Interview by Khrista Trovela
Name: Mariel Calara
Origin: Harlin, Texas
Based In: Austin, Texas
// Can you describe yourself in one sentence?
Hello I’m Mariel, and I guess if I were to describe myself in one sentence—wow it’s so difficult—I think I would describe myself as someone who can’t describe themselves in one sentence and I think part of that is because I’m still figuring myself out as most people all the time, and I don’t know.
// These questions are about being a woman. So tell me about your childhood and what it was like being a woman in your childhood town.
I don’t think I’ve thought that much about what it’s like to be a woman in my childhood—or a girl in that case. I think when puberty hits and you start growing boobs and your period starts, that’s when you kind of realize you’re not the same as the boys. And I think like growing up, my mom would have to tell me to do certain things that I think I guess women have been conditioned to do which is probably not fair like think a little bit more about how you dress, think about your surroundings, think about how you conduct yourself, if you’re like sitting with your legs closed and open. Like I think I’ve had to think about that more in my childhood but I don’t know if I’ve thought about it a whole lot compared to how much I think about it now. But I do think that I’ve always wondered—I mean identity is such an important part to people, and I felt like in my childhood or even now, is the first thing people see “Asian woman”? What’s the first two words people think of? So it’s a big part of my identity, but it wasn’t that big when I was growing up. Maybe I wasn’t aware of it growing up, but I am now.
// Yeah, makes sense. It’s interesting to look at it from a cultural perspective as you were saying as well. Next, can you think of a time you felt particularly aware of your gender and how it led you to be treated. I guess as you were growing up. Maybe it kind of hit you, oh I’m different, as a woman as compared to other boy classmates or something.
I mean I think it was when my boobs came in. I remember like I would feel my boobs like when I was growing up—I would feel them get bigger, and I thought that was kind of scary and weird. Or just like exploring my body for the first time. And then when I had my period for the first time, I was really scared; I think most people would be if they found blood in their underwear. I was really aware then that I was not the same, that I was like a female and I think I also relied heavily on my mom and my sister to explain what was going on and to cope with just like understanding all of that.
// Yeah, makes sense. It’s weird, like going through puberty and going through all that intense stuff when guys don’t have those sort of, like, cornerstones or markers in their lives to be like, “oo I’m a man now.” Maybe they do or it’s more symbolic, whereas for us it’s like symbolic and scary and physical and strange. So these questions are about your passion and your work. What is your proudest accomplishment? It doesn’t have to be limited to your professional accomplishments.
I think how far I came with my Rome team with my research project. I don’t know if this is a lame answer, if I should have a deep answer, but we had just worked really hard to put together a research project in Rome this past summer. That didn’t happen because of the pandemic, but it was just like constant resilience because we had prepared like forty pages and then we got to the next round and then we had to turn those 40 pages into four minutes, and then we didn’t get accepted but then we decided we are going to fundraise anyway. And we had no idea what we were getting into, like asking all of the people we knew for money, but then doing that and like applying for scholarships, so we ended up raising over 15,000 dollars. And so numerically, it’s quantifiable, it’s like yeah, you did it. You raised the money and stuff, but I think my proudest accomplishment is just like the personal growth throughout all of that. Because I just grew alongside my teammates who I had to depend on and trust now, and it just taught me a lot about myself and gave me a little more confidence about what I can do. And so, I don’t know. It’s not very tied to being a woman, but I think any moment when you realize that you have more potential or that you’re able to reach your potential or that you’re able to do what you’ve probably always doubted you could do are powerful moments and that was one for me.
// Yeah for sure. I remember watching you go through all of that, and it seemed like a lot of work and a lot of dedication and a lot of love put into something that you’re super passionate about. So, I guess this question is also related to your answer right now. What led you to achieve this? What drove you and your whole group to continue to pursue this project?
I think there are a lot of reasons. Part of it is because we had put in so much energy so it would feel kind of like a waste to stop doing it. Or I don’t know. That’s part of it. I think my teammates also have just—working with them has really motivated me and working with others is empowering in its own way because you kind of want to prove to them, as well as prove to yourself, that you can do it. And it hit on so many different aspects: it’s like part of it, you just put in some much work and you just want to see it come through, part of it is your teammates, part of it is just your genuine interest in the project and my interest in all things Italian. Like, I wanted to be able to go to Rome and impact these grassroots communities tackling the waste crisis. That would be so cool and fulfilling, and so its multifaceted why I was motivated.
// Okay so next, we’re moving onto questions about your story of empowerment, so it’s a good lead in. So who taught you the importance of empowerment and how did it affect your life?
I think my older sister is the first person that taught me about empowerment. Part of that is because when she taught me, she had a bad MCAT grade and she was in the midst of medical school applications and after college, and so she was going through a transitioning period herself. And going into college I think is the moment that I realised that my sister is the person who has been my number one fan growing up and believed in me. And I was scared to do things as a freshman or a sophomore; like I was scared to interact or to put myself out there and to do things that were really uncomfortable, but my knowing that my sister believed in me kind of just pushed me out there, to made me uncomfortable because there are rewards to reap when you do that and you grow when you do that. That was probably the first time that I felt really empowered and I feel like I owe her a lot for teaching me that, but really I just try to continue to work hard, and I think that's the best way to be grateful for what she's shown me and for believing in me.
