Naomi Raquel Enright is the author of “Strength of Soul” which proposes tangible strategies and ideas on how to challenge systemic racism through naming and resisting the ideology of racial difference and of the white supremacy at its root.
Join us for an informative and eye-opening discussion about identity and culture. We discuss her journey into the practice and craft of writing, how the death of her father influenced her work, and how raising her son has made her more aware of the inequity around us.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: [00:00:00] Windows, right, are a view of the unfamiliar, something that you don’t know of that is not familiar to, and mirrors which reflect what you know. And I think that that’s crucial in storytelling. And if we’re not providing both, we’re not providing a full experience, is what I think. And I think it’s particularly important for black and brown people who have, you know, historically been underrepresented to have that representation.
And I think it’s just as important, frankly, for, for white people. So that they don’t sort of continue to believe this lie that whiteness is a standard for humanity.
Maris Lidaka: Naomi Raquel Enright is a writer, educator, and consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She’s also a national seed facilitator and New York Apple Seed board member. She was born in, in La Paz Bolivia, to an Ecuadorian mother and a Jewish American father and raised in New York City. She holds a BA in Anthropology from Kenan College and studied at the University d Devia in Spain.
She writes about identity loss and parenting, and her essays [00:01:00] have appeared in several publications, including whole. The Line Magazine, family Story, role Reboot. STREETLIGHT Magazine and in the anthologies, the Beijing of America in 2017 and sharing gratitude in 2019. Her first book, strength of Soul, by Tule President, university of Chicago Press, was published in April, 2019, and I’m very, very happy that we get to speak today.
How are you doing?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Hi Maris. I’m very happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me onto your podcast. So. Read my bio and that’s my background information, but specifically in terms of how I came to be a writer, which I sometimes still have a hard time imagining. That’s in fact one of my titles now, but it is, is through two very transformative experiences I had in my life.
I’ve always loved to read and write. Language has always been a passion of mine. I was a language teacher for eight years. Um, I’m an avid reader. I have often journaled. I like to take notes. I’ll often take notes at meetings or just even an event that I’ll attend, so, [00:02:00] So language is, is truly, I’d say one of my fir, one of my loves, one of my first loves, and it’s always helped me to make sense of the world and to make sense of my place in the world.
And in 2010, I became a mother. I gave birth to my son Sebastian in December, 2010. And my father, within the month of my son’s birth became ill, fell ill with, uh, stage four pancreatic cancer and within the year of my son’s birth, uh, exactly two days. Actually before my son turned a year old, my father died as a result of cardiac arrest.
From the cancer and I was really thrust into this completely new definition of myself and of my life. You know, I was still adjusting really to motherhood and in my case specifically, my son is, Presumed to be white. He’s very light-skinned. He has blue-green eyes. When he was little, he was blonde. And I was consistently throughout, um, that first year of motherhood and in fact to this day, am often, um, challenged or questioned as [00:03:00] his mother.
People don’t believe on his mother. People ask me very intrusive questions about who I am to him and what our relationship is to each other. And my father was Jewish American. He was white Jewish American. And so with the physical absence of my white parent, the navigation felt. Heavier in some ways, right?
There was no one from my side of the family to contextualize my son’s physical appearance. My husband is of Irish and German ancestry, white American, and I began to share experiences that we were having. I would post often to my social media. I began to blog and. This became sort of a way to not only process my own experiences, but I began to see that it, um, resonated with people for different reasons.
Often those, um, who are sort of expected to, to justify their identity. And I had a friend tell me she thought that the blogs and, and the posts could become a book. And at first I sort of thought, there’s no way. I don’t think so. Um, but I had an essay published in [00:04:00] the anthology, the Beijing of America. And I began to think perhaps she’s right.
Perhaps there is a book in here. And I approached that publisher with this book proposal and that is what led to Strength of Soul, what led to my book, and I would say, right, that was sort of the defining moment for me of being a writer. Although I’d been published prior to the book coming out, certainly a book makes you feel that much more.
Legitimate, I guess. And I still write about the same theme. So I’m very much all about examining racism, identity loss, parenting, belonging, and social change, right? Uh, our sort of our culture and social change.
Maris Lidaka: Speaking as somebody who also lost their father fairly young that you hear the old cliche of like, you know, you use your pain as part of your process.
When I think really it’s just wanting to express what is kind of a, just a cataclysmic event in one’s life. You have the idea in your head that you’re, one day your parents aren’t gonna be there. But then when it actually happens, [00:05:00] when it happens, like so suddenly without warning, it’s like, how do you process that?
So I, that’s, uh, I’m just curious how, just how did you, uh, how did you begin to process that and then turn that into your writing?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: That’s an excellent question. I mean, as I said, language has always been a, a healer for me. Uh, for me, I find that language, it sort of, uh, helps me to make sense of everything and I found it very healing.
My father was also an avid reader. I’ve always been a reader and my father used to say that those who read are never bored, which I agree with. And so I began to read even more so after his death. There was some, this voracious need to sort of see stories that made me feel less alone in my loss, um, reflected.
