Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Career Advice Now + Beyond

Dead languages are alive and can improve our careers

Almost every day of my life since I was 11, somebody has asked me, “why do you waste your time learning dead languages?”

As someone who started Latin and Ancient Greek way before I had to choose whether or not to take them in school, I usually respond with, “I like them. I like understanding cultures thoroughly and that is something that I can only attain by reading ancient texts in original.” To which people usually reply with, “Nerd.”

Yup, that’s me. Classics nerd and proud. Surprisingly, even though I did not pursue classical languages in college, I am still putting them to good use every day of my life. I’m still grateful for my passion, because it helped me in so many unexpected situations, from acing science quizzes to landing communications jobs. Now you will say, what do dead languages have to do with anything? But, you will find that classic languages have to do with everything.

Latin and Ancient Greek are formative subjects. They don’t just provide information, they shape your mind and train your brain to be more active and respondent. Learning them is the definition of a mental workout.

I know that some people may have a hard time believing that anything that isn’t a STEM-related field of study is just a waste of time, but it’s not. Liberal arts subjects help you see the world differently from a broader perspective, and that gives you the tools you need to change the world.

Once during a job interview, my interlocutor asked me about my knowledge of Latin and Greek. I was applying for a social media manager job and I’d had half a mind to erase the dead languages from my resume half an hour before I went in. When she asked me, I had never been so glad about not doing something my entire life. “Am I going to use Latin?” I remember asking shyly and incredulously. “No,” my future employer replied with a smile, “But it tells me you have so many hidden skills up your sleeve.”

It has been proven time and again that Latin literally opens up your mind. Because of its extremely complex syntax, translating original texts makes you develop all those soft skills that job recruiters want to see on your resume. The most important of those being logic, analysis, precision, and a kick-ass memory. And, quite frankly, you learn to speak any language better. Knowing dead languages gives you an elasticity that vouches you could learn another language in no time.

Over 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek roots. Some are borrowed from a medium language, usually French and Italian, and some are taken directly from either dead language. As a non-native English speaker, I’ve often been complimented for my knowledge of fancy and sophisticated English verbs. The opposite has also happened – do you know how many times I had no idea what something in my own language meant, especially in science courses? I’ve always gotten away with it thanks to Latin and Greek.

For that social media job I applied for, I was missing a modern language. I was supposed to be fluid in four but I only knew three. I was hired anyway, not because there were no better candidates, but because the HR person believed that I would have no trouble becoming fluid in a fourth modern language right away. She knew my knowledge of Classics made me more versatile than any of the other applicants.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Latin and Greek develop natural problem-solving in people. Translating from a dead language is hard, let me tell you. We often deal with passages so convoluted and complex that even scholars can’t agree on a translation, and we’re getting tested on it. Part of our training is to stay calm, reevaluate, and find another way out. Also, after years of reading texts of Plato and Cicero, we learn a thing or two about philosophydialectics and winning debates.

This is why – even in 2018 – a thousand years after Latin effectively stopped being spoken in everyday life, job recruiters around the world go under the “language” section on resumes looking for “Latin.” Even if you’ll probably never use Latin in the job that you’re applying for, learning it has developed in you a certain set of skills that come in handy when dealing with difficulties in your job, whatever the field may be.

Someone with a Classics background, or who simply pursued Latin in their own time, has the potential to go into any field. Because the struggle of learning dead languages is recognized, and it will take you places. I guess carrying heavy 3000-page dictionaries around for years is finally paying off. (Seriously, those things were huge. My back still hurts!)

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Tech Now + Beyond

It might seem cool to hate on emojis – but that’s actually offensive

People love to complain.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you have to admit, it has become a cultural phenomenon. I remember kids in my high school becoming popular for their supposed hatred of everything around them; whether it was hating pop music, biology class, your mom or even just the ability to breathe (really), hating things was seen as a cool kid thing.

I think it came from the cult-classic 90’s movie Clueless.

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But I digress.

Most of the time it was a harmless exaggeration. Taylor Swift, your biology teacher, and your mom never found out about your deep hatred for them. Instead, it was something we said for social leverage; the more you hated things, especially if it was mainstream, the more elite, or superior, you seemed.

So when emojis came into our world and flourished in mainstream media and millennial culture, it was obvious that they would get a few haters.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about not wanting to use emojis. You do you.

But when emojis are labeled as taking us ‘backward’ to a time when communication was more ‘primitive’ and less ‘civilized,’ that’s when I become angry and slightly confused.

