"This is my experience. Like I’m true it’s across other POCS, but you can be the sweetest Black person, work with kids, and still be fucked by the police who are racist. So this has always been my reality. I understand it will get more intense but we’ve been enduring this for hundreds of years."
What have you been up to?
Oh my god, you know what? I just quit my job.
Congrats! This is a good thing right?
So yesterday was my last day. It’s bittersweet. I’m leaving a really stable job but it was really stressful. I have alopecia. I don’t know if you know what it is, but it’s an autoimmune disease that causes your hair to fall out when you’re stressed. So this is a wig. All my hair has fallen out. I used to have this big, beautiful Afro! So I’m just trying to do lifting and hustle my art.
What job are you leaving?
I was a director of after school programs at an Oakland Elementary School. That’s why it’s bittersweet. I love the kids.
Yes! Educators are so undervalued and under appreciated. Oh yeah! I forgot to completely ask. As QTPOC people we are constantly policed when it comes to our identity. How do you personally identify?
I like to identify as a queer femme but even then, I think femme has so many standards which I don’t fit into that box. Just like here, a lot of queers and people in my community are not from Oakland.
That’s a whole different issue.
But I just feel like a lot of people come here and have this definition of high femme that I don't necessarily fit in. I’m just still hella proud to be woman. A Black woman. And I’m queer as fuck. I’ve always been that weird queer kid. My sister is a lesbian and my brother is a gay man. But we’re TOTALLY different. Luckily in the family they’re all about us being gay and whatnot. But yeah, when people ask me what I am, I tell them I’m a queer ass femme. Like. Queer. Ass. Femme. Ok?
Yes! Bold and Italics. @ and Dollar signs incorporated too.
Yes! With me somewhere twerking in the back. A meme or something.
I love major-minor so much because I get to learn from fetch QTPOC folks like you. Our community is so beautifully abundant. It is so unfortunate how often we must mute ourselves in order to please others though.
Yes! We are everywhere. I feel that way all the time. Especially with school, a lot of times I pass for a non-queer person and so that gives them the excuse to say a lot of things. I need to check them. There is still so much hatred for queer, and especially trans community. They can’t see pass that either. Even at school you hear kids still saying gay here and there as an insult.
Do I tell them I’m gay or lesbian?
Sometimes you have to be quiet and just be accepting of everyone. And you’re in Oakland honey! We are everywhere. That’s what’s so special. There aren’t many communities in every city.
I love Oakland!
Born and raised honey! My grandmother graduated from an Oakland High School. McClymonds in 1964. She’s from TX but moved out here with my grandfather and her mom. She finished high school after moving at 15.
What?!? I just came from Texas!
Heeeeyyy! That’s where she came from. BEYONCE!
So I had the honor of meeting you at M∆GIC M∆KERS, which is a celebration of queer creativity, healing, and liberation, centering the work of QTPOC, working class, and socially/politically conscious artists and healers. What kind of work do you make?
I’m a photographer. Actually, I have an art show right now at Naming Gallery. Then I have another at SOMARTS in May!
What? I was just there! I love SOMARTS! Such a radical and queer friendly space. Congrats!
Yes! So I do film photography and my project is called Keep it Diasporic which creatively explores African ancestries. So my first journey was Colombia. I was out there for two weeks by myself and that was the best decision ever. I was able to make so many friends and Colombia is pretty conservative, as far as the gayness goes. I was able to make queer friends hella fast in two weeks. Lemme show you.
Haha, you say Hella!
I can’t even imagine how you balance everything.
That’s why I had to quit my job. I have many bills to pay but I just can’t be in a place where my hair is falling out. *Shows me some pieces*
Woah, this is amazing! I feel immersed in the place.
It’s not only about me discovering African ancestry and taking pictures, but I’m also giving back to these people who are teaching me. My stuff sells at a store. Its called Town biz, it’s right by the gallery. I can show you.
Ohh, where was this photo taken?
