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 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
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
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.
By Anya Shukla
I’m Indian-American. But until recently, I had a preconception of Bollywood movies: they were filled with over-the-top acting, wacky plots, and overt green screen usage. Anathema to a Hollywood born-and-bred gal like me. Sriram Raghavan’s "Andhadhun" stands in stark contrast to my sugar-coated image of Indian cinema.
"Andhadhun" evokes an unnerving feeling of suspense, perfectly encapsulated in one slow, eerie dolly shot of a maroon, poster-lined hallway. That sense of faint foreboding, coupled with the movie’s dramatic narrative, constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat. The plot is dense—a blind piano player witnesses two murders, then tries to catch the killers and also land the girl of his dreams and also move to London. But this film was made for Indian audiences: what Americans find over-the-top, is, in Bollywood, just right. And the storyline’s complexity doesn’t keep its twists and turns from being any less revelatory.
By Anya Shukla
“It’s a party in the USA,” Miley Cyrus giggles over the audio system as I enter the Seattle Public Theater. As the audience chats, the music shifts to Lee Greenwood, who sings gruffly, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Seeing as we’re about to see a play about four white people struggling to create a historically accurate play about Thanksgiving, the choice of music is darkly ironic. Who gets to be an American? we’re asked even before the play starts. Are all Americans really free?
As the lights go down, we are greeted with a video of a Thanksgiving performance by elementary schoolers. As they cheerfully chant about what “the Natives gave to me” while wearing stereotypical Native American costumes, the audience cringes. This song, and those like it, are juxtaposed with that of Cyrus and Greenwood’s view of America. Even though we may believe that we are in, as one "The Thanksgiving Play" character states, “a post-post-racial society,” misrepresentation and prejudicial thinking still occur.
By Anya Shukla
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Although I had been warned by the sign at the front door—CAUTION: LOUD GUNSHOTS—I still started, pretzeled my arms into my chest, when the trigger was finally pulled. I sat, head buzzing, as the murderer monologued for the final two minutes of the play. The lights went down amidst audience mumblings, then I stood clapping with the room while the actors bowed. My chest was tight with anxiety all through the talkback, the drive home, my pre-bed face wash; even now, I can easily picture the muzzle flash. If art’s job is to affect individuals, then "Pass Over" deserves a raise.
I must confess that I didn’t do my research before seeing this play: once we got to ACT, my plus one quickly brought me up to speed on the rave reviews Antoinette Nwandu, "Pass Over"'s playwright, had received for the piece. "Pass Over" featured two young men at a street corner trying to get to the “Promised Land,” interacting both with one another and other characters; some called it a mash-up of "Waiting for Godot" and "The Exodus." I was skeptical: a play about two guys waiting by a road had never seemed like my cup of tea, and I’m not religious. So as the audience filed into their seats, I watched the two men onstage—one sleeping on the ground, the other punching a graffitied lamppost—and settled in for the long haul.