JV= What specific cultures or background do you or your parents come from?
Anejea= Okay so my mom is Capution, which is a small area in (Caputo) southern Italy and Black Indian and that is- there’s an entire like subculture of a lot of tribes from the southern areas, because tribes like the Seminole and the Cherokee which is the nation that I’m from owns slaves and intermixed with them, so there’s-that’s what are called the Black Freedmen. So when they were freed from slavery we ended up integrating with the tribe and intermarrying, so that’s my mom-
JV= With the Cherokee?
Anejea= Yeah. So I’m Black Tsalagi and Italian mostly.
JV= I see. So coming from these backgrounds what do you think are the core beliefs or values to your culture?
Anejea= So because I grew up primarily in Black culture I’ve only recently started to reclaim my Native American heritage and try to reconnect with that part of my history, so I don’t know specifically. My family principles in specific are really about being able to get your education, so my great-grandmother graduated college at the same time as her youngest son to prove to him that you can go get your education whenever you wanted to, because my uncle John had considered dropping out. Her mother was a daughter of a slave but she still learned how to read and write and went to an HBCU, Historically Black College, and so most of the people in our family as soon as we were legally allowed to enter colleges did. My grandfather studied to be a Jesuit priest and has a photographic memory and is pretty much a genius. My mom is working on her fourth degree. So since a lot of people, a lot of minorities especially Black people don’t normally go get their higher education or don’t tend to be associated with that, it’s kind of really important to my family which is interesting because my dad is White and has never even finished a college degree and got his GED and everybody assumes that people on his side of the family went to college. I’m actually the first woman on his side of the family to graduate. Other things include, we’re really big on respect for your elders. I don’t remember there ever being a time when I was younger where if there was an elder person standing in my general vicinity that I didn’t get up and offer them my chair, or that I didn’t sit on the floor. If there were adults in the room I didn’t even try to sit in a chair or like on the couch, I left that open and just sat on the floor. That kind of crosses over I think into our indigenous heritage despite the fact that my family is pretty detached. When I decided to go and reconnect with my indigenous heritage and move to a reservation, and started participating more with Native American Student Association- last semester I was the Vice President of the Native American Student Association- that’s a really big thing in Native culture. There should never be an elder standing when they could be sitting in your place.
JV= It’s respect for your elders.
Anjea= Yeah. They eat- children, then elders, then veterans normally eat before people who are able-bodied and like around our age group do. That was something that I didn’t really have, I noticed was happening in my family, but I didn’t really realize that it came from a foundation of something that we didn’t recognize from before. On my dad’s side of the family, so I wasn’t raised by my biological father I don’t know who that is, but my dad who raised me was my mom’s husband. They got married when I was 3, and he is Sicilian and Scottish, and his family all worked in industry businesses, so like as miners and as fisherman and things like that. My dad really values things like being able to be sustainable. My dad went to college, didn’t finish college, but went to college for horticulture, and we had an urban farm growing up. To him, sustainability and having what he considered practical life skills, but now I’m realizing that my ability to raise and slaughter my own chickens don’t really help me write checks or take out loans which is something that I had to ask advice for. But things like that, I was not allowed to start learning how to drive a car until I knew how to change my own oil, my own brake pads, and change my own tires. So I guess hard work is a big part of it. Being able to solve things for yourself, I guess also being stubborn is another one, because he is really stubborn and would do things in our house without calling a professional because he would just be like “I’ll just figure out how to do it I don’t want help” so that might be part of it too.
JV= Do you feel like- because you said that respect for your elders is something that you feel is a part of your indigenous background, are these other things do you feel like are particularly to your family, or do you also see it as a trend in other communities like yours?
Anejea= I see it in a lot of communities that come from cultures either outside of the U.S., or like Native American cultures. My best friend growing up was adopted from China, and her parents were really insistent on her learning her culture and maintaining her cultural ties even though she was a transracial adoption, both of her adoptive parents are White so they got her lessons in Cantonese because the region that she’s from doesn’t speak Mandarin they speak Cantonese. They would take her back so that she could visit her culture and get to know things, and she was telling that it is very similar in the way that respect for your elders is kind of the first and foremost thing. Of course coming to college and meeting people from a wide variety of backgrounds it is the same a lot for most immigrant families. I just actually haven’t seen it with a lot of my White friends, mostly because I think that this is a culture of individualism, so unless you come from a different background it really is about promoting yourself at whatever cost it takes really. So a lot of people are not as close to their family, there is a lot less intergenerational communication. A lot of people forget about their grandparents once they get too old to really interact with them in a way that they see is productive or interesting for them. It really is self-centered in a way that if we feel like, if they feel like they can’t get something from someone they kind of just leave them alone and in my family I know so many extended family members who I’m not super close to but if any of them were like “Hey! I don’t have any money and I’m stuck somewhere,” I’d be like “Sweet! Haven’t seen you in four years but here’s a hundred bucks.”
