I first met Melanie many years ago in my hometown of Flagstaff, AZ. She was one of many fellow Navajo teens who were into punk and metal. At the time, there was a huge scene of Native kids in the Southwest who were heavily into these sub-genres of music. Though never explicitly stated, I think we gravitated towards these genres of music because they were very nonconformist, challenged the status quo, and spoke to our similar feelings of being ignored in the United States.
I reconnected with Melanie in Portland largely through the zine scene. We had both relocated to Portland in our twenties, but were traveling in different circles. She and her zine partner had just released their first zine, Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself. I had also started making zines, and it was nice having other Navajo zinesters in the scene and supporting each other when we could. While our zines were primarily focused on our respective Native identities, they were drastically different in tone and style. Aesthetically, I had a more DIY/punk feel, and Melanie’s project was more rockabilly and hip hop-influenced.
When I started my radio show, Zines In Stereo, Melanie was at the top of my list for guests.
1. What got you into zines, initially?
About five years ago, I started working for a library, and that’s where I discovered zines. First, it started as a mild curiosity (what are these things and who’s making them?), but after some digging, I found zines that I could relate to on such a personal level, an example being Women of Color: How to Live in the City of Roses and Avoid the Pricks. My head almost exploded when I discovered this zine series. Here were these local WOC talking about the ups and downs of living in Portland and putting it out there in the world! And they were everyday people that I could hang out with! Then, a former zine partner suggested we make a zine for Native women and it all snowballed from there. Very serendipitous.
2. Why were zines chosen as your outlet to discuss Native/Indigenous issues?
First and foremost, zines are fun to make: cutting, gluing, drawing, writing, stapling, etc. When it’s done, it’s this beautiful, tangible object that you can hold in your hands. Also, there’s a difference between continually scrolling through your phone, latching onto to something for about ten seconds (if it even catches your attention at all) and then moving on. Zines, along with other print material, actually make you stop, think, and process. During the height of my zine days, I intentionally made them flashy in order to catch people’s attention, to have them take up as much space as possible. They were also sold cheap or given out for free in order to keep them accessible. Certain guerrilla tactics were employed such as leaving them around the city and the rez in random places. It was all about raising awareness for different Native issues, making Native women’s (along with two-spirit folx’s) existence known and letting the world know that we had something to say! The zines did have an online presence as well, but there’s just something more personal about holding one in your hands. They were little booklets of love that my former zine partner and I wanted to pass on to Native women that said, “Hey, we made this thing to build community. You can too. Contribute. Be loud with us.”
3. What was the motivation for selecting some of these songs for the playlist? Was there any particular song or artist that was of special importance?
This was a really tricky playlist to make because I listen to such a wide variety of music and I wanted to include everything! But I tried to pick songs that inspire me in some way, spark creativity, get me in the writing mood or just make me want to dance. I also tried to incorporate several different genres with several different themes: songs as a form of resistance, songs that I find poetic and songs that are just straight up silly and make me laugh (“Thunder on the Tundra”–I love this song!). A notable song worth highlighting is Sevdaliza’s “Bebin.” She’s an Iranian/Dutch singer who wrote this song in opposition to Trump’s Executive Order 13769 (Muslim travel ban). I find it so powerful and beautiful. Also, Brody Dalle (pronounced “doll”) is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Her musical range has changed, fluctuated, and grown a lot over the years, and she’s received a lot of criticism for it. Many punk elitists have condemned this change, stating that she isn’t “punk” enough anymore, and I’m not buying that noise at all. Musicians are allowed to grow and change; actually I think it should be encouraged. Experiment. Experiment. Experiment! Test your own boundaries (also, can we please not define a woman’s musical career by the men she happens to be involved with at the time? K, thanks). Also, I’ve been obsessively listening to Ministry’s “Every day is Halloween” for the last month.
4. POC seem to be really utilizing zines to spread information. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon as a writer, zinester, and as someone who works within the library system?
Zines can offer a safe space from the internet. You can engage with other POC, subcultures, LGBTQ2S, feminism and other social justice movements without the threat of internet trolls. Also, zines are a free-for-all. A total and complete freedom of expression. One is not confined to the edits and layouts of traditional media publishing, and also not the callousness of social media platforms. Social media can be a great way to reach the masses and share ideas quickly, but whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, if one doesn’t conform to certain guidelines or aesthetics (“Is this selfie angled just right?”), then it doesn’t reach an audience. Social media can leave one feeling really invisible or invalidated. Who needs that? Push away from the corner that social media has everyone shoved into. Make zines. Make art. Make music. Do it yourself.
5. What are your favorite zines?
- Brown, Proud Y Loud: Guerrillera LA #1
- Tranquila Zine: a d.i.y. zine on how to deal with YOUR anxiety
- Xicanx Crybaby
- Colonialism and the Legacy of Patriarchy
- And Now My Watch Begins: 6 years of sobriety my way AKA staying sober while staying woke
- Raccoons Doing Things
- Tacocidal Tendencies
- The IDGAF Book of Spells
- The Adventures of Mr. Cat
- I love Wendy O. Williams
- Self-Care Cats
to name a few…
6. Besides music and zines, what other art inspires you?
Street art, cats, graphic novels (anyone else obsessed with Saga?), Yayoi Kusama, and Frida Kahlo.
7. I know you consider yourself a retired zinester, and you’ve been doing more work in “established media,” but do you think zines helped you bridge that gap? Or do you think you would have done it without zines?
Zines unequivocally, irrefutably bridged that gap. Zines helped me find me voice, put my name and ideas out there, and, as a result, so many other opportunities arose. Once the zines started to gain momentum, publishing houses started reaching out, and I had to learn how to negotiate with them. I learned about other DIY platforms (like Medium) through other zinesters. I’ve also been invited to participate in several events and speaking engagements where I was able to network with all kinds of creative people. Zines opened up an entirely new world for me that I didn’t even know existed, and I will always be incredibly grateful for them. If you’re thinking about making a zine, I say do it and don’t even look back.
8. What projects are you currently working on? Are there any future events you’d like to promote?
Right now I’m attempting to get a book of poetry published, although I’m not in any huge rush. Maybe this will be the year that I finally write my novel?!
Kesheena Doctor is a Navajo punk living in Portland. They have an ongoing zine that revolves around their identity called Going Places. In addition to volunteering as a dj at Freeform Portland, they also volunteer at the IPRC. Their current show at Freeform is called Zines In Stereo, where they play music and interview their zine friends. For the next volunteer cycle, they are planning on having a show that plays punk & experimental music created by femmes, queers, and POC.