Posts in: Block 2
“…activism can be the journey rather than the arrival…” – Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century
Grace Lee Boggs carries many titles. One of them being a visionary organizer – someone who practices the art of imagination to create alternatives to existing systems. In her earlier years, she received her PhD in philosophy, but she could not find a job because she was a Chinese woman. It was while she was living in a rat-infested basement that she started to become involved with organizing for better living conditions with her Black neighbors. That was the beginning of her fight for civil rights alongside the Black community.
In her book, “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century,” Boggs proposed a need to transform our institutions and people. In the new American revolution, we would focus on nurturing the humanity within us rather than growing an economy based on racism, capitalism, and militarism. Within this vision, we would be responsible and respectful humans who are kind and compassionate towards ourselves, each other, and the community; we would be artists, thinkers, and makers of a world we want to live in. But resisting isn’t enough for systemic change. Our day-to-day life has been conditioned to see, act, and think in specific ways that upholds racism, capitalism, and militarism that to reimagine a new, responsible America, we also need to change ourselves. Change will take time, action, and internal reflection and change does not have to be dependent on our leaders.
Community engagement is a form of resistance to white structures as it disrupts the idea that we are powerless to make changes. Boggs argues that change is the most effective and important action to “rebuild, redefine, and respirit” our broken and seemingly desolate communities from the ground up. There can be a negative connotation when we start small – there would be voices saying it would be hard to have an impact that influences a “big” change; that starting small is a weak movement bound for failure. But starting small is the most powerful tool we have because through these “small” acts of involvement, we become leaders, thinkers, and compassionate people that see ourselves as makers of history and agents of change (American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs).
Growing up, I always envisioned leaders to be smart, all-knowing, and confident – they were the most visible and active person standing in representation of others. Those were the people I saw who were celebrated, so I subconsciously ingrained this image of leadership to validate and invalidate who were “good” and “bad” leaders – myself included. With my narrow imagination of leadership, I wasn’t sure what it meant when others would say “everyone is unique in their own ways” or “we all have something to contribute.” It felt a bit ironic to learn about Boggs’ idea of community engagement as a form of self- and communal empowerment when I think about being a “Community Engaged Fellow” on campus. This role has helped me better understand the people of Colorado Springs and the inequities that affect them, but it constantly felt like I was going through the motions. I certainly didn’t see myself as an “agent of change,” so I started questioning what the point of community engagement was. What is my purpose of being there?
Maybe feeling loss reflects how I haven’t found a space I deeply connect with. Maybe it’s because I don’t see the impact I have. Learning about Boggs, however, I think I was also in the wrong headspace – I was so caught up with the idea of “having an impact” that I failed to recognize that community engagement is about the people and not about me. The act of starting small and rebuilding, redefining, and respiriting from the ground up is a collective resistance to oppressive structures because through our involvement, we are growing our communities, each other, and our souls. I don’t have to know the answers or see myself as a particularly “useful” person – it is also important to reflect and recognize our struggles, mistakes, and the humility to change.
Back in April, former Democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, urged Asians and Asian Americans to embrace our “American-ness” by wearing “red white and blue” to combat the coronavirus and anti-Asian racism (The Washington Post). That’s easier said than done. From the mid-1870s syphilis outbreak, the 1876 smallpox epidemic, to the 1939 tuberculosis epidemic, these diseases were constantly conflated with race to conclude San Francisco’s Chinatown as a “plague spot” and a “laboratory of infection” (Nayan Shah, “Public Health, Race, Citizenship). Chinatown, Chinamen, and Chinawomen were defined as dirty and unhygienic aliens whose differences posed a danger to the American nation. The racialization – or the scapegoating – of bodies is not new. Also known as the “yellow peril,” casting Asians as disease carriers have been a tactic to justify xenophobia, immigration restrictions, and the denial of political rights (Turner Willman and Jason Oliver Chang, “Unmasking Yellow Peril). With COVID19, this is the first time many Asians and Asian Americans have stepped outside their homes with the fear of whether they would safely return. How can we simply wear “red white and blue” like a cape that protects when the nation itself has already been driven by fear that we are all diseased? How can we embrace our “American-ness” when this nation fails to include us within the American narrative as citizens and humans worthy of respect? What, then, does it mean to be a citizen of this “honorable” United States?
