Artists, musicians and poets of color brace for the incoming Trump administration and prepare to fight back
Anyone who happened to walk past Wild Goose Creative one Friday evening in early December might have been struck to hear the familiar melody from "Jingle Bells" emanating from within the North Campus arts space.
On closer listen, however, something about the holiday tune being belted out by the rowdy chorus of revelers was slightly askew.
"Bad hombres to fear
Tiny hands are here
Building up alt-riiight …
Ohhh, Taco Bells, Taco Bells!"
The irreverent, politically charged sing-along concluded Onda Latina Ohio's "Swing State Latinx after the Trumpocalypse," a night of spoken word, music and performance art designed to allow the local Hispanic community a safe space to vent following the election of Donald Trump, whose presidential campaign was launched amid divisive, build-a-wall rhetoric aimed squarely at the Latinx population (Latinx, pronounced "La-teen-ex," is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino/Latina).
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Trump said when he announced his candidacy in June 2015. (The Electoral College is expected to affirm November's election results when it votes on Dec. 19, and the inauguration would take place on Jan. 20.) "They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
"When [Trump] says, 'They're rapists,' that has messages about Latino sexuality. And he's giving messages about how all Latino and Latina bodies … belong on the other side of a wall or a divide," said Ohio State University Assistant Professor of Latino/a Cultural and Literary Studies Paloma Martinez-Cruz, who organized the Onda Latina gathering. "No matter our generation, or what our nationality or citizenship is, the message is our presence is somehow illegal. And you feel the imprint of what that is getting at. We're not just Latinos anymore. We're Latinos after the Trumpocalypse. And that is a crisis situation."
Trump's election generated an immediate and wide-ranging response within minority arts communities. In addition to Onda Latina's "Trumpocalypse," poet and writer Scott Woods solicited black musicians to contribute to a 10-track, post-election mixtape dubbedBabylon for Breakfast, and William Evans, Columbus-based editor-in-chief of the pop-culture website Black Nerd Problems, posted an open call for election-themed essays, which have been released in a steady stream on the site since mid-November.
"There's a reason these essays are still trickling out weeks after the campaign: I want to keep this at the forefront," said Evans, who was careful to include an author photo with each essay to further personalize the words for readers. "I wanted to make sure there were pictures of these people front-and-center. This is what these people look like. These are the others - the people that feel overlooked or disregarded with this incoming administration. The people that really feel like they don't have a place in this new envisioned America."
These include local poet Ethan Rivera, who said he spent the days following the election feeling angry and out of place, unable to give words to a toxic cocktail of emotions and unable to connect with a community that shared his unique ethnic background. "I couldn't be like, 'Hey, look at all my Puerto Rican-Armenian friends," said Rivera, whose Latino and Middle Eastern genetic makeup left him feeling uniquely targeted throughout the election, whether debate centered on border walls, registries or halting immigration from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries. "It's interesting to have all of yourself attacked when you're so many different things."
With Black Nerd Problems' open-submission call, Rivera finally saw a way to vent these pent-up frustrations without being forced to labor over the numerous minute details required of his poems. "I just got to say how it felt and move on," he said.
Rivera, who was born in Florida, grew up outside Virginia Beach, Virginia, and relocated to Columbus a decade ago to attend OSU, has long embraced writing as a means of coming to terms with his background and attempting to figure out his place in the world as a result of it. But the incoming Trump administration has driven the writer to continue developing a broader, more-communal view.
"My dad and I had a conversation right after the election, and one of the things he said to me was, 'Ethan, our only job now is to survive,'" Rivera said. "And I think part of it is about surviving, sure, but it's also about resisting the things that should not happen - and I'm thinking of specific things like the Muslim registry and the attacks on people of color. That's an America I don't want to live in. We need to keep fighting and not let those things become the power structure."
Finding strength to move forward
Martinez-Cruz described Onda Latina in similar terms, referring to the arts event as both another step in a continuing healing process and as a means of reestablishing presence. "[Election] Tuesday bled into Wednesday where you're still taking stock. Is this for real? Am I here?" she said.
By the time Onda Latina rolled around in early December, some of these uncertainties - fueled by a realization that, even if voters didn't explicitly endorse Trump's border-wall tough talk, his language hadn't disqualified him in the eyes of much of the electorate - had calcified into resilience.
"My tagline is, 'I don't self-immolate, I create,'" Martinez-Cruz said. "So you cry, but then you take refuge in the strength of your friends and your kin and your kindred spirits, and you take a stand."
In one Onda Latina reading, a poet attempted to chart a way forward through the wreckage, speaking of "new worlds made from broken shards." A second spoken-word piece envisioned a land "where all are welcomed, understood, embraced, loved." Additionally, a number of the written missives submitted by audience members to a "chusma" box (the word translates to "rabble" and more broadly signifies the unwashed masses) and read aloud exhibited early signs of hope, reading: "I'm going to make it"; "I'm terrified for my undocumented family … but I'm not going to be quiet about it"; "Still glad being here."
