How Can We Heal the Divide

asphalt and white line and green grass

When the US election results were confirmed, I posted this on social media:

A stunned exhale.

Let’s keep the celebrations classy and humble.

These slim margins are like passing a class with a D minus. We still have work to do.

Stay engaged. Stay focused.

Vote EVERY year.

People had some strong reactions to my words. So I’d like to unpack them here.

A stunned exhale

I felt confident as the votes were recounted for three and a half days after the election that they would continue to trend blue and they did. Still, when the AP declared Joe Biden the winner, I was stunned. I slowly exhaled and checked Associated Press, the New York Times, and a few other reputable sources just to be sure it was true. It was. It still is. Thank goodness.

Let’s keep the celebrations classy and humble

When I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything, I try to pause and examine my reactions with curiosity (a strong emphasis on the “try”). I noticed a lot of knee-jerk reactions to my request to keep things classy and humble.

I understand the desire for in-your-face-style celebrations. Four years is a long time to endure a leader and half a populace who embodies and extols racism, homophobia, misogyny, climate change science-denying, and putting children in cages. Donald Trump’s denial of a global pandemic has now claimed the lives of more than 250,000 Americans. The USA leads the world-wide Covid-19 death toll by nearly 100,000 deaths. This is a shameful legacy for him and his supporters who have crossed the lines of human decency and morality.

Side note: four years is miniscule compared to four hundred years of slavery and oppression endured by BIPOC. When I get overwhelmed with how terrible the Trump administration has been for me and so many people, I try to remind myself to check my privilege.

There’s a lot to feel relieved, angry, and indignant about. I get that. It felt good to have some certainty after four years and two months of waiting. At that moment on Saturday morning, I felt a twinge of trust being rebuilt between me and the majority of my fellow Americans: we came together and elected a sane leader in a pandemic.

My second thought after learning that Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election was: “This win is impermanent. Right now, nearly half of our population feels how Hillary Clinton supporters felt in 2016. Trump supporters are scared, mourning, and angry. This could easily be “us” again in 2024.”

If you need to have a “HAHA, SUCKS TO BE YOU!” finger-pointing celebration, I’m not here to deny you of that. Expressing a win with righteous indignation is cathartic and healthy, but in my opinion, it’s best done privately. When we sink to the level of people whose behavior we find abhorrent, we lose our compassion toward humanity. We betray Michelle Obama’s request for us in 2016: “When they go low, we go high.”

These slim margins are like passing a class with a D minus. We still have work to do.

Anyone who’s barely passed a class can relate to the heavy consequences that come with a low passing grade.

When I say “we have work to do”, I mean all Americans. But since individuals can only control their own thoughts and actions, this is a call to anyone interested to remember: “we” are no different than “they”. Biden supporters are no different than Trump supporters.

I’m not saying this to spiritually bypass. I don’t say this with a hidden insidious meaning of: “We are all one, all lives matter”. What I mean by we’re all the same is: we are all human. And when we forget that, we elect people who benefit from our perceived division.

All humans want the same thing: to live a peaceful life. We want to know that we and our beloveds will have enough. We all want the answer to the question “Are we going to be okay?” to be yes in every moment of every day. When we’re afraid, when we live in a mindset of lack (perceived or real), history shows us time and again that we’ll do whatever and elect whoever we think will help us have enough.

Research from the Pew Research Center confirms our shared desire for peace, regardless of our wish for a blue or red wave on election night. It also shows the political divide between Americans is wider than it ever has been. The documentary drama The Social Dilemma on Netflix reveals illuminating reasons why: the architects of Google and social media algorithms admit what they created has morphed beyond the original intention.

Translation: the robots aren’t killing us all (yet), but when we don’t question the validity of what we see on our screens through multiple perspectives, we will continue to see each other as separate from, not connected to each other.

Stay engaged. Stay focused.

So what do we do? How do we heal this political divide we’re living in? That’s a question best answered by you. If you need some inspiration to get started, read on.

We listen.

We have civil conversations with people. Ones that don’t devolve into shouting matches and name-calling. Ideally in-person with masks on for the time being.

We listen.

We respect others who have opinions different from our own.

We listen.

We remember when we interact online that we’re talking to real humans (hopefully) and speak, behave, and act accordingly.

We listen.

We speak to share a perspective, not necessarily to fix or provide solutions.

We listen.

We learn to be better communicators.

We listen.

We remove ourselves from conversations that are going nowhere or furthering entrenchment in a non-productive or disrespectful way.

We listen.

Vote EVERY year.

If you take away one thing from reading this, let it be: Vote. In every. Damn. Election.

Every time you change your address: update your voter registration.

Sometimes that means voting two or even three times in one year if there’s a primary, special, or run-off election like the senate run-off election in Georgia in January 2021.

We don’t stop working to make sure that candidates we choose are elected to office are making decisions that are best for all beings.

We don’t sit back and expect that president-elect Biden and vice president Harris will take care of things for us in the next four years.

We get involved in ways that we can.

We donate money.

We make phone calls.

Our efforts make a difference. The apathetic perspective that our small actions don’t matter is what those who are in power and want to stay in power want you to believe.

We stay involved at the local level.

We remember: we are uniquely different and humanely the same.

A vote for Bernie is a vote for Trump

Third Party candidate election 2020 @wellreadblackgirl IG

Ladies, I’m with you.

I’m weary of our limited presidential candidate options. Once again, our choices are: Old White Man A (Biden) and Old White Man B (Trump).

If you’re considering writing in Old White Man C (Bernie or dear goddess Kanye West) in the 2020 Election, I ask you: please don’t.

Amidst the chaos pandemic and divisive politics, expressing disdain for the two-party system may seem harmless. But to borrow Elizabeth Gilbert’s metaphor: America is a cancer patient with a gunshot wound. We need to triage the gunshot wound (ending Trump’s presidency) before we start chemo, surgery, and radiation (fixing America’s broken electoral system).

