Many of you may know about Our Families, our LGBT people of color and straight allies of color volunteer leadership team. But what many of you may not know is who the amazing folks that make Our Families so incredible are. I had a chance to interview Monica Lee Noé and find out a little more about who she is.
Khalil: So Monica, thanks for taking the time to talk today. You have been involved with Our Families for almost a year now. How did you get started with Our Families?
Monica: I joined Our Families back in September of 2012. I had already known about it for quite some time before that, but the timing was never right. It just happened to work out that in September I was making it a personal decision to be more intentional about building the community I would like to see here in Portland. As a Queer Neuratypical Asian-Latina I wanted to be more involved in creating spaces where the voices of the marginalized were prioritized. Our Families works to do that and is something I wanted to be a part of.
Khalil: I’m sure many of us can relate to that. Sometimes timing is everything. I really like what you said about being intentional about building the community you want to see. What has your experience been like so far?
Monica: I have enjoyed it so far. It has opened up different opportunities for me to grow professionally and personally.
Khalil: Nice, is there any particular opportunity you want to share with us?
Monica: The first retreat we had back in October was a weekend of personal growth for me. Just being in that space with other People of Color who were all invested in working together and building community. Everyone brought something a little different to the table. We each came in there with different skill sets and different areas of expertise. During that weekend I had a chance to connect and form meaningful relationships as well as learn new skills.
Even more recently, I had the opportunity to go to Salem and lobby. I had never done this before and was kind of thrown into a meeting with a representative. It was a little nerve racking, but actually went well. I realize I learn better with hands on experience and so just going straight into the meeting was great for me. It was a great first time lobbying experience.
Khalil: What would you say to someone thinking about getting involved?
Monica: Our Families is one of the few programs I have been a part of that is focused specifically on the experience of Queer and Trans* People of Color. It is an important program that is invested in cultivating Queer and Trans* leaders of Color and lifting those voices up, so that our movement has meaningful representation of those of use that live in the intersections. Too often Queer and Trans* People of Color are left with the decision to bring only one part of themselves. Our Families helps create spaces for Queer and Trans* People of Color to bring their whole self to the table. By being involved you are supporting this work and supporting to make our communities a better place for those of us that are affected by multiple areas of oppression.
Khalil: There are few spaces for us in this community. It is refreshing to know that you are involved in creating spaces where we don’t have to choose one identity over the other. Are there other things you are involved in?
Monica: I am also the Queeries & Education Coordinator at PSU’s Queer Resource Center. I am in charge of our Queeries Speaker’s Bureau, which is a campus climate and student leadership program that gives volunteers an opportunity to tell their stories and share their lived experiences. Sharing our histories is so important not only on a personal level, but also on an educational level. It humanizes the community and highlights the different narratives we have. There is often the standard Queer & Trans* narrative that most people are familiar with, but the Queeries programs helps break down stereotypes and show that the community is not a monolith.
I am in a band called microaggression, which is a social justice project through the pop-punk music and activism of two tiny radical-thinking Queermobros (QMBs) with all of the rage. It’s a fun little project I have been working on.
Monica: Haha, so Queermobros is a nickname that my band-mate Thomas and I call each other. How that came about is kind of a funny story. Thomas and I have a really solid friendship and have known each other way longer than we had previously thought. Recently we discovered he was an impromptu babysitter for me when I was ten, but that’s a story for another time. Anyways, how Queermobros or QMBs came about was through a chat conversation we were having. I was explaining how one of my exes had felt threatened by him and thought Thomas and I were more than friends. His response to this is what prompted the creation of our nicknames. It went something along the lines of, “But I can’t date you. You are like my bro, minus the icky dude/bro things. We are like queerbros. You are like my queermobro.” After that it kind of just stuck. It makes us both laugh, it’s catchy, and I think it accurately describes our friendship.
Khalil: Very funny. I like it! What other projects or groups have you been involved with besides your band?
