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?

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