Time Traveling with Maya


I am a time traveler, I hop from one generation to another with the ease of a keystroke-I can be a child of the industrial revolution to a face with a name, to an ageless nameless androgynous voice that travels through the world wide web. The internet offers us more ways to interact and more ways to offend and befriend. Some of these interactions stand out, of the most interesting and thought provoking interactions that stand out, is my "friending" of Maya Castellanos on Facebook. We entered each other's sphere through another connection who thought we would have much to share. We've have never talked, or met in person; a type of friendship that is becoming more and more common.

Story continues below

Through Facebook, we've already gotten to know each other beyond the light banter and "likes" and have traveled further back and forth through time. We both share a common thread and thought that was forged by family, culture and by gender. Despite the fact that we have never have met in the real world, we have shared our lives through the digital world. You could share we are "Pen Pals" of the new world order.

From Facebook, I know that Maya is studying English Literature at NYU, and from her words I know she is a woman that I have come to admire and respect. As we travel together, I look forward to seeing her make her mark in the real world.

For this piece and for myself, I asked her five questions:

"We'll never be as young as we are tonight."
-- Chuck Palahniuk (Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey)

As you go through life, do you find answers to questions by your own experience or by asking others?

I had a professor tell me once that the reason he liked me while some of my other teachers didn't was because I looked like I didn't believe anyone could teach me anything more about the world that I couldn't learn on my own or from a book. Although I never meant to come off as precocious or a know-it-all, there is a certain part of me that does doubt other people's ability to teach me about myself or life in general. This is because I've met people my age who are wiser than most adults I know and vice-versa. Age does not equal intelligence. And for that matter, neither does education. So the idea that we always learn from our teachers in school or our elders is circumstantial. It truly depends on the person. Also, as time goes on, there are many instances in which it isn't practical to learn from our elders who might not live in the same world you were born into, but are instead still a part of their own generation, even if they mean well. For example, I have had certain family members tell me not to be openly gay, especially when I was applying to colleges. I didn't listen, and being open has actually helped me in life more than it has hurt, not to mention I'm much more comfortable with myself.

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it."
-- David Sedaris

As a writer, you express yourself through words; when you write do you allow others to add their own story or do you try to move them to a way of thinking?

One of the most poetic and difficult parts of writing is that, like any form of art, you have no control over your audience. Not to mention the fact that meaning changes over time. For example, I've read Salinger's Franny and Zooey three or four times, and it has yet to have the same meaning twice. The human brain looks for connection anywhere it can to help alleviate the universal feeling of alienation that has amplified in the last century, and that means endowing certain pieces of art with meaning that might not have been the artist's intention. When I know I've written something great, it's because it is so universal and open ended so as to apply to anyone at any time. If you look back at great works of art, that's why they were and are considered great.

How has your mother and family influenced your choices in life?

I grew up in a cultural haze of bright colors, mariachi music, and red lipstick. As anyone who is of Mexican descent or has friends or family of Mexican descent knows, there is a vivacious quality to life that comes with the Mexican culture. We are not simply a people of great food; our passion shines through everything and everyone we touch, whether it's art or music, family or friends. My mother worked on a magazine called Science of Mind up until I was about eight or so. Her love of the written word in all its forms helped me immensely growing up. Whenever times got tough she would tell me to "disappear into your books", which I did. And now, because of books, I'm going to the college of my dreams. It's remarkable the role your parents play in your life, whether you're fortunate enough to have parents like mine, or less fortunate, there's something irreplaceable about having such a vital connection when you're young.

Our president is half white half black, Tiger Woods is half black and half Thai, Veronica De La Cruz - Anchor woman for CNN, Filipina of Chinese/Spanish ancestry, Bill Richardson (past Gov. of New Mexico) is of anglo/spanish descent; as we become more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic and more supportive, do you believe that your generation will become more about personal accomplishment than about heritage?

I think it's getting difficult to pin people down nowadays. I have a friend who looks black yet identifies herself as Native American. Personally I consider myself Mexican-American, even though I know a lot of other Mexican-Americans (born in America but of Mexican descent) who simply say they are 'Mexican' when asked. The difficulty with American identity is that we never had one. Many of us, especially Mexicans and Native Americans, are a colonized people who have had to deal with assimilating or differentiating ourselves from a culture that cannot be described in strict terms. What I mean by this is that the 'ideal' American is indefinable. Technically, the 'ideal' American would be an immigrant. I highly recommend a book by Willa Cather, the 20th century novelist, called My Antonia. It examines the rural life of middle America from both the point of view of a well-off white boy and a poor immigrant girl. As time goes on, however, the American immigrant is now being replaced by a wave of multiculturalism. There might be a point in the future where there will only be one box to check on SATs- Multicultural/Mixed. Not many young people notice this, but I think we are at a crucial turning point in history where Caucasians are beginning to lose the global power they once held in our society as the playing field levels out. That is not to say there isn't still racism, far from it- but there is a cultural shift going on that I think is producing a lot of fear and a lot of optimism, depending on whom you ask. So yes, I would say that as time goes on there will be less emphasis on heritage and more on achievement, as it's getting harder to determine where someone comes from, therefore making it that more difficult to categorize/stereotype them.

The past generation grew up on a handshake, this new generation can choose between the personal contact or the online because of our access to the internet. One of our most important defense mechanisms is the first time we see someone's face, our instinct tells us whether to trust them or not. However, online we cannot do this, we have only images and text to glean who this person is.
Do you feel that we are losing an important part of being human because of the ease of online contact?

Believe it or not, I tend to think texting is worse than internet social networking. But I'll get to that in a bit. My sister and I recently made my mother her own account when she was sick in bed for an extended period of time. We knew she was lonely when we left for school each day and we thought this way she could have a little company while we were out. Since then my mother has gotten into contact with old artist friends, past boyfriends, and extended family members. We went to New York to check out colleges earlier this year and met up with one of her old friends who promised to show us around the city. She hadn't talked to him in about 20 years, until she found him on Facebook. A week ago we went to a gallery opening in East LA of Chicano artists, all of which were my mother's friends when she was young. There we found an artist who told us she was having an exhibit in September and some photographs taken of my mother would be included. We never would have known this if my mother hadn't been 'invited' to the event on Facebook. So it's tough to argue if Facebook has hurt or helped the current social environment we live in. There's also the lack of privacy, the lack of human conversation and connection, and our short attention spans that quickly sweep over the News Feed and continue chatting to a person we might not particularly like, but are 'friends' with anyway.

Now back to the evils of texting. It kills conversation, and I mean all conversation in any context. Say you need to tell a friend something. You think to yourself, "I'm kind of lazy, maybe I'll just text them." And it turns out something like this:
You: hey wuts up?
Your Friend: nm (nothing much)
You: Cool
That's the extent of the conversation. Or you're at a restaurant. Each time you try to speak to your friend, they take out their iPhone and start texting. They don't mean to be rude, but it inevitably comes off as "I don't really care about what we're talking about, so I'll give you half of my attention and this faceless person on the other end of the phone the other half". Conversation, I believe, is a dying art. Although I do think Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites play a role in this, I also think mobile communication does as well, if not more.

Image: Ophelia Chong

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading