These last few days have been strange. Filled with joy and sorrow. Fun and excitement on the one hand and horror and despair on the other.
Last Friday and Saturday, the Mixed Remixed Festival took place at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. I attended last year, and this year I was a presenter. I reconnected with friends I’d met last year and made new friends. I got to speak on my first author panel ever. I’m going to write more about this year’s festival soon, but I feel like I have to pause first.
Sunday through Tuesday was the 50th anniversary celebration of the UCLA Linguistics Department, my academic home. The schedule was packed, and there was much laughter and festivity. I talked to alumni I admire, heard anecdotes from fifty years of department history, and made music with my friends. I was so busy I didn’t spend much time online. In some ways I was glad of the distraction because every time I landed on a newspaper’s website or scrolled through Facebook, I was reminded of the mass shooting that left fifty people dead at a gay club in Orlando, FL.
On Sunday, I sat down to breakfast in front of my laptop like I do every morning. I was still tired from spending all of Saturday at the Mixed Remixed Festival, but I was excited that my Georgian chorus was singing at my church that morning. My homepage is the New York Times. The first thing I saw when my browser opened was the headline marching across the screen in huge black letters. Shooting, gay club, Orlando, 50 dead, 53 wounded. For a second, the news sort of bounced off me: oh, something terrible has happened again in this world where every day’s headlines are a litany of terrible things. But then the full horror of this massacre, of this carnage, began to sink in. I thought of the Bataclan in Paris, where scores of concert goers were shot to death in November. Most of the dead in Orlando were young, queer, and of color. Most of the people I’d been hanging out with at Mixed Remixed the night before were young, mixed race, and queer. The bus I’d ridden home had crawled through heavy traffic in West Hollywood where people were celebrating LA Pride.
A heaviness settled over my Sunday, and it has lingered, even as I’ve been doing so much celebrating. There was the department 5k and picnic, sneaking off for a clandestine choir rehearsal inside a sculpture, performing Georgian songs at the reception, the anniversary banquet. I’ve been so happy these last few days. And I’ve also been heartbroken, and afraid that we in the U.S. will never overcome our collective paralysis when it comes to guns and mass violence.
The UCLA shooting was two weeks ago today, although in some ways it already feels like a distant memory. I was on campus that morning, during the lockdown. I was safe, and for the most part I felt calm, but the uncertainty during those two very long hours was real. We didn’t know when it would be over. We didn’t know what was happening elsewhere on campus. And the saddest part was how unsurprised I was. I remember thinking that the shooting was bound to be on my campus one day. It was simply our turn now.
On Saturday night at the Mixed Remixed show in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, perched high in the tiered seating, I watched people at the bottom of the theater walking in and out of the shadowy entryway and thought to myself, Someone could walk out of those shadows with a gun. It’s astounding that I live in a country and a time where I could casually imagine such a scenario. And that was before Sunday, before the attack that’s being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
This has been a post of contrasts, and I want to end on a note of joy. The founder of our beloved Georgian chorus rewrote the words of a pop song in honor of the UCLA Linguistics Department’s 50th anniversary. She taught it to us at the picnic on Sunday, and a few of us performed it at the reception on Monday. The song is silly, cute, and sweet. I don’t mean to minimize the grief and the rage that people are feeling right now or to trivialize what has happened and is still happening. But singing this song and listening to it makes me happy because this light-hearted performance was about the joy of singing with friends and the fondness so many people have for the community that is UCLA Linguistics. In the face of violence, fear, and despair, it’s our communities that will see us through. So here’s a glimpse into one of mine.