The term “Asian American” is a social construct as well as a movement. It first emerged in 1968 and was used by activists to reject stereotypes that “defined” who Asians and Asian Americans were in mainstream media. 1968 was also a time when students in the Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State and at UC Berkeley were protesting for an academic curriculum that acknowledged and included the histories of communities of color.
As writer and Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen describes, “Asian American” is both “necessary and insufficient” (Nguyen, “Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All”). Necessary as it is better than being called a “gook,” a “jap,” a “chink” – examples of some racial slurs for the “Orientals.” This term gives us an identity to organize around and for us to recognize that our anger, frustrations, loss, fear, and even emptiness aren’t “minor,” invalid feelings in this race-based nation (Nguyen). It is insufficient because it represents our own participation in (anti-Black) racism, settler colonialism, capitalism, and militarism.
To be Asian American is complex. It reminds us that our narratives have been one of inclusion and exclusion; it gives us a name to survive; it allows us to claim “American-ness” as well as our complicity in hurting other people of color without guilt. “Asian American” allows us to erase the trauma that our ancestors carried as we bask in the “success” of being “model minorities” – a role that ultimately pushes the white agenda of pitting people of color against each other. And when we “fail” to uphold white supremacy, we conveniently become the “perpetual foreigners” who are “threats” to national security. Or in other words – threats to white exceptionalism. No matter who we are, all too often, we fail to challenge the broken system called the United States. How do we start questioning when we don’t even know where to begin? But…we all start somewhere, right?
This identity is a face as well as an act. It is not a name we earn to call ourselves after meeting a checklist of criterias. It’s a journey of learning and unlearning our mistakes, our responsibilities to each other, and our places in our communities. Thus, proving our “American-ness” – proving our humanity – is not as simple as wearing “red white and blue.”
“It’s like a magazine” would be the simplest way I would describe what a zine is. But a zine is different from the colorful booklets we pick up to randomly flip through pages at a doctor’s office. Of course, they share similar elements of having images, texts, and messages – a medium where art, stories, and advertisements are pieced together – but the do-it-yourself nature of a zine is the “cornerstone for marginalized voices” free from corporate goals (Rona Akbari, The Creative Independent). I would say, the personal nature of a zine is what makes it different from a magazine. We don’t need to be a professional artist, writer, or publisher to be a producer of art.
Our final project was to make a zine relating to our experiences during the pandemic and to the class. In all honesty, it was a struggle. In my optimism to start early, our class had zine study sessions over week 2. You would think that starting early meant having my zine completed early. Alas, that was only a fruitful hope.
In the beginning, my idea was focused on “ethnic heroes.” I wondered, in my childhood, who was someone (American) I looked up to that “looked like me”? Certainly prior to this class, I didn’t learn about activists, Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama, who fought for our human rights. My “American” childhood was very much revolved around the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Wizards of Waverly Place, Hannah Montana, Malcolm in the Middle, and the Simpsons. Like many other Cantonese speaking kids, I also grew up watching a lot of TVB shows. When I think about Asian American role models, the only person that came to mind was Michelle Kwan and that was because we had her autobiography at home. Other kids in my grade talked about Bruce Lee, but I always thought he was a martial arts icon from Hong Kong since all the references I got of him were from TVB. Embarrassing, right? But the idea of doing a zine on “ethnic heroes” was just not calling to me. So, for the rest of week 2, I mulled about in a cycle of unmotivation that carried on to week 3.
But I was in an emotionally worse state during week 3. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and I was becoming increasingly restless. While I was going through my internal turmoil, I was also reminded that there are more than 200,000 people dying due to COVID19. “Oh shoot,” I thought, “here I am worrying about school and forgetting that a global pandemic is still happening.” Adding on to my stress was this feeling of uncertainty. Usually, I would have a general idea of my emotions…but I couldn’t pinpoint why I was so unmotivated. When my professor and Ocean Vuong, writer of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, was describing how the process of creating doesn’t have to be towards finding closure, I wondered what exactly does that look like. What does it mean for my zine to not “conclude” with closure? The funny thing was, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted healing from, but I that thought of “closure” kept returning. In me, there was this hope that as I wrap up my zine, I would feel more at peace. But I just feel as trapped as before. Hence, the title of my zine – “trapped.”
