There are a ton of things that make me unique. I think I can mostly thank my mom for that. Mom followed an American norm with parenting for the most part. She packed our square cartoon-themed lunch kits with salami sandwiches on wheat bread smothered in mustard and a colorful fresh fruit salad consisting of kiwi, strawberry, cantaloupe, and grapes for dessert. As a result, the amount of artificial, cancer causing flavors in our boxed juice drinks didn’t come close to threatening our physical health. Mom cleaned our bums and ears and never forgot to schedule our regular dental and physical checkups.

But the best gift my mother kept on giving was the exposure to arts and culture. She had an inquisitive mind, and that inquiring mind led us to various diverse events in the community. My eyes met The Nutcracker Suite at a gentle age of 3, and I strolled—in my stroller—through the crowds of Artscape, the largest free arts festival on the east coast. The latter was perhaps my first love. I fell in love with the fashion shows, foreign dance performances at the Lyric, short plays at the Theater Project, and the sweet acoustic sounds of live bands that filled the humid summer air. We saw other cultures as parallel to our own by attending the Korean festival, Greek festivals, Indian Pow-wows, and much more. Our minds weren’t allowed to rest. Mom signed us up every summer for the book reading contest hosted by the Baltimore County Public Library system. The fall brought exciting feats too. The Sankofa African dance company performed at the Baltimore Museum of Art every year the Friday after Thanksgiving.

My brother and I are children of the 90s, so Nickelodeon, Nintendo, and music videos were constants in our juvenile lives. Our worldly connection consisted of riding bikes, playing made up games, doing homework on wide ruled loose leaf paper, and a lot of other voluntary and involuntary activities. But interestingly, our escapades to artistic and cultural events built a haven for our young cooking brains to develop with season, to grow our minds with flavor. When the clutter of earth bound events became uninteresting, we had the promise of escaping to an otherworldly dimension through creativity and exploration. We learned to replace judgment with understanding, to define enigmatic as original, and to be unafraid of unconventional ideas and methods. Because of mom’s personal agenda to open our minds and hearts to things out of our norm, we have the ability to process information using multi-faceted techniques and to cultivate ideas through innovation.