nate araya

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As the year closes, reflection and introspection become more common practices. Looking inside oneself and back on 2018 (a year that was probably challenging for a lot of us) is certainly important, but it’s also crucial that we don’t carry the weight of our challenges alone. Dialogue within our community is vital. More likely than not, there is someone else in your circle that can empathize, or at the very least, offer some comforting words.

This month’s interview with our featured creator, filmmaker Nate Araya, feels especially timely given that many of us are probably bracing for how the cold weather affects our emotions and mental well-being. Nate is a filmmaker and storyteller whose life’s purpose is to “meet a need and solve a problem.” His work, which has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post and MSNBC, is fundamentally inspired by his experience as a first-generation American and his drive to tell stories that often go unheard in order to spark dialogue within communities.

Nate’s latest project, Growing Up in America, is “a travel-based documentary-series exploring different parts of American cities, cultures and conversations surrounding the underrepresented communities in America.”

 nina ho // collective blue

nina ho // collective blue

When discussing mental health in minority communities, Nate shares, “I witnessed a lot of silent struggles that no one was really able to understand, articulate, or express. I decided to figure out how we can fill this void and empower people to voice their silent struggles.”

As a first-generation American (born in the greater Dallas area from an Ethiopian immigrant mother), Nate is uniquely equipped to identify and spark important conversations in his community. The first episode of Growing Up in America focuses on mental health, an issue that communities of color often sweep under the rug.

“The idea is to elevate the conversation around mental health, alleviate the fear of mental healthcare within minority communities, and share resources like therapy, counseling, and self care.”

“The idea is to elevate the conversation around mental health, alleviate the fear of mental healthcare within minority communities, and share resources like therapy, counseling, and self care.”

Discussions about mental health in communities of color are often fraught with tension and stigma. Historically, minority communities in the U.S. have had little reason to trust healthcare professionals. Even now, Black women are “three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts,” according to the Center for Disease Control. In order to provide a safe space for conversations about mental health, Nate not only pursues projects like Growing Up in America, he’s also intentional about sharing his own vulnerabilities and struggles.  

“What I learned about myself and within my community is that we carry, as first generation Americans, an external pressure from immigrant parents that have certain values and expectations that are very different from [ours],” Nate reveals. “There's a conflict within the household, a disconnect.”

Children generally not agreeing with their parents’ belief systems is not unheard of, but the context of immigration adds a different nuance. Whereas parents and children of families who’ve  been in the U.S. for several generations have core similarities in their values and culture, there can be a wide gap between immigrant parents and their American children. As an example, first generation immigrants tend to hear, from a young age, that they’re not “American” enough from their peers at school and come home to parents who say they are too “American.”

“Everywhere I went, there was always a sense of never feeling good enough.”

“Everywhere I went, there was always a sense of never feeling good enough.”

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Navigating this feeling of inadequacy is a major source of trauma for first generation immigrants. Immigrant parents’ views on survival and success can be in direct conflict with the American values of self-actualization and individualism. When children deviate from what “success” looks like to their immigrant parents, the parents’ immediate concern becomes, “Will my children  survive?” From the children’s perspective, their parents can seem heavy-handed or close-minded. Add into the mix an environment where parents and children don’t necessarily talk about their feelings, worries, or struggles -- it’s a recipe for misunderstanding.

“Parents don't reveal too much of their insecurities or their hurts or their pain because they're trying to protect their children,” Nate shares. “But that protection [can create] a prison within the household. You can't provide an environment of healing. You can't provide an environment of curiosity and questions.”

Nate started college as a Pharmacy major primarily because that’s what “success” looked like to his family. He quickly realized he didn’t feel fulfilled within that area of study. Serendipitously, a professor introduced him to the field of communications, and he made the intuitive switch. The holiday break during his freshman year inevitably involved a lot of conversations with his mom.

“I told her, ‘Look, I'm willing to put in the work for this.’ I had to prove to her that with just as much work as it would take for me to be a doctor or an engineer, I [would] put that same amount of energy into the creative side,” Nate recalls. “She listened. She had a lot of questions that I couldn't get the answers for, which I think is normal, because I was still learning myself.”

Though there is still a gap between Nate’s and his mother’s definitions of “success,” love and genuine respect for each other fuel their relationship. At the end of the day, hard work is a value that they can always agree on.

“You have to be okay with disappointing your parents for a season. You’ve got to trust your process. You've got to trust your truth,” advises Nate. “I'm blessed to have a mom that just wants me to be well, who wants me to be okay and happy, even if it's unconventional and unfamiliar to how she sees life.”

“You’ve got to trust your process. You've got to trust your truth.”

In proving his conviction not just to his mother but to himself, Nate accepts his unique first generation culture – a culture that’s not fully Ethiopian, not fully American, but uniquely his.

 nina ho // collective blue

nina ho // collective blue

“I've learned to embrace this first generation culture as my own. [I am] able to finally say that I am enough, that I'm valuable within my own culture,” Nate asserts. “I don't like boxes. I'm Black. I'm Ethiopian. I'm American. I’m all of those. I give myself permission to be that complicated.”

