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The keys to our multi-cultural family: love, kindness and curiosity

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The keys to our multi-cultural family: love, kindness and curiosity

So much of Mindr's identity comes from its birthplace of New York City, which former Mayor David Dinkins loved to call a "gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation." And we love nothing more than the stories of families who bridge gaps between backgrounds and cultures. Today, #MINDRMAMA Edil Cuepo reflects on a marriage her traditional Filipino family might not have expected, and the beauty that stems from it.

My family is multi-cultural. I am a brown-skinned Asian who is Catholic and my husband, Ben, is a white Jewish American. We are two different people who have come from different backgrounds but as we have grown into a happy family, we have discovered how similar we truly are. The keys to making our family work are love, kindness and curiosity.

Love

Growing up in the Philippines, everyone I was friends with was Asian. When I first moved here, I did not know what to expect and it was hard for me to relate to or see myself connecting with people outside of my race. If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be happily married to someone who’s not Filipino, I would not have believed it, and yet here I am today.

Thank God for New York City. My favorite part about this city is its diversity. Everywhere you go - people are unique to themselves, speaking a multitude of different languages and sharing their individual cultural stories. I truly believe that moving to New York prepared my heart and opened my mind to finding my one true love. Let’s face it, it can be hard to fall in love with a person who is very different from you. I feel like we sometimes subconsciously close ourselves off to the possibility of being with someone whose background we are not familiar with.

When Ben and I first met, we felt an instant connection and because we happened to have found each other in a neutral environment (an Irish bar in Murray Hill), our race or religion was not the focal point of our first conversation. We exchanged jokes, shared anecdotes about our personal lives, and talked about our families. We fell in love based on who we are as people, not our color or our faith. From day one, we let our love for each other lead us into our acceptance of each other’s background.

Kindness

Just as we let love lead in our relationship, kindness closely follows. In our family, kindness is rooted in respect and consideration for others’ beliefs and traditions. We label our family as “interfaith,” which to us means not just Jewish and not just Christian. Our family is both and it is important to us that our 21-month old daughter, June, knows and celebrates both religions as she grows.

We label our family as “interfaith,” which to us means not just Jewish and not just Christian. Our family is both.

June is baptized Catholic and I take her to church with me every Sunday. Having gone to Catholic school my whole life (including for University), I observe all of our rituals. However, more than Catholic traditions, I want June to experience and to grow up with faith in her life and an open relationship with God.

Ben’s Jewish upbringing was more cultural than religious. We celebrate his Jewish culture and share many traditions with his side of the family. For example, Ben’s grandmother Ruth, a Holocaust survivor, bakes mandel bread and apple cake for June and her cousins. Passing down this recipe to her great grandchildren is rooted in love and kindness. We try to be at her house for Shabbat and go to temple during the high holidays. By showing kindness towards the important parts of us that are different, we are able to appreciate each other more.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the wind that pushes forward the sail of understanding one another’s race and religion. It is critical to be curious and eager to learn more about your partner’s background in order to truly appreciate them as a person. This is the only way to make a multicultural marriage work.

I would often joke with a couple of my girlfriends (who are also married to husbands who do not speak their native language) about how it can be challenging sometimes to truly share ourselves with our husbands when they do not speak our native tongue. There are certain words from different languages that do not easily translate into English. For example, Filipinos use Filipoino puns a lot in their jokes and, as a result, jokes I make when I’m with Filipino friends would not make sense if I attempted them in English. Modesty aside, I’m a lot more funny when I’m telling my Tagalog jokes! But it helps that Ben is supportive of all my comedic routines.

Ben’s curiosity and openness towards Filipino culture are some of my favorite qualities he possesses. I love when he craves Filipino food just like I do. He impresses me every time he spots a Filipino “tita” or aunt (older lady) from a mile away. We have traveled around the Philippines a few times and it makes me so proud to watch how he interacts with my relatives and friends just like he would talk and treat his own family and friends.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to have a very close relationship with my in-laws. Having lost my mother early in life, I could not imagine going through my first years of motherhood without my mother-in-law. She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know - from how to bathe a newborn to embracing every moment of being home with June. She is an incredible woman and I am lucky to have her in my life.

Having lost my mother early in life, I could not imagine going through my first years of motherhood without my mother-in-law. She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know.

