Exclusive Interview with Chris Rivas
author of Brown Enough shares on grief, humanity & care
I wanted to open this space today with a beautiful image of numerous waterfalls cascading over green, hilly mountains. Into the distance behind the waterfalls the mountains grow, and we can only imagine where they lead.
I’m feeling stressed lately—are you? There are a lot of demands on us as humans, and I wonder if we can take a moment to stop and breathe.
Take four deep breaths.
Thank your soul for the way it survives.
Thank your body for taking care of you.
Settle into the coming words for today, an interview that I think you’re going to love.
I am really excited to introduce you to Chris Rivas, a storyteller, actor, essayist, social commentator, disruptor, filmmaker, podcast host, speaker, Rothschild social impact fellow, Ph.D. Candidate in Expressive Arts for Global Health & Peace Building from The European Graduate School, and creator of “The Real James Bond… Was Dominican!”
I recently read his new book, Brown Enough: True Stories About Love, Violence, the Student Loan Crisis, Hollywood, Race, Familia, and Making It in America, and I knew right away that I wanted to share his wisdom with this community.
Chris was so gracious to let me interview him, and I can’t wait to share his wisdom with you! And please check out his website and learn how you can continue to support his work!
Alright, onto the interview:
I really appreciate that you open your book with a very honest conversation. In an America in which we focus so much on the binary of Black and white, where do those in the “other” spaces fit? I have been in activist conversations, multi-faith conversations, where the Indigenous experience just doesn’t get spoken. It is an invisibility that is painful beyond words. So I’m really grateful to you for naming this particular pain and using your gift of words to create medicine with it. Along the way, how has grief been part of the process for you?
I love this question so much, because grief gets a bad wrap. Grief is a vital ingredient to healing. Grief allows us to acknowledge what is so we can move towards what can be.
Ungrieved losses become open wounds, and open wounds hurt, they fester, and they grow, unless we let them go. That’s what story and art can do in my opinion. It feeds us, it generates hope in us, and it allows us to see, stop, and take a step back.
Grieving provides me with the strength and tools to be present in the face of so much that is scary and uncomfortable. It gives me patience as I learn new things about myself and watch old wounds come to the surface. It builds a new skin of kindness around me. Grieving strengthens my commitment to creating more art that will be shared in safe and healing environments in which listening can take place and habits can be transformed.
They say that grief has steps. I feel like calling them steps is really misleading, because it gives the illusion that coping with grief is a linear path, when in all actuality it is more like juggling many things all at once. While we all go through grief, none of us have the same experience. There is a lot to juggle. Remembering and honoring that there is no right way to grieve gives me the strength to keep going.
From page 50: “So that one tiny universe (mine) can meet another tiny universe (yours), and together we make a third tiny universe (this universe), so we can get free, so we can have a grand moment of physiological synchrony.”
This is so beautiful, and in a time when we want to focus so much on how we are against one another, it forces us to ask some deeper questions about howe can connect. How do you think we get there?
LISTEN. We must be soft enough and brave enough to listen to someone else. A lot of people shake their head sup and down as if they are listening but they are truly just prepping their own response, prepping their own narrative, their own “genius.”
When we truly listen, there is a good chance, that someone will say something that will get past my “me” armor, and it will create a crack in me, that crack will spread and maybe even cause movement in me, it’ll move me - to action, to new thought, to abandoning old beliefs and stories, to being more generous, to calling myself out on my own shit.
But none of that is possible without the ability and courage to truly Listen.
In your chapter called The Cost of Pretending you write about the embarrassment and trauma of learning your heart language, Spanish, as an adult, and how hard it is. I really felt this, as I’m learning the Potawatomi language through classes taught by my tribe, and you’re right, there’s trauma, joy, embarrassment, those hints of colonization woven throughout the process because we realize what’s been taken from us. Can you share more about what it means to you to speak Spanish, what it does inside of you and what it’s taught you about yourself?
First - I love Heart Language. Thank you for that.
The journey of teaching myself Spanish has not been easy but it has been completely freeing. The company I study with is called, “Spanish Sin Pena” - Spanish without shame. Like the grief question above, it is important that we meet our shame before we get into the vocabulary… Our shame around learning a language we think we should already know, and all the stories, traumas and intricacies that are wrapped up in us not knowing that language.
When I speak Spanish now with more confidence and less fear of judgement, mainly my own, I feel closer to myself and to my ancestors. Opening that door to my culture and my history is so expansive and powerful.
Thank you for writing about the appropriation of wellness spaces in your book. It’s a conversation we don’t have enough, and in America, we need to be talking about what equity, care and justice look like in these spaces as we continue our practices. Specifically in yoga spaces, how do you think especially white folks can do better?
Just be more aware. Awareness goes a long way. It’s a simple word to say, people say they are aware, but when truly aware and conscious of how everything is involved and included in everything else, that no “Down-Dog” pose is free from both beauty and oppression - it informs our practice and our choices. And that is the true meaning of yoga - a deep intimate relationship with life, the awareness that nothing is free or separate from everything else.
