L.A. Womxn Artists of Color reflect on Womxn’s History Month: Part 1

by Tom Nguyen

For Womxn’s History Month, I wanted to check in with womxn artists of color in Los Angeles who are doing important work in our communities of color and immigrant diaspora, advocating for social justice and using their artistry and voices to uplift, educate and empower.

Alice Bag, Dj Sizzle Fantastic, Faith Santilla, Gingee, Klassy, Jumakae, Maya Jupiter, Sri Panchalam of Doctors & Engineers, Xochi Flores of Los Cambalache — These radical womxn of color are outspoken and fearless in their arts & advocacy, and through their artistic expression and activism, have been tireless in their fight to smash systems of oppression and the patriarchy. I asked each of these powerful, radical womxn of color to reflect on these 3 questions:

– As you reflect on Women’s History Month, #MeToo movement and the current political climate, what do you feel are the most important issues facing you, both individually and collectively as a community?

– As a radical womxn of color and artist, how do you express and/or address these issues in your art & activism?

– What advice do you have for young womxn or advice you wish someone had given you?

I am so grateful for their time and willingness to share their insight, their work, and their inspiring advice for young womxn. There are many more amazing artists I hope to hear from too, so this is the 1st of what will be a continuing series.

If you know of an inspiring Los Angeles artist of color, who is speaking truth to power, through their artistry and activism, please send them my way in the comments below.

Alice Bag:

“I feel the need to combat the extreme misogyny and xenophobia coming from the White House. When you have a president that considers talk of grabbing women by the genitals acceptable, he’s setting the tone for the nation. There have also been numerous reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, against him. I will call these allegations for legal reasons, not because I have any doubt of their veracity, especially since he has at times, boasted publicly of his actions. When you have that flagrant disrespect for women coming from the very top, it’s bound to affect what others, especially those who support Trump, view as acceptable behavior.”

“I think we need to resist, organize and provide a vision for a future where women are seen, heard and respected as equal members of society.”

“Aside from doing all the things that many of us do to push back, in terms of protesting, letter writing, making calls to representatives, etc. I volunteer with Girls Rock Camp. Helping young girls harness their power in their formative years is extremely satisfying. It makes me and everyone involved in these programs very happy. When I feel anger and dissatisfaction, I channel some of it into my music. In the past few months, I’ve released several songs that have helped me express my feelings post-election. The first one was Reign of Fear”, which is a call for resistance in which my band-mates and I get to shout “We reject your reign of fear!”. Midway through Trump’s first year in office, I needed a song that reminded me to take time to focus on the positive things in my life because I was feeling overwhelmed by the daily barrage of negativity coming from Washington. I also wrote a song called “Blueprint” about taking ownership of the structures we create. Whether we’re working on ourselves, our communities or our world, we are architects who have the power to create what we imagine.”

“Love yourself, treat yourself with kindness and compassion, give yourself positive affirmations. Nurture in yourself what you want to be able to share with the world.”

Photo by Greg Velasquez

Alice Bag is a singer/songwriter, musician, author, artist, educator and feminist. Alice was the lead singer and co-founder of the Bags, one of the first bands to form during the initial wave of punk rock in Los Angeles. The Alice Bag Band was featured in the seminal documentary on punk rock, The Decline of Western Civilization. Alice went on to perform in other groundbreaking bands, including Castration Squad, Cholita, and Las Tres. She has published two books, including the critically acclaimed memoir Violence Girl in 2011 (Feral House) and the 2015 self-published Pipe Bomb For the Soul, based on her teaching experiences in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Alice’s work is included in the Smithsonian exhibition, American Sabor. Alice’s self-titled 2016 debut album received critical acclaim and was named one of the best albums of the year by AllMusic. Her second album, Blueprint, was just released in March 2018 on Don Giovanni Records. Upcoming event: Saturday, April 7, 2018, Alice Bag Record Release Party at The Echo.

