Why My Surname Is Confusing

What’s a surname?

I asked this a lot when I spent a semester in the UK. They don’t usually call it a last name like we do here. I know, everything sounds so posh across the pond.

It wasn’t until people started asking me if I was Mexican that I realized how hispanic my name is. I should just start saying “yes”. Not that I’m dissatisfied with my heritage. I tell everyone that I’m half Rwandan. But on occasion–with people who don’t really know me –I want to say, yes I’m from Brazil or Argentina or wherever the surname “Camara” fits best.

But I’m the only one in my family of ten siblings who has an hispanic first name.

Julia Isabelle Camara.

My housemate from Spain asked me why my name was so Spanish. My response,”Is it? I had no idea.”

This semester I met a freshman named Julio.

“Wow we have similar names!” I said with a big smile. “I’ve never met anyone with that name. It’s like the boy version of my name.”

“Are you Latino?” He asked, skeptical of my overenthusiastic interest in his name.

“No, I’m African American.”

“Then, why’d your parents name you Julia?”

“Umm . . .”  #awkward

Truth is, I have no idea why they named me Julia. I guess they liked the sound. But they might have considered the number of times people would ask me, “You Hispanic or something?”

Cool thing is, I share the same name with a famous Brazilian filmmaker and screen writer. And thankfully that Julia Camara, in California, has a good reputation and a stellar online presence.

No matter the confusion, I’m glad my parents gave me a beautiful name, that’s both visually and acoustically pleasing, despite its Latin American connotations. #blessed

 

6 Thoughts Concerning Body Image

I weigh 130 lbs and it took me a long to time to admit this weight was okay.

#insecurity #peerpressure

Blame it on our toxic culture so consumed with body image it’s too blind to recognize the attributes of a person.

Physical appearance speaks loads. If someone is confident maybe they hold their head higher, smile often, and wear bright colors. A more reserved or insecure person might stay close to people she knows, keeping her head down, and turning her body away when she meets new people.

A myriad of other physical attributes tell us about a person, such a s skin color, hair, eyes, body weight, height, and dress.

What if the exterior was the last thing we saw when we met someone? Wouldn’t that drastically change our judgement or admiration for people we see and meet?

Here are six attributes to look for in a person aside from body image.

  1. Tone of voice. Whether a person’s voice is gentle, sarcastic, rough, rapid or mellow reveals a lot about their personality. This quality in a person can become admirable and work in their favor to win a good opinion.
  2. Hidden Talents. I once knew a guy who was pretty average looking but when I discovered he could balance anything on his chin from a plastic spoon to a construction ladder my perception of him changed dramatically. Hidden talents are not things you learn about someone from just seeing their exterior.
  3. Linguistic Ability. A lot of people can speak multiple languages which can change the way you see them. Many of my bilingual friends seem completely different when I hear them speaking in their mother tongue.
  4. Expertise. Everyone is a little geeky about something. There is this girl I went to England with who knows all about Korean pop music including the backstory of each band member, the Korean lyrics of the latest songs, and dance moves from the hottest music videos. Looking at her you would never guess all that. And even if someones expertise isn’t interesting to you, many times their passion for it is pleasant to know.
  5. Intellect. A philosopher is not easy to spot in a crowd unless he’s the kind to sit in the corner and ponder the meaning of life. But we surface level thinkers can learn and be enlightened by great thinkers of today. As the pen is mightier than the sword, so is the mind of a thinker to the muscle of an athlete. Well, depending on the situation.
  6. Spiritual life. How close someone is to God is something to discover. This is an aspect of a person that is interesting to know and hear about. What they think about the human soul and a higher power reveals their beliefs and what they hold to as truth.

Physical appearance has just been something on my mind lately. So my challenge to you and to myself is to notice the unnoticed, consider the hidden interior of the people you see everyday. Remember that they are main characters in your life’s story, not just extras.

 

Why I Talk Like a White Girl

I spent fall break in Alexandria visiting my cousins with my brother and sister. As we drove through the city with my cousins, who are both black, the Uber driver, also black, kept looking at us in the rear-view mirror. Finally when our conversation died down in the back seat, he spoke up.

“Where Y’all from?” he said. His voice cloaked in that deep Virginian accent.

