Norma

Age: 50s
From: Brooklyn, New York, USA

Background

“I was born and raised in Panama. My mother was a native Panamanian, her parents were from Barbados. They went to Panama during the building of the canal. He was an engineer, so we were kind of fortunate. My father went to Panama later on… there were lots of jobs there. He migrated from Jamaica. So he met my mother, they married and had two children”.

Culture

“My cultural makeup is a mixture of where I was born, who my grandparents were and who my parents were and where I live. For example, if you went to my kitchen now there is a pot of lentils on, stewed lentils. Tomorrow I may be making Coocoo and steamed fish…. And that comes from ancestors way back, but I got it through my grandmother and the steamed fish…… we make rice and peas…. Red peas and rice, or I love to cook Italian food; I learned that here. I love pasta, but baked potato is something we got up here. We make a lot of potato salad though…. So my cooking, the music I listen to…

I listen to salsa music, or if I’m cleaning, I put on calypso music, turn it way up and clean the house. My sister sings opera, so my music collection includes opera. I love jazz, I have a large jazz collection. 

I guess I’m one of the few people in the world who has been able to incorporate so much of what I have been given in to the life I lead and I have been fortunate enough to lead the life I do.” 

What makes you smile?

“What makes me smile is waking up in the morning and then when I figure out I can move, I’ve got this thing beat. That’s my big thing every morning. Because I’ve been through some health challenges”.

What is your passion?

“Equality. Equality is my big passion. I have seen too much inequality and I don’t think it’s necessary. Some of the turmoil that we’re living through right now in New York city right now. It shouldn’t be that way. 

And I like to remind people as we’re going through these experiences… it’s always only a few who create the chaos. It’s like when they say to you, oh the kids now a days… and this and that…and I say to them… if all of the kids were as you are describing them, we wouldn’t have a world. So it’s just a few… in the same manner, when we’re fussing about authority and whatever, it’s not everybody. It’s just a few.

Why don’t we embrace our differences? Why don’t we talk about how different we are? And then we can figure out how much we have in common. We’ll find that it doesn’t balance. We’re more alike than we are different.

Oh I have experienced discrimination. I live in the United States. I’m a black woman. I came to America as a black child. 

The first time it happened to me was when I first came here and went to school; a young woman… we used to come home for lunch… I went to lunch and I got back and when I got back we had to form a line based on your class and so I was in the line and this young woman came up to me and said, get in the back of the line and go back to where you came from!

We grew up feeling like we could do anything we felt like. And then we came here and found out we were black and we were different”.

On love…

“I have not made the best choices when it comes to romantic love, but I have not failed… and so to me, love it what is happening all around me. It’s my friends, it’s my job…

I think expressions of love are more important than just saying, I love you!

To me love is when my girlfriend picks up the phone and calls me and says to me come on over we’re having dinner, come on over. Or someone says to me come lets go do something. That tells me that somebody is thinking about me. When I get a phone call from my girlfriend in Florida, ‘I’m just thinking of you’.

What is  a challenge you’ve faced?

“I remember one day, I was lying in bed here after I had gone through a bad experience and I pulled the cover over my head. I only thought people just say that, I thought it was an expression, but I was lying in bed, I was feeling so bad that I pulled the covers over my head without realizing it. I took them off, got out of bed, took a shower and got on with my business. I had no right feeling that sorry for myself. I had a roof over my head, I had clothes on my back, I had food to eat. So I didn’t have any money in my pocket, but that’s ok because I have a good education and I can get a job. So I have really no major complaints in my life”.

On Ubuntu…

“Everything affects everything. If you can get across the concept that each one of us impacts the next person and not only the next person, but the next generation, then you will have done a marvelous job. Because I don’t think we recognize how much we impact one another”.