step one: (un)learning
It starts when you feel a deep uneasiness in your body. Like a secret code between you and the earth that thumps and prods and irks; the earth whispers to you to open your eyes. You begin searching for safety, for care, for liberation, only to find that it is never offered to you in schools, in media, in hegemony. You start to realize that the world you have inherited is deeply unjust, violent, alienated. So you search for safety, for care, for liberations, to find other folks from the margins and the masses searching too. You learn and unlearn together, finding windows in counterculture zines, books, and discussions to radical pasts that allow you to consider historical alternatives for models of collaboration and community action. Your entire perception of the world is shifting. Everything is turning upside down; everything must turn upside down.
I discovered zines (pronounced “zeens”) at a crucial point in my life, when I was in my senior year of high school and completely enamored with Asian American identity politics. I was constantly angry at Asian stereotypes in media and in jokes, sad at my personal loss of culture via assimilation, and acutely aware of the discomforts of being in an Asian femme body while growing up in the American South. I was deeply reactionary, trying to make sense of the trauma and violences that I carry with me, but doing so in ways that left me stuck in nasty feelings that paralyzed me as all I did was complain. I had no concept of how I could dream of a better, more just world. I felt lost, hurt, and confused.
Zines, particularly those created by Asian femmes and queers, women of color, nonbinary and trans folks, were one of the first ways that I found political education. Specifically, political education is education that empowers us (the collective masses) through becoming conscious of our oppression by systems of inequality and engaging in efforts to transform ourselves and the world we live in. As Paolo Freire wrote, political education is “all efforts of mobilization, organization and training that prepare people to exercise the power which they must necessarily conquer.”
Zines are these noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines that creators, artists, and dreamers produce, publish, and distribute by themselves. A zine is just thoughts, any thoughts at all, that you write and bind up on paper and then mass produce to share with friends and strangers. Zines have been around forever. They were and still are political education tools used to elaborate and establish strategies to transform the world. The burgeoning Asian American Movement in the 1960s and 70s, the Black Panther Party, the Chicano movement, queer/LGBTQ+ liberation movement, and so many others all used to zines to shares messages, ideas, news, and strategies across the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still angry. I’m still sad. I’m still acutely aware. But (un)learning through and reading zines like Evolution of a Race Riot, How to Stage a Coup, issues of Gidra, and Building an Asian American Feminist Movement helped me verbalize the uneasiness within me; recognize how imperialism and colonization are ongoing, not events of the past; and realize that identity politics cannot and will not save us, but the mobilization of the collective masses towards an internationalist horizon can. Through zines, I was introduced to communities screaming, shouting, feeling, and unpacking what it means to be Asian/American and actively organizing to change material conditions.
step two: processing and creating
Zines are about processing and creating together! You cut, paste, fold, snip, and copy thoughts, feelings, sorrows, and joys, with one another, so that we can collectively dream, create, and orchestrate a more just world together. You create perzines working through your own identities and experiences. You laugh over mini-zines made on little things that made you smile this month. You share ideas and words and art together to create booklets overflowing with dreams and strategies. You learn from Kwame Ture that “When you see people call themselves revolutionary, always talking about destroying, destroying, destroying, but never talking about building or creating, they’re not revolutionary. They do not understand the first thing about revolution. It’s creating.” You realize that it is easy to be anti- a lot of things, but it takes much more collective dreaming, processing, and creating to understand what the most marginalized and oppressed communities need to feel safe and nurtured.
I started intentionally creating zines in 2019 during my sophomore year of college. Being inspired by previous publications and zines at Duke University and by the crucial history and place of zines in Asian American movement organizing, I and other students in the Asian American Studies Working Group created Margins, a multi-media, collaborative publication devoted to centering the narratives of Asian Americans and Asians in America. Margins was created to be an intervention in and an invitation to Asian/Americans to engage in more nuanced conversations about identity. We aimed to (re)politicize Asian/American identity, expanding the vocabulary for understanding how we navigate our identity and experiences. We’ve created two issues: Bodies and Ghosts.
Since then, zines have become the way I process, both alone to have a better understanding of my positionalities and with others to create communities. I’ve created: A personal zine filled with old photos, ramblings and thoughts, and artistic explorations of my experiences as a Malaysian immigrant longing for belonging while surviving in the imperial core of the United States. A digital cookbook and practice in food ethnography working through my feelings on living and cooking on my own for the first time during the pandemic and collecting recipes I’ve inherited from my mother. A collaborative zine mapping out Honolulu’s Chinatown district across chronologies and physical and digital spaces. A zine centered on tracing solidarities between Asian (American) and Black people and communities in trying to get to the heart of the question, “What has solidarity looked like in the past, what does it look like in this moment, and what can we imagine for our future?”
step three: sharing
You create zines that are then multiplied, both digitally through clicks of the share and retweet buttons and physically through the steady churn of a copy machine. The ideas, strategies, and feelings that you have, either alone or in community with others, are multiplied and amplified, shared with others with whom they resonate and touch deeply. This work of zines creates embodied communities.
My experiences with zines as a medium has allowed me to share resources and knowledge, develop skills and strategies, and engage in a participatory culture that encourages everyone to contribute according to their own capacities towards a shared collective experience. In creating zines, we get to actively re-envision what sharing political education looks like from the ground up, and embracing what Glenn Omatsu refers to as “the rich possibilities embedded in our communities and within ourselves.” This way, we can turn the world upside down and inside out in hopes of smashing and crumbling exploitative and violent systems to make way for a world that we share and care for together.
Shania Khoo (she/they) was born in Singapore to Malaysian parents and immigrated at the age of five to unceded Tuscarora land (colonially known as Cary, North Carolina). They are a rising senior at Duke University, pursuing an individualized degree program in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. As a Seeding Change fellow with NCAAT, Shania hopes to continue to be in and create learning and growing spaces to better understand anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and the interrelations of structures of power and violence. Whether Shania is pushing for their university to implement more resources for communities of color; creating zines and art unpacking immigration, queerness, and Asian diasporic identity and experiences; or facilitating political education spaces, they aim to use their voice and power to dream and build a better world that centers the needs of working-class communities of color.