Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Media Makers Salon: Nezua

Cross posted from my media justice column

Media Justice is often something people talk about but find it hard to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing media makers in my life and wanted to share with you their projects and how you can get involved! I’d like to introduce you to my homeboy, who is a scholar, father, activist, and media maker: Nezua. He is the creator of The Unapologetic Mexican, co-creator/founder of The Sanctuary, creator of News With Nezua and writes fiction and more “personal stuff” online. He agreed to answer some questions about the projects he is a part of, how he came to become a media maker, ways to get YOU involved, and future projects.

Here’s one of Nezua’s most retweeted and shared video of the summer; a documentary of the mock checkpoint created by several activists (including Nezua) at this year’s Netroots Nation which racially profiled “European immigrants and their descendants, and required them to show papers that proved they had a right to trespass on native land.”

News With Nezua | The Illegal Europeans from nezua on Vimeo.

How do you want to be identified (name, title, etc.)

Nezua is my professional and screen name. My given name is Joaquín Ramón Herrera. I am an artist in multiple mediums, including paint, ink, music, word, film, & video.

What identities/social location do you embody? (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, primary language, ability, age, etc.)

Mexican American male, with Eastern European blood as well (Romanian, German, Polish). I come from poor and scrabbly origins, so while I don’t think of myself as of a “class,” I generally get along easier with others who come from humble beginnings and don’t reek of financial privilege. But I draw no hard lines because life is always surprising you.

I’m generally heterosexual, was born in the city of angels, and speak English mostly. Though I do have certain challenges physically and mentally, I have no “disability” that stands out beyond the normal human condition, and so I do not consider myself “disabled.” (Truth is, I don’t naturally think that way. We all have gifts and curses/challenges—some apparent, some invisible—and that’s how I tend to think about it.)

I am 41 and still get carded far too often for such an old man!

When did you create The Unapologetic Mexican? What were/are your motivations?

I created the blog in May of 2006. My motivations were to stop hiding, stop holding back, and start shouting. I wanted to give my spin on politics and culture, and my people, as I see it and as I live it. I was tired of the lies. And of the stream of derision, unanswered.

I did have very specific goals. I wanted people to be able to Google and find my writings when they looked for commentary on topics that would affect me or that I care about. I wanted to enjoin the conversation, I wanted to find solidarity out there, I wanted to strongly challenge and confront the hate, and I wanted there to be no doubt of my pride in my ethnicity.

Share with us the importance of the naming of your media. How is language important in the projects you create and are a part of?

Language is extremely important. So is naming. Any title should be thought over for a while. Names immediately tell the viewer/reader both how you see the work as well as introduce a framing through which to view the work. Beyond that, they resonate with energy. That matters. That rides along with all the work you do under that name, in that milieu.

Related, language also carries many resonances about power, community, geography, philosophy and politics. We must be aware of this, so that we can consciously craft our energies and messages. If we are not aware, the energy is scattered, uncontrolled, possibly unconscious, and will not only dilute and distract our purpose and power, but like a poorly-wielded laser beam, may strike out and damage where we do not intend.

Finally, though a bit more practical still also very important, we have to consider Google and other search engines when we name things. For example, I chose the name of my blog very carefully (as I do all work that I name) for a few reasons. The vibe (it lets you know right away this ain’t a place you are gonna push your hate around without a fight, and I’ve lived up to that, but I’d like to think it also has a bit of humor to it as well); the ability to show up in search results that involve Mexicans, and I wanted to help the world learn how to spell “apologetic.” ;)

Tell us about The Unapologetic Mexican. (goals, objectives, origins, events, how you define “Mexican,” “Chican@”)

Honestly, I don’t have any more goals for UMX. Then again, I didn’t begin with many, and look what happened! I met a lot of very cool people through writing it, I explored my heritage and what it means to be Xicano in today’s USA. I found work, I entered contests and won (like representing Oregon for MTV’s Street Team 2008 and many others), I won immigration scholarships to attend national conventions, I reinforced other vatos and vatas who needed it, I met community, I received accolades, I influenced newer media makers, I became a person repeatedly asked to speak on certain issues...and I never intended any of that! I simply couldn’t stay quiet anymore. I needed to get my voice out there, and take a stand for gente. The results of speaking from the heart with passion can yield so much, and that’s what happened here.

