Monday, August 1, 2022

Jada and Mayah Millhouse

Anika Kwinana, chair of the Arlington Arts Commission, had wanted her daughters Jada and Mayah Millhouse to meet our interviewer Sushmita Mazumdar, as they were interested in the arts and in writing. So when Sushmita asked her if she could interview the girls for our project, “The Road Ahead,” they were excited. Anika asked Sushmita to tell Jada and Mayah a bit about her own story and why Sushmita was so personally interested in documenting the diversity of stories in Arlington. After she did so, Jada, the older of the two sisters, started to giggle. “Other people’s accents rub off on me,” she said to Sushmita. “Your accent reminds me of my South African accent. Like, if I watch a British show I start to think in that accent.”
Memories of Life Abroad
Jada and Mayah were born in South Africa. “I will be 16 this year,” Jada explained, “So I would have spent half my life here, in the US.” They moved here from Port Elizabeth, now called Gqeberha, eight years ago. They first came to Prince George’s County, Maryland, and then to Ballston, in Arlington Virginia.
“I went to Ashlawn Elementary and it’s because of that move that I did second grade for one and a half years,” she said. “So, I should be in 10 and a half grade—I like saying that!” 
Mayah, 14, remembered her time in South Africa. “I remember the smells, tastes of the place. I remember a restaurant called Spur, a chain of restaurants in South Africa, where they served Native American-themed food.”
“Like we are,” Jada joined in. “Native American, Canadian, Black, European. It gives you a sense of having so many identities or not any. But it’s up to you to discover what they are.”
“They had a big slide inside and a movie area…” Mayah went on.
“Like a McDonalds Play Place times ten!” Jada added.
“They had green cream soda, the color of the Sprite bottle,” Mayah continued. 
“In Arlington, I remember in one of our houses we had a long white couch,” Mayah said. “And we had a small amount of champagne for New Year’s! We made Pigs in Blankets in our pajamas… it was at 226—no, 531.” She asked her mom to clarify which house they lived in when that happened.
Jadah remembered, “In 531 our beds were right together. Before that we used to have bunk beds.”
“I used to be a real neat person,” Mayah remembered. 
“But I ruined you!” Jada laughed. 
“Yeah,” Mayah said, “And I’m not so neat anymore. I remember a cousin came to visit and we showed them our room and they closed the door.” The sisters laughed.
“I also remember in SA Collegiate, an all-girls school we went to, we wore uniforms.” Mayah remembered. 
“I liked the uniforms,” Jada said. “Then my room used to be more neat, because you didn’t have to think of clothes to wear to school. Except my collars would be dirty all the time because it’s so hot in South Africa, and I would have to clean it all the time.”
Moving to the Pike
It was when Jada was in 6th grade that they moved to Columbia Pike. “We moved to The Brittany on South Four Mile Run Dr. and I went to Kenmore Middle School, I enjoyed it for the most part. I did a lot of theatre there. I took the time to do that, and we were graded. It pushed me. It was the same teacher who asked me if I’d do the residency. We also did dance PE (physical education), which is regular PE but like they taught basketball they also taught a contemporary hip-hop dance. It was fun even though not everyone got it.”

