I am trying to figure out how to convey this as a “share” and not a “prove” story. Why? Because I am steeped in DEI for learning atm and I feel I have something unique to contribute to the subject, however, the grounds for my credibility are not written on a certificate, degree, position or award. Like neurodiversity, which I feel I also possess, it is invisible. Unless I tell a story. To start, here is the timeline of my interactions:
Me: White girl growing up in a rural white world in Maine. Think Guns n Roses, fast cars, fights behind the corner store. Think also boating on the lake, champion competitive equestrienne, dating the “rich guy” from NH with the 1960 scoop side Corvette convertible, lounging in an upscale beach town…. but also working as ice cream scooper, pizza/sub maker/hotel maid, convenience store, restaurant server/baker… and fully paid for her own brand new car at 20. Perception is complex; am I a throwback from the Great Gatsby or garden variety white trash? Oh – and I became obsessed with learning how to dance at the place below the pizza joint after work — that has it’s own story but more or less led to:
The first influential friend that made an impression on how I perceived the family I was trying to escape while hanging out with my “dance family”: Puerto Rican Italian who respected me like a princess and also lied to me like a rug. Became ostracized after withdrawing a cash advance from my cc to bail him out of jail to the tune of $2K.
And, watching roots with a group of cousins in Portsmouth, NH – lots of anger erupted. My direct friend had to buffer me. I was the ghost in the room.
“Dance Family” becomes a thread…. traveling up and down the eastern seaboard dancing with all people Boston, NYC, Philly, Orlando, West Palm. Dance is blind to color, however, culture is reflected in dance. Perhaps much more distinctly in the 90’s. The characters I watched are forever etched in my mind. My first lessons in how their dance styles spoke about their cultures both as individuals and communities. Even perception of women within what could be very contentious dance sessions…. once I watched a Latina girl dance in a group and, for a reason about my own perceptions I am not sure I can identify, the way the boys in the group “received” her was like “WOW” to me… it was a powerful moment.
*Studies at the time: Anthro/Geo with an emphasis on Cognitive Anthro (D’Andrade was a God to me) and Anthro of Religion. I wished to connect what happens in the mind learning culture to the powerful influence of religion on culture and individuals. Went on exchange to Humbolt State from USM as a result of my interests… was introduced to advance study in Chinese Culture… still wish I had time to fully grasp Mandarin.. it is fun to speak.
Before leaving on exchange: Lived with two men from India – related but one was from the north, Muslim and the other from the south, Hindu. The former led the charge for the both of them to harass me (after I moved out over a $30 bill that popped up that I had to get my student loans to pay) to the point that campus police had to be called. The latter was the one that stole a library book from me (out of my hands) preventing me from finishing a paper. He used to work for campus police and they contacted him to return it. They again came at me in the computer lab and I ran to the bathroom and waited until the campus police came (a fellow student helped me). While I was later at HSU, my mom sent me a newspaper article… the former had stabbed his girlfriend to death and was pleading that he should be “let out of jail to better serve humanity”. I guess there had been a reason to be scared.
HSU: Anth or Religion professor encourages me to think tank. I start a group with the intent of interdisciplinary exchange about topics. … for some reason this is not fresh in my brain— I didn’t have enough time to make it stick…. I hope I can remember more details of this later… My linguistics reached and I would goof about being able to predict the responses from other students based on their clear political/philosophical leans, I was forever striving for objectivity recognizing the importance of seeing past your own perceptive sieve as much as possible (though of course this is ultimately not fully possible) – he encouraged me toward Chinese studies. I was also introduced to video editing and a Media 100 machine.. A very very pivot point in my life.
1997: I am invited to be an assistant on a unique international business trip to H.K./Guanxi for a group of primarily Asian-Americans from CalPoly-Pomona. The mature man who was in charge of the group was to have surgery prior to the trip and would be on painkillers. I was to handle important documents (passports and tickets) as well as money transactions. Imagine approaching a Chinese guard with a very large gun to express that we had been short-changed in an exchange…in retrospect, I feel awful for the teller… I was proven right. There are more stories to that trip.
