Long before the internet gave instant access to America’s hidden history (to anyone willing to search for it), Bob Marley’s hit single “Buffalo Soldier” raised collective awareness about the forgotten Black regiments who fought in some of America’s earliest wars. Set over a steady, smooth beat, Bob Marley’s song sums up the formerly enslaved soldiers’ predicament in these refrains:
Buffalo Soldier, dreadlock Rasta … Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.
Piero Heliczer, Beat poet, experimental filmmaker, and publisher, was a central figure in the 1960s and ʼ70s underground art scene. He published dozens of poems, produced at least 24 films, and participated in Andy Warhol’s Film-Makers’ Cooperative. But in the early 1990s, while reading his poetry at a venue on the famous St. Marks Place, Piero was something much smaller and ordinary: a drunk, disheveled, absentee father under the critical gaze of his 19-year-old daughter, Thérèse Heliczer.
“Doug gave me a standard as a Black man,” said Merman Sallier, a music producer and digital instructor from Seattle who grew up in the Central District and attended Zion Preparatory Academy with the class of ’91. “Just the way he carried himself and the way he communicated with people — his cars, his relationship with his wife, his relationship with his children, just everything. He was someone that me and a lot of my friends looked up to as the standard. At the time, the only other Black men to emulate in his community were drug dealers and pimps.” But even “those guys looked up to Doug,” said Sallier.
A faceless young woman in a white “number 3” jersey rests her unseen hand against her hip — behind her a running track fades into the distance. A large brimmed hat sits stylishly slanted on a church lady’s head, and a young girl lugs a book bag into a mysterious hallway — she’s flanked by a man wearing a white armband. These “Iconic Black Women’’ paintings by visual artist Hiawatha D., are just a few of many that greet visitors at the Wonder of Women Gallery (WOW) in Pacific Place shopping mall (600 Pine Street, 3rd Floor, Seattle, WA).
The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers fell, and the face of terrorism became Muslim, Sikh, and South Asians of all religious persuasions. Xenophobia burned through the American landscape, unmasking deep-rooted racism hidden just beneath a thin foliage of inclusivity. Many people who were perceived as foreign were harassed. Rita Meher, the cofounder of Tasveer, was told “go back to your country” only weeks after she became a citizen. The experience shook her. She began to doubt her decision to immigrate. Was America really the land of inclusivity and opportunity she had imagined it to be? But out of the embers of her disillusionment the seeds of a new vision began to sprout — Tasveer, an arts organization, festival, and platform to showcase South Asian film, literature, and storytelling.
“It’s never so straightforward that this happens and then we do this,” said Meher during an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. Her journey to cofounding Tasveer with Farah Nousheen in March 2002 was filled with many twists, turns, and surprise destinations. But if one had to highlight an important waypoint, it might be Meher’s first film, Citizenship 101, an autobiographical account of what life was like for South Asians in the shadow of 9/11. Nousheen, who Meher said is an activist and a friend, encouraged her to make the film and helped cultivate Tasveer into a social-justice-centered organization.
“Our existence hasn’t been weaved into the community yet,” Meher said of the South Asian community, “but as you see in Seattle or greater Seattle, our population is huge.” She wants South Asian characters to go from sidekick to center stage. Tasveer has begun achieving that goal by funding films like Coming Out With The Help Of A Time Machine, which opened the Tasveer Festival Oct. 1, 2021, and introducing audiences to filmmakers like Aizzah Fatima and Iman Zawahry, the producers of Americanish, a romantic comedy about Muslim immigrant women navigating love, career, and family. Americanish will screen at the festival’s closing night on Oct. 24, 2021.
Some birds aren’t meant to be caged — not by tiny steel bars and not by tiny forced narratives woven around their lives like intricate vines with pointy sharp thorns. As I listened to multidisciplinary artist Shontina Vernon tell me about her art — and by extension her life — during our telephone interview, I thought about how society’s carefully woven metastories threaten to confine us all like beautiful but trapped birds with very few of us daring an escape. Shontina Vernon is the one who got away.