Dartanyon Crockett is a former 2-time U.S. Paralympic bronze medalist. Dartanyon and his best friend, Leroy Sutton, did well on the school’s wrestling team. Their friendship was featured in an ESPN special called, “Carry On,” where it showed that each had his share of hard breaks. Dartanyon was legally blind and Leroy had lost both his legs from a train accident when he was a boy.
Join us as we speak about becoming a sociologist, learning how to talk about and heal from trauma, and his book Healing the Underdog.
Dartanyon: [00:00:00] This figure of power, this strong black athlete sharing my story at these conferences since I’ve had so many older white people who’ve, especially older, staunchy white men who’ve come and said, I feel like I’ve been living my life wrong up until this point, and seeing that and bringing that message and that sort of story into those corporate offices in front of those white pillars of privilege.
Maris Lidaka (Host): In this episode, I’m speaking with Dartanyon Crockett, a former Paralympian and also inspirational speaker. We met right before the pandemic, and this conversation was recorded a few months after the murder of George Floyd. So we got a chance to talk about the state of race in America, the importance of dealing with and healing trauma, and how trauma and storytelling are linked.
Please enjoy how you doing? Good. How you doing? So, I guess, uh, let’s just, uh, get right into it. I mean, some people may know your story, some may not. So I guess [00:01:00] let’s, if you wanna just give either the short or the long version of Yeah. Uh, the Darkanian Crockett story. The
Dartanyon: Dartanyon Crockett story for sure.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and in high school I wrestled and met this guy named Leroy Sutton, who, he was the only other person that I knew in my circle that was as kind as I was, and like still like, was just happy to be alive all the time. Like despite what was going on around us and like, we just hit it off.
And then eventually we were both restless too. And then eventually our story caught. Attention from ESPN because of an article that we were featured in. And after our story aired, I had an opportunity to move out to the Olympic training center and training the sport of judo. In 2010, I moved out to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
I was far from home. I was not in Cleveland anymore. And it hit me really quick too. It was, it was a, it was a tough [00:02:00] transition and I think mainly because I just packed up my life completely and immediately after, uh, sort of getting that offer, it was interesting how I got it too. The, uh, after the documentary aired in 2009, the coaches on the Paralympic team reached out and asked if I wanted try judo and not knowing what the sport was.
I said yes. And in just a crazy cycle of events, I ended up moving out April, 2010, just straight from Cleveland from high school. To the Olympic Training Center, and I retired about two years ago, but in my career I was, uh, I’m a two time Paralympian and I took a bronze medal in, uh, London 2012 in Rio 2016.
Really enjoyed my career and it ended two years ago and I’m happy that I was able to sort of move out on my own terms and step into my next chapter, which is speaking. I just accepted a position with a company called Ingo Learning as a, uh, resiliency and recovery coach, finishing out a degree in sociology with a minor in [00:03:00] social work.
And still just kind of like finding other ways to sort of contribute my talents to the world and finding my place in the field of education as well. Cause that’s kinda the short. So what,
Maris Lidaka (Host): how did you get interested in, in sociology? How did you decide that that was gonna be the next, the
Dartanyon: next chapter?
Right. So at first I thought it was gonna be social work because in my mind I wanted to go into social work to make a, uh, Impact in, uh, the area of, uh, substance abuse and alcohol abuse. And the further I got after I retired, I dove everything. I dove straight into a social work degree and I was going to school full-time and working full-time, but just something filled off for me with the degree I wasn’t, I wasn’t clicking like I thought I would.
And then I had a really great conversation with a professor of mine who got a bachelor’s and master’s in social work and she, and she suggested that, hey, like no one told me this and I wish someone [00:04:00] did, but maybe look at a catalog. And because like we had have, like from turning in assignments and talking with her, she like, she knew that like I had more of a broad scope than social work.
The field of social work was gonna give me. And so offered insight into saying that social work is very micro. You’re not gonna really do much on a broad scale to social work degree, especially like as profession. Sociology and she like brought up sociology cause it’s study of society, it’s taking a much more of a macro scope look at, at the world.
And that’s sort of where I was and wonder where I wanted to contribute and my speaking career. And also, uh, when I was kind of developing in the back of my head what I wanted to do career-wise. And then, yeah, I, after that conversation, I looked at a sociology catalog and two weeks later changed my major.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And so do you have like a specific like area of expertise in sociology or is [00:05:00] it just sort of all encompassing? I wouldn’t say a
Dartanyon: specific area of expertise, but I have a specific area of, uh, interest in that I’m, I wanna become an expert in it’s, uh, symbolic interactionism, but it’s an area where I wanna really dive more into because of the research that I’ve done with trauma.
What I’ve been finding with trauma is that’s another piece of storytelling. The best definition I’ve seen trauma defined is by Bessel VanDerKolk, which is, it’s like a wound that keeps happening to you over and over again. And so when you have a traumatizing event, that event gets stored in the back of your brain and that story, unless you actually see treatment or like resolve that incident or resolve that trauma, that story you’ll like that trigger, whatever that flashback is, you’re reacting to that story that’s kind of happening over and over again.
Where I kind of see symbolic interaction isn’t coming in is sort of relating that to symbols that we think are [00:06:00] universal. For example, with a father figure or the institution school, they’re universal figures of protection, of guidance, education, teaching, and nurturing as well. However, someone who carries a lot of trauma within those areas, Will not react to those same symbols everyone else does.
Like that message is now dysfunctional. Their body and their brain is actually gonna react much differently. And like I got into the research of, uh, trauma from my own trauma, I wanting to learn more and I think sociology was really good catalyst in helping me look at it from a separate perspective. In sociology, what’s called a sociological imagination.
And that’s being able to take yourself from reality in a sense and like look at it objectively and see society as a whole and like see yourself as a part of that. And like having that knowledge and that information coupled with my own need, I guess. Yeah, definitely a need to find healing and researching and [00:07:00] understanding like my own trauma.
Yeah. I found like that, like coupling those two of mental health and sociology has been Yeah. Very insightful for me and something I want to continue to. Kind of build on in my sociological degree as I step into this other role as a sociologist. A lot of people think that they aren’t affected as much as they really are by this, because, especially people of color, when we’re seeing that on a regular basis and the understanding of trauma, that no trauma is the same.
There are multiple ways people can be traumatized, and especially racial trauma in this country, especially in regards to black people seeing it in the media all the time. That’s adding to trauma, especially if you’re experiencing it. If you’re exposed to it, if you’re just a part of it, and most
Dartanyon: people in this country know that It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it’s gonna happen and how often it’s gonna happen and can.
And it’s not a matter of like the neighborhood, I think the language [00:08:00] of. Of seeing that this is how we’re affected by it and understanding like when we’re thrown into emotional flashbacks and sort of building an emotional understanding around these topics that it’s not really talked about. Like I think that can be a step in the right direction to navigating that trauma.
Cuz that was, that was a huge step for me was understanding because, because being able to, to read the language and really internalize it and really embody it as well, and just see that it kind of spoke me into existence, but also understanding that it’s not just me. It’s so many other people who carry trauma and don’t really have a solution to it.
Because as long as this information has been out, it’s not really accessible and it’s still not really prioritized. Healing has to happen within us. The black community has to heal from this, or we’re gonna continue carrying in trauma, and that’s just gonna be cyclical and it’s gonna get passed down through generation and generation.
I, I saw it as I was [00:09:00] growing up. I saw it within the community and I’m, I saw it outside of the community and I see it day to day people carry trauma. You’re just expected to live in the world where you’re not like 100% either fight or flight on a regular basis. Just walking through the neighborhood, it’s, you’re expected to pretend that you’re not in that, so you can’t really speak to those emotions and those feelings.
You start normalizing that conversation because it’s, it’s a language that we all need. We’re affected by it and don’t know how to show up for others. We don’t know how to even show up for ourselves because, we’ll, we’ll try and show up for people and. Something I’ve talked about even on my, uh, Instagram page, is shifting the responsibility because the responsibility for change isn’t our black people.
And we’ve tried for a long time, but that responsibility has shifted to white people. I’m finding that a lot of people are really, really wanting to learn, really wanting to understand, and I think that once conversations start happening because they’re gonna start happening because they need to start happening, like I can’t [00:10:00] speak to a lot of other areas, but being that this is my area of study and seeing it within my community, in my country, in my home on a regular basis, trauma-informed conversations need to be at the forefront of the conversation of change and healing within the black community, especially now how
Maris Lidaka (Host): do we get to that place where we are so we can sort of deal with that trauma and process it?
And then how do we bring other people in to sort of help us along?
Dartanyon: First to start internal, a lot of internal work. Has to be done by a lot of individuals. And I’m, and I’m sure that a ton of individuals are doing that work and have done that work because this is also a social justice movement and an activist movement.
And if people are like trying to head that movement and they’re not in a good head space, it’s just gonna kind of crash and burn. And I’ve seen so many happen that way because the priority gets switched. People who have a platform like mine, and it’s part of what I’m doing is my platform now is education and guidance.
Like that’s, that is what I’m using my platform for because I know that there is no [00:11:00] niche of anyone talking about symbolic interactionism as it relates to trauma, or there’s no need for that. Because I hear those conversations that are happening of like those trauma informed educa, like those conversations that can lead to growth, that can help someone find guidance in that.
But they’re happening in the world of academia, they’re happening in a professional setting and that language and like those conversations aren’t held. It’s not, it’s almost like it’s not accessible. And another issue I think with that is the way we treat education in our society is treated as, as a milestone to get over.
And so people who are immersed in that language for that 4, 6, 7, 8 years, as soon as they get out, unless they’re going to their specific field where they’re pursuing additional titles and certifications and like going in that field, they’re not gonna really use that knowledge outside of it. Most people, once they’re out, they forget that and then they learn everything on the job.
And then people begin to [00:12:00] pursue personal growth through additional titles and certifications and not personal growth. Through seeing a counselor and learning about your emotions and, and doing a lot of internal mindfulness and. Critical work that we need to do on a regular basis, especially now. I knew it was critical for me because I felt that I was falling back into negative habits.
Not even just negative habits, but defense mechanisms that no longer serve me that were during my episode of trauma, that served me as a defense mechanism, but now show up as a self-destructive behavior. And I think a part of it is just more people need to start to really step up and start guiding if they have the information or if they wanna obtain that information, find someone who, who knows.
And something that actually, uh, I think is also a good way to start this conversation is a documentary called, uh, the Color of Fear. And I think it’s something that should be implemented on a regular [00:13:00] basis in like town and cities. Because what it was, this guy was a social worker, he was an Asian guy, and he brought in two black guys, two white guys, two Asian guys to Hispanic guys.
He brought him in for a weekly basis to have just a conversation in regards to race injustice and like social understanding and stuff like that. And he opened the space up. He facilitated the conversation, allowed each individual to have the floor for how well they needed to express what was going on, and like where they saw the injustice and like just their side of whatever it was.
As the weeks progressed, like so much just sort of kind of got built up and it built up to a climax. There was a white guy who knew that he was racist and wanted to change, but there was a white guy who just didn’t see it. He saw everyone at as the same, and his words were like, I, I don’t see color. I just see us all as the same.
And the response that this black guy gave him just gave me chills, and he [00:14:00] told him, no, we’re not the same. You want to see us as a box that you can fit a sin. You don’t want us to be black. You want to see us as black individuals. You don’t wanna see us as African Americans. You wanna see us as Americans because it’s safe for you.
That’s why you don’t wanna see color. You don’t wanna see the discomfort that comes with when you have to see color, when you have to see injustice and police brutality and absurd racism that’s running rapid through this country. It’s a part of the reason that’s, that’s also halting this conversation is white people saying, I just didn’t understand.
It’s not that you just didn’t understand, it’s that you just didn’t want to understand. But now that it’s so prevalent with social media, no one can deny it now unless they’re like literally not looking at any social media whatsoever. You cannot deny that racism is a very systematic issue in this country.
The black community is a culture and understanding cultural competency and building your own communication [00:15:00] skills is what can help you understand the black community. It has nothing to do with understanding black people. That’s, that’s a barrier that’s being created. With the language that you’re using because ignorance is potential.
