There are people who feel the need to push their voices out into the world but don't take to the normal methods of amplification. With thoughts too wide to be projected with the backing of a band or too specialized to merit a book, with limitations that are possibly culturally- or self-imposed, thousands of people turn to the process of making their own issues of personal, self-published magazines or "zines."
In the early days the zine scene was best represented by off the wall fan-composed volumes centered around a certain subculture or phenomenon. They were (and sometimes still are) DIY publications executed with analog cut and paste skills that were photocopier-dependent. Since then, especially in the 90's and early 2000's, the zine has flourished as an exercise in personal development and the amplification of otherwise disregarded voices. By their very nature of being independently (sometimes sporadically) produced and with physical copies rarely being printed in orders over a hundred, zines usually represent a hand-to-hand exchange of ideas. They haven't been, on an individual basis, a reliable vehicle for social change.
This situation provoked Daniela Capistrano to start the People of Color (POC) Zine Project in 2010. As a child her creative methods sometimes transitioned from drawing into making her own magazines or newsletters, which she tried to get people subscribing to. She didn't really think of herself as a zinester back then, it just seemed like an appropriate medium to emulate. Later, in her teens, she came across the zine collection of an older friend, becoming aware for the first time that the gulf between childhood endeavors and professional publications is bridged by the efforts of amateurs, hobbyists, and truehearts.
Capistrano became frustrated, however, when her search for zines by people like herself, born out of the experiences of minorities--racial, sexual, or otherwise--seemed more frustrating than rewarding.
“I was really missing that independent voice. Just sort of being really pissed off, frankly, about the way people of color are represented in the media and through storytelling, so in my early twenties I really started seeking out more independent publications by people of color and being really frustrated at how difficult it was.”
Too few independent bookstores and comic shops carried zines by people of color, and online clearinghouses or zine forums too often overlooked them. She started the POC Zine Project as a way to aggregate news and information about these type of zines and their authors through social media. These days the project also highlights zines and either hosts or makes digital versions accessible. The community grew, and, in 2012, launched the first 100% volunteer-run national tour for POC zinesters. Taking their tour name from Mimi Nguyen’s influential Evolution of a Race Riot compilation, an adaptable group hit the road for a string of events that included readings, how-tos, and tablings of their zines as well as those of locals.
For Capistrano, this is the full method of support and inspiration beyond a share, reblog, or retweet. "It's never too late to connect with one person and grow from that experience."
This fall, she and her volunteer organizers pick up where they left off last year. Their 2013 tour launches in New Orleans this Thursday, October 3rd, assisted by their academic partner the Amistad Research Center of Tulane University. After hitting some west coast locations, the tour will end with a stage of multiple stops in the South, including Louisville, KY, Nashville, TN, and Montgomery, AL (see sidebar for details).
In New Orleans, there will be a panel discussion of five or six tour members talking about their personal experience and presenting on the POC zine culture. They'll also be tabling their zines and inviting locals to bring in their own zines to share and donate.
Readings and tablings are the backbone of most Race Riot events, but these aren't conventions drawn down to a smaller scale. Capistrano underscores the group's antithesis to creating zine-stars, a phenomenon she finds problematic not just for minorities, but zine culture at large. Each stop will be different, and those who go on tour are fully separating themselves from their own lives at their own cost for the chance to meet, interact with, and encourage zinesters past, present, and future. Fandom, in this instance, is essentially a waste byproduct.
Many types of people, Capistrano said, “pick up a piece of paper, fold it, and write in it, and I think it can be cathartic. A lot of times a zine is the first level of someone's process as a writer. There are plenty of zinesters who have gone on to be published authors or artists, or activists. A zine to me is an incubator for your own creativity. One of the misconceptions people have about zines is that they might look at the cover and see that it's not that fancy or that there are grammatical errors [...] Sometimes that zine that you're calling shitty is the experimental stage of something even greater or the way for a zinester to work out a creative concept and take it on.”
