coffee date #38 with julia lopez ramos
Paris native, Montreal grad, badass woman, a-large-cup-of-chai-lover, Bal Ashram volunteer & English teacher, a yoga-on-the-rooftop gal, a spontaneous friend maker
me: chai | julia: chai
location: Bal Ashram, Viratnagar, Rajasthan
Many say that if you have the ability to travel around the world, you should do it because you meet people who will stun you in every which way possible.
Julia Lopez Ramos is one of those people I met unexpectedly at the Bal Ashram. She lives in Paris and had been volunteering at the Ashram for about 2-3 months.
When I first saw Julia, she was unloading something from her cab’s trunk. We both made prolonged eye contact because I hadn’t seen her at the Ashram since I’ve arrived and she hadn’t seen me. I then saw her again, minutes later, at my room. She had been staying at the room next door for the past 3 months. We introduced ourselves to each other and I recognized her name instantly. Many of the boys had told me earlier that ‘Julia Didi’ teaches them English and that they watch Harry Potter during her class. Julia explained that she had left for a few days to do some sightseeing, hence why I didn’t see her the first few days since I’ve arrived.
Julia was incredibly warm, ‘earthy,’ and full of life the first time we met. She created a comfortable space instantly. A day or two later, she brought 3 of her friends to visit the Ashram. She explained that they all met a couple months prior in Jaipur and I was shook because here she was, traveling the streets of Rajasthan alone and still managing to make amazing and talented friends!
“Is the world small or is your circle small?” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
After exchanging a few short conversations with her, I realized that I wanted to delve deeper into her world and thoughts because she is such a badass! Thus, on her last full day at the Ashram, I asked her if she could sit down for a ‘chai’ (because the people of Bal Ashram are obsessed with chai) date with me and she agreed! I loved Julia’s openness to welcoming new people into her life and fully immersing herself into an entirely different culture. She told me that she chose to stay at Bal Ashram for 2-3 months because she wanted to feel it all. She didn’t want to rush her experience; and this speaks volumes about the type of person Julia is.
I am ecstatic to share this coffee date with ya’ll because this one is special (fyi, it’s my first date outside of the U.S. with someone I had quite literally just met). Here we go….
- Bal Ashram and its magic.
Bal Ashram is magical. It is truly a heartwarming and equally challenging place to be at.
It’s heartwarming because every child at the Ashram offers you so much love. They want to include you in everything they do, from their computer classes to flying a kite to sitting next to them while eating to dancing ferociously on the dance floor (my new favorite song thanks to the boys playing it 10 times a day).
It’s also a challenging place to be at because not every day is perfect. Sometimes you’re having a bad day and don’t have the energy to speak to all 100 kids at once. Sometimes the boys are having a bad day and they may lash out or react harshly. Oftentimes it just hits you that many of these boys never grew up within a stable household and were all victims of child labor. It can be taxing.
“The excellence of improvisation and the flexibility of not planning anything and things working out fine. I found that to be such a huge quality to have as a people and culture, in general.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
Aside from the boys, another reason why Bal Ashram is magical is because of the staff and faculty. The teachers at the Ashram are so insanely talented with the boys. They’re patient, compassionate, and understand the psychological effects of trauma. Additionally, they provide volunteers with the space and flexibility to conduct their own classes, events, or activities with the children. Julia mentioned that she noticed this idea of improvising and being so flexible to be a very Indian thing. I agree. Many of the Indians I’ve met are very comfortable with the unknown and are able to turn the unknown into something remarkable in the moment. It’s something that I didn’t realize until Julia explained her observation.
- when do you know you’re doing enough as a volunteer and as an activist?
As a 100 Million intern, one of the things I focus on is creating a space and conversations around mental health for advocates. Advocacy can be grueling and brutal because it requires a lot of our inner strength and emotional work. Many of the people that I’ve conversed with via IG Lives on @100millionusa have stated that they ensure to take time to take care of themselves mentally almost every day because it is impossible to pour from an empty cup; thus, you must fill your own cup first before trying to use your voice for a cause.
Despite having such conversations with people and learning from them, while I’m at the Ashram, I still sometimes feel waves of “Holy crap, I am not doing enough. I am not enough.” Julia explained that she too had that feeling of not doing enough while at Bal Ashram. She answered that for herself by being as present as she can with the boys. Presence is a huge thing in the activist/advocate world. Showing up, doing the work, and using our voices for ourselves and others is the basis of activism, after all.
“I trust that I am doing as much as I can.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
I also liked how Julia mentioned that one way she has measured her feeling of ‘enoughness’ at the Ashram is by gauging how tired she was when she goes to bed. I have been dead exhausted every time I’ve gone to bed while at the Ashram and that, to me, means that I’ve given the boys my undivided attention, love, and care and that’s the best that I could’ve done that day. That is enough. But it’s also important to note that we do not need to feel obligated to stretch ourselves to insane limits every day while we try to fulfill our missions because again, you come first because your cup needs to be full first.
- privilege – what to do with it.
A large part of our conversation revolved around privilege. Julia and I agreed that we’re both hella privileged humans. Thus, I wanted to unpack the idea of privilege and what we can actually do with it.
For example, Julia and I were able to come to Bal Ashram because a) we had some sort of connection to this organization (Julia’s Mom knows Kailash Ji, I work with Anjali Kochar and Morgan Keyt in the U.S.) and b) we both could afford to come to the Ashram (i.e. the plane tickets & the housing costs). This is privilege.
Julia also explained that there should be a large emphasis on what you do with your material privilege and how that builds your relationship with the world.
