September 18, 2018 American Wines Matter was born in an office space of the Army Medical Department of the US Army (AMEDD) Center in San Antonio, TX. Inspired by many discussions over the span of several days, I was encouraged to start a simple Instagram page to function as a form of reference for the conversations that I had been having with a lot of people. Those conversations detailed how carnival and the Caribbean culture has positively impacted my life, and how people of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes are welcome to play mas.
A spark--January 2019.
Each assignment that I have had has come with with unique challenges. My last assignment in Arizona with a deployment to Kosovo really challenged my ability to navigate many personalities to accomplish the common mission. But Fort Irwin’s demands REALLY taxed my ability to maintain a work-personal life schedule. Because of what we do here, you really have to find a way to balance that or you’re just not going to fare well… mentally. Fort Irwin exists in the middle of nowhere, but the middle of everything—2 hours or so from Vegas, Los Angeles, and maybe 3 hours to San Diego. And when I say this, it doesn’t sound like a bad place to be until you have to work 18 days straight before you get time off.
Training units preparing for deployment is a serious honor but the rinse-recycle-repeat of our rotations is mentally TAXING. Having already been exhausted from multiple moves since 2016, I had to find ways keep myself balanced. In 2019, I jumped a total of 5 times. Some were planned, one completely impromptu because I recognized that chronic high-levels of stress was starting to get to me a bit. I always came back from these jumps physically sore from my endeavors but mentally recharged ready to face the shenanigans.
What I found really interesting about people and younger generations is that their common language is through social media. You strike up a conversation with someone and they immediately want to know your Instagram/twitter handle. Is that a Xennial thing? Anyway, my user handle started to strike up many conversations. Carrying my American flag (as opposed to another island-country) encouraged others to approach me and express my appreciation for expressing my origins openly.
Shortly after UberSoca Cruise, I launched my official mission statement.
My intent for Trinidad Carnival was to spend most of my time capturing experiences such as Panorama, the carnival villages and the FOOD (ya’ll know I like to eat). Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Wotless on a boat? But that was IT. Me and my (then) home girl had even rented a vehicle to get us around and reserved a hotel space in the heart of Port of Spain. I’m a person that enjoys sleeping when I am tired, I don’t drink much; I really don’t consider myself a hardcore feteran whatsoever. On top of that, there are a lot of platforms that cover this material and I felt doing so would be redundant. I understand that carnival is but a small piece of the culture, and want the world to see the rest. What is most important to me is displaying the CULTURE as a whole as best I could.
But after 9-10 months of planning, I found myself homeless and without transportation FIVE DAYS before I was supposed to get on a plane to head to Trinidad Carnival. Out of desperation, I found myself purchasing a last-minute package from someone who could not go for about $700. Provided how last minute it was, I considered this a good deal especially since I had some place to lay my head and I wasn’t going to be alone. Downside? I was nowhere near Port of Spain… I was settled in the mountains of Arouca (45 minutes away). This last minute arrangement pushed me in a completely different direction… FETES…. BACK TO BACK. I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone but decided that maybe this was the direction I was meant to go in light of everything that happened.
I was incredibly exhausted, but I had the time of my life. But looking back on those moments I really hated the fact that I didn’t get to accomplish what I set out to. But that was a blessing in disguise because my presence at those fetes gave AWM traction. I got back from Trinidad still on a mission to capture the caribbean culture as I had intended. I figured I had 7 more opportunities and told myself there would be Trinidad 2021.
I tried to remain optimistic. I think a lot of us did. But the reality of COVID sank in, and I had to think about how exactly I was going to be able to spread my message/presence without carnival. Curvy Wines Matter launched in December 2019 with the idea of capturing curvy and voluptuous women in mas/fetes wherever I went in 2020. I didn’t like the idea of recycling others’ content, we have enough platforms doing that. Of course this has been shelved because there have been no carnivals to go to. But as I started posting women, I started to have conflict with myself in that I was evaluating other women’s bodies. Who was curvy/voluptuous enough to be on my page? That to this day just doesn’t sit well with me, and I will continue to rethink CWM in the months to come.
I decided that this was a great time to do some of the things I probably would not have accomplished if I was busy carnival hopping. Launching my website became important because Instagram just captures my platform on a superficial aspect. I wanted something for people to go to really understand the mission. One of the things that I have learned through social media observation is to abandon perfection. So, I launched the website although it wasn’t totally ready and continue to make revisions and additions to this day. I am really proud of the website and how it has developed over the past six months. I also learned how to use adobe premiere pro, and LightRoom so that I could add quality to my content, and create YouTube videos like I had always intended.
Social media algorithms...
The coronavirus era has challenged a lot of creatives to think outside of the box in order to thrive. Instagram has done nothing but make it more difficult us to do so. Currently, my page has been devoted to producing high quality videos and photos in the hopes of capturing and maintaining attention until we can all be free and go outside again while peppering the timeline with inspirational discussions to remind people what AWM is about. But the challenge is STILL battling IG algorithms and engagement data. The fact of the matter is, there is less interest in culture topics right now. Currently want drives social media is SKIN and DRAMA. It’s the reason why I can only see @knowyourcarribean when she posts her cheeks to prove a point, but have to intentionally seek her page to find out what new knowledge she is dropping. Algorithm and engagement is fed by YOUR interests, and not my mission. So I currently play the game, archiving my tiles and rearranging things in a way to give my platform a chance to be visible to the world without compromising my mission and values.
But make no mistake… my mission has not changed.
In fact, it has expanded. I have always stated that AWM is a platform shaped by my followers, and I truly mean it. It’s been a dream bringing souls together through this platform. As I get closer to retirement, I envision continuing to travel the world, displaying the beautiful culture, its people, and its struggles. Flying my drone over the Pitons of St. Lucia, the Grande Anse Beach in Grenada, and The forests/waterfalls in Jamaica. I smile at the thought of welcoming difficult discussions, continuing to educate others, and celebrating the things that make us different. I daydream about impacting lives and instilling hope and inspiration. I’m sincerely looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life and the direction that AWM is heading. In light of how things have happened, I cannot help but think this platform is driven by something much higher than us all. I take this purpose honorably and continue to go with the flow as I have been guided to do so.
I can’t wait to see you all on the road again.