Interview by Maria Toquero
Carol Ann Apilado is an artist, designer, and former CLUTCH Program Coordinator who believes positive social change, empowerment of the Self and the community can be achieved through creativity. As an artist, she uses street art to explore her identity and as an outlet to challenge the ego and gender norms. As a designer, she organizes the Toronto chapter of ‘Ladies, Wine & Design’, a global initiative where womxn in the design industry come together to discuss topics including entrepreneurship, gender inequality, collaboration, and work and life balance. Her goal is to create brave spaces where creative womxn can share their experiences and support one another in sectors that remain cis-male-dominated.
Is there a location in the city that reminds you of your 13 year old self/pre-teen years? Do you often go there?
It would be my elementary school, St. Jean Brebeuf Elementary School in Brampton. I rarely go there but the last time I went, it was to show my partner a part of my history.
Why this location?
It just represents a time in my life where I changed from the kid in kindergarten whose teachers thought was deaf mute to this preteen who began to see the intelligence, creativity, and power she had. It was the beginning of discovery and learning what society’s beauty standards were. It was a time when I was just understanding the challenges and feeling heartbreak and hardships when it came to love and family. Thinking back, I was working through a lot of things that were happening on my own and through blogging. It was a time I didn’t like because it reminds me of depression, self-esteem issues, family feuds. But at the same time, it was a time I can be friends with because I needed to experience those things.
If your 13 year old/pre-teen self was here with you at this location right now, how do you think this conversation would play out?
I think it would be awkward. My 13 year old self would be super confused but maybe it would help... I would guide myself. But at the same time, I don’t know if I would want that to happen because it would change the future like The Butterfly Effect. But if I had to say something, I would tell myself not to worry—everything will work out. I wouldn’t give too much information because I like how things are right now.
At that age, had you envisioned yourself to be where you are at right now?
No. I thought I would be an architect. I’m not one. But that’s okay. I feel like I’m doing much more than I thought I would be doing - better things. I don’t think I ever saw myself doing community work, or work with youth, or things for women, or things in the arts. So I’m doing way more than I expected. And At first, I was really hard on myself about not being an architect. I had this whole plan that I would be an architect and create all these big, cool buildings. But I’m happy with the way things are, with how it all played out.
If yes, what was that journey like? If no, at 13, what did you see yourself becoming? When did you know that this career path (artist/designer/community builder) is the one for you?
I didn’t know. I think everything changed after a relationship that ended badly a few years ago. I learned a lot from that. It forced me to figure out exactly what I wanted and didn’t want in my life. I had to be clear on what I wanted to do about everything to avoid making the same mistakes I made when I didn’t have any standards. Through this process, I learned that I wanted to continue doing more art, more design, work with more women, work with more youth, do something to change the world. Somehow all of that came out of a shitty relationship. Yeah, I’m grateful.
Struggles are inevitable. I am curious to know if you had faced any struggles that made you want to quit what you were doing. If so, what were they? How did you push through these adversities?
As a preteen, I struggled a lot with the absence of my mom because she works in Norway and she’s been working there since I was 7. So that was really hard for me to deal with, not having a mother-figure around. Family in general was weird too. I discovered the complex history between my papa’s family and my mom’s family. They lived beside each other growing up but their families didn’t get along. It was like the Romeo and Juliet story except it was real life. I remember feeling lonely most of the time and being confused about everything. We were not the ideal family and for the most part it was just my papa and I trying to keep it together and make things work with the little we had. So all that in addition to self-esteem issues and meeting my papa’s expectations of me? I’m not really sure how I got through all that but somehow I managed. I think I just let myself go through the emotions. I don’t think I knew I had any other options but to accept how things were and to do well in school.
To get through my papa’s strict rules, I rebelled a little bit—not too much—just enough so that I was still a good student. For example, he didn’t want me to go out but I would just go out , come home late and I wouldn’t answer my phone all the time. These little things helped change things a bit but it was also tough because he would get so mad. He softened up over the last few years though. I guess he realized he can’t control what I do and that I’m responsible.
