Who We Be: A Book Reading and Conversation with Jeff Chang & KQED

MACLA / Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana presents author and cultural critic Jeff Chang, and the launch of his new book Who We Be: The Colorization of America.

Race. A four-letter word.

The greatest social divide in American life, a half-century ago and today.

In this period, the U.S. has seen the most dramatic demographic and cultural shift in its history, with what can be called the “colorization” of America.

But the same nation that elected its first Black president on a wave of hope—another four-letter word—is still engaged in endless culture wars.

  • How do Americans see race now?
  • How has that changed—and not changed—over the half-century?

Join MACLA, KQED and Jeff Chang as he reads from and discusses his much-anticipated book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America (St. Martin’s Press, 2014).

From the dream of integration to the reality of colorization, Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress.

Event Schedule


5:00-7:00 pm: Art-making with Culture Strike
7:00-8:30 pm: Book reading and panel discussion with Jeff Chang, KQED, and CultureStrike staff

About the Author

Jeff Chang is the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts + Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University.

Named by the Utne Reader as “one of the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” Jeff Chang has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and a winner of the North Star News Prize.

His first book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, garnered many honors, including the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He was the editor of Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop.

His upcoming projects include Youth (Picador Big Ideas/Small Books series), and a biography of Bruce Lee 2014 – 2015: Celebrating 25 Years of Innovative Latino Arts & Culture (Little, Brown).

He was a founding editor of ColorLines magazine, and a co-founding member of the SoleSides hip-hop collective, now Quannum Projects.

Born of Chinese and Native Hawaiian ancestry, Jeff was raised in Hawai’i where he attended ‘Iolani School, a school that many have described as “better than Punahou, for whatever that’s worth.”

He lives in Berkeley, California.

About the Panel

Yahaira Carillo is the Managing Director of CultureSrike, an organization and network of artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other cultural workers who fight anti-immigrant hate by bringing out the stories of migrants and creating counter-narratives about migration.

For the past few years she has also been a visible and outspoken advocate for the passing of the DREAM Act and led the Kansas/Missouri DREAM Alliance.

Edward “Scape” Martinez is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. Born to Puerto Rican immigrant parents, Scape grew up in the Bay Area, and has been involved in graffiti art since the 1980’s.

Since then he has pushed the boundaries and definitions of graffiti and street art.

His first book, GRAFF: the Art and Technique of Graffiti, is an international bestseller. In 2009 he began public speaking engagements to discuss his unique perspective on art and creativity.

Julio Salgado is the co-founder of DreamersAdrift.com. His activist artwork has become a staple of the DREAM Act movement.

His status as an undocumented, queer artivist has fueled the content of his illustrations, which depict key individuals and moments of the DREAM Act movement.

OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, KPCC-FM 89.3’s Multi-American blog and the influential journal ColorLines have praised his work. Salgado graduated from CSU Long Beach with a degree in journalism.

Climate Justice: Reasons to Get Involved and Save the World

Our growing Ecological Justice project cultivates a network of diverse artists to tell new stories about who is affected by climate change and how ecological devastation affects migrant communities and communities of color.

Individual artists—especially people of color and feminists—have been making work about the planet for decades, and our goal is to build connections toward a larger cultural strategy.

Environmental justice activists have made a clear case that the effects of ecological destruction—from pollution to food prices to natural disasters—hit hardest for communities of color and low-income people, and yet the historically white-led environmental movement often fails to address the needs of our communities.

As an organization that works to change culture—including cultures of activism—we believe it’s time to flip this script by drawing explicit connections between displacement, migration, and environmental injustice.

Additionally, despite UN findings that climate change mitigation is possible with swift action on a global scale, action tends to be delayed by dispassionate discussion of carbon caps, special interest groups, and the sheer size of the problem.

We believe this is a failure of storytelling, and that cultural organizing rooted in diverse communities can offer a clearer picture of how to think about and respond to these challenges.

We’re working with our partners at Movement Generation, Justseeds, and the People’s Climate March to create increased opportunities for migrant artists and artists of color, by providing additional funding, training, research trips, and experiences in environmental advocacy.

CultureStrike is also building partnerships with environmental justice organizations that have often lacked the resources to invest in cultural organizing strategies.

And, of course, we’re commissioning new and daring works of art that can expand the cultural imagination and motivate people towards action.

Building on our history of reaching audiences through diverse media ranging from pop culture to fine art, we’re developing poster portfolios, comedy shows, literature, activist toolkits, and pop-up exhibitions.

Ultimately we believe that content shaped by community experiences will increase the urgency, accessibility, and impact of the pro-climate movement.

