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.


Filed under: Ethnic groups, Ethnicity, Grand Rapids, , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Beedazzling Spellebration: Li•ter•a•cy (noun)

The Rapidian was honored today by the Literacy Center of West Michigan with the Marshall Pitler Public Relations Award. We were one of the last to be announced at the Beedazzling Spellebration and had the chance to really steep in all the emotions that played across the stage. The tutors, students and families recognized for their diligence – Eritrean, Mexican, American – were just a few swatches from the gradient that fills in the Literacy Center.

Before we went up, they played a video compiled and edited by various students and tutors who couldn’t make it tonight. Among the testimonies was a Vietnamese woman, Hai (2:13), who shared that the Literacy Center equipped her with the confidence to serve her community better by being able to translate for her neighbors at medical appointments or childrens’ school functions.

It resonated. My mom moved to the States a couple years ahead of our birth (twins), and even though her English is versatile, her understanding is blameless, she never trusted herself. At the doctor’s office, in banks and on the phone, she insisted that I stand nearby, always checking her own understanding against mine.

There must have been something like the Literacy Center in the South Bay, and seeing Hai beam, I wish my mom had had the same.

Filed under: Grand Rapids, Immigration, , , , , ,

Vegan challenge… it has begun

Vegan Challenge! | Two friends, one month, zero animal products

I’m pretty sure I have one of the most talented web designer friends. Get ready: It took Matt Anderson about 2.5 days to whip this site together.

Matt and I started vegan challenge as a friendship project. Neither of us are vegans. We tossed around the idea of keeping a blog during the first challenge in June 2010 but didn’t pull one together till this bout.

You’ll see less random posts on Dennetmint this month, so pop on over to for our back-and-forths. We each learned a lot of different things from the last vegan challenge, and I hope you’ll join us on this January adventure!

Filed under: Grand Rapids, Internet, Uncategorized, , , , ,

I would like to thank…

In about a half-hour, I’m going to an awards ceremony.

See, the thing is, I’ve been trying to hide from this for a couple of weeks now. I was nominated for an award about a month and a half ago, and tonight is the ceremony. These sort of things make me uncomfortable because for me, any sort of competitive setting stirs the ol’ spirit.

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Filed under: Grand Rapids, , , , , , , ,

Red string of fate or Beili Liu’s Lure/Wave

The new UICA has yet to open, but on the corner of Fulton and Division is a room cresting with crimson lily pads. At night, shadows from thousands of discs dapple the floor. It’s completely unquantifiable.

Beili Liu‘s interpretation of the red string of fate—soul mates linked at birth via an invisible red thread—is so stunning that it almost makes me wish I believed in soul mates. Or, at the very least, had a little more faith in love.

Filed under: Grand Rapids, , , , , ,

One year: A GR-versary assessment

One year ago today, I moved to Grand Rapids, MI. My body was six pounds lighter, my hair was a foot longer, and I had no cavities.

In one year’s time:

I’ve finished three books and started six. My subscription to Good Magazine has expired and I’ve replaced it with Wired Magazine. I’ve had my wallet stolen, my heart broken and worn high heels two times. I’ve seen my family twice and visited my best friend once.

I’ve ran a beer mile, swam half a mile everyday for a month, switched road tires for cyclocross tires and back again, attempted the April Bike Challenge with Chrisapapolis, and completed the June Vegan Challenge with Matters. I’ve developed a proclivity for monthly challenges and learned that weather cannot deter my impulse to move.

Since starting at The Rapidian, I’ve submitted 10 staff editorials, 24 dev blog entries, 28 stories for fun (Midtown and my own) and edited 14 Catalyst Radio shows. We won Best In Show at the WMPRSA PRoof Awards (all credit goes to Roberta F. King at GRCF). We lost a dear co-worker and weathered through another’s car accident. My video editing skills have rusted while I’ve learned how to produce for radio. I’ve been on four panels, DJ-ed twice on WYCE and initiated the process for a civic media food platform. I occasionally organize the Vegilantes and have joined two boards: Midtown Neighborhood Association and Western College Program Alumni Association.

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Filed under: Grand Rapids, , , , , , , , ,

Nine months in: GR reset

A lot has happened since I moved to GR. At first, I mourned Portland, a city I believed would be my final destination. Next, it was learning to call Grand Rapids home. Now, it’s realizing how living in a small town requires rethinking my approach.

In an unforeseen series of circumstances, I find myself in a situation I would never have imagined. I’m still not quite certain how I became embroiled in all of it. However, in the immediate aftermath (today is the day after), I feel hopeful.

I’m beginning to remember that the world is bigger than Grand Rapids, and that despite my lack of mobility, there are ways to leave. Books, poetry, news, advocacy, writing… I have things such as biking and swimming to call my own, but none of those take me out of Grand Rapids.

Ground-up issues are more immediate, but not always more legit; every once in a while, there’s something to be said for broader issues that trickle down to the local level. I have been uneasy about how to participate on a national level because it can feel like an excuse for passive action, such as joining a FB group as protest; too easy. I live my life on that local level, but I’m reminded of how important it has always been to me to feel connected on a far wider scale.

It’s odd realizing what you take for granted when you’re accustomed to more cosmopolitan areas. I’ve always been accustomed to being open because whether it’s dirty doesn’t come up when you don’t have to worry about people’s curiosity. Here, niceties are actually formalities and not necessarily genuine questions only asked when time can be spared. I may have a new-found sense of hope from rediscovering the bigger world, but I know I have some things to work through:

  • Figure out where the line is between being open and gossiping (even about yourself).
  • Be on guard against the big fish syndrome.
  • It’s better to discuss things rather than people.
  • Never overlook your responsibility for your words and actions, but after a certain point, you aren’t accountable for other people’s impressions.
  • Identify turns of phrase that give the speaker carte blanche (i.e.: That’s human). Be wary of those who use them and, in turn, avoid using them like the plague.

Filed under: Food for thought, Grand Rapids, , , , , , ,