Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Forum: Halloween Edition

In celebration of Halloween, we're keeping it light this week and asking you what's your favorite Halloween memory or costume, childhood or recent? And to add to the fun, what's your costume this year? Feel free to share a photo with us!

Have a Happy (and safe) Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Link Love for 10/30

There have been a lot of great pieces around the blogosphere in the past couple of weeks, and we wanted to direct you to a few of them. Enjoy your reading:

Yesterday, hundreds of bloggers participated in Write to Marry Day to support No On Prop 8. Among the collection of posts, Fourth Wave Feminism has a great one about why you should support marriage equality even if you're not a fan of marriage.

The F Word has links to a campaign pushing for equality in the lives of Iranian women that everyone should check out and take part in.'s Stop Genocide blog has an interesting piece about the women in Rwanda and their lives after the genocide.'s Women's Rights blog has a list of women running this year for the Senate and House for you to check out before heading to the polls.

Speaking of voting, Feministing is featuring a piece about who won't be voting on Election Day (answer: women of color).

Bitch Ph.D. has a great post about the intersections of race and gender, and what it means to be a "White Feminist."

What have you been reading/writing? Drop some links in the comments so we can go check them out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taming Those Green and Plastic Monsters This Holiday Season

I have always loved Halloween. It is a day when adults, teens, and children can be whoever they want to be. We can get away with sugar rushes, carving pumpkins, having parties, and being silly. It is what happens after Halloween that gets me really scared.

It has already begun: every year, it seems like the Christmas cards and decorations are put on display earlier and earlier. Retailers are preparing us for their busiest money-making time of the year. The “Green and Plastic (cash and credit card) Monsters” start getting restless in our wallets and purses. We must learn to control the urge to abuse them to satisfy our materialistic tendencies. The current economic crisis has been an unfortunately effective deterrent to many of us these past few years, but it should not be the only reason why we control our spending.

Every Wednesday night in Brooklyn, I meet with others who want to take back financial control from the “Green and Plastic Monsters” in our lives. While munching on delicious snacks, we discuss "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness," by Dave Ramsey. I haven't read much on the subject before this, but I already feel affected by his message of financial moderation. I don’t have to be a math whiz to understand what Ramsey, as well as many financial experts, out there tell us: ALWAYS try to purchase with cash only, have at least $1,000 set aside as an emergency fund, and start tackling bills by paying more than the stated minimum balance. The key is to prevent further debt by "suppressing the plastic," once and for all.

While I am thankful that I currently have no debt to speak of, I appreciate a common sense approach that helps to steer the financially clueless towards long term, debt-free futures. There are temptations everywhere, urging us to spend, spend, and spend some more. With the economy being what it is, I personally don't want to take any chances…I need all the help I can get!

Do you think you have a good relationship with your money? Why or why not?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Would You Do?

For the past couple of weeks, there's been a woman on the subway that I keep seeing. She says she's a mother and a widow, and can't find a job because of the recession. Each time she's asked for some change, but hasn't received a dime, which I'm sure is mostly because she's asking during rush hour in a crowded subway car with cranky New Yorkers who are used to ignoring panhandling.

Perhaps if I had only seen her once or twice, she would have faded into the background along with the countless other people I see asking for money daily. But it's now been a handful of times. And we really are in a recession.

So, what if she really is a mother and widow?

Should we give each other the benefit of the doubt given our current state in this country? And if we do give each other the benefit of the doubt, do we have a responsibility to help others if we're trying to help ourselves? Seeing her in that state made me wonder what I'd do if I was in the same situation. Would I have the courage to do what she's doing? Would you?

All of these questions have been on my mind ever since these brief encounters with a woman I don't even know. Because I think what got to me more than anything was that she is a woman. She doesn't look like the type of person who would normally be asking for money on the train or at a station. She looks like a neighbor.

I've vowed to myself that if I ever see her on the train again, I'll ask her for her name and give her whatever cash I have. Would you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Warning! Low Battery: Recharge ASAP

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in a bit of a slump, professionally speaking. I’ve been overcome by that rainy day feeling of wanting to curl up under the covers with a book. Except it hasn’t been raining much, and there is plenty of work to be done.

I’m an author/writer, so most of my work time is spent bonding with my laptop. I’m quite used to resisting the temptations of cyberspace on a daily basis, and I know I’m perfectly capable of putting aside all the email, blog and social networking-related glee in order to buckle down to the project at hand. But I’ve not been getting much done.