For those who are new to voting: watch her video above for a short history on how third-party candidate Ralph Nader and his supporters diverted much needed democratic votes away in a close election in 2000 which resulted in eight years of George W. Bush. That was the first presidential election I voted in and at the time, my elders and I agreed: he was the worst president ever. Trust me when I say that what we’re experiencing now with Trump is a million times worse.

If you do vote for Bernie or any other third-party candidate, do yourself and the movements you’ve claimed to support a favor and take down any feminist, Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQA content you’ve ever shared. By getting cute with your right to prioritize your disdain for the two-party system, you’re saying: “My right to express my disdain for the system is more important than safeguarding the well-being for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.”

By voting for a third-party candidate, you waste your privilege by throwing away your vote. Voting is a constitutional right which millions of Americans, 1.4 million in the state of Florida in alone and a disproportionate number of people of color, have to fight for.

I’m not a fan of binary politics and polarization. But unfortunately right now is one of those times when your vote is either/or. You either support Biden, or you give your vote to Trump. You can’t be and/both in this election with your vote. A vote for third-party candidate will not protect the needs of America’s most vulnerable people. And it will result in another hellacious four years of the most damaging and divisive US president the world has ever seen.

Yesterday I voted for Joe Biden for president. He’s wasn’t my first choice of candidate (I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 primary election), but right now, he is our only hope. When I say “our” I mean women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks. Everyone who has been historically and systematically marginalized by generations of old white men in power.

As a consolation prize for having no female presidential candidates, I am inspired by the political experience and stateswomenship of Kamala Harris. Given the options, she is my new first choice and since Joe Biden comes with the package, yesterday I chose Biden and Harris for president. I poked the plastic screen to check the box for Biden-Harris with a wooden coffee stir stick: the voting tool of choice during a pandemic who unfortunately live in states where vote-by-mail is not an option.

I urge all sane Americans who want liberty and justice for all to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. More than ever, we need to pull together to end this presidential nightmare that has done so much harm.

Justice is Oneness

By Shanna Small

Justice is Oneness by Shanna Small

Yet another opportunity for a Black person to get justice did not happen. 

I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not.

As long as the comfort of those in power is valued over the pain of the global majority, racism will continue. 

BIPOC people are the majority, hence the need for white supremacy to historically keep us out of power.

If you center white comfort over black lives, don’t tell me: “We are all one”.

What do we do? Get uncomfortable, folks. Back your “oneness” up with actions that benefit all humanity.

Breonna Taylor’s life matters and she deserves justice. 

About Shanna Small  

Shanna Small is an Ashtanga Yoga teacher dedicated to questioning and shifting narratives through Yoga and Social Justice and making Ashtanga yoga and philosophy accessible to all. 

Follow Shanna to learn how to become a more socially-conscious yoga practitioner: 

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Ashtanga Yoga + Social Justice with Shanna Small – Virtual Workshop and Discussion – When: Saturday, October 10, 2020 – 08:30-11:00 AM (Central USA)

Host: Delta Groove Yoga in Memphis, Tennessee

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Justice Virtual Yoga Workshop & Discussion with Shanna Small at Delta Groove Yoga

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There’s So Much You Can Do: Election Day 2020

Poster on a wall of Wonder Woman punching Donald Trump to support There's so Much You Can Do: Election Day 2020

Before we talk politics, let’s talk about conversations.

These days when people ask: “How are you?” I answer back: “Healthy and here” because it’s true and concise. It’s true: I am really grateful for all that’s represented in those two words. Besides, the fuller-bodied answer of: “Every day is an exploration of trying to be okay with not being okay” takes longer and is rife with details. Since I don’t know how much time my well-meaning friends have, healthy and here is what everyone gets. That is unless you and I happen to be on the phone and sipping watermelon mojitos and chatting on the kitchen floor like Maritza and I did a few weeks ago, veraciously sharing our feels, only to be cut short by a haboob and another storm cell that collided overhead (both on her end). Mother Nature showed the power grid who’s boss and knocked out her electricity, most notably her air conditioning, on an evening that was more than 100 degrees F.

Not much she could do except wash her sweaty pajamas and sheets the next morning.

Besides more heat and humidity, August brought my partner and me another line to add to “healthy and here” which now includes: “His citizenship interview is scheduled!” This may not seem exclamation point-worthy, but I’m telling you: when you’ve spent years swimming in the blue deep ocean of uncertainty, penning a date on the calendar feels like spotting a rescue jet-ski sent by a nearby luxurious yacht on the horizon which promises an end to the ever-nagging question: “Am I treading water in shark-infested waters?” and maybe even means sleeping on a comfy bed or at the very least a padded reclining deck lounge chair.

“Ah, but there’s no such thing as 100 percent certainty,” the wise side of my brain quips and I get it, she’s right. But I’m taking the small wins where I can get them because if I only focus on the stresses of living in a global pandemic while funded entirely by an ever-fluctuating freelance income at a time when unemployment is sky-high at 25 percent (a rate matched only by the Great Depression on the 1930s), I’d probably stay in bed paralyzed with overwhelm. So yes, a date on the calendar is a big deal, especially since said pandemic has brought many Federal government services to a screeching halt. Being able to write AND circle a date on the calendar is a major win for Team Certainty’s seemingly endless losing streak and calls for celebration.

Writing a date on the calendar.

Getting to where we need to be on that day.

These are all things that we can do.

Being the preparation-based party animals we are, with over a month away, we cracked the USICS books (er, PDF and audio file). There are 100 questions to study and to pass the oral/aural portion of the test, an applicant has to answer six out of 10 questions correctly.

Studying for this exam is something we can do.

My partner watches history documentaries for fun as well as too much a lot of news and thankfully I remember most of my history education from fifth to eleventh grade, so we’re doing all right. Our kitchen door is now a chalkboard, covered in colorful Post-Its to quiz ourselves on questions that require multiple answers like this one (there are four answers; can you list all four answers without peeking?)

Q: What is the rule of law?

Answers:
1. Everyone must follow the law.
2. Leaders must obey the law.
3. Government must obey the law.
4. No one is above the law.

