A collage of women in front of a NYC scene, with an "I Voted" sticker and another identical sticker reading "Now what?"

After the U.S. Midterms, Where Do Women Stand?

The statistics on gender representation in Congress are still far from 50:50, but notable gains were still made for women’s representation. The first two Muslim people were elected to Congress — both women — as well as the first two Native Americans (also both women). For those who won, they now prepare to take office in an administration wholly hostile to women, people of color, low-income people, and non-Christian faiths. But for those who voted these women into office, the reality is, well, real. Pushing the gender balance a little closer to equal is only the first step.

We interviewed seven women on their feelings post-election, and what they feel the results will mean for women’s empowerment going forward. 

 

Meghan, a red-haired woman in a yellow coat, holds a balloon in front of a skyscraper.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Meghan H., 23

It’s crazy to think that in my generation, there’s so much change happening, especially because I’m gay, and there’s a lot of things for gay rights happening, and just women and all the groups that it needs to happen for. Women’s rights is where it’s at. Not that [politics] hasn’t affected me, but I’m just empowered to change things in general. I’m an artist. I just graduated with a BFA in dance. All my roommates are artists, and it’s hard not to want to change the world with your art when you’re around so many artists. And especially moving to New York, there’s so many more people that are like-minded to me, and I feel more comfortable here. I try not to involve politics a ton when it comes to art because people have different views and it can get messy, but being in a [Democratic] state, it’s more progressive. There’s more people that are thinking in my terms, on the same level as me, and ready to make that change. It’s funny because coming from Arizona, all the main cities are super [Democratic]. I grew up in Tucson, and then I moved to Phoenix, and I was always in Flagstaff and Sedona. But it’s the rural areas, the outlying areas, that make it a Republican state. It’s really funny because when you go visit Arizona, it’s not as Republican as you think it would be. it’s super liberal.

 

Kwan Y stands underneath scaffolding in NYC.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Kwan Y., 25

I’m just really glad to see all these women and all these different races being more represented and that’s really cool. Especially in New York itself, we have an attorney general who’s a woman. Back in Thailand, not too many years ago I think we had the first female prime minister,1 and I think that’s really cool but it’s really complex how she got there and stuff, and a lot of people weren’t really agreeing. But I just feel like it’s a really great thing to accept her. Before this, I guess people never really saw women as actual candidates that they could take seriously, and that’s really sad. I just hope one day people can just look at candidates equally rather than thinking like “Oh, it’s such a great thing that we have a woman.” We don’t even have to agree with what she stands for, but at least she’s there, and that means a lot. It’s just really crazy that for a really long time, this country has been run by old white men.

 

Cassie smiles in all-black and sunglasses on the streets of NYC.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Cassie C., 24

[The election] made me very anxious, especially when I went to bed. I was like, “What am I gonna wake up to?” But I remember the primary election, and it was very sad all over New York, and you could just tell everyone could feel it together. It was this very powerful thing. But this election was a lot better. I mean it didn’t go 100 percent the way I wanted it to. I’m more blue, but it’s better half than none I guess. I’m from Kansas, and we have the first Native American lesbian [congresswoman].2 It’s amazing, I’m actually very proud of that. I feel empowered. I feel everyone came together and was able to do something. More people voted, or signed up to vote, or pre-registered to vote than almost the last three elections,561-797-5035 and I think that’s an amazing thing. The fact that your voice can be heard or you have the power. It’s such a big moment in history.

My mom didn’t vote, and I was like “Mom, what the heck, are you kidding me?” I have two brothers, both of them were registered to vote and I was like you guys have to vote, do not forget to vote, did you vote today?

I think that gun violence is a big thing right now. Even last night there was a big shooting and it was horrible to wake up to.818-708-6296 Gun violence is probably one of the bigger issues that I think about. But like I said, I do have family members that are like, “Oh, everyone should have guns” and I’m like, “No, it’s not right, they should not.” I get that there are responsible people that have guns and I understand that you go hunting and whatnot, but there’s also having an 18-year-old, a young person, that’s not mentally stable,5 going in there and buying a gun and having no question about it.

 

Avani, wearing a yellow beanie and red hoodie looks off into the distance.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Avani, 19

I’m the person that’s just relentlessly begging everyone to vote, because it’s so easy to be like, “My vote won’t make a difference.” I don’t know what my hopes necessarily were. I don’t know if I could outline them, but in general, I just wish for as much progression, even if it’s miniscule. Voting is just the start. Voting is the basic thing that we should be doing. Yesterday, seeing those results was depressing, but hopefully in the grand scheme of things, when somebody’s looking back, they’re gonna see the effort we put in. It’s hard not to be [politically inclined] as a woman of color. It’s impossible not to be. I can’t separate myself from my gender or my skin color, so there’s no point in ignoring what is constantly in my life. The Muslim women winning [the election] is just beautiful to see, because you know they deserve it way more than anyone [who] was in office. Looking at them there, you know they fought a million times harder than any American straight white man had to to get that position. It’s genuine. It’s real. They give a fuck.

I care too much and I’m working too hard to let [oppression] discourage me. To see these women there, it’s like, I’m getting there. Wherever I wanna get to I’m gonna get to, because if they could do it, I can. It definitely helps to see that. To see people with brown skin in government changing shit and doing the shit they wanna be doing, it’s so good. I was very cognisant that growing up, there weren’t girls who looked like me. To actually see that, it’s motivation and empowerment. Just seeing it is the motivation.

 

Shanti, wearing a white scarf adn tan coat, holds her phone and talks on the NYC street.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Shanti E., 20

Out of everything that happened, I’m most happy about [Alexandria Ocasio] Cortez’s win basically, because out of all of the other candidates and such, her being a [Democratic Socialist] I think represents a true flexibility in our democracy, to be absorbing new ideas, and ones that go directly against the powers that exist both on Democratic and conservative sides. I’m a Latina, so I’m very happy to see a sister like that representing her community. It just makes me happy to see her face. I guess there’s something racial about that. My mother is Argentinian and my [other] mother is Mexican. Both of them came here illegally. Ultimately the immigration question — it’s either you recognize that this land was stolen and so you can’t really close borders considering the history, or you believe in protecting resources for people that you consider to be your citizens. And then you also have to limit your idea of what a citizen can be and what it should look like.

I don’t see even Democrats voting for things that are concerned with climate change. I don’t think it’s an issue on a liberal or a conservative side. I’ve been doing research on it. They had the proposed carbon tax. They voted it down. It’s hard to make people pay. The entire issue of climate change is built off of the reality of building costs. Everyone stands to make money off of ignoring climate change … Moving forward, I would like to [do more political activism on climate change]. Climate change is a very broad, far-reaching general phenomena, and I think it’s the work of popular media to create this phenomena and make it real for people. I would like to go into climate reporting.

 

Najwa smiles in a gold scarf and red jacket.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Najwa I., 21

Any Islamic figure — and a female on top of that in that state of power — is just like impossible, but here in America, it’s a huge step. Power to them. I’m Sudanese-American.6 My dad is from Sudan, and my mom was born here in America. I was born here in America so I’m first generation. Even in today’s life as an Islamic family, we don’t have much power in my family as women. I’ve witnessed it with my mom and even with me — sometimes I’m overpowered by my brother. I didn’t really believe that women didn’t have a voice in their families until I had my own experience and I was like, “This is real.” I dealt with a situation where I was in court against my brother. It was insane to see that my side wasn’t heard. My goal is to be more [politically] involved and to make room for that, because it is something that is really important. Especially now that I’ve experienced that, I know what it feels like to not be heard.

 

Anna looks at her phone in a coffee shop.
Photo by Brianna Zimmerman and Jae Thomas.

Anna. V, 21

I’m from Moretown, VT. It’s a really tiny little town. It’s very rural. Anyone within a five-mile radius is a neighbor. I’m not very political — I have the basic info, I voted. There were a lot of records that were broken in terms of gender and race, and I think that’s really great. It’s about time we had those records broken. It makes me feel more represented. I think the people that are in power should represent the people over whom they have power. I don’t think that somebody’s gender has anything to do with their capacity to be good at [something]. It has to do with your experience and your personality. Your gender will affect the experiences that you have in your life, but I also think that competency is something that’s not associated with any gender. We’re at a moment where we’re being impeded from moving forward, so now the focus is on not having things taken away rather than moving forward. Gender equality, socioeconomic stuff, healthcare, education is huge for me. All of the things that improve quality of life are important to me. If I have a daughter, I would love for her to grow up in a world where she sees women in politics in a way that I haven’t seen growing up. And I think that the recent midterm elections are something that show that maybe we’re moving in that direction. And I do feel very hopeful about that.