Did you just read a few paragraphs of nothingness – yup. What I do know, though, is that the process of making a zine illustrates a message that we’ve been having a dialogue about in class. Art doesn’t always have to have an answer. The role of art, however, is a medium for us to recognize that we have the power and ability to be cultural producers. We are all shaped by different moments of joy and sorrow, of content and loss, of peace and war, and taking charge of our own narratives is also a form of resistance and solidarity with each other.
It’s already second Wednesday! Every block I say, “Wow this block is going by so fast!” and then I forget just how fast it went by, and then I say the exact same thing the next block. Consistency is key!
Last week I was in a state of distress over writing my paper, but I did, rest assured, finish the paper and get it turned in on time. You all (my many devoted and loyal fans) can breathe a sigh of relief. I have another short paper due on Friday, same as last week. I’m not quite at the point of being stressed about this paper, but I’m sure I’ll get there. If you’re lucky, there will be another frantic blog post about my difficulties with engaging in complex thought.
A lot has happened in the last week! Both in class and in the world. On Monday in class we did a simulation of Congress. We each got assigned a specific Congressperson from the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and we had to try to think like that Congressperson while working to get a bill passed. The original bill we were given to discuss was one to ban junk food in public schools, but we amended it to just limit junk food. And we ended up passing the bill! I don’t know why the real Congress acts like it’s so hard to do!! Just kidding. Even just our seemingly innocuous bill made my head spin with all its possible effects and consequences. There were so many factors to consider! Making legislation at the national level is especially complicated because there are 50 states !! and hundreds of cities !! and thousands of towns !! And they all have different needs and wants and legislation impacts all of them differently. It’s actually a wonder that Congress manages to get anything done at all! (just kidding again, they don’t.) Despite my brain getting a little scrambled, I actually really enjoyed the Congressional simulation. I thought it was a great way to learn about both the formal procedures of Congress and the issues that Congresspeople have to consider. And it was just good old fashioned fun! Maybe if Mitch McConnell had a little more fun with the job he would be less inclined to act like an evil tyrant. (again I kid–he knows no other way.)
Yesterday we talked about presidents. We read two pieces by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one about Obama and one about Trump. Boy was that sad. The contrast between the two presidents was deeply disturbing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to criticize Obama for, but I think overall he was a good president and a truly decent man. He wanted the best for the American people. I honestly don’t think the same can be said for Trump. Sit with that idea. The president of the United States of America does not want the best for the general public (particularly women and minorities) of this country. He doesn’t work for us. This brings me to last night’s debate… Actually, you know the saying “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” I guess I have nothing to say on that subject after all.
Today we talked about the Supreme Court and the Judiciary, which is my favorite topic in the world to discuss. Woohoo best day ever!!! I love thinking about and talking about legal philosophy and different interpretations of the Constitution and the role of the judiciary in our government. It is by far my favorite branch of government. It really saddens me to see the way that it has been coopted by explicitly political actors. I don’t believe the Supreme Court was ever truly an apolitical institution, but it has only become increasingly political in recent years, especially after the GOP’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing in 2016. The damage that was done to the Court because of that one action is difficult for me to even comprehend, and it angers me to no end.
To end this blog post, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her contributions to fairness, justice, and equality in this country are immense. My dreams are within reach in no small part because of her. Rest in peace, Justice Ginsburg.
Molly Seaman ’21
COVID-19 has been easy for no one. I could tell you my sob story, about how my semester abroad was cut short and about how my place of residence has changed six times in the last six months. I could tell the stories of people who were affected much more significantly by the pandemic, stories from voices that have been systematically silenced for centuries and now, arguably, more than ever before. These stories are important to hear. It is also vital to reflect on the vestiges of goodness that are left, to form community and understanding around the positive even if the positive feels so outweighed by the negative at the moment, and this will be the focus of my article.
