My Best Friend

My best friend is brown, and she’s Muslim too.

She’s brown like me and speaks Spanish too.  She’s a little sister, an aunt and a daughter.  She comes from a family that immigrated to the US too.

She fills out pages of applications and writes briefs for immigrants who look like me and you. Oh yeah she’s an attorney, probably better than me too.

She fights for people who are here and have no where else to go if their applications are denied.

She tosses and turns when she can’t get it done fast enough and she chose this path even when she knew she could likely never do enough.

She cries when she feels helpless and when Trump passes executive orders too, but she’s brown and she’s strong, and she’s a Muslim too.

I met her parents and they were kind and welcoming.  Her mom hugged me and took my bag and the first thing she asked me was if I wanted something to eat.  “You’ve been working all day, you must be starving.”

Leave it to a brown Mom to make sure there’s not a need left for her to meet. She’s a doctor who’s witty and fashionable too.

She asked me about an ex-boyfriend I had and knew that I lived with him too.

And then she asked me about the new one and she didn’t flinch when I said he was Jewish too.

She’s a mom probably better than the one you have too because she refused to share a practice with her husband because she’s brown and strong and independent too.

Her dad sat in the living room and waved from his afar he was just like my dad watching soccer too.

He told us about growing up in Abu Dhabi and the killings he saw on the street.  When my best friend expressed surprise he told her, “Oh baba for you I used to keep it sweet.”

You’re older now, I can tell you the truth…he sat around and chatted with us he’s brown, and Muslim too.

My best friend’s dad saved a man once while on vacation.  The man was white and almost drowned choking on seaweed.

Her dad ran over, heart condition and all, the only doctor who responded and gave him mouth to mouth.  He saved that man right there on beach, his boyfriend thanked him…oh yeah the drowner was gay too.

But this didn’t stop Dr. B because this was something larger than him.  He’s a doctor and he’s strong and he’s a Muslim too.

My best friend’s sister…you guessed it she’s brown too.  She small and compact but tougher than anyone I ever knew.

She married a white guy and they have two kids too.  They’re kind and funny and do all the things kids love to do.  They play and they laugh and love chocolate too.

They say Jido and Grandpa and guess what?  They’re all Muslim too.

I often sit and think when being Muslim became taboo.  Was it when we decided that to be evil it had to be because you were Muslim too?

As long as I’ve been alive I’ve seen religion make people do funny things too.  Like scream, “Pro-life” and “Don’t get divorced!” but never, “Crash that plane into a tower!” too.

I see my friend and her family too and how they remind me of mine and all the things we do.

We’re both part of a group that just never really belonged but now to Muslims and Mexicans the United States is saying “SO LONG!”

We fight everyday to prove that we are just like you, you reading this who’s not brown, that we’re worthy too.

My best friend and I we talk every day, but today it’s like we ran out of things to say.

How do we comfort each other when we have no control over what’s happening.  So we mourn and we cry and let ourselves be.

But on Monday my best friend goes back to work.  And she talks to her clients and she weeds through the murk.  She uses her steady voice that she taught me so much about–and reminds me to stay tough and strong and not let this thing take us out.

My best friend is strong, independent and brown.

My best friend is tough and she isn’t afraid of taking on this order too.

She speaks Spanish and Arabic and is trying out a few others too.

She loves to eat and laugh and learn about other cultures too.  Her favorite city is Damascus because her family hails from Syria too.  And guess what?  On top of all of that, she’s Muslim too.

Do Not Come For Me

Sometimes when I think back at some of the crazy discriminatory experiences I’ve had I make up how I should have responded.  I’m sure you’ve done this too.  After an argument with someone, a debate, etc., you’re just like oh I should have said that! or Why didn’t I think of that!?  Then, for weeks and weeks you’re replaying how you would re-address that person if you had the opportunity.  This happens to me a lot.  I could (and probably will) write about how someone did/said something to me and I stood silent, unable to think of a come back witty or intelligent enough in that split second.  But, there’s only so much a girl can take!..Am I right?!  So, here’s one about how I finally stood up for myself.  I’ll warn you it wasn’t the confrontation that I had day dreamed about, but it was damn good if you ask me.

