by Kate Wadkins
Say what you will about Twitter, but it brought Daniela Capistrano and I together. Daniela is a powerhouse working with media and culture in New York, while also being an activist, teacher, and the founder of POC Zine Project. As fellow RE/VISIONIST staffer Nydia Swaby and I began coordinating the non-profit tablers for this year’s Sarah Lawrence College Women’s History Conference, “The Message is in the Music,” we fell in love with POC Zine Project’s mission and invited them to join us. Daniela found some time to chat with me online so we could find out more about the project and her own experiences with activism and work.
RE/VISIONIST: Who are you and what do you do?
Daniela Capistrano: I’m Daniela Capistrano and I am a freelance multimedia producer currently gigging at MTV Tr3s as a Senior Producer and at Uncensored Interview as a shooter/producer/editor. I also crew on short films, music videos and other stuff.
That’s the work thing. I am a media studies major at the New School, where I am also a student senator. And then the activism thing is my baby, POC Zine Project, and my youth/media advocacy. I also teach for The LAMP. I recently formed my own LLC, DCAP Media, which I am excited about; it’s a big step for me.
RE/V: Wow, you are a total powerhouse. What is DCAP Media all about?
DC: DCAP Media “right now” is just a legal way to keep track of all my freelance work and to save money. DCAP Media of THE FUTURE (said in robot voice) is going to be my production & consulting business. When I have two seconds I’ll set up my business Web site dcapmedia.com. Something for context is, I left MTV News last year in July because I wanted to take care of putting my creative goals in order, which is kind of impossible when you are working for a 24-hour news entity. So I left, in the middle of people being laid off, which to some was crazy, but I knew what I had to do. Since then I’ve been freelancing and having a blast.
RE/V: Tell us about POC Zine Project. How did the group form? What were some of the inspirations behind it?
DC: So when I was a fledgling baby riot grrrl, back in 2000, I met my first Chicana feminist friend Claudia Ambriz-Torres, who now teaches at the University of Illinois Carbondale. We bonded because we were both Chicana and queer, but not in the way that others perceive queer to be, and she showed me my first zine. That was significant because she showed me zines by people of color. What became very clear after that was how absent the voice of people of color APPEARED to be from zine culture, only because (at the time and often now) zines by POC weren’t included in distros, or at shows, or events, and I always was annoyed by that.
A component of that experience is that people often mistake me for Italian or Jewish, so I benefit from white privilege more than the average brown chick, which has made me privy to some pretty disgusting examples of racism in the DIY/zine scene. Claudia and I started an artists’ collective called AAGRO and through that for a few years we put on events and shared zines with people, then that folded. I thought about that for nine years. And then this year, in January, I thought about how much zines and DIY culture empowered me to change my life and rethink the way I saw myself and other people of color. I wanted to share that with others, not just people of color, but all people, to understand that people are complex creatures with a myriad of desires. Zines are a portal to a shared experience, and it just annoyed me that there isn’t a way to find all zines by people of color at once. So I am working on that, with the help of my friends.
RE/V: Can you tell us a little about AAGRO? What did the name stand for?
DC: AAGRO: Artistic Assistance for Girls Requesting Opportunities. AAGRO was formed in Sacramento, CA; that is where I am from. I moved to NYC in 2004 because I was hell bent on working for Killer Films. I co-founded AAGRO in 2002 with the support and resources from over 20 girls (not counting our online friends). We held fundraisers, put on art shows, music events and a female-directed short film festival. Local writer Rachel Leibrock supported us by featuring our events in her column, which was a huge help since we were a totally broke/DIY outfit. My friends and I created the collective to inspire ourselves and to fill a void we saw in the local artists’ community. We eventually disbanded (we were young and kind of hot-headed) but all members have gone on to pursue their own creative dreams as fashion designers, teachers, filmmakers and more.
Since my experience with AAGRO, I have always wanted to be a part of a collective again. POC Zine Project is my way of finding that sense of community, and look, it brought me to you, so it’s working.
