“On December 12th 2016, one of my best friends committed suicide. In January, I fell into a deep depression. Eventually, I became busy with work and focused on getting back into school; however, I never had the chance to mourn or to talk to anyone. Once I was back in school, I was able to go to counseling. During my first session, I let out all the sadness I was feeling about my friend’s death. My counselor suggested I write a letter to my friend, letting him know how I felt about what he did. While I wrote the letter, I realized I was not angry at my friend, but I was angry at myself for not being there when he needed me. During my second session, my counselor said that I “come off as a protector”. My protective instinct is why I idolize superheroes, and why I have dedicated myself to physical fitness. This self-portrait is inspired by understanding that I will never be strong enough to save everyone, but I will continue to protect those I can regardless of that reality.
“I have been dancing since I was girl. I remember my mom started me when I was in kindergarten. I was good at it and ended up really enjoying it because I could express myself. My senior year in high school I was given a full-ride to Centenary College of Louisiana and planned on majoring in dance, but when I graduated they got rid of their dance program. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do besides dance. However, Louisiana State University Shreveport, was starting a dance team so I decided to go there even though I didn’t have any scholarships there and had to pay tuition myself, but I danced there for fours years until I graduated. Afterwards and I got a job I couldn’t really find anywhere I could dance. There were studios, but I would have had to pay a decent amount of money to dance there. Now sadly I just don’t dance anymore. However I think if I ever have children that would encourage them to dance as well.”
“When I was young, I didn’t know my father. I spent most of my time with my mother; however, the more time I spent with him, we formed a bond and through that I noticed that my father moved differently than other people. I came to know them as forms which are a chain of techniques for martial arts, like a choreographed dance. He began teaching me how to use my body and introduced me to new workouts. Our time together would not last, but I would continue to train myself, obsessing over getting better so I could learn more from him. Each time I got to see him, he would continue to train me, and the workouts became more intense. It was frustrating, but he would tell me “If you learn to control your body and mind then nobody else could”. There were so many lessons and so many bonding moments. This would build my mindset for the rest of my life and establish my passion for martial arts. Now I teach self-defense classes, and kung fu classes. I hope I can pass on what I have learned from my father to others.”
“In the summer of 2011, I was twenty years old. I remember hanging out at the pool, and I ran into this guy. We talked flirted a bit and exchanged numbers. I then went on back to enjoying my summer. I told him I was a virgin one night as he was getting to be too touchy-feely with me. During our next encounter, we went to the park, a place that was once my favorite place to be. I believe it was close to midnight, and I remember laying under the stars looking up waiting for a moment to breathe once more. I was hoping for somebody would hear my cries for him to stop. I tried to push his body off, but I was not strong enough. I remember looking up into the dark sky seeing the stars shining, waiting for him to be finished using me, and for the moment before all this happened, to tell myself it wasn’t real. Wanting to go home swallowing back tears, and wanting to reach the familiar place of my bed. I cried for the loss of myself until the next day where denial found my mind in comfort. I told my best friend what happened the night before, trying to convince him while lying to myself that it was consensual. Yet, he still told me, “No you were raped.” I never spoke of it afterwards. I didn’t want to report it; I didn’t want to feel more shame and embarrassment. I wanted it to go away. My heart still drops when I drive by the playground where it all happened. I’m still fighting with the results of living in denial and trying to erase that moment in my life even today. Despite all this, I want others to see me for who I am
“The tree tattoo on my back represents two sides of depression, the ugliness and the beauty. When I was young, the forest was a scary place. Bad things happened there if you go on your own. When I got older, that didn't change. But I started exploring it little by little on my own. When I started making friends, they would either go in the forest with me willingly or find beauty in the darkness and canopies; or they would refuse because of the fear of the unknown or walk in and get scared and leave. The forest I would explore was like my depression. When I took it on alone, it was struggle, and I wanted to give up. But as I got older, I started taking it on little by little. With people that involve themselves in my life, they would be able to find beauty in my depression and can love me through it or they would run away or not even try. This tattoo represents the analogy that depression has two interpretations, scary or beautiful. It's all on how you look at it.”
