Feeling inspired and ready to try new things, after a week of being in different cities, talking to folks about artist empowerment, food justice, sex politics, and taking a little more care of myself (kind of). So my week started with me heading to Denver, Colorado to teach Artist Business & Marketing workshops to Artist Fellows of First People's Fund (FPF). To a group of Native American artists, I discussed the importance of understanding that our vision for our communities and our culture is something that is for a UNIVERSAL audience. Many times, whether we are artists of color, or women artists, or queer artists, we are conditioned to believe that our audiences are only those people in our respective communities. The racism of the white-male dominated art world so frequently tries to limit our creativity to be about identity - we get invited to speak or exhibit only during those special months that celebrate the contributions of marginalized folks, such as Black History Month or International Women's month. But by only viewing ourselves through the lens of race, class, sexual orientation, etc. we are actually living out our own internalized oppression. I believe that the stories we have to tell are for the entire world, for all of humanity, because our struggles are universal, and our art can touch someone as deeply as, say for example, Picasso or Dali.
We as artists of color get asked, "What is your art about?" My answer is that my art is about the people, it's about the struggles we face as workers, as poor folks, etc. That's the majority of the world - so my art is about people all over the world. Funny that white men rarely get asked to define their art in a cultural nor economic context. They SHOULD be asked, for some of them may say that their art reflects the dominant model of white privilege, and therefore reflects a minority in the world, an elitist minority that is. Let's have real conversations about what we are creating and who is reflected in it.
Back to the workshop - I encouraged participants to think beyond their comfort zone, and to know that their visibility as artists was partly about them learning to take better control of how they tell their stories. I asked them to incorporate technology into the way they were marketing themselves- from Flickr to Facebook to blogging to video essaying. By the end of the workshop, many of the artists felt empowered to try some of these tools out.
I also kept it real in terms of articulating that the art world continues to be dominated by a white elite. I realize that we as artists operating on the fringes of the art world, are many times exploring new models of engagement and trying out new ways to incorporate folks who have really not been a part of the conversation. This model of working is the model of the future. The demographics of this country are changing, and unless these museums and art institutions get with it, they will become obsolete and irrelevant to the new majority.
During my stay in Denver, I stayed at the home of some queer sisters of color. I have to say that I was treated in an amazingly nourishing and sustainable way. My sistahs made some food for me, drove me everywhere, made sure I was rested, and made sure I was on time to catch my flight home. I felt so honored. I guess that I live in such a fast paced way, that I am always with other fast paced people who don't always stop and say, "Sister, are you doing ok? How can I make sure you stay healthy so that you can continue the fight?"
I think I'm one of those nourishing caretaker because I'm a woman of color raised in a Peruvian family and I had to always make sure the house was clean, guests were taken care of, etc - this was all in addition to getting straight A's, going to after-school programs, going to Saturday college, AND not having boyfriends (per my mother's orders) LOL! So even as a kid I would be taking care of my brother and my male friends. It was the way things worked. So as an adult, I have the same inclination. I really try to take care of my guests. But WOW - did these sisters outdo me! I then thought back to all the times I arrive to a new city, to a new college campus - its my Chicana sisters that pick me up, make sure I'm fed, send me cheesy text messages. And I realize then, it's no wonder we are the ones keeping our communities healthy. It is so true that women hold up their communities.
What was at the center of this interaction was food. Yes, Food. I felt good to interact with my sisters around eating, and eating food that was prepared with their hands. "Cooking is language. Cooking is identity. Cooking is a primary need of all human kind. Food communities are the expression of human labor." (from the book, Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed) The women I stayed with were conscious eaters who ate a balanced diet full or organic foods. The food they prepared made me feel nourished. We stopped at Whole Foods (AKA "Whole Paycheck") and I picked up some raw foods and some healthy snacks, which I still have in my backpack today, 5 days later. These are the very snacks that I'm eating instead of the garbage they have at airports and I feel great. On Tuesday, I actually had a substantial breakfast! Because food was plentiful in this household and I had to energy to start my day right. It reminded me of why more and more I am becoming a Food Activist, its really about taking care of our bodies so that we have the mind and body strength to fight the challenges ahead of us. These posters are now available for sale through the Just Seeds website.
