XASS: Why don’t you begin by introducing yourself?
DLP: I’m Jess, short for Jessica, and I go by DLP or Dilp. My last name is de la Paz and the nickname started sticking when my brothers and I were all at school together. My brothers got the short end of the stick – they started calling them dill pickle. I’m from San Jose, California. It’s a great place– would recommend… or not.
I’m a coterm in civil and environmental engineering. My undergrad was environmental systems engineering, and I picked up a few minors on the way.
XASS: So this is your last year at Stanford. Do you have any idea what’s beyond this yet, or is it all still up in the air?
DLP: It’s like, up in the air, but you’re able to grasp it if you need it. I’m applying to a couple of PhD programs, across California mostly, along with a couple on the east coast. I want to focus on the environment and climate change, mainly urban resilience.
XASS: Where’d that come from? When did you start to become fascinated by the environmental/urban dynamic?
DLP: Um, my whole academic career has been a mess, but a beautiful mess. Without getting too much in the weeds, I’m fascinated with urban spaces and how communities are formed: What is important about communities and how and why do different populations interact? And with that came like the natural question of who are the voices being heard– and then who are the voices not being heard? So throughout my undergrad career I tried to take a lot of classes that looked at the narratives and perspectives of people from minority groups and then as I did more of that I was like, “Wow. There are certain populations and certain groups that are disproportionately affected by climate change.”
Plus I love the environment. She’s great.
XASS: Right. What are you into beyond your academics?
DLP: A lot! I like to keep things spicy. I stay out and about and not just academically focused. I’m big on surfing, but I also do a lot of dance and theater. I’ve been involved in TAPS in college and did a lot of musical theater in high school. I’m in Swingtime, so lots of ballroom and social dancing. I do a lot of running. I run a lot. I was on the triathlon team, so I do a lot of races in my spare time. Lots of arts and crafts. I actually just finished building a shed and then I’m working on building a mini house… not quite a mini house because you have to get a permit for that… but I found out that if you can make something with a footprint fewer than 120 square feet in your backyard, you don’t have to get a permit. It’ll be solar powered, so figuring out the wiring for that will be fun.
XASS: That is amazing!
DLP: Haha, yeah, I have a lot of projects right now because all my classes were pushed to winter, so in my quarter off, I was just like– “What weird thing can I do?” Also I’m finishing up the book I’ve been writing, and then I’m making a ball gown.
XASS: Wait, wait, wait! You’re finishing up a book you’ve been writing? You can’t just say that. What book are you writing?
DLP: It’s like it’s a series of short stories, mostly on various immigrant perspectives. It’s not autobiographical, but it takes a lot of the stories I’ve heard from both children of immigrants and from immigrant parents from Vietnam, Ecuador, the Philippines of course, and all these different perspectives on multigenerational ideas of home and belonging.
XASS: Are you from an immigrant family?
DLP: Yeah! My parents are from the Philippines. My dad is from Bacolod and my mom is from the province of Pangasinan. And I’m from the part of San Jose that’s like all immigrants. Like, I didn’t realize white culture was a thing until I got to Stanford– I had just always been so immersed with people of color my entire life that I didn’t know that there were people who didn’t grow up in as much diversity as I did.
XASS: And was religion a part of your upbringing or how did you come to faith? What’s that story?
DLP: Yeah. Religion has been a part of my upbringing, but I’ve had a very interesting and kind of lonely experience with the church, growing up. I was a part of this very small Baptist Church in San Jose. And I was the only girl for many years in both directions, so I got a lot of heat. But I guess that makes you grow a tough skin.
I struggled a lot with faith, especially growing up, because it’s really, really easy to fake it when you’re the kid who knows all the right answers. Then I had this crisis in high school and I was like, do I actually believe anything or have I always just been the person who knows what to say?
I didn’t have a very good support system. I love my family, but we’re just not intimate so I struggled a lot with wanting to get deeper in my faith. I was grappling with a lot of questions that my church wasn’t adept at answering. I say that cautiously because my church was very, very good at outreach. A lot of the kids came from, like, pretty rough backgrounds, so it was very much about getting them to a safe place and giving them the gospel in small chunks. And I think, by growing up in a church where most of the kids my age only stayed for like a year, I had an appetite that was bigger than a lot of them, simply because I had been there longer. So I was a real angsty teenager trying to figure this whole Jesus thing out, but then not having friends.