I define Mexican as someone who is of Mexico. Technically and popularly, the word refers to Mexican Nationals. But I chose the title “Mexican” in my blog because that is the very word and idea that I had shrunk from in my youth. I learned early on, as a child, that it was a word that made people uncomfortable. I stopped answering “Mexico” when people asked “where are you from?” (Actually, I named states like “California” when they asked me that, so they often pressed on with something like “What’s your nationality, though?” meaning “ethnicity,” of course.)

So when I turned ‘round to stand proud, I grabbed the word and owned it. No more flinching. No more lies. No apologies.

Chicano/a (and for newer generations than my father, we use Xican@ and the explanation for that “@” symbol is here) simply means a Mexican American who is political about their culture, and involved in some way in standing up for it.

How do you choose to include various aspects of media in your site/work? How has your site evolved/grown since such inclusion?

I like to use as many tools as I can to communicate. I paint and draw, and often feature this in my News With Nezua videos, as I do my guitar or conga foolery. My site has always featured my forays into digital art, so when I began my News With Nezua series (it was a year August 28 of this month) it seemed a natural way to incorporate other elements. I find this very satisfying! What I also love about blogging is how you are not held to any written standard, and so you can eschew formal journalisticky type writing completely and lapse into poetic shapes if that suits you better. (It often suits me better!)

Here’s the 1 year anniversary video:

As a media maker, what outlets/equipment/training/workshops/tools/etc. do you utilize to create?

Well, it would depend on what media that person wants to use. I have been training in art for quite a long time. That is the sort of thing you simply have an interest in or not. I was also extremely lucky to be able to attend one of the world’s top film schools, and before that I majored in Art as well as Photo in a community college. Aside from this, I use many tools in my free time as I love art. It’s simply been a major, if not the major, interest in my life since I was a boy.

But a lot can be learned by apprenticing. I’m a big believer in the Master/Student relationship, even if you call it something else. Hands-on. By now, I see formal schooling (as far as the degree system, not so much random courses you might take) very much as a scam, even if legitimate and valuable training can be found in those places.

I suggest a budding media maker desiring instruction in their area of interest find approachable living and practicing artists/people she admires, or who make work he admires, and get close to them, let them know. Arrange a way to pay them for their time, or barter. Let them know you are inspired by them and would do a great deal to be able to receive their instruction. Do not ask for free time or help. Any master in an area has put in a lot of time and sweat to gain proficiency. It only tells them that you are ignorant of the work required and lack respect for them to suggest they give it away.

Do not be too proud to do this, to seek a mentor or master in craft. You only hurt yourself and waste years that you could be learning at an accelerated rate.

Tools are dependent on what you want to make. I use pad and pen when conceptualizing a script. I might type it out and print it later if I have ink in my printer (often I don’t!). I use many tools. From computer to microphone (lav mic) to camera, lights, flags, bounce cards, editing software like Final Cut Pro (pretty expensive), congas, guitar, paint, pencil, paper, and so on. But again, I’ve spent decades putting together the package of gear I own. It’s no small endeavor. For those who don’t have decades, talk to someone who has! For those with no cash...stick to writing blogs or drawing with pencil! I’m kidding, but making a point: unfortunately, much media creation requires resources that can cost a lot of money. But there is always a way around that. Start by finding people you can share with or borrow from. They have been there, where you are. They will understand if you can’t afford gear. If they can’t help you directly, they may be able to point you to others who can share. Again, this is where the mentor/master relationship can help you a lot.

Was there a specific event, person, place, artifact, encounter that led you to creating media?