Ignorance is oftentimes used as a negative term, but ignorance is potential, especially if someone is willing to admit that ignorance and fill that ignorance with knowledge. Now at a critical time where we’re so tired of fighting and protesting and being angry, we gotta just grab their hands and bring them on the other side.
2020 is really telling us something that is screaming that we cannot deny anymore is that we can’t just go back to the old ways. We can’t just go back to an old system that only served white power. And something for me that I, I’m finding with just my work and like what my path is as far as starting that conversation and guiding it, is really starting it with our youth and trying to really facilitate those types of conversations outside of the classroom.
Because once change [00:16:00] happens, it’s gonna happen maybe toward the end of our generation. The people who are really gonna have to continue that and continue working toward to keep something that we want our children and our children’s children to continue living in peace and comfortably. They’re gonna have to, they’re gonna need those tools.
They’re gonna need those tools to continue building what we fought to build. Because racism against black people isn’t just an American thing. Something another term that like needs to be understood by white people. And I think also black people in our country is colorism. Because I think, yeah, we all get caught up in colorism and I see it within the black community who think light-skinned people are a different race.
And white people who also think and believe the same thing, but still lump us all as black people and not understanding that there are various cultures within these melanin gods and goddesses. You know, the dark you are typically the less favorable you are to. The public and the more fair your [00:17:00] skin, the better you are.
And it’s, it’s, it’s really sparking a movement that is, that I think is, is gonna continue moving, but it’s not gonna be an overnight thing. I think something that was expected, I think it’s just part of the nature of our society is a sort of instant gratification after something going viral. And I think I was guilty of this too.
I just expected something to change right after an incident, right after Trayvon Martin. That’s not the case. It’s, it’s going to be a slow move and it has to be different conversations.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And I think for a lot of people think when Obama was president, a lot of people, you know, I even, you know, fell into that trap myself and like, oh, well, I mean if this happened, we, we good,
Dartanyon: we, we good we no nothing but up from here.
Right. And it’s sometimes it’s something that like we we’re all guilty of. We’re all guilty of because we’ve been having the same conversations for years. We’ve been having the same issues and the same problems for years. And also like, not even that it’s that [00:18:00] long ago, like thinking of on a timeline and just versus how long this country’s been a country and how long the earth has been standing.
And Joe Rogan, he does a standup and he says it hysterically. It was uh, he was talking about either lynching or like, like three years ago slavery thing was, that was three ago. That ago.
Maris Lidaka (Host): True ago.
Dartanyon: And I think we like to think it was that long ago, because again, it goes back to the language that we’re using, and especially when we’re using this language for people of color, especially when we talk about the Holocaust or nine 11.
These are things that are sacred, awful things that happen, they should never happen again. We feel so sorry for these people, but when we bring up slavery and it’s like, Hey, when are we gonna have this conversation? When are we gonna talk about genocide and how Christopher Columbus ever, never actually came to America.
He got lost in women in South America. When are we gonna have those conversations? Right? That was so long ago. [00:19:00] That was way too long ago to even matter. Now, one of the things with trauma is that people who carry an immense amount of trauma, for example, I have complex PTs d and that’s when you had multiple traumatic events in your childhood, like kind of stacked on top of each other, like over a long period of time.
And that just kind of has its own manifestation of a bunch of nasty, nasty things. People who carry that, that much weight of trauma, it’s impossible for them to actually imagine new experiences into their lives. Because they’re stuck in that same story. They’re stuck in the trauma that’s
Maris Lidaka (Host): to happen.
And there’s also some responsibility that my industry, the entertainment industry, needs to have some come up with, with, cause you know, for the longest time, especially like during the eighties, we, we still have all these cop shows, but especially during the eighties, there’s all these like movies. The the cop who doesn’t play by the rules and mm-hmm.
Kills a bunch of people. Yep. So those people are brown, but at the end of the day, he gets the bad guy. Uhhuh, I think a lot of [00:20:00] people, you know, either were raised, they consumed that media became cops. I mean, a lot of ’em were assholes anyway. Mm-hmm. But they got into a system that allowed them to keep doing that.
And then, you know, they see all this media that says, oh, I’m, I’m doing the right thing. Mm-hmm. And then of course, as generations go, they keep passing down that same mentality and way of doing things on and on and on.
Dartanyon: You know, something else that really opened up my perspective to that sort of, Brainwashing was after and continuing my research and trauma and realizing that because I carry so much trauma, I lost almost 15 years of my memories of like not being able able to remember my own childhood.
Remember certain triggers. There was just a huge block of time that I couldn’t remember. But I can remember the national anthem, and I can almost say it perfectly. That is brainwashing. That is cult behavior. And some people just drink the Kool-Aid, which is why they’re [00:21:00] still white nationals now. Where in elementary school, on a daily basis, in front of the flag, you would have children say, I pledge to the flag United States of America to win public, to which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, which it stands.
One nation and justice for all you having children say all this shit. They don’t even know what it means, but they’re pledging their allegiance to this idea of a country. I won’t even say complete lie because there are a lot of great things to America, but they’re pledging their allegiance to assemble that they don’t understand, and that’s continuing to not perpetuates through time because no one else, like oftentimes, people don’t step outside of their comfort zone and live someone else’s experience, especially when you’ve been taught all your life that authority is key.
Authority is power. Authority is the only thing that you listen to. Then of course, you’re not gonna question that authority. It doesn’t matter who sits in the White House. You’re [00:22:00] not gonna question that because you’ve already been conditioned into respecting all forms of authority, and unless you’re willing to do internal work, unless you’re willing to be uncomfortable and have your ideas of reality.
Destroyed and dismantled because I think at some point we’re all gonna have to
Maris Lidaka (Host): have that. I actually got in trouble when I was in second grade because I stopped standing and, or I didn’t stop standing, but I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I would just stand there because this is kind of a long story, but when I was in kindergarten, I had this teacher who would make me sit on the floor for no reason.
She would just, she would, I was the only brown kid in our suburb of Oak Park. Mm-hmm. So after this, um, after school a couple of times she would just, you know, the bell would ring, all the kids would start to go. She would say, no, Morris, you go sit on the floor. And I would like ask why. She would say, just go sit on the floor.
And she, this a couple of times my mom was noticing that I was coming out late later than all the other kids. She was like, what’s going on? Um, so she had a conference, uh, with the [00:23:00] teacher and the teacher basically said, you know, I think your child has a learning disability cuz he keeps staring at the floor all the time.
Um, so I think you should transfer him to the special education school. So luckily mom was like that, that can’t be accurate because he’s in kindergarten, he’s reading at like a third grade level. Um, so she had me take another test. Um, and then, you know, turns out that I should have been in the higher learning program.
Huh. Not the disability program. Um, and I remember, uh, this, I remember this teacher, like I, my mom asked me if I wanted to transfer to the other class, and I said that I did. Um, and she, that was the moment where she had to explain to me like what race was and how racism worked. You know, things you shouldn’t have to say to a five-year-old, but she had to.
Mm-hmm. And I remember the, the teacher coming up to me after like one recess and like telling me that I should talk to my mom to make sure that I stayed in her class. And I said, I didn’t want to because I [00:24:00] know that you don’t like me. And she was like, no, I don’t. I was like, then I asked her, why aren’t, why do you keep making me like sit on the floor?
After school and she said, oh, I never did that. Never made you do that. You know? And of course I got upset as a child, but I think after that, that was kind of my beginning of awakening. Yeah. Um, my mom basically was like, okay, I guess, uh, a she had to learn a lot because where she, she grew up in like the west side of Chicago, which is the hood, right.
Basically. Mm-hmm. And her mom’s, you know, Education, how racism work with white people, don’t like you. Stay away from those folks. Yep. That’s, and that was it, what we got too.
Dartanyon: That was pretty much it. Uhhuh and my family almost exploded when I brought a white girl home.
Maris Lidaka (Host): Luckily, luckily my side, that side of the family was actually pretty understanding. It was actually my dad’s side of the family. Like they would not let my mom [00:25:00] into the house cause they were Eastern European and they were, my grandmother was just convinced that my mom was gonna like, steal all the expensive silverware something.
But like, as soon as I was born, you know, I became the, I was the first son on that side of the family. Mm-hmm. On white side of the family. So I was. I was the Latvian son. Um, so that kind of dissipated all some of the bad blood. Not all of it, but some of it. Right. But yeah, as soon as you know, that incident happened, you know, she started, you know, scrambling to learn about race like as much as she could.
And then as much she learned, she would like pass on to me. So I kind of what you said about healing through the trauma for a long time, whenever somebody would like call me stupid mm-hmm. I would just flip out. Like I would just lose my temper, lose my mind. Mm-hmm. It didn’t help that I had studied like March arts for years.
Cause sometimes I would like get into fights. Mm-hmm. Just because somebody like call. And it took me, I think until, I think until high school, um, living in a foreign country where [00:26:00] I was still trying to operate under the same like, rules of how people perceive me. Mm-hmm. Um, and just getting like upset at things and people go like, whoa, whoa.
I don’t know what you’re talking about or why you’re so mad, but that’s. We, we don’t really care, um, like we do, but we care more about, you know, what country you’re from as opposed to, you know, if you say you’re black or not, like I don’t even know what that means, what you’re talking about.
Dartanyon: Right. That’s the thing with trauma, like when you have a traumatic memory or traumatic flashback, something can trigger it.
Like it doesn’t, and there can be multiple triggers for you that might have been hearing someone say black or stupid or anything referring to a childhood or even like being condescending to you in a certain way, like that can trigger a response. And that’s a response is either gonna be, oftentimes it’s like a fight response and you’re just ready to lose it, or it’s a flight response and it, again, different, different [00:27:00] levels of trauma, different areas, but, and you’re reacting to that story and what makes it.
Memory that a traumatic memory different than a regular memory is like, I can remember all of my, all of my metal wounds, they were great, they were fantastic. But it stops there. They’re just the memory. All of my traumatic memories. I go back there. I feel that, I feel that sensation. I smell things, I hear things, and oftentimes I’m trembling or I’m really angry.
And when people see that on the outside, like especially in this neighborhood and like Holly has seen that a couple of times, like when I’ve reacted with people like coming up behind us or just reacted to people like just speaking to me randomly when I just didn’t want to be spoken, I didn’t wanna be spoken to.
Like she, she saw me reacting to a very non-threatening situa situation, [00:28:00] like ready to murder something. But when I was react, when I was actually reacting to. A very threatening situation that I live through, but I’m currently living through in this moment. And it just comes up for me every now and again quite often.
So when you’re in that traumatic memory, you’re experiencing that, that’s why emotional and like flash emotional flashbacks and flashbacks are a thing. Because unless you integrate that memory into past memories is still going to emerge as a traumatic memory.
Maris Lidaka (Host): I think probably the thing that happened was, I think I snapped on there was like a kid from Rochelle, I went to an international school overseas and there was like a kid from R who um, he just like said off the cuff like, you know, I don’t remember what the incident was, but he was just like, why, why would you think that?
Like, what are you stupid? And I just lost it. Like, I was screaming at this kid, like who I had just met, and he is like, I don’t know what I did. Like I could barely speak English.[00:29:00]
Yep. And then somebody, and then another person who actually I’m still friends with now, but she was like, you know, Marz, everybody really likes you, but you just have to calm down a little bit. And I just thought, what am I doing to, they’re like, why am I reacting this way? Mm-hmm. I’m like, ruining these potential friendships that I could have.
Right. Based on something that, you know, they don’t know about that happened like years and years. I mean, granted these incidents still do happen, but you know, they, they don’t know. They didn’t mm-hmm.
Dartanyon: Do anything. Yeah. And I think something, again, it, it sparks another conversation like just this one here that like labels and language that we use, like labeling and characterizing, especially black kids, either just disobedient and your issues and there’s other like, Stupid terminology that has been used just to sound academic, but just to [00:30:00] say a disobedient, angry child when that is not the case.
You have a child that has a ton of unresolved trauma and has no way to cope with the world around him. I think judo and like me, just competing in sports is the only reason why I’ve been able to hang on to sanity and reality as long as I have, not just like participating in the sport, but really throwing my entire self into the sport and just having that be my entire identity, my entire reality.
