Archive for the 'Sigma Phi Epsilon' Category


Immigration and Identity

So I’m feeling lazy and tired today. I’ll probably post my wrap up piece on the Drag Race after Italian but for now sink your minds into this paper I wrote for a class on the subject of Immigration and Identity. I think it’s interesting.

In my brief and inconsequential life, I have constantly searched for an experience of that which is most different from myself. I’ve always attributed it to a certain distaste for the culture in which I developed, that of partial inclusion. My Italian-American identity is quite rightly hyphenated; I fall somewhere in between having aspects of both but fully belonging in neither. I identify with the passion and realism instilled in me by grandparents but at the same time am mired in the fantasies and escapism of modern American society. I seek to destroy the boorish American of European comedy but also look with hatred upon the “guidos” of the Jersey Shore. The conflict of these seemingly unreconcilable ideas and portrayals have only heightened a feeling of inner strangeness. In the inability to understand and control my own Identity, I have come to feel a foreigner in my own body. This feeling of isolation has prompted me to seek out a knowledge of the “Other” in all cultures; of that which runs entirely against the “real boundaries between human beings” (Said 233) that have constrained my conception of myself. It has been my hope that in these experience I may come to shape a post-modern hybrid identity of my own creation.
This desire was part of what brought me to Brighton Beach in search of the Russian-American community. Although I have no real recollection of the Cold War, I had been raised in the fear of Soviet aggression that characterized it through sensationalist films such as Red Dawn and Rocky or countless video games. Russo-American cultural exchange seemed limited to fists and bullets and hardly a humanizing portrayal of the “Other”. But these conveyed ideas on a group of people did not ring true in the light of actual experience. My mentor in my fraternity, Dimitry Ekshut was the greatest counterpoint I knew to such martial stereotypes. A brilliant Jazz guitarist and articulate conversationalist, Dimitry had often told me in broad strokes of his brief time growing up in St. Petersburg and his bilingual life as an immigrant. I had come to admire him to see him as someone who “could…outdistance the organizing claims on him of his origins” (Said 234). He had often told me about Brighton and wished he went there. He therefore would be the perfect guide for the community I wanted to see; one that is thriving, vibrant and blended. It was my experiment, my study to adopt the clinical method of the orientalist, to observe how he reacted to and explained this culture to an outsider and thus gain new perspective on how I met with my own.
It is ironic that for all my self-isolation language, linguistics and communication are so interesting to me. From when I began deciphering Attic Greek in high school to my recent study of Italian, I have found the interconnections and diversity of language fascinating. In their vocabulary, phrasing, tone, and other subtleties, a speaker conveys so much about their way of thinking and the culture that raised them. So in this respect, when Dimitry gave directions to an old woman in flowing Russian when we left the B train in Brighton that cold January he hardly seemed out of sorts. He spoke in the same long meandering sentences he always did with the same Meter as his American voice. Curious. What made the exchange more interesting was how the woman responded. She did not cut him off or rush to speak like so many of our brothers would. She replied with Dimitry’s longwinded nature that was such a hindrance to communication with our other brothers seemed normal here, necessary. In something so simple as sentence construction, Dimitry had wedged himself between his two cultures. While he lacked a discernible accent speaking English, his mother tongue betrayed him to us with every paragraph long sentence he uttered. I felt this myself when I lived in Firenze every time my mouth crunched down on a long beautiful Italian phrase. I conversed and worked with Florentines but by my American accent I could never pass as one. I was caught again in the middle.
Continuing on, the slow onset of Russian signs signaled my shift into otherness. As I struggled to read by comparing the characters to their Greek and Latin counterparts, I recalled from my knowledge of Catholic history how St. Cyril had created Cyrillic precisely so that the Catholic Church could translate the Bible for the Russian people. This “bridge” between East and West was seemingly out though; I could sound out next to nothing. Turning one corner onto Brighton Avenue yield a strange sight, shops lit up with Russian signs filled both sides of the street and the sound of the foreign tongue reached a crescendo. Russian culture had muscled its way into the outer borough structure. I had felt this way in the Bronx as a child, looking at the same buildings with signs that read in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. Here was an enclave, a bastion against the subway overhead, the way the very buildings seemed to jostle each other on the cramped street, and the deposits of salt making every street a dull gray slush.
Walking into a deli Dimitry pointed out I wondered how the culture had resisted so long. The shelves and counters were laden with sweets, drinks, and foods I had never before seen. Dimitry chatted away with the clerks about their wares as I stood feeling as illiterate as a child. How had this place resisted the pull of American culture so greatly? “It’s the distance,” Dimitry told me later as we sat down to lunch in a cafe “Could you imagine tourists taking the subway all the way out here?”. Of course it made sense, I knew from my own life it did. Brighton was still Russian for the same reason Arthur Avenue is the true Italia Piccola, Isolation. A distance of both words and streets had kept both locations closer to their homeland than the new American culture.
Yet even Brighton is caught in the middle I thought as I opened my English menu. Dimitry had hoped we could have gone to one of the many dance and dinner clubs that played a mix of Russian and American music but this lunch would have to suffice. Tearing into my whole chicken, the grease dribbling down my satisfied mouth I was filled with more questions than answers. I wondered if I could ever achieve the balance of culture Dimitry had, if such a thing was even open to me. How could I by nature of birth am “more American” ever find a balance between my two identities?

