Episode 33: Visiting with Monica and Estella Samii of Champaign, IL, and their story, “For Good”
Mother-daughter duo, Monica and Estella Samii, visit with Kerry and Jenette to talk about the story they both shared on stage back in 2019. They share how this experience has deepened their special relationship and reflect on how they continue to show up for each other “For Good.”
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE JURCZYK: Thank you so much for joining us today on another episode of The She Said Project Podcast. It’s such an honor to have friends join us because our whole mission is raising women’s voices. And we do that in a number of ways: through live That’s What She Said performances, through the She Said Story Sharing Showcase virtual shows and now here with you on the podcast. I’m your host, as always, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project, and I couldn’t do any of this without my amazing, gorgeous and talented co-host, Kerry Rossow? [pause] Yes. I’m talking about you. Yes.
KERRY ROSSOW: I waited for a second thinking like, wait, who is this? Who’s on? But, oh.. Wait! And then I realized, I think she’s trying to, like, talk to me. So anyway, Kerry Rossow, founder.
JENETTE: I have so many wonderful things to say about you, Kerry Rossow, Founder. I mean, you created a beautiful community and world where women come together and get real. Sharing stories—that’s the whole, you know, the whole mission is just sharing stories. But, as you know, the results have been absolutely extraordinary. We like to use the podcast to look back at some of our shows from days gone by—before 2020, which we don’t need to think about right now. But we have some really awesome guests with us today in the Zoom Studio—
KERRY: Two of my favorite, favorite people and I’m always… like I love the duets, whether it’s sisters or mother daughter and these two just killed it—on stage and then the build up all of the camaraderie and what they brought to the group of women, they are just—every time I see them, whether it’s on social media or I pass them on the street—I just want to… Like my cold, dark heart, just sort of melts a little bit, like… I love them.
JENETTE: Yes they do turn on love, everywhere they go—
KERRY: Wait.. wait. Oh. Okay.
JENETTE: Even for the Grinch like you,
JENETTE: But we are talking about the mother-daughter duo: Monica and Estella Samii, who appeared in the live That’s What She Said production in Champaign, Illinois back in 2019. The ladies have been so kind as to join us today in our podcast recording studio that we’ve created here in Zoom land. Monica, Estella, welcome. Hello, how are you incredible ladies?
MONICA SAMII: Hello! Thank you so much for having us. We are doing okay, in this weird time. I don’t know about you, Estella.
ESTELLA SAMII: I’m living. [Monica laughing]
JENETTE: It has been such a weird and I’d time we are doing things differently. We were supposed to be recording and, you know, our regular studio and that got pushed back because of COVID and our live shows have been pushed back because of COVID. But we are pivoting and trying to find ways to keep moving our mission forward. So we are recording this season of the podcast on the Zoom and it is what it is. And we’re not going to let this craziness stop us.
You guys are very special to us here today because we’ve only featured women who appeared in the show as individuals. And in many of our shows, we, we like to showcase a duet, we call them, where it’s two women sharing one story and you’re our first duet that we’re showcasing on the podcast. So, back in 2019, you guys came together to share a little bit about what life is like as a mother and daughter. Share with us a little bit about that journey and that experience when you guys were asked to participate in That’s What She Said. What were your thoughts?
ESTELLA: Well, at first, I sort of had no clue what it was, cuz I think my mom went to lunch or something with you..and then she came home and was like, hey, you want to do this? And I was like, yeah, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but then I did it and I loved it and it was such an amazing experience, like the people I met like along the way. It was just so cool. And like, me and my mom, I think even got closer. Like that was fun. She may annoy me, but… [laughing]
MONICA: I think we learned a lot about each other. During this entire process, we learned so much and I think it really even strengthened our relationship with each other. It was a journey. [laugh]
KERRY: Was it difficult for you? Because both of you are performers in different ways and are used to being in front of others in that way. But it’s different, to ask you to stand up there and talk about your personal stuff, you aren’t reading a script or someone else’s words. It’s about you. Was it hard or no big to get up there and say your own words?
MONICA: It’s definitely harder as a performer to be yourself. I would prefer someone else’s lines written for me. I would definitely prefer that. I don’t have that crazy fear of public speaking. I do get nervous, of course, but like I know him and like one of the number one fears is public speaking in the world, and again, I get nervous, but it’s not a fear. So being up there is okay. But then realizing, oh, I’m up there as me. Oh, this is me… that’s talking to all of these people. That is definitely different than being some.. playing, portraying someone else on the stage. Definitely.
