By Johnathan Villalobos
This is a something about me and my backpack. A specific backpack and not just any pack. This pack is an all black, Oakley branded pack with a computer compartment in between my back and the pack itself. This pack has 8 compartments in total. This pack is a gift from my parents, hand picked. This pack has been with me for all my four years of my college career. I have kept it close at times when I’ve been lost in cities I’ve never been, but went to anyway. I’ve kept it on my back and on my watch at all times. No one can use this pack except Me. Why does it mean so much to me though ? Something I ask myself everyday.
Throughout this term I have been able to learn more about the constant workings at play of each and every object that I interact with on a day-to-day basis. Being able to think of the vitality of something as simple as the trash I throw away and think that throwing something into a garbage can is the end of its story. Now, in many ways, I see that point as chapter 1 of the story of each object. The process of producing it and packing, selling and all that is like the preface and the introduction and sometimes acknowledgements to the brand that is labeled onto whatever product being purchased. Big or small. Reusable or not. Humans are constantly in a huge assemblage with all the things we create and coexist with.
My backpack has been with me traveling back and forth between Kalamazoo, MI and my hometown in Los Angeles, CA, Highland Park. It’s been with me to Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Nicaragua. To Florida, to Northern Arizona, to San Diego, to Akron, Ohio. It has seen with Indiana, to Wisconsin and Chicago, IL with me. This backpack has been able to hold all of my belongings that I’ve needed to keep a close eye on at all times with no problems. I honestly don’t know how I would react if I was traveling and didn’t know where my backpack was. Not just because I have my personal belongings in it, but because it means more to me that the things it holds. And at the same time, all the things inside of it all have their own stories. Yes I did just personify my belongings because in a way everything has its own journey, its own vitality. In a way I am always touching the earth. There is nothing on this planet that humans have made that were manifested at the hands of humans. Everything we know, touch, see, smell, taste and experience come from all the elements already on this planet. Certain elements have only been manipulated in a way to construct a physical reality for us humans.
There are a multitude of elements that come into play when considering my backpacks influence in my life. I have most recently also just read most of Karl Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 and have read enough to understand the assertions he makes about commodities and fetishes. Commodities now are so far removed from their original producers that there is almost no way of knowing who exactly puts together or produces the commodities/products we all purchase and consume on a daily basis. With that, I’ll never know what or who came into play with the production of my backpack. There first was a need to gather the threading and fabric necessary to create what I know as my Oakley backpack. Now I want to be careful here as I am not making an attempt by any means to give great thanks or glorify all the people involved in the process of getting my backpack to my home and then onto my back and from there, wherever I take it. I am however, giving thanks to anyone along the way who has been exploited at any point in time that had any kind of influence in producing the backpack and having it sold. Now, my dad was the one who bought the backpack and gave it to me. The way I see my backpack, before this class, is in the lens of my dad giving me this gift because he cares about me and loves me to have a nice new pack for college. Going to Kalamazoo from Los Angeles, there were a lot of stigmas and ism’s my family and I considered. A couple of them being racism and social-economic discrimination. My parents had an influence in this backpacks story with me because they wanted their child to go to college with a new backpack that would show that they are not poor or something like that. The kind of school that Kalamazoo is, is a predominantly white institution. It is a very expensive school. So my parents knew, before I even had a clue, that there would be extreme judgement if I showed up to school without “new” stuff. My nino even helped out and got this very laptop that I am typing this paper on right now. My laptop is one of the pieces in the assemblage of my backpack as well.
I’ve stuffed a lot of things into my backpack over the course of my college career. Things like alcohol, books, notebooks, artwork, my wallet, my passport, my GoPro, cooking supplies, sports drinks, dishes, groceries, shoes, clothes of course, my laptop, pictures, important papers and research projects. The most frequent in my backpack however has been paper, notebooks, my laptop, pens and pencils, and countless numbers of gum and chapsticks which seem to get lost when I’m close to finishing them.
This backpack in some cases has also been a pillow and a little home in a pack. I’ve been jumping from the west coast and the east side of the country for the past four years and so I have had to keep a combination of school supplies and pieces of home with me in my pack. I say that I have had to because I am constantly moving spaces after about two to three month periods and I want to have things that remind me of home. Something I always keep with me are my rosaries gifted to me by my mother, my grandma and the father at the church I go to in my hometown in one of the side pockets of my backpack.
At times when I have been really stressed or just missing home, I’ll go into my backpack and put one of the rosaries on and just wear it all day long or I’ll wrap it around my wrist and count every single bead as I think of each family member and a memory for every bead. Another thing that always stays with me in my backpack is a prayer card in a plastic little cover that was given to me by someone very close to me. It has St. Peter on it and it was given to me by someone who was close to me and wanted me to carry it with me at all times to protect me while I was constantly traveling and to think about them and all the comforts of home.
Another thing I keep are my bracelets that I have accumulated throughout my years in college. I try to get handmade bracelets from each new place I visit for a few reasons. One is to remember the place I have visited. Two, to support local artisans and three, to have something physical that I can feel and then recollect memories and share the stories I have when people get intrigued by my bracelets and then ask where I got them from. They’re great conversation starters. Fun fact about my laptop and backpack though is that the compartment on my backpack meant to hold my laptop is used for storing really important documents when I travel. For people who don’t pay attention or can’t see it past my clothes, it works as a great secret compartment that makes me feel assured that no one will try to reach in and grab something. If they do I will feel even the softest of touches. My laptop is actually too big to fit in there. My laptop is exactly 17.5 inches wide. And that compartment on my backpack is still an inch too small. So my backpack is pretty big given that measurement.
Sometimes I feel like my backpack is part of my identity because I am always around it or kind of living out of it or living through it. I hope to keep this pack for a very long time and almost until some of the stitching comes apart to the point where I can no longer fix it. I also think about how my grandparents came to Mexico. Each one of them having a different story, but in every story there is a bag, a pack or something they use to keep their belongings in or keeping only the bare necessities to get to their next destination. They came to this country with so little and created so much. I thank them forever for the life they have given me and my family everyday. I always run scenarios in my head where I question what I would do if at any point in time that I have my pack on my back and something bad happens and forces me to move great distances just to survive, what would I do? Would I drop it if it was too heavy because on that one day I had my laptop? Would I hold onto it no matter what because I had one of my knives and lighter and food and clothes in it that would help me survive that much longer under whatever conditions I am put against? What things would I grab and carry with me along my journey to a safe zone/place? I never know. What I do know now is that I much rather hold onto it even if I had nothing in it. I could always have the option of being able to carry something with me like food or tools or what have you. Or I would just have just the pack. But I wouldn’t have JUST my pack. Even if I was alone with my empty pack I would have all of my memories. Memories of my life, memories of my family and memories of my adversities and challenges.
To this day I am always moving around. The minute I finish this paper, I will submit it, close my google doc window, close my computer and shut it down and put it into my pack.
Another story will have been told.
Another movement will have been initiated.
Another memory will forever be stitched into the assemblage and life story that is of Me and my Backpack.