Dj Sizzle Fantastic:

“As an undocumented queer womxn, the most pressing issues that continue to affect the lives of my community and by extent, mine, are rooted in xenophobia, racism, misogyny, displacement, borders, and family separation. Sadly, the current administration encompasses and uplifts said issues in its daily operations. Giving that much more power to rogue agencies such as ICE/Border Patrol/Police a.k.a Polimigra, and the government as a whole, the power to continue to further oppress and criminalize the bodies of womxn of color, immigrants, queer folks, and black and brown youth.”

“The work that I do both in labor organizing and event curating has to remain political. I do not have the option of staying quiet, I do not have the option of staying uniformed, I do not have the option of not sharing what I know, as this is my reality — this is my life and I have to continue to fight. I have to continue to find creative ways of getting my message out, whether that’d be through community meetings, event gatherings, parties, music mixes, etc. My work has to remain intentional in centering and catering to my community.”

“Keep going, keep fighting, keep loving, and KEEP DREAMING, despite all the b.s. thrown your way! You have an entire community that will support your fight, your frustrations, your anger, and your dreams alike. Community is like an extended family. You just have to find it and root yourself in it. Surround yourself and build with other womxn and queers of color because when that happens, magic occurs.”

Dj Sizzle Fantastic is an Undocu-DJ and community organizer, born en la Costa de Guerrero and raised in the beautiful barrio of Boyle Heights, California. Currently, she is the resident Dj at Chingona Fire, one of the largest Latina open mics in the country and curator of Cumbiatón, an emerging Cumbia and Afro-Latinx party paying homage to the cultura and musica de barrios. Dj Sizzle Fantastic holds Dj residencies in Los Angeles, C.A. and Seattle, W.A. You can find her on Instagram @sizzle007 and Soundcloud to say up to date with her shows. For bookings or contact info please e-mail: [email protected]
Upcoming event: Friday, April 6, Cumbiatón at Civic Center Studios.

Faith Santilla:

“What’s most important to me is that the voices and stories of people who are rarely included in the general discourse of issues in the US are lifted up. Filipinos have such a rich history that is part of the world’s history, yet not enough people know about it. The current situation of Filipinos is one that is complicated and very much the result of hundreds of years of oppression and resistance, but our struggle is rarely acknowledged. In the US, APIs are rarely included in the conversations about inclusion in Hollywood; you almost never see Asian American women heroes reflected in Women’s History events in the US, and data on our communities is an afterthought. For example Asian American incarceration rates aren’t recorded because they haven’t bothered to create a box to check for us (Asians who are incarcerated are marked as “other”) — and that has devastating effects on our communities – we can’t apply for funding for programs when there is no data to support the need.”

“I’ve always seen myself as a servant of the people before seeing myself as a poet. My poetry is only an extension of my community and political work. What I write is pulled from my own personal history and life experience, and being Filipino means having a history and current reality that many other oppressed groups share or can relate to. That said, I hope my work is one that reflects my people’s experiences. Most importantly, however, I hope it also resonates with non-Filipinos who have been forgotten by the mainstream — Native people of the so-called USA, Palestinians, Latinxs, Cambodians, etc. — as a mechanism to connect our struggles so that we can fight to common oppressor as a united front.”

“Document and keep record of all the work you do. Future generations of organizers need to see it and know it. If you decide to have children, make sure you have a true tribe of people to lean on — motherhood in America can be a very isolating thing. If your organizing/community/political work does not create space for mothers, push for that space to be created. And lastly — this actually was advice someone gave to me, but it’s been one of the most valuable pieces of advice in my life as an organizer and as a performer: You don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to have all the experience. But sis, you better act and speak like you know exactly what the fuck you are doing.”