Even though classes are online and many extracurriculars are limited or canceled entirely, I am still overjoyed that I am a Colorado College student in particular. I came to Colorado College for a lot of reasons, and even though I cannot take advantage of most of those reasons now, I remain connected to and grateful for the community that I have now been a part of over the last three years.
It has been arduous for the administration to tackle the issues presented daily by the continuing pandemic, and I know the students are bewildered by the constant changes regarding policy, student life, and campus resources. I have been. However, after participating in COVID-19 task force meetings and after sitting in on Office of Communications meetings for months, I know that the number one priority of the administration right now is the students, as it should be. On the academic side, many if not all professors are going above and beyond.
I am currently enrolled in a class titled Topics in French Culture: The Discipline of Love, which is taught by Professor Alistaire Tallent. Professor Tallent built room into the syllabus for extended deadlines, extra classes, and modified assignments to render class in the age of a pandemic a little bit more manageable. I am grateful for this compassion, as the malaise caused by COVID-19 has certainly affected my productivity. Professor Tallent takes time at the beginning of each Zoom call to ask all seven students in my class how we are doing. She creates a safe enough space that my classmates and I answer honestly, and we share both the disappointments and the victories presented by the current state of the world.
Aaron Cohick, printer of The Press at Colorado College, has been incredibly supportive as I pursue my letterpress-printed thesis despite the circumstances. He invites students affiliated with The Press to participate in virtual artists’ talks, and he asked me to communicate more ideas regarding creating a community around The Press this year. He encourages me to pursue the vision I have had for my thesis in full, and he promises me to provide any support he can, whether that can be in the printing studio together or not. We are hoping it will be possible for me to access The Press soon, so long as I continually test negative for COVID-19.
I speak with my best friend almost every day over the phone, as he is currently in quarantine, living in Mathias Hall. We talk about all the adventures we will have outdoors once it is safe again, and we speak about ski season as if we know it will happen. Sometimes, a little imagination can go a long way. While he is of course unhappy to be so confined to his dorm room, we also talk about how grateful we are that Colorado College took the precautions it needed to. We recognize that things really do have to get worse before they get better, but that we are not necessarily alone.
The Colorado College Counseling Center is available through phone and email on weekdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Urgent appointments are available daily, and sessions are free while students are in quarantine. While we are paying full tuition despite the fact that classes are remote, there are two more optional blocks in this academic school year for which students who chose to take part will not pay. Tutt Library staff members are working remotely and can be reached via email. A research librarian is often available by chat, and books can be retrieved for students, faculty, and staff. Students living off-campus can even retrieve their books via curbside pickup. This is not an exhaustive list of Colorado College resources available both on and off campus. For more information, please visit Colorado College’s Coronavirus Updates & Resources webpage.
I am beginning this blog at 10:57 p.m. because I have a paper due tomorrow at 5:00 which, despite having all day, I have not begun. At least, I tell myself, this particular form of procrastination is productive.
We learned this week about power in US politics; what is it, who has it, and who should have it. We also learned about the founding of the US, specifically the drafting of the Constitution, and civil liberties and civil rights. It is difficult to be learning about the US government at a time like this, when our system seems to be devolving more and more into fascism every day. We read an excerpt from Robert Dahl’s book “Who Governs,” which was written in 1961. It was certainly an interesting and valuable read, but I do wonder how relevant his thoughts are today, when they are based on the assumption that legality and constitutionality, decorum and democracy, are highly valued in political culture. In our current state, we cannot pretend to value these things while a major question this election cycle is whether or not our President will allow for a peaceful transfer of power, should he lose in November. Politics in the US have never been simple or straightforward, but at this particular moment in history, trying to make sense of them feels utterly impossible. Every question has a thousand answers, which each raise a thousand more questions. Imagine a hydra with a hundred heads, where each head has a hundred heads of its own, and each of those heads has a hundred more heads, and every single one of the heads is screaming. You have just visualized my brain at this very moment.
