La Respuesta 06: Morgan P. Vickers

 
Morgan P. Vickers, recent college grad and current  National Trust for Historic Preservation  intern, visits  historic Green Book sites  on Route 66.

Morgan P. Vickers, recent college grad and current National Trust for Historic Preservation intern, visits historic Green Book sites on Route 66.

 

La Respuesta is Navegando's version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we take a deep dive into exploring our similarities, our differences, and the stories that make us human. 

My name is Morgan P. Vickers. I'm a recent college graduate, a recovery and mental health advocate, a community historian, and an aspiring storyteller. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Massachusetts, spent my formative years in the suburbs of North Carolina, and currently reside in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado (notice a trend here?). I split my time between working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, researching and documenting lynchings in the American South, applying for PhD programs, and hiking as many mountains and trails as my small body can handle. 

Name: Morgan P. Vickers
Current age: 22
Current location: Denver, CO

What defines you?  My inquisitive spirit. My goofy dance moves and dad jokes. The crease I get between my eyebrows when I'm thinking hard. My deep and unwavering love of a good narrative. My sweet tooth. The awe I feel every time I enter a new space. The good advice I give (but haven't yet learned to follow).

What keeps you up at night? I'm a pretty anxious person who has made quite a few mistakes in the past, so I often find myself replaying social interactions and embarrassing memories from years ago in my mind. But also: Twitter. Sometimes I inadvertently stay up hours later than usual, simply because I get trapped in the purgatory that is a never-ending Twitter thread.

What do you want the most? Empathy, compassion, understanding, education (in all of its beautiful forms), and a really good story.

How do you handle loneliness? I think I'm still learning how to navigate heaviness and loneliness. When I'm really lonely and depressed, I tend to isolate myself. But, as a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, I'm really fortunate to have a built-in network of meetings, and a contact list full of people across the country who have dealt with similar issues. When I'm feeling really low or lonely, I know I can shoot a message into a group of friends or walk into a room of strangers and just say, "Hey, I'm not doing so well today. Would it be okay if I just talk to someone for a while?" And I know that, without fail, someone will pick up the phone or stay a bit later after a meeting to help me feel less alone. I'm also learning how to distinguish feelings -- something I wasn't able to do before I got sober. Recently, I've found myself saying, "Today was really stressful, but I realized I don't feel unhappy." Having both external sources of help and internal growth opportunities helps me keep my head afloat.

How do you feel purposeful? My dear friend and mentor recently passed away, and his words have been rattling around in my head for the past several days. He always told me I should aim to do two things: ask for help when I need it, and be of service to people whenever I can. Or, in other words, give and accept all of the help you can manage in this world. I think I feel most purposeful when I actively seek to improve myself, and when I reach out to someone and see how I can assist in their efforts.

What do you do, when there is no one else around? I watch a lot of dumb prank and fail videos on YouTube. Most of my days are filled with deep, critical thought, and I often feel like I need to counteract that attentiveness with mindless humor.

What character in fame or fiction would you most like to be? If I could turn myself into a type of Frankenstein, combining traits of some of my favorite black characters of fiction and fame: I'd absorb the self-confidence and self-love of Lizzo, the fluidity and poise of Prince, the adventure and beautiful defiance of Hushpuppy (from Beasts of the Southern Wild), the humor of my dad, the authority and academic persona of Ida B. Wells, the surety and candor of Rainbow (from Blackish), and the keen eye and pen of Hilton Als. 

What thing can you not live without? Early mornings. I'm most productive before 9 a.m. I love the feeling of a full, new day. I'm often so eager for a morning coffee that my body naturally wakes me up at 5. And I look my absolute best during the 6 a.m. golden hour.

What medium of art most moves you, and what makes your heart sing? Narrative moves me. Nothing makes me feel more invigorated than a well-written history, a documentary that makes me angry and inspired, or an orator who absorbs all of the air in the room. Content that's been making my heart sing lately: scenes from Pose on FX; music by Janelle Monae, King Princess, Solange, and Maggie Rogers; words by Ashley C. Ford, Durga Chew-Bose, Maggie Nelson, and Mary Oliver; histories by Ida B. Wells; and the stylings of @tomboylooks on Instagram.

