portland in color | 007: miss renée

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If Portland has taught me anything, it's the importance of carving out space for POC, particularly for self care. Growing up as the daughter of a single immigrant parent, I only thought I could exist in two modes: working tirelessly or not at all. I didn't understand how exhausting it could be to simply exist, but in this society-- and especially in this town-- the strain is a daily reminder.

I think that POC have fought harder to validate their self care even though we arguably need it the most. A lot of us come from backgrounds and families where the option to prioritize mental health never existed. To this day, the ability to care for myself feels like a privilege. And it is, but it's also a necessity. And as our guest today says, "for POC, self care is an act of resistance."

Last night I had the joy of sharing space with a group of POC femmes. We were all tired-- from work, from explaining ourselves, from existing. Some of us almost canceled, some of us barely made it there. But we ate, held space together, and knew that this time together was essential to our mental wellbeing. We delighted in the ways we were similar, we learned from how we were different, and explored our astrology charts to tie it all together-- which brings us to Miss Renée. 

At this point, I think it's fair to say that Miss Renée is a local legend. Whether slaying as the frontwoman of Gold Ensoul or slaying our hearts during an astrology reading via Miss Renée Healing, her energy and presence speak for herself. Lucky for us, she's also speaking with us today.

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Name: Renée (aka Miss Renee)

Pronouns: She/Her

Background: Black/ African American

Medium of choice: I've been singing since I physically literally could. My family was deeply religious so I grew up in the church and my entire family sings so it was as part of me as breathing. I also love writing, in many forms but it typically ends up coming out via song lyrics, astrology blogging (professional astrologer/all around "woo"layperson), and loonnnng ass heart-filled, insightful FB posts either on my biz page or my personal page.

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Karaoke jam: Honeyyy! So many! But I guess for a group jam it'd be Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry . For myself though...I feel sorry for the person up next after I mic drop it on Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman or Back To Black by Amy Winehouse.

Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: Portland introduced me to life outdoors. The first time I walked the trail at Bagby, or hiked down to swim in a rushing river, or experienced the different natural hot springs at Breitenbush, it just lifted my very soul. I don't purport to speak for all Black people, but I know it isn't uncommon for us to be unfamiliar with hiking trails and camping and experiencing the healing glory and beauty of the wild outdoors. Which is the saddest irony, really, because people of color have historically had such deep, spiritual, harmonious and inter-dependent relationships with mother earth. Maybe that's why it felt like coming home to have these experiences.

I moved here in 2005 for love after a year of back and forth long distance romancing. However, it was after we parted in late 2010 that I realized I'd made my world so small and begin to put myself out there, which for an introvert is.... work! I have slowly acquired what I call my "crew". The people I've drawn to me here are highly intelligent, community centered, nature oriented and deeply spiritual/witchy-woo.

Lastly, my business exploded here in a way that I don't know would have/could have happened anywhere else. There is a LOT of support here for people on their grind who want to live life outside of the rat race. I will ALWAYS be deeply and profoundly grateful to the people who held it down for me and lifted me up. I've really learned the beauty and the value of community here.

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Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: Ugh. I think it would be easier in ways if Portland was just straight up racist, like, upfront instead of these low key and sideways ways. I really think that Portland is mostly racially ignorant. It is so taxing on a psychic level to be around so many white people that have rarely ever had to interact with people of color. Their discomfort is palpable and you don't even have to be an empath to feel it. But I am deeply empathic so it's that much more unbearable. Like, I'm sitting in my car trying to pep talk myself into going into the damn store 'cause I/m wondering which grossness it's gonna be this time: Dred Locs Becky? Gonna Reach Out and Touch Your Hair Becky? Over React To Your Nearness and Dramatically Move Out of Your Way Black Lady Becky? Speak AAVE To You As A Show Of Solidarity Becky? This is always especially difficult to navigate after police brutality/murder of Black /Brown people has been major news.

I'm also queer, and being queer in predominantly white spaces is so disheartening at times. In regards to white queers, my options here have often been tokenized, fetishized or invisible. Also, the level of performative wokeness/awkward racial..um.. apology here is .....beyond. I'm at a point where I'm not sure I can date a non-POC.

Which brings me to non white queers: It was a blow to my heart when I realized that, often, queers of color don't tend to date other queers of color. DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME.... I have tasted the rainbow when it has come to dating and I support loving whom ever it is you love. I do not have stank face for interracial couples. But when you consistently ONLY see one type of coupling....it's troubling. All I'm saying is that it makes my heart sing seeing Black on Black love. It would be healing to see and experience more of that.

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How do you stay inspired in Portland? Artistic collaboration. I'm currently in a soul cover band named Gold Ensoul. Within that project I am very purposeful with bringing specifically other artists of color (spoken word artists, dancers) onto that platform with me. May we all get paid and love what we are doing in the process! Ashe!!! I am also in the process of recording an EP of my own music. I cannot tell you how nervous and excited and ready to put my thang down on it.

How can Portland support you and/or your community?
White Portland can:

  • Not live homogenized lives
  • Speak less and listen more.... a little more... no, more still.....keep going...
  • Do what is right by POC when moments arise to use your privilage AND THEN....tell no one of your "good deed"
  • Put your $$ into Black and Brown owned businesses, projects, and create space for people who dont look like you.

For POC:

  • You can always feel free to come have a tarot/astrology/reiki session with me
  • You can always feel free to come to my singing gigs
  • One day soon I'll have an I-Tunes for you to download
  • You can always feel free to ask me to artistically collaborate
  • You can value your spiritual health
  • You can love yourself and know that self care is an act of resistance, that your worth is not measured by what you can produce for capitalism, and most importantly that I think you, fellow/sister POC, are love and loved. Blessed and a Blessing.

You can find Miss Renée on Facebook and her website, missreneehealing.com. Support her music by attending Gold Ensoul's performance on Saturday, October 21st at Santé Bar.

Portland in Color is a self-funded project. If you enjoyed this feature, please consider donating to keep the series going.

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portland in color | 006: lydia marie grijalva

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The heart of this series is community, or rather, work toward becoming a stronger community. The magic of community is its ability to help us see more of ourselves through like-minded people and build each other up. And perhaps that's what community is meant to be, but here in Portland it feels special in a different way. Maybe it's because as people of color, we're all grasping onto the thinnest threads of self recognition in a town that doesn't see us. Maybe it's because we're our own key to survival. Maybe it's because we're only our most powerful when we see ourselves in this light.

Lydia is part of the community in a unique way— namely in that their art is centered on building it. Whether through organizing volunteerism, being a voice for others, or articulating the complexities of social justice, all of their work is for the greater good of a more inclusive and responsible place to call home.

(Note: There are a lot of calls to action in this post through Lydia's work! Please see how you can give directly to the Portland POC communities by donating and supporting Know Your CityAlberta Free Hutch, and Men's Assembly for Collective Accountability.)

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Name: Lydia Marie Grijalva

Pronouns: They/them or she/her. "They" makes me feel sparkly and good.

Background: Chican@

Medium of choice: I dabble in many things, but right now, I'd classify my focus as social art, community art, and placemaking. In these pictures, we're standing in front of the Alberta Free Hutch, which my partner and I have been running for a couple of years. This used to be an active space for free boxing, and then it went through a few phases and became the AFH. There have been so many changes on Alberta, it rests on land stolen from Native folks, and is one of many Portland streets with a history of displacing Black folks. We wanted to make sure that this brightly colored free-stuff space existed to juxtapose the expensive, bland cream-color-with-airplants trend taking over Portland. My main goal has been to ensure people of color and low income folks in the neighborhood have a place that they know they're cared for, and can get their needs met. Interestingly, the more affluent the community becomes, the more unusable items people dispose of in here, and the more it gets abused. It seems like when more people who have less use the space (especially femme-aligned folks and poc), we see more people inclined to tidy when they take, and give things that are special- it feels like more personal gifts. It tells me that they understand it's people powered, and that there are humans on the receiving end. When the neighborhood gets new, more affluent neighbors, we get a peculiar mix of some VERY nice stuff, and way more unusable stuff (I really don't understand who thought that their un-scooped kitty litter was a nice gift). It sends a message that maybe people think it's run by magic... And in a way, it is! But it's people-powered magic. We've recently taken it down, as it's been an awesome learning experience (public exhibit, even?), but it wouldn't be sustainable for us to do forever. Next, we'll be focusing on POC led creative reuse workshops. We're hoping to get that happening by the end of this year. I do more traditional art too, but I've made a point of burning all of my portfolios.

