olunike "flawed wonder woman"

by jess

I first met Olunike as Lady MacBeth.  Friends kept telling me that I needed to see this production, specifically for its leading lady…and oh mama were they right.  I honestly don’t know if I had ever seen someone more comfortable in their skin.  When she walked into her light, she did so with the confidence of a warrior and the grace of a queen.  She appeared to me like the physical and energetic embodiment of female power, a perfect Lady M. She killed. And when I began working with her on the same television show last year, I was blown away by the lightness of her spirit (constantly cracking jokes) and the depth of her emotionality and thoughtfulness (she is a serious social justice advocate).  She most definitely contains multitudes.  After drinking a couple dark rums at a comedy show and delightfully not commiserating about our industry; she instead inspired me by retellings of how she lives life on her terms.

  • Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the countryside of St. Ann's, Jamaica with my grandparents, living the farm life. It was the perfect environment for a young child to grow up in and I had my cousins with me as well. Around 11 years old I came back to Toronto to live with my mother. 

  • What is the spiritual background that you grew up with?

I was raised in the Christian faith. We specifically went to Anglican churches, but we also visited Catholic, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches while I was growing up. My family were members of the church congregation, so being in church regularly was a way of life for us. I even sang in the children's choir.  When I was about 5 years old I got to sing a solo at church for the Christmas festival and everyone gave my a standing ovation. Maybe that's where my desire to perform started.

  • Have you ever had experience with magic or the occult?  Whether it was witnessing it or people talking about it around you?

No I don't have experiences with magic or the occult. However, my Nigerian relatives and friends highly believe in voodoo and say it's been responsible for the deaths of loved ones. They call it Juju.  I believe in voodoo for sure and the power it brings to uplift or kill based on Orisha traditions. It was used in the uprising of the Haitian Revolution. To empower the slaves to fight for their freedom.

  • What was your experience with expanding your education?

When I left high school I was confused and a new mother. I didn't see how I could raise my daughter and still become an actress. I started studying Business Marketing at Humber College, but after 2 years dropped out, due to being overwhelmed. I also hated the courses, because I was just doing it for my family. Education is very important to my family, because it represents freedom and stability. I wanted to be in school, but for what I wanted to study. So, I applied to theatre school in New York City, got accepted, and left with my daughter on this crazy adventure to pursue my dream. I loved the education I received in and out of the classroom in NY, because it helped me to discover who I was as a human being, but also taught me independence and motherhood while achieving my goals. I've had an acting career for over 10 years now and have recently returned back to university to study psychology, caribbean studies, and african studies. I wanted to expand my academic education in order to support my craft and philanthropic work. I also discovered my academic passion through my art form. I'm so happy in this learning environment now, because it wasn't forced upon me. I could also bring my many years of personal experiences to my studies.

  • What's the greatest lesson you've learned about being a mother? 

Olunike and her daughter. 

Olunike and her daughter. 

I have a very close relationship with my daughter, because I threw out any blueprint a mother was supposed to follow in order to be seen as a "good mother". So the greatest lesson I learned is that there is no perfect way of raising a child. Every child is different. Everyday will surprise you, so you cannot be locked into an idea of how things are supposed to go. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to meet unrealistic expectations. I created a bond with my daughter by always telling her the truth about me and listening to her. I'm a flawed wonder woman and she needed to see that reality. No subject was off the table to provide a safe place for her to express her thoughts. That's how you become the cool parent.

  • What's the greatest lesson you've learned from travel? 

Leave you're judgement at home. Also, that I'm rich beyond belief being Canadian. If I ever brought any pre conceived ideas about another country or culture with me travelling, they got blasted away pretty quickly. So I tend to go as a blank canvas and just observe the new environment. The first time I went to Haiti I ended up in the poorest ghetto in the western hemisphere called "Cité Soleil" after the major earthquake. Children clung to my body begging me for food and water, because it had been days since their last meal. It broke my heart. However, with all that suffering, their spirits were high and they were so unbelievably kind. This kept me going back to Haiti every year after that. In western society we tend to complain about the smallest things when lots of people around the world don't have something as simple as food and water. That's fucked up.

  • What's your favourite part about getting older? 

I'm getting wiser and more settled into who I am. I speak more freely about my opinions and I feel comfortable saying my age. Especially to men. I'm proud that I've lived for 40 years and I'm healthy. I also enjoy the fact that I don't look my age in any way. My body and skin has been good to me. I think it's part genetics, part happiness, and a whole lot of sexiness :)

  • What is a common misconception (that annoys the fuck out of you) people have about women in their forties?

A common misconception would be that we are not as desirable anymore. Some people tend to put us in a box a "not fuckable/loveable anymore". In actuality, we are more fuckable and lovable and it's because we are in our sexual bodies more confidently than a woman in her twenties. Women in their forties shed more of the filler that society places on them. We have stronger opinions about world issues and ourselves and how we want to contribute to society.  Women in their forties are badasses and extremely sexy, because we are confident.

  • What is the best part about dating in your forties?

The best part for me is that I can have fun being myself. There is no use of pretending to be something you're not to land the guy. It's best to be open, relaxed, and true to who I am. If the guy doesn't dig it, then he's not the one for me. Women in their forties can see the bullshit coming a mile away. We have also had some serious life experiences throughout the years that allows us to understand that people are not perfect and there is no such thing as "The Perfect Mate". That acceptance allows me to really see the person for who they are and if I'm willing to welcome them into my life. Younger women rely on list when they are looking for love. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have standards, but maybe the list is a little unrealistic. It's all about positive energy at this point and if that not a factor...BYE BYE...NEXT!!! 

  • Do you have an example of a situation/story where you reacted purely from your gut?

Recently I had an unfortunate incident with a movie theatre where I was questioning a policy that wasn't being enforced on all patrons in the theatre. The staff refused to address me like a human being and without any provocation, decided that I was to be labeled a threatening "angry black woman" who needed to be removed by police. I was in such shock of the blatant lie coming out of this man's mouth so I stayed silent in the theatre to protect my life. Freedom of speech is suppose to be a right in this country, so I posted my encounter with the theatre to the public. It went viral and the media contacted me for interviews that they would twist into a narrative that sold papers instead of getting to the truth of the issue. The majority of the city supported me, because many of them have had similar experiences with this theatre and was happy that I used my voice to address the unjust treatment. However, there were people who called me a liar and stated in comments that my feelings weren't valid. That somehow I made it all up, because I'm an actress who was hired to lie for a living. Racism is a subject that most people want to sweep under the rug and pretend it's not there. I believe this hurts us as a society when we avoid such deeply embedded historical matter. It festers and grows until it becomes an even bigger problem that cannot be solved or at least managed properly. My gut told me that day, in the theatre, that I was being racially profiled and I spoke up. I wouldn't change a thing on how I handled the situation, because I kept my dignity. It really hurt me, but it also woke me up to how powerful someone's voice can be, as long as they use it.

  • What advice would you give your 25 year old self?

I would advise my younger self to relax. It's going to be okay. There is a tremendous amount of pressure we put on ourselves to be great. The truth is we are already great. When we live life with ease we capture the unforgettable moments. When we are busy in the rat race we lose those moments forever. When we are on our death beds, the only thing that will matter is who you love and who loves you. Oh yes, and travel often :)

Jessica Salgueiro