JENETTE: Yeah, Monica, I agree. Playing a character is more comfortable, or safer, than having to be yourself. Talking about yourself.. thoroughly agree. You guys did such a phenomenal job and it was a journey finding the words and sharing the parts of your relationship in front of a couple hundred—thousand people. But I will never forget when we started the process I asked you the question, “What is it like when you walk down the street together as mother and daughter?” And that’s what started the whole process.
And I think this would be a good time to go ahead and play what came out of that conversation and ultimately became your final performance in That’s What She Said.
Let’s go ahead and listen to it now. And share with our audience—this is Monica Samii and Estella Samii, sharing their story onstage in Champaign, Illinois’ That’s What She Said 2019, and their story was entitled, “For Good.”
MONICA: When Estella and I walk down the street a lot of people think she couldn’t be my child because one, I look so young—and two, the color of our skin is different
ESTELLA: Walking down the street is kind of like being in an art museum. Except I’m the piece of art. It’s like, I’m this abstract piece of art and instead of people looking at me and saying, “How beautiful!” Well, sometimes they do cuz let’s face it—I’m pretty cute. [applause] There’s this look of confusion on people’s faces.
MONICA: We get weird glances. I’ve been asked by complete strangers, “Is she adopted.” “She mixed?” When they don’t see a man—“Is her father black?” “Is he involved?” “Are you married?”
ESTELLA: I can tell they’re thinking, “Who is she with?” “Where does she belong?” or if people finally process that I’m with my white mother: “She must be adopted.”
MONICA: I get angry and annoyed at the generalizations and I really just want to say, “It is none of your business.”
But.. I smile [shrug] and politely say, “I am a single mother. This is my beautiful daughter, Estella. Her father is not involved.” Period.
I know Estella notices this more than I do.
ESTELLA: I’ve become used to the feeling of always being looked at—it’s more like a sixth sense. I no longer have to look up and make the awkward eye contact. It’s always uncomfortable, but at some point you just get numb to it.
MONICA: When she was younger, I had a boyfriend who had to point it out to me. We had gone to Applebee’s for dinner and by the end of dinner, he just kept getting angrier and angrier—he was so angry and I didn’t know what was wrong. I was, well, he said, didn’t you see those people looking at us? They’d look at me and they’d look at you and then they look at Estella and you could see the question in their eyes.
I was more worried about our server, who didn’t know how to make a Shirley Temple for my daughter. That’s another story—then noticing what was going on. I hadn’t noticed.
ESTELLA: Sometimes though, I get these nice comforting, looks a usually comes from a person who understands it. I don’t think my mom notices this one, it isn’t meant for her. It’s completely meant for me—they give a simple nod and I give them back—words of encouragement. Minus the words.
MONICA: Now, when Estella and I drive down the street, we both have to remember that she is a person of color behind the wheel of a car. We have the same conversation over and over again: if you are pulled over, you must put both hands on the wheel at all times. Be completely cooperative. Lose the attitude. [laughter] Cooperate one hundred percent so that there is no chance, not even a small chance of something being misinterpreted.
I hate that this is the world we live in. I hate that I have to have this conversation with my daughter. I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
I was a very different person when I found out I was pregnant. Very different. I believe, and will always believe, that having Estella saved my life. [applause] Sometimes I feel we grew up together. We’ve been called The Gilmore Girls. I’ve heard her say to her friends, “She’s not like other moms.” She’s called me her best friend and I love it. Estella truly, truly, Inspires me, don’t get me wrong, she is the most stubborn person I know—she is seventeen, after all. I’m in awe of her when she’s on the stage—when she plays basketball. But when it really matters, Estella can stand up in front of our friends and family and speak so eloquently about what our aunt’s life meant to her. She can exude confidence to be so kind and offer excellent customer service to someone she’s never met before. She can turn being bullied into a cry for love and support. I got to witness all of these acts unprompted by me.
My daughter is not the same race as me or the same race as anyone in my family. I used to think that not seeing color was the way it should be. I had to learn to accept that the world was way it is so I can celebrate my daughter for who she is. [applause] And to realize that there is something missing that I cannot directly give her because I will never know what it’s like to be her in this world.
ESTELLA: Race aside—walking, or going anywhere with Monica takes way longer than it should. [laughter] In case you haven’t noticed, she has really short legs and mine are longer. So walking, or going anywhere with her takes way, way, way, way longer than it should. Monica is kind of C-U famous. [laughter, applause] Hashtag C-U Famous. And being her daughter is really annoying because anywhere we go she sees someone she knows then has to talk for at least twenty minutes. [laughter] And I just want to be in my bed twenty-four/seven and avoid people as much as I can.