That was in a town called San Basillio de Palanque ,which is the first African freetown in all of Americas, and I learned so much from there. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, it didn’t stop me from connecting to people. Even her, Roselo, she was just saying little things, like we’re connected because we’re Black. It was just a really magical experience.
When I came back to America, I was a little depressed. America the KKK. Not that it’s easier there, especially for Black people, but the community there is amazing. There is music playing all the time and people are just close and happy. That’s more important than the fancy things.
Next I’m off to Tijuana because there are tons of Haitian refugees in Tijuana from the 2010 earthquake. Probably even more due to the hurricane.
How do you set up connections?
I just go and figure out from there. I literally start from scratch. Those pictures, I was just walking around. I posted these pictures and contacted these museums. I showed them my artwork and they told me about one of the dancers.
Oh, that girl from the picture lives outside of the town, outside of Cartagena called San Francisco and dances to make money. So I was able to send her the photo I took of her just from outreach and google translate. Google Translate and paste!
Colombia has been a really good experience. That was my first time doing anything by myself for two weeks. It taught me some lessons as far as loneliness. People are not meant to be lonely. By the fourth day I was like WOAH, I still have 1.5 weeks left. I missed my friends and family, but it motivated me to go out and just speak with locals.
It taught me that I could do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. Hahaha. That’s my little bit of art. I also do African Dance and had a dance show last month.
You are so active with the community. That’s difficult to juggle everything.
Everyone in the Bay Area just seems so active and passionate. You all don’t take breaks!
I love that. The dance company is called Afro Urban Society. We had a show in the SF Mission and she’s Nigerian, and brought hella Nigerians from Texas. Now I have folks in Texas I can stay with. That is why the arts are so important. Building family. And being a teacher, and like music, it’s not a thing. It’s just about testing. Science is barely in there.
Art though. Once a month. It’s not even a teacher?
It’s just a contractor or something.
Oh yeah, so they pay vendors. They’re not actually part of the school system. That’s why I didn’t want to be a day teacher.
After school I was able to run my own programs and definitely art heavy. Being a director is crazy, I was even teaching a dance class. Just doing so much. That is why Ghost Ship was so sad. We don’t have many art outlets anymore. It’s all becoming narrow.
Parents ask me what I’ll do when I quit. I say go to school even though I won’t be back until August. I don’t have a degree yet.
It’s ridiculous how we need degrees to validate ourselves for others.
It’s so expensive too. I’m not trying to be in debt for 20-30 years. I tell people I’ll be focusing on art and they just respond, “Really?!?”
But yeah. I quit my stable decent salary job to focus on art.
I am so incredibly proud of you. It is always perceived as foolish and/or selfish. Art is something that fuels us as people and allows us to connect with others. It actually makes a difference and we're not going to apologize for pursuing something they undervalue. Society does and it’s ridiculous. Imagine this world without art and culture.
Praise. Film is definitely adding up though. I’m surprised film is not cheap. Nobody does film anymore. Its hella expensive. This is why I have to charge $150 a print.
Is there a reason you choose to stick with film?
My camera is a 1977 Nikon PF and just the quality of things was made so much better. The glass and mirrors. When I print my pictures, I feel the difference from digital. I do digital as well, but it is such an instant gratification.
Oh you don't like that? Just keep going.
With the limited shots of film, you have to still be quick but so mindful of light and movement. There is more control for me of how I want my pictures to be perceived. And also, not having instant gratification. Oh, this is messy, I want it to be perfect so lemme do it over again. But you don’t have that. I don’t develop my own shots. I’ll learn eventually but i develop this place in Berkeley which is super cheap.
I went to Colombia twice. And the last one I didn’t get a lot of good pictures at all. Maybe 4 or 5. I had two rolls of film.
That’s so important. Just slowing down in a world where we move from image to image is really special.
Exactly, with a point and shoot you can download to the interweb in no time. Yeah, the process is so important.
Ohhhh, I notice you have several tattoos as well. What is that one?
