As Us

A Space for Women of the World

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

In mid-January we were approached by one of the co-founders of the Save Wiyabi Project, an advocacy group. The project aims to bring awareness to the sexual and domestic violence epidemic against Native American women, as well as develop community based solutions for Native women, in both tribal and urban areas. Co-founder, Lauren Chief Elk asked if there was any way As/Us could be involved in supporting both the cause of the Project and One Billion Rising. We said yes, and before we knew it this beautiful and moving V-day edition of the journal was on it’s way.

With the pressing importance of passing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) we were honored to contribute in any way we could. Save Wiyabi’s involvement with 1 Billion Rising (1 in 3 women will be raped, beaten, or killed in her lifetime, that means 1 billion women around the world) stems from the fact that Native American and First Nation women have identical statistics; and violence in our communities continues at these extremely high rates. “1 Billion Rising is a global movement to end violence against women through dance, and we as a dancing people, we will be round dancing, side-stepping, and powwow-ing these issues away on VDay,” according to Chief Elk.

For us, participating in this movement involves taking the facts, rhetoric, and personal experiences and using it to make art that brings awareness to these issues from different  perspectives. Words are the way we make sense of our world.  For many of our contributors whose mediums include poetry, prose, spoken word, photography, music, and movement, they each have an unique way of using their art to construct their visions of reality and possibilities for the future.

With a short time frame to work with, we solicited specific artists. This special edition gave us the opportunity to publish a wide range of artists including allies and male voices, whose work we deeply respect. We asked our contributors to interpret the theme in any way they wanted. Some wrote about domestic violence from an outsider’s viewpoint such as in Hakim Bellamy’s “When Love Gets Home” while others tackled the issue from within the familial network as in Jessica Helen Lopez’s “A Familiar Word,” and Ricky Triana’s “Silly Mommy.” Erika Sanchez takes a journalistic approach to exploring issues of domestic abuse through a cultural lens, specifically ones pertinent to Latin@ communities.

We have several works that speak about sexual abuse. Lisa Gill’s essay explores coming to an understanding of childhood abuse and how both memory and relationships complicate family dynamics. Similarly Margaret Randall’s work, particularly her poem “I Was Alone That Night” examines the desperation and loneliness that occurs after a sexual assault. Her line, “Years later I could say the word rape,” uses reflection to create a psychic distance that is often necessary to return to and make sense of trauma. Michelle Otero’s poem “Cosas de Mujeres” further illuminates the silence that often pervades rape culture.

We were particularly interested in having works that bear witness to voices that are often silenced. For this issue we were able to include Teresa Blankmeyer Burke’s “Rape in Deaflandia” which provides an entirely different perspective when it comes to silence and rape in the Deaf community. Women from all different walks of life are affected by these traumas. “Juana’s poem” by Alejandro Jimenez provides insight into the struggle of not only women, but undocumented women. Richard Vargas’ piece “13 angels rising” mourns the loss of unnamed women and speaks for those who are unable to. In Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s poem “The Archaeologist Came To Hunt Trilobites,” the speaker is forced to reckon with violence done to a woman. These pieces provide an outward perspective which inherently leads to an inward gazing of experiences.

Interrogation of self was a prominent theme in several of the pieces in this issue.Michelle Brooks’ “Self Rescue” grapples with the internal strength needed to continue. Many of our male contributors’ work explored the role of self. Takeo Rivera’s spoken word piece “The Sixth” is dedicated to the people who shared their stories with him as a rape crisis advocate. He renders both individual women and a larger collective experience. In both of his pieces the speakers question the media and society. Similarly, in Carlos Contreras’ piece “Better Than This” the speaker interrogates his own contribution and a male’s role in these issues. We can see why there is a need for this type of interrogation in Scott Hernandez’s poem, “My Father Comes Home,” which demonstrates the danger of unhealthy relationships and the threat of this cyclical behavior.

Sexual and domestic violence should not be a tradition that we pass on. Featured artistHank Richardson’s drawing “Shattered Traditions” visually represents the contrast between traditional cultural values and the hurt that threatens those traditions. Reed Bobroff’s poem “Divorce” begins by questioning, “assuming this is really how tradition works / marriage / is a sturdy foundation / of sticks.” When that foundation falls, the carrying on depends on the woman’s strength. From reading these pieces the reader can see that one way to counteract the vicious cycle of abuse is to interrogate the self, but to also reflect upon cultural traditions that emphasize healthy relationships.

Aside from mental and verbal abuse, the majority of sexual and domestic violence involves the body. With that physicality in mind we sought out dancers and choreographers to contribute to this issue which very much deals with honoring and respecting the body. How is pain, joy, love, hate or any emotion for that matter remembered in the body?  Cuahtemoc Peranda’s dance “I Love You” explores a relationship between two lovers through music and dance. Our other featured dancerNatalia Duong’s “to be frank” further expounds on concepts brought up textually throughout the issue– as we grow and mature physically, mentally, and emotionally, how does the changed self bring about new realizations? Her beautifully moving piece is “a celebration of [that] embodied memory.”

In this issue we also wanted to include positive depictions of family, women, and love. InAaron Yazzie’s photo essay “Cornfield” he describes the tradition of making kneel down bread with his family and how this tradition (and others) helped shape his view of women. Another positive depiction of women is seen in the music, spoken word and verse of Molina Speaks. He uses music as a medium to honor and celebrate the beauty of women for all that we are. Finally, we ended the issue with Poetic Theater Productions’ Love, Redefined, an annual production which explores “concepts of love that embraced the complexity of life, culture, and identity.” All of these pieces speak to the need, want, and desire to create a better society.

We are grateful for the opportunity to bring these voices together to support this important issue. Part of our intention in creating this magazine was to provide the spaces we felt were needed in the world. The words and art in this special As/Us V-Day edition are much needed and align with our mission of bringing awareness through art about subjects that matter to us. It is our belief that art cultivates imagination and can be a vehicle for transformation. It can serve as a way to process information, question ideas and instill hope. The pieces in this issue reflect multiple realities, but it is our hope that they open discourse and challenge perceptions of both the self and society. Through art and imagination we can re-imagine ourselves and our communities. We can re-define love.

With love,

Casandra Lopez and Tanaya Winder

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Countdown to Launch

Issue 3February 14th, 2014
Online version of Issue 3 goes live!

As Us Indigenous Women’s Literary Journal

As Us Literary Journal

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