the politics of amplification

what i’ve noticed about living between places/modalities (texan, angelena) is that people have very, very twisted views of the other. i want to flip over a table every time i hear the new york times extolling topochico or the hip art galleries in boyle heights, as i witness deeply the pain and politics of gentrification that accompanies the discovery of “cool” in your place of residence (dear non-texan world, please don’t ever talk to me about south by southwest).

it’s this crisis in amplification and miscommunication that leads me to have conversations with community organizers in in the chicanx neighborhood of barrio logan, san diego, who are puzzled as to why “they’re protesting nonprofits in boyle heights, los angeles”. angelena organizers on the ground will be very quick to explain to you why, but nevertheless, the miscommunication has already happened.

likewise, dallas experiences a significant crisis in amplification in which white-led nonprofits who shall not be named gain national attention and significant funding for their work that is, on the ground, exploitative of the labor and struggles of communities of color. but through channels such as slick powerpoints, annual reports, or perhaps the new york times, organizations like this rise to the top of the national consciousness.

amplification then, is a double edged sword. i have seen amplification be critical in bringing the controversy around the kelley walker exhibition at the contemporary art museum of st. louis to the national stage, ultimately resulting in the departure of curator jeffrey uslip. but i’ve also seen amplification come at the expense of unsung hometown heroes who may never see their day in the sun.

i would argue that particularly in the age of social media, what we amplify and the ways in which we amplify are highly political choices. i hear the calls of others to bear witness, and occasionally i call out too, for example, begging that my pain as someone in a deeply policed neighborhood not be swept away in the national narrative of the dallas police shootings. i make this call to amplify while recognizing that, when you’re on the outside looking in, it is crucial to be conscientious about what you see.

when i see a slick powerpoint or a hip artist enclave, often times i don’t see it as a representation of accomplishment; i see it as a representation of capital*. i think about the immense amount of start up capital that someone or some organization must have in order to present themselves according to the norms of corporate media, and how different communities have different forms of access to capital. if you’re flat broke, you will not be able to afford a shiny website. but conversely, if you’re flat broke and still making a difference in your community, then perhaps that practice is more worthwhile of amplification, even if your website is kind of shitty.

since moving away from los angeles, i’ve made my choices about what to amplify based on listening to people on the ground whom i trust implicitly due to our personal history and our ethical alignment. and in terms of ethical alignment, i mean aligned in an understanding of justice that looks beyond attractive surface representations to uplift labor, gender, and racial equity in practice, not just in name.

whenever i see a practice or initiative, i often ask, what is the critical take on this? whose voices are missing, and what are people saying**? it’s not just because i love myself some chisme, but because the politics of place are so complex that a critical perspective is the only way to begin to acknowledge all of the contradictions and power relationships inevitably at play. my bias will always be towards asking questions geared towards liberation, rather than suppressing them. i think this is the only way to ethically address the task of amplification.

*on an unrelated aside, i’ve been thinking about people who use the refrain “what about class?” in discussions of marginalization. i am concluding that what they are pointing to is less about class difference as a category of analysis, but about capital as a form of violence that enforces class/race/gender difference. this is why class might be seen by some as the ultimate differentiating identity category; however, usually when it is invoked this way, it conflates the function of capital with the function of class. 

**my practice will always be indebted to the work of the school of echoes, who taught me how to listen. 


Weekly Reading List: Jesse Williams is on 🔥🔥🔥 Edition

Stuff on the Internet that I’ve been reading instead of Grace Lee Boggs’ The Next American Revolution.



Social Justice

Pop Culture

Weekly Reading List: Brock Turner is a Rapist Edition

Stuff on the internet that I’ve been reading instead of Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Social Justice

Arts – Dallas

  • Changing Gears At Dallas’ Office Of Cultural Affairs – After a yearlong search by a $50,000 paid search committee, City Manager AC Gonzalez decided to reject the search committee recommendations and instead appoint someone relatively unknown by the Dallas arts community to the Executive Director position of the Office of Cultural Affairs. I’m willing to not judge Executive Director Jennifer Scripps until we see evidence of whether or not she takes steps to support individual artists, cultural equity, government transparency, and creative ways of publicly leveraging private support (I am very curious if the references to private support means that the onus is on artists and organizations to raise their own funding (ugh), or if the city will find a way to publicly manage private arts patronage) – but if the search committee was pointless, I want that $50,000 of taxpayer money back (#grants, anyone?).  Also, stay tuned for the June 23 special meeting of the Arts Commission, in which the OCA will either try to explain or find a way to ameliorate why they are cutting $60,000 from each city cultural center’s upcoming budget. Dallas, y’all! Supporting culture, one budget cut at a time.
  • GABRIEL DAWE: IN RAINBOWS – An artist from Dallas makes it onto the national scene, and everybody loses their shit (just kidding, I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Dawe’s work for years).
  • Building a bridge, not a wall: Crow Collection announces major partnership with Mexico – The resident museum of Imperial-Era Chinese Art (#NotAllAsia guys, #NotAllAsia) has announced a partnership and traveling exhibition with museums in Mexico, and all this chinita poblana can think about is, does this mean we’ll finally get to have a panel on the ChinaMex origins of the chimichanga?

