#SavetheNEA: A Campaign to Save the Arts

As the plane touched down in SFO from Manila on the eve of March 16th, not only did I step out of the plane with a heavy heart, I was also dumbfounded with recent news. Being away from the States gave me the false idea that for a second, I can get away from Trump. But there I was, waiting in line at the immigration kiosk, reading about the orange bloviator’s latest move: eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies.

I was jetlagged, already homesick but most of all, I was angry.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what all of this means. As Trump moves to present his federal budget, he has chosen to eliminate what constitutes 0.002% of the $1.1 trillion budget. While it may seem inconsequential, losing $300 million is a huge blow to folks, programs and projects which have been traditionally underfunded: artists, writers, magazines, libraries, local television stations, radio programs and other projects.

According to the American for the Arts Action Fund:

1) The NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in America. NEA grants help leverage more than a 9 to 1 match in private charitable gifts and other state and local public funding.

2) The NEA also has an exemplary partnership with the states, with 40 percent of program funds distributed through state arts agencies.

3) With only a $148 million annual budget, the NEA investments in the arts helps contribute to a $730 billion economic arts and culture economic industry, including 4.2 percent of the annual GDP and supporting 4.8 million jobs that yields a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.

4) For more than 50 years, the NEA has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in your congressional district and throughout all 50 states and U.S. Territories.

5) NEA funding reaches small, rural towns through its “Our Town” grants and specifically helps our wounded soldiers and veterans with effective arts therapy.

And it’s not only the arts that’s losing funding but also a milieu of other agencies as he, unsurprisingly, increases the budget for defense. John Oliver takes a jab:

As a queer Filipino immigrant writer in the Bay Area, this hits close to home. Not only will opportunities be taken away at expanding the arts and uplifting the voices of marginalized communities, it also has far-reaching consequences across the globe. Case in point: my homeland, the Philippines.

Trump’s proposed increase in military spending comes at the heels of a recent allegation concerning US naval officers in the country:

On March 15, 2017, Admiral Loveless, four retired Navy captains and a retired Marine colonel were charged with corruption and other offenses [in the Philippines]. Among the charges includes accounts of “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes” and accepting bribes from Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis in the form of gifts, luxury hotel stays and prostitutes. “Fat Leonard” is a Singapore-based defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.

GABRIELA USA

So what can we do at this point? The most important thing is to 1) reach out to your local representatives, express your outrage/concern and urge them to fight against Trump’s budget and 2) spread the word by telling your friends/family/neighbor/crush/ex-lovers/others and blast it on your all your social media profiles.

After all, John Keating/Robert Williams (RIP) said it best:

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* * *

Read more:

14 Authors on the Life-Changing Impact of the NEA (Electric Literature)
Laura Callanan on Inequality and Art
Fighting to Give Everyone Access to Arts and Culture (KQED)
Mike Huckabee: A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts (The Washington Post)

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Happy Birthday to a Revolutionary: Angela Y. Davis

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I am changing the things I cannot accept. 

— Angela Y. Davis

I remember the first time I heard Angela Y. Davis speak in Berkeley, at the Empowering Women of Color Conference in 2011. There I was surrounded by women of color, listening to a black woman revolutionary speak about building movements, in spite of our vast differences.

Today is Davis’s birthday and her continued resistance is as critical as ever. My inbox has been flooded with news of executive order after another on immigration, on refugees, on cutting funding for sanctuary cities, on the Mexican border wall. I thought of Davis:

Walls turned sideways are bridges. 

— Angela Davis: An Autobiography
(Worldcat | Amazon | Indiebound)

After a historic women’s march over the weekend, I was ecstatic by the mobilization of so many women, men, queer and trans folks, children, older folks. I was reminded of the transformative power of ordinary people coming together. But I was also made painfully aware of how many folks — specifically white people — don’t show up to mobilizations for immigrants, black people and other people of color.