So, once upon a time I worked at a firm.  I really liked everyone I worked with and this in no way reflects who they are.  But, one person that always did me dirty (for no reason) was my boss.  For anonymity and because I’m truly not trying to shit on anyone I worked with here I won’t name my employer.  My boss was basically your typical I say what I want and if it offends you then I’m sorry but that wasn’t my intention type of guy.  For context, once he dropped me off at home and said that I probably understand what my clients are going through because I lived in such a shitty neighborhood, just like them!  I mean not only was he shitting on the fact that I owned piece of real estate at a very young age, my proudest accomplishment, but he was cutting my paychecks at the time and he was dropping me off in a Lexus.  So I think that said more about him than it did about me because newsflash: that’s all I could afford at the time!  That’s a light example of the shit he used to say about me, to my face.

I could tell you all the details about what prompted the letter below but I promise you IT DOES NOT MATTER.  As you’ll read, he told me that I wasn’t on a partner track at my firm because I hadn’t transitioned from being Jenny from the Block to being JLo.  This was over text message (I got the receipts if you think I’m lying) and I was so shocked when I read this that I didn’t know how to respond so I said something about how I hadn’t done what he thought I did that warranted his text (spoiler alert: nothing could warrant that text) and he shit on me a little more.  I worked there a whole year while looking for other jobs after this happened and finally I found somewhere I wanted to go and left.

I could legitimately write a book about the things I went through dealing with that man but this is about how Brown Girl got her Bruja Back not him!  So, below is an abridged letter I left on his desk my last day of work.


As I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to have a conversation with you regarding my leaving this office, I debated whether it was even necessary to shed some light on my seemingly unexpected departure.  The reasons I am leaving are still very much present in this office and affecting other female attorneys and employees alike, and I feel it necessary to make it absolutely clear the reason for my decision to leave.  At most, I hope you read this and reflect on what I’ve said and take actual steps to change, and at the least, I hope it has put you and this firm on notice of the pattern of discriminatory treatment of women in your office, namely women of color.

In the three years I have practiced here, it has been a constant battle to contort myself to meet the unrealistic and illogical expectations you have set forth.  Those expectations, however, are common to every attorney in this office. It is the expectations and negative light in which you cast me that I have never been able to meet or change.  When I started at this firm, I worked diligently and committed myself to this office. If I was asked to do something, I did it.  I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted a job here after law school and upon graduation I was offered one. This position was something I earned.

“This position was something I earned.”

As I started practicing I noticed that there were things you were saying to me that you weren’t saying to the other female attorneys in this office and things you would criticize me about for which the other women didn’t get criticized.  On a number of occasions you told me I was aggressive, that I needed to polish myself, that I was intimidating and that I had a tough personality that at times made it difficult to get along with me. At one point, you even told me that if I was lucky, I could polish myself to the point that people would actually listen to me when I spoke, like Suzy (not her real name), who at that point you had only interviewed but had somehow already decided she was a more polished version of me.  I began to feel that I was being pigeonholed as this rough, urban, neck snapping minority attorney who people did not take seriously.  I initially thought, this is bullshit, I have had office jobs before this and no one has ever told me this, he’s just picking at me.  But somehow these negative characteristics and ideas started to create a trend between you and me and at the end of any talk we had you’d leave me with a little tid bit about how you thought I would be a better attorney if I was nicer, if I added some sugar to my emails, if I wasn’t rough and/or aggressive.  I decided that I would focus on “polishing” my personality and, more importantly, on working my ass off at this firm to show that even if I did have some personality traits you didn’t like, that my work would carry me.  Soon I saw that alone wasn’t enough.

In the fall of 2015, I decided that I was finally in a financial position to take my mom and me on a vacation.  What followed here marked the beginning of the end for me in this office.  I worked hard all year to build up time and wrack up settlements so that when I decided to have this conversation with you, you could see how I had been preparing my caseload for an extended absence.

