Mind if I play my music?

This is a question that I have never asked at the office.

(Context: I work in an amazing, open-plan space with tremendous colleagues who have excellent and varied musical tastes. I know this because said office is equipped with an AirPlay setup that allows us to pipe our Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and turntable.fm playlists to a speaker system for shared rocking out)

But my music? I’ve never asked to stream my (incredibly extensive) Damian Marley playlist, or my (even more extensive) collection of non-soca music made by Caribbean artists.

If my fear is that Damian and Mangoseed are somehow not “office appropriate” (what does that even mean? And what about the recent all-day Wailers-fest we enjoyed, courtesy a colleague who’d watched the Marley documentary over the weekend?), why then don’t I even cue up the Mumford & Sons or the Florence and The Machine playlists?

There are a few things going on here.

One, I have an uneasy relationship with “Caribbean” me, at least and especially when I am in decidedly non-Caribbean contexts. I’ve already got the hair, the head wraps, the WTF accent and that whole being-brown thing. Do I also need to highlight my predilection for soca, dub, dancehall and related musical forms? For one of the reasons why this is even a thing: see reactions to Rihanna in Carnival costume, and add a hefty dose of my must-bust-stereotypes syndrome.

Two, my relationship with music is intensely personal, and I am averse to (indeed, tending toward incapable of) intermingling the personal and the professional.

I regularly listen to Damian at work – safe, secure and inviolate in the castle of my headphones.

And that’s ok.

who knew language had color?

In Paris people are always asking me where I’m from because of my accent. It throws them because I don’t have quite the heavy American accent when I speak French. And frankly my accent, just like my culture is a mixture of all the places I’ve lived in so far: Madrid, Brooklyn, and now Paris. A blend obviously hard to pin-point, when once again people feel the need to put me ‘the speaker’ in a box. When I speak Spanish, I have a Spaniard accent, but that can’t be quite right, since I’m black. When I speak English, it’s okay, because they are used to black Americans speaking English, even before president Barack Obama.

And when I tell them where I’m from, they still ask: but what’s your origin? Because saying Spain three times never sinks in. I’m after all black. Well imagine my delight when I had a chance to ask that question to a couple of black Irish 20-something guys in Paris last week. But when I asked, where are you guys from, it had nothing to do with their “origin”, and more about their experience as Afro-Europeans. And my question didn’t even say anything about place of birth , I simply said: what was it like for you growing up in Ireland?

We all shared a look, and smiled. The smile and look that said, yes, I know exactly what it was like for you, because I lived it too. Apparently they always get the: Wow I can’t believe how great you speak English ( or any European language) look. Which they always respond with: that is the only language I speak. I’m guessing somewhere in their highly developed brains, some people expect people of color to always have ‘an accent’ when speaking.

I brought this up to my Spaniard roommate, and this was his take: Well Ines just how you were the only black kid in school in Spain some 30 years go, some Spaniards have never come in contact with a black person. Some have never left their small town or travel abroad, and to them seeing you speak their language is a shock.

Really? Who knew the color of my skin would dictate my language as well. Well I’m happy to shock them in English, Spanish and French. Portuguese is next.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Lindsay Hall

This is the second in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which will feature stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Lindsay HallLindsay Hall is a brilliant, young dancer who recently finished a series of performances with the J CHEN PROJECT in NY. She is currently working with a new company called Liberation Dance Theater.

Born in Canada but raised in Tobago, Lindsay’s style of dance is an elegant but seductive mash-up of influences. Trained in Ballet and Modern from the age of 5, Lindsay grew up in Tobago where she was surrounded by Caribbean rhythms, Folk dances, and Dancehall. In May 2011 she became the first Tobagonian to graduate from The Ailey School’s Certificate Program in New York. While in New York Lindsay has been honoured with full scholarships to attend both the Ballet Hispanico Summer Intensive and the Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts. She has had the great fortune of working with some amazing choreographers, including Darrell Grand Moultrie, Earl Mosley, Robin Dunn, Andrea Miller, Peter London, Francesca Harper, Bradley Shelver and Kevin Wynn.