XASS: And then you came to Stanford. What happened to your faith here?
DLP: Stanford was also a very mixed bag. A good mixed bag, and as the saying goes, a lot of people hit their lowest lows and highest highs at Stanford. I definitely came into Stanford ready for Christian community, and the first group that I found, I was like, full send. And it was really good. I got a lot of one-on-one mentoring, and I realized how great it is to have a spiritual community.
And then I also came to a more deep understanding of how sin is dirty. Sin is disgusting. I became amazed at the depths of our sin and how Jesus came to rescue us from that. By the end of freshman year I had dealt with a lot of trauma and sins committed against me. Yeah, there were a lot of really hard things going on in my personal life. To put in context, by sophomore year they had me diagnosed with PTSD and an eating disorder, so that was rough. Surprisingly, that didn’t make me angry at God, but it made me really angry at my community because there were so many ways I didn’t feel supported. They were telling me to be vulnerable and to just pray more. And, like, I was– I was all for the prayer warrior thing, but after a while it really dragged on me that I had put myself out there, expecting to be caught by Christian community, only to be hung out to dry. It hurt to feel alone.
There are a lot of things I could have done differently too, but I was really hurt by the lack of follow up. Of course there were a few people who really, really like poured into me, but it was like I was a drain. I needed a lot more than I think I was getting from the community. And on top of all that, I just felt really really messed me up. I grew a lot closer to Jesus during that hard time, but it made me angry at the community that I thought was supposed to hold me. And it felt like a lot of my faith journey was growth despite my community and not because of it. So junior year, all of that made it super easy for me to find excuses not to get plugged in. To make myself busy and build walls of spiritual pride for myself. And when I got really sick and was in and out of the hospital, the fact very few people checked on me stung.
DLP: So I came to Chi Alpha because I was very spiritually tired and I needed… I needed a fresh start. Yeah. I just didn’t feel like I could go back to the community I had been a part of. I was good friends with Noah since freshman year and I had been going to a couple of the Chi Alpha prayer meetings. But it wasn’t until my senior year that I was like okay, maybe I’ll give Chi Alpha another shot. And now here I am.
XASS: Jess, it’s been great to get to know you and good to have you around! Do you have a favorite Bible verse or passage that you turn to?
DLP: I have a lot of favorite Bible passages! There are a lot that I continually turn to, but I guess for sake of brevity my top three passages are… okay, now top four… okay, there are just so many good ones but they’re not so much verses as they are stories– like I love the story of Solomon when he’s building the temple. There’s a verse in 1 Kings 8 where Solomon was telling God that it was enough for his father David to have it in his heart to build this temple, but then Solomon decided that he will actually build this temple. And that really grounds me to remember there are people who have gone before me, who have been praying for revival. So whether I’m David in this context and praying for the next generation of people, or I’m Solomon in this context where I get to see the temple being built is something that brings me a lot of hope.
My second on the list is the story of Shadrach, Mescach, and Abdenego. I want to have that type of faith! They were talking to the king and they’re just like, “Even if my God doesn’t save me…” Wow. Their faith is just so bold. No matter what happens, even if God doesn’t pull through the way we think He’s going we will still follow him to the end.
The two that I like think about the most probably are in the New Testament. I love where Jesus had just died and He came back and all the disciples are like, “Oh my gosh!” and in John 21 there’s this part where Peter is talking with Jesus– and he had already betrayed Jesus three times after saying he would never. Like he has no right to be next to Jesus and to say that He loves him. The shame he must have felt… I would feel shame so hard for having betrayed Jesus, but then Peter is humble enough to say, “Lord, You know that I love You.” He just admitted, “I made a mistake” and Jesus was loving enough to trust him to do more things. To trust him with His sheep. I really like that.
And, sorry, I’m verbose, but I guess that can all be summed up by John 3:30– “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus is our endgame. The Kingdom is our purpose. What else matters?
XASS: Right. Awesome. Then the final question is: are you in a relationship?
DLP: So, you know how people say, “shoot your shot”? Well, the shot has been shot, the ball has been graciously given back to me, and I’ve been benched. And while I am benched I had this moment, I’m just like, “What am I doing playing basketball?” Like, I don’t know the rules of the game. So, long story short, no. But I know who I am, and I really respect when others are self-aware enough to know what to do when the ball is in their court.
XASS: Thanks for your time!
After the interview DLP remembered that she wanted to plug her blog: the view from 5′ under.