The post below is cross-posted from the CUAV e-news. I wrote it to address S-Comm, the harmful program that has law enforcement and ICE officials collaborating to hold people in jail, with no regard for the basic principle of due process. Anyone, regardless of immigration status, can be detained on an immigration hold, even without charges against them. That means this program affects everyone, including people of color, LGBTQ people, and survivors of violence.
To help say no to S-Comm and yes to Due Process for All, come out to San Francisco City Hall tomorrow, Thursday September 5th at 11:45 am, and add your name to this growing list of voices. "What is a witch if not a woman blind to all except surviving?"
- Gale P. Jackson
What might someone find if they burst into your home today? Would they hear the stories the walls have been holding for years?
When I was growing up, my father told me about immigrating to the United States from the islands of Trinidad & Tobago at the age of seventeen. He told stories about two families sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Stories about my grandmother separating from her family, hoping to support her children by working tirelessly in domestic work. And some of my favorite stories came from Trinidadian folklore, such as the tales of black magic women called soucouyants. It seems like every culture has its own witch stories.
These are the stories the police would have unearthed if they had raided my father's home back then. And if the police came to my home today, answering a call for help, or seeing my dark skin and profiling me as a criminal, they would find the altar I've built to honor my grandmother, who passed away one year ago
. They would see a photograph of me with an old, wise woman, alongside candles, stones, and a small replica of a steel pan, an instrument created to celebrate the survival of Trinidadians
And what would they think? Would I be the witch, the danger to society? Would they confine me to the custody of immigration officials, just in case?
I don't want warnings of witch hunts to become part of my family stories, or the stories of my communities.
What I want is what we deserve, due process for all, so I'll be showing up to San Francisco City Hall on September 5 at noon
, to help make sure the board of supervisors votes to restore the rights we all deserve. Can we count on you to be there? Will you help turn the story of S-Comm into our story of survival?
Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
I've made plenty of silly confessions on this blog, so I guess it's a good place for this one, too: there's been a ridiculous amount of giggling in my world these days. Giggling, and smiling, and even blushing, as best as I can blush in my dark skin.
Maybe you can guess what that means. And no, it's not just that I've lost my mind, though I suppose you could call it a form of madness
. I say this has been happening in "my world," because although we live on the
same planet, it sometimes feels like each of us lives in our own little world. Perhaps this is most noticeable during times of tragedy. While some of us struggle through the demolition of our worlds
, the rest of us keep living our lives. When I'm halted by grief
, everyone else's worlds keep spinning. And recently I've discovered that it's true for the opposite feeling, too – it turns out that while I'm consumed by amorous bliss, the rest of the planet doesn't stop and join me in schoolgirl giggles. One glance at the news tells me that injustice doesn't take a leave of absence from the earth to make room for love to flourish. Who knew? I've come across a movie that
captures how the earth keeps spinning throughout a lifetime of love. Chico & Rita
is a feature-length animated film that tells the story of a jazz musician and a beautiful singer, set against the backdrop of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s.
The setting of this film means, of course, that the two title characters can't exist within a blissful bubble of joy. Forces including racism, deportation, and the fight for revolution impact Chico and Rita's lives and their chances of being together. The influences of music and of fame also make their mark.
In addition to telling a complex story, Chico & Rita is an alluring film to watch, with dazzling animation, as well as a captivating original soundtrack by Cuban musician Bebo Valdés. Featured musicians include Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more who greatly influenced jazz music in both Cuba and the U.S.
Chico & Rita is really an enchanting movie, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to watch. It's available to view on Netflix, and also on DVD.
I also recommend doing whatever it takes to welcome some more giggles into your world. As I'm discovering, silly laughter can be good for the soul, and though we can't forget about what's happening around us, we can remember that it takes more than injustice to create our worlds.
Want to change the world? Join a non-profit agency! At an organization full of compassionate visionaries dedicated to making the world a better place, nothing could possibly go wrong – right?
Okay, so nobody’s perfect, and no non-profit is the perfect agent for change. As you may know, some aspects of non-profits can be stressful, challenging, and even counter-productive to the ultimate goals of social change work. And that can be hard for me to hold, knowing that even people with the best intentions can contribute to creating obstacles in the way of true liberation.
Luckily, we now have some courageous folks to help us name what goes on in the wacky world of non-profits, through a new activist-artist group called Peacock Rebellion. And they’re doing it all with fun and sass, as well as a deep sense of hope in the power of true activism.
