Project BFF sat down with Boston City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejia to talk about the friendships in her life.
Project BFF: How do your friends feel about your mission/career? How do they support you and your work?
Julia: I’ve always have had a mission-driven personality, so most of my friends—from elementary school to now—have always known me to be an outspoken activist. And I’ve always been grateful to the support I receive from my friends. When I’m out with friends and I see something happening that’s not right, my friends say things like: “Do you have to fight it every time, and always stand up for everybody at all times, even we’re just trying to have some dinner?” They know that I’m always in work mode. Sometimes my friends feel like I need to let loose a little bit and not always be all about work.
Project BFF: Have you ever struggled with friendships?
Julia: My mom and I bounced around a lot in my earlier years. It wasn’t until, I believe, I was in the fifth grade that I stayed in one place long enough to make friends. So, making friends became something that was a bit of a challenge in my early childhood, because of the nature of this instability. But it also created an opportunity for me to reinvent myself, if you will. Going to a new school, making a friend, I couldn’t be shy, because I had to catch up to folks who have been friends for a long time. That that was always weird, but that taught me both how to make friends and how to keep them, because no matter where I ended up I always found ways to stay in touch with my friends that I left behind.
Project BFF: Social media was touted as a way to keep us connected. What is the impact you see that it’s had on friend relationships?
Julia: In particular, Facebook has been a great tool for me to keep in touch with some of my friends who have moved out of the city or even out of the state—being able to look at their pictures and see their kids grow up, it’s been great to be able to be connected with folks.
Social media has strengthened some of my friendships because we’ve been able to stay in touch, and then it has also created a wedge, especially during the Trump era. Some of the things that I would post a Black Lives Matter or things of that nature, I could see how some of my friends had very different opinions about my beliefs, and those things impacted my relationship. I’m sure that because everybody’s sharing their values and their beliefs so openly on social media, not everyone’s always going to agree with what you say.
Project BFF: If you could tell your friends one thing you wish they knew about you, what would it be?
Julia: It’s so funny, because most of my friends know everything about me. That’s what friends are for…to be your full, authentic self and to be vulnerable. So, I’m a pretty open book when it comes to my friends. I do have that issue of am I enough? Everybody thinks I’m super confident and all of the time. There are some friends who know me a little bit more because they’ve been around for a lot of time. Then, some who I recently have become friends with, in the last few years, are surprised when I talk about having impostor syndrome. “You, what? No!”
Project BFF: Do you feel like you have a best friend(s)?
Julia: One of my best friends, we’ve been friends for 30 years, she has seen me at my worst and has talked to me out of things. I know I can call her midnight or 8 o’clock in the morning, knowing that I’m always gonna get brutal honesty from her. That’s one of the reasons I consider her one of my dearest friends. I don’t have many best friends, I think they are a privilege to have. I understand the importance they play in our lives, so I don’t throw that title around so often.
Then I have some long-term friend, that I’ve known since fourth grade and still in touch and in community. While we have lost touch over the years, we still kind of fall back into a fourth grade friendship, even when a long gap has passed. We’ve missed a lot of things in our lives, but I still consider them a best friend because we’ve had such a long history together.
Project BFF: If you could be friends with one historical (no longer living) or fictional woman, who would that be? Yeah, absolutely. I can’t… You can’t dismiss that history of time spent with somebody, so if you could be friends with one historical woman who’s no longer living or maybe even a fictional character, who would that be and why? Wow.
Julia: That’s a good question. I probably would say Maya Angelou. I feel like her journey and her ability to capture the struggle is just incredibly beautiful, and she’s such an amazing survivor. I’ve learned so much from her.
Project BFF: If you could be friends with one famous woman (alive now), who would that be?
Julia: I’ve always had dreamed about being Oprah, I used to say I was going to be Oprah for young people. She’s also a survivor and someone who’s overcome so many obstacles and has managed to create space for other women to step into their power and to have honest conversations, I just think that she is so incredibly amazing.
I have had a dream where she was my friend already. It was a crazy dream…I was at her house. I’m afraid of dogs (I got a bit by when I was a kid) and she had a dog and I was afraid to go into her house. It was weird, but yeah, she would be the one person that I would love to be friends with.
Project BFF: What advice would you give your 12 year old self about making friends throughout your life? Your 21 year old self?
Julia: Because of the experiences I’ve had, my advice really is about trusting yourself and your instincts as to what is a good friend. The woman that I mentioned, that I’ve known since fourth grade, she didn’t live on my block. I lived in a triple decker at the time, and they were three sisters that lived on the second floor, and I was the only child on the first floor. The three were so super cool, everybody liked them, they had everything and I had nothing. They were hot and cold with me, some days they would be my friends and some days they wouldn’t, and I just wanted to be accepted.
The friend that did not live on our block was even cooler than those three sisters, and she was always really nice to me, very friendly and always stood up for me. I just remember that really informing my thinking about what a real friend is. I would tell this to my 12-year-old self: a real friend is someone who will always stand with you and for you, whether you’re there or not. A real friend will tell you things that you don’t want to hear, but you need to hear. And real friends are hard to find, and so when you find one, grab on tight.
Note: Conversation was lightly edited for clarity.
Born in the Dominican Republic, City Councilor At-Large, Julia Mejia arrived in the neighborhood of Dorchester when she was five years old. Raised by a single mother who was undocumented for most of her childhood, she was forced at an early age to speak up on behalf of her mother and others who felt ignored by the very institutions that were supposed to serve them.
Driven by a lifelong pursuit of justice and equity, Councilor Mejia has created countless opportunities for others to step into their power and advocate for positive change as a community organizer. Following the 2019 election AND a historic two-month recount, Julia won her seat by a single vote and is now the first Afro-Latina to sit on the Boston City Council. Mejia is currently the Chair of the Committee on Education, the Committee on Government Accountability, Transparency, and Accessibility as well as the Committee on Labor, Workforce, and Economic Development.”