Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast

“I Refuse to Choose:” Exploring Identity, Language Teaching, and the Impact of Whiteness with Meilin Chong

October 04, 2021 FulbrightD&I
Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast
“I Refuse to Choose:” Exploring Identity, Language Teaching, and the Impact of Whiteness with Meilin Chong
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Fulbright Forward, Jeremy Gombin-Sperling, the Fulbright Diversity and Inclusion Liaison for Western Hemisphere Programs continues the conversation on English and language teaching in the Western Hemisphere with Bilingual Educator and alumna of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program in Ecuador, Meilin Chong. During the episode, Meilin shares how her experiences as a biracial Latina woman  of Peruvian and Chinese heritage have informed how she understands the world, and the changes she believes need to happen in order to create more inclusive and equitable spaces for folks of color, as well as multiracial and multilingual communities. 

Part of this discussion also revolves around a concept that Meilin introduces early on, the idea of "I refuse to choose." While this idea originally stems from a book by Barbara Shur of the same name on career development, our conversation takes the idea to more complex understandings. As Meilin will discuss, "refuse to choose" can also be about interrupting power such as in breaking assumptions abroad that the only people who can claim to be from the United States and/or teach English are white, or as she has done in her teaching, fostering spaces where young children of color from linguistic backgrounds others than English can celebrate and be celebrated for the many languages and cultures that make them who they are. 

See below for resources and references discussed in the podcast episode:

  1. Barbara Shur: Refuse to Choose 
  2. Overview of Bilingual Education in the United States
  3. "Color Esperanza" by Diego Torres
  4. Article exploring socioeconomic impacts of white families on bilingual immersion programs in U.S. 
  5. Blog article on  intercultural bilingual education in Latin America (Spanish)



Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

Welcome to another episode of Fulbright Forward, a Diversity Podcast. My name is Jeremy Gombin-Sperling, the Fulbright Diversity and Inclusion Liaison for the Western Hemisphere Programs. Today's episode of the podcast is number five from the Western Hemisphere region and the second of two episodes focused on unpacking English and Language Teaching. In this episode, we speak with Meilin Chong, a bilingual Spanish-English educator currently in Boston, Massachusetts, and also a former English Teaching Assistant in La Man, Ecuador, where she taught from 2017 to 2018. A key theme of my conversation with Meilin is the phrase and idea "I refuse to choose." Now the phrase itself as we discussed, this episode comes from a book by Barbara Sher with the same name "Refuse to Choose." In the book, Sher encourages her readers not to press one passion over the other in pursuing their career, but rather to follow a path that allows all of our interests to be part of our lives. mean however, brings the meaning of this phrase to important and critical places, in particular as an engine for greater inclusion and support for multiracial, multicultural and multilingual people. As Meilin notes from her own experiences a biracial Latina woman of Chinese and Peruvian heritage, who immigrated from Peru to the U.S. at a young age, she's experienced many moments where the world around her either has tried to force her to compress or hide the abundance of identities, or force the same on others who hold similar identities and lived experiences. Refusing to choose therefore, in this context, and forming lean is more than an embrace of one's passions, but rather a declaration to the world that we will not hide the complexity of who we are for the comfort of others, or even to fit with what social orders and hierarchies assume as to be or tell us to be. As Meilin will discuss, this is about breaking assumptions abroad that the only people who can claim to be from the United States and/or teach English are white, or as she has done in her teaching, fostering spaces where young children raised in a language in our culture different from the dominant one can celebrate and be celebrated for the many languages and cultures they bring, that they are very much more than enough. Refuseto choose is therefore a call to upset power. And in today's episode, that means a conversation on identity, English teaching and the impact of whiteness in the Western Hemisphere. Meilin, it's great to have you here. Welcome so much to the podcast. Welcome so much to Fulbright Forward.

Meilin Chong:

Thank you so much, Jeremy. It's really nice to be here.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

So with our episodes, we usually like to start with a pretty simple question just to get to know a little bit more about you. So if you could just tell us more about who Meilinis your background and just who you are.