Ideally, each stop will include events at both a community or performance venue and an academic one. Capistrano explained that many times Race Riot events are the first time attendants are introduced to higher education spaces. She said that the project can act as a “bridge” between universities or colleges and communities who don’t know there are ways to access and benefit from even the the most ivory of towers.
Christopher Harter, Director of Library and Research Services at the Amistad Center says that academic partners like his pair well with the POC Zine Project because the personal voice is an important element of any history, especially to the history of communities that might be prone to self-recollection but not self-publishing.
"The value of an archive like Amistad is to present what we often call primary documents," he said. "Sources that were written by individuals or produced by organizations who were active in the civil rights movement or race relations. So, historically, if you look at how African-Americans, Native Americans, other under-represented communities were depicted or what voice they had in textbooks or scholarly books about various aspects of their history and culture, you often see if they were included at all there was often a distorted version."
On the other hand, he said, "zines, with the fact of the way they're created, the way they're distributed, it's very much a personal effort that doesn't consent to the censorship of a publisher or distributor so it democratizes these communities so that they can circulate their own voices."
Outside of their academic partners, the Race Riot tour will bring the party to several independent art spaces. Capistrano said, “The revolution should be fun. If it was all boring, all serious all the time, it would be hard to do this as a volunteer entity.”
Still, it’s not easy. The participating members of the tour have to protect their emotional and psychological resources as they are passed from hand to hand like their paper counterparts. They are opening and closing themselves over and over again, testing the strength of their binding. Sometimes they are misrepresented, mistaken, or just misread. In response to some shortcomings last year, the tour is providing a wellness coach to help mitigate the stress of the road.
Being a spokesperson for a culture can be both invigorating and enervating, and they'll attempt to manage the arc between those two states. Even the unamplified need an off switch. Life goes on between riots, and experience accumulates between issues.
I asked Capistrano about how she measures success on the tour. Aside from turnout, which is variable depending on the town or city, she said it’s all about the effects that linger after the tour leaves town.
“We know we're adding value, but we don't think we're the authority, so we like to keep tabs on what people who stayed in touch with us through events what they're doing now, and if they share with us that they were inspired by us and by the event, then that's definitely a success [...] I think that momentum is a metric of success for us.”
Admission to all Race Riot events are on a sliding scale, and no one is turned away for lack of funds. Go to the project's website for detailed tour info, to donate, or to submit a zine to their archive.
RACE RIOT TOUR DATES
10/3 - New Orleans, LA
10/6 - Houston, TX
10/7 - College Station, TX
10/8 - Austin, TX
10/10 - Albuquerque, NM
10/14 - Tucson, AZ
10/16 - Los Angeles, CA Pt 1
10/17 - Los Angeles, CA Pt 2
10/19 - San Francisco, CA
10/21 - Davis, CA
10/23 - Portland, OR
10/25 - Seattle, WA
10/27 - Montana (City TBA)
10/29 - Bismark, ND
10/30 - Fargo-Moorhead (area), MN
10/31 - Minneapolis, MN
11/2 - St. Louis, MO
11/4 - Louisville, KY
11/5 - Nashville, TN
11/7 - Atlanta, GA Pt 1
11/8 - Atlanta, GA Pt 2
11/9 - Montgomery, AL
Dates are still being added and amended. Check out the full details here.
I had the chance to go to the first stop at Tulane University on October 3rd and hear directly from some of the members on tour. I went hoping to get different perspectives on independent publishing and personal storytelling, but I came away with much more.
Members of our younger generations are both tortured and empowered by the search for acceptance of their identities. In the online world, one can find a group to join centered around any aspect of identity, interest, or phenomenon, but participation offline is still hampered by our attitudes about race, gender, class, and sexuality. Making a zine can help a person define themselves, but often the discovery of who they are leads to the decision of whether to underline that definition or redact it. The outside world asks people of color to correspond to certain patterns, and separate racial or cultural communities also have their own internal ways of deciding who is an outsider and who isn't. These are pre-existing conditions that many people don't even consider treating, much less diagnosing.
The members of the Race Riot Tour have a hard road ahead of them, but their enthusiasm and anticipation was contagious.