Aloha, Kia Ora, Talofa, Malo e lelei,
Before we begin, let us protocol our genealogy. Our names are Kimo Aulani Moana III (aka Junior Boy Jr.) and Lani Aulani Moana (aka Lani Girl). We are from the ahupuaʻa of the Polynesian Triangle. Our ancestors are natural navigators, farmers, fishermen, and storytellers. We speak Polynesian fluently, and we breathe the essence of Polynesia daily.
Throughout our lives, we have been taught the true value of Polynesian culture. That’s why we started the cultural consultant firm: Poly Face, LLC.
We are members of Disney’s Oceanic Story Trust. We are breaking our non-disclosure agreement to address the controversy over the new movie, Moana, and its merchandise.
1) On Appropriation
Disney, like everyone else in the world, loves and desires all things Polynesian, from our hypnotic hair to our sculptural bodies, from our seductive tattoos to our lovely hula hands. While it is true that Disney appropriates our culture, we can’t blame them. Disney is simply a hapless victim of our Polynesian spell.
2) On the Skin Suit Costume
When we look in the mirror and see our single estate chocolate skin and meaningful tattoos, we exclaim: “Hooooooooo, who wouldn’t overthrow a kingdom to get a piece of this brown sugar!” Yet when we look at haoles at the beach, we exclaim: “Hoooooooo, white privilege ain’t worth having to wear that old world skin!” The Polynesian costume was meant to make haoles more attractive to look at, even if for just one day of the year.
3) On Cultural Representation
There’s already a long history of offensive Polynesian misrepresentations, from Tiki kitsch to pineapple ham pizza—so what harm will a few more do?
Plus, most of these misrepresentations are not intentional. In fact, they can easily be explained by the allure of our Polynesian mysteriousness. We form secret societies, speak in complex riddles, and tell stories using “kaona,” or hidden meanings, and even insist on using our Polynesian language without translating. We believe legends are history, myths are truths, and genealogies are epics. Is it any wonder that no one on the outside of Polynesia can understand us?
We especially can’t expect haoles, who are a simple and monolingual people, to accurately depict our complexity. And we can’t stop haoles from making movies about us, because once they have their mind set on something, we know they can’t stop. It’s like their manifest destiny or something.
That’s why Polynesian cultural consultants are so necessary. And that’s why the motto of Poly Face LLC is: “Consult us before you insult us.”
4) On Body Image
If you are a skinny Polynesian, your family will be ashamed of you because the whole village will whisper about your anorexia, bulemia, or irritable bowel syndrome behind your backs at church. This is why Polynesian families pressure you to eat. On the other hand, if you are just a regular-sized Polynesian, all of the non-Polynesians around you will think you’re fat anyway. Your doctor will shame you for being “grotesquely obese” because your BMI is too high, even if you are just big-boned. So, you may as well REALLY be fat and eat until you pass out or gas out at the all-you-can-eat lūʻau, hangi, and umu.
For too long, Polynesian body image has been stuck between The Rock and a diabetic place. It’s time for us to stop being ashamed of our bodies and embrace the positive images Disney has given us. The two characters, Moana and Maui, help us to overcome all this shame because they accurately represent and celebrate the reality and multiplicity of the Polynesian body. Besides, a character like Moana helps Polynesian families to save money because little girls will strive to eat less. #kanakasnack. And being like Maui wouldn’t be seen as fat-shaming, but as fat-FAMING! #morecushionforthepushing
5) On Merchandise
Some say the plastic merchandise will betray the environmental message of the movie. We disagree. These plastic toys will actually provide many learning opportunities. Once our kids get bored with the toys, we can take them to the ocean and throw the little Moanas and Mauis into the water. We can explain to our children how the plastic will break down into smaller pieces, how fish will mistake these plastic pieces for food, how the fish will be caught by super trawlers and sold in supermarkets, how we will eat the fish for dinner, digest it, flush it down the toilet, and how our waste will return once again to the ocean. This is a Polynesian culture-based approach to teach the anthropogenic hydrologic cycle.