Meilin Chong:

Sure. So my name is Meilin Chong, and I am a bilingual, biracial, multicultural, immigrant from Peru. I immigrated in 2002, and I actually am Peruvian Chinese. I graduated from Wheelock College in 2017 with a Bachelor's in Psychology. College is really interesting, because not only did we have to have a actual Bachelor's Degree, but also a professional career. So I also got my Massachusetts teaching license in Early Childhood Education. So I came up with like two careers there. Then after that, I actually did my Fulbright, and when I was about to come back, I was like, "Well, let me invest in more schooling, apparently". So I actually went to U Penn, University of Pennsylvania for my MS.Ed in International Education Development. As you can see, my life is pretty much like a mixture of all interests and identities. For me, it's really hard to choose one path. And it's always been difficult to just like find one passion, and so instead I choose them all. And I actually like to reference, I refuse to choose, that book. I just really believe that everyone has different passions and different spectrums, and it's good to pursue them. So that's me in a nutshell.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

What brought you to pursue an English Teaching Assistant post, an ETA-ship in Ecuador, and what were your goals, intentions and applying?

Meilin Chong:

Yeah, so it's very, very, very complex, actually. So I'm a first generation college student, first person to ever explore a college or higher ed. And that was very difficult at Wheelock. So luckily, I'm very, very fortunate. I actually found a really important mentor in my life. His name is Dr. Adrian Haugabrook. He showed me different things like different experiences that I could take on at Wheelock, post-Wheelock, he told me about a Masters which I was like, what the heck is a masters? So...I was, yeah, I was very much very, very lucky to have that mentor. And junior year. So in 2016, I actually, we had our weekly or monthly check ins. And I was sitting in the dining hall with him, and I remember him saying, or asking me like, what are you going to do next year after you graduate? And I was like, I don't know. And I think back then I was very much always a planner. Like, I had to have a plan A through like Z, because I always feared of not knowing what would come next. But when he asked me, I was so lost, because I was like, well, I could do teaching, I could do City Year could do, etc. And then he was like, "Wait a second. How about you try one of these grants?" And he showed me a Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright. He showed me like a lot of different grants that I had no idea. For me, when I, when he first told me about it, it was very much like an alternative. Like, I didn't really think of it as like, that's what I want to do, because of the competition, actually. So I feared that competition, since it's so so prestige, right? As silly as it sounds, I think I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, so I was just like, let's just go like, eh, whatever happens, happens! But I think my goals changed every month. No joke. I think when I was like, introduced to it, I was like, Oh, yeah, like, I want to do this for myself, because this is such like another accompli- accomplishment that I could get. And then when I started the application process, and so how intense it was, I was like, Okay, why am I really doing this? And at that moment, I think it was like, Okay, this is going to be a good experience, like the application process, understanding like these really intense application processes for jobs for like, later just experiences that I will have. And then while I had to write my personal statement, I realized that I was thinking really vague. And then I was so naive to like everything that could come. So I was like, so centered around this idea of, well, this is going to be life changing, not only for you, but for them. When I received that letter, and that said, I got it, I was like wait a second, like, this is bigger than me, this is bigger than what I thought my intentions were. And now I really need to buckle down and really understand and have realistic expectations and intentions for myself. So I knew that I wasn't going to be changing lives, and that I was going to be making massive changes. But instead, I think my main goal, right before I left, actually to go to Ecuador was to create ripple effects, in perspective, whatever that meant cultural, racial, anything, any any any perspective, which will inherently then change mine, right? So I saw more of that cultural exchange and that Fulbright really highlights in their program.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

So before we go into any sort of other questions, just to give folks context listening to the podcast, like take us to where you were in Ecuador, like the town, the school, the population, the community, if you could just like in your words or your experience, like provide kind of that context for wher- where you were throughout your grant.