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Are you interested in telling your stories? Fill out the form here and we'll be add you to the list for future La Respuesta posts.

La Respuesta 05: Frances Nieves Serret

 
Frances Nieves Serret, a Puerto Rican behavior analyst living in Boston, MA, on one of her many adventures.

Frances Nieves Serret, a Puerto Rican behavior analyst living in Boston, MA, on one of her many adventures.

 

La Respuesta is Navegando's version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we take a deep dive into exploring our similarities, our differences, and the stories that make us human. 

My name is Frances Nieves and I’m a behavior analyst teaching children and young adults with autism. I am also a mentor for graduate students getting their Master's in behavior analysis. I’ve been living in Boston for the past 6 years, but I’m originally from Puerto Rico.

(Quick note from Nicole: Frances is currently fundraising for the Global Autism Project -- she'll be joining them next year in Kenya, providing training to local educators who work with children with autism. All funds will go directly to the Global Autism Project and their work changing the lives of children around the world. Learn more and donate here.)

Name: Frances Nieves Serret
Current age: 29
Current location: Boston, MA

What defines you?  My caring for others. My love of new experiences. My need to be active. 

What keeps you up at night? It depends. It could be the excitement about my next trip, new activity I’m trying out the next weekend, or the a class I’m signing up for. Other times, it’s my clients—their successes and/or struggles, and how I can help. How can I become the best version of myself. How the world in “The Handmaid’s Tale” seems more and more possible these days.

What do you want the most? Health. I’ve had a few injuries in the past couple of years and have family and friends currently struggling with health issues. I’ve seen and experienced how debilitating it can be. It not only affects your body but mental state.

How do you handle loneliness? I rarely feel lonely. I love being around other people, but I also feel comfortable and enjoy doing things by myself. I think being comfortable and happy with who you are is the best way to handle loneliness.  I also plan trips, sign up for classes and activities, and create meaningful relationships.

How do you feel purposeful? I feel purposeful when I’m working with individuals with autism. They are the coolest people I know and it’s really amazing to see their progress and the impact it has in their quality of life. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. I also look for volunteering opportunities, classes, and I push myself to do things out of my comfort zone so I can learn and grow as a person.

What do you do, when there is no one else around? I’ve been trying to learn how to dance salsa (I know--I’m Puerto Rican so I should know how to dance salsa) so I’ll put on some salsa music and dance.

What character in fame or fiction would you most like to be? I’m currently obsessed with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s filled with really bad ass, strong women. I would one of those women—Moira, June, Emily.

What thing can you not live without? My passport.

What medium of art most moves you, and what makes your heart sing? Books. A good book can make me laugh or cry or transport me to a different world.

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Are you interested in telling your stories? Fill out the form here and we'll be add you to the list for future La Respuesta posts.

La Respuesta 04: Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri

 
Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri, owner of Trim Hair Salon in Washington, DC. Photo by  Matt Dunn

Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri, owner of Trim Hair Salon in Washington, DC.
Photo by Matt Dunn

 

La Respuesta is Navegando's version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we take a deep dive into exploring our similarities, our differences, and the stories that make us human. 

My name is Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri; family and close friends call me 'Cuchita'. I am a Boricua who's lived in the DC area my entire life; my parents moved here pregnant with me. Raised in Northern Virginia, I spent childhood summers with family in Puerto Rico. I'm a hairdresser and own Trim Hair Salon in Adams Morgan. The salon works with local non-profit organizations supporting women. Our mission of outreach is a concept that was written into our business plan, because it's extremely important to me. I recently co-founded DCheartsPR, an initiative to raise awareness and money for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. I planned a trip to volunteer my skills in a low-income community last spring, and am bringing several more hairdressers with me for a return trip in August! I plan to keep doing what I can to help the people of the island -- they're literally my family -- and they still need help. In our spare time, my husband, Jason, and I are fond of last-minute adventures and travel, we've been known to get in the car and find ourselves many hours away exploring. I miss mofongo, mallorcas, and piñón more than I care to admit. 

Name: Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri (aka: Cuchita)
Current age: 41
Current location: Washington, DC

What defines you? My lust for laughter, fierce loyalty, a faux-salty nature, and generous spirit.

