New Journal's Latest Issue Focuses on Race and Gender
"Ra(i)ces: Black Feminist Encounters," edited by Ana-Maurine Lara, is the most recent issue of Aster(ix) where “invited guest editors curate new issues on a theme of their choosing. Each issue serves as an archived conversation among artists, writers, activists and critics publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, criticism, visual art, plays, videos and interviews.”
Launched in 2013 by novelist Angie Cruz, Aster(ix) is described on the website as “a play on asterisk, star, splat, a wildcard. It’s the censored and omitted. It’s footnotes and to be continued. The (ix) is to honor ix (eesh) from Maya, meaning heart, heart knowing, the alignment with divine will, the torch bearer.”
The current issue opens with “Moyumba,” where guest editor Ana-Maurine Lara recounts her experience of hosting eleven black feminist artist-activist-scholars in the Dominican Republic for the Transnational Black Feminist Retreat, an event that included talks from black feminist historians and spiritual leaders. She points out that they began the retreat by harking back to their ancestors. Elsewhere in the issue, in the poem, “I will carry a knife and always it in my mouth,” LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs says, “my ancestor frightens me because she is unafraid to show her face where I lay.”
Courtney Desiree Morris in the fragmented essay, “What The Ground Remembers,” says:
The dead speak to me. Cluster around my bed and crowd my sleep, filling my dreams with memories that are not mine. These ancestors insist that there must be a vessel, a witness. Before I am born they run their fingers like chalk over my forehead, brush them over my palms, my tongue. There will be a witness.
This daughter will remember.
"Ra(i)ces" is about remembering one’s heritage and the struggles of one’s ancestors.
The contributors here are all activist scholars and writers. Morris is a former community organizer whose research focuses on Afro-Nicaraguan women’s activism in post-Sandinista Nicaragua. Matt Richardson is affiliated with the Center for African and African American Studies, and the Center for Womens and Gender Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Dowoti Desir is the Founder and President of the DDPA Watch Group, an international human rights coalition focused on democratic, cultural and educational issues related to the United Nations Durban Declaration & Programme of Action Plan [the DDPA]. Together, they write about the experiences and history of the African diaspora in this issue, which is available both online and in a beautiful print edition ($ 20.) The PDF may also be downloaded for 99 cents.
The journal’s activist and global/multicultural focus is evident throughout. There is also a strong leaning towards writing by women. In the Fall 2013 Fiction issue, all the stories are by women writers and deal with women protagonists. Themes include failed relationships, heartbreaks, loneliness, belonging and not belonging to a community, gender roles, racial identity, immigration and, ultimately, survival. The stories are set all over the world -- in Paris, Puerto Rico, Trinidad. Most of them are very voice-driven, first person stories.
“Las Cuerpas” by Rachel Masilamani is a haunting mini comic about the murder of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, about 10 years ago. Links to a documentary on the femicides and to an organization that does work for women in the area are provided.
“Bandolera,” a short story by Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, is about a Puerto Rican girl who meets her 61st man in a nightclub and goes on to have yet another one-night stand. “He, like all the other Puerto Rican guys, was more put together than any of the girls. The contrast was stark. The girls looked as cheap, as busted, as they had been brought up to be.”
In “Skin,” Bushra Rehman, co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, writes about the daughters of working class immigrants from Pakistan and the Dominican Republic, now living in Queens.
Besides these two issues, the online journal contains all the archived material that was originally published in Vandal, a journal that Angie Cruz began and edited until recently. Sections include Arts, Criticism, Fiction, Interviews, Non Fiction, and Poetry sections. The Asterism section contains miscellaneous posts including movie reviews, graphic novels, and essays on feminism and globalization. The Interviews Section includes interviews with Chinese diaspora artist Chee Wang Ng and Italian sculptor and installation artist, Paolo Piscitelli.
Aster(ix) was conceptualized by Cruz along with Nelly Rosario, Emily Raboteau, Sheila Maldonado, Marta Lucia Vargas and Adriana Ramirez. Cruz says, “The more we discussed the need for writers/artists/activists to connect through their work the clearer it became to us that even with all the journals already available there weren’t that many journals that we knew of dedicated to social justice and the arts with women of color central to the conversation.”
One of the poems archived in the Poetry section of Aster(ix) is Sheila Maldonado’s wonderful poem “future tense (minor tribe: 2012)” where she writes:
banging into unseen borders.
These lines can surely be summed up as a manifesto for Aster(ix), which is an important and exciting new journal about occupying liminal spaces in a world where borders are continuously shifting.