Members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.), South East Asian Club (SEAC), Asian Society, and other students sat in the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) in a dialogue with visiting speaker Ricco Siasoco on Monday. Siasoco’s discussion addressed his experiences with intersectionality and his ideas surrounding the topic. Siasoco, teacher, activist, and the Director of Equity and Inclusion at the Chadwick School, is the author of “The Foley Artist: Stories,” a collection of stories about Asian and queer identity.
English scholar and critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha’s theory of “Third Spaces” featured prominently in the discussion. Siasoco used it to illustrate the novelty of an intersectional existence, whether that be through the lens of race, class, gender, and beyond. According to Siasoco, a “Third Space” is similar to an affinity space—distinct from home and work spaces and school spaces. It is instead a place where an individual can authentically express their own individual experiences. He identified CAMD as one of Andover’s “Third Spaces,” a place on campus separate from one’s home and school, but still holding a sense of home.
Siasoco said, “Your First Space is your home culture, your home language, your home family. For me, that was really growing up a Filipino kid in Iowa. That’s First Space. Your Second Space is your school space, your work space, where you enter. You know, sometimes your identities are inferred, but it’s a different space than your home space. You have First Space, Second Space, and [Bhabha] was always thinking about ‘What’s a Third Space?’ So, you know, I was actually thinking as I came in here…CAMD is actually kind of a Third Space, which is nice. It’s a physical space, but, more importantly, it’s an ideological Third Space where you’re literally home, right?”
Siasoco was the only Asian in his graduate program, which highlighted for him the importance of affinity or Third Spaces. Later, Siasoco implemented the Third Space in his life by helping to found Kundiman, a national literary organization dedicated to Asian American literature.
Siasoco said, “A lot of the work I do is [because] I wanted a space for Asian-American writers. When I was coming up, in my twenties at the height of fame, I was still the only Asian in my graduate program of ten people. My other friends, who I discovered later, were Asian and good writers, [and they] were like, ‘I always thought I was the only one.’ So, we were like, ‘well, we can create a Third Space.’ So we created a non-profit. We were like, ‘we’re just going to create this space for Asian-American writers. It doesn’t exist, so we’re going to have to create this Third Space.”
Nikita Muromcew ’21 expressed how she identified with the concept of a Third Space, and shared how the people and community in her ideal Third Space would consider her as her own individual. Muromcew, a triplet, explained how she and her sisters all perceive their identities differently.
“I think of a Third Space as a place where I don’t have to consider my identities in a way where my identity as a whole is considered a default. And in my opinion, I feel like I do not have that just because even if I find the same mixed people, even if I find the same people with the same understandings of gender and sexuality, we have very different minds. I’m a triplet, and the three of us have very different minds,” said Muromcew.
During the discussion, Karin Ulanovsky ’20, Co-Head of G.S.A., explained how affinity groups at Andover can act as Third Spaces, but can also place unrealistic expectations on its members. While G.S.A. is not an affinity group, Ulanovsky gave an example of how when she is in certain affinity spaces, she feels pressure to “perform” that specific aspect of her identity.
“Someone can feel like they need to be more performative in an affinity space—they have to perform their identity to a more extreme point because they’re in the affinity space, so they kind of have to prove themselves. Maybe sometimes that’s how I feel in my affinity spaces, but on the other hand, affinity spaces are places where everyone is supposed to be themselves. So, I think it’s on the individual level,” said Ulanovsky.
Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Chinese Department Chair and Co-Advisor of affinity group Asian Women Empowerment (A.W.E.), helped organize the dinner along with SEA, G.S.A., and Coreen Martin, Instructor in English. Cai-Hurteau knows Siasoco personally and because of this was able to organize his visit somewhat spontaneously, and brought G.S.A., S.E.A., and Asian Society together in order to emphasize the significance of intersectionality and representation.
“It’s so rare that we have someone to come in and talk about this intersectionality between Asian-American and queer identities and also someone who has South East Asian heritage, [and] is Filipino-American—we just don’t have a lot of that representation on campus,” said Cai-Hurteau.”
Alex Ashman ’22 believes there is a need for more discussions about “Third Spaces” outside of events on campus.
“I think it’s a conversation we need to have about how do we create these Third Spaces at Andover and how spaces at Andover are or aren’t being Third Spaces right now… [Siasoco] mentioned cultural hybridity instead of intersectionality. I think at Andover we have a lot of discussion about intersectionality, but I think the hybridity that he’s talking about—different aspects of your identity overlap rather than intersect at certain points—is really important,” Ashman said.
According to Natalie Shen, Co-President of Asian Society, it’s impossible to consider an aspect of cultural identity without acknowledging overlap—a concept that she believes needs to be expressed more on campus.
“The concept of talking about Asian identity and queer identity… there’s not a space for that on campus… I think it’s [important to understand] that our identities are very intersectional in the sense that you can’t think about your sexuality without thinking about your race and you can’t think about your gender without thinking about your sexuality. Everything that you believe in is connected in your unique experience,” said Shen.