Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back and Moving Forward*

The following was originally posted on Nov. 5, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

Finally, the 2008 U.S. presidential election is over! I am one of many Americans who were extremely annoyed with the mudslinging that the candidates and their respective campaigns resorted to in recent months. It makes me wonder: what lessons can we learn from this election? Would local, state, and federal races be handled better if more women ran for office and managed political campaigns?

I recently wrote an article about a TWM event that took place almost four years ago and featured an eclectic group of women who were (and still are) involved in politics. We need more events like "Politics Schmolitics" so that more women can be inspired to become politically informed, and maybe even venture into politics in their own lives. I know that I could not become a politician, but I would willingly throw my support toward a qualified female candidate that really inspires me. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is important for the next female candidate for president to impress potential voters with keen intelligence and a positive attitude. She will have to be ready for the challenges of an arduous campaign, without resorting to dirty tactics that previous candidates have resorted to in the past. If she must "go there," then hopefully she can do so without tarnishing her reputation in the public eye.

Now that we as a nation have elected our first African American president, I know that a female president will not be far behind. The possibilities are endless, and we have much to look forward to.

To read more about TWM's Politics Schmolitics event, check out the article: "Politics Schmolitics, Four Years Later."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Helping Hand*

The following was originally posted on Oct. 14, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

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, December 29, 2008

Growing Pains (Hair, Part I)*

The following was originally posted on Oct. 13, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

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?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

From everyone at The Women's Mosaic and here at CHICKS ROCK!, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season! Stay warm, keep dry, and enjoy the time with your friends and family.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Kindness of a Stranger*

The following was originally posted on Sept. 24, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

I think Maine has always been one of my favorite states. I love New England in the summer and autumn months, and when the opportunity to go to the northernmost state in the region presented itself, I knew I had to go. With only one full day to really explore Portland, which is on the southeastern coast of Maine, I hoped that the weather would be pleasant enough for sailing. When I heard raindrops hitting the windows of my hotel room that morning, I had to replace these plans with tours through the Portland Museum of Art, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home and the Victoria Mansion. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the tumultuous history of Portland, and getting lost (and drenched) in its quirky streets.

As great as all of these tourist attractions were, it was my brief meeting with a friendly waitress at a well-known neighborhood restaurant that I will remember most. From the moment Kelly seated me and my parents at our table, we felt a genuine connection to her that was anything but fake. She introduced us to some unique local produce, told us about upcoming events and places of interest in Portland, and gave us directions by drawing simple street maps on some note paper. Kelly went out of her way to give us advice without any benefit on her part, and that is quite rare. By the time I went back to the hotel that evening, I almost forgot about the rain and my failed plans to sail.

There is something to be said about the kindness of strangers, especially when traveling. I hope to meet more people like Kelly in my future sojourns. Have any of you had a similar experience? I would love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finding Your Voice*

The following was originally posted on Sept. 17, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

Growing up, I didn't think much of my opinion. It didn't seem others thought much about it either, so I didn't give it unless it was explicitly asked of me - which wasn't often.

In college, it got better. I had women's studies classes where I felt comfortable opening up. I had my Hermanas (sorority sisters) who always valued my opinion, asked for it all the time, and let me give it even if they didn't ask! But even then, it was hard to do this in a group of strangers.

What really changed this was my involvement in TWM. Suddenly, I was asked to give an opinion about everything, even things I didn't really have an opinion about. I mingled at events, spoke up at a Visioning Workshop, organized an entire event, and became an integral part of TWM. I slowly started to speak up at work and grew more confident each time. I'm still quiet, but usually because I'm thinking - not from fear of speaking up. Oftentimes, I don't shut up really!

I'm writing all of this not just to reflect, but because I've met countless other women who still haven't found their voice. When I was young, it seemed everybody else was speaking out with little effort and I was the odd one out. Unfortunately, I wasn't.

The truth is, women are still being silenced. There are cultural and generational differences, but, on the whole, women's opinions just don't matter as much. What do we know? What interest could we possibly have in politics or society or the workforce? We're defined by those around us without much thought to who we actually are.

That's why I love blogs! Women who normally keep quiet can comment on whatever moves them, without as much fear. Nobody knows who they are, and they're likely to find a space somewhere, where others share their opinions. Best case scenario, if you don't already speak up in "real life," this helps you come closer to doing that.

Are you making sure your voice is heard? If you have something to say, do you say it, or keep quiet more often than not?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Times That Haven't Changed*

The following was originally posted on Oct. 6, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

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's 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, December 19, 2008

Friday Forum: CHICKS ROCK! Faves

Yesterday, we announced that CHICKS ROCK! will be highlighting some past posts for the next couple of weeks. It's got us thinking, what are some of your favorite CHICKS ROCK! posts? Are there a couple that stand out in your mind? If so, what about them did you enjoy?

We'd love to hear your feedback!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Now that the holiday season is nearing its end, we want to give the bloggers here at CHICKS ROCK! some time to enjoy their own family and friends. But we won't be leaving the blog high and dry during this time. Instead, we've chosen some of the top posts from the past three months to highlight. This will give new readers a chance to catch up on some of the discussions we've had on here, and old readers to give more thought to forgotten posts.

We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Discovering My Inner Abolitionist

I recently saw a documentary film entitled Call + Response, which openly addresses human trafficking and the sex slavery industries in the twenty-first century. After watching it, I feel both lucky to be born and raised free, and extremely disturbed knowing that there at least 27 million people enslaved today. I discovered my inner abolitionist, and knew I had to start doing something immediately.