The colonial mentality constructs a view of history that sees non-European cultures’ writing systems as primitive. This is done in order to promote the idea of European cultures as superior civilizations. It makes us feel like the only way to be valid in this world is to aspire to European culture, including language. It sounds complicated, but a quick glance will show you how prevalent it is in our society.

Why, for example, are recruiting agencies seeking out people to teach English in countries like Korea, China, and India?

The biggest argument I’ve heard for why emojis are primitive is that they are like Egyptian hieroglyphs, which are logosyllabic. This means that they consist of characters which on their own represent a word or phrase.

On the other hand, languages like English use the Latin script, which is phonetic. This means that each character is used in a string and sounded out to form a word or phrase.

Emojis being characters, which on their own represent words and phrases, would then make them more closely representative of a logosyllabic script.

In this way, emojis being inserted into languages like English, even going so far as to replace it, disrupts the narrative of European languages as superior. In other words, emojis completely disagree with the way European languages are written.

So when you call emojis ‘primitive,’ ‘backward,’ and ‘uncivilized’ you are also saying that logosyllabic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphs are ‘primitive’, ‘backward,’ and ‘uncivilized’.

When you say that emojis are taking us ‘backward’, you’re saying that historically black and brown writing systems are ‘backward’.

Many of you will call this a reach. You’ll say that I’m inflating emojis to be this huge representation of historically colonized cultures.

And I guess I am.

What people don’t realize is that seemingly small stuff like emojis can mean a lot. It can hint at other forms of oppression that people of color have to deal with on a regular basis. White people and people from western countries and backgrounds might not see the ways that they are perpetuating the colonial narrative.

But that does not mean that it does not have an effect.

And yes, I have mostly seen white and western people complaining about emojis.

As an English speaker, I feel happy seeing emojis inserted into everyday life. It’s a brilliant way to convey meaning and include a wider audience in conversation. For example, hashtags like #emojiresearch, which asks people to describe their research using emojis, supports the use of emojis in academia. It has been so interesting deciphering the different subjects people work in and study.

Some examples:

We need to start being more critical about the world around us. We need to interact with more empathy and be mindful of other people’s experiences, that might be vastly different from ours. When we attach words like ‘primitive’, ‘uncivilized,’ and even ‘unintelligent’ to anything, we are perpetuating the colonial narrative of inferiority vs. superiority.

Thinking deeply about emojis may seem a bit extra, but it’s frankly pretty damn fun.

TV Shows Movies Pop Culture

Why isn’t Disney’s newest royal addition considered a “true” Disney Princess?

When I was little, I used to think that becoming a Disney Princess would be a dream come true. I would live in a castle, marry a prince, and sing about everything I did. Of course, even as a child, I knew only certain types of people could play the part, so I didn’t mind giving up the role to fictional characters. Then I discovered not all fictional characters get to play the part either.

The Disney Princess club is more exclusive than just being a matter of reality versus fiction.

How exclusive? To the point where some princesses will never get to be called a “Disney Princess.” This is the case with Disney’s newest character, Elena of Avalor of whom breaks some new boundaries, but has a few setbacks in the process. Here are three crucial differences that separate Elena from the rest of the Disney Princesses.

1. Elena will not have her own movie.

Instead, she appears on a TV show. Why does this make a difference? Every other Disney Princess has had her opportunity to shine on the big screen. Television shows don’t receive the same audience reception as movies with a larger marketing campaign. Their legacy will eventually die out with the end of the season. Even her appearance, meant to be less doll-like, has the drawn-on features of a cartoon. 

When I bring up the name Elena of Avalor in conversation, most people won’t know who I am talking about unless they watch Disney Channel. Elena has a target demographic of young girls and teens, but that target demographic is keeping her hidden from the rest of Disney’s fans.

2. Elena is the first Latina princess to be created by Disney.

The news of her arrival was a long-awaited moment for Hispanic and Latino communities to finally rejoice at their share of representation. Her series, inspired by Latin cultures, is another attempt at diversity by Disney, which has a reputation for preferring their best-selling white princesses. To say some were disappointed by her unveiling would be an understatement. The way her character was presented coupled with the absence of a movie left some fans feeling robbed. Rebecca C. Hains, the author of The Princess Problem, points out that Elena has an American accent while the older characters have Spanish accents

Box-office success is one of the biggest determiners for who makes it into the princess line-up. However, Elena has already proven her popularity and success with the company. Her identity stands for a large part of the population so, hopefully, Disney will attempt to make her just as large in the future.

