Naomi is a multi-disciplinary creative based in Los Angeles. She is passionate about cultural journalism, community building & carving out space for voices of color. She is dedicated to cultivating belonging, healing and growth for marginalized and underrepresented communities, mostly through writing, research, interviews, and art & culture-based work.
Below, we had the opportunity to chat with Naomi to celebrate the women and their stories in her life.
Who in the generations before you serves as inspiration in your life?
My dear aunt, Nita Joshi, passed away in February of 2022. She has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration in my life as a matriarch of my family. Strong-willed, warm-hearted, worldly and bold. Her leadership qualities always shone bright - from fearlessly standing up to the boys and being appointed vice-headgirl in school, to being the co-founder of her own media company. People always felt drawn to her, they leaned on her for support, and her clients at work absolutely adored and respected her. She was nurturing and wise, yet disciplined, forthright and meticulous. But most of all, she was a badass. At her company she hired ONLY women and in school they called her “junkie” because of her rambunctious laugh. When I close my eyes and I think of her, I can still hear it - as roaring and infectious as ever.
What lessons have you picked up from them, re: style, intuition, spirit in life?
Nita guided me through conflict and heartbreak with honest advice and personal anecdotes. It felt like a gift to receive her attention - always sensible, always thoughtful, always caring. She could see right through me. And sometimes, I reached out to her only to be reminded of what I already knew. She was my counselor, and she was that to so many others as well, whether through fecund conversation or even through the tarot card readings she so generously offered me in times of need. Nita taught me care - she attended to my aaji and aajoba (grandparents) as if they were her own parents, and she was beside each of them when they passed. She taught me that it’s never too late to find your peace, especially as someone who moved into spirituality (meditation & meeting her guru) only about 15 years ago.
When it comes to Nita’s taste and sense of style, she believed that less is more. Shopping with her through the streets of Bombay or London are some of my favorite memories - from gold anklets, bangles and toe rings to modern linen blouses with traditional Indian designs and striking pink winter coats. She had an eye for the beauty in simplicity. In the years I spent with Nita, I learned that laughter can fix anything, that forgiveness is almost always the answer, and that people will show you who they are if you just pay close attention. She taught me that there is power and liberation in being disliked. And that one’s intuition can lead you to discover the depths of yourself. We’d often look at the clock and see our angel numbers. I’d send her a message: “22:22”. And now, everytime I see 11:11, I know my angel is there with me.
What stories have been passed down to you over time, as part of your familial legacy?
My aunt grew up all over the world and spoke many languages. She saw and connected with each part of me - the South Asian, the European, the American, and I know it’s because she viscerally understood the identities of difference. Born into a family where her father was a member of the Indian Foreign Service, they lived overseas all through their lives. Although she was born in Delhi as the youngest of 3 sisters, Nita moved to Poland when she was 3 years old and first language was actually Polish! They then moved on to Canada, and at the age of 9 she was sent to boarding school in India, which she actually hated as the baby of her family who was very attached to her parents. Ultimately, India is where she met the man she loved and later married, my uncle Harshad (my father’s brother), although they didn’t converse or engage much initially due to their age difference. At 17, Nita moved to Bogota, Columbia where she learned fluent Spanish and started teaching English at an International School for about 4-5 years. From a young age, Nita was known for her strong sense of independence, something I am known for in my family as well. I’ll never forget the way her eyes lit up when she told me about how her heart yearned for Columbia, and how much she missed speaking Spanish. The love and comfort she found in other cultures and geographies has perhaps been inherited by her children - one lives in London, the other in New York City. And it lives on in me as I carry her with me when I travel and visit the many places she was happy to call home.
Why is storytelling so important to you? How do you use it to amplify your voice and those in marginalized communities?
The art of storytelling allows me to create an archive where one doesn’t exist. I feel compelled to write down the stories of my ancestors, those I am a descendant of, because otherwise, the generations to follow won’t know their legacies, or who to celebrate, who to commemorate, who to miss. We must remember the tales of our pasts and understand how they relate to our presents and our futures. Nita’s family came from a part of Punjab that became a part of Pakistan during the first, despotic Partition of India in 1947. Because they are Hindu, her family was forced to flee and find refuge in India where they initially faced persecution because they were mistaken as Muslim, due to the way they dressed. Migration, whether forced or otherwise, has been a part of Nita’s story long before she was born, and it continues to be a part of her story through the lives of her children. Only through storytelling does this thread become visible, and only through visibility do we become a part of the world’s history. That is why I write - to document these threads, to bear witness, to remember.
What practices help you to stay connected to yourself, and find presence during your day to day?
A couple of years ago, I was suffering from chronic panic attacks over a period of about 6 months to a year. I became so disassociated from both the external world and my own body that I was desperately seeking out ways in which I could reconnect with myself. I turned to Nita who taught me meditation and mindfulness techniques which I still practice today to help ground me. I’ve always struggled to meditate but I learned from her that meditation is relative, and as long as you’re taking a moment to focus on your breath and detach from the noise, you’re doing it right. I don’t know how I would've survived that year without her. And I don’t always know how to move on without her. But I feel unimaginably blessed to have known her, to have loved her and to remember her. She’s there.