First Millennium is an auto biographical series of the working class. Miza’s work explores identity, inter-sectional feminism, loss, LA, and confusion.
Explore Miza’s series here.
Ellie Miza grew up in now gentrified Echo Park/ Silver Lake in LA. She’s been making visuals since she was a kid. Miza started making more net art around 3-4 years ago regularly during a really difficult period of her life. She work across a variety of digital platforms, making gifs, interactive pieces. Check out personal website.
By Ruby Contreras
I will never forget the smell of her Oscar De La Renta perfume in the morning as I watched her unroll her hair and tease it out with a pick comb. She’d then seal her bright red curls with some Rave hairspray and put on the brightest colored lipsticks she’d buy from customers who sold Avon. I loved being in her comfy bed watching her tie her hand-sewn apron around her neatly starched uniform. No matter if it was a Mexican blouse, or hot pink Polo shirt, she always dressed it up with gold shrimp earrings and big flowers in her hair. We’d then walk a few blocks down Buena Vista Street. She’d hold my hand as I balanced myself on the curbs of people’s yards. I knew we were getting close when I’d start to smell the flowers from a Texas Mountain Laurel tree planted next door. This was an everyday thing, with the exception of her one day off, each summer.
Every day she’d greet everyone on her way in with a smile though some would not greet her back. She’d go straight to the employees’ station, check the schedule she’d made, and make sure everyone was there doing what they were supposed to be doing. As a child, I sometimes dreaded having to sit there all day until my mom got off work, but now as an adult, I realize how much they love me and wanted to make sure I was okay. When I worked there as a teen, there were times I did not make the efforts she did her entire life. I’d show up late and slack off, and when she punished me, I didn’t understand or appreciate it as much as I do now.
I’ve come to realize that if it wasn’t for that job, I along with many of my family and
friends, wouldn’t have gained so much knowledge and experience. It was a good job to start with considering we probably worked harder than we would have at any other restaurant. There were all kinds of people that came, most of which some might call ghetto. But this was OUR neighborhood, and we still managed to learn customer service and how to remain calm with irate people. We learned to clean, to defend ourselves as minorities, to spot a thief, and how to save money. We learned to make the most out of the smallest, ugliest things and stand up for our culture. For me the most important thing I learned was how much deeper this job meant to my grandma and how she built a life out of it.
My grandma, Maria Gloria Ricondo, known to many as “grandma” or “Yaya” worked at the Malt House for over 50 years. Although, she eventually became a manager, she never stopped waitressing. Rain or shine, you’d find her there, between 11am and 5pm. All day on Fridays. She’d come home smelling like fried chicken and salsa. Before she sat down to watch the news, she’d pour herself a “guerita” in a glass. I’d fight to stay awake with her all night, but I couldn’t; and she’d still somehow managed to be up before me each day. I’d wake to the sound of her blow dryer and the smell of coffee. This was every day for her. Every Single Day! She’d do it again and again and rarely complained. She made a life at the Malt House, with no benefits. There was no salary, no bonuses, no paid time off, nothing. Yet, she still managed to become a homeowner, pay bills, buy vehicles, and we never lacked a thing. My mother, me and her other granddaughters are the bold women we are today because of her; because of this. “If you only knew how proud I am,” she’d say as tears welled up in her eyes, “Me, una mojadita de Monterrey. A waitress, raising such beautiful intelligent women. It’s an honor!”
Many may argue and say she was hard on them. Some may even call her mean. But no one but my family and I will ever understand how much she truly cared for her employees and why she pushed them as much as she did. My grandma could not, and still does not, comprehend laziness. She doesn’t understand it because even through her own hardships, she made a living.
My grandma did not have it easy growing up. She crossed over to the U.S. as a child and began working in cotton fields at a very young age. She cared for eight brothers and sisters as a teen and for her own two children as an adult. She lost her son way too soon and an awful divorce followed that. But no matter what life through her way, nothing kept her from work and caring for all of her family.
Many people came and went from the Malt House. There were good days and there were horrible days. Busy and slow. It was open on holidays and closed by the health department for cleaning. People made a living outside soliciting. People dined and dashed. There was always something going on there, but through it all, one thing remained the same, the Malt House was her life and even on the worst days she loved it.
