Do I get a return song?
Invisibility. That was always my answer to the traditional third grade “If you had one superpower what would it be?” question. However, I didn’t know whether over time this superpower developed or if I was born with it and suddenly grew into it. To not be recognized, spoken to, messed with, or even looked at was something I always wanted growing up. When I thought about being invisible I only really applied it to the entire negative that was taking place in my life. I wanted to run away from it all. What better way to run away than hide and be nobody? I was really okay with being invisible before it became my identity. Just like invisible man, invisibility became something I could no longer escape.
One of my main reasons for coming to DePauw University was to join a sorority. Growing up I wasn’t able to experience sisterhood as much as I wanted to and I guess it didn’t help that my sister was almost thirty years older than me. I was able to interact with many individuals when I got to DePauw, some in different Greek houses and some in different Greek councils. It wasn’t long until I knew what council I wanted to be apart of and where I felt like I was most understood. Although I thought about rushing, what threw me off were the restrictions on what I was able to talk about when it came to recruitment. Now what does this have to do with invisibility? This is what led to me to first feeling invisible on campus. Panhellenic is the council in which most of the women here at DePauw University are apart of. I felt left out when I decided to make a different decision. I felt like I was going against what everyone else was doing. Just like most of the men at DePauw, brotherhood was a huge part of Invisible Man’s life. Invisible Man was asked to join a Harlem Branch brotherhood that put a lot in perspective for him. This brotherhood consisted of him attending rallies and giving speeches to a plethora of people in large crowds. Invisible Man does his best in doing his best for this brotherhood, which eventually turns out constantly betraying him. His brotherhood apparently was plotting these riots behind his back and put Invisible Man through all of these life-threatening obstacles that really end up almost getting the narrator killed. A really great friend of mine suggested that I relate how this notion of brotherhood compares to how I feel about Greek life at DePauw University and here it is.
I felt like because of who I was and how I grew up (very into my culture in the household) that a Panhellenic house just wouldn’t fit me. I didn’t see sisters in a Panhellenic house allowing me to be my loud, flavored, spicy self and to be honest I didn’t think I could be put up with. I felt like in order to fit in I had to be conservative and really keep calm… Also White. I felt like I would have to follow lady etiquette and be limited on self-expression. I wanted a place where I could be the mess I was and be accepted. My thoughts on this actually reminded me of when my parents dropped me off the summer of 2014, my first time at DePauw. The last thing my parents said to me was to “be cautious on how loud I play my Spanish music in the dorms”… Because “white people don’t like that.” My parents hid their culture in front of others and expected me to do the same. My first year of college was good for me. I did the exact opposite of what my parents wanted me to do. Not because I wanted to get them mad, but because it turned out that’s really who I was. I decided to join a multicultural sorority instead of a sorority in the Panhellenic council. Sigma Lambda Gamma for me was a place where I didn’t have to worry about being formal or apologize for speaking about boys, politics, and/or religion. They accepted my loud, passionate, and broken self and provided me with a healing space and genuine sisterhood. Although I feel like being a Gamma has made me whole in so many ways, being in a multicultural sorority on this campus is still pretty much close to being invisible.
The fact that multicultural Greek organizations only consist of no more than five members right now makes it extremely hard for anyone to take us serious. People think of us as too small and we no longer are known as the multicultural Greek council, but we are recognized as the two Latina sororities and the one Latino fraternity. When it comes to Co-Sponsoring with Panhellenic sororities it begins to feel like we are only asked to make the diversity aspect seem checked off their list. Attendance is also another aspect that makes us feel invisible. I can only really rely on the multicultural community to attend my events. However, members of my council (15 individuals) make it our duty to try and make it to every IFC/Panhellenic event. We attend events like Fiji and Thetas Bark-B-Que and other events that are popular on campus. It is very hard to understand for people to understand the perspective of an individual in a multicultural Greek organization. Is my council not important enough to recognize because of its small numbers of members? Why is that we are the last ones to be included in many activities? My invisibility starts there. This makes me think about Invisible Man’s brotherhood. A brotherhood is supposed to be a support system. A brotherhood is like a machine, if one part is not working then nothing else does. I could not imagine how Invisible Man felt when these men constantly betrayed him. It is very disheartening to see Invisible Man’s vulnerability be abused and taken advantage of and this adds a lot to his invisible identity. Sort of when we find out that these riots were put together on purpose in a way, and how this really could of put and in some cases did put invisible mans life in danger. This makes me question brotherhood, which is the mutual feeling I get from the Panhellenic sororities. I don’t receive a genuine sisterhood, I don’t see how more than 60 girls to one house could all possibly so close.