The educational opportunities don’t stop there. We can teach our keiki the concept of irony: Maui is a fisherman, but he may become fish food; Moana is named for the ocean, but she is actually destroying it. We can also teach them about our gods. Plastic is immortal so what better material to make Maui out of? This new idolatry could also really help our Polynesian religion conversion rates—which, let’s face it, have been fairly low since the 18th century, when the missionaries brought their superstar Jesus to corner the soul market.
Lastly, we can teach our keiki about navigating ocean currents. All the little Moanas and Mauis will ride the currents and navigate to the Pacific garbage patch island, their own ancestral homeland, their plastic Hawaiki/Savaiʻi/Kahiki, to find their brethren and live happily ever after!
6) On Collaboration
We like to think about our collaboration with Disney as expressing native “agency.” And our exceptional agency will lead directly to the “sovereignty” of our Polynesian nation. You’re welcome.
If we did not collaborate and join the Oceanic Story Trust, Disney would have just asked other Polynesians. Because the sovereignty of our lahui is at stake, our agency would not allow us to take that risk. Think about it: what if they asked Uncle Kimo, who thinks Heineken is a traditional Polynesian elixir, Spam is a traditional crop, that the Toyota Tacoma was based on traditional canoe design, and that a Polynesian invented football using the coconut as a ball.
Or worse, what if they asked Aunty Haunani or Aunty Hope, who would’ve told them to go to hell—and then where would we be? No movie, no nothing for us to talk and argue about, no nothing for our kids to watch, no nothing to buy for our kids. Nothing to do but watch the same old Hawaiʻi 5-0 and Blue Hawaiʻi.
7) On Selling Out
Yes, we got paid thousands of dollars as consultants, but we didn’t make any profit. First, we had to buy a new company car: a Toyota Tacoma. We had to pay to get it lifted to an illegal height and get the illegal tinting. And we had to pay to get it a traditional tātau paint job. Plus, we had to pay for all of the tickets from the cops who don’t recognize our sovereignty over our trucks! #mobilesovereignty #defendmytruck
Whatever money we had left went back into our community through “Trickle-Down Poly-Economics,” the traditional Polynesian sharing economy. Trickle-Down Poly-Economics works like this: You go to your cousin and pay him to pimp out your truck, then he calls your other cousins, your aunties and uncles, all your exes and kids, and all of their cousins, aunties, uncles, exes, and kids. When all your relatives learn that you got paid, they suddenly need money for food, rent, medical bills, etc. You can’t say no because ʻohana means family, and family means no one is left behind.
Well, at least Disney also gave us a free 5-night stay at Aulani Resort. The keiki loved the pool, and we loved all the native artwork, which Disney must have sprinkled some magic onto because when you looked at the art really closely, you could feel the Polynesian agency. As we stared at the Polynesian agency, it carried us into a transcendent moment of pure sovereignty, and we could not help but give each unnamed artist a slow clap.
Aulani also has an authentic loʻi kālā—oops, we mean, loʻi kalo.
8) On Academia
Polynesian academics (and non-Polynesian academics who wish they were Polynesian academics) think they are chiefly scholars because they have Ph.D.s and teach at fancy universities. The truth is that they are inauthentic culture bearers because their knowledge of being Polynesian has been corrupted and degraded by years of reading books. We are an oral people and our authentic knowledge is only gained through direct oral transmission from our authentic talking elders (or, from YouTube and television).
Their Ph.Ds also tend to make them really paranoid and predispose them to always assume the worst about colonialism and corporations. They have forgotten all of the fun things that colonialism and corporations have given all of us, including ice cream, apps, Taylor Swift, mai tais, Nike spandex, edible condoms, vampire romances, McDonalds, Santa Claus, Heineken, medical marijuana, Christianity in general, Mormonism specifically, and Spam.
To be real: all these Polynesian academics are just jealous that they weren’t invited to be part of the Oceanic Story Trust, and their criticisms of Disney are simply misplaced anger. As the Polynesian parable goes, “Beware of Polynesians who were not invited aboard the white man’s cruise ship, but were forced to stay on their own little canoes.”