And as I was reading, I would often reflect, I would reflect on what this new. Normal Western roommate, right. Having living in the world without my father’s physical presence. I was very close to him. We were very, very close. He was, you know, I, uh, a friend of mine as well, and we shared a lot of the same ways of sort of looking [00:06:00] at the world and existing in the world, you know, observers, uh, readers, somewhat shy, but also confident in a, you know, despite that, Retreating way a bit, and I realized that the writing right, the of, of how I was feeling, how things looked to me, how they felt to me in this new normal, this new chapter of my life was very healing.
And I noticed that it seemed to be healing for others as well. People would, uh, comment on my posts or my blogs and say how much it helped them to feel less alone in their own losses. And because it’s. Juxtaposed with my experience as a brown-skinned biological mother, a son presumed to be white, and as growing up as the daughter of a multi-ethnic couple, it, there was sort of this, this sort of, you know, serendipitous in a way that there was this overlap of this, this tragedy I had suffered and this loss that I had had and the grief that I was feeling alongside.
This lifelong interest in [00:07:00] identity and examining racism and challenging racism. It’s always been the crux of my interest as well as my work. And that to me, once I realized that connection, I saw sort of the overlap it gave me, it was sort of fuel, you know, it felt to me like, um, Ammunition. I sort of felt like it was like a, a mission of mine to share my family’s story and to share how different my experience was growing up with a white father as opposed to having this son that everyone presumes is white and is, um, and that I’m the nanny of.
So all of that, you know, that those, that combination I guess, uh, led to. Led to Strength of Soul and, and led to an absolute career shift. I mean, as I said, I was a teacher for eight years and I left the Spanish language classroom to become an equity practitioner, and through that I, um, became a writer and I still identify as an equity projection and writer.
But I certainly think that the writing is in some ways just the crux of it all, because it’s the way. I [00:08:00] communicate my, uh, dev, my, my growth, my professional growth and, and development and personal, uh, and how I make sense of, of the work that I do. Right. For me, you know, the writing is, is what, uh, is my way of, of sharing sort of the insights I’ve had about how we.
Talk about racism in this country, how we teach about racism, how we, uh, challenge it, um, or don’t. And so all of that felt very much, um, serendipitous in a way, um, which is strange considering that it came out of the darkest chapter in my life, and certainly the most profound sadness I’ve ever felt. But I felt like it was a way of also, Keeping my father present as well.
You know, these, these stories that I tell, and particularly my book, are my way of giving my father to my son who does not have a conscious memory of his maternal grandfather. And so it’s a way for me to keep my father’s. Presence, um, and, you know, can sort of keep his light a flame.
Maris Lidaka: That is a great saying.
Those who read are never bored, which is very, very true. [00:09:00] And just kind of piggybacking off of that, since you know you are an educator and you do deal with language and writing, why is, do you think it’s important to you and why do you think it’s important to general? Just why are language and using language to tell stories so important to us all?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Yes. Um, so the writer, Leslie Marmon Filko, who was a Native American and the author of the book called Ceremony. Which I loved said once that stories are all we have to fight off illness and death. And I think it’s a really profound statement. I think ultimately stories are all we have in the grand scheme of things, right?
The stories we tell about who we are, the stories we tell about who, uh, what our culture is, what our, you know, who our society is, our families, our friends, and I think that stories help. Us not only understand ourselves and each other and our societies and our histories more, more holistically, but I think they also help for us to see the connection between us all.
We, um, have [00:10:00] so many narratives that are meant to divide and conquer and separate, and I think stories have a way of showing that those are intentional, right? There’s an intentionality behind that divide and conquer approach, and that stories make it apparent just how. Much. We, as human beings across the globe have in common, right?
In terms of the human experience, just in terms of learning and being a child and jumping in a puddle, or losing someone you love, right? Or hearing a song that all of a sudden speaks to you and you just, you know, it’s complete alters. The moment for you that you’re listening to the song that absolutely sort of cha changes your world, um, or becoming a parent or, um, falling in love, uh, losing a friend, right?
All these pieces of what it means to be human when they’re told through stories, I think they make it easier to realize that. We actually are in this together. I also think it’s a way of not forgetting where’re the past, right? And not [00:11:00] losing those who are no longer with us physically. I’ve often heard that people are only gone when they’re forgotten.
And people who are not forgotten, who you continuously tell the stories of are still present in some ethereal way or ethereal. I’m not sure if I said that right. Um, but. That’s what stories, why stories matter. Um, in, in my view, I think that ultimately we’re, we’re all stories, like our own personal experiences as well as sort of on a much, uh, more global scale.
Maris Lidaka: I guess from like a practical standpoint, you know, we, you know, you and I both, you know, have been fully transparent about sharing our. Personal story is on blogs, you as a published author, and there’s a lot of people that would like to do the same, but for whatever reason they’ve never tried to take that next step.
Like, I’m actually gonna like take this thing that I wrote and actually put it out there. So how did you cross the threshold of going from like, I wrote this and then like it for me now I’m going to actually put it out there in front of an audience?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Wow. Yeah, that’s a great [00:12:00] question. I’m not sure exactly if I can pinpoint a moment where I sort of decided I would do it, but I.
I sort of saw it as twofold. I saw it as more a gift for my son as he matures and grows into adulthood. But then I also saw it as a way of reflecting stories that are often not shown. I think the experience of living between languages and living between cultures and worlds ultimately is one that a lot of people share, but that we don’t often name.
