Monday, April 25, 2011

Mistaken Identity

In the second half of the play, Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, the theme of mistaken identity continues. Viola, who continues to play the role of Cesario faithfully, denies Olivia’s love despites her passionate and sincere confession. She states that no woman will ever enter “his” heart. The Duke, on the other hand, still aimlessly sends love letters to Olivia. Perhaps the most representative example of such theme is Olivia’s marriage to Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who is disguised as yet another guy. She mistakes Sebastian as Cesario and decides to marry him; and they do.
This twist of fate, this irony, and these disguises reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my volunteers regarding service. She was one of our twenty volunteers who serve at Health Leads at the University Of Maryland Medical Center. At our last reflection session, she said something that rather scared us. She started talking about one of her clients. That client is about our age and a new mom. She desires to have a job in retail and thus came to the volunteer. The volunteer said that if her client wants such a job, then she should “go to the mall!”, because that is how she got her job. The interesting thing is that she did not regret what she said but rather seem annoyed with her client’s request. As one of the service coordinators, it is our responsibility to make sure that volunteers do not just serve, but also learn and be able to reflect on their service experiences. We asked her whether she has thought about the reasons why her client came to her instead of looking for the job herself. She shook her head. We asked her whether she has thought that maybe one of the reasons is that her client does not have the means to get to the mall, that public transportation or any kind of transportation poses obstacles. I took a city bus at the beginning of the summer. They do not always come on time and do not always provide a direct route to the destination. Furthermore, if she were to go to the mall herself, who should take care the baby? If she does find a babysitter, perhaps she is intimidated to be interviewed, or perhaps she does not have a good outfit to impress her employer. These are just few obstacles I can think of for her client, the actual client may face many more.
After our conversation, the volunteer looked at us quizzically and said, “oh, I never thought about these things.” I was proud that we were able to convey such important message to the volunteer, that we were able to help our volunteer connect her service experience to social justice issues. After all didn’t the volunteer mistakes the client’s identity? She thought that her client would be able to not only go to the mall but also get a job at retails just as easily as she did. She thought that her client was not being productive based on her seemingly solvable request.
Identities can be very easily misinterpreted in our society. We are human. We judge. We judge on appearances first then other criteria, if we haven’t turned away. Olivia was attracted to Viola’s physical appearance first. It is only after this attraction, she became attracted to her messages. The volunteer judged her client’s physical appearances as well as her social realities first before she thought from the client’s point of view. She thought of her as someone who is a new mom, someone who depended on her help, and someone who is not productive or cannot be due to her so called poor life choices. We are human and we judge. If one thing I have learned from service this year is how not to judge others. How two very different people can be brought together and share a lot of commonalities. How what appears at surface is far different from what it really is. I remember that my first blog is about how this woman challenged and was the opposite of my perception of the urban population. I hope all volunteers would have such a chance to meet diverse people and learn from their experiences.
The most surprising thing I learned about myself this semester through this class is my newly founded love for poetry. Before taking this class, I always associated poems with negative connotations; that they are written by people from centuries ago about lofty subjects in language that is hard if not impossible to decipher. I am glad and proud to say that my perception of poetry has changed for the better since then. Not only did I learn how to read and analyze poems, I also was exposed to a variety of them. From love poems such as “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun” by William Shakespeare, to odes such like “I Sing the Body Electric”, to unconventional poem like E.E.Cummings’ “l(a,”, I realized how much poems express, how much there is to say about them, and how it is truly an art not a drag to read and understand poems.

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