Meilin Chong:

I went to a small town called La Man. La Man is in the valle, the valley, so it's legit three hours from Latacunga, que est en la Sierra, y two hours from the coastline. I was in the middle of both environments, which created this really really humid environment which I was so not used to. So that was a big shock coming in from like the freezing cold Sierra and then I'm suddenly, like I was, "Wow!" It was so hot, but very, very, very knit like tight knit community. There was one university there. It was actually an extension. So the main Universidad de Cotopaxi is in Latacunga, Ecuador, and the extension, one of the extensions, is in La Man. Because it was legit a college community, basically, everyone knew each other. It was really hard to go somewhere without like, people be like, Oh, I know your mom.like what? Okay, yeah, it was a very, very small community. It was very difficult for me from coming from a city to go into a small town. It was very, I think the cultural shock that I received was not like the Spanish, the Hispanic, it was more of like, context of community. Like, I hadn't been in a small community in a really long time and it just shocked me that I couldn't go anywhere without like people being like, Oh, "Hola, cmo ests? Hola, Meilin!" Okay, please stop, I was like overload. So that took a while to get used to. The weather really impacted my health, actually, my mental health because I wasn't, I'm not a hot, like a humid hot person, like I really just like the cold. And because it was so small and close to the Andes, I was actually able to explore a lot of Quichua community. I was very immersed into that. A lot of my students were actually from Quichua background. And I, that was just amazing. For me, I was able to explore a whole new culture within the mestizo communities, right? And yeah, that was just a nice little gift that I got, specially logistically. So.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

What was it like for you just navigating your identities, while in Ecuador? I mean, really thinking just in particular, about if you want to talk about anyone, anyone in particular, that sort of stands out for you, but really just want to understand more of like, what was it like for you just sort of navigating a culture and community that in some ways, it sounded felt familiar to you, and as you named also had these nuances and differences, and also was a new role, being a teacher, being part of also in some ways, kind of becoming part of a community, even if just for a year or so. So I'm very curious what it was like for you to navigate Meilin in this sort of relatively sort of similar yet different contexts and place?

Meilin Chong:

Well, first, I think I want to go down the road that no one really prepared me for this, and me as in a person of color. My identity, I have never really settled and I still grapple with understanding who I am. That for sure. And that route really just affects my positionality within every context, because I think it's, was after Fulbright that I really started to understand who I am and started to love who I am. No one really prepared me to understand what others thought of American, right, as like a nationality. People coming from America, how shocking that reverse culture shock is for them to not see a white American. Yeah, I was not prepared for that. For, for just all the experiences that I had in Ecuador. From my perspective, as the peruana that I identify more with, I was so elated being in Ecuador. I was like, oh, estoy hablando espaol, I am able to eat certain foods like que chvere, no? Estaba con que. Yeah, finally. Things that can Boston sometimes just very overwhelming with like the just the city and the lack of Hispanics here. So, s, Estaba bien feliz. But unfortunately, something you can't really see in this podcast is that I'm not visibly, what people would identify as Hispanic or Peruvian, right, what people see is the Asian in me. And that is what was extremely difficult and complex to manage in Ecuador. The fact that they were expecting this white American, which actually is what this La Man had for the two years before I was there. All three Fulbright ETAs were white Americans. I actually remember the first day I walked in, and the professor introduced me. I remember him saying like, sta va a ser nuestra Fulbright ETA. Por favor, like, welcome her and everyone's face was like, she is going to be teaching us English? And I was like, wait, what? I was so shocked. I was like, why can't I teach English? So that first day, it was a really like a slap in the face like, okay, they were not expecting me to come here. And from that day on, actually, there was a lot, a lot of rude comments, microexpressions, jokes, misconceptions that were extremely hard to break or even make that ripple a change in perspective. Not only was that my Asian identity and my Hispanic background, but also the immigrant. Once I told them that I was an immigrant in the United States, that I immigrated from Peru, it was less valid, like, they did not see me as someone that could actually teach them English. And they doubted a lot of my ability to teach them. They always asked me, "are you sure that's how you say it?" Or like, "should we like, look up a video instead?" And yeah, that was really hard. I think it was after they really got to know me and who I was that they were able to be comfortable with me teaching them. Also, being a female was pretty hard. In this small community, I think the the culture itself of the machismo and piropos that are okay. And that was very, very tough to navigate to being that Chinese female really puts me in this like exotic, which I hate that word, but in that exotic, I guess, perspective in their mind. Right? So that was the most hardest personal dilemma that I had. But yeah, I really don't think and talking to other Fulbrighters, who are also People of Color, I really don't think that that we were prepared, we were told that what they were expecting was white Americans, and these like systemic waves of stress that we all like got where we weren't really supported when we talked about it. Because I think all three of us, all three Fulbrighters of Color, were very vocal about it in that like we really felt not in place. So my Latin American culture was definitely not seen.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