9) On Boycott
We will boycott anyone who boycotts this movie. The 21st century is America’s Pacific Century, and we Polynesians should be grateful that Disney chose us to represent the whole Pacific. Disney is the new Gauguin and the new Cook because they really put us on the map. We estimate that someone needs to discover us at least every 100 years so we aren’t forgotten peoples.
Polynesians should be grateful to Disney because if they did not make Moana, then we would continue to be invisible like those other Pacific Islanders. Is that what you want? To be Chamorro?!
Polynesians, let us stand proud in our Olympic coconut oil shine as the rest of the Pacific fades away and disappears into obscurity (and less marketable colonial regimes).
10) On Reputation
The reputation of Polynesia as a paradise has been tarnished with all of the homelessness, gangs, drugs, obesity, diabetes, suicides, loss of culture, and environmental degradation we hear endlessly about. Things have gotten so bad that the U.S. Department of the Interior is planning to downgrade Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) to “Indians.” Oh, how the mighty Polynesians have fallen!
Thus, we should thank Disney for trying to improve our Polynesian reputation, to hide our problems beneath stories about our glory days, and to make our culture more appropriate for children. Disney, like Maui, like Cook, like Gauguin, like Obama, will make Polynesia great again!
Now let’s all do the haka together!
October 4th, 2016
Seminar: 5:30 pm
Reading: 8:00 pm
Poetry Reading with Don Mee Choi
Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice
October 7th, 2016
Brigham Young University
The Archipelagoes, Oceans, Americas Symposium
Poetry Reading: Craig Santos Perez
October 7th, 2016
Brigham Young University
The Archipelagoes, Oceans, Americas Symposium
Keynote Speaker: Craig Santos Perez, “Territorial Struggles in the New Oceania”
October 8th, 2016
Woodland Pattern Book Center
Poetry Reading: Craig Santos Perez & Garrett Caples
October 9th, 2016
Woodland Pattern Book Center
Poetry Workshop: Craig Santos Perez, The Poetics of Food, Culture, and the Environment,
This poem is dedicated to every Chamorro child whose left our islands because their parents decided to migrate. This is for every Chamorro who migrated because they lost their job, their land, their house, their faith that things would get better for them. This is for every Chamorro who migrated because they were drafted and/or enlisted into the military. This is for every Chamorro family who moved from base to base because family is just as important as geography. This is for every Chamorro who is deployed far away from their family, may you return home safely and be re-united soon. This is for every Chamorro who migrated for health care, who left because they couldn’t afford to keep traveling back and forth for treatment. This is for every Chamorro who migrated for college, who returned home for the holidays, who excitedly waited for graduation to return home to their families. This is for every Chamorro graduate student writing a thesis or dissertation on Chamorro identity and migration. This is for every Chamorro author writing a novel or poem or song about being off-island Chamorro. This is for every Chamorro who was born in the states, who only know our home islands from pictures and stories told to them by their parents or grandparents who migrated long ago. This is for every Chamorro who migrated for love, who stayed in the states for love. This is for every Chamorro family who can’t afford the plane tickets to take their whole family home for a funeral. This is for every Chamorro family who only hear their parents or grandparents voice over the phone. This is for every Chamorro family who knows that they will never return home to live, that they will always live with their bodies in one place and their hearts in another. This is for every Chamorro who’s still trying to figure out where they belong. This is for every Chamorro who no longer has relatives back home. This is for every Chamorro who returns home only to find that all their friends from the old days have passed away. This is for every Chamorro who has lost touch with their friends and family back home. This is for every Chamorro who wonders what life would have been like if you stayed, if your parents stayed, if your grandparents stayed. This is for every Chamorro who wonders if you will be welcomed home, find a job, be able to afford a house, find love, or find a purpose if you returned home tomorrow. This is for every Chamorro who is seeking out other Chamorros stateside. This is for every Chamorro who organizes and runs a Chamorro group to connect diasporic Chamorros to our culture, language, and people.
- Open a can of Spam. Follow your instincts home.
- Make fina’denne and pour it over everything.
- Call your Chamorro grandparent(s) and ask them for a story about home.
- Read the Pacific Daily News online.