"My cloud tattoo represents outcomes of my anxiety. When rain pours down, it can cause so much stress and chaos, but it can also bring rainbows and beautiful scenery. The cloud in my tattoo rains water and diamonds representing the chaos/stress(water) and the beauty(diamonds). With my anxiety—if I let myself—I can become stressed, chaotic, have trouble eating, sleeping and breathing, and even worse, I could start self-harming. If I find a way to calm myself or use it productively, then I find ways to live a happier life and ways to prevent it. It also keeps all the health problems out of the way. I wanted a tattoo that represents the two outcomes of anxiety because it's not all bad."
“When I was 22, I attempted suicide. It was not the first time and who knows if it will be my last. A few months afterwards, I began listening to the band Twenty One Pilots. Many of their lyrics deal with depression. I fell in love with the song “Holding on to You,” which features the lyrics:
Tie a noose around your mind
/Loose enough to breath fine and tie it/
To a tree tell it, you belong to me, this ain’t /noose/
This is a leash and I have news for you
/You must obey me!”
The lyrics had such an impact on my life that I got the imagery tattooed on my leg to remind me that I am in control and not the bullshit in my brain.”
“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re the oldest in the family. you’re raised knowing that you must set the example for your younger siblings and that you’re the one who sets the family name in motion. You can’t afford to be lazy or slip up, you can’t be average, and the standards of excellence are mediocre compared to what you have to do. Failure brings shame and punishment. I was told this at the age of three when my brother was born and again the next year when my sister was born. reminded everyday with everything I do. Again, at fifteen I was reminded of the same speech I always heard, now with the notion of my future knocking at my door. Throughout high school, I was acknowledged by my teachers, peers, and even the state of my academic achievements, leadership skills, and creativity. None of it was enough to satisfy the beast at home. What was I doing? What am I striving for? Chasing this degree of perfection is like crawling to a mirage of an oasis in a desert. It’s always within your grasp but never in your fingers. It started to wear me thin. At seventeen, I noticed the ropes. How they were tied tightly around me. My movement were restricted and controlled. Am I puppet? What was controlling me? I tried to fight back, and the ropes only got tighter as I struggled. They burned and redden my wrists, sometimes drawing blood. I only got more tired the longer I fought. At eighteen, I accepted the ropes. At twenty, I found comfort at the end of one.”
“When I found dance, I found self-expression. Until the age of nine, I was an only child that was never used to having to express my feelings because I was content with being alone. Once I began to develop real emotions, I never knew how to express myself and often found myself angry or irritated. Dance is my form of release. It taught me self-expression as well as discipline. When I feel like nobody understands me or where I'm coming from, I feel like dancing allows me to be heard. Do what you're passionate about!”
“My identity has been shaped by being a diabetic and being a Southern woman who was raised in a very traditional home. My work is about women’s issues, but more specifically Southern women’s issues and how small – town culture often holds women to impossible standards that dismisses the idea of self – care and self – love. This body of work is situated between national and regional feminist issues that talk about women’s role in the South as compared to modern, contemporary gender standards.
I come from a family that has always stressed self – sacrifice over self – care no matter a person’s physical or mental health. Women are expected to have a husband and children. I was raised in a home that was very religious, conservative, and traditional. Think 1950’s gender standards. I personally don’t want to be married or be a mother at this stage in my life which is considered the normal age for marriage and children. I use recurring symbols such as sunglasses, hands, flora, and halos to represent the physical and mental aspects of ill health, societal pressure, stereotypes, etc. that women are facing today. Color in my work is used to deny the physical environment and create mood and give my work an artificiality that makes the reader realize the irrelevancy of these “rules” we as women try to live up to each day through our appearance and our actions. I am trying to blend familial and societal expectations with my own personal individuality.
“ My Uncle Joe’s ears and nose, my mom’s eyes and skin, my father’s hair and ears, I look at my features and I look at these pictures and I see where I come from. Our family and our ancestors mean so much to us. They determine what kind of people we will be before we’re born. What kind of habits we’ll have. Family is important. When I was younger I had a rough time dealing with my identity. I’m biracial, my mother is Hispanic, and my father is of European decent. I grew up being called the stereotypical names for Mexicans and I didn’t understand because I was like them, and at the same time I wasn’t. I would feel like I was faking being Mexican when I was around my Hispanic friends. I finally came to grips with the beauty of intersectionality of my identity. I’m made up of many parts. I’m Hispanic, I’m white, I’m a male, I’m a brother, friend, son, and all of this makes me unique, our identity isn’t one thing, it’s a mixture of things. Just like our characteristics and our personalities. We take things from people—our music tastes and our favorite foods—and we use them. When we think on these things we don’t just think about the object itself. We think about the memories with it and who was involved. I used to think I was an outsider, and now I’m learning ever so slowly that it’s better to be an outsider than an insider.”
