For all of us, these are strange times. Unexpectedly joining a new program, writing introductory notes, and diving into preparations and planning are all exciting challenges, and in a funny way these tasks have normalized these past weeks for me. This is a familiar and comforting process, surrounded by friends and colleagues, and in many ways has allowed a sense of stability for me in these increasingly precarious times. I’m Kevin, and I’m humbled by the opportunity to join you all as a third instructor on the upcoming Rio Grande Semester.
A little bit about myself, right now: For the past five months I’ve been largely sheltering in place with family in Los Angeles, on unceded Gabrielino/Tongva ancestral land. I’ve been stuck outside of my home of past years, in Rabat, Morocco, due to the challenging travel conditions faced the world-over. I’ve been living and working in Morocco, after finishing a graduate degree focused on Islamic Studies and contemporary histories of the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve spent much of my adult life traveling, educating in various capacities, and studying contemporary political history, mainly interested in understanding how the world came to be structured as it currently is, and looking for inspiration for alternative social and political paths forward.
Like many of us, sitting in place has challenged our understanding of community, self and mobility, and our general vision of our lives as they existed ‘in the before time’, as another Dragons instructor sometimes puts it. For me, the global COVID-19 pandemic cut short job contracts, forced a relocation, and separated me from a community I’d been cultivating for many years. Further, I was challenged to rethink and reevaluate a life centered around movement, transience, and change. On the other hand, it also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with family and loved ones in a way I hadn’t been able to for almost a decade, letting me cultivate some new skills along the way (sourdough bread baking is the most prized of these), and focus on my own physical and mental health. Because of my great privilege, the pandemic has been a personal challenge only minimally inflected by the great pain of loss and sickness, and I’m continually grateful for my ability to recognize this truth and saddened by the unfairness of how this pandemic strikes various communities across the world and the United States.
From my perspective, this program is an opportunity to come together and build a small, fleeting (but potentially enduring) community, and travel, grow, and explore together. In a time of great upheaval, I’m personally grateful for the opportunity to look inward, both personally and also at the country that I’ve grown up in, and spent a long time travel outside of. Starting from the foundation of responsibility in an era of a pandemic towards ourselves and the communities that we’d like to learn from and with, I’m excited to build upon that by exploring the history of the space surrounding the Rio Grande watershed and to think about how the long line of this river reflects various narratives and stories that involve movement and mobility, immigration and politics, alternative communities, social justice, and a more broadly understood ecological awareness in a time of ongoing climate catastrophe. These issues flow beyond the river into our lives and the lives of many others in visible and unseen ways, and the opportunity to explore these in this moment of great upheaval is one that I think we are all grateful for. In the end, we’ll be exploring our own self-understandings and the places we hope to make for ourselves in the world as we continue to grow and learn. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue on this journey with all of you.
Like all of you, the next two weeks will be filled with lots of anticipation, gear acquisition, preparation, and then some goodbyes. I’m excited to get my bag packed, make sure that my footwear is lined up, and continue to learn about the space that we will be moving through, its history, contemporary issues, and how we can use those issues to reflect in our own ways on what we plan to get up to after this program. Like the other instructors, I’m here for any questions you all might have, and am looking forward to reading your introductory Yaks, hopefully coming up soon! We’ll be in touch, but don’t hesitate to throw up questions that other students might have, interesting articles that you’re reading to prep for the program, or general excitement about getting together, meeting, and embarking on this journey. Again, I’m grateful for the opportunity to join you and participate in this adventure.
With gratitude and excitement