Faith Santilla is an award winning poet who came to national recognition when she won her first ever poetry slam during Dominique DiPrima’s radio show on 92.3 in Los Angeles in 1998. Aside from her work being cited in numerous high school and college classrooms across the country, Faith’s work has been published in various scholarly articles, anthologies and books, including DJ Kuttin’ Kandi’s “Empire of Funk”, Fred Ho’s “Legacy to Liberation”, and UC Berkeley’s Maganda Magazine. She was featured in the groundbreaking 1997 documentary, “Beats, Rhymes and Resistance: Filipinos and hip-hop in Los Angeles”, and was recently featured in hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra‘s groundbreaking song and music video, “Us.” Faith has been a labor and community organizer for the past 20 years and a proud mother of two children. Upcoming event: Saturday, April 7, 2018, Alice Bag Record Release Party at The Echo.

Gingee:

“I look at things globally so I’m thinking about human trafficking and forced slavery which affects primarily women of color. Global inequalities caused by colonization and imperialism affect our lives everyday and inform my experience and identity as a woman of color in the US. While women have made huge strides, we are still a product of our history. Only a few decades ago women were barred from entering various professions and institutions. Nowadays, while many of those obstacles have been officially lifted there is still the mental conditioning that remains in society, so many are still stuck in outdated mindsets- think about the “boys club” that still exists within many fields. Men really need to question what masculinity means and get comfortable with women being in positions of power. I feel that if more women were in charge we would see a shift.”

“I take pride in the fact that I produce my own music. I was privileged enough to be able to get the education and tools that I needed to be self-sufficient in my creative process so I wouldn’t have to rely on men to create my sound. Through teaching I’ve been able to pass on those skills to youth. In my music, I represent my Filipina/woman of color identity in my own way which I hope is empowering to others, just as other female musicians inspired and paved the way for me growing up. I’ve also partnered with various progressive organizations on events and projects addressing global issues and that uplift the voices and creation of women, and act as a catalyst/bridge to connect like-minded people and build community.”

Photo by Click Dominique

Gingee is a DJ/producer, percussionist and vocalist known for her unique take on global bass. She is currently working on a 4-part album series which will be released on every solstice and equinox throughout the year. Find her on Instagram/FB/Twitter: @gingeeworld and soundcloud.com/gingee

Jumakae:

“My greatest challenge is learning how to not be so reactionary toward issues that trigger me (Hint: Trump). It’s just not sustainable for my mind, body, and spirit so I have been seeking ways to walk this world in a way that focuses on my well-being, especially with work centered around reproductive health since this is where so much sexual trauma is stored. While it’s important we are aware of systemic issues that trickle down to communities that may not have as much access to wellness resources, being aware of how these issues show up in our body is just as important. Our health often becomes secondary in activism work, so I feel a collective challenge is recognizing it’s okay to slow down and remember to breathe, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos.”

“As an artist, wellness consultant, and life coach I collaborate with different organizations on creative projects and staff retreats centered around self/collective care and liberation. I invite participants to envision the kind of world they want to live in versus the one they want to dismantle, and to recognize that we are the rescue we’ve been waiting for. Movement is always included so we learn how to drop from our heads (intellect) to our heart (emotions), allowing our bodies to be felt in the process. While trauma is intergenerational, so is resiliency. This becomes the focus of transformational healing as we remember the journey it took for our ancestors to birth us into existence. I also organize community workshops and special events centered around wellness, from hosting a film screening and discussion featuring birth workers of color to self-healing techniques for womb health. My next workshop is around how to respond to triggers using Emotional Freedom Tapping Techniques! I find joy in bringing exposure to local healers and entrepreneurs doing radical healing work because this work cannot be done alone.”

“Being radical doesn’t mean having to be a community organizer or showing up to protests to show that you care. Existing in the body of a woman of color is a radical act within itself. In a world that profits from your insecurities, loving yourself is a radical act. Your joy is a revolutionary and radical act; anger can be a beautiful thing until it manifests into sickness. Tears are a sign of strength. Stay woke, but not to the point where there’s no room for those who have yet to awaken. And while those who came before you have experienced struggle, remember you come from a long line of resiliency. You are a beautiful badass.”
June Kaewsith (Jumakae) is a multidisciplinary artist, life coach, and wellness consultant based in Long Beach, CA. In her journey towards radical healing, she has learned that creativity must be central to movement building and collective action. Her dream is to see a healer on every block. “Why Consume What You Can Create?” Visit www.jumakae.com and find her on FB: /jumakae or /junekaewsith and IG: @jumakae
Upcoming event: Thursday, April 19, How to Respond to Triggers | Emotional Freedom Techniques at FreeSpirit Yoga.

