“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability

Rihanna recently released a powerful video, “Man Down,” which portrays sexual violence and a lethal response.  Many writers have reflected on the politics of sexual violence against black women in the context of this video including Akiba Solomon at ColorlinesCrunk Feminist Collective, Mark Anthony Neal, and this interview with black lesbian feminist filmmaker, Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

We’re excited to republish the blog post below written by Stephanie M. Crumpton which was posted originally at her blog, Empowering Voices, Cultivating Transformation.  Reposted with permission.  -Editors

“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability
Stephanie M. Crumpton

My initial reaction to Rihanna’s “Man Down” video was to ask if there was some kind of connection between it and her personal experiences with violence that we were all made aware of in the 2009 coverage of her assault by a man she was dating (Chris Brown). It seems that since that experience, issues of dominance and relationship violence have become more common in her lyrics and visual representations. Consider her work on Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” a song depicting a volatile cycle of passion and pain in a violent relationship between a man and a woman who batter each other but won’t separate.

When I watched “Man Down” and then read some of the posts, especially the negative press, I wondered about whether or not some of her personal experiences AND what she observes in the lives of other women has impacted how seriously she takes her work as an artist.
I may not be far off on this one… Just days after the video was released, Rihanna called in to BET’s 106th and Park show to talk about the video.

The 23 year old artist said, “Rape is, unfortunately, happening all over the world and in our own homes, and we continue to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t happen…”
She explained, “Boys and girls feel compelled to be embarrassed about it and hide it from everyone, including their teachers, their parents and their friends. That only continues to empower the abusers.”

In several cultures, the work of the artist serves as the moral barometer of the community. In this sense, the work isn’t as much about their personal experience as it is about what’s happening on a spiritual level that shows up in our dealings with one another in the wider communal and cultural context.

I must admit that I was indeed shocked when I saw the video (the blood spilling from the back of the man’s head).

That shock was matched by sorrow and sadness over the amount of people (girls, boys, women and men) who are sexually assaulted and who spend days of their lives in anguish because there is no justice really when it comes to the trauma and pain of rape and assault – especially in a culture where people blame the victim when the concern really should be the perpetrators’ use of force.

I thought of the women who are in jail right now because they killed people they were involved with in an act of self defense after years of having been abused. Is there justice in being put in jail because you were defending your life? Do we need to take a serious look at what we mean when we use that word, “justice?”

I also thought of the story in Texas about the eleven year old who was gang raped in a trailer by 18 boys and men. When the news hit, this was the response from a woman in her community, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” The “this” she was likely referring to are the criminal charges (and perhaps the guilt?) of their alleged offense.

I shook my head…

What about what the girl will have to live with for the rest of her life – the mental anguish and physical scars of gang rape. How is it that the perpetrators’ needs came to outweigh the suffering of an eleven year old victim? Furthermore, what happens when girls can’t even count on adult women to side with them as they face the aftermath of gender-based violence?

So, all of this prompted me to consider Rihanna’s “Man Down” from the perspective of people who need to know that there are women who use their art to raise awareness about the reality of women’s anguish over rape, but who will also use their art and public platform to call the community to accountability over rape as a communal offense that impacts EVERYONE.

I think that’s just what Rihanna is doing, using her artistry to: 1) Unsettle the conscious and unconscious ways that society has largely accepted violence against women as a norm; 2) Flat footedly reject the idea that responsible, mature women handle their pain and rage quietly and privately. It’s as if society wants the victim to handle their pain in secret, just to protect the community from being embarrassed by what’s happening. Shame on that!

Rihanna isn’t alone. Actress Gabrielle Union took the opportunity to engage rape as a public concern, and the rage she felt when she tried to kill her rapist.

To be clear, I do not suggest that those of us who have been hurt take to the streets to shoot everyone who has hurt us. But, what I do recognize is that her video shows us what can (and does) happen when people weigh their pain against society’s acceptance of violent acts that enforce dominance: They feel the overwhelming weight of the community’s non-commitment to justice, and take matters into hands that pull triggers.

