In the MiC Spotlight series, our editors and contributors reflect on the reasons they joined MiC and their hopes for their work and the section.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an author.
As a perpetually insecure child, I never started a journal or a diary, never wrote outside of coursework, and never actually took any of the steps that would have made me a writer. I didn’t think anything I had to say was important or worth immortalizing. But still I kept my dream of being a writer tucked in my pocket, so no one could see it but I could feel safe knowing it was there. I always promised I would start writing when I got smart enough, talented enough, inspired enough.
That dream has mutated throughout my life. Ten-year-old me was convinced she was going to write a novel when she grew up; 15-year-old me knew that journalism was where she needed to be; 20-year-old me has accepted that she wants writing to be important to her career and refuses to stress about the specifics.
As my romantic notion of being an author shifted, so did my understanding of myself and my identity as a young Muslim woman. It’s not that I woke up one day shocked that I was brown and Muslim — it was that I realized that the experiences I had were not common among all people. Not everyone had normalized the idea that the government may be listening to their private conversations and not everyone stayed away from calling things “the bomb” unless they were telling a joke.
It became clear that the faint suspicions I had felt toward my novels were because I wasn’t seeing my story being told. And then I started thinking about what other stories weren’t being told. And then I started wondering why those stories might not be told. And then I thought about why it was those stories — often full of corruption and negligence and -isms. And then I started wondering what I could do to fix that. And then I decided to pursue a career in policy and stopped actively dreaming about being a writer.
But to write is to claim agency and ownership of a narrative that, for many people of color, has been dominated by the stories of others. To write is to give yourself and your community a voice, a platform, a moment to say: “I was here. I felt this. It was real and it was important.” To write is to be selfish and selfless, all at once. To write is to resist, on some level, the idea that who you are and what you experience is not valid and valuable and worth reading.
And so I’ve joined Michigan in Color as an editor as part of an attempt to return to that dream.
It is an honor to be part of a section that works so clearly to elevate the stories that are often untold or unheard, and I hope to use my time here engaging with writers to do just that. I hope that, in reading and writing our stories, you can find meaning, purpose, strength and solidarity as I often do.
Reflecting upon my upbringing, I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be writing this. As a transracial adoptee from Vietnam who came from a small province and a family that was deathly ill, I am grateful for and I am proud to raise my voice. Growing up, I had trouble raising my voice in challenging environments, because of my personal insecurities and often times not knowing where I stand. I was an agreeable giver, someone who gave myself to others while letting conflicting voices trample my own.
Since being involved in Michigan Community Scholars Program, Intergroup Relations, the Center for Positive Organizations and A/PIA activist communities, I have grown to be strong in letting my voice be heard, because I have found spaces where I flourish. This strength has pushed me to navigate difficult conversations surrounding racial discrimination and the current social climate, primarily surrounding Asian and Pacific Islander American civil rights. As an Asian American, I am tired of being forced into the gray middle ground in the race conversation. Media often portrays us as wedge groups to be model examples to society, but we are far too often silenced as soon as we gain the confidence to speak.
Joining MiC was something I’ve longed for since I arrived to campus. The stories MiC publishes are powerful. MiC gives an unapologetic space for people of color to have their voices elevated. Personally, I remember reading Elise Jayakar’s article on her biracial experience. That piece inspired me to write, because it touched me in a way that will never leave me. So, my contribution will be giving myself wholly to a community that was built on being a deviant to the norm. I was given the extraordinary privilege to grow up in the United States and I am using every breath to elevate the voices, stories and narratives of those that have been silenced by the dominant narrative.
I’ve been told by others that I never hesitate to speak my mind. Since I was very young, I have always been able to unapologetically express my thoughts and feelings. I used to simply think that it was because I was bold or determined. However, as I grew older, I saw that many of my peers, especially those who were people of color, were unable to voice their opinions and were frequently disregarded. This made me ask myself why other people could not just say what they wanted to. It took me quite a while to find the answer to that question.
I recognize that I have an incredible amount of privilege as an upper-middle-class, South Asian woman. Quite often, people will take my word over that of others because I am assumed to be more hardworking and rational than other people of color. Unlike many of my peers, I rarely feel unsafe due to my ethnicity or religion. Furthermore, I grew up in an environment that was very supportive and encouraged me to be confident in myself. I can only hope to provide other people with a fraction of the opportunities that allowed me to find my voice.
I have been involved in social justice organizations, including the South Asian Awareness Network and Uncover: A/PIA, in the hopes that I can use my privilege to help bring about social change on campus. Likewise, I wish to continue to use my privilege in order to bring about awareness through writing. As a senior editor of Michigan in Color, I want to help provide a space for people of color to share their stories and life experiences. I, along with the other editors of Michigan in Color, will always work to amplify your voices and to make your voices echo for others to hear.
I have shared my story and have been heard. Now, it’s your turn to speak up. If you have something to say, just let me know and I’ll be sure to pass you the MiC.
I learned, pretty early on, that mainstream media does not make books, TV shows or movies for my consumption. I gave up on writing as a career a long time ago, before I ever really gave myself a fair shot at it, because I thought no one else would either. South Asian voices in media are reduced to archaic stereotypes or exoticized; our experiences are never our own — they are constructed through the lenses of those who don’t care enough to tell our stories without embarrassing us. Even when they are, prominent mainstream South Asian creators, such as Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra, refuse to acknowledge their backgrounds, cultures and histories without sounding tone-deaf and ignorant.