As years past, time took its toll on my grandmother. I noticed it was harder for her to carry out trays to her tables. I noticed her rubbing Bengay on her legs more often. I noticed her withering. But my grandma had so much pride, that she did not want to quit and let go. She pushed herself until she could not push anymore and it was then that I began to resent the Malt House. I couldn’t understand the amount of disrespect she was given after all she did and sacrificed. I couldn’t believe how people treated her and mocked her for not being as fast as she was 50 years ago. Most of all, I could not wrap my finger around the fact that after decades of being there and years of sweat, blood, and tears, her reliability, loyalty and soul being put into this place, she was left with nothing. No retirement, no goodbye party, no thank you, NOTHING. Not that she needed any of those things, but it still hurt me. I guess the only satisfaction I got was knowing that once she was gone it would crash and burn because no one cared for that place as she did. But now that it is actually happening, and now that I know those walls will be torn down and broken to pieces, I am realizing so is my heart.
I love my grandma so much it’s indescribable. The thought of her leaving this world makes me dizzy and I literally feel my insides crumbling at the thought. I know it’s inevitable, but her love will live forever in me and my memories of her will always be more than vivid. This is why the Malt House being demolished actually breaks my heart. No matter how many bad things happened there, I will always remember the good times. I enjoy passing by there because I picture my grandma in a bright red Mexican blouse, with a flower in her hair, clapping her hands and singing along with mariachis. I taste the fried chicken and fresh-squeezed lemonade. I remember so many things, and in all those things, I see my grandma. I wish they’d leave it there solely for that reason. When she’s gone, I want to be able to see it and picture her in there. I want to be able to go inside and imagine her there, working hard. This place is more than a landmark to me and my family, it’s history. Our childhoods and second home and its everything that made my grandma the amazing woman she is today.
I am not expecting for the City to call off the demolition. I can only hope that some miracle will happen and they do. But, I just want this city to know and hear her story before it’s gone. I don’t remember the bad things when I pass by there anymore regardless if the food was awful, as some might say, and there were rodents due to the owners’ lack of care. Instead, I remember being a child, eating a Fat Boy burger as I watched my grandma hustle to make her living. All I want is for people to know, how much history the Malt House holds for my grandma and most of the Westside neighborhood. These memories of her will live forever and ever within my family and I. She, a single Hispanic woman, deserves this recognition more than anyone I know.
Angela: Jerico and Paloma have known each other since high school and I met them both through shows in San Pedro. Jerico’s previous band (Sleepover) had played a few house shows at my old place known as the 13th st house in Pedro.
Where are you all from?
Angela: Jerico and Paloma are from San Pedro. Paloma was born in Mexico, but moved to San Pedro when she was a baby. I grew up in Anaheim, but consider Pedro my home, since I have now been here for 10 years.
Erika: How long have you been involved with music/making music and making music together?
Angela: I have been playing music since the age of 13. The girls and I have been together now for 5.5 wonderful years!
Paloma: I got a bass for my 15th bday but I didn’t really start playing until we formed Bombon
Erika: I remember when I first heard “¡Xicanista!” I was unbelievably excited. Not only because I had seen you guys live before, and had a feeling you could be Xicana’s, but didn’t feel like it was the right time to ask. Even though if I had known, then it would’ve been even more amazing. Since both of the Burger Festivals I saw you play at were mostly white. Sure Booger a go go was all female, but there was like 3 bands with known Latin@s. I think it’s actually very important to make it known that you are the minority in a scene. Especially because it gives people like me and teenagers like we were, hope. How is it to be involved with a scene like this when you can see a disconnect?
Angela: I feel honored to have been part of Burger-a-Go-go’s line-up for the past two years. I (personally) didn’t feel any separation having played a festival like that, if not, I felt connected to other fellow musicians for being part of an event that celebrates music by female fronted artists. I do believe it is important to be proud of where your roots are based-on, but we also have to remember to appreciate our differences and celebrate not separate them. I’m proud to be Latina I can only be me.
Paloma: I also felt honored to be apart of Burger-a-Go-go too. I saw it as a melting pot, there were people of all backgrounds there and that’s what I liked about it. I like seeing that at shows. Of course I’m proud of my heritage, but I love seeing people united and celebrating music together. I also think we make a Latina stand with our band name and having a lot of our lyrics in Spanish!
Erika: What inspired the song “¡Xicanista!”?
