Interviewer: Jenn Harmless, Assistant: Matthew Koch
Photographer: Jaime Sweany
First of all: Why do you want to be represented as part of this project?
I think I want to be represented as part of this project because I feel like in our current political and social climate there is a lack of tolerance and acceptance, even if you are cis-gender. I think it’s very important for people to reach out and make others feel more welcome and accepted.
What about the project resonated with you?
I think what resonated most was when you were telling me about it was just everything that I was wanting to be a part of. I wanted to make a change but didn’t know how, and didn’t know how to reach out to other people who felt the same way I did. Who wanted to make it better, who wanted to make the world better in a small way, in a local way. And also talking with people who have different perspectives on things. But also with similar goals in mind. I think that’s amazing.
I feel like most of us, even from drastically different backgrounds, we all want to be accepted, included, appreciated, we want to feel safe to say what we’re feeling.
Yeah, that’s another thing. We’ve all talked and we all come from different backgrounds, but we have so many things in common. But not reaching out and having these important conversations. “I agree with you, or I don’t agree with you but I can understand,” and I think that’s super important. I also like hearing other people’s stories; where they came from and how they developed their views. It’s really important to understand.
I’ve found that even while interviewing people I’ve known for years I’ve learned something about them. And that has helped me feel more connected to them.
I also think this project is important because it makes you realize how human people are.
How would you like to be seen by society?
I would like to be seen as an equal, amongst all other people. That is by far the most important thing. If I had to use one descriptive term that I feel strongest about it’s being equal. But that also extends to everyone else; that we are all on the same page and on an even playing field.
That’s how it should be.
Yeah, I don’t’ want to be seen as anything other than a normal person.
It’s like the people pointing out that equal rights don’t mean you are losing rights. It’s not a pie.
How do you think you are seen by society?
I definitely feel that I’m seen by my ethnic background. I say that because I feel like most times before people even ask my name they ask, “so what are you?” And that is so cringeworthy. I’m like, “well, my name is Shelby, last time I checked I was a human. But I might have transformed into a dog. I have to constantly try to remember.” It’s always, “What are you? Are you this, are you that?” And sometimes I tell them, “My Dad’s white and my Mom’s Mexican,” and they will respond as if they wanted me to be something crazy. But they asked. So that’s how I think I’m seen, and then obviously as a woman. Which, I like being seen as a woman. I like being looked at as a feminine.
Lately there’s been more of an attack on that, too.
There’s some pushback. I feel like the people who are pushing back have a very set idea of how to be something, but I don’t think it’s bad in their intention, but once again I think we should just all be nicer. Whatever you want to do to yourself: You want to wear makeup, wear makeup. You don’t want to wear makeup, don’t wear makeup.
Respect all of that.
All of that. It doesn’t really affect anyone. I feel like it’s also a perspective, “how do I think I’m seen?” I only say that because that’s just something that constantly occurs when I meet new people. It’s super weird. And I always joke about it with my boyfriends. “How many times has someone asked you ‘what ethnic background do you come from?’” And they say, “never.” Unless it’s brought up, like if they ask someone else first.
Every once in a while, people ask me if I’m Irish. But that’s just because I dye my hair red. It’s not even really red.
I feel like if you have red hair people are always going to ask if you are Irish. And if you traditionally Caucasian facial features but you have darker hair and darker skin they automatically assume you are Italian.
And that’s only happened to me maybe three or four times. But it was weird enough that I noticed it, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be asked that basically every time you meet someone.
The funniest thing that’s ever happened was I remember being 15 or 16 and going to a volleyball tournament at U.S. Nationals, and there were teams from Puerto Rico there. And a friend and I (she’s really Italian with dark skin and dark hair), and these girls came up to us and said, “where are you from?” And we both looked at them and said, “…Chicago…” And these girls turned pale white and just ran away. They wanted us to say, “oh, we’re from Puerto Rico”.
“Nope! We’re from here!”
So that was an interesting moment. Sometimes it’s “Where are you from? Oh, but your parents aren’t…” And I’ll say, “No, my Great Grandmother was born in America.” And they are always amazed to hear that.
Have your actions or words ever been misinterpreted by people from different backgrounds, or even your own background? Because we’ve been hearing more and more about people who are mischaracterized by people from their own background.
I struggle sometimes with people from my own background. More so on the Mexican side. When I might say something, but they don’t think that I’m “Mexican enough” to say that. Which sounds ridiculous to me, but at the same time I kind of understand. In the best way possible. It’s not like I would ever say, “You’re not white enough to say something.” I struggle with that side. And then being half-white I struggle a little there, too. It’s like I don’t really know where I fit in. And going back to being a woman, I feel like sometimes I’ll say things that women get offended by. Or they take something the wrong way. And it’s never that I mean something in a malicious way, I never want to bring down anyone. I oftentimes have to bite my tongue because I don’t know how to express myself without offending someone. But I also hate when people say we need to have tougher skin. We should just choose our words better.