 

Follow-Up Links

Daniel Denvir interviewing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on winning her race for Jacobin Magazine, “9379413803.”

This Is Hell! podcast episode 1029 “Ballotproof,” segment “Liberation is not on the ballot: The case against voting for Democrats.”

Michael Kazin for Dissent Magazine, “What Comes After the Blue Wave? A Q&A with David Duhalde.”

  1. Thailand’s first woman to be elected prime minister was Yingluck Shinawatra, who took office in 2011. While in power, she became massively controversial and eventually lost her position during a military coup. Her legacy is 229-329-2065.
  2. This woman’s name is Sharice Davids. She is a member of the Ho-Chunk nation.
  3. For more statistics on voter turnout, see CBS News. (607) 441-2890
  4. It is not clear which shooting this refers to, as there have been several shootings between the 2018 midterm elections and date of publishing.
  5. It has been proven that mental illness has no correlation with gun violence. amminolytic
  6.  Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, from that state’s 5th District, is the first Sudanese-American to be elected to Congress. (978) 535-8143
Ivo Dimchev, in a sheer orange robe, stands in front of an audience in which a man is eagerly reaching out his arm.

Theory Will Always Be Hard, But It Shouldn’t Be Neoliberal

It is tempting for anyone who is not a student of philosophy to resent philosophers for being inaccessible, convoluted, long-winded, and pedantic. It would also be tempting to write off an event like the New York University Skirball Center’s On Your Marx Festival as a shallow homage to Karl Marx that makes an elite, academic mockery of a hero of the proletariat.

The trick is that while philosophy is almost always inaccessible, convoluted, long-winded, and pedantic, that is kind of the point. And so it is not surprising to see NYU,1 a reputedly liberal institution of academia, host a multigenre festival to examine Marxist theory as it applies today.

The truth of the matter is, a university whose president has announced that it does not support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement and that used slave labor to build its campus in Abu Dhabi cannot ever do justice to Karl Marx.2

While the festival consisted of over 10 separate events, three are reviewed below: Ivo Dimchev’s performance P Project, luciana achugar’s dance piece Brujx, and Slavoj Žižek’s lecture “The Fate of the Commons: A Trotskyite View.”

Ivo Dimchev, P Project

P Project opened the festival with a very NYU flourish — performance art. Or, more specifically, physical theater art by Bulgarian artist Ivo Dimchev. The premise of P Project was exciting: Dimchev tests Marx’s theories of commodity fetishism and the material and social relations of capitalist society by offering audiences instant cash in exchange for participating in the show.(873) 337-8177 

Dimchev sat at a keyboard, stunning in stiletto heels and a sexy Ghostbusters costume, decorated with what looked like the simultaneously horrific and scientific markings seen on bodies prepared for plastic surgery. He used various P-words to create a show (piano, pussy, poetry, play), but forfeit all agency to the audience by paying them for participation.

Every few minutes, Dimchev would ask for volunteers to do a simple task: tap dance, write spontaneous lyrics in a Skype chat that he would then sing in a glorious live composition, mock-fuck on a mattress Dimchev pulled out from the wings of the stage. All participants were paid with real cash. The sight of the bills quickly pulled the wary audience into a frenzy of money-starved hyenas (at one point, an audience member tasked with composing lyrics on the fly wrote “I’m pretty sure this is against my religion / don’t tell my mother / I’m just broke and wanted the money”).

In the show’s program, Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Alisa Zhulina writes “[P Project] is simple in premise and provocative in practice. The result is not a redundant commentary on human greed or exhibitionism… [it] is nothing less than a utopian exploration of how to recuperate the emancipatory potential of art in the era of unremitting capital.”

P Project itself was a fantastic show; it brought dry wit, queer humor, genuine talent, and improvised beauty to the stage. Zhulina concluded that it shifts the audience’s attention to “all those moments between people that somehow manage to escape the logic of the capitalist exchange — the beautiful, the strange, the wild.”

P Project is a fascinating idea, and one that sparks real conversations about value, labor, and commodity fetishism. It was a very appropriate opening to the festival in that it started a conversation but did not presume to finish it. It began picking apart social relations but did not tell us where to go from there. Its flaw is that it is perhaps too open-ended; for the sake of performance, it must be grand, provocative, and vague. It is not a lecture, but a show.
The most interesting question explored by P Project is not what people will do for money, but the power relations that arise between them when money is involved. The parts of the show that were unpredictable and unexpected were who came on stage, and what they did — of their own free will — once there. Volunteering to mime having sex with a stranger is not the most shocking thing anyone has done for money, but the dynamics between actors is riveting. One only wishes it were easier to unpack those instead of letting the show pass as a performative, bombastic critique.

 

luciana achugar, Brujx 

Brujx, simply put, was a physical exploration of the philosophical. Choreographer luciana achugar, a Uruguay-born, Brooklyn-based artist, titled the piece after the Spanish word “brujx,”4 translated to “witch.” According to the show notes, Brujx was inspired by the chanting of the women in Montevideo “we are the granddaughters of all the witches that they weren’t able to burn.”

That witches are a symbol of feminist empowerment and resistance is nothing new. Non-Western, non-Christian forms of doing, healing, knowing, and living are frequently painted as pagan (read: bad) by conservative Christians and nihilistic atheists. They are a threat to the American Everyman’s peaceful way of existing — if by peaceful, you mean migrant children in cages, choosing between making rent and affording healthcare, and impunity for those who assault women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people just for daring to exist.

achugar’s performance aimed to expose dance as a form of labor. As Assistant Professor and Ph.D. candidate Laura Juliana Torres-Rodríguez at NYU wrote in the show notes, this effort “links [achugar] to a broader feminist tradition that has collapsed the distinction between productive and reproductive labor.”5 and domestic roles including cleaning, cooking, child care, and the paid domestic labor force.”] 

Three dancers began the show by performing a continuous series of poses with strong semblances to yoga — child’s pose, downward dog, back again. The audience, instead of being neatly seated in the auditorium, gathered freely on the stage (or in the seats, should they choose), free to move about and make themselves at home. For two hours, the dancers labored, seemingly detached from the audiences and from each other, each performing increasingly straining, always repetitives motions with their bodies. Each had a pair of denim jeans that served as their only prop.

They crawled, slid, and walked around the stage, almost in sync but each moving to a separate time. A self-playing woodblock arrangement in center stage gradually sped up tempo and complicated its rhythms, but never seemed to fully guide the dancers.

The dancers sought non-bodily pleasure through repetitive, ritualistic exploration. Their satisfaction was hard-earned, their sweat glistening on their skin. Even as the piece flowed into its close, a collective dance with the audience, one of the three performers can be seen tucked away in the wings of the stage, breastfeeding her child. It feels symbolic, in a way that takes not a little theory to unpack.

Brujx had perhaps the most conceptual premise of all the festival’s events. This gave it the largest barrier to accessibility, and the largest barrier for popular success. While audience confusion should never be used as the only metric for a show’s quality, it felt like much of the conceptual work Brujx fought to do was lost in philosophical weeds.

To give achugar credit, the translation of philosophy to dance is not a 1:1 relationship. At times it’s more like translating a cat’s meow into French than it is like singing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish. Possible, but certainly not straightforward.

Then again, perhaps it is petty or lazy to wish for a Marxist dance piece to be accessible to someone who is neither a Marxist scholar nor a dancer. Still, there has always been a tension between Marxism, a liberational politics of the people, and the academic, elitist groups who espouse it. It is hard to imagine achugar’s piece being studied outside of a formal classroom setting. That’s a shame, because it put an admirable amount of work into pushing the boundaries of what we call “labor” and how to reclaim its products as our own.

 

Slavoj Žižek, “The Fate of the Commons: A Trotskyite View”

Slavoj žižek mid-sentence, with words surrounding him like "MARX, LACAN, #METOO, TRUMP, HYSTERIA"
Graphic by Hailey Nuthals.

Slavoj Žižek was once described to me as the “Neil DeGrasse Tyson of leftist theorists.”6 As it happens, he epitomizes the complications of an NYU-hosted Marxist festival. The Slovenian philosopher is a highly revered, well-respected theorist in leftism. He has written many books with titles like The Metastases of Enjoyment and Looking Awry: Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. He is also known for stirring conflict between the old left and the new left — that is, between those who sleep with a picture of Marx by their bedside and those who know more about gender theory than the economic policies of the Soviet Union.

