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March 9, 2006
Women have to work
twice as hard to get ahead in a socially constructed man's world,
and struggle daily with the dehumanization of abuse and victimization.
Often times, the stories of victims are erased from public discussion.
Privilege and oppression are not just a thing of the past.
We celebrate March as Women's History Month, but it is not the
only time women should be heard.
The following stories are real, from the lives of real women
who reside in Humboldt County. Their stories symbolize the living
memory in all women and help to restore pride and dignity to
empower women whose stories are too often untold, and to encourage
others to tell their own stories.
With the exception of "Always & Forever," which
is based on letters written home, each woman's story was recorded
and transcribed. Statements from the interviews were used to
narrate their stories. The women were then photographed.
It was the personal struggles of women around me that inspired
this project. It was the connection between these women and the
collective violence perpetuated globally by those with the greatest
power that encouraged me to want to do something more.
We will not forget our histories.
-- Kyana Taillon
This show will be exhibited March 3-30 in the
Student Business Services Building on the Humboldt State University
campus. The artist's reception will be held Friday, March 10
at 7 p.m.
I used to dance in the circle to the heavy rhythm
of the drums and the songs of the men who beat upon them, my
baby blue shawl with pink fringes around my shoulders.
Mom hates going to powwows, and she hates the word
"halfbreed." At powwows the halfbreeds stand together.
We never lived in one place for too long, but my high school
years were spent on the reservation.
Then there are those like me who stand in a group
of our own. My grandmother on Mom's side is Ho-Chunk and their
family hates me because my complexion is more that of my dad,
a white man. They're really angry people. I would be angry too.
A gang of girls jumped me from behind at a party
in high school. You can still feel the scar on my head from their
brass knuckles and the glass from my car window. I found out
later (and so did the girls who attacked me) that we are all
related. They are part of my Native family and they ended up
apologizing after I got out of the hospital.
Mom is an alcoholic and I have never really known
There's so little Native left, and drugs and alcohol
poison the Native that is left. Mom drinks because she's sad.
The whole Native culture is destroyed because the white man killed
Powwows aren't about dancing anymore. Now the powwows
exist for the entertainment of white people and money for Natives,
not about preserving the culture.
Mahi,xete (mah-kh-day) is the Ho-Chunk word for
a white person. It means "big knife."
My dad's brother sexually molested me when I was
nine. No one believed me. My mom didn't even believe me, even
though she had always claimed that she had once been raped. My
aunt came out after I did and admitted that he had molested her
for years. No one believed her either.
My sister got mad at me because I laughed when
I saw her college graduation picture.
"Why are you wearing that thing around your
neck?" I asked.
The colors of the Philippine flag -- blue,
red and white with yellow stars and sun draped around her neck
and down the front. She looked like the poster girl for the family.
I don't know exactly where in the Philippines my
parents came from. They don't talk about it much. They believe
the U.S. provides unlimited opportunity, but I don't think they've
had a very fulfilling life.
"Is he American?" my grandmother asked
me once when she came to visit us in the states.
"You should just marry a Filipino." Grandma
speaks English like I speak Tagalog, just to get by. "He'll
know where you come from."
"Where do I come from?" I asked. "I've
never even been to the Philippines. I come from the states."
People assume that I know the history of "where
I come from" or the culture of its people, but I feel bad
because I don't.
People have often used the word "exotic"
to describe me. I don't picture myself fitting the word --
sexy, on a hot desert island or something. People smile and stare.
"You're so beautiful," a woman at the
post office said. "I've never seen anybody like you before."
I felt like an alien.
I looked up "exotic" in the dictionary.
ex·o·tic adj. 1. From
another part of the world; foreign: exotic tropical plants in
a greenhouse. 2. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly
strange. 3. Of or involving striptease: an exotic dancer.
I remember the time in middle school when two boys
pointed and laughed at me when I wore a Willy Santos T-shirt,
jeans and flip-flops. (Willy Santos is surfer and skater who
happens to be Filipino.) They were dressed similarly.
"Who do you think you are?" they asked.
"Do you think you're white or something?"
So, what the hell are Filipino people supposed
to wear? Something "exotic"? Should I wear the traditional
outfits handmade by my grandmother, the intricate beadwork and
sheer material that hangs untouched in my closet? We don't walk
around all day with kimonos on, I know that.
My sister was the first in our family to graduate
college. She was always proud of her Filipino identity. I went
home later that day and cried because I hurt her feelings. It
was a huge accomplishment and she considered it a symbol of pride
and achievement for all of us.
He kinda made me sick, the way he acted.
He wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans, and introduced
himself as a doctor, although he made a comment that the plaques
and certificates on the wall "could've been printed out
by anyone." My new employer told me I was there for a drug
test and "short physical exam" to make sure I was fit
enough to lift 50 pounds.
"Now we're going to have some fun," he
said as he motioned for me to lie down on the padded bench in
the middle of the room.
I wanted to ask him a million times what he was
doing. Maybe he was just joking. I didn't know what to say, so
I just laughed. That's what people do when they feel uncomfortable.
He lifted my shirt and asked if I had any other
"I'm going to put this under your breast and
I want you to take some deep breaths," he said.
Then he made me get down on my hands and knees
and told me to crawl around on the blue carpeting in front of
Maybe that's normal, too. I don't know.
Dead Broke & Blue
I was born with a drug addiction and a 50% chance
of living. My father took me from the hospital before I was supposed
to be released to punish my mother. He had a big impact over
her life. She's illiterate. She has suffered and has brought
a crack-addicted child into the world five times. She'll say
she only has two kids, but she's got five.
I wasn't raised in a black household. My father
gave me and my older sister to a woman who took us to Hawaii.
She died of breast cancer a year later and her parents took guardianship
of us. We were treated differently than their real Hawaiian/Japanese
grandchildren. We'd be called "fucking niggers" and
get beat. When I was seven I was held down and had my head shaved
completely bald. I was treated like a nigger in a shed.
I might set a torch to that whole island if I had
Why would any man do that to a young child? My
step-grandfather would come into my room, crack the window open
and play with me. To my adult cousins -- you raped me.
How can that ever be forgiven? I was just a baby.
My sister ran away during our ninth year there.
When she came back she brought law enforcement.
But it didn't make me a stronger person. It made
When I was 14, I was put on a bus to Oakland. I
had gotten into trouble in Monterey and went from one bad situation
to another. Abuse became my comfort zone. After the anorexia/bulimia
thing, God blessed me by allowing me to have a miscarriage. (I
was bleeding when I got to the hospital. Nobody would see me
because I was ten minutes late for my appointment.) Later, I
was admitted to a mental health unit for three weeks for alcoholism.
Still, I've had a better life than many. My grade
point average went from a 2.5 in Monterey to a 4.0 at Fremont
High School in Oakland. I got teased because I spoke too properly.
They said I was white washed. We didn't have no need for a backpack,
we had no books. I had friends who couldn't spell the simplest
words. In Monterey there was a curriculum. At Fremont the teachers
were like, "Stop shooting dice in the back of the room"
and that was it.
I actually had dreams. I wanted to be a basketball
player at UCLA. I wanted to be a lawyer, a supermodel and an
advocate for children. I still want to speak out for somebody's
child because I know how hard it is.
Now I'm a single mother in low-income housing.
But I'm not happy. I need to start a family -- have more
kids or marry somebody else with kids. Not to say I need a man,
but I do. It's funny that in order to not be extremely poor,
you need that other person. I don't want to be dead broke the
rest of my life. I don't want to be stuck with a son alone for
the rest of my life either.
Always & Forever
Well, it's hard to believe I've been here this
long. I miss you so much.
So, you probably think I'm crazy, huh? Yeah, me
too. This is going to be a huge challenge, but I know if I can
graduate from Marine Corps Boot Camp, I can do anything.
Sometimes I just want to get the fuck out of here
but then I think about what I have to go home to ... nothing.
A lot of shit's been happening around here lately.
Ten girls out of 80 have made suicide threats. It's nuts here
because everyone just wants to get back home so they do all sorts
of fucked up shit to try and get out. We had to turn in all bobby
pins cause one girl was cutting herself with them. None of us
have gotten our periods yet. They must've mixed birth control
into the meds they injected us with when we got here. They took
away our hand sanitizers because a girl drank one. I'm trying
to get used to it all.
I guess what I'm really looking forward to is the
money! I feel like I've let so many people down lately so hopefully
this will make up for it. I'm also hoping it will give me more
confidence and pride. I've always wanted to be more like you.
I hate it here but there's really no way for me
to get out now. I'm worried about the emotional aspect of it
all. I mean, what if I start getting my panic attacks again?
That wouldn't be good, especially when I get to the rifle range.
I'm really not looking forward to that part of training. Everyone
says it's "fun" but I'm terrified of shooting one.
It's so strange having one strapped to my bed at night. Last
night we all had to recite the "Rifleman's Creed."
It's all about how our rifle is our best friend and how we are
NOTHING without it. I fucking hate guns!
