Meet Sheila V. and Philip O. This gorgeous couple met six years ago while in college at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. They bought a home together two years ago, adopted a pup named Pinta one year ago, and will be getting married in 2020.
At this big moment in their lives, we talked to Sheila and Philip about cultural identity, their experiences with racism, and what they’ve learned from each other as a couple.
“Sheila and I share similar life experiences and our cultures overlap in many ways. This allows us to relate to each other through nuances and experiences in our everyday lives.” - Philip O.
Shea Brand: Can you tell us about your cultural heritage and how that has shaped your identity?
Sheila V: “I’m Mexican-American and strongly identify with being Mexican. Spanish was my first language and, up until high school, I thought I would end up living in Mexico. It wasn’t until I entered college that I started to identify more with being Latina. I love my heritage and feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Philip O: “I’m African American and as I get older that sense of identity has morphed over time. What has always stayed with me is a strong sense of resilience.”
Shea Brand: What role does your skin color play in your life? How does racism affect you?
PO: “Because of past negative assumptions people have made about me and micro-aggressions I have experienced, when I enter new surroundings where few or none of the other people there look like me, my reaction is to look inward as I’m not 100% sure where I stand in those settings. It feels like I can be in a sort of gray space, which causes me to be more hesitant and take more time warming up to new people.”
SV: “I was lucky to grow up in diverse Northern Virginia where I had a diverse group of friends, so I can only remember a few instances of racism. A white guy I was seeing in college thought it was derogatory to call me Mexican, which made me wonder how Mexican people were portrayed in his and other people's lives. However, I have always been well aware of racism that my family faced as immigrants. My Dad shared that once after a flooring job, he and his coworker went to a restaurant where they asked them if they were going to be able to pay for their meal before they were seated. I know there were many other instances like that but my Dad has always stayed positive and resilient.”
“Philip has further opened up my eyes to systemic racism and the everyday things he experiences - like people being surprised at how articulate he is. Experiencing and learning about this through our relationship has taught me to be more skeptical.”
SB: As a couple, how do you show up for each other when things get tough?
SV: “When comments & things we notice during our day affect us or others, we talk a lot about it together. We always remind ourselves to be empathetic, be the bigger person, and understand that there are nuances. I know that if I said something insensitive, I would want someone to educate me & recognize my intentions rather than yell at me. That’s what we remind ourselves to be.”
SB: What lessons have you learned from being together?
PO: “Being with Sheila has taught me just how big & complex this world is. We’ve traveled a lot together and I’ve been able to see how different people share the same values & culture of my own. One thing that’s really stuck with me since we’ve met is that people only know what they know, they’re invested in their own individual world, and that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you.”
SV: “I agree with Philip. The more experiences you have with different kinds of people, the more normal it becomes to be accepting of them. I hope that mine & Philip’s relationship contributes to normalizing mixed-race relationships among our families and encourages them to openly interact with others outside of their race in general.”
SB: You recently bought a home together. Can you talk about the importance of this milestone in your lives?
SV: “Buying a home has always been a goal of mine. In college, I saw the difference that intergenerational wealth made for my friends who were fortunate to have it. They got fancy family vacations, inheritance, parents with secured retirements, and the most important gift of all; a financial education at home that leads to continued wealth. Being a first-generation American from a family that started from scratch here, I didn’t have that. We lived in apartments with other people from my family’s hometown in Mexico, rented out a basement, a trailer, and finally, a single-family home. It was important for me to take the baton from our parents and continue building our foundation of intergenerational wealth."
PO: “I grew up in apartments my whole life. My Mom was in the Navy so we moved around a lot. Because of that, buying a home wasn’t one of my immediate goals, but Sheila’s drive to own a home has really made me think about the importance of having something to provide additional financial safety and hand down to our children.”