As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Letter From The Editors

As we continue to grow and adapt, our commitment to publishing work we feel deserves a place in the world endures. With this issue we bring you a theme that was initially inspired by Junot’s Diaz’s 2012 talk on decolonial love. In the pages to follow you will find art that speaks to self love, intimate love, community love, social love, and universal love.

Each issue we’ve put out into the world is unique. Since the beginning of As/Us we have been interested in collaboration. This issue is no different. You will find contributions from writers exploring the theme of decolonial love. Some contributors were selected from our open call for submission while  other contributors have been selected by the co-creators of Just Write along with others selected by Tria Andrews, who encouraged writers from Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison to submit their work.

Just Write is an organization focused on working with underserved communities in the education sector and those who are incarcerated. Their aim is to collectively create community, trust and voice in our journey toward healing, enlightenment and self-discovery through creative expression. Tria Andrews, another co-editor of this issue, also values serving those who may have limited opportunities to share their stories, because they are incarcerated. She writes, “Given the frequent typecasting of people who are incarcerated, my primary goal in publishing this work is for these writers—whom I view as my colleagues—to represent themselves to audiences outside of the prison setting. This is perhaps especially meaningful for those writers who are serving life sentences or who have expressed concern that they will die in prison before they are eligible for parole. Some of these writers grapple with the question: what is the meaning of education for a person who is incarcerated for life?”

As writers and artists we all work to answer similar questions – where does our greatest growth occur? How and where does learning take place? And where can we share those lessons learned? As a literary journal that started with a mission to create more spaces in the world for voices to be shared we ask ourselves: how can we create community that translates off the page? The decolonial love issue is about promoting human awareness. Our intention is furthering awareness beyond bars. We interweave pieces by those who are incarcerated and those who aren’t, because in presenting these pieces, we want to do our best not to reify the physical segregation and power hierarchies that occur between writers behind bars and ourselves.

When it comes to our stories and all of the unique voices out there in the world, there is no need to segregate the work – the power of art should speak for itself. In this issue we are showcasing the work in a way that corresponds with our values and commitment to a decolonial approach (for instance, a more horizontal power structure that works to prevent the continued privileging of those who are not incarcerated over those who are). This approach aligns with Tria’s experiences teaching at San Quentin, “Although technically the writers whose work I have edited for this issue are my ‘students,’ I find this term troublesome. Many of my “students” are in fact my elders—in age and wisdom—who have had powerful life experiences far beyond my own. Much of what makes teaching at San Quentin so rewarding—at least for me—is learning from my colleagues.”

In this decolonial love issue, we share moments of discovery and life-learning by incorporating different mediums such as poems, stories, interviews, videos of performances, and performance essays. Camele-Ann White’s poem, “The Gaze” is one example that speaks out against exotification and othering of people by reversing the gaze of a place and people . Similarly, we ask our readers to reverse their gaze, question their ideas, notions, and beliefs about love. This issue is perhaps the one most capable of generating discussion of what to expect from a lover, a friend, a community, a country, and ourselves.

In Natanya Pulley’s review of Washuta’s memoir My Body is a Book of Rules, she turns the gaze on the readers as she poses the question: what do readers expect from Native American writers, particularly when we exist in a world that appropriates, commodifies, and stereotypes Native peoples and cultures? The speaker in Velma Craig’s poem “Painting” critiques the stereotypical woman in a headdress by lingering on the image and then ultimately rejecting it. It is through the rejection of one type of love that another type of love is able to blossom. Jaye Sablan’s poem “a brief chronology of chenchule” rejects colonial and anthropological ideas of Chamoru culture in order to create a counter narrative. This issue highlights various types of counternarratives that often incorporate the use of Indigenous languages, non-standardized English, Spanish, Chamoru, and more. In Samantha McQuibban’s “Semantics,” she  threads together Spanish and English in a way that reflects the language of many people’s lives. In Leticia Hernandez’ poem, we see how song and language become an act of love and resistance for a neighborhood in the wake of gentrification.