I appreciate Rihanna’s willingness to use her media presence as a medium for consciousness raising. I’m interested in her next step as an artist: I would like to see her participate in the opportunity for dialogue about rape’s rage and change in our communities that her video creates.

Stephanie M. Crumpton

Stephanie M. Crumpton is a public intellectual who writes because she knows that words matter and believes in their ability to empower voices and cultivate transformation.

INCITE! Needs Your Help Getting to Detroit!

A member of the INCITE Media Working Group in a workshop.

Hello INCITE Supporters!

The Allied Media Conference is around the corner, and the INCITE Track is presenting an incredible bunch of workshops this year. Our work grows stronger each year through this time spent in Detroit, sharing skills, deepening relationships, and developing strategy for year-round media-based organizing. But we need your help to get there! Can you donate to help INCITE Track participants get to the conference?

Who are we?

We are women, trans* and genderqueer people of color. We are bloggers, mamas, media makers, teachers, healers, artists, sex workers, organizers, dancers, among many other things. And we need support in order to make it to Detroit for the 4th Annual INCITE! Track at the Allied Media Conference.

What will your donation help us do?

Your donation will help some of our amazing presenters get to the conference to continue building a network of media-makers and organizers through the INCITE Track at the AMC. For the past four years, the INCITE Track has been a crucial space where women and trans* people of color from all over can come together to share skills and experience for participatory media-based organizing strategies.

We’re excited about this year’s AMC! Check out some of the INCITE Track sessions:

Shawty Got Skillz Skillshare
Spread Magazine: Creating a Race Issue
The Black Girl Project: Film & Discussion
Delivering Justice Through Birthing Rights: Mamas of Color Bring it Home
Street Youth Rise Up! Collective Media-Making for Healing and Action
INCITE Media Working Group Convening

Your support will help us with food, transportation, lodging, registration, and childcare costs for presenters and participants.

Donate Now!

Please give what you can to help us get one step closer the AMC! Anything you give will go directly towards childcare, food, housing or registration for a track presenter! Via PayPal, please send to incite.natl@gmail.com and write AMC in the notes. For check donations, mail to INCITE!, 2416 W Victory Blvd #108
, Burbank, CA 91506-1229. All donations are tax-deductible.

More on the INCITE! Track:

The INCITE! Track at the AMC is a place to build a shared approach to ending violence against women, trans*, and genderqueer people of color through diverse media – from blogging and graphic design to zine-making. We will continue to highlight the transformative media strategies that will help broaden the understanding of racial & gender justice and integrating this politic into our work. We will continue to build solidarity between movements, organizations and individuals that are headed by and supported by women, gender non-conforming, and transpeople of color and will initiate collaborative projects that use different forms of media to help build community and provide tools to build sustainable ways of organizing and healing.

More on the Allied Media Conference:

The Allied Media Conference cultivates strategies for a more just and creative world. We come together to share tools and tactics for transforming our communities through media-based organizing. Check out a full schedule of sessions here.

Learn more and register for the Allied Media Conference:

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility — San Francisco, CA

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility

April 8-10, 2011

Z Space (formerly Theater Artaud)
450 Florida St.
San Francisco, CA

Sins Invalid is a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized.  Sins Invalid celebrates the power of embodiment & sexuality, stripping taboos off sexuality and disability to offer a vision of beauty that includes all bodies and communities.

Knotting Stories Over Time and Geography is best captured in the words of artist performer Aurora Levins Morales:

“Our history is in our bodies—what we do to breathe, how we move, the sounds we make, our myriad shapes, our wild gestures, far outside the boundaries of what’s expected, the knowledge bound into our bones, our trembling muscles, our laboring lungs—like secret seeds tied into the hair of our stolen ancestors, we carry it everywhere.  Our stories erupt in the dances we invent, in the pleasure rubbed from our bodies like medicine from crushed leaves, spicy, astringent, sweet… Listen with your body. Let your body speak.”