Angela: Our song ¡Xicanista! Was partly inspired due to Trump’s political campaign brought on by sexist and racial tactics.
Paloma: I was intrigued with the Xicanista movement after reading Alice Bags book “Violence Girl” a couple years ago, which I connected to a lot. Going through my own experiences as an Immigrant child being raised in the U.S, and finally dealing with all the silly steps of becoming a citizen as an adult, just to have the same rights as all my friends that I grew up with. I was inspired by that and making a stand with our own feminist anthem, when we wrote the song
Erika: Who are the musicians who inspire you? Not only well known and popular, but those connected to your upbringing?
Angela: Kristy Wallace from The Cramps had initially inspired me to play music, but my grandfather was the first person that had encouraged me to pick up the guitar. Every time I went to my grandparents’ house my grandfather would tell me stories of this “younger days” during the 60s. He would tell me about the blues bands and jam sessions during his time living in Texas. Till this day, he reminisces about playing in a band and continues to motivate me.
Paloma: I was mesmerized by Punk when I first heard it. I identified with it and wanted to be a punker so bad haha. I loved Black flag, Minutemen, The Slits, The Cramps, anything BilIy Childish!! I mean the list goes on! But I as I got older Bikini Kill, Holly Golightly and Thee Headcoatees really inspired me to want to be in a kick ass girl power band!
Erika: What would you to say for the only punk xicana in the crowd?
Angela: It’s easy to forget who you are… Asi que no quemes las tortillas!
Paloma: Be who you are, be proud of your roots and rock it girl!
A couple weeks ago I met with Katie Garcia, my once-employer at Captured Tracks, an independent record label based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to talk about her experiences being a Latin woman in the music industry. Garcia used to be the manager at Captured Tracks, and now co-owns her own label Bayonet Records with her husband, Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils. We met over coffee in Greenpoint. We talked about Miami, Cubans, Juan Wauters, and the dominance of males in the music industry while Mac Demarco coincidentally twinkled in the background of the cafe.
Me (Siena): So, my first question–how do you identify yourself; racially, ethnically, or both?
Katie: As a Cuban woman (laughs), I guess, yeah.
S: And did you grow up speaking another language?
K: Yeah. I grew up–I think I learned Spanish first, as a baby, and then as I got older, like once I started school basically, that’s when I started learning English, and then I pretty much only spoke English, and I still knew Spanish but my Spanish was like really broken, and then when I got to high school–or no, not even–when I got to middle school, I decided I wanted to take Spanish classes instead of French classes, because I wanted my Spanish to be on point. So yeah, I started taking Spanish classes to make sure that, you know, my grammar was totally correct–because up until that point no one had ever taught me as a kid how to write in Spanish, and how to use accents and conjugations–it’s kind of complicated, so I’m glad that I ended up taking classes.
S: So would you say that you’re still fluent
K: Oh yeah, yeah. I talk to my grandmother on the phone, and she doesn’t speak any English, even though she’s lived in the United States for like forty years (laughs)
S: Pretty much my grandma too. So how do you feel that being or becoming bilingual influenced your upbringing?
K: I guess it influenced my upbringing in that I felt like I had a strong cultural ties to my background, ‘cause language, more than a lot of other things, is such an obvious and crucial connection to culture, in general. So um…yeah, I dunno, I think that…it’s tricky, too, because growing up in Miami, I almost took it for granted, because everybody was bilingual. Everybody speaks English and Spanish, or Creole and English, or Creole, Spanish and English. It’s interesting though, because when I got to college in Boston, and I met my friends there, that was the first time I met–like I had all these friends, and I told them like, “you know you guys are my first American friends, like really truly American friends. All my friends from Miami are Cuban, or Haitian, or Colombian, or Venezuelan, or Dominican, whatever.” So, you know, growing up in Miami was definitely culturally influential on me, just in general.
S: Yeah, it’s also different from New York, in that it’s a little more…
K: It’s more concentrated.
K: Like, there are definitely a lot of Hispanics and Latin people who live in New York, but they’re more dispersed, whereas in Miami it’s like, everywhere.
S: Right. So do feel that speaking another language has put you at an advantage over those who don’t–in school, or work, or life, et cetera?
