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.