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    It’s Hard to Watch the Growing Interest in Asian Food After Being Shamed for My Culture as a Kid

    Everyone has a handful of memories that are painful to remember. I have a fistful of memories that are shrouded in guilt and shame. These memories lie deep within my belly, and among these darker memories, there are several of them that are connected to being Asian American. In between the shrouds, I remember being ridiculed for my eyes and being told to “go back to where I came from.” To be frank, growing up Asian American was difficult for me. I grew up in the early 2000s; in a past world where I often felt marginalized by my classmates. While not all Asian-Americans or BIPOC share my experience, based on my candid conversations with my peers, there seems to be a feeling some of us share; this is a feeling of shame. Whether it’s shame over our bodily features or over our heritage, this feeling, I’ve felt many times, lies within the recesses of our bellies. My shame is often surrounding my Korean heritage and the “pungent” foods we eat.
    In the early 2000s, Asian food was not as popular as it is today. Anglo-cized Asian staples, such as Orange Chicken and California Rolls, were around and accepted, but Asians and their authentic food were not. I’m talking about Asian Barbeque, Hot Pot, Xiao Long Bao, Dduk Gook. I was taught by my family that if I ate Korean food in public, that people would shun me. The shame I felt started at a young age. 
    I remember the night I learned that my Korean food was not accepted. It was a cool September “school night.” I was in first grade and would be experiencing my first lunch period since graduating from kindergarten. 

    Source: Shutterstock

    My family had just finished a giant pot of Kimchi Jigaae (a spicy, tangy stew made out of sour fermented kimchi and beef). After scarfing down my bowl, I declared: “I’m bringing this to lunch tomorrow.”
    In response, my mom quickly stated that, in fact, I would not be bringing this to lunch tomorrow… or ever. Her reasoning was that my mostly white, non-immigrant classmates would make fun of me for a number of reasons. She broke it down for me pretty quickly:

    “It smells too strong”
    “It has a weird taste compared to a typical peanut butter sandwich”
    “Your schoolmates simply can’t handle it”

    In Korean culture and in many cultures, food is celebrated, and family time can mean cooking and eating together. In Korean culture, food is our culture. After all, making kimchi with your whole family in the fall is a ritual called Kimjang. 
    I had known that food was a big deal to my family for as long as I remembered, but after hearing my mother explain that our food wouldn’t be accepted, I understood something else. At the tender age of 5, I learned that society didn’t accept who I was because of my heritage and race. After all, if my food and my culture weren’t accepted, how could I be accepted? 
    As years passed, I would remain quiet as my non-POC peers laughed at the thought of Korean people making “BBQ” and would turn their noses up to homemade mahndoo (otherwise known as Korean dumplings). I would even occasionally be the butt of the joke as people asked whether I ate dogs or not.

    At the tender age of 5, I learned that society didn’t accept who I was because of my heritage and race.

    Source: Alejandra Cifre González | Unsplash

    It took until my senior year of high school for something strange to happen. One of my friends said she tried Korean food for the first time and loved it. Since then, my friends have asked me to go to Korean BBQ with them, or have asked how to use chopsticks properly. 
    Over the years it has been hard watching my friends embrace Asian culture with open arms. There lies an underlying frustration that stems from the pain of having to hide my identity for so long. More importantly, my frustration also lies in the way Asian Americans have been treated in the United States over the last 150 years.

    It has been hard watching my friends embrace Asian culture with open arms. There lies an underlying frustration that stems from the pain of having to hide my identity for so long.

    In the past, the rise in awareness of Asian cuisine has come from historic immigration waves. President Lyndon Johnson’s Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 allowed for more Asians to finally migrate to the United States, including the immigration of my family. The migrants then exposed non-Asian Americans to new cuisines. 
    The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 is something that has always made me cringe. While it’s lauded for ending a quota-based immigration system, I always felt that it’s a remembrance of wrongdoing towards the Asian community. After all it was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that did not allow Chinese immigrants to the U.S. (Later, in 1924, other East, Southeast, and Southern Asians were barred from immigrating also). The Exclusion Act, the first federal law to restrict immigration by nationality, later turned into a restriction by race. It took until 1943 for the Exclusion Act to be repealed, and during the 19th century, there was even a persisting stereotype that the Chinese ate rats. 
    Fast forward to present day, when the Pew Research Center noted in 2017 that there are 20 million Asian-Americans in the U.S., and Asian fast-food restaurant sales in the United States have increased by 135 percent since 1999. 