3. This Princess does not have a prince.

Nor does Elena need one.

Her television series is meant to depict Elena as a good leader, independent from romance. The teenage princess is capable of taking care of herself with the help of magical powers given to her by the scepter of light, a weapon which can reveal what is behind doors or walls, but which also has consequences in using it. Traditionally, each Disney Princess, except Merida, has their princely counterpart, ready to save them from the evil of others. Elena fits in with the characteristics of a newer Disney; one in which the heroines are strong-willed, adventurous, and determined.

Although Elena did not fit into the Disney Princess group, she is making a name for herself through other means. Her release has still generated a lot of excitement around her character; in no way has she become invisible without her own movie. Regardless, her addition to the Disney family is a matter to celebrate more diversity and a new role-model for girls of every race and background.

As a fan of Disney, I do not pay attention to the franchises or the Princess lineup. What matters to me is discovering a character, which I can appreciate for who they are and what they stand for. I never thought including the word Disney would make such a difference to having the princess title, which is already a desirable trait. 

Disney Princess or not, Elena is still a princess in my mind.

Music Pop Culture

No, Justin Bieber, your made-up lyrics to “Despacito” didn’t make anyone laugh

Before Justin Bieber remixed “Despacito,” a song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, it was already a hit in the Latin-speaking communities around the world. And after Justin remixed the song and was featured on the track; it became an international sensation.

Luis Fonsi said in an interview that Justin wanted to be a part of the song when he heard it at a club while he was touring Latin America. Apparently, Justin saw the crowd’s reaction to the song and immediately wanted to be a part of it. This shows that Justin recognized how good the song was and being featured on it would mean a gain for him; both monetary and in popularity among the Latin-speaking community.

Justin recorded his verses for “Despacito” for no other reason than personal gain.

Justin Bieber is a young white man who is notorious for his antics, not really caring about the consequences. And as a privileged white man, he has always gotten away with them, with little to no consequences. Thus it is no surprise that Justin confidently called Luis up and informed him of his wish to record his own verses for the song.

Justin used his position as an international superstar to his advantage. He knew his name being added to the song would bring “Despacito” into the mainstream limelight and what Latin artist could say no to that? Considering the last Spanish single to reach that kind of popularity was back in 1996 when Macarena by Los Del Rio was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Justin evidently insisted on singing the chorus in Spanish as well as his verse in English. This was a genius move; winning him hearts of Latin speakers everywhere and possibly making his fan base even wider.

This is a clear case of cultural and language appropriation. Justin used the Spanish language where it served to benefit him. He knew that being featured on a hit song such as “Despacito” would mean that he would gain both monetarily and in terms of fame in the Latin community but that was as far as his interest in Spanish went. He could not be bothered with the language beyond where it benefited him.

Justin used the Spanish language where it served to benefit him. He knew that being featured on a hit song such as “Despacito” would mean that he would gain both monetarily and in terms of fame in the Latin community but that was as far as his interest in Spanish went. He could not be bothered with the language beyond where it benefited him.

The issue came later when Justin sang the song at a club. He apparently did not remember a single Spanish lyric to the song but sung it nonetheless. He substituted the Spanish chorus with words which he apparently thought sounded Spanish which included “Dorito,” “Burrito” and “Poquito.”

Luis himself defended Justin, saying the Spanish lyrics were incredibly tough and even native speakers of the language would face difficulties singing them. But that does not change the fact that what Justin did was not only disrespectful but incredibly hurtful to native Spanish speakers.

Justin trivialized the Spanish language; he sang nonsensical lyrics to a song he originally sang in Spanish. It is understandable that he would not remember the lyrics since he does not speak Spanish. However, this does not mean he can make up whatever nonsense lyrics he wants to the song, using words which he thinks sound Spanish.  Instead, he just used lyrics that are stereotypical ones people use in conjunction with the Latin culture. Justin might have thought he was being funny but he just came across as plain disrespectful.

Justin might have thought he was being funny, but he just came across as plain disrespectful.

Justin Bieber sang the Spanish chorus on “Despacito” of his own volition. Later, he made fun of the song by singing the Spanish lyrics wrong on purpose, which was not only insensitive but also disrespectful. How hard is it to just say you don’t know the lyrics?

It is no secret that white men are incredibly privileged, but white male celebrities are even more so. Letting them get away with casually appropriating cultures and languages need to stop. We need to call out artists when their actions are disrespectful or hurtful to a certain community.

