Side by side, the New York candidates’ differences shone

By Saira Khan

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a Q.A. at Mic’s headquarters in TriBeCa, hosted by Mic’s founder Jake Horowitz, between Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York City, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from the Bronx, the 28-year-old who is poised to become the youngest Congresswoman ever.

The conversation was brief, a little less than an hour, and the format was simple: Horowitz asked the questions, the women answered. Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez, who are both Democratic Socialists, are among the record number of women running for office this year, in light of Trump’s election, no doubt.

Until November of last year, Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender in the Bronx. Nixon, who most of us recognize from “Sex and the City” fame, is an Emmy-award winning actress, who has been in the industry since 1980. Neither woman has any experience in politics. And that’s about all they have in common.

Seeing them speak, side-by-side, I was struck by how animated and earnest Ocasio-Cortez was, and by comparison, how rehearsed Nixon was, who name-checked Governor Andrew Cuomo whenever she could. While Nixon still has a fight ahead of her at the polls, her attacks on Cuomo felt like a distraction from the fact that she didn’t seem to have much to contribute. The first question that Horowitz asked was about the Trump Administration’s immigration policy, which Nixon deflected to Ocasio-Cortez, initially making it seem like she was giving Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina, the space to answer. But as the event progressed, Nixon deflected more and more of the questions to Ocasio-Cortez, who, at one point, even asked Nixon if she had anything to add, noting that she had been doing most of the talking.

The only time when Nixon shone was when Horowitz asked her about possibly running under another party’s ballot in the event that she loses the Democratic primary, similar to rumors that are floating around about Joe Crowley, who lost the primary to Ocasio-Cortez.

“I want to point out though that Governor Cuomo may also face the same situation when I win the Democratic primary. I’m not the only person on another ballot line. Andrew Cuomo is actually on two different ballot lines… I don’t mind being asked this question, what I do mind is how Andrew Cuomo is never asked this question.”

Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, elicited many “woos” from the audience, and while she started the event guarded, by the end she let the Bronx-girl in her out–calling out male politicians for holding women back. I’m going to include the full, long quote here because it feels like a disservice to Ocasio-Cortez to edit this down:

“Congress is 80% male, that’s embarrassing y’all. Congress is 80% male which means that there are massive blind spots in how we pursue legislation that deals with health care, equal rights, pay, etc, but also I think that when government is so overwhelmingly male, Cynthia Nixon would be the first female governor of the state, when government is so overwhelmingly male, the only way for us to get seats is to be given permission to run. So then we have to cause trouble to claim our seat, we have to. People are saying ‘oh you’re doing this, you’re destroying the party, you’re too young, you’re not ready, you’re naive, you’re uneducated, blah blah blah.’ That is what I’ve been told and that is what women have been have been told their whole lives whenever they want to do anything ambitious so you know what? Screw it. They’re gonna say it, cause some trouble, get that 50%, get that parity, get that gender-expanding representation in office, cause you gotta claim it, you gotta take it. Cause I’m sorry, sorry, if I’m gonna wait for the 80% of dudes in Congress to give me permission, I’m gonna be 80 by then!”

It’s hard to argue with Ocasio-Cortez’s point, but with the primary a little less than three months away, I’m alarmed by Nixon’s lackluster performance–she’s taking on a seven-year incumbent from a political family, and is polling 36 points behind. Nixon may have taken on some of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, but what she really needs to do is soak up some of her authenticity, otherwise, come September, she’ll be in trouble.

You can watch parts of the QA here. 

An Interview With the Editor of “RBG”

A discussion with Carla Gutierrez about editing the hit documentary “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today.

By Monica Torres

Carla Gutierrez is the film editor behind this year’s hit documentary “RBG,” an intimate look at the life and fame surrounding U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was her job to distill decades of the 85-year-old’s life and litigation career into one movie. Gutierrez is also the editor of the Oscar-nominated film “La Corona,” the Emmy-nominated documentaries “Reportero” and “Kingdom of Shadows,” and is part of the 2018 class of new Academy members. I met her five years ago after I graduated college when she kindly reached out to me as a fellow alum and let me see what being a working journalist was like.

We chatted about the months she spent editing “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today:

How do you give viewers a personal experience when you are editing archival footage?

I could talk to you for hours about this. That’s my job. The goal that we have as filmmakers is a strong collaboration with the directors to give a voice to their vision in the detail of the rhythm and the combination of sound and picture. The goal is to create as personal of a picture as you can, to get as close to the subject matter or the characters as you can.

[For the confirmation hearing], those were four days of archival footage that we went through, and a lot of it was dry. It’s about having an eye and looking for the moments that really jumped at you and then building around those moments. So it was very much the moment when the camera was on her husband, on Marty, and he’s smiling while she’s talking about him. And you can only get that from just watching a lot of the material that we have and spending time discovering the potential and the gems. And that was a gem.

You have a lot of interviews where people are talking about how much they love each other, but when you see a moment like that, in actual video, you can see the expressions of them being in the same room. Those are the moments that you focus on and you build around to give them more emotion. It’s fun.

In one moving sequence, we see women of different races and generations on the screen as a young Ginsburg argues her first Supreme Court case, Frontiero v. Richardson, and explains to a group of all-male justices how gender-based discrimination exists. Quotes from her legal brief explaining what it means to be a second-class citizen —“branded inferior,” “subordinate,” “waste of human resources”— appear alongside these women as we see Ginsburg advocate on their behalf.

When I was watching the material at the very beginning, I was feeling emotionally close to the challenges that women in all generations have had that I can relate to, but I never felt so emotionally close to that. As a younger generation, there’s a bit of a distance that we have with the ‘70’s women’s movement, or the struggle to get our vote, because we take some of those things for granted. Through [Ginsburg’s] work, it made me feel incredibly close to those women and incredibly grateful. And it was a conversation with the directors that we wanted to make sure that the viewer also felt close to the women who inspired her work.