We told him we hailed from the Midwest and were visiting DC for the weekend.

“Okay,” he replied, “It’s just. . . y’all talk so strange.”

He went on to say that when he’d heard my cousin over the phone, he arrived in his Uber car looking for a group of white people.

“I had to do a double take to make sure y’alls was really black. Sounds like I’m drivin a bunch of white folks.”

He was laughing as he said this because to him it was so outlandish that a group of black youth were talking like white folks.  We laughed too because we know our accent is odd considering how we look.

It’s problematic sometimes, being black and talking white. What’s hard about it? Relating to black people. Well at least in my case.

Is it just me or do they look at me funny because I don’t speak like them?

What’s annoying is when people ask me if I speak Ebonics.

“Can you talk like, you know, a real black person.”

Again with the word “real,” it confuses me.

“You mean do I use African American Vernacular?”

“Yeah you know . . . like gettin your sass on and all.”

“Hell no.”

Let me note that black people never ask me this. It’s just my white friends who are curious about my background. #understandable

I use to feel bad because I couldn’t speak Ebonics. It was just another thing that removed me from the black community. But I had to ask myself if it was something people should assume about me.

“Oh your black, so can you dance like Will Smith?”

“Hell no.”

I suppose this was something they could assume. As a kid I assumed all Chinese could do Karate, all Hispanics could dance Salsa, and all Indians liked super spicy food.

Assumptions can be easily replaced with curiosity. #CuriosityIsKey

“So I’m curious, why don’t you speak like most people in the black community?”

This is a question I would be happy to answer, because it gives off a vibe that the one posing the question is eager to learn. This approach puts me in a comfortable position. Otherwise my explanation of why I don’t talk a certain way comes out in a more defensive manner.

Why do I talk like a white girl? Well, first of all I don’t. What I speak is Standard American English, a dialect that is linguistically equal to Ebonics. It is what my mother and father speak and the dialect of almost everyone around me.

My parents understand that society deems this variety of English as more educated than others and therefore as kids we were not allowed to use African American Vernacular.

Imagine if society didn’t demean certain varieties of English. Imagine if all dialect and varieties were societally equal. Communication is the purpose of language, so there is no ethical values in using one variety.

For the record, I love hearing people speak Ebonics. It intrigues me in how it combines words, removing suffixes and adding prefixes. I’m fascinated by the rise and fall of the speech patterns. It makes me envy the ability some have to code-switch and therefore comfortably communicate with two different people groups. So, yes, though I can’t speak it, I recognize Ebonics as a valuable means of communication.

 

 

When Race or Gender is Unrepresented in Film

Bridge of Spies is a brilliant, masterfully-crafted film that will probably one day become a classic.

But where are the black people and strong female characters?

Last night I saw the movie Bridge of Spies. This film is about the American and German negotiation for the trading of two spies during the Cold War.

As the daughter of a filmmaker, raised on Steven Spielberg, George Lukas, and Akira Kurosawa, I know a good movie when I see one. And this was without a doubt a good movie.

It was one of those films that transports you back in time, causing you to forget you live in the 21st century, one that makes the audience work to understand what is happening in the story as it introduces characters and unravels a plot layer by layer.

Seasoned with clever characterization and playful dialogue, the film made me forget I’m about to begin a semester of chaos, stress, and the pursuit of a real-life job.

But it did not, however, allow me to forget that I am a black woman in a white man’s world.

Not long into the film I became aware of the absence of any black people. Now, I know the story is about the Cold War and American and German spies, but does this mean black people did not exist or have positions of authority during this time? Believe me, every person on screen was white, from the people riding the subways to the secretaries at the law firm.

If this was the case during those times, black people riding different subways in Brooklyn and only living in certain parts of New York, then the film would have correctly portrayed life during the Cold War.

However, the story could have implemented diversity in the cast, for the sake of its audience, could it not?

Now let’s switch gears to look at gender roles in this film.

The one female character in the entire movie was the wife of the lawyer, played by Tom Hanks. She’s a woman racked with worry for her husband. She is also unsupportive of his decision to defend a German spy, and has fewer lines than some of the German dialogue.