When asked why she is a Colourful Woman, Lindsay said this;

Lindsay Hall I am mixed in every sense of the word. I am of different races and different countries (Black/white and Trinidadian/Canadian) and my influences and interests are just as varied. When I was younger and I met other people who were one race and from one place, I thought their lives must be so much simpler, not having to constantly explain where they are from and why they look the way they do, or (like in my case) why they have a Canadian accent but say they grew up in Tobago. But now that I am older (and I would like to think wiser as well!) and I am delving more and more into the dance world, I realize how unique my story is, and that I can use my background and my story in my dancing. I can embrace my story and not feel so bothered if I have to explain why my hair is the way it is or why I have freckles but my skin is brown.

I am colourful because I have embraced ME. Performing has given me the confidence to express myself in a way that we generally do not do in every day life. While I dance, I face people and I am not afraid to show them who I am: honestly and whole heartedly. Who I am is someone who may be compliacted (which I have learned is ok), full of surprises and not easily figured out in one glance, and I kind of like that idea!’

Check out Lindsay’s Youtube channel to see her in motion!

Hockey night

From time to time in Kitchener (where I currently live) there are these great moments of cultural ambiguity. And as most great Canadian moments, they centre around hockey.

A couple of weeks ago a friend from work took me to an Ethiopian restaurant for some truly delicious cuisine. He was the only white guy in the place though the restaurant was half full. The restaurant was full of energy as people talked and exclaimed at the hockey match playing on a big screen. We could have been in one of those ‘I am Canadian ‘ ads. It was such a surreal and gratifying moment.

I had another great moment last night at an Irish pub that serves the best pizza in town. Four of us were sitting at a table taking in a hockey match. The men at the table next to us were dark skinned and wearing turbans. The table over from them were white college kids in team jerseys. Our table had two white people, one mixed race man (my bf) and myself (Indian). Irrespective of race, everyone was totally into it.

Aren’t sports like that though? When in a group, you can’t help but get into it. I’ve read articles discussing the carnivalesque nature of sports, especially when national pride comes into play. The everyday divisions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that in daily life divide by race, sex and political affiliation, all of these things melt away. Instead we become ‘Canadians’ versus the other team or nation. There’s unity there and actual acceptance. I saw that during the 2010 Winter Olympics when Canadians of all kinds were high spirited an united with a kind of pride.

Experiencing the World Cup while living in Toronto was amazing as well. When you walk around you see people sporting their nations flags. Strangers from different countries stop and talk, temporarily united in this fever. You could see what games were on each day by the enthusiasm on the streets. When Brazil or Portugal played, certain areas of the city would become a big street party and when Italy won in 2006 Little Italy closed of its roads and was totally engulfed with people.

There is so much to be said about sports and celebrations. I think that it must hearken back to some very basic cultural traditions that seem to pervade most cultures. The way that people are able to come together and get involved with each other during sport events is so different from the rest of the calendar year. It’s truly carnivalesque.

I suppose I am only now recognizing Canada’s pride in Hockey as the same thing I experienced in Trinidad with Football (Intercol memories anyone?).

For more on sport and nationalism check out Sport, Nationalism, and Globalization: European and North American Perspectives, by Alan Bairner.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Brianne Garcia

This is the first in a series of “Colourful Woman Wednesday” posts, which will feature stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook.

Introducing: Brianne Garcia, colourful woman.

Brianne Garcia, founder of Parceld


Brianne is the founder of PARCELD, a fashion startup that aims to take the hassle out of the hunt. Brianne is also a 2012 fellow at the CUNY/Tow Knight Entrpreneurial Journalism Program, and one of two winners of the inaugural J. Douglas Creighton scholarship.

Here’s what makes Brianne a colourful woman, in her own words:

Being half-Mexican, one quarter Lebanese and another quarter Chzech/Irish mix, people always assume I’m white. I was always confused when filling in those bubbles on tests because next to White it always specifies: “Non-Hispanic.”

I know what my IDENTITY and WHO I am, but I always feel odd specifying the “what.”

I have roots in Mexico, Lebanon and Europe, and appreciate each little fraction equally and wholeheartedly.

I am colorful (oh! forgot the u! ;)) because I have an agenda, but no uniform. I used to care about “proving myself” to people, and while the need to do so is probably still there, I’ve found that being myself and being authentic proves more than trying to act better, smarter, or more suited for any given situation I’m in. I have accepted that I will always be learning, and that brings a lot of humility and sometimes humiliation, but it’s better to be curious than to think you know too much.