Because snark is not helpful to people trying to commit answers to memory, especially when their end goal is naturalizing during a very immigrant unfriendly time in the USA, I’ve been trying not to add “except Donald Trump” to the end of each answer. Trying. But honestly, I don’t think Donnie John (thank you for this genius low-level depression cure, Tina Fey) has ever laid eyes on this test because otherwise, he wouldn’t try to do dumb things like postpone elections. I’d love to see him cold answer all of these practice questions and if I were his boss, which I and other voting Americans collectively are, I’d make him delete his Twitter account if he inevitably fails. Knowing that he’s one of the answers (“Who is the president of the United States?”) is probably enough to inflate his ego and bring his attention back towards drumming up whatever daily fresh hell political theater to appeal to his voter base.

After all, 45/Agent Orange/Cheeto Hitler’s clock is ticking, and making desperate political statements that try to counteract and deny the stupidity he’s said before is all he can do.

Which brings me to you, Dear Reader. If you’re reading this and thinking: “Ugh, I know right? What can we do to close the book on this horrific chapter of American history?” I have your answer: make sure you’re registered to vote. And then vote. Are you registered? If not, click here to register to vote in your state.

If you’ve been languishing in hopelessness and YES you’re eligible, but no you’re NOT registered to vote, stop it. Registering to vote is something you can do. And need to do. Like, today. Wake up and handle your business.

Did you know there are 64 days left until the 2020 General Election in the United States? Every state has its own voter registration rules, but most states require you to register 30 days before an election.

Think your vote doesn’t count? Then why do candidates, donors, and corporations spend literally billions of dollars to convince you to vote one way or another? Your vote is a precious commodity that costs you nothing and empowers you and your country.

If you have plans to move between now and Election Day 2020 on November 3, promise me: before you call the internet company to transfer service (arguably our most important utility these days), register to vote.

If you’re not sure if you’re registered, I’m asking you right now pretty please: make it your priority to find out and re-register if needed. Today. Your reward is knowing you did your civic duty and let that American pride swell in your belly and chest. Treat yourself. And then also put your ballot in the mail or go to the polls well before Election Day on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, if your state allows early voting or vote-by-mail.

Why is voting so important? Because voting is a small but powerful act that we can do. And if you’re a woman, a member of the New American Majority, or simply an American who believes in the equality for all, the last four years have been a daily waking nightmare under Donald Trump’s leadership. This is our chance to be on the correct side of history and close the cover on this horror story.

If you agree, your country needs you to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for President and Vice President in the upcoming election. These two are our only hope to damage control on the dumpster fire that has been this leadership.

Voting is something you can do to collectively put us back on track towards a sane and representative democracy that supports all who consider themselves Americans.

Equally important for this and all elections in the future: don’t forget to vote for all the candidates. Do your research on Ballotpedia if your state doesn’t provide a voter’s pamphlet. I vote for candidates with coherent agendas who stand for intersectionality and represent the needs of all, but primarily the needs of historically marginalized people such as BIPOC. Women. LGBTQIA folks. People with disabilities. People with economic challenges. Why? Because representation is important and I’m tired of white men holding the majority of decision-making power.

There’s so much you can do. Volunteer. Make phone calls. Donate money. Talk with family and friends about politics (as it turns out: having conversations is the most effective way to sway an undecided voter). Gee, it makes you wonder who perpetuates the myth that politics is not polite conversation? Those who want to preserve the status quo and stop change from happening are the first answers that come to mind. If you need help finding your voice, here’s some ways to use yoga to have difficult conversations.

If you need some inspiration, remember Gabby Salinas? She won her primary election in August 2020 and has accepted her nomination for Tennessee state representative. Home grown, Onward Woman political talent, y’all! She and her team run a grassroots campaign and as they say: “How you get somewhere matters”, so please consider making a donation to her campaign so this three-time cancer survivor and researcher can bring her fiercely consistent advocacy for healthcare, education, and infrastructure to a red state that doesn’t know that it desperately needs all these things.

Above all please: don’t give up. Don’t do nothing. We need EVERYONE to show up on Election Day 2020.

Register.

Vote.

Volunteer.

Make phone calls (it’s easy and your number stays private!)

Donate money.

Have conversations.

For every social media post you share, match it with an actual conversation.

Talk to undecided voters (I don’t understand them either which is exactly why we need to converse).

Decide what you CAN do and then go do it.

Together, we are infinitely powerful. Together, there’s so much we can do.

Participating in Wall of Moms for Black Lives Matter

Words and photos by an Onward Woman contributor who wishes to remain anonymous so as to keep the focus on #blklivesmatter.

This is about my experience participating in the Wall of Moms for Black Lives Matter in Portland, Oregon. A few family members asked me about it, so I typed up my thoughts and shared them. There’s been a lot of misinformation in the media, so I wanted to share a first-hand account.

After driving two hours, I arrived in Portland at about 7:30 PM on Saturday night. It looked so different from how it had been on my birthday just four months earlier. There was barely anybody on the streets and many of the businesses had been boarded up. Also, there were about twice as many tents. I have previously traveled alone in Portland, many times. But this just felt weird.

I felt better when I spotted a woman wearing yellow on her way to the meetup spot, Salmon Street Fountain. At the fountain, there was a memorial for many of the black lives that had been lost to police violence.

A memorial for Black lives lost to police violence in downtown Portland – July 2020

I agree with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I have felt like there was little I personally could contribute. I vote and I give money to political campaigns that support reform. But I also live in a very white town in a very white state. I do not know the answers, I do not feel I have enough knowledge to know what should be done. But I know something needs to change. And being part of a wall of moms was something I could do.

I arrived at the fountain at about 8:30 PM. It was somewhat bizarre hearing moms casually talk about best home-made remedies to counteract tear gas and pepper spray. The tone was the same as if they were exchanging recipes. They handed out wipes in ziplock bags as well as bottled water. I brought my yellow shirt, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to put it on or not. There wasn’t any formal check-in that I could see.

As I looked around, I was inspired by the age range of people that showed up. Some in their 70’s. There was even a ‘Grandpas against Trump’ group. I didn’t bring a poster but I was given one to hold as we marched.

