The SFV Interviews: Kashmir, by Karen Hunt

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Interview, March 30th, 2018

"...as I started to experience things like stalking…I learned to fear."

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Growing Up a Girl in the Nightmare of American Suburbia.

+ + +

KAREN HUNT: Welcome to the San Fernando Valley, or the SFV, just north of Los Angeles. The SFV is considered by many to be the most culturally diverse suburb in the United States. It has everything from Calabasas, made infamous by the Kardashians reality show; to Pacoima, known for gang violence; to the birth of the porn industry.

Mostly, the SFV is inhabited by ordinary folks struggling to make ends meet, just like anywhere else in America. And, just like anywhere else, it’s a place of dark secrets, where the mask doesn’t always reflect what’s hidden underneath. For girls, especially, navigating this hidden world is a dangerous minefield, a truth which society isn’t always willing to face. These interviews fearlessly expose the truth. I have interviewed several young women about their experience growing up in this area, how they came to terms with their difficult upbringings and what they had to do to break free.

+ + +

KASHMIR

Karen Hunt SFV Interview Kashmir NAILED Magazine

 

NAILED: What is the SFV to you?

KASHMIR: The SFV is referred to as “the Valley” and that makes me a “Valley girl.” Being a Valley girl is me having to explain to people I meet that even though I’m from there, I don’t thread the words like, totally, and oh my god throughout all of my sentences, that I have a brain. Being a Valley girl is being an object in a competition with other objects.

The SFV is a place that still triggers my PTSD when I return. A place where I have never had a single female friend that hasn’t been stalked, molested, assaulted, sexually cyber-bullied, or raped.

Heroin is absolutely rampant in the SFV. Ecstasy and coke are the least of your worries, and they are ever-present as well. Date rape is mundanely common and yet women are still in constant competition with each other rather than forming a sisterhood. LA glamour is this huge priority. It is constantly strived for, while also publicly rebuked. It’s a show.

Any parent who told their children high school wasn’t a beauty pageant in the SFV lied.

Karen Hunt SFV Interviews Kashmir NAILED Magazine

Kashmir, her mom and her younger sister all got cockroach tattoos. Kashmir’s boyfriend of
five years got one, too, to show solidarity. Here’s the explanation:

We’re all getting tattoos of cockroaches because they’re resilient. They survive anything. They cannot be killed off. They will never be killed off. They can live anywhere at any climate and at any socioeconomic level. They can even survive nuclear power and radiation. No submission. We’re infiltrating! We are strong, independent women. Not made of the stuff of butterflies and ladybugs and other frail things. When they go, the roach remains.

 

NAILED: Tell us a little bit about the environment in which you grew up. 

KASHMIR: I grew up in a low-income neighborhood of color. I came from a house of abuse. My parents never abused me or my sister, but they abused each other frequently. Police were constantly involved. Though there was a lot of abuse, there was a lot of love and guidance. They were way better parents than they ever were spouses. My parents divorced. I am still incredibly close to both of them.

NAILED: What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up?

KASHMIR: My biggest challenge was probably figuring out where I fit into race. I was Black to White kids, I was White to Black kids. I didn’t really belong anywhere. I am still challenged by how those two truths interact and what it means in regards to my identity.

NAILED: As a teenage girl, what made you feel vulnerable?

KASHMIR: As a teenage girl I was fearless, at least in the beginning. Nothing made me feel vulnerable. Rides from boys, walking through alleyways, accepting drinks… it was all fun and games to me. But as I started to experience things like stalking, sexual harassment, getting roofied, etc…I learned to fear. Then, anything could make me feel nervous. This glass isn’t clear, what if something is in this drink? If he drives really fast, I won’t be able to exit the vehicle and what if I need to get out? It’s getting dark outside, should I stay inside?

After my first rape I developed pretty severe PTSD. I avoided certain colognes, certain streets, anything I discovered that could set me off. But no matter how good I got at avoiding triggers, I never felt less vulnerable. I was raped again a year or so later and faced a whole new batch of triggers to discover and weed out.

NAILED: As a teenage girl, how did you gain power?

KASHMIR: I gained power by continuing to be me, no matter what. After I survived my first rape, my very close friend asked, “Aren’t you going to wear baggy clothes now and take searing showers and stuff?” I flatly told her, no. I said I am going to dress how I want and drink what I want and go where I want because that is what I would have done before. He raped my body, he can’t have my soul.