How do we then build bridges with folks who have traditionally benefited from our oppression? For starters, there’s “Healing from Toxic Whiteness” which is a training program for white folks committed to racial justice. There are also tons of resources and literature available out there, including a post of resistance literature I compiled earlier this week. Best of all, there are many organizations and grassroots groups doing the actual work that folks can join.

As for us who have been resisting and in the struggle for so long, may we never lose sight of seeing the world we want to live in, may we continue to build alongside each other.

You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.

— Angela Y. Davis

 Here’s a list of necessary reading by the revolutionary herself:

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Gearing up for Women’s March

“Donald John Trump has placed his hand on two Bibles and taken the oath of office. He is now the 45th president of the United States.”

— The New York Times Breaking News, 1/20/17 12:01 PM EST

I’m letting that sink in for a bit.

I’ve been trying to avoid the coverage of Trump’s inauguration but of course, it’s everywhere. My only saving grace has been the number of people protesting what he represents, what he’s been doing and in all sincerity, how he intends to lead the country.

There are protests all over the country as I write this and tomorrow, there will be a wave of Women’s Marches in different states and cities. Mao Zedong once said that “Women hold up half the sky” — the assault and misogyny Trump has continuously inflicted towards women is unacceptable and needs to be halted. The last thing we need in the government is another misogynist and racist white man who sees and treats women, people of color, Muslims and immigrants as lesser beings. But of course, this is what now have.

Tomorrow, I’m marching with GABRIELA USA to rise against fascism, resist militarization and unite for liberation along with other immigrant and people of color-led organizations in Oakland, California. Check out the nearest women’s march near you and organize and mobilize with the people!

As Assata Shakur of the Black Panthers once said:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata: An Autobiography (Amazon | Indie Bound)

980x7All artwork can be found here.

Books for Days! (& All the Titles You Should be Reading in 2017)

More creating

Less consuming

More leading

Less following

More contributing

Less taking

More patience

Less intolerance

More connecting

Less isolating

More writing

Less watching

More optimism

Less false realism

— Seth Godin, More and Less

Friendly reminders as we move forward in the new year, as we usher in a new era of reality across the political and social spectrum. In just a few days, the “orange bloviator” as Zadie Smith referred to him will attempt to further plunge this country into an even more damning abyss of racism, fascism, imperialism.

I’ve been finding solace in so many things: this 2017 Plan of Resistance from the Transgender Law Center, small acts of resistance like The Booksmith‘s response to the alt-right bigot Milo Y’s 250k book deal and of course, infinite joy from book lists from The MillionsVulture and Kirkus Reviews

A book I’ve seen on many 2017 lists is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees, a collection of short stories from the famed The Sympathizer author. I’m a big fan of his work and I can’t wait for this one!shortI’ve always been more of a novel/literary fiction fan more than anything but these days, short stories are blowing me away. Mia Alvar is the culprit; her weapon, In the Country: Stories. The last time I enjoyed short stories was with This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz a couple of years ago, and I’m anticipating even more as Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women collection of stories also just came out. Be still, literary heart, be still.

In a time when most of us — queer, people of color, immigrants — are feeling vulnerable, I always come back to books, among many tools of resistance, to ground me. What are you reading this time around? 

A Year in Reading

What a year it has been for literature! There were so many incredible book releases in 2016 that in spite of a hard year for all of us, there is redemption in literature. The books I read this year have been enlightening, riveting and challenging, all contributing to a consciousness that lets us humanize one another.

I hope you’ve found book reviews and posts in this blog helpful, that they’ve opened and expanded your mind in some ways. With so many sources of information available to all of us, I am grateful for the time and space I am you’ve given this blog. It means the world to me!

With only a few days left for this year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the books I’ve read this year, the titles I’ve taken with me to different places and the writers who have been so generous with their work.

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You can check out the list I made of 2016’s best books on Libromance, or the most popular pieces on the blog halfway through the year. I also wrote a lot about #BlackLivesMatter and you can read about those posts here.