K: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s the easiest way to connect to another person, is speaking to them in their native language, like, if I take a cab and the cab driver, you know, if we strike up a conversation in Spanish, they’re always like, really nice, and they get excited, and it’s nice–like I said, language is one of those things that’s like an instant cultural signifier. So I always think that’s pretty cool, and I think that it’s definitely been an advantage, like if I ever wanted to sign a band from like, Spain or wherever, I could talk to them in Spanish, and they would be nice, and it would probably make them feel more comfortable not to have that language barrier, and to be able to speak in their native language.
S: Yeah, so that kind of goes on to my next question–do you feel that speaking Spanish has shaped your taste in music in any way while growing up? Who did you grow up listening to in Spanish, and do you still listen to music in Spanish or other languages?
K: Yes, I do listen to music in other languages, and as far as Spanish-speaking music that I listen to, Celia Cruz is kind of an obvious one (laughs), love Celia Cruz, recently my sister got me really into this Cuban singer La Lupe, she was kind of coming up around the same time as Celia Cruz, but her story was kind of sad…but anyway, she’s another Cuban singer, she was very passionate–she was a Santera, like, when she is performing it’s almost like she is possessed–it’s so powerful and amazing, and we watched this documentary about her that was really interesting. So I really like her…and then…I dunno, when I was younger I used to like Juanes, and like Shakira (laughs), like the stuff the that Shakira did in Spanish was actually really dope.
S: It is!
K: I used to listen to that with my friends in like, middle school, all the time. The cool like, rocker Colombian woman. Umm, who else…I feel like there are more people who I’m forgetting…Buena Vista Social Club…
S: That was pretty much my mom’s cleaning soundtrack.
K: Yeah, it’s so good, it’s really good. Recently–I have a funny story about Buena Vista Social Club–recently we were in Spain visiting some family that we have there, and we were in Santiago which is where they have that famous cathedral, it’s Santiago de Compostela, and it’s where people make a pilgrimage to this church, and we were on the streets and we hear these people–this woman and this guy–and they’re playing ‘El Cuarto de Tula’ and me and my mom are like, ‘oh my God, what the fuck!’ and we started talking to them and they were like ‘yeah, we’re from Havana,’ and my mom was like ‘aye!’ and it turns out the woman was like from around the corner from where she grew up and all this stuff, it was really hilarious. And it definitely…that’s not the first time it’s happened, one time we were in Munich, and we were walking down the street and we heard salsa music, and at the end we went up to the people and we were like, ‘oh that was great’–in Spanish, and then my mom ends up talking to the guy and like, sure enough, he grew up–that guy actually was right by where she grew up, like a block away, which was super weird, and that was in Munich! So there are just Cubans everywhere.
S: (laughs) Small world for the Cubans!
K: Yeah, the island was too small for all of them, so like everybody just had to leave.
S: So, as a woman in the music industry, do you ever feel like a minority.
K: Yes. Big time. I do. But I also see how it’s changing, like I’ve noticed that there are more women, especially in the independent music industry, that are bing hired and promoted to positions of, prestige, I guess, but uh…yeah, especially when I think about being a label owner, there aren’t that many female label owners. There may be label managers that are women, but there aren’t that many that outright own record labels. I know that there’s a woman that owns Neon Gold, and, I think maybe Harvest Records is owned by one–I’m not sure, but there aren’t that many. Umm…yeah…Veronica Vasicka owns Minimal Wave, you know, so I definitely feel like a minority. So hopefully we’ll see more people who will be inspired to start labels of their own.
S: Definitely. So not only as a woman, but as a woman of Latin descent, do you feel like even more of a minority?
K: Umm, I feel like because–honestly, yes and no–I feel like more so being a woman than a Latin woman, partially because just based on appearance alone, I just look so white, that nobody ever like–that aspect of being recognized or discriminated against for being a Latin woman–I don’t think that’s happened to me as much as it has to other people just purely because aesthetically I don’t look–I don’t have like, the typical Latin features, so I would say more so for being a woman. Like there have been a few instances that are kind of shitty, or like I don’t know, just weird things that happen. It always happens at shows, the worst thing that happened to me recently was I was talking to this guy about how, you know, I run the record label, and Dustin goes on tour a lot, but he’ll go on tour for two weeks at a time so that he can come home and we can see each other. And this guy asks me, he’s like, ‘oh cool, does he schedule when he comes home around your period? Because, you know, it would really suck if he came home and you were in a bad mood.’ And I was like–I laughed in his face, said no, and walked away. I was blind with rage. I actually, I didn’t even know what to–it was infuriating. And shit like that happens all the time. It happens all the time, and it’s–yeah. It sucks.