    Source: Matthieu Joannon | Unsplash

    This growth in Asian food over the last several years has been astounding to see. But after years of Asians being ridiculed, how can I not feel frustration towards this growing interest in Asian food? Why show interest now? What’s the point? 
    After being shunned for my Asian food and heritage my entire life, now the current exoticism and wonder towards Asian cuisine is something that makes me wince. When my friends mention that they want to try more authentic Asian food, I can’t help but feel like they are rubbing salt in an old wound. Where was this acceptance and love for this food when I was a kid.
    Given my uneasiness, I asked my Asian peers what they thought about the current rise in popularity of Asian food. Kevin Chen, a Tawainese-American, said, “People are being more aware of cultures now. It’s just hard because it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. It’s more about bringing up the message [about Asian food] and having people be more aware of these cultures and the depth of them.”
    Chen continued, “It’s not easy. I had a coworker that said a certain type of Asian Cuisine, Sichuwan, is superior to all Asian food, and you can’t just write off a whole culture like that. You can’t just pigeonhole cultures. Each culture’s cuisine is different.”
    Chen’s cautious optimism towards the growing interest in Asian food is one that mirrors my own. It’s hard to envision a place where people are becoming more accepting towards the Asian community. Their curiosity is often one that I look at with weariness. This weariness comes from a fear of snide comments and a wall of shame. All it really boils down to is a wish to be respected for your culture and identity.

    After being shunned for my Asian food and heritage my entire life, now the current exoticism and wonder towards Asian cuisine is something that makes me wince. When my friends mention that they want to try more authentic Asian food, I can’t help but feel like they are rubbing salt in an old wound. Where was this acceptance and love for this food when I was a kid.

    Source: Filippo Faruffini | Unsplash

    Harinder Kaur, an Indian American, had different thoughts as she reflected on her childhood. Kaur said, “Growing up, I wanted to be more white and accepted. When we came to America, we didn’t even have ‘American’ clothes. I saw more racism through the way I looked, not over food. I think I’ve gotten more comfortable accepting my culture, but there’s more to it than food and racism.” 
    Kaur’s story is one that holds true for many Asian families today including my own. The attempt to assimilate to white culture shows the amount of shame we harbor towards our own Asian cultures. 
    While Kaur and Chen may not be reflective of the whole Asian American community, they share a sentiment that needs to be heard louder during these trying times. This sentiment is that Asian stories need to be heard more and accepted more into society, but more importantly, we as Asians need to be prouder of who we are. I truly believe this is the only way forward. After years of hiding and feeling shame within our bellies I believe it’s time we finally stand proud together.
    Perhaps this can be a new step towards more equality and understanding. Instead of focusing solely on our past, it’s time to discuss and reflect on what our future as a nation can be, Asian or otherwise. More

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    I’m a Black Woman and I Don’t Know How to Celebrate My Accomplishments

    “You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams, you are the epitome of what Martin Luther King Jr. marched for,” said my friend Steven. This statement took me back for a second. I knew what he was implying with his statement, I just didn’t know how to feel about it. During that moment, I started to think about how this a common feeling I had since I graduated high school. Hearing these words brought back a lot of feelings that have plagued my mind since I started my undergraduate studies. Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”? Which is a popular saying in the Black community. I always had some of my family and friends hype me up about the opportunities that I have been fortunate to have. But honestly, I always felt like I still wasn’t good enough. It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 
    Feeling like I “made it” gave me sorrow about Black people who would never know the feeling because they had the opportunity to live to see their full potential. Feeling like I “made it” gave me doubt about what my future held since I accomplished a lot in my early 20s. The feeling of accomplishing a goal was never an easy feeling for me. I would feel immense gratitude for how far I came, and then a rush of sadness came over me because it was a voice in my head telling me I just got lucky and one day it would not always be that way. A feeling of self-doubt would tell me that I was not worthy of the dreams I had in my head. Anxiety told me that I was only achieving my dreams because I was the token Black girl and I made white people feel comfortable. Not knowing how to celebrate my accomplishments started when I was in elementary school. 

    Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”

    In elementary school, I loved reading, and my mother did too, so we would go to the library every weekend to find a good book to dive into. Reading became my safe haven from the world and let me explore life beyond the subsidized housing I lived in. I was able to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a short period of time. I was able to learn about things that “project kids” never had the chance to learn or experience. Since I loved reading, this helped me excel in school and get ahead of many of my peers. I was always praised by my parents for my good grades and excelling in different subjects in school. 