Okay. So maybe the target audience was middle-aged white males. That makes sense, but what is this telling them about society? And if this film becomes a classic, like Schindler’s List, it will not only be middle-aged men watching and learning from it, but also men, women, and children from all ethnic backgrounds.

I find it difficult to sit through a two-hour movie where my race is not represented and where there are no admirable female characters.

But alas, such is the world we occupy. #minorityproblems #unrepresented

This was just my observation. Watch the film for yourself and tell me what you think. Am I being too harsh? Am I taking a period piece out of context and trying to make it fit into a different era.

Perhaps.

Why Women Can Make Career Goals

Monday, videos and memes painted social media platforms saying, “look how far the black community has come.” #blackhistorymonth #MLKday

It is not something I take for granted, studying at a university as a black female, sharing rooms, toilets, water fountains, and dining tables with white people. Though in my community I don’t experience racism as a social norm, I’ll alwasy remember that if I lived back during the civil rights movement my life would be very different.

Yesterday I atelunch with the other seniors in my major–white students–and I realized that we were talking about our career goals. We were planning our future after graduation, where we wanted to work and why. We talked about how we would achieve success and what inspired us to have such ambitious goals.”I want to be a copyeditor” . . . “an editor and chief “. . . “an English teacher in South Korea”. . . “A Journalist covering stories on immigration in America.”

Fifty years ago woman didn’t have this privilege.

I just finished my senior capstone presentation, where I talked about the novel The Help and how brilliant the tools of storytelling are used in it. This story takes place in the 1960’s when the civil rights movement was at its peak. It was also a time when the majority of female conversations were dominated by the topics of friends, clothes, and men. Actually I don’t know if this is true because I was born in ’94, but it’s what the main character, Aibileen, says in The Help.

Is it really true? Well, I kind of understand if it is. What other choice did they have. The option to talk about world peace and racial reconciliation? #probablynot

You know how some slaves in the south stayed on their plantations even after they were free. I heard somewhere that many of them were too afraid to go out and live as free citizens. All they knew was a life as a slave. Living as a free person would be abnormal and uncomfortable. So I’ve read.

This got me thinking that women should exercise their freedom. Let’s plan our lives in accordance to God’s guidance. Be ambitious with our career plans, seek out job opportunities, go for the hard stuff and shoot for the stars. My challenge to you is not to settle for less because of societal norms about your gender.

Who says you can’t accomplish your dreams?

Today I learned that I am blessed to be a woman in 2016. A time where I can make career goals and talk about more than clothes, marriage, and my frienemies.

I want that for you too.

#womensrights

#YouCanDoAllThings!

 

That Time I wanted to be Korean

Identity crisis hit me hard when I came to college.  I was black but not really. I was friends with black students, mostly from the Bahamas. And I was totally comfortable with white students yet drawn to African students who were less that .002% of the student population.

“What the heck am I?”  I asked myself on a daily basis.

I soon developed some Korean friends and learned to admire both their culture and their language. They were my new best friends, we studied together, ate together, and watched Korean dramas (#SoCheesyButSoGood) My Korean friends were so kind and inviting, constantly teaching me new words and I felt accepted and wanted.

Eventually I knew every Korean student on campus. I could eat spicy ramen and kimchi with them and understand the Korean conversations happening in the hallway.

Despite the excitement of my new found friends, the cultural differences came with the territory.

I picked up a few phrases here and there, but the language barrier was still very present. And even when I could understand them, our cultures diverged drastically.

I didn’t understand the complexity of their age-oriented society. When a younger Korean student was disrespecting an older Korean student, everyone became outraged. But why? The severity of that disrespect was something I couldn’t fully grasp.

As my journey to discovering my racial identity progressed I realized that I could never really be close to Korean students and that is simply because I can never be Korean. I learned that wanting to belong with a people-group is a byproduct of seeing people who belong together.  Korean students belong together in that they understand each other’s culture and I wanted to belong to something like that.

Where am I now? Like I’ve said before I’m still figuring it out.  I know I want to belong somewhere, that my heritage is as much a part of me as is my future. But can I insert myself into a society and claim it as my own?

I’m not quite sure.