I decided to check out some of the websites the organizers of the film screening provided to become more informed and to take some action to address the issue. Chain Store Reaction allows visitors to add their names to email form letters, which are sent directly to representatives from companies such as the GAP, Microsoft, Motorola, and Kellogg’s. On the homepage, you can see how many emails have been sent to each business and if they have sent responses. While it is satisfying to simply add my name, email address, and zip code before clicking “submit,” it just seems too easy.

Visitors to SlaveryMap can document and categorize incidents of slavery on a map of the world. I signed up so I can view other people’s reports, and I may even wind up reporting my own. It is a sobering experience to see all of the locations and read some of the reports of forced labor and sex slavery in the U.S.A., of all places. The site just started this year, so don’t let the empty spaces in certain continents and countries fool you... the reports just haven’t been written and entered yet.

Being a twenty-first century abolitionist requires plenty of research to understand how pervasive the scourge of human slavery is in today’s world. The latest Trafficking In Persons Report from the State Department is a great place to start, because it clearly defines what human trafficking is, and classifies each country by its compliance with anti-trafficking laws. It’s a very detailed report, but I found it easy to navigate through the different sections. I was surprised to discover that Ireland and the Philippines are equally ranked; both countries have not done enough to prosecute traffickers within their borders.

Were you aware of the prevalence of slavery today? What can we do to end it for good?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Las Navidades - Christmastime

As I mentioned last week, I have a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. But my two favorite things about the holidays are the music and the movies. So it didn't take much convincing to get me to go watch Nothing Like the Holidays, especially with an all-Latino cast. The movie won't be winning any awards, and at times it was a little too sad for my liking (sorry, no spoilers here, you'll have to go watch it yourself), but it was still a fun time and watching a screen full of Latino actors not playing to negative stereotypes was great.

I do have to say that some of my favorite moments were that ones that many might consider stereotypical, simply because they spoke to my experiences. When they're sitting at dinner talking loudly and seemingly on top of each other, Debra Messing's character thinks they're all fighting. People who aren't in my family always think we're fighting when we all get together -- we're THAT loud! Somehow we manage to flow in and out of the conversations happening around us with relative ease, but outsiders are quickly overwhelmed.

Another stereotype in the movie is the pressure to have children. Let me set the record straight on this. While I hear friends from other cultures complain about this, none of them have complained as much or for as long (some as early as 17) as my Latina friends. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm picturing all of them nodding their heads sadly as they realize that their existence comes down to the question "why haven't you had any children yet?" At no point is this question off-limits and everyone in the family can ask it, no matter how distant the familial connection.

So maybe this time the stereotypes really got it right. Our loudness, the obsession with having kids, our love of food, our dysfunctional relationships... it was all there and it all made it feel a little bit like home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Angel Anxiety

I participate in a Christmas Angel project, where I purchase presents for children who have an incarcerated parent. It's fun, and meaningful to know I'm doing it on behalf of someone who won't make it to a store this year. At least that's what I think at the moment when I pick up the child's name...

Then comes the shopping. Did I say this was going to be fun? It's horrid. Long lines at the toy stores, long lines at the clothing stores, and the inescapable anxiety that comes from wondering if the kid will even like what I've picked out. I shouldn’t worry so much – they can always exchange it (gift receipts are a brilliant slice of technology) – but I always stress myself out.

I spend hours stalking through store aisles, bypassing perfectly acceptable gifts in favor of something I can’t put my finger on. I convince myself that when the right gift appears, I'll know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Usually it happens eventually – I'm struck by a bolt of certainty, and I feel free to approach the register. Whether it's divine intervention, or sheer exhaustion talking, I will never know.

During the holidays, people always talk about the joy of giving. When I buy for family and friends, I do feel it. Finding the perfect item is thrilling, and it’s truly joyful to watch someone open your present and be excited by what they find. With my Christmas Angels, I don’t get to see that moment of surprise, so the joy is rather diminished for me. Is it selfish to feel that way? Sure. But it’s true. And it also makes me realize that the joy of giving isn’t in “here’s something I bought.” It’s in “here’s something I bought just for you.

I struggle through Christmas Angel every year, because even though it’s un-joyful for me, there’s a chance that my gift will bring joy to someone else. Knowing that fills me with a different kind of happiness, one that is worth all the anxiety.

How do you experience the joy of giving?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Give the Gift of TWM

The holidays are not only a season of celebration, but also a season of giving. In that spirit, we're asking you to consider giving the gift of TWM to the rockin' chicks in your life. Because TWM is a non-profit organization, we need donations to keep us running. By supporting TWM, you're helping us create more programs and doing your part to sustain our community here at CHICKS ROCK!

There are a number of ways you can give to TWM:
Become a member and get the perks of membership -- discounts to events, special offers throughout the year, preference for posting as a guest blogger on CHICKS ROCK!, and more!
Purchase a TWM Gift Membership for somebody else to let them receive all the perks of membership.
Make a tax-deductible donation in any amount -- remember every penny counts, so there is no gift too big or too small!
Buy a CHICKS ROCK! t-shirt and be stylin' like the rest of us -- simply enter a donation for $25 and indicate your t-shirt size S-XL in PayPal.

Thank you for your support!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The "New" Me

CHICKS ROCK! wants you to welcome our latest guest blogger, Heather:

Heather Floyd owns Whole Web Impact, which helps sole-proprietors get more clients and more visibility from their websites and online marketing. She publishes a weekly e-zine, Web Impact and blogs at

If you would have asked me a year ago whether I would hire a personal stylist, I would probably have said – sure, when I have a million bucks and nothing to do with my time but shop! But believe it or not, in May of 2008 I did hire a stylist (Monica Diaz of Style Matters, Inc., in case you were wondering).