Cuz it gave me, it not only gave me something else to focus on, it gave me new stories, new experiences to have that weren’t tied to the trauma. And I think that, That can be said with any martial art, any sport, any hobby. That element of confidence building that just comes from like learning something like judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu or new sport or new martial arts, like creating more agency and I, and yeah, more [00:31:00] agency within your own body I think is amazing for people and it was definitely great for
Maris Lidaka (Host): me.
I guess I want to go back to the environment that you originally came from and came out of. Yeah. Cause one thing I was thinking about is, you know, you were an athlete, I think a lot of times people then you were talking about, you know, healing the trauma and I think a lot of times people think that when somebody becomes a successful athlete that all of whatever was bothering ’em, the for just goes away.
Either because they’ve reached high level of success in something, or you know, most, most often it’s because they’re making a lot of money, which I know you as Olympians don’t make a ton of money. I think people get the idea that. If you’re successful in one area, that sort of like negates all the trauma and problems that you had before.
So tell me the environment that you came out of as you’re getting all this success in a particular discipline, that being judo, what were you hanging onto and how were you able to deal
Dartanyon: with it? The environment that I grew up in was just completely [00:32:00] dysfunctional and, and not safe without completely getting into it.
Just inner city Cleveland, like I grew up in the trap house. The house that I lived in was a trap house and for viewers that may not know what a trap house is, it’s a house typically in an inner city where drugs are sold to the neighboring addicts or dealers in that area. I grew up in that sort of environment for most of my childhood.
And not only that, also being a black person in America, like having, having that dynamic and I think going into, into this new environment as an athlete gave me another identity to jump in that wasn’t the one that I was struggling in. It gave me something else to be, something else to do. It didn’t really change any of my problems.
It didn’t heal any of the damage that was done in my childhood. It just gave me a different distraction. Like sports for me, and I know like this isn’t always the case because there is a lot of Olympians and Paralympians who start at a young age and like make it their passion. And [00:33:00] since day one it started off as a means to an end for me.
Like the first thing that like I really gravitated toward growing up was singing. I sang in my church choir and I loved singing all the time. Really felt grounded in it was like one of the few gifts I felt like I had. And being on the choir, it felt like I was able to like share this gift, this not just me singing, but like the gift of music, the art.
With people and just kind of like have that sort of celebration whenever we like sang as a choir, whenever, and especially when you nail a song that you’ve been working on. But there was a time that I was attacked in that switch and I had to switch that because that kind of to that kind of showed me that like, there, there isn’t room for that sort of sensitivity.
There isn’t room for the arts anymore in my life. And then in that environment now, I had to adapt to survive for, to learn how to fight. After I stopped making, singing a hobby, a passion of mine, like it became sports, and then sports kind of became my outlet. And so jumping into that [00:34:00] environment, I sacrificed a piece of myself to live this out because it not only brought me from the environment that I was in, it gave me an entirely new identity that wasn’t my own, that wasn’t the dark canyon, that was abused and mistreated and neglected as a child.
I wasn’t that Dartanyon when I was an athlete. I was a figure of power, strain of excellence, and I was pursuing this career of excellence. However, that other piece of Dartanyon was kind of like sitting, waiting for me to come back. And then once my career ended, there was little to nothing I could do to stop myself from collapsing into just the spiral of emotions and like the emotional flashbacks and breakdowns that I had after my career.
I, I think that’s also how people view the black man in this country and athletics of seeing and also justifying racism, justifying police brutality or, or disproportionate poverty within the black community. When they see black athletes who make the N F [00:35:00] L or N B A and saying like, well, these athletes are rich.
They’re successful now. Yeah, they are, but at the same time, their skin is still black and they live in America. That’s, that’s the first thing. Two, that doesn’t necessarily erase all their problems. You can have a lot of money, but that doesn’t. Necessarily mean, you know where you’re, you even know where to start to begin, like healing some of the problems you have.
You start filling them with a bunch of bull crap. And that’s why you see a lot of these N F L stars who not only have had multiple concussions that have just destroyed their brain over time, but also probably carry a degree of trauma. Those athletes who have those humble beginning stories. I can’t imagine that there are many of N F L athletes who carry trauma and have dealt with it in a very meaningful way or
Maris Lidaka (Host): in general.
And not to mention, you know, if you make it the NFL and the nba, you’re, you’re like in the two percentile of the population. If that, if that, if that, so what happens to, you know, everybody else who with the same trauma, but that [00:36:00] doesn’t
Dartanyon: make it to the, doesn’t even have that support of that financial income because here, this amazing athlete, my career for me as an athlete, as successful as I was, isn’t my life success.
I know it was for a lot of people, and I respect that and I commend that. I think that because Jule, for me, started as a means to an end, I, I fell in love with the sport. I gave everything I could to the sport, but because it wasn’t something that like I initially chose, It was, it was presented to me as a way out, as a way to be destined for greatness.
To be something that, to be something more than what my, my what my environment at the time dictated. There wasn’t a choice for me. It was either judo or nothing. That was it. I didn’t have that strong of an understanding of the sport. So I was learning a new sport. Not only that, learning how to live in a new environment without no real support group other than like the Olympic training Center.
Like some, a few other people in my life, like, uh, Lisa FM from the ESPN story, and, [00:37:00] uh, a couple other friends. I always, I was always
Maris Lidaka (Host): curious when I watched the espn mm-hmm. Um, documentary, it made, it, it made it kind of seem like least was like the first sort of white person that you’ve ever met? Was that the case?
No. Or like, I guess the one that you maybe not met, but like, you know, had like a heavy interaction
Dartanyon: with Yeah, they made it seem like that, but it’s not the case and I think it comes off as the case with a lot of. Those blindside esque stories. I don’t know. Mine fix that description. She wasn’t the first, uh, white person that I interacted with.
And our relationship isn’t shallow either. I think on the surface people can’t understand it. And oftentimes with our story too, you, this is solely, mainly not just with white people, but the vast majority of white people can’t even discern who’s Leroy, who’s Dartanyon in the story. They always think that Lisa is like my wife or, and me and le me and her adopted Leroy or something.
They always get the story wrong. So for them, and a lot of people are, [00:38:00] relationship is ill-defined. First it started off as ESPN producer, subject, and then as she was filming and getting closer to us, because there was a certain point that the documentary started to, it went from like the athletic piece to focusing on our friendship.
And as a, as a producer, she, she’s excellent at her job. And so she had to become in on it. She had to become a part of. The jokes are part of the friendship. And then genuinely she did. And then over time, once like our story like kinda gained traction, she leveraged her privilege basically like as a white person and like learned a lot by bringing cameras into the black community and like sitting, like first she didn’t bring cameras first, she just actually came and sat in me and Leroy’s homes and felt how uncomfortable it was and saw that in certain situations, hard work doesn’t just get you out of it.
And so I think her stepping in and like exposing her, like choosing to expose herself [00:39:00] to what we were living like, said a lot about who she was in her character. Like as a white person who had this sort of prestigious job and lived in a very nice neighborhood and grew up in Cleveland and grew up with a family that sort of preached separate equals safer.
But she still, as any ESPN producer because she, she originally came because she saw that like we were two wrestlers and. I was blind. And he, like, we were both on a espn, pn, uh, not espn. We were both on the Plain Dealer of, uh, we were both on the front page article of newspaper in Cleveland called The Plain Dealer.
Boom. Got the words out
right front of you before I got, I mean
Maris Lidaka (Host): especially cause I, cause that’s like what, almost 10 years ago?
Dartanyon: Something like that. Yeah, yeah. A long time ago. Yeah. And it started to come back to me in pieces I was telling, I was like, wait, is that right? Is that part of the timeline? And so, and after we were featured on the, in the Plain Deal, [00:40:00] like the funny thing is, is her father who is racist well, was, had a lot of growing to do cuz he’s the one who kind of taught separate equals safer.
But he’s the one who sent her the story. And then she flew out from Connecticut where she was working to come, filmed the rest of our wrestling sections. And then from there filmed our power lifting, uh, career. But in that she started to realize that the story wasn’t our disabilities or our athletic career, but it was our friendship.
The story was that two black, two, two young black men who grew up in poverty, like I think this is a part of what she saw, but like someone else who kind of came into our lives as a screenwriter, like also saw this and like I, and I thought this was great, that other people are saying kind of what me and Leroy kind of felt like was the most important thing from the beginning before having the language.
But just two inner city black kids who has every reason to be cold and bitter, chose compassion and kindness [00:41:00] in like the worst of it. And like, not to say that there weren’t other people who wouldn’t have done what I’d done, but just on a very, on a much deeper level. Like as she got to know her, she saw that like even in our day to day, it wasn’t just something we did like for each other.
People close to us, Lera and I expended. We, we showed that sort of compassion and kindness outward to everyone despite our situation, despite who we did or didn’t trust, it was just kind of who we were. And we both kind of mirrored that for each other and kind of we, we shared that quality, we shared that virtue, and that’s kind of what the story sort of unfolded.
And Lisa kind of became a part of that because we, and we also allowed her, because Leroy for like, I wasn’t very trusting, but like I kind of, I saw something, I felt something special in Lisa that I don’t feel from a lot of people didn’t know how to explain it. But then like over time, getting to talk to her and getting to know her is what really kind of helped me see her colors and that she was really [00:42:00] willing to step in with her ignorance and learn.
Which is why she became such a pivotal piece. And I think that the documentary, as great as it is because it’s documentary made by white people, like there are a few elements that it, it doesn’t quite depict and it’s hard to show and because like many of the audiences in America is white, there are certain things that aren’t picked up on by the white community in that documentary.
And I think that’s a part of the reason why like when so many white people come up and see the documentary and are just like, oh, are you Leroy? When clearly Leroy was the guy who has no legs and I’m the dude who has legs, it’s easy for me to say, cuz you could
Maris Lidaka (Host): look completely different, like your head’s, like every, every single Right, right.
Dartanyon: that whole that. Not to that be completely look different, but like it’s just that you weren’t paying attention. Yeah. It’s, you saw a story that seemed like an underdog [00:43:00] story to you that made you feel warm and good. It’s what you like to see. It’s what you like to see of the American dream. Two young black men make it against all odds with the hell, both great white hope, which this story wasn’t the case because a lot of what me and Leroy did was of our own volition.
White people oftentimes don’t see that. Things like affirmative action and they assume that, well, these are things that are handouts because they feel that their ancestors did it on their own and have done it on their own. Continue doing it on their own. So black people should do it on their own.
History, logic, and everything else that’s going on in our current climate. Seth, otherwise, I
Maris Lidaka (Host): wanted to also ask you about this. Cause my mom grew, my mom grew up in the the west side of Chicago, which is. It’s the less bad area of Chicago. The really bad one. The south side. Right. The left side’s not that far off.
I remember she just always saying like, I don’t trust those south side Negros. Right, right. I dunno what’s going on down there. [00:44:00] Like we had a bad oh boy. Um, man. But she had this saying that she just always like trying to drilled into us like, you know, you’re not allowed to fail. You’re not allowed to fail.
You’re not allowed to fail. And I found that Was that your experience growing up? That you thought that you weren’t allowed to fail and did,
Dartanyon: did you reach a certain point where Um, not It did feel like I wasn’t allowed to fail and that I didn’t have any second chances. That was definitely real. And that’s definitely real for like, especially the black community.
You just know like law enforcement teachers, everywhere you go, you only get one chance it feels like as a black person in the black community. So I had to accept whatever was gonna come from that and that me being something more. And I think what sort of taught me that lesson of accepting your failures was accepting my defeats and.
In sports, like when I really learned like, well, what did I do wrong in this match? And try to understand like why I didn’t succeed, why? And I think my desire for success also outweighed my fear of failure. I had a family who actually stayed with which this white family that [00:45:00] took me in and did an incredible amount for me.
But there was a period sort of before living with them and then after living with them where I was so the homeless and still kind of couch surfing. And so juggling all that, really being able to focus on wrestling and seeing that like I learned from losing it to this guy in his wrestling match, like, what else could, what other failure, what other defeat can I learn from?
Or how can I learn from this mistake other rather? And then, and then starting to change the language. And rather than, I can’t fail, how can I learn from this failure? How can I learn from this defeat? And why did I fail? What can I change about myself? And it’s also why we need to start changing the narratives.
