Activist & Artist
"Sonia Erika is an illegal alien who graduated with Harvard's class of 2016. She studied social anthropology, economics, and visual environmental studies (art). She was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. at the age of 6. Sonia realized she was illegal during high school. Since then she's worked with James Franco, BuzzFeed, VICE Magazine, RedMan and MethodMan. Sonia uses art and technology to reframe narratives about being Latinx, female, undocumented, and cannabis."
How does your identity translate through the way you dress?
I wasn't very popular in high school. I was a low-key nerd and misfit who refused to wear the Abercrombie & Fitch all the popular kids in WI seemed to love. The clothes were too tight for my puberty-stricken body, I also couldn't afford them. Being one of the few people of color in my school didn't help my case; I stuck out like a brown swollen sore thumb in the pool of thin white girls. If I was going survive high school, I was going to have to be creative.
Engaging in capitalism and materialism is not an option for everyone. And that's a good thing. 3 ideas have become my foundation for fashion: 1) Men's clothing is madd with materials of higher quality and women's clothing is uncomfortable because it's mostly designed by men who don't consider vaginas or wide hips properly 2) It's harder for people to distinguish your social class when you wear clothes from Goodwill that make you look like a "Bobo," bourgeois bohemian* 3) You are the energy you wear. Sounds easy, but it took a while to get to the give-no-fucks-Steve-Jobs-black-turtleneck-everday level that I'm on right now. For a while, I experimented with tight clothes and sexualization. I was trying to figure out the balance between female privilege and oppression in relation to my reality and social expectations. In attempts to understand this balance, I chopped my hair off freshman year of college after my high school sweetheart told me I looked like Pocahontas, but refused to have sex with me because he was a Jehova's witness. Life was confusing.
I thought chopping off my hair and looking like a boy would release social expectations, make life easier. I identified as a nerd, but people sexualized me. In high school, a classmate thought it was more likely for me to have had already "lost my virginity" than to have been in AP Chemistry. Expectations can feel like a heavy coat you have to wear in the summer. I carried this identity into freshman year of college when everyone in Lionel B, my tiny dorm, heard me having shower sex. Only now that I'm 23 I realize a quarter of my life is almost gone, and life's too short to fulfill everyone's expectations.
I still don't understand, apparently female hormonal beauty expires by the time we get menopause. Magazines and fashion trends make it seem like we stop being the life of the party once we are no longer fresh blood. So I'm still trying to figure out the answer of the equation: how to capitalize on your female existence without falling into the system. It's rough when you want to be Salma Hayek and Bill Gates at the same time.
*Term coined by David Brooks
What is one thing you would like to share about your culture?
We are what we create, experiment. Never let someone else share your story. We must create ourselves, especially in the dichromatic national black vs. white narrative. There's a reason why we are more likely to know about Alton Sterling and Eric Garner than about deaths happening in immigration detention centers. Who gets to speak and tell it how it is? Our current media creates a terror. Fear, there's a cultural history and you could say someone like Trump is evidence. We must keep our eyes open, notice patterns. As far as cannbis, I only opened up to it junior year of college. It's state of legality fascinated me, especially when compared to the state of legality of undocumented immigrants. How is it possible that while a plant becomes legal, people/humans/undocumented immigrants remain illegal? My parents are still illegal, so fuck weed, legalize my mom.
What are you working on now?
I work with a food-technology cannabis start-up, CannamarkUSA. Legalization of cannabis/weed/ganja will happen eventually, but we're going to have to make sure it's safe. Governor Charlie Baker @massgovernor sees edibles as a problem: people don't know what they are consuming, how much, what strain. I agree, and companies like Cannamark can help us. We are working on making cannabis infused edibles safer via on edible labels, that tell you everything from seed to sale: Where the strain came from, amount of THC, amount of CBD.
People can also tune in to Closet-Ed stoner, a podcast, a portrait series that's here to re-brand the stigma associated with cannabis and normalize its use through a world of adventurers, culture curators, and critical thinkers. Unlike already existing media, we have a dominant focus on POC and others in the margins who have been most affected by the war on drugs.
This is what I tell people: You don't have to vote for Hillary, you don't have to vote for Trump, BUT you can vote YES on 4 for cannabis in MA Nov 8th. Compared to white males, Latinos are 4x more likely to be arrested for simple marijuana possession. Black men are 7x more likely, even though all consume the same amount! Share that with your white boy next time he smokes you out!