Regarding the Bartertown #muraldebate

UPDATE: MLive’s Troy Reimink put together a recap of the #muraldebate. This email was sent independently of the mural debate and just happened to coincide with the day that the mural debate began.

I feel compelled to share my email to Ryan yesterday regarding the Bartertown mural. The #muraldebate on Twitter is lively, but I’m afraid that people think the issue starts and ends with Che—that Che is the litmus, and if Che has a valid spot on that wall, then the same goes for the other 75% of that mural. Ryan responded in a more personalized version of point number one in Bartertown’s official statement and offered to chat, something I fully intend to take him up on.

Hi, Ryan—

I admire your efforts to establish a vegan eatery that’s both accessible and cozy. I came down to Bartertown for the first time during Wake Up Weekend. To be blunt, I was stunned to see Mao leading the charge with a ladle, cultural revolutionaries dishing out saucers, hoisting signs and cradling an allusion to that iconic red book.

The only reason I could imagine that you reappropriated this historical event for your walls is because of the association with socialism. But honestly, as a Chinese American, I couldn’t understand why you would choose this scene any more than you would have pulled a chapter out of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship. Although it’s still hotly debated—hundreds of thousands or millions—a horrifying number of political dissidents, ethnic minorities and wrongly accused innocents in China were persecuted, tortured, raped and killed during Mao’s reign. All of it in the name of the proletariat.

One of my operational underpinnings is “From each according to his[/her] abilities, to each according to his[/her] needs.” I can sympathize with the philosophy of socialism, but I don’t see the sound logic in choosing that historical scene to capture it.

I’m not claiming to speak for all Chinese and Chinese Americans. I also can’t assume that someone else has pointed out to you just how thunderstruck a person of that ethnic heritage might find the mural. I believe in the concepts behind what you’re doing and want to frequent Bartertown, but as a member of this community, I feel the responsibility to point out how uncomfortable this and other portrayals could make your potential patrons.

Denise Cheng.


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Carnival of Journalism – First-generation youth and context

Recommendation 12: Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities

This is probably one that’s closest to my heart, and the most organic entry point for me.

In the full description of the recommendation, the Knight Foundation sets the scene for a “Geek Corps” that assigns post-college volunteers to public institutions to help them leverage digital media technologies. There already exists something like this, a program of which I proudly call myself an alum: the Digital Arts Service Corps (formerly the CTC VISTA Project).

But when I first read the recommendation, my mind gravitated toward youth rather than young adults. More specifically, first-generation youth in minority communities. Most of my experience in media has been imagining how to leverage everyday tools for media creation by sources that are not traditionally seen as information providers. This has ranged from mobile media creation by immigrant communities and Millennials to my current position as the citizen journalism coordinator for The Rapidian, a hyperlocal news site for Grand Rapids, Mich.

When we look at the purpose of information, it’s to acquaint communities with the intricacies of issues and phenomena that have a direct effect on them. There are patches of media that serve youth, that serve immigrants but there is a whole swath that straddles the line between cultures, and youth has proven to be a volatile time across the board.

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Some cibo

I’ve been chewing on some random thoughts lately and thought I’d put it out there and see what other people think.

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My Portland romance

It took a big hit the other day, my romance with Portland. I’ve been here about a year now, and for the first time ever, I really understood how Portland’s progressiveness might be a tall tale.

It was Valentine’s Day, and Charlie and I took a bus ride to SE 82nd and Division. We were going to have dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood Restaurant, something I’ve been trying to organize for the last two weeks–since Chinese New Years started–but have been incredibly unsuccessful with. I was itching to see this part of Portland. When my mom visited in November, she had asked around to figure out where the real Chinatown was, and the resounding answer was this far-off intersection. There were less bikers and pedestrians as the street numbers climbed while increasingly more restaurants and schools flew multilingual banners: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese and English.