Because that’s not what failure should look like in the black community, and that sh not what failure can be in the black community. And I think that like in order to, to learn from it, you have to be, you have to be willing to be wrong, to learn from a failure and then allow yourself to be corrected when you are wrong.[00:46:00]
Because if you’re failing and you’re like making all these mistakes, but you’re making excuses and saying all lives matter and still missing the bigger picture, you’re missing the your the reason why failure mistakes are such a vital part of life because they’re, they’re to teach us. And you can’t appreciate the success that you’re gonna have after those failures unless you’ve tasted failure, but it’s tolerable.
And once you learn how to live with like smaller pieces of failure, because there, there’s a way to fail and not lose everything and not have it be detrimental to the rest of your
Maris Lidaka (Host): life. I feel like also that’s just a general problem with our society at large is how we look. Look at failure. And also, you know, how we define success.
Cause I think a lot of times we define success as like you either Jeff Bezos or you’re homeless. Like those are two barometers of what success or lack. There’s like no in between. There is no in
Dartanyon: between. [00:47:00] Exactly. And it’s such a shallow, a shallow idea of success. And as a sociologist, I believe that sponsor from our capitalistic society, like it’s evident that it’s sponsored from our capitalistic society.
Cuz everything, every policy, every decision that’s made is led with the dollar. So of course success is gonna look finite in regards to being financial. When you ha when you’re successful, it’s financial success because why? Because capitalism, because that’s hammered so deeply, people stop pursuing actual human growth.
People start pursuing growth. Personal development through titles, we didn’t get
Maris Lidaka (Host): a chance to talk about healing the underdog. Where did, uh, where did healing the underdog came from? Just, and, and
Dartanyon: what, what exactly is it? Toward the end of my senior, my, uh, school year, last year in spring, I was starting to really kind of build my, uh, speaking career.
And as I was doing, so, I started to ask questions, well, what am [00:48:00] I trying to say aside from sharing my story? Because I kind of wanted to switch from being a motivational speaker to kinda where I was kinda sharing my story and then, like, my success to being an inspirational speaker, I wanted to have a call to action after, after my keynotes and after my talks.
And, and I also wanted to provide some sort of teaching and understanding. And so in that, I started to ask myself, well, what do people wanna know from me? What skills do I have? And so in pe and like in thinking of that, of thinking of people who are after my talk always came up and told me that I was such an underdog and.
I had so much grit and like it was so great to see how I was able to pull myself up by the bootstraps. And I also realized in that that like I was only a motivational speaker. I wasn’t really inspiring anyone to do anything. I was just sharing my, my story, which what I felt was a PG version of it to a bunch of white people who thought it was the worst thing that they ever heard.
We had never heard anything like, cause they had never been exposed to it. And so [00:49:00] I started wanting to understand like, well, what does make an underdog successful? And using the switch of majors of switching degrees and sociology, I was able to kind of research that from an objective standpoint of like finding and researching like the term underdog.
What do we consider an underdog? How, like how is that defined? And so I got all academic with it started like looking at research articles and started seeing like what determines someone’s success. Like people who have been considered an underdog. Like what, what have they done? Like what things have attributed to their success.
And then from there I started finding myself looking into trauma research. And this was after a conversation I had with someone and talking about like what I kind of wanted to do with my business and what, like before I even had the language of just saying that like once I started like finding this research on trauma, and this is a woman that [00:50:00] you just, anyone should talk to and look up.
Her name is Ellie Wilkins. She, she’s a survivor of a very horrific event. I met her in the dance community here in Denver cuz I believes dance and salsa dance and swing dancing. And so, and she was telling me her story and then she told me about this book called, uh, the Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Derico because she was researching trauma because she carries a lot of it.
And that started to expand my research and then, Once I started to like really build the research and build an understanding of like, I still found, found healing along my journey because I was able to adapt and because a lot of like the research that I found with trauma is a lot of the things that I’ve gravitated toward can help in healing some pieces of trauma.
There are still a lot that I was missing, like the arts, singing, having something to focus on, having something to be mindful of. For me, playing video games for a long time, I was able to kind of go back and still in the areas and look at my childhood and know more about the video games I’ve played [00:51:00] than pieces of my childhood because like I spent so much time living outside of my own reality because my reality sucked than living in because I gravitated towards so many different things.
And then finding sport and movement and yoga and everything else, like I was still able to find like small pieces of healing. And then to add to that, People who have shown up in my life and shown me compassion and saw me for what I could be. And so healing the underdog. Like if you wanna be an underdog, if you want to be this person who was never really supposed to succeed in life, because if the ads were stacked so high against you, and it’s not about big triumphant victories.
When I talk and in my career, I try and take out my judo career as much as I can because while it was important to me, there are very few people who can, who can relate to my career as as an athlete, but there are millions of people who can [00:52:00] relate to my, to my trauma. There are millions of people who can relate to, to the human suffering.
That I’ve found in this life. And that’s sort of what I use and what I bring to the table. You’re not just getting someone who’s giving you a feel good story, we’re just saying you can do it by all means necessary. Because I am no stranger to human suffering. I know that a lot of people aren’t. And where do I start to begin healing?
I do like, another reason I do like speaking at corporate events is because this figure of power, this strong black athlete sharing my story at these conferences since I’ve had so many older white people who’ve, especially older staunchy white men who’ve come and said, I feel like I’ve been living my life wrong up until this point.
And seeing that and bringing that message and that sort of story into those corporate offices in front of those white pillars of privilege. And power. And power. Exactly.
Maris Lidaka (Host): And I think something that kind of resonated with me is just, um, you know, when you get those, those small victories seem to matter more than.
Like the big ones. I [00:53:00] think we were talking about this before that, you know, a lot of people look at, you know, the awards and the accolades again, and they think like, oh man, like you must be like on cloud nine when mm-hmm. Yeah, that was really nice, but what really meant, you know, the most to me was that that small little thing that I was trying to do for so long mm-hmm.
That I was finally able to do that, you know, eventually, you know, I got an award for it or I was nominated for an award for it, but it, it didn’t mean as much as that first like, sort of hill that I had to climb.
Dartanyon: Right. Because those, like, those huge triumphant underdog victories, like winning a medal at the games or like winning like a grand slam or like a Superbowl ring or something like that because that’s, that’s placed at the epitome of like, success is like you only achieve success when you’ve gotten that high.
Cuz for you, yeah. That big moment on the outside looking in that big moment may look like the biggest moment of that person’s career. But the small events leading to that big moment is what really shaped them, is what really gave them, found the foundation to hold onto that big moment and [00:54:00] chase it and grab it.
And I think because there are so many people who quite frankly haven’t really had to work hard in this life, don’t know how to struggle to make a small victory happen, don’t know how to struggle to, to see minuscule progress. There are people who just graduated high school, big thing. I graduated college, big thing, I got this big job, big thing, I retired.
Big thing. And they’ve just kind of lived themselves in the mundane fuck zone and they haven’t really kind of had to struggle and had to find beauty in the ugliness around you. Cause some of my like greatest successes are steeped in like either decisions of not like hanging out with a certain friend group or.
Just like achieving like this small goal of just getting to a certain place in my life, you’ve kind
Maris Lidaka (Host): of tapped into it is how important storytelling really is. [00:55:00] I had the opportunity to teach at an international school once with, luckily they all spoke English, but their English wasn’t good enough. They felt they didn’t, they didn’t feel comfortable really communicating with each other, but we taught them basically how to make little mini documentaries in like three nights.
Oh nice. And just, you know, to see these kids with like little snow skills three days ago, just like open up and just tell these beautifully crafted stories and just expose who they were, uh, like their, is it just sort of speaks to the power that storytelling can have?
Dartanyon: Absolutely. For me, it not only like helps connect certain pieces in my life, every skill I collected, I try and figure out how to use that in collaboration with what I already know.
Like even if it doesn’t necessarily fit. So I’m always trying to. Bring in generalized information into something to just build upon it. Sometimes something clicks once it’s not about you, and it becomes about, about the impact and [00:56:00] the, and the good that you can do for the world. Something clicks about it and then it becomes, it becomes fun, I think.
Yeah, it does. Yeah. It becomes, you know, that it’s gonna be work and it’s gonna be stressful, but like you can bring your own lightness to it because you know that like you’re doing this for someone else. When
Maris Lidaka (Host): you’re sitting down, like trying to make a movie or, or make a story, a lot of times you get lost in, you know, is this working?
Do I like this, do I like that? Um, so it becomes very, again, ego driven. Whereas when you have that framework of you’re trying to make an impact, then it’s okay, is what I’m doing having the message that I think needs to be gotten across?
Dartanyon: Right. And I think also finding your population of people that you wanna impact, because I think there’s one thing to be like, Hey, I wanna help people, but what does that look like?
Who do you wanna help? How do you want to help them? And what skills do you have that can make you an ally to, to this, regardless of your skin color? Because I think it’s one thing to say that like we can just have anyone for black [00:57:00] representation in public office, and that’s fine. But reality, it’s not.
Maris Lidaka (Host): Cause there’s always, always gonna be that question of, you know, do you really have my best interest in mind? Right?
Dartanyon: Like, what you trying to do, it’s who like, not only is like the representation, but like that person’s alter your mood. Like what, what are you trying to get out of it or what are you trying to give with it?
And I think that that, for me at least, has like really helped me build my career. Because I think I’m in a space to where I don’t know a lot of what I want. Like a lot of people, I like, I never know what I want for my birthday. I never know, never know what I want for Christmas. I never know, kind of, I know what I wanna do long term, but that’s because like, I know that I want to do it for people.
Like, because I, I, I’m, I’m really good at giving gifts. Like as a speaker, your product is yourself. You’re your greatest product. And [00:58:00] like I knew that like, not only did I wanna give myself to the world as like me being my product, but also like in the educational sense, because I know that like if I were to work in education, I would work with underserved populations and there aren’t many people who look like me and who have the resources and skills and the career that I’ve had that works with our youth.
Who are under shape, under privilege. That’s part, that’s another part of the reason why I do it. And actually
Maris Lidaka (Host): talking to you has made me think that, I mean, I did a little bit of before, but I would like to impart more of my knowledge about how to tell a story, especially for those undeserved communities.
And that will actually start to change the narrative of media. But a lot of people you don’t when you’re on the outside looking in and when you’re going through it, you don’t really understand it. Like you don’t really get how the machine really works. No, you don’t. Usually it’s like, I know X guy, usually one white guy knows another white guy.
Mm-hmm. He hires that person and that’s why the business is [00:59:00] the way that it is, which then informs the narrative
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.
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.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland is a multi-racial award-winning creative who combines immersive and interactive mediums with non-fiction content. She is an Emmy, Webby, and Sheffield Doc/Fest award-winning XR/metaverse storyteller1. She creates non-fiction and socially impactful stories by using immersive and interactive technology.
Join us as we talk about learning self-love and discovery, the future of media, why representation is important…and Hippos!
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: [00:00:00] That’s sort of how I see where we all are at in the digital reality right now. We’re like, we kind of are gumming around like our parents’ toys. We’re like, ah, does this work? Does this not? I don’t know, like who do I wanna be? What’s going on? Like we’re very much in like an infantile phase of the digital reality.
And I think just like in the physical reality, the digital reality is gonna go through its own revolutions, it’s gonna go through its own governments, it’s already going through its own currency economics with crypto right now. It’s gonna go through its own sort of changes and transformations.
Maris Lidaka: I want to give a big thank you to Michaela Ternasky Holland for joining us today.
She is a creative strategist and consultant as well as an Emmy and Webby award-winning documentarian whose created award for Disney, national Geographic, and Verizon Media. And we are so pleased to have her with us today. Thank you for joining us.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Thanks for having me. It’s incredible to be able to be here and share the space with you and have a conversation today.
Maris Lidaka: So I [00:01:00] just wanna dive right in. Tell me, when you were growing up, what did I guess, love in popular culture and media look like versus what it looked like in your household?
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: It’s a deep question. We start off strong. So for me, I think, um, a lot of my outside media input really came from Disney movies. My family was pretty strict growing up, so I didn’t really have access to television or cable.