Peacock Rebellion is centered around queer and trans people of color, and the artists craft their work through lenses of intersectionality, interconnection, interdependence and transnationalism. These artists aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the dangers of a non-profit industrial complex that upholds problematic patterns and stifles activists' dreams.
The truth is, we don’t have to accept the problems of the non-profit world, even with the best intentions. As Peacock Rebellion founder Manish Vaidya says, “we can dream bigger.”
Our big dreams take center stage at Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster
, Peacock Rebellion’s first cabaret. Twelve queer and trans people of color use comedy, film, burlesque and more to critique the current state of social change, and to share their freedom dreams. The tremendously talented performers include Lambda Literary Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Deep Dickollective founder Juba Kalamka, and Mia McKenzie, of the revolutionary blog Black Girl Dangerous. In addition to the all-star performers and curators (Maya Chapina and Manish Vaidya), there’s an all-star line up of sponsors: INCITE, Mangos with Chili, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, Queer Rebels, and QWOCMAP. In other words, a whole lot of fierceness has gone into this show.
Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster premiered last night to a packed house at La Peña Cultural Center, and tonight’s show is nearly sold out, so it may be too late to see it on this run. But don’t worry! We’ll be seeing much more of Peacock Rebellion’s amazing work. To find out more, you can visit their website
or their Facebook page
, and to offer your support, visit the Indiegogo page
Last night's event was so much fun!
And here's footage from an event a few months back - The Color of My Spirit,
CUAV's spring showcase of queer and trans artists celebrating survival and resistance. Empowered youth, uplifting song, dance, poetry, comedy. Need I say more? I read my poems near the end, but the whole show is really worth watching. Featuring Joshua Merchant, Rosa Cortes, Tonilyn A. Sideco, Monica Enriquez-Enriquez, Nomy Lamm, myself and OurSpace, with host Yosimar Reyes. Enjoy!
Yesterday was awesome. Inspirational workshops at Safetyfest
, followed by a powerfully moving rally against violence that hurts immigrants, communities of color, women, queer folks and especially transgender folks. These are, indeed, days for building queer and trans power. And Safetyfest continues today! Some of my plans:
Here's a piece
- Another installment of Notes from Our Underground, the writing workshop that I'll co-facilitate this time with newly crowned Oakland Grand Slam Champion Sam Sax. Yesterday's workshop was really fun, so I'm excited to see what today brings.
- Then I'll have some tough choices: the youth workshop Express Your Beat, or the Safety Lab on healthy relationships? The theater workshop Change the Plot, or BDSM Safety from Top to Bottom? Where will you be? Find workshop times and locations at the Safetyfest website.
- And finally, I hope you'll join me for Queer Rebellion, tonight's action-packed performance event, where I'll be reading poetry, among other performances you won't want to miss! It begins at 7:30 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Click here for details.
I wrote during yesterday's Notes from Our Underground, co-facilitated by Jen Cross
. The prompt was based on brainstorming our ideas about what the idea of "the underground" brings up for us, and the question "What does your underground look like?" It's quite raw, obviously. Click to read more
S.F. protest against education cuts, 3/4/10
Photo by Maisha Z. Johnson
Education in this country is still becoming more expensive
and inaccessible every year. How would the sharing of knowledge look, if it were up to you? If you dared to entertain dreams beyond what seems possible under the current system? What would it take to make those dreams a reality?
Some folks are daring to shift their ideas about education into the reality of education, and as a result, creation of the Free University of San Francisco
is moving forward. I shared about the first planning session
in December. Now we've had a second meeting, and we're gearing up for a third. And people are excited. Today's SF Bay Guardian features the Free University and words from founder Alan Kaufman in this cover story. I'm excited, too, of course. I can only imagine -- what does it mean if we don't have to wait for permission from those who appear to be in power to grasp the knowledge we seek? As Alan Kaufman said in his second opening remarks,
"knowledge in the hands of the oppressed is a tool of liberation far more powerful than a gun." Imagine empowering folks with the knowledge to survive and thrive in their own communities, regardless of income, age, disability, immigration status
, or any of the other barriers standing in the way of education for so many people today. There's still plenty of time to get involved in the Free University, which can mean physical involvement if you can, or simply contributing ideas, which are just as valuable as material contributions. Those questions from the beginning of this post aren't just hypothetical. I'd love to know -- how would you share knowledge, if you could? What would you learn, if money was no option? What would you teach? Let's create this world we imagine.