This letter, for the record, was written with no attitude, aggression or malice, and despite the tone you have read it in to this point, I haven’t snapped my neck once. 

At one point I admit that maybe my delivery in asking for this time off wasn’t the best; however, looking back it’s clear that the only reason you read my email (or any email I’ve ever sent you) in that negative, demanding and aggressive tone you read it in was because of how you think of me: an aggressive, demanding person of color who couldn’t possibly be writing a professional email to you. This letter, for the record, was written with no attitude, aggression or malice, and despite the tone you have read it in to this point, I haven’t snapped my neck once.  The back and forth that followed my request for time off was riddled with personal insults and even saying that my parents should be grateful to you for employing me after law school.  I realized then that no matter what I did you would always see me this way—an inner city girl who you turned into an attorney and who was your work in progress, constantly trying to polish her up to make her fit in.

The events that transpired in the last few weeks of December solidified my need to move on from this office.  One Wednesday evening, I asked for permission to leave early to get drinks with an office contact. I was constantly trying to polish myself so, I asked you. You didn’t respond, I told him we would need to take a rain check and I worked a normal late Wednesday night.  The following morning I received some of the most insulting text messages I have ever received in my life, professionally and personally.  You questioned my maturity in even thinking it was appropriate for asking for permission, and that I wasn’t on a partner track because I had not yet transitioned from Jenny from the Block to J. Lo and that Jenny from the Block was no longer cute.  I read those text messages while I was at court, covering cases that weren’t mine, and when I got done I walked outside and cried.  I cried because it hurt my feelings, yes, but I also cried because I knew that I was fighting an uphill battle at this office for a successful career.  I cried because no matter what I did, at the end of the day all I was to you was a girl from Englewood, who has a pitbull and snaps her neck when she talks.  It didn’t matter that I had performed for you and outperformed myself year after year.  I realized that the reasons you saw me negatively were for traits I had no control over—my gender, my race, my upbringing—it wasn’t for the things I could change or polish.

“Jenny from the Block was no longer cute.”

All of a sudden it all started to make sense—me being too aggressive, not being polished, buttoned up, etc., those were all just negative stereotypes you had assigned to me because of who I was and where I was from rather than because of what I did or my performance as an attorney.  All of these things I am proud of and have allowed me to relate to clients in a way no other attorney in this office can. Being an advocate for injured plaintiffs who hail from the inner city and are minority is something that has always felt natural to me and something you should have seen as an asset to your firm, but you never did. And that’s why I’m leaving, I don’t think the things you say and the way you think of me is a bad analogy. I think it’s a flawed fundamental problem with how you see women of color and that view clouds your judgment and makes you discriminatory and purposefully insulting.

“…those are some of my favorite parts about myself.”

I could have left and stayed silent on this matter, but I chose not to. It’s not because I want revenge or that I’m malicious, it’s because I want to make sure that you never treat someone else how you treated me and I have seen signs that you have already started down this path with other female attorneys.  The least I can do is advocate for whoever comes next and hope that they don’t face the same discrimination I did.  I welcome a conversation with you regarding these issues, but at the very least I ask that you place yourself in my father’s shoes and imagine how you would feel if you read the emails or texts that you sent to me.  If you can’t as a professional see the problem then maybe as a human you can.  All of the things you thought were negative about me: my race, my upbringing, my gender are all things I can’t control.  But, those things never affected me practicing law and to be honest, those are some of my favorite parts about myself.


 

When I first wrote this letter I didn’t have any intentions of actually giving it to him.  I did it more as a therapeutic exercise (shout out to my best friend who recommended it!).  But after feeling all that pain and basically reliving all of the terrible things he had said to me I decided I didn’t want to be someone who just suffered in silence anymore I wanted to stand up and say my piece, not just for me but for every woman (of color and not) that would ever cross his path again.  Annnnddd I wanted to stop being the bitch titty that I normally am when people say and do completely rude and ignorant things to me and damn right I was starting with him.  Brown Girl came for him because he came for me.

