Mundane solidarity helped us meet outside of linear time and embrace ourselves as the whole suns we are.
February 25, 2021
What does Asian American and Black feminist solidarity look like on the smallest, most intimate scales? In the midst of this summer’s uprisings for Black life, a car accident and formative passings in our personal lives prompted us to contend with fundamental co-cultivation. Drawn to movement work, we recognize the grounding we find in our communities. However, as Mia Mingus identifies with pod mapping, sometimes discourse on formalized community produces longing that obscures the value of our existing entanglements, the meeting places of all our relations (human, other than human, ancestors, etc). What if we look at community as a constellation of care that each of us is responsible to build, share, nourish, and honor, one relation at a time?
In this conversation, we tell the story of how we found community with each other virtually, many miles apart in Atlanta and NYC, through voice notes. We reflect on themes that emerged in our exchanges: embracing ritual over routine, intergenerational love and heartbreak, self love as communal love, deeper listening, queer platonic romance, and ecosystems of liberation. The conversation reveals how this form of mundane solidarity helped us meet outside of linear time, literally reclaim our own voices, and guide each other through a season of simultaneous grief and rebirth, all while embracing ourselves as the whole suns we are.
Everyday Solidarities: Beyond Trauma Bonding
Margarita Ren (MR): When my friend J____ moved from here in New York City back to Kampala, she started primarily communicating via voice notes with me because it was hard to call often. We first met and grew close through TA-ing the same class, where often we, as the two nonwhite queer women TAs in a group of six, would just look at each other and laugh, “What the fuck is going on?” [laughs]
Calin Amber Mason (CAM): That’s the best kind of friendship though! I was just telling my sister that I had a similar experience in college. At the time I was attending this very white church in New Hampshire. I had this friend, S_________, who used to turn and look at me every time the pastor said something ignorant like, “Bitch, did you just hear that?” And then we’d meet afterwards, like, “Girl, I got notes for you.” [laughs]
MR: There’s so much power in those shared looks [laughs] and the friendships that can grow from them! I was reading Cinelle Barnes’s piece on joyful resistance and thinking about what it means to move past trauma bonding. There’s a difference between loving from fear and loving freely.
CAM: Right. You’re focusing on living in your wholeness rather than only reacting to oppressive structures. In everyday solidarities there is such a broad range of emotion that happens. A fifteen-minute voice note could sound like, “It’s Thanksgiving and I’m wrestling with why so many Black folks are still basically celebrating genocide uncritically. But also, my sister and I went out to see the full moon over the ocean for the first time today. I felt really expansive.” You know?
Practicing Solidarity Through Shame
MR: [Laughs] Is solidarity just a lot of healthy friendship? Because we don’t see each other as formalized roles—there aren’t transactions to settle or perfect expectations—we can call each other in with love. I remember while student organizing for faculty of color in my sophomore year of college, two of the upperclassmen, G_____ and C____ , would say, “Out of love, please sit down,” to address ignorant comments that could derail our meetings. I loved that, because they didn’t kick you out of the room but were so succinctly honest in their truth as Black queer women leading younger queer students of color: I love you. Sit down. This is not your moment.
CAM: G_____ saying “Sit down” with love in front of 50 other students was still really embarrassing though. But on the friendship level, there’s more room for mistakes.
MR: Yeah, I get confused when people say that there’s no room for shame. Supporting each other to move through shame rather than despite it is so important. How can you have large scale big solidarities without the little ones?
CAM: When you practice solidarity more often, you develop more tolerance for discomfort. It’s like, “Yeah, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ll probably keep making them. But that won’t stop me.” But in the beginning it’s important to have that safe space to practice without being judged. I don’t know if you remember this, but this was maybe that same year. I said to you, “I don’t understand how to use the pronoun ‘they!’ How does it work grammatically?” And you said, “Honey, you just need practice.” Imagine doing that in a gender queer space. It would just be like, “Chiiiiile, we don’t have the time.” And rightly so, you know?