So many things happened…. As a teenager, a prior friend pulled down my pants when I was sleeping and took pictures of my naked body. He sent them to me a year later. When I told my other male friends about it they told me they knew because he had shown the photos to them and they had complimented my ass. I realized none of those guys were really my friends. That same guy went on to rape one of my best friends two years later.

I gained power by talking about it. The more I talked about it, the more my friends stepped forward and admitted they had also been raped and/ or sexually assaulted.

NAILED: Did you ever fear for your life?

KASHMIR: Many times. One day I was walking home and I noticed someone following me. I was taught that if you are being followed you shouldn’t go home so they won’t know where you live. I stopped in at a fancy apartment complex that had an open park and gym. I decided to wait there because there were so many people around. Finally, I had to pee. I couldn’t see him around I walked into the women’s restroom expecting other women to be there, but I had sealed my fate. Before I even realized he was behind me, he had pushed me through the door and turned around and locked it. I was maneuvered into a stall and he dropped his pants and started masturbating, talking about his wife and kids. His back was pressed against the bathroom door and blocking my exit. I was afraid to shout, wondering what he would be willing to do to shut me up. When he came I used that moment to drop to the floor and roll under the stall. I ran away and never looked back.

A lot of the time I think the only reason I’m alive today is because I have learned to be submissive in these situations. People always ask why you didn’t fight back or why you couldn’t try harder and my answer is simple, because I wanted to live.

NAILED: Did you have a place to go where you felt safe?

KASHMIR: Where is safe? The crowded playground wasn’t safe, even though there were multiple people around to witness a sketchy event. The bathroom wasn’t safe, even though men weren’t supposed to be in there. My first rapist was carrying my body along the L.A. River when the cops found him and he dropped my body and ran away. I guess I could lock myself in my mom’s house but what kind of life is that?

NAILED: Who was the biggest positive influence in your life? 

KASHMIR: My mom. I know she has had the same experiences and so I find strength in her. When my Mom was 19, a cab driver drugged her and was driving her body into the Hollywood hills to rape her. He was also on drugs and so he crashed. My mother woke up months later with full body paralysis and a contraption screwed into her head. They told her she would never walk again, piss by herself or have children. She refused them. Miraculously she was right. My mother did eventually regain body sensation and control and now has a fairly normal life. When I see what she has been through, I find strength.

NAILED: As a teenager, how did younger and older men make you feel about yourself? 

KASHMIR: Young men made me feel pretty great about myself. They often called other women bitches and whores etc., but I was always the exception to the rule. I was “Not like other girls”, they would assure me. I used to chide other women along with them, but as I got older, I realized it was wrong. I realized, I am other girls, and we need to stand up for each other.

I have always valued more than just my looks. I was and am very intelligent. Men were very aware of my quick wit, which was often mistaken for flirting. I was also very physically capable. I often beat boys in wrestling matches and swimming competitions, etc.

Older men were very into control. My interactions with them always seemed to be guided by their need for dominance and it always made me uncomfortable. So, I felt safer dating younger men. A younger guy would gush if you held his hand, an older man would criticize you for not giving him more.

NAILED: As a teenager, how did you perceive drugs, both street and prescription, and how do you perceive them now? 

KASHMIR: As a teenager, I viewed street drugs as something that should be a phase and not a lifestyle. Trying drugs was fine. You only have one life, live it. Seek new experiences. But, I did not believe drugs should become habits. Even habitual marijuana smoking peeved me. Drugs are so addictive, I now realize this was a naïve thing to believe. I viewed prescription drugs as worse than street drugs. I was certain physicians and pharma-reps were the real drug pushers.

I still view drugs mostly the same way but I am more educated about addiction.

NAILED: Did you ever have negative encounters with the police and do you or don’t you trust the police?

KASHMIR: I have had mostly positive experiences with the police. I have been handed back my pipe when searched for weed, I have been pulled over with alcohol in the car and told to “just go home,” and the police saved me from the rapist carrying my body along the LA River.

But, I do not trust police. I do not trust police because my experiences with them are not shared equally with everybody. I have seen how my cousins and other family members are treated by police and they are harassed.  I will not feel safe until we can all feel safe, so no I do not trust the police.

NAILED: Was there a turning point when you decided to alter you path?