So, what caused such a change of heart? Believe it or not – it was business. Specifically, my own. I was planning out a change to my business model and doing some rebranding. “Why not upgrade my own image as well?” I thought. (Besides, isn’t it always easier to justify spending the money if it’s “a business investment?”)

The process was actually a lot of fun. Though there were some squirming moments while Monica pulled out decades-old clothes from my wardrobe and gave me that look – “Have you had this since high school?” (“Yes…” I mumbled sheepishly.) We also went shopping and she picked out dozens of outfits for me to try – many things I would never pick off the rack for myself before meeting her. She was able to be an objective voice in the fitting room: “No, I don’t like how that bunches,” “You are definitely not that pant size! Go one smaller.”

I ended up with several new professional outfits, along with a new haircut and a quick make-up routine, but more valuable was re-awakening my own interest in fashion. Now when I pass boutiques on the street, I pay attention to what’s in the windows. I have a better idea of what sizes and styles I should be looking for based on my body shape. And I have new confidence when I go out to meet clients or attend networking events.

When you have your own business, as I do, you always have to remember that you ARE frequently the business, and you need to represent that visually. Just like a website conveys your brand, so does your personal presentation.

And if you don’t want to hire a professional, call on one of your style-savvy girlfriends to go shopping and suggest some new looks for you. Even if you don’t end up with a new look, you will have a fun afternoon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tales of a Cultural Outsider

Like many children of immigrants, I grew up trying to reconcile elements of my parents’ culture with my own American experiences. It has been a challenge, because I never felt like I belonged in the American Desi community or in the predominantly white suburban town where I grew up. I have accepted that my brown skin and Indian features will always label me as "different" and "foreign" in my New Jersey hometown. What surprises me the most are the chilly encounters I have experienced with many Indian strangers, acquaintances, and even certain members of my extended family. Ever since I can remember, I have always been a cultural outsider.

I recently experienced this "cultural bias from within" on my bus ride home. An Indian man sitting behind me fell asleep and dropped his cell phone in the process. After returning the device to him, he ignored me completely and expressed gratitude to another passenger (who was white) for waking him up. My instincts told me it was more than just rudeness; I have noticed this type of unspoken coldness, which I think stems from a combination of cultural insecurity and arrogance. It is like an updated, watered-down version of the caste system, which is practiced beyond India’s borders.

My parents are cultural outsiders themselves: they never quite belonged to the South Indian Catholic community they came from. Certain relatives have criticized my parents for the way they raised my siblings and me. My mother and father encouraged us to make friends from all races and religions and to question authority with intelligence, ideas that are seen by some of my family members as too “American” for their tastes.

There are many exceptions to this, obviously. My best friend happens to be Indian, but she is a self-proclaimed outsider herself. I have also met many Indians who feel the same way I do, in varying degrees. Some of them, like me, make no apologies for being a cultural outsider, and will remain open to people of all nationalities, cultures, and beliefs.

Do you feel like a cultural outsider? Why or why not?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'Tis the Season to Be Stressed

Even though the holidays are supposed to be a fun time with family, friends, and lots of yummy food, I've never been a big fan. I do love Christmas music, but that's about the extent of my fuss over the holiday season.

Mostly, I can't take the pressure. In my family, you spend weeks perfecting the menus, the shopping lists, and the who, what, when, where for each day. My mother is even [slightly obsessive] over our outfits and believes that not wearing new clothes for the holidays leads to a horrible new year.

I was excited when I moved out and thought I'd be able to break all the rules without feeling as bad. (It helps that my guy's family doesn't have a "new outfit only" rule.) What I did not anticipate, however, was an added layer of stress -- whose house will we be going to?! We want to share the time with our families, without leaving anybody alone. We've considered hosting one of the dinners ourselves, but our apartment is too small to fit everyone. So now after several conversations we're back to square one and have no idea what to do.

So here is the point where I plead with our dear readers over some advice. How have all of you handled this with your own families? Does it at least get easier as the years go by?

If not, I might have to lock myself in every year and sleep through the entire holiday season. With Christmas music to keep me company, of course.

Monday, December 8, 2008

To Gym, or Not to Gym

Over the past few years, I’ve definitively proven two things: I have enough discipline to daily schlep my laptop twenty blocks to my favorite library, sit down and write a book, but I lack the discipline to slip on sneakers and walk one block to the gym. Hmmm.

This fall, I bit the bullet and bought a gym membership. I even signed up for some personal training sessions, a first for me. Yippee. I’ve taken the first steps on a road that supposedly leads to better health, more energy and greater happiness. Unfortunately I find that this road too frequently intersects the highway of do-these-pants-make-me-look-fat?

Generally speaking, I’m not a very appearance-focused person. I don’t care whether my clothes are baggy or awkwardly matched, I wear tank tops (despite flabby arm fat), I don’t always shave (even when people are going to see my legs), I can give or take makeup, and things like that. But when I make an effort to focus on exercise, I end up looking in the mirror more often. I poke myself to check for firmness. I consider buying a scale to keep track of progress – a purchase I’ve resisted for years because I don’t like focusing on how much I weigh. All around, I feel less good about myself, in the midst of doing something that’s supposed to be good for me.

I do think it’s important to exercise for health reasons, but I also don’t want to cultivate in myself any new self-consciousness about my appearance. Yet, I can’t seem to separate the two. What can I do? If I don’t exercise, I feel guilty, but happy in my skin. When I do, I feel a sense of accomplishment, but chubby. Is there a middle ground?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Forum: Holidays Around the World

With Thanksgiving memories fresh in our minds and in anticipation of the holiday season, we were curious about how you spend the holidays.