- YouTube Jesse Manibusan’s song “Forever Chamorro.” Sing along.
- Build an altar using shells, coral, postcards, photos, or other souvenirs.
- Call your Chamorro parent(s) and ask them for a story about home.
- Read Guampedia online.
- Open a can of Vienna Sausages and a can of Budweiser. Call that dinner.
- Google Earth your village.
- YouTube Jesse Ruby’s song “Guam take me back.” Follow their voices home.
- Make kaddun pika, even if it’s hot outside.
- Explore the Chamorro Roots Genealogy Project. Follow this map home.
- Close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen.
- Open a can of Corned Beef. Cook two eggs, any style. Eat with two scoops white rice, fina’denne, and Budweiser. Call that breakfast.
- Read Michael Lujan Bevacqua blog while eating breakfast.
- Lather coconut oil over everything.
- Read the Hale-ta Book Series. Follow your roots home
- Sport your Fokai, Crowns, or Magas apparel!
- Call your Chamorro godparent(s), and ask them for a story about home.
- Tell your non-Chamorrro friends taotaomo’na stories. Tell your Chamorro friends how your non-Chamorro friends don’t understand taotaomo’na stories.
- Read Faye Untalan’s “An Exploratory Study of Island Migrations: Chamorros of Guam” (1984).
- Buy the Chamorro-English dictionary on Amazon. Hold on to that moment when you open it for the first time.
- If you don’t speak Chamorro, learn a new word of our beautiful and endangered language everyday. Hold each word carefully, as if you were holding the last of our beautiful and endangered birds.
- Youtube K.C. DeLeon Guerrero’s song, “Kustumbren Chamoru.” Dance your way home.
- Make red rice.
- In order to make red rice, you’ll need to buy achiote. Drive to the closest Asian grocery store. Look for Mama Sita’s powdered achiote from the Philippines, which comes in thin yellow packets. Remember your grandma’s red-stained hands after she harvested achiote seeds from her yard.
- Go to the nearest KFC and order red rice and fina’denne. Act surprised and disappointed when they give you a strange look.
- Read Tanya Taimanglo’s book Attitude 13.
- Go for a hike that ends in a waterfall. Close your eyes and call this place home.
- Chew the pugua you’ve been hoarding in the freezer.
- Buy a round-trip ticket home for a holidary, wedding, christening, graduation, or funeral. Worry about credit card debt later.
- Google “Legends of the Marianas.”
- Wear your Chamorro bracelets and let them clang like your grandma used to.
- Bump JD Crutch’s song “Bente Uno” really loud on your morning drive to work.
- Date a fellow diasporic Chamorro (make sure you aren’t related before going on a second date). Or date a non-Chamorro and enjoy the temporary pleasure of being exoticized.
- Listen to Dakot-ta Alcantara-Camacho’s song, “Where you From,” on his All Life is Sacred EP (which you can find on Soundcloud).
- Visit the Spam Musuem in Austin, Minnesota.
- After the Spam Museum, visit The Herbivorous Buthershop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the first ever vegan butchershop, which was founded by two diasporic Chamorros.
- Play bingo.
- Fanginge’ every Chamorro elder you meet.
- YouTube Island Trybe’s, “Blow ya Mynd.” Lowride your way home!
- Wear your Sinahi everywhere.
- Read any book by Peter Onedera.
- Get a Latte stone or plumeria tattoo.
- Read Robert Underwood’s essay, “Excursions into Inauthenticity: The Chamorros of Guam.” (1985).
- YouTube Erica Nalani Benton’s song, “Back to Guahan.” Replay your way home.
- Buy a Chamorro language children’s book and imagine your parents reading this book to you when you were a child.
- When someone asks, “Where are you from?” Point to the empty space on the map and say, “I’m from this invisible island.”
- Cha-cha-cha everywhere.
- Youtube Melvin Won Pat Borja’s poem, “No Deal.”
- Recite the “Inifresi.”
- Drive to the nearest military base. Close your eyes and imagine Angel Santos and the entire Chamoru Nation flying over the barbed-wire fence.
- Just Tabasco everything.
