Belonging – Marissa Wu

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

We’ve just wrapped up the fourth week of our internship, marking not only the halfway point of the program, but also four weeks that I’ve spent away from mid-60s weather, decent Mexican food, my guitar, and a state of total cluelessness about life and work on the Hill. While I still have so much more to learn, in the month I’ve been here, I can say with certainty that I’ve grown in multiple ways. Some are easily visible; for example, I actually have a writing sample portfolio now. Others have been more subtle, and definitely more interesting.A Victory Congressional Intern poses underneath the sign for Representative Mark Takano's Office

In one of my sociology classes last semester, I studied Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital— an understanding of soft skills and implicit understandings as reflective of one’s class upbringing and centrally consequential in navigating institutional life. In other words, cultural literacy is developed from birth, and having, or not having, the “right” kind of cultural knowledge about how to navigate the environment determines whether or not you belong. For the last four weeks, cultural capital has been at the forefront of my mind, as I notice the ways I’ve intentionally or unintentionally adapted to DC to seem like I belong.

To be frank, I don’t belong. The system was never designed for a queer person of color from an immigrant family. And, borrowing Bourdieu’s concept again, it’s not so much about identity itself, as it is about what skills and understandings those identities imbued me with, compared with what knowledge I need to be able to navigate a place like the Hill successfully.

Those are the spots where I feel like I’ve actually grown the most. As a born-and-raised Californian, being comfortable in business formal attire every day and adopting “sir” and “ma’am” into my regular lexicon does not come to me naturally. But slowly, it’s starting to feel more effortless and less like playing a character. I’ve also been working on my networking skills— with varying degrees of success. I must admit, though, I don’t know if having engrossing conversations with complete strangers is something I will ever fully master. The ability to think on my feet and react quickly has also been crucial. While I would prefer to have clear directions and a precise plan going into any situation, I’ve had to learn how to act like I know what I’m doing while totally winging it.

Four Victory Congressional Interns, all nonbinary, pose for a group photo in the Russell Senate Building

While I’m learning how to belong here, I am also constantly monitoring myself to make sure I don’t forget or take for granted where I came from. I am beyond privileged to even be here, working in federal government, much less, to have the opportunity to adapt to the environment. There are so many fellow queer folks, people of color, and immigrant families who will never have this opportunity, who cannot afford to be visible when their very existences are under attack and at risk. I also understand that this opportunity and this visibility entrusts me with the social and moral responsibility to act for those who cannot, and I will do my best in the next four weeks of this program and the next years of my life to live up to that responsibility.