I’ll tell you in that year that I was preparing to exit, I learned a lot about myself and others.  I secretly hoped and thought that after my co-workers read the texts and learned the details that there would be some kind of historical uprising and we would effectuate change together…that never happened.  I don’t blame them though, you’ll see why below.  However, the most supportive responses I got was from my family–my brother in particular said it took every ounce of self-control in his body to not react like he wanted to–leave it to a Brown Brother, right!?  But, I’m glad he didn’t react because it gave me a chance to come into my own and realize what “I got your back” truly means.  I had a brother who was feeling all of the emotions I was feeling.  I had a boyfriend who said if I never wanted to go back to work I didn’t have to that he would cover me until I could find somewhere else to work.  I had parents who told me I could come back home if I didn’t want to step foot back in that office and couldn’t afford to pay rent.  I had friends and co-workers who told me how good of an attorney I was and how I didn’t deserve any of the things he said to me.

But besides all that, for a year I was kicking myself in the face everyday and every time I settled a case or made my firm money because I hadn’t stood up for myself. After I left I realized that no matter how much you or anyone else believes in a cause there is always something that can hold you back from outwardly supporting it–you’re too embarrassed, you don’t want to shock your friends at how passionate you are about a topic, you don’t want to be the person who is taking over peoples’ news feeds, you don’t want to be the one to get involved and rustle the water.  Hell I have fallen victim to this too, we all just want to seem like we’re chill after all don’t we?  I for one can say I’m much braver behind my keyboard writing this blog than I ever was to my ex boss’s face, but I decided to start doing my part and stop making excuses.  I started with that letter.  I decided enough was enough and to keep the impetus of writing that letter going (and the forever hangover that was the election) I started this blog and have been really trying to keep it a safe and encouraging conversational zone ever since.

I guess my take away from all of this was that there comes a time when you can’t be too embarrassed, too shy, too reserved or too worried about what other people will think.  You should stand up for yourself or someone else who’s the victim of discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment of any kind, no one should be expected to tolerate that.  Given our country’s climate, I’d say that time is now to be proactive.  When my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends read this blog and this particular story I hope they’re proud of what I did and how I decided to be someone who isn’t afraid anymore.  This is how I have decided to start, how will you?

For My Brown Girl Angel

Celebrating the New Year is always a weird time for me.  I look back and think of what I’ve accomplished, what I failed to do, what I want to work on for next year.  Normally I’m left feeling like I came up short and I enter the New Year promising to be more motivated.  As this year came to an end though, I didn’t have time to reflect.  I was too busy living in a sea of denial regarding my nina’s (Madrina/God Mother) bleak medical condition.

My nina, who also happened to be my aunt, was a giant influence in my life.  Some of the first memories I can remember  are spending time with her and my cousins in her old house watching a small black and white TV cuddling on the couch eating toast.  In my culture your nina is more than just an aunt or someone with a special title, it’s someone that your parents have a connection with and who they would want to raise you if anything ever happened to them.  It’s a pretty big deal.  I was lucky enough to have a nina that was best friends with my Mom–two brown girls who stuck together when their sister in laws would ice them out.  They were pregnant together, would escape my grandpa’s bad mood together and in at least one case they were in the room with the other when one of them was giving birth.  My mom says that the bond she had with my nina was more than familiar or a normal friendship because they chose each other, as sisters.  That bond they shared was handed down to their respective kids and even now as an adult I consider my cousins my siblings.  We have that I-will-always-be-there-for-you-even-when-you-piss-me-off-and-are-a-complete-asshole-ok-I-love-you-bye, type of relationship.