I first want to say, I appreciate you sharing that, because I'm sure-- it sounds like it brings you back to a time of course, it sounds like had a lot of really wonderful experience, but also like pain, hurt, navigating things, questioning who you are. So what what for you were either or strategies or ways that you found to support yourself, and you know, to build a community that you know, allowed you to show up in your fullness?

Meilin Chong:

That's a really great question. And I don't think I had strategies At first, I think um-- I maybe I did have a strategy but maybe not like really self care, but my mom always says like, "Siempre ser turca, Meilin. Porque las turcas agarron lo que quieren . No. And to just like, quickly, kind of interpret that is like, always be stubborn. No? Like, if you're stubborn, then something will get done. I think that's what I was trying to do.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

Good stubbornness!

Meilin Chong:

Good stubbornness, there you go. But yeah. So I that's what I was trying to do, I think good every microexpression that I received, like, "ay chinita, ven aqu," o, uh, "qu china!". All these china, china, china! I think that's the word that I heard the most, in the month that I was there. With everyone that came, I started to get really angry with myself, because I think I've always had difficulty accepting that I'm Asian because of all of these racist comments that I've been confronted with, since I immigrated to the U.S. Because Latin America has is like invisible racist, right? But like, there is racism. And, I, my dad always experienced racism in, in, in Peru. It was very, like accepted. I guess that's a word, right? Like if someone called you "chinito", that's a form of endearment. When I was when I was like, told all these jokes and microexpressions in Ecuador, I was like, "No, Meilin! Ser turca!" Like, like, you can talk to them about this. Like, like, say something that will change their perspective, or that will open their perspective and that it's okay to be biracial, and explain to them like your struggles, like growing up in Peru and moving on and dadada. But then after I realized that, me solely me was not able to change that thought right away, or, at least in that year that I was there and I finally accepted that it was going to take more than just me. I, yeah, I just took them and let it slide. I, I guess this is where the self-care came in, where I started to make a community for my own of Fulbrighters and, and really people that I cared about in La Man and I was able to just reflect, right, and write stuff down and and share about these experiences with the other Fulbrighters of Color and I think that was my biggest mental health strategy, to write everything out and document it. And I think that just made me a stronger person. And like I mentioned before, because of Ecuador. I now am like, happier with who I am as a multicultural, multilingual self. So I'm grateful and this sounds like kind of silly, but I'm grateful for all of those painful times because I now more comfortable with myself and I look at myself and I'm like, "Yeah! Bueno, s. Soy china. Y qu?" Like, I love it. So yeah, I think those were my self-care, which I should have done more for myself. But I think it was very difficult, very difficult trying to navigate everything and think of what to do for myself, so. Yeah.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

I think about a lot with programs is, you know, it's always going to be impossible to eliminate every moment of discomfort, lack of safety, even sometimes, and even, you know, micro, microexpressive, microaggressive behavior. And we have a responsibility in speaking about programs to ensure that folks are best supported to best navigate those situations, you know? So, I think that's something I think about just even with your story, that it's like, appreciating what you learn at the same time being like, there could have also been much more done.

