Thursday, August 27, 2009

I've MOVED!!!!

So I've been trying to get this audio stuff going on this site way too long, and I finally took Ansel's advice (among others). So - I'm off to Wordpress. There you will see the same great Choptensils writing (with all the archives, comments, etc. from before) with enhanced features. And, most importantly . . .

The Choptensils PODCAST!!!!

So - head on over to the new site for Choptensils:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Camp Triumph: Wasian Pride

This will be a briefer post on another camp triumph – and one that hits even more personally.

It’s about Wasians.

Specifically, it’s about two Wasians: myself, and a camper.

If you’re unclear on what a Wasian is, it’s a bi-racial, White and Asian person. You should already know my mix, but the camper’s mix is White (mother) and Cambodian (father).

This particular camper happens to be one of my middle school students who I had all through last year. The same kid who asked me about my choice in music, and when I told him I listened to “pretty much anything,” he answered, “is that because you’re Wasian, and we don’t really fit in anywhere?”

Outside of his brother, I’m very likely the only other Wasian this kid knows. And so he – being a conscious being – has attached to me. Because he is trying to figure out his Wasian place in the world, and there are not a lot of places to look when trying to find this answer. Especially in Portland.

So I’ve assumed a lot of responsibility for this one kid – because I understand just how important it is for him to have a Wasian role model (since I never had one). Somebody to help show him how a Wasian can be in the world.

And we’ve talked about it a lot. Talked about not fitting in and how our mix determines how other people perceive us. And we unite over it (he often would yell “Wasian Pride!!!” when he saw me arriving at school in the morning) and share a very overt connection over our specific mix.

So when he made it out to camp, we came to a decision: we were going to write a “Wasian rap” and perform it together at the camp’s big Open Mic night.

I’m not really going to go into much more detail than that. It’s not necessary. Just the fact that this kid – self-identified “Wasian” (I’ve never used the term until he started referencing it) – wrote a piece about his own identity and life, and I had the honor of being invited to share the stage with him as he performed it for a crowd of his peers (none of them Wasian, of course).*

I saw his pride. I heard it in his voice when he spoke into the mic and introduced our performance with, “We’re both Wasian . . .” And so I couldn't control the sh--eating grin that spread over my face when the crowd went nuts for him, afterwards. Because he's a great kid, and I get excited for all of my kids when they get to have a moment like that (a moment of bravery when they stand up in front of their peers and share a piece of themselves). But it was even more sweet because I couldn't help but think about my own youth, and how cool it would have been if my specific way of identifying could have been validated like that - so strongly and positively - before I grew into adulthood.

I complain a lot. A lot of this blog is full of negative experiences. But this was not one of those. I got to be a role model to a kid who is currently living an outsider life – one that I can directly relate to - and share a moment of triumph with him.

And he’s not going to follow in my footsteps – Hell no. No, instead, I hope that he can jump past a few years of my own insecurities and, as a result, walk his own path more strongly and effectively. And wherever that takes him – that’s exactly how Wasians do it.

Because that's the ultimate goal here, as a role model: to validate the kids' experiences and identities (however they are) while showing them that those very experiences and identities don't have to be strict guidelines to how they end up living their lives.

Yeah - he's Wasian, and proud of it. And that's a very positive thing. And, more importantly, having grasped that so early, he is now free to do whatever he wants with it.

And that's that.

* The two pieces we spliced together for the performance didn't end up being about being specifically Wasian, but they regarded our identities and how we are as individuals in the world - which, in the end, is about being Wasian for both of us.

** The photo is of Kip Fullbeck, Wasian author of "Paper Bullets," sometimes spoken-word artist, and creator of the Hapa Project.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Girl Power

I’ve been away from the internet (at least on a regular-use basis) this past few weeks as I’ve been working at the arts camp I’ve worked at the last five years. In brief, this is an arts-focused camp for more or less the same population of kids that I teach (in some cases, literally the exact same). Professional artists are brought in to teach various art classes (photography, film, theatre, poetry, sewing, drumming, and more), while other more camp-y stuff happens.

Anyway, I wrote a spoken-word piece addressing gender inequality* (specifically, media oppression of women and hip-hop misogyny) a while back, with the intention of sharing it (at least, an edited version) with my kids. And so, at camp, I performed it for the kids (the high school group).

And I can’t even begin to explain the reaction it got. All the girls in the audience left their seats, screaming and clapping, because it spoke to them. In appearance and attitude, I kind of represent a lot of stereotypical concepts of “masculinity” in this country, and so I think it shocked the Hell out of them to hear me speak out.

And it only got better – because, that night, when all the kids were getting ready for bed, meeting in their smaller groups for nightly check-out sessions, a number of the girls’ sessions revolved entirely around their reaction to my piece. Talking about how guys mistreat them, how they sometimes let that happen, what they can do about it, etc.