- Read Michael Perez’s essays “Pacific Identities Beyond US Racial Formation: The Case of Chamorro Ambivalence and Flux” (2002).
- YouTube Jesse Bais’s song, “Guam on my Mind.”
- Make chicken kelaguen.
- In order to make chicken kelaguen, you must first buy a coconut. Drive to the nearest Asian grocery store. Crack open the coconut at home only to find that it is completely rotted inside. Drive back to the grocery store with your machete. Get into an argument with the Asian owner, who won’t exchange the coconut. Go back to your car and get the machete. Walk back into the produce aisle of the store. Crack open the coconuts until you find a good one. Pay for the coconut, machete in hand. Say, “Keep the change.” Drive off like the most bad ass islander who’s ever lived in an American suburb.
- Blame it on the cha-cha-cha.
- Buy a round-trip ticket home for no reason. Worry about credit card debt later.
- Eat at the Chamorro restaurant and/or food truck that opened in your area. Try not to ruin the meal by comparing the food to your parents or grandparents cooking.
- Recite the novena in Chamorro using the rosary your grandma gave you at the airport. If you can’t say the novena in Chamorro, YouTube “Chamorro rosary.”
- Read Vicente Diaz’s book, Repositioning the Missionary.
- Give chenchule’ every chance you get.
- Watch the Muña brothers documentary Talent Town.
- Cook Calrose rice. Use your fingers to measure. When you smell the rice steaming, close your eyes and call this home.
- Get your clan name tattooed across your back.
- Youtube Jack Lujan’s song “Inifresi.”
- Wear your “Prutehi yan Difendi” t-shirt.
- Close your eyes and remember the last time you hiked to Pågat.
- Place a Guam or CNMI Seal sticker on your truck and drive on the freeway until another diasporic Chamorro spots you.
- Visit the Waikiki Spam Jam in Honolulu, Oahu.
- Read Keith Camacho’s book Cultures of Commemoration. Remember what your ancestors survived.
- Tell yourself that you will return one day, you just have a few more things to take care of out here.
- YouTube Flora Baza Quan’s song “Hagu.” Hail the Queen of Chamorro music!
- Go to the closest zoo that houses a Micronesian Kingfisher. Tell the bird, “Soon it’ll be safe enough to return.”
- Attend the nearest Liberation Day party, which you can locate using the guamliberation.com website.
- Read my poetry books (no refunds)!
- YouTube Chamorro Mixed Martial Arts fighters Jon Tuck, Frank “The Crank” Camacho, “Baby Joe” Taimanglo, and Pat Ayuyu. Fight your way home.
- Call any one of your Chamorro aunties and uncles. Be thankful to your grandparent(s) for having so many children so that there’ll always be someone to give you a story about home.
- Learn how to craft a kulo’. Blow the kulo’ everywhere.
- Read Jesi Lujan Bennett’s MA thesis, “Apmam Tiempo Ti Uli’e Hit (Long Time No See): Chamorro Diaspora and the TransPacific Home.”
- Youtube Jesse Bais’s song “Uno Hit.” Remember that off-island and on-island Chamorros are one!
- Get “Dandan I Paneretas” stuck in your head all December and air stick dance with an imaginary partner.
- Attend the nearest Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.
- BBQ everything.
- YouTube “Malafunkshun.” Laugh your way home.
- Look at your American dollar bills. Find the word, “Gumataotao.”
- Read Lehua Taitano’s poetry book, A Bell Made of Stones.
- Wear zoris everywhere.
- YouTube episodes of Nihi! online and imagine watching them with your parents when you were a child.
- Buy a one-way ticket home.
- Youtube Johnny Sablan’s song, “Nobia Nene.” Dance with someone you love.
- Remember that migration flows through our blood and this is just another stop on our epic itinerary.
- Join the nearest Chamorro, Marianas, Sons and Daughters of Guam, or Hafa Adai Club in your state. If there are none, start your own Chamorro club in your church, community center, military base, high school, or university.
- Attend the Chamorro Cultural Festival in San Diego. Call this gathering home.
- Build a Guma’ Chamorro in Balboa Park.