MR: Yeah! And we aren’t just supporting others. As Amin Husain from MTL+ speaks on, how can we trust people who don’t see their own stake in liberation? We have to go back to our own communities and integrate lessons. We find the circles of people to practice them with. Then we’re also better equipped coming back to share space with a broader group. Own that you’re doing that! Growing is intensely uncomfortable and joyful!
I think it’s easy to get intimidated thinking about solidarity as the entire Asian community and the entire Black community showing up for each other. Mundane solidarity speaks to the more intimate scale of our own experiences: I’m an Asian person, you’re a Black person, and we talk! And we tell our stories. There’s so much power in narrative form.
Voice Note Votives
CAM: Rituals have been really big for me this year. I shared a lot from one of my circles, Xinachtli/Seed, because it’s been very formative for me. It was a cohort of BIPOC folks, mostly queer and/or femme, who were learning about ancestral plant medicine together and it was lead by a two-spirit Indigequeer love, Xóchicoatl.
Going through Xóchi’s group was relearning how to do ceremony and ritual. How do you let those meaningful gatherings—even just between yourself and your ancestors or yourself and spirit—help you move through grief? That was right on time, because I needed all the tools to help move me through grief this year. I remember the day that I woke up to the news that George Floyd had died; I woke up with so much grief because SO many of us were dying. I set up a special altar. I wrote down names. I worked with rose and oatstraw. I lit a candle; I prayed. For the first time, I felt like my grief had somewhere to go. The voice notes were definitely one of those rituals, too, to sit down with you and sit down with myself and process. In this transition period, they gave my anxiety, thoughts, and transformation somewhere to go and be held.
MR: I really resonated with what you said back in September about ritual servicing personal temporality. I don’t feel anxious whenever we share or send. We trust that we’ll get to our messages when we need to. Between bullet journals and productivity apps, there are so many tools to regulate time [laughs]; we’re so constrained to the metric of the hour! Using spoon theory, I’m always worrying, “How many spoons do I have? Is this worth the spoons I got?” Having constant thoracic outlet syndrome pain of fluctuating intensities, I can’t really text or type much without dictating, and I get exhausted fighting with technology or feeling I don’t have sound privacy. My pain and mental health issues were the worst they’d ever been after my car accident this summer, when I asked you if it’s okay to voice note instead of text. I’m really grateful you chose to meet me where I was. When the pain was so bad I had to step away from even online mutual aid work and couldn’t sleep, listening and talking to you in those moments gave me some rest. Voice notes allow us to be present; there is no editing or immediacy that text messages carry. In light of constant grief and capitalistic anxiety, I love how we honor the ephemeral and validate our individual legibility. Respecting your time and mine also then requires recognizing that we aren’t always in the same time.
CAM: Yeah, we were talking about how a ritual can last just three days or it can be everyday for three years. It’s different than the temporality of a routine. In the beginning, our ritual was a voice message every other day; now it’s like every two weeks. Initially I felt so much anxiety to respond, but as we kept practicing I settled into responding when the time felt ripe for me (a concept I learned from Latham Thomas). As a bipolar person with fluctuating levels of energy and emotion, I appreciate having that space to share outside of time. We always meet at the right time—divine timing.
MR: Right? I would listen to your voice message from a week ago and realize how much I needed that message right then. Fred Moten and Wu Tsang collaborated on a publication called “Who Touched Me?” for If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution’s Performance in Residence program. They left voicemails for each other every day for two weeks without listening to the other’s, finding synchronous poetry and thoughts despite the distance. I got so excited seeing their art because I do find that with you! Our voice notes have taught me faith: trusting myself, you, and our relationship not as containers, but as warmth that holds us. This reminds me of when you said we’re always existing in all versions of ourselves: our child self, our grandmother self, and our present self.
CAM: I thought about time traveling first when reading adrienne maree brown’s writing on time traveling emotions in Emergent Strategy. And I was like, “Oh, my God, this is me!” I had it up somewhere in my dorm room in senior year of college. Emotions travel time because they travel through our sensations. In photos, songs, scents, we get taken back to other moments—or sometimes taken forward. Do you remember C_______? We often found ourselves in the same English, French, and African/African American Studies classes. We were in a Toni Morrison lit class when she introduced me to nonlinear and circular time in Afro-diasporic cultures.