Ready to march

A little after 9 PM we marched and chanted as we made our way to the courthouse. I put on my yellow shirt at this time, but the Moms were only a small part of the group that marched. There were also a bunch of educators that wore red shirts. But most people didn’t wear any shirts that identified them as part of a group within BLM.

We stayed at the courthouse for a little while with the other protesters, then the Moms all headed back to the fountain to regroup. Some of them went to the Marriott Hotel to protest – the hotel was where the feds were rumored to be staying.

Around 10:15 PM or so, we walked back to the courthouse and put on our protective gear. One mom was passing out ear protection, and others were passing around sharpies to write a lawyer’s number on our forearms.

One Mom in the Wall of Moms.

About 10:50, the main outdoor lights of the courthouse were turned off. A bunch of very large men in tactical gear wearing rifles marched out. I don’t know really anything about firearms; I can’t tell what is considered a live vs. ‘less than lethal’ round. It was extremely intimidating.

At this point, I noticed the other moms wearing their backpacks in front of their bodies, -in anticipation of getting shot. Also, they asked for all the moms to check in with there phones (I assumed it was a call to check in on Facebook). You could tell by the body language of the Feds that they were just waiting to get this show going. With my arms linked with the other moms’, I stood about 12 feet in front of a large man with a gun. There was only a flimsy fence between us.

The crowd shouted for them to go away. ‘Feds go home!’ And it felt like less than five minutes went by before I heard gunfire. Early on, one of the mom’s got hurt when she was shot in the face, but luckily she was wearing goggles. Protesters started throwing something that looked like smoke bombs over the fence. I think they were the tear gas canisters or pepper bombs that were thrown at the protesters first – they were throwing them back. Then, a few of the protesters started lighting fireworks – big ones that would normally go off in the sky. Sometimes the fireworks made it over the fence and to the empty space behind the feds, but sometimes they would go off in the crowd and sparks would fly near my feet.

Smoke in all directions at Wall of Moms demonstration in Portland, OR – July 2020

I don’t scare easily. I am usually comfortable traveling alone, and even when bad things happen, I usually get out of them okay. I can’t remember the last time I felt afraid. But here? I was terrified. It was a deep bodily fear that I could be irreparably damaged. It was a horrible realization that these large faceless men would not hesitate to hurt me.

I have never feared men in uniforms before, and that is a luxury so many people don’t have. There were no names or numbers that identified the Feds as individuals. There would be absolutely no accountability for their actions tonight.

As I learned later, these men were not soldiers. They were not persons who had taken a vow to protect the US constitution. These were highly-paid military contractors. A taxpayer-funded militia placed there to intimidate and suppress peaceful protestors. 

I was shaking as I held the arms of the other moms. I think their arms were shaking too, but I couldn’t say for sure. As things escalated, a ‘wall of vets’ came to stand in front of us. The man who stood in front of me was at least a head taller than I was. I only saw his back, never his face.

Wall of Vets coming between the Wall of Moms and federal agents in Portland, OR – July 2020

After a few minutes, Leaf Blower-man soon stood in front of me to blow the smoke away, but soon there was just too much. I heard the other moms start heavily coughing, then the next thing I knew I was being dragged backward.

My respirator and goggles were preventing me from feeling the effects of the smoke. But as the moms fell back, the movement of walking broke the goggle’s seal around my eyes. About 50 feet away from the courthouse my eyes started to sting, then they started to water and burn.

We were on the other side of the park when I let go of the other mom’s arm. At this point, it finally sunk in that we had been gassed. I know it should have been obvious, but part of me was in denial. My nose started to run profusely, but I didn’t want to take off the respirator in a large dense crowd of coughing people. It was hard to see with my burning eyes, but I walked another two blocks before I swapped the now gross respirator for my cloth mask.

As I walked away from the courthouse, I saw many helpers. People who were trying to make a clear path for injured people, or giving aid to those with bad reactions to the gas. Although my eyes still stung, my natural tears were flowing and flushing the chemical out of my eye. I had some milk that I had brought with me for my eyes, but I didn’t need to use it.

Wall of Moms helping each other rinse tear gas from their eyes – Photo by Mason Trinca for The New York Times – July 2020

I boarded the MAX a little before midnight. There were two other yellow-shirted moms on the train. One was 70. Both had plans to come back.

It was both a terrifying and empowering experience. At this one moment in time, I got to see the best and the worst in people. I got to stand in line with amazing mamas who were just as scared as I was. We were there because voices needed to be heard, even if they weren’t our voices. Most of us were white, and perhaps we used our privilege as a shield. But it gave us something we COULD do. Social change requires all manner of actors. Some can talk at a podium, some can organize marches, some can donate to campaigns, some can talk or write to challenge people’s viewpoints and attack the status quo.

Wall of Moms with hands up – Photo by Beth Nakamura – July 20th, 2020

I’m not a confrontational person by nature. I am soft-spoken and I often struggle for my voice to carry. But just being a piece of the wall of moms, even just for the night, has given me hope. My eyes still hurt today, but I’m glad I went.

As terrifying as it was, I would do it again.

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Authentic Guacamole

tacos and guacamole on a table

In 2007, I moved from a predominantly Hispanic community to a 95 percent white state. There were a few friends who warned me about how the transition would be difficult. They said I was going to encounter some challenges finding a job because as soon as hiring managers read my name, they’d throw my resume away.

In spite of the warnings, I moved anyway. I landed a job within 3 months of relocating and I began my career in marketing at a retail manufacturing company. People in my new state were extraordinarily nice. There was an immediate sense of community everywhere I went which was unexpected. Perfect strangers smiled and waved at me on the street. I felt right at home. There was a weird moment when I went to a trivia night at a popular bar and suddenly realized I was the only Hispanic person in the room. That had never happened to me before. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t feel threatened. It was just an awkward realization that my community looked different than the one I had just left. I was still happy I made the decision to move though.

Months past and I began to form a small group of friends. Eventually, I started to get invited to people’s homes for dinner or potluck events. Then, I noticed a few odd things.