Are there any special traditions you share with your family and friends? Are these traditions common in your community and culture, or are they unique to you?

Share your experiences in the comments, and have a happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Link Love for 12/4

There have been a lot of interesting posts in the blogosphere these past few weeks, and we wanted to highlight some of them with link love.

Girl with Pen examines how the global economic crisis affects women, complete with some great links.

Change Everything explains why the "change" mantra must include a change in women's participation and representation in government.

This Is What a Feminist Blogs Like shares some thoughts on the opinion piece by a California Professor refused to complete a mandated sexual harassment training.

Savvy Ladies has money-making tips to help us get through this rough patch in the economy.'s Women's Rights Blog highlights the issues important to Gen Y women, based on new research findings.

Sociology Eye tries to tackle some of the layers in the discussion about sex workers, trafficking, citizenship and decriminalization.

NYWSE has a post up to help women get back to work after having a baby based on personal experience.

Check out these posts and share your favorite links in the comments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Siblings and Me

My mother tells me that when my brother and sister were born, I was the opposite of jealous. I always watched out for them, showered them with plenty of attention and affection, and willingly let them play with any of my toys. I almost don’t believe the story, but my father has begrudgingly confirmed it. I do know that I was never one of those vindictive older sisters who teased or roughed up my younger siblings. My parents counted on me to watch out for them, and I always did so, even when they made it hard for me.

Sometimes I think my kindness and generous nature were seen as weaknesses by my siblings and other family members, but I have shown over the years that I am no weakling. When my father underwent an emergency quadruple bypass surgery, I was the one who comforted my brother and sister, because I knew that everything would be alright. They would agree that in many respects, I am the strongest of the three of us.

When I look back on our childhood together, I realize that as good a child as I was, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if it wasn’t for my brother and sister. I learned to stand up for myself more, because they challenged me. Ultimately, I am a stronger person because I had a brother and sister who taught me how to be an effective human being, whether they are aware of it or not. Even today, I am still learning from them: my brother’s vivid imagination and aptitude for knowledge continues to inspire me to explore my creative side, while my sister’s relentless pursuit of personal and professional success helps me resist my nature to be complacent, so I can focus on my future.

It is a relationship that I think many of us take for granted, because we are born into it. We can’t divorce our siblings... they are ours for life, whether we like or not.

Do you have any sibling stories to share?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The World on the Stage

In the past few months, I've become completely obsessed with In the Heights. So I was the happiest chick in the world a couple of weeks ago when my sister got us tickets! The music and lyrics are great, and the energy of the show really comes through. Plus, you have to give it up to Lin-Manuel Miranda for creating a brand new musical not based on a book, movie, or play. Their success despite this is a testament to what an incredible piece of art and community it is.

But moving beyond its artistic merit and down-right fun times, I have to comment on what it feels like to be a Dominican immigrant watching this show. Without getting into too many details of what my family does, let me just say that the culture of bodegas and salons is as close to "home" for me as my actual place of residence. And the story of the heroine, Nina, is one I strongly relate to.

For my sisters and I, not going to college or dropping out for whatever reason was simply not an option. My parents worked too hard to bring us to this country to live out their dreams. Straying away from that course feels like adding a weight to their shoulders they just do not deserve. Even now, there is an immense pressure to keep on studying and settle down into a profession, and I really do feel I am letting them down whenever I tell them that I still don't know what I want to do. Add to that family, their friends, old neighbors and everyone else who feels they have a vested interest in my future, and that's a whole lot to live up to!

The feelings are similar for people from other backgrounds, but I think experiencing all of this as an immigrant adds a layer that many don't fully understand. So, seeing that story played out on the stage by people who have an inkling of what that really feels like makes me connect with it so much more.

Can any of you relate to this struggle? How do you think your background and that of your parents' play a role in it?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Religious or Spiritual?

In a sermon preached at my church once, the minister commented rather snidely about people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” He seemed to be saying that to label oneself simply “spiritual” is a serious cop-out, and that without the discipline of a structured belief system, it wasn’t possible to have a true faith.

His comments were phrased in such a matter-of-fact, offhand way that it was clear he thought he was preaching to the choir – after all, everyone listening had dragged themselves out of bed on Sunday morning to come to church, and what better evidence of religious discipline is there? Ahem. Well, I, for one, was rather irritated by his words. Despite the fact that I’m fairly active in my church, I don’t actually consider myself to be terribly religious. That probably sounds a little weird.

In my mind, religion is merely a concrete belief structure, complete with things like rules and creeds and holy texts and worship of a higher power. Spirituality, on the other hand, I experience as a connection to something larger than myself, even when what that larger thing is remains mysterious. An effective and meaningful religious practice, of course, will have spirituality behind it, but I don’t ever feel that I’m striving to be better at my religion. What I am striving for is spiritual connection, and for me that does not solely come out of religious practices per se.

If I want to think of myself as spiritual, not religious, what’s the big deal? I suppose this is one of those chicken or egg issues: Is all spirituality that I feel somehow based in my religion? Does it rise up in spite of it? Do I accept the idea of religion only because I feel something spiritual? The only thing I know for sure is that, within me, the two are not one and the same.

I’m curious whether this is something other people struggle with or if these definitions come naturally to everyone else.

Would you call yourself spiritual or religious, or neither, or both?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble Gobble!

