Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Smiling with My Eyes

While I used to be the type of person who read Perez Hilton religiously, talked about the celebrities on the cover of US Weekly as if they were my BFFS, and dream about stardom, these days have since passed. I’ve shifted my daily distractions to TFLN and FML and MLIA—you know, real life things—and aspire to become world famous for my incredible writing talent rather than my dramatic skills.

However, when presented with the occasion to meet the one and only Tyra Banks, I was not one to pass up this once-in a lifetime opportunity (until I win ANTM cycle 17, that is).

Tyra, for as long as I can remember, has been my favorite celebrity. Perhaps it’s her stunning beauty, her quirky phrases and outbursts, her mission to make all women feel gorgeous and perfect. Regardless, Tyra is quite beloved and dear to me. She’s been on locker posters, T-shirts, been there to chat with me after-school when all I wanted to do was stuff my face with pasta, taught me how to work the runway, smile with my eyes, and rock my natural hair without a weave. Maybe I don’t actually need a weave, but seriously, Tyra is my girl!

I probably shrieked for an hour when I learned I had the opportunity to breathe the same air as her. While Tyra may provide us with episodes like “10 women, 5 vaginas” and “Marijuana Moms,” I still wholeheartedly enjoy her hour-long afternoon talk show. After doing my makeup as well as she taught me, picking out a cute outfit, and downing a coffee, I felt ready for my day in her studio. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I cheered and clapped and screamed for my role model long before she even stepped on stage. I volunteered myself for all the diversions until filming began; I finally was called upon to stand onstage and answer Tyra trivia, and won a free t-shirt. My favorite t-shirt.

Tyra finally pranced down her runway, tall and glamorous and flawless, and I was unsure what to think. I don’t really remember thinking. I remember staring and shrieking more and doubting that Tyra Banks stood twenty feet away from me. The taping went by quickly, although the producers continuously paused to push Tyra’s curls around with a strange stick, I went home with more than enough Valentine’s day gifts from my lady and a never-ending smile on my face.

It seemed that everyone I saw that day needed to know that I saw Tyra, shared her space, seen the legend in person. Shockingly enough, people listened, or maybe they were just hoping for some of the two pounds of Godiva chocolate she gave me...

So here’s the thing: it may seem stupid to have a celebrity icon, to look up to someone you don’t know, aspire to be her, meet her, befriend her, there’s a specialness about this impossibility that makes our lives more interesting. While I never actually believed I would meet Tyra (I swear she waved at me after the taping!), seeing her in person reaffirmed my belief in the distant. Tyra, the first African American model for Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret; the star of Lindsay Lohan’s television movie debut, Lifesize; a face in Michael Jackson’s iconic “Black or White” video has always been this distant superstar, a force so powerful and far away, she barely seemed real. And now, I’ve seen her. I believe in the things she’s done and the things I’m capable to do. Tyra encourages me to release my silly side, imitate the “Single Ladies” dance on national TV (is now a good time to drop that Beyoncé was on the show), feel beautiful and perfect and just be who I am.

And while my celebrity life may be far in my past, my hours spent with Tyra will keep me smiling with my eyes for a long, long time….

Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking for Paradise

Querida Mama Tierra,

Tengo que confesarte algo. Es difícil porque, te quiero mucho, pero, pienso que ahora es tiempo para decirte esto:

I’m not really an outdoorsy kind of girl. I’m not quite one to appreciate the silence of an open field, or the calming clicking of crickets at night, or untouched moss growing on the side of an ancient tree. It’s really just not my thing.

I much prefer hearing the sounds of ambulances and speeding taxis as I try to sleep at night, never seeing the stars because of the lights of the skyscrapers (or pollution—not that I’m justifying this), always being surrounded by strangers I will never see again.

Te quiero, es la verdad. Quiero conservarte y tenerte para siempre. I take my canvas bags when to stuff with organic produce at Whole Foods, I recycle, I don’t leave the water running when I brush my teeth, I usually opt for public transportation or even walk! In fact, I’d consider myself a pretty green person.

So don’t tell me I don’t care about you.

But here’s the thing:

On my recent trip to Costa Rica, I realized, that while I absolutely adored snapping photos of Capuchan monkeys inches away from my face, travelling in boats surrounded by crocodiles, and searching for tiny lizards on any flat surface, the wildlife was best appreciated at a safe distance from myself. As fluffy and adorable as those monkeys were, the second they brushed against my hair a horrid shriek escaped from my mouth. As beautiful as the flowers and wildlife were, surrounding me with luscious colors and scents, I could not help but tip-toe around, terrified of a snake or scorpion intruding on my path.

No voy a decir que soy “squeamish”— that’s a wimpy excuse. I’m pretty atrevida- taking dares and exploring as I wish. I remember skipping down the streets of Cusco, never knowing if I’d find my way home again or striding down sidewalks in Harlem, refusing to believe any area to be dangerous.

The thing is, la cosa es, I guess I’m just more of a people person. I love people. I connect with people, I understand people, I see people. On Pandora, in Avatar-land, it’s all about Eywa and the spirits and the connection, but I won’t go there.

The things I take away from my trips around the world- and I learn so many things- is the knowledge about people, their culture, their ways of life. I feel a connection, a bond. Whether I’m tempted to order a Costa Rican brew at Starbuck’s or buy asparagus imported from Peru, I feel like I’m making informed choices, understanding more about the world and where everything comes from and who is responsible for it.

Last week, I found myself at a flea market on the Upper West Side. I dawdled around the copious booths, wondering why exactly I wanted to spend my afternoon at the largest rummage sale ever. Only towards the end of my visit did I stumble upon a woman knitting mittens that looked shockingly like the hat on my head, a hat I purchased in Puno eight months earlier. We chatted in Spanglish about Peru and her upbringing, alpaca wool, her emigration to New York, and her frequent visits to her family in South America.

I have an uncountable amount of gloves at home. I am also living on a college student’s budget AKA no income, no cash, no shopping (well, within reason). I didn’t need another pair of mittens to sit on my winter shelf.

Oh but I did. There was no way I was leaving without those colourful mittens. Although they cost at least twice as much as they would have in their native country, I could not have left those mittens behind. I felt such a bond with this Peruana, a connection of understanding and curiosity and a desire to support her that I knew I had to purchase her knitting.

I walked home in my matching set, confident that yes, New York really does have it all (who knew I would ever find a match to my Peruvian hat?!) and even happier that I still had this link to a culture far from my own.

Para concluir, solo quiero clarificar una cosa: Mama Tierra, te quiero, pero de una distancias segura. Me encanta tus personas, tus culturas, tu diversidad, Pero las arañas y los serpientes no son para mi. Quiero viajar por el mundo, pero el mundo salvaje no es exactamente que estoy buscando. Me gustaría sentir el gusto de los sabores ricos de los platos del mundo, hablar con gente, ver el arte y escuchar la música. Hay tanto que quiero comprender y tengo ganas de hacerlo.

Besos y abrazos,