In all the interview archival that we have, [RBG] would always talk about the people that came before her. There’s that gratitude that she has for people who have done the work before her. We wanted to make sure that the viewers also felt personally close to those women. And I find that just by seeing those faces looking at you is a way to see them as yourself.

That’s one of things we tried with Frontiero when we were using all those black-and-white pictures of women from all different generations from the beginning of the history of the United States.

Did you end up meeting RBG in person?

I did! I met her at Sundance where we had the premiere.

The directors introduced the entire crew and we were all women. There were six of us. When we stood up, she was super excited about that.

How is it to meet someone you’ve been studying for hours and hours?

It’s really weird, but I’m used to it now because I’ve been editing for a long time. The first time I met a subject that I had edited, I really scared him. I really wanted to talk to him right away. It was like starting a conversation that he didn’t know about, and I wanted to continue that conversation. I quickly learned that you can really scare people and make them feel like you’re stalking them at a party. I keep my distance with subjects now. I’m never going to get to know them on a personal level, I just know them as characters in a film.

A film is a film. You’re compressing so much time, you’re making decisions to focus on one aspect of someone’s life, you’re never going to present a whole picture of a person’s life.

Taking a different track on questions, I still remember the kindness you showed me five years ago and it made me think a lot about mentoring. Have you ever had someone like that for you?

Yes, other editors. I’m really lucky that I’m in a career where documentary editors are really generous with each other and with their time, I’ve found. With documentaries, it’s not like you’re making the big bucks.

Most people in this industry really love what they are doing and they really want to do it for a bigger reason because they feel the need to tell a story or they think that there’s a social issue it’s really important to bring more light on.  

A lot of the editors I’ve met have been incredibly generous. There’s one person in particular that gave me my first shot. I started as a translator for her, then as an assistant editor, then I ended up as a second editor. Her name is Kim Roberts. She just gave me the space to try things and to edit scenes and I learned a lot from her about longform storytelling.

What would be your advice for someone, particularly someone who is Latina who wants to do what you do and work as an editor?

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them. 

Watch a lot of films, and try to talk to the people you admire. Study people, so that when you talk to them, make sure that you know their work. Look for opportunities for mentorship. When you’re working at an entry-level assistant editing position, don’t be scared to ask the editors for you to be available in the room where story conversations are happening. The worst thing that can happen is really people saying no.

When I’ve had the chance to work on a bigger team, I’ve really liked it when people ask me, “Would you mind if I try to edit something in my free time?” or “Would you mind if I sit when you’re talking with the directors?” I always tell them, well let me talk to the directors because it’s really up to them, they’re the bosses, but I would love it.

If you come in, just be respectful and listen unless someone asks you for your opinion. I learned a lot from watching other people.

For editors, there is a great organization in New York, the Karen Schmeer editing fellowship. The fellowship gives a fellowship to one emerging editor a year and they recently started a diversity program and the pilot is only in New York. I’m a part of that, I’m a mentor to a few of them.

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them.

For this industry, everything is word of mouth. As an editor you are getting into an intimate creative collaboration with people. People really want recommendations. Directors are giving their babies to editors. We’re kind of the doulas. They want to feel comfortable with the editors and they want the right match.

What were other favorite movies from this year?

—“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I really loved the Fred Rogers documentary. The communal experience of sobbing loudly in the theater is really cool and cathartic.

—“This Is Home
It’s a verite film about new refugees in the United States. It’s mostly grounded in observational footage. That was a really strong film.

—“The Sentence
Also incredibly moving and essential for the discussion of prison reform and family separation.

—“Inventing Tomorrow
There’s a global science competition fair for high school kids. Kids all over the world apply to it. The documentary focuses on kids in the third world who are doing projects specifically to solve environmental problems that they are facing in their backyard. My son who is really into science loved it and the conversation that it sparked on environmental change was great for him to have.

An All-Women Comedy Show That’s, Well, Just a Comedy Show

What’s considered funny has long been dictated by the white male perspective. This Brooklyn comedy show is doing its part to change that.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

Of the “25 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials on Netflix” compiled by Paste last year, only four featured women. In 2015, Bitch Media assessed the three-year period from 2011-2014 at Caroline’s on Broadway, one of New York’s most established comedy clubs. They found that out of 1,346 headliners, just 110 were women, equating to roughly 8 percent.

In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Louis CK and other high-power men, Lindy West posited that “the solution isn’t more solemn acknowledgements from powerful male comedians. We have those. The solution is putting people in positions of power who are not male, not straight, not cisgender, not white.” If you listen quietly you can hear people furiously typing responses to this on the internet, “But, but, but!!”

The reason people bristle when you suggest intentionally seeking out and supporting more women in comedy can be packaged easily into a hashtag, #notallmen. Not all men use their power and influence for evil. Not every man makes rape jokes. Not every successful comedian will masturbate in front of you without your consent. Comedy is a meritocracy! If you’re funny, you’ll become successful. The problem with this mode of thinking is that the world of comedy, like the world of corporate America, professional sports, or entertainment, is not an even playing field. What appeals to a lot of people is a straight, white male’s perspective. Not because it’s the best one, but because it’s what we’re used to.

Kendra Cunningham has been doing her part to address this discrepancy, hosting Drop The Mike, a Brooklyn comedy show featuring all women and one “token male,” for the past two years. The monthly event is currently found at Three’s at Franklin and Kent in Greenpoint. I discovered the November edition of the show on The Skint and realized afterwards it was the first time I’d seen live comedy intentionally crafted around a lineup of women. The setting in the back room was intimate; my friend and I arrived a little late and weren’t shot any dirty looks when we decided to sit down on the floor in between rows of seats. The feel was inviting but not cloyingly so.