And for me that felt crucial. I rarely felt represented growing up. I, I would rarely feel that what I was watching or reading, um, resonated with who I was and what my experience was. And I felt compelled to put a story like my families into the world so that there families like ours, for whatever reason, you know, be that they’re multi-ethnic or through adoption or because they’ve lived internationally, whatever it is.
Feel represented and feel seen and have this other reference point where it’s like, oh, there [00:13:00] are lots of people like us, right, who uh, have one foot here, one foot there, and need to make peace with that. Right. That you are sort of never quite at home anywhere, and that’s okay. Right. But I would say ultimately it was first for my child.
I mean, I dedicated to him in fact, I still sometimes sort of am amazed that I’ve shared so much of my own history, um, publicly, but I also think it comes with this need. You know, I sort of just felt this compulsion, you know, to do it. It felt to me like it was, it was super important for my child as well as for my work.
And, and, and, and I said for, um, families like our own, which I think actually runs, encompasses many different kinds of families, right? It’s, I didn’t write it for another Ecuadorian. Jewish family or Ecuadorian Jewish, Irish, German-American family. I wrote it for families that have that experience that that really know that.
I belong here and I belong there. And in some ways I belong nowhere. But that actually has [00:14:00] amplified my perspective. It’s amplifies, amplified my worldview. It’s amplified myself concept. And that to me felt outweighed the anxiety of putting my story out there. Um, ultimately
Maris Lidaka: It is kind of interesting if you look at popular culture, you know, people who live between two different.
Worlds or ethnicities or cultures, it’s seen as something that’s so uncommon when I find that the more people that I meet, it’s all too common. And then we have kind of like this shared experience. It’s, it’s just interesting that it’s, it’s not sort of portrayed in popular culture that way. It’s portrayed as this, as, as a rare occurrence when it’s really more of a commonality than we give it credit to.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. And I also think it’s often portrayed as you are then confused and you don’t know where you belong. And I think that’s a narrative that needs to be changed too. I mean, there were certainly moments growing up where I felt. Left out, um, or where I felt not [00:15:00] American enough or not Ecuadorian enough, but they were fleeting moments.
I mean, in the end I feel like I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be and that people who really wish to understand that person will and those who don’t won’t. Right. But that, that really is not a reflection of me, is what I’ve come to, uh, learn. And I would say that that’s crucial cuz I think it’s too often portrayed for this tragic, you know, mulatto quote unquote story.
And I refuse to. Accept that narrative. I think it’s untrue and I, um, I actually feel like I said it, belonging to more than one world has completely enhanced my, my life.
Maris Lidaka: And I guess something else is, is some good practical advice to take away from is, you know, you, you said you were started doing it for your son and also for people who had some of the same experiences that you do.
And I, I feel like that’s, Kind of some good advice for people who are thinking about doing something creative as, as artists, we can [00:16:00] get sort of like trapped inside of our own heads and think like, well, I want this to happen. I want to get this. But I think when you start doing it for somebody else and you think of who, who is the other person that will benefit from this, then I find that you end up going further.
Then when you’re kind of just thinking about your own satisfaction.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: That’s right. A hundred percent. Absolutely. Uh, it’s a gift ultimately that you don’t, you don’t know how it’ll impact someone else. And to me that’s a kind of a powerful feeling, right? To know that your words or your art, whatever form that art takes, can genuinely transform someone’s life.
You know, could transform how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others. And I think it’s also in some ways, the power of a teacher. I mean, you have a lot of influence as an educator and. I know many stories of the impact I had when I was a teacher full-time. I have many former students who have shared with me what being my student meant to them, and it’s a really humbling, beautiful feeling to know that you have affected this human being in this way.
[00:17:00] And as an artist, you have less of that direct feedback. There’s sometimes you do, but often you don’t. But I think you can feel confident in the fact that somehow your story can help. Someone else Right. Can, can inspire someone else, can, um, transform someone else’s life as well. Yeah. So I think it’s, it’s sort of another way of, of forming community too.
It’s what an educator I deeply admire and respect named Emily Jane style. She dubs it windows and mirrors. She’s the co-founder of the National Seed Project. SEED stands for seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, and I trained with that organization July, 2015. And so I’m a national seed uh leader, seed facilitator, and windows and mirrors prefers to.
Providing in our classrooms particularly, but even, you know, in our books and in our films, et cetera, windows write a view of the unfamiliar, something that you don’t know of that is not familiar to, and mirrors which reflect what you know. And I think that that’s crucial in storytelling. And if we’re not [00:18:00] providing both, we’re not providing the full experience.
Is what I think. Um, I think it’s particularly important for black and brown people who have, you know, historically been underrepresented, um, to have that representation. And I think it’s just as important, frankly, for, for white people. Um, so they don’t sort of continue to believe this lie that whiteness is a standard for humanity.
And so I think right, having these windows and these mirrors and all of our storytelling, whatever form that takes, uh, is paramount
Maris Lidaka: And it’s kind of like storytelling is kind of that the windows and mirror is kinda like a process. Like you look out the window and you see into the unknown, and then you turn to the mirror and see how that unknown is reflected back into you, if that makes sense.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Beautiful. Yes, absolutely. Exactly right.
