portland in color | 011: soleil ho

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Today's feature is unique in that the portraits were taken over the course of a few days and not in Portland but in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

In the fall of 2016, I attended Feast Portland where I met a photographer and editor who boasted of the impoverished countries he visited and the photos he took that were "completely unposed." He described Senegal as "a cross between Jamaica and India" (whatever tf that means) and when I asked how he decided to visit these countries, he said he just went "wherever [he] felt like going."

As a photographer tired of the homogeny and classicism in food media yet still struggling to find work, I, like the mighty of my generation, turned to Facebook to vent. I was immediately validated by POC peers who pointed out this photographer's problematic white gaze, the "poverty porn," and white savior complex of visiting these countries under the guise of empathy but who instead, perpetuated poverty tourism by exploiting the images of locals (i.e. photos taken without context, consent, or compensation).

This is where I met Soleil, and I call tell you that our conversations after a year, two podcast episodes, and endless tweets have helped shape my consciousness as an activist today.

If you're not already listening to this critical conversation, Soleil is a cohost of Racist Sandwich, a podcast that discusses food as it intersects with race, class, and gender. Somehow, on top of posting biweekly episodes, she's also a chef and a writer. I would say that her pieces on Assimilation Food and "A Guide to Avoid Cultural Appropriation" are my favorite, but the truth is I love everything she does because she's consistently a voice of reflection and change.

Soleil only lived in Portland for a year (and has since moved to Puerto Vallarta to open Bonito Kitchen with her mother), but her impact and voice are still here. 

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Name: Soleil Ho

Pronouns: she/her

Background: Vietnamese American, Brooklynite

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Astrological signs: Virgo sun, Libra moon, Libra rising

Medium of choice: Food, writing, podcasting/audio

Karaoke jam: “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5

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Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: Probably the apex of my Portland life was performing at the YOUTHHOOD event at the Holocene in fall of 2016. I was terrified, and I didn’t know why anyone would ask me to do such a thing, because I have heaps of social anxiety. I puked on a tree just outside of the venue before I entered. I kept telling people, “I’m gonna die, this is gonna be awful, why am I doing this,” and pacing around the room in a frantic haze. When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I got up to the mic and told a story to the beautiful, diverse crowd about a time when I failed to be an advocate for myself, when I let someone else decide who I was. Having that opportunity—and hearing people echo my feelings and applaud my vulnerability—was an amazing feeling.

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Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: In order to afford to live in Portland, I worked a lot, in addition to pursuing my side projects. There was a period of time where I was working 60 hours a week managing two restaurants on top of doing the podcast biweekly and completing freelance writing assignments. I barely saw my husband and my roommates and I was so frustrated with my inability to have a social life, though I valued my time spent on the podcast because that was time that I truly felt was my own. I felt like I couldn’t cut back on any of that work when we had to pay rent, bills, and student loans—and we had to fucking eat.

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How did you stay inspired in Portland? I found people who understood me, validated me, and wanted to help me make the best work I could. And vice versa. I went on endless coffee dates and reached out to any and all folks who inspired me.

How can Portland support you and/or your community? For starters, check out the Racist Sandwich’s PoC food directory as a jumping off point toward being more intentional with the money you spend when you go out to eat. It’s a small step, but it does more to help close the racial wealth gap than going to BORC would.

Follow Soleil on Twitter or via Racist Sandwich on Facebook, Twitter, or racistsandwich.com. You can support her work by donating on Patreon or visiting her bombass restaurant Bonito Kitchen in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Listen to Celeste's cameos on the podcast here and here.

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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