Grabbing A Virtual Coffee With Carolina Miller
By Giulia Leo / Staff Writer
Carolina Miller is a JCU student who has just started her second year,currently studying International Relations and Legal Studies. She is actively involved with the Black Lives Matter and Feminist movement and has some pretty outstanding achievements in her curriculum. Not only is she a member of Black Lives Matter Rome, but she also works with Neri Italiani-Black Italians (NIBI), and Women’s March Rome (WMR).
A few days ago, Carolina sat down with me and we grabbed a virtual coffee from the comfort of our respective houses, as we got to know each other a little better. We discussed topics that spanned from social media activism to modeling and she told me about her experience in the fashion industry
“Where are you from?” I asked her, and, as she was telling me more about herself, I couldn’t help being fascinated by her rich cultural background. Her answer was way more interesting than I expected:
“I’ll try to sum it up for you. My mother is Bolivian-Filippino and my father is French and Brazilian,” she said.
“I was born in Brazil. I lived in the United States for a year and a half, then I moved to Costa Rica and lived there for three years. Next came Chile and, after a five-years stay, I came to Italy. I have been living in Rome for almost six years now. However, I feel like I did a lot of growing up in different places, so when people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m not from anywhere… Well, maybe mostly Brazilian.”
You mention activism, which I feel is a very big part of your life. I know you are very active in promoting feminism and anti-racism. Let’s start with the former. How did you get started with the women’s movement?
When I was about 17, Donald Trump was getting elected in the US and the political situation in Brazil was getting intense as well. It felt like everything was coming up all together, and I wasn’t okay with what was happening around me. So I told my parents I wanted to go to a rally, and they said no. Ultimately, what I did was, after the rally was over, I went to a meeting organized by Women’s March Rome, and, from then, I started developing a relationship with them. Eventually, I ended up being one of the leaders of the Women’s March of 2018. That was my first true experience with an organization. It was just really cool, and it truly opened my eyes. I felt very inspired by all of those strong, independent women.
What about the anti-racist movement? How did you become a member of BLM Roma and get to work with Black Italians?
Well, actually, my involvement with BLM is very connected to my experience with WMR.
With WMR, we’ve done activities concerning very different themes that varied every year: they spanned from climate change to immigrants rights. After I had been with them for quite a while, the George Floyd incident happened, and it really caught the media attention, as well as ours. So, not even a week after it happened, we decided we had to do something about it. We had a small George Floyd rally in front of the US Embassy. However, the police intervened and tried to take away our things. They weren’t particularly violent with us, but still, I remember feeling very scared. We had no phones, no IDs, nothing they could identify us with, so, in the end, they just let us go.
That one, however, was a very small rally, and we felt like that wasn’t enough. We were determined to do more. So, we decided to organize a bigger one. We got a permit for Piazza dei Santi Apostoli for about fifty people, but it actually got way bigger. This all happened because, by that time, we started connecting with Neri Italiani, The Sardines, Donne Mamme Migranti, as well as many more organizations and political groups. And all of a sudden, in four days, we gathered over ten thousand people who wanted to join us.
At this point, me and the other organizers already had a roster as well as a list of first-generation Italian people from Neri Italiani who offered to speak. And then, we found this random Facebook event. There was no location, no time. There was just a date, June 7, and a thousand or two thousand people who said they were going. We were like “who is this?” So we contacted the organizers of the event, and this woman, Denise Berhane, reached back to us. She was happy to help us and, with just a Facebook post, she brought all the participants of her event to our rally. It got so big that we actually had to change the location multiple times.
I remember going to the Questura at least five times to get the new permits. But, in the end, we made it, and this is when Black Lives Matter Roma was founded. It actually happened that exact day, June 7.
So it was just a series of beautiful coincidences that brought you together! I can’t help thinking about how social media played such a crucial part in creating this community. Why do you think social media is becoming so indispensable when it comes to promoting change?
Personally, the reason I post so much is because I believe that the most important change is the one within our communities, the one we create around each other, and social media gives us the power to make that change happen. Social media can be used to let other people know that movements like BLM exist, that people are fighting every day for issues like racism, and that we can make a big impact just by listening to what other people have to say.
To make an example, I feel like, in Italy, people don’t really talk about racism. I’d like to say that it’s because racism doesn’t exist here, but that is not the case. It’s just something that is not discussed. There are groups of immigrants and second generation Italians who have been fighting for so long for racial equality, and I had no idea that this many people had been working so hard for all this time. That is what made me understand that there is so much we don’t known and so much we need to learn about.
As we mentioned before, you took part in several BLM protests during the COVID pandemic. First of all, I think you did something very brave (yet necessary) that I, for instance, was too scared to do. You put yourself in a situation where you might have had a bigger chance to contract the virus then if you were, to say, at home. Can you tell me more about the experience of protesting under these unusual circumstances?