For our American readers, we wish you all a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving. We'll be on vacation for the long weekend, but you can join us again on Monday as we return to our regularly-scheduled blogging.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Temp's Life

Since I got back from my ESL teaching gig in Indonesia at the end of 2006, I have been thrown into the world of temporary workers and contractors. Before that time, I always had permanent positions where I didn't have to fill out timesheets every Friday, and wait for supervisor approval. My current state is shared by many, especially during this unstable period in our economy. I feel a strange combination of uneasiness and freedom: I work for two companies, but have no allegiance to either one of them. It is all about the paycheck and the work experience. If anything, I have learned that I have to make serious changes in my life, so I am not doomed to go from temp job to temp job.

Being a full-fledged freelancer is something else entirely: you are your own boss, you make a name for yourself, you market yourself, you negotiate your own salary, and the money keeps coming in... hopefully. In addition to freelancing, I am also considering careers with much more financial stability attached to them.

Recently, a fellow contractor told me that she overheard a full-time employee at one of the companies we work at saying that we were "not important" and "easily disposable." While I was annoyed by the comment, I also know that a secure person wouldn’t say that. Is he afraid of becoming one of us? Does belittling us give him a false sense of superiority?

While I am thankful that my contracts at both companies have been extended until the beginning of next year, I also know that I can’t get too comfortable. I need to think strategically about my future plans now: will I go back to school to get another degree? Should I switch careers? Will relocating be necessary? I have much to ponder in the next few months.

Do you have any temp stories to share?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Me Time

About a month ago, I wrote about my chaotic schedule and the effect it's having on "me" time. I figured you were about due for an update, so here goes.

On the work front, things are as hectic as ever, but I'm starting to get into a groove and not letting it get to me. One thing I've started is getting to work about a half hour earlier so that I can ease in. This is just to put me in a different state of mind, because I'm not particularly productive during this time. But it's my little mind trick. Also, one thing I do every so often is walk to the train station instead of taking the subway after work. It's about a 20-minute walk, but I enjoy getting lost in random thoughts and listening to my iPod. It helps me unwind after work. I've been walking more in general, even in the cold! All I need now is a good winter coat to keep it up.

I've become more focused on my health. I started working out again, making it fun by using Wii Fit! Now, instead of dreading working out, I look forward to having fun with my work-outs and my "treat" is ending with some hula hooping - quite the work-out in itself. My diet is still mostly take-out, but at least I incorporated some regular food into it. I even made an appointment for the doctor!

The best part is that I'm going to take a few half days at work so I can take some yoga and dance classes. Kristina very kindly gave me a few passes, so I'm going to take advantage -- you can't say no to a gift, right?!

So things are certainly not perfect, and I'm really just starting to focus on my goals, but I think it's a drastic improvement from the road I was heading down.

How have you all been doing with your "me" time?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Passing the Turkey

My parents are coming in for Thanksgiving again this year. Thanksgiving has become my holiday, ever since I cooked my first turkey for my parents and brother in my tiny NYC studio apartment eight years ago. Ever since, I've remained the host of our T-Day meal. Even when we've been at my parents', it's still my show. I cook, carve, bake, and serve. And I love doing it.

I have fond memories of the big extended family Thanksgiving, cooked by mom and aunts and grandma, while the other adults watched football, and we kids scrambled around in the backyard until called. We set a cheerful table and the food appeared – a warm, delicious smorgasbord of dishes not to be seen again for a year.

The original magic of Thanksgiving is somewhat gone for me, now that I know how the stuffing gets into the bird, so to speak. But in its place, I've come to cherish the ability to create something pleasing for people I love. I've done it enough to feel comfortable, even confident, and to put most of my performance-anxiety aside. I no longer worry about ruining the bird (wouldn’t be the end of the world) or keeping people waiting to eat (it can ever be perfectly timed). I have finally hit my stride.

Each year, I find myself begging less and less wisdom from my mother’s experience. My mom doesn’t enjoy cooking, so she was happy to hand this off to me. Neither of us looked back. But I notice something larger going on. The rolling of generations. Soon enough, it’s likely I'll be "mom," and she'll become "grandma," and though those titles seem far away, we have already taken the first steps down an inevitable road.

I contemplate this while chopping and basting: the passage of time, and the changes we must go through. It’s a good feeling – nostalgia for what was, and anticipation of what might be ahead. A torch is being passed, from one generation to the next. Though, I guess in our case, you could say we're passing the turkey.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Forum: Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching - this month is going by quickly! - we were wondering what you're all grateful for this year? Family, friends, a new job, a new home?

Share your gratitude in the comments.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

YOU Rock!

We want to start off by thanking everyone who has been keeping up with us, reading, subscribing, and commenting. We appreciate your support and value your presence (whether silent or outspoken) in our community.

Having said that, we'd love to hear from you even more!

Now that a few guest bloggers have gone before you and you've gotten a sense of the blog, please consider submitting a post of your own. Write about your personal experiences, making sure to read our guest blogger guidelines, and email us your post.

If you'd rather speak up behind-the-scenes, you can do so by sending us an email with your suggestions for Friday Forum questions, or things you'd like to see more or less of at CHICKS ROCK!

Remember that this is a community for the bloggers AND the readers, and we want you to feel a part of it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Post Mortem of a Friendship

When we met in college, my former friend was a talented theater major with an angelic singing voice. We had a very interesting friendship: she introduced me to industrial/goth and opera music, and I discussed books, movies, and philosophy with her. While some of my friends were put off by her eccentric behavior and quirky sense of humor, I found her endearing and genuine. Even when she moved from New Jersey to Florida to Arizona, we remained close. When I was in Java, Indonesia and an earthquake struck the island, she was one of the first people to call me to check on my safety. It did not matter that we lived on different continents; our friendship seemed indestructible.

