Happy TunesDay: Jamila Woods, y’all.

Hi friends,

I skipped a week. I know. I know.  I’m beating myself up over it, but life happens.

I’m back though, and this week I didn’t compile a playlist. SHOCK GASP AWE HORROR.
I know. I know. 

But, I felt that for this week, I would just let an entire album speak for itself.  Tonight I’m seeing the wondrous and soulfully talented Jamila Woods. I AM SO EXCITED.

But beyond that, I am ready and albeit a little scared to enter into a world where her music will wash over me and really get me to dig deep & feel things.  Like, real emotions, feeling.  That’s what her album has done for me ever since I heard it a couple months ago.  And to get ready to see her live, I revisited it all this week.

Normally when I prep for a concert (my friends know I have to know all the songs and sing along during the show, or else I’ll feel weird), the goal is just to memorize the lyrics to most of the tracks.  Yet with this, it wasn’t really just a memorization of lyrics, but a living through of them.  I don’t know if that makes sense.  But all I know is that I almost had to pull over yesterday while driving and listening to Lonely Lonely. And if a song makes me teary-eyed and think about my life in a different way and reflect on the things I’ve seen and been through…that’s a damn good song, and even more, a damn good songwriter & singer.

So dear pups, I’m leaving you with the gift of her album this week.  You can also download it for free from the link. Trust me.  Do it. It sets your soul aflame.  Take a minute and be okay with being uncomfortable with your feelings and being *omgwhat* vulnerable.  It’s okay.  You’ll get through it.  Just don’t cry while driving–it ain’t safe.

with love & good feelings,
Christina

Magic Mic: I Don’t Want To Be An Inspiration

We have a problem.

Our world tends to do this thing where we create icons out of normal human people who do or have done really great things.  Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Malala, the list goes on.

I get why we do this.  Sometimes it’s a power move so the political, economic, and social elite can say “see, look at this [insert minority adjective] person who did something cool and I care about diversity and issues”.  And then they can turn around the next day and do something so maligned with the very cause or people they say inspired them.  

Sometimes it’s just so the oppressed can have someone to look towards, so we can feel like we are a part of something bigger.  And we are given a false sense of hope in creating and recognizing a better world because how are we supposed to measure up to the likes of these great icons?

I’ve felt this to my very core.  Growing up, I actively sought out Asian American actresses, political figures, and entrepreneurs. (And by “sought out”, I mean I googled these terms heavily).   On the surface, it was beneficial for primary school-aged Christina to see examples of such figures.  But, I was simultaneously taught that these things were pyramids–that there was only room for one Asian American icon in every industry.  And this made it very difficult for me to see that I too could do things that changed lives for the “greater good”.  I didn’t know that figureheads are meant to be starting, not ending points.  We conveniently didn’t learn that lesson in school.

Creating inspirational figureheads boils people and the movements they’re involved in down to individual action, impulsive thoughts of good-will.   We tokenize figures of morality and teach our children that it is normal and okay to do so.  They become the “good Negro”, or the “empowered Muslim girl who defied odds and speaks out against radical Islam”, or the “really smart Asian who’s a doctor and isn’t living in poverty, so why can’t other minorities step it up?”.  They become respectable figures in history, and we forget that that’s not all they were or are.  We freeze them and their many contributions in time, like an insect in amber.  We forget that they too are flawed, have histories, made mistakes.

Overlooking those things when we teach young people about role models does them no favors.

We’re now unintentionally (or maybe very intentionally) teaching people that you need to aspire to inspire–to become moral icons or you’re not living a worthwhile life.  

When people ask about the mark I want to leave or what my legacy will be, I laugh.  Not a hearty, full-bodied laugh by any means.  More like a scoff or chuckle under my breath.  Because the concept of becoming an icon or a legacy is just so laughable to me.  It’s not to say that figures like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of my post have no place.  It’s just that we use them as reverse scapegoats.  We say that we have them already, so we don’t need more representation.  We deconstruct their very identities, untether them from their contributions and surrounding histories.  You cannot talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and not talk about civil disobedience and Black Power.  You cannot talk about Malala and not talk about the “War on Terror” and Western imperialism.  And yet, this dissociating path is one we’ve been on for quite some time.

In opposition to this, I’ve come to realize that I do not want to be an intangible icon of inspiration for Asian American womxn and young girls. I don’t want my current or future goals to be sterilized, removed from my very beliefs.  

I don’t want to be an unsung hero(ine) or one whose name is written across posters and murals in inner cities & corporate buildings alike.  

