Some of the most rewarding work I do is with my dear friends and colleagues Roberto Chene and Nadine Tafoya. Together we are a multicultural team ready to spring into action to rescue poor White organizations struggling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Imagine superheroes, at a moment’s notice, tackling the deepest historical trauma, the most entrenched implicit bias, cross-cultural miscommunication of epic proportions, all in a single workshop! A ridiculous image, but on a good day it can feel like that.
An Hispano and a native New Mexican, Roberto is a consultant and trainer specializing in helping non-profits, agencies, and others who are struggling to create and sustain intercultural workplaces. He is a genius at delivering difficult messages about systemic racism, internalized oppression, and all the other loaded themes at the core of so much conflict and angst today. Nadine is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southern New Mexico and lives at Santa Clara Pueblo, her husband’s pueblo north of Santa Fe. She is a health consultant working with federal and state agencies, universities, and local groups to improve behavioral health service delivery to Native communities. This means constant attention to the dynamics between the powerful and those in need. She walks this tightrope with skill, diplomacy and fearless honesty.
I am so proud to partner with these two superheroes to consult and offer workshops on building successful intercultural workplaces. I can offer a White perspective, often an uncomfortable place for me to be. Each of us brings history to the team – personal and cultural – and each of us must be honest with ourselves and others about these histories and how they impact us. Nadine, Roberto and I have worked together for decades and have helped each other build skills and gain insights that make us able – even eager — to do this work that might seem like torture for many. For us, our mutual appreciation and respect, as well as the deep affection we hold for each other, carries us through.
I saw the film Minari the other night and was moved for many reasons. It’s a beautifully told story, but one aspect of it hit me particularly hard.
The set up of the film is this: an immigrant Korean family of four begins a new life raising Korean vegetables on their own piece of rich, brown farmland in Arkansas. What’s your first thought? Mine was: “Wow, this is not going to go well. Those rural Arkansas folks are going to make their lives miserable. The poor struggling immigrants may survive or they may not but this will be a movie about racism and the deep divides in America today. How could it be anything else?”
What a surprise I got. This is a movie about a couple, Jacob and Monica, who fight a lot, and loudly, inside their small mobile home, upsetting their children, David 5 and Anne 10. The farm is Jacob’s dream, not shared by his wife who wants to be closer to friends, church, and a hospital, in case David’s heart defect becomes a crisis, which it could at any moment. They are on the verge of splitting up, when a very unconventional grandma arrives from Korea, providing both help and a new source of stress. This could be any family anywhere, right?
My field of conflict resolution seems to have exploded lately with workshops to help people deal with racism and bias. Believing that this is a critically important focus these days, and wanting to answer the call, a Hispanic colleague and I have facilitated several workshops for agencies, nonprofits and others. We help attendees (usually a mixed group of White and People of Color) tell their stories — stories that reveal the power and dynamics of historical trauma, unintentional bias, institutional racism, and more. Hopefully, these sessions are enlightening, provocative, and lead to more awareness of how to deal with each other in these volatile, divisive times. But the real learning comes from our own experience and a willingness to examine what lies within us.
And so, here is a story…
Washington DC was gorgeous. Late July, not too hot, clear skies, slight breeze. My work ended a day early and I was in the mood for a little nature after all those buildings and monuments. I heard the lotus blossoms were in full bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and grabbed a cab from my downtown hotel. The driver had apparently never taken anyone there before, but I showed him the address on my phone and we took off, through downtown, brief stretches on highways, in and out of neighborhoods. I saw the signs fly by – Kenilworth Avenue, Anacostia, Baltimore, etc. – and luxuriated in the cocoon of the cab, not needing to know anything of where I was. (more…)