After four years of not seeing each other, we decided to reunite at my best friend’s wedding in India. During the week we spent together, I was troubled to discover that my friend had become emotionally unstable and extremely angry. Maybe I should have known that her personal insecurities and dysfunctional relationships with emotionally abusive men, family members, and some friends would lead to the demise of our friendship. Hindsight is always 20/20, I suppose.

Soon after we returned to the U.S., I expressed my concerns to her as delicately as possible. She abruptly ended our friendship as a result. Our first serious conflict became our last. In the end, I told my friend that I wished her well and would always remember the good times we had together. She didn't seem to understand or appreciate the sentiment at the time, but I hope she will in the future.

It has been almost a year since we last spoke, but I still have lingering feelings of loss mixed with nostalgia when I think of her. She was one of my closest friends, and I will never forget the impact she has had on my life.

How do you handle the end of your friendships? Have you made peace with the past?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Musings of a Latina Immigrant

While I've admitted that my identity as a woman has often defined me more than being Latina, I've been more connected to the issues of immigrants and Latinos lately, especially with the case of Marcello Lucero.

In case you haven't heard by now (although it has finally started getting more attention), Lucero was murdered by a group of teenagers in Long Island, and one of the primary reasons cited is because he was Latino. I think there's a strong connection between fear of immigrants and violence against Latinos, and the details of this case make it clear, at least to me, that this is a connection being swept under the rug. By looking at instances of violence, harassment, and discrimination as isolated incidents, it allows us to ignore the conversation we so need.

This case has touched me much more than I expected. For starters, I went to college in Long Island, where we were aware of the tension around us, but had no idea how bad it was or how to deal with it. But on an even more personal level, being an immigrant myself has always been challenging. I've often felt excluded, despite being a naturalized citizen. I've heard it all, from being called a spic, to being told to swim back home.

But rather than be held down, I educate others about what it means to be an immigrant. I've tried to be a good citizen, voting in almost every election I've been eligible to vote in, becoming an activist, and striving to make this country better.

So I share this story with you not to bring you down, but to make you understand how these cases affect others. And while anger, rage, sadness, etc. can all be driving forces for us, I want to use this as a stepping point to move forward. I think we need to channel the initial emotion episodes like this spark to open up the discussion. I believe it's time we bring up all the misconceptions and realities to better understand all sides and close this chapter in our history.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Recognizing Beauty, The Zambian Way

In college, I made a presentation about differing cultural perceptions of beauty and body image. I was reminded of it recently in Zambia. With the women, we spoke a lot about our bodies, and how they're viewed in our respective worlds. The women we encountered were as intrigued by our cultural quirks as we were by theirs. They were fascinated by the idea of plastic surgery, Botox, and our perpetual quest for thinness. But, fat is good, they said. Fat means well-fed, and well-fed means rich. Wrinkles are good. Wrinkles show age, so all who see you will know you are an elder. Sagging breasts are natural. Sagging breasts show you have nurtured your children well.

Next, they wanted to know if American men demanded these procedures of us. No, no, we said. All of us agreed that most men are far more open-minded about how women should look than we tend to give them credit for. This further baffled the Zambian women. If not for practicality and not for men, then why are we going through these drastic machinations? Many of us ended at a loss for words about it. How do you explain to someone with limited access to television that images and media can shape the way we look at ourselves? How do you tell a woman who has never had a doubt about her beauty what it is like to feel ugly and imperfect?

Zambian women, of course, have their own set of expectations to live up to. But body image is not their problem, at least as far as I can see. To them, the inherent power of femininity is enough to make every woman beautiful. They are not ashamed of their bodies, of sexuality, of the physical realities of life and love, as we are. They take pride in every bulge of fat and roll of skin because they know there is something of greater importance within us.

If we could learn to see ourselves through their eyes, we might all be better off.

How do you feel about your own body image?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Forum: Are Youth Apathetic?

It seems that people often bring up the issue of young people's apathy to politics, social change, societal issues, etc. Yet, youth voter turnout is on the rise, and there has been some anecdotal commentary on the impact youth have on global issues (such as Darfur, for example.)

Do you agree that there is some apathy in American youth? Or, do you think that this sentiment is wrong? Is there an intergenerational divide causing this perception?

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

TWM in Flesh and Blood

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.

Now that the dust is settling from last week's election, I have had some time to reflect on what it has meant to me personally. As an American who dedicated her life to promoting unity through diversity by founding The Women's Mosaic - in fact, our tagline, "Recognizing Our Unity; Celebrating Our Diversity" is a trademarked part of our logo - I could never have imagined a presidential race like this, let alone the outcome. I could not be more proud, uplifted and full of hope, and would be remiss in not taking a moment to talk about its relevance to TWM.

It has always been my premise that by bringing people, especially women, from various backgrounds together, we are able to "dispel cultural ignorance, prejudice and bigotry," and "expand our horizons by creating positive change to individually and collectively enrich the world." The ideals I so firmly believe in have started to take major strides forward!

Regardless of your political inclinations, the fact that we had women vying for the top positions in the land did much for our discussion and perceptions of women in leadership positions. And, of course, there was the monumental election of a relatively unknown Senator - neither privileged nor white - with faith in people, our country and himself that we can reach our full potential. Women's empowerment, intercultural/race relations and our ability to make positive change came to the forefront of our national dialogue in a way it never has. It's quite amazing.