When you see a lot of stand-up that’s skewed male, the one-off female performer might stand out as, well, feminine. But when you see woman after woman performing, like during Drop the Mike, the diversity of their styles becomes apparent. Some joked about their families, some joked about hating children, some were raunchy, some more traditional. Some drew easy laughter while others had to work for it. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ali Wong, whose 2016 Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” was a smash hit, balked  when discussing some of the language surrounding her success. ‘“I hate when people are like, ‘Support female comedy.’ That’s not a real genre of comedy! I think if you have true respect for women as three-dimensional creators who are innovative, you wouldn’t group them together like that.” She’s right, of course. But in order to assess comedy from women the way we assess comedy from men, we have to see it.

In her 2016 memoir, Shrill, West details her own personal reckoning with stand-up years earlier, which followed the stinging realization that in order to uphold the values she based her life and work on, she’d have to apply them to what she laughed at. She describes an incident in 2010 watching a friendperform a joke about herpes to a riotous crowd. “It wasn’t a self-deprecating joke about the comic’s own herpes. It was about other people. People with herpes are gross, ha ha ha. Girls with herpes are sluts. I hope I never accidentally have sex with a gross slut with herpes!” Her anger grows thinking of recently consoling a friend dealing with the stigma of a herpes diagnosis herself.

That’s the thing about humor: widening up your circle of acquaintances, friends, coworkers, or entertainers to include people different from you, whether by gender, race, sexual orientation, or class, might make it feel like there are more “off-limits” topics to joke about, lest you offend someone. But “off-limits” doesn’t have to mean you’re being censored or silenced or the PC police are out to get you, it just means “not funny.” If the joke is that herpes is gross but you know a lot of people who have herpes —what’s funny about it?

What’s brilliant about comedy, though, is that the best comedians can turn a lazy trope on its head – so nothing is “off-limits” as long as you’re smart enough. Take “Baby Cobra,” wherein Wong posits after revealing that she likely gave her husband HPV that “Everybody has HPV, okay? Everybody has it. It’s okay. Come out already…If you don’t have it yet, you go and get it. You go and get it. It’s coming. You don’t have HPV yet, you’re a fucking loser, alright? That’s what that says about you.”

The token male at Drop the Mike drew a lot of laughs and was clearly a seasoned performer. At one point he made a joke which included the idea of a woman not being good looking enough to decide when to settle. It wasn’t taken as offensive and the crowd was on board with the set up. But he stopped short of the final punch line, noting that it had a certain ending but given that this was a woman-centric show it probably wouldn’t work. He was laughing, the mood was positive. Maybe he’ll do that joke again and maybe he won’t.

A week after Drop the Mike, I met up with Cunningham before she did a set at a different show at Halyard’s in Gowanus the following week. She greeted me with the same warm hug she gave all of the performers while she was hosting before they took the stage. “I can’t take credit for the concept,” she says, “Steven [Sheffer, the producer of Drop the Mike] wanted to have it be all girls.” There is definitely something appealing about the novelty of the token male performer: “It’s funny because I get more men messaging me and asking me to be on the show than I do women,” she says.

Cunningham has been doing stand-up weekly for nearly a decade, and says now that she feels more established she can be pickier about looking for shows with a more even lineup. “I always have more fun when there’s an all women show. I cancelled a show recently because I was going to be the only girl and I didn’t really know anyone. I don’t need stage time that bad; I’d rather wait for a show where I know I’ll have a couple of buddies that will make it a more supportive environment.”

There certainly was a supportive environment at Drop the Mike that felt unique from other shows I’d been to. One of the performers was Radhika Vaz, co-creator of the webseries Shugs and Fats. Having done a lot of all-female stand up in India, Vaz, whose background is in improv, notes that there’s a sense of “less self-consciousness and trying to come off as any way in particular,” in relation a heavily male lineup or audience. She relates an experiment her improv coach conducted with an all-female cast performing male and female roles, as a way to assess whether they acted differently than when in more traditional roles. The difference was marked, she says, “they were playing stronger characters, not playing a generic woman character that you often get pushed into playing or push yourself into playing, there was something about being all funny chicks together at the same place, something about that energy.”

Julia Johns performed at the very first Drop the Mike show as well as the most recent, and has been doing stand up in the city for eight years. Despite loving the crowd the show brings, she notes that the ideal future would be one where predominantly female stand-up didn’t have to be as intentional. “I really love it when I see a lineup that’s half women, half men and they don’t even say anything about it,” she tells me. “When I’ve produced shows in the past and there’s four comics, I try to get two men and two women, it’s not that hard! That’s what’s so frustrating is seeing lineup after lineup of all men and no women, or just one woman.” Sometimes the “ladies night” lineup can get a little schticky. Johns recalls a certain show, “The guy running the show just kept pointing it out, joking, ‘Can you guys feel the estrogen in here??’ and it just felt like it was going backwards.” At Drop the Mike though, “Kendra does it in a joking way, mocking that there is usually one token female. It’s lighthearted and the guy performing is always on board with the joke, but at the same time she’s proving that there are enough funny women to have a packed lineup each time.”

The next Drop the Mike show is on December 14th and features Aparna Nancharla. The last show of the year is also its two-year anniversary and holiday celebration, and Cunningham laughs that she’s asked the performers to all wear something “festive.” After she and I wrap up our conversation I watched the show at Halyard’s. Because of a change in the lineup, Cunningham was the only woman to perform.

“Log Kya Kahengay”: Calling Off a Wedding

To marry or not to marry (the wrong person), that is the question.

By Saira Khan

About five years ago, when I was contemplating calling off my wedding a mere three months before the ceremony, one of my biggest concerns was about what my parents would endure as a result of my decision. To be clear, I wasn’t worried about what my parents would say (they’ve always encouraged and supported me), I was worried about what people would say to them.

If you’ve watched Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special, “Homecoming King,” then you’ll know the significance of the phrase “log kya kahengay” (what will people say?)–words that have struck fear into many a brown kid’s heart, and indeed was what was on my mind during that pivotal moment of my life.