JV= “Come live with us basically.”
Anejea= My sisters- I only have a one-bedroom apartment but I’ve always let them know like “You can come stay with me whenever you want,” and a lot of 20-something year olds are not into teenagers just like being with them all the time. To me that seems unusual. People are bothered by their siblings when they get older and I’m just like “Eh, whatever.” Like if my grandad was like I have to come live with you I’d be like this is going to be weird but sure.
JV= Do you think that because you are on the topic of individualistic versus collectivist, do you think that you definitely grew up in either one of those societies? Like in your own household do you feel like it was more collectivist than individualistic?
anejea= That’s complicated because- to be honest with you my parents were not particularly stable people when I was growing up. I was born when my mom was nineteen, and they were really young and didn’t really know what they were doing. So they wanted us to be collectivist but they were very self-centered people. So collectivist kind of was passed off of as long as they were happy and we were doing what they wanted us to do, we were helping the collective whole but it didn’t actually benefit me and my sisters. We didn’t really have things that we needed when we needed them and we didn’t really have a lot of emotional support, so I feel like their goal was for us to be a collectivist but it played out being more of an indentured servant sort of type thing. Like you’re supposed to respect your family and do all these things but we don’t balance it out in any way. So honestly I would prefer it to be more equal. Like I like it when I have friends that have families that are really intergenerational, like when their grandparents live with them, and it’s just beneficial to everybody because even if you’re angry at one of your family members you always have someone to talk to or mediate for you. If someone in your family gets sick that doesn’t lead to your family being destitute. I definitely see what my parents were trying to do had they not been twenty and stupid.
JV= What do you feel is a unique aspect of your culture and is their special traditions or holidays that is only particular to your family or your community?
Anejea= My dad was raised Lutheran and my mom was raised Catholic, and rejected it so they’re not particularly into holidays. But my mom still really has a huge appreciation for like saints’ days that are paid attention to in Southern Italy, because my great-grandfather was like her favorite person when he was alive. My mom’s first language is Italian because my great-grandfather refused to speak English to her. He never actually wanted to stay here. For a long period of time he ran away because Mussolini went after most of the people in his region including a lot of his family so he escaped fascism to come here. He had always intended on returning to the family farm in Southern Italy so when he got older and my mom was born, he was like “I’m not speaking English anymore. I refuse. If I don’t get to go back someone in our family has to go back.” So that was important to him. Unfortunately, my mom by the time he passed away, hadn’t had anyone to speak it to. So she doesn’t speak it but she can still read pretty fluently. Besides being no longer fluent or involved in the Catholic Church, she still pays attention to Catholic saints’ days, especially ones that were really important to my great-grandfather. His patron saint was the saint of travel, so my mom always has to do something for that day. We don’t really visit his grave but we have to remember that he came all the way over here and was in an arranged marriage to literally save all of our lives. So it is more like we do a lot of things in reflection and in remembrance of the people who came before us, even though that’s not particularly like a cultural standard, it’s just something that we developed in our family. However, as my mom and our family got older, my mom wanted to become more involved in Pan-African cultures, so that’s like when Black people try and reclaim their African heritage. Because as you know during chattel slavery, we were not allowed to speak our languages, we weren’t allowed to practice anything or like our religions. My mom became really interested and actually went and stayed in Ghana for three months to learn some of the culture and religious traditions and kind of bring those back. I think that was more of a personal endeavor for her because it never really came over to the rest of the family. We got to eat some pretty good Ghanaian recipes that she had learned and that was about it. I think that a lot of cultural things that we do practice were a lot of really Sicilian things from my dad’s side of the family. My dad is only second generation and his grandma came from a fishing town in Sicily called Pesce. On holidays we have an entire branch of our family that gets together and we hand-bake raviolis for the holidays. We make pasta sauce, like for cook-outs we make giant things of pasta sauce which is just like not a normal thing. We do a lot of really Mediterranean and Sicilian things despite the fact that that is not even the majority of our background. But I think that it’s a lot because my dad was- is- pretty much raised by my great-grandmother so it was really important for him to keep doing those types of things.