S: It’s so real.
K: It’s very real. And this just happened to me like two weeks ago.
S: You almost like forget that people still think this way. That’s horrible.
K: Yeah. That was a pretty glaring example. But yeah, anyway.
S: Anyway, so do you think that being a woman or being a Latin woman has given you an advantage over the typical kind of male or white male in the music industry–has it kind of made you feel like a unique person in a way, or has it not really made a difference?
K: Umm, it definitely makes me a unique person. As far as it giving me an advantage…I mean, I don’t think it really does, but, you know, if anything, I would just like to be–I don’t even want it–I want it to be like an even playing field, which obviously it’s not, but like I said, I feel like things are definitely changing for the better.
S: So, as a label owner, do you ever consider signing artists that write in other languages or is that a limited market in New York or the United States–I know you kind of mentioned that before, but…
K: Yeah, I mean, umm, I’ve definitely considered it, it’s always harder, like especially if you’re trying to sell a record in the US, it’s always harder when a band like sings in another language, but it is doable, you know. But it’s…it’s tricky. I haven’t yet signed a band–I know Captured signed Mourn, but that was after I left–but they sing in English. Like, they’re from Spain but they sing in English.
S: Yeah, also, isn’t Juan Wauters–wait, he’s American right?
K: No no no, he’s from Uruguay.
S: Oh he is, okay, yeah.
K: He’s from Uruguay, yeah.
S: Yeah cause he kind of sings with an accent.
K: Yeah, he’s from Uruguay. Umm…oh my God, his parents are so cute. I met his parents…oh my God. They’re so cute. Umm, yeah, he’s from Uruguay, but moved here when he was like a teenager. So he’s been here for a while but definitely has really strong roots to Uruguay and like, is a big like, yerba mate person, and his mom–I think she even makes her own mate, or something like that.
S: Awesome. So–kind of my final question–what is your number one piece of advice for a woman trying to make it in the music industry, or any other kind of male-dominated industry, or anything.
K: I would say…just like…be confident. Learn as much as you can, like, if you–I feel like interning–I know interning kind of sucks, but at the same time, that’s how I learned the ins and outs of how to run a label, and, you know, I found it to be pretty valuable. Actually, I think above all those things, whatever it is that you’re pursuing, just make sure that it’s something you’re extremely passionate about, because ultimately, you’re not gonna be happy if you’re not pursuing something you’re passionate about. If you’re pursuing it because you think it’ll make a lot of money, then like, that’s not necessarily a worthwhile pursuit, you know. If you want to work in a field where you–you know, if you like people, then work in a field that involves people. If you like music, then work in a field that involves music. But yeah, I feel like passion is the most important thing, as long as you have that passion I feel like everything else will kind of fall into place and you can figure out the logistics of everything as you’re going, you know, following up to whatever it is you wanna do. So yeah, for music specifically I would say to intern. You know, as I said, it’s like–it depends, some internships at some companies are great, and some are not so great, it just depends.
S: Yeah, I mean I’ve definitely had some great experiences and some not so great experiences with that, so I feel that. But do you think it took you a long time to find your passion in wanting to pursue music?
K: Yeah, it did, it did. I mean, I went to school for film, and I thought I wanted to do film, and then I started working for a set designer in Red Hook, and it was really fun, like we did a bunch of stuff for MTV and I got to go to the MTV studio, which was cool, like I got to paint the set and do some carpentry…but…and that’s another thing I would recommend, is like trial and error, like don’t ever be discouraged if you think you want to do something and then you try it and you don’t like it, like that’s fine, I mean that’s exactly what happened to me. And then I basically like, I didn’t have a job cause I stopped doing that cause I was unhappy, and then I was like–I had a plan, I was like, I’m just gonna get a part-time job, and on my days off I’m gonna intern somewhere that I’m passionate about–like at a label or something that I’m passionate about, because I really love music. One thing I realized, I kind of had to reflect, like what is it that I’m really passionate about? Music. I go to shows all the time, you know, I really would love to work in music. And then yeah, so I just emailed a bunch of labels, and I actually called Matador on the phone, I was just like ‘do you guys need interns?’ and they were like ‘no,’ so I was like okay (laughs). And then I heard back from Captured, and they were based down the street from where I was living at the time, so it was so easy for me to go in and help out on my days off. And yeah, that was that, and I just learned as much as I could, so that’s pretty much what happened.