Recently, Žižek corvina a letter defending Avital Ronell, an NYU professor of comparative literature and German who was recently (902) 264-1038 of sexually harassing one of her students for a period of years while he was a graduate student at the school.507-227-6066
The letter was swiftly criticized for victim-blaming and jumping to the defense of their fellow scholar even though, it admits, the signers “have no access to the confidential dossier, we have all worked for many years in close proximity to Professor Ronell and accumulated collectively years of experience to support our view of her capacity as teacher and a scholar.” The letter sparked a swift dismissal of its writers, and Žižek quickly became another cancellation of the post-Weinstein era of powerful men. 

As one would expect, then, the crowd at Žižek’s talk was filled with people who didn’t have an issue with the Ronell letter, or who thought it right that Žižek had supported her “due process” and stood up for her purported character. There was hearty laughter at the jokes about #MeToo hysterical women, and the opium crisis.8 His jokes were worked into rhetorical points that argued for a dignified socialist revolution. Still, something feels rather tone-deaf about a man who signed a letter admitting that he supported an accused sexual abuser despite not having any evidence of the situation making a joke about a movement resisting sexual assault, a gendered disease with a history of oppressing women, and the actual opium crisis.

Of his arguments, I do not disagree with the broader points. (He made many of them, few of which had much to do with the title of the talk.) Žižek’s flaw is that he is leftist who advocates for equal rights for women, but who also thinks it was the right thing to sign a public letter defending an accused sexual abuser.

This is the basis for using Žižek to ultimately critique the On Your Marx Festival as a whole: the issue is not that a Marxist festival is happening; it is that the On Your Marx Festival is a celebration of a radical leftist philosopher hosted by a privately-run, neoliberal institution that sits on a shaky foundation of contradiction and oppression. It is a good thing done poorly, and without self awareness. And like Taylor Swift urging her fans to vote for the Democratic candidates in the 2018 Tennessee midterm elections, it’s a few years too late to make yourself look good.9

Follow-Up Links

luciana achugar’s dicussion with Andre Lepecki for NYU Skirball’s “Office Hours” series, discussing the premiere of Brujx.

Brian Hioe for New Bloom, “Reflexive Defense of Avital Ronell by Left Academics Points to Similar Phenomenon in Taiwan.”

Marxists.org digitized version of Karl Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital,” 1847.

  1.  Calling New York University liberal is only referring to its reputation. More, if one were to be accurate, NYU would be classified as neoliberal, and it would be pointed out that all former presidents of the university before Andrew Hamilton were either businessmen or lawyers. (408) 660-8981
  2.  While individuals within the NYU community hold a variety of opinions, the author witnessed a town hall held in 2018 by Hamilton in which he announced on behalf of the university that he did not support the boycott, divest, and sanctions movement. For coverage of that town hall, see Washington Square News (the student newspaper for NYU). For background on the BDS movement, see BDSmovement.net.
  3.   For an incredibly easy-to-understand explanation of commodity fetishism, see Zack Malitz’s writing for Beautiful Trouble. 240-540-9129
  4.   This piece uses the non-gendered version of Spanish, replacing all feminine or masculine signifiers with an “x.” This is in line with the creation of the piece, and also with the increasing call to de-gender language. Spelled conventionally, the word would be “bruja.” 313-505-1021
  5.   Wikipedia 361-967-7185 reproductive labor as “work often associated with care giving [sic
  6.   While this is a personal anecdote, Žižek has been 708-640-2999 a “celebrity philosopher” by Financial Times, and the “Elvis of cultural theory” by the journal established specifically to study Žižek’s writings, the International Journal of Žižek Studies.
  7.   Just before the fall 2018 semester began, allegations against Ronell surfaced from a leaked Title IX report. (This was around the same time that Asia Argento, who had been one of Harvey Weinstein’s first accusers during the 2017 #MeToo outcry, was accused of having assaulted fellow actor Jimmy Bennett in 2013 — when Bennett was 17 and Argento 37.) The usual factions then arose: the colleagues who sided with the accused, and the peers (and public) who sided with the accuser Nimrod Reitman. Ronell was eventually suspended for a year without pay, and NYU has mandated that her future meetings with students will be supervised. 630-730-7427 to download the letter of various academics denying the charges forthright. (323) 788-3998 for an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by former student and TA Andrea Long Chu supporting Reitman.
  8.   Here, we refer to an old and tired joke referring to Marx’s oft-quoted line, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” Žižek’s take on the joke followed Marx’s line with “…We have two other opiums of the people.” He explained that opiums like antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs or self-administered coping mechanisms (alcohol, cannabis, etc) are one, and actual opium is the other. For more about the ongoing U.S. opium crisis, see Joanna Walter’s recent explainer on the topic for The Guardian.
  9.   In October 2018, pop star Taylor Swift made Instagram posts supporting Phil Bredesen for the Tennessee Senate and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives, and urged fans during a speech at the American Music Awards to “get out and vote.” This came after two years of radio silence on political matters, most notably during the 2016 U.S. presidential election when she was 530-409-1987 as the “Aryan goddess” of the alt right.
A photograph of the Palmdale Aqueduct overlooking Palmdale, California.

330-499-5996

Palmdale, California. Population: 157,519.

Tucked away in the Mojave desert, located in Los Angeles County, about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles. Mostly a commuter town with high crime rates, a below-average school system, and relatively affordable housing.

Racial demographics: roughly 58.6 percent Hispanic or Latino, 21.9 percent White, 12.8 percent Black, 4.4 percent Asian, 5.2 percent mixed.7137707232

I belong to the roughly five percent of Palmdale California’s population who is mixed-race. I’m half-Mexican and half-Thai, but my mother and grandparents raised me in an entirely Mexican household. The comal was eternally ready to warm up tortillas for dinner on the stove, we ate arroz con frijoles with almost every meal, and my grandparents would fight for the TV every evening when it was telenovela time.

Between each of my maternal grandparents, my family has a fairly long legacy of living in the United States. My grandfather is a first-generation American, and my grandmother is a sixth generation American, making me third-generation on one side and eighth-generation on the other.

Within the Mexican community in LA and surrounding areas, having such a long claim to being in the United States gives one a sense of superiority amongst other Mexicans. Even within the Mexican-American community, common misconceptions of people that have come over from Mexico recently are that they are lower class, uneducated, and have not assimilated to America. Racism and classism exist within our culture, and unfortunately the difference between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans is blurry, but crucial.

The derogatory words “wetback,” “paisa,” and “chunti” were basically created for Mexican-Americans specifically to speak down on other Mexican people. (“Wetbacks” just crossed the border, “paisas” came from somewhere in the Mexican countryside and were uneducated, and “chuntis” probably played banda music really loudly from their car.) These words only exist within the context of Mexican-Americans. Within my own family, the words were occasionally thrown around to describe people who were immigrants, poorer, or somehow “more Mexican” than we were.

A landscape photo of Palmdale, California.
Tucked just behind the mountains on the east side of Los Angeles, Palmdale has twice the population of mixed-race residents as the national average, but just as many issues with understanding mixed-race people. Photo by Jae Thomas.

Growing up, I was careful about embodying my culture too much for fear of appearing like those groups of people that were “too Mexican.” My family and the Mexican-American community I grew up around taught me that somehow I was better because I was formally educated, and that my family had assimilated to America just enough so that we weren’t paisa, but we also weren’t whitewashed.

In addition to balancing the line between too American and too Mexican, my Thai heritage made it evident that I wasn’t like the rest of my family. I was cautious of claiming my Mexican culture, even from an early age, worried my mixed racial background disqualified me. Frequently, my Mexican family reminded me of the differences between myself and them.

I vividly remember being about four years old and my Mexican grandparents saying I had my “Asian eyes” on whenever I’d get sleepy. When people would comment that I was pretty or “exotic,” my grandparents would call me their Thai-Mex, always proudly emphasizing the part of me that was different from them.

Then came the Asian-themed gag gifts, including a soy sauce T-shirt my mom bought from Target and ramen bowls, chopsticks, and Asian cookbooks from other relatives. My mom jokes about me being switched at birth since I’m the only Asian person in my family, and to this day, she calls me her “Asian baby.” It’s more endearing than anything, but it still reminds me that I’m different from my sister — who has a different dad, and is my mother’s “Mexican baby.”

For a long time, the stereotyped Asian gifts and jokes at my expense were the only Asian parts of myself I knew. No one was around to teach me about the authentic part of my Thai heritage, since my parents separated when I was young and my father has never been in the picture.