Meilin Chong:

Yeah, yeah. And I think now that you bring that up, it's more of like Latinos and Latinx, right, communities. We are s--. There's no look for us. And I strongly believe that I really think that mestizos tend to be the ones who are identi-.Like, if you look at mestizo, like, yeah, Latino, right, or Latinx. Pero? No, I think it's really hard to pinpoint, and Latino and a Latinx, Latine etc. And I think that is what hasn't come into conversation into dialogue that is missing, once that is like really poked at and explored, I really think that like, there's going to be a lot more, just a lot more acceptance, a lot more of like, realizing that this has always been our culture. And in our identities, like there's been so many historical events that have made Latinx who they are. The fact that more of me, are being born, I think is the important thing. Like more biracial, more mixed, more multiracial children are being born every single time. I mean, in my classroom, I have four children who are biracial. When I was in school, I was the only one who was biracial. I think that shift, as an educator, that's my main goal. Once I am able to accept and talk about these and both, I will then open up the space for these children who are growing up in a more, I guess, open to discussion environment than I have. Having to navigate that myself and not belonging right now to any group that I choose to be because I'm not enough, that I don't want that to happen to the children that I'm teaching right now, tha,t that they can't be black enough, they can't be white enough. They can't be Italian enough, they can't be whatever, multilingual enough because they mix up their languages, etc. So that I think that that's the biggest thing that I am grappling with myself and that I can deal with but I don't want the same struggle that I have been through to be as intense for the younger generations.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

I'm curious about all this stuff with language because I'd love to know more about you as you're bilingual teacher self. So what for you does bilingual education mean to you as a teacher and as a person?

Meilin Chong:

I came to the U.S. and I was what we in the research field called "sink or swim" English education, right? So like, I was literally thrown into a first grade classroom, and I can tell you that I hated it. I cried every single day, I did not want to go to school. And that was very traumatic. And I think that's another reason why I don't necessarily love teaching English to foreign countries, which is something I forgot to mention, but going into the Fulbright ETA was tough for me linguistically because of what I just said. I was, I applied to an ETA, but I was like, "Ugh, I'm going against everything I believe in." You know, like, I'm going against that like power that English has the one that like completely threw me off and affected my family dynamics, affected my, like socioeconomic status, like, it affected everything right? So to me bilingual education is a form of empowering, if done right, form of empowering the target language group, not necessarily racial, right because just because someone speaks Spanish at home does not mean they're Hispanic. So, empowering those students more than giving that elite bilingualism to the white children. So, that is my personal goal as a bilingual educator, that I want to give that voice and-- not voice, sorry. I'm gonna go back. I want to give that space to have them use their own voice in empowering themselves in this English dominant society that we have. It's really hard. I'm not sure how to to manage this yet as I am only a first year like official teacher. How to make sure that my Lat-, Latinx children don't fall behind even in a place where they are supposed to shine because of the power that comes with English, the power that comes with whiteness in that setting. The children may not necessarily see it, or they may see it but not necessarily label it, right? They may not be like Oh, those blanquitos like are getting more attention or reading faster. It may be over their heads in labeling it but they see it and I was just talking to my partner teacher about this that we're doing a little like show and we're putting on the song "Color Esperanza." I don't know if you know that song but "Color Esperanza." I don't remember the singer, but a lot of families--

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

We'll link the song no matter what.

Meilin Chong:

Yeah, we will do it! Oh, there we go, Diego Torres. And this is a really old song. This is a really important story that we were talking about because these Hispanic and Latinx children, once they heard that song Jeremy, they're like, "mi familia sabe esta cancion. Nosotros la cantamos! Ms. Meilin!" And they were so happy Jeremy. They were dancing salsa. They were just living their culture in this Boston, like very white community in the South End. I was like, so happy to hear that. And you could see that the other children were put in this position of uncomfortableness. They were like, "Oh, I don't know this song. Like, what is this? Like? Why am I listening to this?" You know? That right there was one of the best moments in my career so far, where I saw that these Latinx children were able to boom, like, full themselves with energy, grab these white children, start dancing with them, teaching them what their culture is all about, a little piece of who they are. And now you walk into that classroom, put that song in, everyone is singing. Everyone's learning the song. Everyone's learning how to salsa. We're learning the importance of what the song means. That is a little piece of like, what I would love to see more of, and later on, like when I'm teaching down the line or just in the world, right? And not. In putting these like white children in these spaces of uncomfortableness so that they can learn more and have more respect. Because that is what's missing, the respect of cultures. They are so young that they see this as an experience, right? They're so young that they're like. "Oh, s, tengo compaeros que son Latinx. Great! Chvere!" But those moments where they are uncomfortable, where they're like struggling to learn the language, those are the moments that I want to see more of, and to see the Latinx children just like be so happy about learning and--

