Meet December's Leona of The Month: @EDotNichole
Personal Blogger, writer, and wine enthusiast, Erica Nichole will close out 2015 with a few new accolades under her belt. From hosting successful events, and co-authoring a book, From Blank Space to Blogging Brilliance, to obtaining the Love & Relationship Editor position with xoNecole, and winning the People’s Choice award at the 2015 Afro-Latinas Who Rock awards brunch; Erica has no plans of slowing her momentum in 2016. For the last six and a half years this Afro-Cubana has penned some of the most jaw-dropping, yet eye-opening pieces on her blog, Everything ENJ. Erica has created a space where women can find comfort in knowing their experiences are solely not their own. In doing so, Erica has also positioned herself in a place where her words are impacting and shaping the careers and minds of her peers and those following in her footsteps.
In the interview below, Erica talks about her Afro-Latina identity as a child, her future career plans, and how she balances her family and finding time for herself.
Talk a little about growing up Afro-Latina. How did people react when you told them you were Latina? Based on those reactions, were you then proud or did you shy away from telling people you were Latina?
I always share the story from when I was younger of a classmate who was also Afro-Latina (Afro-Cuban, to be exact). She was the same complexion I was and her hair was similar in texture except that it was straighten and longer in length. Long story short, we were in a group discussing ethnicities and this classmate felt compelled to tell me I couldn’t be Afro-Latina because my hair was nowhere near her hair. And people questioned me and my background because of this one person who somehow served as the prototype of what an Afro-Latina looks like. I let her opinion and her hair and people’s reaction to what she said define me. It doesn’t take much for someone to define you for you when you don’t know yourself or who you are. I was struggling with identity at that point and that comment was the icing on the cake. I definitely shied away from telling people my ethnicity.
Did any of this play a role in your decision to join a Latina Sorority in college? Upon joining, how were you received by your Hermanas? Were there times when you felt different or out of place because of your skin color?
It actually didn’t. I was interested in Greek life from the time I was in high school. The college that I went to was expanding its Greek life at the time and there were only two multicultural organizations there at the time. I could have gone through my collegiate experience without joining a sorority because what I wanted wasn’t present or I could have brought an organization there, but I was attracted to Sigma Lambda Upsilon (SLU) in particular.
I chose to join because my Hermanas were genuine and I loved the sorority’s mission, what it stood for, the work the women were doing, etc. I wasn’t asked if I was Latina, it wasn’t expressed to me that I had to be Latina to join–I just became cool with these women who accepted me as I was and weren’t trying to secretly recruit me. I was introduced to other women before and after I joined that had the same skin color or darker, spoke little Spanish or spoke no Spanish, so, I never once felt out-of-place. SLU has always been representative of diversity and acceptance, and it’s fitting that I started to understand and accept myself as an Afro-Latina through my organization. And I’m forever grateful for that.
Based on your childhood and sorority experiences, what have you learned regarding society’s knowledge or perception of Afro-Latinos?
We still have ways to go when it comes to how Afro-Latinas are perceived. The trajectory of my childhood introduced me to society’s very narrow-minded perception that all Latinas are fair-skinned and have bone straight hair and speak Spanish fluently. But we’re so much more than that box that people put Afro-Latinas in. We’re all of these beautiful tones of brown, with loose curls, tight curls, thick kinky hair, sometimes Spanish is our second language, sometimes we don’t know the language at all–all of these different features that defy the stereotype and is not just this one set package. I’ve gotten older and realized that there are millions of people who look like me and proudly identify as Afro-Latina.
In what ways (if any) have you been able to incorporate your Afro-Latina culture into your writing (On your Blog and for xoNecole)?
Within the last couple of years, I’ve become more self-accepting of my identity as an Afro-Latina and so, I’m just now coming around to writing about who I am and the culture. I shared a piece on xoNecole about Gina Rodriguez’s feelings on being told she wasn’t Latina enough and opened it up with my own journey hearing and feeling the same thing. That piece garnered so many responses from people who were Latina (or other ethnicities) and experienced the same thing. I was really proud of the response to the piece because it sparked a conversation–a much needed one at that–and it was a reminder that culture brings us together. I realized, then, the significance of writing about my life as an Afro-Latina.
As a mother of two young boys, how do you balance your family and career? How and when do you find time to just be Erica?
To me, balance used to look like having everything in your life “together,” no matter how much you had going on and everything running smoothly. I believe now in this moment, that life of ‘perfection’ that we so often associate balance with is unattainable. But perfection, like balance, is subjective. So, balance to me–as a mother, someone’s partner, a writer–my time and energy is directed to the things that matter and being at peace with my choices. Some days, almost all my attention goes to writing and creating, while other days, my focus is solely and strictly on my family. In the beginning, I felt a lot of guilt about dividing my attention between the two, but I realized the road to finding that balance begins at a place of sacrifice.
I have the opportunity to just be Erica, to focus on Erica, a few times out of the week. Sometimes, I grant myself permission one or two times out of the day because my schedule is all over the place and those acts of self-care really come into play to help aid in that balance. Sometimes I find the time early in the morning when my apartment is still or in the middle of the day or late at night when everything is quiet again. I think it’s important to find time for you in order to find your peace.
What’s next for you? Any plans you’d like to share regarding your blog or writing career?
I took some time off from my blog this year, but I’m gearing up to return with new content and revive the What Binds Us Together blog series with a new website. I just finished collaborating with a good friend, Tassika Lloyd and Sharee Hereford of Dorm Room Television on an event called When Pens Collide which was sort of a spin on MTV’s Unplugged for writers and readers. That’ll be going on the road in 2016 because of the positive response to the inaugural event, so I’m really excited about that. I’m also buckling down on writing my memoir which is major, so I’m feeling good about what’s to come.
What makes you fearless?
Fearless was my word of 2014! Another good writing friend, Tyece, shared this quote with me that I loved from Arianna Huffington that reads, “Being fearless doesn't mean living a life that's completely without fear, but living a life in which we don't let our fears stop us from pursuing our dreams.”
Improving myself and creating my blog and building that up, took a lot of apprehension and self-doubt away. I will always say that when I began to express vulnerability on that space, it opened up this world of authenticity and creativity within me. I was scared...but I kept going. Because deep down, I knew that there were stories that I held on to that needed to be told and that those words would help other people. So what makes me fearless is feeling that anxiety rise, but understanding it’s only a temporary hindrance and leaping anyway.
For more Erica Nichol visit Everythingenj.com