#13: “Oh, How the Weary are Woeful”
Oh, how the weary are woeful
wondering when the sorrow will end,
only to learn that the woefulness
is someone the weary should befriend.
Poem #2: “Some Sing”
We were promised so much,
but owed nothing.
We were rewarded with the sound
of our own voices, and some sing.
In the spirit of 2012′s leap year and that magical bonus day at the end February, I’m going to write a poem a day. This idea came to me while I was showering and a poem formed itself inside my big round head as I was washing my hair. Simple as that.
Poem #1: “Oh, How the Weary”
Oh, how the weary are wayward,
getting lost while walking a straight line.
On its way to find its way,
the weary becomes more wayward with time.
Here’s the second story in a series I’m writing for the grassroots newspaper, Street Roots, on behalf of the organization I work for, Western States Center. The first story highlighted our work with Oregon’s immigrant-rights organization, CAUSA, through our Uniting Communities program. This story is about the statewide org that fights on behalf of LGBTQ rights in Oregon and this is a story about how they evolved to be inclusive of LGBTQ folks of color.
When Jeana Frazzini was growing up in in central Washington, her family owned the local pizza parlor. It was the type of hang-out where anyone who came through was always treated with dignity and respect.
“Folks who felt like they didn’t belong anywhere were always welcomed at my dad’s pizza place,” said Jeana. She started working around the restaurant when she was eight years old and was raised in an environment that laid the foundation for the work she would do. “I’ve just always been a person who fights for the underdog.”
After graduating from college, Jeana moved to Portland to pursue organizing and social justice work. After a number of years working on a variety of causes, in 2005, Jeana joined the staff of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), a statewide organization that formed to fight against anti-LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) measures. The far right had been pushing for anti-LGBTQ ballot measures since 1988— and Basic Rights Oregon was an underdog pushing back against their attempts at anti-equality policies such as Measure 36.
As a board member, Jeana and the Basic Rights staff worked steadfastly to mobilize voters to vote “no” on Measure 36, a 2004 state ballot that would amend the Oregon Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Their opponents had hired an African-American woman as the spokesperson for an otherwise white-led campaign, a tactic that helped to make voters feel as though Measure 36 wasn’t discriminatory because a woman of color was speaking on behalf of it.
The pro-equality campaign scrambled to engage leaders in communities of color and LGBTQ people of color because those relationships had not been in place prior to the campaign. But it didn’t feel right. “We hadn’t done the work in advance to build strong relationships in communities of color,” said Jeana.
When the votes came in, Measure 36 passed. Basic Rights had to reevaluate how they were doing their work and with whom. And this included being thoughtful when asking themselves “How do we, as an organization, engage people of color?”
“It was humbling,” Jeana recalled. “We received feedback that our LBGTQ members of color were saying that ‘I don’t see a place for myself in this organization. You don’t prioritize the needs of my community.’ It was difficult to hear these things because I’ve always fought to include everyone in the struggle for justice and here we were leaving people behind. We were missing a whole lot of the community.”
The Basic Rights Oregon team realized that it wasn’t so much about how to get people of color to the table to discuss these issues, but how to create a table that is welcoming and inclusive. In 2006, they launched a partnership with Western States Center to integrate racial justice in its organization—starting with basic dismantling racism training. The Center provided a roadmap as to what the work would look like for an organization like Basic Rights.
“Without the help of the Center, it would have been much more of a struggle to transform our organization and begin to do work that engages LGBTQ people of color,” said Jeana. “Together, we were able to create cultural change for our organization and for our members.”
By 2007, the Center supported Basic Rights through an internal organizational transition and now the organization was ready to get their members on the same page. Within the year, they hosted a series of workshops on immigrant rights and racial justice that informed their members about why it is important for an LGBTQ organization to ally with other groups who are being attacked by the same far right organizations. The Center supported Basic Rights in deepening their relationship with organizations like CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant rights coalition.
“Our opposition is often the same—the person who promoted a local anti-immigrant ballot measure in 2008 was the same person who had been involved in earlier anti-gay ballot measures,” said Jeana. “Most importantly, these anti immigrant ballot measures impact LGBTQ immigrants—so this is a direct issue for our members.”
Since 2009, racial justice work has become a core part of Basic Rights Oregon’s work in every aspect of their programs and they have prioritized the engagement and leadership of LGBTQ people of color.