Get Involved!
Are you an artist working on issues of environmental justice, or an organization looking to develop cultural strategy? Get in touch with Gabriel so we can grow this program together!

Learn More
Check out images and reflections from our contingent at the 2014 People’s Climate March on Storify.

In The News

PRI’s The World: “When environmental activists march in New York, look for immigrants at the head of the parade”

The Counterculturalists II: Rebels + Bohemians

FEATURING: Urayoán Noel, Carolina González and Manan Ahmed

The second event in The Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s Counterculturalists series highlights some of the rebels and bohemians of color who are often erased from histories of the left and the avant-garde.

Watch a clip from American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, the new documentary film about 98-year-old Detroit-based Asian American activist legend Grace Lee Boggs.

Poet Urayoán Noel—author of In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam—talks about avant-garde poet Pedro Pietri, the Nuyorican Movement co-founder who called himself a reverend, donned black robes and carried a large collapsible cross. (He died, he said, in the Vietnam war.) New School Professor Carolina González links together Puerto Rican labor activist Bernardo Vega and Afro-Trinidadian essayist C.L.R. James, one of the central intellectuals of post-colonial Marxism and the African diaspora.

Learn about the man Edward Said called “the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of Asia and Africa”—Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmad.

Columbia University Professor Manan Ahmed talks about this anti-nationalist scholar who was once tried for conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger.

A Desert-bound Iceberg

From “The Price of Doing Business in Mexico” by Bobby Byrd.

Since 1985, writer Bobby Byrd and his wife Lee Merrill Byrd have published over 130 books from what he calls their “desert-bound iceberg”: a small independent press, Cinco Puntos Press, in El Paso that has focused on stories from the border, stories that dissect what a border means, and stories that challenge ideas of what literature and poetics of the border really are.

This includes Dagoberto Gilb’s Winners on the Pass Line, Benjamin Alire Saenz’ collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, which won the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2013, and the graphic novel Pitch Black, by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton, about a homeless man living in the tunnels of the New York subway system, which won the Jane Addams’ Peace Award and the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award.

Byrd speaks with poet Sesshu Foster about writing from and about the political and cultural space between Mexico and the United States, the plight of refugee children from Central America now facing deportation and detention here, and the stories that have inspired his work over the past 30 years.

Sesshu Foster:

Ten years before you and your wife Lee Merrill Byrd parented the press, Sandy Taylor and his wife Judy Doyle started Curbstone Press out of their garage, and Tree Swenson and Sam Hamill started Copper Canyon Press together in 1972.

  • Is starting a press like adopting a problematic child for a couple?
  • Is it crazy?
  • And what did running a press on the Texas/Mexico border demand of you?
  • Specifically, how have the books you’ve published been a response to being situated in El Paso?

Bobby Byrd: Lee and I didn’t know jack-shit about publishing when we started in 1984 and 1985.

We did know that we were unhappy. Both of us worked back and forth as technical writers at Fort Bliss (the nearby U.S. Army post).

It was the golden leash. We had three kids, a girl and two boys.

The boys, in 1981, had been in an terrible accident and were recovering, but their injuries really knocked us off kilter. We had to do something that made sense.

And of course, made money.

Ha!

Good luck with that.

  • How do a poet and a fiction writer make money in El Paso, Texas?
  • A publishing company?

No chance in hell. But we were lucky.

Our third book out of the chute was Joe Hayes’ bilingual telling of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. Nobody except fools on the border would dare publish it.

Why?

It’s a ghost story for kids about a beautiful but jealous woman who drowns her two kids.

For Jungian folks, it’s a Medea archetype.

But here on the border, it’s the cautionary story that literally every Chicano and Mexican kid (and white kids too!) grow up with.

Their parents and grandparents tell them if they don’t get back home before dark, La Llorona will grab them.

You can hear her at night when the wind is blowing—“Mis hijos, mis hijos, donde estan mis hijos!” Back then, it was a six by nine saddle-stitched duotone 32-page book.

That didn’t matter. It sold like hotcakes to schools, teachers, librarians, parents, and kids. It was a book whose time had come.

When we did [trade] shows along the border or in Mexican-American cities like Albuquerque and San Antonio, all the janitors hung out at our booth. (Still do, for that matter.)

We’re proud of that. It didn’t hurt that Joe makes his living telling stories at schools in the Southwest. He took it everywhere he went. It was always the favorite story.

He’d buy them by the box and would be reordering before we got back to the desk.

We’ve sold over 600,000 copies of La Llorona, and it continues to be one of our annual top-four backlist bestsellers.

