Grabbing A Virtual Coffee With Carolina Miller
By Giulia Leo / Staff Writer
Carolina Miller is a second year student majoring in International Relations and Legal Studies at John Cabot. She is actively involved with the Black Lives Matter and Feminist movements and works with Black Lives Matter Rome, Neri Italiani-Black Italians (NIBI), and Women’s March Rome (WMR).
A few days ago, Carolina and I grabbed a virtual coffee from the comfort of our respective houses. As we sipped on our hot drinks, we talked activism, social media, modeling, and fashion.
Carolina is a polyhedric person, an individual of many turns, or polýtropos in the words of the Ancient Greeks. Her multifaceted persona is the result of many factors, starting from her varied cultural background.
“Where are you from?” Was one of my first questions.
“I’ll try to sum it up for you,” she said. “My mother is Bolivian-Filipino and my father is French and Brazilian. I was born in Brazil. I lived in the United States for a year and a half, then I moved to Costa Rica for three years. Next came Chile and, after a five-year stay, 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 just say I’m from everywhere.”
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 elected President 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. They said no. However, they allowed me to attend a meeting organized by Women’s March Rome (WMR). That was when I started connecting with the members of the organization. Eventually, I ended up being one of the leaders of the Women’s March of 2018. That was my first true experience with a feminist organization. It was really cool, and it truly opened my eyes. I felt very inspired by all the strong, independent women I met.
What about the anti-racist movement? How did you become a member of BLM Roma and get to work with Black Italians?
My involvement with BLM is closely tied to my experience with WMR. Every year, WMR organizes activities dealing with themes that span from climate change to immigrants rights. After being with them for quite a while, the George Floyd incident happened, and it really caught the media attention, as well as ours. Not even a week later, we decided 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.
But that was a very small rally, and we felt like it wasn’t enough. We were determined to organize a bigger event, so we got a permit for Piazza dei Santi Apostoli for about fifty people. At the same time, we started connecting with Neri Italiani, The Sardines, Donne Mamme Migranti, as well as many other organizations and political groups. This is how, within less than four days, our event went from counting fifty people to over ten thousand participants. 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 happened the same day as the protest, June 7th.
Can you tell me more about the experience of protesting under the unusual circumstances of COVID-19?
The concern with COVID never really left my mind. We planned the protests in big spaces like 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 it’s important to understand that some might be too scared to come out, that’s fine and totally understandable. What really matters is that everyone does 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
Another context in which racism is not discussed enough is fashion. You were mentioned in an article on The Guardian on the lack of inclusivity in the fashion industry. Tell me more about it.
Grabbing A Virtual Coffee With Carolina Miller: Student Spotlight.docx
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. On that occasion, she got my number, and we kept in touch. One day, I received a message from Denise Berhane, the co- founder of BLM Roma, asking me to join a video conference in her place. She didn’t give me much detail, she just said it was going to involve Versace and Prada and that I needed to write a speech in English for it.
During the call, 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 promises about equality and inclusiveness that they couldn’t and didn’t keep. The funny thing is, as soon as we were all done with our interventions, Stella Jean asked if any of the brand representatives wanted to say anything in response. They were dead silent. No one said a thing, with the exception of the owner of Off-White and a couple other representatives. The others didn’t even have their cameras on. The entire situation was extremely frustrating, and we had to end the call because no one was uttering a word.
Do you have any personal experience in the fashion or in the modeling industry?
Yes! I did modeling when I was younger, mostly for fun. However, 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 little girl who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t look like all the other models was quite hard for me. They would often be rude and condescending and they were constantly recommending people to lose weight. This is why I decided to quit before the environment became too toxic.
Would you ever consider getting involved again with fashion in the future, maybe becoming yourself an ambassador 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 will consider it.
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. Not only are you a skilled dancer, but you sing as well. Have you ever thought of using music as another way of spreading awareness on BLM?
I definitely have. I sing and rap and I try to freestyle, and many of the things I record or write are political. However, right now I’m trying to make my studies my priority, and I’m not paying too much attention to the musical side. I’m not going to lie, I often find myself giving it a second thought, since I’m surrounded by people who are involved with the music industry. Who knows, my future is not written yet.
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. A lot of activists my age have very precise goals, so, once that objective is fulfilled, they just don’t how to continue. So, I don’t really have an exact idea. 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 polýtropos: literally, a person that turns from many parts.
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.