The bus warp-sped through a wormhole between 57th and 85th streets. In that 30-block span, the greenery, the foot traffic–all of it disappeared. The quaint, early 20th century houses faded into 70’s architecture and sprawl. We were dropped off in a literal concrete jungle with debris instead of sidewalks and crosswalks every three blocks.

We had a 40-minute wait for Wong’s, so Charlie and I decided to take a walk in search of the fabled Fubonn Supermarket. But instead of taking a left at 82nd, we took a right and passed countless car dealerships. I watched people dodge traffic to avoid walking a couple endless blocks to the nearest crosswalk. It was an unpleasant street to be on, so we tried the backstreets on our return to Wong’s. Where there should have been asphalt, the streets had been ground into gravel. No sidewalks. No grid pattern. Just dead ends pointing to poor urban planning.

I was stunned. Where was Portland? This “neighborhood” was as good as being in the suburbs, and yet it’s still well within the city limits. Everything we celebrate about Portland–great public transportation, walkability, bikability–none of it applied. Many Chinese and other ethnic groups had been pushed out to the edges due to rising costs of living in inner-Portland, but this was ridiculous. Biking might be a fresh choice in Portland, but it’s also one of the oldest, most common-sense economic options anywhere. On SE 82nd and Division, it was not an option. The streets had clearly been unpaved for years, and it was an unnavigable and dangerously car-saturated area.

Was this racism? Classism? Assuming the Chinese weren’t there till recently, where was the City when the roads began to blister and crack? And assuming the Chinese had been there for a while, did the City presume that this immigrant group preferred the ubiquitous expense of cars over walkability? Even though the majority of people in Asia’s most population-choked cities walk and utilize public transportation? It was an outrage. Where everything great about Portland would have made the best sense, it didn’t exist in one of the areas that needed it the most.

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Digital storytelling: The wonders never cease

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media Center blog. Read comments on the original post

I’ve had the privilege of being part of two digital storytelling workshops at Portland Community Media: once as sort of a teacher’s aide and the second time as a participant.

I first heard of digital storytelling in 2006 as I was rounding the corner to my last semester in college. I was home for winter break and decided to take advantage of my locale to learn about media centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I met Theeba Soundararajan of Third World Majority (TWM) and Jessica McCoy, who was the CTC Vista for Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) at the time.

Both were storytelling organizations with slightly differing missions. They’re media centers focused on expression, but TWM was more focused on giving minorities and immigrant communities the media tools that have traditionally been used to ignore, suppress or misrepresent them.

Theeba opened my eyes to digital storytelling as a tool for those who have been sidestepped and wrongly represented on the local and national scene. As a person who has trained in journalism, I’ve seen much of this and even experienced it, which can be very jolting for someone who plays on both sides.

I’ve had a couple of experiences now, but the most shocking was after returning from Lesotho as a Peace Corps volunteer and hearing an NPR Marketplace broadcast entitled Chinese businesses rile Lesotho locals. To establish the scene, there’s a lot of resentment against the Chinese by Basotho becaMade in South Africause the Chinese have been economically successful there while the Basotho are cementing themselves in poverty. As a Chinese American, I experienced a hefty amount of misdirected discrimination. The Marketplace broadcast seemed to side with the idea that the Chinese were snatching up every economic opportunity, leaving nothing for the Basotho. Granted, there are sketchy business decisions that some Chinese have made, but the Basotho are in their particular position most of all because of lack of entrepreneurial spirit (my official title as a PCV was “Small Business Advisor”). It was disturbing to hear the NPR report not because I share a physical appearance with the Chinese, but because I had experienced both sides and could not believe the lopsided situation an NPR show represented. Talk about a group that’s exploited Lesotho’s economy, where was any mention of South Africa and their complete infiltration into Basotho commodities and cultural goods? In many ways, Marketplace legitimized the discrimination against Lesotho’s Chinese community. I still haven’t heard a peep after writing a letter to the editor, not even acknowledgement of receipt.

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