JV= So you feel like that’s really played out in your life basically?
Anejea= Oh yeah. Whenever I’m sad or sick I make pasta. My dad has this phrase when I come home and he looks at me like “Your sauce count is low,” and he makes me pasta. I stopped eating pork and my dad was like “What do you mean what am I supposed to put in your pasta sauce,” and like beef? I don’t know. He’s like “No!” Traditionally the sauce was made with beef ribs, pork sausage, and ground beef. I don’t even eat that much red meat anymore, so he’s literally like “I don’t understand,” it’s just like beyond him really.
JV= That’s definitely not a mainstream thing at all, that’s super interesting to hear! If you were to describe your culture or your cultures in one word what would it be and why?
Anejea= That’s impossible! I come from so many different diasporas that one word to describe them would-
JV= Or just like individually…because I feel like one word would be impossible being from all of these different cultures.
Anejea= Yeah, being mixed, being non-monoracial is complicated because people are like “What’s your cultural value?” and I’m like “From where?!” I think a lot of what comes into play and why my family ended up being the way that it is, is survival. Black people, Native American people, and Southern Italians all had to massive amounts of genocide and that’s all how we kind of ended up on the same continent. It’s interesting. My mom’s grandfather, when he found out that my grandma was going to marry a Black man was like “Is he Catholic?” “Yes.” “Does he have a job?” “Yeah.” “Does he love my daughter?” “Yeah,” and that’s all he cared about, so I think that when you can relate to somebody’s culture no matter where you’re from, that’s kind of what brought them together. Within one generation, my grandmother’s family- my mom’s side of the family- had survived mass genocide due to Mussolini and my mom’s dad’s side of the family is Black and Native American, so that’s just kind of old hat to us really. So I would have to say if I had to summarize it with one word for all of my cultural backgrounds, it would probably have to be survival…or persistence.
JV= Because in order to survive you have to persist…
Anejea= Yeah really. We are a very stubborn people. My family is just like a very stubborn. We were like “Oh you tried. Sorry.”
JV= “We’re still here.” So being a part of these minority groups, do you feel any sort of tensions or challenges being a part of a group versus that group, or these groups…and could you talk more about it?
Anejea= So anti-Blackness is something that’s big in any community, which is something that I really struggled with because a lot of Italian people don’t want to be associated with, didn’t want to be associated with being a minority so they much like a lot of other immigrant groups, what they had above people was that the fact that they weren’t Black. That is kind of how it is played out in this country, and that is why you see why so many other immigrant groups choose to be anti-Black even though they’re a minority. That’s also another thing with Native Americans and it’s really difficult when you’re trying to reclaim a culture that is more accepting of White-passing indigenous people than they are of someone like me who is mostly Black and Native American. The part Italian that I am is fractional in comparison to the other two larger parts of me. My biological father was apparently also half Native American, I don’t know what kind, so yeah. It’s a really big struggle because I refuse to give up my Blackness to make myself more comfortable for other people. Often times when I tell people that I’m Black and mixed and they ask me “What with?” They will often very conveniently try and ignore when I say Black, because it makes people uncomfortable to be okay with being Black and to be okay with being other things. A lot of people, Black people who are mixed, actually say that they are mixed rather than saying that they’re Black because everybody infers that when you’re mixed that you’re probably mixed with Black, that’s just the way that it works in this country. Even though that’s not true. There’s plenty of people that are mixed with Indian, Southeast Asian, and other countries other than being African. So for me anti-Blackness has been a really difficult thing especially when like people just don’t want to acknowledge it and don’t want to hear me say it, especially in Native American circles. When somebody says something anti-Black I’ll just be like “Rude honestly, like quit it!” and I’ve actually have never had very White women who are good friends with me, but I’m kind of am actually terrified of White women because they are accidentally horribly racist. My friends in high school were like a Black girl who is also half Korean, a Black girl who is half Arab, and my best friend Tara who is Chinese. Only until college when I found super anti-racist White people, I then actually made friends with White women. So like I’ve told people that my sexuality includes pretty much anyone except for White women and they laugh because a lot of other people of color, especially queer people of color, actually know what I’m talking about.