2016 was the year of controversial elections both in the U.S. and in the Philippines, and I wrote about them on the blog as well. Much of what I also read and write are influenced by my own experience as a queer Pinay immigrant in the U.S., something that I explored a lot in this blog.

Two figures that were also prominent on Libromance this year were the subject of many posts and book reviews: Alain de Botton and James Baldwin. Head on over to those posts and you’ll find out why I keep coming back to them.

Finally, as 2017 approaches, here are a few offerings: posts on expanding and cultivating one’s creativity, imagining a world where books can be a currency, books that nourish our soul & spirit and a trove of the best fiction reads ever.

As you make your own reading list for 2017, here’s a post on finding the time to read.

What are your reading plans for next year? Do share in the comments below and happy reading!

‘Tis the Season for Cuffing: A Book Lover’s Edition

To be real, cuddling up with a book is how I’d really like to spend this cuffing season. With so much more titles and best of the year lists coming out, it’s enough to hole yourself up in a cozy cabin with a steaming mug of hot cocoa and the most delicious book you can get your hands on.

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Ah, this is the life.

A queer Pinay can dream right?

While I scheme of ways to actually make the above photo a reality for me before the season ends, here are a few notable literary things to tide all of us over:

  • Longreads has also compiled their best story picks for the year, which includes a piece on the beloved writer James Baldwin and gentrification in San Francisco. Go through this list propitiously — it definitely isn’t the time for tl;dr.
  • Over at The Millions, Lisa Lucas of the National Book Foundation reviews her Year in Reading for 2016. What exquisite joy it must be to read & revel in the literary world! She mentions a few titles that I’ve been wanting to read, like Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time (Baldwin-esque sighs) but what surprised me was a title she referred to as a “true sparkler of the year”: C.E. Morgans The Sport of Kings. Duly noted.
  • If you’re like me, you probably wait for Pamela Paul’s weekly newsletters from The New York Times Book Review to see which books are making waves (or should be making waves), which books are new and notable releases, which books deserve your time and company. I particularly enjoyed reading about Paul’s process of selection as revealed on reddit and compiled by Lithub here: how planning for the best books list starts in January, how it’s an emotional process.
  • Lastly, check out the third edition of Nepantla, a journal dedicated to queer poets of color. There is a poem by one of my fave poets — r. erica doyle — in it so don’t miss out on this anthology:
                           dear trees, please sculpt the byway; dear breeze, whisper a map;
                           dear magnetic field, make of me a sail in the solar wind,
                           that I may unwind into the light of my own throat’s longing. (from wander)

I’m currently finishing two books: an advance copy of Han Kang’s Human Acts (to be released in January 2017) and Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual. I’ve been sick for the past two weeks but I really can’t complain, because laying in bed only means one thing: more time for reading while I’m recuperating.

Also, here’s a preview of next week’s posts on the blog: a lot on classics, like Gabriel García Márquez and Kahlil Gibran. Going back to the classics may be a theme next year, as you can never learn enough from past literary greats.

“Life is too short to read a bad book.”
–Pamela Paul

 

We Won’t Back Down, No

It’s been a little over a week since Trump won the presidential election and what gives me hope these days is the rising resistance against a fascist regime.

As a queer Filipino immigrant, I feel the fear in my chest. While waiting for his victory speech early Wednesday morning, the sight of white millennials in the crowd cheering and smiling with their red “Make America Great Again” caps made me cower.

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Around the country, people are taking to the streets to show their collective power against what a Trump presidency will look like. The rise of hate crimes against people of color and immigrants since he won is a manifestation of the Trump brand: a toxic concoction of white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hyper-capitalism.

In San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, people filled the streets — thousands deep — to denounce his presidency. The next day, thousands of high school students in San Francisco walked out chanting “Not my President!” It is anger, it is rage, a fury unfurling itself and it demands to be seen, heard and felt.