Arts – Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles Is Hiring a Sound Artist to Help Make its Streets Safer – Almost three years ago, I entered a large gymnasium wearing earplugs and holding a blue balloon. The sound vibrations from the building were so loud I could hear it from the parking lot, and I laid upon metal sculptures designed to transmit the sound vibrations. I’m thrilled to see that Alan Nakagawa, artist behind said piece and one of my favorite people, has been selected as the inaugural LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) Artist in Residence. I’ve been really interested in this residency program ever since it was announced, for the way that it models itself after programs in San Francisco and New York that create space for artists in civic departments (Mierle Laderman Ukeles is one of my big inspirations, so, you know). I would love to see additional cities and city departments (AHEM, AHEM) create positions for artists-in-residence to contribute to the poetic and experiential reading of the city. I can’t wait to see how Alan’s work in sound art and field recording contributes to a more walkable city.


Los Angeles, I Ache: June 6, 2016

Despite being away from Los Angeles, there are still moments where I feel the sensations passing through collective body of my communities back home. It’s like how a spider senses an insect landing on a nether portion of its web – apt since most of these waves are transmitted through social networks. Usually I don’t sense the joy, but I do sense very deeply when my community aches, and I ache right back.

Here are some things that I’ve been aching about this week:

Shooting at UCLA – I worked at UCLA, knew people who graduated from UCLA. Despite the broken nature of the UC system and higher education, I still consider UCLA one of the defining institutions when it comes to generating discourse on art and activism in Los Angeles. In this case I watched as my friends were on lockdown for hours.

PSSST gallery opening in Boyle Heights

This has been breaking my heart for weeks. PSSST actually approached one of my collaborations earlier in the year for a short summer residency and I was immediately suspect, as it was a white-owned gallery operation in a historically Japanese and Chicano neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights is incredibly well organized, with long histories of cultural organizations and community spaces, and I found it really suspect that none of the prominent cultural workers from Boyle Heights had said anything about this space or were involved. Researching their website, I became conflicted because queer, femme bodied, and PoC artists/curators who I respect a lot and in some cases have personal relationships with were on their board. We ended up turning down the offer. Fast forward a few months, and PSSST is at the center of anti-gentrification protests in Boyle Heights. It has been breaking my heart to watch from afar how responses to these protests have split the art community, and moreover, split the community of radically-minded artists and artists of color. In this case, it seemed like their board of well respected queer, femme bodied, and PoC artists/curators worked to deter the conversation about gentrification and raise doubts about the legitimacy of the protestors. I myself feel really conflicted about this as I am from outside the community and now literally live thousands of miles away, so in a sense I can’t speak to what is truly happening inside Boyle Heights. But I can say that has been personally devastating to see people within my (former?) community exhibit racist and institutionalized behavior that privileges the concerns of the art community over the concerns of residents who have lived and cherished their neighborhood for years. I hope that choosing between the art community and a community on the verge of displacement is not a choice we ever have to make, that as artists we always understand that our solidarity is always with those who are most structurally disempowered – especially if we contribute to that disempowerment.

#BLMLA organizer Jasmine Richards convicted of felony lynching

13305181_10154826220643906_1751655282651861749_oTwo years later, a jury without a single black person and an Asian judge and Chinese prosecutor convicted #BlackLivesMatter organizer Jasmine Richards of felony lynching – an absurd charge that completely perverts the original intention of the law. I remember the day of the protest actually. I don’t think I went but it was in my consciousness. I also remember seeing Jasmine in Power: From The Mouths of the Occupied, a play by #BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors at Highways Performance Art space at the 18th Street Arts Center complex in Santa Monica. The play was a collection of dramatized monologues about each participant’s experience with police and state sanctioned violence. Jasmine’s story was one of the most intense stories of the night. I held it in me, I admired her resilience, and I understood her leadership and passion. I ache now because the person who I saw perform that night is not a person who should be in jail. Because of that work, I understand her actions to free a fellow protestor (the definition of “lynching”) to be one of compassion and justice, and I continued to be floored by her strength while understanding that in this world, none of us should be obligated to be that strong.

At the same time, this event really underscores the need to do the work to heal anti-blackness in Asian communities. I think it’s time to acknowledge the structural origins of Asian anti-blackness instead to pointing to any one Asian ally as an example of #NotAllAsians. Until we acknowledge it, we can’t truly dismantle it. As someone who has been divorced from my country of origin for myriad, complex reasons, I am still working through how to begin this work in my own community which I do not consider community (once again, myriad and complex reasons). This is something that I will write more about at a later date.

These are the actions that #BlackLivesMatter is urging people to take:


You can ALSO can help by:

1. SHARE! SHARE! SHARE! We need as many people talking about this as possible. Please share as widely as you can! #FREEJASMINE #BLMDENA #BLACKLIVESMATTER

2. Pack the courtroom for her sentencing hearing:

Tuesday, 06/07/2016 at 8:00 AM, Pasadena Courthouse – 300 E. Walnut, Pasadena, CA.

3. Donate to Jasmine’s legal defense and/or books at“Jasmine” in your comments.)

4. Use your voicetalents and resources to elevate Jasmine’s case and cause.