JV= So you said that your mom is Catholic and your dad is Lutheran?
Anejea= My parents grew up in those types of families. Now my dad is a devout Taoist, and my mom is spiritual and follows more Kemet which is like the old religion from West Africa and Egypt, it’s like if you’ve heard of gods like Horus and Anubis and things like that, that’s the name of that religion. So those are the things, that’s the spirituality she sees herself as being more akin to. My dad got into a really bad car wreck and came out of it and decided that he was going to be at peace with life and became a Daoist. So…yeah we’re those kind of people. Just like the old way is not working for us we got to choose something new.
JV= How about you? Do you have any religious affinity or affiliation?
Anejea= It’s as complicated as my background. I come from such a wide background that I don’t feel like I can really ignore any practices of my ancestors, so I guess it’s probably just as collective as my background is.
JV= Just like a mixture basically…?
Anejea= I’m a pretty hokey person is what I tell people.
JV= Oh yeah?
Anejea= I have a lot of weird superstitions that I grew up with. Like a lot of my mom’s family is from the South like the Deep South, like Georgia and South Carolina, and so of course they believe some real stuff. So like once in a while I’ll just be like “Don’t drop salt on the ground!” My dad grew up in the middle of nowhere in Texas and apparently they have some weird superstitions too. So like basically just hokey and weird. As far as like my practice of spirituality goes, I studied philosophy and the philosophies that I found suited me the best would have to be Soto Zen Buddhism and Roman Stoicism. They’re both really similar in the way that they’re both about meditation and personal reflection and not holding things against yourself. A lot of religions promote forgiving other people, but they don’t really help you deal with any type of internal conflict. When I started meditating at the Soto Zen Buddhism center here, the guy who teaches it said “We don’t really try and push the thoughts out of our mind, what we do is we let them run through our brain except that it’s something that we’re thinking about and then forgive ourselves for it and let it go,” and that’s kind of how their meditations go. It’s the same thing with Roman Stoicism, like Marcus Aurelius talked about how when you have a failing it’s fine to think about it but not harp on it because the next day when you have to do something new you can’t be distracted by your former failings you can only move past them. As far as spirituality that’s kind of how it is. I tended to when I was younger really hyper fixate on things that I had done wrong and never really get over them. Like every once and a while I would get secondhand embarrassment from myself from a memory from doing something silly when I was five?! And then I would just have to be like…I need to let it go…I was a literal child. When I was meditating a lot it was really helpful because it made me a little bit more open, I was really for a long time restricted because I was concerned about what other people were going to think about what I was doing. So I didn’t pursue a lot of talents I felt like I had. I kind of had to develop my own type of philosophy on things. I can’t say that I’m particularly into any organized religion, because I’m not an organized person so if I had to follow a distinct set of rules it would never work.
JV= How about, do you see in your communities a specific religion that’s really pertinent or is it just really individualistic like what you said with your parents and with you?
Anejea= So a lot with my African American family’s Baptist, a lot of my Italian and Sicilian family’s Catholic, and a lot of Native American people practice their tribal religions or what we consider, what people consider the Native American Church, which is like a nature worship where people get together there and discuss their traditions. It’s mostly based off of Lakota Sioux Plains tribe culture. The American Indian movement established it so that people could practice their Native religions without being persecuted, and thus it became like a legitimate church. I don’t really follow that because I don’t think that Native American culture should have to become a homogenous culture. There’s like 566 nations and everybody has their own religion some people believe in God, some people the ancestor worship, some people in spirits, some people are monotheistic, some groups are not any of those things. Some people are animistic, it’s just- it depends on what nation you’re from.
JV= So is it hard basically to- so is it just like all of these different Native American cultures coming into one church?