// How do you empower yourself?
That was a good question, I ask myself that everyday, every moment. I think lately breaks and self care are so important and self compassion is so important because we all work really hard all the time but you only have so much mental energy and so much fuel and it's really easy to burn out and so in order to stay alive and function, you have to know how to empower—like to keep running but also to empower yourself, to motivate yourself, to inspire yourself, to keep going. And so I think I empower myself by being reflective and taking breaks and realising again what all of this is for and enjoying the present. Because it's really easy to like get caught up in things and to just forget. Working so hard, it’s just like oh my god, it’s the next thing and the next thing, and the next thing. It's hard to just like stop and enjoy what's happening around you and to realise what this is all for. And so I think taking breaks and being reflective is one of the most important ways that I empower myself because you need to step back from all of the stuff that you're doing in order to appreciate it sometimes.
// Yeah, I feel like if you don't take breaks, it’s going to lead to burnout and even if you avoid taking those breaks, your work isn't going to be as great as it could have been if you had taken them. I feel like that applies a lot if you continually put yourself in this relentless work mode; I feel like it just takes away from the product. So how do you empower others?
That’s a good question. I’m big on empathy and listening and so I think I also learned this from being like a mentor: you don’t want to just like do everything for someone, you have to let them achieve it for themselves, and so I think being aware of the kind of support that you can give someone and then when times are hard for them, I tend to be the person that will just listen and hear them out and validate them. Also just maybe the same way that I empower myself, like sitting and listening and reflecting and thinking about everything and why it's important, I just hope to also be a good listener and empathetic in what they're going through and also encouraging. I know that when I’m struggling, I’m hardest on myself, and so I can't imagine the the inner turmoil that people feel and so I just want them to know that I’m there for them and also that what they've been doing so far has been inspiring to me and so that they should just keep doing what they're doing—like it’s all worth it, it's all gonna work out and just like being there is one of the biggest things you can do for people because yeah, that's about it.
// Thanks that was a good answer. Do you have any advice for girls who are going through this themselves, I think this kind of bleeds into the previous question.
For girls or for women or whatever it's hard to be a powerhouse woman in a society that's dominated by men and especially in certain industries and workplaces. But I think something that I always try to think about in the way I conduct myself as a woman and just like live as a woman and feel empowered as a woman is trying to not apologize all the time: instead of saying “sorry for being late” and say “thank you for being flexible” as I work through stuff. And I just think that female leaders are powerful, and I enjoy the people that have mentored me and led me and that are woman. And so I think you owe it to yourself to believe in yourself, and like everyone's human so like people will make mistakes, but you don't always have to apologize for them. Sometimes it's just ok and you don't need to apologize all the time.
// Why do you enjoy and appreciate being a woman?
Can I say because men are so frustrating? :)
I feel like there are scientific studies that say women are more empathetic and I say empathetic a lot but more understanding. I don't know it's just I couldn't imagine myself to be a man or anything. I really enjoy being a woman and being me and surrounding myself with other inspiring women and learning and hearing about what other women have done. It's just like a feel good moment.
// Yeah, do you enjoy breaking barriers as a woman? Especially as you were saying in different industries, like the advertising and PR industries sometimes, they’re not always allotted the same pay, they're not looked to for certain insights or perspectives that are unique.
It's probably really hard to break to be that first person to break the barrier so I really say kudos to the women before me that have done it like AOC, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away but she's one too. And it’s inspiring to the woman that do break the barriers. But I can imagine that I’d love to be able to break the barrier for the women that I can help that come after me or like alongside me. For sure, it’s really rewarding to be recognized for your hard work and to be recognized as like a leader or someone that’s like capable of breaking barriers and not just that but like thriving. I hope to be able to do that one day. And yeah I don’t know, I just can’t really picture not being a woman, and I love it so much, despite the cramps.
// Yeah! So our last question, is there anything you’d like us to know so we can share it with the Global Girlhood community specifically? Just, like, along the lines of woman empowerment, advice about navigating…maybe advice about navigating through differ—difficult like, social or work settings. If there are girls out there who are feeling scared about, as you were saying, breaking the barrier, or like taking risks, maybe they’re afraid because we live in such a male-dominated society. Do you have any advice about, like, stepping out of your comfort zone, maybe? As a woman?
Whenever I feel scared, sometimes I just feel scared because I feel unprepared or I don’t know that much about the subject. So, I think what’s been helpful for me is getting educated. It’s not the most active, confrontational way to do things, but it’s a way to just, like, you know, really inform your perspective and your view on things.
Like right now, I’m so aware about my identity and stuff because I’m in college, and I feel like I’m taking classes and I’m reading things and I’m slowly understanding how women are actually treated in the workplace and things. And so, for girls that are feeling, like, scared and apprehensive about what’s going on, there are stories and research out there on women who have been able to break past those barriers. And best practices and advice and research on how much the—I don’t know—gender wage gap is or or something.
And like, I think one of the most strategic ways of not feeling scared anymore is to just get educated and consume as much as you can about what it is, like, to be a women in this world—in this country. And then, I think, you know, just as it is important to get knowledge and awareness on other things, when you’re informed you can take action and preach!
// Yeah, nice, well that was our last question, thanks for interviewing with us!