Sometimes, a lack of understanding of a partner’s race/religion/culture can open one up to feelings of isolation. When not addressed, these feelings can progress into resentment. This is why I believe it is so important for multicultural families to be as open and curious about each other as possible.

We all have a unique opportunity to become interfaith and multicultural. Being surrounded by diversity in a place like New York City, we interact with people who may speak a different language or come from a place you've never been and we learn from one another. I guess the challenge is - if you’re up for it - to go beyond co-existing and move towards connectedness. We can all decide to embrace love, kindness and curiosity towards everyone.

As we raise June, we want to make sure we instill these three values in her. We want to teach her to be loving, not only to people who look like her mom and dad, but to everyone she comes across. The recent outrage over the separation of families at the U.S-Mexico border has brought into focus the importance of using every opportunity to spread and promote love towards one another - regardless of race, religion and country of origin. 

Moving to New York City turned out to be the biggest blessing for me and I can only hope that perhaps, people both within and outside of diverse cities can find ways to become familiar with and relate to others who are different from them. Because the truth is, one does not need to be married to another person or adopt a child from a different culture to become multicultural. We can choose to become interfaith and multicultural in our hearts and take the opportunity to live more harmoniously with all those around us.

#MINDRMAMA Edil Cuepo is a work-from-home mom to gorgeous 21-month-old June. They live in Rockaway Beach, NYC.

 

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Building a Feminist Library: 5 Uplifting Books for Girls + Boys

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Building a Feminist Library: 5 Uplifting Books for Girls + Boys

Mindr's founder Sarah recently spoke at Stories After Bedtime, a speaker series for the adults that often accompany their littles to the magical Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab in Brooklyn. Looking around, we were dazzled by all the interesting, unexpected and deeply educational books that graced the shelves. So we invited the store's co-founder, Maggie Pouncey, to share some of her best recommendations for raising little feminists of all genders.

At our children’s bookshop in Brooklyn, Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab, beautiful books on awe-inspiring, game-changing women arrive every week. From Rebel Girls to RAD Women, gorgeous anthologies and biographies and plain old great stories designed to lift up young girls are certainly having a literary moment, and we love it.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” writes Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. “All children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are.” How revolutionary that through stories — which we truly believe can change the world—young girls and boys will learn not of the limitations of gender, but the vast possibility.

How revolutionary that through stories — which we truly believe can change the world—young girls and boys will learn not of the limitations of gender, but the vast possibility.

Here is a collection of some of our most favorite reads—from a playful rhyming board book for infants and toddlers, to an edgy graphic novel for teens—that we believe can help usher in a more equitable, empowering world for this next generation of book lovers.

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This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer, by Joan Holub and illustrated by Daniel Roode

This sweet board book features legendary thought leaders like Ada Lovelace and Sonia Sotomayor. Each spread pairs a gentle rhyming description of a powerful woman with a brief factual description of the woman’s accomplishments, making it an excellent and informative read-aloud for the very youngest feminists. It ends with an important question: “Computers, law-making, designing, ballet — how will you change the world someday?”

Ages 1-4

Malala’s Magic Pencil, by Malala Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoet

A coming-of-age picture book memoir told by the precocious, fearless Pakistani activist. Wonderfully illustrated, the book is both magical and factual. As a very young girl, Malala dreamed her pencil could grant wishes for her family, and her struggling community, and, in fact, her dream has come true, through the power of the written word and her incredible tenacity. A perfect gift for all the future writers in your life.

Ages 4+

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Gloria’s Voice: The Story of Gloria Steinem—Feminist, Activist, Leader, by Aura Lewis

I love this super-chic, debut nonfiction picture book about the early life of Gloria Steinem, and how her relationship with her mother and her frustrations as a novice journalist helped her grow into the icon she became and the founder of Ms. magazine. An important reminder that roadblocks, adversity, skepticism are inevitable when you’re forging a new path, and while you don’t have to be immune to them, you often have to ignore them. Can’t wait for Lewis’s second book, The Illustrated Feminist, which will be published in 2020.

Ages 4+

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison

This collection of 40 mini-biographies started as a challenge that artist and author Vashti Harrison set for herself for Black History Month—to draw and describe one notable African American woman a day, and post to social media. “In a society where being black and female meant being an outsider or sometimes invisible, these women dared to go after what they wanted, to demand what they deserved,” she writes in her introduction. A stunning and stirring series of portraits of artists, athletes, activists and all-around amazing women. Stay tuned for Harrison’s follow-up anthology, coming November 2018, Visionary Women Around the World.