It's not as impossible as it seems.Note: As I mentioned later in this post, I've since decided to step away from being a part of the Free University collective, though I wish them the best of luck!
I really can’t believe 2011 has arrived already. But I guess I should get used to it. So, like everyone else I’m spending my day reflecting on the past year, thinking about the next one. For me, 2010 was full of highlights, and I hate to reduce it to a silly top-ten list, but if I didn’t I might ramble on forever about my year. So here they are, my Top 10 Highlights of 2010:
CUAV’S 2010 Safetyfest
was a spectacular highlight of the year. It was great to be a part of the planning process as a member of CUAV (Community United Against Violence
), to help launch, in April, a festival of events designed to build safety in queer and trans communities. Events included everything from self-defense workshops to opening and closing celebration parties, and it was all thanks to the combined energies of community members giving time and money and resources to help empower each other. I was so thankful for the chance to lead a writing workshop and an open mic, where folks astounded me with their presence and words. Planning for Safetyfest 2011 is now underway, which is very exciting. Watch this look back at Safetyfest 2010 here
Continuing my membership at CUAV has been a highlight of 2010 in general. Opportunities have ranged from being a part of transformative Safety Labs
to reading poetry at rallies
in support of social justice. Not to mention building community, and growing as a person in all that I’ve learned along the way.
Another great part of 2010 was volunteering with the inspirational people of POWER
(People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in various capacities. They do really great work
that helps a lot of folks, and empowers folks with the tools to help themselves, and the time I’ve spent with them has taught me a great deal about organizing in ways that can really enact change
· U.S. Social Forum
This was one of the great opportunities that came with being an active member of CUAV – the staff invited me to be a part of the delegation that attended the U.S. Social Forum
in Detroit. The USSF was a conference of activists and organizers who brought knowledge and open minds to share with each other tools for making change. For example, a workshop with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration
(BAJI) featured a panel of folks speaking on immigration and shared BAJI’s findings
on black communities’ involvement in immigration rights movements. There were so many workshops at the USSF that it was hard to choose which to attend, but being me, I tried to pop into as many of the arts-related workshops as possible. Workshops like “Art is Change”
with Anasa Troutman were enlightening, and I was inspired not only in my own writing
, but also by the power of words
to move others, as I saw people like Anasa making a difference in folks who would carry her words across the country and to the rest of the world. I’m grateful still for that time spent in Detroit, especially because now we continue to share what we learned and what we shared with others while we were there.
In an exciting milestone for my writing, in 2010 I got a short story published for the first time. Transfer Magazine
published my short story “The Single Woman’s Guide to Surviving a Miscarriage” in Transfer 99, and gave it the Leo Litwak Award for Fiction. Whoo!
· Quiet Lightning/sPARKLE & bLINK
Some of my most thrilling moments this year were all thanks to Quiet Lightning
, a local reading series that’s given a great range of writers a place for their words. They gave me a place during Litquake
in October, and again in November
, and I’m so thankful for those unforgettable experiences. Hell, I’m thankful just for Quiet Lightning, whether it includes me or not, because Rajshree Chauhan
and Evan Karp
are doing something wonderful for the San Francisco literary community
. And with Quiet Lightning, of course, I’m also grateful for sPARKLE & bLINK
, the publication featuring each month’s readers (which they also generously offer for free on Scribd
· San Francisco Lit Community
I’m thankful that this year has introduced me to the thriving literary community
that’s such a lively part
of the Bay Area right now
. I’ve had such a great time at events like Quiet Lightning, Literary Death Match
, the Living Room Reading Series
, 14 Hills
events… I could go on, and there are plenty more I’ve yet to see as well. To say that it’s exciting to witness and participate in such a vibrant scene
hardly captures how thrilling it all is, and I can only hope for what the next year will bring as we walk through the doors that are opening for writers in and around San Francisco.
· HIV prevention
I feel like I can’t not mention my so-called “day job.” If my writing is the side of me that is the wild, unstable artist, then I guess my stable side is what has me walking the streets of the city at odd times of the night in an effort to prevent HIV. Working as a study recruiter for the AIDS Office
of the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been challenging in some ways, but it’s been a highlight of 2010 in that I’ve been a part of an extensive effort to reduce HIV infections, and for some, substance abuse, and along the way I’ve had the chance to learn about other people by connecting directly with them.