    It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 

    The praise and congratulations went on into high school and college. I was always made to feel like I was on top of the world. In retrospect, I have learned that this was a contributing factor to why I felt like I couldn’t slow down and appreciate my wins. I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead, and never get too comfortable with what I had. This is a problem that not only I deal with, but the reality of what people of color, especially Black people, have to deal with. When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

    I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead and never get too comfortable with what I had.

    I recently spoke to a friend of mine who expressed on social media that she always felt like she wasn’t doing a good enough job at work and the pressure she always felt at work, regardless of what her superiors told her. She said that the hardest part about being a Black woman in corporate America/non-profit is, “We aren’t afforded bad days, passion, frustration, or disappointment. Every negative emotion we may have is an attitude of aggression. We aren’t even allowed to be introverted or shy because then we are mean, stand-offish, or unapproachable. This is especially problematic in the non-profit sector because of the emphasis put on the donor opinions and experiences.”
    When Black women constantly feel this way at work, it often seeps into our personal lives. We often think our accomplishments or wins won’t matter when the dust settles because it’s always “what’s next.” We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man, or the promotion, we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?” I asked my same friend, “Would you say you know how to celebrate your accomplishments? And she expressed to me it is difficult for her to acknowledge them. “Honestly it is difficult. A lot of times I look at things like ‘this is what I was supposed to do.’ This is no different than what Black women also feel in their personal lives. Society looks at us as being the “strong” one because of what they have made us endure and what we keep allowing. But when you feel like you are already a minority, you already know you have to work 20 times harder than anyone else, Black and white people included, we often feel like being strong and enduring what is thrown at us is what we are designed to do. 

    When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

    In most of my jobs, relationships, and friendships, I always felt like I had to know how to take pain and suffering as the first step in order to reap the rewards. As I sit back and think of what I have accomplished and how I accomplished it, it all was derived from pain. I wanted to excel in college because I know most people like me don’t get the opportunity. Pain. I moved to New York to have better opportunities and felt ostracized and dealt with systematic racism. Pain. I found one of my passions for working in Diversity and Inclusion, but if I had not attended a predominantly white graduate school and faced racism and prejudice for the majority of my days, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But it was all derived from pain and suffering that America chooses as a weapon to make Black women feel inadequate for what they want to accomplish.

    We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man or the promotion we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?”

    Sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether something is right for me if I didn’t have to suffer first to get it. This is an ongoing struggle for not just Black women, but also Black people. We always work 20 times harder, we are always thinking about our next goal, what we are going to do next and if suffering or obstacles are not attached to them—it feels too good to be true. 
    Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else. It is a never-ending cycle that we have to go through in order for people to see our worth. Just because you think we are strong, doesn’t mean we have to always showcase that trait every day. 

    Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else.

    There is no right solution to make Black women feel like they don’t have to wear the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is a learned habit that America and the people who have made up their own idea of what a Black woman is before getting to learn them. It will take years and decades to untwine the idea of what a Black woman is or is not. 
    Black women deserve the same dignity, rights, protection, and grace that is given out so freely to everyone but them. In order for Black women to get the chance to heal, feel, celebrate, and accomplish their desires, society has to change the narrative that has kept Black women in a box.  More

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    How My Hair Shaped My Identity

    One of my favorite things about my look is my pixie cut. If you asked me to describe it, I would say: short, edgy, and professional. As a disabled woman, it’s effortless and time-effective. I have the advantage of waking up and not having to brush my hair if my bedhead isn’t too visible. Some days I add a little style, but I love having a hairstyle where it’s easy to manage. My ultimate hair goal, however, is to shave my head and have a buzzcut. Jazzmyne Jay, a BuzzFeed content creator, is my inspiration; she’s given me the courage to experiment with fashion. I’ve wanted to do it for a while; I’ve just been waiting for the right time.
    Honestly, I’ve been waiting for an accepting work environment. I want to work in an environment where diversity is valued, where there is an open-mindedness to individuals who have disabilities and endure mental illness, and where there are strong core values and beliefs; where these things are instilled in the company. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through. It’s hard to go into spaces where you are accepted, however, you feel that you still have to hold back a part of your identity, or when you have to hide your entire identity because you are not sure of the reaction, especially in this political climate where you’re often discriminated against for being LGBTQ+. 

    In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through.

