Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” has always been a favorite poem of mine. I keep coming back to it time and again when pressed with a decision to try harder or to stop trying. It does not always make me push further though, in spite of its eloquent precision, and I realize I have collected a few sundried raisins of unfulfilled dreams along the way. And I always accepted that occasional bumps on the road were a matter of course and was even grateful that there had not been more.
But things have changed. The student demonstrations and youth protests that are happening all over Thailand1 only confirm what I have been witnessing in my teenage son first-hand and with increasing trepidation. Growing up against the backdrop of widespread disorder, the personal, to him, is political. Nothing is too trivial to upset his sense of entitlement––from the school buzz cut2 (an infringement on his body) and after-school tutorials (ditto on his time) to any latest cabinet deliberation3 (ditto on his rights) and any latest social media policy4 (ditto on his expression). It troubles me that he is troubled; that every little extra requirement runs like a sore to him. It troubles me that, to him, the dream of freedom is so routinely deferred just because freedom itself has become a routine of free association.
I understand that such grievances are somewhat typical of his era and generation, and therefore not quite original. Maybe I am just troubled by the thought that my raisin-collecting days became dated sooner than I had anticipated. The “new-normal generation” refuses to be complacent about sagging dreams.
At least not without a good fight.
1 The student protests, demanding the dissolution of the authoritarian parliament and an amendment of the royal prerogative and lèse majesté law among other things, were triggered by the dissolution of an opposition political party in February 2020, and erupted nationwide in July after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was lifted and schools reopened. Rallies continued heatedly in academic campuses through August and September and are still ongoing as of October 2020.
2 The compulsory bob-and-buzzcut rule for state-school students (aged 7-18 years) which had been regulated since 1972 was finally relaxed in May 2020 resulting in large-scale controversies, universal jubilation from students and mixed responses from teachers and parents.
3 Much of this is related to the issues in Footnote 1. Further examples are populist policies and nepotistic practices.
4 Again, much of this has to do with mass surveillance in relation to and as the result of the issues in Footnotes 1 and 3.