MR: There’s also a discipline in holding the button down and taking those minutes to speak! [Laughs] At the same time, I never plan. I’m disciplined in honesty, recognizing when I want to share a piece of myself. With your voice, you can’t hide—or I can’t because I’m no actor! [Laughs] While writing embeds space for interpretation, voices carry intention. I realized this power while in a long distance relationship; sending a voice message meant I could communicate without her questioning the meaning of my words. I remember you saying you were also doing this with your partner to build comfortability with intimacy over distance.
CAM: Yeah, to me audio feels so much more intimate than a block text. The first time I got a voice note from you, I was just like, [gasps].
MR: Yes! Our sense of sight is currently so inundated and overstimulated. Using other muscles in listening lets me feel embodied in my connections. [CAM: Yeah!] Beyond intellectual work, in the mundane, solidarity is always embodied. The lack of abstraction is worth celebrating!
CAM: This is on a pleasure activist type note: I was reading this article on Dipsea, which I love! Their audio team was discussing the benefits of using audio for erotica. When you listen, your imagination is automatically engaged. Unlike watching a video, you don’t feel like an outside observer but like you are in your body and inside of the experience.
In addition to landing in my body, a product of doing these voice notes is also falling in love with my own voice. I recently listened to Lauren Ash and Gina Breedlove discuss sound therapy as I was cleaning. They were talking about what it is to reclaim your voice as a Black woman, and I was thinking how I’ve always hated hearing my voice recorded. [MR: Me too! Me too!] I hate it so much! [Laughs] I remember listening to a recording that I did in French class in 6th grade; it was horrible. In the beginning of us sending voice notes, there were a couple times where I listened to it back, just to see what you would hear. And after a while, I realized, “You know, what? I love my voice!”
MR: Same! Sometimes because of the time passed between our voice notes, I’ll go back to what I sent before to recall what you’re referencing. When I first started sending voice notes this summer, I’d redo them for hours. Especially because so much around the uprisings was overwhelming, I thought love meant curating the right energy to bring to you. Acknowledging how we want to cultivate trust, I appreciate the way our vulnerability gets showcased in the pauses and ambient noises around us. We still can share and practice easy silence from a distance because [laugh] iMessage doesn’t let us fast forward! I’m in my second season of Hidden Water BIPOC green circle for adults who’ve experienced childhood sexual assault, and a foundational community agreement is not engaging in “crosstalk” or the impulse to immediately respond to someone else’s comment. Not being able to do so in voice messages either gives me time to marinate and hold.
CAM: Yes, love a pregnant pause!
MR: It makes me wonder how listening is evolving too.
CAM: I’ve been thinking about one of the job interviews I had, where they asked me, “How do you hold the complexity of an environmental justice issue when you’re communicating or writing about it?” I immediately thought, “Stories!” Because those are how you can weave in all the messiness and complexity that is life. And to me, mundane solidarity feels less big picture and a lot more about people’s stories and how they weave together.
MR: What I love about our voice notes is that as we are both moving through our own circles, we reflect with each other on our experiences. But that doesn’t mean we need to force each other into our respective circles. Actually, if anything, we’re creating our own circle, between the two of us, that can expand in the future.
CAM: I really enjoyed taking in some of the nutrients you’ve learned from your circles without having to be in them.
MR: Likewise! I love how you also always bring plants into your circles. One of my favorite things is hearing about what you’re learning from working with a certain plantcestor. When we think about what care and solidarity look like, how can we honor all the beings who are a part of our geographies? Sharing photos of our grounding spaces has been really special for me because that’s our landscape and a context for better understanding each other’s relations.
CAM: In one of our first sessions of Xinachtli/Seed, Xóchi was introducing us to certain plant ancestors and saying how they were excited to share their plant lovers with us. That stuck with me and I feel like that’s what we’ve done with our voice notes. We shared our loves with each other (whether plants, medicine, recipes, friends, books, etc ) so that the other person could benefit.