According to Martinez-Cruz, this resilience is informed both by a deep respect for the elders and a belief in the promise of the youth. "My grandparents saw segregated drinking fountains. My parents were beaten in school for speaking Spanish," she said. "We're holding steady because the ancestors have been through so much and still managed to transmit some dignity. … Now my kids need to see what we come up with."
Even so, Martinez-Cruz expressed a fear for current students registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an immigration policy initiated by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive renewable reprieve from deportation. (Trump said he would rescind the policy if elected and the status of the program remains an open question.)
Yuri Arteaga, who moved to the United States with his family in December 2002 at age 5, enrolled in DACA in 2012 and has renewed his status every two years. It's currently set to expire in 2018, at which point he'd either be forced to marry - something the second-year OSU accounting major said he's in no rush to do - or return to El Salvador, a country he hasn't visited since settling in Whitehall as a child. Further complicating matters, Arteaga's older brother is a naturalized U.S. citizen, having been born during a stint when the family lived in California in the late '80s.
"Before, I had a clear vision of how my life would go, and now it's blurry," Arteaga said. "There are many of us who have been here our whole lives, who aren't criminals, and we don't have help. We don't have someone speaking for us.
"On Facebook there was a post from an undocumented student who said she had a 4.0 grade-point average and graduated valedictorian, and in the comments you'd see, 'She's illegal. She's a criminal. Deport her.' The way to combat that is to let people know we're here to be citizens. We're here to contribute to society. And we deserve to be in this country."
Recently, Martinez-Cruz was part of a contingent of more than 1,500 OSU professors, students and alumni who submitted a letter to Ohio State President Michael Drake asking the university to implement a number of measures designed to preserve campus as a sanctuary for "all Latino/a, minority, and LQBTQ students, staff, and their family members, including especially those who face imminent deportation."
"By definition, these [DACA] individuals arrived as children and have grown up working to make real the American Dream. We support them strongly and are committed to their success," the university said in a statement toAlive. "We also support strongly those programs that have been established to help them achieve their goals. Ohio State is engaged in active dialogue with our peers and policymakers around the country, and we continue to closely monitor this important issue. Our priority remains the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff."
Engaging the community
Though the artistic outcry has taken multiple forms, emerging in the written word in the ongoing Black Nerd Problems essay series and musically in the guise ofBabylon, a genre-blurring mashup of jazz, hip-hop and R&B that features contributions from Qamil Wright ("March On"), Krate Digga ("Freedom") and more, the responses have been largely collective, centered on the idea of community-building rather than staking out solitary ground.
"I didn't want to do anything personal," said Woods, who avoided his usual outlet - poetry - believing it to be "too small for this moment," at least initially. "To me, the first steps had to be communal. Here's how we're feeling. Here are all the things we want to draw your attention to as a community, and especially as a black artistic community, which is a slice of culture that has forever been on the back burner."
Across the city, writers, artists and poets started taking these first steps almost immediately after polling stations closed.
"Art is on the frontline where people interact with issues. Starting day one, someone is putting a song out; someone is painting something; someone is definitely writing something," said Woods, who received more than 20 submissions for theBabylon mixtape, eventually whittling it down to 10 tracks for the final version, which was released online via SoundCloud in mid-December. "Even in the instrumental tracks there's a tone and a voice that is asking you to think. Hopefully it's a good first step to starting conversation."
A bulk of theBabylon submissions were written prior to the election, and songs cover a wide terrain, exploring issues of institutionalized racism, poverty, class divides and police violence. On "#BlackLivesMatter Pt. 1: Amerikkka," a raised fist of a jazz cut first released in December 2014, drummer/composer Mark Lomax and tenor saxophonist Eddie Bayard craft a musical backdrop for Jeremiah Wright's fiery "God Damn America" sermon, which finds the Chicago pastor grappling with the divide between mankind's flawed kingdom (America) and the divine kingdom of heaven.
"I don't see this as a protest album. I see it as a larger communal statement of power in the face of fascism, or in the face of anything that threatens to take away our rights, which is what I think Trump represents," said Lomax. "Anything positive that's going to happen, it has to happen in the grassroots. This country needs to heal, and healing doesn't happen in the macro. It happens in our daily interactions. It happens because maybe you welcome people into your home that you didn't last year."
While Lomax wasn't caught off-guard by the election results - "You talk about anger and needing to collect yourself, but for me it was just another Tuesday," he said, and laughed - his family required a bit more space, particularly his 7-year-old daughter, who cried when Ohio was called for Trump.
"My wife and I sat our 15-year-old and 7-year-old down and said, 'Regardless of who wins, we're going to do what we need to do to make sure our family is safe and to make the world a better place,'" Lomax said. "The thing I'm trying to teach my children through this is that it doesn't matter who the president is, because that person can't take away your personal power."