Honoring Your Culture, Celebrating Your Commonality


Sabrina Enayatula

Carol Cain

Kristin Russo

Moderator: Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace: I started blogging in 2008, then there was no acknowledgment of mixed race identity issues. I've discovered throughout the years bloggers who blog about their experience of being Muslim, Latino, queer, their experiences while also diverse, they also have many similar stories. I come across this feeling of I've read that story before. Misunderstandings between people and relationships. I'd like to open by asking each of the panelists to talk about their particular websites.

Sabrina: Hi everybody thank you for coming my name is Serena and I blog at sliceoflemon.com I blog about culture, faith and fashion.

Carol: I'm Carol. My blog started about blogging with kids

Kristin: everyoneisgay.tumblr.com, we answer 4 questions a week that we receive anonymously from youth up to ages of 24.

Grace: What role does your particular culture play in what you write.

Kristin: The queer culture is centered on being gay. Danielle is the other half of everyoneisgay.com she is my business partner. I came out and my family just doesn't get it os the common concern. But those are issues we all face on some level. We all have issues that somebody can't understand. We all face the same problems.

Carol: When I started blogging about New York City, as a middle income mom I realized that the things that were being offered to families, exceeded my economic boundaries. When I started writing, I started writing with the perspective that I would show people that we are not all the Real Housewives of New York City. It extended to travel outside of NYC, but still from an socio-economic perspective. There are a lot of us in the world like me that are Stay at home moms but love to travel. I want moms to know that it is possible. I want to show that when you can't hide who are you, like me being brown you can still travel wherever you want to go.

Sabrina: I started covering my hair two years ago. Like most women I Had pride in my hair, my clothes, I noticed that other women were having a hard time doing that, and I realized that there wasn't much out there for other women. I had the idea that I'd start an online fashion site for Muslim women. When I was in college. In the few pieces I'd see I thought they are finding the worst dressed women (audience laughter). I am going to be that person that helps them along. I left my job in 2008, my Dad was not happy as we were in the middle of a reception. But as a journalist I already had the writing background. My blog started with nothing in mind other than this will be a platform to do something that I love. I never originally intended for it to be about me and my life as a Muslim. Sometimes I blog about what I eat, so unless you read my about me page you wouldn't really know I was a Muslim.

Grace: Who is your audience? Are you writing with someone specific in min?d

Carol: When I put my media kit together, I realized the largest demographic of readers that I have is actually Asian. I am trying to write it from a personal perspective.

Kristin: Our responses to our readers come in two voices. I'm 31 and Danielle is 25. She's answering questions with OMG, LOL and a lot of our youth demographic attach to that immediately because that's how they speak.
Tell a 16-year-old that a 31-year-old is not really old and they will not agree (audience laughter). I never liked reading gender theory so much but when I've read I'm able to put out in a new way.

Grace: When are you talking about things there are so many sensitive issues. The Tiger Mother book sparked all these debates. All Asian people are harsh tyrannical parents and there was this huge backlash by Asian Bloggers. The expression saving face was used often. Every culture has hot button issues. Sometimes when things are difficult to talk about in person people you actually know, sometimes they blog about it, because it's easier. How do you deal with it?

Sabrina: There's nothing that you can write about that someone is not going to disagree with you. Life is really nothing but a series of decisions that we make based on circumstances. Not everybody is going to agree with you, not everyone is going to make the decisions. I realize that I"m a role model, an example whatever category you want to put me in and I embrace that. When I started my blog I realized it was the same thing, just on a much bigger platform. I ask myself because of my Faith, what is this going to look like to God when I put something forth. I explain issues in a way that I would want them explained to me. I try to think consciously. A fresh set of eyes really help. I'll sometimes have my husband read over a post. ANd then if I'm still thinking about it, then I realize maybe it should just go. The last thing I would ever want to do is hurt somebody by what I write or hurt my community.