What keeps you up at night? The million ideas I haven't written down.

What do you want the most? Skills and understanding, to better use my powers for good. 

How do you handle loneliness? I have a restless personality so I keep myself busy. Depression is something i'm familiar with, and I find this difficult to answer because my mind can go to dark places quickly. But, many of us can feel lonely in room full of people, so I know I need to engage with people in a way that feels honest and real to me. I find joy in connecting with people, finding the different ways that we are similar, and discovering the common threads that bind us all together. 

How do you feel purposeful? Helping people problem solve. Working with clients to find solutions not just to issues they're having with their hair, but also helping them through difficult situations in life. I've been through some of life's toughest times with many of my clients, and I respect the trust they have in me to share these vulnerable moments.

What do you do, when there is no one else around? I dance, a lot. Sometimes, I even sing. 

What thing can you not live without? I've always struggled to answer the 'if i could only have one thing on a deserted island' question, ONE? Here's my best... lip balm, cuticle nippers, a flashlight in every room, and laughter.

What medium of art most moves you, and what work makes your heart sing? Dance keeps me captivated. I was a dancer when I was younger, and I kick myself for stopping my training so young, so I fantasize about being able to perform at a level as if I'd kept it up. The liquid movements of the human body can be mesmerizing. 

And the music my husband makes, his talent fills me with feels. 

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Are you interested in telling your stories? Fill out the form here and we'll be add you to the list for future La Respuesta posts.

La Respuesta 03: Yohanca Delgado

 
Yohanca Delgado, a Washington, DC-based writer.

Yohanca Delgado, a Washington, DC-based writer.

 

La Respuesta is Navegando's version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we take a deep dive into exploring our similarities, our differences, and the stories that make us human. 

Yohanca is a third-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing at American University in Washington, DC, where she also teaches undergraduate writing. She was born and raised in New York, by parents from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. 

Name: Yohanca Delgado
Current age:
Current location:
Bethesda, just outside Washington, DC. 

What defines you?  Curiosity. I want to know why people think and act the way they do. I want to know all the ways in which the truth is stranger than fiction. Writing gives me a license to explore the world through story. 

What keeps you up at night? In 2018? The news rends my heart every single day. In life? Replaying every dumb or unkind thing I've ever said or done in a perpetual loop.

What do you want the most? In 2018? For Trump to be deposed and jailed. For his myriad policy incursions on human rights to be reversed. In life? I want to write stories.

How do you handle loneliness?  It's always been my disposition to love solitude, so it rarely crosses over into true loneliness. That said, I've lived in a lot of other countries (Brazil, Egypt, France, Lithuania, and Ukraine) and that was sometimes lonely. I've found that even when I'm somewhere where I don't speak the local language, I can usually find ways to engineer social opportunities through meet-ups or mutual friends. Knowing that there's a solution within your control softens loneliness, I think. 

How do you feel purposeful? I feel most purposeful when I am doing something concrete to make the world better. Non-journalistic writing can be a difficult vocation because it doesn't offer an immediate, concrete sense of purpose for me, especially when I'm writing something new and I'm not sure if it'll be any good. I'm happiest when I can find ways to balance writing with other activities, like teaching, helping others with their writing projects, or volunteering. 

What do you do, when there is no one else around? I love silencing my phone when I'm at home. I also binge-watch International House Hunters with my dog curled up in my lap. 

What character in fame or fiction would you most like to be? My favorite book of all time is Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. It tells the real story of the Mirabal sisters, three sisters who famously (and tragically) led a resistance movement against the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in the 1940s and 50s. I'd love to be as brave as any of them. 

What thing can you not live without? Coffee. 

What medium of art most moves you, and what work makes your heart sing? Good stories make me happy. Books hold a tremendous power to evoke empathy and show us new worlds. What a gift that can be. My list of favorites changes all the time, but what comes to mind today are classics that carry a certain poetic music in their sentences; I'm thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Toni Morrison's Jazz, Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, Alejo Carpentier's short stories, and AJ Verdelle's The Good Negress. I've just started reading Clarice Lispector and I am already entranced by the way she toys with syntax; the verve of her sentences comes through even in translation. I'm also loving two 2018 releases: Naima Coster's poignant Halsey Street and Elizabeth Acevedo's delightful novel-in-verse The Poet X. It makes me so happy to see talented Dominicanas on the bookshelves! 