Many organizations, both grassroots and nonprofit, have come out against Trump, have compiled resources for the most vulnerable of our population, have affirmed their commitment to uplift the voices of those that Trump aims to silence. GABRIELA, a Filipino women’s organization that I’m a part of, calls on people of the U.S. to intensify its mass movements and defend the democratic rights of the most disempowered people. The Black Lives Matter movement also released a statement, calling for a reckoning of the country’s inherent anti-blackness and to operate from “a place of love for our people and a deep yearning for real freedom.”

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Writers have also spoken out, indignant at the thought of fascism and the delusion that many have started to buy into. Teju Cole wrote a piece on The New York Times where he referenced Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” a play about mob mentality, conformity first created as a response to fascism during World War II. Sixteen writers from The New Yorker also wrote about Trump’s America post-election, which include essays from Junot Díaz and Toni Morrison.

At last night’s National Book Awards Ceremony, the mood was somber. I was particularly moved by Terrance Hayes’s speech, who quoted Elizabeth Bishop: “Poetry is a way of thinking with feelings — imagine 20 years of thinking with one’s feelings while someone is trying to kill you.” Colson Whitehead won the award for fiction with The Underground Railroad, of which I read and wrote about last month. PEN America published a few writers’ reflections on the results of the election with Walter Mosley penning: “the older we are, the more we live in the past.”

A few days ago, I started reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and my nose has been buried in these pages since then. His searing satire on race and popular culture couldn’t have been more timely — since the country appears to be rapidly regressing decades back and is looking to align itself with fascist regimes.

Where do we go from here? Perhaps a line from the International League of People’s Struggle statement can guide us:

“History shows us it is the parliament of the streets, not the parliament of the state, that determines change.”

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Post-Election Bibliotherapy: Five Books of Struggle & Resilience

With Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, it can be easy to believe that while elections are temporary, dystopia is forever.

Trump’s campaign was rife with the kind of rhetoric that so many people have been fighting against for decades: the struggle against racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy — the struggle to defend and uplift our humanity.

Like so many progressives in the country side-eyeing Hillary Clinton, I filled the box next to her name because I just can’t stomach Trump’s rhetoric and the kind of response he incites from his supporters. That even though I am ashamed of America’s imperialism and will struggle to fight it on all fronts, I am also beginning to confront what it means to be on this stolen land.

While there have been so many reports and accounts of outright racism in different parts of the country (even in California!) since Trump’s election, I have been inspired by the ways that our communities have shown up for each other. Whether it’s resources like this, or the many forms of protest people have been engaging in, what gives me hope at the end of the day is that we are a resilient people.

An offering from my blog: a post-election bibliotherapy which features books I’ve read and written about on Libromance. These books confront different kinds of tension, conflict and contradictions but what they share as a common thread is the ability to understand that the most tender parts of ourselves are also deep wells of strength and resilience.

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BAYI: Stories of Lumád Women from Lumad Women You Need to Know

An excerpt from the post:

At 92 years old, Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay‘s strength and courage has been a constant source of inspiration for many. She is a bibiyaon, a female Lumád tribal chieftain in a culture that is traditionally patriarchal. In the 90’s, she joined a tribal war to fight the logging company Alcantara & Sons (ALSONS).

Night Sky with Exit Wounds from The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

An excerpt from the post:

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Known and Strange Things from Looking with the Eyes of Teju Cole

An excerpt from the post:

He takes us beyond what most would not publicly acknowledge, in spite of the increasing and damning evidence. Complicated as he is, Obama is still, for many folks, a symbol of racial progress in the country. Perhaps it is the experience and the perspective of an internationalist such as Teju, can one then really see the implications and reverberations of a messed-up foreign policy.

The Underground Railroad from A Lifetime of Remembering with Colson Whitehead

An excerpt from the post:

This is America. I think about how a queer, brown Filipino immigrant reads a book about slavery and the black folk’s struggle for liberation. I think about how easy it is to forget sometimes, that sometimes the kind of narrative that arrests our attention is beguiled by the media. Whatever makes a quick buck, as long as it turns the viewership up. How easy it is for Filipinos back home to vote for the son of the country’s former dictator, how easy it is to bury the memory of struggle, how easy it is to pull a trigger.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist from The Courage it Takes with Sunil Yapa

An excerpt from the post:

I am a Third World woman living in the First World. And I am both proud and ashamed of the glaring fact that I live on U.S. soil enjoying the benefits of the imperialist machinery but also fully aware that here, in the belly of the beast, are prime opportunities for change.

