An interview with Tiny from POOR Magazine.
Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia) is a poverty scholar, revolutionary journalist, PO’ Poet, spoken word artist, welfareQUEEN, lecturer, Indigena Taina/Boriken/Irish mama of Tiburcio and daughter of Dee and the cofounder and executive director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork. POOR is a grassroots, nonprofit, arts organization dedicated to providing extreme access to media, education and arts for youth, adults and elders struggling with poverty, racism, disability and border fascism locally and globally. Tiny is a teacher, multimedia producer, and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America”, published by City Lights.
She has innovated several revolutionary media, arts and education programs for youth, adults and elders, including the first welfare to work journalism program in the US for poor mothers transitioning off welfare, PoorNewsNetwork – an online magazine and monthly radio show on KPFA, and several cultural projects such as the Po’ Poets Project, Youth in Media, welfareQUEENs and many more. She is also a prolific writer who has authored over a hundred articles on issues ranging from poor women and families, interdependence and the cult of individualism to gentrification, homelessness, police brutality, incarceration, art and global and local poverty. For more information, see www.tinygraygarcia.com.
Angola 3 News: How did POOR Magazine get started?
Tiny: POOR Magazine is a poor people led/indigenous people led grassroots, nonprofit, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, education and art to youth, adults and elders locally and globally
POOR the magazine was launched in las calles, welfare offices, Social Security lobbies and shelters in 1996 by an Indigenous Raza mother and daughter team who barely survived homelessness, extreme poverty, disability, criminalization and racism and survived on underground economic strategies. We began with community journalism workshops focused on telling our own stories, reclaiming our own scholarship and redefining in and of itself what media even is and who controls it.
We practice eldership, ancestor worship and interdependence as a resistance to the destruction of capitalism, imperialism, colonization and white supremacy.
POOR Magazine defines indigenismo within an urban indigenous context of shared identities and shared struggles. We are landless African, Taino/Boricua, Mexicano/Mexica/Raza, Iroquois, Pomo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Celtic, Hawaiian, Samoan, Jewish, Arabic, South Asian, Oaxacan, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and many more, We are Elders, Youth, Children, Mamaz, Fathers, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Families and Individuals brought together through the shared struggle of poverty, survival and “thrival.”
To this end, POOR Magazine has implemented the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples as a revolutionary resistance document. This is one of the ways we practice redefining the capitalist systems of oppression, philanthropy, the prison industrial complex, the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC), and systems of controlled and stolen resources, land and information.
In 1999, while my Mama and I were still “in the life” and while I personally was being told by my welfare worker that I needed to realize what a waste of taxpayers’ resources I was, taught myself how to write an RFP for a welfare to work grant to teach poor mamas like me and my Mama how to be journalists, writers and media producers.
I successfully mastered the linguistic domination skills necessary to reclaim those stolen government resources and give them back to the people. With them we were able to start our indigenous news-making circle (which up-ends the hierarchy of both independent and corporate media), our KPFA radio show, our online news service and our media training classrooms.
In 2002, we lost all of the government dollars when they saw that we were teaching people how to write about the very systems that were oppressing all of us (i.e. the welfare to work locus of control).
This almost killed us – but we are not sorry that we reclaimed those funds. It would be elitist and illogical. But that government-sponsored inquisition still almost killed us. And when the government dollars left, so did all of the philanthro-pimped private donations.
This tragedy led us to not only fight harder, but to build a curriculum around the myths of philanthropy, and launch The Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute, as well as a completely new concept we call Revolutionary Giving.
Angola3News: How is POOR Magazine different than the corporate media? What kinds of stories will readers find?
Tiny: First of all, POOR Magazine is not just a media organization, we are a family of poverty scholars teaching on and speaking on issues of poverty, racism, disability, border fascism and indigenous resistance. To this end we have launched:
- PeopleSkool – Escuela de la gente – Education for ALL peoples outside the Institution.
- FamilySkool is our multi-generational teaching and learning project.
- The Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute teaches folks enmeshed in academia about different and other forms of knowledge and scholarship.
- POOR Press – the publishing arm of POOR Magazine – aimed at infiltrating the racist, classist publishing industry that demands a series of access channels.
- The Po Poets Project and the welfareQUEENS’ revolutionary poets and cultural workers in poverty and resistance.
- Hotel Voices is a play on the experience of surviving and thriving Single Room Occupancy hotels .
- HOMEFULNESS – our most important project – is a sweat-equity cohousing project for landless families in poverty, which includes a school, media center and micro-business projects. This has the goal of reclaiming stolen lands and resources and moving off the grid of controlled systems of housing and budget crumbs. This project is informed by the teaching of MOVE founder John Africa.
- As far as media, POOR Magazine aligns us with other poor people led/indigenous people led movements such as the Shackdwellers Union in South Africa, POCC and the MST (landless peoples movement in Brazil) who actively reject the ideas that someone else has to tell our stories for us, perpetuating the 21st century missionary/default colonizers position that just because you have access to a computer, a microphone or a camera, our stories suddenly become your stories, your property.
We also resist the myth of objectivity and how if an author or media producer writes in the “I” voice, it automatically takes away its legitimacy.
How do you ensure that the silenced voices of people in poverty are heard? By addressing the subtle and not so subtle ways in which our voices and research and scholarship is separated out and suppressed. We teach on our forms of media revolution and media justice at the Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute and PeopleSkool.
We redefine media as art, hip hop, graffiti, spoken word, poetry and talk-story.
All of our media, whomever makes it, includes the lens and voices of the writers who have experienced positions of poverty and oppression first-hand. For our allies who have different forms of academic privilege, we also ask for the same inclusion of “I” voice and personal scholarship.
Angola3News: In regards to the issues of homelessness and poverty, what do you think are the biggest lies propagated by the corporate media?
Tiny: That we, houseless folks, are a tribe that walks the earth, rather than people who need a roof; that we are all criminal by design; that our voices are irrelevant and our solutions un-informed.
We at POOR no longer use the NPIC term, “homeless” because it is another way to turn our problems into profit for NGO’s and NPIC’s across the globe.
Angola3News: How does the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC) relate to issues of poverty and houselessness?
Tiny: It completely relates. It is why I was incarcerated in the United States and why I wrote the book “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America.” It is illegal to be houseless in the US and arguably it is illegal to be poor. We have modern-day apartheid and slave plantations called prisons, and they have to constantly feed this machine with fresh meat so the PIC industry can make revenue. Racism, poverty and disability are all linked and are alive and well.
Throughout my childhood – my poor mama of color and I were houseless and living in our car, and I was eventually arrested for those “crimes.” I am light-skinned and look white even though my mama is Boriken, Taina and Afrikan. I look like my colonizer dad, so I could lie to a landlord about being a single adult with a job and the landlord would accept it rather than that my mama was a hard worker who was responsible.
But it isn’t just houseless folks. Its migrant workers, youth of color, people in poverty living with a mental disability, micro-business people, foster youth and on and on. Our struggles against racism and criminalization are linked.
Angola3News: What are the most recent projects POOR Magazine is working on?
Tiny: We just completed the very beautiful anthology, “Los Viajes/The journeys,” which is a beautiful compilation of peoples crossing over false criminalizing borders across pacha mama.
We are trying go to the US Social Forum and the Allied Media Conference in Detroit to lead a PeopleSkool workshop on media, academia and research, as well as a forum on linguistic domination.
Also, we are gearing up for a new session of PeopleSkool in Summer 2010, and we launched the equity campaign to raise funds or acquire land for HOMEFULNESS – in 2010/2011.