These past few years my nina has been pretty sick and because 2016 was the year of ultimate bullshit, it took her with it on 12/29/2016.  I try to be annoyingly optimistic and because of that before this year I refused to see my nina in the hospital or to accept she wasn’t going to be OK.  In November when she got ill I refused to see her.  “I’ll see her when she gets out,” I said to myself.  Then my cousin who is like my sister said, “she might not get out you need to go see her, I’m sorry if I’m being harsh but you can’t be a bitch titty.” So I went, she was the smallest I’d ever seen her but as sassy as ever.  She was smiling and bullshitting just like I remembered.  But, it was the beginning of the end and she was fighting a losing battle.  I will say that in true Brown Girl fashion she was admitted into hospice, then evicted because she wasn’t sick enough.  Her release had all of the nurses talking about how she was breaking all the rules–true to form, nina.

When I realized that this was actually it I talked to my cousin and told her I want to talk to her, I want to ask her all of these questions, I want to compile all of her wisdom and put it somewhere safe.  A piece of me wanted to have her forever, her words, her experiences, her lessons.  I had so many things to ask her so many things I wanted to know that I needed to know before it was too late.  But, if you know a Brown Family, you know that when someone is in the hospital then there are 15 of you in the hospital.  So, there’s not a lot of private time to have a conversation.  But, finally, on the day before her birthday–she was home at this time–I had some one on one time with her and I remember wanting to ask so many things.  I wanted to record her voice, take pictures of her hands, of her hair, of her soul so I could carry it with me forever.  But, in true nina fashion, she lead the conversation.

She told me a story about her oldest daughter, a story I never knew–this was a story tabbed under the “I’ll tell you when you’re older category.”  I remember being in awe thinking of the life she had lived before I even came into existence.  How courageous and tenacious she was,  it was her ever present characteristic and even now during her last days, she was fighting cancer and telling me a story making me feel like I was 6 years old all over again.  I was sitting, legs crossed as close to her bed as possible taking in every detail about…how when she was little and in Mexico…or, when she moved to Los Angeles and worked at the newspaper…how she met my dad before he met my mom…  “Wait, what was I saying? I forgot…”  I laughed, she laughed, this wasn’t a side-effect of cancer, she ALWAYS got so caught up in her own stories that she would lose her train of thought.  I didn’t blame her, they were so detailed I could see Sinaloa too without ever having been there.

I didn’t get to ask her any questions.  I didn’t have any prepared.  But, we sat there and talked like we used to, a conversation long overdue.  “Como esta tu nuevo trabajo?  Te ves mas calmada” “Porque te fuiste de la otra oficinia”  I told her why I left and she responded, “that man wanted you to kill yourself working for him, que vaya a chingar a su madre, tu tienes que vivir tu vida.  That’s what I tell Sarita, you can’t kill yourself over a job, you guys have to live you’re still so young.”  We finished chatting, I kissed her a little longer and hugged her a little tighter and then I left.  I’ll ask her some more questions next time I thought.  I’ll get the lessons, the wisdom, the message that I’m looking for, the thing I need to hang on to–I’ll get it next time.

A week later my nina was back in hospice and a few days later she took her last breath with her family, chosen and not, by her side.

I kept yelling at myself you should have asked her, why didn’t you ask her, why weren’t you more prepared to make the most out of your last few visits?  In the following days and through the tears and thinking of the good times it hit me.  My nina was never a, “do you see the moral of the story” type of person.  She was the person who told you her stories and hoped that eventually you’d see how the message applied to you.  My favorite thing she used to say was “no hay mal de que por bien no venga,” (Nothing bad happens without something good happening too).  I always turned to this when shit would hit the fan for me.  Look for the silver lining something good has to come from this.

So, I’m choosing to see the good in this and I’m choosing this as her last message to me, “TU TIENES QUE VIVIR TU VIDA.”  I didn’t get to ask her everything, I didn’t get to feverishly take down every detail so I could ingrain every part of it in my memory forever but I got what I was looking for, her wisdom.

I end this year a little more broken, a little weaker and a little more sensitive, but in the words of my Brown Girl Angel, no hay mal de que por bien no venga.  So I’m looking at the positive, “you have to live your life, mija,” oh yes nina, oh yes, I intend to.

Finding My Roots

Hey everyone!  So something crazy happened after my first blog post, someone I had never met emailed me and asked me if she could contribute to my blog!  In all fairness, N.S. (not her real name), is a friend of a friend but we have never met and the only things we share are being brown and feeling out of place, especially now.