The following morning, camper after camper sought me out to request a copy of my poem to take home with them. And the best part? It wasn’t just the female campers. No – many of the male campers asked for a copy to take home, as well (and this was individually, with no females to see the request – they actually just wanted a copy).
By the end of that session, I had given almost every single camper (and the staff, as well) a copy of my poem.

But it didn’t end there. For the rest of the session, an implicit theme of “being a gentleman” began to trickle into camp – male counselors were teaching their groups how to be respectful to women and having them practice; male campers were asking female staff for tips on how to treat women right; female campers were talking to each other and the males about general respect and how to represent themselves.

And, as all this went down, I have never felt better about my work or what I do. Never. Not even close. This was my life’s work coming together so perfectly. Getting myself to a place where I could consider forms of oppression that I’m a part of; writing down my thoughts as a poem; performing it; and actually hitting my audience. Not just touching them and making them think for a moment – but hitting them in a way that moved them to want to do more (and actually following up).

And it was with kids. Girls/young women at a moment in their lives when they are choosing their paths – and may just be able to alter them a little bit to keep their heads above water in an oppressive world. Boys/young men in a position to either run with their privilege or change how they walk through the world.

And I don’t really expect that it’s going to alter their paths. Certainly not all of them. Probably not most of them. But – for a moment – it hit them. Hard. And maybe that will push them just enough to end up in a position to be hit again later on. And then maybe again. And with enough hits – paths really can change.

It’s like reverse-oppression: pile on enough POSITIVE situations and consciousness and you might just get the strength to blow through that pile of negative ones.

And I’m not writing this to brag – although I am, a little. Because I’m proud. I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point. Because, if I didn’t love those kids and put in the work to really know them and relate to them, they wouldn’t have listened. If I hadn’t earned their respect and kept my integrity, they wouldn’t believe in me. If I hadn’t put in the years of personal work and self-reflection, I never would have written this.

And so I’m proud of this one pay-off. Because there’s not a ton of pay-off (at least not on this type of level) in this line of work, and I think I’ve earned this one. And it inspires me. It gives me the fuel to see that I’m on the right path, myself. It hit me back, and helps me see what I want to be doing, how I want to do it, and that it can really work.

And that – that’s something.

• Here’s the (edited) piece that I shared with the kids (again, it's meant to be spoken, so there's power lost in the translation):

Male Privilege

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Ignore the patriarchy, and you’ll do just fine

Easy to say, but harder to do when-
They say you’re too skinny, too fat, or the wrong complexion
Constant messaging starting to make you think that all of this oppression
Is truth – representing a man’s ideal of perfection
But you
Can’t do
Your life under faulty conventions
But don’t take this man’s word – just look in the mirror
And I know this world has tried to instill in you a fear of
Seeing yourself raw, stripped of all that you’ve been taught
By a man’s world, constantly trying to hide what you’ve got
Wouldn’t want you feeling confident enough to rely on your mind
Cuz then the job you rightfully got would likely be mine
Get you to compete with each other so you’re not competing with us
So when you catch your men cheating, you call the women the sluts
And that’s messed up – we’ve kept you down enough to fight with each other
While this brotherhood of men tries to forget the first mother
Cuz that’s the secret, you see
We keep you down out of jealousy
All the same abilities, but men have one piece missing
The act of creating life, God-like in a human form
Men feeling less-than because our only contribution is our sperm
7 minutes to your 9 months
Insignificant to creation once the mating is done
So we flip it – our insecurity makes you the objects
Increasing our own importance by taking away the meaning from sex
So come on ladies – don’t pander to your man
If he’s not treating you right, make him spend his nights with his hand
Cuz you’re the Gods on this Earth, creating life
While he’s just a sperm-donor that just happens to look like . . . a man

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Ignore the patriarchy, and you’ll do just fine

If you can get some help . . .

Cuz to the rappers of color – what the Hell are we thinking?
We get ‘em saying “those people” say “those things” about “their own women”
And the messed up thing is that we let them
Misogyny’s the b, so let’s get it out of our system
These are our mothers, our sisters, and someday our wives
Ones who tried to raise us right and even gave us our live
Get over the creation-envy and stop oppressing our own
Cuz the oppression we dole out is the oppression we bring home
So it’s time we grow up and start acting like a father
Drop the macho act and raise every girl like a daughter
Cuz if they were our own, could we look them in the eyes
When they realized our lyrics held them objectified?
Talking about hos, degrading women in our videos
As if we don’t even know where all that money goes
Back in the pocket of the patriarchal regime
Who appreciate our part because it keeps their white gloves clean
Laughing at how we always do exactly as they want
Crushing our own to keep others happy at the top
So if we really want all of this oppression to stop
We should start with our own actions and words and turn our misogyny off
Start acting like real men and turn our misogyny off

This one’s for the women that have to deal with these guys
That don’t know how to treat ‘em, always feeding them lies
Brainwashed by the media, every female objectified
Ignore the patriarchy, cuz you’re doing just fine
Maybe if we restore the matriarchy, we could be just fine.