“I want to wear this dress.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I want to go to college.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

“I’ve fallen in love and want to marry a person outside of my race.”

“Log kya kahengay.”

My experience with shame doesn’t come close to what some women have to endure. But, five years ago, when I found myself lending legitimacy to “log kya kahengay,” I was acting on an entire lifetime of being told that I carried the weight of my family’s honor on my shoulders.

I have two sisters. If you’re South Asian, you already know this is an issue. In our culture, boys are considered blessings and girls are thought of as burdens. In low-income families, the needs of boys are prioritized over that of girls, who have to sacrifice meals, their education, and occasionally, their lives, for the male children of the family. Families that don’t have any male heirs are often pitied. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard women ask my mother how many children she has, only to go on and respond, “Aw, no boys? I guess that was God’s will.”

My parents were also criticized for the way they chose to raise their three daughters. We were educated and sent “abroad” (to the U.S.) to complete our education. For many, the idea of sending your daughters to another country for anything, let alone studying, was enough reason to bring shame and dishonor upon the family. And people made sure they told my father this.

So, when it came down to me calling off my nearly year-long engagement (I was also marrying outside of my race, to a white man, which could be considered scandalous among some people), I thought about all of the above. I thought my actions would reinforce all the sexist nonsense that had been directed at my parents. I knew what kind of comments were awaiting them:

“See! They raised their daughter to be free and now she can’t even get married.

“This is what happens when you give girls too much freedom.”

In truth, what I felt is hardly unique. South Asian women are expected to carry the burden of their family’s honor–and with it, are held responsible for bringing dishonor upon them. It’s a concept that is so pervasive in our culture that countless Bollywood plotlines have been written around it: the story of a woman killing herself after being raped or to prevent herself from being raped (the implication being that death is always better here.) In a not-fictional-all setting, this translates to honor killings, or the murder of a female by her family members, for bringing shame upon the family (reasons have ranged from dancing in the rain, falling in love, and leaving an abusive marriage). I should note that it could be argued that intimate partner violence in the United States echoes similar behavior, and so honor killings are not exclusive to the South Asian community. Even our colloquial phrase for committing rape centers around honor: “Izzat loot lo,” which literally translates to “steal her respect.”

It’s because of these deep-rooted misogynist mores that I almost married a man who was absolutely, 100%, the wrong person for me–we were different people, with different goals and ambitions–and yet, as so many people do, I stayed in the relationship for reasons I still don’t even understand. Luckily, for both of us, I had a candid conversation with my parents about calling off my wedding and they were, as always, supportive. They were also kind enough to spare me the details of what people said about it.

By taking the burden of what my decisions–right or wrong–meant upon themselves, my parents freed me from an expectation that had weighed me down for years and years: that respectable women get married and have children. Since breaking off my engagement, I’ve discovered many things about myself, including that I most likely don’t want to be married and have children; even monogamy isn’t important to me. And you know what? I’m not ashamed of any of it.

Pools Are Weird

The history of these oversized baths in America is a history of socioeconomic divides, private and public spaces, and of course, bikinis.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

There is something quintessentially American about a diver cutting into the surface of a crystal blue pool on a searing day, the air filmed with humidity as the water ripples in his wake. When summer comes around we march onward toward that fenced-in oasis, some of us lucky enough to go no further than our backyards. Iconic film scenes happen in swimming pools, artists paint them, writers use them as symbols, and all the while we keep swimming.

I hope I’m not the only one who has asked herself, as Seinfeld might, “What’s the deal with pools?” Where did they come from? When you think about it, doesn’t it seem a little strange that we just decided one day to build ourselves a personal ocean, but without salt and devoid of all life? These blue squares, which essentially amount to oversized baths, are packed with so much meaning – leisure, isolation, excess – and their history in this country is in a way our history of socioeconomic divide, private and public spaces, and of course, bikinis. Part of the American-ness of the American swimming pool is its duality, it represents our desire for individual conquest and the conflict between private property and communal experience.

Van Gogh’s Ear (2016) Elmgreen & Dragset; Image via http://www.artnet.com

There’s no question that humans love the water. On the most basic level, it makes up most of our biology. If we don’t drink it, we die. But our connection goes much deeper than survival. Wallace J. Nichols, marine biologist and water obsessive, describes our draw to the water – ocean, pool, or puddle – as our “Blue Mind…a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment…It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia.” It’s not hard to see what he means – for instance, we take showers as part of a perfunctory routine but stepping under the water has an automatically relaxing and meditative effect. Ditto listening to the water flow in a river, or hearing your cat lap it up from his bowl.

Of course, what most people do in a given body of water is swim. We’ve been swimming, wading, and floating since we started recording history, in watering holes and ancient bathhouses, or — for those of us blessed with proximity to it — the ocean. The appeal of swimming in the ocean is obvious: it is formidable, vast, unknown, dangerous. We are still discovering species by the bucketful in its depths, and epics have been written about what takes place on and beneath the waves. Visiting the ocean allows us to skirt the edge of a largely inaccessible world, a completely different Earth that takes up more space than land on our planet but is somehow totally unsuited for us to live in. The ocean says, ”Sure, you can play on the beach, but if you go too far, I’ll fucking kill you.”

To create pools, we neutered the danger and mystery of the open sea and cordoned off watery spaces for our recreation. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t without their own troubles. In America, racial desegregation in pools followed a meaningfully different trajectory than that of other public spaces. Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, argues that during the Progressive Era of the late 1800s, while gender and class divides were strictly enforced in public pools, race played less of a factor, meaning black and white swimmers shared the water with little tension. However, the integration of sexes and classes brought to light different biases; for instance, now that men and women were mingling in swimwear, the racist stereotype of black men preying on white women led some to alarmism. In addition, as swimming became more appealing to the Middle class, pools were built further towards majority white suburbs. This intersection of race, class, and gender relations played out differently in the water than in the workplace, school, and home, and it left a lasting mark, evidenced by the fact that even today white Americans are twice as likely to know how to swim as black Americans.   