Maris Lidaka: Let’s go back, uh, a little bit, uh, I guess, tell us what it was like growing up. In, in that, uh, multicultural household. And, and if you can think of like what were some, what was like a moment or some moments where you were sort of introduced to this idea of racism and skin color, and I guess your [00:19:00] reaction was to that.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: So, My parents, my father was in the Peace Corps and he was an English teacher and my mother was a student and that is how they met. And my mother ended up getting, winning a scholarship to study at Tulane University. So there was a time after they had begun dating where she was in the States and he was still in Ecuador.
And they were both always, they were both educators and they were both very active in the civil rights movement and very sort of politically, um, involved and motivated. And so growing up in my home, I have an older brother. We had very honest conversations about history, about inequity, about identity, about culture, about family, and I think those conversations from as young as seven, um, perhaps even earlier, were very helpful to me in terms of my understanding myself to be a part of both societies.
And in terms of the racism. I mean, the minute we left the house, In growing up, people had [00:20:00] questions for us. They would stare at us, they would question us, they would challenge us. I was often asked if my father was quote unquote, my real father. Uh, which I always found deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons.
But I was always very quick on my feet. I was always very quick with my responses, even as a kid, and I would often respond. Yeah. Is that your real dad? Right. As a way of really turning the tables and, you know, playmates or, you know, children would be like, what do you mean of course, And I’d say, well, of course he’s my real dad too, right?
And sort of make them think like, why are you even asking the question? And of course they were asking me cuz my father was white and I’m not. And so that really started to impact me. It started to impact me this, this sense that we’re sort of on display and that people had something to say to us and felt that they could say what they wanted.
And somehow, you know, this is an, an interest of mine as well. I’ve just always been passionate about. Examining racism, understanding racism, challenging racism, and knowing who people are and why they are who they are. And so this combination, I think, sort of is at the crux of everything I’ve ever done.[00:21:00]
And I was thrown a curve ball when my son was born because my son has said is presumed. To be white and all of a sudden the, the questions and, and the reactions and the interactions that I was having with people were altered entirely. All of a sudden it was, you know, I was, I was assumed to be the nanny.
I was asked, you know, how much I charged for, charged for looking after him. People would be in disbelief when I would. You know, confirm. No, no, he’s my son. I’m his mother. I mean, it was really jarring, you know, to see the contrast in the experience as growing up as my father’s daughter versus now as, as, um, my son’s mother and I began to see that what is at the crux of it, in my view, is this belief that we really are separate.
Be, you know, groups of people based on our skin color, that we truly do belong sort of inherently to different groups, which is, uh, untrue. It’s biologically untrue. And although it’s socially true in many, many ways, I think that social construction has now become sort of, people really believe it [00:22:00] and function as if it were real.
And that to me is deeply. Problematic. And it’s something that I don’t want my son to believe. I don’t want him believing that he is not only inherently separate from all darker skinned people, but that the privileges and the protection that he experiences in the society, which he does, are also part of the natural world.
I mean, they’re not right. These, these are, this is a system that we’ve created and that we, uh, perpetuate collectively as a society. And I always say, I would never have come to that understanding as this child’s mother. Had it not been for the upbringing that I had, right? It had not been for the home that I grew up in.
My, my home of origin. I often say that being my parents’ daughters what prepared me to be my son’s mother in this particular way, and I’m very grateful for it cuz they think my parents, because of their transparency and their intentionality, really gave my brother and I a lot of tools to handle. The world, particularly in this sphere, right, of of the questioning and the racism that we would experience.
And I think it, you know, I [00:23:00] think my son is better off. My son has a much more, I think, complete understanding of the difference between the system and who people are and challenging the system and knowing the system is wrong and it’s racist and it’s anti-black and it’s white supremacist. And not accepting that, not saying, well, this is the way it’s always been.
Right? And he actually identifies. With people of color. He identifies black, black and brown people despite his appearance, and I hope that that will continue. I hope he will, as he matures, continues to feel that connection, that belonging and feeling that, you know, anti-blackness also hurts me. White supremacy also hurts me, right?
As an individual who doesn’t want a society where you’re either protected because of your skin color or you are criminalized or worse because of your skin color.
Maris Lidaka: I’m just imagining seven year old you. Being asked, is that your real dad and, and replying with, is that your real dad? Just probably the shock on, on that adult face.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Indeed, indeed. Very spunky. [00:24:00]
Maris Lidaka: Uh, I’m, I’m curious just because this is kind of my experience, we kind of think of, you know, racism and skin color. And the way people look at it is the, as the way that we do in America, we kind of think that’s the same way worldwide. And for me, you know, venturing over to live in Denmark for five years, I found that it’s, you know, it still exists, but it’s very different.
And that kind of like changed my perspective. And I’m curious if you had sort of the same experience, uh, when you studied in uh, Spain.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Wow. Yes. That’s an excellent question. That is an absolute yes. I mean, I would say I had that experience to a degree. When I would go to Ecuador growing up, I would see how different it was over there, but I was still, you know, sort of in the, you know, cocoon of my, uh, relatives homes and whatnot.
And it’s not the same. And when I went to Spain, I went with a lot of preconceived notions. I went thinking that as. A Latin American, I would receive a lot of discrimination that it would be, you know, sort a lot of judgment. And I went sort of prepared to kind of defend, you know, that I’m from Latin [00:25:00] America and that my Spanish is just as legitimate or something.
