Chika Chika Zine

Page 1

a zine on the transformative power of gossip

Chika chika is a Tagalog word that translates to something along

the lines of “chit-chat,” while its singular iteration, chika, means “gossip.” While the term is local to Filipinx culture, the concept isn’t. Chika in Tagalog is chisme in Spanish. It’s fofoca in Portugeuse. It’s muda hanashi in Japanese. Gossip is so central to some of these cultures that they have multiple names for it. In Tagalog, chika is more commonly referred to as tsismis. In Spanish, chisme can also be called bonchinche or cotilleo depending on location. These parallels are important to note because it speaks to the way in which, regardless of language or ethnicity, oppressed peoples in the U.S. use gossip as a liberatory practice, one that produces personal agency. Gossip has been used by women, queer folks, BIPOC, workers, and other historically marginalized individuals as a tool for sustenance and survival in our patriarchal, white supremacist culture. Although gossip is often talked about as toxic, when it’s practiced with vulnerability, care, and caution, gossip has the capacity to build and maintain community. Gossip offers reprieve from the persistence of being othered. It intentionally carves out social space that foregrounds comfort and fosters belonging. Even more, gossip and other types of informal conversation can have a tangible, material impact on our social realities. Conversations had around a kitchen table, over drinks, in group chats and other informal gathering spaces have sparked and sustained labor and liberation movements past and present. In these situations, gossip allows folks to make sense of their personal experiences, and in turn, protect others by way of sharing their stories. The power of gossip lies in its ability to develop collective consciousness and allow for trust-building. It enables participants to exchange their personal experiences honestly, earnestly, and authentically without fear of repercussion. We created this zine to seek answers to a number of questions: What knowledge or insight have you gained through chit-chat that you might not have learned otherwise? How has informal conversation contributed to your sustenance or survival? How has chika (chika) transformed you? Although informal conversation is often feminized, trivialized—and even demonized—we position chit-chat/gossip as a feminist practice and a tool for poetic world-building. Collected here are reflections, meditations, and strategies on how chika (chika) has transformed us and the realities we live in. xoxo, Kat, Saijun, and Alice This zine was co-created by Kathryn Cua, Saijun Wang, and Alice Matthews in collaboration with Brown and Proud Press. Design by Luz Magdaleno Flores. Cover image by Kathryn Cua. In tandem with the publication of this zine, the organizers hosted “Talking Sh*t with Myriam Gurba,” a night of reading, discussion, and gossip with author Myriam Gurba and cultural organizer Erika Mei Chua Holum.

Contributors re

a Gossip as Community C by Michelle Gan

El Chisme by cindita

onita!!!” b s á m s e v te a it d a ll a “C res by Luz Magdaleno Flo

Art by Old Man Capone

Why I’m Scared of a Worl d Without Gossip by Sara Carminati

Kriol Chorus or a Casual Exchange Repeated Throughout Time and Sp ace by Pierre Pandy

Gossip as Com My mom tells me that even as a little child, I would fight drowsiness to stay up and listen to the tsismis. Kahit ano, interesado ako. Even when my brother had fallen asleep, a reminder to our guests that they had overstayed their welcome and it was definitely past our bedtime, I refused to close my eyes. Or ears. I would sit there quietly, taking it all in. My mom only realized I was listening because when they had finally left and she tried to tuck me into bed, I would keep her awake and ask seven trillion follow-up questions about stuff that had been discussed hours ago. The chika chika from my childhood may have faded from my memory, but the habit definitely hasn’t. Now instead of quietly listening, I ask questions and steer the conversation. I love gossip because it’s fun, but it is also a way to learn. Sometimes, I learn trivial things about people I will never meet, but sometimes I learn more about the family and place that I come from. Gossip is also a form of community care. It is a way for those of us who may have the least power to look out for each other and tell each other what the powers that be may refuse to recognize. Gossip and conversation allow us to learn from those who have come before us and warn those who will come after us. This is especially true for people of color in predominantly white institutions and of women in patriarchal societies, but applies to all of us who have been historically marginalized. Gossip means having a community of people who trust in you enough to confide in what they know.