MR: And also learning more about those loves while sharing them. Like when you sent me the picture of the bok choy roses when you were cooking sesame bok choy for dinner! I’ve eaten bok choy my whole life but would have never gotten to experience bok choy roses because that’s not the way I’ve come to interact with them. And now I’m thinking, “Wow, polyamory!”—that experience when someone you love is reflected back to you by another lover in a different light.
CAM: Yes, there are so many sides to beings. We’ve all experienced having different facets of our personalities come out to play when we interact with different people. It’s a gift to be able to see another side of a plantcestor or person you love that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise because your personality doesn’t necessarily bring it out in them. It’s one of the many benefits of being a part of each other’s constellations of care.
MR: Truly beautiful! I love your definition of beauty, by the way; I reference it all the time! Beauty as “finding liberation in the shapes, colors, angles, and shadows of the divine” feels like a descendant of José Esteban Muñoz’s “Ephemera as Evidence.” [Laughs] Honestly our entire friendship’s been queer acts [made possible by Muñoz’s work]!
In queer kinship, our care constellations are often a lot of chosen family. We have active participation in our genealogies by building off the lineages of queer theory passed onto us. Working through our intergenerational trauma therefore also means centering intergenerational love in our everyday actions. We don’t just see each other through ending cycles of pain and abuse; we speak our histories into regenerating cycles of abundant love.
Voice Note Transcriptions
1. MR: For me, the word that came to mind was, well, there were two words that came to mind. First, I think I thought of the word “whole.” I think, in a lot of ways, you’ve modeled for me what it means to recognize the complexities of being a whole person, and to heal yourself into that wholeness. And the other one, I thought of is “sun,” because I think, I don’t know, one of my favorite terms of endearment now that I say to people, is that they are whole suns. And I think that term first came to mind with you. And I think, just like, I love that you do like moon rituals, for example, because the moon is just a reflection of the sun. And in that time, it’s a reflection of you. And so I, yeah, I’m glad to hear that you are coming to terms with what this spirituality means for yourself. And I don’t understand—in that I don’t have the same experience—but I recognize that must be really hard to be doing that in a space where everyone else does have a particular belief system that seems laid out for them. But I’m really proud of you for recognizing your growth, and I love that you are in ancestral herbalism group. That’s amazing. I honestly really need to work on personally trying to find… I’ve been meaning for years to like, try to find just fellow young people I guess who are Asian and…or like specifically I guess, like are Chinese or Chinese diasporic and interested in Chinese traditional medicine. Because I don’t know anyone who is and like, trying to learn intergenerationally I guess. But I love that you’re in one and I love that how that’s a space to like understand your queerness and be in community with people who are healing and growing and exploring that too.
2. CAM: Whole suns is such a beautiful idea/words/phrase. It’s just so like, gives me that image of something that’s warm and glowy and complete and makes me feel that way. And I can’t believe that that’s, it’s so cute that that’s what you think of when you think of me. And I love how you started using that on other people too. It just resonates. But as you were talking about… yeah, I don’t even know. You said something about me modeling ways to be in wholeness. And I feel like YOU totally did that for me. I’ve always like admired the way that you pulled all of your passions and the things in your heart together, and did all of them so synergistically and so well. And meeting you was one of the ways that I felt like I came more into my wholeness and felt less fragmented as a person, especially at Dartmouth. I was like, oh, here’s this other person who surprise cares about people and cares about social justice and cares about the earth and cares about queerness and like, all these things together that I wanted to put together, but I didn’t know how to do it yet. And so yeah, I feel like you have modeled that in front of me and that’s one of the things that really draws me to you still.
3. CAM: I feel like this year, I really did wrestle with this celebration of genocide side of that holiday. And so I practiced the Day of Mourning. And yeah, I—it’s always—I did a lot of thinking about why the Black community doesn’t also practice the Day of Mourning with Iindigenous communities on that day, because to me, I feel like our stories are so intertwined. Indigenous groups and then formerly enslaved peoples feel like to me the ones who know most viscerally how this country began, and what is the root of this country? Which is on all of our backs. And so yeah, I spent a lot of time that day thinking about that and thinking about like, why my parents never talked about it and what is the deal? A lot of reflection, a lot of thinking and just remembrance and noodling. But I also spent that day with my sis, and it was great!
