Author Archives: Maria Vallarta

Why Charlottesville: A Look at U.S. Nationality and White Masculinity

Currently, almost everyone in the U.S. has been feeling the resonances of the white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, VA. In Introduction to Ethnic Studies, my students have been feeling them too. Many of my students were shocked, angry, and struggling to process why such a hateful event would take place within our borders. However, as a queer person of color with a working-class background, I had to tell them that I myself was not surprised.

As a person raised within the backdrop of multicultural education and colorblindness—where children are taught that the color of a person’s skin does not matter and that not seeing race ensures seeing each other as humans instead—I can see why many cannot fathom how our current moment of white nationalist revival came to be. We have been taught to view each other as equals. We have been taught that everyone living in the U.S. has the chance to succeed despite their difficult backgrounds and struggles early in life. We are continuously reminded that the U.S. is a democratic nation that values freedom, liberty, and justice. But we are not taught that this democracy was built on the backs of racialized and subjugated others—the racial chattel slavery of Africans, the genocide of Native Americans, U.S. colonization of the Philippines, the exclusion of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and the exploitation of Mexican labor. And now, with Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-blackness, and Zionism peaking, we should not be surprised with the election (and retention) of Donald Trump and the (now) visible white supremacists in our midst. Continue reading

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“United, In Spite of Everything:” A Review of Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter

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Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter is an intergenerational memoir, a graphic novel that weaves the history of Khinya “Lola” Ignatovskaya, Alekseyeva’s great-grandmother from Soviet Russia, with Alekseyeva’s own story of coming-of-age in America. Lola—a fierce, independent, intelligent, and rebellious woman—draws us right in from the very beginning. Although violence, tragedy, and loss color Lola’s life, her headstrong and resilient spirit blazes through these hardships, giving us a heartfelt—but also empowering—narrative. Alekseyeva herself is also an indomitable spirit—Soviet Daughter demonstrates how female badassery can define and even steer family history and legacy, giving us a Marxist feminist analysis of war, labor, and domesticity.

In addition to witnessing the Russian Revolution during her younger years, Lola also gives a female perspective of World War II. Soviet Daughter intervenes into the genre of the androcentric war narrative, illustrating that the positionality of the male solider/comrade is not the only valuable perspective surrounding these events. Lola herself challenges the Marxist distinctions between the “productive” and “reproductive” labor spheres. Although Lola initially begins working in the household as a child and fulfills the feminized role of a reproductive laborer, growing up, she enters the productive workforce—becoming a factory worker and typist—all while still sustaining and supporting her family in the home. Lola shows how these labor spheres are not really separate and that powerful women throughout history have traversed these dichotomous theoretical frames. Lola—and countless other women during war—are not merely “left behind” by their husbands and fathers, but perform key productive and reproductive labor that maintains not only their households, but the very fabrics of the nation-state. Continue reading

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“Healing is Sparse and Concealed:” A Review of Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible

Cover of Cristy C. Road's Indestructible.

Indestructible, via Microcosm Publishing

As a queer brown girl, adolescence was cruel and oftentimes ruthless. But in Cristy C. Road’s Indestructible: Growing Up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami, queer brown adolescence is rebellion, self-discovery, and self-determination. Indestructible is an illustrated novel exploring the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality within the feminist punk rock scene of 1990s Miami. For Road, punk subculture was more than loud music and DIY fashion. It provided avenues for subverting misogyny and normativity, in reconstituting female pleasure and sexuality, and in navigating the cultural barriers and discrepancies between America and Cuba. Set in a typerwriter-esque font and Xerox-style printing that mirrors zine-making, Indestructible redefines the growing-up narrative, giving it a new form, a dissonant voice, and a queer aberrant body.

The memoir begins with Road expanding the interpretation of coming-of-age, stating, “[T]he enticement of adolescence [goes] beyond any new pubes and first kisses” (11). For Road, adolescence was first orgasms, defying white and Cuban beauty standards, and negotiating the collisions between girl/womanhood and queerness. Road poses the questions I was too afraid to ask as an adolescent: “‘Why do women compete?’ ‘Why do men abuse power?’ ‘Why doesn’t anyone think it’s normal that I masturbate?’ ‘Why does the way I pee, the way I fuck, or the way my chest looks dictate the language that’s acceptable for me to use?’” (28). These questions are not only explored and answered through Road’s various musings and conversations, but the many one-page and two-page black-and-white spreads illustrate the experimentation, aberration, and resistance of queer punk bodies to normativity and authority. The bold, black lines that curve around brown female bodies and the intricate patterns and textures of clothing aid in transporting the reader into Road’s world of Latinx punk subculture. Art and DIY manifesting in and on punk bodies was essential to the movement, and Road does a stunning job demonstrating this reality through graphic storytelling. Continue reading

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Love Doesn’t Save Anyone from Themselves: An Interview with Angeli Cabal

