Boston

Guest Post by Janine Kwoh: Why Diversity Matters in the Card Aisle

Today's post is written by my guest, Janine Kwoh, designer and creator of KWOHTATIONS handmade cards. She and I collaborated to create a special batch of cards for PRIDE MONTH (June in many places in the US). Check out her website and shop and buy all the things!

 

I have to send a few of these, myself.

I have to send a few of these, myself.

WHY DIVERSITY MATTERS IN THE CARD AISLE

A couple years ago, a friend shared with me the difficulty of finding birthday party invitations for her daughter that featured brown-skinned girls, and asked if I would make her a custom set of invitations.  I immediately said yes, but it got me thinking about the bigger issue she’d named.  

There is some public discourse about the underrepresentation of minority groups across the mainstream media, including movies, TV shows, commercials, books, magazines, video games, and billboards, etc.  The lack of diversity in these images and storylines that we’ve created is jarringly at odds with our increasingly inclusive and open society.  It is absolutely crucial that we correct this. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the media shapes our identities and interactions in powerful ways; outside of our own narrow set of lived experiences, it’s how we learn what falling in love looks and feels like, what it means to be beautiful, the ways that different genders dress and act around each other, how to get what we want, and what is it that we should be wanting.  It tells us whose lives, insights, and stories matter to us as a society, and what types of individuals, families, and communities are considered “normal” and valued.  

The media is powerful because it enables us to insert our real selves into its constructed stories – we get to become the explorers, the lovers, the dreamers, and the heroes.  But what happens when there’s no place for some of us in these narratives?  What signal does it send to our children who don’t see anyone who looks, feels, and acts like they do?  What does it signal to our children who only see those who look, feel, and act as they do?  The media influences how we perceive others and what we think we know about them before we even meet.  When only some of our identities and life experiences are represented in meaningful and authentic ways, it means that the rest of us are reduced to flat, sometimes harmful characterizations, or worse, sentenced to non-existence.  

So why does diversity matter in the card aisle?  For the very same reasons. I’ll concede that these other media outlets likely have a greater influence on societal norms and the public consciousness, but the tradition of giving cards is still very ingrained in American culture despite the advent of email, social media, and texting: 9 out of 10 American households buy cards every year, and collectively buy ~7 billion greeting cards annually.  Cards are sold in virtually all convenience stores, big-box retailers, and gift shops, and much like TV commercials or magazines at the checkout counter, you can’t help but notice and internalize the headlines even when you aren’t really looking for them.  

Having cards that reflect the experiences of people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds matters not just because it’s frustrating to have to color over your daughter’s birthday card with brown and black crayons, or to resort to buying wedding cards with anthropomorphic animals because they’re the closest depiction of a same-sex couple that you can find.  It matters because we send cards when something we deem significant has happened, when an occasion is important enough to demand more than the customary email.  Therefore, the occasions for which there are greeting cards sends a clear message about which we think are the milestones and people that are important enough for us to be commemorating, and conversely, which are not.  The mission of Kwohtations Cards is to challenge those assumptions, to spread joy and bring people closer together by making cards that recognize, embrace, and celebrate the diversity and absurdity of life.   

 For Pride Month this June, I worked with my friend Dillan DiGiovanni to design cards that acknowledge and celebrate the experiences of some who identify as LGBTQ individuals. As a heterosexual, cisgender person, I freely admit that I don’t know what it’s like to go through life otherwise.  But I know enough to know that it’s full of ups and downs, no matter who you are. I know that as much progress has been made, it can be a pretty narrow-minded, bigoted world out there.  I know that it takes incredible courage to be yourself when a lot of people don’t want you to.  And I know that change can be hard and scary, even when you know you’re doing the right thing.  So I’m continuing to talk and learn and listen, but in the meantime I’m trying to cope with how much further we have to go to become a fully equal and open society by making something.  Something small just to say, quite simply, I see you.  I see you and I celebrate you, and I’m glad you’re you.   I hope it helps a little.   

 

Self-Care When Tragedy Strikes

Yesterday was a very sad, shocking day. I had just biked over to mail my taxes and I saw a post from someone on facebook: "please post if you know what happened in Boston".

 

Somewhere, in that weird place in me that knows things, I felt it. One word: bomb.

I made a comment: "in regards to what?"