While backyard pools are privately owned, they still carry a convoluted and somewhat contradictory history. Historian Ryan Reft describes the boom of private pools in Southern California in the 1960’s as “decadent and grandiose expressions of wealth and power, communal experiences for working class kids and families, and a symbolic reservoir of twentieth century alienation and danger…the pool stands as a testament to the complexity of California life.” He goes on that the pool even came to mean something when it was empty, the 1970’s drought forced swimmers out and the abandoned pools became an enclave for underground skateboard culture, most famously including the Zephyr Competition Team, or Z-Boys.

The pool as a status symbol, a glistening money sink for all your neighbors to see, is a common trope seen in the lush backyards of reality TV stars and Hollywood films. John Cheever’s famous short story, “The Swimmer,” reveals the more sinister undertones of this grandeur. The story follows its wealthy, tanned protagonist as he attempts to swim the entire way home from a party through the backyard pools along the way. It was dissected in my literature class (and, I assume, most literature classes) as an allegory for the inherent loneliness and darkness of material excess. The swimmer’s mood at the beginning is so eternally upbeat he can hardly contain his good fortune, or the beauty and riches that surround him and afford him the opportunity to swim through private pools all the way home. As the day wears on and a storm clouds above, his mood darkens, as do the demeanors of the people in the backyards he swims through. He grows tired; the water is not as familiar. Finally, he arrives at an empty house, his own, long abandoned and his family nowhere to be found.


Poor Barb. Image via http://www.strangerthings.wikia.com

It’s telling that Cheever chose the pool as his main character’s conveyance when he needed a symbol mercurial enough to change completely over the course of the story. On a summer day, the pool is the 4th of July and sharks and minnows, a stand-in for the school cafeteria where you might glimpse the beaded back of an upperclassmen as he squints at the sun. As with most hallmarks of American culture, once the lights dim and the hot dogs have been taken off the grill, an eeriness descends. Barb in Stranger Things didn’t fall into the Upside Down through a trampoline, is all I’m saying. There is something enamoring, strange, and special about the pool. Everything is clear, but everything is murky.


I’m Sorry, What?: The Shortcomings of Foreign Language Education in the U.S.

Examining the American education system through Spanish class failure.

by Gabrielle Sierra

My name is Gabrielle and I am a monolinguist.

I speak English and only English, (unless Brooklyn-accent slang has recently been accepted as an official language,) and I really hate having to admit it.

I took Spanish courses in school, but, like many American kids and teens, I only learned as much as I needed in order to pass exams. My motivation for learning another language was so low that I didn’t even think to take advantage of speaking Spanish with my Puerto Rican father. As soon as I had completed the minimum requirements for New York City I said “adios” to everything I had learned, and now live with tremendous regret.

When I look back, I can’t help but wonder; would I have walked away so easily had I known, really known, how incredibly important it is to expand beyond your own native language? To communicate with others, to learn about different cultures, and most importantly, to correctly order and enjoy a coffee or beer in another country?

According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, less than 1 percent of adults in the U.S. are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in school. This may be because the U.S. does not have a national requirement that students learn a foreign language at all and many educational institutions begin language studies far too late in the game.

The number of K-12 students enrolled in foreign-language courses between 2007-2008 was 8.9 million students just 18.5 percent of all K-12 public school kids, according to a survey published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

Martha Abbott, the Executive Director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, recently stressed the need to view language instruction as a mandatory part of the American education system while speaking at a June 2017 panel.

“We need to start early and stay long,” Abbott said. “We often say we need to make sure that languages are included in the school curricula just the way math is. If you told a parent, oh, your child isn’t going to start learning math until eighth grade, I think we’d have a revolution on our hands. That’s what happens with languages. You really don’t have the opportunity in most cases to learn a language until middle school. ”

According to a 2012 report from Eurostat, in most European countries, it is compulsory that children begin learning their first foreign language between six- and nine years old. In Belgium and in Spain, preschool students start learning a foreign language as early as three years old.

Perhaps this is why English is spoken in over 101 countries and is the most studied foreign language in the world. Over 1.5 billion English-language learners across the globe have allowed me (and English speakers like me) to rely on other people’s bilingualism instead of pursuing my own.

Can we skate by in many circumstances with nothing more than Google translate and an apologetic smile? Sure. But learning just the surface words of a language is not only shortchanging us for obvious things like travel and job options, but it’s also keeping us from really delving into other cultures and histories.

A 2017 study conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences came to a similar conclusion, stressing that it was crucial to work on partnerships that would encourage students to “learn languages by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in languages as they are used in everyday interactions across all segments of society.”

That means opportunities like study abroad and participating in exchange programs are crucial in this process, often providing students with their first real taste of another culture. (Unless you are like me, who studied abroad in Australia, and only learned to say “no worries”.) It is this level of comfort and exposure that allows people to speak from a place of understanding versus snap judgement from afar.

Unfortunately, only 7 percent of U.S. college students are enrolled in a language course. That means that not only are we forgetting everything we learned, but we also don’t give ourselves the opportunity to dive back in and really advance.

A study by The Modern Language Association of America found that in 2013, the ratio of undergraduates that enrolled in introductory Spanish language courses as opposed to advanced Spanish language courses was 5:1. More extreme still, the ratio of American Sign Language introductory enrollments to advanced were 9:1, and the ratio of Italian introductory course enrollments to advanced was 11:1.

The U.S. education system’s approach to foreign language instruction also trickles down in yet another crucial way; a lack of people interested in becoming foreign-language teachers.

“There is not an adequate supply,” Abbott said during the June panel. “The states report every year to the Department of Education their shortages in teachers by subject areas. And for 2016-17, this current school year, 44 states plus the District of Columbia said they had a language teacher shortage.”