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

I think it's amazing. And I think it's something that we need, if again, the goals are things of inclusion of racial equity, of linguistic equity, there's a lot that needs to be done. You know, as a white person to acknowledge that whiteness does transcend borders, that whiteness has these sort of impacts even just what you just named, right?That like bilingual education, not as a way further add opportunity and asset just to white children, but rather as a community tool, and a community.

Meilin Chong:

Yeah

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

practice. So just curious if there's anything you'd like to say more just on this concept of how-- And maybe this! How whiteness really intersects with these educational experiences you had, and also, but I think. What I would say is education is a tool for social justice or social change, how whiteness can actually hurt that possibly.

Meilin Chong:

I don't know if you know this Jeremy, but bilingual education in the U.S. was, like illegal. And we weren't able to have these spaces where you can speak a different language besides English. So now that they're like, kind of re-coming back and, and really settling down yet without a lot of resources. Like I have to translate a lot of stuff, right and, and translating that is another example of whiteness, because, and English power because we're taking these, like white culture ideas and just like oh, yeah, are translating, because we don't have enough time, we don't have enough resources. So that in itself is a little disappointing because we're not giving again, that space for that voice for that authentic text for that authentic cultural share. And instead we're labeling it as bilingual education, whereas it's more of like, yep, we're really struggling to teach you, Spanish, all of you, and really trying to empower with the little resources we have. It's very interesting, Jeremy, to see bilingual education here, but lingual education in other countries and try to understand that even though bilingual education is seen as a great thing, a lot of the times bilingual education is masked by these really, like I said, really interesting policies that favor one or the other.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

Yes

Meilin Chong:

Like groups, right? If you go to like Puno, Peru, the Quechua-Spanish bilingual education is interesting in itself, because although they want to revive and revitalize this beautiful language, it's still grounded within that, "Oh, yes, we can do that. But we still need to give them that Spanish!" And they don't really realize that it's okay. It's okay to not speak Spanish. Obviously like, there's pros and cons to learning and leaving language behind. But these languages that carry power, like Spanish and Latin America, English in the whole world, like, it doesn't give space for others to really to make those languages as powerful as English, right? And I think this is like a cyclical effect. Like, we keep saying, There's no text in Quechua, there's no text in Spanish, there's no resources in Spanish for bla bla bla. Well, why? Hello! It's because we're not giving that academic Spanish, that academic Quechua enough power to then give text, to then provide these resources. So it's going to be like a cyclical thing that we're going through. And until we give those power, that power to those languages, and then those texts can be produced. Then that way, it'll like kind of, whicj will never be equal. But I think I'll give more leverage to those languages. Right? So,

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

Yeah!

Cydni Gordon:

Y es el privilegio, no? El privilege que trae porque. Like mis padres didn't have that privilege. They're so hard working. They're so intelligent. They are so resilient. Pero, el ingls? That's what like was so difficult, right? They came to a new country had no idea how to speak English, what like, what to do, and they didn't have a choice. They didn't have a choice, like many, you know, monolingual like English speakers who are like, yep, I'm gonna find English everywhere. It's like, great, great for you. Pero, most of the world comes and they're lost, because it's not. It's not a language they're familiar with. So este privilegio is something that I'm-- I guess that's what is rooted within me that I don't want to continue, like fostering this English power. And I'm like, let's do other things, you know, so. But yeah.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

We ask this question. This podcast is named Fullbright, Forward. The intentionality there's that there is always more we can learn and unlearn and keep doing. From your perspective, what do you think about when I when I asked the question like, from your experience, what can we do to keep moving fullbright forward?