Ages 6-12

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Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Penelope Bagieu

Translated from French, this graphic novel compilation of what artist Bagieu calls “broad-stroke portraits” will introduce young adult readers to trail blazers they may not be familiar with, from Moomin creator Tove Jansson to modern art collector Peggy Guggenheim. The subjects of these 29 portraits are true originals, whose lives were complicated, at times brutal, and show the many-wondered ways a woman can make a life for herself. Highly entertaining and distinctive, this will be a volume you’ll want to borrow from your teen when she — or he — is finished.

Ages 14 + up

Maggie Pouncey is the co-founder and co-owner of Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab, and the author of the novel, Perfect Reader, and the forthcoming picture book, The Fort on the Moon. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two young sons.

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Community spotlight: Mathilde Dratwa brings motherhood to the stage

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Community spotlight: Mathilde Dratwa brings motherhood to the stage

At Mindr, we believe becoming a parent can unlock new creativity, vulnerability and capability. And we see all of those qualities in playwright and Mindr member Mathilde Dratwa, whose new play Milk and Gall centers on the experience of being a new mother during the first year of the Trump administration. We're excited to check out the next reading of Milk and Gall at the Corkscrew Festival on the Lower East Side on July 20th, where free childcare will be provided. In advance of showtime, we chatted with Mathilde to learn more about her inspiration for writing this play, how she is balancing being a playwright and a mom, and what’s next for her as an artist.

The central theme behind Milk and Gall is a commentary on raising an infant in today’s political climate. What was your inspiration for the play?

It happened in two parts.

First, I had a baby. I had low milk supply and was pretty set on breastfeeding, so those first few months were rough: lactation consultants, constant weighing, supplemental nursing systems, formula supplements, pumping after every feeding… That was something I wasn’t prepared for, a part of the new mother narrative that is completely left out of mainstream media. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to tell that story.

Then, the election happened. I had gone to bed early that night, because my son was still waking up at night and I was pretty exhausted. My husband assured me there was nothing to worry about, that Hillary would obviously win. So I went to bed blissfully ignorant of what was to come… And then found out the result in the early hours of the morning as I was nursing. To find out that Trump had won as I literally held a beautiful baby boy to my breast - that was incredibly jarring.

I wanted to explore that duality: being a new mother at precisely that moment in history. In the play, I took this a step further: a woman gives birth on the night of the election. But the connective tissue is the same. It’s a story of a woman who struggles to find herself after she gives birth, and who struggles to find agency in a shattered world. It’s visceral, and visual, and funny - because that’s sometimes the only way to process the absurdity of the world we live in.

Milk and Gall eatures a shape-shifting baby played by a series of incongruous objects: a delicate glass ball, which shatters as Vera learns the result of the election; a live chicken, which demands attention and prevents Vera from being fully present for her friends; a helium-filled balloon, which floats away as Vera struggles to breastfeed and the baby loses a dangerous amount of weight; a piggy bank that eats up Vera’s savings. The personal and the political spheres collide and Vera is pushed to the point of exhaustion.

Do you think that it is especially difficult to balance the parts of ourselves that want to be socially/politically active while also focusing on the everyday needs of our children?

I think that becoming a parent made me more politically aware; but the demands of raising an infant made it difficult for me to be as politically active as I would have liked. I think some of these challenges are specific to having a very young child, and I look forward to involving my son in the politically engaged part of my life as he grows older.

Some of the challenges are intrinsic to the experience of being a parent, and some are actually external - and dictated by society. We live in a patriarchal society, which influences the way that we think about motherhood, the provisions we have in place, and the way we treat care workers. 

Second-wave feminists actually made a conscious decision to leave motherhood off their platform. Their message was that women could show up to the workplace as men, could behave as men. It made sense as the most effective way to fight for equality at the time, but it did a disservice to women with children then and now. We’re only just starting to see feminist discourse adopt motherhood as a key factor worthy of prominent placement on their platform. 

That’s why I’m so thrilled that Mindr exists, and that you’re bringing motherhood to the political sphere. And I think there’s a shift starting to happen. I was thrilled to see pumping and nursing stations at the Women’s March, for example, but the truth is that we still have a long way to go. Milk and Gall explores the terror of the mundane: Vera is stuck in the world of diapers, breast pumps and padsicles while everyone else she knows is out marching.

