Claiming a Place in the World
By: Rafaelito V. Sy, A89
I am a writer. Unlike with most writers, my calling did not start as an idea that evolved over time into an obsession. The decision to be a writer happened in a moment. I moved to America from the Philippines in 1985 to attend Tufts. Assimilation was hard. Culture shock had some part in the difficulty, but mostly, it was being in the closet.
One summer night following my sophomore year, I walked into a gay bar. When I looked around, I didn't see a single person like me: Everyone was tall, white, and well-built. It just so happened that I had taken a creative writing course in the semester that had just ended. In that instant, my future gelled. I made a vow to God and to myself that if I couldn't be seen, then I would do whatever it takes, however long it takes, to be heard through the power of words.
I knew the journey ahead would be long and thorny, for I had no delusions about talent. But like a car crash where one loses a limb, there was no going back. Over the years, the literary vocation has been a battlefield of letdowns. The forces that be, from agents to journal editors, refuse my work for no reason other than "Not a right fit." I persist because writing has grown into a dimension greater than the self; I am indebted to many people for their support. Yet every rejection brings me back to that night at the gay bar, and rather than discouraging me, rejection propels my ambition to a higher level.
Recently, I've discovered education as a potent channel to impart my passion for writing. I am currently an essay coach and editor at First Graduate, a nonprofit organization that guides underrepresented students from the sixth grade through high school and beyond so that they could be the first in their families to earn a college diploma. For all the challenges I face as a writer, I am certain of this: today's marginalized youth must be empowered with a voice, for only in telling their stories can they assert their visibility and claim a place in the world.
Read other contributions of the personal stories of Tufts alumni informed and inspired by their heritage—and shared in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.