On my way to the airport, I was talking to my friend about how I was exploring and being more open about the fact that I was a polyamorist (click here if you dont' know what that is). Well my friend was actually telling me about how he was as well! And he was telling me about queer porn, as well as how many folks he knew that had open relationships. We talked about it all!! I was feeling way OPEN! I was realizing that we are in the middle of a major sex revolution, one that also talks about responsible and truthful non-monogamy, experimentation, liquid sexuality (meaning that sexuality is not fixed), an embrace of pornography (the kind that does not dehumanize folks), and the organizing and de-criminilization of sex workers! It's all about breaking gender boundaries! So of course I was feeling inspired, and also feeling that the more I talk openly to people about my views of sexuality and relationships, the more we will begin to have these conversations on a more transformative level. As I had said at the MECHA Nationals the Friday before, "We can't liberate our people without liberating our calzones (our underwear)!!" Speaking of Denver, my friend Kyle has one of the most radical queer sex blogs I've ever read!
So on my way home from the airport, I started listening to the podcast, Polyamory Weekly. I listened to a few episodes, but what stood out was Episode #193, in which Franklin Veaux, Polyactivist, gives some GREAT advice about relationships. I have been checking out more podcasts that touch upon the topic of Polyamory because I am thinking of starting my own podcast that deals with sex and sexuality from the perspective of a radical woman of color. One thing that I am realizing is that these sex podcasts rarely make the connection between sex politics and other kinds of struggles, particularly labor, race, etc. Also, these shows tend to feel like they are for a white audience. So my show will attempt to talk about sex politics in the context of true social change, and will be a women-of-color-centered look at liberating our bodies!
On Wednesday, I had a meeting with foks from Color of Change and Video the Vote. This was the highlight of my week! We discussed ways in which we could provide models of online organizing for the Latino community. This is a project in the works so be on the lookout of what will be launched. As part of my research, I've been reviewing which Chican@/Latin@ organizations are doing online organizing, and sadly, the models are very few. Most of what we are doing online is limited to showcasing injustices, talking about what is happening nationally, either the raids or the deportations, or the locking up of our gente. But we are not doing a great job of collecting emails nor data to support a national organizing model. So this is what I will be doing for the next 1-3 years. I view this as an integral part of my work as an artist, because I view technology as one of those indispensable tools in the freedom struggle.
I spent my Friday going from Oakland to Chicago to Detroit, and then finally hopping on a late night bus (with wifi) to head to Lansing, Michigan. I'm here to give a keynote address at the Annual Dia de la Mujer Conference. The last time I was here, I learned about the case of Efren Paredes, Jr.
March 15, 2009 will mark 20 years of wrongful imprisonment Efren Paredes, Jr. has served for a murder and armed robbery he did not commit, and to which others have pled guilty. After being waived in adult court at age 15 - and never once appearing juvenile court - Efren was tried, found guilty of the crimes he was charged with, and sentenced to three life sentences in Prison: a virtual death sentence in the state of Michigan. What continues to amaze me about Efren, besides the fact that he's an overall brilliant person, is how he uses technology to inform the world about his case.
You can find Efren on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and a host of other online spaces. His support network has managed to maintain an amazing presence online.He told me that it takes about 5 people on the outside (outside of prison that is) to do the daily updates. At times he dictates via phone, or writes it out beforehand. He uses Dragon Naturally Speaking, software that types out what you say. Actually, Efren is so bad-ass that he started my Facebook Fan page! (I have a profile page on FB too by the way) I'll be writing a longer piece about the innovative ways Efren incorporates technology into his case so stay tuned. (the pic above shows Efren when he was 15)
Over and out from rainy Lansing, Michigan...