S: Word. So that’s pretty much it. Thank you very much for participating in this!
On August 10, 2015 I finally caught La Luz live at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. I had been wanting to see them for a couple years now, and finally seeing them just brought a bolt of energy and inspiration through me. So I walked up to the lead singer and guitarist, Shana Cleveland, and asked the most personal question I could ever ask anyone “Are any of you guys Latinas?” Really it’s not that personal. It’s just something you usually don’t ask people. I overall just hate asking people about their ethnicity, I feel like that should be something someone should share themself. This day was different because these gals were so badass and I just wanted to see if I could relate more to them than I already did. Shana pointed me in the direction of Marian Li Pino, the drummer.
I then started talking to Marian about Chifladx and how I would love to interview her because I think she’s a role model the Latinas of the world should know. We exchanged emails and in the next couple months, while she was on tour and my life was just hectic, we emailed each other.
“I don’t usually recognize that I’ve had a different cultural experience from my American peers until I look at the kind of music I was exposed to by my parents. I think it played a big part on my musical style and my view on drum arrangements as a whole,” Marian Li Pino wrote to me in the first email. “I identify as latina to some extent, as my parents are Chilean and we visited Chile a bunch as I was growing up. Just a very Americanized latina.”
Statements I feel that many Latin@s relate to, and this all just made the interview seem more important.
You spoke about the music you were exposed to as a kid by your parents? What kind of music was that exactly? Do you have a favorite memory with music from when you visited Chile with your family?
Even up to a later age in life, my parents had a pretty profound influence on my music taste. In no particular order, albums on rotation were Arturo Sandoval, Astrud Gilberto/Antonio Carlos Jobim, Buena Vista Social Club, Carlos Santana, Juan Luis Guerra, and probably a ton more that I can’t recall. My mom loved Los Iracundos and Nicola Di Bari and Luis Miguel. Going to Chile and hearing what type of music is on the radio really fascinates and excites me. They don’t seem to be owned by a corporation that only allows the same 200 songs to be played for eternity. They’re playing all genres, old and new, in whatever language. My brother and I usually set up a radio in my grandmas spot and just kind of let the good tunes roll.
What were some of your favorite songs and musicians as a kid and teen? (Does not have to be latinx)
This is all gonna be pretty embarrassing. I, again, was very influenced by my family. I guess I just didn’t really feel the need to find other music with all the stuff playing at home. I was listening to anything from Destiny’s Child to Dixie Chicks to classical composers, to Red Hot Chili Peppers and a plethora of horrific tween bands I can’t even name.
Can you remember your first concert?
I know I must have gone to see orchestral and jazz concerts all the time with my family, but as for my first individual outing? Something terrible like Fall Out Boy, but worse.
Maybe going too far, first memory with music?
I have a few. I’m pretty one of my first memories of music had to be when I was around 3 or 4. I remember being in a room and listening to a classical sounding record that my dad had put on. It’s possible it could have been Peter and the Wolf.
What was the moment that you knew that music was more than just a sound to you? Can you remember the day you decided you wanted to be a drummer? How did your family react when you started to play?
I think there was no other option, music was always music. I feel really lucky to have been exposed to really musically and rhythmically complex stuff early on. It made me crave that with songs in general, and appreciate the musicianship more. My brothers both played instruments and it was expected that I would learn one too. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to the drums. It took 6 years of piano playing before I was allowed to crossover, but I think it was always clear that I loved percussion.
What’s a song that brings you back to a memory that just makes you happy?
Me and Mrs. Jones, because the first time I heard that was in Chile with my brother. And Berimbau, because Astrud’s voice feels like home no matter where I’m at.
Your music always gives me a certain sense of nostalgia and longing. Do you prefer writing about universal themes or about little but meaningful moments or experiences?
All of life’s little tiny moments are representations of the vast universe and all of its abstract ideas – the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
How important is it for you as a musician to integrate culture or specific Asian-American experiences, feelings, etc. into your music?
I never write with the purpose of “integrating my asian culture,” I just write what I know and what I’ve lived, and what I’ve lived is a unique multicultural existence.