Of course changing that attitude is easier said than done, especially in the face of possible education cuts. Language classes are often the first to be removed from schools when budgets need to be tightened. Title VI grants and Foreign Language Assistance Programs also face cuts in funding on a regular basis. In fact, we may see language courses drop even lower on the priority scale sooner rather than later under the Trump administration.

In a world where we are all striving to be connected, woke, and hip to the latest news, this self-made American language barrier feels all the more shocking. I try to remain hopeful that the next generation of digitally-minded American students will recognize the importance of global understanding and connectivity through language far more than I did. That they will appreciate and push for the language learning opportunities to arrive and remain as a staple of the U.S. curriculum.

As for me, I just downloaded Duolingo and have been embarrassingly pronouncing words aloud in Spanish during my commute, so it is never too late.

Lady Boss: 13 Tips From 4 Powerful Women

We talked to these women to learn from their individual experiences, benefit from their advice, and (ultimately) to greedily absorb their successful vibes.

By Gabrielle Sierra


We sent a series of 10 questions to four female entrepreneurs, each representing a different career path, background, and industry. Our goal was to learn from their individual experiences, benefit from their advice, and (ultimately) to greedily absorb their successful vibes as they discussed what makes a person professionally powerful.

The Women:

Robyn Streisand, 54, Founder & CEO of The Mixx + Titanium Worldwide. Has worked for 25+ years to achieve her position. Currently manages 20 people at The Mixx and 17 agencies from Titanium Worldwide.

Brenda*, 32, a managing director in the field of architecture/design. Has worked for approximately 10 years to achieve her position. Currently manages 22 people.

CL*, 44, a director in the field of education. Has worked for 18 years to achieve her position. Currently manages 12 people.

Debra*, 32, Director of Catering in the hospitality industry. Has worked for 11 years to achieve her position. Manages 14 people.

*Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.

What we learned:

1. Power means gaining the respect of your coworkers.

“Power is when the people you work with respect you and rely heavily on you for business decisions, because they know you can make the appropriate decisions and provide the necessary tools to excel, succeed and get the job done. When they need your opinion in any given situation in order to move forward, that’s when you become powerful.”

– Debra

2. Don’t expect everyone to like you along the way.   

“Work your hardest at every project that comes your way to prove yourself and not to come in feeling entitled. Nothing will get handed to you, you will and should always expect to have to earn people’s respect and to show why you should be the one running the show. Do not take things personally and realize you do not have to be friends with everyone. Not everyone will like you and you may not like everyone but you will need to learn to work with various personalities in order to make your program run well.”

– CL

3. Focus on yourself and learn to grow through feedback.  

Try to take care of yourself first, you need to be the best you in order to support your staff and make critical decisions. Also, expect criticism and accept criticism. Let it help guide your self evaluation to make you a better person.”

– Brenda

4. Understand the b-word.

“I think the word ‘bossy’ may sometimes get confused with attention to detail or wanting something done a specific way.  I find myself correcting people to revise their actions or change their tactics because I know that it isn’t the most successful way or best course of action.  When wanting to make sure you maximize profits, increase revenue, instill the best policies and procedures, and make appropriate business decisions, ensuring things are done perfectly is a vital role of your job.  Being able to think that way is what makes you be that successful person.  So perhaps I have been called bossy in style, but again I think of it as being a perfectionist and expecting that from others.”

– Debra

5. Go after what you want.  

“I define success as having freedom to make decisions on what business to pursue or not, having freedom to do things ‘my’ way, freedom to evolve and grow as a true entrepreneur.”

– Robyn

6. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear at moments of frustration…

Yes, I have cried at work. But if you want to be taken seriously you shouldn’t…wait till you get home.”

– Brenda

7. …and don’t shrug it off as just a side-effect of being a female.

“I have probably cried at work, yes. But it was certainly not because I am a woman. It was just because something frustrated or annoyed me that much that I just needed a release.”

– Debra

8. Sometimes sacrifices must be made on the path to success…

There are always consequences. I’m sure that throughout my career, I have consciously chosen work over my partner, my family and friends as well. Never meant to hurt anyone, and never to get back at someone. But there are always situations where you have to make a choice in the moment, and it’s at someone else’s expense. Sucks.”

– Robyn

9. …but in some cases they may be worth it.

“I think for the first 8 years after college, I gave up my personal life completely. I did nothing but work for years following college, working my way up. And it was completely worth it. Having professional success gave me the confidence to do other things, outside of work even, contributing to a happier life with the right balance between my professional and personal sides.”

– Debra

10. Know that not every choice you make will be greeted with warmth.

“Yes, (I have been called cold,) when I make decisions based on the needs of the program and college regardless of subordinates’ individual concerns.”

– CL

11. At some points in your career you may be treated differently as a woman.

“Earlier in my career it was very difficult to be taken seriously by clients and especially their contractors. But I don’t feel that way now. The owners of my company have always been very supportive of me and have given me the tools I need to the best of their ability.”

– Brenda

12. At some points in your career you may be treated differently for other reasons.

“Over the years, I have occasionally felt like I was treated differently because I was a manager at such a young age. I had plenty of experience, and led a team of employees that might include someone 20 years my senior.  That is what was more uncomfortable for me.”

– Debra

13. Above all, always remember to go with your instincts.

“Do business with integrity, stand for yourself, don’t be afraid to say no, and trust your gut.”

– Robyn

Iranians Face a Cloud of Uncertainty During the Muslim Ban

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

By Sara Afzal

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily prohibiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The travel ban comes as a shock to many Iranians after the diplomacy of President Barack Obama, who opened up U.S.-Iran relations after 36 years, with the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal. In the days following Trump’s order, Iran issued its own travel ban preventing Americans from coming into the country. There have been reports of a ballistic missile test by Iran; shortly after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on the country and Trump said that military action is not “off the table.”