I have been trying so hard to stay strong and think
positively about this whole situation. I just don't know if I
can do this anymore. It's never really what I wanted but I didn't
feel like I had a choice. I still don't. I have fucked up my
life a lot. Sometimes I feel like it's beyond repair. I want
to be able to be myself again. I can't stand being called disgusting
and a piece of shit. I know they are just words but they still
hurt. Please help me! Give me some advice! I feel like I'm going
to lose my mind. Please don't tell Mom and Dad that I'm talking
like this, but didn't we grow up in an anti-military family?
How did it come to this? Even our little brother is in the Army!
Sleep is the only time I can escape this hellhole.
I keep telling myself I probably won't have to go to Iraq. (They
took away all the news magazines you sent, by the way.) War is
a really scary sounding thing. You wouldn't believe it but I've
actually been going to church.
"Come sit down," Dad said to me one afternoon
the summer Mom finally left. "I want you to try something."
He held an empty soda can sideways in his hand
and gestured for me to take the open space next to him on the
couch. My best friend sat down across from us. Inside an indentation
in the can, small holes covered with black ash nearly covered
the red, white and blue Pepsi logo.
Dad placed a yellow rock on the ashes. I looked
at his face and remembered what could've been my first memory
-- the time when the cops found me and my baby sister
underneath a van in a motel parking lot. Dad had shoved us there
that night after he jumped into the pool, frantic that spiders
were eating him.
The rock melted under the flame.
Mom had told the cops where the coke was hidden
to protect herself. "In the baby's diaper," she said.
I was about three then, close to the same age my son is now.
"Hurry up, slow down," Dad said as I
took my first hit. "Hurry up."
We graduated D.A.R.E. at the end of sixth grade,
just a few months earlier. Those fools didn't have a clue how
easy it was.
When Dad returned from prison three years after
the spiders episode, our parents would fight. Mom would get drunk
and cheat on him, Dad would beat the hell out of her, the cops
would come and Dad would go to jail. It became routine until
Mom finally left.
We saw Dad overdose a million times. He was crazy.
I'd throw water on his face, and afterwards he wouldn't think
twice about taking another hit. Once we found Dad passed out
on the couch with a needle in his arm. Mom scooted us out of
Dad would put towels over all the windows and tell
us kids to stay out of the kitchen so the house wouldn't blow
up. Our friends were Dad's friends and they would come and go
all day, every day. It wasn't unusual for us to smoke eight grams
a day together.
Dad has always been a businessman. His power and
his money led to the drugs, then he'd blame his kids for losing
the businesses. At the same time he was losing his life.
I was an addict in high school. I would do anything
to get my hands on it. I'd bust into Dad's stash -- hidden
deep in his golf bag, in a shoe in the closet or in one of the
few books we owned. (We're all dyslexic.) When I couldn't get
it from Dad, school was the second easiest place to score. All
I had to do was ask. Drugs were easier to get than food.
It's dangerous when people become complacent about
human suffering and perfectly comfortable about their privilege.
You can't help the privilege you're born with but what people
can strive for is using privilege for world betterment. Don't
assume that you know what it's like to be in somebody else's
I've always lived my life as "female."
Awhile ago I lived eight months as a trans guy, using the pronoun
"he." I found that it was an unnecessary transition
because I'm all encompassed and that I don't want to be either
male or female, I want to be both. I want to be it all.
"All of the awesome feminist lesbians I know
are turning into guys," a friend of mine said when I first
told her about my transition. She felt abandoned because of my
personal identity. It didn't mean that I wasn't a feminist or
the same person.
Gender identity is so engrained in our culture
that it limits somebody like me. The closest word I subscribe
to is probably "gender queer" because that's the most
ambiguous. Now I go by both pronouns -- I go by "he"
or "she." I also go by "they." I hope to
be a work in progress continually throughout my life, staying
in the gray area.
When I was a little kid I'd go to sleep at night
crying because I was sad, thinking it sucks that anybody else
in the world might be feeling the same way. Always in a constant
state of insane empathy for the world, any time I have a struggle
in my life or any fucked up thing happens to me personally, I
don't just feel it for me, I get extremely passionate about it
because it's fucked up that anybody has to go through it.
I'm a quarter Arab, something our family is very
proud of. In America, we're taught to fear everybody. Americans
have been brainwashed to consider themselves victims and it's
not right to perpetuate a cycle of victimizing people because
there are other victims. The American dream should be opening
up the borders and reaching out, realizing that we're a global
society. Fuck this self-righteous ideology that America is the
leader of the fucking world.
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