Oh, Rosemary for my grandmother because she has a rosemary bush. This is a stick and poke of Gradenia because of her gardenia bush. This will eventually be a scorpio constellation cause I’m a scorpio but I fainted when I got it done.
That’s kinda a juicy story.
Right? A year and a half ago. Do you have any?
I have one from Le Petit Prince, a Moonassi drawing, and a design by Jun Osaki (@ajunkysock).
Which degree will you be going back for?
Because of all my credits, I’m gonna finish my child development degree but minor in photography. I have to. I have maybe 2 years, hopefully 1.5.
Would you consider going to be the director after your degree?
No. If I did, it would be my own business. Working at a non-profit is too much. Because of budgets, you end up doing everything. Director, teacher, grocery shopping, prep food, managing staff, managing behavior problems. Which I’m all about.
Lots of times, teachers talk down to students. Kids have a very powerful voice and need to be listened to. They'll trust you. I’ll be with kids all the time regardless. Whether they’ll be my friends or my own.
You would be such a phenomenal mother.
Thank you! I love you already.
I don’t tell that to everyone. Some people are not meant to have kids. They are not here to validate your existence or to play dress up with.
Do you want kids?
Honestly, I thought I wanted 6 kids back then. Now I think my future students and art will be my kids. I’m not able to juggle everything. I know myself.
Oh my gosh. I always told myself I was going to have kids when I’m 30 and that’s now only 2 years away. My life is just beginning. I’m breaking that promise to myself.
You're 28? Whattt??? I have so much hope for growing up after meeting all these badass adults. I used to be scared as a kid. Adults always seemed so deprived and sad, but the older QTPOC are lit.
Yes! We get better. We get more confident and love ourselves more.
I wish you were out here longer. My friend Jamal comes back every year from DC for his birthday, January 23, and for like almost 4-5years we always do the peacock balls. We always lip sync and do performances. I wish you could come.
Do you vogue it out and everything?
I wish I could vogue. I just lip sync for my life honey. Me and Jamal always, we used to live together, so I’ve seen every freaking episode up to season 5.
Who is your favorite drag queen?
Manila Luzon. I love her. I really do.
But as far as dancing, I think I like Tyra a lot. Do you remember her? I like Manila a lot because my grandma is Filipino and she is hella Filipino pride.
I’m wondering. Growing up here, have you found a community of like minded people or is it still divided? POCS, queer and trans, education groups. All fragmented.
I have a very small friend circle. Queer people. We’re like super radical too. I think my political views are definitely more revolutionary, and when you get to that point, it dwindles down more. People’s ideals about what revolutionary is differs from person to person so I literally have a handful of friends. Hundreds of acquaintances though.
Also like, back track, the revolutionary ideology stems from my art too. So then a lot of my close friends are artists too. The girl I was with, Francis, does illustrations and painting. Jamal I talked about does coloring and poetry. So I have a few people who I think understand me politically and artistically. Everyone else I can get along with but we’re different. I don’t wanna build too much with them because I’m also struggling with communication. Not just my people but POCs too. There are maybe two people I know originally from Oakland. Many people who come up here wanna talk about gentrification and do these things, but they’re not really checking themselves and analyzing how they take up space.
Then how there are community spaces but not having folks who are Oakland who are prioritized too. But cliquish. Like Magic Makers. Not to shame Magical Makers but I applied and didn’t get in. I’ve been supporting Magic Makers for three years. I’m just like, are you all prioritizing artists from Oakland who are struggling? I was really surprised because I’m acquainted with a handful from the board and helped out a lot. It just made me upset. These spaces aren’t as accurate as they say they should be. There needs to be a discussion about how we’re taking space as well as people outside from Oakland. My feelings were hurt. I am from here and can barely afford to live her.
Even with my decent job, I can’t move. I live with two other people who are great but it would be nice to live by myself before eventually starting a family. It’s not possible. I can’t move out of my apartment since prices are locked in. I just wouldn't be able to afford another place. Every year rent has gone up. It’s just....how are we taking up spaces and giving back to the community who live here?