Finally, I decided to let go of the tasks before me, and relax. I figured I needed to get out of my apartment, of my head, and into the city. Out among the crowds I tend to find inspiration. So, trusty notebook in hand, I rode the city buses aimlessly for a while.

Normally when I’m out in the city, I’m trying to get somewhere. It was tremendous fun to just be a wanderer among many purposeful travelers. I didn’t talk to anyone, just observed. I saw giggling girls in school uniforms drinking frappucino. A teenage couple sharing iPod headphones with their heads close together. Mothers with babies. Nannies with toddlers. Tiny old women with thin, veiny skin. A cellist. A man in a cape. And, my personal favorite: a woman with an honest-to-god live parrot on her shoulder.

I love being surrounded by the strange and everyday people that make up my city. The ride picked up my spirits quite a bit, and helped me make some notes for my book. I’m not sure if it’s the return of chilly weather that has me in a temporary funk, or my election-related anxiety, or the economic uncertainty, or if I’m simply feeling professionally stalled. Whatever it is, I’m busy trying to shake it off and find my way back to the bliss I know is possible when I’m pursuing my passion.

What helps you to recharge, personally and/or professionally, when your batteries are low?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Forum: Travel Experiences

After some of you were able to take a "trip" to Colombia with us this week, we were wondering about everyone's real travel experiences.

What do you think are the best international travel destinations and why? If you haven't traveled anywhere, where do you want to go? What cultures do you want to learn about and why?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

TWM's Close-Up on Colombia

On Tuesday evening, TWM members and friends gathered at La Pequeña Colombia Restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, for TWM’s Close-Up on Colombia. This event brought many folks to a neighborhood that was new to us, in the heart of an area known as "Little Colombia," where we enjoyed a delicious Colombian meal, shared at one large table.

The program centered on a four-member panel of people with varying experiences in and perspectives about Colombia. Francisco Sierra Toro, a Trade Specialist with the Colombia Government Trade Bureau, spoke about the work he has done to push past the common stereotypes about Colombia and to make people aware of the richness and positivity inherent in Colombia’s land, history and culture. Adriana Aristizabal, Cultural Attaché and Press Contact for the General Consulate of Colombia in New York, shared videos and experiences of her past work as a journalist in conflict-ridden areas. Patricia Sacristan, a Colombian-born development professional, talked about her experiences as a young person in Colombia, and an immigrant. Jenny Shapiro, an American and avid traveler, fell in love with Colombia on her first visit. She spoke about her travels and her work with human rights organizations operating in Colombia.

The panelists responded to questions from the audience, and the discussion gradually opened into a time of sharing for everyone. Colombians who attended had a chance to speak about their own experiences, which gave everyone a richer understanding of the culture, as well as lots of laughter and many heartfelt thoughts. We were also joined by representatives from Caring for Colombia, a non-profit organization that works to build bridges of support between the U.S. and Colombia. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to support their work with internally displaced women in Colombia, which ranks second in the world after Sudan. To top off the festivities, the evening concluded with fabulous live music, provided by Gregorio Uribe, and a salsa dance demonstration led by Jasper Marzola and Katherine Chacon, with many of the guests joining in!

The Close-Up gave us a positive image of Colombian culture, and the passion that Colombians have for their country and for life in general. It opened our minds to the many diverse, joyful possibilities that exist outside of our own experiences. We left with full bellies, and a new understanding of the complex politics, vibrant culture and passionate people of Colombia. Many of us also left hoping to be able to travel to Colombia soon to experience this wonderful place firsthand. All in all, it was a night to remember!

If you were there, please share some thoughts about the event! If you weren't, what would you like to hear more about?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sexism: Battling Society & Ourselves

This past weekend, I had the good fortune of seeing a new documentary film entitled "Who Does She Think She Is?" which opened on Oct. 17, 2008 at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. This documentary film follows the trials and tribulations of five women artists, and how they maintain the shaky balance between motherhood and art in their lives. It is the kind of movie everyone should see, but may not be able to because of limited media coverage. "Who Does She Think She Is?" exposes the enduring sexism that continues to permeate the art world. I was unaware of this, until someone in the film asked random people outside of museums if they could name five women artists. No one could answer the question! I had a sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I couldn't give a complete response either. My embarrassment turned to determination; I have to make an effort to learn more about those talented (and often unrecognized) women who see little of the artistic spotlight, as opposed to their male counterparts.