And I was really sur surprised to find how familiar it felt to me and how at home I felt and how. Calm. I felt something I had truly, I think never experienced, honestly, not even in Ecuador, because I was often questioned for being so American, this and that, and so in Spain, all of a sudden I had this.
Light bulb go off about how much being a Spanish speaker and being a native Spanish speaker, it had influenced my, my person, right? Just how I exist in the world. I felt very at home hearing it everywhere. It even felt familiar to me because, Is a city my mother’s from in Ecuador and it’s similar climate, similar architecture.
And I felt sort of like I’ve been here before and I loved it and it completely transformed my life. It really did. I have yet to go back, I hope to someday, but it was all of a sudden this experience of, of belonging that I had never felt, and I found it so ironic that I [00:26:00] found it in Spain, but I also in some ways don’t.
Right. I think, you know, the South of Spain, svia in large part is where a lot of the Spaniards. Left from where they were from when they left for, for the quote unquote new world. And so in some ways there is that sort of, I think, ancestral link. I mean, I don’t know if I have particularly, you know, ancestors who are from Zevia, but any Spanish ancestors I have, were from the south of Spain.
That’s just a given because of history and who left for, uh, Latin America. And all of a sudden, you know, I had this new way of thinking about myself and I realized that Spanish was a huge part of it. I also, I should add, I speak to my son in Spanish. My son is also bilingual and also native to both. Very intentional.
I mean, I think it’s partly because of what I experienced and learned in Spain that because I had this whole other way of conceptualizing the world, right? This literally this other language, I think it’s a great gift and I was not gonna deny it, uh, you know, deny that gift to my child. It was completely transformational and I think that it, it also helped me to see just how differently [00:27:00] these, these issues, which are.
Global in, in many ways, right, colonialism, but they are manifested differently depending on the part of the world you’re in and their experience differently depending on the part of the world that you’re in. And I don’t think that the states has necessarily handled it. In the best way at all. And I’m sort of on this mission, I guess in my borrowed time to, to bring that to light and to say, you know, we have to challenge the system and stop perpetuating this, the ideology of that very system, which I think is perpetuated relentlessly in many different ways in our, in our society.
And I think in many ways it’s the kind, it’s like the air you breathe, you just don’t question it. You know? You think that’s just the way it is. Um, I mean, I have. A good example of that. My son, um, in, uh, what was it? I think fifth grade was learning about Emmett Till, and he read an article about Emmett Till and he had to write an essay.
And in his essay he wrote Emmett Till was killed because of his skin color. And I made him pause and I said, so at the end, do you think this, [00:28:00] his skin color was the cause of his death? Is that why he was killed? Or was he killed because of racism? Because of racist people? Right. People who had racist ideas and acted on them and he got a little bit.
Defensive and said, but that’s what the article said. You know? And I took a look at the article and he was exactly right. That is what the article said. But I had a conversation with him and I said, so again, if we say that he was killed because of his skin color, that implies that his skin color is the problem, that his darker skin color is the problem, the cause of his death, right?
And I said, that’s not the case, right? He was killed because of racism, because of white supremacy, because of racist ideology and racist actions. And to me that differentiation is crucial. And he understood and he, you know, edited his essay. Um, but more importantly, it was a, it was a really powerful and necessary conversation to have with him, because otherwise he, he’s walking through the world thinking, you know, how lucky am I that I look white and that people don’t, uh, suspect me or, you know, criminalize me or marginalize me or disenfranchise me because I’m white or I look white as opposed to me with [00:29:00] my brown skin.
Um, and I’m not. I’m gonna stand for that. I wanna allow for him to be walking through the world with that erroneous thinking.
Maris Lidaka: It, it is of a big feeling in our education system is that we have not, as a country, I guess, sort of examined the racial categories that we just ascribe our entire being too rights.
Like we’ve never really had that sort of moment of reflection of like, why, why do we have these? Like, and what does those really mean? And it seems like you’ve, can we just get you to teach America? Can, can we have, uh,
Naomi Raquel-Enright: I would love it. Be a big job, but I mean, it’s true that we, we take them for granted. You know?
I’ve seen so many and the way that they change. Right. I saw one, I, I was at a job once where I had to fill one of those out and the categories were white, black. Asian and unknown, and I was likeness unknown. I was like, um, I know who I am. I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. Right? Like, okay. Um, and those were the options, you know?
And I [00:30:00] refused to, to check. I was like, I refuse to check this. I’m not going to do this. Sorry. Right. I was like, I’m not going to. But yeah, those racial categories, right? They were created to uphold our white supremacist system. They were created to uphold slavery, the institution of slavery. And then once slavery, It was abolished, you know, other ways to um, you know, sort of codify whiteness and blackness and in my opinion, to maintain white supremacy and anti-blackness is what I think.
And so I feel like we have to sort of redefine how we conceptualize all these issues, right? And that’s not to say that the system isn’t there. The system is very much there. I know that my son is protected in the world in a way that I am not. And I think that that’s the problem, right? I think why should he be more comfortable in the world, or safer, I should say?
That bothers me. Very deeply and particularly because it could have easily gone a different way. I could have easily have had a darker hued child, or if I’d had a second child, perhaps that child might have been born with darker coloring. Right. And so to me it’s just, once I saw this, once it became apparent to me I’m in incapable of unseeing it and it’s become this passionate of mine [00:31:00] to, to bring it to the table and say, this is part of the conversation too.