Anejea= Basically that was the attempt in the 60s and 70s, because they wanted to unite all the Native American tribes and nations together in order to get our rights back from the government. It’s easier when you operate as a collective than as a singular nation. Had a small nation like the Taos Pueblo people tried to establish their own thing they probably couldn’t have gotten anybody like the Apaches or the Navajo, or lots of the other groups with their own religions to stand behind them because it would have been an erasure of their culture. Instead they created something that was a little bit Pan-Indian and a little bit collectivist because we were still having kids taken away and put into residential schools, we were still having people literally coming to reservations and killing us and never being persecuted. Lots of bad things were happening and are still happening, but the idea was that if we kind of had a helm to unite under- the American Indian movement, the Native American church- then we could all figure out how to work together to earn collective rights for indigenous people in this country.
JV= Actually something that you said earlier made me think about something…when you said that you went to reclaim your Native American culture for example, did you say that you went to a reservation?
Anejea= I moved to a reservation to one, take a break from a lot of things that had been going on in my life at the time, two, my uncle Bill’s sister had married a man from that reservation and helped establish a children’s center. I figured that it would probably be good if I wanted to kind of- I’m adopted into the Lakota tribe I don’t think I’m Lakota by any genetic tie, I would have to find out by doing more research on Dawes Rolls, which is just a pain in the butt really. But it’s a good way to kind of dip your toes into the culture, and mostly work with kids. Pow wow culture is really big, a really good way to kind of step into the arena because it is a big indigenous gathering mostly of all nations. So it’s a pretty good way to kind of dip your toes in. I went to go live on a really big reservation and work with kids and that was kind of my start of realizing that despite what had gone on in my family’s past, my indigenous heritage was important and I need to do research and work on reconnecting with that. So it wasn’t through my own tribe but it was through seeing what people who lived on reservations lived like and how they operated, and that really interesting dynamic of being technically a sovereign nation but still being under the oppression regime of the United States. It just made me kind of, I found out a lot more things about Native American history that made me realize that it was important for me to kind of get over myself. When you’re a teenager you don’t care about traditional things, you think that it’s extra nerdy and you’re just bothered because people know you’re different and you don’t want to be different. But when you get over it, you’re kind of like “Huh,” there’s like a reason for this, maybe I should figure out why and that’s kind of like where it was a big turning point for me of wanting to understand a lot more of the whys and a lot less of the trying to blend in and assimilate. Because it’s never going to happen, like I’m the most dark-skinned of all of my sisters, I’ve looked like this my whole life, and people know that I’m obviously not a regular White American. Nobody on the face of the Earth has ever mistaken me for being White. I tried to blend in when I was younger it was never going to happen, so it made me want to research why I had been working so hard to blend in and erase my own sense of being to become more convenient and digestible to a culture at large that was still going to be unfriendly to me.
JV= I actually had a question about that so I’m happy that you brought it up. So since you were saying that you have tried to assimilate in the past, has that impacted your identity at all, or just like this loss of culture?
Anejea= Definitely. Well the loss of culture is almost physically painful sometimes because there’s no way to go back and reverse colonialism and reclaim a lot of things. These days it’s played out a lot in my understanding of my gender, we’re really binary in this culture, and lots of the cultures that I come from- of course I’ll never know what African culture I came from because chattel slavery pretty much erased your ability to reconnect to whatever nation or tribal culture you came from in Africa. But learning that a lot of places outside of Eurocentric culture had different definitions of gender roles, has definitely made me feel better about myself. I’ve always been totally chill with being a girl but other people have not chill with the way that I’ve been doing it. I’ve never- surprisingly enough- felt masculine. I have been described as manly and then I’d be confused because I had never in the entirety of my life desired to be manly. It depends on the cultural virtues, so right now I kind of identify with the two-spirit concept that comes from Native American culture and that is where, in the simplest terms and in the most Pan-African and Pan-Indian terms I can give you, it’s when you are influenced by both masculine and feminine energies. It’s a queer identity that comes with being a queer person either sexually or gender-wise. Gender-wise, pretty chill with she/they pronouns, and when people ask me why she/they, I’m like because I definitely identify with what has happened in my life as being womanized and with the way that this culture treats women, I’ve definitely had to deal with since forever, like we all have if you’re born in a body like this. But the they concept is moving beyond colonial concepts of what my gender as a woman are supposed to be.
JV= Do you feel like it has been easier to think about gender because of the idea of like the Native American she and the he energies or spirits?
Anejea= Yeah, I don’t even know whether or not they can define it as male and female, I don’t think it falls into that spectrum.
JV= It’s just like a being sort of?