KASHMIR: When I decided to go to college. I took time off after high school. By the time I decided to apply, I was 19 and married. By the time the class rolled around, my husband and I had filed for divorce. I was ruined. I moved in with my mother and faced a massive depression. Every morning I would wake up, cry, shower, cry, eat, cry and drive to school. I would walk up to the classroom door, cry, turn around and drive back home to weep on my mother’s couch and stare at the ceiling. I began to plan my suicide. Every morning I drove to school I passed a spot in the LA River that split into 2 separate channels with a wall separating the two. A simple chain link fence was the only thing that guarded it. If I hit that wall at just the right angle, with just enough speed, and I didn’t wear a seatbelt, I was confident I could kill myself and it would look like an accident.

Finally, the day arrived for me to carry out my plan. I got in the car to drive to school. As I approached the place where I planned my demise, I sped up. The speed of the car steadily increased as I calculated my entry point. But then, I thought about my mother. She couldn’t afford a new car if I wrecked the one I was in. She had been through enough. She didn’t deserve that. I slowed the car and calmly drove to school.

I waited until class was over and begged the teacher to re-admit me and she did. From that moment on, I stayed in college. I received an A in that class and high marks in all my other classes. I received 5 Associate’s degrees and am currently working on my double Bachelor’s. All because I made that one decision, Don’t do that to your Mother, she can’t afford a new car.

NAILED: Do you and your friends trust the political parties in America? 

KASHMIR: Nobody my age or younger trusts political parties (at least that I have met). Young people view the government as a mockery, an embarrassment. We want to travel the world and learn new things but we’re ashamed of how we are probably viewed there. We want to say, “It’s not our fault!” “It was before our time!” “We are not all like that!” “It will get better!” and “Just wait for us!” but we can’t.

NAILED: What did you have to give up in order to succeed?

KASHMIR: My old friends. Worth it.

NAILED: What did you have to add to your life in order to succeed?

KASHMIR: True determination. I come home from work at 11:30pm at night, take off my apron, sit down and immediately start studying.

Also, responsible friends; friends that respect when you are busy and do not try to peer pressure you, friends that can have educated discourses with you when you are actually free.

Debt… I had to add debt to my life to succeed, which makes me a slave, ironically, at the same time.

NAILED: Is there someone living now or from history who greatly inspires you?

KASHMIR: My Mother. Maya Angelou.

NAILED: Do you have a favorite quote?

KASHMIR: “If she gets what she wants, will she want what she gets?”

Basically we all know she can get it, but once she does, will she want it? I think often times women desire things that they were told to desire and are starkly disappointed when they achieve those goals.

NAILED: If you could talk to all the teenage girls today, what would you tell them?

KASHMIR: Love yourself. If you can’t love yourself, then you can’t properly love anybody else. Respect your sisters. All of us women are in this together. You should support all other women’s choices. You can disagree with those choices, but fight for their right to make those choices. Understand intersectionality. What is beneficial to you may not be beneficial to someone of another race, class, religion, sexual orientation. Educate yourself about the past, so that it is none of our future. Call yourself a feminist. Understand that you never owe it to anybody to “look your best,” not even to yourself.

Karen Hunt SFV Interviews Kashmir NAILED magazinr

+ + +

Karen Hunt SFV Interviews Kashmir NAILED MagazineKashmir Hughes is a 27-year old Black Caribbean-American writer, behavioral therapist and student. Much of her creative and academic writing revolves around ethnographical work and testimonies of hurt, healing, difference and intersectionality. Over the years, Kashmir’s work has covered various topics: from love and happiness, to drug addiction and rape. Kashmir’s work provides an honest account of several taboo subjects, providing written solace and support for those coming to terms with complex sentiments. Through writing, Kashmir hopes to give readers a safe space to confess private and uncomfortable experiences and emotions. Kashmir’s most recent publication, in an academic WOC feminist journal, underlines the struggles and triumphs of Black lineage and assimilation into American culture. She was also recently quoted in a photobook depicting the realities of depression. Kashmir graduated UCSC with a double-bachelors degree in Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in social inequality and conflict resolution. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, doing ABA therapy with children on the spectrum, and plans to apply again to school for her Master’s degree and eventually her Ph.D.

+

Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is, more than anything, a traveler. For the past two years, she has been on walkabout, writing her childhood memoir, Into the World, and her YA Urban Fantasy series, Night Angels Chronicles. “Reflections from Istanbul,” an excerpt from Into the World, won the 2015 New Millennium Writers Nonfiction Award. She is the author of numerous essays, co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, and founder of MY WORLD PROJECT, an arts program connecting indigenous youth around the world. An avid full contact fighter and trainer, she is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and a first degree brown belt in Eskrima. It’s hard to say where her adventures will lead her next, but her passport is up to date and she is ready to go. Find her on Twitter: @karenalainehunt

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.