We Are Still Here
A first-year teacher reflects on the power of visibility, representation, and radical resistance in the present
April 8, 2021
The first time I heard about object permanence was in my high school psychology class. Object permanence—the idea that one of the markers of our own development as human beings is to recognize that the world around us exists even when we cannot observe it directly—begins to be observed in children at around 8 months old. Oftentimes, it begins as early as 4 months. Object permanence can manifest as a game of hide and seek, when children begin to understand that even when covered with a blanket, their favorite stuffed animal has not ceased to exist but is simply out of sight.
I think often about how as an adult I struggle to find the difference between the things that have ceased to exist, versus the things that are simply out of sight. As a South Asian, queer, twenty-something, so much is still hidden to me—ways of being, types of community care and love, even the livelihoods of entire groups of people. To me, the most treacherous tool white supremacy uses against those in the margins is convincing us that in being hidden out of the mainstream consciousness, we have also disappeared for good. In many ways visibility creates possibility. Visibility creates the chance for solidarity.
“When we have models of liberation and joy that look like us, we can start to believe in those possibilities for ourselves.”
I have always had to first see the future I want in order to speak it into existence. As anti-Asian hate crimes rise rapidly in the United States, I struggle with what is still being disappeared from public awareness. There are so many planes of existence that hustle and bustle beneath the restrictive blanket of white understanding. It is the paradox of when we hold a mirror up to our collective injustice that we are able to slip out, with a crash and a bang, and become not just the monolithic “Asian”—but Nepali, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Bengali, and so on.
As a first-year educator in a global pandemic, the biggest lesson I have learned is that in addressing systemic problems specificity delivers the most sustainable results. There is power in being able to define an issue, down to its root, in order to find not just any solution but the right solution. Representation makes space for that specificity. When we have models of liberation and joy that look like us, we can start to believe in those possibilities for ourselves. We have a foundation on which to build a better future that begins with a common awareness of who we are as a community. With representation too, comes an acceptance that nuance in understanding our identities can create a clearer path toward justice for our communities.
“For Asian educators now, this is the power that you hold. To show up and be visible in all your nuances. To be the evidence that we are still here.”
My school’s directive this year has been to “look beyond what you can see,” a motto that has bookended our staff meetings since the beginning of this year. I’ve learned that to envision futurity as a space of acceptance and love begins with radical resistance in the present. It begins with making a lot of noise to say, “I want justice—for myself and for my students.”
I wonder often about what it would have been like to have had educators that shared my identities—something I didn’t experience until college. For Asian educators now, this is the power that you hold. To show up and be visible in all your nuances. To be the evidence that we are still here.
Swetha Ramesh is a 2020 Teach For America corps member teaching science at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Graduating from the George Washington University's Elizabeth J. Somers Women's Leadership Program with a B.A. in organizational sciences, they are deeply passionate about increasing representation and access to resources for qtpoc. Their professional and personal goals are rooted in a desire to redefine policy through a queer lens.