Anejea= Yeah, and like unfortunately because I don’t speak any of my indigenous languages I couldn’t even give you a word for it. But there are like- my friend who is Blackfoot goes by they and their title is directly translated from Blackfoot as a creature who is the most like the girls, so like she- she doesn’t mind going by she or they- identifies as being lesbian but also knows that her gender role within Eurocentric culture doesn’t quite match up with the one that she would fulfill in Blackfoot culture. So I think that that one, is comforting for a lot of people like me because I’ve never really conformed to Eurocentric views of what women should do, and now I know that it’s fine and not the “right” way because there’s really no right way. Which is better for me. It’s complicated of course but at least with a broader definition of myself I feel less limited…and uncomfortable in my own skin. When people would say things like “Girls don’t do that,” I’d be like “But I do this and I am a girl, so therefore girls do this.” Other people would be like “You’ll never find a boyfriend with shoulders that broad,” well maybe I don’t want someone who’s a weak asshole. Maybe I don’t want to date a dude. Maybe- my partner right now is a man and he has never had a problem with the way that I do things, which is good because it is not his fucking business. But yeah, I got made fun of for being manly which often got me into a lot of fist fights because I’d be like “Hilarious. I’m manly…but now you’re going to find out why.” I was a pain in the ass when I was younger and thank God I was able to hide it most of the time because I totally should’ve gotten into trouble for things but I didn’t.
JV= When did you decide to stop assimilating to the mainstream culture or American culture?
JR= When I turned eighteen and moved back from the reservation after being there for three and a half months, and found that no matter how hard you try it isn’t going to work so why try?
JV= So basically you decided to embrace it?
Anejea= Yeah! I had to struggle a lot with the concept of beauty, because by the time that I was eleven or twelve I was being harassed by men for like sexual reasons, but I had never had a lot of people consider me beautiful and then I realized that it was because like, women who are not White aren’t considered delicate enough to be beautiful but we’re considered attractive enough to be objects of sex. Then I really wanted straight hair, and then I really wanted lighter skin, and I wanted my nose not to be so wide, and I wanted my lips to be a different shape. I didn’t want to have such high cheekbones and such a strong jawline, because those were not things that were considered feminine in this country. Then I moved back from the reservation and realized that most White beauty standards were boring and I was tired of people that looked exactly the same being considered beautiful because if you put them all inside of a room in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to tell them different. So it’s the idea that women of color are hypersexualized versus cherished in being beautiful creatures, like not that it’s fair to White women to be slated into that role of having to be delicate and having to be soft and beautiful objects either. Objectification of women no matter what is wrong, but especially for women of color like there’s a certain lack of understanding that our bodies are just as sacred and to be cherished as White women. So I stopped being nice when White dudes said inappropriate things to me. I stopped being nice and okay with people touching me inappropriately. A lot of Black women will tell you that we have the problem of people always wanting to touch our damn hair because they think it’s pretty but never asking for permission and then being mad when you’re like “Hey, don’t fucking touch me.” So I stopped being nice about that, and like people touching me whenever they wanted to or like touch my hair, I’d be like “No, this is my personal space like leave me alone.” That was definitely a big change for me was standing up for myself and my right to feel safe in my body and my right to feel like I am beautiful outside of a scoped scale that is promoted in mainstream media.
JV= Do you think that you have seen similar experiences or sort of the same processes with any of your friends or like people from your community?
Anejea= Definitely. Especially because most of my friends got older and got gayer as we got older, and it’s nice now because there’s a lot more- queer community is a lot more accepting of different body types and different races and so I just gravitated to hanging out with people that were like me and were not traditional body types and body sizes, and things like that. I have darker skin than my mom and both of my sisters normally, obviously we all tan really well but like in the middle of the winter I’m this dark and my mom, even though she is half Black is still lighter than me. I have one sister who has green eyes and almost blonde hair and everyone always called her the pretty sister, and that annoyed all of us because none of us thought that any of us were less pretty. I have a sister who has very different looks and a lot of people don’t think that Jules is pretty because of the way that she looks. She has a very Roman nose, my dad has like a really big nose and Jules got the nose, and she also has really big black eyes and her hair is not necessarily as curly as mine when it’s grown out, but it’s black and she like has a really face and she’s just an angular kid and it’s probably because she’s fourteen and that’s just the stage. But she’s never getting rid of the nose, and she’s never getting rid of the way that her face is shaped. It started to bug me more as I got older, watching how people lavished their affections and attentions and kindness onto Jade and then would virtually ignore Jules because of the way that she looked. Then I realized that I also probably had that problem because that’s how a lot of people treated me when I was younger.