You don’t have to be an artist or even artistically inclined to understand the themes that run through "Who Does She Think She Is?" Even now, women are still expected to choose between what and who they really are and what is expected of them, as opposed to men. These battles are often waged within our psyches, as well as in society. I appreciated how the film explored the complexity of the internal and external conflicts that each artist confronts in their everyday lives. In a previous post, I discuss the societal pressures of being married versus being single, but I know we can be the most critical of ourselves.

As a woman, the ultimate message of the film resonates with me: women’s equality continues to be a work in progress, a battle that is fought on daily basis. Have you ever felt constricted by society's expectations because of your gender? Or do you feel that you limit yourself most of all?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Putting Myself First

Lately I've been very busy with all of the work I do and have struggled to keep the rest of my life together. I'm a bit of a workaholic, so it's very easy for me to neglect everything else in my life if work becomes too crazy. My priority ends up being work, family, friends, self.

Needless to say, I can't remember the last time I did something for myself, especially my health. I keep avoiding going to the doctor, I haven't been to the gym in quite some time and my diet consists of cheap take-out.

Normally I don't even pay attention to it, but Brownfemipower has been talking a lot lately about movement, the outdoors, and the health care system. Her posts have made me realize that this isn't something unique to me, or Brownfemipower, but to women in general, especially women of color or from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. We grow up feeling that we have to sacrifice a part of ourselves in order to succeed in everything else. So if our jobs are hectic, we don't allow ourselves the time to go for a walk or cook a healthy meal.

If so many of us are dealing with this, what is the solution? Is there a way for us to help each other by sharing our experiences? Or is there institutional change for health care, childcare, the workforce, etc. that needs to be considered as well?

I'm still struggling with some of these answers and possibilities, but especially with starting on my own. Maybe I can commit to a 10-minute walk every day and start from there. Does anybody have any other suggestions about how to start shifting time back to myself? Do any of you have this problem as well?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Power That IS

The election is very much on my mind right now, as I’m sure it is on everyone else’s. Registering to vote is half the battle, but the rest is about having the confidence to claim your rightful place at the polls. And, yes, I do think that voting requires feeling as much confidence in yourself as you ideally do in the candidates. So often, I think, people shy away from voting out of fear of being let down.

My dad told a story about going to his barbershop (in a predominantly black community) during the primaries and hearing the old guys chatting about Barack Obama. The tone of the conversation was discouraged, sort of a "yeah, but let's not get our hopes up" kind of mood about the prospect of a black president. They didn't plan to vote, didn't see the point.

By the time my dad went for his next haircut, Obama had secured his party’s nomination. The same guys were there, but sitting a little taller, talking with excitement, letting themselves believe that maybe, just maybe... They had taken to watching the coverage, were following the news. They’d dusted off their voter registration cards, or stood in line to get one for the very first time.

The difference in attitude was palpable. Suddenly, these old guys were buoyed by self-confidence. Maybe they had even begun to see a little bit of themselves in the famous senator from Illinois. I suspect many people, black Americans in particular, feel this way about Obama. I’m sure a lot of women felt something similar about Hillary Clinton during the primaries. And there are no doubt some now who feel it for Sarah Palin, as well. People who for the first time can look up and see someone like them standing in glory underneath the lights.

Hearing my dad's story made me realize that the results of this election will say much more about us, the everyday people, than it will about the winner. Surely those old men in the barber shop have both witnessed and internalized the struggles of their community. They must have known deep down that you always have to stand up, if what you believe in is ever going to come true, but they still sat back at first, waiting to see what would happen, waiting for the powers that be to hand down a candidate.

One thing has really hit home for me this election season: we can’t wait anymore. The simple act of voting is a huge step toward claiming your personal power. We all need to take a deep breath, look at ourselves in the mirror, and know that our voice matters.