I usually feel sorry for her. I feel sorry because she ended up with me. She’ll say that I saved her life and it’s really hard for me to hear. I struggle with showing emotions. It’s easier for me to think the worst about myself. But—I know in my heart that this woman would do anything for me. She is an amazing mom, and is everything I could have ever dreamed of. I love watching her sing. It’s my favorite thing. I don’t tell her that enough. It’s hard for me sometimes.
I know I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m not very comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I’m this weird middle race because I’m mixed. I don’t really fit in with people who are white and I don’t really fit in with people who are black. If I have to pick one race, I’ll always pick black. People will say, I’m white. And every time I stop them and say, “No, I’m black” but because I was brought up in a white family, that’s all they see. I don’t see the complexion of my skin or the big curly hair. Even though I have an all white family, that wasn’t my choice. My father left, not because of me or my mom, but because of him. That took a really long time for me to understand.
MONICA: I am a single mother. I’d like to be able to say I’ve done it all myself. Except I can’t. I had the help of my family. (I don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere)—my mother and my father, my sister and my brother. I didn’t want the help. I was really headstrong about wanting to be able to say it was all me—a lot of it was. [laughter] At the end of the day, it is. But I will never be able to repay or show how grateful I am and will always be for their help.
I also think I’m fortunate that her father was never involved. I would have never been able to forgive him if he ever let her down. There’s never been an expectation so I don’t feel the need to hate him. Also co-parenting would have not worked out well for me, I don’t like to share… ever.
ESTELLA: I spent a lot of my teenage years worried that I ruined her life. I always thought she dropped out of college because she got pregnant with me. My aunt told me that wasn’t the case and even then it didn’t help. I have this very vivid memory of my mom trying to do homework and I wouldn’t leave her alone. I look back and feel bad. I feel like without me she could have done so much more.
MONICA: When I hear her say that it cuts deep because even if she did bother me, I still finished my degree. The first one. There’s more. I did it while working and being a single mother. And sometimes I even dated. Yeah, there’s that. [laughter] And life goes on. I have a great job that I love, I have a messy house that I adore. I have a wonderful family.
And I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.
ESTELLA: At the end of the day, I have an amazing mother. And I couldn’t imagine my life any other way, I’ve seen her struggle and overcome her because of her I know that I have the ability to do that too—to become more.
I am who I am today because of you. [applause]
[cue music: “For Good”] (track fades)
KERRY: Oh my gosh…
JENETTE: Kerry, do I see a tear?
ESTELLA: She’s crying!
KERRY: I didn’t .. but if I were going to, that would have been it. Like,mother daughter goals? I love you two! Did you have any protective Mama Bear feeling—either of you—for being up there on stage with your girl. What was that like?
MONICA: You know, I realized that, and I should know this, but she is her own person and she is going to make her own way in this world. And, yes, I can be there to help direct and advise, and, you know, pay.
ESTELLA: Yeah.. that’s a good one. [laughing]
MONICA: But she’s gonna make it in this world, her own way, her own time. And realizing that I have to let go of that—I think every mom may struggle, or every parent may struggle with that, and it is a big lesson learned during that show to be like, oh, is she going to stand up on time, oh, is she going to be ready? Is she going to say the right words? and you know I just have to trust. I had to trust that that’s what she was going to do ... and she did.
ESTELLA: I learned it from you.
JENETTE: Estella knocked it out of the park, and I have to share with our listeners that I think you were only seventeen.
JENETTE: At the time of this show and for you guys to take such a bold step in sharing, you know, your unique relationship with the world—opened up so many hearts and so many minds and Estella you have such a unique perspective, not only were you in the live That’s What She Said show, you also participated in That’s What Teens Say program. You have really jumped in to the She Said family in such an intimate way—you came into this with one mother, but at the end of the day, you’ve got like this whole slew of aunts and adoptive mothers and women who just embraced you and wanted to take care of you. And, you know, I’m guilty of that. But it’s so true. You really opened our hearts and we really took you in. I’m so grateful for, for, having you in my life.
ESTELLA: I really was not expecting to get so close with everyone because I was so young and they’re all like, grown people with families and I’m just like ‘Hey!’ but like the amount of people that like I have now like I’m like I’m best friends with Julia Rietz and Deb Feinen.