JV= It’s just because like the beauty standards don’t line up.
Anejea= Yeah but I think that both of my sisters are pretty. People always called Jade the pretty sister, not that she isn’t pretty- both of my sisters are pretty and I’ll fight anyone who says anything otherwise. But growing up I became more abrasively body positive. I’ve never been- really- my weight and the way that I carry my weight has not fluctuated since I had turned about sixteen. So this is the body that I have, this is the shape that it’s going to be. I’ve worked out more, I’ve worked out less, and this is still pretty much still what I come out with. So it is also about being comfortable in my body and also encouraging my sisters. Like Jade’s having a problem now because she’s only 4’6” and she’s sixteen, and she isn’t skinny because she’s 4’6” and she’s sixteen. But two of my grandmothers were a whopping 4’5” and 4’9” and that’s as tall as they ever got, and because that is not one of the things that we see as beautiful or see as something that we want, she really has a hard time with it and I try to be like you’re literally just following the trend of our family like our mom is 5’3” and was considered super tall for our family like this is what we got man. I try and be that way especially with like a lot of other kids who aren’t White. Like you can tell- little kids start feeling really bad about themselves from a really young age, and like my friend once told me a story that his parents stopped speaking Spanish at home because he came home crying because someone made fun of him because he had a little bit of an accent. His mom’s Puerto Rican and his dad’s from El Salvadore, so they spoke Spanish at home and he came home and said that he wanted to be White and that made me feel so bad because I felt that way when I was a kid, and I know that a lot of other people felt that way as a kid. So it just made me mad because little kids are just like pure and wonderful, and no matter where they come from they shouldn’t just feel like shit about themselves from the time they turn three. It makes me want to fight people honestly, like teach your kids to not be assholes, everybody be nice to kids they’re all perfect.
JV= From your perspective, what is the most common misconception about people from any of your cultures or backgrounds?
Anejea= We are so hyper spiritualized, especially Native Americans and Southern Black people. For some reason everybody just thinks that we’re fucking mystical. I consider myself- and this is going to sound hokey- like a witch, because I operate in spiritual spaces that are beyond our common confines, but don’t fucking ask me what your spirit animal is. Don’t come over here and demand that I read your palms, like get the fuck out of here.
JV= I’m just laughing because it’s so ridiculous!
Anejea= Yes! People want to ask me how connected to the Earth I feel, like probably the same amount as anybody else. Like my nation isn’t even from Ohio, so maybe not particularly connected here! But like- that just bothers me. When I try and explain to people that that is not the way that it works, they get mad, or when they say something that is super hokey and doesn’t fall in line with any indigenous beliefs, and I’m like “Hey, that is not okay to say and false,” they get really upset because nobody can just admit that they’re wrong and maybe that something that they read was incorrect. It’s like if I walked up to an Asian person and said, “Could you probably teach me how to meditate?” Like the guy who taught me Soto Zen Buddhism meditation is a White dude. You’d probably want to knock him out and be like “No! I am the least calm person you’ve ever met.” When people are like “What’s my spirit animal?” I’m like “The Wild Jackass.”
JV= It’s just so ridiculous!
Anejea= Yes. Or like people who try and ask me to interpret their dreams, not that I don’t know how to do that, but everybody has Google and if you really want to know hit that shit the fuck up. Leave me alone.
JV= So you definitely felt like the hyper spiritualized from your indigenous background-
Anejea= Yes! People think that we have answers that somebody else doesn’t. We don’t. We really don’t. We’re actually just trying to get answers on how to you know, stop people from taking our land and continuously murdering us, and taking our children and forcing them into foster care. We have other problems other than figuring out what the spirit horse in your dream meant. We got things to take care of. I’m really bothered because a lot of people expect us to provide a service to them, especially White people, in order for them to support us. If you come to me and you want something from me, that’s not really being an ally that’s false altruism, that’s falsely thinking that you’re a good person. That’s you hoping to take more from me, in order to even support my humanity which is why it’s boring because I’m a human being first and as your friend, if I am your friend and I know you well and I offer to read your tarot cards, that’s because that is something that I want to do. That might not even be a skill that you know that I have until later when I offer to do it for you, but you shouldn’t go up to somebody and assume that because of their cultural background that they’re going to provide you with an answer to something mystical. Chances are, we don’t have it either.
