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.”
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.
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?
“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?
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Like many first-generation Latinas, I struggle with knowing where I sit in terms of my culture. I’m an American by birth and a Latina by nature. It’s easier for me to say I’m an American than try to explain where on the spectrum my heritage sits. Is it enough to say that I’m a sensual, colorful, hot and spicy mix of all the delicious and naughty things people secretly love about Latin women? Because that’s the best way I can describe myself.
As a beautiful soul said to me yesterday, the Super Bowl half time show was every Latin woman’s dream come true. Two strong and culturally proud Latin women on the biggest stage in the world reveling in all that they are from head to toe. No apology, no explanation. That in itself is why it was such an inspiring performance.
“Why is she grabbing her crotch so much?” “Oh my god, she’s a stripper now?” “Did Shakira just wiggle her tongue at the camera?” “You can totally see her entire vag with that outfit.”
While the rest of America’s women take selfies in public bathrooms to show off their assets, these two women put it out in public for all to see with some amazing physicality and energy. And that is the magic of being a Latina. It’s in our soul to drip with sexy enthusiasm, to have hypnotizing hips, to have sets of lips that don’t need fillers because they’re ready to deliver the best kiss you’ve ever had. We are the fetish cowboys wrote songs about. And we’re not sorry.
I can sit in a board room filled with men and hold my own over forecasting reports and the company P&L. I can be a Suzie Homemaker and take care of a large family with amazing, from the heart food and incredible nurturing. I can be my husband’s most incredible fantasy behind closed doors. Latin women are all of these things.
Today, I can say I am so proud to be a Latin woman. I don’t say that often. Probably not often enough.
In 2020, I will celebrate who I am more and not allow the Puritanical perspective I saw creep and crawl through people’s comments on Sunday invade my pride.
I am Latina and I am proud.
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