munity Care On college campuses where sexual violence survivors are often blamed or dismissed, gossip meant I knew to avoid the boy who moved into our dorm and whom I had heard sexually assaulted three different women - one during a high school summer camp, one at his previous college, and one who lived in the same dorm as us. Gossip was the reason I knew to avoid certain professors who were sexist or racist or both, and who insulted his students often during lectures. Gossip was how I knew certain grants and stipends existed, which I could use to fund internships or travel that otherwise might be inaccessible. In the workplace, gossip helped me understand whether I was being underpaid, and how to successfully ask for more money. Gossip helped me identify which managers would mentor and advocate for me, and which ones would take credit for your contributions to boost themselves. Gossip helped me understand who I could lean on to report microaggressions, and who would dismiss it as accidental or harmless. Gossip can keep us safe. It helps us understand who to trust and who to be careful around and how to navigate that which would otherwise be unfamiliar, scary, or intimidating. To determine what paths we avoid and pursue. But it also requires us to trust those with whom we gossip, to know that we don’t need to fact check our sources before using it to make decisions.


“Calladita te ves más bonita!!!” I grew up hearing this saying. My mom was always trying to silence her loud ass, big mouth daughter. See, I have always been a talker. Teachers used to always yell at me for “talking too much!” My brother coined me as “La Newspaper” and maybe that is why I took on journalism. I love spreading knowledge. I truly believe chisme can heal the hood. My homies and I stay advising each other through street gossip, making sure we know what’s up, having eachothers back. My favorite chisme is when we share resources with each other. For example, when we send job opportunities that we think would be a great fit. Or when they hit me up to let me know there are lowriders posted up on 18th street so I can check it with my camarita. Sometimes chisme looks like a close friend confiding in me to share that our mutual homie ain’t doing too well so that I can remember to reach out and remind them that I love them. I also got to admit that I love the chisme that cracks my friends and I up! Some of those stories are too personal to ever share with the public. It is that type of chisme that stays between me and my best friends. May we continue to feed those relationships that are trustworthy and loving. To all the chismosas out there, the loud mouths, las que calladitas se ven enjodaditas, keep speaking your truth.

Why I’m Scared of a World Without Gossip

Part I I want to tell you some gossip about some gossip. My first full-time grownup job in the United States was with the philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach Glier and Associates. GG+A fired me on my ninetieth day, the last day they could legally fire me in Illinois without telling me why, and the way my manager sat me down and said it—her voice shook a little, it was the first time she’d done this—was that they were going to “transition me off the payscale.” Even though it was the last day she didn’t need to give me a reason, she said that I was “not performing up to expectations,” and then asked this nonperformer to train two (white) women in the same role over my fourth and final month. Gossip got back to me that my manager had said separately, more truthfully, that the reason she’d fired me was because I was “not a cultural fit.” This made more sense—and it was true, if also shaky legal grounds to fire someone had it been day 91. As to the poor cultural fit, I was met with palpable discomfort when I mentioned a hiphop show during a “how was your weekend” go-around at the start of a meeting—as I brought it up, I’d even thought, this should be fine because my white boss and her white boss are both obsessed with Hamilton. I complained about the office Cinco de Mayo party only during my exit interview with the HR manager, a Latina woman who seemed too tired to even respond, whereas a white male colleague of mine had brashly joked about its wrongness over his Corona at the party itself. I felt at once grateful to him for this tiny nod and resentful that he could voice it with no consequences. My notebooks all had marginal notes in Portuguese tallying

the microaggressions. A consultant who, as a tourist in Seattle, complained about the Asian “tourists” there, but cited no reason why he saw them as tourists other than their Asianness, and another who shouted about how she would not under any circumstance allow her pregnant daughter to visit Brazil. The biggest laugh I witnessed in that office was when someone at a meeting delivered her version of fake Kiswahili names (which actually sounded quite a bit more like Welsh). The consultant who, at the breakfast buffet at a conference, approached me with the lascivious sneer that too many older white men believe is a flirting style, and knowingly—as if I should be honored that he was aware of me—said something about my role as “the tech girl.” The “tech girl” was the only Black woman in the office, and I delighted in blinking like a doe and asking him why he was apologizing, why should I be offended that my appearance seemed to suggest that I had specialized knowledge about computers? He excused himself from the table and I took extra pineapple, as if for my trouble. I’ve gotten carried away, though. While this is all gossip, it is not the story I set out to tell.