So I didn’t really get the constant input of Disney Channel or Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon that a lot of the kids that grew up in the nineties got, I’d get bits of it, but it wasn’t something I consumed every day. Growing up I consumed a lot of VHSs, and so I remember early on a lot of the early VHS movies I would watch were Hunchback and Notre Dame and The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and then.
As I continued to grow up incredible classics like Tarzan and Mulan [00:02:00] sort of came onto the scene and I started consuming those as well. So a lot of what my idea around love growing up in the mainstream media really looked like people finding each other in these big, dramatic, drastic ways. I think the movie that resonated most with me just in general about love was Mulan because it was sort of, I think the first time.
That is like great, that’s a great film. There’s no focus on like a male, female driven sort of romance relationship. It’s really about Mulan and that. I think for me, Mulan is really a journey of self-love and so Mulan being able to like find herself by shedding her femininity and shedding like the expectations of being a woman and joining the army really out of the concern to please and honor her family, it was so resonant to me and I think that that’s actually sort of how I actually felt in a lot of my situations growing up and what I saw as [00:03:00] love growing up.
I really felt I had to shed a lot of things about me in order to get the love and approval, approval being the synonym to love in my family. I think my situation with my family is very, it’s a challenge to give you a little bit of background. My mom and my biological father had a very different type of lifestyle and relationship of love and caring for each other that I never had the privilege to see in person.
I’ve only been able to see it through pictures because my dad, Passed away suddenly due to a car accident when my mom was pregnant with me. And so early ideas of love for me, I think were a lot of the co-dependencies I had on my mother when I was really young, cuz I was sort of born into a lot of stress and anxiety.
And then after my mom remarried, my stepfather, they started having a lot of children together. And at that point, you know, I was like five or six years old and my mom was [00:04:00] just having a brother and I was having my sister and having my other brother and having my other sister. And I ended up being the oldest of six kids in less than 10 years, which was a lot.
And so I think a big part of that, like shedding a lot of who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do in my life in order to just fall in line, in order to blend in, in order to survive was really something I saw in my day-to-day life because my mom and my stepfather. Don’t have the same type of relationship that I think my mom and my father did and their relationship’s.
Not always the healthiest example of love. It’s more of an example of patriarchy and expectations on the woman to sort of do everything domestic. And I didn’t find that being a version of love that I wanted to take on for myself. And because of having so many siblings growing up, I really had to just like step up and take responsibility and basically put on the armor and join the army sort of in a way.
So I think that area of [00:05:00] sort of neglect that I felt, because I just knew my mom was so overwhelmed with having so many children. My stepfather was always away working, and I really sort of had to realize that the love that I saw and the love that I saw growing up is not the quote unquote love that I think is healthy or is not a love that I think I found for myself until later in life that I think is now a healthier love.
So, Yeah. And then that journey of self-love from Milan coming back and being like, I’m just gonna be who I wanna be and who I am is enough. And her family loved her anyway. And that’s a really nice end to that story. I came back to my family and they were like, yeah, we don’t love you for who you think you wanna be.
We love you conditionally, but not unconditionally, which is really interesting coming from a very conservative background. So, yeah.
Maris Lidaka: So I guess, tell me more about that moment where you find out that you tell your parents like, yeah, I’m gonna be whoever I want to be. And then you find out like, oh, there’s conditions to.
Your approval and love for me?
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh [00:06:00] yeah. It happened so many times. The first moment was in high school when I told my parents that I wanted to just pursue dance and creativity and not maybe go to college right away after high school. It turned into this whole ordeal where they actually took me out of dance, wouldn’t allow me to go to dance class, wouldn’t allow me to train and dance until I had applied to college, cuz they said they were saving.
They were saving me and my future basically is what they claimed. And then even after I went to college and while I was in college, I was dancing professionally. My second year of college, I actually left school for nine months to dance on Disney cruise line. And I told them this is who I wanna be and this is what I wanna do.
And I was actually going to Disney Cruise line to portray Mulan, which is so good. There’s full circle for you. And not just like the female, like feminine Mulan. It was very much like the masculine Mulan who’s like saving China as the warrior. Right. And my parents basically like, no, don’t go pursue your dreams.
You [00:07:00] need to stay in college. And I was like, what? They’re like, yeah, if you leave college, you’ll never go back. And this is mainly like my stepfather talking. I think my mom fell in line, quote unquote with my stepfather. Again, kind of speaking back to the dynamic the two of them have. But this is really like the stronger toxic voice I’m speaking to is like my stepfather’s voice.
Being like, you’ll never go back to college. You’re just gonna be caught up in that for the rest of your life. It’s not gonna be a sustainable way to make a living, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, well, f you. I’m gonna go do what I wanna do. Anyway, so that’s one of the moments I realized, again, the love had a condition to it and that it wasn’t just about celebrating me and who I wanted to be and what I could do in my life.
And then the more recent one is, and this one actually does involve both my mom and my stepfather. Was when I told them, you know, I’m dating people that don’t just identify as male. I’m also dating people who identify as female or who are women appearing. And that was like a [00:08:00] stop everything we need to like cast the demons out of you.
That was definitely like a, we love you, but we hate your sin, or you’re hurting me by doing this. Like making it about them. And I’m just like, well, how am I hurting? Like it’s just who I’m choosing to express love to. And it’s like so interesting that you would try and use like a guilt mechanism of how I’m hurting you through my own actions when my actions have no effect on you in a true way.
Like I’m not hurting you emotionally or physically choosing to be hurt by this choice I’m making instead of again, celebrating who I am and like seeing who I wanna be and how I wanna live my life. Yeah, so those are the couple of larger milestones I can speak to. There’s definitely more, but I think those are sort of like the most poignant ones I can, I can mention in this podcast for just brevity.
But yeah, a lot of conditions. I think the suppression of sexuality in general, and the My friend said it really well, the Abrahamic [00:09:00] religions, it leads to a lot of the imbalances of feminine and masculine energy in our day-to-day lives in many different ways. Right. So interesting. I think the biggest thing I find, you know, the dynamic between this idea of a witch and this idea of like the Virgin Mary’s really sexuality, right?
It’s like, but you have to realize that when men and women and anyone in between are fully realized in their own sexual empowerment, whatever that looks like for everybody. That’s when someone is also fully realizing their own personal empowerment. Cuz sexuality I think is like a, sometimes can be a very direct mirror to our personal ideology of love and our own personal boundaries and who we are and what we wanna be and how we interact intimately with other people.
And so just even the ideology around like sexual empowerment for me, I feel like a lot of the suppression that is around my family has a lot to do with sexuality and has a lot to do with love. It has a lot to do with like the full empowerment of me being in my own being [00:10:00] cuz they’ll applaud me 24 7 when it comes to winning Emmys and webby and being successful and doing things that they prescribe to.
But the minute it’s on the fringe, quote unquote fringe, and it usually has to do with sexuality and belief system and socialism, it’s like, fuck it. You are like, you are a witch now. You know? You are like someone we literally have to cast demons out of. I have had my stepfather try to like speak tongues over me.
It’s. Absolutely ridiculous.
Maris Lidaka: I can relate to that a lot. My, so it always comes back to religion. Well first of all, it was interesting growing. I guess I’ll give a little bit of background just cuz growing up my dad was pretty much like an atheist and my mom, I don’t even know what she was, but all of a sudden we just started like going to I think like Catholic church and then we started going to my grandmother’s church.
It was like a born again Christian. And then we stopped going to church cuz my dad was like, this is insane and I want my Sundays back. And then we became like Buddhist for a little [00:11:00] while and then we became Jewish. And then when my parents got divorced, my mom went straight into like kind of Mikayla what your parents are like hardcore evangelical, take the Bible extremely literally.
Yeah. Now she’s like on some old other like Hebrew nationalist thing that I don’t even understand. But for a long time it was like, you have to, and like I’m in college and she’s like, you have to like live this certain way and you know, do these certain things. Like she gave my my sister a promise ring if you know what that is.
Oh yeah. And my sister was like, take this back. I don’t want it.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Well, and I think that’s a lot of people seeking community, right? And they find this idea of community in the church cuz the church sort of has. It sort of lays the perfect sort of structure, ideology, the perfect exclusive inclusivity that everyone always wants to feel and enjoy.
And it’s like, it’s a century long [00:12:00] as I like to say, uh, propaganda hoax.
Maris Lidaka: Oh yeah, for sure. And how do you think, I guess, sort of like media and popular culture plays into keeping kind of the standards that we have in place?
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh, I mean, if anything, sometimes they help reinforce it, you know, just look at the way, I mean, this is gonna sound really basic as a nineties kid, but look at the way the media ravaged.
Like someone like Britney Spears who like, just completely owned, like who she wanted to be and how she wanted to present herself. And like, you see this like, The way the media just completely, and a lot of amazing women who have come through this industry of entertainment that have just been completely ravaged by the media as like in, in a very sexist way.
I think even just portraying toxic masculinity, like there’s actually a lot of problematic things and a lot of those mainstream films that were made between, you know, the early eighties and the late nineties, even the early two [00:13:00] thousands. But I do think that there’s a glimpse of light and hope. I mean, I think, you know, there’s a lot of really incredible more diverse writers in the writers room.
Even just the writers of sexuality in general for non heterosexuality in the mainstream media. I mean, I remember when looking at a People magazine or one of those tabloid covers of two women making out was seen as like so, so bad and so scandalous and, and now we have like really celebrated entity icons coming out as.
You know, non hetero, and I think there’s like definitely a shift happening. My worry is just that that shift stalls out and gets suppressed at some point in time again, versus continuing to grow and flourish and deepening and actually changing the systemic issues instead of just being a bandaid to like soothe all the loud, angry voices around the systemic issues.
I think where we’re leaning towards in a society, but I would like to see more, a more drastic angle, is really before we start to think about who you’re [00:14:00] going to love and how you’re gonna love them. And before we even start to think about like, oh, I think I like that person is actually teaching people how to be their own human beings.
You know, I think. The biggest work I’ve done on myself when it comes to love is truly learning how to love myself and not just in a cliche way, which I know I’m sure people have said before, but actually sitting with myself and saying like, is that my voice or is that the voice of my stepfather? Is that my voice?
Or is that the voice of my mother? Is that my voice? Or is that the voice of like the teacher I had 12 years ago? Right? Like really sitting down and being like, where’s Mikayla’s voice? Where’s Mikayla in all of this? And being able to do that and also being able to give myself a toolkit. Okay, Mikayla, how do you process?
Emotions cuz emotions are just signals. I don’t think we have a very good way of helping children, young adults. Adults nowadays process and understand what their emotions are signaling to them. Because we’re not educating people about that. We’re not educating people about mental health. We’re not [00:15:00] educating people about tools that they can use.
So like journaling and breath work and not just exercise. Cuz I find everyone’s like, oh my God, just like go run. It’ll be great. I’m like, I’ve been using exercise as an outlet my whole life to survive. So sometimes exercise is actually like worse for me than just sitting down and breathing because exercise is still a form of distraction sometimes for me because I’ve used exercise as a distraction mechanism when I was in my most.
Anxious insecure states, but knowing that about myself, having the ability to have those conversations with somebody in a safe way, that I can start to unpack those types of things. And like for some people that’s therapy. For some people that’s spiritualism. But I don’t think our day-to-day mainstream society or mainstream media is giving us that type of messaging around you can’t love somebody.
And I don’t even like the word love, to be honest. Like I actually try and avoid using it in my day-to-day world. Like you can’t truly be authentic with [00:16:00] somebody else. In a healthy, non-toxic, non codependent, non enmeshed way until you know who you are fully grounded and how you can communicate who you are as a fully grounded person, how you can establish your boundaries of who you are as a fully grounded person.
And then watching how that person responds to your boundaries, watching how that person responds to who you are, watching how that person responds to you, and recognizing if that person in it themselves is also grounded. Also can make their own boundaries, can also follow through with the boundaries they make.
And that’s things like, I just don’t think we’re taught how to read and write and arithmetic, and we’re taught about how to get into college and we’re taught about how to. Start finding certain things for ourselves, but we’re not guided to be curious about our own inner selves. And I think that’s sort of for me, where as a society we can lean in more to.