Trump’s Muslim ban serves as a catalyst for renewed complications and tensions between two nations with an already tumultuous history–caught in the middle are the Iranian people who now have to deal with the fear and distress of an uncertain future.

Saira Rafiee featured on the #GetSairaHome Facebook event page.

Saira Rafiee, a Ph. D. candidate in New York City

Saira Rafiee, who is on a student visa, was on her way home to New York after visiting Iran when she was prevented from boarding a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi. After 18 hours at the airport, she was sent back to Tehran. “You can probably imagine how humiliated one might feel when her whole future, and the future of so many other people, is changed just by a stroke of a pen,” Rafiee said.

“I am very much worried that what has happened is just the first step towards more horrifying policies. I am truly concerned about the future of the U.S. and the world,” Rafiee said. “I think not only Iran, but all the countries that rightly hold that this ban is inhumane, illegal, and against human rights should take every action within the limits of human rights and international laws to oppose this policy.” Rafiee studies political science at City University of New York.  

Rafiee returned to the U.S. on Saturday, Feb. 4, after a federal judge temporarily halted the executive order on Friday. She has not responded to a request for comment since then.

Photo taken by Joubeen Mireskandari.

Emir Mohsseni, a musician in Tehran

Emir Mohsseni, of The Muckers, most recently completed a visa application for artists invited to perform in the U.S. After years of backgrounds checks and paperwork, Trump’s executive order has imperiled the status of his visa.

“To be honest, I have no idea what will happen to my case,” Mohsseni, whose band was invited to perform at SXSW, said.

“The reason that I’m trying to play my music in the U.S. is because of my love for Western music and American musicians. It’s inspired me my whole life. I remember when I was 5 years old, I was playing air guitar in front of the TV to Bryan Adams,” Mohsseni said.

Photo provided by Shahab Paranj featuring his mother (on top left) as well as his nieces and nephews.

Shahab Paranj, a Ph.D. candidate in Los Angeles, and his mother, Azam

Shahab Paranj, who is finishing his doctorate in music composition at UCLA, said he spent a year and a half and about $10,000 on his mother Azam’s green card application. The money went towards lawyer fees and travel costs for his mother’s vetting at a foreign embassy he said. (Iran has not had a U.S. Embassy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution). After the order was signed, Azam was held for 10 days in Ankara, Turkey, where she was waiting for her application to be processed. Her passport was also taken away.

“Even the Trump administration doesn’t know really what the process is,” Shahab said. “There is no proper guidance.”

Ultimately, Azam’s green card was not issued during her trip to Turkey. Following a federal judge’s nationwide injunction on the ban, the Paranj family is now waiting for an update. In the meantime, Azam has returned to Iran.

“I am afraid about what is going to happen in the future. We don’t have a wise leader. These reactions are coming from a dictator,” Shahab said. “I have experience with seeing dictators growing up in Iran, and I know how they react. This is not good news for the U.S., the Middle East, and the world.”

©NYU Photo Bureau: Heuer

Azi Amiri, an art educator in New York

Azi Amiri is a green card holder who has been living in the U.S. for 9 years. She is planning on traveling to Iran in mid-February, for her niece’s first birthday, but says she is worried about being able to return to America.

“We didn’t expect it to happen to Iranians,” Amiri said. “We have learned to resist. We do our best to keep our rights. We belong to the second wave of Iranians that were born after the Islamic Revolution. We have learned how to resist and how to keep our rights as much as we can.”

Amiri says she immigrated to the U.S. to escape the instability of their home country after war and to secure better job opportunities. As a teacher, she describes herself and her husband, who is an engineer, as hard working. “It is not fair. We feel that we have been betrayed after this ban,” she says.

An Interview with the Woman Whose Protest Sign Led to the Resignation of a State Senator

Becky Haines shares her side to the story of how a retweeted photograph led to the resignation of Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

Becky Haines headed home from the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st with a renewed sense of hope. Hours later, a photograph of her and her sisters carrying signs that read “Not this Pussy” and “Not Mine Either” was tweeted by conservative talk show host Larry Elder, with the caption “Ladies, I think you’re safe.” The tweet gained thousands of likes and was retweeted by Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner. Many were incensed by Kintner’s endorsement of these remarks, and, amid the controversy, he resigned. Viral news of this nature often ignores the real people involved. We spoke to Becky to hear her side of the story.

How did you decide to attend the Women’s March?

My sister and I, I don’t know who said first, but we were like “Hey, we want to do this.” We invited our third sister to join us and we went together. We haven’t done anything together as sisters in a very long time, it was special in that context alone.

Had you ever marched before?

This was the first time I have ever taken a stand politically. I have never protested or marched or ever really cared about politics until now.

How did you decide on the signs?

My sister Nancy’s husband is an artist and he made us these beautiful hand-painted signs, one said ‘Treat Everyone with Respect. Period.’ and one said ‘United We Stand.’ And we flipped the signs over (laughing) and made our own signs because he refused to paint that for us.

So we actually had very beautiful politically correct signs on one side which we carried maybe 10% of the day and on the other side were more publicized signs that you’ve seen all over the place. And we are all very, we’re sort of reserved people and so that was big for us to carry these signs.

What was the reaction at the march? Did you see similar signs?

There were similar signs. Easily a hundred people asked if they could take our picture. We saw this wall behind one of the museums and said “Let’s get up on that wall.” So we’re above the crowd and not getting jostled but still can see everything that’s going on and be a part of everything. So we’re standing above everybody and people would stop and ask if they could stop and take our picture and yelled that they loved our signs.

How did you feel after the march?

I felt hopeful. I woke up Friday morning feeling depressed and afraid. Saturday after marching with my sisters I found my hope again. There are so many of us that are going to fight for each other. It was arm to arm people, no one shoved, no one said an unkind word. It was beautiful.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 7.41.58 PM.png
Bill Kintner retweeted Larry Elder’s tweet after the Women’s March. Haines is pictured here, center, with her two sisters.