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.


In which we go see our brother in Drag

So NYU as we all know is not your average Greek campus. We don’t really have houses, we don’t have a huge football team to rally around and we only make up about 5% of the 20000 undergrad population. But we also have some things other schools lack. One of those things is a chapter of the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive minded men. Tonight DLP is putting on a drag show in which we get to see representatives from the various fraternities and sororities get their freak on and cross dress. Proceeds are going to HOTT, an organization aimed at counseling LGBTQ teens. Our own brother Sam Bicak will be going for broke to impress the judges tonight at 730 (pretty soon). If you want to come and have a good time, check out Ticket Central; they’re only 7 bucks.


Pensee on Lent; DIligence as Actualization of the Self

As we consider ourselves, I find music to be instrumental to self discovery and actualization. This track by Between the Buried and Me explores how little we understand the riddle of our human brain and the consciousness caged within it. It is integral to our understanding of how I believe Sin comes to exist in the world and why a set period of reflection such as Lent is integral to all human experience.

Diligence; the conscious and daily reflection that just as this earthly form has a beginning it also must have an end. With each moment that our outer shell deteriorates and decays we must strive to bring meaning and purpose to ourselves through self understanding and satisfying the needs of others and ourselves. Our bodies and minds are fulfilled through diligence, through achievement, to deny this is to live in constant death and blindness of meaninglessness. Diligence requires constant thought and reflection, to understand that what we do is achieving our goals. And this is a tradition that every Abrahamic culture has instituted be it through the period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, Ramadan or in the case of Christian culture, Lent.

The concept of Lent as is taught in our parochial schools when we are young is one of giving up. And this in and of itself is not a bad thought. By distancing ourselves from that which our mind guiltily enjoys we feel we have bettered our self. However this commitment is easy to break and cast aside. Giving up TV, smoking, and other trivial things also rarely gets to the heart of chronic discrepancies we have between our rationalized wants and the actions we take. These discrepancies are what we can consider Sin, those habitual actions we take which disagree with what we truly wish to do. Considering my own life, I recognize a habit of procrastination which stems from my youth and I feel has constantly drained the potential of my life. Thus during this time of Lent I wish to instead challenge myself to activate my potential through a closer focus on what my body needs to perform at it’s best. Complete denial of the flesh often drives us into negative failure paths. How often have we heard of a friend who in trying to quit smoking cigarettes cold instead returns to it with an air of defeat? They have denied the flesh, doing what they do not enjoy, in an attempt to achieve their ultimate goal of eliminating a Sin from their life. Is it any surprise that they fail?

This is strategy of my lent. To appease the needs of my body, mind and soul I must engage in easy activities to satisfy them. Yoga shall strengthen my body and peer deeper into my understanding of myself. With the schedule, I have set forth of 3 sessions a week, I have a measurable gauge of my activity for the week. To further my career goals, I will utilize career net, my contacts, and craigslist to get 2 interviews by next week. Further, I will schedule band practices weekly for my band to begin bringing that goal to completion. In order to make all this possible, the foundation of my schoolwork must be in place. I am committing myself to a goal that by the end of February, I will be 2 days ahead of each of my classes scheduled required work. Finally, to achieve the ambitious goals I have for SOLID, I will present my first funding proposal for a trip to a Yankees game by Monday for approval.

With the appropriate steps, these goals are within reach. I shall achieve all of them. I shall will this. Science has proven that at the quantum level, the mere viewing of certain particles by humans can change their nature. Astounding. Even at this primitive level of brain functioning, we can restructure reality and the components of it. So why not do it at a macrolevel? 2000 years ago one man discovered this in 40 days. There is good reason that Lent lasts just as long.


