By Jessica Liu
For hundreds of years, minorities have borne the brunt of America’s legacy of systemic oppression. From undergoing a forcible uprooting from their homeland to resisting the death of their culture and languages, Native Americans have long endured this burden. Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate, unpacks themes–of resiliency, destruction, memory, and the power of storytelling–shaped by her heritage as a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation in the poetry collection An American Sunrise. In doing so, she pays homage to her rich tribal culture.
In her poem “Break My Heart” lingers the reminder that no matter how distant, “history will always find you, and wrap you / In its thousand arms”: Harjo’s poetry stems from her return to Okfuskee, Oklahoma, where her ancestors, the Mvskoke people, were violently uprooted and forced west under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
By Anya Shukla
If I had to describe Trisha Beher in one word, I would pick the slightly cheesy “artivist.” When I first talked to Trisha Beher, I thought she was just a visual artist. As we spoke further, however, it became clear that she has explored a variety of disciplines, from digital art to music. But the one throughline that connects her diverse practices? Beher wants her artwork to make an impact.
By Anya Shukla
I wish to dedicate this article to the strong women in the arts that kept me going. To my all-girls family (they don’t do art, but one plays a little bit of piano), Ms. Was, and other wonderful artists/teachers that put faith in me. - Huong Nguyen
“I can show you some, if you want.” Huong Nguyen moves offscreen. I hear a rustling noise. She comes back holding several sheets of white paper. “They’re so cute!” she says, excitedly holding the pages to the camera. “This sounds so cheesy, but I carry these with me at school. During lunch, I just open them and read them,” she adds. Houses and trees, drawn with colorful markers, fill each sheet. Each month, Nguyen receives several of these adorable pictures from orphanages.
By Kathryn Lau and Anya Shukla
Over the past few months, we have seen an uptick in crimes against Asian-Americans due to fears surrounding COVID-19: in Seattle’s International District and Chinatown, for example, Asian restaurants have been vandalized. However, Keoke Silvano, a Filipino photographer and advisor at the University of Washington, recently facilitated an art project to support these businesses. We spoke with him to learn more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kathryn Lau and Anya Shukla: Could you describe your recent work in the International District?
Keoke Silvano: I was just driving by Jade Garden—that’s a restaurant in Chinatown that I see frequently—and I saw they were putting boards up. I thought they were closing the doors—that’s what you think when you see people boarding up a building—so I stopped and learned that somebody had broken out the windows. I knew that when you have boards up on a building, it’s an open invitation to taggers to just come in and do some graffiti art. I wanted the owner to have a little more control over his property. So I talked to him about painting murals on those boards; I then put a call out for artists on Facebook. And in 30 minutes, people already wanted to come and paint.
By Jessica Liu
“Here’s the house with childhood / whittled down to a single red trip wire,” the speaker declares in “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” part of Ocean Vuong’s 2016 poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Indeed, the collection pares down a medley of emotions and past experiences into haunting poetry that lingers in the middle of intersections between past and present, masculinity and femininity, Vietnam and America. Vuong, a gay, Vietnamese-American man, is no stranger to these dichotomies himself. His heritage and identity seep into his poetry, offering unique vulnerability to his words.
The collection begins a discussion of the rippling impacts of familial bonds with the poem “Threshold,” in which the speaker watches his father sing in the shower. The father drifts beyond the speaker’s reach like an apparition, "the rain / falling through him" as if he were only a shadow. Similar visions of the narrator’s often-absent father linger across multiple poems as a testament to the lasting influence of one’s roots and upbringing. At one point, the narrator wishes “the day will close without / the page turning as [his father] wraps his arms around / the boy’s milk-blue shoulders”; this sense of longing permeates the book.
By Anya Shukla
Adem Wijewickrema’s aunt, a photographer herself, gifted him his first camera when he was only five years old. He’s been taking pictures ever since: of the places he’s traveled, cars, and the city. In eighth grade, Wijewickrema also started a photography business; now, he gets booked for birthday parties, car shows, sports videos, and even a New York Times bestsellers’ food showcase event.
Additionally, Wijewickrema leads the 60-person photography club at his high school. He starts the year off by asking members to bring in photos for him to critique, then he teaches students about camera basics, like f-stop and shutter speed. Afterward, the club takes field trips around the city to practice what they’ve learned.
“There are not a lot of people my age who actually have a camera and can call themselves a photographer: everyone just takes photos on their phone. So the fact that there are sixty kids coming to me—week after week—who are interested in this… it means a lot to me.” Wijewickrema said.
By Anya Shukla
This week, I checked out Tacoma Art Museum's (TAM) “Black Artists” collection. According to the TAM website, pieces by black artists only make up 1.76% of the museum’s 5000 art pieces. Therefore, the organization is working to critically engage with and remedy this inequality; this collection is one of the ways it is doing so.
While I liked the collection as a whole, I especially enjoyed the following three pieces by black artists, all of whom produced work in either the 19th or 20th century. And to flex my writing muscles, I thought it would be fun to create mini-reviews—each approximately 250 words—of the paintings I admired. (Because I am kinda scared of copyright infringement, I haven’t provided pictures of the art pieces I’ve reviewed. Instead, I’d encourage you to click on the links to see each one for yourself.)
By Anya Shukla
Denisse Aguilar Sarmiento steps onto a dimly lit stage, takes a deep breath, and begins speaking, voice shaking.
“Dear people who say immigrants take everything away from us, / meet my dad. / He didn’t finish college / because his mom died. / He came to the United States / hoping that he could find a job to support his family. / And yes, / just like you read in some history textbooks, / he worked in the fields, / in a vineyard.”
Over the next five minutes, Aguilar Sarmiento performs her original spoken word poem, "Dear People," which describes her experience as a Mexican-American. Her voice grows in intensity as she describes her family, her neighborhood, and the internal conflict she feels as a child of immigrants. When she finishes, the room stays hushed for a moment, then explodes with applause. She receives a standing ovation.
By Anya Shukla
The two minute and 29-second video starts in the dark. “Other people don’t have to remember to forget,” the voiceover half-whispers in Spanish. Noses and ears bloom in and out of sight as the camera, focusing and unfocusing like a dilated eye, circles several people. The speaker continues: “Check their pockets for everything they need to bring out: money, keys, ID, and a strategy to present themselves.” The video’s subjects stay stock-still, the lack of light and strange camerawork obscuring their faces. They stand like statues: static, with unnerving immobility. “The movie started without me, and around me.”
An elegant, multifaceted piece, Rodrigo Valenzuela’s Tertiary explores the role of people of color in cinema and television, art forms where racial minorities are often underrepresented. For example, according to a study by UCLA, only 18.7% of broadcast scripted leads went to people of color, while racial minorities make up 38.7% of the American population. Tertiary delves into the sociological and psychological impacts of this relegation of racial minorities to the background.
Meet our latest Refocus interviewee: Sofia Dominguez, a Latinx actress and playwright! Sofia recently won ACT Theatre's Young Playwrights Program for her ten-minute play, "Estrella." Her play sheds light on the experiences of undocumented immigrants and their families; through this piece, Sofia hopes to dispel stereotypes about the Latinx community.
While, unfortunately, this play cannot be produced through ACT Theatre this year due to coronavirus-related health concerns, you can support Sofia and her work by watching the video below.