    Chopping off all your hair is a way for you to start afresh and emerge a new person. I feel rejuvenated and on lighter feet after every cut. My hair wasn’t weighing me down anymore. Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.
    Society pushes many stereotypes about the short-haired woman: she’s damaged, she’s aggressive, she’s manly, she must be a lesbian. As a society, we attach so many parts of a person’s identity to their hair: their sexuality, history, gender, and even personality, and when women have short hair, people tend to think of that as almost being political. She’s making a statement. Long hair is depicted as feminine and beautiful, whereas short hair is not. 

    Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.

    As an individual with a disability (I have cerebral palsy and hemiplegia), I do not have the use of my right arm. Because of this, I have difficulty styling my hair, and what began as a move for more independence became a move for self-expression. I had long hair up until college, when I started getting pixie cuts. In high school, I’d had to ask my family to help me style my hair (ponytails, braids, etc.). On my own, I could get at best pin the bangs out of my face. Disabled women’s hair is just seen as yet another inconvenience in terms of independence, and at times we aren’t even given a choice around our hair length and style.
    When I attempted to pull my hair into a ponytail by myself, I ultimately failed. I had to deal with loose long hair in all weather and environments. I loved my long hair, and it was beautiful, but it was a source of inconvenience and discomfort. I’m never going to fit into a box. I’m never going to fit under a label; I’m never going to be anything anybody wants me to be, I’m always evolving. I’m all about breaking boundaries. Breaking barriers, breaking labels, and allowing myself to be free.
    And that’s what my short hair is to me. More

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    How I’m Learning to Live a More Authentic Life

    I love a romantic comedy. The predictability of the storyline and the inevitable happy ending sucks me in every time. I watch them on rainy days, I watch them on days when I have cramps, and I watch them on days when I’m feeling down. I’ve seen hundreds of romantic comedies, yet I’ve never seen one that is a true reflection of my authentic life. There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all. They have not written my story because my life doesn’t fit the typical mold. I’m a 37-year-old world-traveling free-spirit, living my most authentic life. My life wasn’t always this way, but today I can say that I love my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

    There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all.

    From a young age, I realized that I wasn’t your typical child. My interests were different from my friends, the way I wanted to dress was different from my sisters, and my Christmas lists for Santa were filled with non-traditional items. I remember one year I asked for a hot stone massager and essential oils—and this was the ‘90s, so the term “self-care” as we know it now wasn’t even invented yet.
    I struggled through high school because everyone was so excited to go to college. My friends wanted to be nurses and teachers and seemed like they had it all figured out at the age of 18. I didn’t want to go to college. I asked my mom if I could rent a van and travel the country (#vanlife) when I graduated instead of going to college, and she turned me down faster than the speed of light. 
    I was frustrated because I wasn’t given options to explore what I wanted and what was important to me. It didn’t’ feel like college was the right next step, and I wanted time to explore what felt right for my journey. I grew up in a small town, and the lifestyle that was available to me in my hometown was not the lifestyle that I wanted for myself. I had no idea how to mentally and physically get out, yet I was screaming on the inside for somebody to let me go. I was craving freedom and wanted permission to explore all the options that were available to me.
    Instead, I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me. I went to college and followed the rules, and if I look back on it now, college was a giant waste of time. Yes, I had fun, but that fun cost me $30,000 in student loans. 

    I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me.

    After I graduated from college, I was still trying to figure out how to lead a “normal” life. I got a 9-5 job, a one-bedroom apartment, and moved to Philadelphia to try my hand at adulting. I remember going shopping to get professional clothes (of which I had none). Everyone was so excited as I came out of the dressing room in different versions of dress pants, blouses, and black flats. I’ve never felt like crawling out of my skin more than I did on that day. 
    I believe that moving to Philadelphia (even though corporate life wasn’t for me) was the turning point in my life. Living in a big city on my own gave me the adult playground I craved for in highschool. In Philly,  I was able to encounter different cultures, lifestyles, foods, and careers that I wouldn’t have had access to in my hometown. I remember the first time I tasted Indian food. Wow! I fell instantly in love. The flavors and spices that I experienced that night were completely new to me. I was never exposed to Indian food growing and my mind was blown. If a simple dining experience could open up my mind in this way, I was excited to see what other new experiences were ahead of me. 
    It felt as if I was getting a second education, and this knowledge proved to be more beneficial to me than my geometry class ever was. Because I was able to interact with so many different people I felt confident to show who I truly was. Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth. I went from an unfulfilled, suit-wearing, meat-eating 22-year-old to a happy, thriving, afro-wearing, free-spirit 37-year-old! That transition didn’t happen overnight.  I knew what it felt like to live someone else’s life and I wasn’t willing to do it anymore, so I slowly began making changes that honored who I was. I wanted to celebrate what I loved about myself and stop hiding who I was from the rest of the world. It was time for me to step out as my full self, and I was ready to take that journey. 

    Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth.

    I spent 20+ years being someone I thought I was “supposed to be.” It wasn’t until I started paying attention and honoring who I truly was and what I needed that I began to lead my most authentic life.

    If you want to start living your life on your own terms, ask yourself these three questions:

    What do I love about myself?
    This was not a question that was posed to me growing up, so it wasn’t something I focused on until I was in my 20s. When you ask, “What do I love about myself?” you begin to unlock clues and truths that are meant to be seen. I discovered that I loved my creativity and that creativity was meant to be celebrated. As a child, I was always creating. I sang, danced, cooked, and came up with “science experiments” out of thin air. My thoughts bounce around and don’t necessarily follow a linear pattern. I think my creative mind frustrated the adults in my life, so I was never pushed to use it. Realizing that my creative mind pushed me to brainstorm and innovate allowed me to strengthen this muscle and has become one of my most valuable assets.
    Answer honestly. Let whatever answers come up to be the start of something new. Once you have your list, see if you can use that information to make some small changes. Did you realize that you love your funky fashion sense? Head out to the thrift stores and buy a few favorite items. Not everything on your list will change your life dramatically, but starting small can begin to build the confidence to continue living life on your own terms. Remember, the things you love about yourself may just be your most valuable asset too!

    What and how am I hiding?
    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro. Hiding who I was and what was important to me was a coping mechanism I created. In the ‘90s where I grew up, the kaftan version of me would have been too much for people to handle. It felt safer to hide that piece of me from the rest of the world instead of walking in my full truth. In hindsight, if I would have continued to stay hidden, I would have never allowed my creativity to help me build the successful business that I have today. That business has allowed me to help so many people, and I never would have gotten there if I continued to hide who I was. 

    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro.

    Are you hiding? Why? When you hide, who you are you limit yourself from experiencing your full life? You were created in your unique way, and the world needs to see you fully. Stop hiding and walk in your truth one step at a time. 
    In 2005, I decided that I wanted to do the big chop and begin to wear my hair completely natural. I gathered all of my courage and headed to the only Black salon in Philadelphia doing natural hair at the time and cut my shoulder-length hair down to one inch. When I walked out of that salon, it was undeniable that I looked fly. From that point on, I could no longer hide. 
    Discovering how and why you are hiding could require you to make some uncomfortable decisions. There is a reason why you have been hiding, and walking out as your full self may take some time. Be patient with yourself and take it slowly. Ask yourself, “Where do I feel safe as the real me?” Maybe spend some time there and see how it feels. It may just be five minutes, and that’s OK. Know that every day won’t feel like a party, but the work you are doing is important and necessary. 

    Where can I begin to walk in my truth?
    Living an authentic life takes time. It’s unlikely that you will be able to go from 0-100 in 24 hours (although if you do, I will be your biggest cheerleader), so find a place to start. The first unveiling of my truth came when I went cold turkey and became a vegetarian. I was no longer at home having to eat whatever was cooked for dinner. I could make my own choices, and vegetarianism made sense for me. Could I have quit my job, packed my car, cut my hair, and traveled the world? No. That wasn’t an option for me, so I started small. 
    You don’t have to make giant life-altering decisions to live your truth. Why not explore your love of writing by journaling for five minutes each day? There is much satisfaction from small changes that ultimately honor the real you. Take your time and discover the real you at your own pace; even one thing a week can lead to big changes! Every step forward unveils something new. Have fun and enjoy the process. 
    Living my most authentic life is non-negotiable. Our individuality is what makes us special, and we need to honor that uniqueness time and time again. Standing in your truth might be scary, but it’s what we are called here to do. Explore the freedom in being unapologetically you 365 days a year. Celebrate what you love about yourself, step into the light, and one step at a time, you will get closer and closer to living your most authentic life. More

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    4 Lessons I Learned From Grief—and How They’ve Changed My Life

    As a child, I remember my friends going over to their grandparents’ homes for the weekend and coming home with mountains of homemade cookies and hand-knit sweaters. Me? I came home from my Grammy’s house smelling of patchouli and incense. I would hop back in the car from East Texas back to Dallas arm-in-arm with a pile of new books from the thrift store, a head chock full of Beatles songs, and lots of stories to chat about on the two-hour drive home.From what you can probably gather, my Grammy wasn’t the typical grandparent that you may have grown up with. She was a nurse dedicated to each and every patient that saw her, an activist for everyone who walked past her, an animal rehabber who took care of everything from chinchillas to possums, and a hippie at heart. When she died in 2017, I was wrecked—and so was everyone else. It wasn’t until I began to deal with my grief in a productive way that I realized something: the people we love leave us with lessons in the smallest, most magical of places—it’s just up to us to find them. 