I feel like if you say something with good intentions, but it does come across the wrong way, for me that’s a learning moment. That’s when someone can explain to you why maybe that wasn’t appropriate.
I feel like maybe a lot of times people swallow their words, instead of telling that person who may have offended them, that it wasn’t right. But also, that person doesn’t want to start a confrontation. So they’ll just swallow their words, go on with their day, so that person may not have picked up that you were offended. And that could something potentially offensive to a number of people, and I think that you have do it right at the starting point when you hear something that is offensive.
But then some people feel like they are constantly being the person who is explaining to people what is wrong…
That’s tiring. You have to pick and choose. And there are times where I struggle with being confident enough to tell someone. Especially if I don’t know them very well. If it’s a friend of a friend, that is when it’s most uncomfortable for me to shut it down. Because I don’t want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
How do you want to improve your community? Whether that’s locally here in Bloomington or as far out as the whole world?
In Bloomington, I feel like as great as the community is, I feel like there is a divide. Specifically between college students and residents who are not affiliated with the university. I feel like my part is, because I understand students party and are sometimes destructive to property. So my part is trying to encourage people to be more polite, and I hope that it spreads. So students will be respectful of the fact that this is a community. You have to be a normal person, you have to be a respectful person and understand that you are not the only person living here. This place isn’t here for you to party with your friends. There are families around, and businesses. That’s one thing I try to improve in the Bloomington community.
Across the world… I would say preaching tolerance by being tolerant. Even in situations where I will have to bite my tongue. I try to understand that are times where you can’t argue your way through it. You just have to accept that person’s views even if you think they are completely wrong and you want to yell at them. Just being nice, because I feel that is the best way to build a relationship with someone even if you are completely different from them. Just as long as you have enough respect and compassion.
And sometimes their view might be that people from backgrounds different from their own are people who are not tolerant or patient, so just by being nice you can break that view down.
Yeah, and especially when you’re meeting someone who you have not interacted with in the past, I feel like you act like a representative for whatever they see you as. Whether it’s good or bad. So, I would rather it be a good experience.
Yeah, I’ve heard similar things. I remember some friends from South Korea telling me their parents were always adamantly telling them in public they had to act perfectly. Because they were told the second they did something wrong, they made every Korean American look bad. Unfortunately, because of how we categorize people.
That’s how my Mom has always raised my sister and I. She’s said, “When you do good things you might not get recognized, but that one time you do something bad you fall into a stereotype.”
How do you feel about the state of things right now?
Despite my disapproval of our current political happenings, I am super proud of people right now. I feel like there is this political involvement that I’ve personally never experienced. I genuinely feel like people are paying attention to what’s going on. And they’re caring and they’re being active. And it makes me really proud. And happy that people are willing to fight for underrepresented groups. I think that’s amazing. So as much as I could be sad about it I’m extremely happy right now.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
How do you feel about the future? For yourself, or your family, or your friends?
For myself: I hope that in my time I get to see a female president. That would be awesome. We were so close. But I also want to see my male peers, who I feel like very quickly have recognized that we are equals, and they’ve broken that stereotype of “Oh, you’re a girl. You can’t do that,” and I would like to see them take that action into the workplace. As I enter my career(s), I would love to see that happen.
For the future of the world as a whole: I would really love to see everyone band together for some type of cause. For all of us to be on the same page and be positive, that would be amazing. I don’t care if it’s “We all love cotton candy,” that would be great to me. Let’s all get behind that for one day! Maybe something healthier… The closest thing I got to that moment was when the Cubs won the World Series. I feel like even Cleveland fans had think that was a little cool.
Based on everything we’ve discussed, if you had one message you could say to Bloomington or to the world, what would that message be?
I would say my message would be to have more patience. And to constantly remember that people are going through so many different struggles, and you honking at them is probably making that worse. You disregarding them or not smiling at someone… when so many tiny things will make other people’s day better. Patience is what I strive for. I need to work on it, but that is my number one goal for myself. And the world.
Take the time to listen to someone or just consider what they are going through right now. And just give them a little more time.
Yeah, how often have you been the person who’s just trying to get their stuff sorted to get on the bus?
Or waiting in line, and just frustrated that the person in front of you is looking for coupons in their bag.
And maybe that person is in poverty, and if they can’t find that coupon their rent check is going to bounce.
One hundred percent, things like that. It’s so easy to get caught up in it. I think if you don’t have patience you become really self-centered.
Finally: What do you think your biggest contribution has been thus far in the world/what are you most proud of?
I think what I’m most proud of currently is that I’ve been having these conversations. These very hard conversations with my closest friends and even people who are virtually strangers. And I think that has really bridged a gap between people who I’m very close with, because I find out new things about them every time we have these conversations. And they also make me feel less alone in my thoughts even if we are differing, because it’s nice to know that other people feel strongly about the things you do. So I think my biggest proudest thing is staring conversations.
I think that’s really important. I think that’s the foundation for helping humans connect.