Who are some musicians, specifically women of color, who have inspired you?
M.I.A. all the way.
How important do you think it is to be a musician of color in a predominately white male dominated space?
I never got into music with a mission in diversity, or because I want to change how the business works. I don’t think my existence is more important in the music business today because of where I come from, or how I identify. I simply got into this business in order to make music, because making music is what I’m here on earth to do. Then as I entered this business, or attempted to, I realized I am a minority in many ways and have a lot more obstacles to overcome than the majority in power. So it became important for me to stick up for myself and make sure I was heard regardless of my identity, and for other people in the minority to also come up with me, so I or they weren’t alone in this.
Since our issue is focused on memories, I’d like to ask you: What is one of your favorite memories?
Playing tennis in Malaysia, where I lived for some time as a kid.
I had the opportunity to interview Delfina Martinez-Pandiani, a sophomore at Harvard University who recently created a mural that speaks for the voices of the Latina immigrant community, which is in desperate need of help and awareness. Her academic paper can be found here (it’s a pdf of ayuda-me-project.weebly.com, is there a way we can link it by itself?) and the website for the project is here (ayuda-me-project.weebly.com). All photos were taken by Camilla Gibson.
What exactly is your project about, for those who have not seen the website?
My project aims to garner attention and pay homage to the help-seeking experiences of Latina immigrants who face Intimate Partner Violence. The mural depicts the obstacles that these women face in their quest for help, which include cultural, structural, situational, and institutional barriers. The mural complements an academic paper that I wrote in regards to this topic, which carefully analyzes the precarious position of Latina victims through an intersectional and social-justice framework.
What, in particular, inspired this?
I was fortunate enough to be able to enroll in “Sexual Health and Reproductive Justice,” a seminar class at Harvard taught by the wonderful Madina Agénor. Through this class, I was able to research, question, understand, and address issues of reproductive justice through an intersectional approach. There, I was faintly introduced to the topic of domestic abuse among the Latina immigrant community in the US, and I decided to further research this topic on my own because of my own Latina identity and the prevalence of domestic abuse in this population. This in turn led me to pursue an academic paper on the topic, and the subsequent mural focused on this group because Latina immigrant victims in the US find themselves in an especially precarious position; intersecting axes of power frame their experiences, including gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status and class, among others.
I think that an understanding of the multiplicative effects of different social standings of distinct groups is imperative for effective prevention, intervention and advocacy programs. Thus, comprehending the precarious place that Latina immigrants populate when facing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) thus necessitates an intersectional approach that considers all levels of barriers: from the micro to the macro, from personal convictions to institutional policies.
How long did it take? Did you do it alone?
The mural took me approx. 5 days. I did it mostly alone. However, various friends passed by at different points to contribute some refreshments, company, and helping hands.
Is Harvard keeping it? Is it in a public location that people can visit?
The mural is currently in the basement of Lowell House, at Harvard University. Because the ‘mural’ was not done directly on the wall, but rather on a 7 x 7 ft. piece of canvas fabric, it is movable and can be taped to any wall. My goal is to be able to move it through different locations so that it can reach a broader audience. I am actually in communication with the Harvard College Women’s Center, it might potentially be moved there. I am certainly open to lend it if there is an organization/group interested in presenting it for a while (contact at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Have you gotten any feedback from the Latinx community on your project?
After sharing the project and pictures in social media, it was widely “liked” and shared, and I received various messages from Latinx friends and acquaintances expressing their gratitude for my decision to pursue this project. Some of this Latinxs expressed that they found it personally moving and poignant. Many asked for more information about the topic, so I decided to include the academic paper of the website I created for the project. I found this especially motivating and it has given me further incentive and enthusiasm for pursuing academic and artistic work that tackles these types of – often ignored – issues.
Do you hope to continue to create art that has an impact on the communities that need it? Do you have any future projects in mind?
I certainly hope to continue to create art that has an impact on the communities it references. I am currently toying with the idea of designing and creating another mural focused on a very different idea – that of “queerness” and its relationship with the Buddhist concept of “exchange of self and other.” Buddhist thought on non-dualism is extremely thought-provoking and I find that it is philosophically and theoretically very aligned with many concepts modernly thought of as part of “queer” theory. So that would be an interesting project to pursue. But there is an endless list of artistic projects I want to pursue, so I am not sure which one I will tackle first.