We are all part of the power that is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Forum: Stereotypes

Considering all of the attention to race and gender during this election season, what are some of the race or gender stereotypes that bother you the most? Do you think there is more truth or exaggeration in these stereotypes?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Voice from Colombia

We are happy to welcome Maria to CHICKS ROCK! Maria's story is a taste of what you will hear about the unique culture of Colombia and the experiences of its people at TWM's upcoming event, Close-Up on Colombia. We hope you'll join us so you can get to learn more about this country and culture. In the meantime, enjoy this as a short introduction to the Colombian experience:

Maria Angelica Martinez, born in Bogotá, Colombia, has been living in the United States for 9 years. She graduated from Baruch College and is currently working for an import-based small firm as Assistant to the CEO.

My name is Maria Angelica Martinez and I am 22 years old. I emigrated from my country, Colombia, in 1999 when I was 13 years old.

Being that so far I have lived almost half of my life in Colombia and half of it here, I guess I have been exposed to both worlds. I feel strongly influenced by the Colombian culture, but I’ve accepted my life in the U.S. Unfortunately, Colombia has very strong stereotypes for women, such as women being considered the weaker sex. Because I was raised by a very strong Colombian woman, my mother, I was taught very well to stand up for my beliefs and for my values, and that the stereotype is not real.

In corporate New York, the other Colombian stereotypes can turn out to be a challenge, but this is where the Colombian culture kicks in. We as Colombians are very step-forward people and very smart. We’re also very happy people, the kind of happy that’s contagious, so for the most part you’ll always see a Colombian in a good mood. As a Colombian woman, I consider myself a very strong and very down-to-earth woman; I can definitely fight the stereotypes and get my point across. I am very proud to be a woman, especially to be a Colombian woman. I think it is important to educate people about the country and for Colombians to spread the message to other people. This upcoming TWM event is the perfect opportunity to do so!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women In Politics Have To Do It Better And Smarter In The Future

Even though we are in the final stretch of presidential election season, I am still sad that there will be no woman president this time around. It was exciting when Senator Hillary Clinton of NY ran for the Democratic nomination against Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. I remember being excited before the first televised debate between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. By the end of the debate, my high expectations were dashed. I still admire the Senator from New York immensely... I remember how calm and collected Clinton was back in 2000, when she ran for Senate against Rick Lazio. She blew her opponent away with her determination to focus on the issues, while Lazio resorted to aggressive tactics that reeked of sexism and personal insecurity. I wanted to see those same admirable qualities in her debates against Obama. Instead, I was disappointed by her lackluster performance, due mostly to the Illinois senator’s charisma and strong showing in the polls. Even though the race was close for months after this debate, I knew in my heart that Clinton would not be the Democratic candidate for president.

It is like the Wild West during contentious political campaigns, and we still haven’t seen enough women taking on prominent roles in the showdowns that often erupt in the media and on the campaign trail. In 2004, The Women’s Mosaic hosted a unique panel called "Politics Schmolitics!" which featured some fascinating politically active women, and I believe that we need more them to make significant impacts on the political battlegrounds in this country. Valerie Kennedy, an attorney, lobbyist, political consultant, and legislative counsel for Congressman Tim Valentine from North Carolina, made the greatest impact on me during the event when she said that it was "the lack of mentoring and promoting women that is the greatest challenge in politics." Four years later, these words still ring true. Even though we are the majority in this country, we have to organize and support each other much more, especially when navigating the shark-infested political waters in all levels of government.

The next woman to wage a successful presidential campaign will have to appeal to the masses, be cool under fire, and have a diverse and dynamic understanding of domestic and international policies. Clinton fell short on appeal in her campaign, and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska just doesn’t fit the bill. These two prominent female characters of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election season will hopefully inspire aspiring women politicians to do it better and smarter in the future.

What qualities do you think a woman should possess if she is to become President of the United States? Should she be held to different standards because of gender?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Helping Hand

A while back, I was talking to a friend of mine about mentoring. We agreed that, when done right, mentorship is a powerful thing. We were both able to point to at least a couple of women in our lives who seemed to enter at the right time and nudged us along in our development. They continue to steer us in the right direction without feeling pressure to give the "right" kind of advice, and without us feeling that they're telling us what to do.

Then our conversation turned to the other side of mentorship. Mentorship programs can sometimes feel forced: you are given one person who is supposed to be your guide, but sometimes has no connection to you. They don't understand who you are. Maybe they can give insight from their own experiences, but there can be an impersonal quality that pretty much defeats the purpose of having a mentor in the first place.

I bring all of this up because I've been thinking about my own unofficial role as a mentor in other people's lives. The idea of joining an official mentorship program has always seemed strange to me, but I do want to help other women fulfill their potential.