4. MR: [Spoken slowly through a pain episode] I’m simmering and stirring in “joy and grieving with.” I think those words [you shared] in a very different way, obviously, describe how I was feeling connecting with my dad earlier today. And asking him to help me translate into his language, how I’ve been processing George Floyd and grief and the causes of grief that look like me and my family in the positionalities that we share.* I think I’ve always been, but especially this week, anxious and deeply disturbed about just the capacity non-Black folk have for enacting anti-Black violence. And using that anxiety as an invitation to share—and processing in the language that’s closest to the language my dad thinks in felt like hope. I think just as they remind me that—just as deep as that capacity is, so too, and so much more can be the capability to love through co-accountability. I think Mia Mingus described accountability during this pod mapping workshop I was watching as this repeated, as enacted through repetition. And I think repeatedly like asking, and then listening and then tasting these terms in Mandarin that I don’t yet know, but hope to, felt like a discipline of love and hope that was very present.
*Meaning non-Black and racially Asian; Hmong refugees do not have the positionalities or privileges of Chinese American pre-professional immigrants and are often unprecisely grouped as one.
5. CAM: I feel overwhelmed just wading through those articles and feeling a lot of grief and then getting into more details and feeling angry. And the more details I read, even the ones that “complicate the decision” just makes me angry. Whenever something like this happens, just being like, “Okay, the best thing that I can do in response to this, besides living my life in service of liberation for everyone else, is also just to cultivate my own joy in my own life and my own breathing and my own living just like Breonna Taylor—who looks like she could be like one of my cousins or one of my friends, you know—was doing and would have continued to do.” And so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I love that you’ve been asking these check in questions. I forgot the one about food… a food that grounds you? I feel like there’s food—there are plant ancestors that I feel supported by when eating—like citrus, citrus is bae. I feel like I go to citrus when I need a whole meal of yumminess and fiber before noon. And when I am depressed, and I need a pick-me-up. So citrus… Beets feel like me; I love beets. I love their earthiness, their juiciness, the fact that they’re a vegetable but they’re really sweet, and that they’re a root! And the fabulous color. Beets really ground me.
6. CAM: Rituals are so magical because they are adaptable; they feel adaptable to the season, to the moon rhythms. You know, a ritual could be three days around the full moon, or it could be like for a whole season of winter every day. It just is as long as you need it to be [pauses] and not longer. And there’s no shame in falling off of your ritual, because I feel like they’re so sacred. And most of the time you look forward to the rejuvenation and the grounding that they bring that it’s not that same guilt of when you don’t do like an exercise routine or something. I don’t even know.[Laughs] It’s been such a long time since I had anything like that. But, you know, I can maybe relate more to like, a work routine or something like that. It’s just like, “Oh, I missed that magic!” And I’m ready to discover what ritual is going to serve me best right now. So I love that.
7. CAM: Hi Love! I’m listening to your messages little by little again. I just got to the first one again that’s 18 minutes. It’s such a treat to listen to. Such a treat. I feel like I feel really empty today. I feel really tired. I’m trying to like, wrap up the official thesis things and see if my committee approves and I’ve been looking for jobs and feeling anxious. And yeah, just I think I was like, slightly up for a minute, maybe, and have gone back down. And I’m wondering how long this period of feeling kinda depressed is gonna last? Like, will I just not be un-depressed until I get a job and finish school or what? Like, sometimes I wonder about the cycles of depression and like, what causes them? Because it’s not always the circumstances. Sometimes it just comes over you. But yeah, I’m wondering about how my body is digesting. I still wonder that, because I feel like there should be some huge backlash of everything that’s happened and I’m sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop or like for something really… for me to have like a really intense, terrible reaction. And instead, it’s just this like, slow unraveling. So I love that you always managed to sound so cheery in your messages, because I’m like, I can’t do it. But I definitely feel like you were saying that, not quite in person, but that soma warmth when I listen to your audio messages. Like it doesn’t feel… I don’t feel the distance as much. And I really appreciate that. And I’m glad that you were able to feel a closeness with me in July. And that you came through that car accident because when I heard that I was like, oh my god. Yeah, I’m really glad that you were able to come through that. I don’t even, like, this summer is a blur. And I just feel like at the time that you were like, let’s send each other audio messages that was really… just felt like a miracle to have more… more sharing in a way I didn’t know I needed. So I’m really grateful for, for you saying that. I think I said that before in one of my messages about when we were both talking about boundaries and like how you having that boundary made way for more intimacy in multiple ways. And I’m still really appreciative of that because I’m really appreciative of this practice we have of sending messages.