Our voices and strength are so much bigger than we initially realize. Constantly being told how you should look, what you should be, and where you ‘fit’ helps to maintain a colonized mentality. Melissa Sipin’s piece speaks against that colonial mindset when she writes, “don’t you know, a doll is a doll and I am not a doll nor can I fit into any pocket and my family thinks I am a whore.” With all of these terms that ascribe different meaning being placed onto us, where does that leave the colonized person? Who decides how a colonized person looks, thinks, sees, or shouts?

An essay by Bojan Louis seeks to answer that question. He writes, “A decolonized person seeks to shout, scream, relinquish their hurt and hatred, become the navigator of their self-image, obtain productive and healthy positions in their and for the greater good of their communities; they look toward the future while continually waking up to the past.”  In the essay he answers with “ …. I think that one day I’ll figure out how all this happened.” In other words, decolonization is a difficult process.

While self-love is certainly of utmost importance, perhaps the most significant question concerns those who will come after us. This sentiment is captured quite well as Footracer asks,” How do we teach our youth that their individual stories deserve not simply to be published, but most importantly, are worth reading, worth hearing, worth telling to themselves?” He later implores readers to share their own voice and be “someone’s north star.”

How do our own stories help guide others through their humanity and into decolonial love? The words of our collaborators perhaps capture it best in speaking about the issue, they say:

“As the co-creators of Just Write, we are excited and honored to be collaborating with As/Us to publish the written works of some of the most talented artists we’ve been fortunate to work with. In the collection that follows, a common thread of humanity weaves its way through themes of addiction, incarceration, domestic and state violence, poverty, hope, love, despair, loss, healing, and survival – all written inside the walls of prisons, some finding their way to us from the depths of solitary confinement. These words are from the hearts, souls, and minds of men who have found the courage and concern to speak and let their voices echo through a society who often dismisses or denies their very existence.  Stark truths beckon us to hear, acknowledge and respond. In a society in which we maintain oppression and inequalities through the use of punishment and violence, we are in urgent need of transformation and enlightenment.” – Diahndra Grill & Carlos Contreras

“To me, exposing power dynamics and working towards a more horizontal exchange of ideas is an important aspect of “decolonial love”—the theme of this As/Us issue—which publishes the writing of people who are incarcerated alongside those who are not. In order to begin a process of decolonial love, we must recognize how we have alienated and injured our human and non-human relatives and how our privilege is premised on the exclusion of others. I believe that these pieces can play a role in adjusting dominant misunderstandings of who is incarcerated and why, which is an important step in garnering the public support necessary to abolish the institutions and structures that compromise basic human rights.” – Tria Andrews

Although each of us has something important to say, we are all in essence writers, writing in search of ourselves, finding pieces of ourselves through reflection, human connection, self-love and purpose. Our focus is not on perfection, we are not in the classroom to critique or correct, we are here to just write. With varying levels of practice, our process is about our journey instead of who is wrong and who is right, reflecting on where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.

There is power in the journey, in simply ‘being’. Barbara Jane Reyes’ poem powerfully captures that empowerment through voice and existence in her lines: “We spit fire girl, we golden in the breath/ We palabra, Pinay, know that we legit.” We know that no one can tell your story but you. That your voice and existence and stories matter because you are love.

Leanne Simpson’s interview wraps it all together quite nicely. She discusses the kind of work we do as artists and writers, how our mere existence living in the world today is political. So how do we grapple with all of the above, how to live and learn, and share what we’ve been given. In times of strife and struggle how do we continue to battle colonialism to fall into decolonial love with ourselves, our communities, and each other? The answer: Love. “Love is our greatest resistance”

in resistance, with love,

Tria Andrews, Carlos Contreras, Diahndra Grill, Casandra Lopez, and Tanaya Winder

