What's In A Name? The Story of AMERICAN NOMAD's Journey

Part of our mission at AMERICAN NOMAD is to share the stories of the items we curate and the artists that create them. To kick-off our series of artist's stories, we thought we would start with our own!

One of the questions I get asked the most is "How did you come up with the name AMERICAN NOMAD?" An immediate thought most people have is pretty straightforward: an American person that travels the world to find some amazing items. However, the name AMERICAN NOMAD is much more personal for me.

The root of AMERICAN NOMAD started while I was a volunteer teaching "English as a Second Language" in Virginia. I met a small group of refugee women that had a cooperative in El Salvador knitting sweaters to earn money and care for orphaned children in their hometown of Chirilagua. I remembered being so drawn to the craftsmanship of the sweaters and then captivated by their story as they were telling me what it was like being a refugee in America, how they learned to knit, what it meant to their community and the challenges for women and children in El Salvador, particularly during the civil war. 

As I drove home every night I would think how becoming an American citizen meant so much to these women and then I would think of my own family. My mother's side of the family is from the Philippines and honestly it wasn't something I thought of much until someone would ask me if I was American. Anyways, I remember sitting up with my Grandmother and Dad one night until about 3:00 in the morning listening to her tell us what it was like living in the Philippines during World War II and the deeply sad stories of her village and my ancestors that were killed during the Japanese invasion. My mother and her family moved to the United States while she was in middle school and I have seen first hand through her what amazing things a person can accomplish in our country with hard work and resiliency. She has been a compass for me that reminds me to never give up and to always have faith in yourself when times are good and bad. And, she taught me to knit!

I began to realize that I took for granted something many people work so hard to achieve; I am an American. I didn't have to earn it, it was something I just got because of the sacrifices of my family before me. I couldn't think of a better way to honor being an American then to be a voice for those that do not have the opportunities that I have for no other reason besides being a woman or poor, disabled, or any number of other labels we place on human beings.

The word "nomad" brings to mind visions of someone wandering the world, but the irony for me is there isn't a single stamp in my passport. While I grew up in a military family (now a military spouse) and have lived many different places in the U.S. and oversees, I have struggled with traveling far from my home for two decades. Similar to the many women we support through AMERICAN NOMAD, I am a survivor too; a survivor of sexual assault. For many years it was something I was ashamed to admit, or even talk about and it manifested into years of panic attacks that became my constant companion and at times a struggle for me to drive across town.

I found myself questioning why it happened, did I do something wrong, am I not a good person? All of the things I used to enjoy doing brought me little happiness and that dark cavern many people find themselves in at some point in their life had me trying to understand the value of my character, the meaning of compassion and the impact of owning my own story. The only thing that brought my mind any peace during that time was to pick up a pencil and draw, or a paint brush, knitting needles, anything I felt like I could create with. I found comfort in a blanket, or painting that I created. They became snapshots of my journey and a reminder of how far I had come, regardless of how seemingly small to others my milestones may be.

the sweater I bought 22 years ago from the women in the Chirilagua cooperative

With each new art form I'd explore I would think of the women at the Chirilagua cooperative, and how something as small as knitting was not only changing my life, but also changing the lives of children in El Salvador. They had transformed a skill that had little value in their modern day culture, but deep roots in their history into a way to help others. Was this something I could do too?  I began to wonder how could a graphic designer with an anxiety disorder bring a bit of that inspiration to others the way the women of the Chirilagua cooperative inspired me? For me, being a nomad isn't about traveling to physical locations, but a willingness to explore yourself and your character. To know that it's OK to be lost on your journey at times. It's about not boxing yourself in to what others may think you aren't able to achieve because of stereotypes or struggles, but about valuing yourself for who you are - it's about being proud of your story. Every step, big and super small.

Whenever I begin to doubt myself I still reach for my sweater made by the women of Chirilagua, but now I also get to wear a bracelet beaded by Maasai tribeswoman, or cuddle under a kantha handmade by survivors of human trafficking. For me they aren't just items, but a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. I hope that our mission and the stories of our artists will inspire others, as they have inspired me, to never let gender, race, personal struggles or social and economic status from making them believe they are a person of value in the world. 

August 11, 2016 by AMERICAN NOMAD