Nate’s priority now is trying to find the balance between creativity, supporting his family, and financial sustainability while pursuing his purpose of meeting needs and solving problems. He’s got a lot on his plate, but his dedication to his community, especially through cultivating meaningful dialogue, serves as a source of personal fulfillment.

You can keep up with Nate’s work on Instagram and keep an eye out for future screenings of Growing Up in America.

maria oliveira

This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month vibrates with a unique energy. In 2018, the political spotlight shines on the Latinx community not only as a celebration of culture, history, and success, but also because of the demographic’s growing influence. The midterm elections are inescapable in the news, especially in the midst of Texas’ heated and close Senate battle.

For this month’s feature, the collective blue team was intentional about highlighting an individual that represented both sides of the coin -- creator and political activist. We were incredibly honored to sit down with Maria Oliveira, co-founder of Passport Vintage – a vintage shop that’s been featured in publications such as Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, and Refinery 29 – and social media coordinator for Jolt Texas, an organization that brings Latinos from across Texas together to exercise their collective influence and power.

Over the past few years, Maria has thoughtfully combined her experience in the fashion industry and determination to create diverse spaces to advocate for the Latinx community. While interviewing her at Greater Goods Coffee (another local business owned by a woman of color), she talks about her relationship with immigration, fashion, and the Latinx community.

 nina ho // collective blue

nina ho // collective blue

At 11 years old, Maria left her home country of Brazil with her family and settled in Ft. Lauderdale.

“[At first,] I didn't speak a word of English. Nothing,” Maria reveals. “I had a really hard time.”

The school that Maria attended didn’t offer English as a Second Language Services, so she had to overcome both the challenges of learning in a classroom setting and piece-mealing together an unfamiliar language. Despite the obstacles in front of her, Maria ultimately excelled.

“I won a full ride scholarship in the sixth grade. But because I was undocumented, I couldn't use it.”

Due to her legal status and family finances, higher education wasn’t an option. Maria started working at American Apparel immediately after graduating from high school where she worked her way up from Retail Associate to District Manager in Miami and then in Chicago. Eventually, her relentless drive led Maria to take a chance on herself. 

“I've always felt like I live my life for everyone else, so my big dream before I turned 30 was to do something for myself. That dream was to start my own business.”

Passport Vintage came about as a result of a timely business partnership and Maria’s “political awakeness.” Although American Apparel gave her a crash course in retail and fashion, Maria was discontent with the lack of representation and opportunities for people of color in the industry. She knew that if she wanted to improve the industry she loved, she had to create that opportunity herself.

“I've always felt like I live my life for everyone else, so my big dream before I turned 30 was to do something for myself. That dream was to start my own business.”

 nina ho // collective blue

nina ho // collective blue

Although newcomer brands like Fenty Beauty have been revolutionizing the beauty and fashion industry, there are many long-term giants in the space that tout diversity and inclusion as marketing ploys as opposed to a true priority. Maria believes that it’s important to support brands that stand for the right values from their inception as opposed to those seeking to capitalize on recent trends.

“I'm tired of screaming, ‘Make a shade for me,’” asserts Maria. “No, let's support people that are us and are supporting us. I'm more about elevating people of color who don't have those opportunities than to beg these businesses to cater to me.”

Maria’s activism extends beyond Passport Vintage. The passing of DACA in 2012 ignited Maria’s advocacy for immigrants’ rights. Her previous status as an undocumented immigrant and her brother’s status as a DACA recipient became driving forces for her political activism. After moving to Austin, Maria felt that it was “serendipity” that led her to meet Cristina Tzintzún, Executive Director of Jolt Texas.

“Jolt is knocking on a hundred thousand doors to mobilize people to vote for Beto. We want to mobilize young Latinx voters so that we can change Texas.”

“Jolt is knocking on a hundred thousand doors to mobilize people to vote for Beto. We want to mobilize young Latinx voters so that we can change Texas.”

 nina ho // collective blue

nina ho // collective blue

In today’s political climate, we often waver between righteous action and paralyzing helplessness. Living in America as a woman, a person of color, or a member of another marginalized community can be exhausting and feels like we’re in a constant state of resistance.

Sometimes we just want to be and create without constantly feeling like we have to fight. Since there is often not much representation of diverse creators, it can feel like we’re not allowed to produce imperfect work because whatever we produce represents the quality of our communities as a whole. However, we shouldn’t forget that the fact that our work even exists – and that offering individualized perspectives into our shared identities – is resistance enough.

For Maria, resistance looks like creating a space for herself in an industry she loves and prioritizing her own dreams. She’s found a balance between combining work that makes her happy and helping her community move forward.

“As I've gotten older, I'm meshing all the different parts of myself that I kept compartmentalized for so long.”