- Shout, “I exist! I exist! I exist!”
- Whisper, “mahalang,” the only word built to carry all this longing.
- Drive to the ocean. Take off your zoris and step into the salt water. Return your tears to the sea, where they belong. Close your eyes, and call your body home.
CULTURE, FOOD, POLITICS, AND ECOLOGY: AN ONLINE WORKSHOP BY CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ TO BENEFIT OMNIDAWN PUBLISHING
Sign up now! Tuition is $750 ($650 of which is tax-deductible) and is fully donated to Omnidawn Publishing, a 501(c)(3) fiscally sponsored project of the 2430 Arts Alliance.
Some partial scholarships available. Write to Rusty Morrison regarding this.
All applications due by Saturday, January 2 on a first come, first served basis.
Class limit: 10
Decisions will be made by January 5th
Tuition due by Tues January 5th
Craig Santos Perez will be leading an online workshop: Culture, Food, Politics, and Ecology, to benefit Omnidawn Publishing.
The meeting times are every Sunday, 10a-12p pst, for 5 weeks,
from Jan 10, 2016 – Feb 7, 2016.
Each week, for the first 20 minutes of class, there will be one guest poet. They will will share their experiences in writing poetry in relation to that week’s subject, that week’s realms of relation.
The five weeks’ subjects & guests will be
Jan 10: Ecopoetics: Angela Hume
Jan 17: Writing culture, writing family: Terrance Hayes
Jan 24: Writing poetry of witness: Myung Mi Kim
Jan 31: Writing food and sustenance : Ewa Chrusciel
Feb 7: Writing with documentary source texts: Camille Dungy
Rusty Morrison, Omnidawn’s co-publisher, will be an active member of the class each week, as support to Craig, and as another voice engaging in the exciting conversations.
We will begin with an interactive conversation/presentation from the guest poet. Guests will speak casually, with candor, sharing ideas, insights, challenges regarding this aspect of their writing. Guests may be reading some writing/poetry of theirs that aligns with the week’s arena of thought–in order to talk about the generation of that writing in this context.
After the guest poet is finished, Craig will give a presentation on the week’s topic, and the poets who are students in the class will participate in an engaging conversation with Craig about that week’s ideational landscape.
Then Craig will lead a workshop discussion of a poem from each of the class members. Rusty will also contribute to this discussion. Craig is an amazing teacher: serious, friendly, knowledgable, deft at offering sharp acuity and compassionate insight into the poems workshopped.
The tuition is $750 ($650 of which is tax-deductible). All proceeds go to Omnidawn Publishing, a 501(c)(3) fiscally sponsored project of the 2430 Arts Alliance.
To apply for the class:
please send a five page packet of poems to both Rusty Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org & Craig Santos Perez email@example.com by January 2nd. Decisions will be made by January 5th. Tuition is due on January 5th.
Omnidawn Publishing is very grateful to Craig Santos Perez and to all of the poets who are donating their time to this workshop.
About ten years ago, I wrote a blog critiquing how all the major poetry awards were going to white poets. It was not a unique insight, but more an expression of institutional racism.
This year, however, nearly all the major poetry awards went to writers of color. Check out this list:
- Pulitzer Prize: Gregory Pardlo
- National Book Award: Robin Coste Lewis
- National Book Critics Circle Award: Claudia Rankine
- American Book Award: Arlene Biala & Craig Santos Perez
- Pen Center USA award for poetry: Claudia Rankine
- PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry: Saeed Jones
- Los Angeles Times Book Prize: Claudia Rankine
- Wallace Stevens Award: Joy Harjo
- Walt Whitman Award: Sjohnna McCray
- Kate Tufts Discovery Award: Brandon Som
- Lannan Literary Awards: A. Van Jordan, Layli Long Soldier, Philip Metres
- US Poet Laureate: Juan Felipe Herrera
There are many more fellowships, grants, prizes that were given out this year, and many were awarded to poets of color.
