Featuring Denise Diaab
Denise Diaab is a writer who is striving to live her life in such a way as to be a channel of God’s grace. Ms. Diaab says her primary legacy is her four children and three grandchildren. She is working on her first book, Buen Camino: Getting to St. Jean Pied de Port, in which she shares stories of personal growth, transformation and synchronicity in preparing for her 500-mile pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago. She finished her Camino journey on June 22, 2016 after thirty-three days of walking.
We had the opportunity to interview author Denise Diaab, whose essay “The Road to El Camino” appears in All the Women in My Family Sing. This is what we learned…
What inspired you to write your essay for this anthology?
When I travel, I send postcards to myself to remind me of the places I’ve visited. On the last night of my trip to Greece, I sat down and wrote a letter to include with the postcard—news about my hiking adventures and how very grateful I was to finally experience the trip of my dreams. I also wrote about my excitement about meeting Rick who gave me information about El Camino de Santiago. As I sat on the bed writing, I laughed at myself—not home from one trip and already planning another one.
Several weeks after I returned home, the letter from Greece arrived in the mail. I began to reading it and my eyes watered. As I read the familiar script through the tears, I could hear a voice say, “Just think Denise, you almost didn’t go.” But I did go. I had mustered the courage to make Denise a priority instead of everyone else.
As I continued to read my letter, I not only realized how much the trip to Greece meant to me, I also realized how very important it was for my spiritual growth and development. I had thought I was motivated by the fear of regret about missing my Greek adventure. However, the letter helped me understand that I was motivated by the fear of not having any regrets about the choices I made about my life.
What I experienced as I read my letter from Greece was so powerful I sat down that day and wrote about it. A few months later, a dear friend told me about the call for submissions for the anthology. When I read the description of the submission requirements, I immediately thought of the essay I wrote about my Greece experience. So I pulled it up, made a few edits, and submitted it. As they say, “the rest is history.”
What is one of the most memorable challenges you’ve experienced as a woman of color in the twenty-first century?
First, I feel taxed and discounted when others do not see past my skin color to see me for who I really am. When I receive comments from people of the dominant culture such as, “You’re so articulate … intelligent … organized … reliable, etc.,” I generally discover that the person who thinks they have just given me a compliment actually had low expectations regarding my abilities and performance (based on my color) and was therefore surprised that my performance and level of competency far exceeded those expectations.
Secondly, I have been very frustrated when blatant poor performance of people of the dominant culture is not merely accepted, but also protected. I was in a work situation where I was the supervising project manager and a poor performer was assigned to me. My boss told me that “we” needed to help this person develop. Throughout the year I coached this person and counseled them about their performance. At the end of the year when I recommended that they receive a rating of “below expectations” on their performance evaluation because they had not improved (and didn’t seem at all interested in improving), my boss told me “we” could not give them that rating because “people really like them!” Yet my boss had no problem writing in my evaluation a criticism regarding me not completing an assignment that he and I had agreed would be delayed because he had assigned me another project that he deemed a higher priority. When I called it to his attention, he agreed to remove the critical sentence from my evaluation and thereafter he refused to write any comments in my future evaluations, either positive or negative!
Lastly, when I was traveling in Spain on the Camino, I began to realize the damage I have endured and lived through as a person of color in a racist society. Since I was a single woman traveling alone, I was a little nervous about whether I’d find accommodations at the end of each day, so I started calling ahead to make reservations. After a few days, the thought came to me that I had really been making reservations because I was afraid that if I showed up without one, people might turn me away because of the color of my skin. If they talked to me on the phone, they couldn’t judge me based on how I looked. There I was in a foreign country expecting to be judged by my skin color first because of my experiences of growing up in this racist society.
Give an example of women’s roles in today’s social justice movement.
The three women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi) are good examples of one way that women can participate in today’s social justice movement. Michelle Obama used her influence as First Lady to advocate for military families and fight against veteran homelessness. Both of these examples call attention to people very prominent and visible. Thelma Hoddison hasn’t made headlines, but she works as a volunteer for the Get On The Bus program to ensure that children are able to visit their parents who are incarcerated.
What have your experiences been in leadership as a woman of color?
In my career as a project manager and supervisor for major public utilities, I led teams that provided data to state regulatory agencies. I also led teams that provided data to independent national industry consortiums. I felt my biggest contribution was my integrity and commitment to producing an accurate work product. I sometimes had to challenge longstanding reporting methods that were not consistent with the reporting requirements. In the end, my company was recognized for the quality and accuracy of the data it provided under my leadership. I believe my experiences as a woman of color gave me the strength to stand up for what I knew was right, even when others did not want to hear it.
I’ve also had leadership roles in organizations in my community and church. As a Girl Scout Troop Leader I was influential in developing the character of young girls, serving as a role model for my own daughter and two girls of color in a troop of 25 girls. In addition to Troop Leader, I served on the Board of the Greater Long Beach Girl Scout Council and the Lakewood YMCA.
I was the Co-Leader of the Get On The Bus team for my church. We are responsible for fundraising that helps defray the transportation and meal expenses for children to visit their parents in the men’s and women’s prisons in California. We also help support the application process and act as chaperones for minor children who do not have an adult to accompany them on the trip.
I am currently in the Master’s of Divinity program at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?
I hope readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the women in their own lives who risk singing their songs and that the book helps to open their hearts so that they will encourage and affirm those who have yet to sing.