2011 artists include:
Aurora Levins Morales
Antoine Hunter
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Ellery Russian
Nomy Lamm
Alex Cafarelli
Juba Kalamka
Leroy F. Moore Jr.
Patty Berne
Todd Herman
seeley quest
Maria Palacios
Ralph Dickinson
Ryon Gesink

To celebrate the 5th anniversary, we are offering a visual art installation of the same theme in the lobby!

8pm Friday April 8th, 2011
8pm Saturday April 9th, 2011 (Audio Described; ASL interpreted by Stage Hands)
7pm Sunday April 10th, 2011

Tickets are $16 – $25, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Tickets are selling – buy your soon! (http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/157288)

The venue is wheelchair accessible.  In solidarity with loved ones and community members who are chemically injured and would like to attend the show, please refrain from using perfume, cologne and other scented products.  Although we cannot guarantee a completely scent-free space, there will be scent free seating all three performances.

Supported by the generosity of the Aepoch Fund, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Community Foundation (Boulder), the Carpenter Foundation, the Horizons Foundation, and the Left Tilt Fund.

Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present performance work where normative paradigms of “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.

Sins Invalid recognizes that we will be liberated as whole beings  as disabled/as queer/as brown/as black/as genderqueer/as female or male bodied  as we are far greater whole than partitioned.  We recognize that our allies emerge from many communities and that demographic identity alone does not determine ones commitment to liberation.

Sins Invalid believes in social and economic justice for all people with disabilities  in lockdowns, in shelters, on the streets, visibly disabled, invisibly disabled, sensory minority, environmentally injured, psychiatric survivors  moving beyond individual legal rights to collective human rights.

Our stories, imbedded in analysis, offer paths from identity politics to unity amongst all oppressed people, laying a foundation for a collective claim of liberation and beauty.

Please Note: Show contains explicit content

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Call for workshops and skillsharing: INCITE! at the 2011 Allied Media Conference

INCITE! Presents
a Women Trans* & Genderqueer Folks of Color Track
at the 2011 Allied Media Conference: June 23 – 26 | Detroit, MI

As women, trans* and genderqueer people of color making media that directly mingles our personal lives with the political issues we speak about, we believe that the daily intimidation we experience as a result of our work is dangerous when faced in isolation or silence. We believe, as Audre Lorde did, that “it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive.” The community of support we create through the INCITE! Track at the Allied Media Conference is vital to our survival as people of color making media and organizing to end violence within our communities. Equally vital is the exchange of brilliant ideas that takes place when we come together. We are all pushing the boundaries of what media is capable of and sharing the lessons of that experience with each other, and would love you to join us in Detroit this June to do just that.

More info about the Allied Media Conference: http://alliedmediaconference.org/
More info about INCITE!: http://www.incite-national.org/
More info about INCITE!’s collaboration with AMC since 2007:
http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/reflections-from-detroit-reflections-after-the-4th-annual-incite-track-at-the-amc/

ABOUT THE ALLIED MEDIA CONFERENCE:

The Allied Media Conference cultivates media strategies for a more just and creative world. Held every June in Detroit, MI, it is the primary point of intersection in the U.S. for alternative media makers and committed social justice activists from around the country.

We come together to share tools and tactics for transforming our communities through media-based organizing. The panel discussions and workshops of the AMC are hands-on and practical, intergenerational while youth-centered. They showcase the solutions emerging from places where creativity is a matter of survival. Out of the AMC, we evolve new skills and strategies to bring back to our local contexts. We deepen our relationships and expand our networks in ways that support ongoing collaboration throughout the year. 