RE/V: Can I ask some stuff about your experiences on both coasts? You mentioned that you have been privy to some pretty nasty forms of racism in the DIY/zine community. Did this differ across your various locales?
DC: That’s tough to answer – racism is sneaky. I can only speak for me. Let’s see, I purposely stayed away from DIY communities when I moved to NYC because I was so hurt by past experiences in California. I haven’t personally experienced any racism in New York DIY zine communities because I haven’t partaken of them. The Afro-Punk festival, and my work covering the scene for MTV news, brought me a sense of community. This new feeling of community, absent of racism, led me to be reinvigorated and inspired me to form POC Zine Project.
Again I have to emphasize that my experience with racism is weird but not uncommon. When people think you are white they say things they normally would not say. People are rarely racist TO me, it’s usually they feel comfortable being racist in FRONT of me. When you have white privilege as a person of color, at least in my case, it makes you a lot more cognizant of the motivations behind what people say and do. When I was in California, like in NYC, I experienced racism “behind the scenes”. I’ve been on dates with people of color (men and women) and experienced them being discriminated against which is very frustrating because for one it’s just ignorant and wrong but then on the other hand you feel bad and weird for being an invisible person of color.
I emphasize on my web site that I am Chicana, not so much for me, because I know who I am, but for anyone who might be reading my “About Me” page, particularly young people. I give my card out to all my students or young people that I meet; it has my Web site on it. I want them to see that you make your own life. No one has permission to define you, which for me is the essence of DIY.
RE/V: That’s really great. I think getting that kind of message out to young people is super important.
DC: That is why a big component of POC Zine Project will be to create afterschool curriculum around zines and other forms of indie media. It’s so empowering to create your own media.
RE/V: For folks who don’t know, what’s a zine?
DC: Well, many people associate zines with the riot grrrl movement, but 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. This is key to POC Zine Project, helping people of color and all zinesters understand that zines have been around forever. They were tools used to change government, to transform history. The Black Panthers had independent publications because they were censored, but that didn’t stop them from sharing their message and building a community; same for the Chicano movement, all using small independent publications to share messages and ideas. The queer/LGBT liberation movement/s did the same thing. Right now in Iran there are zines with powerful messages about freedom and identity.
With a zine you can voice your opinion and have a choice to disclose who you are or to remain anonymous. It explains why there are so many zines about sexual abuse and body image. Zines are a tool to give a voice to those who feel voiceless. The fact that zines are still being made with the existence of the internet proves that it’s a medium of communication that is still valuable.
RE/V: What type of folks has POC Zine Project worked with so far?
DC: Well we are a brand new grassroots organization, so right now we are identifying collaborators. My first collaborator is Winston Scarlett, the founder of Convent Collective in Harlem. We are putting together a zine-making workshop to hold in Harlem and plan on organizing a panel for the Portland Zine Symposium. In the next few weeks, you will see more content on our Web site; we have some exciting interviews and free zine downloads coming, but can’t give all my secrets away. What’s important for people to know is that this can only get as big as people help it to become. We need liaisons in every state, in every country, helping to coordinate events, recruit new zinesters, facilitate scanning projects, etc. But for now, we are here, in NYC, taking it one day at a time. We need support on the local level, individuals who know zinesters who made like one copy ever of their zine and it’s just sitting on their shelf. But who knows what’s inside of it? It could be the answer to world peace.
RE/V: Any words of advice for readers?
DC: It’s hard to feel confident or good about yourself when you don’t know what’s going to happen or if the steps you are taking are the right ones. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s not so bad. Just try again and have faith that things will work out. Love yourself! ▢
Keep your eye out for upcoming work from Daniela and POC Zine Project and check out more about their experience at the Sarah Lawrence College 12th Annual Women’s History Conference, “The Message is in the Music” on Facebook here. If you are interested in learning more about zines, here are some helpful resources. We at RE/VISIONIST welcome any feedback on our features and blog posts, and would love to point you in the direction of more info if you need it, so feel free to contact us. You can also contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.