I like this story of La Llorona. It demonstrates how we were to succeed, especially at first. And it taught us an important lesson: independent publishing is like writing. It’s an act of self-discovery. Lee and I just followed the path that opened in front of us.

Publishing, we tell people, is hugely intellectually stimulating. It’s opened up whole new worlds to our imagination. We’ve published books—children’s illustrated books, young adult books, graphic novels, adult fiction, and adult non-fiction—about homelessness on the New York Subway system, Native American books, books on the Jewish experience in America, books from the very diverse country of Mexico, many other types of books.

You’ve been in El Paso since 1978 thereabouts, eh. El Paso offers a special vantage of the U.S./Mexico border, and through that locality, through that dimension, also a view of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Can you describe what that seems like to you? (In a word! Or not.)

How has it changed? And by “it,” I mean many things—El Paso, the border, the relationship between U.S. and Mexico?

I know you’ve attended demonstrations across the border in Ciudad Juarez protesting impunity and violence, so you’ve been looking at the terrain and the situation on both sides.

In fact, your press publishes Mexican authors, including the poets of the Taller lenateros, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Subcomandante Marcos, Amalia Astorga and others.

Cinco Puntos Press, if I can put it this way, looks at the border from both sides.

Cinco Puntos functions as a cross-border organ, facilitating looking both ways across the line, communicating not merely bilingually, not only transnationally, but across time and culture and political silences as well.

What do you think of the waves of deaths of border-crossers in the desert and the politicization of refugees from Central America? What should people on the coasts or in the hinterlands appreciate about it, or know about it?

I like that metaphor, thinking of Cinco Puntos “as a cross-border organ, facilitating looking both ways across the line.” I might have to steal it. Ha!

I grew up in the South. Memphis, to be exact. I never went to school with students of color, at least as far as I knew. But my friends and I were lucky.

We were educated by black music. I write about this some in my new book of poems, Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary.

The older I get, the more I realize that my experience of growing up has really prepared my mind and heart for living here on the U.S./Mexico border. El Paso is a Mexican-American city.

And we learned here that “the other side” is not really the other side. It’s part of who we are as fronterizos.

The learning curve for the wider culture is extremely difficult and dangerous.

And this is what I learned growing up in Memphis, and it’s what writing, music, and all the other arts teach us as well.

Meanwhile, we read the news about the young people making the very dangerous journey (truly, in fear and trembling) from Central America to here.

We read about the national hysteria accompanying their arrival on our border.

And we read about how the border patrol and the other agencies continue to militarize and “harden” the border between “us” and “them.”

As publishers and writers, we continue with our work; and as citizens, we get out on the street and say our say.

I’m proud of how El Paso—from elected officials to our citizenry—has responded to this so-called crisis of migration. We understand that this is not truly a political issue.

Living here on the border, raising a family here, writing here, publishing here, growing old here—Lee and I have learned this place is not so much the border between Mexico and the U.S., not the border between Spanish and English, but it’s the border between the rich and the poor.

It’s a human and moral issue.

FOR WEB CPPBYRDS aug 2010 (11)

How has your work with authors directly related to immigration issues and/or the border?

Let me answer in this way, with one of my poems. “The Gavacho in the Photograph” was published in my book The Price of Doing Business in Mexico.

Resources and Tools for Innovative Ideas

In addition to spreading new ideas through our work, we believe that artists can and should take leadership in helping others cultivate new skills. Today’s culture is all about repurposing and remixing, and that’s why CultureStrike is committed to sharing as many tools as possible.
Below are some resources we’ve developed through our own work, as well as ones by partners that we couldn’t help but share!

5 Easy Art Projects for Your Pro-Migrant Events
Our Executive Director Favianna Rodriguez and Events & Artist Projects Manager Julio Salgado put together this great video and how-to guide for the National Day of Dignity and Respect in 2013, but the tips they offer are great for any action at any time of year! Watch the video and download our PDF guide.

Make Your Wings

Planning to join public events, marches and rallies for immigration reform? Bring your wings! This template provides instructions to make your own pair of butterfly wings out of recycled cardboard. Basic art supplies required, including tempera or acrylic paints, a cutting blade, 6 feet of scrap fabric, and access to a printer that can print tabloid size (11 x 17 inches). Best done with friends—throw a wing-making party! Download the PDF guide. (Note: This file is 25 MB so it may take a few minutes to load.)

Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy
This guide from our friends at The Culture Group explains the concept of cultural strategy, and includes historical examples and practical steps to bring the theories and concepts to life. We use Making Waves in our Knowledge Lab workshops and highly recommend it! Download it from The Culture Group.