I was often asked to make guacamole. At first, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. People loved my guacamole. But one day someone made the comment, “I think it’s so cool that we get to eat authentic guacamole.” That’s when I realized that maybe… just maybe… I was asked to prepare this dish because I was ‘Mexican.’ I shrugged it off.

Then, one day at work, a coworker came up to me and said,
“Hey Maritza, Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”
“My husband and I are going to Cabo for vacation. When is National Taco Day?”

At first, I thought… Is she asking me this because she thinks I’m Mexican or is it because I lived in Texas and it’s close to Mexico so she thinks I would know? I decided to go with the latter.

“There’s no such thing as National Taco Day in Mexico.”
“Yes, there is. My girlfriend told me when she went, there was a restaurant celebrating the holiday with $.50 tacos.”
“Hate to break it to you, but that restaurant probably serves $.50 tacos everyday to bring in the tourists. National Taco Day does not exist.”
“Yes it does!”
“No. It doesn’t.”

She stormed off and I honestly can’t remember her ever speaking to me again.

The last straw for me came when my cubicle buddy was listening to Michael Franti and she said she was so happy that racism was over in America.

I think I spit out my coffee and laughed. I thought she was joking. When I looked at her face, I realized she was absolutely, 150 percent serious. The poor, innocent child thought racism was long gone. She thought we were living in one of Michael Franti’s songs, all dancing together in harmony, cherishing each other regardless of skin color. Sweet thing.

It broke my heart to tell her that racism was alive and well in the south. She didn’t believe me. Nothing I said could convince her. When someone comes from a community that is 95 percent white and they are also white, it’s hard to understand racial differences and the circumstances that befall people who are not part of the majority.

Which brings me to my ultimate point…

In my experience, most ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ comes from ignorance. Ideas that are outside of one’s bubble or understanding of the world can be tricky to navigate. The people who asked me to make guacamole or asked the date of a taco holiday were simply ignorant. I don’t think they had hate in their heart or prejudice on the mind. They just saw me with brown skin and assumed that I was the resident expert on all matters Latino. They didn’t even think twice about how that made me feel or if I might be offended by their questions. Likewise, the people who warned me about moving to a very white state were also coming from a place of ignorance. They were shocked when I told them how quickly I was able to find a job and how soon I was able to make friends.

Simple ignorance like this can sometimes turn into major prejudices similar to what we have seen in recent days. Especially if it keeps getting fed propaganda (Thanks, media!). Fear… lives at the center of each situation. ‘The Other’ is scary. It’s an unknown. I suspect it triggers our mammalian brain into action and engages our fight or flight response almost immediately. I am certainly guilty of this behavior myself.

How do we ‘cure’ it?

I’ve heard it said that our country, because it is so large and is made up of so many different communities of people, is more than just one big nation. It’s actually more like five nations all pushed together to form one country.

So, how do we learn about these regional communities and differences?

TRAVEL. Face ‘the other’ and get into the thick of it. See for yourself. Leave the city where you were born and raised. Find out if NYC really is full of assholes (spoiler alert, it’s not). Discover if people really do ride horses into work in Texas (spoiler alert, they don’t). Once people see ‘the other’ for themselves, it’s hard to keep being afraid of the unknown. Suddenly… you may find you have more in common with ‘the other’ than you realized. And that is a heart-warming feeling.

Meet Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga

Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga

Shawandra Ford is a Memphis-based yoga instructor and the owner of Brwnskn Yoga. She’s on a mission to share what yoga and meditation have given her: mental and physical strength, flexibility, and fearlessness.

In this interview, Shawandra shares how she became a yoga teacher and entrepreneur, how yoga helped grieve the loss of her mom, the power of intuition, and how she’s seen yoga transform the lives of kids and teenagers she’s worked with in the past year.

Read on to learn more about this inspirational visionary of a woman moving forward: Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga.

How did you get started as a yoga teacher? 

“I started practicing yoga in 2013 at Lifetime Fitness. My mom had passed away in 2010 and I went through a process where I did grief counseling, but I really didn’t think it was working for me. So I started to do yoga and it was very enlightening. You’re reintroducing yourself to your body, you’re finding out things about yourself that you did not know. When you sit quietly for a period of time, you find out a lot about yourself.”

“When you lose someone that you love, it changes you mentally and physically. You’re a completely different person. For me, through yoga, I was able to embrace who I was starting to become.”

“I worked for the school system for 22 years and in May 2019, I decided to resign. It was a hard decision to make, but I felt there was something else that I was meant to do. I’d worked there since I was 18 years old and I’d turned 40 and I thought: ‘I’m sure that there’s something else out there for me’ and I decided that I would do my yoga teacher training. Once I told my husband I was thinking about resigning, he asked: ‘Well what do you want to do?‘ and I said: ‘I want to teach yoga‘ and he was like: ‘Okay, let’s try it and see what happens!‘”

“And so here I am! I’m a 200-hour yoga instructor, a certified kid yoga instructor, and I’m quite happy. It’s a great feeling waking up every morning and doing something you were already going to do anyway, and you love it. It’s a completely different feeling.”

What do you enjoy most about teaching yoga?

 “I started out with my 200-hour yoga teacher training, then since I loved working for the school system, I asked myself: ‘How can I still be in that environment and not be in my previous role?‘ and I thought: ‘Oh, I should teach kid yoga!‘ In most public school systems, kids don’t get yoga classes.”

“I remember being the secretary in the office and I was the one administering kids their medication. I thought: ‘Our kids could benefit from yoga”. I know that social and emotional learning is a big thing, so I thought yoga could be a way to help them with their concentration, their self-awareness, and I wanted to be that person to introduce them to it.”

“There’s so many ways that I can give back to my community. I love having a connection with the kids. I taught two classes of kindergartners and two classes of third-grade students. And they LOVED it. They sat in their criss-cross applesauce, they did their warriors. They giggled, which I expect for them to do, but they enjoyed it.”