“For me, it’s just a question of consciousness. If you’re conscious of the privilege you have, then you should act in a way to make the world a more fair, equitable, inclusive, kinder place for everyone who doesn’t have that chance. The problem with not being conscious of your privilege is then you don’t really have a drive to do that.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
Additionally, privilege is very much black and white in a lot of people’s minds. Many may naively believe that privilege means having a crap ton of money, parents, and a huge house. However, lots of people with a crap ton of money may be living in a broken household. Others may have financial privilege, but may have never experiences the love and care a child needs in order to grow. Some may not have any money, but were raised in a loving and caring family. In essence, I think it’s important for people with any sort of privilege to recognize their privileges and do the work to make the world they’re living in a better place. At the same time, I think it’s important for all of us to remember that no one’s life is perfect and no one has their shit together.
- ‘nepo baby’
Nepotism. A rather heavy & ‘doomy’ word.
I see nepotism in 2 different ways:
- It’s terrible that someone, who is already born into a certain position, has a greater ability to reach a particular goal compared to someone who wasn’t born into having access to those resources.
- It (very) mildly makes sense. If my parents were running a family business, it makes sense that they would trust me over an outsider, with the same qualifications, to hand over the business to. This is where consciousness comes in, as Julia mentioned with privilege. If you are a nepo kid, then again, there must be a sense of awareness and consciousness over how and what got you to the position that you are in right now.
Let’s dissect it further.
Julia started by saying that she is a ‘nepotism baby’ and how conscious she is of that fact. I enjoyed the way she broke up this concept for me. Essentially, there are ‘shades’ to nepotism; on one extreme, we have the ‘bad’ shade and on the other extreme we have the ‘good’ shade.
The Bad Nepotism
Honestly, I can’t do justice to this topic by writing about what we talked about because Julia spoke about it in such a powerful way, so listen to a snippet of the conversation below.
We also dissected nepotism in the arts world. Many people claim that they would not have continued to succeed in their career if they didn’t have talent despite coming from a family of artists. However, Julia states that though that is true, they still cannot deny the fact that they have the “know how.” These folks inherently have a higher starting point than the other folks.
“Even if you are talented and even if you’re not using ‘daddy’s money’ and even if you’re not using ‘daddy’s contacts,’ you’re still using his ‘know how’ – how to talk to people, when to talk to people, who to talk to first. All of these are illicit and insidious rules that other people do not have access to.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
Julia explained the different types of capital that the Founding Father of French Sociology came up with. He developed a theory on the types of capital (i.e. material, social, cultural) that one can possess. Even if the person is not using the money or the contacts, they’re still using the cultural capital which is all of the “illicit rules that people who do not have the transmission through family don’t have.” Thus, it is still unequal and unfair and creates a system that continues to uplift those with the family transmission and oppresses those without the family transmission.
The Good Nepotism
Julia explained the ‘good nepotism’ to me by using Bal Ashram and Kailash Ji as an example.
Kailash Satyarthi is a 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate for his fight to ensure every child is free, safe, and educated. He is also the founder of many social activist organizations likes the Bal Ashram Trust. Julia mentioned that Kailash Ji’s daughter is also a child rights activist who works in the same realm as her father and does similar work for the various organizations that her father founded.
“These type of dynasties you never really hear of. Nepotism, as any big concept in the world, has so many different shades. I think we can be in the shade of ‘good.'” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
In conclusion, nepotism is a big daunting word that has several aspects to it and I currently do not have a concrete answer for it.
“I am not going to cater to your insecurities just because my life is cool.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
Everyone, let’s take a minute to applaud this queen. I freaking loved it when Julia said that ^^^ out loud.
The type of arrogance we talked about stemmed from our own life experiences that were a result of our privilege. Julia noticed that many of the people she was hanging out with previously were always surrounded by the same people in the same city. Thus, she described that her life may be more ‘marketable’ than those folks (‘more marketable’ does not necessarily mean traveling across the world; it means being open to new experiences and new people). In comparison to those acquaintances, who had the same amount of privilege and ability to welcome these experiences, Julia felt as though she was being arrogant when speaking about her life experiences because she met people from different places at different times and welcomed new thoughts and ideas. She explained that that is not necessarily arrogance; it’s moreso a worry that you are overselling yourself. Revolutionary.
“I am more triggered, annoyed, and worried about underselling yourself, especially as a woman, than overselling yourself. I want to be surrounded by women who are like ‘I am the shit and I can do this.'” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
When Julia spoke about the concept of confusing overselling with arrogance, I realized that I may need to do some reflecting. Every time I feel like I’m being an arrogant ass, maybe it’s just me selling myself. This process may seem uncomfortable because women are so often oppressed and told that they aren’t enough; so when they finally do speak about themselves and share their experiences, it may feel as though it’s arrogance. However, maybe it’s just us living our life & speaking our truth. Woah.
Where do we draw the line between overselling and arrogance though? (to be continued….)
- ‘who do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror?’
“I fully frontally see myself. Sometimes I see little Julia. I am comfortable with my relationship with my reflection of myself.” – Julia Lopez Ramos, 2023
I immediately thought of something I read somewhere when Julia answered this question. The piece said that many women tend to shy away from staring at themselves for too long in the mirror because they’re afraid they’re being self-conceited. Yet agin, this is society’s conditioning playing into a woman’s day-to-day life.
Julia further instilled in me that vanity should not be something to shy away from. Women are so much more than their appearance. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to dismiss our appearance altogether. It’s okay to think that we’re beautiful both externally and internally. You deserve it cutie.
In 2023, I pledge to be slightly more vain, oversell myself and not confuse it with arrogance, and seek for more spontaneous connections with people across the world 🌎 Ready for ya 2023.