What I relate to about President-elect Barack Obama is that he quite literally embodies, and is able to articulate so eloquently, everything we at TWM believe in and advocate for. And, I dare say, he operates in a most traditionally 'feminine' way - demonstrating a style and sensibility that is thoughtful, relationship-based, and values consensus building and inclusion. He sincerely listens, understands and cares about the betterment of our local and global communities. By his own admission, the strong women in his life continue to guide and inspire him, and have made him who he is today.

At this place and time, could we have asked for anything more?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Optimism Abounds at the Savvy Ladies Gala

Kekla and Pauline at Savvy Ladies GalaThe Women’s Mosaic is a great organization to be a part of for many reasons. One of them is learning about other organizations that are run by people who are as dedicated to women as TWM is. Savvy Ladies is one that focuses on promoting financial education for women. On a rainy night the day after the presidential election, I was fortunate enough to attend Savvy Ladies' Holiday Gala on the Upper East Side in New York City. As I walked into the main room with a glass of champagne in hand, I knew immediately that many of the attendees were in a "giving" state of mind. Kekla and I bought raffle tickets and participated in the silent auction, both of which benefited the Savvy Ladies' scholarship fund.

Savvy Ladies Holiday GalaEven with the live music, free food and drinks, swag bags, and elegant setting, it was the speech by the celebrity guest that was the highlight of the evening. Kim Kiyosaki, author of Rich Woman, was honored as "Savvy Ladies Changemaker of the Year," and she expressed her gratitude towards the organization by donating $1,000 to Savvy Ladies’ fundraising efforts and giving away autographed copies of her book to everyone in attendance. She spoke to the enthusiastic crowd about her and her husband Robert (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad), and their continued efforts to teach people tips for financial success. Kiyosaki spoke directly to the women in the room, encouraging us to become the masters of our financial destinies. As I said in my previous post about personal finance, I am always open to learning from those who are positive financial role models in our society.

For me, the timing of the Savvy Ladies Holiday Gala was perfect. I feel refreshed, and optimistic about the future of our nation and our world. I can't wait to see what the next year has in store for us!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do We Have a Global Responsibility?

As a very passionate activist, I often find myself having conversations with people about why I feel the need to, say, help women in Africa who are subjected to FGM, when I live and work in America. It's not my problem, they usually say. Not my responsibility. Can't I at least stick to my own country? We've got a war going on, the economy to worry about, all sorts of problems. Don't I have better things to worry about?

People insist that I should mind my own business and keep to myself.

I just can't do that. Here's why...

For starters, the world is not as disconnected as we think. A recent study suggests that the six degrees of separation theory was pretty dead on. Even more than that, for all of our differences, people around the world are just like us. They have families to love, jobs to keep, and rights being violated. If I can help them just the teeny, tiniest bit by taking action and urging others to take action too, why shouldn't I?!

Also, helping with one cause doesn't stop me from helping with another. I can donate a suit that'll never fit me to a woman who really needs it AND cast a vote on Election Day.

So, DO we have a global responsibility? Do we even have a local responsibility? I agree with JK Rowling on this one: we have imaginations so we can empathize with people all around the world in situations we will never face. I think our responsibility is to act on that empathy if we really feel it. So long as you are communicating with the people we want to help, rather than giving them the help we think they might want.

In the end, I think it is a personal choice. If you can barely make ends meet for yourself, I don't expect you to donate to someone living halfway around the world. And if you have more than you need, but don't want to give for whatever reason, I won't make you. Just don't try to stop me from doing it, because I won't.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we have a global responsibility? Or should we clean up our own house before trying to bust into others?

(A longer version of this was originally posted at The Feminist Underground.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Glass Ceiling

Last Sunday, I went out to Central Park to cheer on the NYC Marathon runners. The weather was great, so a big crowd turned out. People of all races and nationalities stood together shouting good wishes in many languages, urging the runners on whether they were strangers or friends. I doubt I’ll ever attempt a marathon myself, but even standing on the sidelines, I felt like I had become a part of something bigger.

That was two days before the election, though, so my thoughts strayed to what it might feel like to be running down the home stretch to be elected the first black president. I was struck by similarities between what was happening there on the race track and what was happening in the country as a whole.

Folks in NYC danced in the streets last Tuesday night – people of all races, and of a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Yet we came together in joyful celebration as Barack Obama ran through the tape at the end of his long run and another glass ceiling shattered over all of our heads... or did it?

When I think of our past, it seems that the only way to pass any glass ceiling has been to break it, sending shards raining down on everybody below. The desegregation of schools was met with violence and fear. The first black voters risked life and limb when they went to the polls. Civil rights workers were destroyed for holding up hope. What I saw happen on Tuesday night was something totally different. It felt like the country finally rose up in unity and just carried the glass ceiling out of the way.

As a community, black Americans have been running for a long time. Not a single marathon, but a relay of marathons, a baton passed from one generation to the next to the next. I’m not sure that we actually came through the tape last week, but it feels like we might be on the home stretch at last. I’m sure that the American presidency isn’t the last glass ceiling that people of color will have to pass. I just hope we will be able to push aside the rest as gracefully and with peace.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Forum: Now What?

With all of the excitement, anticipation and 24/7 media coverage over the last couple of weeks, it's strange to think that we're finally on the other side of Election Day.

So we're wondering, now that the election is over, what will you be focusing on? Is it back to business as usual for everyone? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Link Love & Our Blogroll

Last week, we had a link love post with stories we wanted you to read. We'll be doing that more often from now on and in the future we'll be highlighting more posts from the blogs in our blogroll.