At that moment in the book, I felt like I was the protester and Charles at the same time. I’m in a Third World body with a mind that is increasingly adapting to the First World and at my core I am scared of losing grasp of my Third World-ness, the identity that I am proud of, all the wounds and the scars on my back, the struggles that have defined my existence, of what makes me stand up in the streets.

I remember writing The Courage it Takes, with Sunil Yapa earlier this year, when I was in an entirely different place. I was tired and burnt out but I knew that I had to keep on going. When I was reading Ocean’s poetry, I was reminded of the intimacy of personal and political work and the endless fusion of the two. I learned how to look and make connections from Teju, as I pored over his essays on politics and literature. In Colson’s book, I learned the face of imperialism, how liberty is reserved for other people. Last but not the least, I was inspired by the stories of the Lumád women as they continue to fight for their ancestral lands.

From this point, it is going to be a long and rough journey. But we’ll get there. It will take a lot of willpower, focus and love to overcome what we are facing, but again, we are a resilient people. Let the words of Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay, one of the Lumad women, continue to inspire us:

If we continue to struggle just as we are doing now, tomorrow is ours. The struggle must be continued by the future generations. What we are doing now, even if we die, we will die contented if our children, our grandchildren and the future generations will continue what we are doing. We know we can do and achieve many things. The unity that we have achieved now, can also be accomplished by future generations, even more.

To Libraries, With Love

From time to time [Abdel Kader Haidara] consulted books about Islamic jurisprudence, the fikh, in his own collection when confronted with thorny problems in his marriage and his work. But religion did not play a major role in his life. What drove him most was a belief in the power of the written word — the rich variety of human experience and ideas contained between the covers of a book.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of TimbuktuJoshua Hammer

I still have a literary hangover from Haidara and Touré, bad-ass librarians from Timbuktu who saved and preserved manuscripts amidst a civil war in Mali. The term librarian these days brings to mind an image of a stern, bookish woman, complete with glasses and a cardigan — just like Jane (Marcia Gay Harden) in the movie After Words (2015). Sure, it casts Harden as the most stereotypical librarian ever (she lives with her cat) but there was a rhythm of hers that I enjoyed: the quiet stack of books next to bed, the solitude, the worlds that lay after each page. But she was lonely. She was alone. She flies to Costa Rica on a one-way ticket after being laid off and in typical Eat, Pray, Love fashion she finds herself (along with adventure and romance).

Sure, we can roll our eyes in unison with the antiquated portrayal of our most beloved librarians in this movie. What’s important to me though was her losing her job. In this time and age, do we still need librarians? And what’s the future of libraries?

For centuries, the librarian’s job was providing scarce information to dependent patrons. Now, the job is helping patrons navigate superabundant information of wildly varying quality and uncertain provenance.

For better or worse, the digital age forces experts to make the case that a Google search doesn’t replace the librarian, and WebMD doesn’t replace the doctor.

–Robert Graboyes, PBS

I came across a discussion about libraries and its influence on a group of writers: Tessa Hadley, C.E. Morgan and Jerry Pinto with John Donatich. The discussion had so many points I resonated with: libraries as sacred temples, a place for initiation, the toss-up between borrowing books vs. owning them, books as work spaces, access and mobility…

I was thinking how when I used to—and I still go to the library—take a book out. At first, you’re a little shy and a little squeamish, but then as you get into the book, the presence of previous readers in that book, with the way the spine cracks, and the way that’s something sticky on page 147 that you’re not going to question too carefully, and the way the pages wrinkle, and the smells of other people’s homes . . . you realize that the book is such an intimate thing. It’s something you befriend. It’s something you live with.

