June Xie '11 is pictured as a baby (left) with her mother on the right.
courtesy of june xie ’11
June Xie ’11, who was born in Beijing, with her mother Sufang Cao. They immigrated to New York City in 1997, when Xie was 7.
community voices


How I grew, involuntarily, into myself
by June Xie ’11

FINDING DIRECTION has always been hard for me. In 2007, I entered Swarthmore thinking I’d major in sociology, or education, or philosophy, convinced I’d know by the end of my first semester who I’d be, what I’d like. After suffering through a dark sophomore slump, it took until my junior year to discover that what I really wanted to study — and what would change my entire life lens — was religion. By my senior year, I’d accumulated enough credits for a religion minor, an educational studies minor, and an English major. Half of me felt like a failure: I’d relinquished applying myself to be part of the Honors program, struggled to write essays despite literature being my main area of study, and had no clue what I wanted to do with my life after college.

But I was also, for the first time in my years at Swarthmore, happy. I’d become known and welcomed as the campus photographer-stalker; I was absorbing the concepts from postmodern religious thought into my being and leaning on them to help me navigate my existence; I’d found, in morsels that became small meals over time, meaning.

I spent my first year post-graduation teaching in China. Then I bumbled through 10-months of FEMA-funded Project Hope on post-Hurricane Sandy Coney Island, before leaving the program due to burnout from working against red tape.

I landed next in minimum-wage restaurant work for the next five years, where I learned how to cook and bake, but also how to burn myself, cut myself, ignore myself; to cry quickly in a walk-in fridge before someone else walked in.

My mother had wanted traditional success for me, painting in her mind a linear passage of accumulating accolades and climbing the professional ladder. I, on the other hand, lived my life like piecing together a collage. I swam away from the safety of her shore, finding myself often overwhelmed in the middle of nowhere.

As a hydrophobe, I never quite learned how to navigate these waters of life. The best I could do to pass Swat’s swim requirement was tread water for long enough to not drown. Even after having found momentary success in food media, as the host of a YouTube series called Budget Eats, I find myself treading water yet again at the age of 33.

My mother died last October.

With her death came many changes. I became untethered completely, lost in totality. I no longer clung to finding “meaning” as it was no longer relevant to me and the world I was in.

I grew, involuntarily, into myself. My voice emerged, finally severed from the umbilical echo, and I was fired for speaking too loudly about values that always mattered to me, that I’d never had the courage to fully vocalize before. My fears shed themselves like scabs. In grief, I prioritized self-preservation. Mom had always been a giver, until she gave all of herself away, to people and values that did not align with her or belong to her.

But self-preservation had always been her only wish for me. While acquiring conventional constructions of “success” signified to her the attainment of utmost security in life, I had to break free from her framework before I could begin to understand what “security,” “happiness,” “fulfillment” meant for me.

Those signifiers all point to different limbs of self-preservation. In order to go anywhere, I have to find my own legs first; no one else can move for me. Now, in my Jesus year, I’ve begun to come into my own body.