Here are links from the blogs we currently have on our blogroll, which you can see on the left-hand side of the screen under "Other Great Blogs." If you have suggestions for blogs we should add that share our goals for CHICKS ROCK!, please let us know in the comments so we can reciprocate linkage.

In the meantime, enjoy these posts:

Savvy Ladies gives some advice on dealing with how much money to spend on your children (though the same can be applied to nieces/nephews, younger siblings, etc.).

NYWSE has a piece about balancing your own self with work, family, and play (something we all struggle with).

Girl with Pen has some incredible voting tales -- don't forget to share your own!

Glamocracy considers how to move forward now that Election Day has passed and where to go from here.

Change Everything is wondering how women could have avoided the financial meltdown.

Lindsey Pollak celebrates the impact Generation Y had on the election, starting before Election Day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Finally, the 2008 U.S. presidential election is over! I am one of many Americans who were extremely annoyed with the mudslinging that the candidates and their respective campaigns resorted to in recent months. It makes me wonder: what lessons can we learn from this election? Would local, state, and federal races be handled better if more women ran for office and managed political campaigns?

I recently wrote an article about a TWM event that took place almost four years ago and featured an eclectic group of women who were (and still are) involved in politics. We need more events like "Politics Schmolitics" so that more women can be inspired to become politically informed, and maybe even venture into politics in their own lives. I know that I could not become a politician, but I would willingly throw my support toward a qualified female candidate that really inspires me. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is important for the next female candidate for president to impress potential voters with keen intelligence and a positive attitude. She will have to be ready for the challenges of an arduous campaign, without resorting to dirty tactics that previous candidates have resorted to in the past. If she must "go there," then hopefully she can do so without tarnishing her reputation in the public eye.

Now that we as a nation have elected our first African American president, I know that a female president will not be far behind. The possibilities are endless, and we have much to look forward to.

To read more about TWM's Politics Schmolitics event, check out the article: "Politics Schmolitics, Four Years Later."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

Do I even have to say anything?? Get your butt out there and VOTE!

Find out where your polling place is and when it opens, and get on that line as early as you can. Early voting already showed how long many of these lines will be, but please be patient and try to carve out enough time. Maybe you should bring a game and bond with your fellow citizens who are waiting with you. Or some good reading material. Also bring some water and snacks. Whatever you need to keep you sane and entertained.

A few reminders:
-Bring your ID just in case and your voter registration card if you have it.
-If you make it to the poll location before the polls close but are waiting in line, contact your board of elections if they try to turn you away. Laws vary by state, but make sure you cast your vote.
-Keep in mind the voting myths: wearing campaign gear (just cover it up), being arrested for outstanding warrants or tickets (simply not true), losing financial aid (many student voting rights are confusing). Don't let them take away your right to vote!
-Check your ballot (whether electronic, paper, or lever) before finishing, especially because problems with machines already started with early voting.
-If they challenge your eligibility for whatever reason, insist on filling out a provisional ballot.

Most importantly, keep this information handy to report any problems:
-Use Twitter Vote Report to keep track of long lines, problems with machines, etc. Check it out.
-Use the Election Protection hotline by calling 866-OUR-VOTE (or 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota for Spanish speakers).
-Contact your local board of elections, particularly for voter suppression or suspicious activity. You can use to find out the number you can call.

For those of you who can't vote (either because you're not citizens, didn't register on time, or are choosing not to), please considering volunteering your time today as poll workers, or by driving the elderly or disabled to the polls, or by reminding others to vote, etc. It's a great thing for anyone to do.

And for everyone who's volunteering, THANK YOU SO MUCH! You all rock!

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge)

Monday, November 3, 2008

That Voting Feeling

In NYC, the only place I’ve ever voted in person, you step behind a curtain, slide a lever, flip the switches next to your chosen candidates, then slide the lever back so your vote is counted. It is very tangible, the clunking sound of the lever locking into place and taking official note of your opinions at that moment. I always feel a little choked up as I step out of the booth and scurry home.

I don’t know exactly where that feeling comes from. People try to tell me that it’s pride – pride in the country, the system, the privilege of having my vote counted. But I’ve never really thought that was it. Frankly, I don’t always feel that much pride in our government, or even in most of our elected officials. It must be something else.

Maybe it’s just a release of tension after months of looking at candidates and hearing about issues and polls. Or maybe it’s a new and frenzied kind of stress that comes from knowing I have done everything I can and now it is time to wait in front of the TV to learn whether or not the country has come to its senses. Perhaps it is even a little twinge of hope—hope that the system can work and we can have change.

Yes, I’d like to think it is hope that I feel. I do know I am fortunate to live in a place and time where I can reasonably trust that my vote will be counted. I know that I will not be subjected to pain, fear, violence or intimidation as I approach my polling place, as happens in so many places around the world. As has happened at times in this nation’s history.

No one should stand in the voting booth and feel afraid. No one should have to look over her shoulder when she slips her card into the ballot box. Those reasons alone are enough to urge me to stand up. To say I am here, to make sure my voice and my vote count. It is why I will be standing in line tomorrow morning, looking for that voting feeling.

Go out and get yours! Maybe I’ll see you there.

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!

Disclaimer: Blog entries express the opinions of the respective Bloggers/Contributors/Authors/Commenters solely, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Women's Mosaic. As host and manager of CHICKS ROCK!, TWM acts solely as a provider of access to the internet and not as publisher of the content contained in bloggers' posts and cannot confirm the accuracy or reliability of individual entries. Each participant is solely responsible for the information, analysis and/or recommendations contained in her blog posts.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.