When asked about how to best support her, Maria told us to go vote. Given the current political environment, your vote this midterm elections could make a significant difference in bringing about change.

Below are some helpful dates and links to help you get out and vote!

October 9, 2018 - Last day to register to vote  

You can register to vote by printing out the form from this link and follow the directions to mail in your voter registration. If you’re unsure if about your voter registration status, you can check through that same link – www.votetexas.gov.

The non-profit organization vote.org is also another credible source that’s easy to navigate and user friendly with simple language: www.vote.org/state/texas/.

(Be wary of phishing sites and only enter your personal information to check your registration status on credible websites.)

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October 22 - November 2, 2018 - Early voting period by “personal appearance” (aka in-person)  

Here’s a list of early voting locations in Travis County. There are also mobile voting locations as places like local supermarkets and recreational centers. We highly recommend voting early to avoid the crowds on election day.

November 6, 2018 - Election Day

Here’s a list of election day voting locations in Travis County.

Where can I read up on candidates and issues for the 2018 Texas midterms election?

Political news sites like Texas Tribune have a breakdown of the Texas Elections. You can also search for your general election ballot here by entering your county and then doing research on the candidates on your ballot.

Additionally, Maria has also provided her own light-hearted voter’s guide below. (But obviously we recommend you doing your own research on the candidates, too.)

Lastly, you can follow Maria, Passport Vintage, and Jolt Texas on Instagram to stay up to date with their work.

tim cole jr

People tend to make a lot of assumptions when they first see Tim Cole Jr. He has a strong presence that’s hard to ignore. Some see his stature and think he should go back to playing football. Others might learn that he recently graduated with a Master’s in advertising from UT and think his next step should be working at an agency.

Amidst all of the assumptions and “shoulds” of others, Tim does things his own way.

“I don't want to just follow something blindly. We can all think critically for ourselves.”

For Tim, regardless of the goals he pursues -- in sports, career, or personal life -- there are two things that remain constant: he does it because he wants to (and not because of anybody else) and he sees it through until the end.

“After my senior year, I trained and I did Pro Day at UT. I'd been playing football since I was 6. I saw Pro Day as an ending chapter. I didn't want to say, ‘Oh, I'm not going to try it.’ and then always wonder, ‘What if?’”

Tim didn’t end up getting a call back from any teams, but he admits that it was a “blessing in disguise.”

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

Shortly after Pro Day, Tim got involved with Elite Sweets, a fitness brand that makes gluten-free, high protein donuts for those who are both health conscious and possess a sweet tooth. As a co-founder and CMO, Tim put himself through the wringer to learn about and execute on his new role  all while pursuing his Master’s. Before joining Elite Sweets, Tim had never pitched before. Months (and lots of practice) later, Tim and the Elite Sweets team won an $180,000 grant through the WeWork Creator Awards.

“When you start [off], people don't understand your vision, and they don't understand your ideas. They'll be like, ‘Oh, how's your little company?’ because they're not expecting it to be anything. And then when you reach a level of success they tell you, ‘I always knew you were gonna be good!’

When you start [off], people don't understand your vision, and they don't understand your ideas. They'll be like, ‘Oh, how's your little company?’ because they're not expecting it to be anything.
 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue

Tim’s learned to block out the noise, especially when it comes from people who only know him from a distance. Even when we were in line buying coffee before our interview, a stranger started a conversation with Tim, found out that he used to play football for Texas, and then proceeded to suggest that he go back into sports without knowing the fullness of his accomplishments, passions, and goals.

“People get excited to tell you what you should be doing. They project their fears on you because they probably tried, and it didn't work. But they don't know what I'm doing. They don't know what type of work I'm putting in every night. They don't know if I can make it or not.”

“People get excited to tell you what you should be doing. They project their fears on you because they probably tried, and it didn't work. But they don't know what I'm doing. They don't know what type of work I'm putting in every night. They don't know if I can make it or not.”

Fortunately, Tim has a solid support system. His parents followed an unconventional path themselves, so Tim knows that navigating through life isn’t always as simple progression through college, marriage, then kids (in that order) as society would have you believe. And like many of us, Tim has intentionally created his own cheering section consisting of other creators, entrepreneurs, and ambitious people – all chasing their own unique definition of success.

“My friends and I challenge each other to be more than just one dimensional. Eventually, the whole nucleus of friends is elevated from supporting each other.”

Tim’s ultimate goal is to pursue his interests in music, fitness, and fashion while simultaneously creating a positive impact for the people that his work affects.

“Whether or not the things I do are [considered] ‘successful’ touching someone's life and motivating them is a success in my eyes.”

For now, Tim is focusing on the work he’s doing as CMO of Elite Sweets and as a Manager for Gold Ain’t Cheap – an entertainment management company and creative collective.

Look out for Elite Sweets donuts in stores around town and catch some GAC shows! You can stay updated on his work through Instagram.

 nina ho//collective blue

nina ho//collective blue