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Are you interested in telling your stories? Fill out the form here and we'll be add you to the list for future La Respuesta posts.

#TheseStoriesMatter: Why I'm Traveling Route 66

 
The historic   KiMo Theatre   was completed in 1927 along Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM. The stunning structure is a rare example of 'Pueblo Deco' architecture, a style that combined elements of Art Deco and Pueblo Revival design. The KiMo was originally owned by  Oreste Bachechi , an Italian immigrant and entrepreneur who achieved his own American Dream after starting several successful businesses in New Mexico, inspiring other Italians to try their luck in Albuquerque, and then assisting his countrymen by loaning them money for passage and helping them find work when they arrived.  Photo by  Matthew Dickey

The historic KiMo Theatre was completed in 1927 along Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM. The stunning structure is a rare example of 'Pueblo Deco' architecture, a style that combined elements of Art Deco and Pueblo Revival design. The KiMo was originally owned by Oreste Bachechi, an Italian immigrant and entrepreneur who achieved his own American Dream after starting several successful businesses in New Mexico, inspiring other Italians to try their luck in Albuquerque, and then assisting his countrymen by loaning them money for passage and helping them find work when they arrived.

Photo by Matthew Dickey

 

In just a few weeks I will have the distinct pleasure of traveling along the westernmost stretch of Route 66 alongside a team from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as they gather support for legislation that would designate the famed highway a National Historic Trail. Once a main avenue for pleasure, work, and the ever-elusive American Dream, Route 66 began falling into disrepair after the creation of the Interstate, which ditched the winding roads of the scenic route for a faster system to get people across the country (learn more here). In designating it an NHT, Route 66 will be eligible for funding that can help restore the small businesses, gorgeous neon signage, funky landmarks and winding roadways that once made the Mother Road the true heart of American road trips.

The   Green Book   was the quintessential guide for African Americans traveling the road in the early 21st century, offering resources "to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable." The book was created by Victor H. Green, a mailman-turned-publisher-turned-travel-agent who sought to highlight  "the growing affluence of African Americans."

The Green Book was the quintessential guide for African Americans traveling the road in the early 21st century, offering resources "to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable." The book was created by Victor H. Green, a mailman-turned-publisher-turned-travel-agent who sought to highlight "the growing affluence of African Americans."

As someone who grew up Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby telling me to "get my kicks on Route 66" (my mom's a Rat Pack fan) but who never actually got to drive along the route, the thought of joining in on a summer adventure on the road immediately piqued my interest. And after a weekend spent training with the NTHP -- as well as a few weeks now devoted to learning more about the histories of the Route -- I'm even more committed to my original intentions for joining this trip: that is, telling the lesser-known stories of Route 66, and how they tie in to the American Story at large. One of these stories includes the creation of the Green Book (right), which I did a quick write-up on on my personal Instagram (here). Though the rise of the automobile and the creation of interstate roadways meant freedom and new opportunities to many, it also meant new dangers to many others, including more opportunities for racist encounters, the disruption of existing communities, and the glorification of stereotypes for the financial benefit of the privileged.

It's important, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in her oft-cited TED Talk, that we not fall into the trap of believing that our History is made up of one single story. Instead, it is made up of the stories of many -- and even those with similar backgrounds in similar places can have entirely different experiences. We, as Americans, are greater than the sum of our parts; we are made up of the histories of all the people who came before us. My interest in Route 66 is in preserving it for future generations, both as a cultural relic and vital piece of Americana but also as a means to communicate what we as a country can do better to build each other up instead of tearing each other down. I want to hear the stories of the marginalized communities who live and work and travel along the route, and to help share those stories. I'm excited to visit some Green Book sites, and hopefully to meet other Latinx folx along the way and in Los Angeles, where both the Route and my time on it will come to an end. I'm excited to hear the personal experiences of all those who have traveled Route 66 before me, and what makes it so special to them. I'm excited about the incredible, brilliant, and beautifully diverse group of people I get to share my first time on Route 66 with.