So we have a bunch of healthier people running around, getting into relationships, choosing to have children, choosing to do. Certain [00:17:00] things with other people and not just living under the guise of this is what’s expected of me because this is what I’ve been told my whole life. And this is my last point, cause I know I’ve been speaking for a while, but like if my mom and my stepfather probably had it their way, I would be married with at least a child at this point as a 26 year old.
And ideally that marriage would’ve been through the church to some Christian Guy, you know? And that’s just like, not at all who I would want for myself or what I would want for myself. And thank God I was like, had the capability, the ability to have certain people in my life to help guide me away from that path.
That my parents were really pushing me down, I think. And in hindsight, I’m so glad that I sort of avoided that type of fantasy that was sort of projected onto me. So yeah,
Maris Lidaka: definitely not black.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: We’d know that God, I just, it just really troubles me. Like it actually makes me uncomfortable even to like share that story sometimes cuz it’s just so overtly like terrible.
It’s not [00:18:00] just like, oh, male being with a female, like, and it’s not just black or non-black. It’s like I have a friend who is mixed race and she’s dating someone who is Indian or she’s engaged now to someone who’s Indian and she has a lot of hardships with his family because to his family, the only woman that could ever be good enough for their son is an an Indian woman, not a woman who’s mixed race.
You know, and it’s just like, oh, you didn’t even think that. Like, you know, it could work always to men and men and daughter’s families, women and son’s, families. You know, it just, it’s all kinds and it’s in all cultures. It’s not just in the American diaspora.
Maris Lidaka: I think for the, until I was born, my mom was not allowed in my dad’s mom’s house because they were convinced that because she was black, she would like steal things from them.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Wow.
Maris Lidaka: And I think the first day that she actually set foot inside and it was really only my grandmother, like my grandfather was like my grandfather actually. I mean he died when I was really little. But [00:19:00] from what they like told me about him, he was like pretty chill. And he was like, what are you doing?
Just let ’em in the house. They’re obviously like gonna get married and have a kid just let ’em in the house. And, and until, and the day that I was born, I think my grandfather fought. I was like, okay, this is ridiculous. Just go see your grandson, let them come in
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Wow. Yeah. Holy moly. I mean, what’s so interesting is like, You learn so much about people by the way they interact and react to you and your choices that you make in your life.
Right. And the things that I learned about my family when I told them I was decided to be queer, I don’t really, I don’t really identify as bisexual. I think it’s a very, it’s like feels too harsh of a terminology to me. But when I decided to identify as queer and really like kind of be very open sexually to any gender, it was just so interesting the people I pegged as reacting in a certain way versus the people I pegged reacting another way and just.
Sort of getting thrown off on some of the bets I made in my life and thoughts around that I made around that. [00:20:00] Definitely couldn’t go to Vegas with those bets. I would’ve been outta a lot of money.
And there’s something else that you, I guess speaking to that media building healthier, I guess, relationships with not only other people, but also ourselves.
There is kind of this thing that we still see in like a lot of love stories. It’s the person whose life is a mess and then they meet somebody else and then everything is okay, or it’s like everything was okay and then they separated and then everything else like fell apart. There’s never like a healthy like, I guess, examination.
Of what a relationship actually is or should
be, or even like what a relationship with yourself is, right? Like so often the person that’s dying alone is the person that’s not the, like, is the person that we all either like feel sorry for, we think, you know, oh, like that’s always like the sidekick character, but the girl that has the guy interested or the guy that has the girl interested, like that’s the hero, you know?
And just being like, excellent. Maybe not.
Maris Lidaka: Maybe they just got sick of putting up with that person’s [00:21:00] shit and said, screw
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah. Or making films that are so much less about people finding each other romantically and so much more about people actually like supporting and respecting each other and then other people just like supporting and respecting themselves.
You know, I don’t really even see the live action Mulan as the new Mulan. I see the live action Mulan as, as like a nice, a nice try. I thought there were some great moments in that film that I was like, oh, I’m really interested in how they’re doing the story. And I thought they made, for the most part, remain pretty true to the overall concept.
But there was some slight things in there like making devotion to family. One of the virtues that I was like, mm-hmm. Yeah, okay, well I see that and I don’t really enjoy that. Cause that actually takes away a lot of her agency as a person. But it was a good try. I think that they had really leaned into the magical world of having chi and like, you know, I think my [00:22:00] biggest issue with that film is the locations are all over the gosh darn place.
I’m like, how did they get there after being there? I don’t know. But if they had really leaned into this idea of there being almost like a magical realm of chi, people who have really clear access to their chi and those magical realms have like magical creatures like dragons and phoenixes and hawks. I would’ve been.
All for that, but I just don’t think they, like were able to lean into like a really strong concept and theme. I think they just sort of, were grabbing at a lot of different straws, which tends to happen when you have a lot of creative voices in the room. Why
is representation and seeing yourself represented in media and popular culture so important?
Yeah, so I love, I love this question. So when we think of ourselves, In our day-to-day lives, we create little avatars of ourselves. You know, think about when you’re trying to make a decision, you play out a scenario in your head. We’re constantly telling ourselves stories, right? Okay, Mikayla nine year old Mikayla, if you choose to eat [00:23:00] dessert before you eat dinner, and mom finds out, you could potentially get grounded for the week, but you can have the dessert tonight.
And then you tell yourself, oh, but Michaela, if you eat the dinner, then you eat your dessert, you can eat your dessert, you can wait and you won’t get grounded, right? You’re creating these scenarios of your decision making in your head, and you’re playing out the scenarios. You’re playing out a narrative.
You’re playing out a film of who you are. Especially when I work in like immersive, interactive storytelling, we’re constantly thinking about how are we casting the audience? And to me it feels like a really natural thing to do because we’re constantly casting ourselves in our own stories. We’re constantly casting ourselves as the hero and we’re constantly seeing ourselves trying to make decisions as the hero, right?
Like, oh, do I ditch the soccer game and go hang out with my friends? Or do I go to the soccer game and like see my friends next week? And those are like real life storytelling. We’re telling ourselves to make decisions. So I think when we have the externalized version of those [00:24:00] stories, a k, a media, and we see people that look like us or have the same scenarios as us.
It is a such a viscerally powerful moment we have because we are literally seeing things that we potentially think only we go through as human beings, inside of our own brains become an external avatar for us to be able to actually see a unfold, and we don’t have to suffer those consequences. We don’t have to be the ones that are sitting there skydiving out of the airplane, but because the person looks like us or because that person has the same name as us, we can empathetically put ourselves in that situation and be able to play that scenario of that role in our head.
So if I don’t see an Asian woman jumping out of an airplane, I constantly see like men who are white jumping out of airplanes. It’s a lot harder for me to put myself in those people’s shoes. But if it’s right there for me to capture and grab visually, Audibly then, like I could be five minutes [00:25:00] later daydreaming about myself jumping out of this airplane in a way that might not have been accessible to me if it had just been someone who doesn’t look like me, doesn’t sound like me, doesn’t have the similar background as me.
Still possible for me to jump into those shoes, but not in the way that it would just be so easy and accessible. So I think that’s why diversity and inclusion and seeing those types of stories and seeing those types of people on the screen doing human things is so important because when you see yourself casted only as the nerd, or only as the villain, or only as the ninja, or only as the sexy Asian goddess, you start to absorb those narratives about yourself in your day-to-day life because you think that’s how the rest of the world can see you.
Versus being able to see other forms of those narratives. You know, 12 year old high school kid struggling to get through wife, Asian woman. Oh wow, that’s me. You know? So yeah, that’s like for me, what, why I think it’s so powerful cuz we already have that avatar making mechanism. Media just makes that avatar more [00:26:00] visceral, more accessible.
And in a way it helps us tell the stories we tell ourselves easier for us to access.
Maris Lidaka: I think ninja and sexy Asian goddess were like the only roles for Asians in the eighties. I feel like that’s all that I, I saw in the eighties was like, oh, it’s the Asian guy. There’s gotta be a ninja star coming out sometime soon.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: I joined gymnastics because I felt like I needed to be able to do back flips to impress my friends, you know?
Maris Lidaka: And I wanna build off of your, that is a great answer by the way, and I want to love off and ask you like how better representation, especially with not only interracial and intersexual relationships.
Is important, but how and how that can like sort of like just change the way that we see relationships using your avatar example.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah, I mean it’s exactly sort of what I was getting at is like not only are the stories we tell ourselves so powerful, but the stories that people see about us are also [00:27:00] stories they absorb.
Right. So, There was an assumption for me that when I saw the cute white kid at school, that he was probably the player and he was the one that I should have a crush on, right? And that vice versa. When people saw me as the only Asian girl in school, they just assumed like, oh, you need to be a ninja. You need to do back flips.
You need to be good at math. Right? Those stereotypes, which stereotypes in of themselves are like a form of storytelling that gets told over and over again to the point where we believe they’re always true no matter what. And media helps us believe those stereotypes more and more than other outputs in our life, right?
Like if people actually didn’t just see Asians being good at math and Asians being ninjas, and they just. Came into a school environment and actually talked to Asians and got to know Asians or an Asian-American at their school, they could be like, well, I have a friend who’s not good at math, or I have a friend who’s not a ninja.
And instead of using what the media has told them, is the truth about those Asian type of looking people, right? So [00:28:00] it’s not only the narratives we tell ourselves, but it’s also the narratives that people start to assume about us because of what they’ve learned from media in a constant, rigorous cycle of information that keeps getting spit out to them or casted to them to use an entertainment term.
So I think having roles that break those stereotypes in mainstream media will also help break the rigorous cycle of belief system that people just assume is what is in the world, but they don’t realize is maybe what they’ve just learned from watching media or consuming media. That isn’t diverse or isn’t inclusive or isn’t accessible,
Maris Lidaka: There’s still kind of an attitude of, well, if you don’t like it, then maybe you should go out and make your own media that better reflects what you want.
But at the same time, that’s not really possible when you’re making stories like that because we don’t, I guess, have the access or have the ability just to like go out and where there’s not a lot of Hawaiian [00:29:00] Disney’s running around or there’s not a lot of Disney’s that will, well now they’re making more films about China, but just there’s not a lot of large companies that make other stories.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: And that’s kind of the uphill battle that we’re fighting. Yeah, because those larger companies don’t feel like they have to prioritize those types of stories. And that’s, to me, the systemic issue of. What we value and what we value in a capitalist society is money and profit. So everyone’s just chasing profit, which I’m like, all right, if everyone’s just gonna chase profit, am I really making a difference?
Just telling people this is the type of content they’re creating, they need to be creating. Or can I make an impact by starting to become a voice in the room, not just an outsider voice? Right. So, How can I help steer the line of finances? This is why like it’s really important to me to be a part of boards of Directors.
This is why it’s really important for me to sit on grants. This is why it’s really important to me to get involved with like grassroots organizations that I [00:30:00] identify with and help them strategize and figure out ways to make them financially stable or financially sustainable so that they can. Not have to worry about just making it a survival mechanism that they’re doing this passion thing, but actually being able to say like, okay, I can like pay my rent and do my bills and blah, blah, blah.
And then I have this passion thing. And that’s also why I think it’s really important too for me, that when I’m in a place of power, when I’m in a place that I kind of determine where the money goes. I take that extra step to make sure the money is going to where I think it should be going ethically and authentically to what is happening within my project or what with what is happening within the client’s project.
But yeah, no, I totally agree. Like how much do you boycott x. Film because it doesn’t have any people of color to really get someone’s attention. Right. And like that’s a reality, you know? Versus being like, okay, well how can we be really sustainable? Cuz there can only be so many Ava Verna’s in the world.
And even that in of itself is like a tokenization of race, right? [00:31:00] Like, oh, but Ava Verna, she’s so successful as like a black filmmaker. It’s like, well, she shouldn’t have to fight her way to be a successful black filmmaker. She shouldn’t be a success story. She’d just be one of the many great stories out there, right?
Like very similar to like a Frederick Douglass or like Chloe. But I hope like Chloe and other Asian female directors out there are just gonna constantly get funded just like Chloe got funded. Like, you know, it’s sort of like that double-edged sword. Anyway, I digress and I start to get on my, I start to get on my soapbox.