loud with a drink in my hand, after I tap the table and say, Oh, but let me tell you about my worst job (which wasn’t the one where my boss asked me out, wasn’t the one where my colleague asked me how many people I’d slept with, wasn’t even the one where my manager said my ancestors were repulsive for blackening their teeth while wrinkling her face, bringing her blackened eyelashes closer to her blackened eyebrows)? And why does it feel so scary to set it down in writing?

Part II Someone told me that someone told them about a young woman who was hired as a Project Assistant, the same entry-level role I’d occupied, not long after I left (the turnover rate there spat people out like a Bingo ball cage). Her race wasn’t mentioned in the story’s telling, and this is a place where your race isn’t mentioned only if you’re white. She quit after her first day and then wrote in a review on Glassdoor that it was because one of the consultants had pulled her into her office and said, “Here are the male consultants you have to worry about because of sexual assault,” delivering her a list. When the company saw this online, their reaction was not horror that some of their consultants are sexual abusers, but instead an urgent effort to have the review taken down. They found a way: apparently you cannot accuse someone of doing something illegal on Glassdoor. And I’ll loop back to being selfish here, because gossip is one of the few places where POC get to be selfish—which Merriam-Webster defines as being concerned with oneself or arising from concern with one’s welfare, only excessively so or with disregard for others—I feel slighted that I wasn’t also extended that list. Why does it feel so right to tell that story out

“Gossip is any talk about someone who isn’t present,” an overly cheerful internet article with no social analysis about any facet of identity or power dynamics tells me. Why do we gossip? Shared commiseration, venting, teaching, protecting. It is the small way we have to keep people morally in check when we are disempowered to do so in any larger or more public way. We all know that gossip is seen as a “bad” thing—and also a feminine thing, a trivial thing. We also all know that gossip has made every one of our lives more interesting, and if you’re a person who experiences racialization or misogyny, gossip has almost definitely made your life safer. Gossip is the conversational equivalent of coming home and taking off your bra. It is also the conversational equivalent of showing someone a picture of a dragon and saying, this is a dragon. Is there anything more dystopian than a world without gossip? Even white people’s dystopian fiction is all about panopticism or Big Brother– ism—a world without a “room of one’s own” or any space to speak as yourself. Because the people who hold power are allowed to talk about us when we’re in the room. And often gossip is the only consequence we can make them face. adrienne maree brown says that all organizing is science fiction: “we are bending the

are normal, and thus can comment neutrally, even affably, on the “Asian tourists” or the “where” I am from or any other thing they’d like to about us aberrant racial outliers who pop into what they think are their racially neutral lives. This is so pernicious that it took a year of dating and many years of knowing each other for Gossip, too, is science fiction. We gossip, casting a white ex of mine to call himself and his white friends “normal people” in a conversation when someone else as an other to our reality. We differentiating them from me. When I corrected are bending the present to a new space-time continuum, a place where we are centered and him, he said still without thinking, “Well you know what I mean, mainstream.” Many of us have we are powerful. And that recentering can heard white people say, “Can’t you just take race confer real power. How do you think people out of the picture?” as if a human being can exist learned about the Underground Railroad? without a race—because they think they do. How For months, my American-born brain has been and where can a person of color actually freely trying to devise a response that preserves my or safely talk about this phenomenon? Gossip is dignity to, Where are you from? But where are revelatory because it picks apart that facade of you really from? I feel constraints every damn “normal.” day on what I am allowed to say, how I am allowed to talk, to whom I am allowed to be even remotely myself in conversation, in the face When I see chika chika, I think of chisme in Spanish, fofoca in Portuguese. I ask my mom of assumptions that degrade my personhood. to ask my grandma the word in Japanese and she texts back, muda hanashi or oshaberi. When people of color dance, laugh, dream, Gossip. I am struck by the way all of these words or talk like ourselves, as though there is no imitate the susurrations across the lips of quiet, barrier to us doing any of those things, we animated whispers. are practicing liberation in real time. We are future, together, into something we have never experienced. a world where everyone experiences abundance, access, pleasure, human rights, dignity, freedom, transformative justice, peace. we long for this, we believe it is possible.”

building a space where, even if it’s temporary, we have a little freedom to be us.