Some say it is because of racial nepotism, since today there are many more poets of color who are judging literary awards.Others say it is the result of literary affirmative action and/or historical guilt. Others are adopting fake ethnic names & bios so that they have a better chance of winning an award. You are sooo lucky, they say, because you have soooo much trending trauma to write about! Others are saying: enjoy because it will never happen again. While others are saying, will you finally quiet down now and get over it.
But Dr. Craig says: it’s about damn time! this is what a level playing field looks like! we should still burn down the system but in the meantime let’s recognize our excellence!
For all my friends, fans, haters, and stalkers: I will be in northern California for a few performances and the American Book Award Ceremony. Hope to see you:
Friday, October 23, 2015
554 Barrows Hall
Reading and Reception 5:30pm
Sunday, October 25, 2015
American Book Award 2015 Ceremony
San Francisco Jazz Center 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin Street (at Fell)
Monday, October 26, 2015
Reading 5:15 pm
The Terrace Room, 4th floor, Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg 460)
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Does your MFA program suffer from “Mainly White MFA” sickness (symptoms include few to no students of color)? If yes, this program is designed to bring some healthy color to your department or your institutional racism back!
Step 1: Funding. Offer full or reasonable funding packages. Writers of color no longer want to be part of your debt plantation.
Step 2: Hire. Hire faculty of color (who should comprise at least half your faculty). Student writers need mentors who understand how to write about racialized experiences and how to survive and succeed as a writer of a color.
Step 3: Retire. Incentivize retirement for the mediocre white faculty that you hired 20 years ago, who are at best completely out of touch with multicultural literatures or, at worst, racist (you know who Iʻm talking about). If they refuse to retire, require “literary diversity training” under the guise of “mandatory faculty development.”
Step 4: Require. Every MFA program should have at least one required literature course in “Multicultural and Indigenous literatures” and at least one required writing workshop in “Ethically Writing Race and Culture.”
Step 5: Speak/Perform. Every MFA program should have at least one required course in performance and spoken word, and should hire at least one Spoken Word and/or Performance faculty. You have ruined the literary reading by producing a surplus of writers who have no idea how to read their work aloud.
Step 6: Community. Every MFA program should have a community engagement requirement/component. Offer tuition remission or GAships for semester-long community engagement projects.
Step 7: Civics. Every MFA program should have a civic engagement requirement/component. Study protest literature and bring your students into the streets, into the legislature, into the public sphere. Offer tuition remission or GAships for semester-long for literary projects that engage political, social, or environmental justice issues.
Step 8: Invite. Half your reading series should feature emerging and established writers of color. I will give you a discount on my reading fee if you mention this program.
Step 9: Brochure. Be honest in your brochure. Don’t put the only 2 people of color in your MFA program on every page of your brochure/website. Reveal the racial demographics of your faculty and student body. This will help you realize how much work you need to do.
Step 10: Partner. Partner with the many organizations that have a history of supporting writers of color, including Cave Canem, Kundiman, Kearney Street, Asian American Writers Workshop, VONA, Canto Mundo, IAIA, Pacific Tongues, Youth Speaks, Brave New Voices, Split this Rock, Urban Word, and more. Offer scholarships, featured readings, special issues in your program literary journals, etc.
Step 11: Accept. Accept the fact that you must change your program. Accept that you have not done enough to support writers of color. Accept that it will take time to rebrand and rebuild trust. Accept that you may not be ready for us. Accept that the passion, fire, and talent of writers of color might burn your program down. Accept that only we can help you rebuild this broken system.
Does your literary series suffer from “Mainly White Room” sickness (symptoms include mostly white audiences at poetry events)? If yes, this 15-step program is guaranteed to bring some healthy color to your events or your institutional racism back!
Step 1: Name. Make a list of 50 poets of color in your city and state. If you can’t name 50 poets of color without asking Facebook, you should not be curating a literary series. Spend a year reading us instead of trying to curate us.
Step 2: Attend. There may be a literary series in your area that is organized by poets of color and that does not suffer from “mainly white room” sickness. Attend the series for a year. Pay attention and learn how to respect protocol.
Step 3: Group Line-up Quantum. People of color are more likely to attend group readings because we value community. If you schedule 4 readers, make sure at least 3 of them are poets of color. This quota system will help you resist your unconscious urge to include only white poets in your reading series (it’s not your fault).
