Residence: Los Angeles
Occupation: Set Decorator and Yoga Teacher
What is it like to look back on the comments you made 20 years ago?
They seem accurate. I don’t regret any of them. I think I was in pain then about my racial identity and I am still in pain. The world has changed a lot, though, I am sure of it, but sometimes I realize I haven’t changed as fast as the world has. I carry my scars and my hurts still, even though it would be much more beneficial to let them all that go, to clean house. I often wonder why am I holding on so tight to the hurt. What am I afraid of letting go. I took a class a couple months ago called, “Who Am I: The Basic Goodness of Being Human.” In one exercise we wrote ten phrases/nouns about how we define our identity, and at the end of the exercise we crumpled them up one by one. Two of my self definitions had race in them. One was “exotic black chick” and another one was “inter-racial child of communists.” When I destroyed those pieces of paper I felt so good, I can’t explain, there was a weight lifted off of me. So I know that if I could release the racial pain of my childhood out of my mind-heart I would feel so much better. I just haven’t gotten there yet. But there’s still time. I have faith in myself that I can move forward and just be Nya one day. I want experience the lightness of letting go of race.
What has changed or stayed the same since then?
I married a white man so in some ways I have remade my parents’ interracial relationship with me playing the role of my black mother and my husband playing the role of my white father. We don’t have any children so no one is playing me. As I get older the world around me, which is mainly my workplace, has gotten whiter and whiter. I miss my childhood in Mt. Airy and my schools that were so mixed. The neighborhood in Los Angeles I live in is very mixed so I enjoy that. I still think of myself as sometimes black, sometimes interracial. I never caught a hold of the word bi-racial. Maybe it got popular after I had already formed my self-description, my story I tell people about me. Or maybe I have never felt bi-racial because I feel like I have never gotten to know what it is like to be white even if I am half white. I can’t pass for white so I have never really experienced that half of my racial identity. I would love to be white for a day and experience what that really means. But, sadly, it’s not going to happen.
When Obama got elected I was really happy. I am happy to see so many successful mixed people: Obama, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Mariah Carey, Halle Barry. It helps a lot to see really visible people who look like me and must have experienced some of what I experience. Those people weren’t around when I was growing up.
I went to Cuba in the late 90s and it seemed like the whole country was interracial. I felt like I saw myself and my brother everywhere. It was a great feeling. I have never felt so at home, so relaxed.
I went to a People of Color Meditation Workshop last Saturday and it felt really good to be in a room of likeminded people of color (asians, latinos, african-americans, the group was diverse). I didn’t realize how starved I was for it. They all expressed what I had been feeling—that it feels really good and safe to be in an environment that is not almost totally white and even more so when you are trying to do your spiritual practice. I am going to explore doing more spiritual work in the “people of color” environment. I realize that I like to be with my fellow people of color. It is where I feel the most at ease.
What was it like to participate in this book project, to be in this book?
It was flattering to be in a book. I still have it somewhere in my bookshelf along with the other book I am in, “Mothers and Daughters.” I will always keep the book although I might not know exactly where on the shelf it is. It is something I am very proud of.