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Karaoke jam: I don't have one! I mostly just sing in the shower when I'm home alone. There, I have more of a repertoire.

Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: This is actually my second time moving here, but it feels like I lived each of those parts of my life in 2 different cities. The first time, I was coming out of houselessness, and surrounded by lots of very thoughtful and helpful white people, and it was hard (even though I met a few of gems). I felt tokenized, and like I was a pet project to someone because I was poor, brown, and had enough trauma to go around. Moving back the second time, I was coming out of houselessness again (hashtag oops), but this time able to settle quicker and find community of color. My partner knew me through all of this, and has even noticed what a happier little snufflepuff I am (those aren't his words, I'm paraphrasing). I'm still blissed out from how much I love my community here. The moment where first I walked into a room of all POC creatives and a table of homemade food... I still haven't come down from that moment. Every time I think of it, my life gets a year longer.

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Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: I mentioned being without housing. Each time I was in that position, it was because I believed it was a sacrifice I had to make to go to school. I have a rare chronic illness, and I wanted to be a doctor because I gained so much from my struggle getting diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and I have tons of ideas of what treatment and management could look like. The first big hit was when I was carrying all of my belongings with me, including me 12 lbs dog in a gym bag. I was in line at the financial aid office, trying to figure out when to expect money so that I could find somewhere to sleep. After learning that I had been misguided completely about how financial aid worked, the person at the window told me that he couldn't help me because "People of [my] demographic just take longer to go to college". It was extra infuriating because I later learned that they were advertising "more Latino enrollment than ever before," even though they did nothing to support us and we have the highest dropout rates. Here I was, more openly desperate than I'd ever been, I was carrying with me literally everything that I owned, and he wouldn't help me except to name a matching statistic to my situation. He openly didn't care. I eventually found a nice white lady to get in line and ask him for the form I needed. She got the form easy, no questions asked of her. She wasn't even a student! It was so disheartening.

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How do you stay inspired in Portland? I'm fortunate to know so many amazing people. I recently got promoted to Interim Executive Director at a nonprofit called Know Your City. KYC uses tours, panels, publications, and our youth programming to fulfill our mission: "engag[ing] the public in art and social justice through creative placemaking projects. Our programs and publications aim to educate people to better know their communities, and empower them to take action." I meet so many people through this work that keep me inspired, along with my work being an advisor to the Men's Assembly for Collective Accountability, and working on the AFH (and the following workshops). I've met so many great people through this work that I cry just thinking about it. Honestly, I'm inspired by my community. Like, it's ridiculous. How dare everyone I know be so talented and beautiful.

How can Portland support you and/or your community? This last year, all of my projects have seen such a wild amount of growth. At Know Your City, we went from serving 24 students to almost 400 students in a year (all at majority POC schools). We're still catching up from that growth. In fact, if you know anyone who could donate a REALLY GOOD colored printer, we would be eternally grateful. You can also become a member, attend a Know Your City walking tour, buy our Oregon History Comics or projects such as diverse children's books on our website. In addition to supporting my main squeeze Know Your City, you can also attend a Men's Assembly training (we'll be speaking and facilitating at Engaging Men at Reed College 10/14), and follow the Alberta Free Hutch on Facebook to be the first to know when our workshop dates are released. If you want to contribute to my coffee fund, my venmo is @lyddlemami. Thank you so much for reading!

To support more of Lydia's community work, visit Know Your CityAlberta Free Hutch, Men's Assembly for Collective Accountability, or donate to her directly.

