It’s August 2018 and you have no reservations; you’ve been in these spaces before. Your entire educational career, actually.
You’re headed to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest orientation where most others are privileged-private-schoolers-who-can-afford-to-volunteer-for-a-year type of people like you. The facilitators will teach you about the program values and there will be plant care workshops and free yogurt starter cultures and people in hammocks and you’ll feel at ease. You’ll feel like you’re “hip and with it” until everybody is asked to split into their racial affinity groups for an activity. ??? (OK you know you are not white but you are three different varieties of Asian!) You ask the facilitators if you should be in the “mixed” group or the “people of color” group because you are genuinely unsure. They say, “whatever feels authentic to you.” (Classic.)
I look back and think that this is when you learned that you were brown. Like Asian American. Like POC.
You’ll lean on things that center you, like movement and nature. You’ll notice that your POC peers are not proportionally represented in the Western environmental movement nor in the outdoor sports community you’ve wedged yourself into. You’ll realize that many of the people who are hiking, composting, and eating vegan are the same people gentrifying your beloved new neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
You’ll learn that Pinchot’s and Roosevelt’s national parks violently displaced indigenous folks. You’ll realize that the hours you spent studying to score well on exams did not teach you anything, ANYTHING, about Madhya Pradesh or Manila.
But don’t worry. Your community mates will be interested in your liberation and they will create a loving environment where you can explore the questions you hold. The API youth and elders in the garden will humble and guide you. Your peers at your POC-run organization, InterIm CDA, will become family and will want you to reclaim your culture. They will help you navigate the colonialist box called conservation. They will be there to inspire you, call you out AND in, and you’ll be a better person because of it. Whoo!
Deferring from medical school to spend more time reconnecting here as the Program Coordinator! Thanks to all who have made this journey possible; I have the deepest gratitude.
- Angela Patel (JVC NW '18-'19)
The Danny Woo Community Garden is a 1.5 acre edible growing space located in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown/International District. The garden has been a place for elders to grow for over 40 years and is also home to a children's garden, chicken coop, and outdoor kitchen. Visit us at 620 S. Main St., Seattle, WA 98104.