This is part of the work to dismantle racist inequity.
Maris Lidaka: And I guess piggybacking off that, I guess, what is the moment where you sort of. Realize, like the label of writer now applies to me like, this is, this is part of who I am.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: I guess I would say once the book was published, right, one Strength of Soul came into the world and I saw it on different websites and saw people buying it and posting pictures with themselves, you know, with it.
I began to think, Hey, you know, I guess I, I am a writer. It’s interesting because I’ve never considered myself an artist. In fact, my brother’s an artist. My brother is a multimedia artist and very talented in many different ways. And growing up I could not draw ever. I still can’t. And I was artist, I guess I was an artist in other ways.
Like I like to sing, I like to dance. I did drama and in high school, but I, for some reason, I never quite saw that as art. And I remember, uh, at some point talking with my. Son and saying sort of this, you know, that I didn’t feel like I was an artist. I’m not very talented, this kind of thing. And he said to me in, in the ways I [00:32:00] think children can be so insightful, he said, you’re an artist with words.
And I loved it and it stuck with me. And I think that for me, in some ways was a defining moment of thinking, you know, what? I am, I am an artist with rewards and I am a writer, and I’m going to sort of wear that title proudly. It’s actually the first one that shows up in my LinkedIn profile. Um, because I think that is in fact my go-to.
That’s the way I make sense of the world. That’s the way I, I communicate my thoughts and feelings and, you know, in intentions to the world is, is that’s the first place I go to. And even when I was a teacher full time, The writing piece I loved, I actually enjoyed writing reports. I know that the teachers out there are gonna be like, really?
But I did, I sort of loved being able to write about who my students were and what I was seeing in their development and their, you know, growth. And I was often asked by the communications director of the school, I worked out the longest to write articles about my curricula, and I loved it. It was just fun to me.
And so I’d say, you know, though, I will own it. I’m a writer and [00:33:00] I’m an artist with words.
Maris Lidaka: And speaking of those labels, I’ve noticed that there’s kind of a, a pattern that follows particularly black and brown creatives, but also if you are not straight or if you are female, there’s kind of like an asterisk that’s put on you.
You know, it’s, you know, spike Lee is a Black film director, somebody else’s. A female writer. Have those asterisks have been applied to you yet? And if so, how have you dealt with those?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Yes, I notice the same. Often it has not been applied to me and I think the yet is important cuz I’m sure it will at some point.
And I struggle with that with, with, you know, sort of the qualifier. I think in some ways. I can see the need for it, you know, the sense of, you know, one of our own, whatever that translates to, right? If it’s black or if it’s Latino or, um, trans, whatever it is, has done this amazing thing right. Is in the world and telling our story, and I think that.
In that sense, I think it’s fine, and I could see why it feels positive, but on the other hand, I also think it perpetuates sort of [00:34:00] this lie of whiteness as the norm, right? That somehow when white people produce X, y, or Z, no on questions it, but or is or no one sort of, you know, blown away by it. But if you know this Chinese film director right, or you know, whatever the label is, does it sort of feels, you know, somehow, like that’s not necessarily an exception to the rule, but some sort of, you know, milestone.
And the fact that that’s a milestone to me is also problematic. Cuz I think that should be the norm too. It should be the norm that we’re seeing black and brown and female and trans and, you know, differently abled, um, writers are, Actors, directors, singers, whatever it is, rather than the sense that, you know, white people just are.
So, yeah, I struggle with that. I go back and forth with it, but it has not been applied to me as of as of yet. Let’s hope that it stays that way. I hope so.
Maris Lidaka: I guess doing the work is something that a lot of people struggle with. What is your process for just getting creative work [00:35:00] down, setting up time? Just getting things from brain to page.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Yes, yes. Well, that would say my process. It’s too bold. On the one hand, I write down pretty much anything that occurs to me. So if I hear something or read something or watch something, that it has a life off. Light bulb go off in my head. I write it down. And so I have a series of notes on my phone that are ideas and, you know, might become something later.
Um, I take, as I said earlier, I take a lot of notes on different things and different, you know, sort of if I attend a Zoom talk or, um, Read something that I also find inspiring. I take notes often when I read books for my work. I read cast last summer, or actually summer 2020, and I took a lot of notes with that.
Drawing down those notes is very helpful to my process in terms of what I I’ll I might produce in the future. I’ve also learned to be sort of patient with myself as it goes. I think writing, I. [00:36:00] Particularly impactful. Strong writing takes time and I think often in our sort of, you know, very quick results now kind of culture, we think that you just put it out there and that that’s that.
And I think that’s not true. And I often shared often in social media, um, where I’m a little gassed that they just put that out there. To be honest, I, I don’t do that. Right. I try my best to take my time with bigger projects and if there’s something small that I wanna share, like a blog, for example, I take my time with it.
I mean, I just. Published a blog in honor of my father’s 10th death anniversary, and I was working on it for about a month. So I take my time. And I also, in terms of sort of what can help me feel inspired or help me feel capable, I like to take walks. I walk a lot, and that helps me also. Come up with ideas and solidify ideas.
I love to listen to classical music. That also for me, is very helpful in my thinking. I do that for everything. Even if I’m taking notes on a student teacher’s lesson plan, I’ll listen to classical music while I do it, but [00:37:00] I’ve learned that the process is. You have to sort of lean into whatever that process is and that the process may change, right.