 

Why I Don’t Wear Braids

A note to all biracial couples,

consider your children’s hair

I have never worn braids, weave, or extensions and I probably never will. The first time I straightened my hair was age fourteen when my Aunt Laura did it for me. It was a revelation. The silky smooth locks and the way it flapped in the wind made me feel like a model.

If I had known flat-irons existed with powers to transform my brown curls into something as straight as my white friends’ hair, I would have done it much earlier.

Hair is a funny thing. It took me a long time to appreciate my curly hair because for a long time I believed I was most beautiful when it was straight.

Getting to know your hair is like discovering a new talent. You work at it, experiment, get advice, and voila, it becomes yours. Well, until a spell of humidity rolls through.

But being mixed and having curly hair is a whole issue in itself. My mother always kept my hair clean and combed. But treating biracial hair was a new challenge for her.  Well, who really knows how, aside from the one born with it?  She would brush it when it was dry and use the same products as she used on her own hair. Can I blame her for trying?

When I first came to college, my black friends would talk about their hair all the time, about going natural, about their TWA(Teeny Weeny Afro), and about getting perms.

“What? I thought only white people got perms,” I’d say. Well, I thought a lot of things before I had black friends.

Sometimes I am so ignorant. Or am I just ignorant about the things people assume I should know because of my skin color? #confused

As a kid my hair was stick straight. It would curl a little in the humidity, but for the most part it was silky smooth. Then I hit puberty.  It changed like a tree in the springtime, with volume reaching unthinkable heights.

It was so curly I was afraid to wear it down around my friends. So, instead I pulled it in a tight ponytail everyday. At one point I used hair gel. I would leave the house with decent sized hair and return with a tumble weed on my head that even scared me when I saw it. Soon enough I discovered hair product for black girls. If only I had moved two feet down the shopping isle a long time ago.

Today, I use Pantene conditioner in the shower, hardly ever shampoo my hair, and apply Moose when it’s damp. It’s almost controllable. The weather usually has the last say. #hatehumidity

So why have I never worn braids or weave? Well, the insane amount of time it takes to braid hair compared to the amount of time to enjoy it, is one reason. And why is it so expensive?

But say I had the money and the time, would I do it? Maybe. Probably not. :/

The point is that I grew up in a white culture where girls only got their hair braided on mission trips in Africa, a culture where the only braided heads I saw were the checkout line women in Walmart. No one around me wore braids, so I never wanted to or even deemed it a possibility.

Coping with societal norms is a dilemma biracial people face more than others, one of many that come with the circumstances.

#racialidentitycrisis.

Solution? Identity crisis happens. And it’s good when it happens, when you struggle with who you are. Only then are you able to choose your identity rather than accept who society says you are. Just remember this, don’t be sorry for not being what people assume you should be.

Be you.

             Discover you.

                                       Let your race be a part of your identity, not all of it.

 

Why I read the News

Classes began this week. Yayy! Two and a half hours of job prepping, resume reviewing and creating a  professional online presence. Though it is all good stuff, I would much rather be reading about the attacks that happened in Istanbul today.

It is a little sad how excited I get when something tragic happens in the news. Let me be clear. I am in no way amused or entertained by attacks of terrorism. Rather it is the chance to read it before everyone else that draws me in.

Everyone wants to be the first in their friend group to break the news. “Hey did you hear about the. . . Can you believe what happened in. . . What do you think about . . .” That is if you have friends who care about foreign crisis. And for my friends who do not care, at least I am educating them.

My second reason for getting excited about Twitter’s breaking news updates is the way in which the journalist convey the information they have been given. I write for my school’s newspaper when they need me, and my favorite stories to write are world and national news. Having written a few terrorist attack pieces myself, I glean from other writers their way of reporting the reoccurring events of the Islamic State.

Do I read news for information? Sometimes, if someone beats me too the latest breaking headlines and I want to participate in the discussion. But not often, especially American politics because most of it is over my head. But give me a piece on conflict in Central Africa and I will be hungry for more. It is always a history lesson because the events are part of an ongoing issue.

Reading news about Africa forces me to learn about a new country, perhaps one I have never heard of or cared to locate. Suddenly I want to know its past civil wars and current political status.  And I am always interested in the national language; like, who knew Angolans speak Portuguese.  As I have mentioned before I love to spend time with my African friends, but it is important to me to know what is happening in their countries. There is a new light on a person’s character when you are aware of their backstory.