The concern about COVID never really left my mind. We, in fact, planned the protest in a big space -Piazza del Popolo, and we got there early, in order to mark the ground with Xs to ensure social distancing. We also made sure people knew they had to wear a mask, or they’d be asked to leave. We had extra masks as well, together with hand sanitizer, and we did our best to ensure safety. Overall, I think we did a pretty good job at that.
What were your feelings during the protests? Were you scared?
I was scared, because it was scary, it still is scary: we are in the middle of a pandemic, and people cannot forget that. That’s why if you were too scared to come out, that’s fine and totally understandable. What really matters is that people do what they can, and if you’re not going to the protests but you’re educating yourself and raising awareness, that is already a great accomplishment.
FASHION AND MODELING
I feel like another very important context in which racism is not discussed enough is fashion. Now, I have to admit that, as I was getting ready for our little chat, I was searching for your name all over the internet, and I found you were mentioned in an article on The Guardian that discussed the issue of lack of inclusivity in the fashion industry. First of all, what a great achievement! Second, tell me more about it!
Thank you! It all began when Stella Jean, a truly incredible woman and one of the few black Italian designers, came to speak at one of our events and we got to meet her. Since then, she got Denise’s number as well as mine, and we kept in contact. One day, I got a message from Denise, asking me to join a video conference as the face of BLM Roma in her place. She didn’t give me many details, she just said it was going to involve Versace and Prada and that I needed to write a speech in English for it.
Wow. That must have been intense! So how did the call go? What did you write your speech about?
It actually went pretty well. Both Denise and Stella Jean were quite worried and, of course, I was too. But I think I did good.
Everyone had a topic, and I happened to have “the new faces of Italy,” so that is what my speech had to be about. In short, I told those big fashion companies that, the moment they posted the black square on social media -as the majority of them did, they were implicitly making big promises about equality and inclusiveness that they couldn’t and didn’t keep. They didn’t really do anything about the issues, and we know that for a fact, since we had people like Stella Jean who looked at the numbers and the analytics and figured out how little those companies actually did to support BLM.
The funny thing was that, as soon as we were all done with our interventions, Stella Jean asked if anyone from the brands who were brought into play wanted to say anything in response. They were dead silent. Nobody said anything but the owner of Off-White and a couple other representatives. The others did’t even have their cameras on. The entire situation was extremely frustrating, and we had to end the call because nobody was saying a word. However, after the call ended, we got an email from one of the brands -we still don’t know, to this day, which one, saying they were sorry that their representative didn’t have a chance to speak, when the truth was that they did get a chance to talk, but decided to stay silent.
I’m still pretty mad about it, but we will have another meeting in February, so we’ll see how that goes.
You’ll have to keep us updated on that! Do you have any personal experience in the fashion or in the modeling industry?
Yes! I did modeling when I was younger. I never did anything really huge, but it was always a lot of fun. But, aside from all of the enjoyment that comes from being in the fashion world -you know, wearing pretty dresses and getting to walk on runways, being a girl who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t look like all the other girls was quite hard for me. They would often be very rude and condescending and they were constantly recommending people to lose weight. So, at a certain point, I just decided to quit.
Would you ever consider getting involved again with fashion in the future, maybe becoming yourself an ambassador of the campaign for inclusivity in the Italian industry?
I think that would be a really cool opportunity, but I also think there are a lot of women that deserve the same chance. It definitely sounds exciting, so maybe, when the right time comes, I may consider it.
I also know that, during one of the protests, you took part into a flashmob, where you performed Jerusalema. I am a lover of the arts—well, I am an English Major indeed—, and I believe that they can be used as a powerful tool to raise awareness on many social and political issues.
Today art is political because it is the expression of a generation that can’t avoid taking a political stance, given the historical moment we are living in. I know you are not only a skilled dancer but also a wonderful singer.
Have you ever thought of using music as another way of spreading awareness on BLM?
I definitely have. I sing and I rap and I try to freestyle, and many of the things I record or write down are political or at least concern activism. However, right now I’m very focused on my academic career, so I’m not paying too much attention to the musical side, even though often find myself giving it a second thought, since I’m surrounded by people who are involved with the music industry. Maybe, I’ll consider it when the right time comes.
Speaking of future, what do you see yourself doing after university? What is your dream job?
I think it’s very stressful when people try to make a goal too specific and then they feel burnt out. I think a lot of activists my age have very precise goals, so, once that objective is fulfilled, they just feel burnt out and don’t how to continue. So, I don’t really have an exact idea. I just know what direction I want my life to take, and I’m just going to work everyday until I figure it out. My story is not written yet.
As we closed the interview, I realized how, from being a relevant activist to excelling in singing and dancing and having experience in the fashion industry, Carolina has truly proven to be what the Greeks would call a polýtropos: literally, a person that turns from many parts. That is why she surely is an inspiration for the JCU community and a demonstration that one can be so many different things at the same time, without the need to fit into boxes.
I thanked Carolina for making herself available for this interview, and we ended the call with the promise to get coffee -in person, hopefully…sometime soon.
Images courtesy of Carolina Miller.