PROPOSED SESSIONS FOR 2011 INCITE! TRACK:

Some of the sessions already proposed for this year include:

*A 3 hour skill-sharing carnival for women, trans* and genderqueer people of color of every skill level
*Gender justice caucus
*Popular Education workshops
*”This is what INCITE is, how to start a chapter” workshop
*Using media to keep our healing traditions alive
*Social Justice and Zine Making
*Motherhood and Media Organizing

We know you’ve got brilliance to spare! Please let us know if you would like to propose a workshop or be a part of the skillshare!

The skillshare is in its third year and its goal is to remind us that we already have the tools we need for our communities to thrive! Ask yourself how your skills, whether they be bike maintenance, baking, healing practice, awesome gaming, “hating” (biting, hilarious and effective breakdowns of power), DIY clothes creation, PA skills, interdependent coalition building, gardening, dancing, etc. could be used by folks to:

* sustain their community and themselves?
* create spaces for laughter and fun in movement work?
* connect with people?
* end gendered violence against people of color?
* create media justice?

Participants would go from station to station learning skills and figuring out how the skills connect to the work they are already doing in their communities. We also want to create a zine of the skills and how folks came to acquire them, so even if you are unable to participate, we’d love to get a blurb from you about how you came into doing what you do and some resources people might check out as well! We’ll also be documenting the process as well as creating mechanisms to sustain what’s shared after the conference!

To propose a skill to share, email Moya at moyazb[at]gmail[dot]com
To propose a workshop email Karla at krmtgrl[at]gmail.com[dot]com and/or Emi at hello.emik[at]gmail[dot]com.

Childcare will be available for free during the daytime hours throughout the weekend of the conference. Several workshop proposals for kids have been submitted and we are looking for more! Send any proposals for kids workshops to: jenny[at]alliedmedia[dot]org.

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Unforgotten Faces – Acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa

Re-posted with permission from the amazing blog, Black Looks.

Unforgotten Faces – Acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa

by Zanele Muholi on August 6, 2010

Busisiwe Sigasa

For Artscape Women’s Festival 2010, Zanele Muholi and Ellen Eisenman have produced a collection of photographs that celebrate women’s lives. They recognize and honor the living as well as those who have left the planet. And they question, why does society allow some to be taken away so early and with such violence? These are Unforgotten Faces.

The artists’ collaboration began in 2008, as they began to share ideas, images, questions, and challenges. Included in the exhibit are portraits of women; in addition, Muholi and Eisenman have together created a series of stamps, acknowledging Black Womyn of South Africa, especially in honor of Busi Sigasa, Nosizwe Cekiso, Eudy Simelane, and Penny Fish . Zanele and Ellen hope that their work stimulates a discussion about hidden histories–unexamined stories that so influence many women’s daily lives. In order to honor life, let us see all of life, and to question the brutality of how many lesbians are dying.

About her portraits, Zanele Muholi has said,

“In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily, I embarked on a journey of visual activism to ensure that there is black queer visibility. It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here.

In my portraits, I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portraiture. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.

“The viewer is invited to contemplate questions such as: what does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialised and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more ‘authentic’ than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman? Can you identify a rape survivor by the clothes she wears?

“These portraits present an insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys. Some of their stories gave me sleepless nights as I tried to process the struggles that were told to me. Many of the women I met had been violated and I endeavoured not to exploit them further through my work. I set out to establish relationships with them based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian and black today. “


Ellen Eisenman’s portraits are tributes to cultural workers–people who have committed a large part of their lives to working for progressive social and cultural change. They are from various walks of life and take up many different issues, from leading community groups to practicing the arts for social change, from organizing demonstrations to supporting youth groups. This multi-year project began in South Africa in 2009, and continues in the U.S.The goal of the work is to contribute to a larger understanding of social change and of the many different people who live their lives working for change.

At the core of any democratic society must be engaged citizens who organize politically in their own communities and who willingly and boldly cross the cultural borders that set us against each other. Otherwise, these borders between races, classes, sexualities, national boundaries, and gender expressions will increasingly fragment us into ever-smaller communities. It seems that the forces of division and against progressive social change are growing stronger and isolating us from one another. Now more than ever, we need to recognize and support those cultural workers who are deeply committed to progressive social change and who work against these dominant trends.