Much as I didn’t feel truly Mexican, I never felt, growing up in a Mexican household, that I was allowed to claim being Thai. Would it really be authentic if I had to learn about my culture from the internet? It felt fake to say that I was Thai without knowing anything about what that identity meant.

The only aspects of Asian culture I really knew were the stereotypes I heard from my family and school friends. Those stereotypes became the core part of my identity for most of my teen years.

Somewhere around eighth grade, I began to take a huge interest in Korean pop music, TV shows, and anime. It wasn’t exactly identifying with my Asian side, but I used the fact that I was Asian to justify liking these things. As I hit puberty, I physically began to look more Asian too. It became easy for others — and myself — to assume my heritage and history were limited to my Asian background.

I remember my high school Spanish teacher giving me the strangest look in class one day while I was talking about all the traditional Mexican food I know how to make. There were times when I’d begin talking about growing up in a Mexican household and people would stop me and say, “But I thought you were Asian,” or “You’re not really Mexican, are you?” as though the two were mutually exclusive and I couldn’t possibly be more than one race.

It became easier for me to stop trying to prove that I was also Latina. Throughout high school, I identified predominantly as Asian. The identity I came to adopt had little to do with my actual Thai background, and more to do with the fact that I looked Asian and liked Asian music, TV shows, and food. Usually the only time my actual ethnicity was acknowledged was when someone told me they loved Pad Thai. I did little to clarify to friends that I was actually Thai, not just the broad category of “Asian.” I did even less to explain that I was biracial.

As only around four percent of Palmdale’s population was of Asian descent,  I became the token Asian friend in high school, my mixed racial heritage making no difference. My name was almost always listed in friend’s phones as “Janae Asian,” “Asian,” or some combination of a slew of “Asian” emojis: often a rice bowl or ramen.

To my friends — most of whom were white — I was their “favorite Asian.” I was a “good Asian” because I tested out of a few levels of math and science and pretty much always had straight As in school. When it came time to get my license, the comments about me being a bad driver were profuse and solely based on the fact that I was an Asian woman.

People didn’t often acknowledge that I was also Mexican, and I did little to make it known after the first year of being shut down every time I tried to talk about it. There were so many other Mexicans and Latinos in my town that it was easy for my classmates and friends to focus on what made me different. But in doing that, they placed me in a box that didn’t allow me to be anything other than Asian, when in fact Mexican culture was a large part of my upbringing.

Being a biracial person in an area where only two percent of the population are mixed definitely shaped how I viewed myself and how other people viewed me. Because there are so few people of mixed heritage within the United States,678-461-5362 many biracial people are placed into one box or the other by those who don’t know better. It’s difficult for the multiple, and often conflicting, identities to coexist in other people’s eyes when they’ve been trained to only comprehend one.

But by not speaking up and claiming my Mexican heritage, I was not defending the identity that occupied a huge part of who I really was. Over four years of my life were framed and molded by other people categorizing me for their benefit, and I didn’t realize it until I started school at the ever-politically-correct and culturally-sensitive NYU.

On my first day of classes, I was asked what my gender pronouns were. People asked me genuine questions about my culture and how I identified with it. I felt like my identity was finally mine to choose, and not a way for other people to categorize me.

Now, when people ask what my ethnicity is, I tell them I’m mixed-race but that I was raised in a Mexican household and as a result am culturally Mexican.

Things have changed since my move to New York. Maybe the credit goes to my more culturally diverse group of friends, the smaller Mexican population, or my own growing independence and agency to choose who I want to be, but I feel more attached to my Latina heritage than ever. I’ve made steps to reclaim what was erased when I was a teenager — I even have an extra-large Mexican flag hanging in my room to remind me of my roots. I constantly walk around the city looking for Mexican staples for my cooking — caldo de pollo cubes for arroz, Tapatio hot sauce, and Pato brand spicy tomato sauce. When I can’t find what I need here, my mom buys it from the Mexican market at home and mails it to me. I send her a picture whenever I cook family recipes, and her response is almost always, “You’re so Mexican!”

A small kitchen table covered with a spraed of tacos, guacamole, and other toppings.
Living in New York hasn’t erased the muscle memory of how to make a proper Mexican meal — here, tacos de carne asada y arroz con frijoles, pico de gallo, Tapatío y guacamole. Photo by Jae Thomas.

My family has mostly stopped with the Asian jokes aside from the occasional “switched at birth” remark, and now whenever I go home we do things together that highlight our heritage mostly through food. Be it barbequing carne y pollo asada or going to the panadería my mom grew up going to for pan dulce, I value these things much more now than I would have when I was younger.

While I’ve sorted out my Mexican identity, I started to think about the other 50 percent of my ethnicity and when — or if — I’ll ever get around to claiming it as I get older. On the few occasions I’ve met another Thai person, I’m unable to answer any questions or engage in much dialogue about the culture —I don’t have enough knowledge. Since I’m not in contact with any of my Thai family, I’m now at a crossroads in my life where I have to decide if constructing my own version of a Thai culture through independent research is enough for me to claim the race.

The answer seems obvious: it’s never too late to learn about your culture. However, it seems like I’m also still trying to navigate living as a product of my upbringing. Struggling to make two different identities coexist without erasure of either is difficult when you know a lot about one and only the stereotypes of the other.

I’ve been put or put myself in one box or the other basically my whole life, but the whole perk to being biracial is that I don’t have to fully be in either one. It’s a complex situation and an ever-evolving process, but I now feel able to at least take agency in starting to decide and claim my identities — even if I don’t have a concrete answer right now.

Follow-Up Links:

A fantastic (908) 509-5924 using clips from famous movies via Quartz.

7063047177,” an earlier Alienation essay by Natasha Roy on the complexities that are inherent in racial identities and the geographies they’re bound up in.

Advice from author, speaker, and professor Kerry Ann Rockquemore from her column for Inside Higher Ed on how to confront microaggressions when you see your colleagues or peers subjected to them.

A 7209882636 from Scott O Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory College in Atlanta. (Note: it could easily be argued that O Lilienfeld’s argument puts the gerah on victims of microaggressions, and should be critically examined.)

  1. Demographic information cited throughout this piece was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau, updated as of 2017.
  2. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Only about 2.7 percent of people in the United States are two or more races.
Lupe Valdez greets two citizens at Los Cucos restaurant in Humble, TX. Photo via Facebook.

(910) 854-7592

Lupe Valdez, the gay Latina sheriff of Dallas, gained the attention of several publications when she 7154734018 the first openly gay and Latina person to be nominated for the governor of Texas by a major party, as reported by the New York Times.

Several publications — 5075558218 Alienation — (484) 767-3721 Valdez with the influx of women running for office this year in response to President Donald Trump. The hope is that a blue wave can stop some of Trump’s harmful policies. Even more importantly, Congress could become more representative of the American people and their dreams for the nation.

However, a deeper dive into Valdez’s policies and success within the Democratic sphere highlights the need to not blindly support someone simply because they are part of the political party one aligns with.

Valdez is running on a liberal platform that appeals to many Democratic voters — she wants to address LGBTQ equality, women’s equality, and gun violence. She emphasizes being the daughter of migrant farm workers, her career as a sheriff, and her desire to reform immigration and criminal justice policies.

Her track record, though, shows otherwise.

 

According to the Texas Observer, the U.S. Justice Department reported in 2006 that Valdez’s jail violated inmates’ rights on numerous occasions and employed guards who slacked on basic emergency procedure knowledge. In 2007, the Justice Department required federal monitors to keep tabs on her jails every six months, and the Texas Tribune reported that the Dallas County Jail failed to meet these standards until 2010.

Furthermore, according to Dallas News, 16 plaintiffs filed a federal civil rights suit against Dallas County and Valdez in 2015 over pretrial detention. Dallas News said the issue at hand was Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requesting immigration holds on inmates in detention, and Valdez said she wouldn’t honor the orders for certain cases.

At a town hall held by Jolt, a youth-led Latino group that is pushing for Latino equality in Texas, a member of the group said Valdez’s “legacy was one of supporting anti-immigrant policies that actually expanded ICE enforcement” and asked whether Valdez would stand up against ICE and jail deportation, Texas Observer reported.

Valdez did not directly answer the question or address ICE, simply saying she would fight for immigration as much as possible but that it is a federal issue that is complex.

Valdez showcases the need to not simply accept someone who totes liberal values, but who is unwilling to compromise on issues that truly matter. It’s not enough to simply vote for any Democrat — voters should be picky.