Organic or not, having a mentor must be better than having no direction at all. Being a woman, especially a woman of color, is challenging no matter what field you want to go in. And, of course, there's the personal connection. Even if a relationship feels somewhat forced, at least there's one there, right? At least there is somebody out there who actually cares about you and the decisions you make.

I feel that it's my responsibility to lend a helping hand, because there was somebody there to help me. But how do I go about doing that? How many of you can say you've had a mentor in your life? How many of you have been a mentor to somebody else? Was it part of a program or did it develop naturally? I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Growing Pains (Hair, Part I)

Kekla's hair

My hair has long been the bane of my existence. There’s a love-hate thing going on between us that originated around the time when my mother decided I was old enough to manage it myself.

At home, I liked my hair. I thought it was pretty. In a few moments of wild self-confidence, I even thought I was pretty because of it. At school, though, I was mercilessly teased over my hairstyles. This was suburban Indiana – no one had a ‘fro. Except me. I didn’t know how to deal with my hair, so I wore it in awkward braids or in a big puffy ponytail. I let it grow because I believed that the longer it got, the heavier it would be and the flatter it would lie…but denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

As a teen, I spent laborious hours “managing” my hair. I slathered on gel. I sprayed and spritzed, tousled and tucked. I didn’t want my look to be so different. But the meager understanding of hair care and products I’d gained up until that point was based on what white women do. My mom is white, with hair that does what it’s told. At the time, the majority of my friends were white. All the black girls I knew had their hair chemically straightened—that was what you were supposed to do—so they weren’t much help to me, either. My mom consistently refused to let me try straightening. (If I’d known the word “sadist” back then, I’d have screamed it at her.)

The funny thing is, I’ve never actually wished for other hair. I don’t want it to be straight, or blond or conducive to highlights, layers or bangs. I like my hair as it is, I just often wish that I could train it to always look its best. But it doesn’t want to be tamed, simplified or made ordinary. It wants to stand out. I’ve always known that if I can draw that quality out of my hair and into myself, I will be a better woman for it.

What are your hair stories?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Forum: Love & Marriage

With all this talk of relationships on the blog lately, we wanted to hear about your own experiences and struggles. Whether it's choosing to stay single, being in an interracial relationship, coming out, etc., the ones who care about us most are often the ones with the most to say, so we want to know:

Is there something about your own relationships that has been challenged by your family or friends? If so, how did you deal with it? If not, what do you tell your friends who are struggling with this?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Close-Up on Colombia

Have you heard yet about The Women's Mosaic's (TWM's) upcoming event?

In addition to CHICKS ROCK!, TWM's multicultural events are another way for women to celebrate diverse cultures. The events allow women to experience the music, food and lifestyle of a nation, religion or community, while also learning about the social justice challenges, human rights and women's issues at play. This all happens in a friendly, fun and welcoming atmosphere, where everyone can connect on a personal level with women from these cultures firsthand.

Some of these past events have highlighted Haiti, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, and this next one focuses on a country that has gone under tremendous change in recent years: Colombia!

Here's the description for the event:

TWM's Close-Up on Colombia: Coffee, Cumbia, Cartels & Shakira! Learn more about this colorful country and culture with its vibrant people, infectious music, lush geography and intriguing politics that make it one of the most diverse and misunderstood places in Latin America, and why numerous studies have shown that Colombians rank as one of the happiest groups on the planet!

*Enjoy an authentic Colombian meal
*Watch a demonstration of traditional Colombian dance
*Find out why you should visit Colombia as a tourist
*Listen to speakers about all aspects of Colombian history, politics and women's issues

COST: $35 in advance; $40 at the door; $25 for students with valid ID; $60 includes TWM Mosaic Membership
You can RSVP any of the following ways:
If you're on Meetup, RSVP here. If you're on Facebook, RSVP here (you can also join TWM's page while you're at it). Or simply send an email.

We hope to feature some of the Colombian women involved with the event as guest bloggers in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for that and we hope to see you on the 21st!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

To Marry Or Not To Marry, Is That The Question?