Odysseus himself in the Odyssey goes missing from home for a very long time. He takes this incredibly long journey in which he loses his identity and has to pretend to be someone else in order to keep him safe. Odysseus’s couple of years away from home and his invisibility reminds me of my 19 years of invisibility. Yes Odysseus had a very rough journey, but imagine having a hard time trying to figure out who you are and having society not make it easier for you at all. Odysseus was able to have a return song, which makes me wonder if I’ll ever get one. A point of my return, the day I will stop being invisible. The day everyone knows me for me and have no choice but to accept it. There are many things that have made me invisible over the years. The fact that I am a woman has made things very hard for me growing up. My voice didn’t matter in group projects or even sports. My mother thought it was a religion for the female in the house to be the only one to do the laundry; therefore my brothers were prohibited for even trying.
“Don’t worry your sister will take care of it.”
No matter how cold it was or how many bags of laundry, I remember Sunday mornings being the worst mornings of my life. Being woken up at 8AM so I had the chance to do laundry before Sunday Mass wasn’t my idea of a rest day. Walking up the long avenue with bags bigger than you just to get to the laundry mat that smelled like my grandmas perfume was so frustrating. I went so much that the homeless man that slept outside already knew me by a first name basis. We still keep in touch here and there. According to mom, I had to learn “since this was what I would be doing when I got married to a nice hard-working man”. That’s the other issue. I wasn’t and I am still not so sure if I want a husband. My sexuality was always a beast I fought with.
Being a pre-confirmation teacher for my neighborhood Roman Catholic Church was a really confusing and interesting five years for me as I battled with some notions this religion had to offer. I was battling with my sexuality and it was hard to not feel guilty throughout Sunday’s Mass. It was my duty to teach 13-year-old children that it was strictly Adam and Eve, when I thought differently. I would stand in front of a group of 30 children and look at them knowing they trusted me to provide them with what they were paying for. However, I also knew that half of them were there because their parents wanted to get all of their sacraments out of the way. I began to switch up the way I taught my classes. I made it things more general and used scenarios from the bible and related them to real life situations. Questions like, “What happens if someone from church later on in life ends up discovering their gay or something?” What happens? Little did I know, this was me the entire time. Nothing happens. Nothing happens to me because at the end of the day my happiness is what matters to me. To tell them that I felt the way I did was rough and definitely against church rules. My answer was supposed to tell them that it was considered sin and that the person would be prayed for and everything would be okay with just a little faith. This was seriously so uncomfortable for me. This however made me go into serious hiding. Because religion was such a prevalent factor in my household I felt, as I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I wasn’t allowed to attend gay pride parades or even talk about the concept. Meanwhile I was dealing with my own personal attraction towards women. I spent a lot of time isolated, ignoring an entire part of me because of religion. I would cringe while receiving the bread and blood of Christ because the entire time I couldn’t help but feeling as if I was a disappointment. I would turn around after receiving my blessing and stare at my mom who had proud smacked right across her face as I walked back to my seat. I just had to smile; I kid you not when I tell you that a smile has never felt so painful. This made me feel even more invisible.