Angeli Cabal

I first encountered Angeli Cabal’s work as the co-editor-in-chief of {m}aganda Magazine. My staff and I were blown away by the pieces she submitted–poems critiquing colonialism, Western beauty standards, and the figure of the Filipino woman. I was stunned to see that in addition to being a poet, Cabal is also a visual artist and multi-genre writer who creates sleek, intricate, highly clever illustrations and incredibly heart-wrenching creative essays. In addition, Cabal has been a devoted fanfiction author since age 12 and has garnered an impressive online readership on Tumblr. In 2013, Cabal self-published her first chapbook, True Love and Other Myths, which sold out after the first printing. She went on to publish a second chapbook, The Anatomy of Closed Doors, joining the ranks of  poets and writers who use social media as their vehicle. Cabal’s work is raw, evocative, hands-on, and accessible. She joined me for a conversation where we discussed fanfiction, our immigrant parents, and which three fictional characters she would invite for a session of afternoon tea.

MV: I’m not sure if you’ve read this recent Buzzfeed article about women and fanfiction, but they argue that fanfiction is a central genre for women writers because it allows us to create narratives that are not available in everyday life. Why fanfiction? Why should we keep writing and reading fanfiction? What power does this form of creation give us?

AC: It’s been 14 years since I started writing fanfiction and I’ve never grown out of it. Fanfiction is so much more accessible for me because of world building. In fanfiction, you already have this world created for you so there’s less pressure and you can focus on the narratives you want to tell, particularly characters you want to transform and flesh out. When you have these characters presented to you and you see all the paths and avenues the author could have taken to make them more human, these are awesome opportunities to take. It is also such a supportive community, I can’t even read some of the stuff I wrote back then because it was so horrible but I get reviews that say, “Hey, this is really good, keep it up.” That was so important for me as a young writer because no one else knew I was writing fanfiction. It really encouraged me and is one of the reasons why I still write fanfiction today. Continue reading

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To All the Young Adult Novels I’ve Read Before: A Look at Jenny Han’s Lara Jean Song Covey Series

 

Jenny Han's series about the charming Lara Jean Song Covey

I was skeptical when I first picked up Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first volume about Lara Jean Song Covey, a Korean American girl living in the suburbs of Virginia with a single dad and two sisters. I don’t usually read young adult fiction, but when I saw that the novel was about a biracial girl, I decided to give it a go. It’s not everyday when Asian American girls are stars of YA novels, and as a scholar of Asian American Studies and literature, I knew I had to give the world of YA a shot.

Lara Jean is a dreamy-eyed baker, scrapbooker, middle child, and high school junior. Dreamy-eyed because instead of running around chasing boys, she writes a heartfelt letter to every boy she has ever loved and stows it away in her hatbox. She is a master at the art of scrapbooking, claiming: “A good scrapbook has texture. It’s thick and chunky and doesn’t close all the way.” She looks up to her older sister, Margot, and cares for her younger sister, Kitty, completely devoid of the middle child syndrome that plagued me during my teen years. She is kind, creative, intelligent, prone to accidents, and gets a little too lost in her head sometimes, but other than that, she is a charming, well-rounded character. Continue reading

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White Space, Banana Ketchup & Karaoke: A Review of Kimberly Alidio’s After projects the resound

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I was introduced to Kimberly Alidio at Effie Street in Silverlake, Los Angeles, at a quaint reading in the backyard of a professor’s house. I was intrigued by the book Alidio held in her hands—a sky blue volume with a longhaired figure on all fours, seemingly ingesting or expelling pink and orange confetti. Soon I was even more jarred and enthralled by the pieces she read aloud, poems speaking, stuttering, and singing about empire, migration, diaspora, and queerness—subjects I had become familiar with as a queer Filipina American and budding academic. After projects the resound (Black Radish) does not only interrogate these concepts, but transforms them, remakes them, and melds them through reverberating word play, experiments with sound, and even through the strategic use of white space. The final stanza in “All the Pinays are straight, all the queers are Pinoy, but some of us” demonstrates this:

                                                                      I will never not 

want to be violent with you (dare you to say 

this isn’t love, queen)

pray for

her resurrection every easter

  

“I’m just so bored and so pretty and not white” (66)

Although you may need to take a second to comprehend what is occurring, the sleek alliteration of the “w” and “n” sounds in the first two lines allows the poem to roll off your tongue, a slow, accentuated, but nevertheless pleasurable foray into the complexities and obscurities of Pinxy queerness. The enjambments, line breaks, and spaces in between help anchor and pace the reader, allowing us to appreciate the various intonations of sound. These rhetorical, sonic, and spatial devices showed me that I did not need the convenience of clarity to enjoy and appreciate Alidio’s work. Her delightfully playful and musical words and sounds, for me, emulate the witty banter between Pinxys as we process the intersections of Catholicism, queerness, and brownness together in conversation. Continue reading

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