I also have a group of girls that I work with that’s a track team and those girls have impressed me so much. They make me feel like: ‘Okay, this is worth it.‘ As an entrepreneur, you have those dark days sometimes when you think: ‘Did I make the right decision?‘ But when I see them practicing and teaching yoga back to each other and I watch them, it’s a great feeling!”

What is Brwnskn Yoga?

“Brwnskn yoga is a reflection of me, of how I see myself. I am a brown girl and I love yoga. It’s something I wanted to introduce to other African American young girls.”

“As an adult, we already have our practice; maybe we go to a studio and do vinyasa or Ashtanga. But for the smaller girls that are just learning their bodies and finding out about themselves, I think this a great opportunity for them to say: ‘Hey, I’m a brown girl and I can do this too.‘”

“But it’s not even just about being a brown girl. Brwnskyoga applies to all girls… African American, Caucasian, Latina, and Asian.  In my opinion we are all beautiful, we all have pigmentation in our skin. But for me, it’s something a little bit deeper that I wanted to dive into and I wanted to express, and I wanted to show. I wanted to bring awareness to my community and say: ‘Hey, let me teach you how to meditate!‘”

Who or what inspires you to keep practicing and teaching? 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B9BnifjA7Cj/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

“Because of my mom, I’m resilient and strong. She raised me to be sweet and sassy. I’ll never back down from a fight when I know I’m right. I’m not afraid to work hard. I’m not afraid to get dirty. I’ll make a dime last until I get my next! Because of my mom, I learned to trust my intuition and never allow a person to fool me twice. Because of my mom, I know a little something about everything! I am my mother’s little brown-skinned girl.”

“My husband is very supportive. Was I in a position to resign from my job and say: ‘Hey, I’m going to go teach yoga and become an entrepreneur’? No, but we made modifications to our lifestyle in order for it to work and I greatly appreciate him for that. It makes me feel good as a parent to hear my sons say: ‘Wow mom, I love what you are doing, I’m so impressed!‘ And it is an honor for my dad, close family, and friends to tell me how proud they are of me. I am fulfilling the purpose and gift that I was given.”

“My first yoga teacher, Amy Morse, she is phenomenal. She’s very passionate about teaching. She has inspired me a lot. She takes great pride in her practice and that’s something that I value a lot. She and Michele Mallory, those two make an insanely beautiful team. I can’t wait  to bond with someone so I can recreate what they have, I think it’s something beautiful.”

“I continue to practice because I want to make a significant impact on my community! I want BRWNSKN Yoga to be a success! I want it to be AWESOME!” 

What’s Kidding Around Yoga?

“I am very excited to teach Kidding Around Yoga! It’s a program based out of Tampa, Florida and they put together a curriculum to teach kid yoga to babies, prenatal yoga, and mommy and me yoga. They teach yoga through play and storytime. They teach pranayama (breathwork), the significance of ‘om’ chanting, and there’s a section on meditation and why it’s important. What I really like about it is that we teach asanas through dancing and song – it’s play! It’s a great program and I’ve completed my KAY certification and I have completed my 95 hours required by Yoga Alliance to be an RCYT – a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher.” 

What do you envision yourself doing with yoga five years from now? 

“I want yoga to be in the K-12 school curriculum. It should be in the day-to-day school curriculum. Kids should experience that. It should be offered, like music and PE, just a few minutes of meditation every day. I’ve worked in the school system for so many years and sometimes kids are labeled as being ‘the troubled kid’. But maybe they’re not – maybe they feel some type of stress and they don’t know how to express it. We need to teach them a way to learn how to deal with what we know as anxiety and stress. They’re so young that they haven’t connected those dots; they don’t know what it means. All they know is that they’re having a hectic day. But if we can teach them some pranayama and some asanas, it will help them understand more about themselves and about their bodies. Help them be more self-aware.”

“I would love to have a team where I have teachers out at each school and they’re teaching yoga as a part of the day-to-day curriculum. Yoga camps and retreats are another idea I’d love to do.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Listen to Lullaby by Tasha on Soundcloud

I’d like to share a song by Tasha called Lullaby. I heard this song first on a show called Queen Sugar. They played this song in a scene where these two sisters had bumped heads and it was a very emotional scene and it was basically saying: ‘You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders / Black girl it’s okay, you can rest today / You can rest and you can let someone else carry the weight of the world.‘ It’s a beautiful and powerful song. When I first heard that song, I was like: ‘Oh, I’m putting that in my classes’. It’s a very empowering song.”

Where do you teach Brwnskn Yoga?

“Most of my time is spent at schools and doing private yoga sessions for adults and children. I don’t think a lot of people feel comfortable actually going to a yoga studio. One day I would like to have a studio, but right now I think that personal connection and helping people to become comfortable with their practice – it could help them venture out to another studio when they have that comfort level within themselves.”

Follow Brwnskn Yoga

Instagram: @brwnsknyoga

Website: Brwnskn Yoga

To Be or Not To Be… a Feminist

Jatziry Guzman Berzunza wearing a white hat To be or not to be... a feminist

Written by: Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

I grew up in México in a small town, I came to the US at 24 years old.

Some people, when they hear my story, want to know, “Why did you come to the US? For the most part it is has kind and curious people that ask.

I feel that my story is similar but not as harsh and sad as many of the other stories you hear from immigrants who have come here.

The dream of opportunity, the dream of being safe, the dream of not being harassed on the streets. The dream of a good paying job, the dream of a partner that is not abusive, manipulative, a better life!

Time has gone by, twenty years to be exact, I am now a citizen. I have been able to go back to México to visit my family, my Mom was able to come and work and stay, and my daughter came and after high school went back to Oaxaca.

 A few years ago, my fiance Bob and I were discussing the issue of feminism and he asked me if I considered myself a feminist?

I answered, It depends, If I am in México, I am a feminist, If I am here (USA) I am not.

I had to think about it, and this is my conclusion.

Every time when I go back to México I feel, sad, overwhelmed, angry, and unfortunately not surprised of the chauvinistic way society works there. At the beginning of my trips I would argue, confront, get angry at every situation that would come my way. Vacation time was not relaxing.