I don’t want children to look at me and my story, and think of how impossible it is to accomplish these things for themselves because look, there’s already one Asian womxn doing it, so I can’t do it too.

I don’t want anyone to think they have to escape their very identities and histories to be considered a value to this society–that their race or gender or sexuality will hold them back so they have to blend in, make it invisible, become palatable.

And likewise, I don’t want to become a posterchild for corporate greed on designated days when we collectively celebrate someone whose ideals went against everything that corporation actually does.  The idea of US financial institutions celebrating things like MLK Day when predatory lending and housing segregation still traps many Black Americans in systems of poverty has not lost its irony on me.

It’s about time we start holding ourselves accountable and ensuring we don’t need inspiration to be good people.

Instead, when we do talk about inspirational figures, we need to also teach about their actual beliefs, the difficulties they’ve faced in combating harmful institutions, and how we can actually celebrate their contributions without tarnishing their beliefs.  We do not need intangible representations of justice, peace, civil rights.  We need reality, we need history, we need solidarity.  We need to teach young people that figureheads have their place, but you don’t need to be a figurehead to play a role.  And you don’t need to be the first womxn or first Asian or first LGBT or first [insert any other minority ever] to accomplish something.  We don’t need more “first”s.  We need more seconds and thirds and fourths, and on it should go.  Christina from fifteen years ago needs to know that being an icon is overrated and there is no shame in not being the first.  

I hope that Christina fifteen years from now is not an inspiration.  I hope that she is not a role model or moral icon.  I hope and wish that she will be a true partner, someone who stands (or sits when she’s tired) in solidarity and with strength.  I hope she rejects the notion of being inspirational and instead helps others become their own inspiration in whatever form that may take.  I hope she speaks truth to power and is never written about in history books that relegate minority group struggles to a paragraph at the end of a chapter.  The inspirational figures before and after us deserve better than to be bookends, their lives whittled down to instagrammable quotes and references in well-intentioned speeches about perseverance and diversity.  

But, if I do become an inspiration, I promise to try my damnedest to destroy the pedestal that keeps me so far removed from the people I’ll work alongside.

 

*Background image from Pinterest.*

Magic Mic: Why Do Womxn Never Have the Rights to Their Own Bodies?, or “What Happens in Vegas Definitely Does Not Stay In Vegas”

Don’t get me wrong.  I love being a womxn and I am lucky that I have strong role models who taught me that being a womxn of color is beautiful and uplifting.  But, that does not mean that I don’t hate some of the things that come with being a womxn in this society.  These are things that combat our own identities as full, self-sufficient human beings, and ultimately undermine any sort of fight for equity in public spaces.

I think it is plain to see that we as womxn are often subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, seen as objects or prizes to be won in chauvinistic expressions of dominance.  And let me say, it is exhausting to be both a human person with human emotions and an object at the same time.  It is a paradox I no longer want anything to do with.

Part of such a paradox is the age old male pastime of catcalling.  Can you just imagine how catcalling worked in the Shakespearean period? “Oh, wench, behold at thy forks!”** I don’t know if I’d laugh or just stare in confusion.   However, there are numerous, much more serious and well-written articles and videos about womxn getting catcalled.  I don’t think I have to write something else explaining how shitty it is.  A popular video campaign illustrated just some of the reactions men have when they see their mothers being catcalled on the street.  It’s shocking to me because you can see the discomfort for the men at watching their mothers objectified.  And yet, these men will never fully understand what it means to be living in a body coded as womxn.  Catcalling is just one awful side effect of such a truth.  And while catcalling is serious, disturbing, and oftentimes, fear-inducing, what happens when people go beyond verbal abuse and seep into the physical?

In Las Vegas, the “City of Sin”, the lines between catcalling and physical violations blur quite quickly.  The city’s motto of “what happens here, stays here” is an atrocious ploy to convince people of all genders that you can be on your absolute worst behavior and get away with it.  Now, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, as I’m sure not all of Vegas is that terrible, but the essence of such an environment negates any real semblance of control a womxn has over her own space.  A person’s body, whether you identify as a womxn or not, should belong to you; you, and no other party, should get to decide what happens to your body.

Let me clarify for Las Vegas’s sake.  I do not think it’s wrong to go to a club, to want to dance provocatively or sexually.  Hell, I’ll admit that dancing around in sparkly outfits to R&B tunes is one of my favorite pastimes, minus the sparkly outfits, because glitter always gets on your face.