Take the case of newly nominated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th Congressional District. She ran for Congress in a predominantly blue district of New York City that had elected the same Democrat for 14 years. When Ocasio-Cortez ran, she said the status quo wasn’t good enough, even within a liberal bubble.

She ran to represent her district and its interests to the best of her ability — something her predecessor couldn’t. The community responded, and it voted someone who wasn’t doing good enough for them out. Now, Ocasio-Cortez will have a chance to break through the Democratic mold in Congress.

It’s important to be vigilant and ensure that someone running for political office is better than “good enough.” That person should represent the rights of all constituents.

Follow-Up Readings:

A quick definition of “identity politics,” Reference.com.

A very academic definition and history of “identity politics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, rev. 2016.

A conversation with Walter Benn Michaels, Charles W. Mills, Linda Hirshman and Carla Murphy, “(567) 855-3654The Nation, 2016.

Rashmee Kumar in conversation with Asad Haider, “How Identity Politics Has Divided the Left,” The Intercept, 2018.

Shuja Hader in response to Leo Casey, “From Identity Politics to Emancipation,” Dissent Magazine, 2018.

Lawrence Jarach, “3069543612” a set of preliminary thesis arguments hosted on The Anarchist Library, 2004.

Erica Fae stands next to the chair used in her play "Saved Again and by Him," crafted by Native artist Nicholas Galanin.

The Duality of the Captivity Narrative: How to Tell Sarah Wakefield’s Story

Saved Again and by Him, a play based on Sarah Wakefield’s memoir Saved Again and by Him, stars and was created by Erica Fae in collaboration with visual Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin. For the final production, Galanin created Unceded, a video of an ornate chair being destroyed by hatches thrown from off screen at the chair, obliterating it. The chair signifies Abraham Lincoln and the theater seat that he sat on the night he was assassinated. During the play, the video is projected on a tarp that Erica interacts with, creating a multimedia experience.

Alienation Magazine spoke to Erica Fae to discuss her work and why lesser-know true stories like this one need to be heard by a modern audience. Erica’s passion to bring less-known stories to light as well as discuss how they relate to our current political climate was evident. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Alienation: I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the beginning processes of creating the production from Sarah Wakefield’s writing—how you found the text and how you started creating the work? What you were drawn to, how you arranged it and turned it into a play.

Erica Fae: A friend of mine mentioned that if you’re checking out captivity narratives, I should check out Sarah Wakefield’s book—what drew me to it is this interesting balance in that her captivity narrative isn’t even really a captivity narrative. It would probably be put in that genre of literature, but she’s really telling more the story of being saved. Her agenda is really to sing the praises of Chaska and his family, which is unusual for her time. I found that very admirable and beautiful and brave. On the flip side, she’s also absolutely racist. She was this wild white woman from history who has antiquated language and viewpoints around the Dakota population and in general the native population. At the same time, she’s very ahead of her time in terms of some of the things she says. That duality is what I found most compelling in her story.

Most all of my work these days is from history. Prior to this piece, I was focusing on women in history that I thought were really amazing and powerful and beautiful and sort of like women whose praises needed to be sung and people didn’t know enough about. With Sarah, I actually found when I was researching my last film—which was on women like housekeepers. I found in the same time period these captivity narratives which were really striking and weird. On the one hand, they were the first pieces of literature by American women that were published, because it was the first time that women in this country were having experiences that only they could write about as opposed to men. So I found that most of the captivity narratives were sensationalized accounts of white women’s experiences with native populations, and a lot of them made a lot of money on those books.3619613131

In terms of doing the edit and turning her book in to a play, I started in November where I basically performed the whole book out loud in a rehearsal studio with some assistance, where people would feed me text and I would literally say her entire book aloud in the space, which took collectively 9 hours. After that, I really felt from that experience, what chunks of stories felt the most provocative and interesting for a contemporary audience. That helped me be lead toward the text that I actually edited for the play. The edit was focused on trying to pull out stories that I felt were most interesting anecdotally around little bits of story that I didn’t know and that I imagined that other people didn’t know and balancing that with chunks of stories that I found really resonant. Like that one line where Chaska says, “the white men were not doing as they promised”—that line is so provocative and resonant in today’s society. It had a different context in the 1800s, but it still stings. Things like that guided the edit that I did.

Sarah Wakefield was the wife of a doctor who mainly treated patients who were Native. When her husband heard about the Dakota uprising, he had his friend, George Gleason, take Wakefield and her children to Fort Ridgely, Minnesota by cart. On their journey, they were stopped by two Dakota men, Chaska and Hapa. Hapa shoots and kills Gleason and attempts to kill Wakefield and her children, but Chaska convinces him to spare them and takes them to safety in their camp. At the camp, Chaska and his family care for an protect Sarah and her kids, and ultimately are responsible for life.

The U.S. government arrested members of the Dakota, including Chaska. In her interviews with the U.S. military, Wakefield persistently defended the Dakota tribe’s innocence, especially Chaska’s. Despite this, President Lincoln had ordered the execution of 39 Dakota men, including Chaska, in the largest genocide in American history.   

Alienation: I know you mentioned that you worked with some native artists to prepare for this show. What did you do to research the Dakota people?

EF: I did research by reading online and whatnot. In terms of collaborations, Sheldon Raymore is the main collaborator in terms of being in the city with me and he came to rehearsal a bunch. Sheldon was great! He came early on and served a function like a dramaturg would—he gave me historical information. He was really instrumental in being a part of the conversation early on. I asked him for guidance; my main concern was to make sure that I was telling a story that I have the right to tell. I’m trying to focus on telling Sarah’s story—Sarah being a white woman who has an experience with people who are not white. I wanted to be mindful that I was not telling their story.

Of course, Sarah is speaking about people, and we get a sense of Chaska, but I wanted to make sure that that lens is really clear. Sheldon was instrumental in finding that balance. I hope, and Sheldon seems confident, that I didn’t overstep that boundary and start to tell Chaska’s story or tell the Story of the Dakota people, because that doesn’t feel like my place. I wanted to focus on sharing what is actually a rather ugly part of white culture—I think a lot of white people often shy away from telling the uglier stories from our white history. Looking back on polarizing history, we shouldn’t say “Oh, those are the really bad white people, I’m not like them at all! Oh, those are the nice white people, I identify from those people in history.” I feel like in white culture, we have to look at these in-between zones, and I feel like Sarah is a classic example of an in-between person.

Alienation: I totally agree, I think she’s such a complex figure in having both sides to her.

EF: I feel like there are a lot of “Sarahs” in the world right now who are alive and well. There are a lot of white people who would outwardly speak as she does…she’s the classic upper class “Martha’s Vineyard Democrat. ” She thinks that’s she’s open and loving and very forward-thinking and at the same time she’s unaware of her racism. I think that’s an interesting thing to look at with an audience that hopefully is trying to become more aware in our world today.

Alienation: It’s interesting that you mentioned that there are still plenty of “Sarahs” in present day. Given the present political climate in the United States, what is something that you want viewers to take away from this story?

EF: I’m trying to create Sarah in a way that we can somewhat laugh at her. I’m trying to put a pink highlighter on all of her weird racist comments so that people can see them, but then in the same sentence, she says something that a liberal-minded human might agree with. I guess what I’m trying to do is to shake the audience into feeling uncomfortable. Where they kind of like Sarah but they also don’t know where to land about her such that we might actually start to look at what that is like in us. What we are uncomfortable about in our own selves and how do we—and by “we,” I mostly mean white people—but it could be anybody, think we have one viewpoint but then have these other viewpoints that are contradictory.

How does that wake us up into looking at ourselves today? I think a lot of these same dynamics are still at play. Saved Again and by Him is very much a piece that’s about microaggression. We have a long way to go with living lives in communities that are genuinely more loving towards others that we view as ‘other’. As a society, we have to pass through moments of discomfort in order to grow.

The 2 million Natives living in the U.S. have shrill-voiced of any racial group—almost twice the 860-244-8789.

Alienation: I loved the clip that you used to illustrate that [in the play]. It was so visually striking, especially the chair on the screen in juxtaposition to the chair physically on stage. How did you encounter the clip and what was your decision in incorporating it into your performance?