Then I would come back home and my guard would come down. I would watch TV news and see women screaming, being angry, frustrated, arguing, fighting for respect and equality and I would think “What are they talking about?” “Why are they so angry?”, especially compared to Mexico.

Fast forward to the “MeToo” Movement and I suddenly realized how much harassment is happening here as well. I saw those angry women and frustrated women, many expressing the same sentiment I feel when I go back home.

What I understand now, however is also what type of victim I still am (Because I am still learning) of that chauvinistic society that I thought I left when I came here.

Many of the things that women here in the U.S take for granted, I didn’t even dream of. Being independent, having of a career, getting a college degree, those things never crossed my mind. 

Life in the US has taken me in a beautiful journey that until recently through a series of epiphany’s, I didn’t realize I have been experiencing.

I did not go to college because still today I do not feel I have the skills to do s (This is what I am still working on, my beliefs and confidence)

However, I lived on my own for a while here and in México, I went to Cosmetology school and became an Instructor.  I guess I may have what it takes for a journey to a College Degree. I am evolving.

(On a side note about the Cosmotology and Beauty Industry… I recognize now that in an industry that “caters” so much to women, to be successful in it you, have to be a man. For Another Blog)

I have come to realize now that women here in the U.S. are as angry and frustrated at the inequalities in our society as what I see going back home. I may not have seen it here because here, like in my and many other countries, Women are also held down and kept quiet. They are trying to get out or survive an abusive relationship, have strong opinions, grow careers and face many similar challenges. I feel that here in the U.S, even with the “metoo” it would be risky and perhaps devastating for our careers to report harassments and abuses.

In other countries it can even be devastating for your life.

I am now taking on a professional career as part owner of a Manufacturing Rep Firm with my fiancé. This experience has made me realize the money side of unequal pay and treatment to women. There have been cases where people dealing with me want to lower or delay payments delay answers and I am surprised at how treatment changes when my partner gets involved.

But more than anything again it is the realization of how a Caucasian male gets treated in business, opportunities, pay and overall treatment vs. a Hispanic woman from a third world country.

What I am also realizing is how education changes your mind, how sheltered my mind had been and how little by little the opportunities of education and experiences  have changed my fears. It is time to exercise my “exigir”, or “how I want things to be”.

I am suddenly starting FIND MY VOICE!

 I want equality

I want to change the way I think.

I want to decide.

I want to help.

I am thankful for the women in my life that answer my questions with kindness.

 I am thankful for the men that treat me with respect and cheer for me to get a promotion , better pay and opportunities.

I am thankful for the situations and people that challenge my beliefs and thoughts. 

I am thankful for the impassioned women on documentaries, teaching me lessons about how a strong willed woman (who has a victim of chauvinistic behavior’s or actions) believes, thinks and acts.

I am finally am happy to announce …

Yes…. I AM A FEMINIST!

Follow Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

Website: Jat Yoga

Meet Gabby Salinas

Gabby Salinas

Meet Gabby Salinas: a healthcare advocate, cancer survivor, and scientist. Policy nerd. Political unifier. Red lipstick aficionado.

I met this Gabby in April 2018 when I just learned that my 12-year career teaching international university students was ending due to a nation-wide enrollment decline. I was preparing to move 2,500 miles away from my beloved home state of Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee and close the long-distance gap with my partner. I was eating lunch at my desk and scrolling Facebook when I came across a post in the group called Pantsuit Nation:

Gabby announces her campaign for Tennessee state senate on Pantsuit nation in 2018
A survivor, scientist, birthday-lover and a healthcare advocate for all? How can I meet her?

Wow! A woman wanting to turn her district blue just threw down her plans to run for office in the city where I was relocating! What were the chances? I was so moved by her announcement to run for state senate and excited to meet more progressive people in Memphis; a blue dot in a red state. Besides my partner, I didn’t know anyone else in Memphis, but that was about to change. I put down my salad and fork and sent Gabby this message:

“Hi Gabby! Happy birthday and congratulations on your campaign! Your story is very influential. I’ll be moving from Oregon to Memphis in September. I’ll be completely new to town and I’d love to help out on your campaign and meet some new people, so let me know if you need any help. I hope you have plans to celebrate today!”

And Gabby replied back:

“Hi Rachel, this is great news! You will love Memphis, it is a wonderful city! We would love your help, it is going to take all of us to flip this seat.”

And just like that: I made my first friend in Memphis.

Meet Gabby Salinas

A few months later when I arrived, I met Gabby in real life. She was as kind in person as she was on Facebook. I quickly learned that she and her family are the unofficial royal family of Memphis: loved by many for their community advocacy, genuine kindness, and their origin story of persisting in the face of hardships.

Election 2018 – She Persisted

I spent most of fall 2018 changing my address, shopping for a used car, and asking for rides to canvass for Gabby with my fellow campaign workers. Instead of preparing lessons and teaching students in a classroom, I knocked on thousands of doors and got to know the people in my new city by asking them to vote for Gabby in her campaign for the Tennessee state senate.

Fast forward to Election Night 2018, fueled by chips and salsa, margaritas, and hope, Team Gabby gathered at a local Mexican restaurant and watched election results roll in – first with eager anticipation and later with heavy hearts – as the local news networks declared Gabby’s incumbent opponent Brian Kelsey the winner of the state senate race by a margin of 1.8 percent or 1,520 votes. The race was close in terms of votes, but in terms of campaign spending, it was grossly disproportionate.

Follow the Money: PAC Attack

Brian Kelsey’s campaign was flushed with $369,000 from MCPAC, a political action committee (PAC of the then Lt. Governor Randy McNally.) That’s right: $369,000 spent. Against her. From the governor of Tennessee.

I can think of literally thousands of ways that money could be better spent: feeding families or providing jobs for many, but instead it was hoarded and spent in a smear campaign against a Latina female candidate. If fear had a smell, it would smell like whatever $369,000 smells like. Most people don’t know what $369,000 smells or even looks like because we’ve never seen that kind of money in one place, let alone be in a position to spend it.