Klassy:

“Domestic violence isn’t openly talked about in my community. 1 out of 4 women experience this but that’s just a statistic of those who actually spoke up and those numbers also don’t include trans women. This issue also doesn’t fail to exclude men. Truth is it’s a lot more common than we think. Ending that silence is one of the most important things to me. We need to start at the root and raise our seeds to be more compassionate and kind towards one another. We need to teach them and each other about self love, to know our worth and to protect our peace. I had never in a million years thought that I would be a victim but I didn’t even know it until after I finally put an end to the actions of my abuser. Home should be the safest place on earth but sometimes it’s not. Everyone is capable of vulnerability and I wish to see more awareness on this issue so we can prevent and heal.”

“My passion for making music is one thing. My love for my people/community is another and it runs deep. To be able to put those together is like killing two birds with one stone. With all this current political climate with whatever platform that I have — I like to believe the universe granted me this chance to use my voice. There’s a lot of power and responsibility that comes with being heard.”

“I take advantage of every opportunity I get to empower and to educate whether it’s in the studio or on stage. A lot of my music speaks on topics about police brutality, gentrification, womxnism and domestic violence. Every piece that I write is quite personal. I hope that it resonates with other people of color to reassure them that they’re not alone. I want to see more leaders. I want people to gain knowledge and light out of my music to make an impact in their communities. I want these individuals to change being a product of their environment to their environment being a product of themselves.”

“The advice I’d want to give young womxn that I wish someone had given to me would be to know your roots. To educate yourself of who you are and where you come from — to find beauty in your ancestor’s battles and victories. I think it’s important to have knowledge of your history, to be proud and to represent it. I was picked on in elementary school because of my brown complexion from peers and even family members. Filipino TV shows would portray many actors who were half white with pointy noses and fair skin. I grew up in a household where it was normal to see skin lightening products. It really fucked me up as a kid because they didn’t look anything like me. That’s when I learned the importance of representation. I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Filipino musicians and poets that taught me about my place in this world. I want young womxn to never feel ashamed of who they are and to remind themselves that they were not made to be subtle. I want them to walk on this earth like they have thousands of their ancestors marching right behind them everywhere they go.”

I go by the name Klassy. I was born in the Philippines but raised in Echo Park, Los Angeles. I’m with Beatrock and I’m currently working on a couple projects that I’ll soon be announcing. My latest project was a feature on Ruby Ibarra’s song “Us” that was on her debut album Circa 91. GO CHECK THAT OUT! Follow me on Instagram @ninagotsoul for updates on my music and shows!

Maya Jupiter:

“The most important issues I see are all intersectional. Sexual Violence, Gun Violence, Domestic Violence, Deportation and the separation of families, the over incarceration of Black and Brown people, the School to Prison pipeline, Police Brutality — it all goes hand in hand and all has to do with this Patriarchal society and White Supremacy.”

“I tackle it through Artivism. Writing songs and making music videos. Through Artivist Entertainment, a company I co-founded, we support Artists, partner with different organizations and put on events.” 

“I am also a spokesperson for Peace Over Violence’s Denim Day Campaign. On the advisory board at Peace Over Violence and Tiyya.”

“And at KPFK I play music on The Global Village from artists who are using their art for positive social change.”

Photo by Grace Oh

“You are not responsible for other people’s actions or emotions. You can’t make people happy nor protect them from themselves. Learn to identify abusive relationships from a young age.”

Maya Jupiter’s artivism began in her early twenties when she facilitated hip-hop songwriting workshops with under served youth in her hometown of Sydney, Australia. Now raising a family in Los Angeles, Maya is about to release her third solo album produced by Quetzal Flores. Upcoming event: Saturday, April 28 Meklit + Maya Jupiter Live at The Virgil.