EF: I’m so glad you asked about it because I’m so in awe of the man who made that piece. That is a video instillation piece called Unceded created by an artist named Nicholas Gallanin. He is a native artist who lives in Alaska. I found him because he is part of a group show at the National Museum of the America Indian. I was looking for collaborators and I saw his work at that show and was very moved by it. His work, self-described, is often about being placed between white culture and native culture—he describes his lineage as a mix of white and native. He’s an amazing conceptual artist. A lot of his work is just so on-point and intense. I wrote the script and I spoke with him about what my intentions were and he immediately said “a lot of white people tend to fetishize the objects that native people make. I’ll make this chair, which is cool, because people will tend to fetishize it anyways.” Then he said that it should be the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in, and that a way that Lincoln can be in the theater and watch the play. He said if you want to have a native voice in this piece, that’s the way to go and my brain just went “Woah!” because I would not have thought to take the message direct to Lincoln. While there is this very specific story about Sarah and Chaska, at the end of the day, the larger message is that one of the nation’s more celebrated presidents signed off on the largest mass-execution that this country has ever seen.

I think Nicholas’ idea is so amazing and beautiful and I’m so honored to have his work in the piece. How that happened is he read the play, we discussed it, he made a proposal, I said “yes” and when he sent the video, I started rehearsing with it and together, we sorted out how he feels about me being in front of it, and certain points like that. It was really a genuine collaboration in terms of how it was presented within the piece, but the piece itself and the message and conception behind it was all Nicholas, which is why he was credited as a collaborator in the play itself. The statement that he makes at the end of his piece is so bold, it really becomes a part of the full message of the story in such a large way. It’s really powerful and Nicholas is really an awesome guy!

“Abraham Lincoln is not seen as much of a hero at all among many American Indian tribes and Native peoples of the United States…the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 helped precipitate the construction of the transcontinental railroad, which led to the significant loss of land and natural resources, as well as the loss of lifestyle and culture, for many tribal people. In addition, rampant corruption in the Indian Office, the precursor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, continued unabated throughout Lincoln’s term and well beyond. In many cases, government-appointed Indian agents outright stole resources that were supposed to go to the tribes.

In other cases, the Lincoln administration simply continued to implement discriminatory and damaging policies, like placing Indians on reservations. Beginning in 1863, the Lincoln administration oversaw the removal of the Navajos and the Mescalero Apaches from the New Mexico Territory…Eventually, more than 2,000 died before a treaty was signed.” —Sherry Salway Black for The Washington Post

To see Alienation Magazine’s review of Saved Again and by Him, click self-origination.

  1. For more context on the history of captivity narratives, see Jone Johnson Lewis’ 7572030541 for ThoughtCo.
Erica Fae, playing Sarah Wakefield, gestures with her hands during 'Saved Again and by Him.'

‘Saved Again and by Him’ Offers a Testimony to U.S. Genocide

When many Americans think about President Lincoln, we tend to think about log cabins, top hats, and the Emancipation Proclamation. However, Lincoln’s crimes against humanity, such as the execution of 39 Native people in 1862, are much less known.

Creator and star of the one-woman play Saved Again and by Him Erica Fae brings light to lesser known stories in American history that desperately need to be heard. Adapted from the memoir of Sarah Wakefield, Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees, Fae transforms herself into Wakefield and tells the story of how a white woman from Minnesota was held captive and also saved by the Dakota tribe of Little Crow, Minnesota. While Fae explores this historic narrative, she makes it clear that America’s bloody oppression of Native populations is far from over.(613) 358-4776

In the intimate setting of a small set and on-stage seating at the New Ohio Theater, Fae is mesmerizing in her portrayal of Wakefield. She masterfully uses every inch of the stage, acts uninhibitedly with her entire body, and has an almost frighteningly intense focus that makes it seem like she is talking directly to each person in the audience. Although the one-woman show is a retelling of the events, it’s easy to envision the story through Fae’s fluid body movement as well as her expressive voice.

One of the main themes of this play is duality. It’s the story of Wakefield’s capture by the Dakota (as a political statement by the Dakota in response to cruel and unfair treatment by the U.S. government and white people in general), but also the story of how her life was saved by members of the tribe—particularly a young man named Chaska. Wakefield, who was sympathetic to the plight of Native people though not without her problematic issues, defended the innocence of several Dakota in their trials against the U.S. government. While the story belongs to Wakefield, the even more important story that it alludes to is Chaska’s, a Dakota who took in Wakefield and her children during the aftermath of the siege upon Little Crow, MN.

Lighting cues further emphasize this duality using abrupt and dramatic changes to evoke intensity. Rapid shifts from dark, cool blues to hot white lights assisted in shifting tones in the dialogue as well as creating a sense of unease within the audience, making the audience aware of their own visibility and participation in this performance.

Erica Fae, lit in dark indigo colors, perches on a rope swing.
Erica Fae in her production ‘Saved Again and by Him.’ Photo by Courtney Renee Stallings.

Towards the end of the play, viewers learn that Chaska is wrongfully executed by the U.S. government as a result of what was claimed to be an error—but most likely was the government using the innocent Chaska as an example and threat to the Native people. President Lincoln orders the execution of 39 native people, the largest genocide in United States History, solely to make an example out of these protestors.

The play concluded with Fae erecting a tarp that serves as a screen for a projection of Unceded, a short film by Native artist Nicholas Galanin made for this production.2 On screen, the audience sees an ornate rocking chair, representing the theater seat that Lincoln sat in the night he was executed. As the clip played, hatchets are thrown from off-screen at the chair until it is becomes rubble, representing the destruction by white people that led to centuries of devastation of land and violence toward Native people in removing them from their land.  

The most brilliant thing about Saved Again and by Him was the discomfort throughout the play that the office was forced to endure. Elements of the production, as well as the themes presented, are striking and unsettling and promote self-reflection and reflection upon American society. While the story is hundreds of years old, it holds a mirror up to the same issues with colonization and microaggressions that are still just as present in today’s white-washed society. From the arrest of the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters to Trump’s reduction ofotosclerosis, It’s evident that Native people in the United States are stiff facing the same issues of violence, persecution, and stolen land.

Saved Again and by Him brings up the sanguine truths in our country’s history and even brings up the ugly sides of each member of the audience. While it’s painfully uncomfortable, it’s necessary to acknowledge the bad before we can make strides in the right direction.

Saved Again and By Him ran at the New Ohio Theatre at 154 Christopher St from May 23 – June 3.

To see Alienation Magazine’s interview with Erica Fae, click (409) 344-0807.

  1. Amongst other things, the Trump administration’s (212) 705-5649 to separate parents and children of immigrant families is eerily reminiscent of the boarding schools Native children were forced to attend in the past, and even present situations like the separation of Native children in South Dakota from their families. 8287349592
  2. For more of Galanin’s work, see his personal website.
Lauren Underwood smiling.

Women of Color Mobilize For Midterm Elections

With the first midterm elections since the 2016 presidential election looming ahead, Democrats have 404-655-9144 up to overcome their minority status in both houses of Congress. History has already been made — as Stacey Abrams recently became the first black woman to win the Democratic primary for governor of Georgia, and she could potentially become the country’s first black female governor.

But Abrams isn’t alone. From the Midwest to the Southern United States, women of color are vying to better represent their communities and bring minority group issues to the table — and their tactics are working. Below, we’ve put together a cheat sheet of several women of color who are mobilizing on the state and federal levels to take matters into their own hands.

Lucy McBath

3163013292
Lucy McBath – photo via Facebook.

Lucy McBath is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s sixth Congressional district. During the primary in late May, she 323-314-4141 36.3 percent of the votes, while the runner-up, Kevin Abel, received 30.5 percent. The two will face each other during a runoff election.

After her son Jordan was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida, McBath 601-831-5978 a member of both Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She currently serves as both organizations’ national chairwoman and Faith and Outreach Leader.

McBath has also served her community in Georgia by creating the “Champion in The Making Legacy Foundation,” which, according to her website, “provides charitable and educational assistance to graduating high school students attending traditional as well as technical and training colleges and universities – with two recipients attending Kennesaw State University.” The program also provides mentorship to these students.

 

Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez marches down a road while two supporters carry a banner reading
Lupe Valdez marches with supporters. Photo via Facebook.

Lupe Valdez joins Abrams in making history as the first Latina and openly gay person to win the nomination for governor of Texas from any major party. She will face Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in November.

Valdez is the child of immigrants, and she served as Dallas County’s Sheriff for 12 years before deciding to run for governor. The first two issues of her platform concern women: she wants to close the wage gap for women — especially for women of color — as well as preserve women’s rights over their own bodies. Planned Parenthood endorsed Valdez in February.

As an openly gay woman in a staunchly Republican state, Valdez wants to protect LGBTQ rights in Texas, where, as she puts it, “you can still be married on Saturday and fired on Monday, all because of who you love.”