JENETTE: Thank you, and I love pointing that out—that in your show, two of the speakers were the mayor of our town and our local State’s Attorney, and the connection that I have been able to watch that grew between you guys is amazing… to watch this seventeen-year old and the State’s Attorney banter back and forth and I mean you guys have supported each other and given each other a hard time and just grew to have this incredible friendship and it’s been so fun to watch
KERRY: Monica, you had to be so proud because we can be, you know, we are not, we are a strong-minded group. And so to bring a seventeen-year-old girl into this group of sort of badass women and Estella was like, whatever—she brought so much to the group that it was just—She hit the ground running and she’s, she’s just a doggone lovable.
MONICA: She is.
KERRY: But she held her own. You should just be so proud. She immediately carved out her own space. She did not shrink away in that group,
JENETTE: What kind of reactions did you guys get from friends and family in the community about what you shared that night?
ESTELLA: I think for me it was realize that a lot of people go through the same thing cuz we were the end of the show and then we sang after that. And then I walked off stage and at the end of the show the part of the other She Said cast comes up on stage and then as we were walking off like people I didn’t know were coming up to me being like, “I know what you feel” and like validating me and like it was such a good feeling especially because like because I am like so .. not so different than my mom.. but we have different skin colors and like people are often confused like having that other people experience that and like they’re like, hey, like I’m with you like, that was such a rewarding feeling.
MONICA: I had people that I’ve never met before come up and say thank you so much for saying something because it’s not something that everyone talks about and it’s a hard topic to talk about and hopefully, as talking about our relationship with race and how it weaves into our lives everyday helped that, that was the hope at least; that it helped start the conversation. And people felt more comfortable talking about the differences that we have—even though she is my blood, she is my life. There are the differences that I will never be able to understand what she’s going through. She will not be able to understand what I go through but the response was just incredible.
ESTELLA: I think I’m also glad we did it like when we did cuz we did it in 2019 and now like the Black Lives Matter movement is getting like so much attention and like if we can start people like talking about race in our own community. Like that’s so important to me and like I went to Ohio, I was with not not with Rossow but I saw Rossow at one of the marches and or protests and she was so my mom was so worried about me going and like for me I was like, yeah, like it could be risky but I’m going to go and like she was almost like being like not to, but like go. Like it was such a.. like it’s such a weird time right now, but like, I’m glad that we were able to start a good conversation within our own community like before Black Lives Matter was so popular.
JENETTE: And it is so important and you guys did do something bold and brave and broke some ice before we were even close to what it is today. And I’m so proud to be part of that conversation with you and to know you guys and be part of that journey. I’m glad you brought up the fact, Estella, that you guys were the big finale of the show. You guys went last and not only did you share the story but you followed it up with singing a duet to each other from the musical Wicked called “For Good” which is a very powerful song. What was that like—to stand on stage and sing to each other with those words?
MONICA: That was incredible.
MONICA: Quick story: this became our song—one, because we both loved Wicked and Estella was taking voice lessons, and I would go and sit at the end of voice lessons until she was done.
ESTELLA: I didn’t allow her for the longest time…
MONICA: She did not allow me to come in for the longest time, and then one day she was like, Mom just come in and listen. Like, okay. So I came in, I sat down, and she was singing, and then she looked over at me. And she said, Mom, now it’s your turn. I was like, what? And just a little bit of history: we had the same voice teacher. Like, I had the same voice teacher in high school and college that Estella had: the amazing and magnificent Janet Robb and Janet looked over and said, yeah, get on up here and that is the first time we sang through “For Good,” and it was incredible. And I knew some day that we would sing this together on a stage in front of people. I didn’t realize it was going to be 1,200 people, but we did and it is one of the top five favorite moments of my entire life. Absolutely will be forever.
ESTELLA: It was a pretty cool moment to share.
MONICA: It really was… it really was.
JENETTE: Well, you guys are absolutely amazing and I love watching the joy that you share. I love that you called yourself The Gilmore Girls cuz it’s so evident that you have your own language!
You both are so talented and so open-hearted and so generous to have spent this time with us, both on stage and 2019 and then coming back to visit with us again for the podcast. It’s so much fun to share these moments with women to see how the world can change little by little when we have these difficult conversations when we choose to be brave and vulnerable. And that’s exactly what you both did. And I love you both and I thank you both from the bottom of my heart and I’m so excited that there’s going to be women out there who get to enjoy your story as much as we have to thank you for being our guest today. And I know our friends are enjoying this as well here on The She Said Project Podcast.
MONICA & ESTELLA: Thank you for having us!
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to http://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Mother-daughter duo, Monica and Estella Samii, visit with Kerry and Jenette to talk about the story they both shared on stage back in 2019. They explore how this experience has deepened their special relationship and reflect on how they continue to show up for each other in "For Good."
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.