A connection is “a relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else.”
At the start of the pandemic, the world connected through the shared practice of sheltering in place and keeping your distance. That if we must leave our homes or interact with others, we need to wear a mask to reduce the spread. Simple. Easy. Not that hard. However, mask life and pandemic living made me (for the first time in a long while) stay still. An idea that seems easy but is one of the hardest things to do. At least for me.
Traveling is my escape from stillness. You learn early on if you live abroad to plan your year of travels for every break, conference, and visit home. Now here I was, sitting in stillness in my adopted country with no plans to leave anywhere any time soon.
So I sought connection through other ways, and mine was through my masks.
It started as just a fashion statement. A fat girl who loves to travel has a hard time finding clothing and things that fit when you’re in different countries. So my souvenirs became accessories. A pair of earrings from Pakistan, a scarf from Italy – wonderful ways of connecting my memories to my experiences whenever I put them on. Finding masks with different colors and styles is not that difficult. But for me, this wasn’t enough. I needed to seek connection in a deeper way.
Face Masks Beyond Fashion
I was connecting my masks to my fashion, but I could not ignore that my blackness, my womanhood, my faith, my citizenship and my individuality were all under threat at home in the US. Although the stories of womxn and men like Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury and George Floyd were nothing new to my existence, the pandemic caused the world in its stillness to connect to the message that all womxn and men were indeed not created equal.
In my stillness, I had to come to terms with the precarious crossroads of American privilege overseas and my lack of freedom and means if I were at home. The same decisions and opportunities to cross the water almost ten years ago were the same reasons I chose to stay in my adopted home during this pandemic. I needed my masks to connect to my identity, community, activism, and blessings of my outer life.
To channel my energy, funds, and choices, I had to come up with a bit of criterion:
- Locally owned companies that support womxn and children in some way in the Middle East.
- Black or womxn of color owned businesses in the US.
- Orders that were easy to pay and deliver internationally.
- A company that gives something of its proceeds back in some way, either through money or masks.
I started small. My first masks were sold to me by Filipina cleaners who lost their jobs during the pandemic in Abu Dhabi. It evolved locally to a vendor whose masks went to the Red Crescent, an humanitarian aid agency based in the GCC. It grew to black-owned companies in the states that gave masks to frontline workers for free and eventually evolved into political statements related to the current issues back at home, specifically created by Black and Indigenous Womxn of Color.
Community Activism Through Face Masks
Instead of wearing an accessory linked to a story about a trip, my masks became education and activism pieces to my colleagues and friends. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but every time someone asked me, “where did you get your mask,” my answer is more about the cause, the belief, and the connection.
For me, my masks became a small way to connect my homesickness and anger to supporting a cause that I am part of my birthright, passport, and opportunity.
For me, my masks stopped being about a fashion accessory, but more so a way to speak my mind without having to say a word.
For me, it is the way I have chosen to connect to my community and a way to have “a relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else.”
Just a few of Christina’s face masks (left to right). First Row – Created by out of work Filipina cleaners in Abu Dhabi. UAE unity mask. Mask from Taylor Jay Collection. Row 2- Heart for Lebanon fundraiser mask, remaining masks from Diop. Row three: Breonna Taylor and RBG masks from Ashley Nell Tipton, final mask and shirt from Legendary Rootz.
By Christina mcdade
Christina McDade is a writer, school counselor, social worker and a Spotify playlist curator who still plays Angry Birds and Candy Crush. Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Christina has lived abroad, primarily in the Middle East for almost 10 years. You can follow her on Twitter, Clubhouse and Medium @mscdmcdade