“Moving from Ballston to the Pike was strange as we went from one level to 3 levels. We did a lot more moving around. Right across from us was the Carlton and they have a deli. We got fries from there all the time. The lady there loved us. We both and our friend had a summer business. We cleaned the insides of cars and organized storage units, did dog walking and sitting,” Jada explained.
“And we cleaned balconies,” Mayah remembered. “We removed this black gunk that collected there. Once we got $100 for cleaning a storage unit. We even helped a realtor with a showing.” Mayah added.
“Yeah, that was emotional,” Jada remembered. “She told us about her son who passed. It was great to meet her and work with her though.”
“At the Brittany there was a real sense of community as we did service for them. It was our last summer there. Then we moved to Penrose,” Jada said. “Here there are more houses, and they are more separate, so we don’t see people in the hallways like in the old place. There we knew everyone because we met them in the hallways.”
“At Penrose, everything is close,” Mayah said. “You walk to the Giant. We go to the Starbucks a lot—I go with my friends.”
Jada said, “There’s a mini museum of African heritage also. We had a whole day walking around the time we moved to Penrose. We knew a bit about the (civil rights era) sit-ins but didn’t know details, so that was great.”
“We are introverts,” Mayah explained. “We met family yesterday and it was so awkward. But we were awkward together.” The sisters laughed. “We were around a lot of people in The Brittany. And we also did the Phoenix Bikes program—”
“I love my bike!” Jada said.
“Mine is not so smooth,” Mayah said. “Mine says Diamond and is blue with glittery stuff.”
“Mine is called a Townie and has the basket. Like in the movies,” Jada explained.
School and the Arts
“I am into the performing arts, and I dance in the school’s dance team.” Jada said. “I also did a residency for ETC (Educational Theatre Company, Arlington, VA), doing choreography for a kid’s show. It’s my first time working with little kids for an extended period of time—2nd to 5th grade. In the end they found out I was in high school and kept asking questions. It wouldn’t end!”
“I am a visual artist,” Mayah said. “I like making abstract designs in pencil. I also sing and do creative writing. I am with the National Children’s Chorus, and we just did a show last Saturday. I haven’t performed in three years. I had one performance with NCC and then it was the pandemic. I was glad I got to experience one; then everything we did was audio and virtual. Next, we go to New York and then, in the summer, to Spain and Portugal. We performed at the Cherry Blossom Parade too.”
Jada said, “This summer will be different as Mayah goes to Spain and I have a job with ETC.” 
Mayah said she goes to Kenmore Middle School now. “I am less of an introvert now.”
“We can enjoy ourselves but recently we have been getting to know cousins. And we are okay but only for a while.” Jada said. “I’m at a 10 when alone. With others I’m at a 6-7.”
Mayah added, “I’m at a 10 when alone. And with friends it’s different. She says I have no filter.”
Jada explained. “She says what’s on her mind. That’s honesty.”
Mayah said she started having friends in 6th grade. “And then the pandemic hit. So, let’s have group chat, someone said. That’s annoying. But it’s great to have someone to talk to in every class.”
“I never have trouble having friends,” Jada said. “My best friends from 6th grade are still the same. I have three best friends and that’s a lot and they understand that. I think you are more of an introvert than me. Think about it…”
“One of them was great when my [step]mom left,” Jada continued. “I really appreciated that—to have them to talk to. As for friends from elementary school, I still see them, but we are not friends anymore. I wasn’t bullied but there was a lot of drama for no reason. Anyway, most friendships faded during the pandemic.”
“I kept my friends through the pandemic,” Mayah said. “They both have the same name. We created a group chat—I’m not the kind of person to ask them for their number. Before, at lunch I sat alone and silent. This year I’m talking more and that’s nice. In 5th grade I loved art. I had a blue composition notebook, and it was full of abstract flowers. It’s really cool to put the first flower on the page.”
“We used to say it’s the notebook that will be in her museum,” Jada said. “It’s the notebook that started it all.”
“This year I started doing photography. I really enjoy it,” Mayah added. In another art project we had to pick a word and do it on white board and make it in our own way. During deep pandemic I had nothing to do and all I did was draw flowers. I was in 6th grade and I drew in the sketchbook.”
The Road Ahead:
“Last week I was thinking after that finishing from Arlington Tech High School, I will do two years at George Mason University and then go abroad… to see the world,” Mayah said. “I would like to walk every inch of the earth but that’s hard to happen, but I’d also like to see all the galaxies out there…”
Jada said, “In my future, I want to create something like Encore [Encore Stage & Studio, Arlington VA] to bring arts to kids in a different ways—structured, but let them face social issues so they are aware. I want to study psychology. I’m doing AP Psychology next year at Washington-Liberty High School. I know I want to be a therapist. I know I have my own reasons and so I want to learn. I have also been told I should study dance. I do a lot of freestyle. They say they see this light in me when I dance. I study it afterwards to see what I danced. It’s a field incredibly hard to get into but maybe I can get a minor in that. I do contemporary and hip-hop. I can’t really explain. It’s like I do hip-hop with my feet and contemporary with my arms.”
“We both also take computer science and Chinese,” Mayah added. “And I love rings!”
“We are also very knowledgeable about Barbie songs,” Jada said excitedly.
“She is,” Mayah corrected.
“That’s what we got into when we were younger. We have an ear for music as both our parents are into music.”
Mayah said, “But now we have moved on from what I used to listen to. I listen to punk rock now.”
Jada said, “Its Afro Beats for me now. We couldn’t be more different. I like being closer to where I was from. Last week I heard the national anthem of South Africa—we had learned it when we lived there—it was so emotional. It made me feel more than I wanted to. But it was beautiful.”

Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar.
Photography by Lloyd Wolf


Unknown said...

Sushmita,I met these creative ladies earlier this summer. I am wishing them God’s blessings in whatever they seek. Great article/ interview & photographs

Lu said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, ladies. Excited to see where God takes you!