Staff Spotlight: Samy Figaredo
In celebration of returning to the office, we wanted to share this month's Staff Spotlight, Samy Figaredo. Since joining ABC earlier this year, Samy has been integral to cultivating a warm, supportive environment of enthusiastic collaboration. Congratulations to this artist, activist, and cat-parent on moving into his new position as Director of GAP Programs!
NICOLE: What does your activism look and feel like?
SAMY: I feel like there's activism and advocacy, and I do both. My advocacy is a very public-facing, "Here's where I educate people about my community and how they can help" kind of thing. That's where I do public speaking, I work with medical programs as a Simulated Patient, I am also a Transgender, Gender Non-conforming, and Non-binary Inclusivity Trainer at the Ackerman Institute's Gender & Family Project; as well as a freelance consultant with Collaborate Consulting. But it's also important that, while I can bring all of the statistics and evidence I want, I have to emphasize that I am not the definitive voice for trans people, not the definitive voice for people of color, etc. We are not monolithic! This is especially important for me as a light-skinned person of color to use the access I'm given to facilitate other BIPOC getting into the same spaces. One thing I've experienced (especially in non-profit spaces) is that white people will hire me as the "safe" person of color whose ethnicity they can conveniently forget... and the way I feel about it is, if I'm the darkest person in your meeting, you're doing something wrong.
So I see it as a principle to speak up but more importantly, to make space and let other BIPOC speak. I don't think I'm coming in with all of the answers, don't think I'm coming in with a "woker-than-thou" attitude... and one of the reasons I engage in advocacy is that, over the years as an activist, I've learned that this is a way to use my privilege and access as a light transmasc person. For example, when I was tapped to lead a panel on being trans in the entertainment industry, they let me pick my panelists. S I knew, okay, let me get other trans people of color, let me get trans women and non-binary folks on this panel. Not only so their voices are heard, but so that this institution will cut them a check.
"I see it as a principle to speak up but, more importantly, to make space and let other BIPOC speak."
Then, as an activist, I consider that more community-oriented work. It's not the big public speaking stuff, it's the on-the-ground grassroots organizing. Sometimes marching, but often it's even less visible. Sometimes it's just organizing a free dinner for local trans people on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Sometimes it's going out late at night handing out care kits to local sex workers. And it's also about having a personal code of ethics and living those values all the time. If you see a homeless trans person at a rally one day, and the next day they're asking you for some kind of help, and you say, "fuck you, I marched for you yesterday," your activism is bull****. But it's amazing how many people will do that.
I'm also a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, which if you haven't heard of them before, the short version is: drag nuns. My name is Sister Freesia Mind. We look totally ridiculous, but the work is real. My favorite thing about it is the way that people instantly trust you, whether or not they recognize the Sisters. Total strangers have come up to me and confided things that they claim to have never told anyone else, and I hold that really sacred. I've thought about it a lot, and I think it's because the whole look is so out there, it's disarming. And in a way, it empowers other people to talk to us, because there's nothing they can possibly say that is more ridiculous than the way we look. One of my fellow sisters (Sister Dominé Trix, actually) said, "by putting on a mask, you allow others to remove theirs."
"Total strangers have come up to me and confided things that they claim to have never told anyone else, and I hold that really sacred."
NICOLE: What is your relationship with art and artistic practice? What kind of art do you like to create?
SAMY: I mean... not much during the pandemic! I'm an actor, aerialist, singer, puppeteer, pianist, and sometimes dancer. Some of those have gone out the door lately because like, I can't go take a silks class in a pandemic. But I really love storytelling and using my body as a means of conveying stories and the human condition. I'm not very well-spoken, not the best writer, nothing like that. But I do have a body and I can use it to carry other people's stories forward. Theatre is my favorite, even though I have my issues with the theatre industry. Because not only do you have to come up with "theatre magic" and suspend disbelief to create special effects, but because I like being in a room with a live audience and feeling their energy. It makes every show different, even if you're in the middle of a long run. That human element is super important to me.
NICOLE: What are you working on now that really excites you?
SAMY: My boyfriend and I do a podcast called "Housewarming Party!" about how we literally can't have a housewarming party right now, so we just invite people we love on the show to talk... and/or we rant for an hour. We just figured out how to get guests on the show via Zoom and have done episodes on dating during the pandemic and POC in non-profit spaces. I'm definitely going to want to interview everyone at ABC for it.
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NICOLE: How have you supported POC in the last year?
SAMY: One of my personal ethics is to always pay the artists I collaborate with. Another is to reinvest my money in my community. I put both in practice last year while I was developing my solo show, "everyday.", by hiring POC collaborators. (Fun fact: Ianne Fields Stewart, the Founder of The Okra Project, was my dramaturg!) This is especially important to me in theatre, which is still an overwhelmingly white industry. I prioritize collaborating and hiring (and paying) artists of color. While I've been cautious about going out during the pandemic, I have been marching when I can. That's how I began as an activist, and it's where I feel the most comfortable. I can speak as an advocate and that's fine, but I prefer speaking to the community and not for the community... or when marching for a community I'm not a part of, centering their voices and letting them lead without presuming to know better. I've been lucky enough to get some outside consulting contracts even during the pandemic. Especially during Pride, that one time of year where people suddenly remember we exist. I decided to donate the proceeds of my speaking gigs to Black-led organizations for the month of June. Panel/presentation topics included racial justice in trans communities, the history of LGBTQ+ activism, and QTPOC discrimination within the entertainment industry?
"I prefer speaking to the community and not for the community"
NICOLE: What's your favorite quote?
SAMY: “You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed.
NICOLE: Favorite fall treat?
SAMY: Yams with marshmallows and I will fight anyone who says it's gross.
This interview has been edited for length or clarity.