Microaggression Zines for the Multiracial Soul
When I walked into the Yuki Family Board Room of the Japanese American National Museum at the 2016 Mixed Remixed Festival where the Microaggression Zine Workshop was being held, I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
The description in the Mixed Remixed Festival Program sounded inviting: “Naming and understanding the little monsters [microaggressions] can bring back an immense sense of personal peace and power.” I was intrigued. Personal peace and power? Sign me up. The workshop was led by Christina Guillén, a diversity speaker, teacher, and writer. You can see a picture of the poster she created for our workshop and learn more about her at . This will give you a hint of the fun she had in store for us workshop attendees. (Christina is also writing a fascinating historical fiction novel set in sixteenth century Mexico, focused on identity and indigeneity vs. colonialism—you can follow along with her prequel, a series of online letters written back and forth by the novel’s characters at https://www.wattpad.com/user/The_Letters.)
Microaggression and the Mixed Race Experience
Are you wondering what a microaggression is, exactly? A lot of us were. This was the first thing Christina addressed when the workshop began. She offered a definition and then went around the room and asked each of us to add to the conversation by offering our understanding. The room was buzzing with talk and discussion; Christina is a delightful workshop leader and made all of us feel warmly accepted and eager to learn more. The term “microaggression” has been around for a while; Random House dictionary describes it this way: “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype: microaggressions such as ‘I don’t see you as black.’” For mixed race people like me, a familiar one is that pesky question, “What are you?” or “Where are you from—no, originally, where are you from?” All of the workshoppers were excited at the notion that we could use these zines to, as Christina suggested, “flirt with our perspectives on the topic of microaggressions.”
Another great conversation the group had was the sharing of how we each tend to react or handle microaggressions when we are on the receiving end. As we went around the room, the reactions people described ran the gamut, from angry to confused to embarrassed to shamed. One workshopper had a great approach: humor. He explained that his approach was to play right along with the offender, replying and continuing the conversation in a manner that increasingly showed the absurdity of the comment or act, until the person realized his/her folly and the tables had turned. Note to self, I jotted on my notepad. Must try.
What’s a Zine?
Once the group felt clearer about microaggressions, we were ready to dig in to the zines. At the beginning of the workshop, Christina had given each of us some samples of zines she had created—they are, simply, handmade mini-magazines. She handed out outlines with prompts that we would answer out as we fleshed our zines. Then she passed around a plastic container full of odd and eccentric items that we could go through and pick out, with the idea that this was added inspiration, visual, tactile, and most definitely creative! Some of the items included, for example, sandpaper, big floppy silk flowers, a rock, a small ceramic mask, and a little hammer. I chose the little hammer—don’t ask!
Once we got to work, Christina turned on some background music to help feed our creativity, wonderful Afro-Latin jazz type music that had me groovin’ and the whole room buzzing. Christina had promised we would “light up with creative excitement” as we processed confusing experiences that made us feel funny or awkward, and I’ll confirm: that boardroom was ablaze with energy! As we worked, a great scene of laughter, sharing, and sheer genius ensued. Once we had our outlines done and our tools laid out in front of us, Christina taught us how to take a plain 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper and fold it until it turned into a mini book, sort of origami-style. We were rolling now! Meanwhile, Christina had spread a mini-toy-store of creative grown-ups’ utensils across the table —colored pens and pencils, crazy, fun stencils (like bats and ghosts) and more (I chose a dinosaur for my stencil).
Ready for Publication!
Growing up biracial with two parents who firmly believed and taught me that “race” is a social construct, I had no idea when I got older and went out in the world how to manage the microaggressions that were directed at me. Christina offered a wonderful, empowering, therapeutic strategy for managing these inevitabilities of multiracial life. As our time together neared its end, the group, now feeling extremely comfortable and collegial, went around and shared what they had created. No one wanted to leave. Christina had promised us that we would “leave with a new positive experience to associate with microaggressions, and a hands-on tool to help us better understand how conscious and unconscious behaviors like microaggressions affect us Earthlings.” She didn’t disappoint.-Michele Beller, Festival Blogger
This is one story in a series about the programs held at the Mixed Remixed Festival 2016. Please read through them all by searching our blog with “2016 Festival Re-Cap.”