Learning Library
Popular education is an excellent way for cultural workers to exercise our minds as well as our talents, and can help us advance our own art practices and the movements we’re a part of. Below are some articles and reports that have helped CultureStrike develop our vision, and we hope will inspire you as well. Check back as we’re sure to add more!

“Culture Before Politics,” Jeff Chang and Brian Komar, The American Prospect, December 6, 2010

“Change the Culture, Change the World,” Favianna Rodriguez, CultureTime Reports, April 1, 2013

“Jeff Chang on Hope, Change and How Culture Can Shape Politics,” interview with Jarmilah King, Colorlines, October 17, 2012

Culture Matters: Understanding Cultural Strategy and Measuring Cultural Impact, a report by The Culture Group, August 2013

“CultureStrike: In the Heart of Arizona,” Elizabeth Mendez Berry, TCG, August 22, 2013

“Spoiler Alert: How Progressives Will Breakthrough with Pop Culture,” Tracy Van Slyke

“Printmaking with Favianna Rodriguez” (video), KQED Arts, August 29, 2014

“’Migration Is Beautiful’ Documentary Upends Negative Views About Immigrants And Illegal Immigration,” The Huffington Post, January 15, 2013
“Artist Statement,” Favianna Rodriguez and Tina Vasquez, Bitch Magazine, 2013

Contribute!
Have a resource you’d like to see shared? Send it to info@culturestrike.org, and if it’s a good fit, we’ll post it here!

People’s Climate March

West coast members from CultureStrike traveled to Brooklyn, New York to meet with east coast staff and hundreds of artists from across the country who are doing climate change-related art work. During the week of Sept. 16th, we began working on cardboard puppets and a 24’ diameter parachute banner.

The puppets were designed in collaboration with David Solnit and photographer Roxana Marroquin. They were blown up black and white prints of Marroquin’s photographs which depicted POC members of a community garden that Marroquin works with. They were pasted on cardboard surfaces and watercolored. The point of having POC in our art is to highlight the fact that our communities have been growing food for centuries as opposed to some folks who do it because it’s a fad.

We also made corn out of cardboard as a symbol of NAFTA and how subsidized U.S. corn in Mexico pushed many to migrate north. The corn was also used in the huge butterfly banner designed by Susana Garcia. The banner, which carried the message “Climate Change Affects Us All” and its Spanish translation “El Cambio Climatico Nos Afecta A Todos,” made media rounds all over the internet, across the country and other parts of the world.

There were so many artists, students and community members helping CultureStrike that we were actually the first organization to finish everything on time.

UndocuNation Atlanta

During the art exhibit and music showcase, local and national performing acts, as well as local organizations, came together to celebrate the ways in which migrants continue to shape this country’s cultural and political landscape.

It was an important night to recognize the work that both artists and organizers have done to call attention to issues directly affecting undocumented and documented immigrants in the U.S. It is also important to highlight that the performers and audience reflected the face of migration and that this is not an issue that only affects undocumented Latinos.

Featuring:

An all-star band made up of Ozomatli’s Raul Pacheco, Ceci Basida (formerly with Tijuana No) and DeVotchKa’s Shawn King
Local Atlanta acts Nino Augustine and The OPE Band, Ricky Simone, Beto Cacao, Kavi Vu, The Kingsmen and DJ Venez
Event was mc’d by nationally known undocumented activists and artists Sonia Guinansaca and Soultree
Pro-migrant organizations like Freedom University, Southerners On New Ground, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Georgia Detention Watch and more

Stepping Up Cultural Strategy: How Can Racial Justice Rise Above the Noise? (Workshop at Facing Race conference)

Most of us carry more media creation tools in our pockets than any other generation before us. But in the flood of digital information we are bombarded with each day, how we create stories that stands out and gets heard? How do we create powerful works of art and culture that can reach new audiences, ignite the public imagination and shift the debate?

Through a hands-on exercise, we’ll create something to demonstrate what we’ve learned. Join CultureStrike staff members Julio Salgado and Will Coley for this panel as part of the 2014 Facing Race conference. 

About Facing RaceFacing Race: A National Conference is presented by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. A unique collaborative space for racial justice movement making, Facing Race is the largest multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders.  

Facing Race 2014 will be held in Dallas, Texas on November 13-15, 2014. In addition to highlighting a Southern perspective for Facing Race attendees, the 2014 conference will offer the local community unprecedented access to information and resources on racial equity. Previous Facing Race National Conferences have been held in Baltimore, Berkeley, Chicago, Oakland and New York.