Several years ago, I was sitting with a cousin in his family home in India, talking about marriage. I was expecting him to lecture me on the importance of getting married and having children as soon as possible: I am not getting any younger, it would make my parents happy, and being content as a single woman is not "normal." While I was preparing myself for the insults, I was blindsided when he told me not to rush into anything. "I HAD to get married, and now I am stuck! I can't get out," he said under his breath to me. I became very uncomfortable when his wife tried to get his attention during this unhappy confession, and he impolitely ignored her. It was the first time I realized that they were unhappily married, and it made me feel sad for them both.

This incident didn't sour me on the institution of marriage; rather, it reinforced in my mind how important the decision to marry truly is. Like it says in the traditional marriage ceremony, matrimony “is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and soberly." I sometimes wonder if my hapless cousin was paying attention to these or any other words uttered during his ceremony, or if he was just waiting for it be over.

I know I am luckier than my cousin is. I live in a country and at a time when single citizens are not seen as the pitiable social outcasts they were once perceived to be. Still, I know many family members and some friends talk about me behind my back because I am single. Some of them may even mean well, but none of them can understand why I am not interested in getting "hitched" anytime soon.

I enjoy a good love story with a happy ending as much as the next person. It's wonderful when two great people decide to make their union permanent and legal. I may even consider it for myself in the future, if I meet the right person. But if it doesn’t happen, I won’t consider that a tragedy. I just feel that there are many different kinds of happy endings possible for single and married people alike.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel pressured to get married or stay single?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pull That Lever!

Voter registration deadlines are here (many have passed!), so it's as good a time as any to let you know that I'm obsessed with making sure people vote. It's literally my obsession.

I think it started because I was not born in the U.S. and the thing I looked forward to before becoming a citizen was voting. Finally, I'd have a say in the government! My opinion would matter! Nothing seemed better to me than that. I'd think about women and men who picketed, protested, and had hunger strikes for the right to be heard like the white, land-owning men who had that right all along. They struggled to take part in the ultimate democratic act: voting for the leader they wanted. And even after having the right on paper, they still had to fight to actually cast their votes. I do not take for granted that I can step into a voting booth on Election Day.

Hence, my obsession.

So, imagine my surprise when one of my sisters informs me she won’t be voting! I proceeded to give her a 15-minute lecture on why she needs to get to the polls. I won't put you through all of that, but will give you my final point -- people who complain that their voice isn't heard (usually young people or Latinos, in my experience), aren't making it better by not voting. Then politicians can say "well, they never make it to the polls." If you really want to make a stink, prove you're not just lazy or disinterested by actually going to the polls and simply not marking a candidate. Pull that lever without voting for anybody! It's a win-win: you don't end up voting for somebody you don't like or aren't informed about, and you still count as having gone to the polls! If more people did this, I guarantee candidates would focus more on these groups.

Okay, off my soapbox... But remember to pull that lever!

And don't forget to watch the 2nd presidential debate tonight on any major network!

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge)

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Times That Haven't Changed

I recently had a long conversation with a friend about relationships, specifically interracial ones. This friend is a young white man who’s in a long-term relationship with a woman of color. They’re bizarrely compatible, totally in love, and now planning to get married. Suddenly, a flock of doubters have emerged out of the woodwork – his family and friends, advising him against taking this particular plunge.

It continues to surprise me that in this time and place it is still so hard for some people to accept interracial marriages. My parents have spoken about various encounters they had in the 1970s, when their relationship began. Back then, it was still unusual to see a black man and a white woman walking hand in hand. Somehow, I had come to believe that times had changed.

My friend said his family claimed to be worried about the struggles he, his wife and their (hypothetical) biracial children might face in the future. They thought he was setting himself up for an unnecessarily difficult life. Devastated by their lack of support, my friend called me, looking for me to tell him that it would all be okay. He asked if I thought his engagement was a bad idea, and if I felt my life had been made more difficult because I am biracial.

It hurts me a little that these questions have to be asked, though I understand why they are. I answered in the only way I could. Being biracial has certainly affected me and shaped my life into what it is today. It’s impossible to list the ways it has made me different, because I’ve never experienced the world from within any other skin. But I don’t believe that any of those differences are bad, or something to be avoided.

Every relationship has challenges. This we know for sure. So why are the challenges faced by interracial couples perceived to be worse than those of any other couple? Why are they perceived to be avoidable? What is the supposed solution: just marry someone else? It is hard enough to find one person to love and be loved by.

I hope that as a society, someday we will be able to value each other’s happiness over our own fears, and to affirm love, in whatever form it may come, over prejudice.