Meilin Chong:

The first thing that I-- I actually am talking to some Fulbrighters about right now is, how can we as an alumni community come together to create initiatives to create these spaces of dialogue, to continue talking about race, and People of or Fulbrighters of Color in the world? And how to normalize the idea that Americans aren't white Americans. So that is something that we're actually in, pursuing as well. We're trying to really just talk to more Latinx Fulbrighters and and start that, like snowball effect. I also think that Commissions could do a lot more by reaching out to their alumni, and asking, like, really understanding like, I see this very much as in like my Master's degree where it's like, this is a research thing as well, right? Like there needs to be some sort of needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation and not so much like, "Great we dropped you here," which is what a lot of development work is. We drop it here, you do what you have to do, you leave, goodbye, you're done. And that lack of follow through is really impeding a lot of growth, which a lot of the growth that we can be doing is very quick, right? Like, we can literally just start with dialogues really quickly, because there's so many of us when continuing but I really think that commission should really reach out to their alumni and, and understand what happened in their experience, understand where the gaps in learning, and have some action steps to continue growth in Fulbright. But and thet resources to. I know that like, where the resources are given to, who has what, and if more resources could be going to programs like yours, where you were talking about diversity, that would be amazing, right? So like, having these initiatives I think, I think could help a lot. So definitely with backed up research, I'm a big researcher fan as well, Jeremy.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

And finally, like, Is there anything you'd like to say just in closing out the episode, if there's something that you would want other folks interested in Fulbright interested international experiences, that may share identity experience with you or not just if there's anything in particular, you would like to share with folks, and if there's an audience you have in mind who they are, as we close out this episode.

Meilin Chong:

I think my biggest learning takeaway is not to put more work and pressure on People of Color, or especially Fulbrighters of Color, especially alumni. But I think as much as we want for things to change, it's also kind of, I see it as my responsibility to talk to these first generation People or Students of Color. Because if my mentor had not been there for me, I would not have known about Fulbright. And I think it's very important for us to share our experiences, and to just like have people know, of Fulbright. Because I can tell you that when if I go back to my small hometown in New Hampshire, and the People of Color there have no idea what Fulbright is. Entonces, I think I would really like to see us alumni coming together, and having these talks about our experience and opening more opportunities up for people who are like us. I think that will push more of this conversation, legit force it by having more Fulbrighters of Color in the field, and these dialogues will enhance and just come about.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

Well, Meilin, thank you so much for your time. I know we've gone over than what we expected, but I hope, I hope in. My hope is that it's been for you formative just in having space to reflect on certain things and also share really your brilliance around what I think bilingual education can be, the power of English both as oppressive and potentially a place of growth, and I think for us to continue to think through how we move Fulbright, Forward. So thank you so much for all that you've shared about who you are, what you care about, and you know that you refuse to choose.

Meilin Chong:

Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy.

Jeremy Ryan Gombin-Sperling:

And that's all for this episode of Fulbright Forward. Thank you so much for listening. For a list of resources mentioned in today's episode, you can go to the Fulbright Forward website hosted on our Buzzsprout page. Remember also that you can subscribe to Fulbright Forward through your favorite podcast app like Apple podcasts or Spotify, as well as follow the podcast on Instagram. After recording this episode, I thought a lot about the story that Meilin shared when she and her co teacher got her students dancing and singing to the song Color Esperanza. As Meilin notes. That moment shifted the dynamics of the classroom. And ultimately, it brought her students closer together, promoted learning, and allowed her Latinx Students of Color to be seen and heard in ways that may have only been felt by the white students prior. So I ask myself and I ask listeners to think about this with me. What does that Color Esperanza moment look like in our work? What does it look like to shift the dynamics of power, privilege and identity in our spaces in a way that welcomes discomfort and moves us towards more collective strength and community? I know that sometimes in work on diversity, equity inclusion, people can feel as though the work they are doing has been "wrong" and that our job is now to do it right? Well, we need to remember that this is not about right or wrong, but rather about doing things differently if our goals are towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable landscape and whatever field in which we work. And this is part of what I hope we all can take from this conversation with Melin, that those Color Esperanza moments are perhaps what we have needed all along. Again, I'm Jeremy Gombin-Sperling Fulbright America's Diversity and Inclusion Liaison. Be well stay safe, and until next time.