Article

Artist-educator heather c. lou documents a year of transition from Oakland to Minneapolis, illuminating how artistic process is intimately affected by personal and professional lives, and sharing the search for voice and healing in a white supremacist environment.
January 12, 2019

summer

i moved from Oakland to Minneapolis in 2016. everybody in my life seemed concerned with this life decision:

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Isn’t it…cold…there? The weather and the people?”

“There can’t be culture there. Is there even an art scene?”

“Are there even Asians in Minnesota?”

that summer i lost my family. irreconcilable differences between my tan, golden brown gemini earth dragon scales and their internalized racism, homo-, and transphobia. moving 2,000 miles felt like a welcome transition, a buffer, a time to start again, to reflect on and heal from my trauma. as a postsecondary administrator by profession and creative witch by passion, i was well-versed in the sublime beauty of pain and isolation. and to be honest, i have lived in colder, more hostile environments and thrived.

my first sunset lasted forever. the air was warm and the breeze caressed my brokeness. the sky shined like sherbet, the kind that you could buy from bi-rite on an adventurous day: pink, yellow, orange, purple, blue, and green. i wept that day, as i watched the burning sun slink into the horizon, finding its place of rest. the moon rose, and glowed full and iridescent, telling me secrets of the darkness—a place that i have known for so long. the stars began to flicker with excitement, embracing my tears that fell from my almond eyes and down my cheekbones. a release.

i sat in my studio and painted for hours that evening. paper, water, brush, and pigment. the color diffused across the whiteness, filling the space with emotion and flare—a challenge to the blank space on the paper, challenging its superiority.

fall

i looked around the room. i was the only (in)visible, queer, disabled, young-looking, cisgender Asian womxn in the space. a token: the edgy one with tattoos, piercings, and dark skin, but not too dark. they told me that it was my job to “fix everything” and “keep the men in line.” to be seen, but not heard. to be the glue that “dries clear” to hold it all together, the “model minority.” to balance the budget and rebuild relationships, to be the Multiracial to build bridges between groups and bring peace to strained relationships. to be rewarded for complicity, and punished for speaking against inequity and oppression. an impossible, neoliberal, lonely position, but a means to an end.

the current president was elected that fall. i wrote a series of poems entitled “a love letter: fuck white supremacy,” illustrated by heart over crown. each piece documented my transition to a predominantly White and colonized context where i was simultaneously exotic and a blemish. i introduced these poems through tears in front of a mostly White audience, as a spectacle and object in their minds.

i received my first piece of hate mail that month and was featured on multiple conservative right-wing blogs filled with alternative facts. i’d like to think it was because of my evocative and compelling pieces that challenged dominant racial paradigms (read: White supremacy). in each piece of “creative alternative-fact writing,” i was called a queer abomination and disillusioned snowflake.

i lasted in that position for a total of nine months before going on medical leave for PTSD. i was targeted by colleagues for being a “reverse racist.” that it was impossible for me to have my identities as a queer asian american womxn and be an effective supervisor.

all i could think in response was: “to disrupt so many people’s everyday to compel their unwarranted opinions—does this mean i’m a real artist now?”

winter

the darkness makes us appreciate the light. long, cold, dark days challenge us to find warmth and lumen within self. literal whiteness upon Whiteness between each snowstorm, a new level of supremacy. it takes a hardiness and resilience to sustain through a Minnesota winter. i watch my footsteps fade into the accumulating snow. i retrace them as resistance to the pressure to disappear. i do this again and again, until i can barely feel my extremities. i balled up snow and brought it home to melt in a cup. i watched the snow collapse into itself, changing forms. once liquid, i used it to paint a vibrant image of a womxn of color, a version of myself when i was more certain of myself.

i looked at myself in the mirror.

skin faded translucent. blue-green veins showing through. brown eyes dim, but strong. hair graying.

there is beauty in despair.

depression.

spring

the birds return home with the sun.

i hear them chirping and chattering outside my window, waking the neighborhood with their songs. my eyes open and close again.

i have been taking medication for several months now and have been seeing my therapist weekly. i don’t shake as much when i wake up. i’m not paralyzed by fear of people calling me a “chink” or “aggressive” at work or on the street. i bring a piece of art to each session and share its story, a snapshot into my inner world. this time, two circles, similar and related, but not touching. one dark, one light. there is palpable time and space between the two figures.

in this moment, i miss my mother, my first home. her heartbeat once beat with mine. her lungs, full of smoke, filled mine with toxins. a home that could not sustain or shelter my body, mind, or spirit as child or adult.

i breathe in a sense of cleansing, a replenishing of self. a sudden, swift sense of home within my being in current space and time.

exhale.

inhale.

exhale.

i am ready to move on.

i am ready for more.

i am home within myself.

heather c. lou, m.ed. (she/her/hers) is an angry gemini earth dragon, multiracial, asian, queer, cisgender, disabled, survivor/surviving, depressed, and anxious womxn of color artist based in minneapolis, minnesota. her mixed media pieces include watercolor, acrylic, gold paint pen, oil pastel, radical love, & hope. each piece comments on the intersections of her racial, gender, ability, & sexual identities, as they continue to shift and develop in complexity each day.  her art is a form of healing, transformation, and liberation, rooted in womxnism and gender equity through a racialized borderland lens. heather works in education as an administrator. in her spare time, heather loves ogling at puppies, snuggling with olive bear (her cat) and sprout (her dog), birdwatching, eating pie, playing her ukulele, and spending time with her loving partner.

This piece was commissioned and developed by Mn Artists guest editor Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay.

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