I’d guess the first thing that inspired me to create media aside from art that I draw was my mother, who once handed me a recorder and microphone. I was about five years old. I was absolutely amazed by the functions of a tape recorder. Children are so much more savvy today. My own four-year-old daughter understands the filming process and even shoots her own photos and video with a digital camera. But for me, this was magic—this device that captured events, and stuck your voice to a tape, like mystical flypaper. This, to me, was time traveling. Not much later, I paid a kid in kindergarten 50¢ (my lunch and milk money) to take home his mono tape recorder, but my mother made me give it back. Before I did, I was huddling under a table in class, playing it so low to my ear...watching the little wheels turn. There is no doubt that the cassette recorder started me on my path.

As a teen, I listened back to those early tapes, and this cemented my fascination further. I became obsessed with recording and collecting those recordings, and in my closet now are boxes of cassettes (hundreds of them) from a tape diary that I kept since 18 years old. I used those to make collages of sound, pasting together phone calls, arguments, soliloquies, and random recordings into montages that communicated a point, or were just fun to listen to, with names like “Headcold” and “Shaking the Box” and “Phone-y People.” They were works that lacked a genre to fit father called it audio poetry or something like that and took a couple into his college courses to share with his poetry students. I was about 19 then.

Video cameras were not big on the scene until I was older. At 25 I got a job in a video store, and began playing with their video cameras. The rest is history. ☺

What are some necessary texts, films, images, photography that you think are essential for youth, especially youth of Color, queer youth, and youth who are marginalized in general, to interact with/read/be exposed to? Why these artifacts?

I can’t give you a list (honestly, that would take another day or two to mull over), but I think what is most useful to communicate here is that groups and persons who are not celebrated by the dominant culture (and often are objects of hatred and ridicule by that culture) do, indeed, need to find films that offer an alternate view. I can’t stress this enough.

Film is an incredibly powerful medium, as is Television, as are books. If we see ourselves portrayed as bad people, deviants, or losers, we will accept these roles and fill them. We will accept abuse and we will hate ourselves and find ways to kill ourselves. Slow and fast, and in myriad ways, sometimes hard to discern, but deadly.

This is your world. You were born to tell a story. Tell that story, but first cleanse your mind and heart.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up poisoned in the mind and heart from all the media I absorbed. TV and movies told me that as a male of Mexican descent, I was by necessity criminal, lazy, destructive, hated, stupid, second place if lucky, but more likely simply worthless or dangerous or both. The cleverness and frequency with which this messaging zeroed in on my formative mind and self-image was tantamount to having weaponry trained on you all the young days of your life, and fired into your psyche daily. Why not shy away from your heritage and family and anything related to your ethnicity, if this is how the world sees you? Why not carry that hateful torch and turn it on your own people?

So it is very important for us to create our own literature, our own cinema, our own languages, our own signals and symbols and values. For a few reasons: To reaffirm what we are, in truth. And to clear the path for tomorrow’s leaders, today’s children. To give them a better shot at loving themselves and feeling they own the space they take up, and rightfully so.

But (and I stress this more than once for a reason) first we must make sure we have decolonized our minds as much as possible so that we do not simply pass along the same messages we’ve been trained to see as real. For one thing, you can’t be very original until then. For another, you’ll do harm.

Many people I talk to regularly these days are well aware. But there was a time, perhaps, when most of them were not. For myself, there was a long time I was proficient in technique and hue and line...yet, I was propagating the standing order’s messaging on many things. People who do this often have no idea at all that they’ve been brainwashed. The ideas we propose, the images we create, even when wrong, can feel right, and natural if in line with the dominant culture’s ubiquitous messaging.

So the first step is becoming awake. Once we have become awake, we then must use our skills and power to destroy what feels right and natural to the dominant culture in most if not all cases. We must turn these values on their head. It is our job as conscientious makers to make something new.

Have there been any challenges/obstacles, etc. you’ve encountered in creating your media? Will you share some examples with us?

