Monday, August 3, 2009

A Foam Board, a Parking Lot and Some Hopes/Dreams/Fears, by Jorge Álvarez

“Surely this will work!”

After participating in @Platea’s very fun and interesting Project II: Co-Modify I was understandably quite excited to be part of their next project. So as my part for Project III: hopes/dreams/fears I decided to go out to the mall and gather as many h/d/f’s as I could. The idea was to set up a small table in a corner with a little sign to attract people. I would have little pieces of paper with the project info to hand out and a foam board or two for people to write their h/d/f’s.

I figured that the mall was an excellent place to find people from a variety of backgrounds and would give a good sense of what the public was thinking, which would prove quite useful for the project. I was most curious about how current events would affect people’s h/d/f’s. Would the swine flu, the economic crisis or other current events dominate in the h/d/f’s? Or would the test on Friday (hey, some people take summer classes) be more fresh on someone’s mind?

The Reality…

So maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I first thought.

I went out with my good friend, her camera, a small foldable table, and a handful of markers to Mayagüez Mall, near where I study to start the gathering. I figured if I simply set up the table without asking for permission I would get kicked out quite fast and no good would come from it. I probably should’ve done this anyways. Once at the mall offices, I got about three whole words out before the lady at the desk started shaking her head. Not even in the parking lot. So I did what anyone in this situation would’ve done: went to Borders and spent a few hours looking at books.

Back in my hometown of Hatillo, the next day I went to the local mall to try out my luck. The lady there was in a much better mood and told me I had to talk to the marketing manager for permission, who unfortunately was still on vacation for the next two days. After checking at another mall with no luck, I decided to wait. Two days later I am finally ready to grab some h/d/f’s and was determined to get them that day no matter how. By then I decided to scrap the table and simply hold the foam board Free Hugs-style (I had done this before, asking for huggers to sign the board, with much success).

After walking around the mall for an hour waiting for the manager, I was finally told today was “not a good day” for it because there was too much traffic in the aisles (“But that is why today is perfect!”), that she would contact me in a few weeks and I could probably do it then. No good. Next destination: Walgreens!

Jorge hopes he doesn’t contract the swine flu doing h/d/f’s… (23, Hatillo, PR)

Did I mention this was the day they officially reported the first swine flu death in Puerto Rico? Yeah, only once I got there did I realize I was going to where most people with flu symptoms go to buy a bottle of NyQuil (heavenly NyQuil...). I, however, was set on doing this. After talking to the manager I was given the green light to do it… only I had to do it in the parking lot (~ 90° of delicious tropical sun). I didn’t care at this point.

So armed with a foam board, a handful of markers, a disposable camera (my friend wasn’t available) and my trusty bottle of hand sanitizer I picked a corner, and sort of looking like I was asking for money began my quest for some h/d/f’s.


It’s to be expected that many will have “world peace” at the top of their list, and sure enough the first person to not give me a weirded out look and participate (ok, maybe she did give me the look) hoped for exactly this. After this first participant I realized that h/d/f’s is a lot more writing than just signing your name after a hug, but the foam board setup helped keep them at “status update” length, which worked very well.

A lot of people looked sort of scared and some annoyed when they saw me holding the board or when I asked them if they wanted to participate. This combined with the guy that was selling raffle tickets (I got him to write his own h/d/f’s) and the guy that was actually just asking for money made it all rather difficult. I was getting about 1 participant in every 20 that walked by me, and I had to resort to saying that I wasn’t asking for money at all.

The people most willing to participate tended to be young parents with their kids. Their h/d/f’s tended to revolve around providing for their kids and worry of their kids coming to harm. Another group that shared their h/d/f’s were the younger crowd, between 11 and 20 years old. It was interesting to see they focused mostly on their dreams or hopes, which consisted mainly of their career aspirations and studies (e.g. “I dream of becoming a pro skater,” “I hope to become a doctor,” etc.).

A very consistent subject was religion, or God, to be more specific. This actually surprised me a little since I wasn’t really expecting it, but makes sense, since Puerto Rican culture tends to be very religion oriented. I did get various participants talk to me about God and one even included me on his dream of eternal life for his family. One confusing lady told me she liked the project a lot and thought it was sweet, but wouldn’t participate because “It’s only God’s place to look into people’s hearts and minds” and then proceeded to preach to me for about 5 minutes.

However, what I found most surprising was the fact that not a lot of participants mentioned the swine flu or the economy (not counting the ones about winning the lotto). I figured since these were the most current or impactful happenings, they would sort of “override” most people’s hopes or fears.

So, what did I learn?

Well, it’s hard to tell. Personally I learned that a hand sanitizer bottle really helps me calm down, people tend to be in a rush when going to the drugstore, and older people tend to distrust younger ones with a foam board reading “hopes fears dreams”. Keep in mind, however, this is an ongoing project and it helps to look at it as a whole, instead of our individual attempts, to really get a sense of the hopes, dreams and fears of people. The steady trickling of individual h/d/f’s on @Platea’s hopes/dreams/fears page on Facebook or their Twitter feed, little by little reveals a bigger picture of the thoughts and feelings from around the world.

Be sure to come back for future posts from other participants on the project. There is already a great post by our friend D. (@sortingtrolley) and I suggest you check it out as well. Feel free to ask anything and comment below or e-mail And make sure to follow @platea on Twitter!


By the way, if any of you were curious, my name is Jorge E. Álvarez and I’m a geology student from Puerto Rico. Also, I like to believe I’m a pirate.

Currently I have no idea of what I want to do with my life, which incidentally turns out to be a great thing for one’s creativity (lots and lots of ideas!). Joining @Platea has been one of the most fun things I’ve done (this sort of thing tends to happen), and has really motivated me to explore my artistic side. If you’re interested you can follow me on Twitter as @whore_hay. Cheers!

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