Find value in what you've read? Donate to Portland in Color to keep the series going.

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portland in color | 005: jasmine onya'e kelley

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I'd like to introduce today's feature with a reminder of how important it is to pay and support friends who are artists. Regardless of the medium, I've heard countless disheartening experiences from artists whose friends expect labor without compensation or regard for the time, skills, and challenges it's taken to be an artist in the first place.

Artists can spend years, even decades, learning their craft. But there is an unfortunate assumption in society that because these skills aren't attained in the same measurable, commonly-understood ways as non-creative professions, that there isn't work involved. Or, that the work is effortless (for the artist) so it isn't worth compensating. Rarely do these friends consider how much time and effort has been invested to make this work effortless.

On that end, I'm excited to introduce Jassy Onya'e who's natural skincare line is a blend of multiple creative skills— homeopathy, design, and photography. 

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Name: Jasmine (Jassy) Onya'e Kelley

Pronouns: Her/She

Background: African American

Medium of choice: Creating and designing my own natural skincare line where I also incorporate my photography and graphic design skills

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Karaoke jam: I’ll jam to anything from Purity Ring to Aminé's "Caroline"

Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: This may sound funny but before I actually moved to Portland, I took a 10 day vacation alone. It was one of the best times of my life. I went to all the coffee shops, art shows, walked around downtown, and I got lost and had fun not using any maps. I went to the coast alone and just enjoyed the super cold water and took time to journal. I even went to my first live comedy show. I met amazing new people who, over three years later, are now my friends. Me traveling alone in Portland has been the best memory here so far. I felt like a big girl because I was dealing with a lot of issues back home and needed to discover something new. Glad I had the opportunity to.

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Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: For me, this was during the time when police brutality was happening weekend after weekend. It got to me hard and dealing with that, while moving from home, made it even worse. I was homesick, depressed, and I felt hopeless to what was happening around me. That, plus the stupid racist march that went down in downtown Portland disguised under free speech. But ya know what? I was living in a small town bubble, and it reminded me of reality all over again. That life [before I moved] was not perfect and was only surrounded by vineyards and doors that didn't have to be locked. It’s hardcore and a little frightening.

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How do you stay inspired in Portland? Constantly speaking to other creators here keeps me inspired. When I visited Portland back in 2014, I was inspired by the creative pull I felt compared to back home in California. And I observed young adults my age create successful businesses and hustle their butts off. I personally felt a creative block lift off when I visited Portland.

Now that I'm here, I'm hustling my side business and growing it as much as possible, with the help of good conversation from some creatives in this city. I even see what you're doing and it's freakin' inspirational (editor's note: *blush*)

How can Portland support you and/or your community? By listening! Not pretending to be “woke” or taking advantage of that word cause it’s cool. Have more diversity [focused] events. I know that it’s 70% white BUT, there are plenty of POC here and a lot to be discussed.

You can support Jassy directly by shopping at her natural skincare line, Onya'e Naturals. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Have you learned something from what you've read? Donate to Portland in Color to keep the series going.

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portland in color | 004: saria anafel dy

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I have to start this week's feature with a profound thank you to everyone who has spread the word about this series and/or donated to fund its continuation. Your support (whether monetary or verbal) means that I can pay the artists featured and dedicate more time and resources to continuing this work. Thank you.

As a fellow Filipina in the wedding industry, meeting Saria of Rue Anafel in Portland felt like a breath of fresh air. There is an undeniable burden to being a woman of color in a predominantly wealthy, cis, white hetero industry. Blogs and magazines perpetuate an image of lavish and often wasteful celebrations catering to one specific kind of bride. Equally disheartening, the businesses we work with are rarely POC-owned and further enable an industry that doesn't prioritize inclusivity.

But the art in weddings can be more meaningful; they can be more representative; and they can challenge the norm. I first saw Saria's work during The Woke Wedding, a wedding shoot dedicated to inclusivity for both vendors and clients, and I knew we needed to continue speaking up about the lack of diversity in the wedding world. This photoshoot reminds us how important it is to intentionally make space for underrepresented voices in an industry that's supposed to be centered around love.