There’s been more than I can think of right now! Firstly, you have your own resistance. Laziness. Fear. Doubt. Procrastination. Then, you have to deal with the push back you’ll get. Obviously, if you are wrecking things (concepts, values, ideas, words) that the standing order considers valid and valuable, (things like racist lenses, sexist lenses, etc) then you are going to feel the full fury of those who would die to defend that order. And over time, coming from many angles, and often with a murderous and ugly shape, this can wear you down. So you have to learn to take good care of yourself. That is why many of my videos incorporate the message of tending your soul, enjoying days or moments of pause; of rest, beauty, stillness, and healing. That is directly related to the pushback I get, as well as the overall energy of reading and thinking about the ugly forces in play today.

What support systems help you cope with frustration, challenges, obstacles, etc. as a Mexican/Male-identified/Father media maker?

Dance. Music. Whiskey. A few close friends (people of color) who are political, with whom I can talk to. I train in Taekwondo 4 – 5 days a week and this lets me channel a whole lot of energy, as well as discipline my wild self. And moments of meditation or otherwise connecting to the plasma state, the core, the unchanging, the rejuvenating spring that flows within all of us.

Aside from that, I’m a very willful person! I know how to get through. I know how to keep going. And I know, too, how to let go and walk away. I grew up with many forces trying to either hurt me or shut me down. This has been my path. I could tell stories that would last all night. But the bottom line is I’ve been there for me, and I’ve known me at my lowest and highest moments, and I’ve learned to give myself love and care. So I trust myself and the impulses I might have, despite who approves or not. This is an audacity we must adopt if we are to not only survive, but survive whole.

How has being a father, educator, partner, writer impacted the work you do and are planning to do/create?

Everything I have done and am influences what I make. The “how” of that would take a very long time to lay out, obviously! It’s a broad question. But I’d say in general that the more situations one is in, the richer her work will be.

What time management strategies/advice can you share with us about creating media and also finding time for yourself/family/friends?

I’m perhaps a bad person to ask about this! I am disproportionately skewed toward my art. I value it over most relationships, and there’s evidence of this in my life. Relationships I’m still learning about. In fact, I’m learning a lot about them recently. And that’s good. As long as I’m growing in my art and in my self, I’m happy about my life on earth.

On making time for me: I get lost in the world of self very often and easily. My “self” is my art, so there’s no problem there. That isn’t meant to sound pretentious....the state I enter when creating is a blissful, in-the-now, ego-free state. So I don’t need to “make time for me.” But I do need to make time for being lazy! I don’t have enough lazy time in my life. This is one of the possible downfalls when you are doing what you love to do for money. It’s easy to work yourself very very hard. Too hard.

But when I can find moments, I sit in front of the TV, watch spooky movies or Kung Fu flicks, and sip on a beer or something.

Are there upcoming projects you are planning?

I am the Creative Director of a brand new software company based in Vancouver, B.C. It is called Digital Stoneworks and I work with a handful of extremely intelligent, conscious, and fun vatos. We are working on our first iPhone/iPad game for children, and it’s called Garden Day. We don’t have a site or any materials to pass around quite yet, but those will be coming soon. I’m very excited about this team, and the work we are doing. As I said earlier, we have to be there for children, children of color, and for the young women of color and we need to replace the toxic stories and images offered them in so much of the current media. So this agenda and this type of thinking drives our work. We’re just getting off the ground, but as soon as I have a site or other ways of connecting to or supporting our efforts and products, I’ll drop you a line.

Where can people find you on the web, social media?

You can read my political blog (which is where all my News With Nezua vids appear, as well as the rare piece of writing I do anymore) at

You can find only the News With Nezua videos at

You can read my longwinded and pretentious Twitter page here, and decide if you want to hop on board.

Also, note at my blog that in the upper right corner is an array of social media buttons, where you can find Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook accounts and more.

What else would you like to share with us?

Thank you for asking me these questions, and for sharing my ideas with others.

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