MCPAC ran scathing TV and radio ads against Gabby calling her a “dangerous radical” and showing pictures of masked men as criminal immigrants. This was confusing because other than immigrating to the United States from Bolivia, Gabby can be found doing science in research labs, attending community events, or spending time with her family. Other choice phrases used to instill outsider-based racist fear to an easily-swayed conservative voter base were “Democratic socialist”, “not one of us”, and linked her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Yaaaaaas! Wait I’m confused… is being compared to AOC supposed to be an insult?)

Gabby’s goal to expand Medicaid statewide as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act was twisted into rhetoric as, and I quote: “someone who would single-handedly destroy Tennessee’s economy”. Nevermind that the Tennessee economy is doing all right these days.

You may be wondering: who’s so opposed to hospitals to stop closing and every Tennessean to have healthcare that they’re willing to pay nearly $10,000 per donation? Some of the usual suspects include the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Republican National Committee, big tobacco, and alcohol distributors.

Gabby’s campaign was also funded by a PAC: a pro-immigrant political group that gave her campaign $23,000. Beyond the differences in funding, she and her team ran a true grassroots campaign that focused on the issues, not opponent-smearing. A “dangerously radical” concept indeed in today’s pay-for-votes divisive political climate. I was proud to be associated with her campaign.

The take-away is simple: follow the money, and vote with your dollars.

Election 2020 – Back in Action

Big dollars can’t and won’t quiet this woman, so Gabby is back and running for Tennessee House District 97! Her signature issue remains the same: expanding Medicaid in Tennessee so everyone can have access to healthcare and rural hospitals will stop closing. Other issues of importance for her are funding public education, safety, and infrastructure in Memphis.

When I knocked on doors for Gabby in 2018, I had about 30 seconds to talk to voters and ask for their votes. My script went something like this:

Hello, is Mr. / Ms. Lastname home? My name is Rachel and I’m campaigning for Gabby Salinas who’s running for Tennessee state senate. Are you familiar with her? Gabby is a:

*Three-time childhood cancer survivor
*Former St. Jude patient and researcher
*Who wants to expand Medicaid for Tennesseeans and
*Wants to fund public education, safety, and infrastructure to take all Memphians from surviving to thriving
Can we count on you to vote for her?

While all of the above is true, Gabby’s determination to provide for her state goes beyond those bullet points. Gabby Salinas is a shero in the highest regard. Next to my own mother, she is one of the most resilient and focused women I’ve ever met. Gabby stands up for everyone. She’s a quiet riot, relentlessly steadfast and kind, smart, driven, not to mention totally relatable and super fun to be around.

When I’m at a community event in Memphis, I wonder: “Is Gabby here?” Inevitably I’ll text her asking: “Hey, are you at the Levitt Shell concert tonight?” or “Hey, are you cheering at the St. Jude Marathon today?” more often than not she is and we’ll find each other, hug, and catch up on the goings-on of the moment. We’ll high five runners, or stage a dance party while listening to the Memphis sounds of summer: cicadas and community concerts. When I ask her what she’s been up to, she talks about her work, school, community advocacy, board service. My head spins in awe and I wonder how she makes time to be such a badass and whether she’s a paper or a digital calendar person. She seems unphased by her self-imposed workload and is always happy to be serving her community. Gabby always asks about what’s happening with me and listens with genuine interest as I tell her about my forays into freelancing among other things.

Surviving & Thriving: the Salinas Family Story

Gabby and her family are a tight-knit and inclusive bunch and they are no strangers to struggle. The Salinas family immigrated from Bolivia to Memphis, Tennessee when Gabby was seven years old so she could be treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – a beloved Memphis institution devoted to treating pediatric cancers and diseases. Families at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Marlo Thomas heard about Gabby being turned away from a hospital in New York because her family was unable to pay and brought her to Memphis to be treated at St. Jude for free.

When she was eight years old, her family traveled to New York to enjoy a change of scenery from the hospital. On the way back to Memphis, the Salinas family was in a bad car accident. Gabby’s father and sister died and her mother was paralyzed while pregnant with her youngest child who survived. Later Gabby had two more cancer diagnoses for which her family paid nothing thanks to the generosity of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which shows how healthcare can and should be for everyone.

Gabby would not be alive without the support the Memphis community gave her and her family. Now she focuses her time and energy advocating for policies that will give back to the people who gave her life when she and her family were at their most vulnerable.

Gabby and the Salinas Family tell their story

Moving to Memphis wasn’t easy for me. Even though I had the great fortune of being connected to one of Memphis’s finest people when I first arrived, I struggled to adapt to life in a new place. The first year of being away from my friends and family in Oregon rendered me homesick beyond expectation. Whenever I started to feel sorry for myself, I thought of Gabby and what her first year in Memphis was like. Inspired by her, I did my best to honor my feelings, shift my perspective, and find gratitude in a new situation. This is what I see her do. She never gives up.

Gabby and the Salinas family have experienced some of the most hellacious experiences life can present. They’ve moved forward and thrived through their struggles together. At a time when the problems of the world are many and people are paralyzed with overwhelm, Gabby. Is. Unstoppable. Gabby talks the talk, walks the walk, and shows us how to honor our heartbreak and turn it into action. She was alive when “pre-existing conditions” like cancer were acceptable reasons for declining someone health insurance coverage.

From St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: No child should die in the dawn of life.
From the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – “No child should die in the dawn of life”.

Gabby shows up for everyone. Now she needs our support for her campaign for Tennessee House so she can advocate for all at the state government.

Support Gabby Salinas for Tennessee House

Meet Gabby Salinas
“I will always be an engaged citizen pushing for better healthcare legislation in our state and in our nation.” – Gabby Salinas

Gabby is running for Tennessee House District 97 and oh yeah, also finishing her Ph.D. dissertation and keeping up with her advocacy work.

Contribute to candidates who care about the issues, not special interests. Make a donation and support her campaign at VoteForGabby.com. Follow her on Twitter as she moves her vision for Medicaid for all in Tennessee forward and stops rural hospitals from closing.

Onward!