8. CAM: Before I experienced the effects of my economic class and my skin color and my nerdiness and whatever, going to school across town—before that I was just such a happy, confident, vibrant child. And then I almost couldn’t remember that. I love thinking about how all the selves we were don’t get left behind, but they’re still a part of us. And also thinking about being able to access though, like the grandma and me and ask her for wisdom. I think somebody in my group was talking about that and talking about, sort of talking to her grandma self and getting, like— feeling like she received the same wisdom from her grandma self and also her child self, and I thought that was really interesting, and relatable. And something now, as I’m saying, and I’m like, “What is similar about our, you know, elderly, wise self and the wisdom that we have, as children?” Like how, how we return to ourselves in that loop.
9. MR: [spoken slowly, monotonously through a pain episode] I love the language of you working on your friendship with your body. She seems so fun to learn with. I don’t know my body’s personality, but I’m sending these as voice notes because it seems like she’s got a flair for style. And the pain purse is a lot cuter at this hour for some reason in this light. Unfortunately, not a designer purse. Because, you know, didn’t come with the texting feature. But we work with what we got!
10. CAM: Your words when you said, “I know this week will be good, because we’ll bear witness to it.” I was just like [squeals] magic. And I don’t know that just touched me on a soul level. And, yeah, I feel that way about all of our interactions that as soon as I speak them into the audio, they do become touched with light, because I’m bearing witness and I know that you’re bearing witness also.
11. CAM: I’m so excited and happy to be talking to you again. I’m really excited for your work in healing circle, and I also have been enjoying my time in my healing circle. I’m feeling like those relationships and that work is deepening in a way that I really need right now when I’m reinventing—well not reinventing—but just going through another cycle of learning about my spirituality, like, feeling like I really did go through a full cycle of how I was raised. And now I’m cycling back into the baby, into the beginner, into learning a new way of interacting with myself and interacting with the divine. And my healing circle’s really helping with that. So, I’m happy to be simultaneously in circle while you’re in circle and for us both to be discovering through that.
12. MR: Hey love. I am walking around my grounding place which is Highland Park, specifically the Ridgewood Reservoir. And I will send photos for sure the sky is the sweetest of cotton candies and the lamp lights are flickering because they’re about to be turned on as it’s getting darker. I haven’t been here in a couple of weeks. I feel like I’ve been—I don’t know. I haven’t—I think I’ve been a little emotionally distant with myself sometimes. But this is a place where I feel like I slow down. I used to not but I think because I can’t run anymore it’s become a spot that’s not just miles anymore and more so space to feel somatic again and reconnect with my body because, I don’t know, our bodies are so many reactions, and I feel like I’m constantly reacting and re-reacting to just the non-human friends around here [Laughs]
13. CAM: It is true! Mama earth brought her waters. It’s also true that I need to hydrate more. I’ve been pretty consistently drinking an infusion of lemon balm and mint in the morning and oatstraw at night. I feel like I’ve been working with those three plantcesters pretty intensely because I just feel like I need medicine all the time. And I’m like should I up my dosage? Because… I just really need support!
14. CAM: You were saying about liberation coming from anywhere—it’s also true seeing elements of liberation in Christianity and feeling like it was bigger than just Christianity and wanting to like, branch out to where I saw more of that. And so it’s so beautiful to find liberation from every source and from every angle and from every color and reflection of the Divine.
15. CAM: I really smiled at the image of our constellations coming together and having a feast—that made my heart happy. Yeah, just being in this period where I’m really just doing a lot of internal work and really kind of down to nourishing the connections that are closest to me.