We had the good fortune of connecting with Carol J Gomez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carol J, how do you think about risk?
Hmm…. I never really considered myself a “risk taker”. Risk-taking conjures allusions of danger and recklessness.
I fancy myself to be pretty measured – not going mountain climbing anytime soon!
This question you posed, though, has prompted me to consider that maybe “risk” has played a seminal role, but I never quite framed my experiences and choices in that way.
So, I twisted and turned the rubik’s cube to explore “risk-taking” from various points of view eg: from being “in risky circumstances”, to being “at risk”, being “risk averse”, “taking” risks, “making risky decisions”. So, take a little journey with me as I reflect….
Born into a “risky” world
Pre-birth and in my first year with no explicit memory, I began life in a nation at peril. I was born just four months before sectarian riots of May 1969 swept the streets of Kuala Lumpur. My family fled our home for safety to different parts, fearing attacks by people running amok in our neighborhood who were targeting members of minority ethnic groups. A dark time in Malaysian history.
I grew up bearing the battle scars of racism in Malaysia.
Being from the darkest skinned minority group, meant the daily walk,
through battlefields of invisible toxic fumes, landmines, swords and papercuts.
When cruel boys on the school bus, spat venom and monkey sounds, parted the aisle cos I was “dirty” brown.
Go home, child, scrub your skin hard, and maybe, just maybe, the layers of humiliation can be washed down.
The child in me held on to an invisible thread of connection to the struggles of global black and brown kin from the streets of US to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. recognizing its strains in my own country’s screenplay, my own chapters.
Wired for “taking risks”
My ancestors, foremothers, were thrust into the unknown. Marriages arranged and families merged.
Their fears and resoluteness imprinted in my cellular memory.
My migrant parents crossed the Indian Ocean from South India to Malaya
Laid down roots in unfamiliar soil that held them and their citizen-children descendants at arms-length
Just outside the circle of embrace from truly becoming part of the nation’s fold
I embarked on my own migration, at the same age that my mother crossed the Indian Ocean
I left my shores with the fearlessness of youth Eagerly gasping for air, escaping the suffocating confines of racism closing in.
With a reservoir of deftness to anticipate, look ahead, to assess and navigate
My child’s mind had long processed the knack for sensing and survival
to try to avoid being blindsided by the stealthy cloak of white supremacy of the US.
Every moment of my existence has been spinning rainbow yarn in my head
for ways to heal the wounds of racism and social injustice and build solidarity across communities. Well into adulthood, my multicolored tapestry has grown into miles of an endless quilt, rich, colorful, beautiful, collages of community experiences that scaffold and weave together the art and heart of healing, sharing narratives and nurturing leaders.
In this way my being is wired to weather risks for social change.
For that, I am powerful, unafraid, creative, and find juiciness in exploration of mind and heart.
I am compassionate. I am “we”.
My brain is wired to think in community and the good of the community.
for healing, racial solidarity, transformative justice.
In this landscape I take fierce and calculated risks with grit born of emotional muscle memory of growing up that dark skinned, child of immigrants
to never stop fighting for a better world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m the Clinical Director at the Program for Torture Victims and have a small private practice Hearts and Minds Solidarity Counseling, LLC. I’ve been doing trauma healing and solidarity organizing work for over two decades.
I was raised in a “we” community. I was raised in a context and family system that prioritized the good of the community and taking care of community and other. I watched my mother be the “home” for so many people in our community, just quietly and without fanfare and naturally. We didnt’ have much at all, but somehow my mum was able to feed us adequetely and feed anyone who showed up to our home. She was non judgemental, infinitely kind, humble, accepting of anyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity – which looking back on her life, was so radical — and she didn’t even know it. She was my role model.
My motivation to be a healer came from my life long experiences of facing racism and discrimination (individually and communally) and witnessing others on the receiving end of hatred and feeling the pain and frustration and angst of helplessness as a child — and preparing in my mind since childhood survival, escape, resistance and fighting routes to both protect and heal myself and also to protect and heal others who faced /face what I did/do. I find power, strength, even joy in being grounded in social justice, resistance and transformation and I get joy and sustenance in being able to journey alongside someone else going through their own struggles to contain and ignite the inner wisdom and resilience that lies is within them to make it to the other side of that pain.
I’ve learned the importance of being in community while doing this work to keep me sustained for the long haul for social/racial justice and civil rights (both in this country and outside) so I can remain internally resourced for myself and all those around me whom I support, supervise and hold space for.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to? I’d hit breakfast/brunch at The Coffee Company on La Tijera and Sepulveda near LAX Then head on over to The Venice Canals, a lovely hidden gem for an afternoon stroll.
I’d bring my birder friends over to the Ballona Wetlands area to enjoy the waterbirds, or over by Marina del Rey to watch egrets and herons share space with the seal lions sunning on the deck.
If I had a half day to relax — I’d head down toward Torrance/Palos Verdes for a picnic at the South Coast Botanical Gardens is another sweet spot to catch up under the trees or among the roses.
The Getty Museum is always a treat for the immaculate views and grounds and the tram ride up the hill is fun.
For a bit of a macabre experience — the Museum of Death is worth the trip to learn more about notorious serial killers who made global news.
Universal Studios is packed full of entertainment and rides that never get tired. And of course Harry Pottter fans wouldn’t want to miss it.
And it’s feels like such an LA thing to catch live comedy at one of the many performance venues around town.
You’re likely to catch new comics and seasoned celebrities sharing the stage.
Good friends who love Japanese are always treated to the warm rice nigiri experience at Sugarfish, handrolls at Kazunori or a late night artisan ramen at Kanpai always hits the spot — it is beyond superb! Simpang Asia for some hearty Indonesian and Malaysian food, Belacan Grill way down in OC for homestyle Malaysian fare, Pho Show good too for late night comfort noodles. Hours have altered somewhat during the pandemic….so be sure to check ahead of time.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition? always my late mummy, Janet who taught me humility and kindness; my sisters who were born feminist; Sr. Enda, headmistress of my high school in Malaysia – Assunta Secondary School; Marion D’Cruz and Dancers; the late Jean Grossholtz, who was Chair of the Women’s Studies Department, Mt Holyoke College; Kathy Alexander, who was an early wise trainer of the Rape and DV Crisis Response team on the MHC campus; my soul sistahs from MHC and Boston; Incite! Women of Color Against Violence movement and all the radical people who inspire, liberate and continue to break barriers; my team at PTV; the BIPOCQI Therapy and Racial Justice network; the soulful, loving divas of the Diaspora Divas book group; and of course my better half, Mark and our cuddly pets 🙂