There have been people defending Justin’s actions saying he was only having fun and meant no harm. However, his performance clearly ridiculed the Spanish language and hurt thousands of people. If it was indeed a joke, then Justin needs to publicly accept that his humor was tasteless and apologize.

While Justin has now refused to perform “Despacito” live, he has still not apologized for his actions at the club. Thousands of native Latin speakers have been hurt by Justin’s actions yet he still refuses to own up to it and apologize for his behavior.

TV Shows Pop Culture

Jane the Virgin Recap: DROP THE VIRGIN ALREADY

Hashtag game: #Petrafied, #PreTweetMode, #EsteBunInTheOven, #EsteBarf, #UrineTrouble.

Highlights: “Not that funny, Jane”, a ten-second laughing-for-no-reason scene, World Greatest Griller, Amnesiac Michael, Faith M. Whiskers III, food-coded secret language, “a murderous, powdered-donut-eating criminal”.

To paraphrase the Latin Love Narrator, let’s continue where we left off: the last episode of Jane The Virgin season two gave us watchers a pretty speculative cliffhanger (re: the beautiful wedding followed by a harmful encounter). When will Jane finally have sex? Is Michael gonna be dead or maybe in a coma? What happens to Petra later? Does Xiomara’s relationship with Rogelio change after Esteban scandal? Well…

I couldn’t feel more oddly bookish when watching Jane The Virgin, especially this new episode, aka Chapter 45, where most of the sequences of event are told in a book-flipping style (also there’s a scene in this episode where the ‘book’ is dog-eared!). Michael’s injury drove the narrative of Chapter 45, placing other people with its consequences: Jane and Michael’s mother rather unpleasant meeting and some arguing (turned out they have the same habit of keeping a list of questions), Petra’s luck, and another investigation at The Marbella.

It also brought up Jane’s stories – and imagination as well – both from the past and future. Finding out the fact that Jane had been in a love triangle before #TeamMichael versus #TeamRafael period is arguably more surprising than knowing about her enjoying the spoiler paradox – despite not expending any ending but the happily-ever-after one. If I were Jane, I, too, would dare myself to explore polyamory because choosing either a gullible detective (with whom I kissed like magic) or a bespectacled bibliophile (with whom I’ve been in love for two years seventeen months) might romantically frustrate me.

On second thought, still on If I Were Jane game, I would choose Michael (as if this episode didn’t almost entirely revolve around him). Who else would bring me soup and yell “Keep your head inside the vehicle!” to the guy I was going out with, that he pulled over? Jeez, calm down my dear Power-Abusing Michael. Just don’t call me – okay, don’t call Jane – a jackass in a parking lot.

Other thing to keep in mind: anyone, please take texting and dating advice from your mother if she happens to be Xiomara.

Alas, the amount of hilarious spontaneity is comparable to the intense exhibit of emotions. The hospital where Michael had his surgery came in the color blue, sort of amplifying the fleeting melancholy of hoping while in shock. “Abuela” Alba with her rosary and prayers, Jane’s sudden burst, doctor’s sympathetic expression, Michael’s police colleagues lining up in the waiting room, Rogelio’s cautious behavior in preventing anyone non-stars to capture his presence until somewhat he got handcuffed for it. This indeed is a story about faith.

Not only Jane Gloriana Villanueva is a very organized person but also, judging from her detailed family plan, a visionary wife and mother. I was amused when she chronologically explained how she wanted a future with Michael; three kids, big backyard feast, front porch talk. I got to say I love witnessing both of them growing old together but mostly it was because I want to see more of Gina Rodriguez and Brett Dier covered in thick makeup acting as old couples. Furthermore, my amusement came to its peak when the “this is the story about faith” quote actually contains double entendre. Come on, guys.

On the other hand, Anezka playing Petra did a good job in her improvisation… and a sister-to-sister injection. I still recall her asking the police whether Rafael looked happy when he confirmed her alibi (re: one-off sex from the other night) and lowkey wanting her feeling towards Rafael validated. While Rafael himself was quite impressive in remembering about Sin Rostro’s favorite snack to help police investigate the Michael-shooting case, quite sadly after all that he hasn’t figured out if Petra is now literally a different person.

Out of my faith I believe he was almost there when he told ‘Petra’ earlier that their relationship (read: one-off sex from the other night!) felt different and what they had was no longer there thus he wanted them to remain just friends. Poor baby daddy, please try harder next time. (PS: double entendre never intended.)

Tech Now + Beyond

Here’s how Google is proving it actually cares about diversity

Any Spiderman fans out there?