Back to my paper. I need to relate a current event to something we have learned about so far. It is meant to be short; no longer than one page single-spaced. I think I’m going to write it about some emails that recently came to light, which show how the pesticide industry has influenced the US position in health talks concerning international guidelines on combating drug resistance. During these talks, the US insisted, in opposition to the other countries present as well as, you know, science, that the guidelines omit any mention of fungicides. This pro-fungicide sentiment has been traced fairly directly to CropLife America, a national trade association that represents various actors in the pesticide industry. When the US puts the profits of the pesticide industry over the health and safety of its people, it calls into question the legitimacy of our democracy, where supposedly the people have the power. Who is the government really responsible and accountable to? Who truly holds the power in our society? It also raises questions about our civil rights and liberties. Here, notions of positive and negative liberty come into play. Is it the government’s role to guarantee our health and safety? How far does that role extend, and when does it actually begin to encroach upon the rights of others? Can we have both liberty and guarantees to health and safety? I could go on for hours. And so, you see, a hydra is born.
It is now 12:23 a.m. Oops. The article I read about this paper topic used the word “antimicrobial” no less than TEN times. Seeing a science word this many times triggered a fight or flight response in my brain, so unfortunately I will be unable to work on my paper tonight. I leave the entirety of this herculean task for tomorrow.
Our art history FYE, now drawing to a close, was first and foremost a study of Western art from pre-historic times to the 20th century. This subject matter was a fascinating look into the cultures, beliefs, and systems of different civilizations throughout time. That being said, what interested me the most during this course was the unique opportunity to work with the Fine Arts Center, just around the corner from our classroom in Packard Hall. Through working with the museum to put together an exhibit of American art, we experienced firsthand the curatorial process of the modern museum. This was particularly engaging, as it broadened our understanding of the art world to include the present-day industry.
The curatorial project was so gratifying because it allowed us to apply what we had been learning about how to unpack a piece of art. Just as our professor taught us how to pick up on a variety of techniques, styles, and innovations to better understand ancient and classical art, each of us picked a piece from the FAC archive and used our visual analysis skills to better understand them. For the majority of the museum project, which spanned both blocks, each of us was working with a single piece of art. This allowed us to get in-depth with our artist and, study their place in the wider context of the history of art. It was exciting to bounce between studying the old and curating the new every week, and the hands-on nature of the museum project balanced out the rich, cultural study in the classroom. At the end of the course, I’m proud of the exhibit our class created, and I’ll miss our trips to the FAC.
Taking art history really opens your eyes to what is right in front of you. This includes everything from the art everywhere on campus to the art in your own home. I was home for a weekend and was able to look at all of the pieces hanging around my home, and I thought it would be interesting to try and analyze a few.
Although I don’t know very much about most of these works, there are three wood blocks prints done by my grandfather. My grandparents have lived in Corrales, New Mexico, and most of the prints made by Grandpa Paul are either images from his life there or inspired by Japan, where he traveled to learn how to do this style of printing.
In this first print, Barranca de Corrales, you can see the Japanese influence in the flatter perspective and more simplified shapes, even though this is a depiction of the hill on which my grandparents live. The majority of the piece is black, white, or tan, with the only color being the sky and the figures going up the hill. The effect is to make the blue and the yellow of the sky seem even more vibrant, and makes the viewer wonder if the sun is just rising or setting to have such a bright, yellow horizon. The red and blue of the group climbing the hill draw your eye to them, but they are so small and indistinct that the focus of the piece is still on the skyline.
In the piece just to the left of this, Hokusai’s World, the Japanese influence is clear. With the iconic wave image from The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai in the foreground, bamboo and a bonsai tree in the mid-ground, and what looks like Mount Fuji in the background, this entire work seems like a dedication to Japanese culture and art. All of these environmental additions frame two figures fighting in the middle of the print with what seems to be bo staffs, a traditional Japanese weapon. The color palette is again very basic and shows off the details of the bonsai tree and wave. The patterns around the edge frame the central images, and are a unique addition to the print, unusual in both my grandfather’s work and in Japanese-style printing in general. This homage to Japan and the printing style is both simple and beautiful (although I may be a little biased).
