Michelle Devlin

Brief for Broken Englizh: Look back at your life through the lenses of ethnicity, race, disability, heterosexist rhetoric, or perceived representations, and try to explain to yourself and to the reader, where it is that you fit in the world, or don’t.

I feel like an onion. 

Written by Michelle Sara Britos Devlin, 23. Bi-racial, queer, Guamanian-American. 

The following recounts the processing of my racially charged experiences. It serves as an internal act towards decolonization of the mind. I had to start by peeling back layers of a calm, thick exterior built up over years of trying not to care. In my first version of this piece of writing, I ended up raging about an ex- who betrayed my trust by taking up a year of my life to break-up. (Is this progress?)My second, I tried to create a writing persona so I could problematize my anecdotes behind a progressive veneer… Third, I developed a multi-section stream of consciousness where I would showcase an ability to balance opposite perspectives: empathize with the offender AND champion the victim! (How considerate?) Now, in this fourth (and final) version, I plainly spell out memories I’ve harbored in my mind — instead of trying to hide my fury elsewhere. Each anecdote occurred since moving to the United States from the island of Guam at the age of 14. 

‘Decolonization’ pinches me like a single strand of hair snagged at the hinge of my glasses. For a moment, I literally cannot see what has caused me pain, yet, I know it’s there and it takes a patient eye, or brute force, in order to ‘resolve’ the issue. 

Are you from around here? Question from a supervisor. Presumably provoked by my mixed racial presentation. I said I moved here in 2010… Perhaps, it wasn’t racially charged at all, 23. 

You guys eat a lot of rice, right? Your [relative] said so. Assertion from a co-worker. The co-worker explicitly asked about my [relative] and me being Asian and what we eat. I say hi to the co-worker sometimes, but skillfully avoid ‘harmless’ harassment about what I eat, 22. 

Oh yeah, my friend and I were walking and drinking [beverages] together and then we saw a white guy with an Asian lady together and the two of us gave each other this look like, *condescending tone* Oh Yeah, we know how THAT happened…Story from a friend in the middle of a discussion about how I feel weird about being ‘half’ white and ‘half’ Asian, but I have a similar reaction to when I see interracial couples. Yet, I am a product of THAT. We are still friends. I never mentioned how I felt misunderstood after hearing the story, 21. 

Guamanese…*laughter* Response from an ex- when I corrected this incorrect demonym for the people of Guam. It’s Guamanian. I was born and raised there for 13 years, so naturally, I would know. Perhaps, this is humor for an absolute idiot. Ex- is dead to me for more heart-breaking memories; I tack on this memory for good measure, 17. 

I am impressed… even kids from the next state over aren’t as proficient [in English]. Comment from a mentor responding to my desire to be placed into the Honors English class (I was successfully placed—and thrived. My English teacher fell in love with my final project that year). I suspect the impression developed around ignorant ideas about my exotic origins. Like most people, I refuse to visit my high school. This mentor is one of my top reasons, 14. 

I imagine decolonizing the mind is realizing I have the right to sustain unflattering opinions about people. I’m not overreacting, or being too sensitive. I feel obligated to omit names and any explicit identifier. An explicit ‘calling out,’ especially by name, hurts me in a strange way. I am pained when a comment on my ‘race’ interferes with my respect of others. I don’t want to feel anger over ignorance yet I can’t stop myself from belittling another person, in my mind, for lack of… giving a shit. It can be simple to not care about what others have said. It’s a different story to think about it, to let echoes live in your mind for longer than they should… Then pretending you still don’t care afterwards. 

I never approached these people with my narratives of these memories. What would I even get out of relaying my feelings of hurt? Simply ‘not wanting to talk about it’ isn’t satisfactory? Your healing is not as satisfactory as a form of recovery unless you’ve made the world your stage and you’ve ruined the lives of the guilty & the innocent in your path to war glory? Apparently, writing about it and processing it slowly in your mind isn’t satisfactory either since others can’t effortlessly consume your anger. The anger isn’t presented on a silver platter. The anger is intimate, meticulous… This narrative, my anger, aims to decolonize itself by existing how it should be: in words, to be read, when you’re alone, in need of a quiet space. 

What can be done to recover from the emotional heavy-lifting of decolonizing the mind? Do we further divert precious energy to re-educate offenders? Do we walk away, then inadvertently reserve mental space to harbor these memories (like I have chosen to do so far)? How can one simply forgive and forget when someone peeled away a layer of dignity you didn’t even know existed? Even though it wasn’t suppose to be a big deal. 

I’ve been slowly peeling away layers of thinking ‘it’s okay.’ I knew none of this was ever okay, I just tried to believe ‘it’s okay’ so I could get over ‘it’ quicker. 

What are some racial misconceptions / ignorant remarks people have made at you, about your culture or your identity? 

“You look Japanese…”
“Are you (x)’s son?”
“This young lady…”

I don’t get particularly upset about these comments, which worries me at times. 
Am I just complacent about these comments? I also see these comments are a frame of reference for how the speaker thinks, where they may come from, what makes sense to them, and find intrigue in the words they utter to communicate how they perceive me..

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