Report by Annie Mok: PoC Zine Project’s “Race Riot!” Tour (click for dates & info) at the Wooden Shoe, Philly, 9.25
last night stood clear to me as the best zine reading i’ve seen. i felt an urgency from the performances, which seems like a clear byproduct from any marginalized artist’s voice, especially when the erasure occurs in a community whose main talking point is its supposed supportive, radical atmosphere. but to reduce the reading’s success to the identities of its readers would be reductive. though any time you hear voices that are pushed to the margins of a community, it stands out, what struck me this morning as i reflected on it was the naturalness and ease of the performances. most of the readers were conversational in tone whether they discussed their own experiences or their research on punk history, except mimi nguyen who speaks specifically in an academic way. this is no slight as nguyen is a gripping speaker, and i’m sure students fight for spots in her class.
the philly stop’s lineup:
let me know if i get any pronouns wrong; no one mentioned theirs. i paraphrapsed all accounts and quotes. the drawings are out of reading order since i liked the “montage” one being in the big spot in the middle.
the surprise startup reader was chris from the gossip. the presenter (daniela capistrano?) brought him up first because they had to play the TLA down the street. i tried to look him up so i could get his last name, but the band’s bio doesn’t list him, so must’ve joined after the last record was recorded. he was the first of a number of speakers to talk on taking back the history of punk music from white revisionists. i was so pleased to hear about this, because i love 20th century pop music & its history, especially the 30s-80s, and post-punk in particular. he spoke on the forgotten blues roots of rock (big mama thornton, et al), the invention of rock by artists like chuck berry, how black people coined the terms “rock ‘n’ roll” and “punk” as euphemisms for sex, the effect of black disco on post-punk, and how many founding 70s and on punk bands comprised of people of color (such as bad brains) and often outside of the storied hotspots of new york, l.a., and london. he talked on personal struggles from his youth: he felt like he could only be only a part of himself in both black circles and in punk circles. splits in identity through different communities made for one major theme of the night. as he grew older, he realized how helpful in his personal development it had been to move through different communities that as a general rule don’t interact with one another.
anna vo spoke on the common theme of being the only person of color within a wide radius, in her past home of (new zealand? australia? forgetting) and current home of berlin. i wish i could speak more on her entertaining and enlightening talk but she requested not to be recorded by the audience.
sonrisa rodriguez-harrison read a piece detailing a common encounter with a passerby who tried to guess her race, who “expected to be rewarded” for his ‘consideration.’ she read a funny and sad story about feeling pressure as a child to straighten her hair, and her unsuccessful attempt with a hot press straightener. finally she showed unseen tour photos from her time as a roadie through europe with some friends, and talked about the rich experience of having that trip with her friends, an all-female, partly-PoC band.
osa atoe spoke about her feeling a disconnect in her youth between the mostly white but gay-accepting punk community she was involved in in olympia, and her nigerian family where her gayness was not understood. she encountered trouble in trying to date in olympia, and she saw in retrospect that the racism she encountered affected her self-esteem badly, which made it even harder. later on, she found support from other PoC punks and began to feel more secure.
she then delved deep into punk history with a look at don letts, the british punk that brought reggae to the london punk scene at the roxy, “where every british punk band played, except the pistols, cuz their manager [malcolm mclaren] sucked.” since there were no punk records at the time, it opened the opportunity for don letts to spin reggae and dub in-between punk sets, which had a huge influence on joe strummer, john lydon with his post-pistols project public image ltd, and a wave of other bands. don letts’ own band, basement 5, “were the only reggae band to be influenced by punk, and not the other way around.”
mimi thi nguyen spoke largely about her and other PoC writers’ frustrations with the recent white revisionist punk history book, white riot. her own writing was used in the book without her consent, besides a request for permission only a few months before its release, well into production of the book. the editors used another PoC writer who was never contacted at all. the book pushed the majority of the PoC writers into one chapter, which tied up the issue of racism in punk with a neat bow. the sentiment of the chapter implied or stated that there was racism in punk, so the punks dealt with it, so “it’s better now.” nguyen alluded to her frustration, expressed more in depth in her own words here, at how riot grrl feminists blamed “violent” PoC for the demise of riot grrl, when racism and classism within riot grrl communities caused its collapse. she spoke on pioneering punk bands comprised of PoCs, such as alien culture, los crudos, and japan’s the s.s..
finally, cristy c. road read from her upcoming illustrated memoir*, spit and passion, and spoke on the struggles that brought her to write it. she opened up with an encounter with a punk acquaintance who told her, “you look different. you look browner,” after she let her hair go from pink to black, and switched from vintage glasses to contacts. she then started from her beginnings in miami, split between her cuban family and culture, and the apolitical punk scene that surrounded her at the time. she began to feel a split in her cuban community, especially during “the elian years, around 1999,” over the embargo, between cubans whose families had been settled in miami for a long time and recent immigrants. cuban classmates who supported the embargo and george bush “because he doesn’t like that thing where you kill unborn babies” distressed her. in both punk and cuban worlds, she felt a lack of support for her being “weird and gay,” and found outlets in musicals and the image of the virgin mary. she recognized a Queen tape at a relative’s house, from seeing “bohemian rhapsody” in wayne’s world, and she said freddie mercury “gave me wings.” she moved to philadelphia where she spent a lot of time crying in clark park with friends about how alone she felt in a mostly white punk scene. she would get requests from tokenizing punk show organizers who said, “it’s all white people! we need a latina person!” to which she thought, “i’m gonna be playing the same pop-punk music on guitar that everyone else is, i’m not gonna be playing salsas!” she later fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to new york, and she now feels comfort that when sometimes she’s one of only a few PoCs in a space, it’s no longer as big a deal for her, and she recalls the PoC-centric shows and readings she plans to attend.
i fear my drawing of her looks like a stereotypical “call to revolutionary action” cry. i aimed to make her look anxious, as anxiety over her identity seemed to be the central theme of the stories she was telling.
the theme of looking for a home and a family where one can feel the wholeness of their identity came up again and again. as a queer trans* girl cartoonist, i identified with that feeling, as i often feel out of step in both the trans*/queer community and the mostly-straight comics community. how one integrates oneself into a comfortable, whole identity no matter which space one decides to run in seems it’ll always be a central concern for marginalized people and artists.
in short, what a treat! a total pleasure. go see it!
*p.s. road didn’t call her book a graphic novel, but i have seen so many journalists and copywriters call books with illustrated text “graphic novels,” so please, people: don’t call it a graphic novel. a prose story with pictures is not a graphic novel. a graphic novel is a long comic book comprised of a continuous story (can be broken into short story/chapters) that’s too long to staple. just a long comic book. it’s kind of a dumb term… but so is “comic book” when you get down to it, so what are you gonna do. point being, if you call cristy’s book “a graphic novel,” you have to start calling blake’s songs of innocence and experience “a graphic novel.”
Thanks for this excellent recap!! <3 We really appreciate it. Awesome drawings!