So here’s something I can relate to and hope you can to.  A little something from fellow brown girl, N.S.


Growing up in a privileged white suburb of Chicago the only thing I wanted was to fit in.  I wanted to feel like I had a place.  But no matter how well I dressed or how much I distanced myself from those the same color as me I was never welcomed into the society I so badly wanted to be a part of.

In middle school I was a victim of bullying.  I’m not talking about healthy teasing that builds character.  I’m talking about the kind of bullying where you wonder if anyone would miss you if you decided not to wake up the next day.  I got it from everyone-boys and girls.  It was about the color of my skin, about my looks or anything else they could come up with.  The power of those comments depleted my self confidence and self esteem.  But towards the end of middle school I realized the only way to put a stop to the bullying was to blend in with the others.  To become a person no one could say anything about.

In high school I put my new approach into use by camouflaging myself.  As many of you probably remember, Abercrombie was once all the rage.  So, it was only natural that a girl with my aspirations also wear the stone washed ultra low rise jeans, button down and puffer vest.  In my mind a non-white girl in A&F would get a lot more white cred than the one wearing Aeropostale.  Abercrombie’s genius marketing strategies played into my insecurities, promising me a different life where I’d frolic around with the pretty popular kids.  I bought into it.  And it never bothered me that their models never looked like me.  I didn’t even think twice when I went as an Abercrombie model for Halloween (long story) and was lectured by my neighbor about their unethical business practices and nearly pornographic poses.  These were my dreams, being a white girl that is.

I took pride in my white washed persona.  I  managed to maintain a secret life, one where I’d attend family functions dressed in cultural garb, speak a different language and eat the traditional food.  On the occasion that we’d have to make a stop at the grocery store on the way to the party or on the way back I was reluctant to get out of the car.  I was afraid of running into someone I knew from school and them catching a glimpse of this “other” person.  I had worked so hard to be like them, I couldn’t afford to ruin the reputation I had so carefully crafted.

I don’t remember when the shift happened, probably after I went off to college and returned home my first summer.  I began being described as “exotic”.  Because “pretty” for some reason wasn’t quite the right fit. Some of the formerly popular white guys even started to talk to me like I was human and with the same level of attention I’d seen them give the perfect blondes in high school.  For four years this is what I had wanted, to be seen as one of them. But when the moment finally came I couldn’t enjoy that victory.  I did not understand what had changed in just one year that made me good enough or safe to talk to. More than anything it made me sad and it is one of the many reasons why I left Chicago and don’t plan to come back.

Though today I live in a diverse city, I am still constantly aware that I am different from most.  Sometimes it’s because of the way someone looks at me or when I notice all of a sudden that I’m the only person of color in a meeting, room or bar.  Even when I date, every time I’m talking to a white guy and he ghosts on me I think to myself  “would it have gone differently if I were a white girl?”  As ridiculous as that thought may seem to others who haven’t experienced it, that is my reality and the reality for many, many others.  Despite this, I have realized that these differences give me my strength.   And though I may still be on a my own journey of self discovery, I am no longer ashamed of my roots, my identity or the color of my skin.  This is who I am and I choose to be me even if it’s not the easier path to be on.


One of the best parts of being a brown girl is comparing your brown girl experiences with friends and in my case (and now N.S.’s) strangers.  I recently developed this feeling that I had a duty to express my feelings and opinions–as if anyone cares what I have to say.  But, some of you do care and quite honestly it has been very therapeutic and apparently it’s helping some of you guys too, which is very cool.  In my opinion, sharing experiences is the best way for people from different walks of life to understand something they personally never had to experience.

Thank you, N.S. for your contribution, to the first of many I hope.  #browngirlsforever

-Brown Girls

 

Want to know more about N.S.?  Follow her on Instagram @ninsingh10

S/O to Rafael Corona for the Artwork up top! Check out more of his great artwork on Instagram @RCGallery

Follow me on Instagram @Brown_Girl_Talks