NYC: Melting pot or platter of mixed veggies?

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About Miyuki Baker

Miyuki is a resident of the place where circles overlap. As a queer, nomadic, multi-racial/lingual female mixed-media artist activist and healer, she uses common or discarded objects, personal anecdotes, public spaces and performance to make accessible art that brings non-mainstream identities and ideas into maximum visibility. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2012, she traveled for 14 months as a Watson Fellow to fifteen countries documenting the intersections of art and activism in queer/trans communities in blog posts and self-published magazines while making performance art. The eight magazines Miyuki created on this trip (queerscribe.com) and their strong media following exemplify her illustration/graphic design, storytelling and people skills. Her work has been featured in several magazines such as Hyphen, Broken Pencil and Knik, blogs and radio shows, well-known for their interactive and eye-catching mixed media approach to activism that utilizes both online media and on-site performance and workshops. This fall she will begin the PhD program at UC Berkeley in Performance Studies. You can follow her travels at heymiyuki.wordpress.com and email her at heymiyuki@gmail.com

8 comments

  1. KateH

    Wow. Lots of thoughts running through my head about this story. I’ll start with semantics, maybe. I’ve never interpreted “melting pot” to mean acceptance of non-hetero, non-mainstream orientations/identities. For me, it always seemed to refer primarily to ethnic diversity, and to a somewhat lesser degree, religious diversity. Of course, I’m not saying the term couldn’t or shouldn’t come to include acceptance of the range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Just that in most people’s minds, America *could* live up to its melting pot claim without accepting/including those groups. But I agree with you that in all these ways, we’re closer to a crudite plate than an olla podrida.

    Next I have to say I’m of very mixed minds about what you experienced. On the one hand, I’m horrified and offended on your behalf. The other part of me thinks back to my travel in Iran, when I was forced, like all Iranian women, to wear hejab. I didn’t like being told what to wear, and I was somewhat offended on behalf of Iranian women, whose personal freedom to express their piety had been taken away from them and mandated by law. At the same time, my attitude was one of respect for another culture. I might not agree with their customs and laws, but it wasn’t for me to say how they should live. All I could do was support in spirit whatever struggles Iranian women and their allies would make in their own culture. (And in fairness I should add, wearing hejab wasn’t that big a deal and the time in Iran was overwhelmingly positive.)

    I know my experience isn’t perfectly analogous to yours, but if you *had* been in a foreign country when this happened, would it have changed your perception of the experience?

    Lastly, I was surprised by the reaction you encountered. I haven’t gone dancing in countries where salsa might be popular, but in my mind’s eye (perhaps from film or tv?) I can easily see women dancing together in those places. Now maybe I’m wrong in this. Or maybe hetero women dancing openly together would be fine in those places, and would have been fine in your case. I suspect it wasn’t that women dancing together wasn’t allowed, but that as you say, a rule was invented on the spot to deal with a situation they’d never had to deal with before among members of their own group. If two straight women had been dancing together, do you think anything would have been said?

    Enjoyed reading your story, Miyuki. Sorry for the essay length response.

    • Hey Kate, Thanks so much for your response! Indeed, I wasn’t necessarily saying that the term ‘melting pot’ applied to diversity of sexual orientations, but rather that I ended up in an enclave in Washington Heights that made me feel like I was in another country. It just feels to me like we’re not melting, we’re segregated and only sometimes brushing up against each other on the subway or in institutions and social classes where segregation is frowned upon. Obviously in comparison to other countries, it’s much more of a melting pot…

      And in response to your second thought. Yes, that’s an interesting comparison and there were certainly many times when I was abroad (i.e. in India) where I felt that I needed to be presenting my gender and sexuality in a very different way. The reason why I didn’t report the incident was also because I felt very much like S and I were guests and the space was very Dominican and our complaining wouldn’t really do anything except ruffle some feathers. I think if anyone were to complain about homophobia in that space, it would first have to be from someone in the community.

      Yeah, salsa between two feminine looking/straight looking women would I’m sure, have been accepted, even encouraged and celebrated. It was the gender ambiguity and the deviation from the norm that through people off.

      I guess I’m trying to work through my feelings of wanting to respect certain “safe” spaces for different enclaves/communities while having conversations about how we can make every space accessible for all people so that there isn’t such a dire need to escape to those safe spaces. Does that make sense?

      Thanks again for your thoughts Kate! I really appreciate it 🙂

  2. I’m sorry to hear about this instance of homophobia occuring on what should have been a fun night.

    First of all, you’re right in that the US isn’t a melting pot. Other more accurate metaphors I’ve heard are “mosaic” or “salad bowl”. There’s a lot of diversity, but the different parts are separated, and boundaries remain.

    I think it was wise of you not to raise a stink in the moment, but the problem shouldn’t be swept under the rug. If you have any friends or colleagues in the Dominican community (esp. the Dominican LGBTQ community), you should tip them off and ask that they see what can be doing to educate and increase tolerance. You were guests that night, of course, but guests ought to be treated with hospitality, and you were made to feel unwelcome.

    • Oh I hadn’t heard of those metaphors. They’re definitely more accurate than “melting bowl”…

      True, I should talk to some friends/colleagues in the Dominican LGBTQ community although I don’t know how I’d respond to someone telling me that they had a homophobic experience in a Japanese community center.

      What do you think you’d say?

      Thanks for your thoughts 😉

  3. I think I’d make a fuss, but I know I’d feel more comfortable doing that being Latinx. Sucks it happened though, I’m sorry!

  4. Yeah…. I’ve been thinking about ‘resilience’ a lot lately and I wonder if I one day I’ll be able to not even be affected by that kind of reaction, say my peace and keep dancing.

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