–John Donatich, Lithub

When I was in Puerto Rico over the summer, I passed by Libros Libres on Calle Loiza. It was a free library complete on what seemed to be an abandoned building smack dab on a busy street. I browsed through its makeshift shelves: there were encyclopedias, old textbooks, a few American paperbacks and a particular title by Mitch Albom that my partner found. I was absolutely elated.

A little research revealed that the following bad-ass folks were behind the project: Edward Benson, Nina Coll and Zevio Schnitzer.

I think exchanging books and reading is another way to make [a] country, another way of relating and disconnect some of the Internet to connect to the walls of this wall and interact with books.

–Nina Coll, El Nuevo Dia

Dear President: Letters from Writers & Poets

I was on my way to grab a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when a magazine
so16_covercover arrested my attention — Teju Cole, on the Poets & Writers September/October 2016 issue. I walked out of Green Apple Books in San Francisco that evening with both the book and the magazine, tickled by my 1) discovery and 2) the fact that the guy who made me want to read Conrad in the first place was staring back at me from a magazine.

In addition to the wonderful feature on Teju written by Kevin Nance, I was enthralled to find a feature called Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers wherein poets and writers offered their perspectives and longings on what the country needs. The prompt:

Imagine you are face-to-face with the next president—whoever that may be—and, in a few sentences, write about what you hope to see addressed in the next four years. It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“There is no present or future without immigrants; white supremacy (and all of its sequelae) is one of the gravest threats to our democracy.”
Junot Díaz

“The occupation of Palestine by Israel—mass incarceration, presumption of guilt, withholding of resources, wanton destruction of human life, all underscored by the creation of physical barriers and the emotional propaganda of persecution, exclusion, mythmaking, and fear—are mirrored, one by one, in the policies of institutionalized racism in the United States. Unless we face this singular fact, and acknowledge our collective culpability as architects and sponsors of state terrorism here in our American cities, and in our foreign policy regarding Palestine (which is the bedrock of all other foreign policy), we will continue to be unable to fulfill the potential of our democracy for our people, and remain excoriated abroad for our impotence and hypocrisy.”
—Ru Freeman

“Your country is complex; it is hard to imagine a foreigner being able to fix it for you. Keep this in mind when you consider invading another nation.”
—Karan Mahajan

“There should be a new cabinet post—Secretary of the Arts. For the inaugural six poets: European, Hispanic, Asian American, African American, Native American, Muslim.”
—Ishmael Reed

“No language is neutral. To speak is to claim a life—and often our own. If more Americans speak to one another, in writing, in media, at the supermarket, we might listen better. It is difficult, I think, to hate one another when we start to understand not only why and how we hurt, but also why and how we love.”
Ocean Vuong

I admit, the presidential election makes me weary, tires me out. It is devoid of the hope and fire that once fueled me back in 2008, as a Green Card-holder who couldn’t even vote. I can’t blame my disinterest on either Trump or Clinton though, because how I view U.S. politics now is drastically different from how I understood things before. It amazes me that Trump has made it far in this election, spewing the kind of rhetoric his campaign of bigotry and hate has been built on. What Hillary stands for and what she’s done in the past makes me uneasy.

Both candidates, while representing extremes of the political spectrum, are still functioning in a system which can never assuage the intersection of my identities: working class, brown woman, immigrant, queer.

But these words, from “some of our most thoughtful and articulate citizens” (as P&W lovingly refers to them) give me hope. I’ve always looked up to writers and poets to create and envision the kind of world we need. As poet Ken Chen writes,

“America has often seen itself as a beacon of democracy, but the American project has always been about a settler project of inclusion and exclusion: democracy for those imagined as real Americans, and inequality for slaves, immigrants, black and brown bodies, and those who live in places the United States has colonized or destabilized, most recently Iraq and Libya. I hope that you can see yourself not just as a standard-bearer for a global economic elite, but as a force for equality and justice for all.”

But shoot, vote for what it’s worth.