The 800 Pound Gorilla of ’09

So with 2009 done I feel the need to think back on what I did with my life (inspired by my awesome friend and musical co-conspirator Emilio Herce’s sick blog). 09 had it’s fair share of twists and turns but I’d like to think I had an easier time than the year of death that was 2008.

I got started with a  4 month study abroad vacation in Italy. Since I could really understand what my ethnicity was I’ve wanted to go to Italy so obviously living there was something phenomenal. Initially I was very happy to experience a culture I felt was more in-tune with who I was. Things don’t really operate on a set time schedule in Italy as any rider of the number 25 bus in Florence will tell you (The 25 often described how many minutes late it was). I found myself experiencing a sort of dual mind which has left me since I came back, I was thinking in Italian and English at points. Something I had wanted to feel for a long time, a feeling of belonging to a majority culture seemed real. But as time wore on I think I came to feel like I was just passing. Sure I could speak with a better accent and I knew quite a few more words than my friends but at the end of the day I wasn’t Italian. I was an American. A fake. My Italian skills somewhat stagnated after a return to the States due to laziness and a sub-par Italian course. My question for myself going into 2010 is to what degree do I want to pursue my dual identity? I know I’m going to finish my minor in Italian if only to not have an entirely useless degree but I don’t think I could consider immigration. So what use is this Identity?

The second trend of my year is how my obsession with death has influenced me this year. I’ve been grappling with the perceived meaninglessness of our lives since the tragic death of my friend Paul Fortini last year. Paul’s life was ended senselessly early in the fall semester. I felt anger and grief that I had been invited to be with him that night and not gone due to prior commitment. In my mind, I’d always felt I could have saved him, I would have been sane enough to take him home. I couldn’t handle the growing dread I had that all that awaited the dead was oblivion, nothing more. Italy gave me a momentary respite from this nihilism but I couldn’t escape it forever.

One of the best and worst things about Italy is that there is no drinking age and Italian bars are more than happy to capitalize on stupid American college students with drink specials and late hours. After doing community service on the other side of the Arno, I met up with friends at one such place for Jared, my closest friend in Italy’s birthday. The party had been going for quite a while and some people were absolutely ruined. I’d been watching myself after a disastrous night earlier in the semester; I had a few but was well within myself. By the end of the night the Birthday boy was not. Stumbling and swaying, I knew it was time to take him home. He had other ideas. I battled him out of the place and tried to hail a cab. Unlike their NYC compatriots, Italian cabbies respond to phone calls. Another difference that we discovered that night is they don’t pick up passengers who are drunk. So began a 45 minute battle up the hill back to the Villa la Pietra Campus filled with swerving and grappling. The entire time my mind was flashing back to the night Paul died. Was this what it would have been like? Did I have what it took to make sure another friend didn’t die? By random chance, quel cazzo di autobus, the Number 25 drove by 3/4s of the way into the climb. By the time we had gotten Jared into his room I couldn’t contain myself. I went into the courtyard, away from everyone and wept. I hadn’t at Paul’s funeral, I couldn’t look that way in front of my brothers. That night I realized maybe I could have saved Paul. But I didn’t, I wasn’t there and nothing could ever change that.

Coupled with my 20th birthday, this experience of death has made me think more and more about my inevitable death. What am I going to leave on the “White Walls” of my life? 2009 brought me amazing musical inspiration from bands like Mastodon, the Mars Volta, Between the Buried and Me and others. What will I do with this inspiration to create something truly my own before my expiration date? And can I believe in an afterlife in the godless universe that my experience has led me to see?