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Name: Saria Anafel Dy

Pronouns: She/Her

Background: Born in the Philippines, moved to the US when I was two years old, and grew up mostly in Salt Lake City with my big Filipino family. I moved to Portland in 2009 by myself to study Sociology at PSU.

Medium of choice: I’m a floral designer, and I lean towards specializing in seasonal flora and foliage that grows in the immediate area, as well as dried flowers.

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Karaoke jam: Usually Johnny Cash or something along those lines.

Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: I think many of my favorite memories in Portland didn’t take place in Portland, but moreso happened over the course of me living in Portland. They mostly include being in nature in the surrounding areas, without people around, and lazing by a river or mountainside somewhere.

Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: I have a love and hate relationship with Portland, and I always have. Even when I first moved here, I was wanting to jump ship. And as time went on, I acquired an immense affection and longing, as well as despise for this city. Initially moving to Portland, I was happy to find a place where so many other people had similar taste and interests as me. Coming from Salt Lake City, it was rare to find others who were interested in counter cultures, which used to be dominant here in Portland. But the longer I was away from my family, the longer I began to feel lonely and disconnected to my culture, or any other culture at that (other than white culture), because well, Portland is just so white. This has been one of the driving factors of the difficulty I have had living in Portland. It feels stifling, stagnant, and isolating. Both personally and professionally.

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How do you stay inspired in Portland? Honestly, I stay inspired by traveling or searching through the internet, learning about what other artists are doing in other countries. Not a lot of my inspiration comes from Portland itself. I would say the most inspiration I get from Portland is finding self empowerment by believing I deserve to succeed in a creative field, to carve a space for myself as a WOC and others like me, and to set an example for other WOC, because there are so far and few within my industry.

How can Portland support you and/or your community? White Portland can support me and my community by first listening and not becoming defensive as soon as the term “white people” is said by a POC. For Portland as a whole, there are obvious ways, like hiring POC, putting POC in leadership positions, and seeking to collaborate and work with other POC businesses and professionals who are already doing amazing work. In almost every instance in regards to companies I’ve ever worked for or collaborated with, I’ve been the only non-white person.

Rue Anafel has been featured in the Portland Mercury and A Practical Wedding for inclusive wedding collaborations. Find more of Saria's work on Instagram, Pinterest, and www.rueanafel.com.

Have you learned something from what you've read? Donate to Portland in Color to keep the series going.

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portland in color | 003: may cat

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May is an artist I'd admired from a distance before finally meeting in person and becoming friends. Her talent as a facilitator is evident in what she shares on the internet— whether engaging in critical discourse or promoting and validating the work of her community.

One lesson I've learned and continue to learn from her was something she said to me after the On She Goes launch party a few months ago:

"White people always want you to educate them, not realizing the answers they're asking come from years of knowledge and experience. People go to college to study these things, and yet they expect you to answer in one paragraph.

It's also a game where you *have* to make it palatable to them or else everything - even if its facts - are discredited. And they judge you by if you raise your voice, it doesn't seem as true because it's 'emotional.' So POCs have the burden to explain calmly and in a palatable manner.

So if they want to have this conversation, I ask them to pay me."

My biggest intention in launching this series has been to promote artists of color in Portland, but I recognize that we, as a community, benefit so much from hearing their stories. I'd like to start compensating the artists we feature by supporting them monetarily. I'll first ask any readers who find value in this series to send funds directly to these artists, but as a WOC photographer, I can also use support keeping this project going. 

Portland in Color is looking for like-minded sponsors to keep this series going, but individual donations are greatly appreciated as well. 

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Name: May

Pronouns: She/Hers

Background: I’m Southeast Asian. I’m Thai with some mixed ethnicity like Laos and Chinese. Can’t exactly verify.