Remember last year when Marvel cast Tom Holland as the new Spiderman? We were all a little disappointed, right? I mean, that’s the third Spiderman franchise in the last decade and they had to go with another white man? Even though Holland was great in Captain America: Civil War (that kid knows how to make you laugh), many audience members were justifiably frustrated.

After all, when Spiderman was first written into the comics, it made sense for him to be a nerdy white dude. He was supposed to be an underdog, the little guy, you know the trope. And as a geeky, science nerd he fit the stereotype.

Fast forward through the rise of Silicon Valley, and now the nerdy white dude is the man. White men have taken over the coding industry and asserted their dominance over the world of computer science. That’s why people were frustrated that another white man was playing Spiderman, because geeky white men are no longer the underdogs.

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Although the entertainment industry may not yet have learned from its mistakes, the tech industry seems to be catching up. This past Thursday, Google opened a computer lab named Code Next in Oakland, California with the goal of specifically reaching out to latinx and black students. Code Next hopes to work with the Oakland community to encourage computer science education and grow diversity in the predominantly white-male coding world.

Google chose Oakland as the base for this computer lab for a very particular reason: Oakland is the fourth most multicultural city in the United States.

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Today’s technology industry is overwhelmingly the domain of white men. Blacks make up only 7% of the industry and Latinos just 8%, likewise, women only compose 30% of the sector. That distinct lack of color can be linked to a lot of different causes: hiring discrimination, institutionalized racism, and on.

Yet one of the main causes that Google emphasizes for this initiative is that 51% of black and 47% of latinx students don’t have computer science classes in their schools. Oakland, on the other hand, hosts a population that is 26% black and 25% latinx. Looks like the perfect place to reverse industry discrimination.

Group Smiling Using Computer

Google has made a concerted effort to engage with the Oakland community in planning Code Next, and will hopefully continue to do so as the program launches. As Errol King of Code Next explained, “We decided from the beginning that we would build with the community, not for the community.” That’s such an important attitude when working with local communities, and especially when working with communities that have historically been marginalized or ignored.

As Code Next grows, Google hopes to launch a second lab in Harlem, New York. Eventually, the plan is to make Code Next into an open-source program that schools and educators across the world can implement.

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We can’t wait to see a world where more women and people of color are involved in the computer science industry. It’s a step towards representation that we so direly need. The broader our cultural imagination, the more opportunities for all of us.Diversity in one sector promotes representation, and representation encourages us to push into new fields–that’s something we could all use.

Imagine, in another ten years we could be living in a world where “computer geek” doesn’t just conjure up images of crime-fighting white-superheroes, but pretty much anyone.

Tech Now + Beyond

Here’s the big secret behind Netflix losing your favorite shows

If you’ve been on Netflix recently, you’ve probably been binge-watching Stranger Things and Luke Cage (we know we have). Over the last few years, the online television streaming service has produced original favorites like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards that have garnered as many, if not more, views than its traditional content. Yet Netflix made the news this week, not because of its original content, but rather changes that original content has wrought.

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This week, the streaming blog Exstreamist announced that Netflix’s catalog had shrunk from 11,000 titles in 2012 to 5,300 today. Wow.

Analysts have attributed a number of different causes to Netflix’s shrinking numbers. Some say Netflix has tried to budget for popular titles (going for quality over quantity). Others say Netflix’s international audience is changing the game (Netflix has 13,500 titles internationally, but only those 5,300 in the US). And yet others believe that Netflix’s emphasis on original content is changing its business priorities.

Netflix has in fact announced its goal to move towards original, self-generated content in the coming years. Netflix CFO David Wells has even said, “You should expect us to push toward more 50/50 in terms of original exclusive content and licensed content.” By the end of 2016, Netflix is looking at releasing over 600 hours of original content. 600 hours!

Netflix Show Image

Though its been a little weird to see Netflix’s catalog shrinking (if you’re anything like us, you’ve watched your favorite show 800 times rather than pick a new program), we have to say that we’re a fan of Netflix’s original content.

Netflix’s original shows, especially favorites like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Jessica Jones, and the recently-released Luke Cage have been pretty game-changing. They’ve tackled difficult issues and done so tastefully.

Look at Orange is the New Black, for example: that show’s redefined the conversation about American prisons, incarceration, and race in the US. And it’s done so in a fun, and sometimes challenging, way.

Same goes for Jessica Jones, the show that centered around ideas of consent and harassment. The central theme of the series turned around asking women to smile, and it gave us a powerful example of a woman who said no.