In the third and final piece of the three of Grandpa Paul’s prints we have hanging on our wall, Tiffany Hill: Dawn, we are back in New Mexico. It is an image inspired by what my grandfather does every morning he can: walk his dogs. Although this does show an aspect of his day, this is not a self-portrait, but instead a depiction of the friends he walks his dogs with. The colors are muted, with most of the piece filled with tan, representing the sandy desert that most of Corrales is. But there is still foliage, which fills up the sides of the print, and a town that is in the distance and seems to be the goal of the dog walkers. The dog walkers themselves are simplified human figures, one having a backpack and the other a Harley Davidson jacket. The dogs are even more simplified, just focusing on the essentials. This simplicity is probably a combination of medium restrictions, personal preference, and aesthetics and is consistent through all of his works.
My grandfather is a simple, usually quiet man (except for the occasional pun) who has lived a rich life and learned a ridiculous amount about a ridiculous number of subjects. He spends his days reading, watching soccer matches, and making prints. I am so glad that we are able to have his art hanging in our home.
On our daily commutes, the visuals around us are often the same day after day. We know what buildings are coming up, where everything is, and often just go through the motions; however, on one of my daily summer driving routes, there was something new. This massive metal sculpture had taken over what used to be a standard rooftop, providing me with a little bit of a shock.
According to Colorado artist Trace O’Connor, ”Iscariot depicts a mermaid gracefully leaving her perch to take flight.” This unique mermaid made from reclaimed metal weighs in at 4,200 pounds and is part of the Downtown areas partnership and their affiliates’ ongoing mission to create unique cultural experiences for Springs residents and visitors to the area.
Springs residents should definitely keep their heads up in the downtown area, not only to observe the eye-catching street art, but just in case a giant metal mermaid attacks you or your car!
McMichael, Jon. “Rise of the Octo-Maid, New Sculptures Hit Colorado Springs’ Rooftops.” KOAA.com. August 30, 2018. Accessed October 17, 2018. https://koaa.com/news/digital-original/2018/06/08/rise-of-the-octo-maid-new-sculptures-hit-colorado-springs-rooftops/.
Photo from: “Colorado Springs, CO – Octo-Maid: Metal Mermaid.” RoadsideAmerica.com. Accessed October 17, 2018. https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/61875.
For someone who has never seen the process of making glassware, it is easy to miss the fact that glass is actually melted into a thick liquid in order to make molding possible. The honey-like glass is then collected on the blowpipe (a long metal structure in which air can be blown into to shape the glass) by dipping it in the glory hole of the furnace. It is then made even by rolling it on a flat surface, after which it is dipped in paint if desired, and then reheated.
…Then comes the scariest part.
Remember when we were told as children not to play with fire? Well, imagine having to roll glass that freshly came out of a hole with 2250°F of heat using only wet newspaper in your palm…
Water dripping all around my hand from the wet newspaper, my anticipation grew exponentially in the seconds before the instructor placed the blazing glass in my palm. Smoke covered my view as I softly applied pressure to shape the glass, leaving a black burn mark on the first few sheets of newspaper. Do not try this at home!
I had a very short time to pinch the petals of the glass flower I was making before the glass cooled down, which would make it more difficult to shape. It took me two trials to realize that I actually got worse at shaping my flower, so I decided to announce it as an abstract flower.
The glassblowing workshop was one of the highlights of my first block break because I got to explore a process of art creation that I had never had the chance to do before. My favorite part was pinching the round flat part of the glass in order to create the flower petals. This part defined the way the flower would turn out. I gave one of the two flowers I made to my friend and she called it The Placenta. I can’t say that’s what I was going for, but it made her happy anyway.
At the end of the day, it got me thinking that even though it had been a very fun and insightful experience for me, it is a very difficult process and should be appreciated and valued. So, the next time you have a sip from that beautifully constructed glass, keep in mind that someone might have been carefully shaping it with only a wet newspaper in their palm!