My last major trend of 2009 is my back and forth relationship with my fraternity. The time away from the chapter in the spring was welcome considering how consumed I felt by it in the fall after Paul’s death. I wanted time to grieve for someone who had been my friend first and my brother second. Over the summer when I returned I fell right back into step with my brothers, enjoying our time in the city. I felt further enthused by an amazing trip to Orlando for Conclave. I felt the confidence and passion of a zealot being surrounded by the best we had to offer. Coming to live with them in our chapter house however I began to feel something a friend Steve Romain had once described “this is not the chapter I left”. I began to feel the chapter was sliding into the type of frat boy behavior that had doomed Paul. I wasn’t a saint by any means but my nihilism made me feel as though my choice of ascribing to the core of what the chapter’s ideals stand for meant something. I tried to organize a food drive for our Phi Community service project that fizzled. I’ve never been the most organized and my brothers seemed to take every possible opportunity to remind me of this. However despite setbacks, the drive brought many cans to the hungry. After a harrowing interview I was finally ready for the Epsilon rite, the next stage in my development. But based on my reactions to the trials of the day, my brothers who I had journeyed with disagreed. I’ve had nearly two months to think back on the events of the day and I’ve grown weary of biting my tongue. I feel that one day of my life was used unfairly against me. One moment of anger at a desecration of our values overrode a semester of my attempts to change who I was to be a better leader in their sight. Today I feel a mixture of sadness, hatred, and resentment towards a majority of my brothers, a feeling that I am not “good” enough for them. While I count dear friends among their number, I’ve come to believe that the ideology they serve is as arbitrary as any other in this world. I’d considered going on in the background with my quiet resentments but after the time I’ve spent thinking o it this break, I don’t know how I can. Am I jealous because of my failure in the elections? Yes, it would be disingenuous of me to say otherwise. But, I do view them as a referendum of sorts by my brothers on how they view me. And the role they see me in is clearly not that of a leader, what I want to be. Weighed against my goal of a speedy exit from NYU it would almost seem beneficial to escape the distractions of the chapter house. I feel hollow to think that my time in the chapter has been a waste.

So as I look to 2010, the gorilla in the room of my nihilism stares back at me. Nothing in this world is of inherent value only that which we assign value. That which I have value has been shaken and destroyed in 2009 and the crippling problem of morality seems unwilling to let me alone. My question for 2010 is what do I truly value and how can I seize it. It is my resolution to devote the major part of my energy to this.


Phi Journal the Second

Search “Where Am I?” by Mono on youtube and listen to it while reading this entry.

Oh what a weary traveler I am. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I interact with younger members the last day or so. I’ve always been used to looking up to others and I guess I’d never considered myself to be a role model. Even with my blood brother, I always felt my example was something that was good to follow but that I never actively told him what to do and not to do with his life. I’ve always felt more comfortable following someone else’s lead. Even from my first days in the chapter I modelled myself for better or worse after the brothers I admired; taking Justin Levine’s take no prisoners love of the organization, Dima’s warmth and openness, and even learning things from the examples of brothers who are contemporaries like Sam and Luke. But when I go to events like the KSD mixer with Chris some how it makes sense, I am that role model for him. I could sense him taking my lead as we talked to the girls and absorbing every word I have to say about my vision of this chapter and it’s history. I can’t be passive about mentoring anymore when it’s clear now that I am a mentor.

Thinking about younger brothers who I want the absolute best for in their lives, I begin to reconsider the image I portray to them. Yes I do want to retain my openness, my ability to be goofy and ridiculous and ultimately honest about who I am with them. I do want to put people at ease around me. But at the same time I need to “Model the Way” Coming back to my last post with serving the chapter and task completion, I  know that my words can only tell my younger brothers so much. To cement my legacy and also to leave the chapter better for having me I need to show through action that this chapter is worth it. Every time that I don’t hold myself to finish a job to it’s conclusion, I send a clear message to my younger brothers that this chapter is not worth a full and honest effort. Conversely, a job well done instills in them the idea that  work is worth doing for all the love and vested attention that I hold in my heart for SigEp. And that’s part two of my goal in mentoring, to instill a love of this organization.

A note quickly, on conflict resolution. I have made quite plain my distaste for how our chapter is headed socially. From a combination of stubbornness and fear of certain character flaws of mine I hadn’t gone to a mixer this semester. But I honestly can say the field day yesterday was one of the best events of this semester for me. It was good that I could swallow my pride and see the value of meeting people in other organizations and sowing these friendships. But more so than that it gave me a chance to reconnect with Tony and other brothers. Those bonds which had been strained by my sometimes difficult personality snapped right back as we just had a good time letting of steam. Coming away from the mixer, I realize that it’s true that there is a strength in admitting when we are wrong. I am not always right about every issue in this chapter and the humility that takes is part of what it takes to be a Balanced Man. I’ll never forget having an intense fight with Christina last year over our political identities (the stupidest thing we could fight about). After saying something particularly cruel and angry she retorted “Maybe you are right, unbalanced man”. The remark cut me to the core. How balanced can we be when emotions and pride make us cut off relationships especially amongst brothers? As I grow this semester, I need to stay mindful of my anger and not to let petty arguments damage again my relationships with my brothers. After all what type of example would I be setting if I did?