without a football team to be regarded as a T-shirt franchise-worthy brand, and I enjoy that.) means small-scale departmental commencements. As interesting as it was to sit in the Big House in a nearly packed stadium with tighter-than-TSA security, just being in the hall for the School of Public Health’s Masters graduation was an eyeful. Our very own P.Hood introduced a diversity award to one of the faculty (Very fitting. One of the first things P.Hood’s dad said when we united on the street corner was, “Hey, face it, we ARE diversity!” California, whassup.), and Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Center for Disease Control, gave a speech even more eloquent and moving than the POTUS’. I was more energized to hear about effective change in our public policy by Frieden than I was by Obama.
Having just come out of big movement on health care, timing could not have been more perfect for Frieden’s appearance:
“The whole society is your patient. In public health, you get to help more than one patient.”
“To be effective, you have to take a practical approach to make sure that what you’re doing makes sense.”
My favorite: “Irrational optimism is a prerequisite for success.”
“It’s important to be irreverent, to ask the rude questions.”
Running around Michigan was interesting. My mom actually grew up there, a Chinese American hippie in Farmington Hills, MI. Grandpa, who moved his family to the U.S. as a Chinese radiologist with a German accent, also owned a corn field in Kalamazoo. It’s not a place I know, but taking it in with the added dimension of family history made it more interesting than just another trip to see the sights.
We ate a huge delicious barbecue dinner at Slow’s, gazed upon the urban spelunking mecca that is the Michigan Central Depot, put away multiple bottles of wine at P.Hood’s celebratory dinner at Eve, and took in our collective first theremin performance at the Detroit Institute of Art. There was also an exhibition coincidentally perfect for me, “Through African Eyes.” Perspectives colored by experiences and background fuel cultural identity and ethnic studies, so though not every piece spoke to me, the collective body of work was really intriguing. I loved this quote:
When you speak of the beauty of the horizon, it is only from your side of the earth.
It all made me want to go back to school. At a large campus. In a place that is not the Bay Area.
And we found a fairy door!