How did you find out about how your picture was circulating?

Originally a friend here (in PA) had posted it on my Facebook page but it was from a local conservative talk radio DJ and I could not figure out where he got the photo. At that point I had no idea that it had gone viral. And then my niece saw it on a blog and texted it to me in a panic because she didn’t know how to tell her mother. I said we had to tell them before it gets in the mainstream media and so we told both my sisters. I’m perfectly comfortable with it. It brought someone down that shouldn’t be in office. And even though it’s very indirect that I had any contribution to that I feel very proud that my photo helped to take him down. It made it worth the hateful comments.

The timeline was so immediate, he (Kintner) retweeted the photo, there was backlash, and a few days later he resigned. Were you following closely or just hoping the attention would go away?

I was following very closely. When it all came to light, my son posted on Facebook Mr. Kintner’s contact information and asked his friends to call and fax and write to ask for his resignation. He resigned that morning and my phone was blowing up.

I haven’t seen the video of his press conference but I read his response, he didn’t really take responsibility for his actions or ever apologize for what he did.

When you started hearing of the photos circulating were you surprised by the magnitude of it and the people who reached out to you?

Initially I was hearing only from people that I knew, and then I wrote a post to Pantsuit Nation that was published, and that was viewed over 33,000 times and over 2500 hundred comments, 99.9% were supportive and the people who expressed a negative comment were immediately challenged by someone else.

What would you say is the takeaway from this?

I feel like I made a difference. I feel like all of us becoming active, those of us who don’t stand with what the current administration is doing, we can make a difference. One little step at a time, but it gave me hope that we can turn the tide.

Are you going to go to any more protests in the near future?

I am! It’s funny I was just working on my sign, I’m going on Sunday in Harrisburg where I live at the Capitol, against the ban on immigration.

Becky Haines

What does your sign say?

It’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty with the words at the base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free.”

We have to remain united, especially women, we have to take care of and support each other. I know that the news this week was that Trump is not going to take away LGBTQ rights. I have a gay son and that’s extremely important to me and my theory is that that’ll change down the road.

So this is personal for you in many ways?

Absolutely. I was in an abusive marriage; the verbal abuse of women is a huge point for me. I’ve had mental health issues which would preclude me, god forbid, from getting insurance if I ever switched employers. They are too numerous to mention the reasons why I’m willing to march out in the snow on Sunday.

Thank you, Becky.

Thank you and keep marching!


Dear Mr. President, This Is What Resistance Looks Like

An open letter to the 45th president of the United States.

                                                                   Dear Mr. President,

I know, I know, you like to grab us by our pussies. You’ve been trying to deny it but you know how they say actions speak louder than words? Your actions have only echoed your words. You cheated on your first wife with your second (you once described this period of your life as a “bowl of cherries.”) You married your third wife in 2005, which was, incidentally, the same year your infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss,” you said. Sprinkle in some of the sexual assault and harassment allegations against you and let’s face it: we have a pretty clear picture of how you view us.

You’re a familiar adversary, Mr. President. I have known men like you for my entire life. Several women I know were in abusive marriages, most of my school friends dated controlling, obsessive, and, at times, abusive boys. I grew up around boys—now men—who weren’t looking for companions, they were looking for women to possess.

I’ve been resisting men like you for a long time: Men who believe they can say and do anything to women, who believe that only we should change diapers and that sexual harassment is the woman’s problem. You’re not the first person to have said this, and you surely won’t be the last.

It’s not just your sexism that’s tired. Your Islamophobic rhetoric is old too.

Last year, when you attacked Muslim women, by way of Ghazala Khan, the mother of the late U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, for not speaking as she stood next to her husband, you perpetuated a stereotype about Muslim women that served as the American call to war post-9/11: that Muslim women need saving from their misogynistic counterparts.

You surely can’t have forgotten about Laura Bush’s radio address about the oppression of women and children in Afghanistan or the countless op-eds, articles, and covers dedicated to documenting the plight of Muslim women. Overnight, people went from not knowing where Afghanistan was on a map to advocating for the rights  (they thought) Muslim women should have. Naturally, this savorism manifested itself in Islamophobia. In the years that followed 9/11, globally, we’ve saw the passing of laws banning hijabs (in some cases, men actually ripping them off of women) and an uptick in hate-crimes against Muslims. Remember the response when the Muslim lawyer Saba Ahmed who wore an American flag hijab on Megyn Kelly’s show? And let’s not forget about the language of Brexit.

This language of white saviors reared its ugly head again on Saturday. As millions of women around the country took to the streets to protest your presidency and proposed actions, many of your followers took to Twitter to remind us that we (American women) don’t have it so bad.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 9.47.03 AM.png

I can’t help but recall that the last time such concern was feigned for Muslim women, Iraqi women ended up with a Constitution that caved to the religious right and guaranteed women equal rights—as long as those rights don’t contradict Islamic law.

The thing is, Mr. President, misogyny knows no borders, no color, no religion. It knows gender and the shape of our bodies. It follows us from our homes to our workplaces, permeating every aspect of our lives. It is on the streets in the form of catcalls, in bars in the form of grabs. Sometimes, it lives deep within the people we love the most and comes out when we least expect it. It bleeds us. It breaks us.

Last week, you saw what our resistance can look like. We protested you on all seven continents. According to experts, nearly 3.3 million men, women, and children across the United States marched to voice their dissent. More people turned out against you on Saturday than in support of you on Friday. And this was just day 1 of your presidency.

So, Mr. President, trust me when I say this: you can eat your cake in the White House for the next four years, but know that we’ll always be standing outside, ready to rain on your parade. We’ll always be marching in the streets. We’ll always be shouting our dissent. We’ll always be asking questions. We’ll always be resisting.

Enjoy the White House while you have it.