It is not wrong or unusual to dance with other people, if that is what you choose to do.  The key here is the choice.  Some womxn choose to grind up on other people or be grinded upon (I don’t really know the terminology), and they shouldn’t feel bad or feel the need to justify that choice.  When the dancing is a consensual act between people, it’s fun, albeit maybe a bit awkward if you’re not a great dancer.  But, when a person, usually a man, grabs your ass as you walk by or refuses to remove himself from your person, a part of your humanity as a womxn withers away.  You’re humiliated.  You think that this should have been anticipated in such a situation.  You lose the expectation of respect for yourself that you know you deserve.  And you’re reminded again that you are object, then womxn.  Never womxn by itself, period, end of story, human.

I will reiterate this as a reminder for myself and for womxn everywhere.  The location you are in has no bearing on whether it is okay or not for someone else to infringe on your space and your body.  Whether you’re in a club or in a pub eating burgers with your friends, it is never an okay thing for someone (read: a man) to implant himself, take up space, and prove his male dominance at your expense.  Being in Las Vegas or in any party-setting is not an excuse for them to “cut loose”.  If you’re a person who thinks it is okay to violate another’s space, to infringe on a womxn’s body in certain contexts, I don’t want you in my life in any context.

Because although I wish that what happens in Vegas would actually stay in Vegas, the dehumanizing, physically visceral experiences faced by womxn happens in rooms and on streets of every city in every part of the world.  We can no longer chalk it up to situational occurrences of bad judgement or issues of self-control.  Your body is yours and as a womxn, I will fight for our collective right to be safe and protected in our bodies, regardless of place.

 

**I literally typed “Oh girl, look at your legs” into a Shakespearean translator.  I’ll admit I spent a lot of time on it afterwards.
* Magic Mic background image from Make & Tell

Magic Mic: On Community Organizing as Art

I have been reflecting on the words of Melissa Harris-Perry as of late.  When she came to speak at UCI several months ago, I didn’t think her words would still be floating over and under the thoughts in my mind.  She posed the question, albeit a rhetorical one, of why schools cut funding for art and music first out of every other extracurricular.  Why is it that those forms of expression, of truth telling and soul-baring, are the first to go in any underserved community?

From my limited experiences and exchanges with those entrenched in the struggle against multiple forms of oppression, I am convinced that organizing and activism are artistic expressions—that living and being, surviving, in the skin and body we are born in is in itself an act of art.  And like any form of art, there is always competition, always a battle of what group is more oppressed, what group deserves to take up this space and why.  But those who work in the struggle, who dirty their hands and engage in unpopular, unpretty forms of art, are true testaments to why we continue to do what we do.  This form of art is no competition and we have to remind ourselves that we are not like typical artists who battle for spots in museums or amphitheatres.  We are always the painter and the painted, the oppressed and the oppressor, the survivor and the ally.  We do not exist in vacuums or in antigravity chambers.  We remain hopefully grounded and groundedly hopeful.

It is my understanding that our very voice and body is the only thing we have control over.  And as such, in any struggle, we have to reaffirm our own abilities to create art, even when the powers at be refuse to acknowledge our talent.  And, like any good artist, we have to know when our space needs to be given to another.  We have to know when to step down, hand the brush over, and let someone grow into their own form of expression.

That form of expression is not, does not have to be, happy, carefree, understandable to everyone.  I don’t know any artist that isn’t unhappy at times, displeased with status quo or commenting on the state of society.  Organizing is no exception.  One of the most frustrating things that I come across when explaining resistance and the struggle is how people perceive movements as unhappy: too serious, too dramatic.  One response I have is that oppression is dramatic, living is dramatic.  If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand art.  But more than that is the simple fact that organizing and resisting is a loving act for and with communities.  That those who continue to struggle for justice and acknowledgement of their very humanness must seek joy in the darkest of places and times.  That when we fail to do this, we fall into a darker place than whence we came.  If art is about a reflection on life and survival, then we in the struggle are all goddamn Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s in the making.

Because I don’t care what form of injustice you are fighting against.  I don’t care if you’re bad at drawing or painting or singing or dancing.  You are an artist.  You are survival and joy and anguish wrapped into one.  You are deserving of painting your life on a canvas, even if that canvas is the street and your paintbrush is a marker on poster board.  And if anyone, ever, tells you differently, know that the only form of art they’ll ever understand is one they have to pay for. And that is not your fault, they are not your audience, and you should never apologize for your right to exist as an artist, activist, human being.