In the summer of 2012, POC Zine Project partnered with Mimi Thi Nguyen to facilitate her donation of over 60 poc zines created in the 1990s to NYU’s Fales Library.
Here is the donation statement in its entirety, along with a list of the zines that were donated.
FALES LIBRARY DONATION STATEMENT
The Mimi Thi Nguyen Collection in Collaboration with the POC Zine Project
January 13, 2012
By Mimi Thi Nguyen
As a zinester and a scholar, it is an odd thing to be both an object of the archive and an interlocutor with them. Or, as the case might be, it is an odd thing to be both an object whose presence is perceived through absence and an interlocutor called upon to enact its retrieval.
The story of this donation follows from just such an absence and call when my collaborator Daniela Capistrano, founder of the POC Zine Project, noted that archivist Lisa Darms’ upcoming manuscript on the Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library –about which Darms’ tweeted, with an invitation to propose materials to include— could not address some of the most important zines by women of color, because at the time almost none of these zines are found in the archive. (It bears noting that the collection depends upon donations, and Darms’ does not purchase zines for the collection.)
In a Twitter exchange, Capistrano encouraged Darms to continue including zines by women of color lest an important but much under-observed contribution to the story continue to be subsumed to a “big picture” of riot grrrl as feminist movement. At the same time, Capistrano contacted me to compile some of those zines for a collaborative donation to the Fales Library. As the mission statement for POC Zine Project states, the archive and access to it are central: “POC Zine Project’s mission is to makes ALL zines by POC (People of Color) easy to find, share and distribute. We are an experiment in activism and community through materiality.”
There are two issues that concern us —myself, and Capistrano at the POC Zine Project— in general: For the first, we argue that the archive is not just a place for study, but must be itself an object of it. What is in the archive, and how did it get there? What are the criteria for assembling, organizing and presenting materials? Who selects and collects, shapes and donates their stories to an archive? What is not there? How do these materials and absences produce knowledges, including norms and teleologies?*
It is stating the obvious to observe that no archive is an authoritative source for grasping a record of the past; we know from postcolonial studies in which the archive is demonstrably an artifact of colonial frames that the story the archive –any archive— tells is provisional, partial. For this reason, some who are concerned with history making aim to create a more full archive, excavating from the cracks and fissures those stories and persons identified as absent (of course, this requires the recognition that absence matters).
But the second question I wish to address here is bigger than just what is in the archive, and how a donation like this one might “correct” an absence— it is for me a concern about how the archive, the absence, and the excavation tell another, useful story.
Such bigger stories are about feminist historiography –how do we tell the story of feminist movement and teleology, and the place of women of color? I want to suggest that a donation from my collection and the POC Zine Project does not necessarily address the underlying troubles for feminist historiographies of riot grrrl movement. As the narrow scope of liberal multiculturalism has by now taught us, it is that inclusion and incorporation might be made to cover over more troubling queries about how women of color are included, incorporated, or otherwise made visible. I am thinking of feminist archives or retrospectives that too often “hold a place” for women of color to say their piece, but in such a way that contains their critique and segregates it from the story of the movement’s contribution.
We can see this logic operating in retrospectives of riot grrrl in which the story of race is contained as a chapter, or a part of a chapter, in its history, when it appears at all. Here then I cite Anjali Arondekar, whose For the Record considers these questions with regards to sexuality in the colonial archive: “The critical challenge is to imagine a practice of archival reading that incites relationships between the seductions of recovery and the occlusions such retrieval mandates. By this I mean to say: What if the recuperative gesture returns us to the space of absence? How then does one restore absence to itself? Put simply, can an empty archive also be full?” That is, it may be that the problem is not just a matter of historical invisibility (in this case, of people of color in punk subcultures) that would otherwise be corrected with further excavation and more visibility.
The problem is this: Through what stories do absences become visible, and manageable? And does filling up that absence somehow hide the important stories that absence might tell us – about history-making, knowledge-making, movement-making? I wondered then, as I was pulling together zines by women of color (pre-1996) for this donation, how an almost-empty archive might lend greater substance to the story of epistemic violence that erases or otherwise contains our presence.
As I have said elsewhere, the archive is a political and cultural meaning making machine for the passage of objects into what Michel Foucault calls knowledge’s field of control and power’s sphere of intervention, and for “minor” objects in particular, we know well how troublesome such a passage might be. At the same time, myself and Daniela here wish to posit another historiographical gesture. That is, what if we refuse the emplottment of absence and subsequent redemption-through-presence that would render women of color as mere addition or supplement to the archives? What if the intervention –like this donation— becomes the story to tell about them?
The donations made from my collection in collaboration with the POC Zine Project and in conversation with Lisa Darms at the Riot Grrrl Collection is both a critique (broadly construed) and an alternate chronicle taking up questions about race and coloniality that cut across assumed feminist histories, investments and teleologies.* These pre-1996 selections from my collection point to not a side story in riot grrrl movement, but the story of encounter and contest, exchange and challenge – denoting not the singularity of riot grrrl movement, but its slide by other feminisms, fracturing and multiplying into other worlds.
Again, as I have said elsewhere (and repeatedly on the first POC Zine Project/Race Riot! Tour in 2012), those other histories of people of color —here represented in the materials we donate together— are not an interruption into a singular scene or movement but the practice of another, co-present scene or movement that conversed and collided with the already-known story, but with alternate investments and forms of critique. These other stories of riot grrrl in particular and also punk at large unfolding enact historical and theoretical provocations with which we have yet to reckon.**
* I am grateful to my graduate research assistant Ariana Ruiz for the hours she put in copying and creating an inventory for the zines.
** Some of the material adapted here for this statement comes from Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Afterward,” in Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower, edited by Zack Furness, New York: Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2012, 217-223; and Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” in Women & Performance special issue “Punk Anteriors,” edited by Elizabeth Stinson and Fiona I.B. Ngô, 22:2-3 (July-November 2012); 173-196.
Here is the full list of zines created by POC in the 1990s that were donated:
Behind These Fragile Walls #1
Boredom Sucks #8.5
Broken Thought #1 and #2
Cage #1, #2 and #3
Chica Loca 2
Chinese, Japanese, Indian Chief
Consider Yourself Kissed #2
Eracism #1 and #2
Evolution of a Race Riot
Funeral #1 and #2
Hey White Girl
Hijinx Zine #1
Hollyhock 3/War 1
Housewife Turned Assassin! #2 and #4
Kreme Koolers #2 and #4
Marks in Time: The Very Early Go-Gos’s
Messy Flowers 3/Lolita
My Broken Halo #2
Oppression Song #1
Photobooth Toolbox 2
Please Don’t Hit Below The Belt!
Pure Tuna Fish #1, #6, #8, #9 and #10
Race Riot 2
Race Riot Project Directory
Screaming Goddess #1 and #4 (zine and artwork)
Secret Agent Girl no. 666
Suburbia 8/ Tennis and Violins #2
Tennis and Violins
Totally Fucked Up #1
Wild Honey Pie #9 and #10
You Might as Well Live #4, #5, #8 and #9
YOU ARE RACIST WHITE PUNK BOY
Mimi also gave an identical donation to the POC Zine Project and all titles will be a part of the Legacy Series mapping project. If you are interested in accessing digital copies of any of these zines, send us a message.
A duplicate donation was also made to the Barnard Zine Library (details coming soon).