The POC Zine Project (POCZP) is a collaboration founded by media literacy activist and producer Daniela Capistrano. We spoke in depth to Daniela about this project, and she also talked to us about how zines and other personal publications provide much-needed space for POC (people of color) to creatively materialize their ideas and experiences, foster community, and create change in the world. She also tells us how to submit zines and get involved in the project!
Gozamos: What are the main objectives of the POC Zine Project?
Daniela Capistrano: Our mission is to make zines by people of color easy to find, distribute and share — [facilitating] community and activism through materiality. There are several valuable zine collections in the United States (many accessible online) but none that are devoted to curating POC zines while partnering with educators, universities, activist networks and DIY/punk networks of all stripes to support the preservation, utilization and creation of independent POC publications. We aim to change that. The goals that we set in 2010 still apply: curating a traveling POC zine exhibition, establishing an archive, producing a website that shares POC zines and provide grants, tools and events for zinesters.
Did you create zines before working on this Project? If so, what kind of stuff do/did you write about?
DC: I have always been more of a zine collector than creator, but I did make a zine years ago called “Soy Secretron,” which was about working as a stifled secretary while sorting out my sometimes conflicting identities as an artist, activist and queer person. I recently made a zine called “Bad Mexican!!!” that is a perzine analyzing my Chicana identity, as well as reflecting on how the experiences of my parents influenced me in positive and negative ways. It also shares information about working in media and addressing racism and inequality. At this stage of my life, I’m more interested in helping others make zines than making my own, but I will probably always make zines from time to time, as a creative outlet
This year marked the first tour of Project. What did the events typically consist of?
DC: The tour kick[ed] off Sept 24 [through] October 7, and our Chicago tour date [was] September 30. The nature of a 100% volunteer tour is that things do come up at the last minute and we have to be flexible as we coordinate with volunteers in twelve cities. The outpouring of support has been incredible. [In] each tour city we had an evening DIY [Do-It-Yourself] show [with] feature bands, zine readings, tabling space for zinesters and multimedia components. In select cities, we also [had] a separate panel discussion at a local university during the day. The panel discussion events allow us to partner with academic spaces so that we can share ideas and formulate ongoing collaborations. Doing daytime campus events, which [were] free to the public, helps us to offset the cost of this tour, as most colleges have offered us honorariums that will go toward the cost of our tour van and gas, travel expenses and more. The cover for our DIY shows (which is typically $6) also helps us with tour costs.
Why the need for a zine project aimed at people of color? Were they usually excluded or tokenized in zine culture and events?
DC: I started POC Zine Project is 2010 for three personal reasons that have ended up informing our mission and short and long term goals.
1) I was tired of looking for zines by people of color and only seeing the same ones in zine distros — or not finding any at all — as well as attending zine events and not seeing any people of color. I knew that people of color were making zines and have been making independent publications for decades…So I started “spotlighting” all the zines by people of color that I found through my research. I wrote the mission of POC Zine Project the day I started the related Facebook page, and it has continued to make sense for me.
2) Zines are more than a medium for obsessing over your personal interests. In the context of the challenges that people of color have faced historically, independent publications have even been the difference between life and death (e.g. The Negro Motorist Green Book created in the 1930s). They are a tool for community building and social change. We want to help bring that power back to the people, but also realize that many folks just don’t have time or interest to make zines — and that’s totally ok. We want to make these zines easily accessible and provide real-world examples of applying knowledge found in zines. Often that knowledge supplements and/or contradicts information shared in history books or in the news. We think it’s important that people, especially when studying history and activist movements, know as much as possible about the contributions of people of color.
Zines are still a practical medium that can be used to help others. [For instance,] we’ve recently partnered with Carey Fuller, an activist for homeless populations who is also homeless. Together we’re going to make a zine specifically for homeless folk that is full of resources and useful information provided by other homeless people. We’re going to partner with organizations to distribute this zine to homeless folk nationwide, for free. The zine isn’t about educating the general population about homelessness; there are many publications that already do that. This zine will be for people who can truly benefit from practical knowledge such as how to identify edible plants, create cooking and cleaning materials with found supplies, connect with resources and allies in new cities and more. This zine obviously won’t replace needed services that are dwindling across the country, but it will definitely be a useful resource for those who are newly homeless or who are looking to build new skills, as well as connect with others who share similar struggles. This is just one example of how POC Zine Project uses zines to build community and as a tool for social change.