What would you have said, if a friend called you with these questions?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday Forum: Sarah Palin

Since it will be the topic of conversation for just about everyone today, we're opening up today's Friday Forum to your thoughts on Sarah Palin.

In what ways do you identify with her and in what ways are you different? What do you think of her as a leader?

Leave a comment to share your thoughts -- you don't need a Blogger account to comment.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Commitment to Compassionate Leadership

CHICKS ROCK! is happy to have Kristina back as a guest blogger this week:

Kristina Leonardi is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic. She is a career/life path consultant, speaker, seminar leader and expert in the areas of women, diversity and personal growth.

Last week I attended a very special panel discussion that reinforced for me what we’re doing at TWM: encouraging women to practice compassion in their lives, and to discover and embrace our commonalities and differences. These are qualities of true leadership.

The event was sponsored by NYU and consisted of:

"Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, provocative religious leader and respected spiritual iconoclast Rabbi Irwin Kula, and the Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, one of Tibet's highest and most respected incarnate lamas, to participate in a groundbreaking, open discussion on the power and practice of compassionate leadership."
These were people who ‘spoke my language.’ They made me feel I’m not alone in my perceptions about how to best make fundamental change at this critical time in our history.

I initially went because of my admiration of HM Queen Noor, specifically the work for peace in the Middle East she and her late husband, the esteemed King Hussein of Jordan, dedicated their lives to. She is committed to building bridges among the Arab, Muslim and Western worlds, and knows the similarities, uniqueness and nuances of the world’s major religions. This is something you often don’t hear expressed from such a platform, yet it’s so important for fostering understanding among us.

She is one of those people I feel a certain kinship with, in terms of her perspective on peace, faith and cross-cultural understanding. Listening to her solidified my connection with her (on whatever level you can have that with such an eminent figure!). I was thrilled and honored to meet Queen Noor in person – and impressed and inspired by Rabbi Kula and the Sakyong Rinpoche as well.

Personally, it was exactly what I needed – a refreshing dialogue with a reasonable, humanistic, forward-thinking, positive worldview that re-affirmed my commitment to what I started with The Women’s Mosaic. It validated our mission and re-energized me to persevere, regardless of the many challenges and personal sacrifices that come with founding and, more importantly, trying to sustain a nonprofit organization such as ours.

As we are in the home stretch of this intense political season, it is my wish that our elected officials be the compassionate leaders we so desperately need, but also that we each take responsibility for that type of leadership in our own lives.

You can download and watch the webcast of the event here. Please be sure to share your thoughts on the video and on compassionate leadership in the comments!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mall Taman Anggrek: My Indonesian Comfort Zone

Mall culture takes on a life of its own in most Southeast Asian cities, like Jakarta. You cannot get away from them; they are everywhere. Mall Taman Anggrek is currently the largest mall in Jakarta. The obnoxiously large building houses more than 500 stores on seven floors. Taman Anggrek is translated to mean “orchid garden” in English, which evokes images of serene beauty and calm. I never understood the name, until I found out there used to be a real orchid garden in that location.

Picture of Mall Taman Anggrek interiorEarly in the morning during the week is the best time to enjoy the mall’s interiors. It is a marvel of space, light and marble...a truly impressive sight. Even though I dislike malls in general, I cannot deny that the architects who designed Mall Taman Anggrek are true artists.

It is also a less stressful place to shop, especially for women. We can walk around the mall without being harassed, unlike the congested street fairs that dominate many city neighborhoods. I couldn’t avoid Taman Anggrek, or any mall for that matter. It is where I had to go to find Western sizes of shoes and clothes, and anything else that is familiar from home. I am almost ashamed to admit that these malls are also havens for foreigners like me. I don’t have to worry about getting ripped off like I do in other local establishments. Taman Anggrek is my Third World reminder of home…sort of.

Are malls like Taman Anggrek the best that Jakarta has to offer? Well, yes…and no. The few city museums and monuments I visited are intellectually superior to anything that can be found at the mall. Still, the air conditioning, window shopping, and gourmet fast food trumps culture and history for many locals and foreigners in Indonesia’s polluted and over-populated capital city. When expats like me need to escape from the heat, noise and smells of the Jakarta streets, retreating to the mall is the easiest thing to do.

What is your idea of comfort when you're far away from home?

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