Text and Photographs by Zanele Muholi and Ellen Eisenman ©2010

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Sep 10th in NYC: OUR RIGHTS, OUR COMMUNITIES! Come Celebrate and Support Harm Reduction Projects Working With Youth!

OUR RIGHTS, OUR COMMUNITIES! Come Celebrate and Support Harm Reduction Projects Working With Youth!

when: friday, september 10, 2010, 7-9:30 pm

where: The Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Fabulous Loft Space 5th floor, 147 W. 24th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues in NYC

what: fundraiser and community gathering featuring:

  • a video project by SAS youth,
  • dope tracks by YWEP members,
  • delicious food, spoken word, amazing raffle prizes and more!

how much: $10 – $50 sliding scale, youth under 24 FREE. Please bring your checkbooks :-)
If you want to buy tickets in advance or can’t make it but would like to support our work anyway, please donate at: http://sasfundraiser.kintera.org/

Streetwise and Safe (SAS), Streetwork & the Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP) invite you to join us in celebrating $pread magazine’s summer 2010 Issue featuring our collective achievements in working with homeless youth, youth with experience of involvement in the sex trades, and youth who have experienced criminalization in the context of policing sex work and “quality of life” initiatives! We hope you will support us in continuing to build safe and resilient communities, fight criminalization of youth, and protect and promote our rights, leadership and self-determination!!! This fabulous fundraiser will feature:

  • The New York City premiere screening of SAS’ unique “know your rights” video THIS IS MY TRUTH, made by and for LGBTQ youth of color about policing and criminalization in the context of policing of sex work and “quality of life” offenses. Find out how to bring a SAS workshop to your organization!
  • Dope tracks created by YWEP members with Detroit MC Invincible. Learn more about YWEP’s amazing participatory research project and report “Girls do what they have to do to survive: Illuminating Methods used by Girls in the Sex Trade and Street Economy to Fight Back and Heal: A Participatory Action Research Study of Resilience and Resistance
  • Information about Streetwork’s new and groundbreaking initiative to provide harm reduction services to youth involved in the sex trades.
  • Spoken word by Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene. Yvonne is an Ijaw and Urhobo who was born with a mouth full of dynamite and sugarcane.  She uses her poetry to chisel a verbal sculpture of her soul for listeners while addressing issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, war, imperialism, love, self-esteem and family.  Etaghene has self-published three collections of poetry, toured nationally and performed in over 25 u.s. cities.  Her one woman show, Volcano’s Birthright{s}, debuted in May 2009 in New York City.  For more information about her work & future performances of her one woman show, please visit www.myloveisaverb.com.  Her performative work can be found at: www.youtube.com/AfrocrownDiva
  • And last but not least, we have amazing raffle prizes that include:  One year Bluestockings membership card, Tarot Reading by Remy Kharbanda, a basket of Tree’s Treats, a 30 min massage with Saul Silva of Healing Hands for the People, a 1hr Swedish Massage at Center Balancing with Gail Cooper, 2 tickets to Basement Banghra ,  INCITE Women of Color Against Violence publications : “The Color of Violence” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded”, $pread Magazine’s commemorative back catalogue and exciting Babeland goodies!

Please join us and help us spread the word!  Facebook event can be found here.
Sponsored by:

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The Mountains Are Just Ahead of Us

We’ll be skipping the Language & Action feature this weekend because we’re putting together this month’s e-newsletter (sign up here).  In the meantime, here’s a beautiful guest post from Alison Roh Park on the role of poetry in women of color organizing. Republished from Delirious Hem, with permission.  – Editors

The Mountains Are Just Ahead of Us, by Alison Roh Park

“Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression.”
— The Combahee River Collective Statement

Poetry has been a rock for me throughout my life; my oldest pastime, coping mechanism and creative outlet—my dearest BFF. And yet, poetry has also been pushed to the margins of my life, overshadowed by the daily hustle, the drama, the goals and investments of my life, my political coming-of-age and growth as a woman of color. Last year, after almost a decade of  squeezing in poetry wherever it fit, I made a commitment. I applied to and was accepted to a graduate program in poetry and, skeptical but trying hard not to be a cynic of academia, embarked on the journey (albeit while continuing to work full-time) in the hopes of “learning” how to be a better writer and to access all the treasures that an institution might hold for me, a simple poet of the people.