 

Lauren Underwood

Lauren Underwood smiling against a white background.
Lauren Underwood is the Illinois Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lauren Underwood won the Democratic nomination to represent Illinois’ 14th Congressional district in March, and she’s wasted no time building a campaign that fight for gun control and reproductive freedom since then. She is focused on reducing gun violence through universal background checks, preventing those convicted of instances of violence from obtaining guns, and repealing the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 bill that prevents the Center for Disease Control from conducting research that could potentially give reason for gun control.

“I respect the second amendment and believe in protecting all of our rights as Americans,” Underwood said in her Chicago Tribune Endorsement Questionnaire. “Our country should not be numb to the horrific frequency of mass shootings and related acts of gun violence. I am personally tired of reacting with perfunctory ‘thoughts and prayers’ after horrific acts of gun violence. I believe we must honor the victims and survivors with action.”

Underwood also wants to increase higher education investment to make college more affordable, as well as continue investing in public schools. She supports both the public service loan forgiveness program and making affordable subsidized student loans more readily available.

 

Vanessa Enoch

Vanessa Enoch's portrait with the White House in the background, text reading
Photo via Facebook.

Democrat Vanessa Enoch is running against Republican incumbent Warren Davidson to represent Ohio’s Eighth Congressional district in November. Ohio’s eighth district has never seen a woman representative in Congress, but Enoch beat three men to win the district’s Democratic primary.

Ohio is extremely 702-429-7976 by the opioid crisis. To address it, Enoch is advocating for tracing the origins of the drug’s journey into the United States as well as creating a public awareness campaign. She does not want to use incarceration as a way to crack down on the issue. Enoch said the War on Drugs failed, and she wrote on her website that treatment options are necessary instead.

“Mass incarceration has lead to abuse and the exploitation of the incarcerated population, and the high numbers of poor and African American citizens is reflective of this nation’s past and the horrors of slavery and the Jim Crow system,” Enoch said. “And, similar to the institution of slavery, the 13th Amendment has sanctioned the atrocities, and our public officials have become complicit in the support of the new slave system.”

This is just a small portion of the women of color running for political office this election season. 719-391-8589 (ran for the California House of Representatives’ 4th Congressional district and lost to Jessica Morse), Stacey Abrams (just won the Georgia Democratic primary for governor), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (running for New York’s 14th Congressional district), and nearly 300 others are running.lair Please consider researching and supporting your local candidates.

If you are a United States citizen, do not forget to register to vote. You can do so at Vote.org through a general online form, or scroll down to register directly through your state or territory. 

  1. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 2507422940
a collage of Confederate imagery, text reading "increasing numbers of house breakins in SF, targeting Chinese Americans," and WeChat imagery

(313) 984-2526

Ever since the last presidential election night, I’ve been searching for an explanation as to why some Chinese-Americans, including members of my own family, threw their lot in with right-wing identity politics. These ideologies are anti-immigrant, anti-China, anti-minority, and authoritarian in a way that is reminiscent of the very regimes our elders fled. And even if the majority of Asian-Americans swung blue in the last election, many Chinese-Americans still fell prey to fake news and fear-mongering, the same way as our White counterparts did.9124845577

Let me preface this by saying that I know every person is their own individual and has varied reasons for voting the way they did — monolithic identities have been the bane of pan-Asian activism for so long, so to insist on it here would be regressive.2 At the same time, Chinese-Americans in particular occupy a very specific space in the United States’ racial hierarchy, and it’s worth dissecting the cultural and social factors in the age of misinformation and radicalization that took us on a parallel trajectory to White folks.

The impact of fake news has been broadly debated in civil society since Election Day,3 but when it comes to understanding the effect it has on immigrants, the discourse is severely lacking. We all understand that there is misinformation spread about immigrants, but we haven’t begun to pick apart the consequences of misinformation spread for immigrants and other vulnerable communities.

For example, WeChat,4 a popular Chinese messaging platform, is a favorite among new immigrants looking to keep in touch with their friends and family. It’s become such a big part of Chinese life that you can use the app for just about anything, including mobile banking, ridesharing, and phone calls. But, just like Facebook,973-214-5736 these intimate networks have become a breeding ground for fake news.

Misinformation in WeChat is often used to direct animus at undocumented immigrants or representational issues, especially in higher education, reports the Columbia Journalism Review.6 Right-leaning content outnumbers left-leaning content on the platform, and given the right wing’s propensity for fake news,2185078040 this could explain some of the polarization we’re seeing in Chinese-American communities. At least, it certainly helps me understand why I’ve been receiving emails about the (nonexistent) plague of “black-on-Chinese crime” from distant relatives, which reinforce the racist sentiments that Chinese folks have adopted from white culture.8

The 24-hour news cycle and saturation of right-wing content on platforms turns us against the very communities we should be finding solidarity with, creating consequences beyond inflammatory discussions at the annual Lunar New Year dinner. It makes it easier for our aunts and uncles, and even ourselves, to retreat into the validating embrace of racism and race-baiting. Like the model minority myth,9 it erects another barrier between us and our marginalized friends and neighbors. But ultimately, it makes it easier for us to ignore the fact that Chinese-Americans enjoy the benefits of their relative privilege and comfort with the systems of discrimination set up in our homelands and in the West. Too often, East Asian communities especially cozy up to monsters in hopes that doing so will save us from them. We opt to bind our communities’ fates with White strings.10

For modern White supremacists, Asia and its people have been both a source of ire and a fetish.503-559-9558 The fetish part, though, is what’s most concerning. Asian-American, and especially East-Asian-American, proximity to Whiteness has long been a source of frustration for leftist people of color.12 We’ve adopted not just the protections of Whiteness, but combined its destructive capitalist and classist worldview with our own cultures’ colonialist impulses as well. Why else would so many of us herald the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians, a film about ultrarich East-Asian real estate developers so far removed from the world of the non-1% and from our own lives, as “our” Black Panther?855-945-2827

If we are to truly begin the work of untangling ourselves from oppressive structures, we need to take a deeper look at what in our own culture that enables this relationship. This means asking questions of ourselves and of our families, and trying to understand why exactly our relatives lash out at other groups of people. It also means taking up the responsibility of continuous learning, not drawing the line at Asian-American oppression and then turning a blind eye to others’ histories. And finally, we need to be conscious educators of not just our families, but also of our white friends, with whom we are afforded the privilege of proximity.

It’s frustrating when your community proudly wears the PoC badge only to discard it when most convenient. That exasperation is one felt by many young Chinese-American and East Asian progressives. But blaming Whiteness cannot be an escape from our community’s responsibility to rectify these biases. Cultural norms about saving face and avoiding open conflict are not an excuse to talk to our families about their racist, sexist, or classist beliefs if we are able to do so safely. Of course we should be taking others to task when they disrespect our cultures, but we need to be holding ourselves to the same standards.

  1. For statistics on fake news and voting demographics, see this study in the Columbia Journalism Review study here.
  2. See Nazli Kibria’s study “Race, Ethnic Options, and Ethnic Binds: Identity Negotiations of Second-Generation Chinese and Korean Americans” in the Sociological Perspectives journal for in-depth research on the topic. 844-833-1064
  3. see the Washington Post‘s April 2018 410-455-0412 on whether or not fake news was the catalyst for Donald Trump’s narrow victory
  4. For specific information on WeChat’s features, see its Wikipedia page.
  5. See The Guardian‘s March 2018 article on how Facebook is pre-empting the 2018 U.S. midterm elections with efforts to combat fake news
  6. See the full CJR study 713-905-3734.
  7. See the University of Oxford’s 6142787467, as reported in The Guardian, that finds that U.S. right-wingers consume more fake news than any other demographic.
  8. For more thinking and investigation of anti-blackness amongst immigrant groups, see Jezzika Chung’s piece “How Asian Immigrants Learn Anti-Blackness From White Culture, And How To Stop It” in Huffington Post.
  9. To learn more about the model minority myth, see Kat Chow’s 9056149921 for “‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks” NPR‘s Code Switch.
  10.  The Red String of Fate is a Chinese fable that dictates that two people are bound by red string. The Gods tie a string around the lovers’ ankles or pinkies, ensuring that the two will always find each other in the end. Chinese-American communities, by investing in the structure of white supremacist societies instead of working to tear them down, metaphorically tie their fates to the survival of oppressive systems.
  11. See Audrea Lim’s reporting for the New York Times on  the alt-right’s Asian fetish. 757-369-5619
  12. For more investigation of the complex relationship between racial privilege and Asian-Americans, see Min Zhou’s article in Contexts “Are Asian Americans Becoming White?”
  13. See Nylon’s 4132178732 of the conflict over comparing the primarily-Black team of Black Panther to the primarily Asian team of Crazy Rich Asians. (641) 934-2680

Race, Class, and Voice: Boots Riley’s Debut Shows Up and Speaks Out

Boots Riley has had enough of sitting on the sidelines.