Am I the only non Political Science major in college who reads the news?

Sometimes I wonder.

Why do I relate to Africans?

 

When my phone buzzed with a text from Gracia, I was in mid squat doing a squat workout challenge on Pop Pilates, the best way to stay fit in the winter. We were planning to cook today, and I was determined to finish my workout before eating a plate of Kenyan lentil stew and homemade chapati.

I should remind you that Gracia is my best friend from Kenya, whose smile can light up a room, and who drives me crazy with envy when it comes to dancing. Her hips don’t lie.

“Julia, are you coming to cook?” her text said. I could picture her and her sister, Gloria, standing next to a counter full to the edges with unwashed, un-chopped vegetables, beside a stove of boilings pots.

With four minutes to go on my squat challenge I was in no mood to trudge through the snowy outdoors, but I knew I should really help them.

Three hours later after chopping, simmering, mixing, and seasoning food, a group of us enjoyed a delicious meal in the residence hall kitchen.  Gracia’s sister, Gloria, had organized the whole get-together, inviting all the African students on campus and then some.

She is the type of person who loves to see people step out of their comfort zones and do something wild. She is also the girl who, after being attacked by a truck of rowdy college boys with water balloons, chased them down shouting, “GET BACK HERE AND APOLOGIZE!”  If Gracia’s smile can light up a room, Gloria’s heart can keep the light burning.

As we all waited for the food to finish, we sat around joking and telling stories of Christmas break. All the while, Gloria stood by the stove flipping chapatis, a Kenyon flat bread made of water, flour, and salt. Every now and then she would say with the biggest smile on her face,”This is the most chapati I have ever made.”

There were eleven of us sitting at a huge table we had drawn together, all dabbing our bread in the delicious lentils. Then it hit me that I was one of four Americans there, and the only African America to boot. It led me to question my racial identity like I’ve done in the past with the same question of who I truly am and why I relate to Africans?

I am not a foreigner. I have never been to Africa. Even the stories my father told me from his childhood are tales of Africa in the early 70s, where he washed his one pair of trousers in a river and owned monkeys in his house. Is that the Africa my friends know? But still I relate to them better than anyone.

I think it is my heritage, my love for international people, my longing to be bilingual, and my genuine interest in Africa that bridges the cultural gap between me and my African friends.

Wait, are you saying I’m black?

I never knew I was black until I came to college.

What can I say? I grew up in a white culture with white teachers, a white pastor, and parents who referred to their children as brown-skinned.

My mother is a white American with English and German heritage. My father was born to two Rwandan cousins, was raised in the Congo and was brought to Manhattan as a young boy.

The first thing I discovered about my racial identity in college was that being biracial didn’t mean I was bicultural.

Biracial – Literally African and American

Bicultural – Identifying oneself as part of two cultures

The second thing I discovered about my racial identity in college was that just because my skin was black didn’t mean I was truly black.

What does it mean to be truly black?

To my understanding it means you know the culture, history, and struggle, and it’s yours. Maybe it even means you’ve experienced discrimination. I don’t know. All I knew about being black as a child was the perspective my father brought to our dinner table in events of racial conflict.

So what am I saying happened in college?

College was the first place I had black friends, the first place I was invited to sit with black students in class and at lunch, where black guys asked me out. Before college, no one asked me to join a Black Student Union, or to pose in university promo pictures to represent diversity. So I believe I never knew what it really meant to be black before I went to college.  Perhaps all along during my growing up years people saw me as black but never talked openly about it. But even in college calling myself a black woman was very new to me; I couldn’t tell a weave from extensions.

Me: “Your hair is so pretty”

Friend: “Girl, these are braids.”

Me: “hmm.” #embarrassing 

The time I felt most uncomfortable as a black woman was MLK day, or as my sister and I call it, “The one day in the year where people remember we’re black.” I was suddenly asked to represent my people group in front of a class of white students. Need I remind you that this is a people group with whom I am still learning to relate myself, who’s language I don’t speak, who’s music is not my style, and who’s dance moves don’t come naturally. But alas, one cannot escape the fate of being a minority.

So where am I now in my racial identity? Check out my next post to hear how I have coped.