    1. Life’s too short for boring
    I’ve always been a monochrome girl. I love a nice gray sweater, a fantastic pair of black jeans, and dainty gold jewelry. My room has always been decorated in neutrals (with the exception of an unfortunate satin purple bedspread in the 4th grade), and I’ve always been happy with it. My Grammy, on the other hand? Everything has always, always been an explosion of color. From the tie-dyed peace sign bumper stickers on her red Nissan Cube to the bright shirts and scrubs she wore on the daily to the card she carried as a member of the Red Hat Society, she was a huge proponent of rainbows and color bursts in any and every situation. 
    When she died, I wanted to honor her in little, everyday ways. For me, this looked like adding a rainbow quilt to my bed and a bright-colored tassel to my keys. More importantly, it was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load. By finding tangible, small ways to remember the person you lost, the grieving process might just shorten itself.
    My challenge to you: Add a little color to your bedroom with a bright pillow, swipe on some red lipstick, or pick up the bright blue socks from Target instead of the plain white ones.

    It was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load.

    2. Spread some love in your loved one’s honor
    As a (sometimes) vegetarian, an animal rehabber, and a seriously political woman, my Grammy did her absolute best to teach my sister, my cousin, and I about how lucky we were to have an Earth that supported us like it did. She also taught us how lucky we were to have animals that roamed the Earth and snuggled up next to us, and she was recycling everything in sight and carrying reusable bags way before it was the cool thing to do. She spent every extra second of her life volunteering somewhere, in some capacity, and I never once heard her complain. From picking up extra shifts as a hospice nurse on top of her normal ER hours and waking up at all hours of the night to bottle-feed injured possums, she never, ever put herself first. 
    In the years that have passed, I’ve become acutely aware of the holes in my community and the world that I could be helping with. Many of us probably understand the dichotomy that often occurs when we lose someone close to us—that balance between honoring someone while remembering they weren’t perfect people—that can add a confusing element to an already confusing time. While I’m sure my Grammy had qualities that were certainly not great, choosing to embrace her love for the world has helped me become a better person in every way. Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.
    My challenge to you: Set up a recurring monthly donation to a political candidate that inspires you, go pet the puppies living in cages at your local animal shelter, and rinse the shampoo out of your bottle so you can recycle it, damn it!

    Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.

    3. People make all the difference
    After my Grammy died, we had the intensely un-fun job at our hands to go through her things. I found myself near her bookshelves—the exact ceiling-to-floor shelves that had captivated me as a child—picking through the thousands of novels and self-help books that filled out. On the bottom shelf, I found a collection of all of her old high school yearbooks. They were coated in a thin layer of dust, and it was obvious that she hadn’t touched them in a while. I cracked them open, and the inside front and back covers were simply covered with long, handwritten notes about how grateful they were to have met a sweet spirit like her. As a high school teacher myself, I understand how rare it is for any high schoolers to write much more than “have a good summer” in anyone’s yearbook. 
    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel. In a world rife with turmoil and heavy with reminders that life can change on a dime, it’s our job to build meaningful relationships and love as well as we can. After all, not a single day is guaranteed.
    My challenge to you: Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, write a thank-you note to a teacher who made an impact on you, or make a point to have a true conversation with someone you love.

    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel.

    4. Never, ever stop searching for more
    My Grammy was always looking for something. I spent 23 years as her granddaughter before she died, and in that time I saw her explore transcendental meditation, dabble in Buddhist and Hindu prayers, twist herself into yoga positions, burn incense, and convert to Judaism from Methodism. She was on a constant quest for self-improvement, an understanding of the beyond, and a spiritual view of the world. While her method was unorthodox, it also reminds me of how important it is to never stop looking. While religion might be an extreme example, it’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 
    Losing someone is a difficult mountain to climb, and it often opens up questions that weren’t there before. However, taking that heartbreak and sadness and making it into a learning experience? I feel like there’s nothing that could honor those we love any better than that. We’re only on this earth for a short while, and making the most of every single second is the only good way to do it.
    My challenge to you: Go to therapy, download an app and dabble in meditation, or crack open a new self-help book that challenges you.