“All these rituals Brown, Black and melanated folks have for staying safe in the world. It’s our fear of the unknown, we think by dimming our light for white people’s comfort, our safety might become known to us. White people will know we are not a threat. It sucks to know the body is a target. To know that the flesh and hair follicles I was born with can be weaponized against me.”
I write in my book Native that “Indigenous bodies are bodies that remember” and connected to our bodies is the power of stories. You’ve written a book that breathes this reality, the power of the stories of our bodies. When you tell a story and enter into healing and embodiment, what does that mean to you?
It’s so beautiful that your first question was around grief. Because as we all know - Our Bodies Keep The Score… We came into this world with desires we needed to explore, questions we needed to answer, and things we needed to face. When we get still and meet and remelt our bodies, those stories begin to set themselves free. But a second and very important part in all this is - “What stories must die so new ones can grow?”
It’s important to listen to the body and its stories but to also know when to let them go. So we can evolve and expand into that space of healing and self worth.
In the book you mention a few times that you battle with social media, deleting apps and reinstalling them, struggling with how to balance it all in a healthy way. You’re definitely not the only one. What does this look like for you in 2023?
DAMNNNN - It’s a battle… It feels more spiritual at this point than anything. Social media has caused me harm and also some incredible opportunities and connections. Now who’s to say those connections don’t happen if I’m not on the socials? We don’t know what we don’t know.
I do know that how we look at something changes it. Socials can breed jealousy or support, lack or fullness.
At this moment, my relationship to socials is one of clear boundaries. I check it twice a day - morning and night. That’s it. I don’t scroll. I either post or respond to messages.
That’s what I have for now.
From page 195: “What battle do I choose, when there is so much to choose from? What battle do I choose in a country that often doesn’t value me, my heart, my art, my sweat, my body, and my voice?” This line really speaks to that need that a lot of people have, especially white folks who want to be “allies” to answer all the questions and fix all the problems.
This only causes burnout and doesn’t get us to the work of healing. So, we have to escape the pressure to be all answers and fix all things. How would you encourage folks to dive into the question of asking “what is MINE to fix?” to avoid that burnout?
Trust the effect of your action. Even little action. Dalai Lama said something along the lines of, a small gesture of action is worth a thousand prayers. We don’t need to fix the world unless that is our calling from the center of our being. But if it isn’t, and yet we want to help nourish and make the world more compassionate, then we can trust that every time we are conscious and listening and genuinely moved and not holding back that even our little actions matter. The idea that, if everyday, everyone did one little thing to end racism, poverty, hunger, inequality etc - just ONE action, that would be a lot of powerful change. Trust your action and trust that if you are moved and called to do more, you will do more. No pressure.
From page 210, you write: “I heard you, I did, but I was afraid to stop, I knew if I stopped and made room for it, If I really took this information in, I would break…”
You have a moment with a friend where you start crying, but you almost don’t allow yourself to. You’re recognizing that if you stop and really feel it, all the pain and trauma, it’s like a dam breaks—I live that, too, I think a lot of us do. Sometimes the pain is too much, so we have to move past the hurt and keep going or we will fall apart. Can you speak to us, those of us who are marginalized in our society, those who try to hold it all in but sometimes need to just let it out?
I think as Bodies of Culture we get so focused on surviving, striving, and playing the game from which whiteness set the rules, that we forget to make space to grieve. And there is a lot to grieve. That grief reminds us that we are all under the gaze of whiteness. That grief can rebalance us to why what we are striving for in the first place, who we want to impress and why.
Only when I stop rushing, only when I am able to be still, can I begin to grieve, to see what still hurts, and recognize that I’ll never gain back all that was lost. Only by taking the space to grieve can I recognize that others are also grieving—that I am not alone in this.
Let it out!!! Meet it. Love it. Honor it. Thank it. And let it out.
I want to end with these beautiful words from page 220:
“We have to burn down classifications about what is worth it, who fits, and who doesn’t. By identifying and seeing more colors, more shadows, more nuances, more cultures, more people, more flavors, more than we can even imagine, more, more, more. By identifying more, we can finally begin to see ourselves, now we don’t just enter a conversation, we aren’t simply invited to the table, we dismantle it and build a new one together.” Can you tell me where you find this happening in 2023, and how you hope it will happen more?
This conversation. Your work. You readers. Our communities and friends. Our spaces of belonging that we choose to support and invest our time, attention, and money in. It’s happening, it’s here. Bodie son culture speaking their truth and telling their own stories. Let’s keep being aware about how and who we are supporting. Let’s keep encouraging these beautiful and needed spaces of belonging.
Stay caught up with Chris:
Check out the Rubirosa (10 part series based on the Dominican man James Bond was based on)
Grab the audiobook of Brown Enough, which Chris narrates himself
Thank you, readers, for leaning into the power of our humanness through the books we read. More inspiring voices to come!
This is a wonderful interview. Thank you Kaitlin and Chris.