Have you heard about the Black Brunch that was going on? This group in Oakland but not from Oakland. Folks from the white areas of Oakland disturb their brunch. It’s called Black brunch and they would like come into white rich area, walnut creek, these establishments where a lot of white people are, and talking about Black Lives Matter and stuff.
I’m all down about taking space doing that but are you going to East Oakland and having brunch with Black people? I have tons of people. I used to work with deeper East Oakland. Families who have never stepped outside of East Oakland. Who don’t have access to the bus to downtown. Or taking space and doing these things while giving back to the community. That’s why my project is so important.
Cause I don’t wanna just go into these countries and take these pictures. Go talk about your stories without me contributing back to you. I just have...I’m not gonna just smash on them. If they ask I’ll tell my feelings about what they’re doing wrong. Taking up space and having dialogue with the community.
Hmm. It makes us question who we’re actually catering to as a city.
Is it simply money and appealing to white people?
No shame for Magic Makers but I don’t know who to talk to about that. Maybe it’s not me to bring it up until it’s brought to me. I don’t like confrontation either but it’s important for us to realize our privilege to live here. I don’t know if that answers your question.
There isn’t a right or wrong. It’s YOUR story. Your experience. We are already censored all the time.
Haha Thank you.
What does your political view entail?
Ummm...for instance, people would assume I’m an Obama supporter because I’m Black. I don't know him personally. I’m sure he’s wonderful, but anybody who’s the president, who’s part of the system, is part of racism. Is killing people. Obama.
I use Obama as an example because I’m a Black woman and I’m supposed to love him. As a president, he has said and done nothing about for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Has not attended these funerals for people being killed by police. Example, for Trayvon Martin. You’re the president of the US, why can’t you do something about it? I’m not down for killing the pigs, but fuck the pigs. He isn’t stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Aleppo and Gaza, you’re ordering these missions to kill people. If anybody is the president, I don’t care how charismatic and shiny and bright you are. You are part of the system that is racist and destructive. The only way to stop corruption is to deconstruct the system and get back to, how money is, just so, we’re so knee deep in money!
It’s beginning to grow our own food. What's good about our school is equal literacy is incorporated into our curriculum twice a month. Our garden wraps around the entire school and kids are learning to grow their own food, and prepare meals already. That’s so important for survival. Money and paper, it’s just crazy how we live in this world. We are so small! We can not conceive how small we are in this universe.
YES! We need to be respecting our mother.
Yes! That’s where we came from. Now we wanna move to Mars to ruin another planet. Now this fucking Trump man.
Omg, this cheeto! All of them suck but he is the white supremacist deluxe. EXTRA! Extra!
When people ask me how I feel about Trump winning, I tell them we’ve been struggling our whole lives.
Umm...new to me? We’ve been struggling. We’ve been killed. We’ve been going through this forever. Don’t try to console me. I worked at a Jewish Community Center so people have been this and that, this and that. What do you think? This has been my reality for the whole 28 years I’ve been living.
I’m a very peaceful and loving person, and even I have been harassed by the police and in handcuffs just because I was driving an old car, and I was told I was veering to the left. I wasn’t even smoking weed. I had it in the back of the car since I have a recommendation. Just following the recommendation rules. I was still handcuffed and put in the back of the police car while they searched through everything.
On the 101.
On the highway.
On a hot ass day.
Nobody is protected.
Even me, let alone someone who may dress differently. Let alone someone from the hood. Maybe baggy clothes. Maybe gold teeth. They getting harassed all the time. This is my experience. Like I’m true it’s across other POCS, but you can be the sweetest Black person, work with kids, and still be fucked by the police who are racist. So this has always been my reality. I understand it will get more intense but we’ve been enduring this for hundreds of years.
I’m so glad you brought that up. Many of my friends are now being approached on campus by people who suddenly now want to engage with this conversation. They don’t understand the reality of POCs on a daily basis. Especially white liberals.
Omg, the safety pins. No.
It’s like they ask simply to talk about their own feelings.
If you’re an ally, be an ally.
