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Maya and I connect over Zoom this past Tuesday to chat all about breed-specific legislation in PG County, a perfect first date at a Rage Room, imposter syndrome, and photography!
Samuel: Hi, Maya! Thank you for taking the time today. What brought you to the DMV?
Maya: I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg. After college, all of my friends went to Northern Virginia and I followed suit. I bopped around – I was in Baltimore for a year – but I wanted to end up in DC again. I’m more of a city person. Sometimes, a slow life is too slow for me. I enjoy having things close by, public transportation, and not having a long commute.
Samuel: What’s kept you here?
Maya: I’ve built a nice home base and community here. I worked in the restaurant industry for a while and built a family up [there]. My partner is from here, and I’ve built a really solid friend group – which is hard to do in your 30s! But it is that family and community keeping me here.
Samuel: What has your Jewish community looked like? How has that changed or evolved over time?
Maya: That’s actually the newest community that I’ve built [for myself], which is due to the natural arc of my friendships, but also the arc of my Judaism. I identify much more strongly with Judaism now, compared to five, ten, fifteen years ago. The family on my mom’s side identifies as culturally Jewish, but not religiously Jewish. In that sense, I never felt like I found my place in Jewish community because most people I knew were also religiously Jewish, and I didn’t grow up that way. I felt a lot of imposter syndrome, like…I know I’m Jewish, but I don’t speak Hebrew. I know I’m Jewish, but I didn’t have a bat mitzvah.
The past few years have been very crucial for my identity in general. I’m a bisexual woman, I’m a mixed race woman, I’m a Jewish woman, and all of those things took me years to formulate for myself. Three or four years ago, I met my friend Liz; she was really the only other Jewish person in town who I was close with. Just being with another Jewish person, talking about being Jewish, reconnected me. It took me a long time to feel like I had a place in the Jewish community – I didn’t realize how Judaism could look different for everyone – and it’s nice to have that community and group of friends now.
Samuel: What did it take for that imposter syndrome to fade?
Maya: Especially when you’re younger, other people’s perceptions of you shape so much of how you feel about yourself. It’s hard because, within my various identities, I don’t “scream” any of them. I’m mixed race – my dad is Black – but present as white. That’s how I walk through the world in many people’s eyes. From many non-Jewish people, I’ve certainly heard “Oh, you don’t look Jewish.” I hate that experience; it sticks with you, though I also acknowledge that it’s a form of privilege.
My boyfriend is also mixed race and went through some of the same struggles that I did. With talking through different scenarios and experiences with him, I’ve become a lot more comfortable. Like, I’m not embellishing – it’s about what feels true to me, and it doesn’t feel true to me to deny those parts of my identity. It just took me so long to realize that all these identities can look how I want; they don’t have to look like someone else’s life, and that’s true for my Queerness and Jewishness, too.
Samuel: Tell me about your work in dog-related legal and political advocacy.
Maya: For just about two years, I’ve been with PB Proud. It’s all volunteers; we’re all super passionate. Because we are Pitbull-centered and working to repeal breed-specific legislation, we tend to get known as “the Pitbull people.” And, that’s a very important part of what we want to do. But we hope to be there for the community long after the Pitbull ban is repealed. We want to change the picture of what pet ownership looks like, as well as what community and county support looks like for pet owners. I always start with an angle of community advocacy and support. We’re just trying to keep pets with their people.
Samuel: I know you’re also a photographer. How did that come about?
Maya: My mom had done photography. I got interested via her. She always had her camera, so I would play around with it. It ebbs and flows, how much photography I’m doing, but I’m stretching the brain and learning something new every time, which I like. It sounds corny, but I just like capturing moments.
Samuel: What’s something that’s really resonating for you Jewishly right now?
Maya: This is always ongoing, but especially right now: learning about and strengthening the connection between Blackness and Jewishness. It’s important for both communities to support each other, knowing that all oppression is connected and we’re not free until everyone is free. Jewishness is not just one thing; there are Jews of every race and ethnicity, and it’s important for folks to explore that diversity of Jewishness.
Samuel: What does your dream DMV day look like?
Maya: It’s a day I’ve already done; it was my first date with my boyfriend. We started at a Rage Room. They put on System of a Down, and you’re just smashing plates and glasses and computers. It was amazing; much better than, like, an awkward dinner where you’re just sitting with someone. I looked a fool, but got to gauge…this person is okay with me looking nuts!
Then, he took me to Oegadgib in Annandale. We finished at the monuments, but it was dark by then, and I’m going to advocate for that. The monuments are gorgeous at night, and there’s a million fewer people. It was a perfect day.
Samuel: Okay, a few quick ones to close. What are you feeling proud about right now?
Maya: I wish it wasn’t work-related – it’s important to me for work to not be everything – but I got a promotion in August to a position that I’ve really been wanting forever, and it’s a cool combination of my public health skills and hospitality experience, and I’m proud of that work that I’ve been doing.
Samuel: Flip side. What’s something you’re bad at?
Maya: Reading. You know you have those things where you’re like: One day, I’ll be good at that. Reading consistently is one of those.
Samuel: You can have Shabbat dinner with any three people. Who are you inviting?
Maya: Tracee Eliss Ross – a hilarious, talented, Black, white, and Jewish icon. Barbra Streisand, another feminist icon. And Michael Twitty, whose Black, Jewish food is amazing.
Samuel: Last one. When Jews of the DMV gather…
Maya: The world is a better place.
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