I asked Kat if she also read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a kiddo. And then I realize how deeply I’ve started to think that the two most insidious offensive it is for me to be seeing her culture through a neon-colored kids’ book about a things upholding white supremacy are the coconut tree written by two white men. A told ideas of politeness and normalcy. Much of B and B told C takes on spooky connotations— white cultural communication navigates an extraordinarily nasty terrain of avoiding conflict is this a coincidence or unacknowledged appropriation? I can’t stop thinking about the at any cost. One of the first things I learn in metaphorical potential of the boom boom that a the South is that “Well, bless your heart” is little chika chika can make. And that rhyme I’ve the most vicious insult you can deliver here. If conflict is unspeakably rude, if candor is entirely heard so many times I didn’t even have to look it up echoes in my head for days: chicka chicka circumscribed, then no one who doesn’t hold boom boom will there be enough room? power can make any meaningful alteration to society. To cast any challenge to the norm as rude is a way of dispossessing people and cutting off their right to speak. Similarly, so many white people think that they

Part III

Here are a few things I wish:

I wish we as a society could start being honest about when we’re being honest.

I wish we could all recognize that no one is normal and all the good in life comes from all of our weirdness.

I wish that saying that something is racist wasn’t treated as worse than the racism itself.

I wish white people knew how easy it is to be better—to respond without defensiveness and give extra dignity to the people who have lived the thing. To know that doing something racist is not the end of your existence as a good person.

I wish other people who have experienced oppression in this country thought of Asian Americans and of Asian farmers working today every time they talk about dishing “the tea.”

I wish that instead of seeing people of color as angry when we stand up for ourselves, anger was understood as powerful caring that has soured in a space where it cannot get out and affect the change it sees is needed.

I wish that our gossip wasn’t seen as gossip, but as spice cast into the widening gyre, truths that overlap other truths, eddies and bubbles responding to and shaping the stream, the fire that stokes a rich broth, or silk sheets to lay down in.

I wish all kinds of people had enough room.

The work of disseminating and documenting gossip is a centuries old practice that could never be comprehensively contained within a single publication. This zine is but one offering in an ongoing body of knowledge. Below are examples of gossip made manifest as survival, protest, memory, healing, and reimagining. Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2017. Lee, Grace, dir. American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. LeeLee Films, Inc., 2013. Lorde, Audre. “A Litany for Survival.” Poetry Foundation, 1997, https://www. Accessed April 2021. “Our Collective Letter to the Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.” MCAccountable. Published July 16, 2020. mcademands/original-statement-demands?authuser=0. Accessed April 2021. Perez, Roy and Juana Peralta. Call Out Queen Zine. Zine. Chicago, IL: 2012. https://issuu. com/poczineproject/docs/calloutqueen-zine/12. Accessed April 2021. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “The Negro Motorist Green-Book: 1940” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April, 2021. https:// StrikeMOMA Working Group of the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti- Imperialist Feelings. Strike MoMA: Framework and Terms for Struggle, 23 March 2021, Accessed April 2021. Women’s Action Alliance, Lori Sharpe, Jane Ginsburg and Gail Gordon, Mariame Kaba, and Jacqui Shine. Trying to Make the Personal Political: Feminism and Consciousness-Raising. Chicago, IL, Half Letter Press, 2017. Wortzel, Sasha. “Grit and Grind.” 2014, Viemo, Video, Accessed April 2021. Wortzel, Sasha. “We Have Always Been on Fire.” 2018, Vimeo, Video, /262538656. Accessed April 2021. Wortzel, Sasha. “Sass Squat.” 2011, Vimeo, Video, Accessed April 2021.

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