This week, when Netflix released Luke Cage, it gave us another example of the difficult issues its willing to take on. Have a look at their promotional images and you’ll see why: their protagonist is a black man in a hoodie riddled with bullet holes. That’s saying something.

Luke Cage Image

While the media may be up-in-arms about Netflix’s shrinking catalog, we can’t say that we mind. At least, not if Netflix continues to produce such moving original content.

We’ll take another season of OITNB or a follow-up to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (can you spell, The Defenders?) any day over ten seasons of reality television or soap operas.

Race The World Inequality

I didn’t grow up in as diverse of an area as I thought I did

My family moved to New Mexico so I would have the chance to grow up somewhere diverse. We had been living in Salt Lake City, Utah and my parents wanted me to have the chance to live somewhere people were something other than Mormon. So when my dad was offered a job in New Mexico, we headed to the state of green chile and roadrunners.

What we didn’t expect was that New Mexico’s diversity, perhaps like diversity anywhere, was limited. We moved to find something other than white, and found a community that was white and Hispanic–but little else.

Growing up, I remember that there was not a single black kid in my grade at high school. I think the grade above me might have had one black student, and that was a “big deal.”

Similarly, though there was a small group of Asian students at my high school they were known as precisely that: “the Asians.” Leave it to high school students to forget “Chinese,” “Korean,” “Taiwanese,” and on, and instead only say “Asian.” They were the nerdy kids, you know the stereotype: good at science, bad at dating.

There were so few of them, that they were token examples of their culture. As white and latin@ high school students, we assumed that whatever one of them personally did was what all of them collectively did. That if one kid liked spicy food, all Asians liked spicy food; if one did well on a test, all Asians did well on tests. If that’s not the definition of a stereotype, I don’t know what is.

Despite the lack of black and Asian culture, I didn’t realize I was missing out. After all, this was New Mexico. You know, Mexico, only newer. We were the epitome of Hispanic culture in the U.S. Everyone ordered huevos rancheros at their favorite Mexican restaurant, went to Zozobra in September, and hiked in the foothills of the Sandia mountains.

Though I am white, I’ve always felt like I had a decent understanding of Hispanic culture. I spoke Spanish, ordered my chicken flautas Christmas (with red and green chile), and spent more time in Catholic churches than entirely necessary for a non-Christian. It wasn’t until I moved away from New Mexico to start college that I realized I had been missing out on something.

No matter how well I understood the culture I had grown up in, I had missed out on something huge: an understanding of other cultures beyond stereotypes.

When I moved into my first-year dorm at college, I met my first roommate. She was mixed-race and of black descent, and although it didn’t hit me in the moment I later realized that she was one more black person than had been in my entire grade in high school. Living with her became a crash-course in breaking-down stereotypes.

Early in our first year, we found ourselves coincidentally at the same art exhibit opening. Alongside a few paintings, the centerpiece of the show was a series of sculptures of people’s hair. As the artist described her work, she mentioned wanting to do a collection about hair because, as a black woman, she was so tired of people asking to touch hers.

I spotted my roommate across the room laughing at that comment, and I straightened my back. No one had ever told me not to touch a black woman’s hair. Were there other unspoken rules about race that I had been missing out on? I was suddenly very glad I had never asked to touch my roommate’s hair, and suddenly very worried that I had asked to do something else.

That was far from my last experience learning about race in college. Unlike how I had thought of “the Asians” at my high school, I learned to stop falling into the harmful trap of assuming that what one person did stood in for everyone in their culture.

Just as I should have stopped using “Asian” as substitute for “Thai” or “Korean,” I started to see that “black” meant more than one singular experience. For my roommate, it meant being mixed. For a classmate, it meant being an immigrant from Nigeria. For a friend, it meant going home each summer to her family in the Caribbean. My experience of other cultures quickly catapulted from tokenization to representation.

I’m eternally grateful for my experience growing up in New Mexico and the insight it gave me into a culture other than my own. I’ve lived in Spanish speaking countries since moving away from home, and always felt a little closer to the culture because of it. Yet, I wish I had grown up somewhere less binary in terms of racial communities and more multicultural.

What I wish I had known as a kid, is that you can always learn. Thanks to the internet and libraries everywhere, you can make up in reading what you lack in personal experience. After all, your friends are never responsible for representing their entire culture–whether there be one or many of them. And should you move somewhere new, you can get to know people from all sorts of backgrounds other than your own.