I grew up in areas of America where minorities were the majority. It only really became apparent to me how much of a minority I was when I moved to England.
I’m a medium brown on the scale of Pantone colours, with a yankee accent - needless to say, I’ve grown a thick skin to all the questions, jokes and comments verging on the racist side.
My mother will argue that I’m white, which is easy for her to say; she has fair skin and green eyes and can go through life without being questioned. People don’t speak to me like I’m white...
The classic assumption that all Latin Americans are Mexican:
“Are you Mexican?”
”No, I’m half Cuban and half Salvadorian.”
The struggle to understand I’m really not Mexican:
“Does your family eat tacos?”
“If we are at a Mexican restaurant, yes.”
The need to point out our differences:
“You hair is so thick; it’s like an afro.”
The loaded comments:
“You should change your last name so you sound less foreign.”
And there was this:
An old boss of mine referred to me as “old flat features”. To this day, I have no idea what she meant, but I don’t think it was a term of endearment.
The biggest epiphany came at the doctor. Whenever I’m asked for my ethnicity, I always wonder what damn box do I tick? All I’m left with is the “other” box.
This is why I had to ask the cleverly named duo The Other Box to contribute to my column.
Krystal Rodriguez: I first met you at the Skinny Dip x Sisterhood talk (and have now obviously google stalked you) but for those who don’t know what The Other Box does, could you explain what you guys do?
The Other Box: The Other Box is an award-winning platform celebrating people of colour and other minorities in the creative industries. We run workshops with organisations and agencies to make them think and behave more inclusively, and we run events and brand partnerships for our growing community of creatives of colour.
KR: I always find the idea of working with friends fun, but there is always a part of me that worries about the logistics of it all, how do you establish your roles, will personalities clash, etc? Do you have any tips for making it work?
TOB: We're very fortunate to have met through a mutual friend and we gelled instantly as co-founders - our personalities and skills perfectly complement each other! But we've also put some things in place to make sure we're always working towards the same goal: we created a mission statement and clear brand, we're open in our communication with each other, and we put literally everything in our diaries. We also take care to celebrate all our big and small achievements to keep each other going.
KR: People have a tendency to tell you that you can’t do something before you have even tried. With tackling an issue as big as diversity, were people receptive to the The Other Box initially? How did you win over the cynics?
TOB: It was totally terrifying to take the plunge, but it became clear to us very quickly that people wanted us to succeed. We think that if your mission is going to benefit others who need it, and if you're speaking authentically, you'll immediately start connecting with like minded people, and the voices of doubt will shrink to the background.
KR: You now have several awards, which is amazing, congrats! Was there a definitive moment after starting The Other Box where you thought to yourselves, ‘We are onto something” and decided to keep going?
TOB: It came quite early on when people - especially women of colour working within marketing and advertising - would come up to us after panel discussions and events to say how much our comments resonated with them. That's really what kept us going then, and is still really important to us today. It goes back to the point about being authentic and speaking your own truth from the heart - people are bound to connect with you in some way or another.
KR: My favourite piece of advice you gave in your talk is to keep an achievements list. It’s very easy to look down on yourself and feel like you may not be doing as much as you should, or compare yourselves to others. What do you feel is your greatest achievement with The Other Box so far?
TOB: We were totally honoured and surprised to be shortlisted for the Breaking New Ground category at the WOW Women in the Creative Industries awards in March 2018, alongside some amazingly talented and established women.
KR: In my very first piece, I discussed failure, and how you can’t achieve success without it, which was a topic of discussion in your SkinnyDip x Sisterhood panel talk. What was your biggest setback? How did you persevere through it and what did you learn from it?
TOB: We've both been running The Other Box alongside full-time jobs and Roshni's also doing a Masters degree, so finding the time to do what we love has been one of the hardest things, but also a driving force to create something meaningful and self-sustaining. Taking our time this way has allowed us to see what The Other Box could really bloom into, without us rushing into any major commitments. It's grown organically and remained flexible to whatever we need, which is amazing. That's a long way of saying: see every setback as an opportunity to learn!
KR: What do you think the future has in store for The Other Box? What is the ultimate goal?
TOB: We have many many goals, but ultimately we want to transform the creative industries into a place that fully welcomes and nurtures talent from underrepresented backgrounds. There's a long way to go before we reach there, and plenty of hard work to do in the meantime, but we're excited for what's to come.
KR: And lastly, do you have a final piece of advice for anyone deciding to start their own project or go it alone?
TOB: We'd say stop waiting for the 'right moment' and just take the plunge. You can't shape an idea in its abstract form, but once you've set up the social media page, or the website, you then have something tangible to work with, and you can start moulding it to become something real. We would also say pin down your mission early on - ask yourself what your purpose is and what success looks like. That'll help you think bigger so you don't limit yourself.
As I try and close off this article, I realise I’m struggling with my words more than any other piece I’ve written so far. I realise it’s probably the first time I’ve ever publicly aired my personal experiences being a hispanic immigrant woman navigating my way through a predominately white creative industry and I’m nervous. I’ve had it so much easier than other people who have undeniably experienced racism at its worst. I can truly say, I don’t think any of these comments were ill intended, even “flat features”, but they did come from a place of ignorance. The reason being the lack of diversity in the workforce.
When I think back to myself about these certain situations, my response was always muted, maybe because I didn’t want to cause a scene or make anyone feel bad, maybe I didn’t want to be that girl that can’t take a joke. What I do know is it’s never an easy topic to discuss, and for that I am really thankful for Leyya and Roshni taking on this challenge for us.
You can learn more about Krystal via her Instagram.