    It’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 

    Perhaps the most vivid memory from the week my Grammy died is getting the call that she had passed away and thinking to myself that it was my job to hold everyone else together. We’re a family of close-knit, like-minded women, and my mom lost her mother that day. The way I saw it, I couldn’t let myself cry or be overcome with grief. If I did, I was letting everyone else down and giving us permission to unravel from the inside out. I held my sister’s hand at the funeral and spoke to everyone gathered without a single shake in my voice, and I never, ever let anybody see me cry. 
    In hindsight, all that stoicism did was turn me away from every single lesson my Grammy had ever taught me. Feelings are there for a reason, and the people we love leaving us is staggeringly painful. Instead of sinking into ourselves, we’re all meant to rise up by loving people deeply, constantly bettering ourselves, sending love out in every direction, and doing it dressed in colorful clothes. After all, what’s left without color, light, love, and emotion? Nothing but darkness. When the people we love leave us with good, we have to carry it on. More

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    My Name is My Identity: Why Having a Ghanaian Name Means So Much to Me

    To commemorate the 400 years since enslaved African people departed from West African shores and landed in the United States, Ghana declared 2019 the “Year of Return.” Hundreds of thousands of people from the African diaspora around the world went to Ghana to rebuild a lost past and connect with their roots and ancestry. I heard countless stories of people adopting new Ghanaian names that connected them to their unknown history. There was an electrifying atmosphere and I felt proud to be a Ghanaian with a Ghanaian name. My name is one of royalty and purpose. I own my name; it’s who I am and I’m proud of it. My name is NaaDei, pronounced ‘Naa’ (like in ‘na’tural) and ‘Dei’ (as in ‘day’). These two ordinary syllables have perplexed many for my entire existence, causing much confusion, dismissal, disapproval, and negativity. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate my name and, if I’m being honest, I wished I had an English, easy-to-pronounce name. Sadly, campaigns like My Name, My Identity didn’t exist in my childhood, so as a consequence, my sister and I literally changed what we called ourselves. That uncomfortable, constant, lengthy, arduous, and repetitious dialogue about my name was so draining that I ended up using an easier “nickname” until my late teens.

    That uncomfortable, constant, lengthy, arduous, and repetitious dialogue about my name was so draining that I ended up using an easier “nickname” until my late teens.

    Unsurprisingly, many people have a similar experience. Whether it’s too ethnic, too different, or too awkward, I know I’m not the only one who has shortened, changed, or abbreviated their name to make it “easier” for others. We change it because we don’t want to constantly reinforce, explain, and justify our identity. I say “we” because this happens far too often in society. Our society is diverse and multicultural, so differences should be expected and accepted. Yes, a name may sound different, but it still deserves enough respect to be pronounced correctly. 
    My most vivid memory in relation to my name is from my university graduation ceremony. The school asked us to write any “unusual” names phonetically on paper to make it easier for the announcer. My name phonetically is ‘Nah–Day Neek-Way’ and this is exactly what I wrote in bold black marker. As I walked up to the podium, I handed the paper over and smiled, as I was about to walk across the stage after four years of hard work. But to my dismay and embarrassment, I heard, and I quote, “Natalie Negwalski!” What? How? I was horrified! I had a million thoughts running through my mind in that millisecond but the loudest one was, “NO, NaaDei, you need to correct her!” And, so I did! Normally I’d let it slide, but not that day. With thousands of onlookers, I politely shook my head and index finger simultaneously, saying NO, please say it correctly! After three attempts, she got it, and I finally walked across the stage feeling an immense sense of pride. 

    Our society is diverse and multicultural, so differences should be expected and accepted. Yes, a name may sound different, but it still deserves enough respect to be pronounced correctly. 

    That was the first time in my life that I wouldn’t accept being called anything else but my exact name. And what made it more empowering was that several strangers of different races approached me after the ceremony either giving me high fives, hugs, or applauding what I had done, because they too knew how I felt. They shared my experience and were happy to see someone stand up unapologetically about something that was different.
    While my name appears to be different, it’s not. The Ga-Dangbe tribe’s cultural norms are based on the family surname, gender, and birth order. The prefix “Naa” signifies respect and royalty and “Dei” is given to all first-born females in my family’s clan. I’m a first-born girl that can be traced back to the Neequayes in Accra from centuries-long ago, and I’m connected to all of this because of my name. These types of rich customs and traditions exist all around the world. Millions of people have different types of names with deep-rooted meanings signifying a meaningful family, culture, or legacy. My identity is part of who I am and my name connects me to my ancestors, and that is not strange.