Maris Lidaka: Yeah, I have a soapbox. Well, the one soapbox that I have is a lot of times, I mean, you’ve seen it where it’s like there’s. Director usually seen as white dude, whereas everybody else is like woman director, black director, Asian director. It’s like, no, no, no. We do the same job. Like there’s not a stop with the extra qualifier.
We’re doing the same job. We do the same thing. Give us the same amount of, I guess, respect.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah. But unfortunately, because it’s so rampant, It’s like you almost need those qualifiers to be able to help give people the realization that [00:32:00] people who are black are people that are women can all be directors.
You almost need the qualifier in there for now, so that one day we don’t use that qualifier. And that’s why I’m more involved in emerging technology than traditional media because I just did not like the type of. Bigotry and walls I saw in traditional media and I was like, well, I would rather be able to make an impact as a young Asian American woman in an industry that maybe I can really help move forward and not just constantly break down barriers.
Maris Lidaka: Yeah. I guess tell us that story of how you got into, I know you kind of transitioned to. Documentary and then eventually into AR slash XR. So just tell us about that.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Sure. I mean, it, it all goes back to my love for dance. It’s so interesting cuz I think all the things my parents were like, dance is never gonna make you successful.
I’m like, I have, I owe everything to dance. I think. So I left school for nine months and worked on Disney Cruise Line and that to me was like my experiential study abroad. And that’s where I really realized that people [00:33:00] engaged with storytelling that was immersive and interactive in a way that they don’t engage with storytelling that’s more passive.
Because I was literally sailing on a Disney palace and I came back to school and I was studying journalism and I was studying digital media and I realized this isn’t going to be the way that we consume content forever. Like, There still will be a need for passive content. And I think it’s still beautiful form of, and it’s a beautiful medium, but I’m more interested in the type of content that gets people active, that gets people thinking, that gets people engaged, not just because, oh, that was a really great article and now let me walk away, but actually gets them thinking like, oh, that was a really great experience.
How do I change my behavior because of this experience, right? Like people change their behavior all the time after they go to Disneyland. Suddenly, you know, the kid that never liked Star Wars rode, you know, the smugglers run. And now that kid is like obsessed with Star Wars, like being immersed into an interactive environment changes people’s behavior.
And I wanted to see that happen in journalism. I didn’t want it to [00:34:00] just be this apathetic, non-biased sort of industry that I saw when I was in school. And so I started marrying all of my passions together where I was like, all right, how can I do like, Performance art and immersive interactive storytelling and journalism.
And that’s really where I fell upon virtual reality. And instead of just saying like, oh, well I’m just gonna do a virtual reality documentary, I was like, I wanna do a virtual reality film documentary about homelessness in Orange County, but I just don’t wanna film homeless people. I also wanna film a dance experience that unfolds in between this documentary of dancers portraying some of these characters that I have met through journalism.
Right? So making a performance part of the journalism and then making a journalism part of the journalism. And that caught the eye of someone at USC who caught the eye of someone at Time Magazine. And that’s basically how I was able to, just very similar to the cruise ship where I just up and left school.
I just up and left LA. Left being a production assistant in la. I left being a [00:35:00] dancer at Disney and I started working at Time Magazine and had an incredible experience there in 2016, if you can imagine, cuz that was the year someone got elected and was able to cover some incredible events and protests and series and did all of that with VR filmmaking.
And then worked on room scale vr, which is more of the game engine based vr. We did like remembering Pearl Harbor, which took you back in time. We did a hologram with Buzz Aldrin, which took you into the future when we could travel to Mars. And I realized, you know, I was working on these really cool projects, but these projects aren’t about people that look like me or have my same background.
And that’s really where I was like, okay, cool. I wanna take what I’ve learned here at time and I wanna apply it to, what I didn’t realize was people of color and women and L G B T Q I A communities. And that’s where I’ve been ever since. So a lot of the work I do is based in social impact. It’s based in documentary, it’s based in nonfiction, it’s based in awareness, based in education, and it’s [00:36:00] always has some sort of immersive or interactive element to it, whether that’s virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, holographic capture, or even like a social media campaign that has a really interesting sort of twist to it.
So yeah, that’s who I am. That’s what I do. That’s how I got into it.
Maris Lidaka: I can’t believe you left the lucrative careers or production assistant in Los Angeles.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: I know. Who am I
Maris Lidaka: Could had a future of getting coffee and then worked your way up to production. Coordinating.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah. Yeah. Shit was so soul sucking. I.
Thank God I live in New York now.
Maris Lidaka: Before I transitioned back into Post I was a production manager, and that was the last time I was like, I hate life. This is like being a wedding planner for reality tv. This is terrible.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh yeah. Especially reality tv. I mean, and look, again, like the type of toxicity and frustration that I felt in the traditional media [00:37:00] world of traditional journalism and traditional filmmaking, those are the things I needed to see so that I can make sure that I don’t perpetuate that type of behavior where I work now in immersive and interactive media technology and also so I can call out that type of behavior now when I’m in immersive and interactive media technology because my hope and my dream is that we are able to avoid a lot of the.
Grievances that some of these older industries didn’t know any better or didn’t have better ways of helping themselves see their own blind spots.
Maris Lidaka: Where do you see, I guess, immersive and interactive towards the future? Like I remember, I think it was like three years ago, like a lot of people were starting to jump on, especially the VR train, and then it kinda like dropped off a little bit and I feel like it’s kind of coming back a little bit.
So I’m just curious where you see that heading.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: That’s a great question. So I personally subscribe to this idea of the digital reality. Some other people call it the metaverse, some other people call it other things. But I [00:38:00] really think we really live in a physical reality, right? Like when we’re born, we have to grow up from being little toddlers playing.
At on our parents’ floor, gumming different toys to becoming little baby preschoolers, to learning how to share and sing songs. And now suddenly we’re junior hires and we have our own lockers, and then suddenly we’re in high school and we’re driving a car and then we’re in college and we have debt. Like, you know, we’ve had to really grow up in this physical reality and people have been, quote unquote, growing up in the physical reality for a very long time.
Our physical reality has also gone through major shifts and changes. We’ve gone through an agricultural revolution, we’ve gone through an industrial revolution. We’re now going through like a technological revolution. And there’s been war and there’s been crime, and there’s been governments and there’s been religions that have come and gone through physical reality.
And so what I sort of see and what I sort of try and understand about the digital reality is that it’s very similar. You know, the fact that [00:39:00] we have all. Emails, and we have social media handles, and we have computers, and we have, oh, all the things we have in the digital reality. YouTube, we have Twitch, we have Fortnite.
You know, there’s so many things that exist in this new reality that has been a part of our lives for a fairly long amount of time, long before virtual or augmented reality. You know, the digital reality has really exist, has really existed since the birth of film. And I think that where we are now, especially with the birth of the web, is that in the future, just like how we right now or just like how I was like 22 years ago, like rolling around my parents’ floor gumming at little toys, not understanding there was gonna be such a bigger world for me in the future that I had no idea I could even process.
That’s sort of how I see where we all are at in the digital reality right now. We’re like, we kind of are gumming around like our parents’ toys. We’re like, ah, does this work? Does this not, I don’t know, like who do I wanna be? What’s going on? Like [00:40:00] we’re very much in like an infantile phase of the digital reality.
And I think that the, just like in the physical reality, the digital reality is gonna go through its own revolutions, it’s gonna go through its own governments, it’s already going through its own currency. Economics with crypto right now, it’s gonna go through its own sort of changes and transformations.
I think one of those utilities, one of those tools to access the digital reality as it expands and grows is going to be virtual reality headsets. It’s gonna be augmented reality overlays on top of the physical reality. It’s going to be smartphones, it’s going to be devices, it’s going to be traditional film.
Those are really just portals. And then one big moment I think that’s gonna happen is when the web experience we have today, which is very 2d, becomes spatialized when it becomes more of a 3d 4d environmental experience. So for example, instead of surfing the web as an idea, what if you could like literally surf the web where you’re like on a surfboard and the web links are just coming at you and you’re riding the [00:41:00] wave, and you’re diving and you’re that 4D sort of environment, that specialized version of the web instead of just.
Going to someone’s Facebook profile. Maybe you’re visiting someone’s Facebook home instead of seeing their family tree as a list of people, you actually see it as a physical tree growing in their backyard. Instead of seeing their photo galleries as a just a photo gallery on your screen, you’re actually seeing their photo gallery as 3D model photos inside of their Facebook living room.
Right? Like that to me is sort of that next step, that big next processee that we have yet to see in the digital reality world. So, but we’re just gumming around in Instagram teething a little bit. We’re fussy, we’re upset, we’re figuring it out.
Maris Lidaka: Tell me about compassionate storytelling.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh, one of my favorite topics, so basically for me, what I’ve seen is that in journalism, there’s a storytelling idea of being like non-human.
And just like, we’re gonna just produce this piece of whatever. I also think stories are [00:42:00] magical, right? And I think for so long the anthropology of journalism has been very problematic. You know, you’ve got these privileged communities coming into the exotic communities and stealing resources, and some of those resources are stories.
And then publishing those stories for their own privileged communities to consume for their own pleasure and their own education and their own learning. And I’m like, I don’t think that’s not a sustainable economy. That’s an exploitation. And to me, stories are an economy. So I really think about how stories can give back to the community in some energetic way, shape, or form if those stories are being shared with the larger public.
And one part of that is compassionate storytelling, or this form of compassionate storytelling where you’re really, especially in the world of immersive and interactivity, where you’re not just like taking some photos or some videos, you’re really like, Seeing the essence and the data sometimes of that person and their movements, or you’re capturing them in a full 360 sphere.
Like there’s no hiding from the deep collaboration that goes into this [00:43:00] type of technology right now. And so to have compassion for the community you’re working with or the person you’re working with and telling their story, not just like in a compassionate, like, oh, you know, I really empathize with you way, but actually compassionate to be like, this is a human and if this human was my aunt, how would I want this person to be treated?
Or if this person was my uncle, would I just want their story to be on dis display. Display for everybody, or would I want this person to have some sort of recognition as a director or would I wanna be able to give this person the ability to go to the film festival to be alongside me? Cuz it’s not about me as the creative, it’s about them and their story, right?
And so having this compassion for the people we’re working alongside of to tell their story, but also having compassion for the people we hire. You know, I think, again, going back to it was so good for me to see some of the problematic and troubling and toxic qualities of other industries and the non-inclusive or the non-diverse qualities of under industries.
Because compassionate storytelling for me also goes into the type of team [00:44:00] I’m building or the type of team I want to build and the way the team communicates with each other. I’d much rather have a team communicate compassionately and trusting with one another than backhand, passive aggressive. We are power struggle dynamics, right?
And so that compassion, if I can give sort of this blanket of like we are a team who is compassionate for one another, we’re compassionate for the people we’re collaborating with outside of this team. And that last piece of compassion also leans into the audience. And that’s because again, with immersive interactive storytelling, a lot of times these people are giving you their most vulnerable states to put a headset on someone’s face and to put them in front of a screen where they can’t see anything else but the thing you’re putting in front of them, that’s a very vulnerable space for you to buy a ticket, to go to Disneyland.
You are putting yourself in a very vulnerable space. You’re saying, okay, Disney, all the input, give it to me. My smell, my hearing, my sight, my physical body. [00:45:00] I’m going to be fully immersed into these big, crazy environments. I’m gonna be fully immersed in these like experiential moments, but it’s very vulnerable.
And so the compassion that we’re having, not only for the community and for the team, is also the compassion we’re having for the audience. Because so often I think the idea around VR was like, oh, it would be so cool to put people in this really amazing, like, Skydiving experience and like you’re doing this really cool story about X, Y, Z, so you should put someone in the shoes of the person literally going through that traumatic event.
And I’m like, actually that’s really traumatic. Putting someone in a virtual reality where their reliving a traumatic event. And I don’t think that’s very compassionate to an audience member, you know? And there’s a time and place for that. I know, but like really thinking about like what would actually compel this audience member to change the behavior, not just shock them the hell out of them in a traumatic way to make them feel guilty or to make them feel a certain way.
That to me is not [00:46:00] going to be the long lasting type of energy that I would wanna carry on from this person’s story that I’m telling. It’s sort of the difference between when you go to Six Flags to when you go to Disney, you know, six Flags. You’re like, you’re just going for the big rollercoasters.
