Why do you choose to live in Oakland? I was born Detroit and when the crack cocaine epidemic hit we moved to Portland because I lost a lot of family members due to drug violence there. Upon arrival in Portland, Oregon at the age of 7, I quickly realized that I really was 3% of the entire state population. That was pretty clear even as a young child. So there was always this obvious sense of not belonging. I would walk down the street (in Oregon) and people would literally ask me “Where are you from?” and “What country are you from?” As a woman of color in a predominately white environment, there were obviously lots of micro-aggressions that came up on a day-to-day basis that I had to deal with. Oakland is the only place that I’ve lived where no one asks me where I am from and no one questions my right to belong here. And that’s wonderful.
How did you make it to Oakland? When I first came down to the Bay, I was 11 or 12 and my Dad had taken my brother and I down here on a train trip. I remember this sense of electricity that I was feeling in my body even as a child and knowing that I had to come back here. In my twenties, I did, I got a job working at Laney College as an interpreter for the Deaf and Deaf/blind and was doing a lot of academic support for students with disabilities.
Back in Oregon, I had been the only black interpreter and one of three Native interpreters in the state. I would literally have Deaf clients saying things to me like “You are too dark I can’t even see you signing.” That's the kind of environment I grew up in. While there is obviously racism everywhere, to be in the Bay Area now is like a refuge.
Are you still working with the Deaf community? I’m not. My work and my primary responsibility is to my own creative practice right now. One of the things that happened for me when interpreting was that I was diagnosed with a condition called Ménière's Disease that affects my hearing and sometimes my balance. When I got the diagnosis, I learned that one of the possibilities of the condition is that one day, I too, could become deaf. So if, in theory, my hearing could possibly have an expiration date on it (and while that is certainly not the end of the world) it does motivate me to focus solely on my own creative work and passion.
What are you proud of? I am proud of being able to be in a dynamic partnership for 11 years. I feel blessed.