Andrews_As Us Photo (1)Tria Andrews is a PhD Candidate in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley and a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at San Diego State University. In addition to writing her dissertation, Tria is currently completing a collection of poetry, titled, “Dead Center of the Heart.” This collection highlights the experiences of Native Americans and Filipinos as a result of U.S. colonial policies and their legacies. Tria has taught courses for Poetry for the People, Prison University Project, Sinte Gleska University, UC Berkeley, and the University of San Francisco. She is grateful to have received support and recognition from numerous sources for her critical, creative, and embodied work. In 2012, Tria was selected as a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow and Fulbright Scholar. In March 2014, Tria began studying dance under Jack Gray, a New Zealand Maori choreographer, dancer, and founder of Atamira, Maori Contemporary Dance Company. Tria has danced collaborative and solo pieces choreographed by Jack in performances at UC Berkeley and UC Riverside. These performances include Tria’s original spoken word and movement inspired by her decades of training in martial arts and yoga. In Summer 2014, Rulan Tangen, choreographer, dancer, and founder of Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations, selected Tria as a Global Cultural Ambassador Artist for the company.
DSC_8754Performance poet Carlos Contreras secured his place in Albuquerque history as a member of the city’s winning 2005 National Poetry Slam team, a triumph he describes as “excellent … kind of a surreal experience!” When asked what he likes to write about, Contreras says, “Family, place and identity . . . who I come from and who I am.” Perhaps that’s not surprising. His family roots in Albuquerque go back generations, and his immediate family has lived on one piece of land in the North Valley his entire life. A performing bard by night at venues all over town. He is a proud co-creator of JustWrite.
IMG_1674_5Diahndra Grill is a mixed media artist and educator who has worked in schools, prisons, detention centers, and with organizations in promoting and using artistic processes as tools for self-discovery, growth, storytelling, and to revitalize, and build community.  She is the co-founder of JustWrite, an organization that encourages the creation and presentation of visual and literary arts focused on underserved communities in the education sector and with those who are incarcerated. ( Grill is the Program Manager of the Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media Program at the University of New Mexico and serves as the Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter ACM SIGGRAPH, a digital arts community promoting dialogue and activities in computer graphics and interactive media. She is also the Vice President of the SAFE House Board of Directors, an organization that shelters and empowers survivors of intimate partner domestic violence and works to improve the way New Mexico responds to violence.   Diahndra has developed violence prevention curriculum and programs as well as facilitated adult support groups, directed after-school programs, facilitated art and writing workshops and taught at-risk youth.
GE DIGITAL CAMERACasandra was raised in Southern California’s Inland Empire and is Chicana, Cahuilla, Luiseno and Tongva. She has an MFA from the University of New Mexico and has been selected as the 2013 Indigenous Writer in Residence at the School of Advanced Research. Casandra has also been selected for a residency with the Sante Fe Art Institute, is an alumna of VONA and a member of PoetrIE. She has received scholarships from Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, The National Latino Writers Conference and the Hillerman-McGarrity Scholarship Fund.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, High Desert Journal, Acentos Review, Kweli, Cura, NewBorder, McNeese Review, Unmanned Press  and Casandra writes because… You can follow her on Twitter @casandramlopez.
Bo7FBiTCMAAWS-BTanaya Winder is a writer, educator, and motivational speaker from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. She grew up on the Southern Ute Indian reservation and attended college at Stanford University where she earned a BA in English. After college, she pursued her passion of poetry and received her graduate degree a MFA in creative writing from the University of New Mexico. Since then she has co-founded and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World, a literary magazine publishing works by Indigenous women and women of color. She is a Gates Millennium Scholars Class of 2004 Alumna, who serves as a Regional Advisor for the GMS Alumni Association Advisory Council. A winner of the 2010 A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando prize in poetry, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Superstition ReviewDrunkenboat, Kweli, and Bellevue Literary Review among others. Her poems from her manuscript “Love in a Time of Blood Quantum” were produced and performed by the Poetic Theater Productions Presents Company in NYC. She teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico in the Chican@ Studies Program.

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Issue 3February 14, 2014
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