We’ve heard a lot from the Mindr community about difficulties of balancing our roles as mothers and professionals. How have you found this balance in your life? Any secret tips/life hacks to share?

Milk and Gall is my first full-length play and it wouldn’t exist had I not had a child. Motherhood broke me open in a way I hadn’t anticipated; it made me more vulnerable and stronger at the same time. I have been pretty prolific professionally these last two and half years - I had never thought that I’d run a non-profit, for example, and yet I co-founded Moms-in-Film shortly after giving birth, to advocate for parents in the entertainment business. The truth is that becoming a parent re-focused my career. I’m much better at prioritizing and saying no. I’m much more efficient. And I’m much happier.

I used to be an actor, and I had put off parenthood because I thought it would get in the way of my career. The transition from acting to writing was messy and lengthy - it’s not as tidy as saying that I quit acting and started writing when I became a mom. It is a transition that began before I even got pregnant. But writing is a much better fit for me, personally, than acting ever was. There are stories that aren’t being told that I’m pretty passionate about telling, and that gives me a sense of purpose that I hadn’t known before. I don’t really miss acting at all, actually - the thought of paying for childcare in order to run around the city to audition for projects I probably won’t get makes me shudder…

How has parenting influenced your creative process?

Milk and Gall is kind of episodic because I wrote it during my son’s naps. So each scene is pretty short, and almost stands alone as a vignette. The through line came much later, at the end, during rewrites. It’s interesting actually because everyone tells me they love the form - that it mimics the experience of sleep-deprived new parents so well. They say, “I love that you chose a structure that highlights the themes of your play.” And inside I’m like, “I didn’t choose anything! It’s fragmented because my life was fragmented - it’s disjointed by necessity, because it came spilling out of me in 45-minute chunks!”

We love that your reading of Milk and Gall on July 20th will provide childcare. Tell us a little more about ways we can support parents in the arts - both patrons and artists - and why you think this is important.

There’s so much talk right now about gender inequality in film, TV and theater. But so much of that talk neglects to mention that the lack of parent-friendly practices in the arts have a disproportionately negative effect on women, because most child-rearing responsibilities continue to fall on moms. So by making the entertainment industry more parent-friendly, we’d actually end up with more gender equality. (A shout-out to Paal Theatre, an organization working on precisely these issues.)

The more diverse the industry, the more diverse the stories being told. I, for one, want my son to grow up watching stories about women as well as stories about men, and yet there are so few! (The same goes for the representation of different races, religions, abilities, sexual expression and sexual identity.)

Milk and Gall is a play about parenthood, so it was important to me to provide free childcare to patrons as well as artists - because we want them to be able to come and experience the show, to see themselves on stage. But the truth is that I’d like to see this done frequently, with all kinds of shows. Parents don’t only want to see plays about parenthood - in fact, there are times when they want to see plays about anything else. And it’s important to keep our parents culturally and intellectually stimulated! I want parents to participate in the cultural scene, because I want the people raising the next generation to be active, and passionate, and involved in the world around them.

What’s next for you, Mathilde? Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I’m working on a play called A Play about David Mamet Writing a Play about Harvey Weinstein. David Mamet spent his career writing plays and films largely devoid of women. When he does include female characters, they’re often… problematic. Take Oleanna, for instance: a college student falsely accuses her professor of sexual harassment. Well, the guy who wrote that play is writing a play about Harvey Weinstein in which, I imagine, Weinstein will be the tragic hero. I don’t say this glibly, pretty much all of his plays are about tragic heroes.

The news that Mamet was writing a play about Weinstein made me feel all kinds of feelings, so I started writing my response, which I’m thinking of as an angry comedy. I’m workshopping it on Governors Island, with free readings on the 28th and 29th of July. It’s a good excuse to go hang out on the island!

#MINDRMAMA Mathilde Dratwa is a Belgian playwright and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. She is a member of Dorset Theater Festival’s Women Artists Write group and of New York Foundation for the Arts’ Immigrant Artist Program, a former co-leader of the FilmShop collective, a Sundance Channel Contest finalist and a two-time Pulitzer Center Grant recipient. Her plays have been workshopped and presented by LAByrinth Theater Company, Great Plains Theater Conference, InProximity Theatre's Project W Festival, Rising Sun Performance Company and Corkscrew Theater Festival.

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