Return to Maine: Has nose ring and dresses “alternatively” – was made to feel like I was ‘not okay’ by professors in the Honor Program I was a part of. It is important to note this was a separate interdisciplinary program at USM where we had our own house that we had classes in and were a part of a distinctive cohort. Culminated my thesis as a creative project integrating performance art and video in an attempt to express the transformation from childhood to someone with the above experiences (with accompanying paper not as thick as a typical thesis). Very ambitious and thus, somewhat successful.. Also one of the most difficult and volatile periods in my life. I think that was the summer I chose to go live in a tent behind my friend’s rental cabin property.
After getting into the film industry in Boston – the rest were more or less the usual but I recognize now, after all of this DEI education, that some part of my success was because of my ability to move fluidly among ALLLL kinds of people. Multiculturalism was not even a thing for me. I just was. I guess the one factor was that I was a chameleon.. that is, I just naturally knew how to talk to different people – from having to talk to different people. As it is termed now, it was (is?) a well-conditioned muscle.
Then Europe: 4 weeks. Two with my friend from work and her roomy and one on my own or the other way around? Together we went to Ultrect, got a car, drove through Dresdin (<3 <3), and on to Prague. We didn’t have a lot of money but I was already well used to ‘budgeted’ travel, having traveled to Cali, sleeping in my car, in the woods, and in the park by the Haight… However, that hostel in Prague was quite special even for me. Beautiful yet a bit of an exercise at observing all that I could participate in if I did have funds. Back in London/Scotland that very same poverty led to some very very very interesting experiences backpacking without a plan nor places to stay.
Sometime after that I was asked to be the producer at a Rapper event for a mag that was being started by two women out of Dorchester where I was living at the time. I am pretty sure something came across my feed that led me to believe it still exists. Anyway – one minor error by the guy running the CD background music for the MC that I could not correct quickly enough – and I find myself hanging on the side of a railing above pure mayhem that broke out. Lesson learned: when energy turns south – and it can quickly – violence can erupt especially when the leader (the MC) gets pissed off. I laugh now but I may not have actually comprehended the level of danger I might have been in… lol.
Back to Boston: The town started to feel too small. I was at a post-pro gig (film editing house) – and I had some time and started googling around (was it google then?). I found Astro-light Films who boasted assistant producer of Boys in the Hood (another story with that from when I was in college at UMass…). I gave a Syed Quadri a call. We first met in his father’s Kashmir diplomat to the US office at 45 Rockefeller Plaza. I had driven down in the 1998 Toyota SR5. The first project we worked on was with the Motown Alumni Group while I was still living in Boston. We used to meet in what is still my favorite cafe – Cafe Mogador on St Mark’s Place. When I would walk into small apartment in Harlem where we would have evening meetings, the leader, a formidable-looking man whom I think was a reverend, would affectionately declare “Ah – here is the token white girl”. Well, the token white girl made the call, which was later proven correct, that the producer that they were working with on a fundraiser event was going to screw them over. I loved that period though – I am still convinced that they would tell the neighborhood that the “you could open it with a toothpick” Toyota that I drove was off-limits. The event never happened and I got busy with ‘real’ work as well as moving to NYC. I think that this is what is left of them: http://motownalumniassociation.com/. Syed disappeared after 911. I am pretty sure he is somewhere in Kashmir but now I am going to pause and look him up. Standby…. Yeah no. Lots of Syed Qadri’s out there.
More stories are not included here. One last one that sticks out was using Mountain Boards to teach snowboarding during the Art and Sports week in NYC. Putting the video camera on was enough to motivate the kids to try. It was fun, sweet, amazing.
Writing through this I realize. Then 911. Then California. Then my life becomes different. But still always able to move fluidly among all kinds of people but less so the affluent Real Estate professionals I was working with on Prospect in La Jolla. That discomfort shifted something in me. And not in a good way.