Amen. I don’t need your safety pin. Be on the front lines.
Listen. That’s all.
Yes, listen. All Lives Matter. All that bullshit.
Yes! Obviously all lives matter but it’s not about that right now.
We’re not talking about that. Of course all lives matter you idiot. You're not the ones getting all shot up though. Especially my family, I get shamed so much for not being an Obama supporter. Hey! I’m not supporting any presidency. I’m sure he is a wonderful person and I’m glad your beloved president is still in office but this is how I feel.
And I’m like, I had to replace my driver's license two weeks ago at the DMV and took myself off the registered voter list. Why am I participating in a system that does not give a fuck about me? Even like locally, unemployment, and so many times I’ve had to beg for my money and food stamps, then they cut my food stamps for no reason. The system is not meant for the survival of POC, especially Black people. It’s not so, I’m not participating. Especially when we’re killing hella people and it’s not on the news cause they want you to see what they want you to see. That’s what I’m talking about when I say revolutionary.
Yes! Speak up your mind and don't be afraid to be judged.
Like Peter Liang, the Asian officer who killed Akai Gurley. Many Asian people questioned why I wasn’t defending him...Ummm. Hello? He just killed another Black human being.
He is part of the system. OMG, people will read me for filth if I’m not a Obama supporter. For filth honey!
I’ve never heard that before! Filth.
Probably RuPaul, Haha!
My roommate Jamal a few years ago had RuPaul on 24/7 I swear.
This is the first time I’ve ever eaten a taco so slowly. Just talking so much!
Yes! So good.
You said you’re gonna concentrate on your artwork and another trip to Mexico. You have till August! Such a treat to yourself. What is the battle plan?
I really wanna explore African Diaspora in Mexico, Central America, South America. I went to Colombia first because I got a round trip ticket for like $440.
Yep! Columbia. So start down there then The Caribbean, then Africa. Hopefully a lifelong journey. I would love to be an anthropologist. So I just wanna explore you know, the story. It’s fading away. Who knows which part of Africa I’m from? I just wanna go everywhere in Africa but it’s so expensive to get out there. Easily over $1,000 a ticket.
Then I wanna even explore my small Filipina heritage as well. There are a lot of darker shade Filipinos but Africa is definitely 1st. My grandmother is from Manila, I know the darker indigenous people are not in the main cities or islands. There are thousand of islands. I wanna go to those too.
So the next step is Tijuana then Panama after.
You need to start a Kickstarter or Go Fund Me.
Yeah! I need to look into this.
I went to the Museum of African Diaspora there for the first time. Near SFMOMA, everyone goes there and forgets about the MOAD . Tiny. Limited Space.
What are your thoughts?
Funny you should say that! I applied for one of their residencies there in the small galleries and I didn’t get in. It was discouraging because I went to the info session and the person in charge was a white woman with blue eyes. I thought I would definitely get it because my project is Keep it Diasporic, which is their mission. Their essay was also hella long. To see she was the one picking the artist was discouraging. That’s when I knew I probably wouldn’t get it.
But yeah, the art scene in the museums there is a lot of soul. The museum is very important but quite boojie in many ways. There are plenty of Black people who can run that museum. Tons of white people in that museum too. That was the first thing I ever applied to and got rejected. But now I have my show and two more ahead. They’ll beg for me soon enough.
Just seeing the difference. My last trip I went to the Museum of History of Cartagena. It’s just full of history and rape and colonization. How Black people got here. Zinu people??? I watched the video in that museum and I contacted them, and they have just really encouraged me and introduced me to people I’m now facebook friends with. I see the difference between community and outreach. Just seeing who is in charge of it and how distant they are from the community.
I just wanna take everyone on this trip. That’s what I want, that’s the main purpose of Keep It Diasporic. Not just to explore African history, but to let everyone dive in.
Whether it’s through dance, film, painting, cooking, etc. I just want people to build community through traveling. Cause I also think I’m so happy you’re asking this cause I don’t say it due to confrontation. I think Black people in America are so assimilated. We assimilate to survive. I get it.