The comments started flowing, "explosion..." and words like that. My newsfeed suddenly filled with status updates. And I spent the next 30 minutes glued to my computer, updating myself and others via Twitter and Facebook. I thanked my spiritual practice for the mindfulness it brought me, my ability to stay present and post information and retrieve it from my friends all around the city.

I live about 7.5 miles away from where the explosion happened. I was nursing my first headcold since October and was too sick to go to the marathon, so I was watching the updates from home.

I thought about my good friend had just told me that morning how he was injured and wasn't able to run but he'd be ready next year. I texted him, "explosions Downtown. I'm glad you're not there today."

I thought about my client; two years ago she started with a Couch-to-5K and ended up doing the marathon once and came back for a second time this year. Running to raise money for a family member who had passed away.

I thought about my friend who had just posted a video on facebook from the sidewalk. I knew she was there. I txted her immediately. When she replied she was safe I instantly wrote: "I love you." She wrote it back, even though we've never been that intimate. But that moment called for it.

I spent the next 3 hours texting people I knew and saying I love you when they said they were safe. People wrote it back when they checked in with me. Thinking that people would be fleeing from the city, I offered up my living room and apartment to runners or anyone who wanted some respite.

The whole time I thought how I was really surprised someone didn't hit us sooner. There's been so much violence and madness lately. Now it was our turn. On Patriots Days, of all days--a holiday this city celebrates each year. "A silly, made-up holiday" as the guy behind the post office counter had said, just minutes before the explosion.

A silly made-up holiday in a city I've adopted as home for almost 7 years. It's my home. And someone just hurt my family here.

I wasn't downtown but I still felt the impact and emotional frenzy as my friends and I texted each other, frantically.

As reports kept coming in about an explosion or fire near Harvard, just a few miles away from my apartment, I felt helpless. I was afraid.  Would it keep happening? Would there be more?

 

 

When tragedy strikes, we need to tend to ourselves as best we can.

CONNECTION

As the news unfolded via social media, I reached out to every person I knew, either texting them or checking their fb wall for an update. I expressed pure love for each person--there was a connection happening over the airwaves that astounded me. We are forever changed. I held nothing back and experienced that same intimacy with others--it was a wonderful experience. I posted that our home was available to anyone needing a place to stay and one dear friend came over. We spent the night both grieving and laughing, celebrating our full, rich lives and our gratitude for one another. Texts came through all night and I was comforted by the connections with friends both near and far.

NUTRITION

Despite feeling queasy with emotion and shock, everyone I loved and knew was ok. I sent loving compassion to those less fortunate who would spend hours in waiting rooms, ERs, hotel rooms, apartments and on the sidewalks of the city as they struggled through a difficult night. There was no reason to not feed myself. Due to massive changes in our lifestyle habits, there is food in the fridge every day of the week now. I felt more gratitude, to have what I need to keep myself healthy and well.

SLEEP

When bedtime came, I hit the sack. I had seen all the footage enough times. I had made sure all my beloved friends and colleagues were ok. I needed to rest. I headed to bed with the knowledge that I had done all I could to help. I had posted information and offered my home to those who may need it. With that peace of mind, I was able to turn off the computer and take care of myself so I could help again in the morning.

COMFORT

New sheets on the bed were a huge help for what could have been a sleepless night. Around 3am I woke up with a huge pain in my stomach. Grief, certainly. Emotion I had quelled when I was responding in the moment. Now, it was surfacing. I got up and filled my hot water bottle with very hot water and placed it over my stomach. I felt instant relief and I was back asleep within minutes. There may also have been a stuffed animal or two beside me.

 

I am so humbled and grateful for the many friends and colleagues near and far who checked in on me, as I had tried to do when similar events unfolded in their towns and cities. As I'm sure you're noticing, we are experiencing a massive shift in mass violence and natural tragedies in recent years and I don't know why it's happening, but in the midst of the suffering, I am finding comfort in the connections that happen as a result.

 

I find comfort in knowing that these things happen, despite our wanting them to.

I find comfort in connecting with people and expressing my love and concern for them.

I find comfort in remembering that grief is temporary, and part of being human.

I find comfort in knowing our city can and will rally together to support each other, just as others have done before us.

 

We're Boston. If we can overcome those damn Redcoats, we got this one.