Hoopla Hooper: Jeff Lagasca

Emigrating for Self-Realization

For most of my adult life I’ve maintained this innate awareness. My identity is a confluence, where the communities I belong to meet my assimilation of my physical surroundings and sensory stimuli; an ever-fleeting sense of physical consciousness.

Growing up an Asian-American farm boy, my family settled in a Northern California valley-town populated by ten-gallon hats, framed by golden hills and punctuated by dry, blistery summers. There weren’t many other kids like me in ‘My Little Slice of Texas.’

Later, while in college, the sense of otherness further coalesced when I realized I was gay. I then spent the next three years organizing groups for my communities as a Queer and Asian student-activist. I shared much camaraderie with my peers, working hard for my community. I had finally discovered a sense of belonging and purpose at the height of my efforts. I maintained such a great sense of who I was back then. Then I graduated back to ‘Texas.’

My sense of citizenry was formed by the people around me: my friends, my family and my obligations; in hindsight, my identity was cookie cut. While my identity was a given, my self-awareness was educated to me and, while I embraced that education, I knew there were other aspects of myself I had yet to understand. It was time to truly explore my identity on my terms!

One year out of college, I woke up my first morning in Queens to a sense of solitude, an emigrant from the familiarity of those golden hills to an uncharted concrete landscape. I had a strong premonition that New York would either strengthen or destroy my sense of humanity. However, most importantly, I had an amazing sense of independence. I’d given myself a blank slate with endless, exciting possibilities of who I might become!

I hit the ground running and explored the city’s music scene, cultivating a taste for local artists San Franciscan airwaves would have never highlighted. I also absorbed the city’s rough roads with my bicycle and my bike-minded friends, quickly realizing New York’s landscape was far more rich and diverse than the misrepresented gritty Harlem images that mainstream television and the news paints for the nation. Lastly, I engaged my sense of creativity as a photographer, working as an interactive designer and creative director for over three years at a social networking start-up.

New York is so much to me. Yes, it’s rude and impatient but it’s also endlessly engaging and connective. Walk down any quiet street in any part of the city and you may just find yourself learning the life story of a stranger sitting on their stoop! For every exasperation I make here, I remember that no other place could ever offer the countless opportunities to expand my awareness of self and diversity as NYC does.

Though Queens has changed into Brooklyn, ever since that first morning I’ve never regretted waking up to a muggy pink and lavender sunrise. Now, I want to give back to the place that nourished this growth in my life; through my photography and writings about New York City, I want to turn over the first of many stones left unturned!

I still maintain that innate self-awareness, one founded by my past and embellished and sharpened through my present. Surely, it will be colored by the future!

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