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Where EAST meets the Northwest

ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM. Members of the Asian Leaders for the Liberation of Youth (ALLY), the youth organizing arm of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, attend a recent ’zine workshop held by A’misa Chiu. On July 22 and 23 from noon to 6:00pm, the annual Portland Zine Symposium will take place at the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space, located at 8114 S.E. Division Street in Portland. (Photo courtesy of Asian Leaders for the Liberation of Youth)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #14 (July 17, 2017), page 13.

Marginalized communities gain voice with ’zines

By Ryan Nakano
The Asian Reporter

Shortly after the May 26 murders on the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light rail near the Hollywood Station, "TBH … I’M AFRAID" was printed on the 10th page of a small publication written by a group of Portland youth working with Asian Leaders for the Liberation of Youth (ALLY), the youth organizing arm of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO).

Front to back, the stapled-and-bound collection of black-and-white photocopied pages of text and illustrations tells a story of safety, oppression, transportation, and solidarity.

When the publication is printed, maybe about 100 copies are made. The publication is an outlet for the Asian-American youth who built it; it is an outlet for their community.

Thus the ALLY ’zine is born just in time for the end of the world, or at least the Portland Zine Symposium (PZS).

On Saturday, July 22, ’zinesters and ’zine enthusiasts will fill the space between the white walls of the old furniture store near the corner of S.E. 82nd Avenue and Division Street, now known as the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space.

For two days starting at noon, the free all-ages event will offer workshops, panels, and tabling exhibitors. It will feature special ’zinester guests Marya Errin Jones and Tonya Jones.

Already flyers have been posted around the streets of Portland — in coffee shops, on community boards, outside a college library — of a printed image of a giant dark blue wave washing over Portland and its bridges which sit at eye level with the words Portland Zine Symposium flagged in grey and black.

This is the work of Vietnamese artist Anna Vo.

"They wanted me to do something post-apocalyptic, but I didn’t want to do something that was going to continue the narrative that this is the first time we have faced this crisis," Vo explained. "I wanted to highlight the generational history of Portland being a white space and a place with a history of white supremacy."

So Vo illustrated a wave, an allusion to the 1948 flooding of what was once the second largest city in Oregon — a large percentage of which were African American.

The city of Vanport was never rebuilt.

Vo also illustrated gentrification, burying the phrase tabula rasa beneath the crest of an impending natural disaster, depicting the white-washed nature of the city and the manmade disaster that is historical oppression.

Through her work as an activist and creativity as an artist, the New Zealand-born ’zinester successfully illustrates a pre-, present-, and post-apocalyptic landscape for the upcoming ’zine fest.

What started as one of the first major ’zine symposiums in the country in 2001, PZS has continued to grow into a space where people from all kinds of backgrounds and genders — including queer, trans, people of color, indigenous, and others — can feel safe and heard.

In 2015, the symposium underwent a change of organizers; in the process, it gained several women of color interested in continuing to make PZS as inclusive as possible, including A’misa Chiu.

"I was looking at ’zine culture asking what does it need and I knew it needed more communities of color to be invested. I was tired of critiquing it and thought maybe if I get involved, I can get those people in," Chiu recalled. "You have to keep doing it over and over again to make it feel inclusive, to flip the script."

Chiu, a PZS organizer and long-time ’zinester, was first introduced to the art form 10 years ago when she found the first issue of Giant Robot, a small, handmade bi-monthly publication featuring Asian pop culture and Asian-American alternative culture.

"I was a dabbling artist at the time and I was like, ‘I can do this,’" Chiu said. "I gathered up stories from friends and collected art for around five months and put out my first issue. As cheesy as it sounds, I felt like I had found my art thing."

Since then, Chiu has written personal ’zines as well as ’zines of flash fiction, food, family, and her Japanese-American childhood. And ’zines were what landed Chiu with a job and a future career as a librarian.

Chiu, who now works at the Warner Pacific College library, found her calling at the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, after asking the librarian at the time to carry her ’zine. On the spot, the librarian offered her a job as a researcher.

If people understand that they can change "from being a consumer to a creator at a young age, the potential is really big for them to start realizing they can affect change by writing down their thoughts or issues through art," Chiu said. "This is a space where you can share your story, your perspective, and if you don’t feel like you’re listened to or have a voice, this is a space where you can do just that."

PZS recently received a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) to lead workshops for marginalized underrepresented youth through groups such as SMYRC, Brown Girls Rise, and APANO’s ALLY.

Shortly after the May 26 murders on the MAX light rail, "I’M AFRAID BUT I WANT TO BE STRONG" was printed on the ninth page of a small publication produced by a group of Asian-American youth living in Portland.

"The revolution may not be televised," Chiu said. "But maybe it will be found in ’zines."

PZS takes place July 22 and 23 from noon to 6:00pm at the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space, located at 8114 S.E. Division Street in Portland. To learn more, call (971) 340-4861, or visit <> or <>.

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