Depending on, on context, I mean the pandemic and remote learning through everything for a loop. I had been working from home prior to the pandemic and then all of a sudden I had my son and my husband at home with me, and that was quite challenging, and particularly because I was. The go-to for my son, for his schooling.
And that was hard, right? And I felt kind of like what happened to my space, you know, what happened to my productivity? Like I, I wanna do my writing here. And I had to learn to be patient with it and to accept that this sort circumstances had changed. Uh, and that ultimately we’re quite lucky, quite blessed for many reasons.
And so, yeah, I feel like, you know, the note taking, the walking, the music and the, and the patients are all part of my process and I think helped me to. Ultimately come, you know, put my best work out there.
Maris Lidaka: You mean you don’t wanna put things on social media that you’ll come to regret later?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Exactly. Right.
Maris Lidaka: Hopefully we can get more, [00:38:00] more people to take that, uh, approach to social media. I
Naomi Raquel-Enright: I tell you, I’m aghast sometimes with what I see. I’m like, and it is from adults. I’m like, you’re not 15. Like, what? Right. Like I really Wow. Wow. So,
Maris Lidaka: And I think a lot of people do forget about like those little steps, you know, we think of, you know, the big step because that comes with the big result, you know, like the published work.
But it’s all those little steps that you take that lead to the big accomplishment.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, it, it’s funny cuz Strength of Soul in some ways seemed like it came out quickly, but it really didn’t. It’s something I had been pondering and thinking about and, and you know, writing and even reading about three years.
And it took on a whole different angle with my son’s birth and my father’s death. But it was not like all of a sudden within two years, or you know, six years of having my son and my dad dying, I wrote a book. Right? It’s like that’s not what it is at all. Right? Like I was thinking about these themes from childhood and it took on a different meaning with becoming a mother and, and a fatherless daughter.
And so I always think of that. I always think, you know, I [00:39:00] actually shrink the soul Took a long time to come into the world and I. Make that clear for people who think like, wow, you, you just published a book. Like, wow, you know? I’m like, no, no, no, no. You know, it takes time. And now that it’s been out in the world for, um, more two and a half years, just slightly over two and a half years, I am now at a place where I don’t wanna feel rushed for book number two.
Right. I hope there will be a book. Number two, I have plans and ideas for book number two, but I’m not rushing into it because I think. That would be a mistake, and I would come to regret it. And so I’d rather take my time and maybe my son be graduating from college or beyond college. I don’t know right when that one comes into the world.
Um, but I’m okay with that. You know, I feel like I will take my time and, um, and make sure that what is put out there is, as I said, um, my best thinking, my best editing and truly tells the story I wanna tell. I, I guess with
Maris Lidaka: that, if you were to give advice, You know, knowing the path that you took, seeing that your brother’s an artist and what he’s doing.
If somebody wants to have a, a, a [00:40:00] creative career path or just make their life more or oriented around their creative pursuits, what advice would you give them based upon your personal experience and just what you’ve seen? Would you sort of take it in from the people around you?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: It’s a complicated question in some ways because I think a lot of it has to do with circumstance and, um, access and privilege in some ways, right?
My husband’s work is vastly different from mine, and so I can in many ways, uh, dedicate myself to my, uh, part-time work at Hunter College as a, as student teachers and my writing because of him. Right that I have that support at home and we’ve agreed that it actually works for us in our marriage as well as if even not raising our son.
And I had all lose sight of that because I think different circumstances would not allow for what I’m able to do, what I’ve been able to do and what I am still able to do. And so I’m very mindful of that. I’m very, very grateful for it. But with that said, I think my advice is ultimately I. That one should pursue.
[00:41:00] What, what awakens our spirit? So many of us have been in jobs that have been dispiriting, right? That have sort of killed your, your, your joy and killed your passion and your motivation. And to me, we spend so much of our work, particularly in this society working, that I’d rather be if it. Even if it’s not lucrative, um, I’d rather it be something I love and that I want to do and that I look forward to doing.
You know, as I said, I love to write, I love to teach. I love to communicate with, uh, student teachers and help them become better teachers. These are things I love to do. They, they excite me, they make me happy. I feel like I’m making a difference and they motivate me to, to continue forward every day. Uh, and that has not always been the case.
I’ve had positions in the past that, um, you know, I had to sort of, you know, pull one more. Leg out and then the other one out of bed in the morning. And I think that that’s horrible. I think that that’s time wasted. I mean, I feel like our time on this planet is borrowed and we don’t know how long that time is gonna be, and I’d rather make the best of it, um, in terms of cultivating my relationships and my [00:42:00] work while I’m here.
Right. I mean, I, I, in some ways, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. That I made these choices, very intentional choices after my father died and my father, um, was 71 at his, at the time of his death, and he had always been very healthy. There was no indicator that he would necessarily fall ill with such a hard illness and die at that age.
His parents both lived well into their nineties, so really he was a shock right to all of us. And I always say that my father’s death taught me to live. I mean, my parents both raised us, telling us to follow your bliss. And times growing up when I was like, I’m not sure what that bliss is. Um, and I’ve made many choices, different choices in.