When I went to Colombia and other African towns, you can still feel the roots. The language. The food, the community, while here it is so American. We even frown upon other Black people if they're not American enough. There is a tv show called Blackish, which I hate that term. People love it. People are dumb.
It’s about Black people who are assimilated and moved to this white suburb and are surviving. Even now I’m not a Christian. It’s not I don’t believe in Jesus or Christianity, but it’s the colonizer religion. And if I talk about Santaria or an African religion, Black people will deem you a devil worshipper. I’m not gonna bash the Black church either. It’s so important to the Black community. My dad is a reverend. They always hold food drives and banquets and really help the Black community. But it also stems homophobia. It’s just yeah, it’s a lot of assimilation in the Black Americans that isn’t the same in other Black people around the world. That’s that.
Thanks for sharing.
I’m just talking. It makes me laugh. I think these things but I don’t talk about them. It’s important to me. You’re living your fucking life and I’m trying to live my life. Hopefully there are other people like me who want to explore things other than American bullshit.
Going back to your family, was it empowering having queer siblings or did it set standards for queerness and gender expression?
Well I’m the youngest. My brother is 9 years older than me and he is my brother, not my sister’s brother. We’re half siblings. He was always accepting, but my sister is only a couple of years apart. I guess I came out like shortly after high school. It didn’t feel like a coming out since I’ve always been this way but i guess I came out shortly after high school.
18 and and my sister was like, “It’s just a phase. You’re just trying to be like me and your brother.”
For like the longest. Even with my first girlfriend, she would tell me I’d be with a man eventually. Girl. I like pussy. Don’t tell me. I’ve slept with men too. It doesn’t matter what I do. You should support me cause there's gonna be all these haters in the world. We get each other, come on!
Last girlfriend I broke up with, she was still waiting for me to be with a man now. Now I’m with another woman. I don’t need to prove anything to you. This is where me and my sister had to disconnect. She’s 30 and I’m 28. We’re literally 2 years apart. Can she get over it?
Does she identify as a lesbian herself?
Yeah. We are just in two totally different communities. Mine is more radical and artistic. Hers is not that. More traditional. More conservative queer.
Like Gays for Trumps? Gross.
Yeah. I’d say that. And like my dad is super accepting. Even when I brought home a trans person for the first time, he told me it doesn’t matter if I’m with a male or female or shemale. As long as you’re happy.
That is so important! It is so different than the narrative we hear about the Black community due to the relationships with the church and other institutions. Then it annoys me when white people shame our families for not being immediately accepting either. It’s like, we need to understand cultural differences and language barriers, and a huge learning curve. My parents are still learning.
We are still getting over the shock value. Like my grandparents. Between you and I, my dad is definitely in the closet. You can leave it on though.
I found stuff. Hot stuff on the computer and other things. Even though my grandparents are totally ok with the “gay thing”, growing up for him, it was ok for everyone else to be gay but not him. You know?
So he is pretty in the closet even though he is almost 60 years old. He is private about it. He doesn't even talk to his two gay daughters about it. I remember when I told him i had a girlfriend, he was like, omg both my daughters are gay. That wasn’t too many years ago. It’s so interesting to see where we’ve come from but to realize how much education and deconstruction we have to go. People have been trans forever. Two spirits. They knew. It’s more in the light now. People like to give credit to the white Caitlyn Jenner but NO. People have been around forever.
You know, no pressure for him. He should do whatever he wants. If he ever reads this article, I want him to know I accept him. One day maybe we’ll talk about it.
We used to have uncles and stuff. Uncle Willis was around for a long time. LONG time. He stayed at Theo’s house all the time. When I was living at home, he wouldn't come home on Saturday. He stayed at Theo’s so they could go to Sunday service together. My dad’s a reverend.
Ohh, getting on his knees for the right reasons. Almighty Lord!
I know I love the holy spirit pouring all over me.
He ain’t fooling us. Especially me and my sister.