“It started slowly at first, you know, standing in mirror. Then I looked to others and began comparing myself to them. I was never a big person, but I slowly began cutting out foods. Obvious ones of course, snacks, sodas, and junk but also breakfast. Between 15 and 16 years old I fell off into what I believe to be anorexia nervosa. I wouldn't exercise because I was very shy and kept my eating habits (aka: slow starvation) to myself. When I began college it got worse. Calorie counting was a daily chore and I decided to eat one meal a day and a snack. I was cutting out necessary foods along with my "bad foods." I can remember the day I was climbing the stairs to my class, which before hadn't bothered me too much, and becoming so dizzy I had to stop and sit. I remember my mom suggesting a little weight gain wouldn't hurt while staring at my collar bones, and I loved it. I remember, my husband, begging me to stop counting and I felt as though I had achieved something. Their concern gave me motivation. But despite feeling that way, inside I was miserable, depressed and hungry. At my lowest I was 103 pounds, ribs showing, weak and pale. But I wanted to go lower. I thought I had to be a certain weight, a certain shape so the people around me would be proud to say, "Hey, that's my daughter!" or "That's my girl!" I was completely wrong. The night I fell into my husband's arms crying over calories was the night I decided I had to stop. Not only to help me, but also give those around me peace of mind. I'm coming to the realization that my appearance/weight doesn't determine my place in the world, and it certainly doesn't make my family love me more or less. Now I'm 21 years old, 118 pounds, eating better, and exercising. For once in my life I have some muscle and the color is coming back to my face. Although the habits still linger, I know it will eventually come to an end. After six years of restrictive eating, I think it's time.”
“I feel kind of disconnected from my Hispanic culture, probably because I’ve lived in Louisiana for so many years where there are not that many Hispanic people. Most of my family lives in New Mexico. My parents didn’t speak Spanish to us, so we didn’t learn it. While part of my ethnicity is white, and I look white, I feel that doesn’t explain my whole story. A DNA test showed a quarter of my genetics are associated with Mexico, and about half of my genetics are associated with Spain. It hurts when people tell me I’m not Hispanic because I have light skin and can’t speak Spanish. My family listens to mariachi music, cooks Mexican food, goes to fiestas, acknowledges Day of the Dead, some speak Spanish fluently, and so much more. I feel when people discredit part of my race, they discredit my experiences and identity. Being biracial and only passing as one race can feel invalidating. Being raised in a culture different from your family’s culture can feel isolating. It’s also uncomfortable when people assure me, “You’re not Mexican; you’re Spanish,” as if there’s something wrong with claiming Mexican ancestry. As if I should only claim the White part of myself. “
“Being apart of the LGBTQ+ community is sort of this existence in dichotomy. On one hand there is this urge to celebrate and fight for who I am and how I am so proud to do so. On the other, there is this weight of always having to justify my existence paired with the immense mourning that me and my community face when it comes to the tragedies that we experience as a community. For me, it is the mourning that gives me strength. It is the pain that I have experienced that fuels the fire of my passion to speak out for my LGBTQ+ community. I speak out for those who cannot and I fight for those who cannot. I will not let the size of the task at hand daunt me in to apathy, for I know that one positive difference is enough to keep this movement alive, to keep me fighting. I fight for my friends, and for our future community, so that they will never have to be fueled by mourning and pain, but instead love and hope. I will close with this quote from Rabbi Pirkei Avot for it speaks a powerful message that needs to be heard.
. . .