“Nowadays, rather than saying, ‘Isn’t it interesting that we are doing this type of work.’ Now our members expect us to do this work.”
My day job is pretty rad. Most times I feel like it’s this university course about social justice that I’m being paid to attend. One of the projects that we’re working is called Uniting Communities, where we help organizations in communities of color to integrate LGBTQ issues into their work. The purpose of doing something like this is because of the understanding that oppression and discrimination never acts on a vacuum of just a single issue. All communities (based on race, gender, LGBTQ-ness, etc) must work in tandem to bring social justice for all.
For the next few months, part of my work is to write about Uniting Communities for a local grassroots paper. I have a monthly column in Street Roots where we highlight the groups we work with and support in their work to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community. This is the first story in the series!
Almost a decade ago, Christian Baeff arrived in Oregon unable to speak the most basic English. He was 21 years old, struggling to stay in college and to find work in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina. His mother had an even tougher time finding a job. Together, they decided to search for new opportunities in the U.S. They borrowed money from a family friend for plane tickets and ended up in Salem, Oregon.
It wasn’t easy settling into a new home in a new country. And for Christian, he struggled with his sexual identity on top of all the stresses that comes with building a new life in a foreign place. He came out as gay four years later and was lucky to have support from his family and friends in Oregon and Argentina.
Christian was fortunate that he could be his whole self in the communities he belonged to and he felt a desire to give back when the opportunity arose with CAUSA. CAUSA is Oregon’s statewide Latin@ immigrant rights coalition that works towards progressive policy changes by rallying their members all the way to the legislature.
CAUSA has a history of standing in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community as an ally to organizations fighting anti-gay ballot measures. But CAUSA felt like they could do more.
“While that was really powerful work to do,” said CAUSA organizer Aeryca Steinbauer, “it created a sense of ‘we’re the straight Latino organization supporting white gay folks’ which wasn’t how it was.”
In 2010, CAUSA joined the groundbreaking Uniting Communities, a project that supported organizations of color to have meaningful conversations about LGBTQ issues and to begin taking a stand on LGBTQ equality.
“When I was asked to volunteer for CAUSA to make the inclusion of the LGBTQ community a reality, I said YES right away,” said Christian. “I cared about the Uniting Communities project because it recognizes my multiple identities and the daily problems that I face.” Christian became the core volunteer for CAUSA and helped CAUSA to identify and address the connections between Latin@ and LGBTQ issues.
Uniting Communities, a project of Western States Center, provided the space and support for CAUSA to examine how they could fully integrate and engage LGBTQ issues into every aspect of their work and community. The Center provided training to help CAUSA become more inclusive and to connect immigration rights work to struggles faced by LGBTQ people in their community.
“Participating in the Uniting Communities project has really been about owning this work as part of who we are as an organization and community. It is our organizational values and who our leadership is,” said Aeryca. “This has been a really transformative process.”
In 2010, Uniting Communities supported six organizations based in communities of color to advance LGBTQ equality. These organizations had the opportunity to learn about and encourage each others’ work. “We were able to connect with other groups to exchange ideas,” said Christian. “We all have the same passion and having a main organization like the Center to go to for support is crucial.”
The impact of Uniting Communities found its way through all of the work that CAUSA does, including the Leadership Development Program that trains Latin@ to become leaders. Because of Uniting Communities CAUSA created an environment where their members felt safe to came out as LGBTQ and be their whole selves.
An informal group of Latin@ LBGTQ folks have started to come together. Christian attends the LGBTQ Latin@s and Friends group and said, “I have LGBTQ friends who are in need of support and that’s why we need a space to open ourselves and address our issues.”
Organizations like CAUSA offer the Latin@, immigrant and LGBTQ communities with hope in that the multiple identities of their members will always be recognized—and that they are all in the struggle and fight for justice and equality.
In the next few months, stories about Uniting Communities groups like Portland’s Black PFLAG and Indigenous Ways of Knowing will feature their journey in incorporating LGBTQ work in their communities of color. Stay tuned to learn about how your community groups are working to create social justice for all.
Here’s an awesome website that helps me write quick flash fiction and gets my rusty gears rolling again: Typetrigger. They have new prompts every six hours, and just enough space to write 300 words.