The rapper-turned-filmmaker’s debut film, Sorry to Bother You, is Riley’s way of bursting into the national conversation, driving home points about racism, classism, and violence one after another. But what is so remarkable about this movie is that, despite giving you half a Bachelors of Arts in Human Rights’ worth of content in two hours, it never feels sanctimonious. Sorry to Bother You goes far beyond just yelling “fuck your labels!” off of a rooftop.

Instead, this movie finds the tallest tower in town, parkours up its side, and screams:

Fuck your labels, and the system you created for them! Fuck the way you use those labels to scare us, divide us, and conquer us! Fuck the way you use that to exploit us! Fuck YOU, and the monsters you have created!

In fact, the most impactful and disturbing thing about this film is its fearless interrogation of our institutions of power. Even with the wild visuals and snippets of performance art, and the exposition and the plot are firmly grounded in the reality of modern Oakland, of a city struggling with growing inequality and injustice. It’s both a love letter to Oakland and a funhouse mirror, pushing and prodding at its darkest corners.

For instance, the power callers’ level of the RegalView building, with its open floor plan and plush decor, look just like the upscale offices of tech companies moving into the Bay Area. Even the primary color scheme worn by the power callers are designed to evoke the aesthetics of the “new money” class, according to production designer Deidre Govan at a Q&A session at New York City’s Regal Union Square 14 Cinema.

The movie’s compelling power draws not just from the past and present of Oakland, but also from the strength of its characters. Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius Green struggles to balance his needs with the needs of his fellow workers, his significant other, and his community. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is an artist and activist, who, despite her proximity to Cassius’s success that allows her to enjoy the material comfort of the nouveau riche, maintains the moral clarity regarding empty luxuries that we all aspire to have. And for Squeeze, a union organizer played by Steven Yeun, stepping up in the face of inequity is second nature.

But it is truly in Cassius, a man who is tempted by power and success into complicity with the system, that the audience truly finds their most realistic and uncomfortable avatar. We meet Cassius at an impasse in his life, where his fears about his legacy takes a backseat to just being able to survive another day. His ability to code-switch into an aspirational kind of carefree Whiteness at his telemarketing job is what improves his quality of life — at least on the surface. As Riley said in the aforementioned Q&A session: “If your fight is a physical one, then your power might be super strength. But if your fight is just to survive in this system, then your power might be your White Voice.”

This very power ends up being Cassius’s downfall, as it becomes apparent that no amount of performed whiteness can save him from cultural and structural norms designed to treat him, and people of his class and race, as (literally) less than human. In watching Cassius soar up the RegalView ranks, only to fall from grace once the gravity of the situation hits him, the audience is forced to confront the ways in which we allow ourselves to be used as tools by the powerful in the pursuit of grandiose visions. If anything, the least realistic thing about the movie is that Cassius and his friends are able to get some modicum of justice at its conclusion.

Of course, Riley’s political upbringing is reflected throughout the film’s core themes of labor exploitation and survival versus morality. Riley remarks in the Q&A that “art can’t be your only thing. There has to be something you’re passionate about beyond that, because that art is happening in the context of the world.”

With Sorry to Bother You, Riley is showing us through his art what the consequences of complicity with oppression look like. He implores us first to empathize with why a person is motivated to chase comfort and financial security, and, if those comforts are attained, challenges us to use those privileges for causes greater than ourselves. Cassius, in the end, finds his voice — not the White one, his own voice — and uses it to speak out about the horrors he’s witnessed firsthand. If we are to make meaningful change in this world, then we must, like Cassius, find our voices and speak out against the cruel, the unfair, and the exploitative.

Sorry to Bother You arrives in theaters July 6th.

Protesters hold up hand-painted banners in front of the Brooklyn Museum listing demands for a Decolonization Commission.

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During this past Sunday’s bright mid-morning sunshine, lines swarmed all down the Eastern Parkway and parts of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn as New Yorkers waited to enter the Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Museum. Food trucks waited outside, selling popcorn and hot dogs to families as they stood in line.

One block over, Decolonize This Place — which (210) 439-0417 itself “a space that is action-oriented around indigenous struggle, black liberation, Free Palestine, global wage workers, and de-gentrification” — was putting the finishing touches on homemade banners for their Decolonize This Museum action.

DTP had sent an open letter to the Brooklyn Museum back on April 7, in the wake of what the organization called a “curatorial crisis.” The museum was criticized for its choice to hire two white people for leading roles in the African collection and the department of photography. The hires added to an already very racially-homogenous staff. When the news broke, reactions from the public ranged from the indifferent sentiment of “not a good look” to the furious ire of racial insensitivity.

Though the hiring issue was certainly contentious, DTP decided to broaden their critiques of the museum. At this action, they took a more holistic approach to the colonial practices of the Brooklyn Museum at large. Their letter called for the creation of a Decolonization Commission, which would address the hiring practices, art acquisition and curating methods of the museum. Additionally, the commission would address issues of land rights regarding the indigenous Lenape territories that the building sits on, board president David Berliner’s real estate grabs, and the Museum’s role in the gentrification of its surrounding neighborhoods.

The Brooklyn Museum did not respond to DTP’s letter.

So it came to be that DTP, along with 19 other community organizations and several non-affiliated volunteers, occupied the third-floor atrium of the museum to stage a performance and read their demands — in-person, where the museum staff could not pretend they weren’t listening.

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1. Territorial acknowledgement of Indigenous land occupied by this building and giving material effect to such an acknowledgement in curatorial practices, programming exhibitions, and day-to-day operations.

2. The deep diversification of curatorial staff and executive leadership whereby the lived experience of oppressions — including patriarchy, white supremacy and poverty — are valued and factored in.

3. A decolonial inventory of colonial-era objects of both African and Indigenous people with a view to settling the long-pursued claims of reparations and repatriation.

4. An upgrade of working conditions and pay of ground staff — who are disproportionately employees of color — in security, food service, and janitorial divisions.

5. The replacement of board president David Berliner and other trustees who are real estate tycoons with a broad cross-section of artists and community organizers.

6. The undertaking of a de-gentrification initiative to examine and mitigate the museum’s role in boosting land value and rents in the borough.

7. An institutional commitment to address the issues raised by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) in recognition of the Brooklynites’ role in the settler movement in Palestine.

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The protesters then released three large vertical banners from the fourth floor to hang over the atrium, where others gathered with smaller banners and pamphlets to distribute to onlookers. A freedom song and dance kicked off, and speeches and performances from Jive Poetic of the Insurgent Poets Society and Alicia Grullón, an artist who was invited to show her work in the Museum’s current Radical Women show, discussing gentrification and conflict between the Museum and the artists it wanted to highlight. DTP itself acknowledged that it had shown up to a number of current and previous shows that it supported at the Museum, but insisted that occasional programming was more like lip service than actual support of marginalized and oppressed peoples.

With drums and a chorus of fearless voices, the protesters read their list of demands once in the atrium and again in the lobby, where visitors gathered to take photos and videos. The group then marched to the front lawn, where they read the demands repeatedly, in between chants of “Brooklyn is not for sale” and “decolonize this museum.” They also had a speak-out from a former employee of the Botanic Gardens addressing the proposed new apartment rezoning of the Gardens that would not only increase gentrification and rising rents in the neighborhood but harm the Garden itself, the group moved to stand in front of the Eastern Parkway entrance to the Garden.

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DTP’s work for Decolonize This Museum was impressive on many counts. Not only did the entire action keep all people and artworks in the museum unharmed (but for a few sore ears from shouting), but it kept protesters and onlookers safe. The demands were clear, and supportive of the museum’s own stated mission while holding it accountable for its own legacy. Everything down to the repeated acknowledgement of the original Lenape residents of the land was done with care and respect. It was all a rare combination of the aggressive, performative energies of a direct action and the more even-headed, collaborative energies of discussions and other less headline-worthy methods of organizing.

Organizing with respect and clear-cut intent shouldn’t be hard, but it is. Few groups represent, include, and elevate as many voices as they do. Sunday’s event alone showed how doable it is to organize across boundaries of class, identity, and central intent. Now the ball is in the Brooklyn Museum’s court to respond.