3) We want to respond to the institutionalization of some stories about punk and riot grrrl, while others — particularly narratives by and about people of color — are either incorrectly shared or not shared at all. One of our panelists, Mimi Thi Nguyen (Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) gave a great response to this question, so I’m modifying her statement to add additional context:
“The retrospective turn in academic and popular monographs about punk and riot grrrl, and in particular the publication (within a year of each other) of Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front and the edited collection White Riot (which republished an old Punk Planet column of mine), with its subsequent institutionalization of some stories about punk and riot grrrl and not others, needs to be addressed.”
What does it mean, for instance, to define punk feminisms through riot grrrl without a memory of other punk feminisms? What falls out when women of color feminisms are observed to be a frequent citation in grrrl zines (bell hooks being perhaps the most popular), but not an ongoing contestation within the movement? How do we critique the narrativization of punk as a white phenomenon, which is both true and false? How can we trouble the usual story of punk as a white riot through a recognition that people of color (around the world) and have always been integral to punk musics, punk aesthetics, punk histories and punk politics — a recognition that would disrupt our echoing absence from the archives, but also disavowing our appropriation into those archives as an uncomplicated presence?
We want to be able to respond to the institutionalization of some stories and not others, and as well some storytellers and not others. We want to connect with other punks of color about this thing we love and sometimes hate, to present something — a zine, a tour — that might make sense of that push and pull and give it a history, and then to create something new between us.”
What about zines makes them a unique or important outlet of expression for people of color?
Zines, as a medium of materiality, are a useful and low-cost way for people of color to share information freely and, when necessary, anonymously. It is especially a useful medium to share information with those who have limited or zero Internet access, which is still a reality for many people. But we’re not interested in converting all people of color into zine-makers. We want to support POC who are already making zines through events, grants and advocacy, and encourage folks (especially young people) to use the medium in ways that are empowering to them.
For some, it may be useful to make a zine to promote the work that they are doing as activists or the work their organization is doing, while others may use it to share their artwork. What’s important to remember is that zines and the culture around them make it easier to build community with like-minded individuals. You can go to a zine swap, sell your zine online or attend related events which are often frequented by helpful people who are interested in building community as well. Being able to tap into that is helpful to anyone, regardless of your background. So we want to make sure that we create and support spaces where people of color feel welcome to participate.
What are some of the common themes you have noticed with zines so far? Any new or surprising ones?
I can’t really speak to common themes, as zine genres themselves are numerous and not all POC write about the same things, but I can speak to trends. More universities and other academic spaces are creating zine libraries. More youth are making zines that generally begin as e-zines, utilizing Scribe or Issuu as the platform to share it, while others offer their zine for sale and trade as print and online versions. More artists are utilizing the zine medium to share their work and more artist and activist collectives are publishing zines to promote their events, new works and community collaborations. An example of this would be the Las Fotos Project, which is a photography program for young Latinas that has documented their efforts in a zine.
What has been the best part about bringing this Project to light?
The best parts of creating POC Zine Project is the many new friendships I’ve made as a result and fulfilling a real need. I get messages every day from people across the country thanking me for creating POCZP. It feels good to know that this platform is making a difference. The advocacy piece is the most important part for me.
Whose participation in the Project are you excited or thankful to have?
Our many wonderful volunteers and allies who are helping us out for each tour date are incredible, generous people. This tour would not be happening without them. I am, of course, thankful to our panelists for this tour who [were] juggling work, school and other commitments, and still made time to go on the road with me. I’m also thankful to the librarians across the country who advocate for zines by people of color to be added to their collections and use POCZP as a resource.
How can people get involved? Can they submit a zine? Or read and buy them?
If you’re a person of color who makes zines, submit your information so we can add your zine to the archive and spotlight it on our platforms at http://poczineproject.tumblr.com/submit.
If you’re of person (of any background) who wants to help out the tour or future events, contact email@example.com and indicate the city you’re in.
You can also browse poczineproject.tumblr.com and purchase zines by people of color directly from the authors and partner distros.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to add that creating culture is something anyone can do. The most powerful way to create culture is to do something that directly affects people in your community. POC Zine Project was something I started locally that has now become a nationwide movement, and we plan on taking it overseas. Never be afraid to create because it’s a natural part of your own humanity. Don’t want for permission to be a creator — just go ahead and do it! You will get so much out of helping others, I promise. It’s funny how that works.