 

 

Sri Panchalam:

“With this presidential administration, every day presents something new and terrible that often defeats common sense. I reflect a lot on womxn from various walks of life who have and continue to rise to the challenge time and time again to put out these fires and more. I hope that we start to recognize and value the immense femme labor that holds up our communities and support womxn not only in their work, but also in taking care of themselves. With the #MeToo movement, I think it has been important for public consciousness about sexual assault, but it still needs to grow to be more inclusive of womxn of color, especially black and trans narratives. Public pressure on survivors to disclose, not necessarily from the movement, is also problematic. Whether to disclose and what that might look like is a very personal decision. Survivors are not any less brave, and their stories are no less valid, if they do not disclose. They should not have to repeatedly open up their wounds in order for you to address rape culture. The information has been out there. Listen, reflect, account, change. Not just because you have a mother, daughter, sister, etc., but because you should be a decent human being. Support survivors in their healing and living their reality on their terms, not yours.”

Doctors & Engineers is a musical project that centers South Asian diversity and self-determination, and countering hyper simplistic ‘Bollywood, bhindis, and yoga” model minority narratives projected upon South Asian communities in America. We also strive to support our communities in all the ways we can through the music, whether it is holding space at live shows for our communities to be together and bridge with others, fundraising for grassroots causes, or spreading good information, resources, and prompting conversations through our platforms about the roles of progressive Desis in fighting this administration, which unfortunately, sometimes includes our own community members. A few of us also started a DIY record label called Good Family Records to help grow the next generation of independent and community-conscious South Asian-American musicians on the West Coast.”

“I also continue to actively work as a civil rights lawyer advocating for people with disabilities, especially in communities of color, with the National Lawyers Guild providing legal support to grassroots movements, and as a Project Advisor for Mirror Memoirs, an oral history project centering the narratives, healing and leadership of LGBTQ survivors of color in the movement to end child sexual abuse.”

“You count. Your voice counts. Express that voice. You can and will find community for who you are just as you are, and it’s a beautiful and healing thing.”

“Don’t let anyone put you in a box and tell you that you can’t explore more than one way of being in this world. You can explore several, sometimes simultaneously!”

“Your life and health are valuable in and of themselves. Always be sure to take care of yourself, especially if you always find yourself taking care of the world around you.”

Photo by Daren Mooko

Sri Panchalam is a musician with Doctors & Engineers, a psychedelic garage rock group drawing from South Asian musical traditions for songs confronting APIA stereotypes. She is also a civil rights attorney advocating for people with disabilities. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not represent the views of any organization. You can follow her and band on IG: @sri_vid_ya_ @doctorsandengineers
Facebook: facebook.com/docsnengineers
Website: www.doctorsandengineers.com
Upcoming Shows: Sunday, April 22, 2018, Broke LA Festival in downtown Los Angeles at the Love Song Stage.

Xochi Flores:

“As a radical woman of color, mother, artist and community worker, I express my activism and address the issues of male supremacy and patriarchy by being fully present for my daughters, my family and my community.  Everything I do from sunrise to bedtime is centered around what I want the world to be for my children and their children.  I remember embarking on motherhood in my early 20’s and how much of an alienating experience that was for me in movement and artistic spaces.  I wanted to define my motherhood and relationship with my partner by my terms, by what felt most correct for me. In these spaces, I was met with resentment or disdain, I was overt and covertly challenged by feminists who believed I had abandoned my principles to become a stay at home mother and wife.  My 24 year old self knew then and I still know now, 23 years later, that I was standing by my principles, that my journey as a mother was a revolutionary one, that it too was and is an expression of my artistry, my commitment to struggle and change. My only advice to young women is to be true to your core and to be honest with yourself and your community.  I think its important we support one another as women, sisters, daughters and mothers in these movement spaces where still, today, our voices and contributions are relegated to a second class status. Accountability and kindness are two principles I try to embody as I push through.”

 

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