· Writing Ourselves Whole
Another that can’t go unsaid – I’ve participated in several of the incredibly transformative workshops of Writing Ourselves Whole
, and recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with the workshops’ facilitator, Jen Cross, with some of the duties that help her efforts to reach others move forward. This is another of 2010’s gifts for which I’m immensely thankful, and I look forward to connecting more with Writing Ourselves Whole in 2011.
· Graduation / Grad school
And I can’t leave out, of course, my graduation in May from the Creative Writing department of San Francisco State University
. I feel like I’ve taken a long journey
through school, so I had a whole lot to be thankful for upon reaching graduation. And now I’m looking forward to the next step, as I apply to MFA programs. Maybe I shouldn’t count this as a highlight until I actually get into grad school, but deciding to move forward with the process has been a highlight of the year for me.
Okay, so if you’re counting you’ll know that this is actually highlight #11. But I couldn’t resist adding it, because I wouldn’t have the platform to go on this rant of reflection and gratitude without this blog. I would definitely call Inkblot a highlight of 2010 because it’s been a part of my growth as a writer, it’s helped me connect with people I admire
, and it’s been one way I can share all that I’ve learned from the thrilling and critical moments of the year.
Thanks for being a part of it all with me. Have a safe night. Happy New Year!
Postcard by Ray
I’ve been watching a live stream
of the Senate floor as they consider passing the DREAM Act. At this point it looks like they’ve decided to table it
until later. Kind of a disappointment after the hope inspired the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives yesterday
If you don’t know about the DREAM Act (learn more here
), it’s a bill that proposed a solution to problematic immigration policies that hurt folks like Steve Li
, the hardworking San Francisco college student who never even knew his parents had him in the country illegally and now faces the possibility of deportation. The DREAM Act would allow people like Li, young folks without a criminal record who were brought to the country before the age of 16, to apply for permanent U.S. residency if they go to college or join the military for two years. This would be a great chance to give these young folks opportunities, rather than taking away all that they have.
I’m inspired by these activists
who are using art to show their support for the DREAM Act. I think I’ll take to my notebook now, see if I have anything creative to say about it. I know I’ve got plenty to say about dreaming.
You can also call your senator to let them know how you feel. How will you show your support?
CUAV members say no to S-Comm
Thinking more about places where our voices belong, even when they’re not always heard or recognized. Especially places where we find the intersection of our voices – where queer people, people of color, people with disabilities, youth and others who aren’t often heard are one and the same, fighting for one another and for their own rights.
These intersections came up last night, at the membership meeting I helped lead for Community United Against Violence (CUAV
). We practiced skills like active listening and speaking authentically, to speak and honor our truths and let one another be heard.
We also reported back from the “Secure” Communities
campaign, and last week’s rally for immigrant rights
. Performing at the rally was a rich experience, helping quench my thirst for pouring my words into spaces where they can be held as part of a movement. Another performer, Xago from headRush
, held it down with street performance that I was proud to follow. Also, being there as a member of CUAV, I was glad to speak up for queer and trans folks against violence.
While I know the connection may not be clear to everyone, I was a little disappointed when one of the rally’s participants approached one of CUAV’s staff people to ask, essentially, a question that would make anyone bristle: “What are you people doing here?”
Okay, so she didn’t say it in so many words, but she was asking what queer and trans folks have to do with immigrant rights. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since we’re so often dismissed and forgotten, in spite of the fact that queer people are everywhere. Queer people are immigrants too, and when poor immigration policies are hurting communities, you can imagine how much harm they cause to queer and trans people whose identities are devalued on many levels. We belong in this fight
, to speak up for ourselves and our brothers and sisters, and also to show solidarity, to show that we stand for human rights for all people, and we won’t stand for violence against any of us.
To anyone involved in any movement, I’d say don’t dismiss us or power we can bring to your fight. We’re here, and we won’t be forgotten. And I think we all know that uniting, not dividing, is the only way to reach our shared vision of justice.
In other news, I’m really wanting to put more creative work on here – poetry, fiction, videos of performances and other media. There’s only so much I can ramble on about creative arts – the work speaks for itself.
So you can look forward to that. Here’s a start, a video from Saturday’s Lit Crawl reading
. I highly recommend clicking here
for the other readings – I certainly wasn’t all there was to see.