Carol: I'm totally the opposite. (audience laughter) You could say it's cultural. It's a Latina thing; if I'm feeling something, I feel it intensely and I'm definitely going to write about it. One thing I like to tell my son, I don't want people to think that you were raised by a dog. (audience laughter) Those are cultural things I started rebelling about early on. I am in constant communication with other Latina Bloggers. I'm not trying to save face. I'm not trying to present an image. I'm never going to be Sofia Vergara, I'm never going to be Jennifer Lopez. I'm polite and professional enough online, on my blog (audience laughter). What I'm writing and how, is exactly who I am. It also depends on the type of blog I'm writing about. If your blog is about your opinions then you have to take a stand. We have a stereotype that Latinos are late, because we are. We have a stereotype that Latinos do things half-assed, because we do. If everyone in your community is just purely agreeing with you than there really isn't anything of value.

Kristin: Danielle and I are both women who like women, Lesbians whatever term you need to process that to make it work for you. We temper things a bit, we still say what we mean but sometimes we haven't written things that have wreaked havoc on our blogs for days. We feel that our voices are central to the blog, but we are going to have four to five other bloggers also answer questions on our blog. To provide other voices.

Grace: No community is monolithic. Anyone who blogs about anything that is controversial is going to get hate comments.

Kristin: Sometimes we get backlash. We've received some hate mail. We have a lot of gender queer readers. I recommend you give yourself at least six hours before you respond to any negative comments.

Carol: I have found that if I keep the experience very personal it's very difficult for someone to argue against me. It may upset people because I've called them out. As long as whatever opinion I have I keep it from a personal perspective, it's hard for someone to say you are wrong, you are stupid. I wrote about Bloomberg banning formula from hospitals, I actually wrote a very personal experience of my own recollections.

Grace: It sounds like the backlash is from people you know. Do you get emails?

Carol: Somebody is always going to hate you, but it's hard for someone to tell you that your personal experiences are wrong.

Sabrina: I had a college professor that said if everyone loves you and agree with you, you are doing it wrong. You have to be active in the engagement and furthering your own learning. We are in 120 countries and sometimes I think my humor is lost in translation. Once a reader accused me of having a silver spoon in my mouth, and I was like sorry I don't even have health care right now. I get two types of negativity, one is like a group on YouTube. I get the group that is like Die you should die! and I don't really know what to say to that.

(audience gasped) Thank you though, I do appreciate the gasp.

Grace: how do bloggers from different backgrounds fit into the bigger picture of the blogosphere? DO you feel like you are accepted? or that people don't want to have anything to do with what you are saying?

Carol: In the conversation of Latina Bloggers and White Bloggers, American bloggers, there is this divide, between them and us. But the truth is that my community of Latina bloggers didn't really noticed me until I started winning awards; I was pretty much ignored by that segment. I wasn't writing in Spanish or posting Spanish recipes, so brands really weren't finding me. When I started blogging, I was really able to reach American media and did very well, but it was when I reached out to my community and speaking to them about our similarities that I was more readily embraced as a Latina blogger. There is a really good accepting community all around for me. I don't wake up in the morning realizing that I'm brown. I basically function on a 'I like' and I don't like basis. It's when I take my son to school and someone asks me 'oh did you get a tan' that the thought that I'm Brown comes into play.

Sabrina: Give yourself time at the end of each day or the beginning of each day to take some time for self-reflection. You can then determine whether or not what you are writing is useful. Nobody wakes up wanting to be mediocre. When you are in the quiet of night you can't lie to yourself. Tomorrow is a new day you can give yourself a fresh start, you can then figure out how you want to approach your next blog post.

Kristin: I just blog about everyday life. I had my heart broken and this is how I dealt with it.

Carol: Also remembering that we are all multi-dimensional. You can read posts and posts and posts and not know what color I am. But there is more to me than that.

Grace: Sometimes I just want to write about something that happened to me.

Carol: I always relate back to travel somehow. I told a story about being kidnapped in Puerto Rico when I was 5. Growing up in that situation I always dreamed of far away places. Therefore I am now a travel writer. A tragedy can be turned into something that inspiring to other people.

Kristin: There is a huge part of what I do that incorporates my personal brand, there is a place for us to also be ourselves. They may follow my twitter handle or my Tumblr. Our readers feel like they know us, and to a certain extent they really do.