    Millions of people have different types of names with deep-rooted meanings signifying a meaningful family, culture, or legacy. My identity is part of who I am and my name connects me to my ancestors, and that is not strange.

    I acknowledge that saying new names can be uncomfortable, even for me. However, if you find yourself in that predicament of saying a new name: ask how to say the name correctly, clarify if needed, apologize if you mispronounce it, make an effort to learn from your mistakes, and lastly, don’t make excuses. The old excuse of “I’m sorry, I’m just horrible with names” doesn’t cut it anymore. People should no longer dismiss their identity in an attempt to appease others. Be respectful of the millions of people with “unusual” or “strange” names. It’s not only courteous to pronounce someone’s name correctly, but it shows an effort in creating an inclusive and diverse environment. 
    Your name is arguably the most important thing about you because it’s the one word people use to identify you. It’s part of who you are, and that will always matter! So, to all the women and girls like me with “ethnic,” “different,” or “unique” names I say to you, be proud of your name and where it comes from. And correct them, sis! Correct them—EVERY TIME! More

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    Being the Shy Kid Can Make You an Awesome Adult

    Being the shy kid can be hard. You may have wondered if you’d ever be able to start a conversation with ease or stand up in front of the class to talk without going bright red — but by the time adulthood hits, most of us have managed to leave our awkward years of conversational trip-ups and eating lunch alone behind us. Although being shy is rarely a sought-after quality, sometimes the least confident kids make the best adults. But being a shy child can shape you into someone pretty special. Here’s how:

    You’re fine with your own company
    Although those long lunch breaks spent alone might not have been much fun at the time, they can be good practice for adulthood. No matter how sociable you might be, there will always be situations where you find yourself alone. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city or work in an unsociable office. Or perhaps you are simply finding that as you get older your friends are increasingly busy and your Friday nights are less booked up than they used to be.
    Having been a shy child means that you are likely to be comfortable with your own company. You can probably happily fill a free weekend with a good book or box set and won’t have a problem with eating out alone. 
    Being happy with your own company also means that you will be open to opportunities that more extroverted individuals might balk at. Traveling alone can be an incredible and affirming experience, and you probably wouldn’t think twice about going to the theatre or a gig by yourself if no one else wants a ticket. Being shy as a child sets you up to enjoy the things that you want to in life, regardless of whether anyone else wants to come along for the ride.

    You’re a good listener
    If you were ever the person who would rarely speak out in a group, then you’ve probably been practicing an important skill without even knowing it — being a good listener. Those days of nodding along whilst everyone else got to the chance to talk will mean that you’re in tune to the dynamics of conversation and are happy to sit back and give others the floor. 
    Although it’s also important that you now feel comfortable turning the conversation onto yourself every once in a while, being a good listener is still an incredibly valuable trait. Your friends will appreciate your ability to engage thoughtfully with what they have to say and will know that they can always come to you when they need someone to lend an ear.

    You appreciate your grown-up confidence
    Whilst others might take for granted being able to strike up a conversation or confidently command a room, you will remember how difficult this once was for you. Even if being the center of attention still makes you squirm, you will appreciate your abilities to flourish in certain situations. Perhaps meeting a new person or articulating your opinion might be much easier than it once was. Or perhaps you’re now able to happily host a party or present at a meeting. Whatever kind of confidence you’ve found in adulthood, you can be proud of how far you’ve come.

    You value your friendships
    Being shy as a child might have meant that your friendship circle was small or non-existent. Although this can be hard and have lasting impacts, it will also mean that the friendships that you are fortunate enough to have gained as an adult are especially valuable to you. If these friends are from your childhood, then this is particularly true, as you will know that they appreciated your shyness back then and love you for you.

    You’ve overcome a hurdle — and you know that you can overcome many more
    When you’re a shy child, the thought of being a confident adult can be hard to fathom. Participating in simple social interactions can be agonizing, and your shyness might feel like a vast obstacle to living your fullest life.
    If you’ve managed to gain confidence as an adult, then congratulations! You have overcome a significant hurdle and become the person that your shy self could only have dreamed of. Turn your knowledge into power and take this mindset forward into other areas of your life. If you can overcome your shyness, then you can overcome any other challenge that crosses your path. And that’s confidence far beyond being able to hold a good conversation.  More