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” - Pirkei Avot”
“Being born a black male in today’s society I have had to live with the many stereotypes that come with it. Living with thought I have to dress, speak, or present myself in a certain way, just because of the color of my skin. This stereotype is just one of the many things I have had to deal with growing up. I have found it difficult to get away from this without being ridiculed or thought of as weird by others, but once I decided not to portray this stereotype created by society, I began to truly understand myself and the person God created me to be. I am confident in who I am and I refuse to conform to the image society has created for me, to become a walking stereotype would be denying the very characteristics that make me unique and I will never do that for anyone. I believe that no one should have to conform to what the world thinks they should be. Why should anyone be forced to fit into a mold when they were meant to break it?!.
“Seven years ago my body and mind were struck by a glitch in its system like a computer. For a while I could not figure out why this was happening. Two years later it happened again, except they were happening more often. I was eventually diagnosed with Epilepsy. Time pushed on and the seizures kept coming and my mind became ensnared. My body became restricted and it limited my physical abilities. My loved ones feared for me every day. Reality hit me when I came to realize that I could not simply "will" the seizures away. Bound and chained with this curse, my mind was locked. I eventually decided to break the chains myself, my way. Impulsively, I cut the chains that were not only latched to my mind, but my body as well. Trying to forcefully break the chains and rip the straitjacket, I felt a pain like no other. My mind, body, and soul experienced the nine circles of hell. Along with the hellish pains I was forced to endure my seizures came back tenfold, and with a vengeance. My life was no longer in my hands. I stood at the brink of death. I found myself alone in a void coming to terms with myself. I apologized to God, myself, and my loved ones as I stared death in the face. I was ready to accept the repercussions of my actions. I was graciously given another opportunity. I continued to push forward with optimism and hope only to find out I was still bound. My livelihood was stripped at every turn. This war against myself has become insurmountable. I am on guard at all times knowing that there could be that one seizure that could be fatal. I love everyone that has supported me through this, and I hate that I've caused them so much worry. I refuse to lose this ongoing fight; I will look my epileptic counterpart in the eyes and face him head on. I may win or I may lose but whatever happens happens...”
“Food is beautiful, food is art, food is delicious, food is my love.
“I started working in a fine dining restaurant during the summer of 1988, it was my senior year of high school. I worked as a busboy which included cleaning tables, restrooms, and the parking lot of the restaurant. Each shift that I worked I became more involved with the type of cuisine and style of service that was offered in this establishment. I quickly developed a unique style of setting tables efficiently, working my way up to be promoted to server in this same restaurant. It was during this time I began to learn more about the exclusive menu and the delicious items that we had to offer our guests. The Kon Tiki Restaurant was a Polynesian style fine dining establishment which served Mandarin/ Chinese entrees, fresh fish, seafood and delicious prime steaks.
I married and started a family at the age of 21, I continued to work in the restaurant as a server, developing into one of the best waiter’s and product salesman at the premiere local restaurant. I was being compensated daily with gratuity and received the opportunity to work some of the more elaborate parties often held in exclusive venues in the Shreveport/Bossier metroplex while catering for the Kon Tiki Restaurant and Lounge, this supported my wife and twins in the early 90’s. Not only was I flourishing in the food and beverage industry that would prove to be the foundation of my current career path, I also was a college student studying to earn my bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
As the years passed my knowledge, experience and passion to learn more about food and customer service propelled me to become a member of the management team at the Kon Tiki, this allowed me to teach, lead and train others in the restaurant. Being a food and beverage manager gave me a sense of accomplishment and achievement. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of those busy evenings, expediting food behind the kitchen line, platting a perfect dish while satisfying the customers with delicious food.
In 2006, I decided to join the Army at the advance age of thirty four, It was time for a career change as well a change of scenery from the state of Louisiana. I enlisted in the national Guard and transitioned to the Active Duty component a year later. My first duty station was Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I walked into the Dining facility as a seasoned Food Operations Specialist. I noticed a memorandum that was soliciting candidates for the Installation’s Culinary Arts Team. My prior experience would earn me a spot on this squad, from there my culinary career would ascend into what I am today. I had a platform to practice my skills and developed into a Chef with advance training courses offered through the military. Since that time I have not looked back from gaining experience, knowledge and attempting to become an outstanding Chef and Culinarian. I enjoy sharing my knowledge by teaching and training Soldiers, high school students, and anyone that crosses my path the valuable skill set of preparing food, because- food is beautiful, it is art. Food is delicious and it is my passion!”