JV= Yeah, and it is just assumptions.
Anejea= Yeah and it’s extra frustrating. Like I often times tell people to like go back to their roots and like their Gods and their ancestors and see if maybe through that kind of research you can find an answer for yourself. Honestly, if you’re looking for an answer through my culture, probably not going to help you anyways because we come from different cultures, we don’t even have the same ancestors. It’s like you couldn’t probably ask my ancestors to guide you to do anything because they’re Black and Native American and probably don’t want to deal with your ass. Figure some things out on your own. Figure out your own family history. There’s probably an answer there. But yeah the hyper spiritual thing is just on the top of my list of things that I want to scream about.
JV= Honestly that must be so aggravating.
Anejea= I just ignore people and pretend that I didn’t hear them at this point because I don’t want to just be like “Fuck off.” But for the most part if someone keeps bothering me about it I’ll ask them about how much they’re going to pay me. Also that’s a skill set. If you want someone to do spiritual work for you, if that’s what you believe in, don’t expect anything for free. We live in a capitalist country and I’m trying to survive, I have bills to pay. Like I grew up on an urban farm and with a parent who was a midwife, so people often times ask me if I know herbal remedies for things and I do because that was the household that I grew up in, but I’m not going to make you a tea for free, I’m not going out and gathering- it’s like asking a carpenter if they’ll build a wing on your house for free because you knew him in high school. I have a skill set and a life. I’m not taking extra time out of those things to do something for you just because you expect it. Bothersome, honestly!
JV= Speaking of which, do you feel like in particular minority groups, or maybe just like Native American or like Indigenous groups are asked to do a service or anything and be expected to do it?
Anejea= Oh yes. Especially from Black people. Especially from pretty much every culture other than White people, expect us to give them something, some insight into our world. One, a lot of us don’t want to tell you our traditions, like culture has context and we have reasons for our practices, and reasons for our beliefs, and reasons that we do these things, but people want the fast track. They want the easiest thing to get the easiest satisfaction to have all the answers. They don’t want the context, they don’t want the difficulty that we went through or everything that it causes for us to get to a certain point in our spirituality. We know things about ourselves, so they ask us to give them answers rather than being willing to put in any type of work. Which is bothersome, it’s just bothersome.
JV= Do you feel like there’s any other misconceptions that you feel are really aggravating or important to talk about? I’m sure there’s a lot of them…
Anejea= You know that one is probably my biggest pet peeve. Of course stereotypes bother me, but generally I have this look on my face like please don’t speak to me and honestly a lot of people have been getting it a lot more lately. So thank goodness for that, because honestly I don’t want to be bothered. Like if someone is genuinely interested in learning about my culture they’ll ask me about what books to read, like “Hey, I don’t know anything about the Native American struggle in this country or like the foundations of structural racism, do you have these sources for me, or like any good books that you know are good sources?” If someone asks me for a good source, because often times people use terrible sources and think that they mean something, I’ll give you a source written by an indigenous person, written by a Native American person, written by an African American person, and if this is the perspective that you want to learn on- do your own research. Ask me for resources or even Google it. Some people are not as open and don’t even want to give out the resources just because they’re tired of doing the emotional labor. I don’t mind so much because someone wanting to do academic research like that shows me that they do really care and do really want to know the story and the foundation rather than wanting to like sack my energy out of me and just like take and take and take it for no reason.
JV= Right, because Google is definitely a thing.
Anejea= Yes. My best friend is Palestinian and I didn’t ask her to explain to me the history and the tragedy of all of the Palestinians. I joined Students for Justice in Palestine of my own free will and wishing before we became friends. I read books, I looked up statistics, I engaged in conversations and asked people whether or not this was true. I read the Qur’an by myself and when I was confused about something, asked somebody who spoke Arabic. But I already had the background information myself before I asked questions. I asked informed questions because I wanted an informed answer to better understand the perspective of someone else’s life, not because I wanted to demand that they make me feel better about myself.