Right, and like, he pretty much raised you to have the right morals and standards for yourself so you wouldn't get into such bad situations.
Yes but also no. Those standards were high but also imbalanced and unhealthy. I wasn’t really taught to be myself or love myself. I was shaped to fit a mold. Meet others’ expectations. I didn’t know better. I don’t think he knew either. But as a result, I ended up in an abusive relationship.
At the end of the day, I know my papa meant well. He did/does his best. But I also feel like, now, looking back, I can understand him more. He had this huge responsibility to take care of me. I think a lot of family members doubted that he’d be able to. He was really hard on me because of that. I think he thought how I turned out would be a reflection of him. So I get it now. It wasn’t easy, especially when you have people watching and waiting to see you fail as a single parent.
How did you cope with all of those feelings? What did you do to release?
I used LiveJournal, AsianAvenue... I would just blog a lot and that helped me express how I felt. Then Tumblr came along. So, I would write. I have lots of notes and one day I’ll compile my journal entries. It would be cool to look back and see how I've grown throughout the years.
What are your favourite accomplishments thus far and why?
Breaking down and breaking through some of my rock bottoms. Being able to paint murals. Being program coordinator for Clutch last year. Beginning the Toronto chapter of Ladies Wine & Design.
At the top of my head, those are the top ones because I've grown so much from those experiences and I've built so many strong relationships from them.
What have the ups and downs of your career path taught you about yourself?
That I should give myself credit for making the decisions I made to get to where I am now. And I say that because I dated someone who felt like my success was all because of him. That’s not how it works. At the end of the day, we are responsible for ourselves and the decisions we choose to make. So shout out to myself. Also, that I still have so much to learn and I still have so much growing to do. Almost everyday something will come up that I've never experienced and don't know how to deal with it. It forces me to step back and reassess what’s happening. It’s humbling to know that I don’t know everything and there’s so much more to learn and discover...
What was the most valuable lesson you learned about yourself?
I can basically do anything that I want and make it happen. I've been meaning to go back to my journals of lists of what I want to accomplish and I'm curious to see how much I've done.
What do you think it takes to be a champion?
To be a good leader. A good leader is someone who listens. You have to be compassionate, you have to be caring, you have to want the best for everyone and for yourself. Leaders change the world. Good ones at least—for the better. Standing for what you believe in.
What makes YOU a champion?
I want to make the world better somehow. That’s my goal in life. In anything I do, I want to try to make it better.
What advice would you give to youth that want to be champions of their craft?
I think to be a good leader you need to go through a lot of experiences and have a pretty good idea of who you are. Get to know yourself. Remember to listen to people and their stories and what they’re really trying to tell you. You will experience failure but it’s all a part of the process. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Do you think listening to others’ stories impacts your craft and what you do and how you want to drive to change the world?
Storytelling is everything! I think most of the work I do focuses on that. Like, what’s your story? What’s your passion? Why do you do what you do?
For example, when doing Clutch x Nav last year, we were talking about some of the projects that they wanted to do for the exhibition. One participant was like I’m gonna do this story on my mentor and take pics and do this and that. I said, “But wait—what about YOUR story? What’s YOUR story? What do you want to share with the world?" I think that being able to tell your story is powerful. Being vulnerable and putting it all out there. We need more of that.
Also, for LWD, I tried to create a platform for people who don't always have a voice or maybe they do but... Design is mostly white. That event you went to (LWD Toronto)—my goal was to highlight Black, Indigenous, and women of colour because we don't always have that platform in the design world or the creative world and I hope to continue that for the rest of the year and for as long as I can handle these projects.
What projects can we look forward to in the upcoming year?
So I want to do more LWD events, and try to do more personal art because - self care, and maybe a ceramics show with my partner and his mom. She’s a ceramics artist. We’re gonna try to collaborate with other artists and have a group show or something.
Any last words?
There’s so much work to do. There is. It’s tiring, but we have to do it. We can do it
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