Coming to DePauw made it worst for me. I thought being a bisexual woman in church was bad, but being a queer Latina in a predominantly white institution is the worst. You’re like from another planet. It’s like the furthest you traveled from the more worth you have at DePauw. It’s kind of cool at first. When you’re the foreign out of the hood kid from NY and everyone looks at you like if you live in the middle of Times Square. They ask you how you like the drastic change from Manhattan to Greencastle. You laugh in your head because little do they know that you’re from Brooklyn. Moments and months later it becomes annoying. Everyone assumes that every student from New York or Chicago is a Posse Scholar and when you answer with a no its like you move further down on the social chain here at DePauw. You become that one person that professors turn to when that one White kid has a question about the day of inclusion. “Aislee, do you happen to know what this day of inclusion is about? Do you mind sharing?”
Uhhmm. “Professor, I did not raise my hand and why do you assume that I am an expert on this day?” This has literally happened, more times than it should. Most of it is unintentional other times its not. My association is everywhere and it only gets tied to things that have to do with me being queer and Hispanic. The only time I don’t feel invisible on this campus is when I am the victim of harassment by a Phi Psi and the institution is afraid that I will make things a bigger issue. That’s when students of color get catered to. When we all decide to stand in the academic quad and fight. When the university is at risk.
Wait, I’m not done, oh it gets better! The moments when you have to turn your head around every time you hear a pickup truck zooming down South Jackson Street are things you begin to twitch in your dream about… However, if you see one and if there isn’t a confederate flag attached to the back, you’re really lucky. After your first year here you are just living deadly day-by-day. People of color become the people who make everything about “race”. We (People of color) become the loud and proud ones on campus. I mean after having my entire history silenced, who cares right? It becomes routine, hearing that we make everything about race, reading yik yaks of us getting made fun of and invisibility has never felt so strong. We begin to only care for one another. All differences aside, we all become a family for the one and one reason only. We are ALL invisible.
However, just like Invisible Man realizes that he is nobody but himself (Cook and Tatum, 188), I also had to come to the same realization. It came a point where even though I was invisible and still am, I got tired of feeling like it. I had an epiphany and realized that I got tired of not having a voice. I have been silenced and contained for so long, that now even the thought of ever being or feeling like that again gets me upset. I got tired of being afraid of what my teachers and peers would think. I got tired of lying to my mom about my sexuality and how I felt about body art. I started doing things for myself. I loved tattoos, so I got five. I started talking to girls more, my hair went through a series of changes, I began to go places I have never been before. Overall, I was happy. I realized that at the end of the day I would have nothing but myself. As much as I love my parents, they won’t be here forever. I have no one but myself. I am no one but myself. I cannot pretend to be something and somebody that I am not. So I act based on how I feel. I am very emotion driven and love learning from my mistakes. This is one way I make my invisibility go away. I remind myself that no one can invalidate my emotion and that I have the right to feel this way. I have the right to be angry and frustrated with how my history and I have been treated. This is why I majored in history. I majored in history because I figured that the only way to fix history is to try and change it. Try and rewrite it. It’s a way I feel like I’m making a difference. I’m invisible, in what I learn in class and when I’m in class.
Invisibility is real and although you all in this classroom may see me, some people don’t. Some people don’t see me as their competition, but more as their pity. Similar to professor Wells story, if I do well in a class or anywhere it becomes cute. There was an “effort” on my part so that’s what counts. Sometimes I feel like no one understands me and I wish I could just replace my heart and my burden with others so that they can finally get the picture. Will I ever stop being invisible? To society? Who know? To myself? I refuse to run. I love being from busy, artsy, Sunset Park, Brooklyn where you can get a little taste of the world in just the span of 20 blocks. I love being queer, I love that this campus has made me invisible, because I have been able to really appreciate my identity and how much I take it for granted. I am a huge lover of learning. I thank life for granting me the opportunities to have these experiences that make me feel invisible. Besides the pain it has caused, overall I have been instilled with gratitude. Invisibility has caused a growth. A growth that has allowed me to appreciate, celebrate and fight for who I am and my true happiness. Just like invisible man, this is my identity and this is all I have.
But instead of running, I will stand here and let you all know that one-day…
Everyone will see me.
So do I get a return song?
In the words of great Professor Wells’…
And I thank you for reading mine.