On the UCSD Cross Cultural Center- 20 Years of Amazing

Post Jummah prayers, right before the guys went their way, we got this shot during my Freshman year at UCSD, in 2002.
Post Jummah prayers, right before the guys went their way, we got this shot during, Winter-Springish, 2002.

The “Cross” is a borderland experience because it lies at the intersection of cultures and communities that make up the diversity of America. What is the Cross? Well the Cross is short for the Cross Cultural Center, it is a place I considered sanctuary, as well as a place that transformed each week on Friday into the ma’sallah (prayer space) for the Muslim Student Association at University of California, San Diego. Check out the website for more information here and watch this video on the Cross.

Earlier this year I was invited to write about my experience/relationship with the Cross while I was an undergrad at UCSD for the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Cross. The reflection will be included in an upcoming publication titled “Centering the Community: 20 Years of Advocacy, Activism, and Community Building at the University of California San Diego Cross Cultural Center.” Edwina Welch, a mentor-slash-therapist, is one of the key components that makes the Cross the amazing space it is (obviously there are other critical components too!). Here’s an excerpt from a recent UC San Diego News Center  interview with Edwina:

“Our 20th Anniversary will help illuminate the work we are trying to do,” said Welch. “Our main goal hasn’t changed since the center was opened—bringing together and honoring students, staff, faculty and the San Diego community. They are the reason and backbone of the work and activities of the Cross-Cultural Center.”

Part of the manuscript that the Cross is preparing is for folks who went through the Cross, like me, to look back at their experience and offer academics in the field of human-cultural-exchange and community-building/activism a point of reference on the utility of spaces like the Cross. Writing from a perspective that explores the concept of  “La’Kech”- Navigating and Managing Self in Community- I took a stroll back to my days at UCSD, and then reached even further back. From this exercise I waxed nostalgic, but it also helped me process some feelings and challenges I have been faced with ever since I moved back to the Antelope Valley, in particular how I don’t have a communal space I claim as representative of me. The realization of this dislocation came from the process of reflective writing.

Simon Sineck would be proud of my effort. In Start With the Why, Sineck talks about reaching back to define your why and finding the means to move forward with your “what and how.” And I realize that in this effort, former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun words resonated loudly in my experience:

“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.”

The Cross was a space where I got a chance to do the defining of self, creating a community around that definition and then going out and battling the world, or rather, the defining that others imposed on me. In the world outside of the university, there isn’t this same “space” where one can go to keep defining themselves. What I discovered was that the Masjid, should be that space, and when it lacked that capacity it fundamentally challenged the notion of self, and for me this is what lead to the feelings I have of being dislocated. The Masjid doesn’t represent what I identify with, but then being at the Cross and thinking about that space, made me wonder should the Masjid even serve this role? This is a definitely a thought worth pursuing but not here, or now.

Since I graduated in 2005, and left UCSD for good in 2006, the Cross has changed drastically. Its no longer in the armpit of a building that the administration gave as its original space. That place was a point of contention, we [students] held it as a mark of pride but also the fact that the “powers” didn’t want us, we were to be hid and put away.  Yet, now with a new space, in the heart of the campus, the old Cross seems like a cozy space, it was made with love, sweat and narrative in mind. Today’s Cross still carries that forward, but it exists in a space that is sterile and lacks the unique character that the old building had. However, its no less a place for community building and intersectionality and what I realized in writing this piece was that “space” had an associated time and consideration for me- then was “my” time, now is “their” time- so its about what students make of that legacy, in their new space, and not necessarily the aesthetics of it (and with the budget cuts I should be happy that the Cross still exists!).

That is what is interesting about managing and navigating self in community- its divisional, like time is into eras. We also can take the self, dividing it into what I view as a communal self and an individual self. At this point of intersection there exists a unique tension; its about self independence, and communal dependence. This tension management exists within the physical space that community exists in, the space, or environment, community creates and the things that bring individuals together to form the community- common values, principles, shared experiences, things like that. In a way its like the metaphor of one hand needing the other in order to clap, navigating self always requires two hands.

I explore that, as well as my journey with the Cross and with spirituality, and identity in the upcoming publication. Its exciting, and I hope you are excited about it as much as I am! The book gets published in Spring 2015, and I will post more in the future!

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