It caught me sitting here for a few minutes this afternoon, pondering my story for this prompt: why he hasn’t called
This is what I came up with:
Every tip of each of his fingers hurt, except for his thumbs. But his thumbs are wide and thick like the length of dough before it bakes into breadsticks. He cannot squeeze them into the small holes of the rotary phone, and turn it clockwise until it hits the small metal stop and rewinds itself. And so he hasn’t called.
Every tip of each of his fingers hurt because he has been practicing a song he wrote for him, the first song he ever wrote on an acoustic guitar he never played. He learned three chords, strung them together with loose plucks, and wrote words about how the grass needs the sun to grow. He wanted to play this for Roman, but the flesh of his fingers burned from holding down steel guitar strings against metal frets and from plucking them diligently. He wanted Roman to hear this over the phone, across the ocean, into his bedroom through the crackles of the handset.
But his fingers hurt and he couldn’t dial Roman, all he could do was hum and listen and wait.
The latest prompt is: her conundrum. Woah, that’s a big one.
Admittedly, I’ve neglected my writing self. Or perhaps I needed this time away to let everything sink into every bit of myself so that one day it can emerge through my fingertips. Either way, it’s coming back to me, in small swells and quiet mumblings.
During our first meeting at my writing program, we had an exercise wherein we wrote our “life stories” in five minutes. I stared at the wall for a good minute before I began writing this:
Sometimes I look at my hands and feet and think about how they were meant to labor in fields or toil behind an industrial sewing machine. I think about my peasant genes, my fat stubby toes and short yellow fingers. I think about how I have my mother’s widow’s peak and my father’s freckles and how my parents never read for pleasure. I think about how sometimes my dad jokes that I am not his, that I belong to a man named Wong- which also means “king” in Chinese.
Sometimes I look at my passport and think about how I am so naive as to think I can complete the narrative of my parents’ journey that began in Vietnam, then on a refugee boat, then to Chinatown Los Angeles. I think about how I so desperately want to justify why I’m here with the privileges, the clean water, the cable TV and my right to saunter about as I please. I think about how I can easily wield this pen and my thoughts and I’m thankful for my hands and feet that allow me to write, and make, and go, and run.
Another exercise had us writing about a particular part of our lives in a list format. I love making lists about my own darn self! Here’s the list I wrote that day.
1. When I was born, my father named me after the President’s daughter.
2. I don’t know if he did that for me, or for himself.
3. I have two younger brothers.
4. When I was growing up my dad always told me that I laughed too loud for a girl.
5. He never said anything about the way my brothers laughed.
6. I laughed louder.
7. In middle school, dad used to make me stand by the stove and watch mom cook so I could learn.
8. I didn’t learn, but understood that there was a reason there were entire sections devoted to cookbooks at the book store so I didn’t sweat it.
9. Last week, I called my 25-year-old brother, who is the youngest. I asked if he’s ever friend an egg before.
10. He has never friend an egg.
11. My parents were very afraid for me.
12. It kinda made me afraid for me, but for different reasons.
13. Then I did things I thought I was too afraid of doing.
14. I did them well.
15. I try to think about what I’ll name my own daughter someday.
16. And whether she’ll learn how to cook.
17. And if she’ll be scared.
18. And if she’ll laugh even louder than myself.
It would seem that I’m getting excited about making words work for me, and those who read them.
“Multnomah County Library ranks second only to the Queens Borough Public Library, among U.S. libraries, based upon circulation of books and materials, and ranks first among libraries serving fewer than 1 million residents. Since the population of Multnomah County is much smaller than Queens, the Multnomah County Library is often considered the busiest in the nation.”
All of this info isn’t just to brag about how awesome our library system is, but to brag that I got my shiz all up in there too! Yo baby girl is being circulated!
Go ahead, give it a try and search “adoyzie” in the catalog!
You get descriptions of my stories like this:
“A restless young woman starts an unsatisfying job as a dishwasher and falls into a romance with a man who never asks her questions”
My graffiti photo zine, SCRAWL, got an awesome write up in the Multnomah County Library blog! Click: blogs.multcolib.org/news/entry/street_art
It’s so heartbreaking that Oprah’s retiring because I was totally looking forward to being featured in her book club. Oh, but I jest!
And news for my friends who read my diddlies: I’ll be starting a writing program in a couple weeks. I’m getting back to it, in addition to a few other art-tastic projects! This past year back home has been revelatory and I’m happy to announce that I’ve grown and recovered in spurts. Everyday is still a work in progress, but at least there’s progress!