The course of my professional life, but I’ve sort of always had that in the back of my mind. Do I follow your bliss? You know, what do you love? What awakens your spirit, as I said? And so I would really advise people to, to think of that and to follow that. And in my opinion, that will lead to a much more productive and, and, um, successful life, even if that’s not what.
A ton of dollar [00:43:00] signs necessarily.
Maris Lidaka: I agree with that. Um, especially in my industry. A lot of people measure themselves by, you know, how many awards have you won though? How many festivals you got in? What are like the visual accolades that you can see? And I try to remind people, especially who are starting out, that is about 2% of what your life is gonna look like.
So That’s right. Really try to focus in on what is the other 98% like. What is it that you enjoy getting out of bed, doing on a repeated, almost daily basis? Yeah. Because you’re gonna be doing a lot of that. So if you don’t really enjoy that, then you should be doing something else that you actually enjoy doing.
What happens when you reach that milestone? That’s one day. And then what?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Right. Exactly. Exactly. I, I could not agree More.
Maris Lidaka: Bonus question. Outside of Spain, what is the most favorite place that you visited and also what is your favorite season?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Ooh. Okay. Outside of Spain. Okay. I did love City. Yeah, I really did.
Mmm. It’s a toss between, Hawaii and [00:44:00] Paris. Hawaii to me is just this magical, mystical place almost. It feels, I can’t believe it was part of the United States to be honest. I went there for my honeymoon and I remember I was like, this is the States really, you know? It just felt so culturally different and.
I have a face that sort of looks a little bit Hawaiian, it depends, but I do, and that sort of made me feel kind of like I belonged in a strange way. Um, and I’m just fascinated by the, the history of it, um, and the resilience of, of Hawaiian culture and the language, et cetera. Uh, so I guess Hawaii. Yeah. Um, and my favorite season, um, a tie between, um, spring and fall.
I think, you know, I sort of love the, the changing leaves in the fall and I love sort of, you know, sort of the, the renewal of spring and how. What that can sort of symbolize for, for our own, um, evolution as well.
Maris Lidaka: And it’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. That is
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Exactly, exactly that too.
Maris Lidaka: That’s usually my criteria.
Which, uh, island in, uh, Hawaii did you go to? I also went there for my honeymoon. [00:45:00] We went to Kauai.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Nice. That’s exactly where we went. Yes. We went to Kauai and we went to the big island. And in fact, this past summer we took our son, we went to, um, Honolulu. We were in Honolulu for, for this year with our son, which was amazing as well.
But I have to say Kauai really stands out to me. Um, yeah, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. Uh,
Maris Lidaka: I miss the papayas. I miss just being able to walk down the street and like grab a papaya off of somebody’s tree and eat it.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Oh, I am getting a little hungry for, for a jorito fruit. Um, and just like, it just felt gorgeous.
It’s just, it’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous place. And you know, I’m, you know, I just feel like very lucky to have gone. I’d never been before. My husband had gone when he was, um, I think about 13 and apparently he had decided then and there that if he ever got married. He would wanna go to Hawaii. Um, and he did that, just that right in 2009 when we got married.
Um, and I’m so glad that we did. Yeah. And then it was a real treat for us to take our son back. You know, we had, even though it was a different part of the, of, um, the state, um, there was a lot of similar [00:46:00] things that reminded us of. Of Kauai in our honeymoon. And so we were telling our son who is reaching the age where he was kinda like, that’s nice.
You know, he’s not very interested. He just turned 11, like I said, so we have a little preteen in our hands. It’s like, anyway, right. Whatever mom. Exactly. Whatever mom. But it was a real treat for us to be able to return, um, with him. That was pretty awesome.
Maris Lidaka: Naomi, thank you so much, uh, for joining us today.
This has been an amazing conversation. Can you let everyone know, you know, what you’re working on and where they can find you?
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Absolutely. Thank you, Maris. This has been wonderful. If people would like to connect with me, the best place is on LinkedIn. It’s under my name Naomi Enright. So, uh, a great place to reach out to me.
And I also recommend in terms of my writing, uh, to look up my book Shank of Soul, as well as my most. Recently published essay entitled The Hidden Curriculum, streetlight Magazine. [00:47:00] And I have two recent podcast interviews I think would also help people to, um, understand more of my work and my position.
And that’s, uh, the Global Citizenship and Equity Podcast. It’s entitled Rethinking Race in the United States. And the other one is the Inclusion School podcast. And that one is entitled, examining Identity and Culture. All right,
Maris Lidaka: Naomi, Raquel Enright, everybody, thank you so much for joining us and uh, hopefully we’ll do this again soon.
Naomi Raquel-Enright: Sounds great. Thank you, Maris.
Maris Lidaka: The Mix Creator is a blended future project. To find out more, go to blended future project.com. If you want to listen to more episodes or if you’d like to be a guest in the podcast, go to morris litiga.com/podcast. That’s M A R I S L I daka.com/podcast. If you want more insight and advice, get my newsletter.
It goes [00:48:00] out every single Monday morning. Just go to morris litiga.com/newsletter and you can go ahead and sign up. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode.
This episode was produced with the help of Beth Chin. The Mixed Creator is a Blended Future Project. To find out more, go to blendedfuture project.com. If you want to listen to more episodes or if you’d like to be a guest in the podcast, go to marislidaka.com/podcast.
That’s M A R I S L I D A K A.com/podcast.
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Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode.