I have always been proud of my Central American heritage because of the resilience and strength demonstrated in my family’s journey to the United States. When my maternal grandma made the decision to immigrate to America she left a piece of her heart and soul back in El Salvador. My mom, uncle, and great-grandmother remained in their town unsure if they would ever see my grandma again. The stories she tells me are heart-pounding and heartbreaking as I learn of how she crossed three borders to reach America. (The three borders include El Salvador to Guatemala, then to Mexico, and finally the U.S. border.)
My grandma’s tenacity and willpower is one example of why I am proud to call myself Salvadorian American. My dad and paternal's grandma journey also inspires me, as they survived life on a crowded boat as they too tried to escape a civil war. My dad in particular is my role model as he went from dreams of being a mechanic in El Salvador to graduating from both UC Berkeley and UC Riverside with an MBA and then becoming a CEO of his own company. I don't have to look far for inspiration, my family and our spirit of survival is why I'm proud to be Salvadorian.
This Latinx Heritage month is different from what I’ve seen across social media and news outlets. It has meant the world to me to witness Central America being represented and celebrated more than ever during this 2020 Latinx Heritage month period. I feel that my culture is seen, I feel heard from others, and I feel that my fellow Latinx community is ready to welcome Central America into the discourse of representation.
2020 Latinx Heritage Month: Celebrating Being Salvadorian
I grew up in Southern California, in a predominately Mexican community, which led to my culture often being scrutinized. In grade school, I vividly remember the first time I ever heard a jab at my Latinx culture. It was this same time, almost two decades ago, and my classroom was invited to bring in foods that represented our cultures. The savory scent of tacos and tamales filled up my first-grade classroom. But when I went to unwrap my pupusas (a traditional dish from El Salvador, best described as a thick griddlecake stuffed typically with cheese, beans, or meat) my classmates looked at me in disgust.
“That’s serote food. Maybe that’s why it smells funny,” one very-smart-kid quipped. I didn’t know what serote meant until I got home. In a flurry of rage, my mom called the principal and my dad pulled me aside to let me know that when used between Salvadorians it was slang, but when used by other people it’s a slur that means, “piece of shit.” Instead of calling the kid out, my parents plead that I hold my piece.
Serote was far from the worst thing my grandma and parents were called growing up in predominantly Mexican communities. My parents also went through grade school in America, and they were bullied for their Central American heritage. But I don’t share these grievances as an attack or criticism of other Latinx cultures. No. I share this to actually urge my fellow Latinx communities to understand that this month is about celebrating the other cultures that contribute to Latin America’s cultural wealth.
Because I was asked to hold my piece, I went most of my life speaking sparingly about my Central American heritage. My friends only learned of my Salvadorian heritage when they visited my house and saw a small flag in our dining room. Most didn’t even know my family was from El Salvador because my family scrubbed the voz (the second-person singular pronoun used instead of tu in some Spanish speaking countries like across Central America)out of their dialect. To a degree, I was conditioned to know I was Latino, but not know what kind I was.
College was my catalyst for self-discovery for many aspects of my identity. From my professional interests in entertainment to my sexuality, and my cultural identity, the last 4 years of my life were my period to explore who I am. Learning more about El Salvador, beyond how delicious pupusas, became a prerogative. I asked for the music that my parents liked and I asked my grandma to teach me the hymns she learned from her abuela. I wanted to do everything I could then and now to celebrate being Salvadorian.
This last week, I’ve saved, shared, and reposted more posts than ever for Latinx Heritage Month. Again, I’ve always been upfront about embracing my Latino identity, and especially as being a young Latino working in the entertainment industry. The reason that I’ve been activated to do more, post more, and even write this, is because of how much it means to me to see major media outlets, influencers, and brands speaking up for Central America.
What being Salvadorian American means to me
I will always be proud of being a Salvadorian American. While I eat fewer pupusas now than before, my appetite for knowledge of my family’s heritage has grown. To me, being Salvadorian means my spirit is that of a survivor. From my grandma surviving crossing three borders by foot to my mom surviving witnessing carnage as a child through a civil war, my Salvodrian heritage means the power to survive is within me.
In my own journey of moving from being thirty-minutes away to three-thousand miles away from Hollywood (for college in Upstate NY) to breaking back in and sashaying on the Oscars red carpet, my spirit burned with hope like my Salvadorian ancestors. I’m glad I put pen to paper, or should I say clicks to my keyboard because I’m proud to have written this post in honor of the 2020 Latinx Heritage Month. Here's to a month of celebration, empowerment, and representation.
TikTok is that app that is sticking to the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and this time it’s because of the threat of a TikTok ban from President Trump. I’ll be honest, when I think of TikTok I do not think of the ban as the first problem facing this app. Why? Because while I applaud TikTok for democratizing online virality and being a new frontier, it’s quickly become as toxic as some of the more established social media platforms.
Some of the toxic behavior on TikTok is evident. This infamous behavior includes popular TikTok creators caught partying in a pandemic, to the many irrelevant feuds between its creators. I respect TikTok for giving a new generation of creators of different backgrounds and identities space. However, I do not agree with how TikTok has been slow, and sometimes absent, to protect or elevate its Black and BIPOC creators when their culture is constantly being appropriated.
What I want to discuss is the countless examples of cultural appropriation of Black culture, and BIPOC culture, when it comes to what has made these top creators the, “top.” Again, I understand the need for apps like TikTok which can be used as tools for socials change, we need to also hold its creators accountable to the same degree we hold other influencers to a standard. I operate within the framework that the personal is political. You don’t need a formal training in star studies or rhetorical criticism to understand that concepts like the commodity fetish, cultural appropriation, and the navigation of race exist in celebrity identity. Think of Kim Kardashian and her many call outs for cultural appropriation.
One of the most political tools we as humans have is our bodies. The way we walk, our dance, our fashion, our bodies have access to languages with its own sets of grammar and style. When the Black Lives Matter movement broke into TikTok there was an outcry that was long overdue. Black TikTok creators and Black culture was being blocked, not shared, and diluted. And non-BIPOC creators and non-Black creators steadily grew their influence appropriating Black culture.
Instead of a TikTok Ban Let’s Talk About Cultural Appropriation
The reason I'm writing this is because I continue to see dance and music that is localized and born from within Black culture being appropriated for the growth of non-Black TikTok creators. In case you're wondering, I am Latino and part of the Latinx community. I raise this point because know the importance of speaking out when I see actions that need to be called out - called out. I also know a thing or two about media representation because I both work in the entertainment industry and my undergraduate training was in rhetorical and media criticism, with a focus on new media. Yup, I have a lot of big words in my vocabulary always ready.
The post that sparked this piece was a duet by two TikTok dancers, Tony Lopez (@tonylopez) and Sarah-Jade Bleau (@sjbleau). As I scrolled threw the comments I saw dozens of people saying how, "cool" they looked and praising them. My problem with the duet and their performance of the song, "100 Racks" is that along with being remixed to have a Caribbean inspired beat the dance itself is stolen from Caribbean culture. I recognized these movements because many of my peers in college studied Caribbean dance and the same movements, gestures, and facial expressions exist in that medium of performance. Both TikTokers call themselves dancers, but what I ask is, "Where is your credit to this dance's culture?" On both creators accounts I have not seen any nods to Black culture which they heavily profit off of. There's a clear difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation and my gut tells me this is blatant appropriation. Without pointing to Black creators who may have first performed the dance, or the sources where they learned some, young people seeing this duet might just think it's just a, "cool looking" dance.
Well sorry to break it to you, the dance performed by not only these TikTokers but by any of your favorites are rooted in oppression and acts of protest. These dances convey a history, meaning, and culture that non-Black creators and non-BIPOC creators are profiting off. The consequence of this dance is that it leaves Black creators without credit and without their own culture to celebrate because it could be seen as out of trend by the time they do it.
The TikTok ban has scared many creators into pushing their fans to other social media platforms to help them maintain influence. In trying to funnel their fans into different content channels many creators are also still maintain their regular posting schedule. In writing this piece the words like patriarchy, heteronormativity, and commodity fetish rolled off my tongue on onto the page. Like all platforms, TikTok has space for transgressive representation. But the problem is that the performance part of TikTok, I’m talking about dance, is being ignored. Altering appearance through getting dressed is just one part of how creators can negotiate their representation in relation to race, class, and gender.
Writing is a process that for better or worse defines who I am. And my writing has cemented itself in themes of identity, politics, and media. I write because I want to be heard. TikTokers do what they do because they want to be seen. I admire the young creatives, younger than me and I'm only 23, who built a platform for themself on TikTok. I also understand that the TikTok ban poses serious questions about free speech. Yet, with the worry that President Trump's ban can impose we need to also look internally at the issues happening within TikTok itself. We need to ask, "How can we hold these TikTokers accountable?" YouTube has gone ahead and demonetized problematic creators. We need TikTok to release guidelines that actually curtail behavior that's problematic and insensitive. Whether it's banning creators or something of that nature - a change in TikTok culture needs to happen.
My writing is not shy of presenting the personal as political. I’m usually pushing out criticism sometimes on the most personal texts; the embodied. Our bodies are rhetorical, and people often forget. Writing about film, the grammar of a TV show, or the cultural appropriation in a TikTok dance has as much merit to raising social consciousness as the person writing for the 15th time about Shakespeare’s sonnets.
I'm curious to know, what are your thoughts on the TikTok ban? Can you think of any examples of the cultural appropriation I'm talking about? Let me know in the comments below or tag me on social media @Willsshowem
Thanks for reading these Words by Will! See you in the next post!
HOW I Made the decision to study abroad in england
In these difficult times that we’re living through I often reach for a journal full of pages and photos that captured one of the happiest times of my life. This journal is from my experience studying abroad. The polaroids and ticket stubs taped in these pages remind me that my time abroad will always be with me. I will forever be grateful for the forces that helped me find both Norwich, England and the University of East Anglia (UEA). Because while my time in Norwich was short, a piece of my heart will always be in England.
From the seminars taught by leading scholars to the nights getting ready for a Damn Good Tuesday, I cannot write enough about why UEA was perfect for me. While the educational and extracurricular opportunities at UEA ended up enhancing all aspects of my life, I went there almost by accident. Honestly, I studied abroad on a whim!
1. How Study Abroad Benefited Me – Teaching Me to Be a Better Listener
Before I even studied abroad, one of the benefits that became clear is that I became a better listener thanks to anticipating my international experience. Of all the spontaneous decisions I could make in my life, perhaps the best I ever did was deciding to leave the country! So extra, and so very on brand for Will Samayoa. My second year of college, a private liberal art in Upstate NY, I was eligible to study abroad. I attended a 1-on-1 meeting with my college’s study abroad officer to find out what program would suit me. Obviously, the meeting was very productive because I not only applied to UEA, but it was my only option.
Again, before I even studied abroad, I was becoming a better listener. In meeting with the study abroad officer I did come in with points, but I also heard her advice clearly. She told me about the unique character of not only the international partners but also of the cities we’d be living in. “Big but not too big,” she said when talking about Norwich. “Great media programs and renowned professors.” I did more than just research the numbers and sites, I heard from her testimonials of students who had ventured before I did.
In case you may not know, I went to college with a clear vision of working in the entertainment industry. I never wavered in my passion to work in media and I even meticulously designed a master plan to on how to major in writing & rhetoric with a media minor. The study abroad officer knew this, she admired my focus, and she said, “You need to go to Norwich!” I left this meeting and then went to meet with my professors and advisors. I wanted to genuinely hear them. And when I told both my writing and media faculty that I wanted to study abroad at UEA it was resounding, “Yes, Will!”
2. Study Abroad Benefits - Teaching Me How to live in the moment
Since my semester abroad, I stay living in the moment! Before I studied in Norwich, England I had no international experience. While I studied abroad, I learned how to live in the moment meaningfully. Whether my flat mate invited me to go grocery shopping or I was just invited to join a study group, my time at UEA helped me learn how to say, “yes” to new experiences. Little did I know that in my full-time job after college traveling and having those, “OMG” moments would become my new normal.
Studying abroad benefited me in that I learned how to be present in the most spontaneous and amazing moments ever. I can vividly remember every detail of the Oscars red carpet (oh yes, I was at the 90th Academy Awards, more on that later) because I learned how to live in the moment in Norwich. Without studying abroad, I don’t know that I would even have this blog! Yes, that’s right. This blog and my love for social media flourished while I studied abroad.
Part of how I learned to capture the moment was by starting to play with writing and media. The details in my daily walks from the Ziggs to my seminars in places like the Enterprise Centre stay with me. As many moments as I could capture in words or pics I did. This helped me remember the name and pronunciation of every classmate I met. My time abroad pushed me into the unknown, but the city and people of Norwich welcomed me. My best advice is that if you travel abroad worry less and celebrate more. Celebrate yourself, your work to get there, and the moment.
3. Study Abroad Taught Me How to Embrace and Appreciate Different Cultures
I wish that everyone could study abroad because I think it could help people learn acceptance and tolerance. While I was at UEA I listened to voices from people all over the world. From classmates to strangers I met through everyday tasks, I learned how to listen, embrace, and truly celebrate diversity.
In my case, I was an American student studying British media. I figured that I was not an expert in not only these programs, and I was fine with that. Much like my point of learning to listen, I learned how to listen to voices different from anything I ever heard. What I read and saw was unlike anything my studies in America had shown me. In these seminars I had peers from different countries, different ages, and beyond different life experiences from my own.
Needless to say, my study abroad experience benefits include learning how to embrace and celebrate different cultures. I truly became a global connoisseur of media. My latest work trip included working on world premieres at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The films and storytellers I met came from places like South Africa, the Philippines, China, Canada just to name a few. Thank you UEA for teaching me how to respect and cherish different cultures! I’m a better person and storyteller for it.
4. Everyone Should Study Abroad and To Know Why International Students Matter
When I was in college, I remember an established discourse about international students. Candidly, it's not always a fair one too. But being in the U.K., I was considered an international student. I found this super interesting because I consider myself the "norm" and here the norm has nuance things that made me stick out. "Oh, you're so American," I heard.
What does this even mean?! What do you mean I have an accent?! Wait why is everyone driving on the other side?! There are dozens of questions I asked myself. Learning how to embrace different is important. But actually, feeling different is an even better learning experience. At UEA I stood out and I learned how to honor my identities, as an American, as a Latino, and as a son of an immigrant family. I saw how my friends and faculty made my voice matter.
That’s why I came back to the States knowing that international students’ matter. Students from abroad at universities and colleges bring their own insights and experiences that can enrich us. And this is a dialectic relationship.
5. Study Abroad Taught Me to How to Be Okay Being Alone
As much as I write and talk about how my study abroad experience helped me develop friendships, I’m grateful for the personal growth as well. A lot of my fear in studying abroad came from how I went alone at first. In my study abroad program there were a total of 4 of us from my home college. Granted these 4 people would grow to be some of my lifelong friends, there was a 48-hour period where I was alone in Norwich. No one lived on my flat yet and there was no one I knew yet.
I was lucky that UEA lead some mixers for international students. Because in attending these mixers I met more people who would become travel companies and confidants abroad. But I couldn’t always be around people. My flat mates had their commitments and I had to also find a daily rhythm. My days outside of class were long and I found how to fill them with my own company. Whether I went to the gym, read outside, or wrote my blog at a coffee shop, I was as happy being alone as I was in a crowd.
Studying abroad taught me how to be alone but not be lonely. What I believe is that studying abroad in Norwich, England changed my life for the better. I'm proud to write this blog and reflect on my time at UEA, the friends I made, and the experiences that have defined my life.
I'm curious to know, did you study abroad? Or have you traveled abroad?
Let me know on social media where you went! Share this post and tag me with your answer on Instagram/Twitter @ Willsshowem
Here's to #UEADoesStudyAbroad and #VisitingUEA
Thanks for reading these Words by Will! See you in the next post
When CA Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that more business including nail salons were able to start opening, of course, following elevated safety protocols, I eagerly awaited learn when my favorite nail shop would open. For those in the know, I’m talking about the uber Instagrammable and upscale nail boutique chain MiniLuxe. I first discovered this nail salon on a visit to Boston, MA where some of my closest friends and I spent an afternoon at one of their Back Bay locations. In case you’re curious, we went to the one on 31 Newbury St.
Since my first visit to MiniLuxe, I was thoroughly impressed by both their service and the shop’s commitment to cleanliness. Before going to this nail shop, I mostly did my manicures at home and I had never had a pedicure. Like I know-what?! The hour we spent getting our nails done was both relaxing and joyous. From the associate offering our chatty crowd some wine, to the nail technician sporadically asking me how I was this MiniLuxe trip did it for me. I now both loved the ritual of a good mani-pedi day and coming on a trip to MiniLuxe.
Before I left for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, I popped into the West Hollywood shop. Honestly, without this visit my cuticles and hands may have never recovered! Running around and waving down people in 15-degree weather is bad enough, now imagine doing it with dry skin and nails. It also was such a smart move to get my nails done before hand because I’d be running press or handling talent and people stopped to say, “Wow Will, you’ve got great nails!”
My second trip to this nail salon was the West Hollywood location. As a new part of my, “Get red carpet ready with me” regimen I visited the Beverly Hills MiniLuxe location. It was the day before this year’s Academy Awards, aka the 2020 Oscars. I booked a seat for one of the publicists on my team and myself. She had never been to MiniLuxe and I had a blast introducing her to this glamorous experience. We laughed, sipped on some champagne as we celebrated our nominees, and both left with hands deserving of holding an Oscar.
The location I went to today was MiniLuxe’s Brentwood location, and it was the only site of theirs in SoCal that I hadn’t visited yet. It is only nail salon open that’s part of this chain at the time of me writing this. And I didn’t have a single doubt that during my visit I’d feel secure. This chain, no matter where I’ve gone, has always practiced excellent cleanliness. Whether I’ve done a manicure or pedicure, I’ve always seen disinfected equipment being used, seats being wiped, and everything practically spotless. Because of the state’s mandates I also knew there would be heightened cleanliness practices. Taking my past experiences and these new rules into suggestion I thought of inviting my grandma to return with me to my favorite nail salon that was finally open.
If you know me, you already know that my grandma is the most important person in my life. I’ve made that my grandma and I have gotten multiple tests for COVID-19, I order her groceries online, and if I ever have to leave, I wait to see her until I am changed, showered, and wiped all the surfaces down.
I love both spending time with her connecting over interests. And I also love inviting my grandma to experience some parts of my behind the scenes life working in Hollywood. Today we took a trip to MiniLuxe in Brentwood and I must say we both loved it. As soon as we walked in, we saw social distancing being practiced. My grandma speaks mostly Spanish, and the associate who checked us in happened to speak Spanish. He made my grandma feel comfortable by asking her what colors she liked and if she wanted to see any more. I was at ease especially because my pedicure bath was ready.
The hour flew by and by the end of it I could tell my grandma was smiling under her mask. We were sat apart and the whole time I looked over. The nail technician was gentle and kind to my grandma. When I was done, I paid, and I saw my grandma was done. She had a rich crimson color on her nails that literally glowed once we finally got outside. I felt good about the experience and when I asked her if she liked it she sweetly said, “Si.”
Honestly, I’m so happy to see that business in Los Angeles, CA are committing to this new normal very well. I think that trust is a huge factor that plays into people returning to establishments they used to go to. In my case, I’ve always had a top-notch experience at MiniLuxe both alone and with my friends, and now family.
I want to know, have you gone back to your favorite salon while in quarantine? If so, what is your favorite salon?
Thank you for reading these Words by Will!
See you in the next post - WS
When it finally came time to upload my first ever YouTube video, I was scared of not knowing who or where in the world it would end up. My finger hovered over my mouse until it cramped up. There was no willpower in Will (aka me) to click and let the video go public. I never thought that I’d witness myself write these words…but hey, could you check out my YouTube channel?
The decision to pick up my phone and start recording was haphazard. The inspiration to start a YouTube channel felt rushed. The anxieties in my mind built an obstacle ahead of me that I didn’t overcome. Rather I bulldozed through all of my doubts. The anxiety I'm talking about came from the criticism, mediocrity, and embarrassment that didn't even exist yet. Maybe I was fueled by confidence, or nativity. It could have also been a cocktail of all of these emotions creating a volatile mix that just sparked my creativity. No matter the catalyst, I felt driven in crafting a video to put out into the world.
The video I crafted is titled, “HOW I WAS INVITED TO THE OSCARS TWICE - Answering Instagram Q&A About the Industry.” It’s a project that came into existence over several days. However, while the Instagram polls and writing took days, I only gave myself a weekend for the video. I gave myself only two days to shoot, edit, and upload. For those experienced in visual content creation, I’m sure they’d call me crazy for trying to do so much at once.
This same weekend, I was writing and rewriting my script. It was important that every time I did a new take my answers went deeper. And all this was not even taking into account the care it took in designing a banner or content writing. Why was I putting myself under all this pressure you might ask? Here’s my answer; I felt like if I didn’t start now, then I never would.
“Aren’t you 5 years too late?” “Who do you think you are? A wannabe influencer?” or “What do you know about making videos?” These are all the questions that crawled around my mind before I even hit the record. There’s a quote I live by, that my college mentor granted me, she said, “We are always in our process of becoming.” This quote was the remedy to the anxieties that started to cloud my mind.
This first video would not, and could not, dictate my skills or the opportunities ahead of me. I am at the foot of a new journey. Ahead of me is a chance to grow in my faculties as a storyteller. My passion in life is to understand and practice language and its impact on people. I’ve always loved visual mediums, that’s why I work in entertainment. Even though I think I’m late to the content creator party, who's to say I can’t throw myself one?
When those questions came up I knew how to answer them. “No I’m not too late, I’m finally ready.” Just like in my college days when it came time to rally, I could never show up for pre-party pictures until I felt ready. “I know who I am. I’m a storyteller. I’m a young professional. I’m a Latinx in Hollywood. And I’m an amateur fitness enthusiast.” Knowing oneself is knowing one’s brand. I’m glad that I studied the arts of rhetoric, media, and composition. Understanding my identity and being able to convey that with confidence is powerful.
My last answer to those anxieties is, “I don’t know much about making videos. But I know how to learn.” Because I wanted to make a video with purpose I made sure I researched the form first. I noted some of my favorite YouTubers and I studied their style, the visual grammar, and their delivery. I treated making a video with the same care and respect as when I write a pitch to a reporter. I have to feel confident in my own knowledge of the material to convince someone else of its merit. Through watching videos, and asking friends what topics I should speak on, I felt beyond proud when it came to finally click on, “Public.”
I wanted to write a blog that acted as my director’s statement. Sharing my concerns and the labour it took to make the final product is part of my process. In my life, I’ve been critiqued as someone who only shares my success. I take this comment and I have acknowledged it. Through writing this piece - and in making the content that I’ve recently made, I want to show people my depth. It’s true it’s easier to tell you about that time I waved hi to Meryl Streep, but that moment exists because of the endless hours it took me to research, network, and showcase my talents in the industry.
Whether you know me already or do not, I thank you so much for engaging with my work. As a writer, the greatest joy I get is when I know that someone was impacted by my words. All I can do is share my stories and hope that the impact of my words inspires someone to start their process of becoming…
Author William Samayoa
Marketer by profession and storyteller by passion. L.A. raised, proud Latino, and pop culture enthusiast.