You’re just like, I just want all the adrenaline coursing through my veins. That doesn’t mean you’re gonna feel great at the end of the day. And yes, it’s memorable, but does that change your behavior? Like, are you now suddenly going to like buy a ton of Bugs Bunny Loony Tunes merchandise because you suddenly felt so incredibly energized by all the crazy rollercoasters you rode at Six Flags?
No, but go to Disney and potentially that warm fuzzy feeling you got from hugging Mickey Mouse. And then the fact that you wrote space now and then the fact that that cast member was so nice and gave you your extra fast passes after you lost them the other day, that might make you a Mickey Mouse fanatic.
And that might make you like buy Mickey Mouse things for the rest of your life. Right. Two very different sort of experiences. And like I think that [00:47:00] form of compassion that we can show our audience to say what is more important for the audience to experience, not just what would be cool and flashy for me to show the audience.
So that to me is all those sort sort of formats of compassionate storytelling. It’s who we’re collaborating with, who’s story are we telling, who are we working with as a team to make this happen? And then who are the people that are consuming it and letting compassion drive us and lead us. Yeah,
Maris Lidaka: there is kind of a, I guess it’s almost like an arrogance with people who are creating stories a little bit, because there isn’t really a lot of compassion for the audience.
I feel like sometimes the audience is either condescended to, or even sometimes is not even thought of when they’re the most, I mean, they’re the reason why, and the body who’s in the creative industry has. Any type of like sustainable career. It is the audience that is really who matters. Not that we’re their servants, but I feel as though there needs to be more of a collaborative relationship with [00:48:00] audiences.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: I think so. I think so often when the creator loses their audience, that’s when people are like, I didn’t get it. Or, you know, that one didn’t really resonate with me. You know, I think so often in film, it’s like when the creator realizes they have a smart audience and they give the audience a movie that they have to figure out and not just a movie, they’re spoonfeeding to people.
That to me is always like a clear difference of like, oh, someone actually really thought about this audience. Someone actually did the research into this culture. Someone actually had a writer in the room that was queer. Wow. Someone actually had a writer in the room that was a refugee. Like you can feel it in the product.
And I think, yeah, just like you said, when we lose sight of who our audience is, You basically sometimes can lose sight of like the purpose even behind the creation. And that’s when you get into the world of narcissism and ego. And it’s really, I think for me, taking that out of the creative process and trying to bring in the more softness to the creation process.
Maris Lidaka: My [00:49:00] personal soapbox when it comes especially to the creation of like film is, I wish it was more like, I wish it was viewed more like a great piece of architecture where kind of we look at, when we look at a film, we think of like the director and their just pretty much the focal point of what their creation is.
Whereas if you look at a piece of architecture, we realize that somebody imagined that building. But we also sort of recognize sort of the labor and craftsmanship of all the different people that had to work to bring that particular piece of architecture to life. And I feel like we forget that when it comes to film.
You know, we think about the director and sometimes the writer, but the writer still are kind of the stepchildren. But we don’t, we forget that like, no, to make anything that appears on your screen takes at least 10 to 20 and often sometimes a hundred people all working together with individual skills that otherwise.
The thing you’re watching doesn’t happen.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: No, I totally agree. And I think that part of sort of the, what do they call it? The sweat equity, that’s like a new term I’ve been hearing a lot. People don’t realize [00:50:00] that like the dedication and the hard work that it takes to creating a piece of film and the types of people behind that and the amount of people behind that.
You know, I think so often it’s just given to them as this, like you said, this finished piece that they can just like, Oh, but why do I have to wait another two years for it? And I think that goes into educating your audience, right? It’s good to educate your audience into like what it takes to do something.
And that’s, I think another part of somewhat of the ego narcissistic, just make it look easy, right? Just make it look like there was no work. Put behind it. Yes. But also educate your audience on the work that’s put behind it so they’ll learn how to value it more. Cause if they don’t learn how to value it, then you’re kind of effed on the capitalist scale because you’re not gonna see people financially invest into these things anymore.
A k a movie theaters a k a films, you know? So yeah, I’m right there with you.
Maris Lidaka: That was kind of one of the great things about DVDs and Blu-rays is all those extras. I feel like people would watch and go like, that’s what it took to make that, [00:51:00]
oh my god,
People are amazing.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah, I love a good B T S.
I love a good making of featurette. You know, I think it’s such an important part of like helping people become more aware. There’s one point I would like to make about just like suppressing your dark side or like suppressing negativity. Cause I think so often people think that negativity inside of themselves is something they need to suppress and just move through, like kind of toxic positivity.
And I think like it’s actually about learning how to accept that negativity or that poison and really turning that into like your antidote and like owning that and making that your power just as much as it is your crocs, like very, very, uh, achilles heel, superman kryptonite sort of vibe.
Maris Lidaka: And how do you think media can do a better job of, of getting people to learn that skill?
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah, I think it’s really about helping people not see things so black and white. And I think media is slowly doing it, but so often it’s like, oh, that’s the hero. Oh, that’s the villain. And [00:52:00] instead of really thinking like, oh, that’s a human and that’s a human going through a human experience, right? Oh, that’s a human struggling right now.
Oh, that’s a human that needs help. Oh, that’s a human that is very much lost their way. But I think that goes into the nuances of storytelling and just getting different sort of perspectives in the room to showcase different gray areas around topics that we don’t even understand have gray areas sometimes, you know, and I’m not talking about murder, but I’m just talking about like personal struggle, right?
Like mental illness, and I’m talking about, I. This overt like toxic positivity and really thinking about, well, how can we showcase a fully well-rounded character, not just a character archetype that’s cute and bubbly and happy and gets the guy and like, you know, very much like the white supremacist ideals that we’ve seen a lot in our day-to-day media.
Not as much now, but very much more so earlier when I was growing up. So yeah,
Maris Lidaka: It does kind of [00:53:00] color how we look at things like I, I’m just looking at how people are looking at things like say critical race theory and just like history in general. This is also one of my pet peeves is the way that America understands history.
It’s very much like, okay, who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? Like I need to know during this historical event, like who was good, who was bad, where it’s like, no, it’s a little bit more complicated than that cuz it’s a bunch of humans experiencing an event as opposed to like, I feel like our understanding of like it’s all about, it always comes back to like World War ii.
Hitler was a bad guy. We were the good guys. And every, I feel like every understanding of any historical event comes back to that. Like, who’s the bad guy? Who’s the good guy? And more often not like how do we, how do we overcome the bad guys usually through violence.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yep. Agreed. And that’s very much like that colonizer sort of mentality as well.
Versus respecting that someone’s different than us. Let’s just go in and make sure we bully them into thinking and doing and being just like us. Right? And there’s a lot of nuances [00:54:00] to the way we retell history, but I definitely agree and really looking at things from like a neutral perspective. It’s very much like a cast, the role of hero and villain in every single story we can because the stories we know are so kiro and villain based, right?
Not everything is the hero’s journey. Yes. Not everything is based on the Abrahamic religions. Yes. Right. The Abrahamic religions are very much like follow God, you’ll be pure, you’ll like live a good healthy life and follow Satan and the darkness and the like witchery and this whatever. And you’re gonna be cast as a demonic being, you know,
Maris Lidaka: Judaism’s a little different though, at least, I mean, Judaism is like, well it would be nicer if you did this.
Like it’s more like based off of like there’s no real punishment cuz there’s no like, I mean they kind of talk about an afterlife, but there’s no like real heaven that they really mention. It’s more so like, well things will be easier if you go along with us. Really, if you don’t, well, [00:55:00] I’m not saying that that things will necessarily happen.
It’s just more likely that they will. It’s also the only religion I feel like where, you know how everybody else is trying to convert everybody. Judaism’s kind of like, eh, if you want to, fine. But otherwise we’re good.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: I feel like Buddhism and Hinduism is similar to that too, right? I don’t know if there’s like full on like needs to convert people.
Just more like, well, as long as you like yourself and as long as you people around you. Right. I have to say, I think some of the more ancient technologies probably had it figured out way better than we did when it came to like dealing with generational trauma and survival mode and all of the. Things that I think we’re all kind of coming out of realizing we deal with and struggle with.
Maris Lidaka: Tell me about how you became involved
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Yeah, Mixed Asian Media! I mean, I just think it’s an extension of like who I want it to be and how I wanna be in the world. Like, I mean, [00:56:00] what’s great is now I have a fairly financially stable creative strategy consulting kind of work that I do. Client tell wise and projects wise. I’m very happy with the type of projects I’m working on.
I’m really happy with the type of people I get to work with those projects on. So that next step of saying like, how can I give back? You know, or how can I help someone else? Or help another entity or another organization. And for me, that organization was Hopa Magazine. I was like, wow, there’s these epic, amazing, incredible, wonderful people doing an online lifestyle magazine about being mixed Asian.
And I’m mixed Asian, so, well, that’s another thing. Am I mixed Asian or am I mixed Pacific Islander? I don’t know because the Philippines is a very gray area. But anyway, so I was like, this is epic. And then they were like, we’re completely volunteer run. And we’re like, we could really use some help. And I’m like, well, I mean I could become a staff member or you know, we could really think about a way that we can expand this vision to be stable [00:57:00] financially or to at least be more impactful.
And a big part of that went into this idea of doing a rebrand and even putting together a big festival so that they could help grow their audience and they could engage their audience. Outside of just being a magazine. And you know, I think putting on an event in of itself is an immersive and interactive experience.
So I’m so excited to be able to consult from mixed Asian media to really think about how can we help your processes? How can we make this more efficient? How can we help value you in the room so that you’re not paying all of this out of pocket, but you actually have sponsors and backers who are paying you to do the work that’s already being valued.
So yeah, that’s sort of how I got involved and that’s where I am with them now. And it’s been a journey and they’re just incredible friends and incredible people and I’m so lucky to get to know them and continue to have a friendship with them because, They’re mixed Asian Pacific Islander like me. So there’s so much about them that I feel like I finally feel seen in a way I’ve never really felt seen [00:58:00] before in a space when I’m with them and hanging out with them as friends or even on a business producer-
Maris Lidaka: Hippos. Tell us about hippos.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh my gosh, what isn’t there to love about hippos? I’ve been obsessed with Hippopotamuses since I was basically born. I don’t have any earlier memories of me not liking Hippopotamuses. My mom used to take me to the San Diego Zoo and I could just watch the Hippopotamuses for hours.
It was like free babysitting for her. And still to this day, like you can draw me off at a zoo with Hippopotamuses and I’m happy as a clam. So they’re my favorite animals and they have a very soft, warm place in my heart. What about you, Maris?
Maris Lidaka: up, my favorite animal was the cheetah. I think I like them cuz I like big cats and they run fast.
Of course, now I got my first dog, so I love dogs, but I have a very soft spot for otters. Like the ones with the white face, cuz they have like little hands and they like swim backwards and they like break open their food. Yeah.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: And they use, they use little rocks to open [00:59:00] their shells to eat the stuff inside the shells.
Maris Lidaka: I feel like we need to do a part two where we just talk about our favorite animals
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: For sure.
Maris Lidaka: And before we leave for today, where can the people find you?
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: Oh, you can find me in the digital reality. Just gumming around my parents’ living room. Teething as a toddler, but what does that mean? You can find me on the Instagram.
My, my, uh, professional quote unquote professional personal handle is Michaela Ternasky Holland. So just my name, my dance Instagram, cuz I still perform and dance and I’m very athletic and very active is Michaela dot moves. You can also find me at my website, which is just michaela ternasky holland.com. I’m also on the Twitters another like toy.
I’m just gumming around with at, I’m michaela th you know, you can also email me. I’m fairly open and very much like always wanting to talk to people and connect with people who have any questions for me or have any thoughts cause I’m always wanting to learn new [01:00:00] people in the world, but also like, learn new points of views and also help and support other people.
So my email is hello michaela holland.com. So, yeah. Thank
Maris Lidaka: That was Michaela Ternasky Holland. Look her up everywhere. Hire her as a consultant. She is very, very good at what she does, and thank
you for joining us.
Michaela Ternasky-Holland: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks again.
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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