That is why I joined MiC. I might not be a seasoned writer or an active member of the creative community anymore, but this forum is one of the few places I feel capable of taking charge of my own story: because I get to tell it.
In my last Spotlight, I wrote about how finding my voice as a Filipino-American, removing my shame as one and strongly wanting to help other people of color do the same is why I joined Michigan in Color. All of that still remains the same. Working for Michigan in Color has been without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, because I got to do exactly what I sought out to do.
When I think about why I return to Michigan in Color, I can’t help but be reminded of the wonderful people who have helped me along the way: former Michigan in Color managing editors Toni Wang and Demario Longmire. Their hard work and activism has truly inspired me to raise up my voice as a Filipino-American. They would never hesitate to ensure that whatever experience or emotion I and the other contributors and fellow MiC editors felt on any particular day, hour or minute was completely OK and valid. They took the time to critically unpack anything problematic so no privileged stone was left unturned and unchecked. I also want to take this moment to say that they are hilarious people. I would also like to give a special shoutout to Sabrina Bilimoria and Alyssa Brandon — past senior editors who also are doing #work on campus and beyond that are absolutely amazing. They have helped cultivate a sense of community that I may not have thought I deserved, but definitely needed.
It is important to me that I continue that legacy.
I return to Michigan in Color because it is not solely about doing work I enjoy. It is about doing the work I think is critical at this point in time. I want to continue to foster the sense of belonging for people of color that others have done provided for me. I find it so necessary to document the complex experiences of those marginalized so that we never forget but to also extend our solidarity to others who may feel a similar way. I am here to pass down the MiC to fellow people of color to share their stories during every step of the process.
In another year at Michigan in Color, I want to say this to all people of color reading this, YOU AND YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE VALID AND DON’T LET ANYONE OR ANYTHING TELL YOU OTHERWISE.
Storytelling has been a powerful force through my life. As a child, it was through listening to narratives from my parents and grandmother — all of whom immigrated to the United States from India in the early 1990s — that I was able to learn about my roots and heritage. Storytelling did what none of my elementary school classrooms could do by eliciting a vivid sense of curiosity and appreciation for my culture.
Now, as a student at the University of Michigan, I reflect on both the spoken and unspoken stories of our campus. I am grateful to have had a multitude of opportunities to learn about social justice, identities and activism: My participation as a peer educator in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s primary prevention program has heightened my understanding of the ways in which sexual and domestic violence pervade our society. Since my first year, Alternative Spring Break has challenged me to think critically about what it means to ethically engage with different communities around me and address the savior-ism that often surrounds service. These opportunities have been and continue to be incredibly important in shaping my understanding of social justice.
But these organizations focus primarily on how we practice activism and prevent harm. This is not to say that these pillars are not important; on the contrary, they are essential if we wish to understand how communities can come together and challenge systems of oppression and harm. Indeed, these organizations are driven by a different kind of passion than that found in the written word.
Serving as a senior editor for Michigan in Color provides a unique opportunity to hear from those members of our campus community who have been harmed by these systems, whose hearts are brimming with stories — raw, intimate and unapologetic ones — that need to be listened to. I am honored to step into this role and learn, not only from my fellow editors, but also from the contributors who bravely allow their truths to soar. If my presence in MiC makes it even slightly more possible for you to be heard, then I have done my duty.
My absolute favorite thing has always been to sing. When I was 7, my brother helped me express my love of singing through song writing. From then on, creative writing became an outlet for all of my passions. I began to write fantasies and dramas to express myself. I grew up taking honors and AP English classes but I did not enjoy writing academically. When I took my first English class at the University of Michigan, I began to see writing in a different light. I became an activist through my writing and I realized the power my words had to inspire and empower others. Writing was a means of self-discovery for me.
I have recently been thinking a lot about identities. Growing up, I never felt like I belonged to a specific category. I was constantly juggling between my identities as a Nigerian, American, Black, Muslim woman with sickle cell anemia. Then I started learning about the intersection of identities. I began to realize that no one fits into simply one group but rather we all belong at the intersection of multiple. My involvement with the educational theater company showed me that our identities create the lens through which we perceive the world around us. I realize that I am so much more than a race, religion or disease — yet these are the identities I think about the most.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I went to a one-woman multimedia performance called “One Drop of Love,” by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. She acted out her life, even the painful moments, to an audience of strangers because she believes her story needs to be told. I started sharing my story for a similar reason. I wrote how I felt to better cope with and understand what I was feeling. Along the way I realized my story could move others the way Fanshen’s moved me.
I joined MiC because I was inspired by the people I knew who were involved. I resonated with the passion they had for the work they were doing. They presented MiC to me as a place where my presence would be welcomed, my voice would be heard, and my story would be praised. When I started writing I knew MiC would be the best place to publish. MiC editors helped me harness my voice by making sure my words accurately portrayed the message I wanted to get across. I was incredibly happy and proud of the finished product they helped me create. After my first publication, I knew that if I were given the chance, I would want to do what they did for me for someone else. Now, as a senior editor for MiC, I hope I can help others find and share their voices. I acknowledge how hard it can be to share your story, but I promise I will uphold it and you with the greatest respect. Your story is welcomed here. This is part of mine, so I invite you to share yours.
– Halimat Olaniyan