Medium of choice: Right now I do facilitation but I have a visual arts background. Quietly I’m coming back to do art consisting of sculptures and drawings to heal some old wounds about art institutions, and for fun I’m developing a Thai food show with actual Thai diaspora people narrating our culture. But mostly I talk a lot. I listen, chew information, and lay it out. With facilitation, it took me a while to understand why I like it besides people telling me I’m good at it. I get to process emotionally while making it clear that I’m strategizing emotional labor: mirroring, validating, reflectively listening, acknowledging, and steering it with racial or gender base context. Emotional labor is labor and needs to be compensated and I’m glad people are starting to honor it.

I think art is the process of discovery, like accepting chance and mistakes as information, and I see that similarly with facilitation. Art is subversive and I hope I am too. Right now my artwork is part of a larger series that explores the Southeast Asian and Thai Diaspora identity through consumerism, imported cultural productions, food packaging, displacement, immigration, and generational trauma.
 

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Karaoke jam: "Have You Ever?" by Brandy, "Lucky" by Britney Spears, "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" by Deborah Cox

Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: One time I was talking to a Thai food cart owner and she treated me a special laarb dinner not on her menu, and we had dinner together on the picnic table outside her cart. She was like “So sour!” while I’m squeezing more lime into it. These kind of things make me think about ancestry through my palette; that’s a northern Thai and Laos palette, even though I know too little about my family’s history past some mentions outside of their survival. Every time I feed myself good food, that’s me giving to my ancestors: I am the altar. Whatever I accomplish, whatever good I make, I place it on the altar and that’s the honor I offer them, earned.

Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: The invalidation of racism from people who don’t live with racism every day. Bernie Bros who don’t want to talk about race 'til 2017. The suppression of Southeast Asian identities unless through exotification, and their isolation to get the care they need for things like mental health & PTSD. White restaurants using Cesar Chavez’s quotes out of context while mistreating their own brown employees, using hip-hop for gigs while ignoring police brutality, co-opting the word “Intersectionality,” tokens tone-policing other people of color while becoming the Diversity poster child for sham white-led equity programs.

Like I remember after Trump got elected, I went to a white Progressive™ friend’s dinner party where another brown person was there. The brown person mentioned Portland racism, and white Progressive™ people talked over him with: “Oh Portland’s not THAT racist!” So I called that out, that dismissal of a POC’s lived experience, that deflection and justification for non-action that continuously allow racists to organize— especially in Oregon, a key place for white supremacist organizing. And after that they got fragile, they immediately talked to me about how they grew up in a “diverse” neighborhood… immediate microaggression. They made it about themselves and their Progressive™ self-image.. The list can go on, but yes.

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How do you stay inspired in Portland? I stay inspired by staying connected to people and laughing a lot. Memes are so subversive. They critique power like you wouldn’t believe and they do it in such a witty and sometimes, pathetic way. I’m kind of a weird fan of pathetic. 

Community means a lot. Just be able to do work on your laptop with a fellow person of color, karaoking, going to events like First Thursdays and feeling relieved that you encounter a person of color you know. Ultimately I’m just inspired by people of color who are doing a lot of cultural work in Portland.

How can Portland support you and/or your community? I think tokenization is so prevalent in Portland that people who are ashamed to care about people of color use tokenization as a cloak to deflect their own racism. With this it ensures that white supremacy can go on, but with brown face. What’s painful is the model minority myth that erases Southeast asians and South asians who are often poor immigrants & refugees. We exist too within the Asian American identity, outside of food and tourism, and we need care for our communities— for mental health and PTSD.

What Portland can do is give financial support. For intellectual, creative, and emotional labor.

Portland can fund social and cultural initiatives put on by people of color: galleries, music shows, talks, panels, healing spaces. There is no talent shortage… trust me. Also, pay people of color for their appearances on your interviews, panels, promos, or diversity posters.

If I ever gave you any a-ha moments, my Venmo & Squarecash is maycatpdx.

May is also an organizer for Men's Assembly For Collective Accountability and the Southeast Asian Cultural Festival, New Year in the Park. Read her piece 7 Things Your Thai Friends are Sick of Hearing and follow her work on maycatpdx.com and kinkhaothaidiaspora.tumblr.com.

Find value in what you've read? Donate to Portland in Color to keep the series going.

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