Grace: I'll write about being Asian, or recipes. I started a different blog and also guest blog somewhere else to explore some other things. Keep it central keep to your core values, if you want to make your blog something that people identify with a certain topic.

Sabrina: There is an undertone of faith and culture on my blog because that is who I am. If your passion is kittie cats, write about that, you will find tons of other people that are also interested in that. With readers I'm sometimes more excited to meet them than they are to meet me. I'll tell them I remember your great comment etc.

Carol: Don't be afraid to have at least one platform where you are totally yourself. I don't ever swear on my blog, but I have a total potty mouth. For sanity reasons you should always have an outlet. The community falls in love with you, that's why they follow me. They want to share in your successes.

Grace: I'd like to thank all the panelists for being here.

Audience Question: Lenore, I don't have a blog yet I'm here to get ideas and get inspired. How do you blog about something that is not personal. If you are outsourcing all of the information. I want to blog about African first ladies, and all of their fashion, how do I do that and make it work really as those are not my personal stories?

Grace: You just have to approach it like that and your voice will come through. Your personality will come through even though you may be referencing information that comes from somewhere else.

Sabrina: You have to be really clear in making that distinction to your readers. If you are writing about policy write about the policy then when you want to op ed, point out that it is your opinion.

Kristin: tumblr is so fast. There are entire tumblrs dedicated to cats, if you do this blog about these beautiful women, the community will find you. It's a great way to reach people you wouldn't reach otherwise.

Audience Question: mon cherie holmes guest founder of the southern expo from New Orleans - I want to write about southern culture. how were you able to transition to open it up to everybody. in your writing?

Carol: I think when it comes to blogging I tend to over-think things. Whatever your passions are you still can have different conversations with different people. When you are telling a story and are trying to get people inspired and people interested, you are sharing your passion but you are having that conversation with so many different people.

Grace: Get yourself out of the best friend conversation, you can't just assume everyone knows the things that you do. Make sure you keep in mind that not everybody comes from the same place and the same experience.

Kristin: If you have passion behind it then you are golden. When you are making references, then just hyperlink it.

Grace: You can link things to your source like wikipedia or the NY times.

Audience Question: Jean from the UK - British/Chinese point of view. How do you deal with rejection from your family and friends? Things in the Chinese community are more closed.

Grace: When you start writing you start knowing yourself a lot better. Just remember my point is valid and my opinions are worthwhile. Just because my family or friends disagree you can let that affect who you are. When people have that desire to write inside of them, not everybody has that it's a special thing, I think people should try to suppress it especially if it's just because they are afraid of backlash.

Carol: How important is that really? How important is it to me? If I don't say something and it's really important to me it burns my stomach. I grew up being told 'NOT to say it' so now it burns me, I've just got to say it. I ask myself all the time am I going to turn away brands or opportunities or readers but ultimately you have to be true to yourself.

Audience Question: tanesha, chicainthecity.com - How do you build that audience, how do you build enough of an audience to get people to sponsor you? or work with you?

Grace: Two big questions. I'll start by answering the first one. When I started blogging, I started blogging before facebook and twitter were really being used by people. And I'd just write things and realize nobody read it. and then when I got on facebook, and realized that people I knew were reading what I wrote I was a bit intimidated at first, but the thng you need to do is put it out there. Get a facebook and twitter page for your blog and put it out there, and join the community and find people who are interested in the same thing as you. People are all inter-connected.

Sabrina: I can give you three bullet points:

1- write quality content consistently
2- write productive comments on blogs that have relevant content
3- utilize social media

Kristin: Can I add another one? Make it look good! I suggest WordPress -- let's face it most of us can't afford to hire a designer.

Audience question - leticia I'm from Brazil, I write about brazilian food, I'm a cookbook author. I started to blog as an extension. A few of my posts are very personal, others are not. I get alot of comments from friends, but it doesn't generate much buzz.

Carol: How are you measuring buzz? Do you mean because they are not leaving comments?

leticia - yes

Carol: Comments are not the most accurate measurement. Sometimes people can't take the time. Don't get caught up in that. Write nicely, write with the hopes that someone will read it, don't write for anyone, write for yourself.

Grace: I want to thank you so much for coming here today (Audience Applause)


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