And, of course, I'm excited to eat as many fried/artificially sugared things as is humanly possible (can you say: "chamoyada?"). Because what is America if not a land of freedom and opportunity in all things deliciously bad for you? Don't @ me.

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I'd love to hear your awesome Route 66 stories, tips, and reccs before I head out on July 30th -- feel free to share them in the comments or on my Instagram.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's #Preserve66 road trip started earlier this month -- You can follow along with my fellow #roadie writers as well as our awesome trip photographer and NTHP staff on their Instagram profiles:

Michael Ryan | Lina Tran | Morgan Vickers | Matthew Dickey 
David Kafer | Jason Clement | Diana Tisue | Grant Stevens

La Respuesta 02: Barbara Grant

 
Barbara Grant, founder of Nudge and Cradle. Photo by  Leah Beilhart

Barbara Grant, founder of Nudge and Cradle.
Photo by Leah Beilhart

 

La Respuesta is Navegando's version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we take a deep dive into exploring our similarities, our differences, and the stories that make us human. 

My name is Barbara Grant, and I've been living in Washington, DC for almost 12 years, by way of California and Mexico. I work with families and young children with developmental delays and disabilities, and recently started a new business providing developmental and parenting supports called Nudge and Cradle (let's hear it for the side hustle!). You can find me spending time in my backyard with my lovely husband, Simon and equally lovely dog, Milanesa (aka Mila, aka a bunch of other embarrassing nicknames I won't list here), and constantly trying to find good Mexican food.

Name: Barbara Grant
Current age: 30
Current location: Washington, DC

What defines you?  My caring and love for others. My fierce loyalty to friends and family. My unique culture and background. My deep and never ending love for eating. 

What keeps you up at night? Thinking about people that are in pain, and trying to see if I can help. This can get a bit overwhelming, especially in our current political climate. But I really think it is so important to not ignore those that are feeling hurt just because it can be too much for us personally. It can be really exhausting, mentally and because of the lack of sleep. That's why self-care is so important to me, so I can be ready to hold someone else's pain, even for a moment, whenever possible. 

What do you want the most? To be happy, and to help others feel happy and loved.

How do you handle loneliness? I think there should be a clear distinction between being alone and feeling loneliness. I actually really love spending time alone; it lets me recharge and take care of myself. I think everyone should try to find some alone time at least once or twice a week, even if its just 5 minutes to take some deep breaths. However, I absolutely do not like feeling lonely, and actively try to avoid it. It makes me feel really anxious and not great. To combat feeling lonely, I plan times that I can spend with loved ones (either friends and family, or beloved characters in books and shows), looking at beautiful things, being in nature, and playing with my dog, Mila (who is both a loved one and beautiful thing).

How do you feel purposeful? Helping others and amplifying the voices of others who can't do it on their own. Since I was little, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer that I wanted to help others and work with kids. So I kinda really nailed it with my job. I feel most me, most true to my self when I know that I have helped someone in a way that they could not have done on their own, whether its an obvious things or just a seed I help plant in them that will grow later. I try to be intentional with all of my actions, make sure that I am being of service to others, and that all voices are being heard, especially those of women, POC, and people with disabilities. 

What do you do, when there is no one else around? I'd say its a combo between lying down to do things (eating, watching tv, reading, etc.) and dancing.

What character in fame or fiction would you most like to be? Hermione Granger, because of her obvious smarts, bravery, and bad-assery. Malala Yousafzai, because of her obvious smarts, bravery, and bad-assery. Selena, because wasn't she just amazing?!?

What thing can you not live without? Love, books, tacos, and cheese.

What medium of art most moves you, and what work makes your heart sing? SUCH a hard question. Part of me wants to say it depends on the day, but the other part of me knows that reading is my one true love. I was that kid who would only ask for books as gifts, and currently have slowly growing piles of books all over my house (if anyone has an extra bookcase they want to get rid of, get at me). There are so many amazing books that I return to over and over again, but currently my two faves are Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. Uplifting, I know. 

Are you interested in telling your stories? Fill out the form here and we'll be add you to the list for future La Respuesta posts.