When I was 16, she was 8. She was as bright-eyed and curly-haired as she is now — only then, she was about 2 feet shorter. She looked up at me with about as much adoration as I ever could have wanted. She has always been wise and observant.
She’s 14 now. Her name is Sophia, and she’s my sister.
I had wanted a sister for as long as I could remember. I wanted siblings who could teach me about the world, who I could look up to and who could look up to me. But I didn’t understand the distinct power of sisterhood until I came to UC Berkeley, where I’ve met women who live and share that power.
Like most new college arrivals, I had no idea who I was as a freshman. I was a blank canvas, the definition of undeclared. I attended Calapalooza and left with about a million flyers, but a red one with hearts and the following words emblazoned on it stood out to me: “The Vagina Monologues.”
I wasn’t ready to get back onstage after leaving behind a career in dance, so I auditioned to design the production’s merchandise. The experience of being part of the “Vag Mons” crew changed me in ways I’m still processing. Sisterhood should be intersectional, and it should go beyond cis-terhood — that’s what UC Berkeley’s “Vag Mons” teaches its members and its audiences
I was lucky in other ways, too. Unlike many freshmen, I loved my first roommates so much that it’s hard to believe we were grouped together randomly. While writing up our roommate agreement, Margie, Luna and I agreed to be each other’s home away from home, our alternative mothers and sisters while our families were all over the world.
It was a no-brainer that the three of us would continue living together after we moved out of the dorms, with one addition: Victoria is the fourth, and an equally integral member of our little alternative family.
The four of us cry together when we’re stressed, terrified or disappointed. We laugh when we’re delirious from joy or lack of sleep. We’re each other’s counselors and cheerleaders. We couldn’t be more similar in our mannerisms, but we couldn’t be more different in our interests.
These women are patient and observant; they taught me how to watch and listen to the needs of people around me and to speak up for my own.
A few semesters later, after an in-class screening of “Gold Diggers of 1933,” I turned to the woman sitting next to me and made a “What the fuck was that?” face, only to find that she reflected the same confusion right back. We walked out of class that day laughing and yelling about the movie’s ridiculous sexism and symbolism — then we realized that we’d both attended the same Tame Impala concert at the Hearst Greek Theatre the previous weekend. It was instant friendship, kindled over nacho fries and peanut butter milkshakes.
Sarah’s confident in her sense of humor, her creativity and her voice — like me, she’s a frequent question-asker. She’s not afraid to hop onstage at open mics with her guitar. She is genuine in everything she does, every friendship and every conversation.
But finding one’s voice doesn’t just happen in personal spaces. It happens in classrooms, as well as activist spaces and creative ones, too. That’s why I’m thankful that I followed the clichéd, and perhaps idealistic, advice of going to office hours early and often.
It started with after-class conversations, and later led to hours-long discussions over potential essay topics, research, our favorite television shows and why it’s important to question the films we hold dear. Those professors, lecturers and graduate students who took the time to meet with me, and often hundreds of other students waiting outside their offices to speak to them, taught me just how significant it is to feel heard and valued.
If they hadn’t done so, I might not have applied for The Daily Californian, where mentors and models of unapologetic persistence and journalistic integrity abound.
Here, I met a brilliant comedian and columnist, whose research skills and nuanced approach to criticism made her an invaluable writing partner and friend. From Shannon, I learned the power of collaboration and leadership. Our work taught me that more voices don’t muddle the message — they make it stronger.
At Berkeley, I found exceptional friends and mentors. Each of these women has talked with me about all the things that women are expected to be — and how those expectations are tempered by other identities, too. Of each other, we expect only authenticity and acceptance. That kind of sisterhood is a gift that I want my sister to have as she starts high school and, later, college.
And I can only hope to be one of those women for her, too.