In Seattle and around the globe, people of color are carving out their own spaces in a traditionally white-dominated zine culture.
Last Friday the POC Zine Project brought the 2013 Race Riot! Tour to Seattle’s Black Coffee Co-op for a night of spoken word, live music, and independent art distribution.
The café was crammed with attendees finding common ground through their love of “zines” — self-published, handmade pamphlets filled with storytelling and activism.
In many cities, zine communities (like the punk communities they were born from) are predominantly white. But the POC Zine Project aims to make “zines by people of color easy to find, distribute and share.”
The Race Riot! tour this fall is meant to further spread these resources, bringing artists Anna Vo, Nyky Gomez, Carey Fuller, Christy Road, Nia King, Pati Garcia and Toi Scott around the country to showcase their work and read excerpts from their zines.
At the event on Friday local zine maker and founder of Brown Recluse Zine Distro Nyky Gomez read excerpts form her zine Skinned Heart, and touched on how she got involved in zine culture as a way to find resources and comfort outside of her immediate community.
“I’ve learned to like the idea of redefining what it means to be a Tex-Mex American, desert hearted, lizard punk woman living in a different landscape and a different emotional environment,” Gomez read on Friday. “I feel as though the space I have struggled to carve out for myself, struggled against white punks for, is finally getting comfortable.”
Brown Recluse is one of few zine distributors that brings together zines produced by people of color.
“There are hundreds of zines dating way back into the 1900’s written by people of color and their struggles, and issues pertinent to people of color — these resources do exist and we need a place to bring them together and make them available.” Gomez said.
Mainstream websites like Etsy, Tumblr, and Big Cartel serve as the main online hosts for zines and zine distros, but people like Gomez are working on alternatives.
“A lot of online websites for zine distros are run by white folks,” Gomez said. “I started Brown Recluse Zine Distro in response to that, and to help people like me find community and places of comfort. Computers don’t always make zines accessible, and my ultimate goal is to establish mailing lists and paper catalogues.”
Beyond events like the Race Riot! Tour, Seattle’s zine culture is alive and thriving. Local establishments such as the Zine Archive and Publishing Project (ZAPP), nestled in the Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill, host thousands of zines and a workspaces. Since 1996, the library has grown to host 20,000 zines, making it one of the largest zine collections in the world.
Events like the Short Run Press small press festival coming in November to Washington Hall also function as a way to bring zine-readers and zine-makers together on a larger scale. The festival is free to the public, and hosts a variety of art books, zines, comics, and animation.
“I’ve lived here for the past five years and I like it here because there is a large diverse community of people doing different things,” Gomez said.
After the event, I followed up via email with Berlin-based touring artist Anna Vo about what inspired her start producing zines.
“In white-dominated societies it is important to carve out intentional spaces for people of color, for immigrants, for the homeless, for anyone oppressed who is struggling because of their environment and its expectation for people to assimilate,” she said.
Vo’s parents and grandparents fled from the Vietnam War to New Zealand, where she was born, and her family has since worked to slowly reunite with other family members in the United States. Now at the age of 30, she has finally acquired an immigrant visa to the U.S. and plans to relocate to Seattle in December.
“It is really important to me to support refugees in white-dominated societies, possibly because I saw how Vietnamese labor was exploited in sweatshops in Australia,” Vo said. “I hope to continue work along these lines in Seattle.”
Vo has worked to create these spaces by organizing zine workshops, running community spaces in immigrant neighborhoods in London, working as a community architect and teacher in rural Vietnam, Nepal and Mexico, and through her own zine making, book writing, and music producing. She plans to host empowerment workshops for high school and university-aged women of color in Seattle.
I left Race Riot! with four zines in hand, a few new friends, and a sense of solidarity.
As Vo put it, “building networks, support structures we can trust, and making spaces that heal and nurture are vital to our survival and self-care.”