Not unsurprisingly, I often find myself in situations where my artist self and my political self cannot comfortably occupy the same space publicly, though they are rarely separate in my artistic process. I like to imagine there is a secret network of left artists, people of color and women poets, in academic settings like mine all around the country, who communicate through hidden cyphers in sonnets and sestinas and the like. But more often than not, I think the critical political thinkers in conservative academic settings have to exist on two parallel tracks or be forced to do the dirty work—to ask the hard questions and speak up. It’s a nasty place to be, but one that folks who are not so disillusioned and burnt out by the journey are charged with, and more often than not those people are women, gender non-conforming and people of color. Recently in a class discussion that felt like deja vu from my undergraduate years, we were talking about (privileged/entitled) people writing (stealing/exploiting) other (oppressed/marginalized) people’s stories (cultural products/collective histories). The feeling of being “that” person was all too familiar—someone “radical” or “crazy” compared to the rest of the room, the butt of other people’s privilege, that menstruating yellow beast that needs to be put down for the sake of order and the sanctity of white entitlement. Is this what poetry is supposed to feel like?

It’s as if there are two of me walking two parallel paths: my journey to an appreciation of poetry beyond what it does for me, and my journey to a truer understanding of justice and every person’s right to have it. Here are some of my personal ruminations as a woman of color of the Asian diaspora in the United States:  I am aware of how often and how much women and gendered bodies all over the world are required to survive. We are compelled, often with outright violence, rape or social control, to survive the worst things, like the lowest quality of life; lower wages; war and occupation; no or little access to education, food, clean drinking water or healthcare; community violence; daily sexual harassment; police violence or the fear of police violence; denied, with laws and violence, the right to control our own reproduction; to give up our dreams and talents to take care of others and so many other things tangible and intangible that wouldn’t fit here. And, yet, in all that desperation, there is hope. I hear stories about people resisting and exercising agency within their oppression on a daily basis, as individuals or collectively. I hear stories about women in Mexico overthrowing a radio station to be heard; or women farmers in South Africa participating in organized civil disobedience for land and housing rights; or a community in California that has found a way to hold domestic violent perpetrators accountable without relying on the police state. I hear about sex workers sharing information on message boards to keep each other safe; or about men working with young boys to stop violence against women; or about transgender women of color organizing against police abuse and harassment in New Orleans.

This is where I want my poetry to live—in hope. And though there are plenty of days when I doubt the relevance of my poetry, either because my aesthetics have moved from performance to the page, or because not every poem I write is explicitly about oppression or resistance, or because it might just not be very good—whatever that means—it’s what I have to offer. Toni Cade Bambara said “The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.” I dream about a worldwide, poor women-led liberation movement to overthrow capitalism and hetero-patriarchy from the Global South and up. I dream about art fueling that movement, swimming free in a new world that is finally ours.

—————————————
Country Lesson

Put the baby on your back
Wrap the sash around your waist and the baby’s too
Balance the bundle in your free hand, wrap your fingers
around the knot. Bend your body forward on the dirt path
It will help you get up the hill. The mountains are just ahead;
you’ve left the other ones behind you.     Walk
Watch the silver mist rise from the triangle shapes
on the horizon. The peninsula will always hold you.

Alison Roh Park is a cultural worker and activist from Queens, New York.  She blogs at http://delirioushem.blogspot.com/, where this post was originally published.

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