Step 4: Time. Give all poets equal time.
Step 5: Order. Do not have poets of color “open” for the “featured” white poet.
Step 6: Intergenerational. Include poets of different generations. Poets of color value our elders and youth. Warning: may induce grandparent/grandchildren poems.
Step 7: Food. I’m not talking about cheese and crackers. Think rice and grilled meat. Vegetables are optional, but if included make sure they are cooked. Warning: if you have an ethnic restaurant cater your event, make sure it does not appear thematic (i.e. if you have a Pacific islander reader, he might be offended if you serve a Hawaiian luau and sliced pineapples).
Step 8: Venue. Ask yourself: will poets of color be pulled over while driving in this neighborhood? Will they be harassed on the street? Will the patrons of this bookstore think they are trying to steal poetry books? If yes, change your venue.
Step 9: Slam. Slam and spoken word poetry are the most popular forms of poetry events for a reason! Make sure you include at least one slam poet of color! Bonus: choose a white slam poet for your one white poet slot (they write the most conscientious poems about race and whiteness)!
Step 10: Boredom. Avoid boring poets, especially the intentionally boring and uncreative poets (you know who I mean).
Step 11: Racism. Avoid racist poets, especially those who claim to be anti-racist but their poems actually replicate racism (you know who I mean).
Step 12: Aesthetics. Do not organize your series towards a specific aesthetics (unless its slam). Poets of color appreciate a diversity of fresh styles.
Step 13: Posters. Design cool posters. If your poster/flyer looks lame, it’s a signal that your reading series is probably lame too.
Step 14: Money. If your series is part of an institution, make sure you offer honorarium. While this won’t make up for past crimes, it’s a start.
Step 15: Introductions. When introducing us, do not comment on our hair or our phenotypes. Do not ask if we have white heritage (if we don’t discuss that in our poems, there’s a reason)! Do not comment upon how “surprising” our work is, or how we “represent” a certain kind of “experience.” Just read the bio we sent you and get out the damn way.
Are you a white poet writing mediocre poems that are constantly rejected? Do you feel cheated out of your entitled publications? Do you find yourself desperately reaching for an ethnic pseudonym?
If you answered yes, Dr. Craig’s 12-step program is designed to help you write like poets of color without committing ethnic fraud. This program is guaranteed or your privilege back!
Step 1: Read. You’ve probably spent most of your life reading white poets. Spend a year reading only poets of color. You will learn how ethnic writing is diverse and exceeds all stereotypes and expectations.
Step 2: Listen. A major thread of ethnic poetry is spoken word. Try listening to one poetry video every day. Hear our voices.
Step 3: Attend. If there is a poetry event in your town featuring poets of color, support the community and bring a dish just in case it’s a potluck.
Step 4: Culturize. Write about white culture–your customs, values, and practices. If you are not familiar with your culture, research: “American.”
Step 5: Genealogize. Write about your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Talk to them. Do research. Travel to Europe, dig for deeper roots. Write about the ancestors you admire and are ashamed of. (Avoid the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library).
Step 6: Eat. Write about your people’s foods, what you ate growing up, what symbolic meanings foods have to you. Play with your food poetry: write a humorous ballad about white bread, a villanelle about vanilla, a pantoum about potatoes, etc.
Step 7: Migrate. Write about moving, letting go, saying goodbye. Even small migrations can be traumatic. Write about larger settler movements and their consequences.
Step 8: Speak. Write about the linguistic nuances, accents, or dialects spoken in your house. Write about your experience learning English, learning Silence.
Step 9: Historicize. Write about how history has shaped your family and your culture. Write about major and minor historical figures.
Step 10: Politicize. Write your political opinions about the hot political topics in the United States and around the world. Write with one fist raised to the sky.
Step 11: Ecologize. Write about your relationship to the natural world and other-than-human species. Write about how climate change and environmental degradation affect you.
Step 12: Humanize. Write about your name. Your real name. Write with passion, fierceness, and integrity. Write to inspire and empower others. Write towards justice, truth, and dignity.