Elliot & Ariane

  • Elliot & Ariane, Philadelphia, PA

“I definitely feel that growing up being able to drive down the street and say this is where your great-grandmother entertained Paul Lawrence-Dunbar and Langston Hughes, is so awesome.”

Elliot:

How did we meet? It was kind of just like a casual happy hour meeting, and then we realized that we were competing together in the Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant. Which I’d competed in a couple of times before.

Ariane:

This one over here won Miss Teen Pennsylvania USA back in 2008.

Elliot:

At a pageant scene there are probably like a handful of girls of color, so I think we kind of started leaning on each other. You have to support each other in that type of environment. There are only your typical white girls, blonde hair. Then us drops of color.

Ariane:

It can get crazy. When we made the top fifteen and were backstage, we had our own little beach party. Elliot was listening to this music I loved and I was like, “We can be best friends.”

Elliot:

That’s how we met. Philly culture is so much different from every other part of the state, I think. Pittsburgh has its ways and rural Pennsylvania in the middle is different from most of the country. Really, it just does its own thing. I’m originally from Ohio, and lived in Pittsburgh and now Philly.

Ariane:

I was born and raised here. Together we make quite the duo in Philadelphia. My family is from Puerto Rico. They came over, my mom’s side, through Brooklyn when my grandparents were about twelve. Then, they had my mom in Brooklyn and moved the family down here. I don’t know why they decided to come to Philly. I know that they all moved into the same house, or row of houses, on Green Street. If you go down there, it’s a historic landmark now. It looks like you just drove into a section of Puerto Rico for one block of Philadelphia. It’s sick. Four of them still live there. It’s definitely mixed now. I don’t really remember it being anything other than where my family lived when I was younger. It’s called the Spanish Village, so it felt Spanish. My dad tried so hard every Sunday to give me Spanish lessons, and I just refused. It’s terrible. I was like, actually I’d rather go to French school, so I did that. Then I started speaking Spanish when I was in high school and now we can all speak to each other. I just tend to respond in English, which they don’t appreciate. For my mom, it was actually frowned upon for her to speak Spanish. Her parents were like, “Uh-uh. You need to learn how to speak English. You need to assimilate.” So she didn’t necessarily want to teach me, but my dad was like, “No, she has to learn.”

Elliot:

Ohio is very different. When I was growing up, I think that everyone was pretty much black or white. I remember in third grade this girl named Diyah. Her family was Mexican. They moved in, they were going to same school as me, and it was like such a whole new world. Now that I’m older I know that they weren’t “legal.” I remember one time trying to look for her phone number in the phone book, and my mom said, “No. Her number’s not going to be in there.” I was like, “What do you mean? Everybody’s number is in the phone book. It’s the phone book.” It’s still very much middle America there. Now that I live in Philadelphia, it’s so crazy to think that for so long I was really growing up in a city where you were black or you were white.

Ariane:

Yeah. It just didn’t play out that way for me. I grew up down here, and I went to school at Greenfield, and it was just so mixed. When I was about twelve my parents moved me out to the suburbs, and it was so white and so Jewish. There was almost a fear of coming into a Philadelphia that I didn’t even understand. They were like, “Mmm-mmm. Bad things happen in Philadelphia.” It was strange, and I appreciate being back so much more having seen how other people view Philadelphia. This is what I really feel is true Philadelphia.

I did actually have a conversation with my grandmother about why she felt the need to assimilate, two years ago. My grandmother left school very early, as a lot of her siblings had to do when they came over to the States. She felt like there was a need for education that she didn’t receive, and one of the ways that she felt her children would show that they were educated was by speaking English, speaking it well, and not having an accent. So that was important to her. The way to assimilate, to her, was to not have your children have any sort of Spanish in their system. Our culture was very strong, but the language wasn’t. Now it is very, very strong. Everyone speaks Spanish again, except for my little cousins, now that I think about it. But they are very little.

Elliot:

It was very important to my grandmother, my mom’s mom, for us to know our history. My family has actually been in Ohio since before it was a state. It was very important to my grandmother to she find out a way to document our history back to 1802. Now there’s a historic landmark in Montgomery County for her. That’s kind of how it got started. My mom is very adamant that when I get married and have children one day, that I go back to Ohio to continue the legacy. She’s like, “It’s been ten generations of this family in Ohio, you can’t break that.” You can go back to 1802 before Ohio was a thing. You kind of have to keep that going. That’s my mom’s side of the family. Then her father, his family was born into slavery in Alabama and eventually also he came back to Ohio.

My grandmother and mother have so much history that they have passed down, it’s insane. My great-grandmother was a poet. I guess because she had access to so much operating in that space that she was able to keep it all together. Now that I’m older, I value the fact that I can go to my grandmother’s safety deposit box and pull out hand-written birth certificates of people from hundreds of years ago. It’s something I just thought was so crazy when I was a kid. Actually, I was like, “Why do we have to learn this? Why is this always a dinner conversation?” Now that I’m older, I love knowing it all. I definitely feel that growing up being able to drive down the street and say this is where your great-grandmother entertained Paul Lawrence-Dunbar and Langston Hughes, is so awesome.

Ariane:

My mom has been trying to get deeper into her roots, but her father passed away before I was born and she didn’t have much connection with him. So her only family history is what her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother know. All I know is when my dad’s side of the family came over from France. I actually got to meet some of my cousins when I was studying abroad in Paris. There is French lineage in my family as well. My cousins in France told me that our name is associated with an island, Guadalupe, and then there was a small percentage that went to Puerto Rico and then a lot that went back to France. They’re still there, and we’re here, and we have Facebook to connect us. That’s all we have. I think more than specific things passed down to us is a sense of what family is and what it means to be part of a family. It feels special. I just didn’t feel like other kids growing up felt really part of something.

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