Monica: I have in the past been a participant in the Visibility Project, created by Mia Nakano. The Visibility Project combines art, media and social justice to document the personal experiences of Queer Asian Americans. I also volunteer with Asian Pacific Islander Pride. (To view the Facebook Page, click here)
Khalil: Whoa! You sound extremely busy. You are definitely doing some great work out here in our community. Let me just take a moment to say thanks for making change happen for all of us. And I know that’s not all. I happen to know you are also involved in the planning of the Queer Students of Color Conference. Tell us more about that…
Monica: This weekend April 12, 13, &14th is the 3rd annual Queer Students of Color Conference (QSoCC) hosted by PSU’s Queer Resource Center. The theme of the conference this year is Radical Self-Care and the Decolonized Mind and we have some amazing speakers and artists lined up. We are kicking off the conference with a dance party with DJ Monika MHz on Friday night and then moving into a weekend filled with workshops, panels, movies and keynote speakers such as: Mia Mingus, Mia McKenzie (Black Girl Dangerous), & Vivek Shraya. I am really excited for this conference, all of the workshops and the amazing speakers & artists. It has really turned out to be something amazing. I am so grateful for the Queer Students of Color & Retention Services Coordinator at the QRC, all of the time and hard work they put into organizing this conference. It would not be half the conference that it is if it wasn’t for them. I am also so thankful for the support we have received from different parts of the community. Our poster was donated by artist Cristy C. Roads, we received a sponsorship funding from BRO (Basic Rights Oregon), the movies we are showing were all donated, and our speakers & artist were happy to work within our budget. We have had an overwhelming amount of love and support for this conference and I can’t express how thankful I am.
Khalil: It sounds like the place to be this weekend!
Monica: It is. I really want to stress the overwhelming support we have received from the people involved from the artist who did our poster, to the speakers who are coming, to the international folks who could not come but, plugged the conference to their networks. It has been a huge community effort and one we hope to keep building across the Pacific NW as QSoCC moves forward. One of the essential guiding principles has been to build sustainable community based on radical love so that no matter who shows up there will be space for them at the table and love to share. It has been remarkable.
Khalil: That is remarkable. And not only a testament to our community, but also the hard work of many who understand the importance and need for having spaces like the conference for LGBT People of Color…
Monica: It is critical that we create spaces for LGBT People of Color. In my experience these spaces have often come from a need within the community. The movement has often been co-opted by whiteness, leaving People of Color alienated and invisibilized. For me it is important that we have these spaces for LGBT People of Color to not only connect through shared experience, but also to heal, to know we are not alone, to validate one another. With how white the Queer movement is I have felt like there was no place for me with in it, especially here in Portland. The lack of community can have a toll on someone. I know that I would not be where I am today without community support.
Khalil: Very true. I took me some time to find people like me here in Portland and finding them, finding that support, and continuing to build it has meant the world to me. All that you do through work, volunteering, and more is very inspiring. Who is it that inspires you?
Monica: I have been inspired by different people at different times throughout my life. It’s hard to just think of one. There is the coordinator of the illumination project at PCC Sylvania, Jeannie LaFrance. I went into that program right after high school, a naïve teen with no grasp on what systemic oppression was; in fact I don’t even think I knew what those words meant. Spending a year in that program and then a second year as an assistant coordinator helped me find my voice. I grew on a personal and professional level. What I took away from those two years has shaped me into the person I am today; which is in a constant state of change, but the things I learned from her will always stay with me. I have a special place in my heart for that program and for the woman who runs it. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many inspirational people, including my co-worker, the queer students of color & retention services coordinator at the QRC. I feel so honored to have them in a part of my life, not only as a co-worker but as a friend as well. Their love and support inspires me to be better, to constantly work on being better. I can’t express enough how much I look up to them and how grateful I am to them for everything they have done in my life. These are just a few of the people who inspire me.
Khalil: They both sound very special. I like to think that we all have people in our lives that have inspired us and helped us to grow along our journey. It’s always good to stop, think, and reflect on who those special people are. I have to say you seem very motivated. Where does it come from and how can I get some?
Monica: (laughter) I know that right now we might not see the big changes in life. We might not even see the little ones, but I try to keep in mind that the work that I am doing now helps to change things in the future. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t wearing to do this work, but like I said community support has really helped with that. I am also motivated by the people around me, doing amazing things. I am so blessed to work along side and with them. But I would say one of my biggest motivations is that this is the right thing to do. We can’t just work towards supporting the communities we are a part of. We especially need to work towards support the ones we are not, because our struggles and liberation from oppression are tied together.
Khalil: Yes! The sooner more of us understand that the better off we all will be. It has been so great talking with you. Thank you again for sharing yourself with us, it has been encouraging and enlightening. Before I let you go I have one last question to ask you?
Khalil: This may be the deepest question of the interview. Tell us, what makes you laugh?
Monica: (smile) What makes me laugh? Bad TV always makes me laugh, definitely nerd references, and best of all my nieces’ funny faces.
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Check out more information about the Queer Students of Color Conference:
FB Event: http://www.facebook.com/events/471028926300514/
Visibility Project Resources